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Why the Arctic is drunk right now

Greg Laden/ECMWF

Perhaps the best analogy yet for the insane cold weather now afflicting the U.S. came from science blogger Greg Laden, who created the viral image above. "Go home, Arctic," it reads. "You're drunk."

When it comes to the reason why the United States is currently experiencing life-threatening cold -- with temperatures in the negative-20s in the upper Midwest, and wind chills much lower than that -- that's actually not so far from the truth. "It's basically the jet stream on a drunken path going around the Northern Hemisphere," explains Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. In other words, we're experiencing record-breaking cold temperatures because a wavy and elongated jet stream has allowed frigid Arctic air to travel much farther south than usual.

And according to Francis' research -- which has drawn increasing attention in the past few years -- we're seeing more of just this kind of jet stream behavior, thanks to the rapid warming of the Arctic.

Read more: Climate & Energy


The dirt on the “Agent Orange” GMOs you’ve been hearing so much about


On Friday, the USDA recommended the approval of new, herbicide-resistant, genetically engineered corn and soybeans. A lot of the journalism covering this news focused on concerns that it would be an environmental catastrophe, and dwelled on the ominous-sounding fact that the herbicide in question, 2,4-D, was an ingredient in the Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange. Here’s what you should know about this news:


U.S. sailors say Fukushima radiation made them sick

USS Ronald Reagan
U.S. Navy
The USS Ronald Reagan.

After Japan was pummeled by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the U.S. Navy sent the USS Ronald Reagan to deliver aid. The ship unwittingly sailed straight into a plume of radioactive pollution from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was melting down. Now at least 71 of those sailors are seriously ill.

The sailors are suing the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, owner and operator of the plant, alleging that it downplayed the dangers of the radioactivity -- radioactivity they say has left them riddled with cancers, thyroid problems, and other ailments. From Environment News Service:


Check out these awesome 1916 suffragettes riding around on scooters

Georges Léonnec via Treehugger

In 1916, if you were a progressive feminist, you rode a scooter.

Here, for instance, is Lady Florence Norman, who was a fan of women getting the vote and also ran a hospital during WWI. In other words, she was awesome. As was her scooter, which Treehugger explains, was gas-powered -- that electrical box was just for the lights and other doo-dads. We don't know precisely how its carbon emissions compared to a walking or taking a bus or newfangled electric tram. But, even in 1916, we think this was a better choice than a car.

Read more: Living


These bike turn signal gloves make you both safer and more rad

turn signal glove

On Kickstarter, an ex-Google employee named Zach Vorhies is hawking gloves with LED-lit arrows on them -- turn signals for bikes. We've seen some great DIY ideas for creating bike turn signals over the years, but these let you skip the DIY part which is great for the lazy among us. And they’re pretty slick!

Read more: Uncategorized


Beware the 16-foot giant snow shark

The Bartz brothers, of New Brighton, Minn., have developed an annual tradition of building giant, sea-themed snow creatures.

It all began with the five-foot tall Puffy the Pufferfish:

In 2012, they upped the ante and made a giant snow walrus:

Now, older and increasingly ambitious, the brothers have made a giant snow shark:

Read more: Living


Crab creates cinema masterpiece by trying to steal a camera and bury it

Remember the eagle who stole a video camera and made 2013’s Best Picture (knock on wood!)? Not to be outdone, a crab in Fiji has now snatched a vacationer’s camera in an attempt to show us humans how it’s done:

The audio is bad, so you can’t quite make out the crab’s narration, but I transcribed it for you:

Read more: Living


California is dangerously short on snow

Lake Tahoe on Dec. 24, 2013
Light Brigading
Lake Tahoe looked enchanting when this photo was taken last month -- but there should be much more snow around it than this.

It might be hard for anybody suffering through a Midwestern blizzard to sympathize, but the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California is seriously short on snow.

That's not just bad news for skiers and for the wintertime industry that caters to them. When the snow melts, it provides water to residents all the way west to San Francisco and south to Los Angeles. It also replenishes streams and rivers used by salmon and other wildlife. Less snow in winter means less water later in the year. (Meanwhile, L.A. just set a new record for the lowest annual rainfall on record.)

Officials measured the Sierra snowpack on Friday and found it to be storing just 19 percent of the average amount of water for this time of year. That matches a record low set at this time last year, suggesting that the region is at the beginning of a third straight year of drought.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Fracking could be bad for babies


Delegates at the annual get-together of the American Economic Association were presented with troubling data on Saturday that suggests Pennsylvania's fracking boom is putting its youngest residents at risk. Bloomberg explains:

[R]esearchers ... looked at Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 to assess the health of infants born within a 2.5-kilometer radius of natural-gas fracking sites. They found that proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half, from about 5.6 percent to more than 9 percent. The chances of a low Apgar score, a summary measure of the health of newborn children, roughly doubled, to more than 5 percent. ...

Surprisingly, water contamination does not appear to be the culprit: The researchers found similar results for mothers who had access to regularly monitored public water systems and mothers who relied on the kind of private wells that fracking is most likely to affect. Another possibility is that infants are being harmed by air pollution associated with fracking activity.

We should point out that the study hasn't been published or peer-reviewed yet, and that the apparent correlation is not, in itself, evidence of causation.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Believe it or not, these gorgeous pictures of melting glaciers aren’t photographs

Zaria Forman

Here’s climate change art we actually like! Brooklyn artist Zaria Forman makes beautiful, ginormous pastel landscapes that serve as snapshots of melting glaciers and rising seas. (You may’ve seen her work in House of Cards if you have a habit of staring at sets.) Believe it or not, this is not a photograph. I mean, THIS is a photograph, but it's a photograph OF a pastel drawing. (Scroll down to see one in progress if you don't believe me.)

Greenland #62 / 47”x70” / Soft pastel on paper
Zaria Forman
Greenland #62 / 47”x70” / Soft pastel on paper

Read more: Living