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This pickle chandelier is a delightfully mystifying take on alternative lightbulbs


If you shoot 300 watts of electricity through a little pickle, it glows, thanks to the acetic acid and sodium chloride in its vinegar. And if you wire together 60 pickles and give ‘em enough juice to light a city block, you can have a gherkin chandelier on your hands! Who knew?

Whimsical culinary wackos Bompas & Parr, that’s who. Quoth Ars Technica:

"We knew you could use any pickled foods, even hotdogs, for improvised food-based light features. But gherkins are best through their high water content and translucence, the ultimate food based bulbs!" says Bompas.

"The prince of pickles works as a high resistance material, like the filament in a bulb with a ghostly yellow light. The electricity excites the sodium ions in the salt. Falling back to ground state they emit light at a frequency called Sodium D-line. This light frequency has allowed space scientists to identify sodium in Mercury's atmosphere."

Read more: Living


Air pollution kills 7 million people every year

Cairo air pollution
Nina Hale
Cairo air pollution.

The World Health Organization's latest advice could be reinterpreted as a cruel oxymoron: Stop breathing, or you'll stop breathing. A tall order, but one in eight deaths in 2012 was caused by air pollution. And more likely than not, that one air-pollution-wrecked body lived its shortened life in a poor or developing country -- probably in Asia.

WHO's latest air-pollution-linked mortality estimates double previous annual figures, due largely to medical discoveries about pollution's poisonous effects. Scientists have been discovering that a shockingly long list of afflictions can be exacerbated or triggered by air pollution -- everything from heart attacks and lung cancer to diabetes and viral infections. The inhalation of tiny particles is now regarded as the world’s largest single environmental health risk -- responsible for an estimated 7 million deaths in 2012.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Wait, why are we dunking so many of our seeds in neonic poison?

mustard seed

In the same way that America's fast-food industry fooled us into accepting that a burger must come with a pile of fries and a colossal Coke, the agricultural industry has convinced farmers that seeds must come coated with a side of pesticides.

And research suggests that, just like supersized meals, neonicotinoid seed treatments are a form of dangerous overkill -- harming bees and other wildlife but providing limited agricultural benefits. The routine use of seed treatments is especially useless in fields where pest numbers are low, or where insects, such as soybean aphids, chomp down on the crops after the plant has grown and lost much of its insecticidal potency.

“The environmental and economic costs of pesticide seed treatments are well-known," said Peter Jenkins, one of the authors of a new report that summarizes the findings of 19 peer-reviewed studies dealing with neonic treatments and major crop yields. "What we learned in our thorough analysis of the peer-reviewed science is that their claimed crop yield benefit is largely illusory, making their costs all the more tragic."


Golf clubs probably started two California wildfires


Going golfing during a drought is practically Gatsbian in its excess, even if the course uses recycled water. (“A ‘responsibly managed’ golf course still used 83 percent more water to irrigate its plants than was necessary,” writes Joel Makower of GreenBiz.) So it’s doubly insulting to us plebes that golf clubs might have started two recent fires in California.

In a new paper in Fire and Materials, UC Irvine researchers explain how relatively new, lightweight titanium golf clubs spark when they hit a rock, unlike traditional stainless steel clubs -- and the sparks are hot enough to start a fire. Watch awesomely named UC Irvine professor James Earthman make sparks fly:

After two golfers confessed to starting fires, the Orange County Fire Authority asked if the researchers would investigate. Reports the New York Times:

Read more: Living


Sen. Landrieu doesn’t need your love. Big Oil’s got her back.

Sen. Landrieu in 2011, championing the RESTORE Act, which will direct 80 percent of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill fines to Gulf Coast states and restoration projects

You might expect the Democratic chair of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee to be an ally of the environmental movement. After all, her committee has jurisdiction over federal policies on energy and nuclear waste, among other things. Facing a tough reelection fight, her friends in the nation’s leading environmental organizations would rush to her defense, right?

Well, not if that chair is Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. As I explained in December -- when it became apparent that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would be moving from Energy to chair the Finance Committee, with Landrieu replacing him -- Landrieu is no tree-hugger. She’s more into drilling rigs and gas pipelines:

In 2011, she voted in favor of an amendment sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reverse the EPA’s decision to label CO2 a pollutant under the Clean Air Act... She voted against the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)... She voted for an amendment to the 2012 transportation bill that would have opened up vast areas of coastline to offshore drilling, potentially damaging coastal industries and interfering with military activity.

