Living on Earth

Saturdays from 7am to 7:30am; Mondays from 9-10pm
  • Hosted by Steve Curwood

Living on Earth with Steve Curwood is the weekly environmental news and information program distributed by Public Radio International. Every week Living on Earth brings news, features, interviews and commentary on a broad range of ecological issues.

Seawater is infiltrating the Runit Dome, an atomic bomb-waste repository on a remote Marshall Island atoll in the central Pacific Ocean, posing a potential risk of radiation exposure for the small, local population. 

Humanity is now facing an ever-increasing threat of unpredictable and extreme weather, climate scientists warn.

While global warming is creating more powerful storms and record-breaking, drought-driven wildfires, it would be a mistake to view these events as the “new normal,” they say. The planet has not reached a new climate stability, so the years ahead could be quite a lot worse.

National Geographic, the National Audubon Society and other conservation groups have declared 2018 the Year of The Bird to celebrate the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

To help kick off the celebration, novelist and National Geographic writer Jonathan Franzen wrote a cover story, Why Birds Matter, for the magazine’s January issue. Franzen says a walk in New York City’s Central Park opened his eyes to the pleasures of birdwatching.

Starting preschool at age three is a predictor of success as an adult. If that experience includes plenty of structured play outside, it could also instill a lifelong awareness and appreciation of the natural environment.

Seventeen former Department of Interior officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations have written a letter protesting a new DOI ruling that exempts industry from punishment for causing negligent deaths of birds. The ruling may also violate the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty with Canada and other nations.

Bitcoin has become the world’s premier virtual currency, and although it exists only online, it runs up enormous energy costs in the real world.

Verifying bitcoin transactions is so energy intensive the currency tops 159 individual countries in energy consumption, according to data consultant Alex de Vries.

The Dust Bowl was a terrible American disaster. As settlers moved west in the 19th century, they plowed under the seemingly endless prairie to produce grain. Then, in the 1930s, the rains failed and the winds tore away the topsoil by the ton, sending it flying across the Great Plains, choking livestock and people and driving them off the land.

US natural disasters in 2017 cost $306 billion, the most expensive year since NOAA started keeping track in 1980.  

To put that figure in perspective, that's more than the interest on the US national debt and twice the federal budget for health, Medicare and education. The second most expensive disaster year was 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. That year’s total was $215 billion.

In more than 3,800 neighborhoods throughout the US, children have blood lead levels more than double those found in Flint, Michigan, the city that in 2015 became the focus of national concern about childhood lead poisoning, according to a special report from Reuters.

The Beaufort Gyre, an immense 60-mile-diameter pool of cold freshwater and sea ice, is “stuck” in a clockwise rotation that should have ended years ago. Its eventual reversal could send massive amounts of chilly water straight toward western Europe, plunging it into brutal winters and disrupting fisheries.

A breath of fresh air can be physically healing, and a group of physicians is now putting the idea into practice by prescribing time outdoors for some patients.

Dr. Robert Zarr, a pediatrician who founded and directs the nonprofit Park Rx America, prescribes going outdoors because, he says, seeing trees and hearing birds can help treat childhood maladies such as obesity, depression and disruptive behavior.

President Donald Trump has ordered the Interior Department to radically shrink two national monuments in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — but many legal scholars argue he is overstepping his powers.

A group of 21 youths is suing the US government for its failure to protect their future by preventing harmful global warming impacts, but the Trump administration says the case should be dismissed.

Dog owners live longer, a new study says

Dec 18, 2017
 Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Having a dog in your household can help you feel loved and valued. Now, new research from Sweden shows that having a dog can also bring about measurable cardiovascular benefits.

Hampshire College goes 100 percent solar

Dec 16, 2017
<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hampshire_College,_Harold_F_Johnson_Library.JPG">Photographer contracted by Hampshire College</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0" target="_blank">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>.&nbsp;

Hundreds of US colleges and universities are taking action to combat global warming, but so far just one residential college has turned 100 percent to renewable energy: Hampshire College.

To get there, the Massachusetts college has installed a 19-acre solar farm, complete with 15,000 panels. Together, the panels will produce about 4.7 megawatts of power each year — more than Hampshire can even use, says Jonathan Lash, its president.

