Skip to content Skip to site navigation

More Articles

Comments

Snow Daze

Biking the Iditarod? Climate change makes for faster times

5573015514_1489e6c2c6_b
Glenn

It takes a special kind of person to want to bike 1,000 miles through the dead of winter in Alaska (being hard as nails, or Iceman, helps). But if you're going to do it, at least now you'll get a little boost from global warming. Bicyclists on this year’s Iditarod Invitational -- the foot and bike race on the same frigid route as the infamous dog sled event in Alaska (people do the weirdest things in the name of fun) -- smashed records. And not because of doping: Less snow just made the course a little easier. Thanks, climate change!

Some thought it would be pretty much impossible for anyone to break Mike Curiak’s 2000 record of biking the course in 15 days (and not because contestants would suddenly wise up to the fact that biking 1,000 miles through snow is, well, miserable). But this year Jeff Oatley, Aidan Harding, and Phil Hofstetter finished the race in 10, 11, and 12 days, respectively.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

Comments

This 92-year-old who got arrested for protesting coal is our new hero

Bill Ryan is a World War II vet, climate activist, and total badass.

That's him in the green checked shirt.
Greenpeace/Leard Forest Alliance
That's him in the green checked shirt.

Whitehaven Coal is destroying part of eastern Australia’s Leard State Forest in order to open a $767 million coal mine, which’ll pump out about 15 million tons* of coal annually. So the 92-year-old joined 150 others in peacefully protesting the mine, locking themselves to tree-clearing equipment.

bill-ryan-protesting-coal-mine
Greenpeace/Leard Forest Alliance

Several hours later, the cops arrived on the scene and started snapping on the handcuffs. Ryan snagged a trespassing charge, but he was undaunted and wrote a powerful essay in the Guardian about why he protested.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

Comments

Basic Strategy

How can we deal with ocean acidification? Step one: Study it.

refreshing lemon splash
Shutterstock

Don't you love soda makers? You push a bottle of plain ol’ tap water up to a nozzle that spurts CO2 into your water, making it bubbly and delicious. Now picture that happening to the oceans, all day, every day, and the result is distinctly less effervescent: Dissolved CO2 turns into carbonic acid turns into dissolving shellfish, stressed-out fish, fewer clouds, plummeting biodiversity, collapsed ecosystems, total annihilation.

I may be leaving out a few details with the seltzer metaphor, but it turns out I’m not the only one short on particulars. There are still a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to ocean acidification. Which is why -- despite the apparent snoozeworthiness of the words I am about to use -- it is important that a group of federal agencies led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released a new strategic plan to coordinate and expand ocean acidification research.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

Comments

Ask Umbra: Is it OK to recycle bottles that have been full of chemicals?

household-cleaning-bottles-cropped
Shutterstock

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Is it safe to recycle plastic jugs that previously held toxic substances? Would the residue from a bottle of automotive antifreeze or household cleaner transfer to next plastic product after recycling? I've thought about washing out the bottles before recycling, but I don't really want to put this into the wastewater system either. Obviously, not using these products is the best way around this problem.

Jon
Lincoln, Neb.

A. Dearest Jon,

I’m so glad you asked. A well-meaning person who tosses the wrong item into a recycling bin can do more harm than good -- especially when the item in question may contain toxic residue that can harm waste managers or contaminate other recyclables.

Nobody likes the idea of hazardous chemicals around the house, but many of us may end up harboring some anyway, whether it’s antifreeze, lawn pesticides, drain cleaners, or even nail polish. As you note, Jon, the best thing to do is avoid these products altogether, but more on that in a bit. For now, we’ve got a few jugs to deal with.

Read more: Living

Comments

You’ve never seen an LED lamp like this

LED lights often look like glow-in-the-dark Tic Tacs, so this gentle, paperlike design is a much-welcome departure:

dew-drops-light-Ingo-Maurer
Ingo Maurer

Munich-based lighting designer Ingo Maurer created the Dew Drops lamp by integrating a sprinkling of LEDs into a see-through 16.5”x12” plastic sheet. The result is something you might find at IKEA on a good day.

Comments

London is installing bus sensors to hopefully kill fewer people

london-double-decker-bus-flickr-aditi-rao
Aditi Rao

Nearly two-thirds of the deaths on London’s roads in 2012 were pedestrians or cyclists (as opposed to drivers), and now the city is doing something about that. You know the parking sensors that help people not back into fire hydrants and stray cats? London’s slapping similar technology on 12 buses this May.

