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Science of filmmaking

These biologists created a gorgeous film about African glaciers

Nate&Neil
Day's Edge Productions

Chasing Ice launched a new sub-genre of horror films: Watch big beautiful glaciers melt. OK, that might not sound as date-night friendly as a slasher flick, but, hey, if a kid talking to a wagging finger named Tony can be scary, watching the Arctic melt away is downright terrifying. Filmmakers Neil Losin and Nathan Dappen recently joined the field with Snows of the Nile, a visually stunning documentary about the disappearing glaciers in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains (you can watch the trailer here). Losin and Dappen brought a twist to their ice-gazing short by focusing on glaciers where you might not expect them: the tropics. The emerging …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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How BP turned a whole community into an endangered species

oystermen on boat
Shawn Escoffery
Oystermen of Plaquemines Parish, La.

Whether you live in Seattle, Baltimore, or Schenectady, N.Y., if you’ve had an oyster dish, chances are the shelled delicacies came from the Gulf of Mexico, most likely off the Louisiana coast, which produces a third of the nation’s oysters. Crabs? Hate to break it to you, but those luscious “Baltimore” crab cakes -- yep, those are from Louisiana too.

This has been a fact for a long time, but it might soon become an artifact. The reason: the BP oil spill disaster of 2010, which dumped over 205 million gallons of oil and another 2 million gallons of possibly toxic dispersants into the Gulf, devastating the area that’s responsible for 40 percent of the seafood sold commercially across the U.S. For the end user, this just means Maryland chefs actually using Maryland crabs again. But on the supply side, this means that whole communities of fishers along the Gulf Coast have been put out of business, their livelihoods ruined.

Oystermen have fared among the worst in that bunch, notably the African-American oystermen who live and work in Plaquemines Parish, on the lowest end tip of Louisiana. They used to harvest a great deal of the shellfish that eventually adorned our restaurant plates, but the impacts of the BP disaster have proven too difficult to rebound from. They’re now facing “zero population” of oysters, as one seafood distributor put it.

For too long, these black oystermen have been invisible not only to the nation they serve but also to the state they live in. The new documentary Vanishing Pearls from first-time filmmaker Nailah Jefferson hopes to raise the oystermen’s visibility and also our awareness of their value in our national economy and environment.

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People of color contribute least to smog, yet breathe more of it. WTF?

latina-woman-air-mask-flickr-esparta-palma
Esparta Palma

Get a load of this: It’s not poor people whose nostrils get the dirtiest air. It’s people of color -- even wealthy ones.

It’s true, you can’t 1,000 percent separate race and class, but new findings from the University of Minnesota found that race, more than income, determines who smog hurts the most. Writes ThinkProgress:

When low-income white people were compared to high-income Hispanic people, the latter group experienced higher levels of nitrogen dioxide. Altogether, people of color in the U.S. breathe air with 38 percent more nitrogen dioxide in it than their white counterparts, particularly due to power plants and exhaust from vehicles.

Unfair, especially because people of color produce less air pollution than white people (African-Americans, for example, emit 20 percent less CO2 than white Americans). So why is this happening? You know, other than racism? Writes Atlantic Cities:

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Gnamesakes

Bill McKibben checks “have species named after me” off to-do list

billmckibben_gnat2
Background photo: Axel Hartmann. Photo illustration: Eve Andrews

If you had the power to name a living creature, would you use that power wisely? Would you name it after one of your heroes? Let’s be real: Beyoncemus knowlesi does have a pretty nice ring to it! Peter Kerr, a scientist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s State Collection of Arthropods, recently discovered a species of gnat. Through a great feat of willpower, he was able to avoid the temptation of christening it Gnat King Cole, Jr. (There’s a reason that Grist staff members aren’t scientists.) Instead, he decided to name it after foremost green activist, author, …

Read more: Living

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sharing is scarring

Airbnb can make your dreams of running a brothel come true

sex-worker-underwear-money-shutterstock
Shutterstock

Thought you were renting your place so an exhausted sightseer could crash? Oh, she’s definitely sleeping ... with some horndog and his hundos.

In an unexpected result of the sharing economy, Airbnb rooms might be replacing NYC hotels as primo sex worker spots. As one anonymous 21-year-old escort told the New York Post:

It’s more discreet and much cheaper than The Waldorf. Hotels have doormen and cameras. They ask questions. Apartments are usually buzz-in.

