Grist List

‘Passive House’ documentary is the last word on zero-energy buildings

Passive Houses are homes so well insulated that they require no heating at all, even in winter. They're super popular in Europe, because it’s a magical land where everything is made out of chocolate and any sexual encounter that ends in fewer than three orgasms is immediately reported to the happiness police. Journalist Charlie Hoxie realized that most people in America have never heard of the Passive House (or Passivhaus in the original, economical German) building movement, so he embarked on a documentary to spread the word. What follows are a series of excerpts from that film.

Baby sloths in a bath, just sayin’

A friend of mine just spent some time helping out at the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica, and I am OVERWHELMINGLY jealous. And you will be too, after watching this video that is going around today for some reason even though it is only one of many cute baby sloth videos on YouTube. Seriously, this is NSFW, in the sense that you may fall down a rabbit hole of baby sloth videos that will wreck your productivity.

The man whose algae could take over the world

If life is really a disaster movie in which humanity is wiped off the face of the earth, J. Craig Venter will probably be the hubristic genius who gets us there. The man sequenced the human genome in like three years, and now he's focused on the genetic possibilities of algae. The goal is to program those little cells to produce biofuels. Here's his pitch, as told to Scientific American: Everybody is looking for a naturally occurring alga that is going to be a miracle cell to save the world, and after a century of looking, people still haven’t found it. We hope we’re different. The [genetic] tools give us a new approach to being able to rewrite the genetic code and get cells to do what we want them to do. Eek! Mutant algae!

Top-secret snake!

This newly discovered snake species, named Matilda's Horned Viper after the discoverer's 7-year-old daughter, lives in Tanzania somewhere. Beyond that, who can say? The answer is nobody (except Matilda's dad Tim Davenport, who took the photo above, and maybe a handful of other people from the Wildlife Conservation Society), because the snake lives in an undisclosed location. The viper is so endangered that conservationists are keeping its exact habitat a secret, out of fear that it will attract trophy hunters and exotic animal poachers.

Obama makes a trip to the EPA

President Obama and the EPA have not had an entirely uncomplicated relationship during his tenure, but in the face of a GOP candidate field that is almost uniformly anti-environment, the president is throwing his lot in with clean air and water regulations. He's making a trip to EPA headquarters this afternoon to thank employees for their work, notably the new mercury standards.

FAA gets confused, tries to ground cranes

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has decided to allow a whooping crane migration to continue, after initially trying to halt it. PLANES, guys. You are in charge of PLANES. Actually, the FAA was only grounding the cranes as a byproduct of grounding planes -- specifically, the ultralight craft that guide the endangered birds on their migration route. Whooping crane chicks raised in captivity, which many of them are since the birds are so threatened, don't have parents to demonstrate migration to them. So conservationists from Operation Migration have the babies imprint on pilots dressed as birds. Then the chicks follow the ultralights on the 1,200-mile flight. Evidently the FAA doesn't find this as adorable as I do, because they're now quibbling over whether the pilots are allowed to keep training their flocks of babies.

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