As the year winds down, we here at NPR are looking at a few key numbers that explain the big trends of 2013.
Today's number: 1.6 million.
That's 1.6 million acres — about the area of the state of Delaware.
That's how much land was removed this year from the federal Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, which pays farmers to keep land covered with native grasses or sometimes trees. Most of that land now will produce crops like corn or wheat.
Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 12:44 pm
The history of the Chesapeake Bay oyster hasn't always been a pure one. So you could forgive a chef for being skeptical about the big bivalve comeback being staged in D.C. and the surrounding area this winter as oyster season gets underway.
But many mid-Atlantic chefs are actually cheering. That's because a major public-private effort to re-establish the oyster as a quality local food product — as well as a weapon against water pollution — seems to be working.
Crude oil from Canada's tar sands is providing a booming business for American refineries, but residents of one Chicago neighborhood complain that a byproduct of that business has become a health hazard. They want towering mounds of a dusty substance known as petroleum coke, or petcoke, moved out of the city. And as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, Chicago is now requiring one company storing the substance to do just that.
Originally published on Tue December 17, 2013 11:53 am
To feed all 7 billion of us, address climate change and live longer, we all need to eat less meat. From Al Gore to the Meatless Monday movement to Harvard epidemiologists, that's been the resounding advice offered to consumers lately.
California is regarded as the leading state when it comes to addressing climate change. But in 2012, according to analysts at Rhodium Group, California's carbon emissions actually increased more than 10 percent, bucking the national trend of decreases. That's in large part because California shut down one of its few remaining nuclear power plants.
That rise in carbon emissions underscores the huge impact nuclear power can have in efforts to combat climate change.
Tiny plastic beads used in some cosmetics and toothpaste are making their way into the bellies of fish in the Great Lakes, and it's raising concern among environmentalists. Dr. Sherri Mason, a chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, has been researching the issue, and she joins Audie Cornish to explain what this means for the Great Lakes ecosystem.
Originally published on Mon December 16, 2013 10:38 am
We've long known that the fish we eat are exposed to toxic chemicals in the rivers, bays and oceans they inhabit. The substance that's gotten the most attention — because it has shown up at disturbingly high levels in some fish — is mercury.
The North America's grizzly bear is protected under the Endangered Species Act. Its population was virtually wiped out in the lower 48 states. One group of bears, though, may soon lose that protection - the Yellowstone grizzly. Some scientists say that group is thriving. Others disagree. NPR's Christopher Joyce has more on the battle over the bear.
The citrus industry is facing a crisis. It's called citrus greening — a disease that has devastated orange production in Florida since it first showed up eight years ago. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a new effort to try to control the disease before it destroys the nation's citrus industry.
Two agricultural scientists from China have been accused of trying to steal patented seeds from a biopharmaceutical company in Kansas.
Separately, six men from China, including the CEO of a seed corn subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate, were charged Thursday with conspiring to steal patented seed corn from two of the nation's leading seed developers, prosecutors said Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
It wasn't immediately clear if the arrests were related, but The AP wrote of the group of six charged:
Hurricane Sandy last year did more harm to coastal cities and homes than any hurricane in U.S. history, except Katrina. Most of that damage has been repaired. But there's other damage that people can't see to the underwater coastline, known as the shore face.
Apparently, Long Island's shore face did remarkably well against the storm of the 21st century.
Scientists think there are vast reserves of fresh groundwater buried under the oceans — a potentially valuable resource for coastal cities that need freshwater.
A recent report in Nature estimates the amount of fresh groundwater around the world at about 120,000 cubic miles — that's 100 times more than all the groundwater that has been pumped up from wells since the 1900s. The reserves are scattered across coastal regions around the world.
Originally published on Sun December 15, 2013 10:59 am
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians have agreed to a water-sharing pact that would see the construction of a desalination plant on the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea and bring "a long-awaited Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline one step closer to completion," according to Reuters.
When the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican governments were negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement back in the 1990s, environmentalists warned that it would create a race to the bottom: Countries would compete to gut environmental rules to attract businesses. But by and large, those fears were not realized. Still, the trade deal had other unforeseen environmental consequences.
New England chefs like Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley are still coming to terms with the news: No more shrimp until further notice.
This week, regulators shut down the New England fishery for Gulf of Maine shrimp for the first time in 35 years. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission judged the stocks of the popular shrimp, also known as northern shrimp, to be dangerously low.
Ice and snow across much of the country have meant that hundreds of flights have been canceled and many more delayed this week. But what I'm about to say may sound strange - it is true - the ski industry is worried that climate change is making winters too warm. For more, we spoke with Auden Schendler, who is vice president of sustainability at the Aspen Skiing Company.
In the latest smog-related health scare in China, officials in Shanghai on Friday ordered schoolchildren to stay indoors, halted all construction and even delayed flights in and out of the city, which has been enveloped in a thick blanket of haze, reducing visibility in places to less than 150 feet.
NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Shanghai that the commercial capital's Air Quality Index soared above 500 for the first time ever, according to government sensors. He says officials described the readings as "beyond index" — in layman's terms, off-the-charts awful.
Originally published on Fri December 6, 2013 10:37 am
This is an alarming story, not because it ends badly. It's alarming because it ends well. It shouldn't have, but it did, and biologists (and especially conservationists) now have a puzzle to ponder.
The story begins in central China, in an apple-growing region called Maoxian County, near the city of Chengdu. In the mid-1990s, the bees that regularly showed up there every spring suddenly didn't. Apple farmers, obviously, need bees. Bees dust their way through blossoms, moving from flower to flower, pollinating, which helps produce apples in September.
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 11:26 am
The first heavy rains of the season fell two weeks ago at Salt Point State Park, on the northern California coast, and now ranger Todd Farcau is waiting anxiously for the forest floor to erupt with mushrooms.
An expert panel at the National Academy of Sciences is calling for an early warning system to alert us to abrupt and potentially catastrophic events triggered by climate change.
The committee says science can anticipate some major changes to the Earth that could affect everything from agriculture to sea level. But we aren't doing enough to look for those changes and anticipate their impacts.
Originally published on Mon December 2, 2013 3:05 pm
There's no easy way to track all of the world's crops. What's missing, among other things, is an accurate map showing where they are.
But the people behind Geo-Wiki are hoping to fix that, with a game called Cropland Capture. They're turning people like you and me into data gatherers, or citizen scientists, to help identify cropland.
American pioneers saw the endless stretches of grassland of the Great Plains as a place to produce grain and beef for a growing country. But one casualty was the native prairie ecosystem and animals that thrived only there.
Some biologists are trying to save the prairies and they've picked a hero to help them: the black-footed ferret. In trying to save this long skinny predator with a raccoon-like mask, the biologists believe they have a chance to right a wrong that nearly wiped a species off the planet.
There is a broad scientific consensus that to keep global warming in check, we need to phase out 80 percent of all oil, coal and natural gas by midcentury. President Obama has set a nonbinding target to do precisely that.
There are technologists who say this national goal is well within reach, but there are also economists who are quite pessimistic about those prospects. And you can find this range of opinion on the University of California, Berkeley campus.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro. The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season ends tomorrow. It'll be remembered as one of the quietest on record. Since June, there have been just two hurricanes, both were relatively weak. As NPR's Jon Hamilton reports, forecasters were expecting something very different.
JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Americans to expect an unusually active year with between seven and 11 hurricanes. Other forecasters offered variations on that theme.