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Now you can get raw milk from a vending machine

mlekomat-milk-vending-machine
John Kroll

What if buying fresh milk from local cows were as easy as getting a Sprite? It is in Europe, of course (an entire continent seemingly dedicated to inspiring jealousy).

Modern Farmer reports that raw milk vending machines are commonplace in countries like France, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Expat Rebecca McCray raves that not only do local farmers own all of Slovenia’s raw milk vending machines, or mlekomats, but the unpasteurized stuff simply tastes better:

[T]he unskimmed milk from the mlekomat is utterly unrecognizable compared with the bluish, watery counterpart I bought in the U.S.

True that. Skim milk is nobody's idea of a good time.

Read more: Food, Living

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Old-timey sunset paintings shed light on pollution’s past

the-lake-petworth-jmw-turner
The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks, by J. M. W. Turner

Did you know you can tell how polluted the air is based on the color of the sunset? True fact! Sunsets can look redder for YEARS after a volcano erupts, due to the ash and gas in the atmosphere.

Armed with that knowledge (and a bunch more, because they’re really smart), German and Greek scientists examined sunset paintings from 1500 to 2000 to see whether the 50-plus volcanic eruptions during that time affected the colors used. Spoiler alert: They totally did!

“We found that red-to-green ratios measured in the sunsets of paintings by great masters correlate well with the amount of volcanic aerosols in the atmosphere, regardless of the painters and of the school of painting,” says [lead author Christos] Zerefos.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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One California oil town keeps fracking in check — by banning all drilling

oil rigs
Shutterstock

To the city council, the story sounded a little fishy. It was true that Carson City, Calif., probably still had oil of some kind. Los Angeles County had a well-documented history of being an oily place. As early as the 1850s, there were reports of enterprising folks scooping up the occasional seep of oil that rose to the surface and refining it into lamp oil. But these days the easy oil of L.A. County is long gone -- especially in Carson, where the oil drilling began in the 1920s.

So how was Occidental Petroleum, which had approached the city with a set of plans for new drilling infrastructure, planning to get more? A few years ago, the company had begun reopening wells that had seemed closed for good. Now, it had announced its intention to drill 200 new ones. What, exactly, was it planning on doing differently, that other wildcatters with oily gleams in their eyes had somehow missed?

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Dream of Californication

Meet the new California, where Paris Hilton isn’t cool but walking, biking, and transit are

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Oleg

California was full of regrettable trends in the early aughts: Paris Hilton, Juicy Couture tracksuits, chockers, screamo, and, apparently, everyone driving 89 percent of the time. But a recent California Household Travel Survey shows some Golden State residents have thankfully traded in their Ugg boots for transit passes.

Californians now walk to their destination twice as much as they used to; the proportion of their trips made by foot is up from 8.4 percent in 2000 to 16.6 percent.

The study, which is based on the behavior of 109,000 people from more than 42,000 households over the course of 2012, also shows that more Californians are biking and using public transit to get around. In total, the amount of carless trips went from 11 percent in 2000 to 23 percent.

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Can I get a Dasani, bro? Not in this national park, you can’t!

bear_dasanibottle
Bear photo: Eric Gorski

“Man,” said one bear to the other, prying open his Dasani water bottle with one claw. “It’s gonna be such a bummer once they ban these babies.”

“I feel you, dude,” his ursine friend responded, gnawing at a bottlecap. “I cannot get ENOUGH of these things!”

This exchange is clearly fictional. Contrary to popular commercial imagery, bears don’t drink out of bottles. Even if they did -- which they don’t, seriously -- those taking up residence in national parks across the United States are going to start finding it a lot more difficult to get their paws on some Aquafina. More than 20 national parks across the country  have now banned the sale of plastic water bottles, with more parks expected to enact bans of their own this year.

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Here’s how rooftop gardens can empower women and tame population growth

after-my-garden-grows.jpg

If you care about the environment (at least according to Bill Maher) you’ve got to be thinking about population growth. The best way to level off population growth (at least according to world history) is to give women power to choose if they want to have babies or not. Perhaps the best way to empower women is to literally give them power by giving them the means to earn money. And investing in small-scale farming is often the most effective way to lift people -- especially women -- out of poverty.

You can keep looking for the next link in this chain of argument -- but it's so much easier, and more rewarding, just to take 10 minutes and watch this film. There, you will see how a rural Indian teen’s rooftop garden can quietly erode the patriarchal force pushing her toward early marriage and a big family.

Megan Mylan, who won an Academy Award for a previous short documentary, directed the film, titled After My Garden Grows. It’s part of the Sundance Institute’s Short Film Challenge.

It's true that I'm a sucker both for kickass women and for creative farmers, so I may by prejudiced, but I'm now a fan.

Read more: Food

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Load of carp

Can we eat our way out of the invasive carp problem?

Fish and Chips
James

Humans did in the dodo; annihilated the Great Auk; likely mowed down the moa; and definitely pwned the passenger pigeon. What can we say? We were hungry.

But what if we used the power of our collective munchies to SOLVE problems, rather than cause them? As NPR reported yesterday, entrepreneurs along Midwestern waterways are trying to turn back the tide of invasive Asian carp by frying them in breadcrumbs -- or at least by convincing someone else to.

Asian carp breed like rabbits and are about as popular on contemporary American dinner plates (though broiling Bugs gets plenty of media coverage, the nation isn't exactly lapin it up). They slipped into our rivers in the '70s and can now be found all along the Mississippi River watershed, throughout a dozen states. In some places, the fish's density is as high as 13 tons per mile. Picture that load of carp.

Read more: Food

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This pickle chandelier is a delightfully mystifying take on alternative lightbulbs

gherkin-pickle-chandelier

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

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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

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

mustard seed
Shutterstock

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."