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Steyer may spend $100 million to push climate cause in midterms, but polluters will spend more

Tom Steyer and David Koch
Fortune Live Media / Reuters
A championship matchup: On the left, Tom Steyer. On the right, David Koch.

After years of being outgunned by polluters and their allies, environmentalists have been celebrating the arrival of a savior: Tom Steyer, a Bay Area hedge-fund billionaire. Last year, he spent $11 million to help Democrat Terry McAuliffe get elected as Virginia governor, and millions more on anti-Keystone ads and the campaign to elect Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey to the Senate. And on Tuesday, The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore reported, “He is rallying other deep-pocketed donors, seeking to build a war chest that would make his political organization, NextGen Climate Action, among the largest outside groups in the country, similar in scale to the conservative political network overseen by Charles and David Koch.”

The Koch brothers, naturally, are not sitting idly by as their enemies armor up. As Politico’s Ken Vogel wrote last month, “If the Koch brothers’ political operation seemed ambitious in 2010 or 2012, wait for what’s in store for 2014 and beyond. ... This year, the Kochs’ close allies are rolling out a new, more integrated approach to politics. That includes wading into Republican primaries for the first time to ensure their ideal candidates end up on the ticket.”

The problem for progressives, as Vogel’s story and others make clear, is that in the era of unlimited outside political spending, liberals will usually be outraised by conservatives. And environmentalists will be outraised by polluters.


Obama to trucking industry: “No more rampant gas consumption for you!”


While members of Congress twiddle their thumbs and idly watch the Northeast and Midwest begin to resemble planet Hoth, California dry up into an approximation of Tatooine, and, across the pond, England transform into Dagobah, President Obama continues to push past them and take action against climate change.

That’s the end of the Star Wars references, we swear -- please don’t go.

Obama announced on Tuesday that he has ordered new, stricter fuel-efficiency rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from large trucks. This will build on an earlier set of standards that were developed in 2011 and took effect this year. The new standards, to be drawn up by the EPA and Department of Transportation, are supposed to be finalized by 2016, before Obama leaves office, and then go into effect starting in 2018.


Lady Gaga will be making a water conservation PSA as penance for swimming pool video shoot

Philip Nelson

Lady Gaga chose California’s sprawling Hearst Castle as the setting for a "special creative project," probably the video for her latest single from FARTSLOP (isn’t that its name?). After all, if it was good enough for Spartacus, it’s good enough for the Gags. The only problem is that the estate’s leaky marble pool was drained in January because of California’s teeny-weeny drought emergency.


Here’s the deal, the Hearst Castle Foundation said. You can shoot your music video here, pool included, if you record a PSA about saving water AND donate a quarter mill to our foundation AND drop $25,000 on a local water supply study. “Unicorn omniscience swizzle stick,” Lady Gaga replied while wiggling her angular eyebrows, indicating her consent. Not only that, but the water used in the pool will be recycled, according to L.A. Times:

Read more: Living


When Rush Holt retires, the House will lose a scientist and an environmental advocate

Rep. Rush Holt
House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats

With the midterms coming and Republican control of the House of Representatives entrenched via gerrymandering, leading Democratic congressmen are heading for the exits. A few weeks ago, green beacon Henry Waxman (Calif.) announced his retirement. In another loss for environmentalists, Rush Holt (N.J.) said on Tuesday that he also will not seek reelection.

Holt was always an odd fit in Congress. Elected in 1998, in what had previously been a Republican-leaning district, Holt’s professorial mien stood out among the back-slappers, demagogues, and machine hacks. Owlish and bespectacled, Holt holds a PhD in physics. Before entering politics, he taught at Swarthmore and worked in a lab at Princeton. In 2011, he beat the supercomputer Watson on Jeopardy.

Holt had progressive politics in his blood, though: His father, a senator from West Virginia, was a New Deal Democrat, and his mother was West Virginia’s first female secretary of state. After one unsuccessful run in the 1996 Democratic primary in New Jersey's 12th congressional district, Holt won the primary two years later, then knocked off a Republican incumbent.

“He’s sort of a combination between a politician and Bill Nye the Science Guy,” says Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.


This guy wants to turn a piece of the old Bay Bridge into a house

Bay Bridge House

The old Bay Bridge, from San Francisco to Oakland, is being torn down, which raises a tricky question: What do you do with 50,000 tons of pre-used steel?

