Living On Earth

News & Information: Sat • 10am-11am
  • Hosted by Steve Curwood

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

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The worst smallpox epidemic in Boston history was a turning point for control of the ferocious disease in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It also helped launch America's first independent newspaper and set the stage for the American Revolution.

That's according to a new book called "The Fever of 1721," by Stephen Coss. 

The Future of the Ecological Landscape

Sep 20, 2016

Host Jeff Young looks at the next decade of our planet. Jared Diamond, author of "Collapse," says our "present consumption rates just can't be sustained." But urban farmer Will Allen suggests that mounting food demands can be met by growing food everywhere  ? in vacant buildings, on rooftops, asphalt, and on concrete. And Camille Parmesan, biology professor at University of Texas-Austin, suggests that the survival of wildlife may depend on our willingness to transport creatures out of the path of climate disruption.


Highly polluted air is bad for your health — and that's particularly true when it's air full of small particles from coal-fired power plants, as studies going back for years have shown.

But just how bad? For the first time, there's a study that actually quantifies how many years of life expectancy are lost based on a given amount of particulate exposure.

This is your brain on parasites

Sep 18, 2016
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Kathleen McAuliffe

Parasites. They range from microscopic bacteria and viruses to 50-foot long tapeworms. They've been living on and in their host organisms for millions of years. They are rather disgusting to think about, but the world would be a drastically different place without them.

Writer Kathleen McAuliffe’s recent book, "This Is Your Brain On Parasites," describes some of the many ways these creatures manipulate their hosts’ behavior to ensure their survival and successful reproduction.

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 Louisiana Bucket Brigade

A band of protesters in New Orleans recently tried to block the government auction of oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. They failed to stop the event, but it turned out the auction was a flop anyway.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management refused to cancel the sale of leases, but only 24 out of 4,400 leases were actually taken up and a record low $18 million in revenue was offered.

Climate disruption is fueling stronger storms

Sep 17, 2016
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 Jesse Allen / NASA Earth Observatory, using VIIRS data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership

Familiar weather patterns are a thing of the past, and the U.S. may face more extremes in the coming decades, says a noted meteorologist.

“I don't recognize the climate anymore,” says Jeff Masters, the director of meteorology for Weather Underground. “I look at the weather maps in the morning, sometimes afraid of what I'm going to see. It's just gotten so insane. The climate of the 20th century is gone. The climate I knew is not here anymore. We're in an entirely new climate regime, and it is extremely intense.”

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Steve Curwood

Like his more famous Jesuit boss (Pope Francis), Father Albert Fritsch believes caring for the Earth and addressing the consequences of climate change are urgent moral and religious issues.

Fritsch has dedicated much of his life to environmental work, through his website, Earth Healing, and his work with advocacy groups in both Washington, DC, and rural Kentucky, where he grew up on a farm.

Living on Earth's explorer-in-residence Mark Seth Lender visited Iceland and found Black-Legged Kittiwake daring to nest right on the cliffs, despite the wild waves lashing the shore below. These are his impressions:

Lava works its way down, steams and smokes and spits as it meets cold water. Then, wears away, retreating inland till only the core remains: Black basalt crystalized in octagons like giant’s teeth, a long wall grinning and gnashing towards an ancient sea, while the sea grins back.

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Robert Pittman/NOAA; Wikimedia Commons

In the Pacific Northwest, a nautical hub for ships and naval training, endangered orcas and other marine life are struggling to be heard over the noise.

While orcas are not endangered globally, the orca population near Seattle is. To communicate above the din of ocean traffic and industry, orcas must increase the volume of their calls. This extra effort requires them to eat more, and could be stressing the whales, according to new research at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

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Wikimedia Commons

A study on mice suggests that the chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA, could have adverse effects on parenting behavior.

BPA has become one of the most visible and controversial of the thousands of chemicals known to affect human bodies and minds. BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that has been implicated in a host of adverse health effects, including cancers, reproductive deficiencies in males and females, neural behavior deficits and immunological problems.

Woman farmers take center stage in US agriculture

Aug 21, 2016

Women farmers are increasingly challenging traditional, male-centric notions about farming in the US, and a recent book aims to encourage more women to join the movement.

The book is called "Woman-Powered Farm: Manual for a Self-Sufficient Lifestyle from Homestead to Field." As its title suggests, it is a handbook for women contemplating the jump to farming. 

Underfunding and low prioritization of wildlife crimes are hampering efforts to clamp down on wildlife poaching in the Pacific Northwest.

While poaching of animals like rhinos and elephants makes global headlines, in the US, species with horns are also ripe for targeting. The trophy antlers of a western mule deer can fetch $1,000 or more. In the face of strict limits on hunting, poachers often step in to meet the demand.

Barry Booth says his dogs gave him an early sign something was wrong with the air at his Carroll County home, in eastern Ohio.

“The dogs stick their nose to the door, turn around and come right back in the house,” Booth says.

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UMass Boston Photos

As a port city with low-lying areas, Boston, Massachusetts is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise that is expected to occur due to global warming. So, the city's mayor, Marty Walsh, is taking action now: He has commissioned a team of experts, called Climate Ready Boston, to report on how climate change will affect the city in coming years.

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Mick Baker)rooster/Flickr

The UK’s vote to leave the European Union has raised questions about how Europe will meet its commitments to mitigate the effects of climate change under the Paris climate agreement.

Pollution from power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania caused up to 4,400 premature deaths across the country in 2015, according to a new study.

Residents closest to the plants, near Pittsburgh and Cleveland, had the highest premature death rates, but particulates and other pollutants from those power plants increased mortality and morbidity as far away as Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Poor and disadvantaged communities shouldered most of the burden of this environmental risk, which included an estimated $38 billion in health costs and impacts.

Thousands of natural gas wells dot the landscape in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and a growing number of pipelines transport gas throughout the Northeast. But all of this infrastructure comes with a downside: leaks of the potent greenhouse gas methane at all stages of production and delivery.

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WildEarth Guardians/Flickr 

Critics have long argued that the royalties coal companies pay for mining on US public lands are well below fair market values. Now, the Department of the Interior has moved to close a major loophole to address this criticism.

Leasing public land for coal extraction is a three-step process — and two of those steps are problematic for the public, says Michael Greenstone, a former chief economist for the Obama White House who now teaches at the University of Chicago.

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Eric Toensmeier

With nurturing, even a degraded backyard can yield a delicious bounty of produce — and maybe even true love. 

Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates have become accomplished permaculture gardeners in an unlikely place: a small, degraded backyard in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Permaculture is an agricultural system that is highly integrated, sustainable and self-sufficient. “Permaculture is meeting human needs while improving ecosystem health,” Toensmeier says.

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North Carolina State University

The honey bee gets all the headlines, but other species of bees pollinate our plants and help sustain food production. Take the squash bee, for instance.

There are 20 species of bees that specialize in squash pollination — and one of them, Peponapis pruinosa, is making headlines of its own lately.

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