June 2, 2014

A California resident displays his medical marijuana card.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cali Pot Farms Draining Forests Dry

Battle heating up over environmental impact

When California legalized growing marijuana for medical purposes and personal use, it seemed like the good times were ready to roll indefinitely. But now, dispute over the environmental impact of medical pot farms is heating up in in the Golden State. According to wildlife officials, Northern California's forests and streams are being polluted and drained of water by medical marijuana farms that have overstepped their legal bounds and begun growing the substance for retail sale, which is still illegal.

Since Proposition 215 was passed in 1996, officials recorded more and more streams going dry in the region. So, in an attempt to map the damage the farms were doing, California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Scott Bauer used Google mapping technology to track the number of grow operations in the region and how many plants each contained. "We knew people were diverting water for marijuana operations, but we wanted to know exactly how much," Bauer told the AP. "We didn't know they could consume all the water in a stream." Bauer's study estimates that roughly 30,000 pot plants are being grown on each river system in the region, consuming some six gallons of water per plant per day.

The illegal large-scale operations are also introducing unapproved fertilizers to the watershed, potentially affecting salmon, steelhead, and other federally protected wildlife. 

Last year, the problem grew so bad in Lake County, south of Bauer's study area, that officials voted unanimously to place a ban on outdoor grows. "Counties are the ultimate arbiter of land use conflict," said Lake County supervisor Denise Rushing. "So while you have a right to grow marijuana for medicinal use, you don't have a right to impinge on someone else's happiness and well-being."

Pot farmers in the region, feeling that responsible users and growers were being lumped in with criminal operators and that the illegal operations would continue regardless of the law, responded by gathering enough signatures to get a referendum placed on the June 3 ballot, allowing the residents of the county to vote on the issue themselves.

For more on the marijuana-environment clash, read Outside's coverage of how marijuana farms are threatening California's fish.

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We can't all be boy wonders, but in the meantime, Rheinhardt Harrison is.     Photo: Mats Hagwall/Flickr

10-Year-Old Runs Record 13.1

Fastest kid in the world clocks in at 1:35:02

UPDATE; June 3, 2014: Ken Young of the Association of Road Racing Statisticians, the institution that awards titles and records to runners, has confirmed a new record for a half marathon run by a 10-year-old. On June 1, ARRS received information regarding 10-year-old Hunter Perez and his 1:34:53 run at the Austin Half Marathon on February 17, 2013. After being notified of the performance, ARRS deemed the course as properly certified and of record quality, giving the record of fastest half marathon time for a 10-year-old to Perez.

Young explained that because these records have only recently been inaugurated, they are still in a state of flux due to more people becoming aware that records are out there to be claimed. Superior performances may be submitted for consideration at any time.


Mozart started composing pieces at the age of five. Alexander the Great completed his studies with Aristotle by the age of 16. At the age of 10, when most of us find great success in learning cursive or winning red rover, Rheinhardt Harrison ran the world's fastest half marathon for his age.

"It was fun and hard at the same time," Rheinhardt, who has been running since age three, told the Washington Post. "I was tired, but it was fun after. They had moon bounces and they had a lot of fun stuff."

The icing on the moon bounce–shaped cake is that this was Rheinhardt's first time running any distance over 10 miles.

As an eight-year-old, Rheinhardt earned two national cross-country championship titles and records in his age group at distances near 1.2 miles. As he gets older, his races get longer. After turning 10 in February, he ran the fastest 10-mile race for his new age with a time of 1:11:24 at the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run. And that was the first time he had ever run 10 miles in his life.

He now officially holds the record for the half marathon with a time of 1:35:02, breaking former tot titleholder Noah Bliss’ time of 1:37:15. Bliss had received the title from the Association of Road Racing Statisticians just last month before Rheinhardt blazed through and took the honor on Saturday at the Alexandria Running Festival.

The fourth-grader, who enjoys video games, soccer, and reading like any other normal kid, does not have a normal athletic career ahead of him. This summer, he plans to show his stuff at the national championships at distances of 800 and 1,500 meters.

"Running is his passion," said Rheinhardt's father and coach, Dennis Harrison, in an interview with ABC News.

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Long hair, don't care? Think twice before you let it flow free on your morning bike ride.     Photo: Comrade Foot/Flickr

Are Helmet Laws Sexist?

