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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.

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parks and reparations

How our fear of “wilding” colored the Central Park Five case

wildingCP5
PBS - The Central Park Five

The New York City men known as the “Central Park Five” will reportedly receive $40 million for their wrongful convictions and imprisonment after police falsely accused them of attacking and raping a white woman 25 years ago. It’s hard to imagine what financial amount, if any, could adequately repair what was taken from these five lives: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise, and Yusef Salaam. They were just boys when they were arrested, the youngest 14; all of them of African American or Latino American heritage. They spent the rest of their teenage years in jail, one of them in the notorious Riker’s Island penitentiary.

They were exonerated in 2002 when Matias Reyes confessed to sexually assaulting the victim, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker who was jogging in Central Park. Her almost lifeless body was found in the early morning of April 20, 1989. Police picked up the other five boys for the crime because they were part of a larger group of kids who were in Central Park that night causing other mischief -- what the media referred to then as “wilding.”

The story leading up to their absolution is an instructive tale of how prejudice functions specifically in spaces where the general public is supposed to exist harmoniously with nature. The greenspace of Central Park wasn’t and hasn’t been a shield against racism and rape culture. In this instance, the park was used as an instrument for dehumanizing black and Latino youth, felon-izing their behavior in the process.

Read more: Cities, Living

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

bigtruck
Shutterstock

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

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Between a hawk and a hard place

Rats! Rodent poison kills hawks, too

red-tail-hawk
Robert

Several years ago, I noticed that hawks had moved into my neighborhood. Well, one hawk. A dead hawk, actually. It was lying on its back on my front porch with its little feet in the air, looking fierce and magnificent and just totally dead. I had never seen a hawk that close before. My roommate stood over it, taking pictures with her phone.

"Juvenile red tail," she said. "I already posted a picture on the internet and three people already asked if they could come by and pick it up. What is it with our neighbors and taxidermy?"

The realization of how the hawk had come to die on our front porch sank in gradually. Hadn't the landlords said something a few weeks ago about sending someone over to "deal with" the mice that were establishing a dynasty in the wall behind our stove? Hadn't I not heard from the mice in a while?

The hawk had probably thought that it was its lucky day, finding these sluggish mice in our yard, probably all fattened up on our organic kitchen scraps. It wouldn't have realized they were stuffed with poison.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Whale poop may help fight climate change

humpback whale
Shutterstock

It's not a good time to be living in the ocean. Aside from oil spills and the scourge of plastics pollution, the seas are becoming ever more acidic due to humanity's CO2 flooding the atmosphere. The altered PH of the water makes for a bevy of problems, from making fish act in really weird ways to dissolving the shells of creatures critical to the marine food chain.

But a group of scientists from the University of Vermont and elsewhere think the ocean's future health has one thing going for it: the restoration of whale populations. They believe that having more whales in the water creates a more stable marine environment, partly through something called a "whale pump" — a polite term for how these majestic animals defecate.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Ask Umbra: Is it safe to water veggies from my rain barrels?

rain-water-barrel.jpg
Shutterstock

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Is it safe to use the water that comes off my roof into a rain barrel to water herbs and vegetables that we eat?

Ron
Jefferson, Md.

A. Dearest Ron,

Using sweet rainwater to nourish your burgeoning salad ingredients is just like a refreshing drink straight from a mountain stream. By which I mean – and if you’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing what I’ll call "the wilderness two-step" after indulging in the latter, you’ll know this already – proceed with caution. Both water sources may look clear, pure, and unequivocally healthy, but you never know what invisible intruders lurk within.

Rain barrels in general are unequivocally healthy for the planet. Simple systems designed to funnel rainwater from your roof into storage tanks, rain barrels relieve pressure on stormwater systems, reduce the energy used to treat and transport water, and save you roughly 1,300 gallons of tap water per summer. But you’re not the only one wondering about using that manna from heaven on your veggie garden, Ron.

Read more: Food, Living

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Minga Dynasty

Cooperative organic farming takes root in Kentucky

screen shot La Minga
Perennial Plate

The ideas of cooperative work are central to many movements in Latin America. Nelson Escobar has brought those ideas from his home in El Salvador to Louisville, Ky., to a large urban farm named La Minga after a traditional South American form of collective organization. Now, in the heart of conservative America, the farmers plant, cultivate, and harvest their food together, sharing the bounty amongst themselves and supporting the greater local community as they go.

Read more: Food, Living

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Bike race

Want to empower African American kids? Give them bikes

cyclists
iStockphoto

Cycling has a reputation for being a white man’s sport, hobby, and mode of transportation. It’s an image rooted in truth -- white people accounted for about 80 percent of the cycling population in the U.S. as of 2009 -- but it’s far from a complete picture. From 2001 to 2009, the rates of cycling among African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians grew far more than among whites.

Ed Ewing is working hard to keep that trend going. He’s the director of diversity and inclusion for the Cascade Bicycle Club and co-founder of the Major Taylor Project, a program that uses cycling to empower underserved youth in the Seattle area. The program is named after Major Taylor, the first African-American to win a cycling world championship race.

Ed Ewing.
Cascade Bicycle Club
Ed Ewing.

I sat down with Ewing at his office to talk about his work, his history in bike racing, racism he’s experienced as an African American cyclist, the importance of diversity, inclusion, and equity in cycling and bike advocacy, and much more. Through the course of our conversation, Ewing dove deep. He discussed the systemic issues of race and discrimination, policies like neighborhood redlining, and poverty that shape the lives of the students he works -- and he explained how cycling is connected to all of it.

As he told me, it’s always about more than just getting kids on bikes.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Final Exam

What type of environmentalist are you?

environmentalist
Brendan Kiefer

Quizzes are all the rage today. There are even quizzes to determine what kind of quiz you are. Sure, you know which Game of Thrones character, style of kisser, and Ninja Turtle you are -- but do you know your modern eco breed? If not, we thought we'd help you figure it out (because quiz-makers obviously know yourself better than you do).

If you found your way here, we're guessing you have at least some sort of green inclination. But in the 21st century that no longer has to go hand-in-hand with things like sanctimony and guilt -- environmentalists now come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. Maybe even some ones that you wouldn't expect.

Are you an unquenchable activist that everyone awkwardly pretends not to notice while you're out canvassing? A tech-loving futurist churning out pie in the sky ideas? An eco yuppie happily buying into everything green, so long as it's still trendy? Take the quiz to find out!

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Hay, Girl

Farming is full of shit, blood, and stubborn fields. How’s that for romantic?

farm-wedding.jpg
Shutterstock

Real talk? That hay would be itchy as hell.

For the last few years, farming has enjoyed perhaps unprecedented levels of urban adoration. But two excellent articles recently popped up to warn us of the dangers of romanticizing farming.

Sarah Searle muses for Modern Farmer on the trend of farm-based weddings and agrotourism in general. While that extra bit of income from holding weddings can really make a difference for some farmers, "we’re incentivizing farmers to use their limited resources to perpetuate a romantic stereotype that consumers enjoy, rather than to spend money on functioning, sustainable (but perhaps not magazine-beautiful) models of local farming." Plus, some once-working farms "have found they can fare better offering a carefully curated version of farming to those willing to pay for it."

Shells of farms and farmers preoccupied with dancefloor assembly do not a sustainable, hardy food system make.

Over at The Guardian, Beth Hoffman hits hard on how little we actually know about the journey from farm to fork:

Read more: Food, Living