Boing Boing 

Interactive map of the world's tree loss

Global Forest Watch maintains a current map of worldwide tree loss and gain, based upon satellite and other mapping imagery provided by Google. The "loss" color seems to obscure the "gain" color at further-out zoom levels, but it's very easy to explore. [via Flowing Data]

Kim Stanley Robinson on science fiction and California: "California is a terraformed space"

In this interview with Boom Magazine, Kim Stanley Robinson discusses the relationship of California to the future. Robinson is a profound ecological thinker, and two of his books in particular, Pacific Edge (the best utopian/optimistic novel I've ever read) and 2312 (a dazzling work of environmentally conscious, wildly imaginative eco-futurism) are both important works for thinking about a way out of our current dire situation.

In this interview, Robinson's analysis is particularly cogent, making a microcosm out of California for the whole world, and making important points about the way that good technology is key to any answer to questions about humanity's future on and off Earth. Especially worth reading are his views on the relationship of science to capitalism:

"Capitalism’s effect on humanity is not at all what science’s effect is on humanity. If you say science is nothing but instrumentality and capitalism’s technical wing, then you’re saying we’re doomed. Those are the two most powerful social forces on the planet, and now it’s come to a situation of science versus capitalism. It’s a titanic battle. One is positive and the other negative. We need to do everything we can to create democratic, environmental, utopian science, because meanwhile there is this economic power structure that benefits the few, not very different from feudalism, while wrecking the biosphere. This is just a folk tale, of course, like a play with sock puppets, like Punch and Judy. But I think it describes the situation fairly well."

Read the rest

Horrific plague causes starfish to tear themselves to pieces

A mysterious plague has manifested in the world's starfish population, quickly spreading to several regions in which starfish (also called "sea stars") are found. Starfish afflicted with the disease tear themselves to pieces, the arms crawling in opposite directions until the animals are literally torn to pieces. Unlike healthy starfish, the affected animals are not able to regenerate after they are torn apart.

The disease is largely a mystery. Researchers who are studying it are asking beach-walkers to photograph any starfish they see to tweet photos of it with the #sickstarfish tag. Starfish are important marine predators; a serious depletion of their numbers will have far-reaching consequences for marine ecosystems.

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The future of technology might be in Greenland

The rare earth elements that play an important role in everything from electric car batteries, to LED lighting, to surgical lasers, aren't actually rare. The vast majority of them come from China right now, but that's not because China has them and other countries don't. In fact, the US and Australia also have large deposits of rare earths. Instead, rare earth elements come from China because China is willing to cheaply mine and process them, which can be extremely polluting. The more protections against pollution that you put in place, the more expensive the rare earths become, which is how the US got priced out of that game.

All of that is important background information to help you understand why a proposal to mine and process rare earth elements in Greenland is so controversial. On the one hand, it could bring economic and political independence to the country (which still relies heavily on Denmark), and provide jobs in a really rough economyu. On the other hand, actually challenging China's supremacy in this business means cutting costs in ways that would likely have lasting, negative impacts on the land.

Image: Tasiilaq Greenland Marina, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from chrissy575's photostream

Leaked: environmental chapter of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty

Most of our coverage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has focused on its Internet-regulating provisions. But the treaty -- which has been negotiated in unprecedented secrecy, with heavy-handed shoves from the US Trade Representative -- also has disturbing implications for the environment. Today, Wikileaks published a leaked consolidated draft of TPP's environment chapter, which sets out the ways in which corporations will be able to prevent countries from passing environmental laws that interfere with profit making.

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Chronology of Canadian Tories' war on science libraries

As I've written, the Canadian Harper government's purge of environmental and scientific libraries has been a horrific shambles, as priceless and irreplaceable books and documents going back centuries were thrown away or even burned. Science librarian John Dupuis has assembled a comprehensive timeline of the disaster, with links to news stories and first-hand accounts that should have warned us something was amiss.

