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Water & oil: Under threat, Sacred Headwaters’ immune system kicks in

Block party: A Tahltan blockade stops Shell drilling operations.
Klabona Keepers

Editor's note: This is part 2 of Grist's series on the Sacred Headwaters. Read part 1 here and part 3 here.  

Our gruff Kiwi pilot lands the chopper at one of the three decommissioned Shell test wells set for removal, just a few ridges over from the headwaters. I’m taken a bit aback at first: Somehow, I thought they’d be taller. Instead, it resembles a fire hydrant propped up a few extra feet, circled by a metal bar fence that reminds me of a city bike rack. A Shell Canada sign is plastered with “Get the Shell Out” and “Save Our Salmon” stickers. Electric pink fireweed creeps down from the snowcapped peaks in the background, intruding on the flattened dirt pad left over from installation. It’s August 2013, and the wells won’t be removed for another two months, but the vegetation seems impatient.

This is a guarded, cautiously optimistic thumps up, mind you.
Join Grist for an exploration of recent climate wins. This is a guarded, cautiously optimistic thumbs up, mind you.

I'm along for the ride with Karen Tam Wu and Melyssa Desilles-Rubino, representatives from ForestEthics, a Vancouver-based NGO that threw its weight behind the Sacred Headwaters in 2007 when they learned of Tahltan and SWCC’s stand against the second largest company in the world. Over five years, they engineered a plan to get the word out and draw international support, mostly with stunts by turns audacious and zany: Buying full-page protest ads in the Financial Times; hounding Royal Dutch Shell CEO Peter Voser across the globe to present him with a dead salmon trophy; hiring Santa to deliver coal to Shell headquarters; stringing 50-foot-long banner of 60,000 signatures (rendered in 10-point font) in opposition at Shell Canada headquarters in Calgary.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


A big win for small farmers (and the eaters who love them)

Small farmers like Congresswoman Chellie Pingree have a reason to smile.
Small farmers like Rep. Chellie Pingree have a reason to smile.

Last month, we suggested that people who like getting food from small, local farms might have an interest in speaking up about the new Food Safety Modernization Act. Many of those small farmers were worried that the law could put them out of business.

Today, Michael Taylor, the FDA official leading the process wrote, "You spoke. We heard you."

The FDA will make "significant changes" on precisely those points that worried farmers most (see those details in my first story). In a statement, Taylor wrote:

Based on our discussions with farmers, the research community and other input we have received, we have learned a great deal, and our thinking has evolved. Everyone shares the goal of ensuring produce safety, but, as we said at the beginning of the process, the new safety standards must be flexible enough to accommodate reasonably the great diversity of the produce sector, and they must be practical to implement.

"We will have to wait and see what the rules look like next summer, but it's clear the FDA has heard what we've been saying and took it seriously," said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) in a press release. Pingree, a small farmer herself, pushed hard for revisions. “The farmers and consumers around the country who made their voices heard on this issue deserve a lot of credit for today's announcement."

Sometimes speaking up actually works! The noisy pig gets the slop. But even more important than speaking is listening. Kudos to Michael Taylor and the FDA for working so hard to find a way to make food safer without hurting farmers.

Read more: Food, Politics


Dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay much sicker after BP oil spill

bottlenose dolphin gulf coast

A year after BP's disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a team of researchers found that dolphins in the vicinity of the spill showed major signs of sickness, a new study says.

According to a new peer-reviewed study published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, a team of government, academic, and non-governmental researchers identified previously unseen health issues in bottlenose dolphins examined in August 2011 in Louisiana's Barataria Bay.

Researchers examined 32 dolphins, including 29 that received comprehensive physical and ultrasound examinations. Nearly half of the sampled population were identified as being in "guarded or worse" condition, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Another 17 percent were in poor or grave condition and "not expected to survive." Among the health problems were lung damage and low levels of adrenal stress-response hormones. A quarter of the dolphins were also underweight.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Please enjoy these penguins dressed in Santa outfits

Pretty much what it says on the tin:

These guys are bringing Christmas spirit to a zoo in South Korea. And if you never want it to stop, well, here's our gift to you (or, more accurately, our GIFt):

Read more: Living


Your stretchy jeans are literally ruining the U.S. dollar

Karen Roe

Money doesn’t grow on trees; it’s born at a Levi’s factory! Or at least it used to be. For decades, dollars were printed on repurposed denim scraps. (Contrary to what Monopoly would have you believe, money’s actually made of a cotton/linen blend, not paper. “Money laundering” makes more sense now, eh?)

