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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


Bunsen burner bummer: Lab rules favor industry over indie research


Last week, when I wrote about the scientist Tyrone Hayes and the controversy over the herbicide atrazine, I suggested that “the industry has defined the rules of the game so narrowly that only it can play.”

But I didn’t understand exactly how this worked. The short answer: It’s too expensive for scientists to do the experiments that regulators want.

Jason Rohr, a scientist at the University of South Florida, has bumped into this issue. One of the problems, Rohr said, is that regulators pay more attention to studies conducted with what’s known as Good Laboratory Practice.

“Good Laboratory Practice is basically a bunch of hoops to jump through: properly calibrating your pipettes, stuff like that,” Rohr said.

Rohr is all for doing that stuff. But documenting that you’ve jumped through those hoops is so expensive that it’s almost impossible for any academic lab. It’s only the contract labs -- commissioned by industry to do government-required testing -- that spend the money to prove that they are doing everything right.


Tea industry claims it will undertake heroic efforts to become more sustainable

Mr. T
Mr. T knows a thing or two about being a hero, and he pities the fool who slurps from the sweat of exploited workers.

The tea business can be pretty ugly. Abuse of workers and abuse of the environment are both rampant.

So a number of tea giants now say they have a plan to get more sustainable and turn tea into a “hero crop” by 2030. What’s a hero crop? According to a report released Friday by Forum for the Future, a nonprofit that’s coordinating the Tea 2030 initiative, a “hero crop is more than just a commodity; it also delivers social, environmental, and economic benefits for all participants within its value chain.”

Aiming for the far-off year of 2030 doesn't seem all that heroic. Still, here’s more on the initiative from a press release:


U.S. tries to have it both ways with solar trade policy

solar panels

Remember how the U.S. trade representative announced last week that he would haul India before the World Trade Organization to try to force the country to accept more solar-panel imports? It's a reaction to India's efforts to protect its own solar industry as it massively boosts its renewable energy capacity.

Darnedest thing: The U.S. government on Friday moved closer to imposing trade restrictions that would limit imports of Taiwanese-made solar components into the U.S. Reuters reports:

The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled on Friday that Chinese solar panels made with cells manufactured in Taiwan may harm the American solar industry, bringing it closer to adding to the duties it slapped on products from China in 2012.

The U.S. arm of German solar manufacturer SolarWorld AG had complained that Chinese manufacturers are sidestepping the duties by shifting production of the cells used to make their panels to Taiwan and continuing to flood the U.S. market with cheap products. ...

The value of Chinese solar product imports in the United States fell by almost a third from 2012 to 2013, while imports from Taiwan rose more than 40 percent, although from a much smaller base, according to ITC data.

American solar-installation companies have denounced the move to slap new duties on Taiwanese-manufactured components. That's because they rely on cheap Asian manufacturers to help keep the price of solar arrays low.


Survive one Chevron fracking explosion, get a pizza and pop FREE!


If a multibillion-dollar company started a frack pit fire in your backyard that burned uncontrollably for five days and killed one person, what would you consider fair compensation? A stable of miniature horses? An all-you-can-eat shrimp dinner served on Drake’s private jet? One large pizza AND a two-liter beverage? Strike that last one; maybe we're just getting greedy.

Or not: Chevron Appalachia deemed the last option an appropriate gesture of goodwill for the residents of Greene County, Pa., where a natural gas well exploded into flames last week. In a letter to 100 residents dated last Sunday -- proof that Chevron employees will work even on the Lord’s Day to ensure that those wronged by their explosions can still enjoy a delicious cheesy treat -- the Chevron Community Outreach Team acknowledged the accident and enclosed a gift certificate redeemable at Bobtown Pizza for a “Special Combo Only.” To those Greene County residents who perchance desired mozzarella sticks: Better luck next time.


Here’s a new, cute way to eat animals without guilt or cruelty

Omurice is a rice-filled omelette topped with sauce, often ketchup. Sounds pretty simple until you see the adorable animal shapes people make with this Japanese dish. Although SOME simply top the fried rice with a layer of scrambled eggs like a yolky igloo, others (thankfully) are much more creative. Plus it's a way for vegetarians can eat animals without the guilt!

Check it out and let your heart be melted by the ridiculous cuteness:

Read more: Food, Living


Cows make more milk when listening to R.E.M.

Kim Tyo-Dickerson

Stressed cows produce less milk. The solution? R.E.M.’s hit “Everybody Hurts,” at least according to a study by the University of Leicester. It’s not just the perfect song for an angsty ’90s montage; it helps cows relax and release more oxytocin, which is central to milk production. Slow jams boosted milk output by 3 percent, researchers found, which might not sound like a lot -- but every little bit helps, right?

In light of the news that “consistent and calming” tunes help cows most, Modern Farmer compiled a suggested playlist to loosen up your livestock:

Read more: Food, Living


America could have been a nation of hippopotamus eaters

Ray Muzyka

The journalist Jon Mooallem has an exceptional talent for writing about strange animal stories, and his new story (on This American Life and in a e-book for the Atavist) is really surprising: Turns out that early in the last century, two guys thought it would be a great idea for Americans to farm hippopotamus meat.

Mooallem writes in his Atavist story:

The idea was to import hippopotamuses from Africa, set them in the swamplands along the Gulf Coast, and raise them for food. The idea was to turn America into a nation of hippo ranchers. …

One Agricultural Department official estimated that an armada of free-range hippos, set moping through the bayous of Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, would easily yield a million tons of meat a year. …

Apparently, the animals tasted pretty good, too, especially the fatty brisket part, which could be cured into a delicacy that a supportive New York Times editorial was calling, euphemistically, “lake cow bacon.”

One booster apparently tried to influence reporters by feeding them hippo jerky.

Part of the problem was that, unlike now, Americans weren't eating enough meat, and they needed a new source, one that wouldn't take up prime farming land.

Read more: Food, Living


Russia could build a train that would connect New York to Paris

Amazing Maps posted this, uh, amazing map of a cross-Bering rail connection:

It seems like a fanciful idea -- a bridge or a tunnel linking Russia and the United States. And people have been tossing the concept around, without actually doing anything about it, for a long long time. Czar Nicholas II, for instance, thought it was a good idea … in 1905.

But there's a slim chance it could happen this time.


Finnish reindeer now have glowing antlers to protect them from cars

Via Reddit

Like deer in the American Northeast, reindeer in Finland are prone to walking onto the road and causing accidents. But, unlike wild American deer, Finnish reindeer actually belong to reindeer herders, who'd like to keep them alive. So the herders are painting their deer's antlers with a coating that makes them glow in the dark. Bonus: Now ANYONE can guide the sleigh!

Gizmodo explains:

The idea of outfitting reindeer with reflective devices has been around in Scandinavia for years. There, reindeer are bred and kept on farms much like cows are in the United States. So the reflectors aren't just helping keep the reindeer safe, they also help herders keep track of their animals. However, as car accidents involving reindeer have been on the rise, the Finnish herders are taking it to the next level with this new coating idea.

And a Reddit commenter explains why this is necessary at all:

Reindeer are not hunted, but while they roam freely for most of the year, they are owned like cattle.

Read more: Living