The Unnatural World

the-unnatural-world-9781476743905_lgThe Unnatural World (start time: 6:58): It’s an audacious topic for a book: the planet, and audacious individuals who are working to save — actually, to remake — human civilization and our home on Earth. David Biello is the science curator at TED and a contributing editor at Scientific American. His debut book, The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth’s Newest Age (Scribner), will be out in paperback next month. It explores how we have altered “nature” in so many ways, from burning fossil fuels and warming the oceans and atmosphere, to tearing down tropical rain forests, to killing off so many species. In this newest epoch, dubbed by many the Anthropocene, humans are not just messing things up; they are also inventing solutions, as Biello notes. Daring optimists in his book include Elon Musk and his Tesla electric cars and trucks.

Hosts: Chip Grantis, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Chip Grantis
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett
Additional Contributions: Joel Parker

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Lancet Countdown on Climate Change

Lancet Countdown LogoLancet Countdown on Climate Change (starts 3:45) Respectable science journals no longer debate whether human activity causes climate change, or even if it can be reversed to prevent human suffering.  They now scramble to figure out what will be the cost and who will pay.  The bill will be payable in lost lives and livelihoods.  The British Medical Journal, The Lancet has assembled an interdisciplinary team of scientists to help tally this enormous global bill.  On October 30th they released their 2017 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change.  The report concludes that the delayed response to climate change over the past 25 years has already jeopardized human lives and livelihoods, and the impacts must be assessed in terms of global public health.  One of the contributors to that report is local climate scientist, Max Boykoff, a fellow at CIRES in Boulder, where he directs the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.  

Hosts: Shelley Schlender and Chip Grandits
Producer: Shelley Schlender and Chip Grandits
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Additional Contributions: Beth Bennett
Executive Producer:Beth Bennett

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Tamed and Untamed: Essays on the Animal Kingdom

Tamed and Untamed

Tamed and Untamed

This week on How on Earth, Beth interviews Sy Montgomery and Liz Thomas, co-authors of Tamed and Untamed: Close Encounters of the Animal Kind: Some amazing stories of their experiences with animals throughout the animal kingdom, ranging from domestic animals (chickens are smarter than we thought!) to wild animals to invertebrates. the 2-3 page format of their book makes for easy reading! See their book at http://www.chelseagreen.com/tamed-and-untamed
Host: Beth Bennett
Producer: Beth Bennett
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Additional Contributions: Joel Parker
Executive Producer:Beth Bennett

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Mutant Proteins // Future Technologies

Proteins foldedMutant Proteins and Protein Evolution (starts 4:42) CU School of Medicine professor David Pollock explains why he has devised a new way to identify and predict both the evolution of proteins and disease causing protein mutations.    Pollock’s highly technical model uses an analogy about a physical model called the Stokes Shift to help explain the biochemical properties of how proteins change, for better or worse.  Pollock’s study has just been published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.  Its title is “Sequence entropy of folding and the absolute rate of amino acid substitutions.”  Additionally, he has written a “behind the paper” explanation for a more general audience to explain the concepts being explored in his ground-breaking research.

Soonish GraphicSoonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything (starts 15:00) Dr. Kelly Weinersmith is an adjunct assistant professor in the BioSciences Department at Rice University. She specializes in the study of parasites.  But her curiosity has taken her well beyond parasites to ask all-encompassing questions, such as, what will the future will look like – the future of space research, medicine, robots, and, well, humans.  These topics are all part of Weinersmith’s new funny-serious book.  It’s called Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything. Weinersmith co-authored the book with her husband, Zach.  They’ll be at book signings this week Denver and Boulder.

Hosts: Shelley Schlender, Susan Moran
Producer, Engineer: Shelley
Additional Contributions: Beth Bennett
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett

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Nuclear Tests and the Van Allen Belts

explosion-beltsIn 1963, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, agreeing to not test nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, or in outer space.  France continued atmospheric testing until 1974, and the last atmospheric test was done by China on October 16, 1980. Over 500 atmospheric nuclear tests have been performed before then, but none since.

That could soon change.  North Korea has threatened to do an atmospheric nuclear test.  Even if that test doesn’t lead to a chain of more dangerous events, and considering the potential health impacts of the dispersed radiation, it turns out that simply testing a missile in the atmosphere could lead to highly charged electrons that would tend to fry the electronics of Earth-orbiting satellites.

