A team of scientists at Harvard have discovered how to make crazy, beautiful, very tightly controlled shapes that are so tiny they're invisible to the naked eye. Just by making simple changes in the environment in which salt and silicon crystals grow, they've made gardens of flower-like structures. Wim Noorduin, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, grew a variety of these "flowers," recently featured in the journal Science.
For everyone who was hoping the Obama administration's proposed new rules for natural gas drilling on public lands would make a difference, the just-released new draft amounts to a big "frack you."
Federal rules governing fracking on public lands are being updated, ostensibly to help manage the boom that's polluting America's groundwater and shaking free vast volumes of cheap natural gas. Environmentalists were disappointed a year ago when the Department of Interior released a fracker-friendly draft of the new rules. But they submitted reams of comments and had hoped that the proposed regulations would be tightened up in this draft.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) stopped throwing a temper tantrum and took a deep breath for long enough Thursday to allow the Senate to unanimously confirm Ernest Moniz as secretary of energy.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor and fossil fuel-industry fan was confirmed with a 97-0 vote. The vote had been delayed more than three weeks by Graham in protest over $200 million of planned nuclear energy budget cuts in his state.
Moniz served as an energy undersecretary in the Clinton administration and he is replacing Steven Chu, also a physicist, who is stepping down from the department's top job.
Don't freak out, but there's a problem with green roofs: They're not necessarily greener than ordinary roofs. Soooooo kind of a major problem. With a little extra effort, though, green roofs can be efficient AND locally sourced -- you just can’t take the easy way out.
[R]ooftop vegetation has to be able to survive the high winds, prolonged UV radiation and unpredictable fluctuations in water availability. To resist these harsh environments, a majority of green roofs are planted with sedum, a non-native species that can survive wind and long periods without rainfall. A roof planted with sedum, however, is no greener, from the standpoint of sustainability, than is ordinary tar or asphalt.
Sedum, it turns out, absorbs sunlight, just like a tar roof would, and isn't particularly good at absorbing water. Planting your green roof with sedum is like hiring employees based on how long they can physically sit in an office chair instead of how good they are at doing the work.
While most of Washington, D.C., is consumed with the faux scandals du jour, in a few corners of Congress, actual work is getting done. A day 329 days late and a dollar $20 billion short, perhaps, the farm bill, an every-five-years legislative train[wreck], lumbers slowly forward.
Both the House and the Senate agriculture committees have just passed their own versions of the massive piece of legislation that controls U.S. agricultural policy as well as the federal nutrition program formerly known as food stamps (now called SNAP). A full House and Senate vote is the next step. Congress tried and failed to pass a farm bill last year. The question now is whether Congress can do it this time.
Actually, the question really is whether Congress will ever pass a farm bill again. For the first time, those close to the legislative process are starting to have their doubts. And that may be a really bad thing.
Bah, humbug, you say! The farm bill is larded with bipartisan subsidies for the largest-scale farmers who grow commodities like corn, soy, and cotton. It’s also the bill that authorizes the federal crop insurance program, which has grown like gangbusters over the last decade. Last year (thanks to the drought) farmers received over $17 billion in insurance payouts -- almost all of which benefited large-scale commodity agriculture. A chicken pox on all their coops!
That not an unreasonable reaction. But also at stake in the farm bill are billions of dollars for conservation programs that help farmers mitigate the environmental effects of their work, and pay them to set aside marginal farmland as wildlife habitat. It also contains millions in federal funds that support organic farmers, help younger and “new” farmers get their start, and prop up local food efforts, organic research, and farmers markets.
In September 2007, a rising star of Alaskan politics dared to take on one of the toughest, most challenging issues for any leader: climate change. That summer, seasonal ice cover had fallen to its lowest extent since satellite records began in 1979, leaving much of the Arctic as open water. A few months earlier, Al Gore had won an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth.
It seemed as if the timing was right to deal with climate change, and so the politician approached a group of high-level officials to develop a climate change strategy for Alaska.
Their leader was Sarah Palin, the then-governor of Alaska before her entry into national Republican party politics. "Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is also a social, cultural, and economic issue important to all Alaskans," said Palin, announcing two new working groups on climate change.
"As a result of this warming, coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, retreating sea ice, record forest fires, and other changes are affecting, and will continue to affect, the lifestyles and livelihoods of Alaskans," she went on.
Remember the scene in the movie Gasland where the guy lights his tapwater on fire? No? Here it is:
That footage helped ignite the grassroots movement against fracking, a controversial technology that shoots a slurry of water mixed with sand and laced with toxic chemicals into underground shale formations to shatter the rock and release natural gas.
The only problem with this by-now-iconic image is that the faucet pyrotechnics may actually have been made possible by a natural phenomenon: The guy’s house is perched thousands of feet above a double seam of coal, according to the Colorado Department of Environmental Protection, and methane from underground coal and gas formations occasionally bubbles up through cracks in the earth and into people’s water wells -- no fracking required. (Kids in Pennsylvania have apparently been torching their water for generations.)
Then again, the flaming tapwater may indeed result from fracking in the Colorado man’s neighborhood. The point is, nobody knows.
There are a lot of things about fracking that we don’t know. And a lot of what we think we know we don’t. Not yet, anyway. This is the unsettling conclusion of a major new study published today in the journal Science.
It appears ag-gag bills can't even hoof it in farm country: Tennessee joins a roster of states who are strangling ag-gag bills before they can reach the killing floor.
Tennessee lawmakers had narrowly approved a bill that would have required anybody who filmed animal abuses to turn over the footage to law enforcement within 48 hours or risk being fined. That would have prevented undercover animal activists from documenting systematic animal abuse by agricultural workers, helping factory farms get away with cruelty.
But Gov. Bill Haslam (R) called BS on the bill and said that he plans to veto it. From a statement issued by the governor on Monday:
First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law [which protects journalism] without saying so. If that is the case, it should say so. Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.