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Americans respond to climate change by yawning at it, poll finds

climate change is boring
Shutterstock

An outbreak of climate-related yawns appears to be afflicting the country that's done more than any other to warm the planet.

The results of a Gallup survey reveal just how little climate change raises Americans' anxiety levels. The research firm called 513 Americans last week and asked them how much they worry about 15 problems facing the nation. When it came to climate change, half said "a little" or "not at all."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Wanna buy a Tesla in New Jersey? “Fuhgettaboutit,” says Christie

Tesla and Chris Christie
Concavo Wheels / Gage Skidmore

When it’s time to make another sequel to “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” Gov. Chris Christie (R) of New Jersey may get a cameo. The Associated Press reports:

[New Jersey] State motor vehicle officials have approved a regulation that would require all new car dealers to obtain franchise agreements to receive state licenses, a move critics say will hurt the electric-car industry's attempts to expand.

The regulation, adopted Tuesday by the state's Motor Vehicle Commission by a 6-0 vote, effectively prohibits companies from using a direct-sales model.

Tesla, which makes electric cars and sells them directly to consumers, will be forced to shut down its two New Jersey showrooms. Teslas are not carried by regular auto dealers, so New Jerseyans will now have to travel out of state to test drive or buy one. By cutting out the middleman of an independently owned auto dealership, Tesla has been able to make its cars more affordable. (Electric cars cost more than conventional ones -- Teslas in particular -- but some of the difference can be recouped over time with savings from not having to buy gasoline.)

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Death toll from East Harlem gas explosion rose to seven overnight

Aftermath of East Harlem gas leak explosion
MTA

The leak-prone system that delivers natural gas to homes and power plants has claimed at least seven lives, with emergency workers continuing to search rubble in East Harlem for survivors of a building-leveling gas explosion.

More than 60 people were hurt and more were still missing Thursday morning after an apparent gas leak exploded and leveled two apartment buildings at Park Avenue and 116th Street in New York City.

The buildings erupted in a nightmarish urban conflagration at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, 15 minutes after Con Edison received a call about a suspected gas leak. Its inspectors arrived after the buildings had been enveloped in flames.

"It was very dark," survivor Elhadj Sylla told USA Today. "There was smoke, dust. ... I thought it was the end of the world. I thought my life was ending."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Ask Umbra: Is it OK to reuse biodegradable plastic spoons?

umbra-plastic-spoons
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Send your question to Umbra!

Q. We get cute, colorful, (supposedly) biodegradable plastic spoons at a local frozen yogurt joint. They would be perfect to reuse for my 2-year-old son, except that I'm worried about the chemicals they may be releasing, especially in response to the high temps of the dishwasher. Should I steer clear or is it OK to reuse this biodegradable product?

Jess W.
St. Louis, Mo.

A. Dearest Jess,

Read more: Food, Living

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These artists will take you on a journey to the melting Arctic

Banks' ink-on-mylar painting "Micro/Macro" hangs in one of the gallery's windows. It depicts the effect of climate change on Arctic ice.

If you've always wanted to visit the Arctic, you might have to hustle, because climate change will eventually render the region unrecognizable. But if you don't have the time, money, or inclination it takes to burn carbon getting to one of the most remote places on Earth, an art exhibit at the American Association for the Advancement of Science is investigating the ways that global warming will change this iconic landscape.

Watch a video of the artists talking about the exhibition:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Spiderwebs don’t work as well in cities

spiderweb-flickr-jamie-millar
Jamie Millar Photography

Imagine you’re a spider. You get to the big city all bright-eyed, like an eight-legged Carrie Bradshaw, dazzled by the skyscrapers and the buzz of activity. Then you realize you can’t eat.

It’s not that spiders can’t find acting gigs and end up too poor for ramen. Rather, the concrete jungle messes with their webs. Specifically, concrete lowers the vibrations that a spiderweb might otherwise pick up, making it harder for spiders to sense prey. PLUS, the hubbub of a city adds in extra, erroneous vibrations, getting a spider’s hopes up that a meal is near, only to viciously crush them (it’s only me, running by to catch the bus -- sorry!).

