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Get off my ice

John Oliver’s Antarctic tourism PSA: “Stick your d*ck in a freezer” instead

antarctica tourism

John Oliver understands why 40,000 people visit Antarctica a year. Free snow cones! And, as if that weren’t enough, free penguins! That sounds like my kind of vacation.

Which is exactly the problem: Tourists bring invasive species along with them, which has some researchers concerned for the future of the frozen continent's unique ecosystems, some of our last remaining pockets of pristine. So, on Last Week Tonight, Oliver offered up his idea for the Antarctica’s new tourist campaign: “Stop coming here.”

Sorry, Oliver, too late. When I was lucky enough to go to Antarctica in 2005, I was blown away by the vastness of the place -- a feeling that set me on track to give a damn about our planetary woes today. It's a bit of a conundrum: I'm glad for that perspective but, like almost anything that anyone does, I know it wasn't free of broader consequence. In any case, we can at least be more thoughtful about how we go about visiting the world's last wild places -- like maybe skip the Neil Armstrong impression on that ancient moss bed.

Read more: Living

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Chinese company creamed for GMO corn thievery

thief
iStock

The FBI has captured members of a super-secret Chinese spy ring whose arsenal included false identities, corporate fronts, Cold War anti-surveillance techniques, Subway napkins and, perhaps most cruelly, Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn boxes. What were they after? Diplomatic communiques? Launch commands? Plans for the Death Star? No.

They were after corn.

And to think they used his own popcorn boxes to smuggle corn out of the country. Poor Orville’s bowtie must be spinning in his grave (assuming he was buried with a novelty spinning bowtie and a robust power supply).

Edvard Pettersson at Bloomberg has cob-bled together the whole seedy tale:

Three years ago, a security guard working for seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred came across something unusual on a road in Iowa: Just off the pavement, a man was on his knees, digging in a field.

Challenged by the guard, Mo Hailong claimed to be an employee of the University of Iowa who was traveling to a nearby conference. He jumped back in his car and sped away.

U.S. authorities would later accuse Mo, and five other Chinese nationals, of stealing corn seeds and attempting to smuggle them back to China.

A seventh defendant, Mo Yun, was arrested and charged Wednesday with stealing trade secrets for her husband's seed company -- the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Company.

The details of the case, laid out by prosecutors, underscore the difficulty of safeguarding U.S. intellectual property, and the determination of some foreign rivals to acquire technology by illicit means.

The Chinese company is accused of stealing trade secrets worth an estimated $30-40 million, so you can understand why the feds were all ears. The arrests include that of company president Mo Hailong, better known as the Jason Bourne of Corn. If there’s a kernel of truth to the allegations, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

Read more: Food

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This is what one week of your trash might look like

Garbage stinks for the planet. Food waste is a prime carbon emitter. Plastic junk ends up in our oceans. Still, even well-intentioned greenies probably drop their trash in the dumpster (after sorting the compost and recyclables, of course) and don't think much about their rubbish again.

Photographer Gregg Segal wants to change that. For his ongoing project, "7 Days of Garbage," Segal shows images of people nestled up to the trash they amassed over a week. Spend a little time with the photographs and it's hard not to notice the uneaten grub and glut of plastic:

Gregg Segal
Gregg Segal
Gregg Segal 2
Gregg Segal

Here's a little more about the project from Slate:

Read more: Living

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frond memories

Forget potato salad — fund this science project and help cure the climate

azolla fern crop
David Midgley

Azolla, otherwise known as duckweed, is a tiny aquatic fern with a secret superpower: It can turn nitrogen from the air into plant food.

Actually, azolla can't do this on its own. It relies on symbiotic bacteria tenants who do the real work of 'fixing' the atmospheric nitrogen into a more plant-accessible form. As a result of this tasty talent, azolla can also double its biomass every few days, sequestering large amounts of carbon all the while.

