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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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The 20 States With the Worst Toxic Air Pollution From Power Plants

Screen Shot 2012-08-09 at 2.22.37 PM

The National Resources Defense Council's latest annual "Toxic Power" report contains good news for air quality, namely that toxic air pollution from power plants decreased roughly 19 percent from 2009 to 2010. The improvement came as many plants switched to burning natural gas instead of coal and as some plants installed new pollution controls looking to meet anticipated health protections set by the Environmental Protection Agency. "I was very pleased to see a drop of nearly 20 percent between 2009 and 2010, even before the EPA standards were fully finalized or the dramatic shifts had occurred in the gas market," says John Walke, the clean air director for NRDC. "We just lived through 2011 and I know that those trends only accelerated during that year. This is a good news story with isolated aberrations like Kentucky."

Toxic air pollution in Kentucky increased by about 27 percent in 2010, which led to roughly 10 million more pounds of toxins being released in the air. The increase alone matches the amount of toxic air pollution released by the state in the number 10 spot, Texas. 

The other good news the NRDC is trumpeting? New EPA standards, set in 2011 to take effect in 2015, will further improve air quality. Here's a summary from the report about how the new standard will help:

Compared to 2010 levels, the standard will reduce mercury pollution from 34 tons to seven tons, a 79 percent reduction, by 2015. Sulfur dioxide pollution will be reduced from 5,140,000 tons in 2010 to 1,900,000 tons in 2015, a 63 percent reduction. Another dangerous acid gas, hydrochloric acid, will be reduced from 106,000 tons in 2010 to 5,500 tons in 2015, a 95 percent reduction.

With those and other pollution reductions resulting from the standard, as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,700 hospital visits, 4,700 heart attacks, and 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis will be avoided in 2016. The public health improvements are also estimated to save $37 billion to $90 billion in health costs, and prevent up to 540,000 missed work or “sick” days each year.

The bad news?

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A Living Wind Map of the United States

Screen Shot 2012-08-08 at 9.47.22 AM
Earlier this spring, Google's Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg created a living wind map of the United States. The interactive graphic displays surface wind data from the National Digital Forecast Database. It updates every hour, and displays the time of its most recent data visualization in the upper left hand corner. You can click on any area of the map to zoom in for a closer look.

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5 Workplace Perks for the Earth

Bike commute. Photo: SVLuma/Shutterstock

I've recently had an opportunity to tour two new corporate campuses: The Outdoor division of VF Corporation (The North Face, JanSports, Lucy) in Alameda, California, and Clif Bar in nearby Emeryville, California. While neither of those tours made me want to abandon my freelance lifestyle, they both made me realize that being a desk jockey isn't all bad.

I was reminded of this while pursuing Outside's 30 Best Places to Work in the September issue of the magazine, and the 70 More Best Places to Work online compendium. These stories made me want to shine a light on the ways good employers can treat their one, big, common parent company. (You know,  the earth.)

Many of the companies on the list do not make products or offer services with any specific environmental bent (Ecology Project International, Wildearth Guardians, and Coast Law Group are obvious exceptions). But that should not stop them from reducing the toll they take on the environment.

So here are five workplace perks that are also easy on the earth.

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Apr 18, 2014

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