Canadian libricide: Tories torch and dump centuries of priceless, irreplaceable environmental archives


Back in 2012, when Canada's Harper government announced that it would close down national archive sites around the country, they promised that anything that was discarded or sold would be digitized first. But only an insignificant fraction of the archives got scanned, and much of it was simply sent to landfill or burned.

Unsurprisingly, given the Canadian Conservatives' war on the environment, the worst-faring archives were those that related to climate research. The legendary environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick are gone. The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.

An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger's 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age. Update: a copy of these logs survives overseas.

The destruction of these publicly owned collections was undertaken in haste. No records were kept of what was thrown away, what was sold, and what was simply lost. Some of the books were burned.

Read the rest

The cheesy streets of Milwaukee

Back in September, the city of Milwaukee announced that it would be spreading cheese brine on its streets this winter in a pilot program to see whether the salty liquid could reduce the amount of rock salt necessary to de-ice roads. Now, it looks like the plan is working out well. In fact, there's not even a smell to the streets.

Utility companies go to war against solar


Utility companies across America are fighting solar, imposing high fees on homeowners who install their own solar panels to feed back into the grid. This one was predictable from a long, long way out -- energy companies being that special horror-burrito made from a core of hot, chewy greed wrapped in a fluffy blanket of regulatory protection, fixed in their belief that they have the right to profit from all power used, whether or not their supply it.

Bruce Sterling once proposed that Americans should be encouraged to drive much larger trucks, big enough to house monster fuel-cells that are kept supplied with hydrogen by decentralized windmill and solar installations -- when they are receiving more power than is immediately needed, they use the surplus to electrolyze water and store the hydrogen in any handy nearby monster-trucks' cells. When the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining, you just plug your house into your enormous American-Dream-mobile -- no need for a two-way grid.

This solution wasn't just great because it aligned the core American value of driving really large cars with environmental protection, but also because it was less vulnerable to sabotage from hydrocarbon-addicted energy companies.

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New Yorker on Kim Stanley Robinson: "Our Greatest Political Novelist"


Writing in the New Yorker, Tim Kreider addresses the brilliant science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson as a political novelist. It's keyed to Stan's September novel Shaman: A Novel of the Ice Age, which I haven't yet read, but which I'm taking with on my Christmas holiday. Robinson is one of my favorite writers (and people!), and books like 2312, Forty Signs of Rain, the Mars trilogy, and especially Pacific Edge (which I re-read once a year, or any time I feel hopeless about the future) have made an indelible mark on me.

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How the TPP will gut environmental protection


I've posted a bunch about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a shadowy, secretive trade deal that will have a disastrous effect on the Internet, privacy and free speech, thanks to the brutal copyright provisions the US Trade Rep has crammed into it. But that's not the whole story.

Michael sez, "You might be interested to know the TPP looks terrible for environmental protection too, due to a proposed mechanism called 'investor-state arbitration'. Basically this'd allow investors to sue countries for passing legislation detrimental to the financial interests of those investors. Yep, think environmental protections, workers' rights laws and any other kind of public protection that might reduce a profit margin.

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Open Source Beehives: sensor-enhanced hive design

Tristan from OpenPixel sez, "You might have heard that bees are dropping like flies. When we realised the implications of this (which everyone should look into, because it's serious) we borrowed some ideas from the WikiHouse project and applied them to bees - ie. low cost, distributed, open source manufacturing."

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Face scrub micro-beads are choking the Great Lakes

Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes, a new paper in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, looks at the prevalence of micro-plastic beads, thought to originate with face-scrub, in the great lakes. These beads pass through water-treatment processing, and have long been suspected in freshwater pollution. The paper has occasioned a pledge from several big cosmetics companies to phase out the use of beads in their products. Five Gyres, an NGO that worked on the paper with SUNY Fredonia, has proposed model legislation banning the use of microplastics in consumer products. In the meantime, they've got an app that helps you find products that are free from microplastics.

