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Neil deGrasse Tyson on “Cosmos,” how science got cool, and why he doesn’t debate deniers

NCOS7200
Fox

This episode of Inquiring Mindsa podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a discussion of whether bringing extinct species back to life is a good idea, and of new research suggesting that climate change contributed to the rise of Genghis Khan. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher and on Swell. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on FacebookInquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the “Best of 2013" on iTunes -- you can learn more here.

Last Sunday's debut of Cosmos, the rebooted series from Fox and National Geographic, made television history. According to National Geographic, it was the largest global rollout of a TV series ever, appearing on 220 channels in 181 countries and 45 languages. And, yes, this is a science show we're talking about. You will have to actively resist the force of gravity in order to lift up your dropped jaw and restore a sense of calm to your stunned face.

At the center of the show is the "heir apparent" to legendary science popularizer and original Cosmos host Carl Sagan: the impassioned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who appeared on this week's episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast to talk about what it's like to fill Sagan's shoes (stream below). On the podcast, Tyson discussed topics ranging from what we know now about the cosmos that Sagan didn't (top three answers: dark matter and dark energy, the profusion of discovered exoplanets, and the concept of parallel universes, or the "multiverse") to why science seems to have gotten so supercool again. After all, not only has Cosmos garnered such a reach, but The Big Bang Theory is currently the No. 1 comedy on TV.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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When in drought, Californian salmon take to the road

salmon-crossing-sign
duncan_idaho_2007

Spring is typically the time when salmon in Northern California hightail it to the Pacific via freshwater streams. But now that the usual thoroughfares are starting to dry up, thanks to this winter's epic drought, U.S. Fish and Wildlife suggest the salmon do what Californians do best: Take the freeway.

Despite the recent storms, the state’s snowpack is still critically low, and unless this year's April showers are more like April monsoons it’s likely that rivers will still be too warm and shallow for salmon to make it from hatchery to sea for their seasonal spring migration. To get them over this hurdle, as many as 30 million fish will be loaded up on tanker trucks and driven the three hours between hatcheries near Red Bluff to San Pablo Bay.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Coal companies get hit where it counts for polluting Appalachian water supplies

kick-coal-habit
Newtown Graffiti

Alpha Natural Resources, Inc.’s coal mining operations have been ruining the rivers and water supplies of Appalachian communities since 2006, and probably a lot longer than that. That could soon come to an end, however: The federal government just slapped the company with one of the largest fines ever levied under the Clean Water Act, and handed it strict orders to clean up its business.

According to a consent decree handed down by the Department of Justice this week, Alpha has illegally dumped coal waste into waterways over 6,200 times. The problem was systemic, to say the least: These violations occurred at close to 80 different facilities across five states along the Appalachian Mountains, all under the direction of Alpha Natural Resources, which is the second largest coal producer in the nation.

The fines, levied by the Environmental Protection Agency, will collectively cost Alpha roughly $27 million. The consent decree requires the company to spend an additional $200 million for cleanup and equipment upgrades. And that’s gonna hurt. Alpha hasn’t turned a profit for its coal work since July of last year, and has been running a steep deficit ever since.

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EPA gives BP a big “welcome back” kiss

red lips kissing
Shutterstock

Congratulations and best wishes are in order for BP. The federal government has decided that the Gulf-wrecking corporation was rehabilitated during less than 16 months in the reformatory and is now ready to be released back into American society.

Of course, corporations can't be jailed, so BP's punishment for its "lack of integrity" in allowing the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill was a multibillion-dollar fine and a ban on winning any new federal contracts, both imposed in late 2012.

On Thursday, following months of legal pressure from BP, the EPA lifted the ban. Reuters has the details:

The Environmental Protection Agency and BP said they reached an agreement ending the prohibition on bidding for federal contracts on everything from fuel supply contracts to offshore leases after the company committed to a set of safety, ethical and corporate governance requirements.

Shares of BP traded in the United States rose about 1 percent to $48.09 after the close of regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange, a sign investors were hopeful the company could now try to grow its U.S. offshore operations.

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The week in GIFs: Jetsons, Jess, and Jersey Shore

A few J GIFs at a reader's request. Tell us what you wanna see next week! (Last week: pee, pigeons, and pencils.)

