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Bogus, brah, climate change is stealing sick rides

Jean-Marc Astesana

Check it, dude, climate change is gettin kinda aggro. It’s wiping out those bomb sets that come up on Bondi Beach. These brahs say there’s gonna be fewer days with sick waves on Australia’s central east side, cuz global warming’s been dropping in on the storms that make them. They’re sayin’ greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are keeping the squalls that provide the righteous rides out there, called east coast lows, from happening. Like, waves taller than 13 feet are gonna drop by as much as 40 percent by the end of the century, and by about 20 percent by 2044 -- bummer!

The Guardian reports on a new study in Nature Climate Change:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Dyin’ to live: Biggie Smalls and the silent killers in urban America

Matt Handy

My Momma got cancer in her breast,
Don't ask me why I'm motherfucking stressed, things done changed

-- The Notorious B.I.G., in “Things Done Changed” from the album Ready to Die

Yesterday marked the 17th anniversary of the death of “Brooklyn’s finest” hip hop artist, The Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, who was gunned down in Los Angeles when he was just 24 years old.

Album cover: Ready to DieBiggie’s murder seemed part of some self-fulfilling prophecy that God perhaps took too seriously. His inaugural 1994 album, Ready to Die, is a series of tone poems illustrating the kind of drug war gunplay that would eventually claim him as a homicide statistic. The Brooklyn rapper imagines multiple scenarios under which his death might occur: In a shootout with cops while pursuing pathways out of poverty that President Obama would not approve of (“Gimme The Loot”); killed by jealous acquaintances who want to rob him for his riches (“Warning”); or, by his own finger on the trigger (“Suicidal Thoughts”).

Most of my friends (and Biggie fans in general, I’m sure) took the album as pure artistic liberty, no different than Martin Scorsese’s cinematic canon on mafia life. We no sooner thought that Biggie would actually die in a shootout than we did Robert De Niro would get shot like his character Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. When Big, whose birth name was Christopher Wallace, was actually killed by gunfire, it stunk too much of life imitating art.

But of all the ways Big imagined himself dying on that album, none of them reflected the real climate of death that existed in Brooklyn at the time, or even today. Deaths for African Americans in Brooklyn usually look less like Wallace's murder and more like his mother's life. When he rapped about his Momma having breast cancer, that was true. Voletta Wallace survived two bouts with the deadly disease, in both cases proving that she was not yet ready to die.

Read more: Cities, Living


It takes HOW much water to make Greek yogurt?!

greek yogurt

California is experiencing one of its driest years in the past half millennium. It also happens to also be the country's leading dairy supplier. With profits surpassing $7 billion in 2012, the California dairy industry is far and away the most valuable sector of the state's enormous agricultural bounty. Unfortunately, as the chart below shows, dairy products use a whole lot of water.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Big Ben could get covered in solar panels


Good news about the world’s most famous clock! Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster are gonna get a little greener in the coming months. Specifically, Parliament is thinking about adding solar panels to the iconic clock’s face. (You can’t turn back the hands of time, but you CAN make them greener.)

The idea came from one of Parliament’s passholders. The palace and clock need to boost energy efficiency by a third by 2020. (According to Parliament, that could “save 22 power stations’ worth of electricity.”) So Parliament asked its stakeholders for energy-saving suggestions, and voila!

Also in the works is swaddling the palace in sheep’s wool to better insulate it. Reports BusinessGreen:

[T]he House is carrying out a number of other green measures this year, including installing voltage optimization technology to reduce energy wastage, exploring energy efficiency improvements for all buildings, and replacing lights with low energy LEDs.

Read more: Cities, Living


Are women really a “secret weapon” when it comes to fighting climate change?


Now THIS is gonna melt your brain: Women comprise a mere 49.8 percent of the global population, yet we can HAVE AN EFFECT on climate change, despite our elfin farts and doll-like hands. So says a special blog post from CNN titled “Why women are the secret weapon to tackling climate change.” (Did YOU know about this top-secret segment of the population?!)

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, writes that women around the world face the brunt of climate change -- both because they’re farmers and don’t have a lot of rights -- yet they can make shit happen:

[W]omen stand at the front lines in the battle against climate change: as providers of water, food, and energy or as leaders in businesses, communities and politics. Women are in a unique position to recognize some of the opportunities that climate change provides.

No beef there. (In countries other than America, women are even allowed to run the nation!) Women developing low-smoke stoves in Darfur or bamboo bikes in Ghana are awesome; we’d never want to pooh-pooh them.

