The Dirt on Composting

Photo credit: CU Boulder

Composting for Human, Soil and Climate Health  (start time: 4:39) It’s late spring, when many people are out gardening, planting vegetables, and spreading compost on the soil to give those veggies a leg up. Composting also benefits the planet.  If dumped into landfills, organic waste breaks down and releases methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent, if shorter-lasting, than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Municipal solid waste landfills are a major source of methane emissions. On this week’s show, host Susan Moran talks with two experts about the climate, ecological and human health benefits of composting, and some roadblocks to increasing the low rates of composting in the U.S., including Colorado.  Dan Matsch is the director of the Compost Department at Eco-Cycle in Boulder. He had been a commercial organic farmer for many years. Mark Easter is an ecologist focusing on the  carbon footprint of food and fiber. He worked for many years as a research research associate at Colorado State University. And Mark is the author of the forthcoming book The Blue Plate: A Food Lover’s Guide to Climate Chaos (September 2024, Patagonia).

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Headline contributor: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlener 

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Birds & Habitat Preservation

Birds of Spring, Habitat Preservation (start time: 3:08)  It’s springtime, when many of us are woken up at the crack of dawn by a chorus of chickadees or other songbirds outside. To celebrate these emblems of spring, and World Migratory Bird Day (May 18), How On Earth’s Susan Moran interviews two bird/nature experts about the state of affairs for the North America bird population , including threats to their survival, efforts to preserve their habitats, and how we humans can get outside and appreciate the natural world while helping to give birds, insects and other wildlife a leg up.  Terri Schulz is senior conservation ecologist at The Nature Conservancy Colorado, focusing on preserving habitats throughout Colorado.  Dave Sutherland is a naturalist in Boulder who worked for many years as environmental education coordinator at the City of Boulder’s Open Space Mountain Parks. He leads frequent nature hikes.

Host/Show Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Jackie Sedley
Executive Producer/Contributor: Shelley Schlender

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Colorado River: new deals, old tensions

Lake Mead’s water level
Credit: Research Gate

Colorado River: Promise and Peril  (start time: 6:28)  For more than two decades the Colorado River has been shrinking, afflicted by climate change-induced drought, population growth, and water politics. Some 40 million people living in seven states, and 30 tribes, depend on the river.  The Upper Basin — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico– have been at odds with Lower Basin states – California, Nevada and Arizona — over who should do more to cut back on water use.  Meanwhile, here in Colorado, cities and towns on the Front Range have been clashing with those on the Western Slope over water from the river. After all, Front Range cities get almost half of their water from the Western Slope, through transmountain diversions. In this week’s show, host Susan Moran interviews two journalists who have been covering water issues in the West.  They recently produced a feature on a surprising new water-rights purchase that could ease west-vs-east tensions, while giving endangered fish a leg up.   Alex Hager is a reporter covering the Colorado River Basin for  KUNC and many NPR network stations. Luke Runyon is co-director of The Water Desk, an initiative of the Center for Environmental Journalism at CU Boulder. Previously he was managing editor and a reporter at KUNC.

Host/Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Sam Fuqua
Headline contributors: Joel Parker, Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Deep-sea Coral Reefs // Mineral-Mining

This week’s How On Earth offers two features:

Deep-sea Coral
photo credit: NOAA

Deep-sea coral reef discovery (start time: 0:58)  Scientists recently discovered and mapped the largest known deep-sea coral reef in the world. It’s located up to 200 miles off the U.S. Atlantic Coast, and it’s larger than Vermont. The news comes as a bright spot for oceans and marine life, when ocean acidification related to global warming, as well as overfishing, have been destroying coral reefs around the world. Contributing host Kara Fox interviews Kasey Cantwell, the operations chief for the Expeditions and Exploration Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about the big discovery and its implications.

Deep-sea mineral nodules
photo credit: NOAA

Deep-sea mining: promises and perils (start time: 10:48)  Exploratory mining of the ocean floor for minerals began decades ago. Although commercialization remains elusive, some some companies are moving rapidly to exploit the seabed for commercial use. They aim to harness critical minerals – manganese, nickel, copper, cobalt and others for use in the production of electric vehicle batteries, cell phones, wind turbines, etc. Some scientists, environmentalists, a regulatory body, and even some auto and tech companies, have called for at least a temporary ban on seabed mining, out of concern about its impact on marine life. Host Kara Fox interviews Farah Obaidullah, founder of the conservation group The Ocean and Us, and editor of a book of the same name, about seabed mining.

