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El Niño could raise meteorological hell this year

lighthouse
Shutterstock

It's more likely than not that El Niño will rise from the Pacific Ocean this year -- and some scientists are warning that it could grow into a bona fide monster.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center put out a bulletin Thursday saying there's a greater than 50 percent chance that El Niño will develop later this year. Australian government meteorologists are even more confident -- they said earlier this week that there's a greater than 70 percent chance that El Niño will develop this summer.

Not totally clear on what this El Niño thing even is? Andrew Freedman explains at Mashable:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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These stylish fair-trade clothes support at-risk women

Raven + Lily

Think of Raven + Lily as the anti–Forever 21. Rather than making new gewgaws outta plastic, the sustainable clothing company upcycles materials like bullet casings (!) and silver coins. Plus, it pays a fair wage to HIV-positive women and victims of sex trafficking, abuse, and other trauma. (Its prices also set it apart from Forever 21, although they’re far from Prada-high.)

And unlike Forever 21, you can actually feel good about wearing things from Raven + Lily, instead of slightly nauseated and wondering if those burned-smelling jeans are making you sick. Raven + Lily offers healthcare along with a safe job so women in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and the U.S. can get a leg up out of poverty. Its Kenya Collection, for instance:

Features hand-carved wooden and beaded jewelry that empower women from the Esiteti community to eradicate female genital mutation, as well as to be the first generation to send girls to school.

Awesome, right? The company is careful to make the best use of local resources, investigating what fabrics and materials local women have access to and where their design skills lie. This video explains more about the bullets-to-beads story and turning conflict into art:

Read more: Living

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Weather-related blackouts in U.S. doubled in 10 years

storms and the power grid
Shutterstock

The current U.S. electrical grid is a far cry from smart. Climate change and aging infrastructure are leading to an increasing number of blackouts across the country.

A new analysis by the nonprofit Climate Central found that the number of outages affecting 50,000 or more people for at least an hour doubled during the decade up to 2012.  Most of the blackouts were triggered when extreme weather damaged large transmission lines and substations. Michigan had the most outages, followed by Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Click to embiggen.
Climate Central
Click to embiggen.

Severe rainstorms, which are growing more tempestuous as the globe warms, were blamed for the majority of the weather-related outages.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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The week in GIFs: Raising our eyebrows

The week's green news has us skeptical, judgmental, and just plain confused. (Last week: genies, junk, and Mary Jane.)

Only 28 percent of Fox's climate segments are accurate:

judging-you-anderson-cooper
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Ohio cracked down on pollution from fracking:

brad-pitt-shit-yeah
Reaction Gifs
Read more: Living

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Salamanders are doing their best to stave off climate change

salamander
Bill Bouton

If we can't get through to Republicans, at least we have one slimy little crawler* that's helping to mitigate climate change. A new study indicates that woodland salamanders help keep carbon out of the atmosphere, thanks to their diet of insects that feed on dead leaves.

Here's how it works: Salamanders eat mostly "shredding invertebrates," bugs that survive by ripping leaves to pieces and eating them. Shredding the leaves releases their carbon into the atmosphere -- but when there are fewer shredding invertebrates, leaves stay on the ground and decompose, with their carbon eventually being absorbed safely into the soil. By eating the shredders, salamanders help carbon be directed into the ground and not into the air.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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GMO labeling would be outlawed by new bill in Congress

GMO labeling march
mikescottnz

State-led efforts to mandate GMO labels are blossoming like a field of organic tulips, but members of Congress are trying to mow them down with legislative herbicide.

Maine and Connecticut recently passed laws that will require foods containing GMO ingredients to be clearly marked as such -- after enough other states follow suit. And lawmakers in other states are considering doing the same thing. The trend makes large food producers nervous -- nervous enough to spend millions defeating ballot initiatives in California and Washington that also would have mandated such labels. They worry that the labels might scare people off, eating into companies' sales and profits.

So a band of corporate-friendly members of Congress has come riding in to try to save the day for their donors. A bipartisan group led by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) has signed onto legislation introduced Wednesday that would run roughshod over states' rules on GMO labels. Reuters reports:

The bill, dubbed the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act," was drafted by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo from Kansas, and is aimed at overriding bills in roughly two dozen states that would require foods made with genetically engineered crops to be labeled as such.

The bill specifically prohibits any mandatory labeling of foods developed using bioengineering.

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The future of genetically modified plants could include potatoes with tiny hamburgers in the middle

hamburgato

io9 has a roundup of where genetically modified plants could be going in the next few generations, and it's a heck of a lot weirder than tomatoes with fish genes. Writer Daniel Berleant envisions oak trees that reproduce via spores and wheat that can fix nitrogen in the soil as well as beans, but shit gets really wacky when he starts talking about modifications that would make produce taste better. Here are some of his weirdest visions for the future of food:

Hamburgatoes: If you can make Quorn, a fungus that tastes like chicken, why can't you make carrots that taste like potato chips, or "potatoes with small hamburgers in the middle"? Presumably this means a small amount of potato-based matter that tastes and behaves like hamburger, but I'm preferring to envision cutting open a potato to find a fully dressed burger on a bun.

Read more: Food

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Droughts push beef prices to record highs

veggie grill
Shutterstock
A cost-saving barbecue.

Mo' drought, moo problems. Hamburger and sirloins are becoming more expensive than ever in the wake of drought-driven herd thinning.

Herd thinning isn't a bovine diet and calisthenics regime. It's a euphemism for unplanned cow slaughtering -- though the end result of the unfortunate practice could literally lower your meat and cholesterol intake. The L.A. Times reports that the retail price of choice-grade beef hit a record $5.28 a pound last month, up from $4.91 a year ago:

Soaring beef prices are being blamed on years of drought throughout the western and southern U.S. The dry weather has driven up the price of feed such as corn and hay to record highs, forcing many ranchers to sell off their cattle. That briefly created a glut of beef cows for slaughter that has now run dry.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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This is the sweetest, mushiest bike map you’ve ever seen

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

Vincent Meertens and his girlfriend Larissa tracked all their bike trips for a year, and the result is a dense, cross-hatched map of their travels as individuals and as a couple. It's like one of those Facebook relationship pages, but centered on biking.

Meertens' routes are picked out in blue and Larissa's in red. The paths mark their solo activities, their favorite haunts, and their adventures together (although Meertens was more zealous about tracking and some of the blue-only routes, like the one around the perimeter of Manhattan, are actually trips they took as a couple). The yellow dots are places where they took photos.

Read more: Cities, Living

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California’s drought plan will screw the environment

The Delta in California
Mike Vondran
California rivers like this one will be allowed to run drier this year than ever before.

California has a radical plan for managing its rivers and reservoirs as drought grips the Golden State for the third consecutive year. It could help the state cling to water that would normally flush through rivers and into the Pacific Ocean -- at the expense of wildlife and fishing folk who rely on the health of those rivers.

The seven-and-a-half-month plan, developed in consultation with federal officials, doesn't increase the amount of water that will be delivered to customers, but it makes major changes to how precious drops remaining in snowpacks, reservoirs, and rivers will be managed. The Sacramento Bee hits on the plan's highlights: