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Water & oil: How natives & neighbors of the Sacred Headwaters battled drillers and won

Something does not belong here: Shell's original test well in the Sacred Headwaters.
Karen Tam Wu

Editor's note: This is part 1 of Grist's series on the Sacred Headwaters. Read part 2 here and part 3 here.  


I’m helicoptering over a thousand-mile mess of dirt-dusted glaciers, spongy tundra, and bristling forest in the far north of British Columbia. My gut wobbles as we drop past mountain ridges toward our destination: a soupy, pea-green bog dotted with a handful of black ponds. Fed by whitewater trickles draining the peaks around us, it’s a sucking, primordial muck reminiscent of an antiquated dinosaur mural, or a day-glo panel from Swamp Thing’s origin issue. And sure enough, it’s the birthplace of something big, ancient, and slippery: the Skeena, Nass, and Stikine -- three of the largest salmon rivers on the West Coast, all born here or near here in the Sacred Headwaters.

But the Sacred Headwaters doesn’t owe its growing fame to the chinook, coho, and silver salmon races that have been flapping up these rivers since before the Bering Strait opened to pedestrians. For that, we ultimately must thank what lies buried directly 2,000 feet below: 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas trapped inside vast beds of coal.


Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Legalize pot, save a lot of energy

marijuana plant
Shutterstock

[COUGH! COUGH!] What were we talking about? Oh right, right, right. Marijuana's continued prohibition in 48 mellow-harshing states has an unintended side effect (besides making Phish unlistenable): It narfs $6 billion in energy costs and pumps out as much greenhouse gas as 3 million cars. Scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the marijuana industry is responsible for about 1 percent of all U.S. electricity usage.

The reason is simple. To evade detection, growers work indoors -- where lights, ventilation, temperature controls, and presumably industrial-grade lava lamps suck up a lot of juice. From ThinkProgress:

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Harrison Ford crusades against climate change, illegal logging in Indonesia

"Snakes -- I hate snakes. But not as much as illegal logging and climate change."
"Snakes -- I hate snakes. But not as much as illegal logging and climate change."

Indy, the nuke-the-fridge incident is all but forgiven: International film star, astonishingly spry geriatric badass (71!), and environmental crusader Harrison Ford allegedly just got all up in the Indonesian government's face about climate change and illegal logging. He was in the country filming an episode for Years of Living Dangerously, a Showtime doc about climate change planned for release in April 2014 (the flick also features Matt Damon and Arnold Schwarzenegger). From The Guardian:

The Hollywood actor Harrison Ford has been accused of "harassing state institutions" in Indonesia and threatened with deportation after allegedly confronting a minister during an interview about illegal logging and climate change.

The forestry minister, Zulkifi Hasan, said he was left shocked by Ford's emotionally charged interview techniques and complained there was no time to go over the questions before filming began, local media reported.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Sea otters, who already had us at hello, will now help clean up the ocean

otters
mike baird
"Would you look at this mess? No, no -- I got it. This time."

Turns out sea otters do much more than just explain discount rates with aplomb: The adorable little buggers also clean up our oceanic messes. Nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from agricultural pollution creates algal blooms that choke the life out of estuaries -- unless these thoughtful, fuzzy Dysons are around. With sea otter populations expanding into California habitats like Elkhorn Slough, where they haven't been seen for 100 years or more, scientists are watching sea grass and kelp ecosystems return, even though humans are still proverbially shitting the proverbial waterbed.

Read more: Living

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Heat-related disasters? There’s a map for that

america, u.s.a. map, space, meme, fucked, yeah
Shutterstock
"I smell burning. Are you grilling?"

Last summer, record high temps across the country unleashed the Horsemen of the Apocalypse on the country -- mostly in the form of catastrophic wildfires, droughts, and superstorms. Hold on to your butts: This summer could be worse. In an effort to know the enemy, we've created this Google disaster map to track the scars.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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This is the weirdest bike safety video you’ll ever watch

Love our bike video but finding it a tad too sensical? You're in luck. This Norwegian ad makes no fracking sense (make sure and wait for the M. Night Shyamalan-worthy twist ending):

Thankfully, I majored in conversational Norwegian (thanks, Google Translate!), so I can tell you this is part of the Norwegian Public Roads Administration's Share the Road campaign. I can also tell you that in Norway "fart" means speed, so when I say "this reindeer tastes like fart," I really mean "this reindeer tastes like meth."

