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The city should shovel your sidewalk

Snow covered Brooklyn sidewalk
Premshree Pillai

It’s an odd fact of life in New York City that after a snowstorm the streets are nicely plowed but the sidewalks may remain a mess. The city dispatches trucks to clean the streets shortly after the snow stops falling. But the sidewalks? That’s up to the owners of the buildings alongside them. And if a homeowner doesn’t get around to shoveling? Well, then you’ll just find yourself delicately dancing along a bumpy, icy, and/or slushy stretch of pavement.

This is hardly unique to the Big Apple. Cities, and especially suburbs, throughout the country take the bizarre position that roads are a public good but sidewalks, where they even exist, are a luxury that homeowners must maintain for themselves. It is especially perverse in a city where more people walk than drive as they go about their daily lives.

Theoretically, New York City can fine owners $100 or more for not shoveling their patch of sidewalk. In practice, enforcement is somewhere between spotty and nonexistent.

And so, in this particularly snowy winter -- which may become the new norm thanks to climate change -- a New York City council member has proposed that the city up the fine to $250 and use the proceeds to pay for the shoveling itself. The New York Daily News reports:

Read more: Cities, Politics


This new IKEA bookshelf system could save forests of trees


IKEA is, functionally, in the business of selling ground-up trees, sometimes covered in very, very thin slices of not-ground-up trees. And it's not even clear that they get those trees in an above-board manner. (Get it, board?) But, when you need a bookcase, we know where you head.

We're not judging. We keep our records in Expedit bookshelves, too. In fact, we LOVE the Expedit, and we did a double-take when we found out IKEA was discontinuing it, just like you did.

But, as Gizmodo explains, this is actually a good thing -- a way for us all to do a little bit better by the world while still paying bargain-basement prices for furniture made of ground-up trees. Because IKEA is making a very, very similar shelf that uses slightly less wood.

The thickness of the wide outer edge that makes Expedit so distinctive. It seems like a minuscule change to us, but it's not. Sales numbers for Expedit aren't public, but we know that Ikea sells some 41 million similar Billy bookcases a year.

If Ikea can cut even a centimeter of wood on each of those products, it will save massively on material costs. It's also going to help them make good on their claim of sustainability.

Read more: Living


Meet the smart farm you can control with a smartphone

Freight Farms founders Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara
Shane Ernest

Repurposed shipping containers have long enjoyed a place in the spotlight of sustainable development and eco-dream-home Pinterest porn. They’ve even started to appear as heralds for the local food economy -- as grocery stores for food deserts and trendy pop-up restaurants. So it only makes sense that next up on the docket for urban agriculture and food independence are Freight Farms: hydroponic farms in shipping containers.

A Freight Farm is more than just a garden in a box. Each 325 square-foot unit comes equipped with high-efficiency red and blue LEDs to simulate night and day, a climate-controlled temperature system for optimal growth conditions, and vertical growing troughs. Translation: Farmers can enjoy a year-round growing season regardless of weather. Freight Farms are also sealable (no need for pesticides and herbicides), stackable, and (because of their closed loop hydroponic system) use 90 percent less water than conventional farming. And the fun part: Growth settings can even be controlled by a smartphone app.

Founder Jon Friedman calls his inventions "vessels for the next generation of food production." And the irony isn’t lost on him that these vessels may have once been clocking food miles for the global shipping industry. "It's one of those things, like, the weapon turns into the thing that saves everybody."


Farmers fed their hogs ground up piglet intestines … but, um, for a good cause?


Well, this is horrifying. A bunch of piglets at a hog farm contracted "porcine epidemic diarrhea virus," which sounds bad enough in and of itself. But then, after they died, the farmers used their intestines to inoculate grown pigs against the disease. Which is slightly better than feeding the grown pigs baby pig innards just all willy-nilly, BUT STILL. Is there really no better way to do this??

There's video, but, assuming you don't want to watch it, NPR reports:

In this video, we learn what happens to the piglets at Iron Maiden Hog Farm in Owensboro, Ky., that succumbed to the virus: The animals' intestines are ground up and fed, as a "smoothie" — as [Humane Society of the U.S.] dubs it -- back to the sows, which could be their own mothers. (The exact size of the farm is unknown, but the barn shown in the video houses about 2,400 sows.)