That’s basically a slightly more colorful version of what UC Berkeley researchers recently found. Here’s the background:

Read more: Cities, Living

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This is what you’d get if Wes Anderson rode a fixie and spray-painted walls

Mart Love him or hate him, Wes Anderson is the king of twee. We doubt the filmmaker has ever met Mart, an Argentinian street artist, but Mart’s delicate bike murals would definitely be at home gracing the Tenenbaums’ walls: Mart Mart made his first foray into graffiti at age 12. In 2007, he shifted from traditional graffiti to the more delicate painting style you see here. Mart The 28-year-old artist describes his work with words like “magic,” “dreamlike,” and “playful.” Sounds like someone else who shares his love of pastels and fantasy ... Mart Aaand now we want to spend …

Read more: Cities, Living

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So long, and thanks for all the tree lobsters

What rough beast...?
What rough beast ...?

In September 2011, I joined Grist as its executive editor. It was an eventful time. President Obama was soon to make a momentous decision about the Keystone XL pipeline. Congress was beginning to wrestle with a new farm bill. The clock had basically run out for our species to act to stop global climate change.

It's two and a half years later. Keystone? That decision still looms. Farm bill? We got that, finally, though it was touch and go. The climate? Still not looking good.

Despite the Groundhog-Day-ish nature of this apparently static reality -- the Eternal Gloom of the Sustainable Mind -- I have never felt a sense of futility as I've overseen Grist's coverage. On the contrary, it's been a blast. Laughing over the abyss is what we do here -- even as we're trying to picture the distance between the two sides accurately, and crossing our fingers that we'll make it safely across.

At the end of next week, I'll be leaving this editor's job for personal reasons. I love Grist and will continue to do some part-time editing work; but the organization is based in Seattle, I'm based in the Bay Area, and it's time for me to stop pretending that it's possible to be in two places at once. Therefore, this brief stock-taking.

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“More fish in the sea” is not a reason to keep overfishing

Yum, elongated bristlemouth.
NOAA
Yum, elongated bristlemouth.

Bristlemouth à la beurre. Miso-seared mola mola. Lanternfish tartare.

If you’ve never seen these things on a menu, that’s probably because humans don’t generally catch or eat the denizens of the mesopelagic zone, that slice of sea about 656 to 3,280 feet below the ocean surface (also known as 200 to 1000 meters, which is much easier to remember). Lying just below the pelagic, the top layer of the open sea where most of the fish we’re familiar with live, the mesopelagic is apparently much more lively than we thought.

paper published last month in the journal Nature Communications revised the estimate of biomass in this “twilight zone” of the ocean up from 1 billion tons to more than 10 billion -- meaning these deep-dwellers actually make up something like 95 percent of the total fish in the sea.

This might sound like good news -- lots more fish! -- but it's not nearly as good as some news outlets would have you believe. The right-wing blog Powerline optimistically asserted that “maybe overfishing of tuna won’t turn out to be quite the crisis we thought it was,” while The National Review’s Greg Pollowitz told us to stop worrying about ocean pollution since deep-water “deserts” under trash gyres turn out to be chock-full of fish. Even Popular Science overplayed the positive angle in its subhead: “Good news for fish. And humans who like fish.” (To be fair, a caveat followed in the piece itself: “This study doesn’t have much relevance for the issue of overfishing, which is an enormous and still growing problem.”)

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That new-car smell is making Hurricane Katrina survivors sick

man-car-headache-flickr
Guian Bolisay

New-car smell reminds you that you get to be the first person EVER to spill Doritos crumbs into the long-lost valleys of seat cushions; YOUR library books will be the first to get irrevocably stuck under the passenger seat. Unfortunately it also means you’re breathing in a bouquet of chemicals, including formaldehyde.

The scent's not that dangerous in a car, Oxford anthropologist Nick Shapiro told The New Republic, because most people don’t live in their cars. It’s much more toxic in the brand new mobile homes FEMA distributed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The poorly ventilated FEMA trailers have “the new car smell times 10,” as one trailer resident puts it.

Formaldehyde is just one part of the chemical soup comprising the iconic new-car smell -- plasticizers also play a role -- but it IS a carcinogen. Shapiro describes the toll the scent is taking on health:

Read more: Living