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Grist List: Look what we found.


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

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. has the rest of the tawdry tale:

Read more: Living


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


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.


Move the Goal

Yes, Brazil’s loss was a shocker — but please don’t call it a disaster

sad Brazilian tumblr

Shocker. Upset. Fail. These are perfectly appropriate words to describe Germany's 7-1 takedown of Brazil in the World Cup today.

But let's tread lightly on the "disaster" talk, please.

Look, I get it. Brazil is a soccer-mad country of close to 200 million people and the host country of this year's Cup. Brazil has won five World Cup titles, more than any nation. Brazil birthed Pelé. The loss is a colossal disappointment, evidence that even soccer superpowers on their home turf are vulnerable.

But a calamity, this is not.

Read more: Living


Mysterious blast at Chevron plant shakes pollution-weary Texas town

port arthur explosion
Hilton Kelley

A yet-to-be-explained explosion at a Chevron Phillips chemical plant in Port Arthur, Texas, last night has the community in a bit of an uproar, judging by Facebook updates I’ve been collecting throughout the day. Chevron referred to it as a “localized fire,” in its statement to the media. Whatever the label, it injured two of the plant’s workers, and badly enough that highway traffic was stopped so a medical helicopter could come take one to the hospital.

Hilton Kelley, the Port Arthur environmental justice activist who won the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2011, got as close to the scene as possible to take pictures of the fires. “These events are very common in this community (where) thousands of pounds of dangerous toxins are released when these emission events [sic] happen,” he wrote on his Facebook page, where he posted the pics.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Dead Heat

Hot summers make for a bloody Chicago

Seth Anderson

The Fourth of July weekend is widely recognized as a nice little oasis in the middle of the summer for Americans to reflect on their love of country through explosions, grilled meats, and beer (not necessarily in that order.) By contrast, this year's holiday in Chicago was commemorated by 82 shootings, including more than a dozen murders. Yesterday, the murder count for the city hit the 200 mark.

In a city so infamously beset by violence that it's earned the nickname Chiraq, the general trend has been that murders become more frequent in warmer weather. In 2012, there were 500 murders in Chicago, and many attributed the jaw-dropping figure -- the highest in the country -- to an unseasonably warm spring and unbearably hot summer. It wasn't hyperbole: I was there, and I didn't fully comprehend the meaning of "stifling heat" until July 2012.

Read more: Cities, Living, Politics


Wild Mannered

Should wilderness get the axe?

Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

This year, the Wilderness Act turns 50. As is the custom, please join me in celebrating by watching some dewy timelapses set to heart-swelling ambient tunes (above). Let us now bow our heads to Gaia and call on our spirit animal (mine's a tuatara). At Grist, we tend to check redwoods and capital-C Conservation at the door and focus on climate action and culture with a modern, urban spin. But over on The New York Times opinion pages, writer Chris Solomon put pixels and ink behind something I (and plenty of others) have been thinking about for a long time: Carbon emissions …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


This fake LEGO ad shows the Arctic drowning in an oil spill

I don't know who thought it was a good idea to get their kids a Shell-themed LEGO set, but apparently someone did, or Greenpeace would not have had to make this depressing video protesting the advertising partnership between the world's largest toy company and a global fossil fuel conglomerate. (I mean, child-me would definitely have coveted those polar bear and husky minifigs, but a flaming oil rig?)

In fact, LEGO and Shell go way back, to the 1960s when the popular build-it-yourself toy company started selling Shell-branded toys to future engineers. But now, with Shell making persistent yet tentative moves in the warming Arctic, Greenpeace is calling out the companies' 2012 contract, which they claim is worth $116 million to Shell's PR department. The run of logo-bedecked toys are sold at gas stations in 26 countries, and have supposedly been accompanied by a 7.5 percent increase in Shell sales.


Tired of just ruining your garden, kudzu destroys the climate, too

Jonathan Hinkle

Kudzu, the climbing, coiling, choking invasive plant is the Khloe Kardashian of the invasive plant world: Everybody’s heard of it, but we all wish we hadn’t. The Asian plant was introduced to the southeastern U.S. in the 1870s and was long considered the most dangerous ornamental bush in the nation’s history, though it’s since been bumped down to second.

Kudzu is a tenacious blight from Texas in the Southwest to Florida, all the way to Connecticut in the Northeast. In some parts of Alabama, if you lie still, you’ll be covered head-to-toe in kudzu in under 11 minutes. [Editor’s note: That is totally untrue.] The fast-growing weed chokes out native species, but a new study shows it could be choking more than just plants.

According to a paper published in New Phytologist (which I’m sure you’ve got sitting by the toilet to read later) by plant ecologist Nishanth Tharayil and graduate student Mioko Tamura, kudzu and other invasives can release carbon that had been sequestered in the soil. In other words, these invasives aren’t just destroying habitats locally, they’re contributing to climate change globally. Here’s more from Clemson University’s media release:

Read more: Climate & Energy


‘Rollin’ Coal’ culture warriors want to douse your Prius with their smoke-belching trucks


H.L. Mencken is often quoted as saying, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” He got close, but he never uttered those actual words. Probably because he’d never seen these guys:

A hot new trend known as “Rollin' Coal” is sweeping the stupider corners of the country. If you are unfamiliar with the craze (in the truest, craziest sense of the word), forgive me for bursting your blissful bubble. Coal rollers modify their diesel pickups to get shittier mileage and belch as much pollution as possible, then blast a wall of black to show off to their friends and piss off environmentalists and anyone who likes breathing. “Prius Repellant” decals are a popular accoutrement for rollin aficionados who thought Calvin peeing on things was too subtle.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Vegetarians live longer, pollute less — and you no longer have to take their word for it


If you’ve ever had a herbivorous roommate, especially one with a thing for lentils, this may come as a shock to you, but vegetarians produce fewer greenhouse gases. A study by the Loma Linda Medical Center in California shows that a vegetarian diet reduces greenhouse emissions by a third. The vegetarians also live longer, giving them 20 percent more time to tell you they told you so.

Kathleen Lees at Science World Report has bean following the story:

Findings showed that the mortality rate for non-vegetarians was almost 20 percent higher than for vegetarians and semi-vegetarians. On top of that, switching to a vegetarian diet also helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in about a third less emissions compared to those on the non-vegetarian diets.

The United Nations Environment Programme cautioned that meat production of any kind could release greenhouse gases.

"The takeaway message is that relatively small reductions in the consumption of animal products result in non-trivial environmental benefits and health benefits," added Sam Soret, Ph.D., MPH, associate dean at Loma Linda University School of Public Health and co-author of the studies.

The Loma Linda study supports the findings of a similar British study we reported on last week, but benefited from an enormous sample size and a heterogeneous population set, consisting of 73,000 Seventh Day Adventists.

I imagine there is probably a golden mean where you eat enough less meat to reduce your carbon footprint, but still take in enough that you’ll die early if you really want to help out the planet, but I suggest you concentrate on the meat reduction and commensurate greenhouse gas reductions.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food