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Is global warming stoking an Arctic cold war?

A reenactment of a battle involving the USSR
Shutterstock / Sergey Kamshylin

Militarization and geopolitical maneuvering is heating up in the Arctic as once-frozen tundras melt into the sea, unearthing a bonanza of oil fields and shipping routes.

Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin this week ordered his military brass to pay "particular attention to the deployment of infrastructure and military units in the Arctic." He said Russia would open two new Arctic airbases and noted that a long-deserted Russian airbase on the Novosibirsk Islands was recently reopened.

That followed the November announcement by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of the Pentagon’s first-ever Arctic military strategy.


Get your fill of bananas now; they’re about to get destroyed by fungus

Kevin Trotman

Banana farmers live in fear of a fungus called Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense, or Foc, for short. As in, “oh Foc, a fungus is about to destroy all our bananas.”

A strain of Foc destroyed the Gros Michel bananas that used to be the mainstay of banana plantations, which were reportedly much more delicious than the bananas we eat today. And now it's coming for the Gros Michel’s replacement -- the Cavendish bananas that, if you're an American under the age of 50, are likely the only bananas you've ever eaten.

The Foc strain that could destroy Cavendish bananas has been living in Asia and Australia has now shown up in Mozambique and Jordan, Nature reports:

Nobody is sure how the fungus arrived in Jordan or Mozambique.

Read more: Food, Living


At this cafe, you can get cheaper coffee by being polite


A journalist in Nice stopped by the local Restaurant le Petite Syrah and snapped a picture of its menu board. It outlined a very specific set of rules for how coffee would be priced.

Say, "Hi, a coffee, please," and your espresso will cost about $2, a typical price in France. A customer who doesn't say hi but does say please gets charged about triple the price -- almost $6. And for a rude customer who comes in and grunts "coffee,” the price is almost $10.

In other words, there's a politeness discount; the price drops four bucks for every increment of courtesy.

Read more: Cities, Food, Living


It takes at least six countries to make a jar of Nutella

Nutella, much like Carmen Sandiego, is highly sought after. It’s the closest thing to sex you can spread on toast. Eating it immediately makes you more sensual and European. It’s just fucking delicious.

But try to track it down, and -- like everyone’s favorite villain in a red trench coat -- that’s when things get tricky. The OECD’s new report on global value chains features a case study on Nutella, revealing that it’s the dictionary definition of globalization. Check it:

What a globetrotter! Click to embiggen.
Ferrero, Sourcemap
What a globetrotter! Click to embiggen.
Read more: Food, Living


Subway make you late to work? NYC will explain it to your boss

Eszter Hargittai

Forget forging your mom’s signature or Photoshopping doctor’s notes (how old are you, anyway?). Now the NYC subway system will cover for you. If public transit makes you late to work, you can get a city-certified late note. According to CBC News:

More than 250,000 "Subway Delay Verification" notes have been issued by New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 2010, according to the New York Times...

To get a late note, passengers must first fill out an online form indicating which subway lines they were riding, when they got on and off the train, and if they made any transfers.

Not only is the form fairly long (to deter fakers, one suspects), but it can take several days for your boss to actually GET the late note -- at which point your rep as a slacker may already be cemented. But the notes are impressively specific:

Read more: Cities, Living


Help fund our community supported journalism

Chantal Andrea

We still have a long way to go to meet our goal of 2,500! See how I'm smiling above? Don't let it become one of those frantic, nervous smiles. Donate today -- as little as $5 will help. So, what’s great about supporting an organization like Grist? You get piping-hot green news each day -- and you also help us serve the latest stories to millions of other readers. In a world where misinformation is well funded by oily miscreants, you are part of a movement for truth. Right on! But hey, if righteous indignation isn’t enough to sway you, we also have swag: Sporting a …

Read more: Uncategorized


Ask Umbra: Can you really recycle plastic bags?

bag lady

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I do my best to avoid plastic bags, but it takes a lot of planning to completely avoid getting them -- e.g., if I decide to buy items like Brussels sprouts that need to be corralled before going into my reusable bags. Do the plastic bags that supermarkets offer to recycle really get recycled? If not, I really need to get serious about planning ahead.

Jim P.
Newton, Mass.

A. Dearest Jim,

I can empathize with your plight. I, too, have dashed off to the grocery to pick up “just a thing or two,” only to emerge laden with impulse radishes, string beans, or those alluring Brussels sprouts. While your checker no doubt thanks you for confining them to a plastic produce bag, your conscience may not.

Read more: Food, Living


Your genes tell you how to vote

dna politics
Mother Jones

Where did your political and religious opinions come from? How did you come by them? What made you who you are?

If you're like most people, you're probably inclined to answer this question by citing two main influences: your upbringing and your life experiences. But according to a growing body of science, such an account leaves out a major factor: your genes.

"The basic idea of a heritable component to political beliefs has been around for at least a quarter of a century," says University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist John Hibbing, coauthor of the new book Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences. "It's shown up too many times, in too many different places, with too many samples. So there's something there."

The science dates back at least to 1986. In that year, the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper using a classic "twin study" design to try to determine the heritability of a variety of political attitudes, such as views on the death penalty. The researchers concluded that genes could explain a substantial percentage of the variation in responses to an oft-used political questionnaire called the Wilson-Patterson conservatism scale.


There could be happy green news hidden in the budget deal

Paul Ryan and Patty Murray
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
Paul Ryan and Patty Murray, budget buddies.

Congress can often seem hopelessly anti-environment, what with right-wing Republican extremism, the power of extractive industries in both parties, and the rural bias of the Senate. This week is a partial exception, so savor it.

On Tuesday night, House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his Senate counterpart Patty Murray (D-Wash.) struck a deal to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2014, and reverse some of the painful spending cuts from sequestration. The Bipartisan Budget Act does not specify how much money would go to each government program, only that $63 billion that would have been cut from federal discretionary spending over the next two years will instead be replaced thanks to some increases in fees and some cuts from other areas such as federal employee pensions. About half of the spending will go to defense, and half to domestic agencies, including environmental programs. If it passes, it will be up to the House Appropriations Committee to determine exactly which program gets what.

Environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council are issuing statements celebrating the good news. “This is a positive first step in undoing some of the damage to national parks, clean drinking water, air pollution monitoring, and other environmental priorities,” says Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters.

Read more: Politics


2014 World Cup to nearly double carbon emissions over 2010

Sean Nel

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil will dump 2.72 million tons of carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere, according to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). To put that number into perspective, it’s equivalent to the CO2 produced by 560,000 cars in a year, or 136,000 American homes. And that’s over 1 million tons more CO2 than was emitted by the previous World Cup in 2010.

Most of that heat-trapping gas, about 80 percent, will come from air travel as teams and spectators jet set around the world’s fifth biggest country in order to get to the 12 different stadiums where the 64 World Cup matches will be played.

Last week’s draw, held in a giant tent on a remote beach in Brazil and drawing around 3,000 guests, is estimated to have produced 5,221 tons of carbon dioxide all on its own.

FIFA’s head of corporate social responsibility, Federico Addiechi, has pledged to completely offset 100 percent of the CO2 produced during the games next summer. This could include financing reforestation programs in Brazil and new investments in wind energy and hydroelectric power. FIFA estimates that offsetting the 2.72 million tons of carbon will cost about $2.5 million, a tiny fraction of the billions in revenue that the games are expected to generate. None of the offsetting projects will be announced until next year, however, and it remains to be seen if FIFA will carry through on its pre-game commitments after the World Cup spotlight has moved on from Brazil.