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.

Vice President Joe Biden’s choice of Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate is historic. Harris is the first Black woman and Asian American on a major US presidential ticket,

But their pairing is historic in another way, too: On issues of climate and environmental justice, Biden-Harris is one of the most progressive presidential tickets this country has ever seen, thanks in part to substantial pressure from the party’s left for strong climate action.

Chinese fishing fleet threatens Galápagos Islands

Aug 17, 2020

Ecuador is on alert after its navy discovered a fleet of more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels near the Galápagos Islands.

The famous archipelago, located more than 600 miles off Ecuador's coast, helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and is home to the second-largest marine reserve in the world. Ecuadorian officials worry that the Chinese fleet will capture fish that wander out of the formal boundaries of the marine reserve, threatening the balance and diversity of one the Earth’s most important ecosystems.

COVID-19 has thus far cost the world over 700,000 lives and vast sums of money in lost gross domestic products and government rescue plans. A new study published in the journal Science suggests we might avoid the next pandemic and save trillions of dollars by spending just a fraction of that amount to curb deforestation and the wildlife trade.

As the United States confronts its long history of racial injustice, powerful environmental groups like the Sierra Club are coming to grips with their own history of racism and white supremacy.

The national environmental movement in the United States is still dominated by white voices and often excludes people of color. The environmental justice movement, which is typically community-based and more often driven by people of color, is frequently an afterthought among large green organizations and the foundations who fund them.

The United States has lost more than 11 million of acres of farmland to development over the last 20 years, according to a new report.

A series of studies by the American Farmland Trust shows that agricultural land is increasingly being converted, fragmented, or paved over — threatening the integrity of local and regional food systems. Of special concern, the report notes, are the loss of farmland to low-density residential development at the edge of urban and suburban areas.

In another attempt to undo decades of environmental regulations, the Trump administration recently released a revised regulatory interpretation of NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, that will weaken it significantly.

For the past 50 years, NEPA has underpinned virtually all federal environmental law in the United States. It requires that the federal government study the potential consequences of major infrastructure projects such as pipelines, dams and highways.

The field of wildlife tracking is getting a major upgrade thanks to a new initiative called ICARUS. It uses special equipment on the International Space Station to allow researchers to track much smaller species than ever before, including tiny migrating birds and even insects.

Autumn-Lynn Harrison, program manager for the Migratory Connectivity Project at Smithsonian Institution, says the ICARUS tags will include a number of different sensors that collect GPS, accelerometer and temperature data.

Few people on planet Earth are more deeply involved with missions to search for life elsewhere in the universe than astrobiologist Sarah Stewart Johnson.

Three major environmental groups are demanding that Facebook take steps to curb the spread of racism, extremism and misinformation about climate change on its platform.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and have joined more than 1,000 other companies in pausing their advertising on Facebook this month as part of the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign.

Most other environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, have yet to take a stand on Facebook’s policies around hate and climate denialism.

On July 14, 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall arrived in what is now Gombe National Park, Tanzania, to begin her breakthrough study of wild chimpanzees. Soon after, she realized that if chimps were to survive into the future, she had best speak out on their behalf, as well as for the forests and their human stewards.

Now, 60 years on, the iconic scientist, naturalist and activist is still advocating passionately for the conservation of the natural world.

The Environmental Protection Agency has given biotech company Oxitec the go-ahead to test the effectiveness of genetically modified mosquitoes in parts of Florida and Texas.

Oxitec has been developing genetically modified mosquitoes in hopes of reducing local populations of mosquitoes that carry dengue fever, yellow fever and the Zika virus. About 750,000 people die each year from mosquito-borne illnesses, making the insect indirectly responsible for more human deaths than any other animal in the world.

The innate curiosity about the natural world that many of us experience as children is often lost on the path to adulthood. Author Brigit Strawbridge Howard found her way back to a childlike fascination with nature with the help of some of the world's most important pollinators: honeybees, bumblebees, and oft-overlooked solitary bees.

The town of Verkhoyansk in Siberia hit a record-high temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit on June 20, the highest temperature ever recorded within the Arctic Circle — and scientists are worried.

“I was shocked at the magnitude of it, but perhaps not necessarily completely surprised to see these types of spikes in temperature because this has been happening for a number of years now." 

Susan Natali, Arctic program director, Woods Hole Research Center

The city council of Arlington, Texas, took a historic stand last month by refusing to expand a fracking complex located next to a preschool that serves primarily Black and Latino children.

Arlington, which is located between Dallas and Fort Worth in North Texas, is a city of 400,000 people and already home to about 350 natural gas fracking wells. The city lies on top of a formation called the Barnett Shale, which is rich in natural gas.

The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on May 25 touched off massive protest demonstrations around the world against police brutality and systemic racism. The demonstrations have also opened many people’s eyes to another form of racism: the unequal impacts of pollution and climate disruption on people of color.