Hosts/Producers: Kara Fox, Susan Moran
Engineer: Sam Fuqua
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Air Pollution+Maternal Health

This week’s How On Earth features the following:

AI image credit: Tanya Alderete

How Environmental Toxins Harm Maternal Health (start time: 1:30)
Being exposed to wildfires and other forms of air pollution can wreak havoc on anyone’s health. If you’re pregnant, or  socioeconomically disadvantaged, you are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of airborne contaminants. How On Earth’s Susan Moran, and contributing host Kara Fox discuss these issues with our guests: Dr. Tanya Alderete, an assistant professor of integrative physiology at CU Boulder; and Zach Morgan, who earned his masters degree last year in integrative physiology at CU Boulder. He was the lead author on a 2023 study (with senior author Dr. Alderete and others) on how air pollution impairs brain development in infants and toddlers.
(Dr. Alderete and colleagues are seeking participants living in Boulder or Denver in a new study of how plastic exposure might affect the physical health of mothers and their infants. Read this screening survey.)

Hosts/Producers: Kara Fox, Susan Moran
Executive Producer/Engineer: Joel Parker

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Science Stories from 2023

cc NOAA Science Graphic

 

We share the How on Earth team’s picks for of science stories of 2023:

    • Superconductor Hopes And Failures (starts at 1:47)
    • New Weight Loss Drugs (starts at 5:56)
    • Hot Temperatures (starts at 9:27)
    • Asteroid Autumn (starts at 12:29)
    • Bird Population Decline (starts at 16:51)
    • Sickle Cell Disease Treatment (starts at 22:29)

Executive Producer: Joel Parker
Show Producer and Host: Joel Parker
Additional Contributions: Shelley Schlender, Beth Bennett, Susan Moran

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STEM Ed: Improving access for the blind, etc.

Photo credit: National Science Foundation

STEM ed accessibility (start time: 2:03): It’s challenging enough learning science, technology, engineering and math when you can clearly see the physical models or images of neurons on a screen.  So, imagine the hurdles faced by students who are blind or otherwise visually impaired? In this week’s show, host Susan Moran interviews two chemists who are working on making STEM education  more accessible to people with visual and other impairments, and on making learning more interactive for everyone.  Dr. Hoby Wedler is an organic chemist, a sensory expert, and a product development consultant based in Petaluma, Calif. Blind since birth, he works with many companies in the food and beverage industries.  And he founded and directed a nonprofit organization that for several years led chemistry camps for blind or visually impaired students. Dr. Brett Fiedler is a physical chemist with the University of Colorado Boulder’s PhET Interactive Simulations project. The team has been researching and designing new multimodal features for interactive science simulations.

Host & Show Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Alexis Kenyon
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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COP28 Climate Summit: Pledges & Realities

Climate Change & COP28 (start time: 1:30) A major global climate conference is taking place now in Dubai, amidst a year of record-breaking heat, wildfires, floods and more around the world.  COP28 is short for the 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The aim of the conference is to have nations address climate change by pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions (and actually following through), investing more in clean energy, and having richer nations help fund climate-adaptation measures in developing countries and especially vulnerable communities. Our guests today are Dr. Alice Alpert, a senior scientist at Environmental Defense Fund who previously served on the U.S. delegation to some COP conferences; and science journalist Tom Yulsman, who directs the Center for Environmental Journalism at CU Boulder.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer & Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker

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From Sewage to Planet Savior?

The Power of Poop (start time: 5:41)  This potent byproduct of our digestive system holds the promise of being a big part of the solution to several public health and environmental challenges of our time, such as drinking water scarcity and degraded cropland. In this week’s show, How On Earth’s Susan Moran interviews Dr. Bryn Nelson, a science writer and former microbiologist. His debut book, called Flush: The Remarkable Science of an Unlikely Treasure, recently appeared in paperback.

Host/Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Alexis Kenyon
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Climate Change Maladaptations

Over the Seawall (start time: 7:33): One of the key things that makes us human is our ability to problem-solve.  But often our engineered fixes backfire and even make the problem we’re trying to solve much worse. How On Earth host Susan Moran interviews journalist Stephen Robert Miller about how this applies to massive seawalls, re-engineered rivers, grandiose canals (such as the Central Arizona Project) and other technological fixes that have unintended consequences.  Miller’s debut book, due out next week, is called Over the Seawall: Tsunamis, Cyclones, Drought, and the Delusion of Controlling Nature (Island Press). Check out Stephen’s upcoming book talks: Nov. 2 at CU Boulder’s ATLAS 102, 7:00-8:30 p.m.; and Nov. 28 at  Boulder Book Store,  6:30 p.m.

Host/Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Sam Fuqua
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Headline contributors: Beth Bennett, Joel Parker, Shelley Schlender

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