The Surinam toad might be the weirdest animal ever. Picture “roadkill frog” and you’re on the right track. Not only is the toad unusually flat (to blend in with leaves on the pond floor), but it has crazy gymnast sex and then squirts its babies out of its back like teeny spaceships (if you’re over 14) or exploding zits (if you’re 14 and enjoy thinking about zits). Wanna see? Warning: This puts the “graphic” in National Geographic.
Outdoor music festivals often mean frying in the hot sun and accidentally getting separated from your friends. Thankfully they’re only a text away, unless your phone is dead. (How'd people survive Woodstock?) But if you could just plug your phone into your shirt when it's out of juice, that would never be a problem!
That was the inspiration for Christiaan Holland, a Dutch professor who teamed up with fashion designer Pauline van Dongen and solar expert Gert Jan Jongerden to create Wearable Solar. The fashion line debuted in London at the Wearable Futures conference, and an hour of sunlight will apparently charge your phone halfway. Unfortunately, the clothes are -- how do we say this nicely? -- really ugly:
In addition to my career as a PhD chemist, I am one of a select few who enjoy the privilege of moderating content on reddit.com’s science forum. The science forum is a small part of reddit, but it nonetheless enjoys over 4 million subscribers. By comparison, that’s roughly twice the circulation of The New York Times.
The forum, known as /r/science, provides a digital space for discussions about recent, peer-reviewed scientific publications. This puts us (along with /r/AskScience) on the front line of the science-public interface. On our little page, scientists and nonscientists can connect through discussions on everything from subatomic particles to interstellar astrophysics.
As a moderator of this discussion, I've observed scientific discourse across a wide variety of disciplines. I consider it a microcosm, representative of the vast range of views that can be supported by empirical evidence. Importantly, it provides the same window for those who are not scientists, who do not regularly talk with PhDs, and who may be unfamiliar with how science is discussed by scientists. In essence, it is a window into the Ivory Tower.
Given that our users are mainly academics (and all are nerds), the discussion generally resembles any scientific debate. That is, there are always numerous links to peer-reviewed science to support positions, people don't deliberately mislead or misrepresent content, and there is a basic level of respect shared regardless of position. When a user strays from such decorum, they are kindly warned and, if necessary, the comment is removed.
Some issues, however, are particularly contentious. While evolution and vaccines do have their detractors, no topic consistently evokes such rude, uninformed, and outspoken opinions as climate change.
Q.When I asked my new roommate if we could switch to regular dishwashing liquid from our pure castile soap, she said she would rather not because she was "bug friendly." I'm a fond lover of the flora and fauna myself, but I don't want to get a foodborne disease that would be avoided by using a stronger soap. I even wonder if the awful cold I caught from her was from not using disinfecting soap on our dishes. Why is my roommate insisting on using castile soap? Does it work?
San Francisco, CA
A. Dearest DD,
You’ve identified what I think is a common concern among the eco-conscious. Of course we want to choose nontoxic, non-polluting products … but do natural cleaning alternatives actually, you know, work? This is especially acute when health issues -- not to mention matters of domestic tranquility -- are on the line.
Get ready for a cooling of tensions in the kitchen, DD: Your pure castile soap is just fine for dish duty. To explain why, let’s reacquaint ourselves with the purpose of soaps, whether they’re meant for your hands, body, or the pot with the burned-on crud stuck to the bottom. It’s not to kill pathogens. Rather, soap chemically binds with grease and germs, then yanks the offending nasties down the drain in a swirl of hot water. (It does this so effectively, simple handwashing is the centerpiece of a global campaign from the World Health Organization.) And castile soap, a veggie-based and biodegradable concoction, stands right there with your “regular” varieties.
For the past four years, I’ve lived without the car. It’s been surprisingly great. Before that, I’d been sinking thousands of dollars into my vehicle: A beat-up Honda station wagon with 329,000 miles on the odometer and the words Dragon Wagon painted on its haunch. (I bought it from my mom. She’s into dragons. That’s another story.) When it failed its smog test, I dropped it off at a junkyard, then looked around that industrial no-man’s land and wondered how I would be getting home -- not to mention how I would be getting around from there on out.
I was living in walkable San Francisco, working out of my home as a freelance journalist. I had a notion that I wanted to go car-free, but at that moment, it seemed incredibly naïve, stupidly idealistic. How would I race out to interview someone on deadline? How would I zip out to the Central Valley to talk to almond growers about bees? How would I get to work?
But life without a car was (shockingly) easier and better. Of course, there were the annoyances you’d expect: slow, crowded buses, flat bike tires, and the misery of unexpected rain showers. But I could get to work fine, and there were plenty of Zipcars and cabs around if I needed one. Because I had to pay by the trip, I almost always found ways to get around without a car. In the end, it was much cheaper. And then there were the unforeseen benefits.
Imagine, just for a moment, that you live in an apartment building that offers a special lunch deal. Every morning, the landlords put out a tray of 100 sandwiches for their tenants. They’re darn good sandwiches -- each one costs $10 to make. Yet the landlords offer a discount, so that hungry tenants can buy a sandwich for just $3. If you don’t want a sandwich, you don’t pay anything. But if you do want a sandwich, you get a bargain!
Well, not if you remember one of the key rules of economics: There is no free lunch. There isn’t even a below-cost lunch. The building owners are going to have to pay for the sandwiches somehow. And since their only source of income (besides the sandwich fees) is rent, that means that they’ll do their best to make up the money they lose on sandwiches by charging higher rent.
Until recently, Muller wasn't much of an environmentalist himself. He was a prominent climate denier. But last year he wrote in The New York Times that he came to realize the error of his ways after an intensive review of the science.
Now this self-described "converted skeptic" has appointed himself the arbiter of serious environmentalism.
Coal industry executives can only wish Santa will leave them a lump of the black stuff in their stockings this Christmas. But as 2013 draws to a close, those stockings are likely to be empty as the pace of coal-fired power plant closures accelerates.
Market research firm SNL Energy estimates that coal-fired plants generating as much as 64,002 megawatts of electricity will be shuttered by 2021. That’s 5,000 megawatts more than SNL predicted in May. Just since that earlier projection, however, several energy companies and utilities announced they would close some big coal plants, including the Tennessee Valley Authority’s decision in November to take out of service coal-fired power stations generating 3,100 megawatts. That would leave the government-owned utility in the heart of coal country reliant on nuclear and natural gas to generate the bulk of the region’s electricity.
New nuclear power has become so expensive that Britain intends to allow a nuke plant operator to charge double the market rate for electricity. The European Union is investigating whether that amounts to illegal government aid to a company.
French nuclear energy giant EDF wants to build a $26 billion facility in southwest England, the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. The U.K. government's philosophy is that nuclear power is desirable; the new plant could meet 7 percent of Britain's electricity needs without hurting the climate. So, the power plant would be heavily subsidized by utility customers paying roughly double the rate set by the free market for electricity.
The 1990s-style thirst for power that gave rise to America's fleet of gas-guzzling SUVs is being replaced by a hunger for fuel-efficient cars, helping auto manufacturers in 2012 beat their previous record for overall gas mileage.
The average model-year 2012 vehicle got 23.6 miles per gallon, according to a new report from the EPA. OK, that's still pretty lame -- but it's 1.2 mpg better than the previous year, the second-largest annual increase in history.
And Dan Becker of the Clean Climate Campaign points out that this improvement marks real progress made under Obama's new fuel-economy standards: "That’s roughly 5% in the program’s first year. We are on track to hitting the 54.5 mpg standard for 2025. This is a big deal."