Read more: Food, Living


In new Pacific trade talks leak, “climate” becomes the unmentionable


Time to get excited, everyone: There's a freshly leaked document from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in town, courtesy of the Peruvian website The mega-secretive, three-years-in-the-making international trade deal that would create a NAFTA-style agreement among the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam (and maybe, just maybe, China ...) has only had three other documents leaked over the past four years.

The previous leaks have been enough to send an eclectic range of Americans into apoplexy -- civil liberties folks, workers rights folks, farmers, Tea Partiers, and public health advocates. Mostly this is because of the treaty's investments chapter -- which, like NAFTA, would allow any company based in one member country that has an investment in another member country to sue that country in a secret tribunal if its rules covering things like civil liberties, workers' rights, environmental standards, or public health mess with the litigant's profitability.

But the agreement also has an environmental chapter, which was leaked this January. The chapter was supposed to establish a pragmatic set of standards among the trade partners as to what constituted acceptable environmental regulations and what kinds of things they should work together to make sure they don't run out of: fish; the air; the planet; rare and endangered animals; trees.

Instead, the leaked draft was a collection of vague, unenforceable statements, asking that its signatories do things like  “make best efforts to refrain” from overfishing. Missing from it were any penalties or sanctions -- all a country found to be violating these principles would have to do is promise to work toward changing its ways.


The week in GIFs: Cat edition

Who better than cats to sum up the week's green news? (Last week: creepy gross stuff.)

Ammonia-fueled cars could save the planet, writes teen:


Wild honeybees are getting diseases from domesticated bees:

We Know Memes
Read more: Living


Baby poop could make sausage healthier

Lance McCord

Can you give sausage the health benefits of probiotic yogurt by fermenting it with bacteria from infant doo-doo? That’s the question food microbiologists in Girona, Spain, recently tried to answer in the journal Meat Science. And it’s lookin’ good!

Probiotics in yogurt (and other places) can help burn fat, prevent UTIs, and even treat depression, but what’s a lactose intolerant person to do? Chow down on some fermented sausage, the researchers decided. They knew they needed probiotic bacteria that could withstand the acids involved in digestion -- which means microbes that made it to the shitter. And baby feces is way richer in probiotics Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium than adult excrement. Bingo!

Once researchers got some midwives to fork over 43 dirty diapers, they made fuet, a chorizo-like fermented pork sausage, with the bacteria in the doo-doo, plus a control batch with inferior, commercially available probiotics (LAME. WE WANT POOP). And it was delicious:

Read more: Food, Living


Microscrewed: Why California’s drought could muck up local beers

Michael Kappel

By now we’ve all heard that this year’s dry spell has left California officially screwed. With 63 percent of the state considered to be in an “extreme” drought, towns are running low on water, farmers and ranchers are scrambling to figure out how to stay afloat, and elected officials are anxiously coming up with plans to stave off budgetary ruin.

And, most importantly, it could mean that your next Lagunitas IPA may leave you with an unfortunate “planky” taste. 

Spittake 47 wide

Yes, your beer is under threat. Not only will we have to develop drought-hardy barley and contend with price spikes in the face of climate change, shriveling rivers could translate into a shift in water sources that would lend a certain harsh taste to your favorite brews.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Turn California’s drought into a game with the water-saving equivalent of Flappy Bird


Sure, if you live in drought-stricken California, it's very important that you save water. But it's also soooooo booooooring. Can't anybody turn this into a game we can compulsively play on our iPhones? Oh, they can? Oh good, maybe agriculture will be saved.

San Jose's Mercury News reports on free apps that will help make saving water (and money) a little more fun. Some, like "Drip Detective" and "Tap the Tap," rely, Flappy Bird-like, on our innate human tendency to want to tap compulsively on screens. Drip Detective has you tap the screen every time a drip of water falls from the tap, then scolds you for your own wastefulness:

Others, such as the Drip Detective app, up the ante by having users tap their screens every time a drop falls out of a leaking faucet. Or they can measure the rate of a more serious leak, whether by teaspoon, tablespoon, pint or gallon.

Either way, Drip Detective then calculates the amount of water -- and money -- being wasted every day, week, month and year based on your current water bill.

"Tap the Tap," meanwhile, does basically what it says on the tin: 

Read more: Living


These blind rescued cows are best friends, and our hearts just exploded

No YOU'RE totally sniffling over this video of Sweety, a blind cow rescued from a slaughterhouse in Canada, meeting fellow rescued cow Tricia and becoming the best of bovine bosom buddies:

Read more: Living