This new self-driving EV catapults you into Jetsons territory:

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WiffleGif

Now you can rent a quiet room in NYC by the hour:

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NY Mag
Read more: Living

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Here are the first-ever photos of the “unicorn of the sea” (maybe)

In case you’re not intimately familiar with every type of marine life -- and that’s OK; we know you have True Detective to watch -- here’s a typical blue marlin. It’s similar to a swordfish, only its fin-mohawk (technical term) and upper half are blue:

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J Thomas McMurray

So now you maybe get why seeing an albino blue marlin would be a big deal. The completely white creatures are super-rare, hence their nickname, “unicorn of the sea”:

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Spanish Fly

And three fishers were lucky enough to spot one -- they think -- off the coast of Costa Rica. Capt. Juan Carlos Zamora, Carlos Espinoza Jimenez, and Roberto Salinas Hernandez of the Spanish Fly (hee) were sailing 20 miles off of Los Suenos when they caught and released the 300-pound albino blue marlin.

Read more: Living

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Should you live in a tiny house?

Has our recent coverage of the tiny house way of life got you pining after a miniature dwelling of your very own? Even if you’ve spent approximately half of the past week designing 35 different versions of your dream cottage, don’t quit your four-bedroom just yet -- it’s not necessarily for everyone. We’ve put together a handy flowchart to help you decide whether you’re cut out for 200 square feet:

Read more: Cities, Living

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Why green change is hard: Lessons from the front lines of marriage equality

Original Plaintiff couples (R-L) Hillary and Julie Goodridge, their daughter Annie, 9, lawyer Mary Bonauto and an unidentified couple react as streamers are set off during a First Year Anniversary Celebration of the legalization of Gay Marriage at Unitarian Universalist Association Headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts, May 17, 2005.
Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi
Original plaintiff couple (R-L) Hillary and Julie Goodridge with their daughter Annie, 9, at an anniversary celebration of the legalization of gay marriage at Unitarian Universalist Association Headquarters in Boston, Mass., May 17, 2005.

Timothy McCarthy teaches history; he's also been a part of it. McCarthy is a historian of radicalism in America -- especially those radicals who were later written out of more official histories. He was a founding member of Barack Obama’s National LGBT Leadership Council, and gave expert testimony to the Pentagon Comprehensive Working Group on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He also teaches at the decidedly non-radical Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where I recently heard him give a remarkably thoughtful and detailed talk on the art of public speaking.

During the talk, he name-checked the “Hope” speech by San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk: “When in doubt, give people hope. Not a false hope. But we can be better than we are.” Then, he added, as a caution: “A lot of people who give hope in the world get shot. Which perhaps contradicts my thesis. Being shot is a terrible thing. But people tend to remember you well.”

At Grist, I write about green activism. I also try to think about what environmentalism can learn from other great social movements of our time: civil rights, feminism, and gay rights. That's why I asked McCarthy to sit down and talk about what he’s learned, how movements evolve, and what environmentalists might be able to learn from other movements.

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What these historical kings and marauders can teach our leaders about climate change

leaders

There are no two ways about it: Humankind is, for the first time in our recorded history, living through a massive global climate shift of our own making. Science paints today's crisis as unprecedented in scope and consequence. But that doesn't mean there aren't historical cases of societies that have enjoyed the highs and endured the lows of natural climatic changes -- from civilization-busting droughts to empire-building stretches of gorgeous sunshine.

Whether they're commanding marauding armies or struggling with dramatic temperature shifts, today's leaders have a variety of historical role models they can learn from:

Should Gov. Jerry Brown -- confronted by California's 500-year drought -- be mindful of the policy mistakes made by the last Ming emperor?

Will President Obama learn lessons from Ponhea Yat, the last king of the sacred city of Angkor Wat, when planning how to safeguard America's critical infrastructure against extreme weather?

Will Vladimir Putin channel his inner Genghis Khan as Russia seeks new territories in the melting Arctic? (He's already got the horse-riding thing on lockdown.)

Here are four historical figures whose triumphs and defeats were related, at least in part, to major changes in their climates.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Here’s a way to prevent gas explosions and help the climate too

sign: "Caution: high pressure gas pipeline"
Kara Newhouse

New York City was struck Wednesday morning by a tragic building explosion in Harlem that has, at latest count, killed at least seven people and injured 60 more. Being a New York City resident, my first thought, selfish as it may be, was, “How do I prevent something like that from happening to my building?”

As it turns out, there is something we could do to prevent more disasters like this from occurring, and it would also be good for lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

The cause of the explosion was a natural gas leak. Just a day earlier, as Capital New York notes, the Center for an Urban Future (CUF), a New York City-focused think tank, issued a report on New York’s decaying infrastructure. Among the problems it identified: leaky pipes carrying natural gas.