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This rapping polar bear wants Obama to reject the Keystone pipeline

polar-bear-rap-obama

Well, this is a new one: “Frostpaw the Polar Bear” has a message for Obama, and it rhymes. The Center for Biological Diversity’s furry spokesanimal is in a new video that gives a quick rundown of Keystone’s potential ills, with a plea for the president to reject the pipeline once and for all. Did we mention that it’s a rap? Watch:

The rap praises solar, wind, and mass transit as alternatives to oil, and it actually isn't that bad. Here are some sample lyrics:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Fairer fare: How to turn food system kinks into win-wins for growers and eaters

beets
Fair Food Network

This is part of a series in which we're asking what pragmatic steps we can take to make regional food systems more sustainable. We previously spoke with organic farmer Tom Willey, the people at Veritable Vegetable,  a Slow Money guy, and the folks trying to improve school lunches.

As I read Oran Hesterman's book, Fair Food, I realized he may be one of the people alive today who is most experienced at trying to figure out how to make food more sustainable.

00_FairFood-Cover_web_0He grew up, in part, on a cattle ranch in Northern California, then helped develop a farm at U.C. Santa Cruz that would become the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. In the early 1970s, he founded a successful company growing alfalfa sprouts and studied plant science, eventually earning a PhD in agronomy and plant genetics. Then he taught at Michigan State before moving to the nonprofit side to promote sustainable food systems, first with the Kellogg Foundation, and then with the Fair Food Network. He seems to know everyone, and every initiative that's been tried to improve the state of food in the U.S. in the last 20 years. We spoke by phone.

Q. A lot of the work involved in making food systems more sustainable has to do with getting people to see and pay for costs that are typically hidden from them. One group that’s achieved that is the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. And I think that, though many of us have heard of them, we may not exactly understand what they are doing. What was the innovation that the CIW figured out?

A. The innovation that I saw Lucas Benitez and his group come up with pretty early on, was that rather than fighting the growers to get more money for the farmworkers, he started looking at the problem from a more systemic perspective, and looking for a multiple-win solution. In their case the multiple-win solution was saying, hey, rather than having the growers as our enemy, what if we had the growers as our allies? If the workers are paid better and have better conditions it’s going to make the growers more productive. But the growers are in as much of a financial pinch as anyone, so they followed the trail of money up.

A generation ago, you can think of farmworkers having a boycott -- I think of Cesar Chavez and the grapes. What Lucas Benitez and his coalition are doing now is a buycott instead of a boycott. A penny more a pound for tomato going on a burger, or on a taco at Taco Bell, doesn’t relate to very much increase to the end consumer. But it’s a huge boost to the farmworkers picking that tomato, if that penny actually gets to them.

So first they looked beyond the obvious problem, at the bigger system, and then they did it in a very transparent way, so that you could see the penny was actually getting back to the farmworkers.

Q. So, if this works, why don’t we see it replicated everywhere?

Read more: Food

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These customizable sandals help Ugandan women go to college

Is tying your shoes the best part of your day? Then this news will make your LIFETIME! When you buy a customizable pair of Sseko sandals, not only are you helping Ugandan women go to college, but you have a bazillion possible ways to tie your shoes. I mean, look at this:

transformy-sandals-small
Sseko

Basically, you cough up $55-60 for a pair of ethically sourced leather soles and organic cotton ribbons in your choice of colors. The footbeds have five different loops, so you could theoretically spend the rest of your natural life tying the ribbons in different ways. (Gladiator! T-strap! Flip-flop!) Not only does this hopefully quell some of your thirst for new shoes, smashing mindless consumption, but the fair-trade sandals give East African women better access to higher education.

Read more: Living

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Wanna get West Nile virus? Climate change will help

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

Contracting the West Nile virus is too damn hard. You have to go somewhere hot like Texas and practically BEG an infected mosquito to suck on you. Save your airline miles, friends, because climate change will raise temperatures so residents of California and even southern Canada will have a better shot at the virus.

Time reports that a warming world will see higher rates of West Nile, because the virus is tied to higher temperatures and lower precipitation. A new study in Global Change Biology projects just where the virus will spread:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Get off my lawn! Organic farmers just can’t get along with GMO-growing neighbors

grumpy farmer
Shutterstock

Another day, another bunch of old, white guys complaining about their neighbors screwing up their property – except this time, it’s quite warranted.

A new survey from Food & Water Watch has found that over 80 percent of organic farmers across the country are worried about how genetically modified crops in nearby fields are affecting their own. These farmers have incurred significant financial losses due to GMO contamination and the measures taken in attempts to prevent it.

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It’s official: People around the world really are eating more and more alike

fruit-still-life-food-dull
Shutterstock

You've probably heard that the food people eat worldwide is getting more and more homogeneous. As the Western diet spreads, we are relying on just a few staple grains and meats. This is a commonly held belief -- yet it's never been authoritatively studied.

