Tag Archives: living

Wetware – Dennis Bray



A Computer in Every Living Cell

Dennis Bray

Genre: Biology

Price: $12.99

Publish Date: May 26, 2009

Publisher: Yale University Press (Ignition)

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

“A beautifully written journey into the mechanics of the world of the cell, and even beyond, exploring the analogy with computers in a surprising way” (Denis Noble, author of Dance to the Tune of Life ).   How does a single-cell creature, such as an amoeba, lead such a sophisticated life? How does it hunt living prey, respond to lights, sounds, and smells, and display complex sequences of movements without the benefit of a nervous system? This book offers a startling and original answer.   In clear, jargon-free language, Dennis Bray taps the findings from the discipline of systems biology to show that the internal chemistry of living cells is a form of computation. Cells are built out of molecular circuits that perform logical operations, as electronic devices do, but with unique properties. Bray argues that the computational juice of cells provides the basis for all distinctive properties of living systems: it allows organisms to embody in their internal structure an image of the world, and this accounts for their adaptability, responsiveness, and intelligence.   In Wetware , Bray offers imaginative, wide-ranging, and perceptive critiques of robotics and complexity theory, as well as many entertaining and telling anecdotes. For the general reader, the practicing scientist, and all others with an interest in the nature of life, this book is an exciting portal to some of biology’s latest discoveries and ideas.   “Drawing on the similarities between Pac-Man and an amoeba and efforts to model the human brain, this absorbing read shows that biologists and engineers have a lot to learn from working together.” — Discover magazine   “ Wetware will get the reader thinking.” — Science magazine

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Wetware – Dennis Bray

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What shapes your beliefs about the climate crisis? It’s not just left vs. right.

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What shapes your beliefs about the climate crisis? It’s not just left vs. right.

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The TL;DR on that report that says we’re killing off everything

Have you heard the news? In our relatively short time on this little blue dot, humankind has managed to put 1 million species at risk. Way to go, idiots.

On Monday, the U.N. came out with another majorly depressing assessment (see previous depressing assessment: climate change is going to kill us all). And this time, it’s on biodiversity.

Hundreds of experts from around the world looked at thousands of scientific studies and found that the speed with which we are fucking up the natural world is “unprecedented,” and wrote it all up in a 1,500-page report. The authors looked at what will happen if we continue polluting, clearing forests for agricultural purposes, expanding cities and roads, overhunting, overfishing, mucking up water resources, and spreading invasive species.

The report shows that we’re not just on the precipice of an extinction crisis; it’s already unfolding around us. Here are the scariest takeaways from the summary of the report’s findings (the full report isn’t coming out until later this year):

40 percent of amphibian species (frogs, toads, salamanders, newts — basically all the creatures 6-year-olds love to look at) could be wiped out.
Marine mammals and corals (the kind that form reefs) aren’t in much better shape: one-third of those aquatic species are threatened.
Even the daintiest of God’s creations, like ferns (and their relatives) and dragonflies, aren’t safe from humans. About 10 percent of each category could be wiped out.
Nearly 40 percent of conifers, a category that includes Douglas-firs, cedars, and juniper trees, are under threat. That doesn’t bode well for lovers of Christmas trees.
But Christian-Italians can breathe easy: of the 2,390 bony fishes species assessed, only around 10 percent are threatened. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is safe, for now.

IPBES. Sorry, cycad fans. 

Which portions of the world are to blame for the global loss of biodiversity? Glad you asked. Much like the issue of climate change, the folks who are going to suffer (or are already suffering) from rapid extinctions are not the people who contributed the most to causing the problem.

High-income regions of the world use the most fertilizer, have the highest rates of domestic material consumption and gross domestic product per capita, and, of course, produce the most greenhouse gas emissions.

Compared to the high-income regions, low-income nations extract the least amount of living biomass, produce the least amount of emissions, use the least amount of fertilizer, and are doing the best job at protecting key biodiversity areas (often with the aid of international funds).

