Living on Earth

Sunday 4PM on WSDL 90.7 FM

Hosted by Steve Curwood, the award-winning environmental news program "Living on Earth" delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. As the population continues to rise and the management of the earth's resources becomes even more critical, "Living on Earth" examines the issues facing our increasingly interdependent world.

"Living on Earth" presents riveting features and commentary on everything from culture, economics and technology to health, law, food and transportation. It covers topics from the small challenges of everyday life to the future state of the environment and the health and well-being of the world's inhabitants.

Curwood and company draw from an impressive array of experts, commentators and journalists, including Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York's Hayden Planetarium; Mark Hertsgaard, author of "Earth Odyssey"; Janet Raloff of "Science News"; author Sy Montgomery; and award-winning producer Terry Fitzpatrick.

"Living on Earth" is a truly compelling hour of radio journalism.

Living on Earth Website

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, water utilities were shut down, making access to safe drinking water one of the most pressing issues across the island. So, a citizen science group in Rincón, Puerto Rico, rallied to help test drinking water sources.

Rincón, on the west coast of Puerto Rico, is a mecca for surfers and beachgoing tourists. The town has a quaint square with gourmet coffee shops and a farmers market.

At the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva this past spring, the United States delegation shocked the assembly by opposing breastfeeding regulations that would encourage nations to limit the use of infant formulas and milk substitutes.

When it comes to feeding newborn babies, the science is settled: Breast milk has myriad health benefits that formula simply can’t rival. This became clear in the 1970s, when Nestlé began to aggressively market infant formula in developing countries and running ads implying it was just as good as breast milk.

A team at Stanford University has started using a genetic editing tool called CRISPR to identify the genes that make corals more heat-tolerant.

As the climate changes, warming oceans pose a huge threat to coral reefs. In 2016, nearly a third of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef died off. A quarter of all the fish species in the sea rely on corals for habitat, so die-offs aren’t just bad news for corals.

It was, so to speak, a perfect storm for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The agency was already stretched beyond its capacity when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last year, so much so that it did not properly attend to the damage done by the worst storms in memory. 

First, Hurricane Irma had just leveled the Virgin Islands two weeks prior. In response, all of the supplies in FEMA’s warehouse in San Juan had been moved and used there. Second, a string of massive wildfires were raging in California at the time. Hurricane Maria was the third strike.

Local NGOs repair Puerto Rico’s coral reefs in Maria’s aftermath

Aug 4, 2018

On a beach in Vega Baja on Puerto Rico’s northern coast, Ernesto Vélez Gandía stands next to a fallen loved one.

“We got a lot of love for him,” he says. “We saw him alive, very alive … so we just admire him and remember him. It’s very sentimental. I don’t know, but it’s deep in the heart.”

The deceased in this instance is a dead piece of coral, sitting in shallow, warm water at the entrance to a reef — a likely casualty from a warming ocean. This particular piece of coral was one of the oldest in the reef, he says.

Boston faces a daunting future of rising seas

Aug 4, 2018

Boston got a wake-up call earlier this year when the first of a string of nor’easter storms hit just as the tide was peaking. The ocean spilled into the subway and into homes up and down the coast.

The Union of Concerned Scientists projects that by the end of the century, Boston will see close to 7 feet of sea level rise, putting 89,000 Massachusetts coastal homes worth $63 billion at risk from tidal floods.

Something was not making sense.

The Montreal Protocol had been in effect for more than 30 years to rid the planet of products that emit chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons — or CFCs, as most people know them.

When it comes to the sea level rise caused by global warming, there appears to be a misnomer floating around the collective conscience of most Americans, says Gregory Dusek.

“I think a lot of people think of sea level rise as something that's not going to be impacting us for some time,” says Dusek, who serves as the chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services.

As immigration issues along the US southern border continue to roil the country, one driving force of migration from troubled Central American countries has received relatively little notice: climate change.

The 2018 farm bill stirs conflict and controversy

Jul 14, 2018

The US Congress took almost two years to negotiate the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2018 Farm Bill is shaping up to be possibly even more divisive.

The humpback whale population is recovering

Jul 14, 2018

Rapidly melting Antarctica ice poses a threat to coastal cities, but there is at least one species that is benefiting: Humpback whales are flourishing these days, due to an abundance of krill.

Nineteenth-century commercial whaling killed the vast majority of the world’s whales, so this current revival of the humpback whale should be celebrated as a conservation victory, says University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Ari Friedlaender. Nevertheless, there are questions about how long the krill boom might last.