Read more: Cities, Living

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menstrual cycles

Screw being ladylike on a bike

woman-female-cyclist-biker-sunset-shutterstock
Shutterstock

Turns out the sexist soap bubble we live in doesn’t pop when you hop on a Surly. If anything, people get MORE judgey: Ladies, you better not get to work sweaty and unpretty! But how dare you ride in a skirt and heels? I half expect some guy with a handlebar mustache to promote riding sidesaddle. (Lest you think we live in a post-gender society, know that women in the U.S. only take 1-in-4 bike trips.)

Former Grist editor Sarah Goodyear reached out to female cyclists, asking what it means to be feminine on two wheels (if there even IS such a thing). Reading the smattering of responses she got over at Atlantic Cities was both reassuring and eye-opening, reinforcing that there’s no one way to be a woman on a bike, just as -- WAIT FOR IT -- there’s no one way to be a human on Planet Earth. (Crazy, I know.) Here are a handful of ruminations on cycling, fashion, and gender (all of which you should read, BTW):

Read more: Cities, Living

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Ask Umbra: How do I know if my local swimming hole is safe?

snorkel kids
Shutterstock

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Summer is coming, so I wonder if the river near my house (the famous Kamogawa) is safe for my kids to splash in. There is a garbage incinerator upstream, though not directly on the river, and the operators *swear* it does not leak. Is there a water testing kit? What kinds of things would I want to test for? And what kinds of safety limits would I want to look for? It does not have to be drinking-water quality, just safe enough to stick their little feet and hands in.

Gabi
Kyoto, Japan

A. Dearest Gabi,

You’ve just officially made it Water Week here at Ask Umbra. On Monday, we waded into what kind of substances we can safely put in the water; today, let’s address whether or not we can put ourselves in as well.

I hope you’ll forgive me for answering your question broadly. I don’t know how clean the Kamogawa is, nor will my expense account cover phone calls to Japan to check. But I can share some information I hope will be useful to you and anyone else longing for a warm-weather dip in a local waterway.

Read more: Living

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Insane cycling video will make you hold your breath for two minutes

Grist cannot be held responsible for the crapping of your pants while watching this helmet-cam of daredevil cyclist Geoff Gulevich going down a mountain:

The GoPro video of Gulevich’s ride is from the Red Bull Rampage in Virgin, Utah -- an exclusive, invite-only mountain bike competition so dangerous it was cancelled for several years -- so it’s prrrrrobably not anything you’d encounter in your morning commute.

Plus, Gulevich is a professional mountain biker, so don’t feel guilty if you’re not as daring on two wheels. After all, YOU risk getting doored and T-boned if you ride in the city, whereas THIS punk only flirted with the edge of a cliff. Pfffft. He’s got nothin’ on rush-hour San Francisco.

Read more: Cities, Living

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This giant vacuum will suck the pollution out of rivers

Dyson vacuums are legendary; they’re the main reason divorce is so ugly. So imagine what happens when you put that powerful technology to work cleaning rivers instead of rugs.

Did you picture marine trash getting slurped up into the world’s biggest vacuum bag? Ding ding ding! James Dyson hasn’t actually CREATED his super-sucker yet, but he’s made a design for the M.V. Recyclone boat, a.k.a. the U.S.S. Sucky. Check it:

ocean-dyson-vacuum-recyclone2
James Dyson
Read more: Living

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This velomobile is basically an electric car without the hassle

velomobile-elf-quest-solar-tricycle

If the words “recumbent trike” make your lip curl, we understand. Weird bikes often seem to perpetuate the myth that cyclists are fringey oddballs disconnected from reality. But the ELF deserves a second glance:

A team from Durham, N.C., designed the semi-enclosed, three-wheeled contraption to marry the best aspect of bikes and cars. The result is a low-impact EV that gives you some protection from the elements and plenty of room for groceries. Pedal when you can, but let the solar-powered battery kick in if you’re hauling bags of kitty litter uphill.

The ELF can go up to 30 mph and carry up to 350 pounds, but doesn’t need any of that pesky car stuff like a license plate, insurance, or actual gasoline. The battery’ll charge in 90 minutes when plugged in, carrying you up to 14 miles -- farther if you put your thighs to work.

The ELF’s main problem is its $5,495 price tag. Then again, if you’re basically getting 1,800 mpg, it could be worth it -- more than 300 ELF owners seem to think so. If, like moi, your wimpiness forever prevents you from turning cyclist, velomobiles like the ELF just might be the gateway drug.