Skip to content Skip to site navigation

More Articles


Jared Leto calls on Kerry to reject this so-called Keystone XL once and for all


Our hearts are all aflutter, like so many flannel-clad, pouty-faced Angela Chases. Jared Leto has come out against Keystone XL.

Leto, fresh off an Oscar win, has signed an open letter calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to recommend against building the pipeline. Twelve other young environmentalists signed the letter, including Svante Myrick, the 26-year-old mayor of Ithaca, N.Y.; Adam Gardner, the lead singer of Guster; and Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend. The Sierra Club identifies this group as “leaders of the millennial generation.” Speaking for my kind, more accurate representatives might have included 2 Chainz, Marissa Cooper, and Maru the Cat, but I’m not confident that those candidates would have been able to put together an equally compelling piece of writing.


America’s cities are still too afraid to make driving unappealing

Dylan Passmore

The morning I wrote this I took public transportation to work. I hopped on the bus around the corner from my house, then the train for a few stops farther. I took mass transit because it was convenient, because my card was already preloaded with the cash that diverts from my paycheck, and because the ride gave me 20 minutes to start the day browsing Twitter.

Baked into this decision, however, were a number of other nearly subliminal calculations about the alternatives not taken. I did not drive the car (yes, my household has a car) because downtown Washington, D.C., is a hot mess at rush hour, and because parking near the office costs the equivalent of a fancy hamburger a day. I did not bike because it was snowing. (Again.) And I did not walk because the distance was too far.

My commuting choices -- just like everyone's -- are the sum of the advantages of one transportation mode weighed against the downsides of all other options. Or, more succinctly: My feelings about the bus are mediated by what I'm thinking about my car.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Now you can write graffiti on the Great Wall of China

Lale Cizmeci

For rebels with sharpies, the Great Wall of China sounds like the ultimate thing to tag (other than carving your name into the moon). But so many people have scratched their names into the monument that the ancient stones are getting damaged. And the last thing you wanna hear is that one of the seven wonders of the world fell down because someone just HAD to write “Joey + Dawson 4ever.”

So authorities are designating a special area where graffiti artists can leave their signature flourishes. They’re even talking about a hi-tech digital section for the art, which doesn’t really sound like it's in the scrappy DIY spirit of street art, but which might suffice to corral tourists' destructive tendencies:

Read more: Living


Kid sister, who thinks she’s so great, wins C-SPAN student documentary prize

Kid sister is on the right.
Michaela Capps, Sarah Highducheck, and Emma Larson.

Winners for the C-SPAN’s annual student documentary competition were just announced and, of the 2,355 films submitted, the $5,000 grand prize went to a group who hits pretty close to home. I’m not saying that because they picked fracking, a topic we often cover, as the most important issue Congress should consider. I'm saying it because one of the three high school freshmen in the winning group -- Michaela Capps, Sarah Highducheck, and Emma Larson -- is my sister.

Check out their video:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Airpnp is sending the sharing economy into the toilet, literally

the matthew knot

Thanks to the sharing economy, you can use a stranger’s hammer, car, or even apartment -- but what about life’s most basic needs? With Airpnp you can find (and if necessary, pay for) the nearest toilet. If the line for portapotties is too long, why not at least see which nearby neighbors and businesses will take your No. 1 for a couple $1s?

The Next Web has the deets:

Airpnp is now available for users to lease out their bathrooms through a mobile optimized web app, and native apps are in the works. The service itself will be put to test during Mardi Gras 2014 in New Orleans, which happens on March 4. There are currently a handful of toilets listed on the site spanning a range of prices -- some bathrooms are free, while urinating at a hotel bathroom where “Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, Frank Sinatra, and Walt Disney have all peed” requires a payment of $10.

I think I’d actually pay to AVOID a toilet some of those guys had used, but that’s just me. (The throne that has witnessed Ryan Gosling’s turds, on the other hand ...)

Read more: Cities, Living


Death-defying elephant recovers from fourth poaching attempt

Rangers help pull Mshale back up after being treated.
Rangers help pull Mshale back up after being treated.

Mshale the bull elephant is the biggest badass ever. The roughly 40-year-old African elephant has now survived the fourth attempt on his life by poachers in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. That’s an impressive feat, considering that almost 1,500 elephants have died there since 2011, and the poachers have gotten increasingly desperate for Mshale's $16,000 tusks.

Poachers hit Mshale with a poison arrow in November 2012, but fortunately he made his way to a haven for orphaned elephants where a vet with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust treated him. Recognizing the facility as a source of fresh water, mud baths, and company, Mshale kept coming back to the spot.