The problem is that Figueres focuses on minor personal changes, conveniently setting aside the fact that the people with the power to make major environmental decisions are overwhelmingly male. She also ignores the fact that the U.S. and Europe contribute WAY more to global warming than the entire continent of Africa. Take this, for instance:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Grainspotting: Farmers get desperate as coal and oil take over the rails


The U.S. agriculture and energy sectors might be facing a Jets and Sharks situation: Our railroad system just ain’t big enough for the two of them! Unfortunately, this scenario is unlikely to involve a highly choreographed mambo dance-off, not that we wouldn’t love to see Rex Tillerson’s moves. He’d make a great Bernardo.

American farmers are becoming concerned that coal and oil companies’ increased use of railroad shipping will crowd out grain trains. The Western Organization of Resource Councils warns in a recent report that railway congestion will only increase in coming years, especially as coal export facilities are built up in the Pacific Northwest. The report largely focuses on traffic between the coal-rich Powder River Basin region of southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming, and port cities such as Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, Wash.


Beef could get more expensive because bulls are literally freezing their nuts off


Here are cattle farmers’ two least-favorite words: scrotal frostbite. (Actually, they're probably lots of people's least-favorite words.) This extremely frigid winter could affect not only bulls’ balls, but how potent cattle jizz is and thus the price you have to pay for beef this year.

According to Steve Boyles, an Ohio State University Extension beef cattle specialist, the subzero weather that blanketed much of the Midwest can spell infertility for bulls. (That’s what happens when you put the “icicle” in “testicicle.") Bad news during a year that’s already facing a beef shortage.

Here are the gory details:

"Older bulls with lower-hanging scrotums are more frequently adversely affected because they are not as able to pull their testicles up close to the body to keep them warm," [Boyles] said. "Defects in sperm are proportional to the severity of the frostbite lesions, testicle adhesions, and swelling of the testes."

Read more: Living


Alpha & Omega-3s: Salmon farmers’ quest for the ultimate green feed


Fish farming gets a lot of flack, and salmon often bears the brunt of it. Much of this has to do with the fish food -- namely, the old saw that it takes an average of three pounds of wild fish to make one pound of domesticated salmon. But then why is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s vaunted Seafood Watch program, for the first time ever, giving ocean-farmed salmon its seal of semi-approval as a “good alternative”? What’s more, these salmon, from Verlasso, were spawned by agri- and aquacultural behemoths, DuPont and AquaChile, and fattened with the help of genetically modified organisms. …

Read more: Food


Dairy tale: New tech could turn small farms into the land of milk and money


It was after 6 p.m. and approaching 0 degrees Fahrenheit on a March evening when Doug Turner started the second milking of the day of his 42 cows at the family farm in Waitsfield, Vt. In a work-worn orange hoodie and flannel-lined jeans, the third-generation farmer started from the southeast corner of the barn, attaching one of his three milking machines to the swollen udder of a black and white cow.

“This one’s my oldest,” Turner told me, patting Bianca, a Holstein approaching her 13th birthday.

The milk flowed out of the barn, through a steel hose, to the tank in Turner’s cramped, old-fashioned milk house. Every other day, a milk truck from Organic Valley picks up this dairy and brings it to a processing facility -- the closest ones are in Connecticut or New York -- where it is pasteurized, homogenized, packaged, and dispatched to the grocery shelf.

All told, the average American gallon of milk travels 320 miles from udder to grocery store shelf, a journey that often crosses state borders. That seems like a long way to go, given that milk is produced in all 50 states.  

But farmers don’t have much control over where their milk goes, or how much they get for it. If Turner can’t get by on what Organic Valley will pay him, he’s short on options. Striking out on his own, and setting his own price, would mean massive costs of starting his own processing plant. Now, new developments in micro-pasteurization from a Vermont company could change that.

Many of the farms that were here when I grew up in central Vermont have closed now, and much of the milk produced by the remaining few goes straight out of state. I set out to look at this technology to see if it could be the key to cutting down on dairy miles and saving small farms.


Ask Umbra: Is it irresponsible to use cloth diapers in a drought?


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I am about to have a baby. I had planned to use cloth diapers after the first two weeks, but given the California drought, I am not sure that is the best idea. I've read much of the literature about sustainability of cloth diapers over other alternatives, but given the state of emergency, I wonder if the benefits still hold over disposables.

Marisa R.
Irvine, Calif.

A. Dearest Marisa,

Congratulations on your impending bundle of joy! It sounds like you’re well-prepared for one of parenthood’s primary side effects: A 1,000-percent increase in the amount of time spent thinking and talking about poop. As diapers are about to become a major part of your life, it makes sense to get your strategy pinned down now.

The party line here at Ask Umbra is that disposables and cloth diapers are basically a draw, environmentally speaking. As spelled out in a comprehensive life cycle assessment from the British Environment Agency, disposable nappies create a much larger landfill burden, but cloth ones require much more water, both to grow and process the cotton and also to wash the diapers. However, a severe drought does indeed change the calculus here.

Read more: Living