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Mega-Fire Down Under, Daredevil Scientists to Test the Atmosphere, the Most Amazing Wildlife Shots of the Year
Our top picks: today's environmental news and best #greenreads.

Australia in flames: Firefighters have their work cut out for them this week as stifling heat and ripping winds threaten to merge two enormous wildfires into one nightmarish mega-fire. (Yes, firefighters are actually using the word “mega-fire,” not just the media.) Apart from the loss of life and property, links between the country’s record-breaking heat wave, wildfires, and climate change may also be casting doubt on Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s plan to repeal a carbon emissions tax. Agence France-Presse, Reuters

To infinity and beyond: Scientists have long wanted to get up close and personal with the stratosphere. For one thing, studying this layer of the atmosphere could help us better understand how the chemicals we emit interact with the ozone layer and alter the Earth’s balance of heat. Getting up there, however, is no easy feat. But now, a two-seated glider call Perlan II could give scientists their chance. So, how does one ascend to 90,000 feet in a plane with no engines? First, you agree to sacrifice both safety and comfort. Then you piggyback off waves of atmospheric wind and approach the speed of sound while desperately trying not to cross it. You know, no big whoop. New York Times

Over the moon for dunes: Used to be, folks on the New Jersey coastline hated the thought of sand dunes obstructing their view of the ocean. But now, nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy, opposing the construction of dunes will earn you pariah status in the community and a good shunning at the local farmer’s market. David Gessner explains how even the most steadfast opponents of dunes have come to embrace these protective measures against climate change. But will it be enough? OnEarth

A death toll rises: Earlier this summer, Zimbabwean authorities reported that poachers poisoned a watering hole, killing around 100 elephants with cyanide. Now, advocacy groups say the number is closer to 300 and that the government is covering up the extent of the massacre. Meanwhile, the head honchos of poaching operations keep getting away, and wildlife rangers say they need ten times as many rangers to patrol their territory. Small-fry local poachers get pinched, but claim they’re killing elephants out of poverty, not greed. And elephants keep dying. There is literally nothing good to report here. Agence France-Presse

Cleanup on aisle 3: According to a new report, America’s 12 largest supermarkets lag behind the rest of the developed world in reducing hydrofluorocarbon emissions. In a year, a single supermarket refrigeration system can churn out the same amount of CO2 emissions as 324 passenger cars. According to Allan Thornton of the Environmental Investigation Agency, “The results from the survey are not just disappointing but shocking, given that climate-friendly alternative technologies are available in the marketplace.” Perhaps in protest, an alligator was spotted pacing outside of a Florida Wal-Mart this week. McClatchy DC

Staying power: In a new study, scientists determined that nitrates from agricultural fertilizer stick around long after farmers stop using them. Plants can only absorb around 62 percent at the initial application, which pretty much leaves the rest to linger in the soil or slink away into the groundwater. So, how bad is it? Well, the researchers think nitrates could continue to contaminate groundwater for at least 80 years. Los Angeles Times

DAILY DISTRACTION

Putting the awe into awesome: I know, a lot of that stuff up there wasn’t happy news. But do yourself a favor and take a minute to flip through some of the winners of this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards. You could also view it as the conservationist’s version of Why We Fight. My favorite is the weaselly little stoat in midair—it’s cute, cuddly, and half a second away from getting all red in tooth and claw. Colossal

OTHER HEADLINES

The Shale-Gas Boom Won’t Do Much for Climate Change. But It Will Make Us a Bit Richer Washington Post

America to EPA: We Missed You, Babe Grist

BP Oil Refinery Waste Stored at Koch Brothers-Owned Site Polluting Nearby Chicago Neighborhoods Huffington Post

Tips: @OnEarthMag (tag it #greenreads)

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