Living On Earth

News & Information: Sat • 12pm-1pm
  • Hosted by Steve Curwood

An in-depth exploration of the latest scientific, political and social elements related to environmental change. 

The US solar market experienced a downturn in 2017 for the first time in seven years.

Though the fall in jobs coincided with Donald Trump's first year as president, the election had no effect on the 2017 numbers, says solar expert Varun Sivaram, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the book, "Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet."

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Trump administration may believe that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese, but Moody’s Investor Services is taking it quite seriously.

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.