Living on Earth

Sunday 6 a.m. and 4 p.m.

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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A new book examines 'The Book that Changed America'

2 hours ago

No single book influenced US history more than Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” according to a new book by Randall Fuller, professor of English at the University of Tulsa.

A new study estimates that southern areas of the US, many of which are already poor, could face a 20 percent decline in economic activity if carbon emissions continue unabated through the 21st century.

The study was issued by economists with the Climate Impact Lab, a consortium of experts from the Universities of California, Chicago and Rutgers and the Rhodium Group.

Much of the Netherlands is below sea level and major floods have occurred every generation or so for hundreds of years. In a warming world with increased rainfall and sea level rise, the threat from floods is increasing worldwide, and the Dutch are leading the way in water management engineering.  

America’s air carriers have signed on to an international agreement for carbon offsets and reduction, arguing it will prevent unilateral charges over their emissions at foreign airports. But the Trump administration, after pulling out of the Paris Agreement, is reviewing that decision, despite vocal support for it from US airlines.

The Carbon Offsets and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA, was signed on Oct. 6, 2016, at the UN. It currently has the voluntary support of more than 70 nations, representing nearly 90 percent of international airline activity.

In “New York 2140,” the latest novel from award-winning science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, melting ice sheets and wild storms have added 50 feet to sea level and submerged coastal areas, yet New York City is still a vibrant hub of global capital, with express boats zooming up the avenues and skybridges linking the skyscrapers that still stand.

A survey by a Pittsburgh pediatrician of 1,200 children living near some of the biggest polluters in the area shows that children who live near sources of pollution run the same risk of developing asthma as those exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke.

US Steel’s Edgar Thompson Works in Braddock, just outside of Pittsburgh, has been making steel for almost 150 years. Nearby residents, including the children of the Woodland Hills School District, have been breathing in the pollution the plant spews from its stacks, and researchers are finding that it's impacting their health.

The Seasteading Institute in California has an audacious mission: to establish floating societies that will “restore the environment, enrich the poor, cure the sick, and liberate humanity from politicians.”

Like in the 19th century, when many people left the cities of the Eastern US to gain independence by claiming a patch of land and working it — which was known as "homesteading" — "seasteaders" hope to create a new social, economic and political frontier on the ocean.

Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, with a metro population of more than 6 million, is at risk of major devastation and massive loss of life from storm surges if a big hurricane were to hit, according to an investigation by reporters from The Texas Tribune and ProPublica.

The Trump administration has fired another shot in the long-smoldering Sagebrush Rebellion: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has issued a preliminary recommendation to shrink Bears Ears National Monument, which spans over 1.3 million acres. 

No one quite knows how this will play out. The Antiquities Act allows presidents to create national monuments but has no mechanism for presidents to reduce or undo them.

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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/johndonaghy/">John Donaghy</a>/<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/johndonaghy/6947280852/in/photolist-bzUCym-bNPoD2">CC BY 2.0 (image cropped)</a>

Research by the US Fish and Wildlife Service has found that laundered profits from the illegal drug trade contribute to deforestation along smuggling routes in Central America.

Steven Sesnie, an ecologist and the lead author of the research, says the drug economy is threatening some of the most remote, biodiverse forests in Central America — and the people who have lived there for thousands of years.

In an ancient forest in Poland, environmental activists are chaining themselves to logging machines to protect the trees from being cut down.

The Białowieża Forest is a UNESCO World Heritage site that straddles the border of Poland and Belarus. It is perhaps the largest remaining primeval forest in Europe.

The current drought devastating sub-Saharan Africa is not only increasing hunger and disease, it is also creating more opportunities for violence against women.

Across the continent, it is solely the responsibility of women to collect water and bring it home for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.

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A new report from a group called the Energy Transitions Commission shows that countries could cut global carbon emissions in half by 2040 and stay well below the 2-degree warming mark agreed to at the Paris Climate Conference.

The Energy Transitions Commission includes the chairman of Shell Oil, former US Vice President Al Gore, British economist Nicholas Stern and former US senator, and UN Foundation chief, Tim Wirth. The new report is titled, "Better Energy, Greater Prosperity." 

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Minale Tattersfield/<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/minaletattersfield/8426506439/in/photostream/">Flickr</a>

In what’s been called a “historic” decision, 62 percent of Exxon Mobil shareholders have called on the world’s largest oil company to report the impacts of climate change and international climate policies on its business.

India's renewable energy revolution is racing ahead

Jun 14, 2017
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Asian Development Bank/Flickr

In 2015, at the climate talks in Paris, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi spearheaded the launch of an international solar alliance to raise $1 trillion to light up the developing world. Eighteen months later, Modi has turned promise into action.