Here’s the cherry on top: The catastrophic problems of climate change and loss of biodiversity are occurring in tandem. Rising temperatures are only making it harder for Earth’s threatened plant and animal species to survive. If temperatures rise 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), around 5 percent of species worldwide could kick the can for climate-related reasons.

What’s worse, the report says that most governments aren’t sticking to the global pacts they made to protect the international environmental commons. See? Humans (particularly the wealthy ones) have a delightful tendency to make problems that snowball into bigger problems.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t sign up for a world with a deficit of frogs and a surplus of bony fishes.

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The TL;DR on that report that says we’re killing off everything

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How to Disappear – Akiko Busch


How to Disappear

Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency

Akiko Busch

Genre: Nature

Price: $12.99

Publish Date: February 12, 2019

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group


Vivid, surprising, and utterly timely, Akiko Busch's HOW TO DISAPPEAR explores the idea of invisibility in nature, art, and science, in search of a more joyful and peaceful way of living in today's increasingly surveilled and publicity-obsessed world In our increasingly networked and image-saturated lives, the notion of disappearing has never been both more enchanting and yet fanciful. Today, we are relentlessly encouraged, even conditioned, to reveal, share, and self-promote. The pressure to be public comes not just from our peers, but vast and pervasive technology companies, which want to profit from patterns in our behavior. A lifelong student and observer of the natural world, Busch sets out to explore her own uneasiness with this arrangement, and what she senses is a widespread desire for a less scrutinized way of life–for invisibility. Writing in rich painterly detail about her own life, her family, and some of the world's most exotic and remote places–from the Cayman Islands to Iceland–she savors the pleasures of being unseen. Discovering and dramatizing a wonderful range of ways of disappearing, from virtual reality goggles that trick the wearer into believing her body has disappeared and to the way Virginia Woolf's fictional Mrs. Dalloway feels a flickering of personhood as an older woman, Busch deliberates on subjects new and old with equal sensitivity and incisiveness. A unique and exhilarating accomplishment, HOW TO DISAPPEAR is a shimmering collage of poetry, cinema, memoir, myth, and much more, which overturns the dangerous modern assumption that somehow fame and visibility equate to success and happiness. Busch presents a field guide to invisibility, reacquainting us with the merits of the inconspicuousness, and finds genuine alternatives to the typical life of perpetual exposure. Accessing timeless truths in order to speak to our most urgent contemporary problems, she inspires us to develop a deeper appreciation for personal privacy in a vast and invasive world.


How to Disappear – Akiko Busch

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These Products Will Turn You into a Zero-Waste Superstar

Let’s not beat around the organic bush. Living a zero-waste lifestyle takes effort. I mean, you’re basically thumbing your nose at convenience.

The thing is, convenience comes at a price, and it’s a lot more than the cost of your Starbucks grand? double-mocha with extra cream.?Convenience?means leaving a trail of single-use plastic in your wake.

None of us sets out to do harm. We’re just opting for easy in a world that’s too busy. Unfortunately, easy invariably comes with consequences. Imagine knowing your straw was responsible for?this:

5 Zero-Waste?Products

Adopting a zero-waste lifestyle might take some effort, but it’s not hard. If everyone carried these five items with them, we’d stem the tide of trash that we’re washing into our rivers and?oceans.

1.?Collapsible Coffee Cup

Given the amount of coffee and tea we indulge in on a daily basis, keeping a cup in your bag is a no brainer. The problem is, most reusable cups are unwieldy, especially if you’re a grand? double-mocha kind of person (and who isn’t?).

The solution: Get a collapsible coffee mug. They’re leak-proof and much easier to stow than their bulky, full-sized cousins. How ingenious!

2.?Bamboo Straw

Biodegradable straws are de rigueur in a lot of hippie and health-conscious establishments, but most mainstream outlets are still all about the bottom line. That approach doesn’t allow for anything other single-use plastic straws.

