Living on Earth

Saturdays at 4:30pm
  • 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.

In Australia, wildfires have burned through massive forests of mountain and alpine ash — some of the tallest trees in the world. These trees aren’t naturally equipped to deal with frequent fires and are struggling to grow back on their own. But humans are helping to give them a shot at recovery.

China announces a new ban on single-use plastics

Mar 19, 2020

China produces the most single-use plastic of any country in the world and the largest landfill in China is full — 25 years ahead of schedule. Plastic waste is finding its way into China’s waterways, to the outrage of many Chinese citizens.

The Chinese government seems to be taking the problem seriously.

The United Nations (UN) does not formally recognize climate change refugees, but that position is beginning to shift, following a case brought to the UN by an asylum seeker from Kiribati, an island in the South Pacific. 

Ioane Teitiota applied for asylum in New Zealand, claiming that his island home was flooding due to sea level rise and he could no longer live there. New Zealand denied his request, and the UN agreed with that decision because, they said, Teitiota was not in imminent danger.

Highly infectious viruses can spread across the world quickly, but our ability to sequence their genome and get a clear diagnosis has historically lagged behind, sometimes taking years. But that’s no longer the case.

Researchers in China were able to sequence the coronavirus genome and send that information to colleagues around the world in less than a month.

“This is amazing,” said Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University and host of the podcast, “This Week in Virology.”

Norway's vanishing winter

Feb 11, 2020

In Norway, a land nearly synonymous with cold and snow, winter is changing rapidly, with consequences for both its people and its wildlife.

Oslo, the country’s capital, is experiencing 21 fewer winter days than it did just 30 years ago. And by 2050, scientists expect winter in Oslo will last just half as long as today.

"We say that Norwegians are ‘born with skis on their feet,’ and maybe that expression will change because conditions are not so often very good for going skiing anymore. And people really notice that.”

While many humans live with beloved pets, modern life often alienates us from animals in the natural world. But relationships with wildlife can reveal new levels in our humanity, Richard Louv contends in his new book, “Our Wild Calling: How Connecting with Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs.”

In the book, Louv explores the disconnect between humans and wildlife and shares stories of meaningful interactions between people and other species.

Coal-producing regions in both the United States and the United Kingdom have been hit hard economically as coal production has dropped, leaving miners out of work and their communities with shrunken tax bases and fewer paying customers for local businesses.

In a dry region of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, a woman named Valer Clark, from New York City, has had a major influence on land and water preservation.

“There are four great geological forces: There's volcanism, plate tectonics, erosion — and there's Valer,” said Ron Pulliam, an ecologist formerly with the United States Department of the Interior and founder of nonporfit Borderlands Restoration Network. “Valer is one of the forces that has created the landscape around us here.”

Evidence from a new study indicates that supposedly safe levels of air pollution can actually be deadly.

The research, published in a Journal of the American Medical Association, links the deaths of 200,000 military veterans to long-term exposure to ultra-fine particle pollution at levels below current Environmental Protection Agency acceptable limits.

The new Cosmic Crisp apple hits stores, after years of development

Dec 25, 2019

A new variety of apple, the Cosmic Crisp, has hit grocery stores around the country after more than 20 years of development by the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research Commission.

The Cosmic Crisp is a cross-breed of the popular Honeycrisp and the Enterprise. Its breeders hope it can combine the most desired apple qualities: great taste, easy growing and harvesting and a long shelf life.

According to a draft document obtained by the New York Times, the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to implement a new regulation that would require any study used for EPA health and safety rulemaking to disclose all of its raw data, including confidential medical records.

According to a draft document obtained by the New York Times, the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to implement a new regulation that would require any study used for EPA health and safety rulemaking to disclose all of its raw data, including confidential medical records.

A planned 1,243-mile Pan-Borneo highway connecting the three nations that make up the island of Borneo — Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei — will make it easier for residents and ecotourists to move in and out of its lush landscape, home to several World Heritage sites. But the plan also raises grave concerns that the road will provide easier access to illegal loggers and poachers who want to plunder those natural treasures.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) have introduced a new draft bill that aims to curb the nation’s overwhelming amount of plastic waste.

On Oct. 29, 2019, a nearly 400,000-gallon oil spill was discovered in the Keystone pipeline system in North Dakota. The spill inundated a wetland with heavy crude oil mined from the Alberta tar sands.

Rainforests are treasures of biodiversity, and their ecosystems benefit the entire planet. But the Western economic model tends to view them as most valuable when they’ve been logged, mined or turned into agricultural land. As a result, rainforests around the world are rapidly disappearing.

