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The Basics

We've got some explaining to do


Confined dining: A primer on factory farms and what they mean for your meat

Photo by Shutterstock.

By now, you know that not all meat is created equal. That familiar fable about Old MacDonald and his happy barnyard menagerie is a far cry from the cruel reality of factory farms, where cows, pigs, and chickens are crammed together in giant warehouses, fattened on grain, and pumped full of antibiotics, then rolled out to the slaughterhouse to become the next Big Mac or box of McNuggets.

In regulatory lingo, these meat factories are called “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs. (Pronounced "cay-fo.") Here's everything you ever wanted to know about them -- and a few things you'd probably rather not know.

Read more: Food


Fracking FAQ: The science and technology behind the natural gas boom

You're fracked

"Fracking": It sounds more like a comic-book exclamation (kapow! boom! frack!) than a controversial method for extracting natural gas and oil from rock deep underground. By turns demonized as a catastrophic environmental threat and glorified as a therapy for our foreign oil addiction, fracking has become a flashpoint in our national energy policy.

First developed in the 1940s, fracking -- literally, "hydraulic fracturing," or "smashing rock open with lots of water" -- only began to boom around 2005, but today, it's used in nine out of every 10 natural gas wells in the U.S. As many as 35,000 wells are fracked each year [PDF], according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And shale gas (often fracked) now accounts for 15 percent of total U.S. natural gas production, up from virtually nil a few years ago.

Scientists assure us that fracking can be done safely -- at least in theory. They are still working to understand the long-term implications of using this technology at large scale in the real world, however, where things spill, accidents happen, and people have their health, homes, schools, airports, groundwater, and even cemeteries to worry about.

We know scientists aren't the only ones looking for answers. So below, we tackle six key questions about fracking.

1. How does fracking work?

Read more: Climate & Energy


The Anthropocene explained, game-show style [AUDIO]

In 2000, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen suggested that humans have had such profound and far-reaching impacts on the planet that we have ushered in a new geologic age – the Age of Man, or, as Crutzen called it, the Anthropocene. The idea has been bouncing around the halls of academia ever since, and in the last few years, it has jumped from the ivory tower into popular literature and a few geek-tastic conversations over beer. The notion that humans now run this joint seems to have struck a chord.

Just getting up to speed? The team from the Generation Anthropocene podcast at Stanford University sat down in the recording studio and tried to explain everything in five short minutes. (It ended up taking seven, but who’s counting?) Just for fun, they did it game-show style.

Read more: Climate & Energy


The carbon tax, demystified

Photo by Grist / Shutterstock.

"Carbon tax": There’s something in that term for everyone to hate. For lefties and climate hawks, carbon -- as in carbon dioxide, the largest contributor to climate change -- is public enemy No. 1. And we all know what folks on the right think of taxes.

Yet the notion of creating a carbon tax in the U.S. refuses to die -- maybe because it’s a creative idea that also holds some appeal across the ideological spectrum. It’s a practical scheme to alleviate global warming -- and it’s market-based!

Here are some answers to the carbon-tax questions we know you have.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Agenda 21: Everything you need to know about the secret U.N. plot, in one comic

Agenda 21: It's the biggest threat to your freedom, and unless you regularly attend yahoo-filled local planning and zoning meetings, you've probably never even heard of it. Until recently, this 20-year-old United Nations plan to promote "sustainable development" was known only to stalwart defenders of Liberty and Freedom like the John Birch Society. But the underground resistance is about to go mainstream. GOP intellectual it boy Ted Cruz leads the counterstrike, and the Republican Party is even considering a public flambéing of Agenda 21 in its official 2012 platform.

Looking to help break the siege of bike paths and high-quality education on our freedoms? Here’s what you’ll need to know.

Read more: Politics


Gas prices explained by way of a neighborhood barbecue

As a summer pastime, griping about rising gas prices ranks right up there with backyard grilling.  Summer 2012 was slated to be a nonstop kvetching session: In spring, experts were predicting we’d pay $4 a gallon by season’s end.

Instead, in a repeat of a now common summer experience, prices dropped. Americans were left to grouse about a jump to a national average of just $3.42 for the month of July.

Why do we get this so wrong so often? To answer that, you have to learn how gas prices really work.

Read more: Climate & Energy