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How To: Regrow a coral reef

I'm totally fascinated by this photo that the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program posted to their Facebook page. It shows little branches of staghorn coral growing on a "tree" made of PVC pipes. Harvested from wild coral colonies when they're only 5 cm long, these samples will double in size every two months while attached to the tree. Once they've put on enough heft, they're transplanted to new homes on damaged coral reefs, where they grow into the surrounding environment and help to restore ecosystems that could otherwise be lost. I'd heard about coral restoration before, but had never seen pictures of the process. At the RJD website, you can see a series of photos that take you through it step-by-step. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it looks a lot like underwater gardening — similar to grafting fruit trees.

Banksy's anti-BP dolphin ride


Graffiti/street artist Banksy has built and installed a BP-leak-themed dolphin ride on Brighton Pier. The coin-op ride offers trenchant commentary on the light liability borne by BP for its role in the poisoning of the gulf. Plus, it looks like a lot of fun!

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Lead on your lips

Ancient Roman cosmetics were notoriously poisonous — despite the fact that it was already a well-known toxin, folks slathered their faces in white lead and dabbed red lead rouge on their cheeks. You wouldn't drop dead from a single application. The problem built up over time, as more and more and more of the stuff was applied (and absorbed) by your body. And that's still true today. In a new column for The New York Times — all about chemicals and your environment — Deb Blum writes about the lead (and aluminum and cadmium and all sorts of of other metals) that contaminates modern lipstick. The doses are low, much lower than Roman times. But the reapplications are many. Lipstick wearers touch up their color as often as 20 times in a single day.

Which States guarantee your right to use a clothesline in the teeth of an uptight homeowner's association?

People in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, or Wisconsin are allowed to use clotheslines, even if their homeowners' association objects. In other States, Big Pecksniff has successfully lobbied to allow bans of environmentally friendly clotheslines, citing "unsightliness" and "strangulation hazard." Seriously.

According to the report, a Washington legislator considered a clothesline-protection bill after a bunch of high-school students proposed it, but dropped the idea when lobbyists "came to Olympia intent on crushing the idea." In addition to the argument that hanging underpants outdoors is unsightly and lowers property values, which seems like a reasonable argument, the associations also appear to contend that the lines "pose a strangulation hazard," which doesn't, really. I don't think children could reach them. I guess you could strangle yourself on one if you tried, but I'd like to see the statistics on clothesline strangulations, if any, before making a decision.

These things would definitely impair my ability to ride my motorcycle freely through my neighbors' backyards, which I see as my God-given right as an American, so there is that.

Washington May Join 19 Other "Right to Dry" States

(Image: Clothesline c. 1974, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from sskennel's photostream)

Why Oklahomans don't have basements

Seriously now. Why don't people in central Oklahoma have basements to protect them from tornadoes? The answer, according to the engineers and geologists I spoke with for a column at Ensia magazine, is almost entirely cultural. In fact, people who study disasters say that all natural disasters are really cultural ones — created when environmental forces run headlong into complex human social systems. And that presents an interesting question: How do you protect people from tornadoes in a state where most people don't want a basement?

Why we need copper — and why it's harder and harder to get

Tim Heffernan has done some fantastic guest blogging here at BoingBoing. Now, at Pacific Standard, he's got a story about copper — a natural resource that will affect the future of everything. Just as we're needing more and more of it, this metal is getting harder to reach.

Hunting the source of the mysterious Windsor Hum

The Windsor Hum is a weird thing — a low-frequency buzzing that drives some people in Windsor, Ontario crazy and, yet, doesn't seem to be heard by the Americans who live closest to its source, an island crowded with industrial facilities. As part of a new feature exploring environmental mysteries, Kim Tingley looks at how grantees of the Canadian government are attempting to identify the exact cause of the Windsor Hum, and how an American company is getting away with banning them from the island.

