Living on Earth

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Living on Earth with Steve Curwood is the weekly environmental news and information program distributed by Public Radio International. Every week approximately 250 Public Radio stations broadcast Living on Earth's news, features, interviews and commentary on a broad range of ecological issues.

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Will El Niño return in 2017?

Apr 23, 2017

Just months after a powerful El Niño ended its 2015-2016 rampage through global weather systems, meteorologists see indications of another one forming in 2017.

El Niño began affecting the world’s weather in 2015 and ended barely a year ago. Typically, El Niños occur three to seven years apart, but dramatic winter flooding in California followed by unprecedented rains that buried Peru in deadly mudslides may be a signal that El Niño is returning.

What kind of interior secretary will Ryan Zinke be?

Apr 16, 2017

When it comes to the federal government’s stewardship of the environment, there is perhaps no more important official than the secretary of the interior. Ryan Zinke, a former Montana Republican congressman, recently took on the job, and he is being watched closely by organizations on both sides of the political divide.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the new US energy secretary. It’s an ironic choice: During his 2012 presidential bid, Perry said the Energy Department could easily be abolished — and some observers have suggested Perry didn’t actually understand the job he was taking when it was offered to him.

A team of scientists from the US and Mexico is studying the ocean floor near the site of the Ixtoc oil well blowout, in the hope of predicting the future health of marine life in the waters surrounding the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

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Steven Melkisethian/Flickr 

A study in the journal Global Challenges suggests that attitudes among climate change deniers are not immutable, even among the most skeptical. The way information is presented can change people's opinions, under certain circumstances.

The new study builds upon a larger body of research that has examined what happens when researchers inform people about the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real.

Decades ago, London suffocated under poisonous smogs. Now, deadly air is back.

Diesel-burning vehicles are causing record levels of pollution linked to thousands of deaths in the UK, and the British government could face fines from the European Court of Justice if the smog is not controlled.

Conditions in London have become so bad that London Lord Mayor Sadiq Khan now suggests children should be given gas masks to protect their lungs.

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Jason Lee/Reuters 

New research suggests that when it comes to air pollution, what goes around comes around.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — toxic air pollutants produced by fuel combustion — are typically treated as a local issue in places with smog and bad air quality. A recent study suggests, however, that these pollutants may actually travel long distances and affect people across the globe.

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Kevin Lamarque/Reuters 

Shortly after Scott Pruitt was sworn in as the new EPA administrator, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sent him a letter requesting that the agency re-examine new fuel economy standards set to go into effect in 2025. The letter alleges the rules would lead to extreme layoffs and added expenses in the domestic auto industry.

Dan Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign disagrees. He believes the ambitious mileage requirements are key for US goals under the Paris climate agreement and that weakening them would cost American consumers, while boosting short-term industry profits.

The mild winter weather in New England is bad news for the region's moose.

In northern New England, moose number about 70,000, but changing weather seems to be throwing the balance of nature off-kilter, giving an edge to one of the animal's most dangerous enemies — bloodsucking ticks.

The US military sees climate change as a national security threat. So, it’s finding ways to adapt to global warming, to make the armed forces stronger and more flexible. 

For starters, green technologies such as solar "blankets" and hybrid vehicles have improved operations within the Marine Corps and the Navy, according to Capt. Jim Goudreau, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of the Navy. He spent over two decades in the supply corps and is now the head of climate at Novartis.

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Chris Yakimov/Flickr 

When President Donald Trump came into office in January, staff at several government agencies were told not to send out news releases or to communicate by social media, and most mentions of climate change disappeared from government websites.

Changing the message on issues that could affect policy is standard procedure with a change of administration, but many saw this as censorship of government scientists — akin to moves taken in Canada under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalmemorialforthemountains/4534741523">ILoveMountains.org/</a>CC BY 2.0 (image cropped)

In one of its first acts, the Republican-controlled Congress overturned the Department of the Interior’s recent Stream Protection Rule. Coal companies are thrilled about the change, but some mining communities aren't quite so sure about it.  

President Donald Trump's repeal of an anti-corruption rule that required extractive industries — like mining, oil drilling and quarrying — to disclose payments to foreign governments has caused dismay among people who advocate for the poor and for transparency in government.

Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has sued the agency more than a dozen times. What does that mean for the future of the EPA and for environmental protections in the US?

As the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt chaired an organization of Republican attorneys general who opposed many EPA rules and regulations. Perhaps most famously, Pruitt led a group of states and companies in the continuing court fight against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan — a plan crafted by the agency he now runs.

