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Extreme weather means we have traffic-related musical numbers now

You know all those covers of Frozen’s “Let It Go” floating around the internet? Blame severe weather. At least, blame severe weather for this one, a Cincinnati traffic reporter’s version titled "Just Don’t Go." Watch Bob Herzog warn drivers to stay the heck off the dangerous, icy roads:

Some choice lines:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Father of the ride: One dad’s bike quest ends expensively on eBay

For the past couple months I’ve been trying out cargo bikes, city bikes, and electric bikes, in an effort to replace my stolen sleek and speedy ride with something more appropriate for a dad.

I wrote about the initial phases of my quest here and here. And now it's over -- I finally have a bicycle of my own. So, um, let me just get this out of the way: The forces that led me to my choice were hardly rational, and so far I’ve been too abashed to tally up the total monstrous cost. Still, I hope my shameful story may be useful in guiding others.

My goal at the outset was to find a bike that would be so useful and fun that I’d never want to fire up our new car. And I wanted something with a fundamentally different feel than my last bike: something built for pleasure, not for speed.

That last goal proved to be a lot harder than I’d expected. Walk into just about any bike shop in the U.S., and you’ll see row upon row of racing bikes with low handlebars and high seats that cock the rider aggressively forward, like a sprinter in the blocks. And then, off in a corner, you’ll find a couple more upright bikes -- but even those (for the most part) will have a similar frame geometry, with an erect seat post. If you want a seat post that lounges back over the wheel, giving the rider a relaxed posture, you pretty much have to go to Europe, or to one of the few specialty shops that imports Dutch bikes.

Read more: Cities, Living


Ask Umbra: What’s better than butter? Spreads will roll


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I follow a largely vegan diet, but I often make exceptions for animal foods that have a lighter environmental impact, such as using local honey instead of sugar. I am wondering about butter and its alternatives. Coconut oil is a great butter replacement, but it must travel far. I have access to generic organic butter, but no local butter. What do you recommend?

Little Rock, AR

A. Dearest Christine,

Butter and its assorted alternatives aren’t technically required for a healthy diet, so we can live without them entirely. All butter does is moisten our cakes, add creamy flavor to our crackers, impart rich mouthfeel to our sautés, and lend an irresistible flakiness to our pie crusts ... You know what? On second thought, we definitely can’t live without them. Please excuse me while I go grab a biscuit.

Since you’re open to cow-sourced products, I should start by pointing out that you do have access to local butter -- if you can connect with a local, grass-fed, pastured dairy and make it yourself, that is. From what I remember from elementary-school Pioneer Day, this is a tasty and fun process.

But then again, it’s also somewhat time-consuming and creates a product high in saturated fat, one of the artery-clogging bad fats we’d all do well to avoid. And because you’re largely limiting animal products in your diet, Christine, I suspect you’d be even more interested in some of the creative, plant-based alternatives out there. Coconut oil is a popular one, but as you note, it’s not exactly a local product. Let’s toss out palm oil too while we’re at it -- the stuff is linked to significant ecological destruction of the rainforest.

Read more: Food, Living


Move over, baking soda: Surprising pantry items that double as cleaning supplies

This article originally appeared on Pantry items that double as cleaning tools, part II.

It might not be spring yet, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting a head start on some spring cleaning. You know you don’t need to add a trip to the store to your to-do list -- you’re already familiar with a few pantry items that double as cleaning tools. Here’s round two, with eight more items you already have in your kitchen.

pantry 1 walnuts
Read more: Food, Living



This artist creates fracking scenes with vintage figurines and postcards

Brandi Merolla

New York state-based photographer Brandi Merolla was trying to figure out her next project when she looked around her house. Victorian prints, tiny charms, paintings, vintage postcards, and figurines she collected throughout the years suddenly stood out in ways they hadn't before. So she used her collection to illustrate something else close to home: fracking. In "Scenes from the Attic," Merolla tackles a big controversy with tiny art.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


What can John Kerry accomplish with his climate talk?

John Kerry
World Economic Forum

It was an exciting moment for environmentalists Sunday when Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech in Indonesia emphasizing the severity of the potential consequences of climate disruption. Kerry -- who has been a climate policy leader since he was in the Senate -- equated the threat of catastrophic climate change to that of nuclear weapons proliferation.

The latter has been the single greatest fear of American presidents since the dawn of the atomic era. It led us into war in Iraq, which demonstrated the foolishness of combating an international problem unilaterally. And now Kerry is applying that lesson to climate change,  arguing that the only effective course of action is multilateral cooperation. “Every nation on Earth has a responsibility to do its part if we have any hope of leaving our future generations the safe and healthy planet that they deserve,” said Kerry. He went on to imply that developing countries should agree to limit their emissions at U.N. climate negotiations in Paris next year.

From the Obama administration’s perspective, Kerry is sending an important signal: That they view global warming as a threat to human life and international stability, and combating it will be an organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy. This is certainly a break with Obama’s predecessor, and even with Obama’s first term, which was more focused on narrowly tailored actions to address immediate humanitarian crises and on decapitating Al Qaeda.


Fracking infrastructure? Not in my backyard, says Exxon CEO

Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil
World Economic Forum

Woe is Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil.

Public utility Cross Timbers Water Supply Corp. has had the nerve to plan a water tower in Bartonville, Texasright next to Tillerson’s own personal horse ranch! Not only is the tower a blight on Tillerson’s very own piece of Texas forever, but it’s also going to bring all kinds of noise, traffic, and plebeians to his driveway. Oh, and one more thing – it’s also going to supply the energy companies that are quickly growing their fracking operations in the area. Included among these companies is XTO Energy, which ExxonMobil acquired in 2009.


This glowing sea shrimp is so bright you might think you’re hallucinating

When she saw a bright blue flash in a jar of water she'd collected off the coast of South Africa, jellyfish researcher Rebecca Helm thought she was hallucinating. In reality, she’d spotted the Sapphirina copepod, which she calls a sea sapphire -- a tiny shrimp-like critter that shimmers with a bright blue glow. When the light hits it just right, it shines like a little reflective piece of cellophane before disappearing again. Watch:

So how do nature’s underwater fingerprints work? Only the dudes are little blue nightlights, which sounds unfair until you hear the females have huge Zooey Deschanel-like eyes (the better to see them with!). Helm explains the iridescence:

Read more: Living


Believe it or not, January was full of big, warm climate anomalies

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

Much of America is about to be overrun by another miserable cold-dozer next week, but on the planetary scale, things have actually been warm. January's temperatures were the hottest for the month since 2007 and, with a combined global average of 54.8 degrees F, this was the fourth warmest January since records began in 1880.

That's the word from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, which recently released an updated "State of the Climate" that includes the above map of temperature anomalies. Note cooler-than-normal patches in the eastern U.S., central Canada, Scandinavia, and a big hunk of Russia, which had country-scale temperatures 9 degrees F below average. But the big story was heat, heat, heat, as NCDC explains:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Buy this gizmo, and you’ll only ever need one candle for the rest of your life

Benjamin Shine

This very clever gizmo solves a problem that humans have struggled with for hundreds of years: the stupid mess of dripping wax that happens every time you light a candle. (OK, to be fair we struggled with this a lot more hundreds of years ago than we do today, but still.) But now you can capture that wax and turn it into another candle, creating an infinite candle!

Well, not quite infinite, says FastCoExist:

Each time the Rekindle Candle burns, there’s a little less wax left, and eventually you’d have to start over with a new candle. How long it lasts, Shine says, depends on the specific candle -- some burn faster, some are drippier -- but you might be able to reuse the wax as many as five times.