Aussie woman says rules deter women from biking

A 54-year-old Australian woman is making headlines after fighting a modest fine she incurred while riding her bike without a helmet. The reason? The woman, Sue Abbott, says compulsory helmet laws are sexist because they deter women from cycling.

"I firmly believe more people would ride bikes if helmets were optional," said Abbott, according to Australian publication the Advertiser. "A lot of women have maintained hairstyles and would end up with helmet hair—and women have told me that's one of the factors" for why they don't ride bikes. 

Abbott's fine—which she said is just one of a dozen that police have issued her for helmetless riding—came during an international cycling conference held in the southern Australian city of Adelaide. 

Kevin Mayne, a delegate from the European Cyclists' Federation (ECF), contextualized helmet laws for the Aussie cities.

"The width of the [Adelaide] streets provide great access for cyclists," he said. "Most European cities don't have this space to work with, but here you can find room for cyclists and pedestrian areas and make it a very livable city."

Mayne, who focuses on development for the ECF, said governments around the world need to devote larger portions of their transportation budgets to making spaces more cyclist-friendly and getting cars off roads. 

Stateside, Abbott would be an anomaly. May was National Bike Month in America, and while conversations about cyclist rights are more prominent than ever, they focus more on safety—which naturally includes helmet wearing. In fact, Boston University recently ran a bike-safety advertising campaign glorifying helmet hair in an effort to get more cyclists to wear protective gear.

That being said, trends don't entirely refute Abbott's claims. A 2013 study about the psychology of bad hair found that an unruly mop can leave someone moody and depressed for more than an hour. That could be why some inventors are trying to reimagine the helmet from the ground up. Last November, a Swedish company announced an "invisible" helmet that's actually a collar cyclists wear around their necks that deploys an airbag in the event of a collision. Earlier this month, an English innovator introduced the Morpher, a 1.4-inch-thick helmet that can fold to the size of a textbook and easily fit in backpacks or laptop bags.

But these solutions might not be available for a while, and they could be expensive when they do—the collar is expected to retail for upwards of $500. Until these products hit the shelves or your bank account swells to afford them, try techniques to reduce helmet hair, spend the big bucks for an "invisible helmet," or just suck it up and deal with your messy hair. Apologies, Sue, but if given the choice between neat hair and a healthy cranium, we'll choose an intact head every time.

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Galen Rupp at the 2012 London Olympics where he won silver in the 10,000 meters.     Photo: Tab59/Flickr

Galen Rupp Breaks His Own American Record

Runs 26:44.36 in the 10,000 meters at Prefontaine Classic

The University of Oregon's historic Hayward Field is the place to break a track and field record. Just ask Galen Rupp, who broke his own American record for the 10,000 meters on Friday night at the 40th annual Prefontaine Classic.

"It was a great way to end the night," said Rupp, who ran 26:44.36 for 6.2 miles—the fastest time in the world this year for that distance. His previous record was 26:48.0, set at the Memorial Van Damme meeting in Brussels in 2011. "It really shows you how special this place is—to get this many people coming out who are this enthusiastic about a 10K. They love track here."

Many consider the Pre Classic to be the best track meet in the world thanks to its high-caliber athletes, 13,000 enthusiastic fans, and location in Eugene, Oregon, aka Track Town, USA. Of the athletes who gave post-race remarks, nearly all credited the crowd's energy with helping them succeed. "So much fun to race at Hayward," says Shannon Rowbury, who ran a personal best time in the women's two mile. "I think Hayward is part of the reason I was able to accomplish it today. The crowd is so great, and the excitement is just palpable. It really makes a difference."

Like Rupp, Rowbury set a new American record in her event, finishing fourth in 9:20.25 and breaking the previous record of 9:21.35 set by Amy Rudolph in 1998. "I thought I'd have a shot at the record," Rowbury says. "The last 100 meters, I knew it was going to be close. I heard the announcer, and I just tried with all my might to close in time. I've been on the other end of it when I've just come short. It's always a nice feeling to accomplish those goals."

