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Is it hot in here? Yes, and it’s killing us

hotinhere
Shutterstock

Stop me if you know this feeling: It’s 95 degrees in the shade, with 95 percent humidity. Walking three blocks requires Herculean effort and occasional detours into air-conditioned bodegas. The idea of standing in close proximity to other humans on the subway inspires a sensation of nausea. You think: “If I have to live another hour like this, I might actually die.”

Here’s some uplifting news: Turns out that today, you actually are more likely to die from a heat wave than at any point in the last 40 years! Happy Monday!

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Oklahoma hit by eight earthquakes in two days. Is the fracking industry to blame?

oil drill in Oklahoma
Shutterstock / Anthony Butler

The eight earthquakes that occurred in Oklahoma over the past couple of days may be yet another side effect the U.S.’s insidious fracking boom.

The quakes hit between Saturday morning and early Monday morning, most of them small enough that people didn’t realize the ground was shaking beneath them (they ranged from 2.6 to 4.3 on the Richter scale). But they’re part of a broader trend of increased seismic activity in the heartland over the last few years, a trend that correlates with the growth of fracking. As the L.A. Times reports, Oklahoma experienced 109 tremblors measuring 3.0 or greater in 2013, more than 5,000 percent above normal.

Fracking itself isn't thought to blame, but the disposal of fracking wastewater might be. Scientists have found that pumping the wastewater from fracking operations into wells likely triggers earthquakes because it messes with ground pressure, especially as those wells become more full. Like the wastewater well in Youngstown, Ohio, that triggered 167 earthquakes during a single year of operation. The biggest one, a sizable 5.7, happened the day after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources finally stepped in to shut the well down.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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This Texas solar farm uses sheep for its landscaping needs

curious-sheep
Eric Gevaert

Using livestock in the solar power industry is a time-honored practice dating back to at least last Monday. But as handy as it is to have a donkey saddled with solar panels, when the energy requirements grow beyond charging tour laptop, larger and larger solar-animals are required. Eventually, strapping panels to grazing mammals becomes impractical.

That doesn’t mean that big solar plants don’t have a place for some four-hooved hench-creatures, however.

Enter the sheep. (Enter the Sheep, by the way, was to be the title of Bruce Lee’s next film). A small solar farm owned by CPS Energy, the municipal power company in San Antonio, Texas, has enlisted the help of the wooly workers to keep its grounds safe and tidy.

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Thanks to the fracking boom, we’re wasting more money than ever on fossil fuel subsidies

burningmoney
Mike Poresky

You probably know that the U.S. government subsidizes fossil fuel production. But here’s something you probably don’t know: Those subsidies have recently increased dramatically. According to a report released last week by Oil Change International, “Federal fossil fuel production and exploration subsidies in the United States have risen by 45 percent since President Obama took office in 2009, from $12.7 billion to a current total of $18.5 billion.” We are, as the report observes, “essentially rewarding companies for accelerating climate change.”

At first glance, this seems strange. Why would there be such a big increase under a Democratic president who has committed his administration to combatting climate change, and who has even repeatedly called for eliminating exactly these kinds of dirty energy subsidies?

The short answer: fracking. The fracking boom has led to a surge in oil and natural gas production in recent years: Oil production is up by 35 percent since 2009, and natural gas production is up by 18 percent. With more revenues, expenditures, and profits in the oil and gas industries, the value of the various tax deductions for the oil industry has soared. So, for example, the deduction for “intangible drilling costs” cost taxpayers $1.6 billion in 2009, and $3.5 billion in 2013.

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Food fight

Eden Foods hit by backlash for fighting Obamacare’s contraception mandate

empty Eden cans

We told you recently that Eden Foods, a widely distributed organic brand, has sued the Obama administration over the requirement that companies cover contraception as part of employee health-care plans. As word has spread, outrage has spread.

More than 112,000 people have a signed a petition organized by progressive group CREDO Action:

Tell CEO of Eden Foods, Michael Potter:

"I won’t buy Eden products until you stop playing politics with women’s health and drop your attacks on birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act."