The solution: Invest in some reusable straws. (One for you and the rest for your envious table mates.) You get all different types (stainless steel, silicon, glass, etc.), but I like bamboo, because it’s best for the environment.

3.?Filtered Water Bottle

More and more companies are turning plastic bottles into jackets, but that’s not a good enough reason to grab a bottle of Evian with your lunch. Plastic water bottle pollution is worse than you think, with only one in every six bottles being recycled (or downcycled, really). And that’s just the tip of a two million-ton iceberg.

The solution: A filtered water bottle is the perfect workaround. You get to be a better human and have filtered water on tap. There are plenty to choose from, so it’s up to your budget and personal taste.

4.?On-the-Go Cutlery Set

More and more restaurants and eateries are joining the sustainability movement. It’s gratifying to see them providing wooden utensils rather than the usual plastic cutlery we’re accustomed to. But, like with straws, the movement is still in its infancy.

The solution: Buy an on-the-go cutlery set. It’s worth spending the money on a quality kit, as a poorly made knife or fork that doesn’t do the job is enough to ruin a good lunch.

5.?Lunch Box/Food Container

Making your own food from scratch is better for your health, your budget and your zero-waste efforts. But let’s face it: not everyone has the time or the inclination to spend the weekend meal prepping.

Maybe going to your favorite deli for lunch is how you indulge in ‘me time.’ Perhaps enjoying a meal out with friends and family is your preferred way to socialize. I get it.

The solution: Get a lunch box/food container and ask the deli to serve your meal in there instead of their plastic takeout containers. And when you go out for dinner, guess where your leftovers go?

Using these five items will drastically reduce the amount of trash you create on a daily basis. If this is all you did, you’d make a significant difference to the environment. You could stop there and still feel really good about your zero-waste efforts.

If you want?take your mission?next level, though, you could switch up your beauty routine, shop at zero-waste stores and even try your hand at a little apartment composting.

The next thing you know you’ll have been living a zero-waste for a full year.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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These Products Will Turn You into a Zero-Waste Superstar

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The Physics of Life – Adrian Bejan


The Physics of Life

The Evolution of Everything

Adrian Bejan

Genre: Physics

Price: $14.99

Publish Date: May 24, 2016

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Seller: Macmillan

The Physics of Life explores the roots of the big question by examining the deepest urges and properties of living things, both animate and inanimate: how to live longer, with food, warmth, power, movement and free access to other people and surroundings. Bejan explores controversial and relevant issues such as sustainability, water and food supply, fuel, and economy, to critique the state in which the world understands positions of power and freedom. Breaking down concepts such as desire and power, sports health and culture, the state of economy, water and energy, politics and distribution, Bejan uses the language of physics to explain how each system works in order to clarify the meaning of evolution in its broadest scientific sense, moving the reader towards a better understanding of the world's systems and the natural evolution of cultural and political development. The Physics of Life argues that the evolution phenomenon is much broader and older than the evolutionary designs that constitute the biosphere, empowering readers with a new view of the globe and the future, revealing that the urge to have better ideas has the same physical effect as the urge to have better laws and better government. This is evolution explained loudly but also elegantly, forging a path that flows sustainability.

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The Physics of Life – Adrian Bejan

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What’s greener than burial or cremation? Human composting.

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After death, your options tend to be limited. You could go the cremation route, releasing carbon dioxide and mercury in the process. Or you could be buried in casket within a plastic-lined concrete vault, your body coated in carcinogenic embalming fluid. But must you destroy the planet, even after you’ve expended your time on earth?

Washington state might soon expand your options to include the (in my humble opinion, unfortunately named) process of “human composting.” A bill, expected to be introduced by state Senator Jamie Pedersen next month, would make the state the first to legalize “recomposition” — letting a body decompose in nutrient-dense soil. It would also legalize alkaline hydrolysis, aka water cremation, where a body dissolves in a vessel with water and lye until it’s just bone and liquid.

