Environment

The Salt
3:24 am
Tue August 21, 2012

How A Biofuel Dream Called Jatropha Came Crashing Down

A man harvests fruits of the Jatropha tree in Taabo, Ivory Coast. Jatropha, which is grown in many parts of the world, has fallen from favor as a diesel fuel substitute.
Kambou Sia AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon October 22, 2012 10:37 am

From Congress to The Colbert Report, people are talking about the Midwestern drought and debating whether it makes sense to convert the country's shrinking corn supplies into ethanol to power our cars.

It's the latest installment of the long-running food vs. fuel battle.

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Environment
4:20 pm
Mon August 20, 2012

Wood Energy Not 'Green' Enough, Says Mass.

Originally published on Mon August 20, 2012 6:02 pm

Wind and solar get lots of attention, but another kind of renewable power actually creates more energy in our country --wood. The state of Massachusetts on Friday decided that these plants aren't green enough to get some special breaks.

The Salt
8:48 am
Mon August 20, 2012

How Much Does A Hamburger Cost? That Depends

Crunching the numbers to show the environmental cost of a hamburger isn't easy, and we should know.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon October 22, 2012 10:38 am

A few decades ago, a hamburger was just a yummy sandwich.

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Science
1:34 pm
Fri August 17, 2012

Solar Toilet Disinfects Waste, Makes Hydrogen Fuel

Transcript

FLORA LICHTMAN, HOST:

You might take that sound for granted. I know I do. That's because most of us hear it all the time, at least in this country. Toilets are everywhere here in the U.S. But a lot of people around the world don't hear that sound every day, because two-and-a-half billion people, with the B, don't have a safe, sanitary place to go to the bathroom, according to the World Health Organization.

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NPR Story
1:16 pm
Fri August 17, 2012

Aging City Pipes In Need Of A Plumber's Touch

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 1:30 pm

Transcript

FLORA LICHTMAN, HOST:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Flora Lichtman. We're in the midst of the worst drought in over 50 years. Water tables are dropping faster than they can be replenished, and at the same time an op-ed in the New York Times today says that the United States is estimated to lose about one in six gallons, one in six gallons of clean water every day due to leaky pipes in the ground.

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Environment
3:21 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

When This Oil Spills, It's 'A Whole New Monster'

An oil sheen appears along the shore of the Kalamazoo. More than 800,000 gallons of oil entered Talmadge Creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River, a Lake Michigan tributary. Heavy rains caused the river to overtop existing dams and carried oil 30 miles downstream.
John W. Poole NPR

Originally published on Thu August 16, 2012 6:19 pm

Sometime in the next few months, David Daniel probably will have to stand by and watch as bulldozers knock down his thick forest and dig up the streams he loves.

His East Texas property is one of more than 1,000 in the path of a new pipeline, the southern stretch of what is known as the Keystone XL system.

For years, Daniel has tried to avoid this fate — or at least figure out what risks will come with it. But it has been difficult for him to get straight answers about the tar sands oil the pipeline will carry, and what happens when it spills.

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Participation Nation
7:03 am
Thu August 16, 2012

Focusing On Fish In Knoxville, Tenn.

A sicklefin redhorse being propagated for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Courtesy of Conservation Fisheries

Originally published on Thu August 16, 2012 7:36 am

I work for a company called Conservation Fisheries. It's a 20-year-old nonprofit based in Knoxville that focuses on the conservation of rare freshwater fish, such as chubs, darters, madtoms and minnows.

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NPR Cities: Urban Life In The 21st Century
5:29 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

Scorching Phoenix Plans For An Even Hotter Future

A Metro Light Rail train rolls by the Devine Legacy apartment building along Central Avenue in Phoenix. The energy-efficient complex includes 65 "urban style" apartments.
Courtesy of Mica Thomas Mulloy

Originally published on Thu August 23, 2012 6:37 pm

It's been a record hot summer in many cities across the nation. Phoenix is no exception. This Sonoran Desert metropolis already records more days over 100 degrees than any other major U.S. city. Now, climate models predict Phoenix will soon get even hotter.

