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Texans want frackers to stop causing earthquakes


Some North Texans who have been enduring a months-long flurry of earthquakes want the shaking to stop -- and they believe that means putting an end to a controversial fracking practice.

“Is somebody going to help us?” one resident asked the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates gas and oil drilling, during a hearing on Tuesday. “I’ve heard of tornado alley. I’ve never heard of earthquake alley.”

The dozens of residents who traveled to Austin for the hearing want frackers barred from injecting their wastewater underground at high pressure. Scientists have linked the practice to earthquakes in other regions.


Tough love: Can a local leader save the EPA’s troubled southeast region?


Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) picked Heather McTeer Toney, a former Mississippi mayor, as the new director of its historically troubled southeast region. This region (Region 4 out of EPA’s ten regional jurisdictions) not only contains many of the “energy apartheid” states where people of color appear unnecessarily locked out of the benefits of renewable energy, but is also where racist policies are persistent and pervasive. It’s also the region where environmental justice advocates have, in the past, had the most beef with decisions about allowing factories and power plants to be built near poor communities and communities of color.

“Many of the bad facility siting and permitting decisions result directly from deals and compromises made between Region 4 and state and local governments -- often at the expense of and over the opposition of African American residents,” wrote environmental justice historian Robert Bullard back in 2009. “It is no accident that the modern civil rights movement and the environmental justice movement were born in the South.”


Leave a piano on the street in Melbourne, get a delightful cover of Pharrell’s “Happy”

piano copy
Screenshot via Real Good Kid

The news lately hasn’t been great, but this should make you feel better about the world:

The "Play me, I'm yours" piano comes Street Pianos, which has brought these public bits of delight to 37 cities so far. The cover of Pharrell's Happy is from Gillian Cosgriff, a "singer, songwriter, pianist, actress, and sometime waitress."

Read more: Cities, Living


Last year was the fourth hottest on record, or maybe the seventh


Our extreme-weather-wearied planet fell short in 2013 of breaking the record for hottest year in modern civilization, but it came close. Last year was either the fourth hottest since record-keeping began, or the seventh, depending on which U.S. agency's data you most trust.

At the surface of the seas and everywhere else around the world, last year was an average of 1.12 degrees F warmer than the 20th century average, NOAA concluded. That made 2013 the 37th year in a row with above-average global temperatures, according to NOAA's calculations.

NASA performed its own analysis, concluding that 2013 tied 2006 and 2009 as the seventh warmest year since 1880. explains that the discrepancy between the two agencies' findings is no big deal:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Watch the earth get hotter and hotter in NASA’s new animation

The NASA video above shows temperature anomalies -- not how warm or cold the Earth was, but how unusually warm or cold it was, compared to a baseline. It's a ton of data -- 130 years’ worth, which means 1,560 months, which means more than, really, any one person can comprehend in a sort of folksy "wow, it's really cold this year" way.

If it's not clear, the creeping trend is more pink and red -- more frequent months that are abnormally hot. 2013 was one of the hottest years in the past 130.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Forget Google — build your own Nest smart thermostat for $70


Nest is a super-smart thermostat. Seriously, a little man lives inside the bubble-like dial, scribbling down what time you wake up, go to work, come home, and go to sleep, and that man is a GENIUS. All you do is turn the dial warmer or cooler (or adjust the heat with your smartphone), and the tiny man takes note and keeps the temperature just the way you like it. (SHH. That’s totally how technology works!)

So when Google acquired Nest last week for $3 billion, it was a big deal. (Will the little man tell your heating preferences to all your friends on Google+? Wait, no one uses Google+! Whew.) For those worried about Google’s increasingly prying eyes, fear not. You don’t need a Nest -- you can make your very own open-source smart thermostat for about $70 (and about 60 hours ... we never said this would be easy).

