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Ask Umbra: Is it OK to lather up in the lake with biodegradable soap?

bathing-in-lake
Esp2k | spwidoff

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I live on a small lake. I have a dock, and a kayak, and a pedal boat for my niece, and hands that get dirty. I'd like to have the safest possible soap to use on the dock to wash hands and boats and furniture, and so on. Based on my own research, it seems to me that Seventh Generation dish soap may actually meet my needs without harming the lake or the critters therein? Do you concur?

Dennis K.
Sumter, S.C.

A. Dearest Dennis,

I do not. I don’t mean to sound harsh -- lots of people mistakenly think that biodegradable soaps are OK to use in the water -- but I’ll need to ask you to put down that bottle and back away from the dock.

“Biodegradable” and “nontoxic” sure sound appealing on a soap label, don’t they? Terms like this may lead us to believe that the contents will break down immediately and harmlessly, causing no damage to the complex ecosystem of plants, fish, bugs, and other tiny aquatic creatures in the lake. Unfortunately, this is not true.

Read more: Living

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Climate clicktivism for the rich, famous, and connected

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

What do the NBA, Mark Ruffalo, Al Gore, and Guns 'N Roses have in common?

They’ve all signed on to #climate, a new "invite-only" app that connects influencers to climate causes so they can mobilize their large social media followings to sign petitions and organize actions. #climate positions itself as the middle man between the general public and changemaking nonprofits like the Sierra Club, Mosaic, and 350.org.

Here's a video that explains how it works:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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More GIFs, please

U.S. urges IPCC to be less boring, try this whole “online” thing

IPCC makes you yawn
Shutterstock

Thousands of scientists volunteer to review research published by thousands of other scientists -- part of an effort to pack all of the latest and best climate science into assessment reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But anybody who takes the time to read these reports is in danger of being bored to tears -- even before they break down in tears over the scale of the damage that we're inflicting on humanity and our planet.

After publishing five mammoth reports during its quarter-century of existence, the IPCC is facing an existential crisis. How can it reinvent its aging self -- and its dry scientific reports -- to better serve the warming world?

The U.S. is clear on what the IPCC needs to do: It needs to get with the times.

Despite the exhaustive amount of work that goes into producing each of the IPCC's assessment reports, relatively little effort goes into making the information in those reports easily accessible to the public. The IPCC's main website is ugly and static, mirroring the dry assessment reports to which it links. The IPCC's online presence seems designed to meet day-to-day demands for climate information by bureaucrats -- and nobody else.

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Mission not-quite-impossible

U.N. report spells out super-hard things we must do to curb warming

man pushing Earth up a hill
Shutterstock

Hooboy, it's gonna get hot. A U.N. climate panel on Sunday painted a sizzling picture of the staggering volume of greenhouse gases we've been pumping into the atmosphere -- and what will happen to the planet if we keep this shit up.

By 2100, surface temperatures will be 3.7 to 4.8 degrees C (6.7 to 8.7 F) warmer than prior to the Industrial Revolution. That's far worse than the goal the international community is aiming for -- to keep warming under 2 C (3.7 F). The U.N.'s terrifying projection assumes that we keep on burning fossil fuels as if nothing mattered, like we do now, leading to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of between 750 and 1,300 parts per million by 2100. A few centuries ago, CO2 levels were a lovely 280 ppm, and many scientists say we should aim to keep them at 350 ppm, but we're already above 400.

These warnings come from the third installment of the latest big report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compiled by hundreds of climate scientists and experts. (WTF is this IPCC? See our explainer. Feel like you've heard this story before? Perhaps you're thinking of the first installment of the report, which came out last fall, or the second installment, which came out last month. Maybe the IPCC believes that breaking its report into three parts makes it more fun, like the Hobbit movies.)

Here's a paragraph and a chart from the 33-page summary of the latest installment that help explain how we reached this precarious point in human history.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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I don't think you're ready for this jellyfish

Diapers and tampons could soon be made from jellyfish

jellyfish_sprengben1
Spreng Ben

First there was the Diva Cup. Then came the sea pearl. So what’s next for sustainable menstrual solutions? Jellyfish! Uncross your legs, ladies, and get this: Scientists broke down jellyfish flesh and used nanoparticles (for antibacterial purposes) to create a highly absorbent, biodegradable material called "Hydromash."

According to Capital Nano, a company raising funds for the product:

The Hydromash absorbs more than several times its volume and biodegrades in less than 30 days (faster than any other bio-degradable products such as bio-degradable diapers made out of pulp.)

Take that, Playtex! Hydromash has the potential to be used for almost anything that you use absorbent paper products for -- sponges, paper towels, and even diapers.

