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Good day for snowy owls: Delaware likes them, New York has decided not to shoot them

snowy owl
Tony Hisgett

There's an abundance of snowy owls on the East Coast right now, likely caused by a boom in lemmings. Snowy owls summer in the Arctic, where they gorge on lemmings, the News-Journal explains, and in years where lemmings are plentiful, so are owls. A larger owl population means it's more likely for some to make their way this far south.

In Delaware, they're just excited the owls are there. According to the News-Journal, there are "at least five … as many as seven" in the state.

In New York, however, the Port Authority is less excited and, in the past few days, shot three of the birds.

Who shoots an owl? Well, according to the Port Authority, it was really the owls who started it.

Read more: Cities, Living


Greenpeace 30 might get Russian amnesty — and Pussy Riot might too

Shutterstock / plavevski

Vladimir Putin appears to be experiencing uncharacteristic feelings of humanity. And that's wonderful news for a crew of daring Greenpeace activists, among many others.

The Russian president has drafted an amnesty bill, posted on the Kremlin's website Monday and submitted to Russia's parliament, that could affect tens of thousands of activists and political prisoners in the country.

According to Al Jazeera English, Russia's Izvestia news outlet reported that government sources have confirmed that the amnesty would apply to the Greenpeace 30. It might also free members of Pussy Riot.


Zoo finds out the hard way two male sloths can’t make a baby


Sofia and Tupee seemed to have it all: a love nest at an East Sussex zoo, two years to get to know each other and have a kid. But the two sloths didn’t. Because they’re both male. Apparently SOMEbody slept through the reproduction segment in biology.

According to the BBC:

Keepers at Drusillas Park in Alfriston could not work out why Sofia and male Tupee had failed to bond ...

Head keeper Mark Kenward said it was not easy to establish the sex of a sloth and medical records had shown Sofia was female when she arrived.

"We are going to have to find a more suitable name for Sofia," he said.

Read more: Living


Thieves broke into a convent and stole all their organic Brussels sprouts


Coke, speed, MDMA -- so yesterday. The new black market score is local, organic Brussels sprouts.

Sister Julie Newman and other nuns at the Dominican Farm and Ecology Center in Wicklow, Ireland, have been growing organic Brussels sprouts to sell at local farmers markets -- no small feat, as the veggies take two years to mature. But last week, thieves broke into the convent’s garden and stripped out the sprouts, stalks and all. According to the Independent, the haul was worth about $412:

The theft was deliberate, according to [Newman], and she believes the sprouts will now be sold as high-end organic produce for the Christmas market ...

“We would have the odd bit of pilfering of potatoes and onions, but this was deliberate. It wasn’t just someone looking for a few vegetables for their dinner.”

For shame! Steal from God and you’re gonna get smote. (Or at least get your daily dose of vitamin C and sulforaphane.)

Read more: Food, Living


Dairy accidents spilled a million gallons of crap in Wisconsin this year

Dairy cows

More than a million gallons of crap were let loose following agricultural accidents in Wisconsin this year.

No, we aren't talking bullshit. We're talking about cow shit, the E. coli- and nutrient-laden fruits of the state's dairy industry. This is the kind of pollution that causes green slime to grow over the Great Lakes and that leads to dead zones at the other end of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that already this year farming accidents have spilled 1 million gallons of livestock manure in the state. That's more than five times the amount that was leaked during similar accidents last year. The figure only includes the most spectacular explosions of poo, not the cow pats that are washed off grazing lands into creeks and rivers during rains.


Who cares about this red party cup?

red party beer pong
Thai Nguyen

Why make a movie about the red party cup? And why with Grist?

It wasn’t an obvious match at first, because I certainly didn’t start this project with any interest or intentions about “sustainability.” I, Party Cup began with my own curiosity about the design of everyday things -- things that are part of the built world but taken totally for granted, like traffic cones, fastening rivets, doorknobs … and disposable drinking cups. These things are just “around,” but they weren’t always. They were each and all created -- by someone. By definition, any part of the built world has to have a First Mover, a Creator, an Author. That was my assumption, and I wanted to take my best shot at finding out who that person was for this particularly recognizable and yet utterly forgettable, disposable object: the red plastic party cup.

