Humans depend on the natural world to sustain them – for food, water, and the oxygen they breathe. But the way humans interact with the environment can sometimes have detrimental effects on the health of the Earth. This collection showcases stories about environmental problems facing humans such as a warming climate, more extreme weather, and rising pollution. It also highlights the ingenious and hopeful solutions people have developed to address these challenges, like feeding seaweed to cows to reduce methane gas and substituting bugs for meat at the dinner table. The stories in this collection can promote awareness of today’s environmental issues and empower students to help address them.
The same methane gas emitted from humans is also produced by the same bacteria that lives in old pizza crusts, curdled milk, and other discarded food. Scientists have found ways to convert the methane gas from old food into energy. Several cities are already converting waste into energy, listen to this story to learn how New York City is trying it out.
The field of bioacoustics, studying the sound of animals, extends far below the surface of oceans. Whale vocalizations can be used as data to track migration and populations. Researchers have found ways to identify which whales are making which sounds. But in oceans, human-made sounds are often louder than other noises, making it hard for marine animals to hear the sounds in their own world. Listen to this story about what can be learned by tracking whale sounds, and how new guidelines are helping whales communicate with each other.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a huge area of ocean where hundreds of millions of tons of plastic garbage floats, brought there by a swirling ocean current. Much of the waste comes from single use items like plastic bags, straws, and water bottles. As time passes the trash breaks into smaller fragments but never disappears entirely, posing a threat to ocean life. Listen to hear a reporter describe what this “island of plastic” looks like, and learn what businesses and individuals, including young people, can do to help clean up ocean pollution.
Hurricanes are huge storms that can cause major damage and destruction. Scientists predict that hurricanes will gain in strength due to climate change. Since nothing can be done to stop hurricanes, scientists are working on methods to better predict hurricanes so that people can prepare well in advance. This audio story describes how climate change affects hurricanes. Listen to hear how hurricanes affect land and why predicting a hurricane is so challenging.
Across the globe, people consume many different types of foods, but some food choices are better for the environment than others. This audio story introduces cricket protein, a different food source than many of us are used to eating and a more sustainable option than animal proteins such as beef or lamb. Listen to learn more about cricket protein and why it is a good protein choice for the planet.
Forests provide much more than public spaces for exercise, relaxation, and enjoying nature. They are complex ecosystems characterized by biodiversity. Forests are vital to Earth’s water cycle and ensure the survival of all living things by absorbing carbon dioxide and transforming it into oxygen. However, forests also provide valuable resources, especially wood and paper, that people need. Listen to an interview with a forestry expert to discover how forests are being managed to provide both resources for consumers and lasting benefits to the environment.
A whale inhales and exhales air through the blowhole at the top of its head. The plume that rises when the whale exhales is made up of blow, a scientific term for whale snot. Whale snot can reveal important information about whale stress, but collecting the snot can be challenging. Listen to hear a scientist describe how she collects whale snot and what it can tell us about how whales are coping with the effects of climate change.
A new natural disaster lab uses extreme methods to test which building materials are safest to withstand major storms and wildfires. Listen to find out why insurance companies want to invest millions of dollars in this lab and why climate change makes the lab’s experiments more important than ever before.
The air thousands of feet high in France’s Pyrenees Mountains should be some of the cleanest on Earth. However, recent research revealed that the air at the top of the mountains actually contains microscopic plastic. Listen to learn more about the experiment that revealed this surprising fact, why it matters, and what researchers plan to investigate next.
The earth is getting warmer. Records kept for the past century show a steady increase in temperature each decade, and 2019 was the second hottest year ever. As humans send carbon dioxide into the air from cars, factories, and other sources, the trapped heat warms the planet, causing glacial ice to melt, oceans to rise, and big weather events like floods and droughts to increase in intensity. Listen to learn more about changes to the earth caused by global warming and what to expect in the future.
Parasites are creatures that live in or on a host animal. Some people dislike parasites because they can be slimy, and they often cause harm to their host, but they can also play a key role in supporting ecosystems. Now, climate change is threatening the survival of host animals such as elephants and polar bears, putting their parasites at risk, too. Listen to hear about the surprising life cycle of a flatworm and learn what scientists are doing to try to save important parasites.
The world's billion-and-a-half cows produce huge amounts of methane, a gas that contributes to global warming. Methane is made in cows’ guts as they digest their food. When they burp and fart, they spew the gas into the air. Now, scientists have found a simple, unexpected way to reduce methane production in cows. Listen to learn about a surprising solution to the problem of gassy cows and how it may help address climate change.
Coral reefs, home to fish and plant life in oceans throughout the world, have been severely damaged by climate change, among other human impacts. In the Caribbean Sea, the dead and dying reefs have been taken over by seaweed that has choked out any new coral reefs trying to grow. To tackle the problem of dying reefs and to figure out a way to restore them, scientists paired up with an unlikely partner – the Caribbean king crab. Listen to hear a marine scientist explain how seaweed hurts coral reefs and how crabs may be able to help bring them back.
Bees are an important part of the planet’s ecosystem. They help to create food for humans and other creatures by pollinating plants. World Bee Day was established to celebrate the contributions of these small but mighty insects, and to raise awareness about the threats that are causing their populations to decline. Listen to learn more about the importance of bees, why they are at risk, and how one TikTok star is helping to save them.
Pollution is everywhere, including outer space. A private company recently launched a satellite called ELSA-d on a demonstration mission for removing space junk. More than 9,000 tons of trash are currently orbiting the planet, which can put the International Space Station and other spacecraft in danger of being hit. Listen to hear what kind of trash is in space and learn how the space junk removal system works.
World leaders have gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, to talk about solutions to problems related to climate change. Many countries agreed to produce less of the harmful gases, like carbon and methane, that warm the planet. Trees help combat global warming, and many countries also pledged to slow the pace of deforestation, or cutting down trees. Although the leaders made important promises, some people are angry that they are not doing more. Listen to hear about progress – and problems – at the recent international climate summit.
Upcyclers are people who find old objects or materials and use their creativity to turn them into something new. That’s what artist Monomi Ohno does with pieces of cardboard. Listen to hear how Ohno turns discarded boxes into amazing sculptures, and learn how much cardboard people throw away each year.
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