Beyond that, though, the cultural clues go foggy. Are they saying cyclists should practice reckless behavior until they can totally shred at it like Danny MacAskill? Don't commute on a bike until you've mastered feline transmogrification and other associated warlockery? Ooh, I know: "Bilister og syklister både kan være totalt drittsekker."

Regardless, one rule cyclists and drivers can both take away from this video: Don't fart too much, and everything will be fine.

Read more: Cities, Living

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CO2 crosses dreaded 400 ppm milestone, and science is very disappointed in you

"Del Boca Vista is underwater, thanks to you!"
"Del Boca Vista is underwater, thanks to you!"

We already told you that carbon dioxide could pass a daily average of 400 parts per million (ppm) sometime this May -- an atmospheric concentration not seen in human history, and generally a sign that we're passing into the climatological period known as "the gnashing of teeth." The New York Times now reports that we've Usain Bolted past that milestone:

Scientific monitors reported that the gas had reached an average daily level that surpassed 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.

The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

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Happy now? If not, author Gretchen Rubin has tips for you

Gretchen Rubin: So happy, she can do it sitting down.
Gretchen Rubin: So happy, she can do it sitting down.

Gretchen Rubin has found the secret to happiness. OK, that may be overselling it a bit, but she's made it her literal business to get closer to it through The Happiness Project. Initially a namesake best-selling book, it's since morphed into a series of books (the latest: Happier At Home), a blog, a rapt online community, and an ongoing movement to unify science, psychology, and culture in the pursuit of deeper contentment. Of course, with such an amorphous destination, she's learned the truism behind the cliché that it's "more about the journey" -- but maybe don't use the J-word word around Rubin.

"Some people want to talk about a journey," Rubin says. "Well, that’s not an idea that resonates with me -- I love the idea of a project. That's something that whets my appetite."

Happiness small
Susie Cagle

Nervous supporters worried that her prescription for happiness might intimidate readers at the starting line; some equated the idea of a "project" with onerous homework. But Rubin, a Yale Law School graduate and former editor of the Yale Law Journal, opened her process to public dialogue and sought to engineer her methodology to apply to any personality type. That dialogue continues to this day on The Happiness Project.

"There’s no one right way to do it, because people are very different," she says. "People have different vocabularies. I love making resolutions, and having lists, and charts -- and for some people that would drive them crazy. But for some people it is about a journey -- so you have to find the approach that works for you, the metaphor that works for you."

We talked with Rubin over the phone about The Happiness Project, and how personal moves toward a happier life can lead to a better, healthier planet for everybody.

Q. What inspired this initial journey to tackle something as all-encompassing as happiness? How did you boil down tackling such a huge-sounding project?

A. I was stuck on a city bus in the pouring rain, and I thought, "What do I want from life, anyway? I want to be happy!" It hit me like a flash. So I went to the library and got this giant stack of books about happiness to figure out what I could do. It seemed very confusing in the beginning, because there’s a million different pieces, and everything’s tangled up with everything else. It was very intellectually challenging to figure out, where do I start and how do I do it in a systematic way. So I drilled down into things like home, possessions, body, neighborhood. Every month I focused on a different aspect of life and figured out what concrete resolutions I could do to make my experience of life happier.

Read more: Living

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It’s official: Just the taste of beer makes your brain happy

"Are you sure this is the fastest way to put beer in our brain?"
"Are you sure this is the fastest way to put beer in our brain?"

In an ongoing quest to Prove All The Things We Already Know To Be True, Science™ has just confirmed that a single sip of beer is all it takes to make our brains soar with sozzled joy. Really, Science? I could've told you that. I just did that science last night! And maybe a little at breakfast! And it's possible I'm doing that science RIGHT NOW AS I'M TYPING.

Read more: Food, Living

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How greens can stay happy, without drugs

This will surprise and shock you: It is sometimes hard to stay positive and be an environmentalist. Between Big Oil prematurely ejaculating over suburban lawns, the goddamn weather taking aim at my precious Russian River Pinots, and the very ocean dusting the Great Barrier Reef before I can afford to go there, can you blame me? Kermit -- chemically sensitive amphibian, browbeaten husband, and dolorous crooner that he is -- perhaps gives us the patron cliché we deserve.

All of which means I approach our theme this month -- Happiness! -- with some trepidation. It's not that we Gristers aren't adept at handling looming catastrophe; we just often swallow it with sarcasm and a black humor more cold and remote than the love of God. When it comes to dancing to the tune of the apocalypse, we've got moves like a teenage Blue Ivy Carter, and an f-bomb or 75 never hurts. When things get really bad, we can just report as-is and do this:

But this month is not about that!