As you’ll see in the film, I ended up questioning my working assumption about Authors. But I did meet three people who were responsible. What does that mean? What’s the difference? And what does that have to do with “sustainability” -- whatever that is?

It all comes down to the question: Who cares?

Read more: Living


Video premiere: I, Party Cup

Remember when we talked to you about Solo cups? We wanted to know who made this people’s chalice such a ubiquitous part of our disposable world -- and why. Turns out you were curious too: Grist readers were kind enough to help fund this joint Kickstarter with filmmaker John Pavlus.

You came through, and now we're very excited to share the end result. Behold, I, Party Cup:

Read John Pavlus's essay: "Who cares about this red party cup?"

Read more: Living


The next generation of eco-heroes

Andrew Simon.
Chantal Andrea
Andrew Simon.

When you donate to Grist, you aren't just supporting our high-quality coverage of things like bike news, carbon-intensive habits to kick, and cute animal videos that will stop your morale from going down the tube -- you're helping us create a new generation of eco-heroes.

As the director of Grist’s new fellowship program, I'll be providing guidance to budding young writers and editors, helping them find their voice as storytellers. Our program will churn out environmental journalists dedicated to sounding the alarm on planetary issues whenever and wherever they can. That’s especially important now, with Big Media slashing climate and environmental coverage all the time -- even as the need for information grows more urgent.

Don’t let green journalists go the way of the dodo. We're shooting for 2,500 donations by Dec. 17. Help fund our journalism-conservation efforts and support Grist with a gift today.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Smokestack city: An industrial neighborhood decides it has had enough

stop the incinerator
Brentin Mock

Charles Graham approaches the front porch of a home perched a block up the hill from his school, Benjamin Franklin High, in South Baltimore. From that porch, you can see the school, and in the background, a row of chemical plants and coal transfer stations that provide most of the jobs here. The skyline envisages a school-to-polluting-plant pipeline -- a line Graham hopes to rise above by urging cleaner energy projects in this place he calls home.

The 17-year-old environmental activist knocks on the front door and is greeted by Winston Bower, a longtime resident who looks old enough to be Charles’s grandfather. “Do you know about the incinerator they’re building less than a mile away?” Graham asks him.

Bower says he read about it in a newsletter circulating around the neighborhood and doesn’t approve of it: “It’ll just be polluting us even more than it already is around here.”

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Why we should raise the gas tax, and why we won’t

patriotic gas pump

There is perhaps no more vicious, self-reinforcing cycle in American life today than our dependence on automobiles. We subsidize suburban sprawl through favorable tax treatment, we mandate it through zoning codes, and we socialize the costs of the pollution it causes. We then end up with communities segregated into shopping, offices, and homes, so spread out and car-oriented as to make walking impractical.

And so we drive more than any other society on Earth. Currently, Americans drive approximately 3 trillion miles per year. There has been much celebration in urbanist and environmentalist circles over the fact that annual vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. peaked in 2006 and have started to slide downward. But that only came after decades of near-constant increase. We still drive about as much as we did in 2004, and vastly more than we did in 1990, never mind 1980 or 1970.

With so much driving necessary to get anywhere, and far too many SUVs on the road, it's no surprise that Americans are averse to raising taxes on gasoline.

Gas taxes are how we fund federal transportation spending. Currently, the gas tax is just 18.4 cents per gallon, the same as it was in 1993 -- and one-third less once adjusted for inflation. Because we haven't raised it for two decades, we have developed a shortfall for currently authorized spending -- and that doesn't even begin to address the considerably larger amount we should appropriate to fix our crumbling transportation infrastructure.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the leading smart-growth advocate in Congress, has proposed raising the gas tax to 33.4 cents per gallon and pegging it to inflation. This idea is terribly unpopular, as few people who drive everywhere want to spend more on such an essential commodity.