“People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves,” Pedersen told NBC News.

I don’t mean to get macabre here, but the reality is that everyone eventually dies. And the environmental cost of death really adds up. In the United States, 30 million board feet of wood, 1.6 million tons of concrete, 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid, and 90,000 tons of steel are used every year for conventional burials. Cremation releases 250,000 tons of CO2 each year, the equivalent of burning nearly 30 million gallons of gasoline.

Death didn’t use to be such an environmental drag. Burials were once a simple affair: a shrouded body lowered into the ground. The body would decay and leave behind minerals and nutrients in the soil. Maybe, if lucky, those remains could one day feed a flower or a tree.

Katrina Spade, the founder of Recompose, is popularizing a modern incarnation of this natural process. The company promises that over the span of a month, bodies will decompose into about a cubic yard of compost per person, saving at least a metric ton of CO2 in the process.

As Spade told the Seattle Times, “Our bodies are full of potential” — even, apparently, when dead.

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What’s greener than burial or cremation? Human composting.

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What the Los Angeles Auto Show tells us about the future of cars

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If you ask anyone about the future of the auto industry, it’s all about electrification, ride sharing, and autonomous driving. But in the short-term, at least for automakers, it’s pure anxiety.

Not only did General Motors recently reveal plans to discontinue six of its car models by the end of 2019 (including its only electric offering, the Chevrolet Volt), the Trump administration announced earlier this week that it intends to end automaker subsidies for electric cars after 2022. If pleasing the consumer weren’t enough, now car manufacturers have to worry about a president who clearly doesn’t grasp the complexities of their industry.

Caught between the consumer demands of today and the technology of tomorrow, American auto manufacturers are being pulled in two very disparate directions. Case in point, The Los Angeles Auto Show, which kicked off this weekend to packed crowds, has come to be about two, at times, contradictory concepts: luxury and the environment.

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Finally for those awaiting an electric car that doesn’t look like a science experiment, there’s the Range Rover Plug-in hybrid, Jaguar I-pace (a hybrid SUV), and BMW i8 Roadster and Convertible. Despite the death of the Chevy Volt, nearly every manufacturer is making some sort of entry into electric vehicles, meaning there is more room for fun. EVs aren’t just econo-boxes anymore; the technology is reaching into all aspects of the auto industry, which offers (greener) hope for their future.

In the meantime, however, American car companies still rely heavily on sales of pickup trucks and SUVs. In recent years the balance in the car world has shifted from passenger sedans to SUVs and pickup trucks. When General Motors recently announced it was restructuring, laying off nearly 15 percent of its salaried employees and changing its production offerings, it wasn’t so much an industry shake-up as an aftershock. Ford and Chrysler have largely abandoned sedans, GM is the last of the big American carmakers to make the move.

So how can industry aficionados pursue both what we want (SUVs) and (what we need) new electric options, both snazzy and standard?

The L.A. auto show says as much about the city as it does the state of the industry. The City of Angels is one of the biggest and most important car markets in the U.S., and what happens at this auto show has consequences. As someone who’s been covering the industry for nearly a decade, there’s a lot on display beyond the shiny coats of wax and ginormous red bows.

Here’s what the auto show’s offerings say about the future direction of the auto industry:

SUVs are getting greener

In the U.S., more SUVs and pickup trucks are sold than cars. But that doesn’t necessarily mean people want to drive gas-guzzlers. Consumers are flocking to more fuel-efficient crossover SUVs, such as the Honda CRV. Companies such as Volvo are introducing hybrids, and Kia unveiled its Niro EV. SUVs are getting more fuel-efficient, though three-row SUVs are showing no signs of going away — Ford’s Lincoln brand debuted a new Navigator and BMW showed off its xDrive40i model.

Electric vehicles are still the future (globally)

At a time when other automakers are turning out new hybrid models, what are we to make of GM putting the Volt on the chopping block? It’s not the first time the car company has done away with its electric vehicle offerings. (GM killed the EV-1 back in the ‘90s, then introduced the Volt in 2011.)

