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4 Steps to a Climate-Friendly Summer Cookout

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4 Steps to a Climate-Friendly Summer Cookout
Jacob Rushing / Getty Images

There's nothing like firing up the grill, playing some lawn games and enjoying the long days of summer with some of your best friends or closest family. But, let's face it; burning charcoal, sipping out of Solo cups and noshing on disposable plates isn't the most eco-friendly way to enjoy summer. In fact, here's a mind blowing set of stats from the Department of Energy, July 4th cookouts release 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, burn the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest, and use enough charcoal, lighter fuel and gas to power 20,000 households for one year.


If you want a smaller carbon footprint after your alfresco eating, just follow a few of these simple tips.

1. Green Your Gear

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Ditch the charcoal grill to reduce your carbon footprint. Propane, natural gas and electric grills all burn cleaner than charcoal. Remember, propane and natural gas are not renewable energy sources. So, if you really want to up your eco-grilling game, opt for a solar powered grill. The technology has advanced so far that your grill is ready five times faster than charcoal.

If solar isn't happening for you this summer, Greener Ideal suggests a dome grill as an elegant and durable option. It traps and recirculates heat so effectively it will drastically reduce how much fuel is needed to cook your food.

If your motto is charcoal or nothing, shoot for a sustainably sourced natural briquette without chemicals that are made from local plants instead of wood from tropical forests. And, use a starter chimney to eliminate the need for chemical-heavy lighter fluid.

2. Ditch the Disposables

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Make sure you've got the right reusable grilling tools like this eco-friendly kit that Greener Ideal suggests. It's got all your essentials — including a multipurpose flipper, basting brush, knife and hot mitt. Plus, a nifty carrying case means you're less likely to lose any parts.

Before setting up those Hefty bags to hold all those plastic plates and forks headed to a landfill, consider reusable plates, cups and cutlery. If you're thinking of using paper plates, don't. It's a waste of water. A single paper plate takes eight gallons of water to make. That's a lot of water when you consider how many plates you'll run through. By contrast, a dishwasher uses six to 10 gallons of water to clean a full load, research shows.

Yet, if disposable is necessary, go for a green alternative to paper and plastic. Plates made from bamboo, palm or plant fibers are fully compostable. It's easy to go green with drinking straws. Try reusable metal and bamboo straws, or disposable straws made from hay or seaweed. And reusable kebab sticks are an elegant way to serve up all those local, grilled veggies.

3. Think Local

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The bulk of any barbecue's greenhouse gas emissions is in food choices. The Sierra Club suggests shrinking your BBQs carbon footprint by buying local fruits, veggies and meat. Your local farmers market may even have a homemade potato chip stand. Buying locally grown foods cuts down on the energy required to store, transport and package food across long distances.

Buying at your farmers market will support your local economy and help build a relationship with the person who grew your food. Plus, as GoodShop points out, during summer, local fruits and veggies are usually at their peak, so your BBQ will have that much more flavor.

Have fun serving up a sample of local wines and craft beers.

4. More Veggies. Sustainably Sourced Meat

A veggie burger.

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While burgers and dogs usually take center-stage at a summer barbecue, an eco-friendly picnic should restructure that paradigm. Every pound of beef you eliminate from your barbecue makes a big difference in your carbon footprint. British chefs told the Guardian to reduce beef, pork and chicken and going for sustainable seafood like Arctic char, tilapia and squid. And, if red meat is necessary, go for lamb, which is almost always raised on grass pastures.

And, there are no shortages of meat replacements these days. Treehugger suggests using portobello mushrooms or chickpea burgers. The Sierra Club has a recipe for a sweet potato black bean burger. And Beyond Meat burgers are available at most major grocery stores.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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