Restart Project: helping people fix their broken devices

David sez, "The Restart Project is a London-based social enterprise and charity aiming at changing our relationship with information technologies by empowering people to repair and reuse their electronic devices. The Restart Project's vision is one based on collaboration and creativity -- combining online knowledge sharing and cooperation with tangible activities in real life. One of the main such activity have been 'Restart Parties', community repair events, where all kinds of electronics are taken apart and repaired by owners together with volunteer repairers (Restarters). The aim is to promote increased lifespan, share repair skills and promote sustainable and informed consumption of information technologies. The Restart Project just celebrated its first birthday. In one year, it has thrown 27 Restart Parties, involving and empowering over 500 Londoners of all ages, backgrounds and groups and saving an approximate 393 kilograms of electronics from waste, which is roughly the weight of a polar bear."

the restart project | repair, don't despair! towards a better relationship with electronics (Thanks, David!)

Utah wants to tax power consumed by the NSA's massive, illegal data-processing facility

Remember the gigantic data-center that the NSA is building in Utah in order to (illegally) process the electronic communications of the whole world? Turns out that the state of Utah plans on taxing the titanic amounts of electricity it will consume at 6%. The NSA is pissed.

"We are quite concerned [about] this," Harvey Davis, NSA director of installations and logistics, wrote in the April 26 email, obtained through a Utah open records law request.

In a follow-up email Davis sent 31 minutes later, he explained: "The long and short of it is: Long-term stability in the utility rates was a major factor in Utah being selected as our site for our $1.5 billion construction at Camp Williams. HB325 runs counter to what we expected."

HB325, which Herbert signed into law April 1, benefits the Utah Military Installation Development Authority (MIDA). It allows the entity, which was set up to put select military properties on the public tax rolls, to collect a tax of up to 6 percent on Rocky Mountain Power electricity used by the Utah Data Center.

In surprise to NSA, Utah Data Center may pay tax on electricity [Nate Carlisle/The Salt Lake Tribune]

(via /.)

First vatburger is ready to eat

After spending $250,000 worth of anonymously donated money, Mark Post from Maastricht University is ready to go public with his first vat-grown hamburger, which will be cooked and eaten at an event in London this week. Though they claim that it's healthier than regular meat, one question not answered in the article is the Omega 3/6 balance -- crappy, corn-fed, factory-farmed meet is full of Omega 6s and avoided by many eaters; the grass-fed, free-range stuff is higher in Omega 3s.

Yet growing meat in the laboratory has proved difficult and devilishly expensive. Dr. Post, who knows as much about the subject as anybody, has repeatedly postponed the hamburger cook-off, which was originally expected to take place in November. His burger consists of about 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue. Dr. Post, who has conducted some informal taste tests, said that even without any fat, the tissue “tastes reasonably good.” For the London event he plans to add only salt and pepper.

But the meat is produced with materials — including fetal calf serum, used as a medium in which to grow the cells — that eventually would have to be replaced by similar materials of non-animal origin. And the burger was created at phenomenal cost — 250,000 euros, or about $325,000, provided by a donor who so far has remained anonymous. Large-scale manufacturing of cultured meat that could sit side-by-side with conventional meat in a supermarket and compete with it in price is at the very least a long way off.“This is still an early-stage technology,” said Neil Stephens, a social scientist at Cardiff University in Wales who has long studied the development of what is also sometimes referred to as “shmeat.” “There’s still a huge number of things they need to learn.”

There are also questions of safety — though Dr. Post and others say cultured meat should be as safe as, or safer than, conventional meat, and might even be made to be healthier — and of the consumer appeal of a product that may bear little resemblance to a thick, juicy steak.

Engineering the $325,000 Burger [Henry Fountain/New York Times]

(via /.)

How clay water filters for Ghana are made

Gmoke sez, "Susan Murcott and her team's factory making clay filters for Pure Home Water in Ghana. Over 100,000 served, so far."

They're shooting for 1,000,000.