Open-source wi-fi chip manufacturer Spark has the step-by-step, illustrated instructions. Here’s what Spark used:


Animal Planet prioritizes “good TV” over animal welfare


Mother Jones has a disturbing investigation into the reality of Animal Planet's foray into reality TV: The channel's history of promoting conservation is rapidly downgrading into a record of mistreating animals for entertainment. The story focuses on one particular show, Call of the Wildman, which follows a wildlife rescuer in Kentucky. But Mother Jones' reporting shows that the producers are tracking down animals specifically for shoots and using them, essentially, as props:

"My biggest issue with the show was that we portray it as: We rescue animals," said one of the sources. "In my opinion, the animals weren't under stress until we arrived."

It's no surprise at this point that reality TV isn't real. What is surprising is the lengths that these shows' crews are willing to go to -- or at least accept other people going to -- in order to get the shots they want. For instance, a "zebra that had escaped its yard in a ranch" was heavily sedated:

Despite Clay's denial, Animal Planet and Sharp confirmed to Mother Jones that the zebra was drugged before filming, but they say it happened behind their backs. However, Jamie and other sources say that the crew was aware of the zebra's sedation during filming, especially since the animal nearly fell over several times. "I heard about the zebra being almost unusable," says another source. "They sedated it, to get it to be less crazy." Another confirmed that the zebra looked "out of it." Animal Planet admits that producers used an additional, unsedated zebra for supplemental footage.

Read more: Living


Jerk hits cyclist and drives home with him stuck in the windshield (but the cyclist is OK!)

Claudia Regina

This might be the weirdest biking story EVER. Newspaper delivery guy Steven Gove was biking in Manitowoc, Wis., on Saturday night, responsibly wearing a reflective vest, front and back flashers ablaze. Then a 20-year-old in a red two-door smashed into him, propelling Gove into the windshield -- where he remained until the driver got home and went inside.

The good news is that Gove is gonna be fine, aside from some cuts and glass that got into his eyes. The bad news is WTF, HUMANITY?! It sounds like the driver was drunk, but that doesn’t really make us feel any better about this:

[Gove] said he turned to the driver and said, "Hello, I'm the guy you hit on the bicycle." The driver did not respond, but continued on, running a stop sign and hitting another vehicle before he arrived home...

Read more: Living


World’s most endangered big cat is also super, super adorable

Denver Zoo

Today in Cute Tiny Animals, welcome baby Sochi into your heart. Born December 3 at the Denver Zoo, Sochi is one of the world’s few Amur leopards. (There are only about 30 Amur leopards in the wild, according to World Wildlife Fund.) The cub was named after Sochi, Russia, home to the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Zooborns has the scoop:

Sochi is the second cub for Dazma and her mate, Hari-Kari. Hari-Kari was born at El Paso Zoo in 2003, while Dazma was born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 2001. The two came to Denver Zoo and were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Fortunately, the couple has proved to be an excellent match.

Check out the cuteness:

Read more: Living


Why GMOs matter — especially for the developing world

Naam Why GMOs Matter

Editor's note: After we ran What I learned from six months of GMO research: None of it matters, Nathanael Johnson's essay concluding his "Panic-Free GMOs" series, we heard from a lot of people who think that GMOs really do matter. We're publishing three two responses: one from Tom Philpott, whose work long graced these pages and who is now at Mother Jones; and, today, one from Ramez Naam, author of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet(We'd planned to run another response from Denise Carusoauthor of Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet but that piece did not materialize.)

The folks at Grist have kindly allowed me to pen a guest post here with a few thoughts on Nathanael Johnson’s excellent series on genetically modified foods and in particular his most recent piece on what he learned from 6 months investigating the GMO debate: that none of it really matters.

This most recent piece nails several key points that often go completely missed. When we get down to the specifics, we find that today’s GMOs are neither planetary panacea nor unbridled poison. The passionate, emotion-filled debate is more about the lenses through which we see the world as it is about genetically modified foods themselves. The GMO debate is often an emphatic and barely-disguised metaphor for our larger debate about whether technology is destroying the world or saving it, whether we should try to control nature or live within it.

Read more: Food