“Canada is back.” Justin Trudeau said those words shortly after being elected prime minister of Canada in 2015. He talked about how the country was ready to step up its efforts to become more of a player in the global marketplace, as well as a change agent for minimizing the impact of global warming. 

In the 1960s, just about all of the beaches on Long Island Sound in Connecticut were off-limits to people of color. Then Ned Coll came along.

In his book, "Free the Beaches: The Story of Ned Coll and the Battle for America’s Most Exclusive Shoreline," historian Andrew Kahrl describes Coll’s creative protests to smash the color bar and open the beaches to all children wanting to cool off on hot days.

The human dilemma of climate change is front and center in Alaska.

The far north is warming much faster than the rest of the world, causing permafrost to melt and forcing coastal Alaskans to retreat from the sea. Yet, $9 out of every $10 in state coffers come from the North Slope production of petroleum, which accelerates climate disruption when it’s burned.

The most toxic town in America

Jun 9, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency named Kotzebue, Alaska, the worst industrially polluted town in the United States earlier this year. The not-so-bragworthy distinction came from an annual EPA data set called the Toxics Release Inventory. 

No refuge for wildlife in some US wildlife refuges

Jun 9, 2018

A new report from the Center for Biological Diversity finds that chemical pesticides, totaling half a million pounds, are sprayed annually within some United States national wildlife refuges.

About 560 national wildlife refuges cover more than 150 million acres across the country, with some areas completely off-limits to humans and others open for hunting and fishing. But a number of national wildlife refuges also allow commercial agriculture, which exposes migrating birds and other wildlife in those refuges to yearly spraying of pesticides.

Saving Kerala’s Fresh Water

Jun 1, 2018

Heavy monsoons are typical in Kerala, India, where the rain irrigates crops and fills drinking wells. But over the past decade, the rains have been more volatile, partly due to a changing climate. The unreliable rains have heightened fears of drought, which could be devastating for an area trying to increase its organic agricultural production.

Two grassroots heroes who defended their environments against powerful industries are among the seven recipients of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize.

They are Claire Nouvian, a French marine life advocate who advocated relentlessly for a more sustainable fishing policy in the European Union; and Manny Calonzo of the Philippines, who pushed his country to ban paint containing the neurotoxin lead.

Two women from South Africa who joined forces to stop a secret nuclear power deal between South Africa and Russia are among the seven recipients of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize.

The prize recognizes individuals who have stood up to vested interests, corruption, industry bullying and political repression to protect their communities and the environment. It is awarded to activists in each inhabited region of the world.

Activists in British Columbia are trying to stop Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which would nearly triple the flow of oil sands crude from Alberta to the port at Vancouver. The protestors say the project endangers the climate.

On October 11, 2016, American climate activists closed valves on five pipelines, halting most of the oil flowing into the US from Canada’s oil sands. They waited for arrest and when police arrived, they went quietly. They faced criminal charges in court.

Residents worry Massachusetts waste incinerator is contaminating waterways

May 12, 2018

Anyone who spends time in Revere, Massachusetts, can see the close relationship between this small industrial town north of Boston and the surrounding waterways.

The area is so used to the water that Revere resident Sandra Hurley Jewkes says that her mother’s house “becomes an island” five to seven times a year when the area is flooded.

Three generations of Jewkes’ family has lived in the house situated right next to the Rumney Marsh Reservation, a 600-acre state park that is a haven for various species of birds and marine life.

Government agencies from the Environmental Protection Agency to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the United States Geological Survey are breathing sighs of relief, as they will keep their federal funding or even see budget increases, thanks to a bipartisan federal spending measure enacted March 23.

There are several chemicals that have no taste or smell that could reach our drinking water without us realizing the inconspicuous harm they are causing. Then, there are some that have a particular property to them — such as smelling like licorice.

That is the case for MCHM, a chemical that was created to help in the washing of coal. Labeled as a coal flocculant, it has the ability to separate burnable fossil fuel from dirt and rock and other materials.

The mysterious aurora known as 'Steve,' explained

Apr 28, 2018

Thanks to collaboration between citizen scientists and astronomers, a strange phenomenon in the night sky, dubbed “Steve,” has finally been explained.

In 2017, a glowing purple-and-green ribbon across the heavens mystified sky-watchers because it showed up much further south than the famous northern lights, or aurora borealis. These observers decided to call it “Steve,” echoing the woodland creatures in the children’s movie "Over the Hedge."

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.

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