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Chill your beer without using any electricity

A one that is not cold is scarcely a one at all, but keeping beer frosty on a hot day normally sucks up energy. Not anymore. This ancient innovation uses clay pots, sand, and water to keep stuff cool even on a hot day. 

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British kids build greenhouse out of plastic bottles

What do you do with the empty plastic bottles that you really shouldn't have been drinking out of, anyway? These British school children spent a year and half collecting 1,500 of them and used the bottles to construct a greenhouse, in which they are very successfully growing tomatoes.

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From nose-to-tail to stem-to-root, tasty ways to reduce food waste now

We waste an enormous amount of food. A recent report by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that worldwide approximately one-third of all the food we produce is lost or wasted. And it's not just a problem for landfills. We could address a significant component of worldwide food demand as well as the need to increase agricultural productivity simply by wasting less food. As it is, 2 percent of U.S. energy production goes toward food that ends up in the trash, according to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland. And the Environmental Working Group found that wasted food …

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UPDATE: Tim DeChristopher gets two years in prison

UPDATE: Noted climate-activist-turned-environmental-folk-hero Tim DeChristopher will face two years in prison and a $10,000 fine for disrupting federal oil and gas auctions on Bureau of Land Management land. A federal judge handed down the sentence as supporters gathered around the court house to rally in support of his efforts to thwart drilling leases near Arches National Park that would contribute to climate change. He was immediately taken into custody. [Umbra continues below.] Dearest readers, I am writing to you from Salt Lake City, Utah. Today at 3 p.m. (MDT) marks the long-awaited sentencing of climate activist Tim DeChristopher. Found guilty …

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Til dinner do us part: Ask Umbra on wedding meal choices

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, With wedding season in full swing, what's the best way to deal with the dreaded three-choice dinner card? It's usually beef, salmon, or "pasta" (whatever that means!). Wedding guests cannot check on the sustainability of the choices (is the beef grass-fed? the salmon Pacific? Most likely not). So I'm wondering, is Mystery Pasta is always the best choice to check off on that dreaded card? Are Mystery Meat and Mystery Fish equally awful choices? Or are all bets off for weddings? What's a guest to do? kristen510 Photo: Sarah ParrottA. Dearest Kristen, …

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Why doesn't the U.S. government allow teleworking when it's hot?

Feds are allowed to stay home when it snows, but not when it's so hot that the pavement is literally melting. Wha? Miles Grant of the National Wildlife Federation, writing in an unofficial capacity on his blog: If federal government workers were allowed to telework in the most extreme heat (say, on days when the heat index is forecast to be over 105), there would be several real benefits: Air quality. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is forecasting unhealthy air for the next few days thanks to a combination of heat and ozone pollution. With about 103,000 federal workers …

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Everything that's wrong with our oil-soaked industrial economy, in one amazing poster

Max Temkin is a brand designer for, among others, Barack Obama. You can buy prints of this poster here, or at least you could until it sold out because it is f*cking amazing.

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Thanks to the recession, recycling is booming

A few years ago, the only people who came in to Alliance Recycling in Emeryville, Calif., were were pushing shopping carts. Now, the same center is seeing people pull up in late model cars. “Since the economy burst,” Jay Anast of Alliance told KQED, “we’ve seen more of your middle-class types. We’re getting quite a bit of that now.” California pays five cents for every aluminum, glass, and plastic beverage container, which means that last year, 82 percent of cans and bottles sold in California were recycled -- up 55 percent since 2003. Meanwhile, San Francisco's booming composting program has …

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Burn, baby, burn: Ask Umbra on sun-protective clothing

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I work outside six to eight hours a day in a garden and field. I use a basic sunscreen (zinc oxide since I developed an allergy to the chemical slathers). I want to know if the claims by makers of sun-protective clothing make them worth a try. Filson and Tilley are two brands. Are their products any better than a regular long-sleeve shirt or cloth hat that is not sunblock rated? What's the story? Phil HearneAfton, Va. How best to protect yourself from this?Photo: Jalal Hameed BhattiA. Dearest Phil, As a Seattleite …

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Six surprising U.S. cities for a car-free vacation

It's a wonderful thing that the Pope's new ride will be a plug-in hybrid, but vroom vroom doesn't sound as sexy as it used to. Not when gas is $4 a gallon and the average car causes 600 pounds of air pollution every year. Obama's pledge to up fuel-efficiency standards to an average 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025 is all well and good. But in the meantime, a troublesome economy is driving people to drive less. AAA's Fourth of July holiday report cited a decline in car travel and a shift towards alternative modes of transportation. Biking and low-cost …