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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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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Biofuels Tradeoffs

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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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Climate Change and Extinctions Following an Asteroid Impact

asteroid_impactClimate Change and Extinctions Following an Asteroid Impact (starts at 8:45) It has been hypothesized that the dinosaurs were killed off by a large asteroid that struck the Earth. The details of how the impact of a 10 kilometer diameter asteroid led to global scale extinction have remained elusive. Recently, climate researchers from the Boulder area published new climate model results that show how the asteroid impact ultimately leads to widespread cooling in the atmosphere and increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation. These drastic and rapid changes to the climate due to the asteroid impact may explain the global scale extinction.

Two of the authors join us today to talk about this new research. Dr. Charles Bardeen works as a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and is the lead author of the new paper. Joining Dr. Bardeen is Professor Brian Toon, a co-author of the new research and a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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

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Earth in Human Hands – Shaping our Planet’s Future

Dr. David Grinspoon (photo by Lawrence Cheng)

Dr. David Grinspoon
(photo by Lawrence Cheng)

Sometimes when we are having personal or health problems, it helps to get an outside perspective: talk to other friends who have experienced similar problems and how they dealt with them, and other friends about how they avoided those problems.  Talk to experts.  Then using all that input, we try to make the best choice to solve the problems and to live a long and happy life.  This is perhaps the situation we find ourselves in now with the health of our environment and the long-term viability of the human race.  So where to we look for that “outside perspective” and expert help?  The answer may be: look to other planets and talk to those who study them.  This is the approach astrobiologist Dr. David Grinspoon takes in his new book: “Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future”. Dr. Grinspoon is a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, and in 2013 he was appointed the inaugural Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress.  We had a chance to talk with Dr. Grinspoon about how he compares Earth’s story to those of other planets, and how our present moment is not only one of peril, but also great potential, especially when viewed from a 10,000-year perspective.

The podcast of the show is below, and you also can hear the extended interview here.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Susan Moran
Producer and Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional contributions: Beth Bennett
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Earth in Human Hands – extended interview

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This is the full interview with Dr. David Grinspoon, author of the book “Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future”.  Excerpts of this interview by Joel Parker aired on How on Earth on our January 10, 2017 show.

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2016 Retrospective

2016-resetFor this end-of-the-year How on Earth show, we look back to 2016 with clips from some of our features from the past year: selections from the Our Microbes, Ourselves series, research about Zika, gravitational waves, and carbon farming.  Those are just a few of the topics we covered in 2016, which also included: electric cars, electric airplanes, renewable energy, climate change, using the microbiome as indicator of length of time after death, star gazing, pesticides, life on other planets, planets around other stars, stars in other galaxies, eggs, plant diversity, marine animal sex, wildfires, recent science graduates describing their thesis work, PTSD, light pollution, pollinators, lead in water supplies, Alzheimer’s research, the Rosetta mission, the New Horizons mission, missions to Mars – past, present, and future, sleep, cell phones, and more!

Hosts: Joel Parker, Chip Grandits
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett

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Biodiversity Matters // Scientists Implore Trump

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Gillian Bowser, research scientist, CSU

This week’s show offers two features:
Global Biodiversity (start time: 1:22): Scientists, NGOs and government representatives from nearly 200 countries have been gathering in Cancun, Mexico, for the UN Biodiversity Conference, known as COP13. They’re meeting to promote protocols and strategic actions related to biological diversity, climate change, food security, and even citizen science.  Gillian Bowser, a research scientist at Colorado State University, has studied international climate and biodiversity conventions, while working on issues such as women in sustainability, as well as citizen science. She discusses with host Susan Moran the importance of COP13, and the impact of citizens in scientific studies, such as identifying and tracking butterflies, birds and other species.

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Alan Townsend, ecologist, CU Boulder

Scientists’ Letter to Trump (start time: 12:09) Last week roughly 800 earth and planetary scientists, as well as energy experts, sent an open letter to president-elect Donald Trump, urging him to take six concrete steps to address climate change and to help protect “America’s economy, national security, and public health and safety.” Trump has called global warming a concept created by China to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive, and he has picked a climate change denialist to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Many scientists fear that a Trump administration will drastically decrease federal funding for climate research. Indeed, the Trump transition team has already issued a questionnaire to the Department of Energy to identify employees and contractors who have worked on climate change research. Alan Townsend, an ecologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and one of many Colorado scientists who signed the letter, discusses these issues with hosts Maeve Conran and Susan Moran.

Hosts: Maeve Conran, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett

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Methane Emissions From Natural Gas

Oil and gas wells in Four Corners region. Credit: NASA

Methane Madness (start time: 2:20)  More than a decade ago, scientists noted that the area where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet, known as Four Corners, appeared to be emitting a curiously large amount of methane. In a new study, a team of scientists have traced the source: more than 250 gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines and processing plants associated with oil and gas development in the San Juan Basin. The basin is one of many places where new drilling technologies, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, have propelled a boom in natural gas extraction. The boom has transformed the U.S. energy mix. Our two guests discuss with hosts Daniel Glick and Susan Moran the science and public health aspects of this study as well as the human side of living near natural gas wells in Colorado. Dr. Colm Sweeney co-authored the recent Four Corners study. He is the lead scientist for NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab Aircraft Program, and he is a research scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, at the University of Colorado Boulder. Our other guest, Dr. Christopher Clack, is a physicist and mathematician with CIRES whose research focuses on renewable electricity. He shares his personal experience with and documentation of natural gas extraction.

Hosts: Daniel Glick, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Contributor: Joel Parker

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Toward Sustainable Agriculture

Corn fields in Illinois

Corn fields in Illinois

Sustainable Agriculture (starts 3:06): We couldn’t feed the planet without nitrogen, a vital nutrient for crops. But most soils don’t produce enough of it to feed anywhere near our 7 billion-plus humans on the planet. So, for nearly a century we’ve been applying synthetic fertilizer—mainly nitrogen and phosphorus — to grow crops for animals and people. But we have overindulged, creating vast amounts of waste, in the form of nitrogen pollution of waterways and the atmosphere. State and federal regulations have pressured growers to dramatically reduce fertilizer runoff from their fields. But it’s not been enough. Another approach – call it the carrot versus the stick – is also taking hold. Major food retailers, wholesalers, and producers, such as Walmart, United Suppliers and Unilever are transforming their whole supply chains, making food production less carbon- and nitrogen-intensive. Suzy Friedman, a sustainable agriculture expert with the Environmental Defense Fund, discusses with host Susan Moran how programs such as SUSTAIN help large food companies shrink their environmental footprint.

Hosts: Natalia Bayona, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Tim Russo
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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