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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The Trump administration's move to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent jeopardizes future research and excavation in one of the densest fossil troves in the world, according to scientists who work in the region.

After the Trump administration announced plans to expand offshore oil and gas drilling to nearly the entire US coastline, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke quickly followed up with another announcement exempting Florida from the new plans.

Now, a growing number of Republican and Democratic governors and legislators from coastal states are demanding the same exemption.

In the Caribbean, queen conches are living on the edge

Apr 14, 2018

The queen conch is a large marine mollusk with a beautiful shell that is prized for export. The gastropod inside the shell is featured on menus across the Caribbean. But the conch’s numbers are rapidly dwindling, and researchers say action is needed to save them.

FEMA maps lack up-to-date information on flood risk

Apr 8, 2018

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “patchwork quilt” of flood maps has coverage gaps and is obsolete in places, according to a recent study by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Nature Conservancy charity and the University of Bristol.

Russian internet trolls from the same outfit blamed for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election also created more than 9,000 social media posts designed to stir up enmity around energy and natural gas projects in the US, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, according to a report from the Republican majority of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.


After a shocking number of deaths among North Atlantic right whales last year, no new births have been recorded so far this year, moving them ever closer to extinction.

Warming ocean waters have prompted the whales to move north from their usual summer feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine into Canada’s Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Canada has fewer rules protecting them from ship strikes, and 18 of these rare giants died last season alone. Now, the report that the population produced no new calves in the past year is causing great concern among scientists.

Federal judge halts Louisiana pipeline

Mar 28, 2018

Editor's note: Between when this story was prepared and published, a judge overturned Judge Shelly Dick’s decision, allowing construction to resume. The story has been updated to reflect that.

A federal judge in Louisiana recently ordered a temporary stop to construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, following a court challenge by several environmental groups.

Located 30 miles off the coast of New England, Nantucket is a historical gem and an upscale haven for summer vacationers. But erosion and rising seas are threatening some of its most expensive real estate.

The National Park Service calls Nantucket the “finest surviving architectural and environmental example of a late 18th-and early 19th-century New England seaport.” Back then, Nantucket grew rich on the spoils of the whaling industry. Today, it is a popular summer colony, and the historic homes have been joined by newer, but still tasteful, construction.

One of the world’s most sensitive telescopes is buried deep in Antarctic ice, searching for evidence of elusive, subatomic particles called neutrinos — elementary particles scientists believe are one of the building blocks of the universe.

In his new book, "The Telescope in the Ice: Inventing a New Astronomy at the South Pole," writer Mark Bowen chronicles the decadeslong project to build the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.

Despite medical advances since 1918, when the so-called Spanish Flu sickened one-third of the global population and killed as many as 100 million people, the world is unprepared to contain the next major pandemic, according to physician and global health expert Dr. Jonathan Quick.

In his new book, "The End of Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It", Quick offers a road map for local, national and international actors who could prevent killer outbreaks in the future.

It's raining viruses, but don't panic

Mar 9, 2018

Billions of viruses get swept up into the atmosphere by dust clouds and water droplets, travel for thousands of miles and then eventually settle back to Earth, according to new research.

This may sound a bit frightening, but almost all of these sky-borne viruses are harmless to humans, says Curtis Suttle, a virologist at the University of British Columbia who co-authored a study based on data collected in Spain. The viruses circulating high up in the atmosphere are infecting almost exclusively other microbes, primarily bacteria.

School is supposed to be a safe environment, but a recent study in the journal Environmental Research has found that at many public schools, children are being exposed to harmful levels of air pollutants. Out of nearly 90,000 public schools studied, only 728 had the safest possible score.

The study found the five worst polluted areas included New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh, as well as Camden and Jersey City, based on air quality measurements of more than a dozen neurotoxins.

There are roughly 5 trillion pieces of plastic sloshing around in the world’s oceans and the vast majority come from the world’s poorest countries, where proper disposal or recycling is largely impossible. An organization called The Plastic Bank aims to reverse this trend, while simultaneously alleviating poverty.

In their new book, "Children & Environmental Toxins: What Everyone Needs to Know," Philip Landrigan and Mary Landrigan bring together research on the risks chemicals pose to children in the form of a guide for parents, policymakers and the public.

Solar energy gets an endurance boost from salt

Feb 26, 2018

A project in the Nevada desert offers a compelling solution to a problem that has long bedeviled the solar power industry: How to store energy from the sun for use at times when the sun doesn’t shine.

Crescent Dunes, run by a company called SolarReserves, is a 110-megawatt concentrated solar power (CSP) plant that uses molten salt to store heat captured from sunlight. The system works by using mirrors to shine blindingly bright light at a 650-foot tower.

Scandal and protests have prompted the Brazilian government to call a halt to more mega-dam construction in the Amazon.

For about the last 20 years, Brazil had “really grandiose plans” for more than 80 big dams in the Amazon basin and some of them have gone ahead, says Sue Branford, a Brazil reporter for the environmental news agency Mongabay. But problems keep arising with these projects.

More states join the fight to reduce global warming

Feb 24, 2018

While the Trump administration moves to block the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce carbon emissions from electric generators, two more states are joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program that cuts emissions in nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

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.

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.

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