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John Kerry says climate change is a weapon of mass destruction

John Kerry speaks in Indonesia
State Department

During his time as president, George W. Bush's foreign policy was driven largely by fear of terrorists and WMDs. Obama's State Department seems at least equally worried about climate change.

Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech in climate-vulnerable Indonesia on Sunday during which he mocked climate deniers and compared the threat of global warming to terrorism and poverty. The speech came a day after Kerry visited China, where he worked out details of a U.S.-China climate agreement struck last year.

Here are some highlights from his speech in Jakarta:

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Obama wants to spend $1 billion on climate adaptation

Obama and California Gov. Jerry Brown
White House
Two farmers show their very parched farm to President Obama and California Gov. Jerry Brown.

OK, we get it: The climate deniers in Congress don't want the country to do anything to rein in greenhouse gas pollution from their favorite filthy industries.

But are they willing, at the very least, to help Americans adapt as the weather turns deadly around them? We will soon know the answer to that question.

President Barack Obama visited California's Central Valley farming region on Friday to announce disaster relief for the drought-ravaged state. And, while he was there, he announced his vision for $1 billion in climate-adaptation spending.

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Green sleaze: The EPA helps corporations scrub their images while screwing the planet

green-paint-wal-roller-cropped
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is so progressive on climate change that it is currently responsible for the entirety of U.S. climate policy. The agency is moving forward with regulations on new and existing coal-fired power plants, by far the largest source of CO2 emissions in the country, and has already locked in historic vehicle mileage standards. The current EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, is both a climate warrior and a down-to-earth person, who fully understands the climate challenge and intends to use EPA authority to fix it. In short, the EPA is amazing, and may even save civilization through its …

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Ask Umbra: How do I clean my too-green roof?

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Send your question to Umbra!

Q. There is lots of moss growing on our concrete tile roof. Do you have any advice on getting rid of it? Looking online, I see several recommendations for a product that uses hydrogen peroxide, which it says is eco-friendly. Do you agree? Our drinking water comes off the roof and is collected into a cistern. Thank you for your help.

Kristin M.
Gabriola, B.C.

A. Dearest Kristin,

I just had to Google your hometown, and I see you live in what looks like a seaside paradise off Vancouver Island. But even the planet’s prettiest hometowns have their downsides, and it seems the price you pay for your temperate winters and romantically foggy atmosphere is moss that grows like it’s on steroids. We generally love green roofs here at Grist, but this kind could spring a leak in your attic.

Your question reminds me of our recent discussion on mold removal, and just like in that case, I think the best chemical to start with is good old elbow grease, applied liberally.

Read more: Living

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New study: Internet trolls are often Machiavellian sadists

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Editor's note: Spending our time as we do up to our necks in climate muckrakery, we know a thing or 300 about squaring off with the trolls of the internet -- specifically with the hairy, spiky, climate-denying variety. Here, Chris Mooney uncovers what we've always suspected: They're verifiable sadists.

In the past few years, the science of internet trollology has made some strides. Last year, for instance, we learned that by hurling insults and inciting discord in online comment sections, so-called internet "trolls" (who are frequently anonymous) have a polarizing effect on audiences, leading to politicization, rather than deeper understanding of scientific topics.

That's bad, but it's nothing compared with what a new psychology paper has to say about the personalities of so-called trolls themselves. The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called "Dark Tetrad": Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

Read more: Climate & Energy

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You don’t have to live on a coast to get flooded out by climate change

Zimbabwe
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Sub-Saharan? More like tragically submarinin'.

The landlocked country of Zimbabwe has been ravaged by deadly floods since heavy rains set in last month. It's the latest soggy chapter in a climate-changed region where the number of people affected by cyclones and flooding has increased sixfold over two decades. SW Radio Africa reports on the Zimbabwean inundation:

Many parts of the country, from Muzarabani up in the north to Beitbridge down in the south, are now experiencing the worst floods in many years, as water inundates villages, farms, homes and major vital roads. ...

Weeks of heavy rain have left large parts of the Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland South provinces under water with the levels of most dams and rivers appearing to have peaked, leaving the situation critical in many areas, particularly along rivers.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Russian enviro who criticized Olympics sentenced to three years of forced labor

Yevgeny Vitishko
Oleg Kozirev / Human Rights Watch
Yevgeny Vitishko, in happier days.

An activist who coauthored a report cataloging the appalling environmental damage wreaked by Olympic construction will spend the next three years in a Russian penal colony.

Yevgeny Vitishko, a 40-year-old scientist, is ostensibly being punished for the crimes of spray-painting a fence and swearing in public. Vitishko was among seven members of Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus detained on the eve of the Olympics. An appeal of the decision to jail him for three years was rejected during a hearing that he couldn't attend this week because he was imprisoned.

“The case against Vitishko has been politically motivated from the start,” said Yulia Gorbunova, a Human Rights Watch official in Russia. “When the authorities continued to harass him it became clear they were trying to silence and exact retribution against certain persistent critics of the preparations for the Olympics.”

Read more: Living, Politics

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Watch a guy rescue stranded deer with a hovercraft

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Sometimes, in the winter, deer get stuck out in the middle of icy lakes. Once they slip, they can exhaust themselves trying to get up, let alone get all the way back to shore. Which is where humans come in, with our noisy and terrifying but occasionally miraculous machines.

Last year, we watched someone blow a stranded deer to safety with the wind from a helicopter. This year, a guy named James and his dad are taking a more hands-on approach, tying ropes to the animals' legs and dragging them gently along the ice in an undoubtedly epic (if you're not a terrified cervid) combination of sledding and waterskiing.

Read more: Living

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New York, California move to ban beauty products containing microbeads

personal care products
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Scrubbing dead skin cells off your face and tartar off your teeth trashes the environment if it's not done right. The right way to do it is with facial scrubs, shampoo, and toothpaste that do not contain microbeads. The microscopic balls of hard plastic flow down drains and pass through wastewater treatment plants, ending up in rivers, lakes, and oceans, where they enter the food chain.

Finding microbead-free products isn't easy right now -- you have to read ingredient lists and steer clear of products that contain "polyethylene" or "polypropylene." Natural alternatives include ground almonds, oatmeal, and pumice.

But if lawmakers in California and New York get their ways, the microbead-loaded varieties will become nearly impossible to purchase in two of the most populous states in the country.

Read more: Living, Politics

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Scientists can now spy on whales from space

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There are two ways of looking at this story. One is as a triumph of new technology: Using high-resolution satellites, scientists can identify and track whales without disturbing them in any way. The other is as a tale of space voyeurism: Scientists are spying on whales from the sky. And not just spying on whales -- spying on whales while there was a good chance the whales were doing it.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The traditional way to track whale populations is standing on a bridge of a ship and looking out into the ocean, or gliding over the water in an airplane….

For this study, Fretwell and his colleagues purchased a single, massive image taken in September 2012 by the WorldView2 satellite. The image covers 70 square miles including Golfo Nuevo, a circular gulf off the Argentine coast and an area where southern right whales are known to breed and raise their young from July through November.