It’s a complex issue, and one that ties in with the huge magnetic fields that protect the Earth and the satellites orbiting around it.  Those magnetic fields include some areas that attract highly charged particles, called the Van Allen belts.  Earlier this year, we reported on a discovery from the Laboratory of Atmospheric Space Physics in Boulder, about how very low frequency radio transmissions sent to military submarines deep under that water, accidentally help satellites high above the Earth by reducing the impact of the Van Allen belts’ highly charged particles.  So, could those very low frequency waves also protect us from the satellite-frying effects of an atmospheric nuclear weapons test?  If things get too crazy here on Earth, could a spacecraft with a well-designed magnetic field help people escape?  Those are questions that come to mind for How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender.  Now here’s Shelley’s investigation about the Van Allen belts, whether cell phones would work after a nuclear explosion, and escaping to outer space.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Chip Grandits
Producer, Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional Contributions: Beth Bennett, Alejandro Soto
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett

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Antibiotics & Your Microbiome

microbiomeThis week on How on Earth, Beth interviews Dr Martin Blaser of New York University who challenges the assumption that antibiotics are harmless drugs targeting only harmful pathogens. In his recent book, Missing Microbes, Blaser presents the evidence that antibiotics are causing the extinction of important bacteria in our microbiome. These microbes have co-evolved with us, so losing them puts us at risk of many of the rising diseases of our society: asthma, allergies, eczema and obesity. Check out his book: https://books.google.com/books/about/Missing_Microbes.html?id=RJucAwAAQBAJ

Host: Beth Bennett
Producer: Beth Bennett
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett

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Committed Warming

Committed warming as a function of transient climate response, courtesy of Nature Climate Change.

Committed warming as a function of transient climate response, courtesy of Nature Climate Change.

Much of current climate science research focuses on understanding how the climate is changing and what type of climate we will have in the near future. But to understand where the climate is going, we need to understand where the climate has been. It is especially important to understand how the climate has responded to the rise of the modern, industrial world, which has emitted greenhouse gases that warm the climate. Because many of these gases will last for a long time in the atmosphere, some of this warming has already been set in motion and will happen regardless of future greenhouse gas emissions. This change is known as “committed warming”.

Determining how much committed warming has occurred in the climate is important to understand the future path of our climate. How on Earth speaks with Dr. Robert Pincus, a co-author of a new study published in Nature Climate Change that provides an estimate of committed warming using a global database of surface temperatures. Dr. Pincus is a Research Scientist at the Earth System Research Laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hosts: Alejandro Soto
Engineer: Alejandro Soto, Shelley Schlender
Producer: Shelley Schlender
Additional Contributions:  Beth Bennett, Joel Parker
Executive Producer:  Alejandro Soto

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The Cassini Mission to Saturn

pia03883-nohuygensThe Cassini mission to Saturn launched 20 years ago, on October 15, 1997.  It took seven years to reach Saturn, and has been orbiting and intensely studying Saturn ever since…until last week when the mission ended in a final dive into Saturn’s atmosphere.  The mission studied Saturn, its famous rings, and its many moons using a suite of instruments that observed a broad range of wavelengths from ultraviolet, to visible, infrared, and radio as well as examining dust, charged particles, and magnetic fields.  It also delivered the Huygens probe that descended through the atmosphere of Saturn’s giant moon, Titan.

In this edition of How on earth, we have two scientists from the Cassini mission team.  Dr. Larry Esposito is a Professor at the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and member of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU.  Dr. Carly Howett is a planetary scientist and manager at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder.  They share with us some of the science from Cassini-Huygens and experiences working on such a long-term and successful space mission.

Host / Producer / Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional Contributions: Beth Bennett, Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto

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Aging Research Part 2

Aging SkinThis week on How on Earth we speak with Simon Melov, a biochemist at the Buck Institute for Aging. Dr Melov studies various aspects of aging in worms, mice and humans. The aging field is replete with new and exciting discoveries and Simon’s work epitomizes that.

Hosts:Beth Bennett and Chip Grandis
Producer:Beth Bennett
Engineer:Maeve Conran
Additional Contributions:Joel Parker
Executive Producer:Alejandro Soto

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Biofuels Tradeoffs

corn-field-farm-vertical-PA
Biofuels Tradeoffs (start time: 8:27): In this week’s show David DeGennaro, an agriculture policy specialist with the National Wildlife Federation and author of a report called “Fueling Destruction,”  talks with host Susan Moran about the environmental consequences of biofuels, and about possible solutions. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed maintaining record support for biofuels, namely corn. Last week the EPA ended an open public comment period leading up to a decision to maintain, increase or scale back its current support of biofuels as part of the Renewable Fuels Standard, a federal mandate to blend corn-based ethanol and other renewable fuels into conventional gasoline. NWF and some other environmental organizations, along with former California Congressman Henry Waxman, have been urging the EPA and Congress to reduce biofuels mandates. Increased demand for corn has led to the conversion of millions of acres of habitat-rich grasslands and into croplands — all without significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto
Additional contributions: Alejandro Soto

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