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Scientists are using mushrooms to get gold out of your old phone

mushrooms-field-flickr-shandilee
Shandi-lee Cox

The chemicals and heavy metals in our phones are bad news -- both for the workers exposed to them during mining and manufacture, and for anyone who lives near the landfill where they offgas. (Although the iPhone’s gotten greener, there’s still a LOT of mercury and chlorine inside that shiny li’l puppy, making for unappetizing drinking water.)

Even worse, extracting precious metals from old phones is pretty toxic, requiring cyanide and sulfuric acid. Or rather, it was pretty toxic, until scientists figured out you could do it by using 'shrooms.

It turns out if you smash a phone into powder and pass it through fungi roots, a.k.a. mycelium, the chemically engineered mycelium will basically be a magnet for the gold. “Heh heh, totally!” explain the scientists. “Hey, is that a dragon eating a rainbow?”

Not only can ‘shrooms do the job, but they're about four times as efficient as the old toxic methods, according to Gizmodo:

Read more: Living

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Why it’s a big deal that half of the Great Lakes are still covered in ice

largest
NASA

Over the winter, as polar vortices plunged the U.S. Midwest into weeks of unceasing cold, the icy covers of the Great Lakes started to make headlines. With almost 96 percent of Lake Superior's 32,000 miles encased in ice at the season's peak, tens of thousands of tourists flocked to the ice caves along the Wisconsin shoreline, suddenly accessible after four years of relatively warmer wintery conditions.

The thing is, all of that ice takes a long time to melt. As of April 10, 48 percent of the five lakes' 90,000-plus square miles were still covered in ice, down from a high of 92.2 percent on March 6 (note that constituted the highest levels recorded since 1979, when ice covered 94.7 percent of the lakes). Last year, only 38.4 percent of the lakes froze over, while in 2012 just 12.9 percent did -- part of a four-year stint of below-average iciness.

And as the Great Lakes slowly lose their historically large ice covers over the next few months, the domino effects could include lingering cold water, delayed seasonal shifts, and huge jumps in water levels.

Already, the impact of this icy blockade can be felt. On March 25, five days after the official beginning of spring, the Soo Locks separating Lake Superior from the lower Great Lakes opened for the season. But after a long and harsh winter, Lake Superior's nearly 32,000 square miles were still nearly entirely covered in ice. It would be another 11 days before the first commercial vessel fought its way across Lake Superior -- with the aid of several dedicated ice breakers -- and down through the locks.

The trip across Lake Superior to the Soo Locks, which usually takes 28 hours, took these first ships of the season nine days. A third ship had to return to Duluth after being damaged by the ice.
Detroit District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Facebook
The trip across Lake Superior to the Soo Locks, which usually takes 28 hours, took these first ships of the season nine days. A third ship had to return to Duluth after being damaged by the ice.
Read more: Climate & Energy

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Smells like teen spirit

Fearless teenage fish don’t run from climate change, death

Watch out, these hooligans will win any game of chicken.
Geir Friestad
Watch out, these hooligans will win a game of chicken or literally die trying.

When we were teens, we rebelled by stealing printer paper from the school library and staying out 15 minutes past curfew. Damselfish, however, really take that burn-the-world attitude to the next level.

A new study out this week in Nature Climate Change suggests that instead of making the fish scared for their very lives, ocean acidification lulls the little buggers into a false sense of security. Rather than being frightened by the smell of predators, the juvenile damselfish subjects of the experiment were more likely to be attracted, leading researchers to say: Dang it, teenagers! Didn't we warn you about the lionfish in the cool leather jacket?

Researchers gathered fish from sites near seafloor CO2 vents off of Papua New Guinea, where the water is already more acidic than the rest of the ocean -- though the researchers predict that the rest of the ocean could hit similar levels by 2100. The four species studied, common varieties of reef-dwelling damselfish and cardinalfish, were placed in tanks that were filled with various streams of water, some straight seawater, others conditioned to smell like predators.

Instead of being damselfish in distress, the CO2-habituated fish spent up to 90 percent of their time in the predator-stinking stream. In contrast, the control fish pretty much only hung out in the undoctored water like little goody-two-shoes. Other experiments involved chasing the fish around with a pencil, then seeing how quickly they emerged from a safe hiding spot; again, most of the acid-head fish just rolled their eyes.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Sally Jewell’s frustrating first year in Washington

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has faced an uphill battle in Washington as she tries to implement her ambitious agenda. In February, she went snowshoeing on Mount Rainier to see firsthand the effects of climate change.
Kate Sheppard
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has faced an uphill battle in Washington as she tries to implement her ambitious agenda. In February, she went snowshoeing on Mount Rainier to see firsthand the effects of climate change.

On a brisk Monday afternoon in February, with the sun finally peeking out from behind the clouds after a passing snow squall, a group of researchers and park rangers strapped on snowshoes and hiked about half a mile to an overlook facing the Nisqually Glacier in Mount Rainier National Park. Scientists have been monitoring the surface elevation of the Nisqually since the 1930s, tracking the peaks and dips in the ice as the glacier moves down the valley. It is the longest record of this type of measurement for any glacier in the western hemisphere -- and, in recent years, a key piece of evidence of the devastating effects of climate change in this iconic park.

