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.

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.

The illegal trade of protected species is a highly lucrative form of organized crime — with deadly consequences. In addition to threatening ecosystems and inciting violence, wildlife trafficking plays a key role in spreading diseases, including the novel coronavirus that is now sweeping across the world.

Court blocks oil drilling in Peruvian Amazon

Apr 16, 2020

A judge in Peru has blocked a proposed oil drilling project in the Peruvian Amazon that threatened to damage the ecosystem and the health of isolated Indigenous peoples.

The Sierra del Divisor was set aside as a national park in 2016, but the national oil company, Perupetro, planned to exploit the area for oil extraction. An Indigenous coalition went to court to try to block the project, and they recently won the lawsuit. The suit was filed by the Regional Organization of Indigenous People of the East, or ORPIO.

Conservationists in Vietnam recently got some good news: A species feared extinct, the Vietnamese silver-backed mouse-deer, was documented for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Andrew Tilker, the Asian species officer for Global Wildlife Conservation, says local knowledge helped locate the rare and tiny mouse-deer, which is also known as the silver-backed chevrotain.

The intelligent find joy in water. If Confucius is right, we must all be prodigies.

We moved to this mountain village, a three-hour drive from our home in Shanghai, because of the water, because of the air, because the inner-city pollution was quite literally making us sick.

In moving to the countryside, we were swimming against the tide. Rural villages in China are draining, as young people migrate to the city for work. We joined a small trickle headed upstream, closer to the source of water.

A new book chronicles the Koch empire's impact on American society

Apr 14, 2020

For decades now, climate policy has been stymied in the United States by a well-funded campaign of denial that includes elected officials dependent on campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests. And much of this anti-climate regulation effort can be traced back to one powerful man: Charles Koch.

Charles Koch built the company he inherited from his father, Fred, into a financial powerhouse based on oil and gas. Koch Industries earned Charles, and his late brother David Koch, a massive fortune — as much as $100 billion.

'Dueling dinos' set off a long legal battle and a scientific debate

Apr 9, 2020

It’s been more than 200 years since the first dinosaur fossils were scientifically described. Since then, those prehistoric giants have captivated people of all ages, inspiring statues, theme parks and, of course, a film franchise. But a fossil discovery in Montana may upend the way we discover dinosaur bones and who can own them to begin with.

The story starts back in 2006, with a fossil find on a ranch in Montana. Dinosaur bones that are potentially 66 million years old were embedded in rock — horns and bones completely intact.

Connecting with nature in the time of COVID-19

Apr 8, 2020

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, people around the world are doing their part to prevent the spread of the disease by staying at home and practicing social distancing. If we can’t go to the gym, the theater or out to eat, we can still go outside — or at least out our front or back door. And with spring in the air — this may just be the perfect time to do it.

As Earth experiences its sixth mass extinction and species disappear before our eyes, the United Nations and the Center for Biological Diversity have both released plans that address the extinction crisis and the closely-related problem of climate change.

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.”