In addition to Rupp's and Rowbury's records, 13 world-leading times were posted and six meet records were broken in front of the sold-out crowd of 13,158. Here are some of the highlights: 

Leo Manzano won the men's International Mile crown in a then-world lead of 3:52.41. "It was just incredible," says Manzano, who has his sights set on the Fifth Avenue Mile in September. "I haven't been in an individual race in a while … I didn't really show what I was capable of, but today was just amazing." About two hours later, however, his time was bested by Ayanleh Souleiman, who posted a meet record time of 3:47.32 in the Bowerman Mile.

Justin Gatlin captured his third Pre Classic title in the men's 100 meters in a wind-aided 9.76 (+2.7). Fellow American Michael Rodgers finished a close second. "I looked up at the scoreboard and saw my time, my competitors' times, and they're definitely right there with me," Gatlin says. "I'm just happy to come out here and be healthy, be in good shape, and to be able to perform in front of a crowd like this."

Outside cover guy Ashton Eaton raced the 110-meter hurdles, placing sixth in a personal best time of 13.35.

Women's 200-meter winner Tori Bowie found out two days before the race that not only would she be she'd be running, but also that she'd be in lane one. "It's kind of a scary feeling to be in lane one," she says. "So I went out there and my main goal was to be the first person to come off the curve. I didn't want anyone to pass me. I just kept running and running; it paid off." Bowie posted a new lifetime best and world-leading 22.18 in what was only the second 200 of her career. Three-time Olympic champion Allyson Felix was third in 22.44.

Full results are available on the Diamond League website.

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Google control to Major Tom.     Photo: S0nny s/flcikr

Google to Provide Worldwide Internet Access

With satellites

Google is investing more than $1 billion in a project to launch a fleet of satellites to bring Internet access to "unwired" regions of the planet, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The venture will allegedly be helmed by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite communications startup O3b Networks Ltd. He'll lead a team of 10 to 20 people in a project that ultimately seeks to bring hundreds of millions of folks out of the dark.

This isn't Google's first foray into aerial Internet delivery. The company's Project Loon is engaged with designing high-altitude balloons to bring broadband service to remote areas of the world, while Google's recent acquisition of Titan Aerospace signifies a similar ambition for solar-powered drones.

Although more specific details have not yet been released, Google is likely to start with 180 small, high-powered satellites that will orbit the earth at low altitudes. One of the challenges of the project is figuring out how to ensure that Google satellites don't interfere with other fleet operators—one of many potential issues that could lead the endeavor's ultimate price tag to, ahem, balloon.

Cynics will be quick to point out that Google's lofty ambitions are motivated by the fact that more Internet users will mean more revenue for the reigning juggernaut of online services. Holding this view may, however, be a luxury of those who already have Internet access. 

As Jeremy Rose, of London-based satellite consulting firm Cosmsys, says, this project, if successful, "could amount to a sea change in the way people will get access to the Internet, from the third world to even some suburban areas of the U.S."

In other words, sometime in the near future, you might look back nostalgically on the days when there were actually areas on this green earth where you couldn't peruse the Internet to stalk ex-lovers or abase yourself with some cat video.

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Mars One envisions that its colony on the red planet will look like this. Astronauts who make it there better get comfy—they'll never see Earth again.     Photo: Bryan Versteeg

Mars Efforts Ramp Up

Choosing astronauts and testing new vehicles

Watch out, red planet—humanity is coming for you. Two major efforts to land humans on Mars have just announced big developments: Nonprofit Mars One has partnered with a major media company to broadcast its astronaut selection process in 2015, while the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to test (and broadcast) a new vehicle that could overcome the challenge of landing heavy loads on Mars.

London-based Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP) has produced award-winning science specials for NOVA, PBS, and the BBC, among others, but the company now has exclusive rights to the most realistic look at space ever seen on television. Through an international partnership with Mars One, DSP will help broadcast "one of the most extraordinary and challenging job interviews ever seen," starting next year.

Mars One announced early in May that it has narrowed down to 705 a list of more than 200,000 applicants. DSP will document the rigorous selection process to follow—ending in a one-way ticket to Mars for six groups of four astronauts. With plans to launch in 2018, this partnership is another sign that Mars One just might be able to stick to its intended timeline.

Meanwhile, NASA announced plans to test a new saucer-shaped vehicle that should more capably land heavy payloads in the thin atmosphere of Mars. Considering that safely getting humans onto Mars will require even larger vehicles than this, it's an important initial step for Mars colonization. The rocket-propelled vehicle features an inflatable tube and massive parachute that will stabilize its descent. 