Related: A global push for racial justice in the climate movement

In South Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic and strict government-imposed lockdown have led to an unexpected consequence: a major decline in rhino poaching.

More than 80% of African rhinos remaining in the world are in South Africa, making it the hotspot for rhino poaching. The number of rhinos killed for their horns has been slowly declining over recent years, but the pandemic and lockdown have quelled rhino poaching even more.

Anti-poaching efforts may get a boost from a DNA database for rhino horn

Jun 22, 2020

Of the world’s endangered animal species, none faces a more dire situation than rhinos. With just 25,000 or so rhinos left in the world, the threat of extinction looms large.

But now an international database that keeps track of 75 percent of them may offer some hope.

South African law requires that a tissue sample be collected any time a rhino is moved from one park to another or receives medical care. The sample is used to create a DNA profile for each animal that can be recorded and, in case the animal is ever poached, matched to confiscated rhino horn.

US-Mexico border wall threatens sacred Native lands

Jun 22, 2020

The Trump administration’s rush to complete sections of a wall along the US-Mexico border before the November election is threatening to damage and restrict access to sacred and historic Native American sites in the region.

The border wall was a key promise of President Donald Trump’s election campaign, and in his bid to keep that promise, dozens of environmental laws, from the Endangered Species Act to the Clean Air Act, were suspended to fast-track construction.

A new book of poetry by John Freeman, “The Park,” uses the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris as a lens to peer into the paradox of how public green space can provide refuge and access to beauty for some while excluding others.

For the last five or six years, Freeman has spent his summers and winters in Paris. Most of the time, he lives near the Luxembourg Gardens, so it has become “a kind of second home” to him, he said.

Big cat ownership in the US is a big problem

Jun 5, 2020

"Tiger King," the Netflix documentary series about the infamous tiger breeder Joe Exotic, has taken America by storm. But while the show may be entertaining to some, its subject is highly problematic: Private big cat ownership in the US is dangerous and the animals suffer greatly for the success or pleasure of their owners.

Long before COVID-19 disruptions forced dairy farmers to dump millions of gallons of milk into fields and farmers to plow under fields of vegetables, a third of all food produced globally was going to waste, with huge consequences for world hunger and the climate.

In less affluent countries, a lot of food becomes spoiled on the way to market, but in the US and other rich economies, most wasted food is thrown out at home because it has rotted in the fridge or on the counter.

The coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that the world is increasingly interconnected. Amid the tragedy of the virus, a top climate diplomat says there is an opportunity to rebuild our economies in ways that are both more equitable and sustainable.

With spring in the air, it’s a great time to get started planting flowers to support native pollinators. In Minnesota, residents can get help with this through a program that pays homeowners to convert their lawns to pollinator-friendly habitats.

Pollinator populations are in sharp decline everywhere. Scientists say as many as 40% of insects may be facing extinction in the coming decades, including critical pollinator species such as bees, which are responsible for pollinating the crops that provide one in three bites of food we eat.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of the US economy, including the food supply.

Dairy farmers are dumping millions of gallons of milk, contract growers are plowing under perfectly good vegetables, and industrial livestock farmers are euthanizing animals in the face of coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants. At the same time, grocery stores are running short of some supplies, including meat.

Migrant farmworkers have been deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic so that they may continue to tend and harvest the crops that feed America. Yet most of these workers don't enjoy essential benefits and worker protections, such as a minimum wage, overtime pay and access to health insurance — or workplace protocols that would prevent them from contracting the virus itself.

As storm season begins in the southeastern US, scientists are casting a wary eye on the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Emerging research indicates the novel coronavirus is deadlier to people with long-term exposure to high air pollution and hits minority communities particularly hard.

Biostatisticians at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health compared death rates from COVID-19 with air quality records in 3,000 counties. They found that in areas with just a small increase in long-term rates of fine particle pollution, 15% more people are likely to be killed by the virus.

Science denial in the United States has for decades fueled resistance to taking action on climate change. As a consequence, the battle to prevent its worst effects may already be lost. That same science denial continues today as the country fights to fend off or delay the worst effects of COVID-19.

President Donald Trump and several Republican governors delayed action and failed to heed the warnings of the nation’s healthcare science advisors, while leaders in other countries, such as South Korea and Germany, have taken more timely and successful actions.

Gardening at home during COVID-19

Apr 21, 2020

With so many people isolated at home and the economy so wobbly, for those with the space this is a fine time to start growing some of your own food — and, in fact, seed companies are reporting record sales this spring.

Landscape designer Michael Weishan, the former host of the PBS series "The Victory Garden," says “if you’re a gardener, you’re never that isolated.”

"In the garden, nature goes on; it gets your mind off a lot of other things.”

The United States' recent $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act focused on urgent, short-term economic needs, so Congress did not include climate solutions in the aid package that could be a powerful tool to help with long-term economic recovery.

But as Washington starts to talk infrastructure as a way to put people back to work, a team led by congressional Democrats is aiming to change that.