The short answer is: Send it to Asia as scrap, FastCoExist says. But the fun answer is: Turn it into an awesome house. That’s what one Bay Area tech guy wants to do. We're sure there won't be any questions raised here about affordable housing and the tech industry!


The floors will have the original pavement and lane markers, and the frame of the building will be made from the giant steel beams of the bridge. In all, it's the same amount of steel that would be used to build 1,600 cars.

Read more: Cities, Living


Elephants console friends by touching their junk

sad elepahnt
Roar Petterson

Elephants, according to a new study, comfort each other when they're sad. They make sympathetic chirping sounds and put their trunks in each other's mouths. It's kind of like that super sad scene in Dumbo where his captive mom cradles him in her trunk.

Except a little bit more complicated, because grown-up elephants also touch each other's genitals.

The Los Angeles Times:

"Elephants do a lot of touching of others with their trunks. Genital touching is a way for elephants to identify others, and in this case, it may also be a way for the elephants to identify the behavioral state of the others," said co-author Joshua Plotnik, a lecturer in conservation biology at Mahidol University in Thailand and chief executive of the nonprofit Think Elephants International.

"I think the genital touching, in combination with other touches, specifically in this context, serves to reassure the other elephant," Plotnik said. "We also see the elephants put their trunks into each others' mouths, which seems to be a way of saying, 'I'm here to help you.' "

Read more: Living


Watch 40 artists turn this empty building into an illegal graffiti paradise

screenshot copy

The street artist Hanksy knew you'd be into this project. The New York Times:

After getting keys to a newly abandoned rowhouse on East Fourth Street, he invited several dozen street artists and graffiti writers to paint the vacant apartments. The collaboration, which he called Surplus Candy, was illegal and somewhat secret -- exactly the combination that would produce page views. ...

“You throw in a couple of keywords -- East Village, illegal, street art -- people will run with that,” he said.

But, hey, what can we say? We think illegal street art projects in the East Village are cool. At least, this one certainly is:

Read more: Cities, Living


Watch this octopus try to steal a photographer’s camera

Animals are pissed about the paparazzi. First an eagle snatched a camera in rural Australia and tried to peck it to bits. Then a crab stole some honeymooners’ GoPro and attempted to bury it. Now an octopus has now tried to wrestle away a scuba diver’s camera -- which, yes, makes this the perfect trifecta that precedes all New York Times trend pieces. WHO WILL WIN, nature or technology? (Hint: Not nature. Has the past century taught you nothing?)

Watch the battle unfold:

Read more: Living


Soda could soon have a warning label like cigarettes do


Soon, bottles of pop could come with a health warning akin to cigarettes, if California Sen. Bill Monning’s new bill passes. The senator proposed the measure last week in Sacramento in the context of reducing childhood obesity. (California’s already banned soda in public schools.) SB 1000 would take effect in July 2015. Reports the L.A. Times:

“When the science is this conclusive, the state of California has a responsibility to take steps to protect consumers,” Monning said. “As with tobacco and alcohol warnings, this legislation will give Californians essential information they need to make healthier choices.”

SB 1000 would require a warning label on the front of all cans and bottles of soda and fruit drinks sold in stores with added sweeteners that have 75 or more calories per 12 ounces.

We can think of a few options for the label:

Read more: Food, Living


Faster, higher, stranger: 5 sports for a snow-free Winter Olympics

Justin Goh

I know we’re all bummed about losing the polar bears, and the increase in monstrous killer storms is surely a drag, but climate change just got real, people. The Winter Olympics are in danger. As you know, the beloved Winter Games are the world’s fifth favorite Olympics (technically it’s in a three-way tie with the Laff-A-Lympics and the Kitty Olympics), and like the far-less-popular Republican Olympics, no amount of climate denial will save them.

Sure, we can all agree that holding the Winter Games in the Russian equivalent of Boca Raton (which, by the way, is how I’m pretty sure Dante described the fifth circle of hell) was a stroke of something less than genius, but beach towns aren’t the only places that will make bad host cities in this warming world. By mid-century, Squaw Valley and Vancouver will be too warm for many of the events, and by 2100, only six previous Olympic sites will be cold enough to host the Winter Games.

Still, these games are important, and with that in mind, we here at Grist have decided to save them with new, weather resistant Olympic sports. Don’t thank us -- NBC dropped $4.38 billion on the exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics, and we’re expecting a slice of that mad TV haul. So here you have it, five sports custom-made for a snow-free Winter Games:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living