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. 

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GOES-16

This year’s deadly hurricanes, record-shattering firestorms and severe drought are linked to global warming, and the prospect of more unpleasant surprises seems likely, climate experts warn.

“What we're seeing is the veritable tip of the iceberg,” says Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State University.

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Jan van der Ploeg/CIFOR, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Conventional wisdom has long held that tropical forests soak up carbon dioxide and help blunt the impact of industrial greenhouse gas emissions. But new research finds that the tropics are now adding to the problem of global warming faster than they can absorb excess carbon.

In other words, tropical forests are now a net carbon source rather than the carbon "sinks" they were previously thought to be.

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Wikimedia Commons

New research suggests that declining levels of iron, zinc and protein resulting from high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are putting human health at risk, especially in the developing world.

As global carbon dioxide levels climb, plants are becoming better at photosynthesis

Oct 28, 2017
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Bill Dickinson, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A recent study shows that increased carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is leading to higher rates of photosynthesis in vegetation.

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Brian Smithers

Many species of trees tend to move to higher, cooler habitats in response to a warming climate. Now, research on two pine tree species in the western US Great Basin shows some species move faster than others.

Brian Smithers, who led the research at the University of California, Davis, says when he wanted to look at how trees are responding to climate change, he realized the high-altitude tree line is a "really nice experimental spot to do that.”

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Staff Sgt. Wilma Orozco Fanfan, 113th MPAD/Puerto Rico Army National Guard, Flickr CC BY 2.0

Before Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Puerto Rico relied on an outdated, centralized power grid that burned imported fossil fuels. Now, some experts say the disaster offers Puerto Rico the chance to rebuild its power system with more resilience and less carbon.

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Birdsong Farms

Wide-spread droughts and heat waves are making farming increasingly unpredictable, and some farmers are having to adjust on the fly to changing conditions from year to year.

After 22 years, Pennsylvania farmer Matt Herbruck says it’s undeniable: The climate is changing and it’s getting more extreme. “It’s not unusual at all in this area to go from in the 40s one night to 90 [degrees] 36 hours later. It happens. And that’s not normal. I think the weather is crazy.”

Following a four-month review of more than two dozen national monuments, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted confidential recommendations to the Trump administration in August. A leaked report reveals that Zinke proposes to shrink a number of monuments and open some of them to extractive industries like mining, grazing and fishing.

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Carnegie Airborne Observatory

High-tech, remote imaging developed for the military has become a powerful tool in the hands of scientists studying the health of natural ecosystems.

The technology allows scientists to assess forests and coral reefs from satellites and from specially equipped aircraft that can get an even closer look — down to individual branches of trees.

On board these custom-built aircraft is a system of instruments called ATOMS, which stands for Airborne Taxonomic Mapping System.

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Tim Davenport/Wildlife Conservation Society

The growth of data publicly available on the internet has been a boon for biological science and conservation. But it is also being used by poachers and dishonest collectors to locate rare plants and animals and sell them illegally for a hefty price.

This situation presents researchers and the public with a quandary: How to find a middle ground that preserves the spirit of scientific discovery while protecting at-risk species.

While President Donald Trump has dismissed climate change as a hoax, the Department of Defense is focused on understanding and preparing for continued climate disruption and the security threats it poses in a warming world.

When Hurricane Irma hit Florida, it blasted an estimated 3 to 10 feet of storm surge into the Everglades. Combined with the drenching rain, the storm may change the vegetation patterns of the enormous wetland and perhaps prod the people of South Florida to rethink how it lives with its water.

The hurricanes that recently smashed islands in the Caribbean set records for size, strength and endurance — records that experts predict will be broken sooner rather than later, as global warming continues to heat the oceans and intensify precipitation cycles.

Dessima Williams, former Grenada UN ambassador, says the Caribbean people remain resilient and self-reliant, but they have limited financial capacity to recover and rebuild.

At Climate Week 2017, a mix of optimism and urgency

Oct 7, 2017

When the world’s leaders gathered in New York for the annual fall meeting of the UN General Assembly, another series of meetings took place, called Climate Week NYC, where government, business and NGO leaders discussed global climate solutions. 

The mood at Climate Week this year was “a strange confluence of optimism and urgency,” says Alden Meyer, a climate diplomacy expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, who came to New York City for the meetings.

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Moira Brown/The New England Aquarium, Wikimedia Commons

The discovery of 13 right whale carcasses, most of them in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, is causing alarm among scientists.

Only about 500 right whales remain in the North Atlantic, so 13 deaths represent more than 2 percent of the population. Seeing 10 of those deaths in the Gulf of St Lawrence, an area far north of the whale’s usual summer range in the Gulf of Maine, is “completely unprecedented,” according to Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Richard Carson/Reuters 

In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the US needs to rethink its flood insurance programs, experts say.

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Wild Fish Conservancy

A catastrophic failure of a large aquaculture pen near Cypress Island recently freed thousands of nonnative Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound, near Seattle.

In the aftermath of this outbreak, the Wild Fish Conservancy has launched a lawsuit against Cooke Aquaculture, the international corporation responsible for the accident.

Of global warming, plastic waste and velociraptors

Aug 26, 2017
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Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

What do these three things have in common: the Earth’s temperature, waste from plastic products and velociraptors?

Answer: not much. Except they were all recently in the news and all are really interesting, or disturbing, depending on your point of view.

First: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, declared the first six months of 2017 the second warmest on record, just behind 2016’s all-time record. Why is this news? Because climate scientists had expected temperatures to cool down, and they haven’t much.

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Glen Beltz/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Rising temperatures, partly driven by global warming and longer drought seasons, have turned western forests into easy kindling for raging megafires that could threaten millions of people in the US.

This new, alarming situation has several causes, and a new book lays them out. It’s called "Land On Fire: The New Reality of Wildfire in the West," by nature writer Gary Ferguson.

As investigations continue into whether ExxonMobil misled investors by failing to report its own scientists’ predictions about global warming, the company and other fossil fuel titans are being challenged on another legal front.

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