A hotter future may mean a more volatile environment — and along with it, natural disasters, greater pressure on infrastructure, and an increased physical toll on city residents.

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Europe
2:49 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

Germans Confront The Costs Of A Nuclear-Free Future

A worker on a newly constructed transmission tower near Buetzow, Germany, earlier this month. The German government plans to shut down nuclear power plants and is seeking to replace that production with power from renewable energy sources, especially wind turbines and solar parks. New power transmission lines will be needed.
Sean Gallup Getty Images

Originally published on Thu August 16, 2012 1:07 pm

After Japan's Fukushima disaster last year, Germany announced a groundbreaking energy plan: It would phase out all of its domestic nuclear power in a decade and make a transition to safer, carbon neutral energy.

The goal is to have solar, wind and other renewables account for nearly 40 percent of the energy for Europe's largest economy in a decade, and 80 percent by 2050.

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Author Interviews
12:55 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

Climate 'Weirdness' Throws Ecosystems 'Out Of Kilter'

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the past year through June 2012 has been the hottest year in the continental U.S. since modern record-keeping started in 1895. Above, New Yorkers flocked to Coney Island to try to beat the heat in early August.
Mario Tama Getty Images

Originally published on Tue August 14, 2012 1:47 pm

Science journalist Michael Lemonick doesn't want to be a doomsday prophet, but he does want to be realistic about the threat of climate change. "Since I started writing about climate change all the way back in 1987, we've known what the cause is, we've known what the likely outcome is, and we've had time to act — and essentially we haven't acted," he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies.

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Environment
11:46 am
Mon August 13, 2012

Feds Conclude Probe Of Polar Bear Scientists

A polar bear on fresh ice in the Hudson Bay in November 2007.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 12:46 pm

A federal investigation into two researchers who wrote a famous report on drowned polar bears is finally over, according to their lawyer.

But the scientists still haven't been allowed to see a copy of the investigation report or its conclusions, says attorney Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Critics have charged that the two-year investigation was a witch hunt into researchers whose work had political implications.

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The Picture Show
7:05 am
Sat August 11, 2012

A New Species Discovered ... On Flickr

Guek Hock Ping ZooKeys

One day in May of 2011, Shaun Winterton was looking at pictures of bugs on the Internet when something unusual caught his eye.

It was a close shot of a green lacewing — an insect he knew well — but on its wing was an unfamiliar network of black lines and a few flecks of blue.

Winterton, a senior entomologist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, has seen a lot of bugs. But he hadn't seen this species before.

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Around the Nation
4:44 am
Sat August 11, 2012

Joplin's New Trees Struggle To Survive Amid Drought

Volunteers water saplings planted in Cunningham Park in Joplin, Mo. The trees were planted to help reforest Joplin after a deadly tornado last year destroyed many of the city's trees.
Michele Skalicky KSMU

Originally published on Sat August 11, 2012 2:38 pm

Saplings — no more than 6 feet tall — dot the landscape in Joplin, Mo. They replace the large shade trees that were ripped out of the ground by a massive tornado that swept through town in May of 2011.

Nearly 7,000 new trees, donated by various organizations, have been planted. They include sturdy, mostly native, varieties, such as oak, sycamore and redbud — trees that can withstand strong winds when they're taller.

With temperatures above normal for the past few months and precipitation below normal, those trees have had a hard time taking root.

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Around the Nation
4:44 am
Sat August 11, 2012

Some Idaho Farmers Pray, Others Turn On The Water

Farmer Hans Hayden walks through his drought-stricken wheat field in Idaho. He says the wheat should be 3 feet tall by now.
Molly Messick for NPR

Originally published on Sat August 11, 2012 2:38 pm

In the West, in Idaho's arid, high desert, the drought has a mixed effect. There's a big divide between farmers with deep wells and irrigation and those without.

Hans Hayden is a rare find: a talkative farmer. He likes to explain things. But when it comes to the wheat he planted this spring, there's not much to say. This field needed rain. It didn't get it.

"At this point in time, it kind of looks like a desert," he says.

