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Science & Medicine
Natural Sciences

Costing the Earth

Updated 14 days ago

Science & Medicine
Natural Sciences
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Fresh ideas from the sharpest minds working toward a cleaner, greener planet

Read more

Fresh ideas from the sharpest minds working toward a cleaner, greener planet

iTunes Ratings

26 Ratings
Average Ratings
21
4
0
0
1

Interesting and Eye-opening!

By Drew_J_ - May 22 2018
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Thank you so much for producing this show! As an ardent environmentalist, I can’t wait until the next episode gets posted. You are not only sharing interesting information and stories, but also helping change the world for the better. Keep up the great work!

Meaningful engagement with environmental topics

By genleevia - Nov 08 2016
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An excellent and engaging perspective on to-the-minute environmental topics.

iTunes Ratings

26 Ratings
Average Ratings
21
4
0
0
1

Interesting and Eye-opening!

By Drew_J_ - May 22 2018
Read more
Thank you so much for producing this show! As an ardent environmentalist, I can’t wait until the next episode gets posted. You are not only sharing interesting information and stories, but also helping change the world for the better. Keep up the great work!

Meaningful engagement with environmental topics

By genleevia - Nov 08 2016
Read more
An excellent and engaging perspective on to-the-minute environmental topics.
Cover image of Costing the Earth

Costing the Earth

Updated 14 days ago

Read more

Fresh ideas from the sharpest minds working toward a cleaner, greener planet

Rank #1: Insect Extinction?

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Insects are the most varied and abundant animals outweighing humanity by 17 times, yet they are in decline in many parts of the world. Insects have been called the ‘glue’ in nature and are essential for the proper functioning of all ecosystems as pollinators, food for other animals, and recyclers of nutrients. This month the United Nations IPBES report said insect abundance has declined very rapidly in some places, and the available evidence supports a “tentative” estimate that 10% of the 5.5m species of insect thought to exist are threatened with extinction.

Leading entomologists tell Tom Heap that insects have an image problem when it comes to conservation and the first step is getting people to care about these little creatures. We hear about the weird and wonderful world of some insect species that are declining in the UK, including mayflies and dung beetles and discover just how they contribute to the systems we humans rely on. The conversion of natural environments to create farmland is one of the main causes of the decline, with the use of pesticides, urbanisation and climate change also major factors. Tom asks global pesticide manufacturer Bayer about what they’re doing to help reverse insect decline and considers how we can practically make more space for insects.

Producer: Sophie Anton

Photo credit: Dr Beynon's Bug Farm
May 28 2019
28 mins
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Rank #2: America's Energy Independence

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New President elect of the USA Donald Trump is a climate change denier, and so what does his rise to power mean for the environment?

Among his early pledges he states: "The Trump Administration will make America energy independent. We will end the war on coal, and rescind the coal mining lease moratorium, the excessive Interior Department stream rule, and conduct a top-down review of all anti-coal regulations issued by the Obama Administration. "

He promises to rip up climate deals and get the USA mining and burning fossil fuels again, giving jobs back to areas that need them.

Costing The Earth will take each sector and try to predict what the next four years will hold for each energy generator. Is there any good news for the environment or will Trump's election usher in a return to dirty, polluting, fossil fuel-burning days that we were pulling away from?

Presenter: Tom Heap
Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.
Dec 01 2016
27 mins
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Rank #3: Oceans of Acid

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As the oceans absorb manmade carbon emissions a chemical reaction takes place which is making sea water more acidic. This subtle shift in pH level is having a profound effect on the sea animals which use calcium carbonate to form their shells and skeletons and Marine Biologists are now discovering that this could have implications across the world's oceans. Already shellfish industries in America are being adversely affected and scientists are working hard to predict how the world's fisheries might respond in the future. Professor Alice Roberts discovers there are surprising lessons to be learnt from the past and hears why immediate action is needed to prevent further threats to biodiversity.

Producer: Helen Lennard.
Sep 22 2015
27 mins
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Rank #4: Energy Storage

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Massive batteries? Compressing or liquefying air? Moving gravel uphill on ski lifts? Tom Heap looks at some of the big ideas proposed for storing energy using science or the landscape and explores which may become a reality if we're to keep the lights on.