Here are two reasons why we hope Hydromash makes it to the mass market.

Read more: Living

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WINDË Power

IKEA makes big investment in wind energy (some assembly required)

Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.
Shutterstock
Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.

IKEA -- though not exactly a friend to forests, and way too fond of dubious meatballs for our taste -- still wins greenie points for having a Scandinavian way with alternative energy. Ninety percent of its massive warehouse stores will soon host rooftop solar panels, including sunny south Florida's largest solar array, and Brits will be able to buy solar panels in U.K. stores starting this summer. On Thursday, the company one-upped its own clean cred by announcing its investment in a giant wind farm in Illinois.

Hoopeston Wind is the most recent in a series of wind investments by IKEA, including several farms in Canada, where the furniture behemoth is the largest retail wind investor. The Illinois farm will produce 98 megawatts of electricity when it comes online in 2015, or enough to power 34,000 Expedit-enhanced homes. That's more than twice the electricity that all of IKEA's U.S. operations consume, and about 18 percent of the company's global consumption. All of those megawatts will be sold locally, and IKEA will count them toward its overall renewable energy goal: to be totally carbon-free by 2020.

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Walmarts and all

Why you should be skeptical of Walmart’s cheap organic food

walmart_organics
Walmart

Out on the mean streets of the U.S. organic foods industry, Walmart has stepped onto the corner with both guns drawn. On Thursday, the superstore behemoth announced its plan to partner with Wild Oats (which you may recognize as a former subsidiary of Whole Foods) to offer a line of organic goods at unprecedentedly low prices in 2,000 of its U.S. stores. To start, the line will offer primarily canned goods and other pantry staples that will cost as much as 25 percent less than those of other organic brands.

At first blush, this appears to be great news. Cheaper, more accessible organic food -- isn’t that one of the prerequisites for the kind of healthy food system we’ve all been waiting for? The New York Times notes that Walmart’s big move could ultimately create a larger supply of organic goods, pushing down organic prices in the long run.

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No Bunk: Wendell Pierce is the greenest celeb in the game

We're on a quest to give your favorite celeb a fruit basket for supporting green causes. Here's why you should vote for Wendell Pierce.

A: C’mon man, it’s Bunk from The Wire, our favorite detective who kept a cigar in his mouth and a “fuck” in every quote.

B. Because he said in The Wire, “The Bunk can’t swim. I ain’t too good at floatin’ either.”

C. Because he’s from New Orleans.

D. Because he cared so much about the food desert problem in New Orleans that he opened a bunch of grocery stores that sell local, organic produce.

E. Because those grocery stores deliver (since a huge percentage of New Orleanians don’t have cars, and the city has poor public transit).

Read more: Living

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Munnificent

Olivia Munn wants you to save elephants (and the planet) — send her mangoes

We're on a quest to give your favorite celeb a fruit basket for supporting green causes. Here's why you should vote for Olivia Munn.

You may know Olyvia Munn as the brainy economics reporter in The Newsroom. She also worked alongside the Daily Show’s “sexy news bunny,” Samantha Bee, reporting on oil spills and other not-funny disasters. Or perhaps you noticed her in this great photo of a couple of elephants.

Regardless, you might be surprised to learn that she not only plays a reporter on TV, but she’s playing one in real life, co-hosting the new Showtime documentary The Years of Living Dangerously. The esteemed Columbia Journalism Review calls her “a hidden journalist for a generation wary of reporters.”

That’s right. She’s bringing the cause to the masses, putting the cool in the fight against coal -- and the awesome in renewable energy.

She took off her pants for elephants. She’s cast her ballot for the planet. Now she needs your vote.

Quote: “Solar energy equals more jobs equals awesome.”

Tweet your support. 

Read more: Uncategorized

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Please give Don Cheadle a fruit basket for being a badass green celeb

We're on a quest to give your favorite celeb a fruit basket for supporting green causes. Here's why you should vote for Don Cheadle.

The question is really "why wouldn't you vote for Don?" Besides being Oscar nominated for Hotel Rwanda and kicking ass alongside Iron Man, Cheadle is a U.N. Environmental Program ambassador. He travels the world raising awareness for climate change, and has lent his hosting talents to Showtime's climate change series, Years of Living Dangerously. If you still have doubts, just rewatch the clip above.

Quote: "It seems like the same people that don’t want to believe in the science believe in science when they need to take a pill or believe in science when they you know want something to work right in their house that’s attributable to other smart people who put that together, but in this issue it’s gotta be part of something else." — Years of Living Dangerously

"Reading is fundamental and shit." — Out of Sight

Tweet your support.

Read more: Uncategorized