Dressed in a pale blue snow jacket and purple beanie, Sally Jewell listened intently as the scientists described the years of research dedicated to the park's glaciers. The secretary of the Interior eyed a graph charting changes in the Nisqually's elevation and noted the drop-off between 2002 and 2011. Yes, the scientists confirmed, that's one sign of how climate change is impacting the glaciers. As the climate has warmed, the Nisqually has also retreated. It once plunged down the valley, running just behind the Paradise Visitor Center. But now, even in the dead of winter, its tail end is barely visible, peeking out ever so slightly in the distance. The glacier's retreat has been dramatic: More than a mile since the early records. Scientists have documented more than 700 feet of retreat since 2003 alone.

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Vegan condoms are so passé — socially conscious rubbers are the new hotness

guy-holding-l-condoms

At this point, it’s hard to keep track of all the vegan, eco-friendly condoms. Sir Richard’s makes vegan sausage sheaths and donates one to a developing country when you buy one. Sustain Condoms are fair trade and nontoxic, if slightly insulting (uh, not all women are afraid to purchase prophylactics). And of course there’s Glyde, the grandpappy of vegan, ethical, fair-trade condoms.

That’s even without the funny ones: Oil Spill Condoms clean up the Gulf AND jizz, and Endangered Species Condoms remind you that overpopulation threatens the critters with slogans like, “In the sack? Save the leatherback [sea turtle]!”

So forgive some green raincoat fatigue when I heard about L. International. “Yet another slickly designed, one-for-one, ‘TOMS of condoms,’” I thought, dozing off. Then I realized L. was actually kinda cool.

L-condoms
L.

Its silly ad didn’t hurt (puppies! Swearing!):

Read more: Living

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We want the funk

This beer tastes like crap, and that’s a good thing

sanctification-russian-river-the-great-beer-quest
The Great Beer Quest

If you’ve had a French, barrel-aged red wine, you’re familiar with the earthy (some say shitty) taste of Brettanomyces. Now the strain of wild yeast is slipping into craft beer.

Brettanomyces, or Brett for short, has a distinct “barnyard” flavor that reflects the soil it’s from. So Brett in beer could be a cool way of tasting the brew’s connection with the earth. It’s even central to some lambics and saisons. Santa Rosa, Calif., brewery Russian River makes a 100-percent Brett beer, “Sanctification.” (Forgive us, St. Brett, for the PBR we have imbibed!)

UC Davis viticulture professor Linda Bisson is one fan of the funk, according to Modern Farmer:

It can give you a nice spiciness, sometimes a clove character. To me there’s a little bit of leather -- new leather, not sweaty leather.

Read more: Food, Living

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U.N. climate report was censored

blindfolded dangerously
Shutterstock

Keep walking past the earthly conflagration, folks. There's nothing to see here.

When the latest installment of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report landed over the weekend, only a 33-page summary was published. The full report, which details the radical steps we need to take to reduce greenhouse gas pollution if we are to succeed in capping warming at 2 degrees Celsius, wasn't published until this morning. So that summary was the basis for hundreds of media reports beamed and printed all around the world.

And it turns out the summary was watered down -- diluted from an acid reflux–inducing stew of unpalatable science into a more appetizing consommé of half-truth. The Sydney Morning Herald has the details:

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This guy is taking the world’s longest road trip in an electric car

Click to largify.
Norman Hajjar
Click to embiggen.

Have you ever driven cross-country? What about twice, AND down both coasts? That’s what Normal Hajjar is doing in a Tesla Model S: covering almost 12,000 miles in an EV, just to prove it can be done.

You’d think it’d be a pain, what with charging it all the time, but he told Fast Co. Exist the infrastructure is there:

“The reality is that it’s not difficult at all, other than the whole ordeal of driving which is the same with any gasoline vehicle. The key to this is fast-charging infrastructure.”

But the varying availability of permits, land, and electricity means charging stations are often located conveniently for the automaker, rather than strategically based on potential drivers’ routes. Tesla is one company Hajjar thinks is doing it right:

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The tiny house documentary is finally (almost) here! Peek inside the result

TINY-tiny-house-documentary

Christopher Smith had never built anything before, so he figured documenting the process of building a tiny house would be interesting at the very least. The resulting film, TINY, was supposed to come out two years ago, and now it’s finally almost here. You can bring TINY to a local indie theater or wait til early summer to snag a DVD -- OR you could peek inside the house right now! [Claps eagerly like a deranged seal]

Apartment Therapy recently ran a house tour of the 127-foot space, which Smith and his partner Merete Mueller built without a plan (GUTSY!). They used recycled materials from thrift stores and junkyards, as well as supplies from hardware stores and IKEA.

tiny-house-inside-front
Ashley Poskin
Read more: Living

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"A major internal flood"

There’s something worse than phosphates in England’s wastewater: A dildo

dildo-vibrator-flickr-2dogs
2 dogs

There’s actually something worse than phosphates, antidepressants, or birth control in the wastewater: your old dildo. We're not sure why someone flushed an unidentified sex toy down the sewers of Devon, England, but it sure made a mess.

According to the Exeter Express and Echo, a sewage company in southwest England has found some pretty crazy items in the waste system, beyond the usual cotton balls and condoms clogging things up:

Some of the more unusual items that have been found by our network crews include false teeth, mobile phones, plastic toilet freshener hangers, underwear, a 12-inch kitchen knife, and sex toys.

REALLY, people?! Have you not heard of Goodwill?

Other items found down the drains by technicians have included steel rods, children's toys including bicycles, a dismantled greenhouse, and a dead sheep ...

Read more: Living