India, a country of 1.3 billion people, is becoming perhaps the world’s best example of the revolution in green energy.

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Nicholas A. Tonelli/Flickr

As the planet warms, many tree species in the eastern US are migrating.

Pines and spruce are heading north, while oaks and maples are heading west of their historical ranges, according to a recent study. In all, the newly published research confirms, 86 tree species in the eastern US are moving into new areas.

Trees don't just pick up and move, of course. Their seeds tend to spread in one direction or another, depending on local conditions, and saplings will have more success in places best suited to their natural traits.

A team of Belgian researchers has developed a device that will remove pollutants from the air and convert them into simple hydrogen — using sunlight, nanoparticles and a photoelectric chemical membrane.

Polluted air is bad not only for your physical health but also for your mental health and sense of well-being.

That is according to researchers at the University of York in the UK, who recently reported that, as nitrogen dioxide pollution increases, life satisfaction and personal happiness decline.

Solar jobs now outnumber coal jobs in the US

Jun 7, 2017

While coal still produces much more energy in the US than solar, solar jobs now outnumber those in coal by more than 2-to-1, according to the Department of Energy.

A team of US and Mexican researchers examining the 1979 Ixtoc oil spill off the Mexican coastline has been given an exciting new tool: rediscovered satellite data from the 1970s.

The team of US and Mexican researchers is revisiting Ixtoc to find out how the environment nearby has recovered and to learn how the area around the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill might look in the future. The "digital archaeology" done by two researchers has become an invaluable tool.

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North American oil and gas producers are rushing to build new pipelines as part of a bid to gain more power in the international oil and gas markets, but they are running into fierce opposition at home.

A revered 87-year-old ecologist has created a bold new proposal to stem global species loss.

Distinguished Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson has won two Pulitzer Prizes, including one for a book on ants, and has been studying the challenge of species loss for years, focusing on unique habitats that should be conserved to protect the diverse ecological webs within them.

The Keystone XL pipeline fight continues

May 27, 2017

President Donald Trump has given TransCanada a permit to continue construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, but a coalition of citizens, farmers, ranchers, Native American tribes and environmental groups have united to oppose the pipeline’s route through Nebraska’s Sandhills area.

Scientists have discovered about 200 new mineral compounds, created accidentally as a result of human activity.

The new minerals were identified by research scientist Robert Hazen and a team from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC. Their study is published in the journal American Mineralogist.

Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide rallied for the People’s Climate March on April 29, but the mood was bleaker than the First People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014.

In September 2014, nearly half a million people crammed the avenues of New York for the first march to urge nations of the world to take bold action on global warming. It was the eve of the UN Climate Summit and PRI’s Living on Earth team was there. At the intersection of 46th Street and Sixth Avenue the atmosphere was joyful, almost like a carnival parade.

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Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, is already under fire from both sides of the aisle, especially regarding carbon pollution and climate change.

Progressives and environmental groups are horrified that Pruitt has denied the human link to climate change, and conservatives are already saying that Pruitt hasn’t done enough to undo the EPA’s “regulatory overreach.”

The Goldman Environmental Prize, given out annually, honors an activist from each of the six inhabited continents. The North American Goldman Prize this year has been awarded to 32-year-old mark! Lopez, who helped end decades of environmental abuses by Exide, a company that operated a lead-acid battery smelter in East Los Angeles.

Lopez says he was reminded about the environmental problems Exide had inflicted upon his community after he graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz and went to visit his grandmother.

EPA budget cuts threaten programs to reduce kids' exposure to lead paint

May 9, 2017

Childhood lead poisoning remains a great threat to young children in the US. Nevertheless, the Trump administration proposes to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead programs and leave lead-reduction initiatives to the states.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than a fifth of American homes contain enough lead-based paint to create a hazard to young children, whose developing brains can be harmed by even low levels of the toxic heavy metal.

The death and life of the Great Lakes

May 7, 2017

When the St. Lawrence Seaway opened on April 24, 1959, it created a link from the Great Lakes to the sea along the US-Canadian border — the fulfillment of a dream for the heartland of the continent. It also created an ecological nightmare no one anticipated.

Environmental journalist Dan Egan details the history of the Seaway and the modern problems it created in his new book, "The Death and Life of the Great Lakes."

The present partisan divide in America seems more bitter than at any time in recent memory. To try to better understand it, liberal sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild spent five years conducting what she calls an “empathic study” of her political opposites in Louisiana.

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