So no wonder a group of researchers at Duke University want you to pitch in to help them sequence the fern's genome, as well as the genomes of all the little microbes who give the plant its edge. Understanding the mechanics behind azolla's magic power may help farmers move away from artificial fertilizers and the pollution associated with them -- Asian rice farmers were planting the stuff alongside their crops 1,500 years ago.

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Billions of oil dollars will buy you the largest mall in the world

When Busta Rhymes released the seminal hit "Arab Money" in 2008, was it a prophetic vision of this century's most absurd testament to conspicuous consumption to date? How could Mr. Rhymes possibly have envisioned a 48-million-square-foot, climate-controlled indoor city, complete with sparkling waterfalls and the largest mall in the world?

Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, a global petrodollar symbol in his own right, has announced plans to construct a massive, hermetically sealed city in the UAE's most populous emirate. In addition to 20,000 hotel rooms, 50,000 parking spaces, and something ominously called a "cultural celebration centre," the development will include an 8-million-square foot Mall of the World. (Is that really a title that anyone is vying for?)

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Cycle Hack

Easy tip for biking in a skirt: Put a penny in yo’ pants

I love biking to work. The sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the breeze blowing up my skirt.

Eep, actually, that last one gets annoying fast. But ladies, don’t let a fear of public indiscretion stand in your way of reveling in your own freedom! There’s a solution: Put a penny in yo’ pants.

Read more: Living

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Death comes forest all

While away the hours to your inevitable demise with this green burial documentary

headstone.jpg

You're probably not going to die and I certainly never will, but in the off chance the Grim Reaper catches up with us one day, why should our deaths be less sustainable than our lives?

The mainstream funeral industry is full of nasty chemicals and manicured lawns. Shouldn't we strive to stay green beyond just the inevitable 50 shades of mold [GLURGH] that awaits us?

Read more: Living

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Enough of the climate-denying clowns, say BBC bigwigs

clown
Shutterstock

There’s a fine line between impartial and stupid, and the BBC has been working the wrong side of the line. A report by the independent BBC Trust has concluded that the public broadcaster has been giving too much air time to climate deniers. Broadcasts, the report stated, should more accurately represent the best available science -- or, as The Telegraph elegantly put it, “BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes.”

Here’s more from Telegraph science correspondent Sarah Knapton, but I must warn you, more frightening British spellings appear below:

The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.

Some 200 staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be invited on courses in the coming months to stop them giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’

“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences,” wrote the report authors.

“Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.”

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Furries? Feet? Forget it: This flower’s weird sexual hangup has us humans beat

Axinaea-sp-Melastomataceae
Andreas Kay

It’s the age-old story: Boy lures bird close by offering bird his delicious genitals. Bird eats genitals. Boy, using his highly evolved bellows organ, explosively projects his gametes all over bird. Bird flies away, perhaps a little ashamed. Boy hopes bird lands on girl, covers her in his genetic material.

Or at least, that’s how Axinaea, a small South and Central American rainforest shrub, does it. And that’s the birds-and-the-bees story my kids are getting.

Phys.org has the rest of the tawdry tale:

Read more: Living

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Zero-energy house of the future could be lurking in your neighborhood

NIST-house
Reuters

Wondering what houses will look like in the future? Wonder no longer! Gaze upon the net-zero energy test house built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)! Gaze, I say!

Have you gazed yet?

And you’re back?

OK, so houses in the future will look exactly like every other boring house in the dull neighborhoods replacing amber waves of grain from coast to coast. And as far as it goes, that’s a good thing. People love boring. Community associations love boring. Boring is sexy. If it looked like an H.R. Giger fever dream people wouldn’t build them.

This particular house was built to do everything the typical American family of four does and end up using zero net energy, and after a year, it turns out it didn’t quite work out: Despite massive snowfalls and a rough winter, the home actually produced 441 more kilowatts of energy than it used, enough to drive an electric car over 1,400 miles -- which, considering the house was built in Maryland’s D.C. suburbs, the most boring place in America, might be far enough to get you someplace interesting.