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Portland made it through 2013 with zero bike fatalities

Cargo bike
Jeff Youngstrom

Biking in a city, with big hunks of car and truck zooming by, can be frightening. But it shouldn't be. And it doesn't need to be. As Bike Portland reports, in the whole of 2013, in one of the most biking-est cities in the country, nobody died in a bike accident.

Bike Portland:

There were several serious collisions, covered here on the site, including one major hit-and-run that remains unsolved. But the number-one reason Portland is the country's best big city for biking is that this is, compared to any other large U.S. city and lots of the smaller ones, an extremely safe place to ride a bicycle.

This isn't a new feat for Portland: the city also avoided any bike-related fatalities in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

This is one of those virtuous cycles.

Read more: Cities, Living


The Canadian government doesn’t want you to get the mistaken impression that it takes climate change seriously

2010 protest
Paul McKinnon / Shutterstock

"The government of Canada takes climate change seriously, and recognizes the scientific findings that conclude that human activities are mostly responsible for this change."

Canada's environment minister came close to uttering that fairly ho-hum sentence in September -- part of the government's brief public response to the latest alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But, in the end, the sentence was never said.


This plastic is made out of carbon sucked from the air

screenshot-newlight copy
Screenshot via Newlight

Mark Herrema and Kenton Kimmel make a product that seems almost magic: They pull carbon out to the air and they make it into plastic. They call it AirCarbon, but they might as well call it AbraCadabra.

Actually, it's not magic -- it's just economical. Scientists have known for a while that this process is possible; it's just not cheap. But Herrema and Kimmel developed a catalyst that’s 10 times more efficient than other possibilities, USA Today reports. Which means their process makes financial as well as scientific sense.

Does it also make climate sense? An independent analysis found that the process of making Air Carbon does capture more carbon than it emits. But, USA Today says, it's not all that much carbon:

[Physicist William] Dowd, who is not a Newlight investor, says AirCarbon closely resembles polypropylene and could be a cheaper alternative. He doubts it will do much to reduce global warming, citing the enormity of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants alone.

Read more: Living


Gross caterpillars have such bad nicotine breath, everyone leaves them alone

Ken Slade

Manduca sexta, the tobacco hornworm, lives in a cloud of nicotine. Unlike most small insects, the caterpillars can eat the leaves of tobacco plants, taking in quantities of nicotine that would poison most creatures its size. But instead, the hornworm just gets bad breath -- its body extracts the nicotine from the plant and exhales some of it, creating "quadruple the concentration of nicotine in the air around them, creating an effective anti-spider spray," National Geographic’s Ed Yong reports.

It doesn't bother the caterpillars. It does bother predators like wolf spiders, which, once they notice the caterpillar's nicotine breath, steer clear. Just think of how non-smokers react to a cloud of tobacco smoke, and you know exactly how the spider feels.

Read more: Living


Another oil-hauling train explodes, forcing evacuations in North Dakota

oil cars on train

North Dakota's oil-drilling boom spawned yet another fiery train wreck this week.

A 106-car crude-hauling train derailed and exploded on Monday, the latest unfortunate consequence of the mad scramble to get fracked oil to refineries by rail.

Nobody was hurt during the explosion and fire, which burned for more than a day, but most residents of a nearby town in eastern North Dakota heeded evacuation calls as toxic smoke billowed over their homes.

"This is too close for comfort," Casselton Mayor Ed McConnell told the AP. "There have been numerous derailments in this area. It's almost gotten to the point that it looks like not if we're going to have an accident, it's when." Here's more from AP:


Antarctic researchers rescued following icy ordeal

Akademik Shokalskiy
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy in happier times.

A team of Antarctic researchers was rescued after spending nine days "stuck," as one of the scientists put it, "in our own experiment."

Members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition were among 52 passengers aboard the MV Akademik Shokalskiy when it became trapped in sea ice on Dec. 24. Rescue efforts were thwarted for more than a week by bad weather, but on Thursday the scientists and tourists were finally airlifted by a Chinese helicopter to the safety of an Australian icebreaker:

The scientists had planned to study how the melting of B09B, one of the world's biggest icebergs, is triggering a buildup in surrounding sea ice and altering deep ocean currents.

Read more: Climate & Energy


This weird jumping fish lives on land

leaping blenny
Martin Eckert

The Pacific leaping blenny (Alticus arnoldorum) is a land-dwelling fish that sounds like an Irish drinking exclamation ("leapin' blenny!") or maybe the name of a pub. Native to Guam, the fish is also the subject of a new study in Animal Behavior that looks at how important camouflage is.

The li’l buddies are only one to three inches long, but they can leap much farther than that (hence the name), flinging themselves on rocks near water and wiggling around to stay wet. Writes Sci-News:

“This terrestrial fish spends all of its adult life living on the rocks in the splash zone, hopping around defending its territory, feeding and courting mates ...” said study senior author Dr. Terry Ord.

Sounds like twentysomethings. Zing!

Read more: Living


The year in GIFs: 2013′s green news in animated form

It's been a year. Here are a few of 2013's top green stories, animated. Happy 2014!

Obama unveiled an actual climate plan in June!

Reaction Gifs

...But he likes fracking. REALLY likes it.

Read more: Living


Tiny brewery sticks it to Starbucks

At Exit 6 Brewery, a little brewpub north of St. Louis, you can order a creamy vanilla stout that tastes like a Frappuccino. Just don’t call it that, because you might wind up paying Starbucks a hefty $6.


That’s what happened to Exit 6 owner Jeff Britton when Starbucks heard the brewery was serving Frappicino [sic] beers. After getting Starbucks’ cease and desist, Britton not only changed the drink’s name to The F Word but mailed Starbucks’ lawyers a $6 check and a sneakily hilarious letter:

We never thought that our beer drinking customers would have thought that the alcoholic beverage coming out of the tap would have actually been coffee from one of the many, many, many stores located a few blocks away...So that was our mistake...We also promise to stop production of our “Starbuck-McDonalds-Coca Cola-Marlboro Honey Lager” for fear of further repercussions...

Read more: Food, Living


Ask Umbra: Does leaving the lights on really keep the burglars away?

spooky guy

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I always cringe when I see people leave their lights on when they’re not home to deter would-be burglars. Does burning the bulbs for hours really prevent robberies?

Ron K.
Wheaton, Ill.

A. Dearest Ron,

Environmental consciousness can be quite the balancing act. On the one hand, you certainly don’t want to be wantonly sucking up electricity. On the other, you don’t want to come home to a trashed house, either, to say nothing of the profound creepiness of having some criminal paw through your stuff. Let’s shed some light on the subject.

According to FBI crime statistics, of the 1.38 million home burglaries in 2012, the majority were committed during the day – when, presumably, having a light on wouldn’t have mattered as much. That’s because most thieves look for an unoccupied home above all else, and that’s (naturally) most common when residents are at work.

But if “Act casual and look occupied” is your house’s best strategy against burglars, then a pitch-dark abode in the waning daylight is a bit like a neon sign blazing “Up for grabs!” And pretty much every police department I surveyed while researching this question advises dwellers to keep lights (and/or TV and radio) on for at least part of the period they’re out and about.

Read more: Cities, Living