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Excuse Me
"A" Students
Olé José!
Mustard Greens
Dream House
Hot Momma
Illustrations by Serge Bloch

Excuse Me
Cows have always burped. Active bacteria in the herbivores’ stomachs allow them to digest grasses and then expel the methane created in the process. When cows are overfed to increase dairy and meat production, the belching gets bad. Since methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the world’s billion and a half gassy cattle actually make a significant contribution to climate change. According to a 2006 United Nations report, all told, livestock production worldwide is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions. That’s more than is created by every scooter, jet, SUV, and big trucking rig combined. Now consider that meat production is expected to more than double by 2050. Although cow burps account for only a limited portion of livestock-related greenhouse gases, researchers at the University of Hohenheim in Germany are looking to do their bit, with a low-burp diet for cows that reduces fiber and increases fats and starches. Along with “methane-lite” menus, also in the works is a sort of supersized antacid pill that would calm the bubbling cauldron in cows’ stomachs while slowly dissolving over the course of several months.—Ted O’Callahan
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“A” Students
Attention students! Did you know that getting an “A” on that next test might actually have something to do with whether your school makes the grade environmentally? Well, those who attend “green” schools tend to be healthier, have better class attendance, and achieve higher test scores, according to “Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits,” a report by Gregory Kats, a green building expert. Kats based the report on data gathered at dozens of “green” or “high-performance” schools across the country. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes similar benefits on its website: “High-performance design can have a positive effect on health and comfort, and design strategies such as daylighting have been shown to enhance student learning.” Though “green” schools cost more to build than conventional ones, they save energy, water, and—over the long haul—money. If you add fewer student and teacher sick days and lower healthcare costs, Kats and others say, the choice is obvious. “The cost has come down and the recognized benefits have gone up,” Kats says. “Why not do a green school?”—Andrea Anderson
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Olé José!
Whispers of late-night tail slaps on the Bronx Zoo’s millpond led to a young bachelor beaver recently being caught on video. The one- to two-year-old beaver, which has taken up residence on the banks of the Bronx River, is nicknamed José, after U.S. Representative José Serrano, who secured $15 million in federal funding for restoration of the formerly garbage-clogged waterway. It is thought the furry engineer made his way south from suburban Westchester County, maybe seeking a little urban action. “Here is nature doing what we couldn’t even imagine,” says Eric Sanderson, an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, which oversees the Bronx Zoo. The rebounding Bronx River is now home to 45 species of fish and serves as a migratory corridor for birds. José the beaver set up a lodge near the zoo’s parking lot, but there are no signs yet of a mate who shares his big-city ambitions.—Ted O’Callahan
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Mustard Greens
Spicy mustard plants produce a slew of naturally occurring compounds, some similar to those in expensive commercial fumigants used to deter potato-damaging pests, according to recent studies. This, in turn, has researchers touting mustard as a promising “bio-fumigant.” Farmers plant the mustard crops in late summer, cut them later in the fall, and quickly till them into the soil, exploiting the valuable compounds released by the plants. Inspired by field trials at Washington State University, researchers from the University of Idaho, the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, and other organizations are testing so-called “green manure” mustard crops in the country’s biggest potato-producing state to see if they offer cost-effective potato protection against worms, fungi, and weeds. If so, it will be another coup for green manure, which is already known to increase soil quality, decrease erosion, and reduce fertilizer dependency, explains Pamela Hutchinson, a member of the University of Idaho research team. “Potato growers out here are really good stewards of the land,” she says, and “if green manure can help them reduce costs and improve the soil, then they’re all for it.”—Andrea Anderson
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Dream House
The Mall in Washington, D.C., will be even more welcoming this October when 20 student teams from around the world compete to design and build the ultimate energy-efficient, solar-powered home. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the so-called Solar Decathlon is the third contest of its kind since 2002. One home in the village, Penn State University’s “Morning Star,” will be sweeter than most, thanks to a “pocket-habitat” garden resulting from a collaboration between Penn State and Audubon Pennsylvania (working with the national Audubon at Home program). “The garden is a relatively carefree environment that is self-sustaining and self-replicating,” says Audubon Pennsylvania’s Steven Saffier, touting the minimal need for water, energy, and maintenance. A habitat garden’s native plants draw birds and other animals as well. As for the Morning Star house, after the big day, it will take up permanent residence on an eight-and-a-half-acre site on Penn State’s campus with a full-scale habitat garden—part visitor housing, part research station, and part public outreach base for the school’s Center for Sustainability.—Andrea Anderson
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Hot Momma
The puffed chests seen strutting across beaches this summer have nothing on the greater sage-grouse that gather on display grounds in the western United States each year for an elaborate and competitive mating ritual. The males “fight and strut all day. That’s really all they do,” says Gail Patricelli, a behavioral ecologist at the University of California at Davis, who is studying the behavior. The females, Patricelli says, show up to “shop for males.” This spring in Wyoming, Patricelli slipped a robotic female into the mix to capture grouse gone wild on film. She and her colleagues are hoping the study will shed light on poorly understood aspects of mating interactions. The sexy robot is equipped with a video camera and microphone to record the male sage-grouse’s displays, which include fanned tail feathers, flopping head feathers, and inflated air sacs under the breast that coo, whistle, and pop. The robot rides on not entirely unobtrusive rails, but since male sage-grouse have been seen to put the moves on cow pies, Patricelli believes the device was convincing enough to get their best material. To see the robot in action, click here.—Ted O’Callahan
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