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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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.

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.

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.

Dog owners live longer, a new study says

Dec 20, 2017
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 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

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.

40 years of documenting Earth's beauty

Dec 12, 2017

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.

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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 11, 2017

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.

Seven decades into the age of nuclear power, the United States has yet to solve the problem of waste. While the US argues and dawdles, however, Finland says it has found an answer — it plans to build one of the world’s first long-term nuclear waste storage facilities in a labyrinth of underground tunnels.

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."

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.

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 Bureau of Land Management, 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.

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.

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. 

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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.

Rising CO2 levels threaten global marine life

Nov 12, 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.

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 US 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.

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.

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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.

New research suggests that declining levels of iron, zinc and protein resulting from high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are putting human health at risk, especially in the developing world.

As global carbon dioxide levels climb, plants are becoming better at photosynthesis

Oct 28, 2017
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Bill Dickinson, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A recent study shows that increased carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is leading to higher rates of photosynthesis in vegetation.

Many species of trees tend to move to higher, cooler habitats in response to a warming climate. Now, research on two pine tree species in the western US Great Basin shows some species move faster than others.

Brian Smithers, who led the research at the University of California, Davis, says when he wanted to look at how trees are responding to climate change, he realized the high-altitude tree line is a "really nice experimental spot to do that.”

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Staff Sgt. Wilma Orozco Fanfan, 113th MPAD/Puerto Rico Army National Guard, Flickr CC BY 2.0

Before Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Puerto Rico relied on an outdated, centralized power grid that burned imported fossil fuels. Now, some experts say the disaster offers Puerto Rico the chance to rebuild its power system with more resilience and less carbon.

Wide-spread droughts and heat waves are making farming increasingly unpredictable, and some farmers are having to adjust on the fly to changing conditions from year to year.

After 22 years, Pennsylvania farmer Matt Herbruck says it’s undeniable: The climate is changing and it’s getting more extreme. “It’s not unusual at all in this area to go from in the 40s one night to 90 [degrees] 36 hours later. It happens. And that’s not normal. I think the weather is crazy.”

Following a four-month review of more than two dozen national monuments, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted confidential recommendations to the Trump administration in August. A leaked report reveals that Zinke proposes to shrink a number of monuments and open some of them to extractive industries like mining, grazing and fishing.

High-tech, remote imaging developed for the military has become a powerful tool in the hands of scientists studying the health of natural ecosystems.

The technology allows scientists to assess forests and coral reefs from satellites and from specially equipped aircraft that can get an even closer look — down to individual branches of trees.

On board these custom-built aircraft is a system of instruments called ATOMS, which stands for Airborne Taxonomic Mapping System.

The growth of data publicly available on the internet has been a boon for biological science and conservation. But it is also being used by poachers and dishonest collectors to locate rare plants and animals and sell them illegally for a hefty price.

This situation presents researchers and the public with a quandary: How to find a middle ground that preserves the spirit of scientific discovery while protecting at-risk species.

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