Is the semi truck of the future electric?

Dec 14, 2017
Courtesy of Tesla.

When you imagine a semitrailer that can chug down the interstate hauling 80,000 pounds of warehouse goods, what does it look like?

shannonpatrick17/Flickr CC BY 2.0

The long-delayed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline project has cleared one of its final hurdles. The Nebraska Public Service Commission recently approved the pipeline in a 3-2 vote. But the commission’s approval came with a potentially significant caveat: a new route for the pipeline that bypasses environmentally sensitive areas.

Is the public ready for Meat 2.0?

Dec 10, 2017
Impossible Foods

Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley-based company, has rolled out its new Impossible Burger, genetically engineered from plant protein to look and taste as much as possible like red meat.

40 years of documenting Earth's beauty

Dec 7, 2017
Courtesy of Art Wolfe

After 40 years of traveling the world and capturing natural wonders, photojournalist Art Wolfe has published a stunning new book, "The Earth is My Witness."

The volume features an expansive photo collection that documents climate change and the world’s most threatened traditional cultures.

Environmental lawyers are claiming in court that land, rivers and other natural features have intrinsic rights and should own themselves, rather than being considered property — similar to how the law treats corporations as "persons."

Wikimedia Commons

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have signed an agreement to build an 800-mile natural gas pipeline in Alaska, but economic hurdles could prevent its construction.

&nbsp;Bureau of Land Management,&nbsp;Wyoming/Flickr CC BY 2.0

A leaked draft of the US Department of Interior’s four-year strategic plan calls for massive fossil fuel extraction from public lands, with no mention of climate change impacts.

The document was leaked to Adam Federman, a reporting fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.

Audrey Barker-Plotkin, Harvard Forest Staff Scientist

A 26-year research project suggests that as global temperatures rise and heat the soil, the released carbon will trigger even more warming, leading to a dangerous feedback loop.

In 1991, a team of scientists began measuring carbon levels in the soil of the Harvard Forest, a field laboratory nestled in the hills of Massachusetts. The team laid underground electrical cables to heat small plots of soil and they have monitored these test plots ever since. During this time, they have measured two periods of rapid carbon loss, separated by one period of no carbon loss.

Wikimedia Commons

The Republican tax plan passed in the House of Representatives would end the $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit, a program that has spurred a boom in EV sales.

Analysts believe eliminating the tax credit for electric cars could set the EV business back in a big way.

When the state of Georgia removed its $5,000 state tax credit for electric vehicles, a credit that supplemented the federal tax credit, sales of EVs dropped an estimated 90 percent, says Joshua Goldman, a senior policy and legal analyst for the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Melting polar ice poses a serious global risk

Nov 18, 2017

The title of a new book says it all — "A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic."

The book, by Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, is the result of nearly a half-century of personal ice research, mostly in the Arctic. 

Michael Mueller/Flickr CC BY 2.0

The disappearance of bees and butterflies has concerned scientists and the public for years. Now, a new study from Germany confirms that the abundance of flying insects has dropped over 75 percent since 1989.

Study: Rising CO2 levels threaten global marine life

Nov 10, 2017

The rising acidity of ocean waters due to increased levels of atmospheric CO2 will have profound adverse effects on sea life, according to a new study.

The report, called “Exploring Ocean Change,” from the group Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification, or BIOACID, shows rising acidity leads to habitat loss and disrupts the growth and reproduction of sea life.

&nbsp;US&nbsp;Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Budget resolutions passed in the US House and Senate will likely lead to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s pristine coastal plain, if they’re approved in their current form.

GOES-16

This year’s deadly hurricanes, record-shattering firestorms and severe drought are linked to global warming, and the prospect of more unpleasant surprises seems likely, climate experts warn.

“What we're seeing is the veritable tip of the iceberg,” says Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State University.

Jan van der Ploeg/CIFOR, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Conventional wisdom has long held that tropical forests soak up carbon dioxide and help blunt the impact of industrial greenhouse gas emissions. But new research finds that the tropics are now adding to the problem of global warming faster than they can absorb excess carbon.

In other words, tropical forests are now a net carbon source rather than the carbon "sinks" they were previously thought to be.

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