Pure Home Water, Ghana: AfriClay Filters

Timelapse of beautiful, ancient, endangered red pine forest in Ontario

Here's a beautiful timelapse video of an endangered, uniquely significant red pine forest in Ontario. The Ontario government has just renewed the mining licenses for the territory around it:

Wolf Lake is surrounded by the largest ancient red pine forest in the world - an endangered ecosystem that remains in only 1.2% of its former extent. The government of Ontario promised protect the ancient forest, but 13 years later it is still open to destructive mining and mineral exploration.

Save Wolf Lake (Thanks, Jon!)

Inside a mile-deep open-pit copper mine after a catastrophic landslide

For the past few months I’ve been reporting a big story on the copper industry for Pacific Standard. It takes a broad look at how the global economic boom of the past decade, led by China and India, is pushing copper mining into new regions and new enormities of investment and excavation.

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ExxonMobil, FAA, Arkansas cops establish flight restriction zone, threaten reporters who try to document Mayflower, AR spill

Expect to see a lot fewer images of toxic sludge creeping through small communities, thanks to the hard work of ExxonMobil. The company could have used its prodigious resources to make its oil pipelines more secure, preventing town-destroying leaks like the one that hit Mayflower, Arkansas. But they figured out that it would be cheaper to just corrupt the local law to chase reporters out and get the FAA to establish a Temporary Flight Restriction zone over the spill. Problem solved!

Michael Hibblen, who reports for the radio station KUAR, went to the spill site on Wednesday with state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. McDaniel was in the area to inspect the site and hold a news conference, and Hibblen and a small group of reporters were following him to report on the visit. Upon arrival, representatives from the county sheriff's office, which is running security at the site, directed the reporters to a boundary point 10 feet away that they should not pass. The reporters agreed to comply. But the tone shifted abruptly, Hibblen told Mother Jones on Friday:

It was less than 90 seconds before suddenly the sheriff's deputies started yelling that all the media people had to leave, that ExxonMobil had decided they don't want you here, you have to leave. They even referred to it as "Exxon Media"…Some reporters were like, "Who made this decision? Who can we talk to?" The sheriff's deputies started saying, "You have to leave. You have 10 seconds to leave or you will be arrested."

Hibblen says he didn't really have time to deal with getting arrested, since he needed to file his report on the visit for both the local affiliate and national NPR. (You can hear his piece on the AG's visit here.) KUAR has also reported on Exxon blocking reporters' access to the spill site.

Reporters Say Exxon Is Impeding Spill Coverage in Arkansas [MotherJones/Kate Sheppard]

(via Kadrey)

Citizen science project: Tracking cicadas on the East Coast

You can build your own cicada detector and help Radiolab track the movements of a once-every-17-year cicada swarm expected to invade the US East Coast this summer.

Evolution can happen faster than you think

I'm contributing to Voice, a new group column on environmental science at Ensia. My first piece is about those swallows in Nebraska that seem to have adapted to highway traffic and what they can teach us about the speed of evolution and the way invasive species adapt to new homelands.

Ocean scientists say 19-year-old's "realistic" plan to clean up the ocean isn't actually realistic

Earlier this week, Jason told you about a TEDx talk in which 19-year-old Boyan Slat presents a plan to remove plastic from the world's oceans. Lots of people are excited about this, which is reasonable. Particulate plastic in the ocean is a big problem that has, thus far, evaded any reasonable clean-up plans. There's just so much of it, it's so tiny, and the ocean is, you know, kind of huge. If a kid can come up with a plan that works, it would be fantastic. Unfortunately, the ocean scientists at Deep Sea News say Slat's system isn't as simple and practical as he thinks it is. Among the many problems: Slat's plan would catch (and kill) as many vitally important plankton as pieces of plastic, and it calls for mooring plastic-collecting ships in the open ocean where the water is 2000 meters deeper than the deepest mooring ever recorded. Here's a mantra to remember: TED Talks — interesting if true.