In fact, the parachute is so much bigger than usual that it won't fit into the wind tunnels NASA uses for testing—so they're bringing it to Kauai, Hawaii, for a test flight on Tuesday. The vehicle will climb 34 miles through the atmosphere above the island, which is similar to that of Mars, before dropping into the Pacific Ocean. Good news: This test will be broadcast as well. Tune in to the livestream here.

If these efforts continue to go as planned, we could see humans on Mars in the very near future, even on our TVs—but we'll never see them in person again. "There is no way to go back," Mars One explains. "The technology for a return mission does not exist."

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It's time to #ActOnClimate.     Photo: The White House/Twitter

EPA Proposes Coal-Fired Regulations

White House responds with #ActOnClimate

Search #ActOnClimate on Twitter and see @WhiteHouse's social media response to the official proposal issued this morning by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy for our nation's power plants to reduce 30 percent of greenhouse gas pollution by 2030.

The document targets some 600 coal-fired power plants and presents states with energy efficiency–based options (install new wind farms, solar panels; join cap-and-trade programs) for how to go about achieving the outlined emission-reduction goals.

Page 345 proposes emission-reduction goals by state. The EPA asks Montana, Ohio, and Maryland (among others) to the cut average pounds of CO2 emitted per megawatt from fossil fuel–fired electricity-generating units by more than 100 marks.

"Right now, there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe," President Obama said in a weekly address tagged #ActOnClimate. "None."

The #ActOnClimate campaign aims to heighten the climate change conversation by trending pictures of families, national and local parks, and damage from extreme weather on Twitter.

Hopping on the trend, @WHLive quoted @GinaEPA earlier this morning: "We will never … have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment," if we #ActOnClimate and the proposal goes untouched—however unlikely—by Republicans.

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Researchers offered their two cents about how to curb America's obesity epidemic through innovative taxation.     Photo: Danilin/ThinkStock

Should Drinks Be Taxed by Calorie Content?

Instead of volume

An article published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics suggests that taxing sugary drinks based on caloric content per serving curbed consumption better than taxing drinks by volume. 

According to the New York Times, researchers found that a tax of four hundredths of a penny per calorie added to a drink's cost helped cut consumption 9.3 percent. Conversely, when packaged drinks were taxed half a cent for each ounce, consumption fell 8.6 percent. To the former taxation method's credit, the study projects that people would consume 5,800 fewer calories each year—the calorie equivalent of two pounds.

Here's some math: Your average 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 141 sugary calories. Using the calorie-taxing system, we add 5.64 cents per can to its price. Using the per-ounce system, we add six cents. Hey, wait a second… The clincher here is that the stats apply when only one system of taxation is used to compare different drinks, not the same one. 

"It provides a better incentive to the consumer to switch to lower-calorie drinks, which would be taxed at a lower rate than higher-calorie drinks," lead author Chen Zhen, a research economist specializing in nutrition at Research Triangle Insitute, told the New York Times. "One of the concerns about taxing ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages is that consumers are paying the same tax whether they buy 12 ounces of a drink with 150 calories or 12 ounces of a drink with 50 calories."

Under the calorie-taxing program, the sugar in a 16-ounce bottle of Vitaminwater costs you four cents. If you're headed to Costco or stocking up for a party and debating between 50 Cent's brand and a Classic Coke, a 1.64-cent difference per unit starts to add up.

With or without taxes, America's love for sugary drinks is gradually going soft. Over the past few decades, soft-drink consumption has dropped dramatically. Americans drank nearly two sodas each day in 2013, a 16 percent decrease since 1998.

No matter how great the health incentives are, however, there's still support for preventing soda taxes from making the big time. A few days ago, the Illinois House voted against a soda tax of one cent per ounce. More than that, some argue that numbers show the tax wouldn't matter where obesity runs rampant. Both Arkansas and West Virginia tax soda and are the fifth and second most obese states in the country, respectively.

Granted, there are more variables involved in obesity than Pepsi's presence in your fridge, but the correlation's worth sipping on.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a veteran champion of taxing sugary beverages to curb childhood obesity, funded the study.

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