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Meet the guy who bid $350,000 to shoot an endangered rhino

02192013_Black_rhinosCreditKarlStromayerUSFWS_600
USFWS/Karl Stromayer

Corey Knowlton is a hunter. He’s been one since he was a kid. It’s not just a hobby, it’s his business; he's "a consultant for a hunting outfit called Hunting Consortium Ltd and has appeared on several TV hunting shows," the Dodo writes. And he's also the guy who won the Dallas Safari Club's auction of a permit to kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia.

There are only about 5,000 or so of these rhinos left in the world, and Knowlton has spent $350,000 for the permit to kill one of them. The money's supposed to go towards funding soldiers to protect rhinos from poachers -- which sounds ironic, but the organizers said that the rhino hunted would be an old man rhino, one that had lived a full life and wasn't going to contribute any further to the future of the species.

If you're going to kill an endangered animal, this isn’t the worst way to do it? (That would probably be to kill a pregnant momma rhino in the prime of her life.) But hunting can be tricky -- if you kill an old elephant, for instance, it can mess up the herd's social structure.

Read more: Living

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Just add compost: How to turn your grassland ranch into a carbon sink

cows grazing
Shutterstock

When UC-Berkeley ecologist Whendee Silver first heard about the idea behind the Marin Carbon Project, she was pretty skeptical. The group wanted her to study the land they were ranching to see if putting compost on grasslands might stimulate the landscape to siphon carbon out of the atmosphere and incorporate it into the soil.

“I doubt I could measure it,” she told the group, which had assembled at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. “And you won’t like the results if I can.”

John Wick and Lynette Niebrugge, soil scientist for the Marin Resource Conservation District
John Wick and Lynette Niebrugge, soil scientist for the Marin Resource Conservation District.

For years, ranchers have been drawn by the prospect of using their rangelands to soak up carbon. That would mean more grass, richer soil, and less planetary catastrophe. But hard science to support the idea has been lacking. Some range scientists suggested the idea was bunk.

Silver agreed to take on the project. Now, after five years of collecting data, she has been surprised by the results.

This is a guarded, cautiously optimistic thumps up, mind you.
Join Grist for an exploration of recent climate wins. This is a guarded, cautiously optimistic thumbs up, mind you.

“It was quite possible that we might have found that you can’t sequester carbon in the soil. But we saw that you can,” she said. “And we could have found that trying to measure carbon captured in the soil could have been like looking for needles in a haystack. But it’s more like looking for bricks in a haystack.”

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Scientists are studying bees by turning them into cyborgs

bee sensor
CSIRO

Scientists in Australia have a plan for understanding what's keeping honey bees off their game. They're going to attach tiny little sensors (less than 0.1 inches wide) to the bees, let them fly around, and track how they move. Which sometimes means shaving the bees’ hairy backs:

"We take the bee into a cold place, usually to a fridge about five degrees Celsius, for five minutes and that is enough to have the bees sleeping," Dr de Souza said. ...

"We take them out again and attach it while they're sleeping. In five minutes they wake up again and they're ready to fly."

But some need to be shaved first.

"Very young bees, they're very hairy. At times we need to do something to help us," Dr de Souza said.

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Older trees best at fighting climate change

Redwood
mindgrow

As humans age, we tend to pass more gas. As trees age, they tend to suck more of it up.

A new paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature has blown away old misconceptions about the roles that the most mature trees in forests play in combating climate change.

It has long been believed that younger trees are better than their older neighbors at absorbing carbon dioxide. But the new research suggests that the opposite is true. It turns out that big trees just keep on growing, at fast rates, and the growth depends on carbon that the trees draw from the air around them.

"In whatever forest you look at, be it old or new growth, it is the largest trees that are the greater carbon sinks," William Morris, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, told Grist. "Not the smaller, younger trees, as was previously thought."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Climate change is waking up the bears and they want to eat us

sleepy-bear-flickr
Brittney Bush Bollay

We’ve all failed at a real-life version of Don’t Wake Daddy, because Papa Bear and the rest of his extended family WOKE UP. And it’s January. And they’re supposed to be hibernating.