A group of conservative elder statesman has proposed an ambitious carbon dividend plan that could entice bipartisan support, pay families $2,000 a month and cut greenhouse gas emissions more than Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

President Donald Trump has already taken bold steps to undo the climate agenda of his predecessor. He has announced gag orders and contract holds on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, as well as executive orders to expedite completion of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Ever wondered how long evolution actually takes?

We tend to think of it as an achingly slow process, spanning hundreds, even thousands of years. But scientists studying crested anoles — little lizards native to the forests of Puerto Rico — say that urban-dwelling anoles are adapting to their built environments much more quickly than that.

President Donald Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court has sparked widespread speculation about how the appellate judge might rule on upcoming cases in the court’s docket, including high-stakes cases on environmental issues.

Gorsuch's narrow interpretations of agency powers, as well as his lifelong experience as an outdoorsman, could inform his findings if he is confirmed, but “it’s hard to read him because he has not written that many major environmental cases,” says Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau.

Only a few dozen grizzly bears with bright yellow coats live in the forbidding Gobi Desert in Mongolia. In a new book, wildlife biologist Doug Chadwick writes about how these unique animals survive and what can be done to better protect them.

Chadwick first found out about the Gobi grizzly (called the mazaalai in Mongolian) almost by accident. He was tracking snow leopards in the mountains of Mongolia, near the border between Russia and Kazakhstan.

On Jan. 18, the US Environmental Protection Agency released its first nationwide biological evaluation of three commonly used pesticides. The report found that all three were harmful to virtually all endangered species in the US.

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US Army Corps of Engineers/CC BY 2.0 (image cropped)

The disaster of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 made clear how vulnerable New Orleans and the low-lying communities along the Gulf Coast are to fierce storms and surging seas. So, a master plan was devised to shore up defenses and repair the sinking coastline that protects the city. Now, authorities have released an updated $50 billion, 50-year plan that rethinks and bolsters those defenses.

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&nbsp;Omar Vidal/NOAA Fisheries West Coast/Flickr

The vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, lives only in Mexico’s Gulf of California and is critically endangered, due to illegal fishing. Now, the Center for Biological Diversity plans legal action against the US government for its failure to sanction Mexico for not stopping the poaching of vaquitas.

A report from some of the top minds in environmental policy and economics is recommending a new way of evaluating the "social costs" of carbon pollution to keep up with the best available science.

Obama's hidden, and surprising, fossil fuel legacy

Feb 4, 2017

Investigative reporting by a joint team from The Guardian and the Columbia University School of Journalism reveals that the US Export-Import Bank financed around 70 coal-fired power plants and other fossil fuel energy projects in foreign countries during President Barack Obama's terms in office.

These foreign fossil fuel plants are projected to release about as many tons of global-warming gases as the Obama Clean Power Plan would have saved.

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fruchtzwerg&#39;s world/Flickr&nbsp;

A new analysis of sea surface temperatures from an independent source corroborates updated global warming data released in 2015 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The results contradict allegations from some Republicans on Capitol Hill that NOAA manipulated its 2015 data to show continuous global warming, since earlier NOAA research had suggested the Earth was experiencing a warming "pause" or hiatus.

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Rachel Ignotofsky via Facebook&nbsp;

For writer and illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky, the idea to profile 50 pioneering female scientists in her recent book, “Women in Science,” was spurred by conversations with educator friends. As they talked about the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math fields, Ignotofsky realized women aren’t just underrepresented in STEM, itself — the stories about their contributions don't get much play, either.

Coal country is pinning its hopes on Trump

Jan 28, 2017

One of the promises President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail was to reopen coal mines and put miners back to work. The message resonated in Pennsylvania’s coal country and helped Trump win the state last November. Now, people here are watching to see if he’ll keep his promise.

Many of these voters don't expect miracles, but they do want Trump to put coal first, according to some residents in the southwest area of the state.

Cracking the code of influenza

Jan 22, 2017

January’s cold, dry weather in many areas of the United States seems to usher in the perfect conditions for seasonal influenza — in humans. But for birds in Europe and Asia, flu season is already in full swing: An epidemic of the H5N8 flu has broken out among European poultry. In Asia, the H5N6 strain is widespread, and another strain, H7N9, has infected birds and even killed three people.

With nearly 9 million hogs on farms across the state, North Carolina is the country’s second-largest producer, behind Iowa.

For activists Trisha Shrum and Jill Kubit, climate change isn't just an abstract concept. Rather, it has faces and names: Eleanor and Gabriel, their children. And through their time capsule project DearTomorrow, Shrum and Kubit are hoping you’ll connect the planet’s future to your loved ones, too.

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