Living On Earth

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

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Wildearth Guardians

A coalition of 400 groups, including environmental activists, faith leaders and labor organizations, is demanding President Barack Obama end fossil fuel leasing on public lands.

Dennis Quintillo

Scientists are warning that intense wildfires in the northernmost areas of North America are changing the composition of the tundra ecosystem, degrading permafrost and contributing to a northward migration of trees, all of which have serious implications for the future of the climate.

Warming air masses resulting from climate change create the conditions for intense forest fires in the cold north, explains Scott Goetz, a senior scientist and deputy director at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts.

James Jackson/Flickr

During his visit to the US, Pope Francis told a joint session of Congress that now is the time for "courageous actions and strategies" to protect nature. The question is, will his words make any difference to a Congress that has yet to take any action on climate change?

Former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina believes they might.

Olivia Powers

There are many groups and efforts dedicated to conserving threatened wildlife and plant species. One group of environmentally-conscious volunteers in Boston, Massachusetts, however, is not afraid of getting their hands dirty to take care of their local eco-system. 

Marc Albert is director of “Stewardship Saturday” a 10-year-old weekly tradition of local conservation on the Boston Harbor Islands. 

“Other park managers and I wanted to offer the public an opportunity to sort of be hands-on with helping to take care of the park,” Albert says. 

Mstyslav Chernov/Flickr

President Barack Obama, when he addressed the Coast Guard Academy in May, pointed to climate change when speaking about instability in Africa and the Middle East. 

“(I) understand climate change did not cause the conflicts we see around the world. Yet what we also know is that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East,” Obama said. 

Gaspard Miltiade, Wikimedia CC government work

When Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress today, he will speak directly to many politicians, including some presidential candidates, who are not welcoming of his message about climate change and economic inequality. It could be very interesting to watch.

<a href="">Mike Mozart/Flickr</a>

General Mills, the $20 billion dollar-a-year, Minnesota-based food giant whose brands include Cheerios, Betty Crocker, Haagen Dazs, Pillsbury and Yoplait, has announced an increased commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to push for more sustainable practices.

<a href="">Julie Magro/Flickr</a>

An investigation into dangerous bacteria found in ground beef products suggests sustainably-sourced meat may be healthier for consumers and better for the environment.

Researchers from Consumer Reports bought about 485 pounds of ground beef in 26 different cities from about 100 different stores over a three-week period and had the samples tested for five different bacteria, as well as for levels of antibiotic-resistance.

New Orleans is still vulnerable to another big storm

Sep 14, 2015

As it approached New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina was one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the northern Gulf of Mexico. By the time it swept past the city and hammered the Mississippi coast, the storm had weakened.

Unfortunately, the defenses protecting New Orleans had also weakened. The result was a disaster of overwhelming proportions.

Lou Blouin

The differences in thermal comfort between men and women in the workplace is a thing. In fact, it is actually the subject of more than 40 years of research by Cornell’s Alan Hedge.

“What that research showed, of course, was that women were experiencing more issues at the temperatures that were then being set in the environment,” Hedge says. 

A study recently published in the journal “Nature Climate Change” asserts that this is an issue that has been going on for decades. 

Florida's natural springs are changing — and disappearing

Sep 5, 2015
Doug Struck

Late summer is a perfect time to go for an outdoor swim. Many in Florida, however, are finding that the crystal clear spring-fed swimming holes they used to frequent have turned dark with pollution and algae. 

“We have about 1,000 natural springs in Florida, artesian springs, and they are across-the-board suffering from reduced water volume flow rates and they are across-the-board polluted with nitrate nitrogen,” says Bob Knight, the director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, in Gainesville, Florida.

Obama has a plan to cut down on methane leaks

Sep 4, 2015
Daniel Foster/Flickr

The Obama administration has been rolling out a series of new environmental regulations ahead of the UN climate summit later this year. Their latest effort calls for a more than 40 percent reduction in methane from new oil and gas wells.

Professor Pat Parenteau of the Vermont Law School says the new regulations are an important step in reducing climate change. 

Environmental Investigation Agency

The world’s most endangered marine mammal is a small porpoise called the vaquita — Spanish for little cow. The vaquita has been under threat for years, but now the poaching of a rare fish may be driving the tiny Mexican porpoise to extinction.

The vaquita lives only in the Gulf of California off the coast of Mexico. For years, Mexican fishermen have accidentally caught the five-foot porpoise in gillnets set for fish and shrimp. “This has driven the population from a size of about 500, 20 years ago to less than 100 today,” says Duke University professor Andy Read.

Boston Transportation Department

In big cities and rural towns, many communities are beginning to use a concept called “Complete Streets” to make neighborhood and commercial streets friendlier for people. The policies behind these changes are new, but the problems and complaints they are addressing are often as old as the roads they aim to fix.

“Complete streets” look different in different places, but the idea is simple: Make transportation systems about people, so there is equal access for all forms of travel.

Emmett FitzGerald

Summer in southeast Alaska is salmon season. As the days grow long, the iconic pink fish begin to run up rivers and streams, and the fishing economy jumps to life. But this summer, fishermen are worried that new mining development could put their livelihoods at risk.

Illegal trafficking of animals for Asian medicine is a rampant problem. Despite international protections, poachers slaughter millions of elephants, tigers and rhinos a year and sell their parts as cures for ailments ranging from headaches to cancer.

Now international groups are seeking to protect a small mammal that's trafficked more than those three combined and is on the brink of extinction: the pangolin.

The Hillary Clinton campaign goes solar

Aug 16, 2015
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

With polling that suggests two-thirds of voters want the next president to address climate change, Hillary Clinton has laid out an ambitious renewable energy plan while campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The present front-runner for the democratic nomination declared she would take action on day one of her presidential term.

The Encyclopedia of Life

An ecosystem is like a giant game of Jenga — remove the wrong piece and the entire structure can collapse. The history of the black-tailed prairie dog and how its elimination altered the landscape of Mexico and the American West powerfully illustrates this principle.

Black-tailed prairie dogs once numbered in the billions across the grasslands of the Western US and Mexico, but ranchers essentially exterminated the rodent to make way for livestock. 

<a href="">Lei Han/Flickr</a>

To avoid catastrophic global warming, scientists say the world must drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions — and that means slashing the use of fossil fuels. New numbers indicate that the change is already underway.

For the first time in history natural gas is now generating more electrical power than coal in America — a major milestone on the way to rebuilding the energy economy.

Why dying bees may cause a public health problem

Aug 6, 2015

A new study examines the death, disease, and health issues humans might face if a worldwide decline in animal pollinators continues. 

Fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, honey: these are all nutrition-rich foods that are produced with the help of animal pollinators, especially bees. In fact, an estimated 35 percent of the world’s food is dependent on animal pollinators.