But in the '90s, as you recall, people started embracing stretchy denim like jeggings and skinny jeans. Denim manufacturers changed their formulations. And Crane, the sole supplier of soft money-paper, was shit outta luck, because even ONE STRAND of spandex can render denim scraps unusable. Spandex: It may hug your curves, but it also makes your dollars weak. Weaker than the exchange rate does already.

So what’s Crane to do? According to the Atlantic:

Read more: Living


Playing with this jump rope generates enough energy to charge your phone

Uncharted Play

The company that literally turned energy generation into child's play -- it makes a soccer ball that generates energy -- has a new way to charge your gadgets while running around and having fun. Now kids can generate energy not just when they play soccer, but when they jump rope. Just 15 minutes of jumping rope can power a small device.

The rope "uses the spinning rope to generate an electrical charge in the handle," says Treehugger. At $129, this isn't one of those devices that's going to save you much money. It's more a donation to the organization, which is aiming to bring the cost down to a price point that works for the developing world.

Read more: Living


Bankrupt fracking firm suing New York governor to end moratorium

Andrew Cuomo
Shutterstock / Lev Radin
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Maybe he's to blame for all of your failures too.

Norse Energy is a failure when it comes to its core business -- drilling for gas and oil. Despite America's huge drilling boom, the company is bankrupt. Unable to turn a profit as a driller, the company has taken to suing governments and officials that limit fracking, blaming them for its undoing.

Attorneys for the company's trustees filed a lawsuit Tuesday against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and two state commissioners, claiming that the state's fracking moratorium had brought about the company's undoing. The Press & Sun-Bulletin reports:

The suit asks the court to force the Cuomo administration to finalize a study that will determine whether large-scale fracking -- a controversial technique to help extract gas from shale formations -- can proceed in New York, arguing that repeated delays in the state’s decision-making process are grounds for a judge to intervene.


BP engineer found guilty of obstructing justice

Deepwater Horizon accident

In May 2010, as BP prepared to try to staunch the flow of oil from beneath the wrecked Deepwater Horizon rig by dumping mud over the blowout, some of the company's engineers knew the effort was bound to fail. But the mud-dumping plan, codenamed Top Kill, moved forward anyway as the world's media watched on. Sure enough, Top Kill failed to staunch the leak.

One of the engineers who knew the effort would fail, Kurt Mix, later tried to keep that a secret from investigators. When Mix found out that his iPhone was about to be seized, he deleted more than 100 text messages -- messages such as "Too much flowrate – over 15,000." In that message, Mix was warning a colleague that 15,000 barrels of oil was leaking every day, which was too much oil for the operation to handle, and three times the flow rate that BP had stated publicly.

The presumably panicked decision to delete the texts on Wednesday led to the 52-year-old Texan being found guilty by a jury of one charge of obstruction of justice -- a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. He avoided conviction on a second, similar charge. His attorneys vowed to appeal. From the AP:


Not just bad for bees: Neonic pesticides could damage babies’ brains

A pregnant lady with broccoli

The fruit and vegetables that Americans bring home and cook up for their families are often laced with pest-killing chemicals known as acetamiprid and imidacloprid, members of the neonicotinoid class.

That sounds gross. Even grosser than these nearly unpronounceable chemical names are new findings out of Europe that the compounds may stunt the development of brains in fetuses and young children.

The discovery, by scientists working with rats for the European Food Safety Authority, has led to calls in Europe to further restrict the use of the neonic pesticides. From a press release put out by the authority:

The [Plant Protection Products and their Residues] Panel found that acetamiprid and imidacloprid may adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory. It concluded that some current guidance levels for acceptable exposure to acetamiprid and imidacloprid may not be protective enough to safeguard against developmental neurotoxicity and should be reduced.

We say "further restrict" because the use of imidacloprid is already severely restricted in Europe, barred for two years from being used on flowering crops and plants because it kills bees and other pollinators.


This air-powered car is made out of half a million LEGOs

Josh Rowe

Steve Sammartino (who describes himself as a "Melbourne entrepreneur and marketing guy") and Raul Oaida ("a 20-year-old self-taught technology genius from Romania who Steve met on the internet") have made something really, really fun. It's a car. Usually we are not so excited about cars. But this one is made out of four rubber wheels, "some load bearing elements," and more than 500,000 LEGO pieces.

The seats are made of LEGOs. The hubcaps are made of LEGOs. The engine is made of LEGOs.

Oh, and it runs on air.


Read more: Living