The buses’ sensors will tell the driver when a cyclist, pedestrian, or superhero is getting dangerously close, according to the London Evening Standard. (It’s unclear what proportion of road deaths are caused by buses, but safely steering something as a big as a whale can’t be easy.)

Buses will also get latest-generation closed-circuit TV monitors. Older technology didn’t successfully filter out stoplights and railings, but a new version eliminates this visual clutter and helps drivers see people walking or cycling more clearly.

Read more: Cities, Living

Comments

Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling: Bad for greens, good for Kochs

Supreme Court building
Shutterstock

You’ve got to feel bad for the Koch brothers. All of their billions of dollars, all of their schemes for world domination, and they’ve been limited to only donating $48,600 to all federal candidates and $74,600 to party committees every two years. They might as well be mere millionaires. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court has freed the super-wealthy to fully participate in the political process. Score one for democracy!

On Wednesday, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that those spending limits will no longer apply. The current $2,600 limit per candidate is still in place. But the court held that the de facto limitation on the number of candidates you could give to violates the First Amendment. Billionaires who have made their money extracting fossil fuels, cutting down trees, and cooking up dangerous chemicals -- the Koch brothers, for example -- will now be able to give the maximum to every congressional candidate in the country. (Or, to be more precise, every Republican candidate, plus maybe a few Democrats they carry around in their pockets, like Mary Landrieu.) If someone gave the maximum to one candidate in each House and Senate race every two years, it would cost $1,216,800 -- a small price to pay for control over the most powerful country in the world.

Comments

Leaked documents reveal SeaWorld is drugging its orcas

seaworld-orca-killer-whale-dkodigital
dkodigital

You know those rumblings about Prozac in our drinking water? That might not be too far off for the animals at SeaWorld.

BuzzFeed got its sticky mitts on an affidavit that reveals SeaWorld is giving its orcas benzos to make them chill out and stop attacking each other. It’s basically an attempt to use orca Xanax to numb the animals’ aggression and general pissed-off-ness at being snatched from the ocean, plopped into captivity, and forced to perform.

Writes BuzzFeed’s Justin Carissimo:

Trainers give their orcas, also known as killer whales, the psychoactive drug benzodiazepine, according to the sworn affidavit filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ... The orcas’ mental health issues, SeaWorld’s critics say, are a direct result of their keeping the mammals in captivity.

Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust gave the site a few heart-ripping examples of the stressed-out orca behavior SeaWorld is trying to medicate:

Read more: Living

Comments

Vermont expands solar net metering, gives finger to ALEC

Solar panels in Vermont
Tim Patterson

Bad news for the polluter-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, but wonderful news for the planet.

In 2012 and 2013, ALEC tried to roll back states' renewable energy standards, and failed. Now it's trying to roll back solar net-metering programs, which let homeowners sell electricity from their rooftop panels into the grid, and that campaign isn't going so well either.

Case in point: In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) just signed a bill that will expand the state's net-metering program, allowing solar panel owners to sell more of their clean electricity into the grid.

The bill will nearly quadruple the size of a cap on the amount of solar power that utilities must be willing to buy from their customers. It also creates pilot projects that could allow for solar projects as large as 5 megawatts to be built under the scheme. The AP reports:

Alternative energy proponents pushed for the increased cap after some Vermont utilities had reached the 4 percent cap and stopped taking new net-metered power.

"Our success exceeded our wildest dreams," Shumlin said before signing the bill into law, noting that since he took office in 2011 the state had quadrupled the amount of solar energy on the state's electric grid.

Vermont's increased use of alternative energy has helped the state to become the nation's per-capita leader in the number of solar energy jobs.

Comments

Congress members ask EPA to reopen three fracking investigations

test water EPA
Shutterstock

A crew of Democratic House members are calling on the EPA to do its damned job -- specifically, to investigate potential links between pollution and fracking in three states where groundwater has been mysteriously poisoned.

Rep. Matt Cartwright's (D-Pa.) letter, sent Tuesday to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy with signatures from seven other lawmakers, follows the agency's disturbing decisions to drop three investigations into possible connections between fracking and water contamination.

In mid-2012, the EPA dropped an investigation into water pollution in Dimock, Pa., despite internal warnings from one of the agency's scientists that methane levels jumped in aquifers following drilling -- "perhaps as a result of fracking." In early 2013, the agency dropped its investigation into water pollution in Parker County, Texas -- despite lacking confidence in the quality of water tests conducted by the frackers themselves. And in the middle of last year, the EPA dropped its investigation into water contamination around Pavilion, Wyo. -- despite findings in a draft report that fracking chemicals were likely to blame.