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“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.”


Americans have no idea how much water we use — or how to conserve it


“I consider myself a fairly water-conscious person,” says the average American, sipping on a venti iced coffee while dipping his toes in an Olympic-sized pool, spritzing himself with Evian. “I probably just use a few gallons a day,” he continues, stepping out of a 45-minute shower. “By the way -- have I told you about my toilet that flushes automatically every 20 minutes, just to make sure it’s consistently pristine?”

Just kidding -- it’s not quite that bad. But, according to a recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the average American consumes twice as much water as she thinks she does. Furthermore, we Americans are not quite sure which practices are the most water-intensive. As it turns out, the Olympic-sized pool isn’t the biggest concern -- 70 percent of personal water use occurs within the home, according to a 2005 EPA study. And the biggest culprit under the roof? Toilet-flushing, accounting for 27 percent of all indoor water use.


Rising sea levels will drown your Western art history course

At least Machu Picchu is probably safe from sea level rise.
Chris Chabot
At least Macchu Picchu is probably safe from sea level rise.

You know how we sometimes like movies in which famous world landmarks are dramatically destroyed? Climate change is about to bring those scenes to a museum near you, albeit with fewer meteors and more meteoric sea level rise.

According to a new report published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, everything you love is going to disappear, assuming you are the kind of person who loves old art and history and stuff. The researchers looked at UNESCO World Heritage sites, which, like humans, tend to cluster near the coasts. They simulated flooding the world with an average of 6.6 meters of sea level rise over a couple of centuries. The result was a very soggy situation: About 140 of 720 sites surveyed would be underwater, or at least in the kiddie pool -- and that’s without even accounting for storm surge. As one of the researchers encouragingly clarified, these are the low-ball estimates.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Here are 5 examples of facts making people dumber

facepalm statue
Alex E. Proimos

On Monday, I reported on the latest study to take a bite out of the idea of human rationality. In a paper just published in Pediatrics, Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth and his colleagues showed that presenting people with information confirming the safety of vaccines triggered a "backfire effect," in which people who already distrusted vaccines actually became less likely to say they would vaccinate their kids.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the only example of such a frustrating response being documented by researchers. Nyhan and his coauthor Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter have captured several others, as have other researchers. Here are some examples:

1. Tax cuts increase revenue? In a 2010 study, Nyhan and Reifler asked people to read a fake newspaper article containing a real quotation of George W. Bush, in which the former president asserted that his tax cuts "helped increase revenues to the Treasury." In some versions of the article, this false claim was then debunked by economic evidence: A correction appended to the end of the article stated that in fact, the Bush tax cuts "were followed by an unprecedented three-year decline in nominal tax revenues, from $2 trillion in 2000 to $1.8 trillion in 2003." The study found that conservatives who read the correction were twice as likely to believe Bush's claim was true as were conservatives who did not read the correction.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


This amazing footage of whales and dolphins will change the way you look at drones

Drones get a bad rap, what with the killing people. Even offering to deliver our Amazon packages hasn't really endeared them to most of us (although taco delivery did a lot to salvage drones' reputation). But there's nothing inherently evil about unmanned flying vehicles, and this video footage proves it.

A drone took this video, which shows an astonishing dolphin stampede followed by heartwarming footage of a mother whale with her baby. It took a human -- Captain Dave Anderson of Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari in Dana Point, Calif. -- to edit it together, but he's giving the drones a lot of credit:

Read more: Uncategorized


Some BPA-free plastic is actually worse for you than normal plastic


Today in “time to move into my underground bunker,” BPA-free plastic -- touted as the safer, gentler, less cancer-y plastic -- is less benign than we were promised.

The Center for Environmental Health studied 18 BPA-free plastic sippy cups and found that more than a quarter had estrogen-like chemicals. Too much estrogen has been tied to breast cancer, and a childhood imbalance can mess up the brain and other organs. And studies have indicated correlation between BPA and ailments from ADHD to heart disease to cancer. (A recent FDA study suggests BPA is safe in low doses, but there are some concerns about its validity.)

Mother Jones reports that Texas lab CertiChem found some similarly creepy results:

Read more: Living


Louisiana’s coastline is disappearing too quickly for mappers to keep up

Twenty-five years ago, miles of marshy land and grasses separated the small fishing outpost of Buras, La., from the Gulf of Mexico. But years of erosion -- along with the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- have washed away much of that barrier. Today, the islands, inlets, and bays that once defined the coastline of Plaquemines Parish have begun to melt together. Like all coasts, the land around the Mississippi River is constantly evolving. In past centuries, that process was slowed by the annual flooding of the river's vast delta, which brought new sediment to replace what was …

Read more: Climate & Energy