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Grist List: Look what we found.


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Rail gets a $2 billion shot in the arm from Rick Scott’s rejected funds

Remember when Florida's governor turned up his nose at $2 billion in federal funds for rail projects? Now his loss is everyone else's gain. The Department of Transportation today announced the redistribution of Florida's rejected wealth today, and it looks like Scott's tantrum will mean improved speed and performance in the Northeast Corridor, a high-speed line between Detroit and Chicago, better train cars throughout California and the Midwest, and forward movement on the planned L.A.-to-S.F. high-speed line. Thanks, sucker! Here's what Scott's $2 billion will buy: $795 million to upgrade the heavily-trafficked Northeast Corridor, running between D.C. and Boston. This …

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Green buildings can now eat smog for breakfast

The aluminum giant Alcoa has designed a building panel that cleans both itself and the nearby air. The secret to this feat is titanium dioxide, the same compound that allows sunscreen to block the sun. In this application, when the sun hits a coat of titanium dioxide, the compound begins spewing electrons. According to Alcoa, those electrons join with oxygen and water molecules in the air. This results in highly reactive molecules, which glom onto organic materials stuck to the building surface or near it -- anything from bird droppings to smog particles -- and chew them up. These messes …

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Awesome concept design makes buildings into bike racks

Floor space is at a premium in cities -- everyone wants to walk, bike, drive, and park their various human- and gas-powered vehicles on the same precious real estate. Vertical space, on the other hand, is available in abundance. And while the obvious use for this space is crazy-ass trompe l'oeil murals, the second-best option is doing something useful and innovative to take some of the space burden off the ground. Voila: The bike hanger. These aren't reality, yet, but the concept is brilliant. These vertical bike racks work something like a Ferris wheel or the motorized rack at a …

Read more: Biking, Cities

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New app lets you identify the few remaining trees

Wouldn’t it be nice to get to know trees while they’re still around? Leafsnap can help. The new app, developed by a team of researchers at Columbia, University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, contains a database of beautiful photos of leaves, barks, flowers, and fruits. All the lazy naturalist has to do to identify a tree is take a picture of one little leaf. It turns out, however, that you can't just point your iPhone camera at a tree, snap a picture, and find out what in the world it is. After gathering a leaf, fruit, flower or other …

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Airships may be the key to a greener, steampunkier future

Steampunk enthusiasts rejoice: The skies may soon be full of airships. Dirigibles are the low-carbon way of shipping goods long distances, according to a recent article in Scientific American. No word on whether it's greener to wear aviator goggles, petticoats, and button boots while flying them, but let's just go ahead and assume the answer is yes. Several companies, including Lockheed Martin, are developing freight dirigibles for cargo transport. They're especially valuable in areas without a lot of transport infrastructure -- they don't require runways or roads, like existing freight options do. That means that having a viable airship cargo fleet …

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Toyota to make all Prius hybrids plug-in by 2014

This is how the century-long dominance of gas-powered vehicles ends: not with a bang, but with a widget. By 2014, the world's best-selling hybrid vehicle will have plug-in capability, standard, which means every trip up to 14 miles will be all-electric, all the time. This move to plug-in-standard vehicles is a harbinger of a future in which the automotive fleet doesn't switch over to electric all at once, but piecemeal, as manufacturers learn to harness new tech and economies of scale, and batteries drop in price as a result. Important to this transition is Toyota's switch to the more energy-dense …

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Climate change isn’t visible in North America — yet — say scientists

While the rest of the world is seeing its agricultural productivity decimated by climate change, the U.S. and Canada are continuing to experience weather that's within the range of "natural variability." So says a new study in Science from researchers at Stanford and Columbia. If true, this has a couple of kind of crazy-making implications: 1. It's difficult or impossible to attribute recent extreme weather events in North America to climate change. Tornadoes, floods, drought -- pretty much all we can conclude from them, say scientists, is that sh*t happens. 2. We know that humans' belief in climate change is …

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Critical List: U.N. is optimistic about renewables, U.S. studies ‘safe hydrofracking’

The U.N.'s climate change panel reports that, by 2050, 80 percent of the world's energy could come from renewables. The panel also issued this reassuring news: As long as we fulfill the most ambitious of renewable build-out plans and cut one-third of greenhouse gas, it is possible to keep the planet from nosediving into life-altering, irreversible climate change. So, no pressure. For starters, you could seriously just turn the effing A/C down. America's working on that whole clean energy thing, President Obama said this weekend. But China's getting there faster, surprise surprise. Japan wants to shut down another vulnerable nuclear …

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Real-life Farmville kills the same amount of time, actually does some good

We knew things were going to get weird once we found out there was a real-world Angry Bird. Now a farm in England is turning itself into live-action Farmville. For a £30 ($49) annual fee, members of MyFarm will get to weigh in on every decision made at Wimpole Estate Farm in Cambridgeshire. They'll vote on what to plant, when to harvest, what livestock to purchase, how to allocate the farm's land, which pig is the best singer, whether Brad should marry barley or amaranth, and every other choice that's critical to an agriculture/reality show hybrid. MyFarm is a project …

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Daylight-mimicking LEDs save power, might reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s

All the cool kids know that CFLs are merely a bridge technology -- and now students at Drexel University have a grant to enhance their successor, which are household lights comprised of light emitting diodes. LEDs aren’t new tech -- they’re already used in your monitor, television, Christmas tree, throwies, etc. They're super efficient, plus they come in fun colors, so they’re all set to inherit the household-lighting throne. More importantly, the ability to both dim LEDs and combine different colored bulbs to produce any color in the visible spectrum should allow the Drexel researchers to create indoor lights that …