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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.

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New York, California move to ban beauty products containing microbeads

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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.

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Oil spills break fishes’ hearts

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This Valentine's Day, BP should dedicate some hearts to fish that were exposed to its Deepwater Horizon spill -- new research suggests that the spill may have broken theirs.

Scientists investigating the aftermath of the 2010 oil spill have discovered that even very low concentrations of crude in seawater interfered with the normal pumping of tuna hearts. After exposing captured yellowfin and bluefin to BP oil-spill samples, the researchers detected irregular heartbeats, which can lead to fatal cardiac arrest.

Because a wide range of animals have similar heart designs, the researchers are warning that species from turtles to dolphins could also be affected. Even exposed humans could be at risk.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Just a fracking well exploding into flames — nothing to see here!

Early on Tuesday morning, a Chevron-owned natural gas well in Greene County, Pa., burst into flames – and more than 72 hours later, it’s still burning. One contractor for Chevron is missing and presumed dead, and another was injured in the explosion.

Chevron has flown in experts from Houston’s Wild Well Control to put out the fire, and crews spent yesterday removing overheated pieces of metal that kept reigniting. Today, they await heavy-duty water tanks to extinguish the blaze, which could be delayed by the winter storms afflicting the region. Last year, five surface well blowouts with fires were "wild" enough to require the expertise of Wild Well Control.

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These endangered animals want to help you set the mood with their sexy mating calls

Hopefully by now you have used these flirting tips to attract yourself a potential mate. Now, you need to set the mood in your love nest. Might we suggest this oh-so-sexy video that the Center for Biological Diversity put together of endangered animals making their mating calls?

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The week in GIFs: Creepy gross-out edition

This week had a pretty high ick factor. (Last week: Carrie Brownstein.)

Giant rats are one of the animals most likely to survive climate change:

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America's natural gas system is really leaky, which is bad for its pants the climate:

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Winter warriors: As Sochi heats up, will athletes turn to climate activism?

A shirtless spectator watches Sweden's Charlotte Kalla compete during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Kalla won the silver medal.
AP/Jae C. Hong

As you watch the victorious athletes lean down to accept their medals in Sochi this week, consider this: Those podiums can become platforms for powerful political action. Think back to 1968, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos flashed the black power salute after winning gold and bronze in the 200 meter sprint in Mexico City. They were demonized for doing it, but the image left an indelible mark: Two of the world's greatest athletes reached outside of themselves and took a stand for human rights, despite the inevitable backlash.

In the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia's draconian antigay laws sparked protests worldwide. Some called for teams to boycott the games. Billie Jean King, the U.S. envoy to the games, said that the LGBT community needed "a John Carlos moment." Athletes vowed to flash six fingers from the podiums, referencing Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which states: "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."

The International Olympic Committee has stated that this type of political statement has no place at the games, and so far, we have seen only minor acts of defiance. But athletes surfaced another cause this week: More than 100 Olympians have signed a letter calling on world leaders to get serious about fighting climate change.

Read more: Climate & Energy