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Grist List: Look what we found.


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2012 will probably best record-setting 2011 for gas prices

This year broke all previous records for amount spent by the average American household on gasoline -- us car-having suckers spent $4,155! As Jonathan Fahey pointed out in the Associated Press, in an unusually informative and clear-eyed look at the pedestrian impact of the planet's slow-motion oil crunch: "That is 8.4 percent of what the median family takes in, the highest share since 1981." But hold tight, because 2012 is probably going to be worse.  Here's what's really crazy about these figures. High gas prices are usually a consequences of economic boom times -- more money in our pockets means …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Oil

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How climate change shows up in ancient, Tolkien-esque myths

The Vernagtferner glacier in the portion of the Alps falling within the borders of Austria is said to be cursed. In ancient legend, it buried the cities Onanä and Dananä, whose ruins lie beneath its implacable mass of ice to this day. Which is all a way, way cooler story than the purely factual “climate change happened.” According to David Bressan at History of Geology: A long time ago there existed a rich city surrounded by fertile pastures where today is the glacier. Unfortunately the wealth corrupted the inhabitants and they wasted milk and bread to clean the streets. One …

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New York City to test electric taxis

Within a few months, it will be possible to step out onto a New York City street corner and hail a Nissan Leaf. The city's starting a pilot program to see how the cars fare as taxis, and exploring the possibility of an all-electric fleet. But EV enthusiasts shouldn't get too excited yet. Nor should EV haters get their hackles up. At most, three Leafs (Leaves?) will be out on the street at any given time. So the chances of stepping off the curb and into the future are slim.

Read more: Cities, Transportation

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White planes are more fuel-efficient than flashy planes

The vast majority of people flying home this week in a post-holiday haze will ride in a white plane. After a long history of dolling planes up to stand out, airline executives are opting for white designs, both because it's cheaper and because it's more fuel-efficient (read: cheaper). White paint wears more slowly, so fewer paint jobs are needed. White paint also means less paint, which makes planes a tiny bit lighter. For a metal tube hurtling through the air, that weight makes a difference. But it also looks way more boring, which is probably why there aren’t a lot …

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Critical List: Funding for climate research drops; USDA approves drought-resistant corn

The federal budget crisis is turning climate denialism into a vicious cycle: Skepticism contributes to lower funding, which means less research, which means less information, which means more skepticism. The USDA approved a drought-resistant corn, developed by Monsanto. Congress is cutting a federal program that helps low-income people with heating costs by about 25 percent. One more piece of evidence that Alberta is entirely in thrall to oil sands: the Canadian province's premier thinks personal vehicular emissions are a bigger problem than the oil industry. The new federal solar project in Arizona will have one-hundredth of the water usage projected …

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Republicans put a deadline on Keystone XL, surprising nobody

As predicted, Republicans in the House have grudgingly allowed a two-month extension on the payroll tax holiday, on the condition that they can impose a deadline on Keystone XL pipeline approval. President Obama had postponed approval for a year, based on evidence that the environmental analysis was flawed, but Republicans want a decision NOW NOW NOW or they're taking their ball and going home. Or anyway they're taking middle-class workers' tax money and unemployment benefits and going home. So now Obama has 60 days to rule on the pipeline before the whole shitty process starts over. Grist has dug into …

Read more: Politics

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Climate Dogs wish everyone happy holidays

They're trying to recycle all that wrapping paper, really. They just don't have thumbs. David Roberts made me post this. But honestly, how could I say no?

Read more: Animals

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Metal balls apparently falling from sky

This ... thingy fell out of the sky over Namibia last month. It's 3.6 feet around, weighs 13 pounds, is hollow, has no markings, and ... came out of space? Talk about your extreme weather. Is it space junk? Military equipment? A decades-late Spaceballs promo? (Spaceballs the lunchbox! Spaceballs the breakfast cereal! Spaceballs the mysterious metal object from the ionosphere!) Whatever it is, it's not alien; the best part about this story is that officials are going out of their way to say that the substance it's made of (a "sophisticated" metal alloy) is "known to man." Beyond that, who …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Guerilla Grafters make ornamental plants bear fruit

Duck and cover, it's a drive-by fruiting! Guerilla Grafters stick fruit-bearing limbs onto San Francisco's ornamental trees, making city streets into food-producing mini-orchards. (Grafting has been standard practice with fruit trees since basically forever, so there's nothing Frankenfoody about this.) It's not technically legal -- the city discourages planting fruit trees, because of worries that fruit will attract vermin. So Guerilla Grafters makes sure that each grafted tree has a steward who looks after it.