Some are tweeting out Eden-shaming selfies:

Read more: Food, Living, Politics

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Hackers hack monster burritos down to sensible size

BurritoGodzilla2
Tyler Parker | Justin Brown

“Burrito creep” is the sort of jargon you’re unlikely to hear unless you descend deep into a highly specialized world. In this case, that world is the food company Chipotle, and "burrito creep" is the term of art employees have come up with to describe a seemingly unstoppable phenomenon: No matter what they try, the burritos keep getting bigger. And the bigger they get, the larger the proportion that ends up in the trash.

Thanks to some creative thinking at the Food+Tech Connect Hack//Dining event in New York, there may be a solution to burrito creep -- one that gives eaters an incentive to control portions and cut back on the most carbon-intensive ingredients (like meat).

The point of these hackathons is to bring clever people together and set them loose on bite-sized food and sustainability problems. “The problems in the food industry are complex, and they aren’t going to be solved in a weekend,” said Danielle Gould, founder of Food+Tech Connect. “The point is to get new ideas into circulation, new people working on this, and to do rapid prototyping -- to actually make a real product in a weekend.”

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Ask Umbra: What’s a girl to do with soap that’s full of plastic microbeads?

UmbraSoap
iStock

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Shortly before the reports that described the effect of microbeads on our waterways came out, I was at Costco and bought several bottles of facial scrub on sale. I stopped using it, but still have 2 or 3 bottles here in the house. What's the best way to dispose of it?

Dori G.
Cockeysville, Maryland

A. Dearest Dori,

What lamentable luck. Like anyone stuck with a pile of Brazil World Cup Champion T-shirts could tell you, sometimes it backfires to buy in bulk. You may have already purchased the plasticky potions, but I have good news: You can still keep their insidious microbeads out of our waterways.

But first, in case anyone here has missed the microbead brouhaha of late: Many personal-care products intended to exfoliate the skin, such as face scrubs and body washes, derive their abrasive powers from tiny bits of plastic (a bit nonsensical, really, but there you have it). But researchers have realized the tiny bits of plastic, a.k.a. microbeads, are showing up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans, where they’re attracting pollutants and getting eaten by fish and generally behaving badly. Turns out, water treatment plants can’t filter out these minuscule bits, so they go straight from our sinks and tubs to the sea. (Read more about the problem here.)

Knowing this, you’re right not to sigh and simply use up the rest of your supply, Dori.

Read more: Living

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With Dov Charney gone, these are the only clothes made by dangerous animals

lion_jeans
Zoo Jeans

When supporters of the Kamine Zoo in Hitachi, Japan, needed to raise money for renovations, they passed on the usual fundraising routes and instead took a leap into the world of high fashion. Rather than recruiting the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, they decided to go in-house with their design process. Specifically: the lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) department. Tires and rubber balls were wrapped in sheets of denim before being tossed them to the predators. The resulting Zoo Jeans are "the only jeans on earth designed by dangerous animals," the volunteer group claims. Zoo Jeans It sure looks like these animals don't mind adding their creative flair and masticatory …

Read more: Living

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Inside Yingli, the giant Chinese solar company sponsoring the World Cup

solar.jpg
Climate Desk

It takes about two hours by car from the Chinese capital Beijing to get to the smog-blanketed city of Baoding. I don't mean to be rude, but it's nothing much to speak of, typical of the Northeast's expanse of industrial wastelands, threaded together by super-highways.

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Primal Screen

“Snowpiercer” is cli-fi with no science in it. We need more films like it.

Tilda Swinton in 'Snowpiercer.'
Radius/The Weinstein Company

First of all, you’ll have to get past the title. Yes, Snowpiercer sounds like temperature-play porn or badly translated anime. Moving on.

The movie is actually a wildly bizarre sci-fi action flick from celebrated Korean director Bong Joon Ho (The Host), based on a French graphic novel. It enjoys an 83-percent rating on Metacritic. Not bad for a movie where all the action is confined to a single train, and soot-dusted extras from Oliver get into bloody axe battles with masked, bondagey bros with night vision. Also, Captain America has a beard in it and he never smiles. (It opened in a few select cities a few weeks ago and expands to 354 theaters  and video-on-demand today.)

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living