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Oh, heck yes: Check out these farm tools for women

female-farmer.jpg
Shutterstock

When it comes to products designed for women, the field is full of bubblegum-colored toolkits and dainty pens. "Shrink it and pink it" tends to be the default philosophy of the men wearing ties (presumably uttered as they do Mel Gibson impressions around the boardroom table).

So what happens when the product designers have no Y chromosomes and don gender-neutral polar fleeces instead of suits?

You get Green Heron Tools and a batch of farming and gardening tools that are actually useful for women. Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger founded the business after farming for 20 years and noticing the tools didn't quite work for their bodies. Deborah Huso interviewed the pair over at Modern Farmer:

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keeping it cool

Another climate crackdown from Obama’s EPA

AC
Shutterstock

The Montreal Protocol, arguably the world's most successful environmental treaty, rapidly reduced CFC use around the globe -- and, in doing so, put us on the path to save the ozone layer from threatened annihilation. But the treaty had an unintended consequence. Many manufacturers switched from CFCs to HFCs, which we now know to be especially potent greenhouse gases.

So now we have to put out that fire. And on Thursday, the EPA took a major step toward doing just that, issuing new draft rules that would limit the use of the chemicals.

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Join us for a bumpy ride through Uber’s myriad challenges

Lately, app-based ridesharing company Uber has had a maze of issues to work through. Legal challenges from the taxi industry, disgruntled drivers looking to unionize, and protests in Europe and the U.S. are taking the company, recently valued at $18.2 billion, for a rough ride.

Will Uber make it through the maze of problems it faces from taxi companies and its own drivers? The company has several fine lines to walk drive.

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frond memories

Forget potato salad — fund this science project and help cure the climate

azolla fern crop
David Midgley

Azolla, otherwise known as duckweed, is a tiny aquatic fern with a secret superpower: It can turn nitrogen from the air into plant food.

Actually, azolla can't do this on its own. It relies on symbiotic bacteria tenants who do the real work of 'fixing' the atmospheric nitrogen into a more plant-accessible form. As a result of this tasty talent, azolla can also double its biomass every few days, sequestering large amounts of carbon all the while.

So no wonder a group of researchers at Duke University want you to pitch in to help them sequence the fern's genome, as well as the genomes of all the little microbes who give the plant its edge. Understanding the mechanics behind azolla's magic power may help farmers move away from artificial fertilizers and the pollution associated with them -- Asian rice farmers were planting the stuff alongside their crops 1,500 years ago.

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Hand it over!

Europe really wants America’s oil and gas

EU flag
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It isn't just oil companies that are pushing the U.S. to drop its near-total ban on crude oil exports. European Union negotiators are trying to convince America to not only end the ban but agree to a "legally binding commitment" that would guarantee both oil and gas exports to its members.

The Washington Post got its hands on a secret E.U. document describing negotiations related to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The free-trade agreement could affect $4.7 trillion in trade between the U.S. and Europe -- and energy supplies are at the forefront of the European negotiators' minds.

"The EU proposes to include a legally binding commitment in the TTIP guaranteeing the free export of crude oil and gas resources," the "restricted" European Council document states.

So far, it seems that U.S. negotiators have been stonewalling the bid for such a legally binding commitment. "The U.S. has ... been hesitant to discuss a solution for U.S. export restrictions on natural gas and crude oil in the TTIP through binding legal commitments," the document says.

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Zero-energy house of the future could be lurking in your neighborhood

NIST-house
Reuters

Wondering what houses will look like in the future? Wonder no longer! Gaze upon the net-zero energy test house built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)! Gaze, I say!

Have you gazed yet?

And you’re back?

OK, so houses in the future will look exactly like every other boring house in the dull neighborhoods replacing amber waves of grain from coast to coast. And as far as it goes, that’s a good thing. People love boring. Community associations love boring. Boring is sexy. If it looked like an H.R. Giger fever dream people wouldn’t build them.

This particular house was built to do everything the typical American family of four does and end up using zero net energy, and after a year, it turns out it didn’t quite work out: Despite massive snowfalls and a rough winter, the home actually produced 441 more kilowatts of energy than it used, enough to drive an electric car over 1,400 miles -- which, considering the house was built in Maryland’s D.C. suburbs, the most boring place in America, might be far enough to get you someplace interesting.

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Wanna see a magic trick?

Environmental free-trade deal could help tar-sands producers

environmental goods
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Negotiations began Tuesday at the World Trade Organization on a free-trade agreement that would free "environmental goods" from the shackles of tariffs and other protectionist measures. Such measures have been put in place around the world to protect domestic manufacturing industries and jobs from cheaper imports. They can increase the price of the products compared with, say, if they were all made in Vietnamese sweatshops.

The WTO talks in Geneva are a big deal -- they involve the United States, China, the European Union, and 11 other countries. They could affect $1 trillion worth of trade every year.

So why aren't environmentalists shouting, "Hallelujah?"

Because it's a ruse.

"These negotiations are less about protecting the environment than they are about expanding free trade," Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program, told Grist. "Of course we support the increased use of, and trade in, environmentally beneficial products. But we have really serious concerns about the approach that the World Trade Organization is taking."

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“It’s raining renewable energy loans!” shrieks DOE, racing to the dance floor

money
JSlavy

Last week, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced a $4 billion loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects. It was like the first few delicate wildflowers poking out of the scorched base of the volcano that was Solyndra. Incredible! It's been three years now, and not only did President Obama fail to die from bad-solar-panel-investment shame, but solar power is going gangbusters, even if Solyndra is still toast. Internationally, renewable energy, but solar in particular, looks to be going through a process similar to what happened to the personal computer starting in the 1980s: Technology leaps, prices drop, and in …

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Will gas get a free pass?

Oil companies try to weasel out of California’s cap-and-trade program

tailpipe emissions
Shutterstock

Like climate change, California's cap-and-trade program is an evolving and growing beast. Since its official launch last year, power plants, cement producers, glass manufacturers, and some other heavy industries operating in the Golden State have been required to reduce carbon emissions and pay for the privilege of polluting the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases. In January of 2015, the program is due to expand to affect suppliers of natural gas and motor fuels, helping to further slow global warming and raise billions more dollars for climate and environmental programs.

But, whoa, hold up there, you crazy Left Coasters. Including gasoline in the program would slightly raise gas prices and provide financial support for alternatives, such as electric-vehicle charging stations and solar panels. And that's the last thing Big Oil and its pals want.

ClimateWire reports that oil companies and big business groups have been pushing state lawmakers to exempt gasoline from the cap-and-trade program, pointing out that Californian motorists would be burdened with increased prices at gas pumps. And it seems that some lawmakers have been listening carefully. Last week, Assemblymember Henry Perea (D) amended legislation in such a way as to exempt motor fuels from the program for an additional three years.

"The cap-and-trade system should not be used to raise billions of dollars in new state funds at the expense of consumers who are struggling to get back on their feet after the recession," Perea said in a press release.

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Situation normal, all trucked up

Um, TransCanada just bought off a town with a firetruck

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P199

Pipeline company TransCanada recently gave Mattawa, a small town in Ontario, Canada, about $28,200 ($30,000 Canadian) to spend on a rescue truck. Mattawa's volunteer fire department plans to use the truck to put out fires, and rescue people who've fallen through the ice or gotten themselves into car accidents. Sounds nice, right? Who doesn't like to be pulled out of a ice-cold lake, or a flaming car wreck by a nice new truck, especially when the newest truck your volunteer fire department has is over a decade old? Well, the truck came with a few catches, which interested parties can …