The huge wildfires in California have their roots in small things: the abundance of underbrush that, from a single spark, can ignite a whole forest.

Natural fires, often caused by lightning, can be beneficial for forests so long as they happen often enough to clear tinder that can feed a firestorm. One proven way of preventing wildfires is the use of prescribed fire, not unlike what Native Americans historically did to manage the landscape and attract game.

In Borneo, healthy people equals healthy forests

Nov 12, 2019

Gunung Palung National Park on the island of Borneo is home to diverse species found nowhere else and is beloved by the people who live on the Indonesian island. But like many people who live near tropical forests, the local population has at times had to resort to illegal logging just to pay for healthcare.

Now, the nonprofit Health in Harmony is providing healthcare that patients can pay for with a simple trade of labor, seedlings or manure so that no one ever has to log to pay cash for essential health services.

Plastic is not just a problem for overwhelmed landfills or the marine life that ingest it. Plastic is also a huge contributor to carbon emissions, climate change and toxic pollution. But if some of the large petrochemical companies have their way, plastic production will increase dramatically in the coming years.

Cradle to grave, plastic could produce as much as 56 gigatons of carbon dioxide between now and 2050, according to a recent study — 50 times more than all the coal-fired power plants in the United States produce in a year.

On October 25, in what’s being called the largest YouTube collaboration of all time, hundreds of YouTubers from around the world came together and used their combined influence to send a message on the environment.

These YouTubers have a combined subscriber count of more than a billion people. One of them, Destin Sandlin, helped recruit fellow YouTube creators. Sandlin’s science education channel, Smarter Every Day, has 7.3 million subscribers and his content has amassed more than 660 million views.

Many nature writers turn our eyes skyward, towards majestic mountains, or toward open valleys and wild rivers. But there’s another other world beneath our feet, in the dark and hidden places below the Earth’s surface — places that the British author Robert Macfarlane chronicles in his newest book, "Underland: A Deep Time Journey."

The fires raging in the Amazon have drawn attention to the alarming speed of deforestation in one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, along with urgent warnings from scientists that a “tipping point” could be near, putting the rainforest at risk of gradually turning into dry savanna.

Tropical zone farmers around the world often burn parts of the rainforest to clear the land and boost soil fertility. But it’s a temporary fix, as the soil is quickly exhausted. So, to keep farming, they have to keep burning deeper and deeper into the forest.

On July 9, 2019, a facility operated by mining company Grupo Mexico spilled thousands of liters of sulfuric acid into the Sea of Cortez, raising environmental concerns and doubts about the Mexican government's willingness to hold extraction companies accountable when they pollute.

Summer camp is a long-standing tradition in the United States. It’s a way for kids to take a break from academics and connect with nature. And in today’s digital world, summer camp offers kids a respite from the virtual reality that dominates their lives.

Raising monarch butterflies, arguably the most familiar North American butterfly species, in your home or backyard is an enjoyable, educational activity and can help sustain the monarch's population — but, according to a new study, there are a few things you must do right if you truly want to help. 

Fracking has revolutionized the extraction of oil and gas in just a few years, but this highly efficient method comes with environmental and health risks. Now, a new metastudy details its adverse effects on the local environment, the climate and human health.

More than half the world’s coral reefs have died in the last few decades and scientists predict that as many as 90% could die off this century as the ocean chemistry changes and temperatures rise. But some coral populations are actually thriving in warmer waters and scientists are working to speed up natural selection by propagating these resilient corals.

Joanie Kleypas, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and founder of the nonprofit Raising Coral Costa Rica, says results so far have been encouraging.

A new HBO documentary, “Ice on Fire,” produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, issues a dire warning about the consequences of climate disruption, but also seeks to inspire people to follow proven, safe, sustainable pathways available right now that can reverse the process.

A #MeToo scandal engulfs The Nature Conservancy

Jul 25, 2019

The Nature Conservancy, which since its founding in 1951 has protected some 120 million acres of land around the world, is being rocked by a vast scandal that includes allegations of workplace misconduct, sexual harassment and discriminatory treatment of female employees. 

Several senior executives, including the CEO, have resigned and trust in the organization has been shaken. 

While disruption of the climate seems to be advancing quickly, climate protection negotiators in Bonn, Germany, recently struggled to flesh out the mechanisms of the Paris climate agreement. And at the G20 meeting in Japan, the US blocked any consensus on climate action.

“It was a very intense discussion,” said Alden Meyer, of the G20 meeting. Meyer is director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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