Environmentalists have long worried carmakers would abandon electric vehicles due to lagging sales (as they have before). And despite all the space on the show floor for electric cars, U.S. consumers have still not embraced them. Without the federal government incentivizing EVs, you’d expect carmakers to be running in the other direction.

But the good news is even if the current administration isn’t interested in the electric vehicles, California, China, and European nations surely are. China has followed the Golden State’s lead in pushing hard for electric vehicles. Air quality in China is an important political issue. On a tour I took of Chinese manufacturers last year, officials admitted that party leaders feel popular opinion about the environment could threaten their hold on power.

Because of the Chinese and European commitments to electric vehicles, the global market for EVs doesn’t appear to be facing extinction. But despite Tesla’s popularity, EV sales are not what they need to be domestically to make them major market winners.

Vehicles are getting more autonomous and more craaaazy

Veteran car journalist Jean Jennings told me, with a bit of regret in her voice, that the future of the industry is “shared rides, electric cars, and autonomous.” In many ways Jennings says the work that it’s going to take for GM to get to a cleaner, safer, profitable future demands rethinking how the cars are made — and that mean no driver instead of no gas.

A person driving a 2003 Honda Civic would barely recognize the driver-assist technology of today like automated braking and adaptive cruise control. Now, the most exciting tech geared toward driver-assist includes I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-magic features that allow a driver to essentially see through the engine block (making parking easier), and map-the-city visualizations that use the pipes and wires under the road to help autonomous vehicles find their way.

Tough air quality standards are likely here to stay

California’s Air Resources Board, soon to be led by California Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, is expected to fight a long battle with federal regulators to preserve the right for the state to set tougher emissions standards than the rest of the country. Trump being in office might seem like an opportune moment for the auto industry’s air quality standards to relax significantly; but China is the market driving these regulations now, and people there really care about air quality.

Politics and the auto industry typically do not mix well

The talk of this auto show was GM, in part because so many GM workers at the show only have months left at their jobs. It was these job cuts, after a bailout from taxpayers, that drew the ire of President “Tariff man” Trump, whose threats to discontinue electric car subsidies have not played well with industry professionals.

President Trump isn’t the first politician to try to use auto executives as a convenient punching bag. CEOs of car manufacturers haven’t done themselves any favors by, say, opposing airbags and fuel economy standards in the past. But this administration’s public feud is causing major road burn in the industry — and not only for GM. If the president intended to punish the Detroit-based company, he failed to grasp an important part of the electric vehicle rules from the Obama era: Because GM got in early on plug-in electric vehicles, it’s already used up most of its federally backed incentives to sell electric cars. (And its credits drying up is what made the Volt expendable.

Buckle up, because auto trends are part of a cycle

If the future of the industry were a race, it’d be the Indianapolis 500: fast and circular. Take GM’s cuts: The auto industry is cyclical, and layoffs are no surprise. Reshaping the current GM line-up also seems to this reporter (the child and grandchild of auto workers) to be a part of that cycle.

What’s interesting to me about this auto show is the feeling of déjà vu. American car makers are turning away from sedans, just as they did in the early 2000s The shift may not be forever — especially considering that some companies, such as Honda, are investing MORE money in its small cars. As Honda executive Sage Marie pointed out, the company is both investing in sedans and looking to emerging markets, while the American car companies stay wedded to pickups.

So when it comes to predicting the future of the auto industry, don’t get trapped by what’s just around the bend. Automakers are still, in general, looking toward a greener future… but there might be a few pit stops along the way.

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What the Los Angeles Auto Show tells us about the future of cars

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How to Calm the Need for Stuff When Going Zero Waste

The modern American culture in no way encourages minimalism, patience and restraint. Rather, we’ve been conditioned to use wealth and access to get more, more, more, wherever it’s made and whatever the cost to the planet and our health.

