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. 

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently announced that the agency will start the process of scrapping Obama-era auto emissions standards negotiated with the automakers, a move that, if completed, would double allowable vehicle pollution in 2025, compared to existing rules.

The prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement has been awarded to Paul Falkowski and James J. McCarthy, distinguished oceanographers who focus on climate change.

McCarthy is a Harvard professor who co-chaired a working group for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and has served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A sharp decline in biodiversity is affecting every region of the world, threatening the ability of citizens in many nations to find adequate food and clean water, according to a United Nations report.

A study from Columbia University has found notable differences in the DNA of neonatal babies born after a coal plant in China was shut down, compared with babies born in the same place while the plant was still operating and polluting the surrounding air.

Dr. Frederica Perera and Dr. Deliang Tang, researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, found that babies born during the coal plant’s operation had shorter telomeres than those born after the plant’s closure — a result which seemed to validate the Chinese government's push to reduce air pollution.

The Trump administration's move to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent jeopardizes future research and excavation in one of the densest fossil troves in the world, according to scientists who work in the region.

After the Trump administration announced plans to expand offshore oil and gas drilling to nearly the entire US coastline, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke quickly followed up with another announcement exempting Florida from the new plans.

Now, a growing number of Republican and Democratic governors and legislators from coastal states are demanding the same exemption.

In the Caribbean, queen conches are living on the edge

Apr 14, 2018

The queen conch is a large marine mollusk with a beautiful shell that is prized for export. The gastropod inside the shell is featured on menus across the Caribbean. But the conch’s numbers are rapidly dwindling, and researchers say action is needed to save them.

Update April 16: On April 12, Judge Thomas Coffin, a Federal Magistrate judge in Eugene, Oregon, scheduled Juliana vs. United States to go to trial Oct. 29.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled on March 7 that the Trump administration's motion to dismiss a groundbreaking climate lawsuit was premature. The case was brought by a group of 21 young people who allege the government knowingly let carbon dioxide destabilize the climate, denying them the right to live in a habitable environment.

FEMA maps lack up-to-date information on flood risk

Apr 8, 2018

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “patchwork quilt” of flood maps has coverage gaps and is obsolete in places, according to a recent study by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Nature Conservancy charity and the University of Bristol.

The #MeToo movement has brought to light the widespread incidence of sexual misconduct in many arenas of women’s lives — and it's spread to the US Forest Service, whose chief, Tony Tooke recently resigned amid allegations of sexual wrongdoing.

Tooke quit just a few days after PBS Newshour ran special segments about abuse and harassment in the agency, focusing on some of the women who have filed complaints and suits.

Russian internet trolls from the same outfit blamed for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election also created more than 9,000 social media posts designed to stir up enmity around energy and natural gas projects in the US, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, according to a report from the Republican majority of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.


After a shocking number of deaths among North Atlantic right whales last year, no new births have been recorded so far this year, moving them ever closer to extinction.

Warming ocean waters have prompted the whales to move north from their usual summer feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine into Canada’s Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Canada has fewer rules protecting them from ship strikes, and 18 of these rare giants died last season alone. Now, the report that the population produced no new calves in the past year is causing great concern among scientists.

Federal judge halts Louisiana pipeline

Mar 23, 2018

Editor's note: Between when this story was prepared and published, a judge overturned Judge Shelly Dick’s decision, allowing construction to resume. The story has been updated to reflect that.

A federal judge in Louisiana recently ordered a temporary stop to construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, following a court challenge by several environmental groups.

Located 30 miles off the coast of New England, Nantucket is a historical gem and an upscale haven for summer vacationers. But erosion and rising seas are threatening some of its most expensive real estate.

The National Park Service calls Nantucket the “finest surviving architectural and environmental example of a late 18th-and early 19th-century New England seaport.” Back then, Nantucket grew rich on the spoils of the whaling industry. Today, it is a popular summer colony, and the historic homes have been joined by newer, but still tasteful, construction.

One of the world’s most sensitive telescopes is buried deep in Antarctic ice, searching for evidence of elusive, subatomic particles called neutrinos — elementary particles scientists believe are one of the building blocks of the universe.

In his new book, "The Telescope in the Ice: Inventing a New Astronomy at the South Pole," writer Mark Bowen chronicles the decadeslong project to build the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.

In December 2017, for the first time ever in winter, a tanker sailed without an icebreaker through the Northern Sea Route, a shipping lane that runs along the Arctic coast of Russia.

Two things made this possible: dramatically thinning ice in the Arctic and a shipbuilding company in South Korea that constructed a new type of tanker capable of moving both forward and in reverse and can break through ice up to 2 meters thick.

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.

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