Conservation workers kept an eye out for him, too. While on aerial patrol, a pilot from the Trust noticed Mshale limping down below in March 2013, with a gaping wound on his bum. After vets removed two poison arrows, Mshale thanked them with a gaze and headed off, according to the Trust:

He stood gazing at his human helpers for a few minutes and then with a knowing look he limped back off into the bush.

Read more: Living


“Rock snot” is the grossest climate change effect we’ve ever seen

Look away if you’re eating, because this is truly disgusting. Didymo (code name: rock snot) is an algae bloom that looks like barf mixed with mucus. When it first showed up in eastern Canada in 2006, people assumed it was an invasive species, BECAUSE IT IS SO TERRIFYING. (Conventional wisdom was that fishers were accidentally spreading it by tromping around with their dirty boots.)

Nope! Turns out it’s native -- it was just sleeping all this time, and climate change woke it up!

The most severe didymo bloom ever recorded in eastern Canada, photographed in the Duval River in 2013.
Michel Chouinard
The most severe didymo bloom ever recorded in eastern Canada, photographed in the Duval River in 2013.

Writes CBC News:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Frack Water cologne is your new signature scent

California Gov. Jerry Brown has taken his cue from Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, and countless other public figures by coming out with his own fragrance: Frack Water. It “smells like a man. A man who doesn’t give a sh*t about drought or climate change!” OK, it's not ACTUALLY endorsed by the governor, but still. Splash some on your wrists, why don’t you?

Oil Change International and Heavy Crude Video made the parody ad, which is a shot-for-shot remake of Matthew McConaughey’s Stetson commercial. (Except the Jerry Brown figure doesn’t, uh, quite make it over the fence.) The cologne/frack water parallel is a pretty good one -- they’re both full of toxic crap, and neither industry has to actually DISCLOSE its ingredients.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Ask Umbra: Who makes the most awesomely eco-tastic computers?


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. What's the best(ish) choice I can make when purchasing a computer? Is there a company out there that makes an effort to not overly pollute/exploit/crap on the earth and its people?

Antananarivo, Madagascar

A. Dearest Austin,

Computers do have their benefits – allowing us to have this transoceanic discussion, for example, or putting a bottomless supply of adorable cat videos at our fingertips. But the ubiquitous thinking boxes come with a hearty impact on the planet throughout their life cycles, from potentially toxic materials used in their manufacture to their siphoning of electricity to the knotty problem of what to do with them once they’re kaput. Is opting out of civilization entirely an option for you, Austin? If not (and I hope it isn’t – how else would we have these chats?), you’re going to have to deal with a computer. Luckily, some companies are markedly better than others.


Republicans use Putin as an excuse to push fossil-fuel projects

Vladamir Putin
World Economic Forum
Putin poutin'.

The hallmark of a Republican policy proposal is that it can be adapted to virtually any circumstance. Just as George W. Bush advanced tax cuts as the appropriate response to both budget surplus and deficit, congressional Republicans believe that fossil fuel promotion is the appropriate response to, well, everything. And so they have looked at the vexing problem of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region and come up with a carefully calibrated answer: “Drill, baby, drill!

First, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was struck with a brilliant insight: If Russia’s meddling in Ukraine is dangerous because Russia supplies Europe with oil and natural gas through pipelines that traverse Ukraine, then the U.S. should offer Europe an alternative source of fossil fuels. And so, she argues, the Obama administration should expedite approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. “Our ability to respond quickly and nimbly I think is somewhat hampered by the process that we have in place,” she told reporters at an energy industry conference in Houston on Monday. “If this was a situation in which we wanted to use as political leverage our natural gas opportunities here, we’re not in that place now, and quite honestly it may be some time.” In her speech to the gathering, she also called on Congress to repeal the ban on exporting crude oil, saying, “Lifting the oil export ban will send a powerful message that America has the resources and the resolve to be the preeminent power in the world.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), sensing an opportunity to portray generic Republican corporatism as a brave stand against Vladimir Putin’s bullying, issued his own statement Tuesday calling on Obama to approve LNG terminals. “The U.S. has a responsibility to stand up for freedom and democracy around the globe, and we have a responsibility to stand with the people of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion,” said Boehner. “One immediate step the president can and should take is to dramatically expedite the approval of U.S. exports of natural gas. ... We should not force our allies to remain dependent on Putin for their energy needs.”