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The Salt
3:33 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

Some At-Risk Shark Species Are Ending Up In U.S. Soups

Click the image to see a full-size version. At least eight shark species, many endangered or threatened, were found in bowls of shark fin soup across the country.
Pew Environment Group

Sharks are some of the most feared and fascinating animals on the planet. They've had their own week of awareness-raising and celebration on the Discovery Channel for the last 25 years. But some say they are also delicious — as in the Chinese delicacy — shark fin soup.

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Environment
5:17 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

How A Texas Town Became Water Smart

An area in San Antonio's Brackenridge Park where treated wastewater is pumped into the San Antonio River, one of many measures the city has taken to combat drought.
Mose Buchele StateImpact Texas

Originally published on Fri August 10, 2012 11:02 am

Faced with a booming population and a disappearing water supply, the city of San Antonio responded by dramatically cutting consumption, pioneering new storage techniques and investing in water recycling and desalination projects. It now boasts that it is "Water's Most Resourceful City."

There are so many programs and projects that Chuck Ahrens of Water Resources and Conservation with the San Antonio Water System can hardly keep track.

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Science
1:46 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

Paleontologists Unearth Possible Pre-Human Fossils

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 2:30 pm

Fossils discovered in East Africa suggest that Homo erectus, the species believed to be humans' direct ancestor, may have shared Earth with two genetically distinct but similar species. Some paleontologists believe that these species may be distant relatives to modern humans, while others need more evidence.

Participation Nation
12:33 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

Healing The Bay In Santa Monica, Calif.

A volunteer picks up trash at a Nothin' But Sand beach cleanup.
Courtesy of Heal The Bay

Originally published on Tue August 14, 2012 12:59 pm

Clean is a relative term, says Eveline Bravo, programs manager for Heal the Bay, a nonprofit pro-environment organization hellbent on restoring Santa Monica Bay.

"There's so much Styrofoam and plastic and it's hard to feel like you're not just making small dents."

Yet every third Saturday, Bravo — along with hundreds of other volunteers — shows up at designated beaches with buckets in hand.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:10 am
Thu August 9, 2012

Nature Comes Into Full View On Twitter

Storm cloud near Belmar, New Jersey, last month.
Barbara J King

Originally published on Fri August 10, 2012 6:48 am

On Sunday, I went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach. As I swam along laterally, in the trough between two lines of waves, I daydreamed about how far those waves had traveled and which other animal species had encountered them along the way.

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Environment
3:19 am
Thu August 9, 2012

Building For Birds: Architects Aim For Safer Skies

Architect Guy Maxwell holds a printout of his proposed design for the new Bridge Building at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
John W. Poole NPR

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 1:07 pm

Second of a two-part series. Read Part 1.

Modern architecture's love affair with tall glass buildings takes a toll. Every year, millions of birds crash into glass windows in North America.

These collisions may seem like an intractable problem. But in New York City, an architect is trying to find a solution.

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The Salt
2:26 pm
Wed August 8, 2012

Here's Where Farms Are Sucking The Planet Dry

Check out some of the world's most important - and threatened - aquifers. Click to see a high-resolution version of this map.
Nature

Originally published on Wed August 8, 2012 5:49 pm

This map is disturbing, once you understand it. It's a new attempt to visualize an old problem — the shrinking of underground water reserves, in most cases because farmers are pumping out water to irrigate their crops.

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The Two-Way
12:17 pm
Wed August 8, 2012

How Hot Was It? July Was Warmest Month On Record For U.S.

Only one color was needed to show where July ranks in terms of hottest months on record.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Originally published on Wed August 8, 2012 1:14 pm

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Architecture
4:03 am
Wed August 8, 2012

Sky-High Design: How To Make A Bird-Friendly Building

Ayodha Ouditt NPR

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 10:44 am

Shiny glass buildings are a hallmark of modern architecture, but for birds, that shimmer can be deadly. Every year, an estimated 100 million to 1 billion birds die by flying into glass windows. By studying how birds interact with buildings, architects and ornithologists are trying to create special features designed to keep birds alive.

Below, click around to see architectural features that can make buildings safer for birds — or more deadly.

