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The Problem With Butts

Cig_ribbit_bradleygeePhoto: Bradleygee/Flickr

One point four million. That's how many cigarette butts volunteers collected during beach clean-up events in the United States in 2008 alone, according to Ocean Conservancy. Think of how many they missed. And consider all the butts you've seen tossed off chair lifts, or on river banks or on trails. Their collective impact isn't just an aesthetic one.

"A lot of the same elements that are toxic to people who inhale nicotine are also in the butts, and they are in high concentrations," says Martin Mulvihill, the executive director of the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Green Chemistry and the author of an article in Environmental Health News about research into biodisposable cigarette butts. "If a bird eats a few butts, it gets a high dose of those toxins."

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Allie Bombach on Movers and Shakers

Allie Bombach on location. Photo: Miguel Tercero

What is it about movers and shakers? What makes them tick? Filmmaker Allie Bombach wants to know and is using her MoveShake film series to uncover some answers. The year-long project debuted in early June with the release of two films, one about Shannon Galpin, who founded Mountain2Mountain, which works to empower women and children in conflict zones, and one about Julio Solis, a sea turtle poacher-turned-savior in Baja, Mexico.

I spoke with Bombach about the film series and what we can expect to see in the upcoming installments.

What is MoveShake and why did you start the project?
Allie Bombach: MoveShake is a film series about environmental and social justice change-makers. It stemmed from wanting to know what it takes to be a mover and shaker. What is this personality that gets people to not just sign up with an organization, but to see something that has not yet been done and then decide to do it? We're not trying to convince the audience that they need to do the same, but I see these films as a great way to start an inward conversion. The point is to inspire.

Also, the films all focus on their subject's superpowers. Shannon Galpin is fearless and dedicated to what she is doing. That takes a certain kind of tenacity that not all of us have. For Julio, his ability to bring together his community is his superpower. So whether your superpower is accounting or you are able to make films, it's about searching yourself to see what you are good at.

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The Hottest Month in United States History, by the Numbers

201207NOAARed means it's the warmest month ever. Photo: NOAA

This past July was the hottest month in the recorded history of the lower 48 states. A severe drought and a larger than average summer heat ridge that kept cool weather from moving into the middle of the country contributed to the highest recorded average temperature notched since the government started keeping records in 1895. The July record is part of a larger trend of higher temperatures occurring across the United States over the last few decades, which many scientists point to as a likely result of climate change. Here's a quick look at the hottest month ever, by the numbers.

77.6 degrees: Average temperature for July, which is more than 3.3 degrees higher than the monthly average and 0.3 degrees higher than the monthly record: 77.4 degrees set in July of 1936.

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How and When to Watch the Best Meteor Shower of the Year

800px-The_2010_Perseids_over_the_VLTA Perseid. Photo: ESO/Wikimedia Commons

The best nights to see the best meteor shower of the year will start this weekend, according to NASA. The agency has released a video guide (below) that says the prime viewing nights for the Perseid meteor shower are from August 11 through August 13. "We expect to see meteor rates as high as a hundred per hour," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The Perseids always put on a good show."

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Get Off My River: Inside the Battle to Keep the Skykomish Wild

The South Fork of the Skykomish, just above Sunset Falls. Photo: Mary Catherine O'Connor

When I lived for a short time in Index, Washington, a climbing and boating hotspot on the Skykomish River in the north central Cascades, it felt like equal parts Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. But despite its eccentric residents and quirky vibe, Index is like Mayberry compared to the South Fork of the Skykomish, a sprawling community of river cabins and trailers, near where the south and north forks of the river merge.

For me, the South Fork was shrouded in mystery and clouds (literally, usually). The residents, I was told, tended to be fiercely libertarian. I had always gotten a kind of Get Off My Land vibe from the area, but that was around 15 years ago. Maybe things had changed? So when I found out that the local utility district wants to build a small hydropower dam on the river, and that a friend of mine has a family cabin on the South Fork, I saw a chance to both report on the dam proposal and to delve into that, um, intriguing community.

Here is the soundbite version of what I learned: the dam might just happen—and it could really alter the river—and the people of the South Fork are very nice, articulate and welcoming ... except for the ones who aren't.

Everything seemed quite familiar as I pulled off Highway 2, past the trailhead for Lake Serene, and saw the first of many No Trespassing signs posted at the mouth of each driveway and side road along the washboard dirt road that winds along the river. With the car windows down, I could hear the roar of Sunset Falls as soon as it came into view. The Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) hopes to convert the power of that Cascadian water into electrons.

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