This addiction to consumption has led us to a place in which we require garages, attics and storage units to keep our things, are practically drowning in plastics, and have very little understanding of how our shopping habits affect the rest of the globe.

People who’ve committed to going zero waste have to force themselves to break these patterns, practicing self control in an effort to reduce the hold that “stuff” has on our lives. For many of us, this involves shopping locally and in season to help limit excessive?consumption, and committing to only purchasing products that will not end up in the landfill at the end of their lives.

These two actions alone help a great deal. It’s pretty hard to shop online when you won’t let plastic bags into your house. And setting strict criteria for what you purchase and why (for example, a bamboo toothbrush over a plastic one) means you’re a lot less likely to grab up products willy nilly.

But what about shopping for fun? How do you confront that addiction to “stuff” that we talked about earlier? It’s not easy. But it’s worth it. Here are a few ways to soften the blow.

Take a real break from shopping

Set a clear intention to do no unnecessary shopping for an entire month. This means anything beyond necessities like groceries or a much-needed winter coat are off limits.

Whenever you get the urge to go shopping for the fun of it, take a breath and examine your intentions. Why do you want this right now? Is it because you like the “high” that comes with something new and shiny? Is it because you’re struggling with envy or comparison? Start here.

Purge the clutter around you

Once you have established a clear head around shopping and its role in our lives, you might want to take the time to declutter a bit. Random additions to your stash will look silly and stand out if your home is clean and clutter free.

Start with the places you haven’t touched in ages. I’m talking about the craft closet, that one corner in your garage, boxes under the bed. Think about what you see. Have you used this item in the past couple of months? The past year? If not, decide whether it’s a true keepsake or something you’re holding onto for convenience’s sake.

Identify something meaningful to shop for

Still feel like you need a refresh? There’s no harm in adding a new jacket or piece of art to your space, as long as it’s done intentionally and with care. Select something that you’ve wanted for a while, then commit to purchasing nothing until you find the exact perfect thing.

Maybe it’s a new armchair for the living room. Maybe it’s a dutch oven. Maybe it’s a gardening tool or a computer or a painting for your office. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something you’ll use or enjoy for a long time. Then, save up and make it happen.

Fill up with experiences, not things

I might sound like a broken record, but this is so true: memories are so much more precious than things. Rather than filling your heart and space with stuff, look for cool experiences that are worth your money instead.

Sign up for a rock climbing class, book space in a recording studio, take a friend to a concert, save up for that big vacation you’ve wanted to take for years. You’ll feel so much better after a long weekend in the mountains than you would after a spree at Target.

Related Stories:

How to Lead a Nearly Zero Waste Life
How to Keep a Zero Waste Pet
How Going Zero Waste Made Me a Better Person

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.


How to Calm the Need for Stuff When Going Zero Waste

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Florida’s toxic algae gets the Daily Show treatment

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Algae, commonly found in health food stores or clustered along the side of pool, might not appear dangerous. But don’t be fooled. South Florida is currently suffering from a massive algae crisis. The nasty sludge turns tourists away, provokes asthma attacks, and kills manatees. It’s such a mess that algae has turned into a campaign issue in the race for the U.S. Senate.

The Daily Show went full-on Miami Vice to get to the bottom of it. Comedians Roy Wood Jr. and Michael Kosta suited up like Crockett and Tubbs, learning along the way that the toxic fumes from algae can cause liver damage and make it hard for beachgoers to breathe.

As the faux-detectives sip sugary cocktails, Miami Herald environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich tells them that the sugar industry’s farming practices are partly to blame for the algae issues.

“Has anyone ever reached out to the sugar industry and just said, ‘Stop doing that’?” asks Wood Jr.

“Stop doing that, sugar,” Kosta adds.

It’s not just the sugar industry, though. There’s also our old pal climate change: Warmer waters tend to breed larger algae blooms. As if Florida didn’t have enough climate worries already.

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Florida’s toxic algae gets the Daily Show treatment

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