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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

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

diy-smart-thermostat
Spark

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:

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Animal Planet prioritizes “good TV” over animal welfare

cameraman
birdy

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

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

bike-street-light-flickr
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

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

baby-amur-leopard-sochi
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

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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

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Oil spillage from freight trains hit record high in 2013

oil-spill-boots-shutterstock
Shutterstock

Crude oil is just pouring out of America’s freight trains, more than 1.15 million gallons of it in 2013. According to a McClatchy analysis of data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, “More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents last year than was spilled in the nearly four decades since the federal government began collecting data on such spills.”

Why is so much oil spilling? Because there's now so much more oil drilling, thanks in large part to the fracking boom in North Dakota.

Climate change has become the main environmental reason that we worry about oil and coal, but before we even knew about climate change, we knew that filling a river with oil could kill everything in it.

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Oil (drilling) and climate action don’t mix

Barack Obama
The White House

The environmental community and the White House have beef, and it just escalated.

On Thursday, a coalition of 18 environmental advocacy organizations -- including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the League of Conservative Voters -- sent President Obama a letter expressing their opposition to his “all of the above” energy policy, which embraces oil and gas in addition to cleaner energy sources. Although they were careful to note that they “applaud the actions you have taken to reduce economy-wide carbon pollution,” they conclude that “continued reliance on an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution.”

It’s not clear why the green groups have chosen now to go public with their frustration over Obama’s enthusiasm for domestic dirty energy production. Obama finally put forth a comprehensive climate action plan in June. Just last month, he brought former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta, a strong proponent of climate action, into the White House as an adviser. Podesta reportedly accepted the job on the condition that he would oversee Obama’s plans to reduce carbon emissions. (Disclosure: From 2005 to 2007, I worked at the Center for American Progress, which Podesta founded in 2003 and ran until 2011.)

One day after the green groups sent their letter, Podesta responded with a letter of his own. In his response, Podesta reiterates Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change and lists some of the steps the president has already taken to reduce emissions, and others his administration is currently working on. From fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks to the first-ever regulation of CO2 emissions from power plants, there is no doubt that Obama has done a lot for a president facing an obstinately unhelpful Congress.

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Crop flops: GMOs lead ag down the wrong path

Harvester rejected GMO corn crop
Martchan / Shutterstock

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 Ramez Naam, author of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet; and -- to kick things off today -- one from Tom Philpott, whose work long graced these pages and who is now at Mother Jones. (We'd planned to run another response from Denise Caruso, author of Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet but that piece did not materialize.)


Before I respond to Nathanael Johnson's assertion that the "stakes are so low" in the debate over GMOs, I want to address a smaller point. "The debate isn’t about actual genetically modified organisms -- if it was we’d be debating the individual plants, not GMOs as a whole," Johnson writes.

That's a good place to start: actually existing GMOs. What traits are on the market today, in use by farmers? First, I'll note that there's no shortage of land devoted to GMOs. Since the novel seeds hit the market in 1996, global GM crop acreage has expanded dramatically, reaching 420 million acres by 2012, reports the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. That's a combined landmass more than four times larger than California. The pro-GMO ISAAA hails this expansion as "fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture."

Read more: Food

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These balding coral reefs got seaweed hairplugs

sydney reef
G Crouch

Until a few decades ago, reefs near Sydney, Australia were covered in brown, sinuous macro-algae called Phyllospora comosa, or crayweed. Then Sydney dumped a bunch of sewage in the ocean in the 1970s and 1980s and killed most of it off. Reefs were barren at worst; at best, they were covered in simpler algae. But a group of scientists just tried transplanting a new crop of crayweed onto the reefs, like giving them hairplugs. And it worked.

Live Science reports:

Read more: Living