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Leaked documents reveal SeaWorld is drugging its orcas

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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

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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.

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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.

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Light pollution could be contributing to cancer, depression, and obesity

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makelessnoise

Air and water pollution are pretty understandable health risks. But light pollution? It sounds a little hokey at first. Tons of streetlights and lit-up office buildings make Earth look freakishly nocturnal from space, sure, but could they actually make us sick?

Rebecca Boyle says yes. Those of us staring at our phones, laptops, and iPads until bedtime aren’t just inducing insomnia -- we could be playing with “the major factor in depression, obesity, and cancer,” she writes in Aeon Magazine.

That’s because our bodies need darkness to produce the hormone melatonin, and melatonin protects our DNA, ultimately preventing cancer. If left to nature, our bodies would normally start producing melatonin after sunset. But we can’t all wake with the sunrise like Laura Ingalls Wilder, so we’re surrounded by bluish artificial light. Writes Boyle:

Shift workers, who rise with the night and work awash in blue light, experience not only disrupted circadian rhythms and sleep deprivation, but an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer.

Thankfully, it’s not too hard to fix:

Read more: Cities, Living

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Japan has been ordered to end its infamous illegal whale hunt

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Lonely Bob

The U.N.’s highest court has finally called bullshit on Japan. For nearly 20 years after a worldwide ban on commercial whaling, Japan has continued its annual whale hunt under the pretense of “scientific research.” But people eating whale meat isn’t exactly research, so on Monday the U.N.’s International Court of Justice told Japan to knock it off for realsies this time.

Australia was the country to narc on Japan, noting that right after the 1986 global whaling ban, Japan began issuing lots of permits for large-scale “scientific whaling.” Straining everyone’s credulity, Japan insists that killing 13,000 whales since the ban was the only way to carry out important research about which whales taste the best other stuff.

Read more: Living

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Grandparents Just Don't Understand

You can pry my grandkids’ sheet cake from my cold, dead hands

birthday-cake-senior.jpg
Shutterstock

In a last-ditch effort to dissuade millions of American children from a diet of Funyuns and unadulterated corn syrup, the U.S. Department of Agriculture appears to have given up on trying to reach them through their parents. (Cut to rush-hour scene of a bus full of adults gnawing on McRib sandwiches, in unison.)

“Grandparents Help Kids Develop Good Eating Habits,” a blog post by USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion nutritionist Trish Britten, dares to make the suggestion that The Greatest Generation take responsibility for introducing children to fresh fruits and vegetables:

Take your grandchildren shopping at a farmer’s market and the grocery store. Talk about the choices you are making -- choosing the juicier oranges or the fresher vegetables. Help them learn cooking skills, which will benefit them throughout their lives.

While recent CDC data showed a marked drop in obesity rates for very young children*, there are still a number of health-related red flags indicating that American kids might be in need of some guidance in the dietary department. Just this weekend, the Texas Children's Pediatrics Associates clinics presented a study at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session that showed more than a third of its subjects between the ages of 9 and 11 have borderline or high cholesterol levels.

Read more: Food, Living, Politics

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Parks and Reconciliation

To attract minorities, the national parks need some better ideas

confederate soldiers
Larry Darling

Last week, I wrote about the problems the National Park Service is having with hiring people of color. Despite having a major presence in predominantly black and brown cities like Washington, D.C., the Service’s workforce is around 80 percent white across the nation, even in places like New York City. This is obviously not a good look for a taxpayer-funded federal agency that is headed into its 100-year anniversary.

When I spoke with David Vela, the Park Service's associate director for workforce, relevancy, and inclusion, about why that is, he said of the problem, “We know that. We own that and we are developing strategies to deal with it.”

We talked quite a bit about those strategies in our discussion, which ran nearly 60 minutes. I asked about how they addressed legacy racism and current barriers that keep people of color away not only from the parks, but also from park jobs. It was the kind of conversation that helps you understand perfectly well why the Park Service has failed to connect with people who aren’t white.

Read more: Cities, Living, Politics

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ExxonMobil: Carbon caps? Fat chance. We’ll just keep on drilling.

protester with "boo Exxon" sign
Shaw Girl

If you thought ExxonMobil might take climate risks seriously, think again.

Last week I explained why sustainability-focused investor advocacy organizations pressured Exxon to release a report on how government regulation of greenhouse gases would affect its bottom line. The hope was that Exxon would admit that if governments get serious about climate change, the company's vast reserves of oil and gas would become unprofitable to exploit. That, in turn, would make it see the light on renewable energy and shift business strategies.

No such luck. Exxon released a report to shareholders on Monday and -- much to the activists’ dismay -- denied that it has a problem. Rather than discussing what would happen to it if governments force the necessary 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a 1990 baseline, Exxon argues that it won’t happen. So the company will be just fine, thanks.

“Our analysis and those of independent agencies confirms our long-standing view that all viable energy sources will be essential to meet increasing demand growth that accompanies expanding economies and rising living standards,” said William Colton, ExxonMobil’s vice president of corporate strategic planning, upon releasing the report. “All of ExxonMobil’s current hydrocarbon reserves will be needed, along with substantial future industry investments, to address global energy needs.”

That’s corporate code for: “Governments will allow us to keep extracting and burning fossil fuels because the economy.”

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talks climate solutions

Editor's note: The chat is over, but you can watch a replay below. 

Starting at 3 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. ET, watch Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) discuss the push for climate action along the West Coast. This Climate Desk event will also feature Grist's David Roberts (not an April Fool's Day joke, we swear!), Bloomberg correspondent Paul Shukovsky, and University of Washington College of the Environment Dean Lisa Graumlich. Chris Mooney of Climate Desk will moderate.

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Cops want you to stop crime by hanging out in sketchy areas

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Renee McGurk

The LAPD is giving crowdsourcing a try by asking residents to hang out in high-risk areas. Thankfully, it’s a little different than, “Yo! Can you chill in this scary dark alley for a while?”

The cops are using “predictive policing,” in which a computer analyzes neighborhood crime locations and spits out recommendations of certain blocks where a police presence would prevent future infractions. (“The idea is that the more time spent in the box areas, the more crime will be deterred,” writes the police department.)

But since cops can’t be everywhere at once, the LAPD’s Pacific Division recently asked neighbors to chip in. The police department will post an updated map of suggested hangout spots every day using social media, sending cops to those areas when possible, but also relying on residents to jog or walk their dogs there. Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic, for one, is willing:

Read more: Cities, Living