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Environment
3:15 am
Wed August 8, 2012

A Clear And Present Danger: How Glass Kills Birds

Experts say glass buildings kill millions of birds every year. Scientists at Powdermill Avian Research Center are studying ways to help prevent this. Here, a volunteer tags a black hooded warbler in Rector, Pa., in May.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Tue December 4, 2012 12:05 pm

First of a two-part series. Read Part 2.

Modern architecture loves glass. Glass makes interiors brighter and adds sparkle to cityscapes. But glass also kills millions of birds every year when they collide with windows. Biologists say as more glass buildings go up, more birds are dying.

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World
3:27 am
Tue August 7, 2012

Growing Pains: Nations Balance Growth, Power Needs

Muslim girls study by candlelight inside a religious school in Noida, near New Delhi, on July 31. The collapse of three regional power grids last week caused a massive power outage that blacked out more than half of India.
Parivatran Sharma Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Wed August 8, 2012 2:39 pm

It may take some time to pinpoint the exact cause of India's massive blackouts last week, but the underlying issue for India and many other parts of the developing world is that supply is struggling to keep up with the growing demand for power — an imbalance that can affect the reliability of electric grids.

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Environment
5:07 pm
Mon August 6, 2012

Are Recent Heat Waves A Result Of Climate Change?

Cattle use a tree for shade as temperatures rose above 100 degrees in a pasture July 28, 2011, near Canadian, Texas.
Scott Olson Getty Images

Originally published on Mon August 6, 2012 6:51 pm

The last couple of years have certainly felt unusually hot in many parts of the U.S., but are they really all that unusual?

Many people wonder whether a warming climate is turning up the temperature or whether it's all just part of the normal variation in the weather. Among scientists, there's a growing view that these latest heat waves are indeed a result of climate change.

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Environment
4:39 pm
Mon August 6, 2012

Midwest Fish Kills Exacerbated By Record Heat

Originally published on Mon August 6, 2012 6:44 pm

This summer, extreme heat and drought have brought on larger than normal "fish kills" throughout the Midwest. Fish are dying by the tens of thousands. All Things Considered host Audie Cornish speaks with Aaron Woldt, Fisheries Program Supervisor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Midwestern Region, about what's happening in these waters.

World
5:54 am
Sat August 4, 2012

No Space, Mate: Koalas' Habitat Under Threat

A male koala visits the female enclosure at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia. Koalas are dwindling in number as their habitat along Australia's east coast gives way to urban growth.
Stuart Cohen for NPR

Originally published on Sun August 5, 2012 11:43 am

Earlier this year, the Australian government added the koala to the country's list of endangered species. By some counts, only about 100,000 remain in the wild in a country that once boasted a population in the millions. But many conservationists say the listing doesn't go far enough.

Paul O'Donnell is one of the many volunteers at Friends of the Koala in the northern New South Wales town of Lismore.

"We go out every day for about an hour or so collecting leaf; usually we get about one bin per koala," O'Donnell says.

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Around the Nation
5:51 am
Sat August 4, 2012

Soaked In Drought: Lessons From The Dust Bowl

Scorched pastures are spreading across central Illinois and the rest of the Midwest. Technology and techniques developed from previous droughts like the Dust Bowl are helping to save some of today's crops, but there's no substitute for water.
Scott Olson Getty Images

Originally published on Sun August 5, 2012 11:43 am

This summer's drought continues to wilt and bake crops from Ohio to the Great Plains and beyond. Under a baking, late-afternoon sun just outside of the tiny east-central Illinois town of Thawville, John Hildenbrand walks down his dusty, gravel driveway toward one of his corn fields.

"You can see on the outer edge, these are a lot better-looking ears on the outside rows. Of course, it's not near as hot as it is inside the field," he says.

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Environment
1:30 pm
Fri August 3, 2012

Changing Views About A Changing Climate

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 2:29 pm

What is the role of humans in climate change? "Call me a converted skeptic," physicist Richard Muller wrote in an Op-Ed in the New York Times this week, describing his analysis of data from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. Though Muller was once a notable skeptic regarding studies connecting human activity to climate change, he has now concluded that "humans are almost entirely the cause" of global warming.

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