When 31 senators took the floor for an all-night talk-a-thon about climate change earlier this month, Landrieu was notably absent. (Republicans criticized her anyway for not being sufficiently subservient to the oil and gas industries.) Landrieu also led the successful recent effort to undo flood insurance reform. Now, your tax dollars will once again be used to subsidize beachfront homes being constantly rebuilt in harm’s way.

The senator's love for fossil fuels makes sense, in a way: Oil and gas drilling is a big part of Louisiana’s economy.

But now, environmentalists are trying to punish Landrieu, who is up for reelection this November. National Journal reported on Sunday that Landrieu has only gotten $2,500 from the environmental community, from one local group, the Baton Rouge-based Center for Coastal Conservation. The national green groups are shunning her.

But don’t worry about Landrieu. Her friends in the fossil fuel industry are eagerly rewarding her years of loyal service. This from NJ:


See the complete evolution of the bicycle in 60 seconds

Got a minute and wanna see your fixie’s ancestors? Check out this lovely little video from Copenhagen design firm Visual Artwork:

Kind of interesting that the bicycle’s earliest incarnations from the early 1810s don’t look THAT different from what we ride today, with identical-size wheels and a seat positioned toward the back. It’s all those versions in the middle that look so funky: the high-wheel bicycle of the 1870s, with its huge front wheel, and the high-wheel safety, with a giant rear wheel.

Read more: Living


Scientists figured out how to remove the valuable stuff from your pee

© Knut Dobberke / Fraunhofer ISC

Phosphorus is some tricky stuff. Pros: It occurs naturally in milk and meat; we need it for strong bones; it’s vital for food production. Cons: It’s increasingly snuck into food, and when phosphorus hits rivers, it suffocates marine life. So basically it’s good if we can stop it early on in the waste stream, but in the past, that’s been “unnecessarily inefficient.”

Which is why it’s so cool that scientists have discovered a way to take the phosphorus out of our pee (and that’s a lot -- we piss out 3 million tons of it each year). And considering that people have been fretting about "peak phosphorus" for the past few years, the innovation just might have come in the nick of time.

The technique, as Gizmodo explains, sounds only slightly more complicated than holding a magnet in your toilet bowl:

Read more: Living


This augmented reality bus shelter is both awesome and terrifying

Just about the last thing any weary, precaffeinated morning commuter needs is to think a meteor is smashing into her. And yet that’s what the geniuses at Pepsi thought would be huh-LARIOUS.


To promote one of their random new drinks, the beverage company installed an augmented reality panel on a bus shelter in London. Commuters saw a video feed of the sidewalk, but with several surprising overlays: UFOs, a tiger, and that giant meteor crashing down within startle-worthy proximity. Here’s the video:

Read more: Cities, Living


Special Olympics

Watch this scientist fight climate change on the gorgeous Olympic Coast

The Olympic Coast isn't clear of climate impacts.

If you're anything like me, the thought of a National Park Service-commissioned film called Tides Of Change makes you wanna take a nap. But you'll be pleasantly surprised: It's actually a beautifully shot, info-stuffed little production that follows park ecologist Steve Fradkin as he monitors climate change impacts up and down Olympic National Park's wild-as-wind coast.

It even has a rad soundtrack courtesy of Junip, acousti-star Jose Gonzalez's full-band side project. You can watch the whole not-quite-14-minute film here:

The film does a great job of  capturing the park's signature coastal features: tidepools choked with Skittle-colored invertebrates, giant trees wreathed in fog, seastacks crumbling into the sea -- y'know, grade-A nature porn. But it does a rarer thing in humanizing climate scientist Fradkin. Sure, we see him dipping mechanical doo-dads into waves and measuring out biodiversity plotting grids -- but we also spend time at his house where he hosts an intertidal research crew party thick with grilled salmon, cocktails, and plenty of kids and dogs running around. (If you haven't ever wanted to be a medium-chill ecologist before: 1) What is wrong with you? 2) Now you will.)

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Climate change is going to turn the Earth into a planet of hungry kids

hungry kid

Talk of climate change-induced disasters probably brings to mind Pacific islands disappearing into the ocean, powerful storm surges, overwhelming floods, and raging wildfires. But some of the impacts -- stemming in part from some of these same phenomena -- will be more prosaic, but just as deadly.

Take food. A report released Monday evening by Oxfam America, an anti-poverty organization, finds that, “food prices could double by 2030, with half of this rise driven by climate change.” The result? “There could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of 5 in 2050, compared with a world without climate change.”

We're not talking about kids in the backseat whining that they want their chicken McNuggets posthaste. This is about already impoverished families in the world's poorest countries that will be pushed to starvation by rising prices for their dietary staples.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food