Environment

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This past September, after Maggie Mary Otto passed away, the village of Kongiganak, Alaska — also known as Kong — celebrated her life with a four-course feast. People filed into the old high school gym and piled their plates with seal stew and walrus meat, while children wrestled by the bleachers. It was crowded. Mrs. Otto was an elder and the de facto marriage counselor in town. She was beloved.

Mrs. Otto's daughter, Betty Phillip, sat in a corner. They put her mother to rest on high ground, she said, but not all of her family in Kong is so lucky.

Earth is facing an extinction crisis – and humans shoulder the blame.

Wildlife poaching and illegal trade. Climate change. Urbanization. Mining. These are some of the myriad things we do that endanger animals and, in the process, damage our own well-being.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Outside Puerto Rico's capital, a three-story-high mountain of debris and waste sits smack in the middle of what was a suburban soccer field before Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

Blue bleachers peek out from the edge of the trash pile, as a line of trucks rolls in to dump even more tree branches and moldy furniture. Workmen wearing yellow hard hats operate diggers to add the new waste to the growing pile in the center of the field.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Penitent penguins. A seal aghast. A turbocharged wigeon, a vain gnu and a kickboxing kangaroo.

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards are back. This year's winners were announced Thursday morning.

Wildfires in December are the new norm for California.

In the West, they are burning hotter and more intensely than ever due to climate change, and the situation is made worse by the explosion of development in fire prone areas and past firefighting decisions. Here are three reasons the fires are massive and likely won't abate anytime soon.

1. It's nearly impossible to put out a modern mega-fire

This has been tough year for America's west coast vineyards. Wildfires in October in Northern California and this month in Southern California have left acres of wine country scorched and black. While California's 2017 grapes have been safely harvested already, winemakers around the world are wary about a threat that is growing along with the frequency of wildfires: smoke taint.

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