Bears are wandering around Nevada’s Tahoe Basin when they SHOULD be safely tucked in bed. Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort got a visit from a black bear right in the middle of a ski race last week, and Goldilocks wasn’t even participating (she prefers to bobsled). The Weather Channel’s Matt Sampson explains, “Officials say the bears haven’t been hibernating because this winter has been warm and dry ... The Tahoe Basin snow pack is only about one-quarter of its normal size for this time of year.” Thanks, climate change!

Watch (sorry about the autoplay):

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Why exploding trains are the new Keystone XL

A train carrying North Dakota crude oil derailed and exploded, July 2013
Public Herald

Back in the olden days of 2011, when America was young and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” was a song that not everyone had gotten sick of yet, one of the most compelling criticisms leveled against the Keystone XL pipeline protesters went like this: There is oil in the Alberta tar sands. Pretty cheap stuff – about $30 less a barrel than what you can buy overseas. There are people in the U.S., which is not far from this oil, who will pay money for it so they can drive to their jobs or the grocery store or wherever else they …

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The director of “The Cove” is back with a new eco-thriller

Louie-Psihoyos

The Cove won 2010’s Best Documentary Oscar, helped halve the number of dolphins and porpoises killed in Japan, and arguably laid the groundwork for popular SeaWorld expose Blackfish (which in a just world would be this year’s Best Doc). Now The Cove’s director, Louie Psihoyos, is back with a new film he promises is even better.

The Cove was just a warm-up act for a much, much more ambitious project,” Psihoyos said in the Kickstarter video for the new documentary (code-named The Heist). “We’re taking on the biggest threat humanity has ever faced: mass extinction of species.”

We’re curious to see his team’s take on mass extinction -- it’s not exactly the most personal or provocative topic on people’s minds (compared to, say, fracking, GMOs, the Koch brothers, school lunches, etc.). Yet in a recent interview with Ecorazzi, Psihoyos promised that the film is equal parts heart-tugging and Ocean’s 11-style spy thriller:

Read more: Living

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Bigmouth strikes again: Morrissey compares meat-eaters to pedophiles

meat-is-murder-album-cover-flickr.jpg

Stop us if you think you’ve heard this one before: Morrissey, sad-sack rock god, recently blasted meat-eaters as no different than pedophiles. (In 1985, he said eating meat is “like biting into your grandmother,” which we find funnier and less confusing.) Not only did he write on his website that meat eaters would’ve been Nazi sympathizers during World War II, but he also refuses to talk to people who eat meat, full stop.

Here are the juicy bits:

I see no difference between eating animals and paedophilia. They are both rape, violence, murder. If I'm introduced to anyone who eats beings, I walk away. Imagine, for example, if you were in a nightclub and someone said to you "Hello, I enjoy bloodshed, throat-slitting and the destruction of life," well, I doubt if you'd want to exchange phone numbers.

Read more: Food, Living

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Ask Umbra: Why must we “store” renewable energy? Can’t we just use it?

solar sun power plug
Shutterstock

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I’m confused about renewable energy storage. Last I checked, renewable energy was but a small fraction of total electricity generation on our grid. I don't think we have ever generated SO much renewable energy at one time that it became necessary to choose between storing it or grounding it. Shouldn't we be using absolutely every kilowatt-hour of renewable energy right when it's generated? And am I incorrect in assuming that the necessity for storage won't even arise for decades in the future?

Christian B.
Los Alamitos, Calif.

A. Dearest Christian,

If only understanding the vast, high-voltage web of infrastructure we call the grid was as simple as flicking a switch. What seems so straightforward on our end -- turn on the lights and bam, electricity! -- is truly a complex system designed to move huge amounts of power staggering distances, all so that we can exercise our right to run the washing machine, dishwasher, and power drill all at the same time.

You’re not alone in your confusion about the country’s power grid, or how renewable energy sources like solar and wind power plug into it. Allow me to shed some light on the subject.

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Dumb cuts and dumber riders: The green take on the new federal budget

U.S. Capitol
Shutterstock

In this highly polarized Congress, it counts as a major achievement merely to pass a bill that funds the government’s activities. So pop the champagne, because we have a budget. It even passed the House Tuesday afternoon with wide bipartisan support, a feat usually only achieved these days by symbolic feel-good resolutions. Senate passage and Obama's signature are expected to follow soon.

But don’t get too excited. When it comes to the environment, the omnibus spending bill marks only marginal progress over the incredibly low standards that have been set in recent years. And it includes multiple riders inserted by House Republicans to undermine environmental regulation.