Now it has. The results were just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (one of the more prestigious journals) -- and it turns out that this commonly held belief is ... totally right, and actually more dramatic than some expected.

See? Sometimes conventional wisdom really is wise.

Read more: Food

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You can thank Warren Buffett for many of those exploding oil trains

Warren Buffett
Asa Mathat / Fortune MPW

We've written a lot about the dangers of shipping extra-flammable oil in flimsy rail cars that are prone to puncture and explode. Turns out you can blame a fair bit of the problem on billionaire investor Warren Buffett. As the Sightline Institute's blog reports, "Arguably, he is the single most important person in the world of oil-by-rail." More from the post:

Most people don’t realize it, but the tank cars that carry crude oil are not owned by the railroads that run them and are only rarely owned by the shippers who use them. In fact, roughly 80 percent of all the tank cars registered in North America are owned by companies that lease the tank cars to shippers. ... These lessors ... are the ones ultimately responsible for the fact that that the vast majority of oil trains today are largely composed of older models so riddled with obvious flaws that federal safety investigators have for years urged the entire fleet be retrofitted. ...

Not only have they avoided pulling the hazardous DOT-111 tank cars out of service to retrofit them, but they have opposed and delayed meaningful federal regulation at every turn.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment group is the biggest player in the tank car leasing business with around 40 percent of the market ... The next biggest player, GATX Corp, is scarcely more than half the size. ...

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We’d love these new fair-trade sustainable condoms, if the marketing weren’t kinda sexist

condom-girl-flickr-clinton-steeds
Clinton Steeds

Is there anything more fun than sexism in marketing? (See: Bic Pens for Her. And yes, everything short of toenail removal is more fun.) Its latest coup: tarnishing the enthusiasm we might have otherwise felt for Sustain Condoms. Created by the founder of Seventh Generation and his daughter (um, AWKWARD), the condoms are made from non-toxic, fair-trade rubber from an Indian plantation that pays workers a fair wage.

Sustain thinks fair-trade condoms will primarily appeal to us ladies with our squishy bunny hearts, rather than men, who hate sustainability and only buy brands that sound like monster trucks. (Trojan Magnum Destructo! OK, maybe Destructo would be a poor choice for a condom brand.) Explains Jeffrey Hollender:

Part of the challenge we are facing is the huge discomfort women feel buying condoms. If a man buys them, he's having sex and he's cool. Women have a negative attitude.

Read more: Living

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How to make natural gas more climate-friendly

fracking site
Daniel Foster

This is a story about natural gas leakage, and we’re not talking about what happens after your grandfather says, “Pull my finger!”

Recent reports in journals such as Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have carried some depressing news: Natural gas, the “bridge fuel” touted by President Obama for its lower CO2 emissions and domestic abundance, may not actually be better for the climate than coal. Natural gas is mostly methane, which is half as carbon intensive as coal when it's burned, but when it's released directly into the atmosphere, it's 86 times worse for the climate than CO2 over a 20-year time frame. Rampant methane leakage in the fracking process and from pipelines raises natural gas’s total greenhouse gas emissions; the studies estimate that more than 2 percent of gas in the U.S. may escape through leaks.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The technology already exists to dramatically reduce methane leakage for a reasonable price. Environmental groups have put out reports outlining how. They could serve as a template for the oil and gas industry to follow voluntarily, or for the EPA to require under the Clean Air Act.

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That old, rusty underwater pipeline? Nothing to worry about!

Potential for environmental disaster lurks beneath the ice-covered Straits of Mackinac in northern Michigan.
Kate Ter Haar

Recently, scenes from the frozen Great Lakes region have brought to mind the post-apocalyptic icy landscape of the Lands Beyond the Wall. The Straits of Mackinac in northern Michigan is currently facing its own “winter is coming” scenario, and it doesn’t involve a horde of aggressive snow zombies with a penchant for disembowelment (we hope). This threat, however, could result in the destruction of a vast ecosystem, threatening drinking water supplies and the livelihoods of local fishermen.

To stave off disaster, Michiganians are loudly voicing their concerns about a section of oil pipeline that runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, a five-mile-wide body of water separating the upper peninsula of Michigan from the rest of the state, and conjoining Lakes Michigan and Huron. Called Line 5, the segment, part of a pipeline built in 1953, has undergone minimal repairs in the past 60+ years. As production from Alberta’s tar sands has soared over recent years, many are beginning to question whether Line 5 can handle more of that oil. Pipeline owner Enbridge expanded the line’s capacity by about 10 percent last year, to nearly 23 million gallons per day. The National Wildlife Federation released a video in October 2013 showing broken supports that suggest corrosion along Line 5, and is demanding that it be replaced entirely.