Huge investment is being made in renewable energy but as solar and wind fluctuate and are intermittent often energy goes to waste because the points at which they generate isn't when the demand occurs. So why not use that energy and store it in another form to be used when it's required? Many companies are proposing ideas to do that - from extending traditional pumped hydro to compressing or liquefying air, electrolysing water or shifting heavy materials up mountains. Or will a revolution in batteries - making them cheaper and from different materials - help the cause?

Tom Heap takes a look at some of the bold ideas to see how far they'll go to keeping the lights switched on, what they'll cost financially and aesthetically and if there's any sign of committing to any of them at all.
May 13 2014
28 mins
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Rank #5: The Urban Farmers

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Alice Roberts revisits the - quite literally - ground breaking 'Incredible Edibles' concept of Todmorden and finds that their inspiration has spread across the UK.
Wasteland throughout our cities is being turned into productive agricultural land. Forget roof top gardens, green walls and window boxes, what we're talking about here is derelict, often hazardous brown field sites hidden within our urban landscapes that are now becoming a valuable link in our food chain. But that's not all, in reclaiming this land whole neighbourhoods are being regenerated. No site is too small or too large. From back-alleys on terraced streets in Middlesbrough to acres of polytunnel-lined, disused railway banks in Bristol, these once unproductive - and often hazardous - plots are now feeding their communities via vegetable boxes and even restaurant supply chains.

With a little effort, could our cities really feed themselves? Could this be the answer to both our food security and the improvement of our urban environments?
Apr 03 2013
27 mins
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Rank #6: Bees Fight Back

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Much heat has been generated about about modern pesticides called neonicotinoids.
Their supporters - the companies which make them, the farmers who use them and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - say they are vital to protect crops and boost yields in a hungry world. They say jobs would be threatened in a big way if they were outlawed and that there is no scientific proof that they are harming pollinating insects which are also vital to agriculture.

On the other side of the debate are environment campaigners, scientists, the European Food Safety Authority, the European Commission and a House of Commons select committee. They say there is so much evidence that neonicotinoids kill bees and other useful insects that their use in farms and gardens cannot be justified. Beekeepers are divided, some fearing that the alternative chemicals would cause even more damage, some saying that the other threats to bees - disease and loss of habitat - are far more serious. Some even challenge the whole notion that bees are suffering a serious decline.

For Costing the Earth, Tom Heap goes into the fields and hedgerows of England - and into the laboratory of the country's only Professor of Apiculture - to sort spin from science and facts from campaign catchphrases. He also hears from scientists and experts on the global health of pollinating insects and the crops that depend on them.

Produced by Steve Peacock.
May 09 2013
27 mins
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Rank #7: Nuclear Futures

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Our nuclear power stations are being pushed to run well past their planned life-span. Matthew Hill asks if this is putting us all in danger.

Producer: Alasdair Cross.
Nov 01 2016
27 mins
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Rank #8: America's Climate Resistance

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It's a year since President Trump was elected.

In that time he has appointed a climate sceptic as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, he has insisted that he will bring the coal industry back, and he still has not appointed a science advisor.

Roger Harrabin travels to the USA to meet those spearheading the resistance to President Trump's climate policies.

In California he meets Governor Jerry Brown. Jerry is determined that California pushes ahead towards a cleaner future. He visits the world's largest battery storage plant near San Diego, and travels to the San Gorgonio Pass, the site of one of the world's largest wind farms.

Heading east from California to Ohio, and coal country, Roger meets Bob Murray, head of the Murray Energy Corp. Bob is determined to see coal jobs protected, but even he believes that coal's heyday has passed, but he remains bullish.

Roger also meets form science advisor to President Obama, Dr John Holdren. John thinks that economics should ensure that the USA remains on a path to cleaner energy.

Producer Martin Poyntz-Roberts.
Nov 07 2017
27 mins
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Rank #9: Our Neighbours Are Elephants!

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Urban sprawl is now impacting on the habitats of wildlife in countries around the world, so how can wildlife and city dwellers live together?

Reports from cities around the world ask what should be done if your new next door neighbours turn out to be wild animals: Bob Walker reports from Malaysia on the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants project that Nottingham University are working on to find out what is being done there to maintain a harmonius balance between humans and huge beasts that can cause a lot of damage.

Julian Rush discovers if animals and humans can live harmoniously as cities spread across their habitats.

Presenter: Julian Rush
Producer: Steve Peacock.
Oct 22 2013
27 mins
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Rank #10: Cocoa Loco

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It used to be a treat but now a chocolate bar is one of the cheapest ways to fill up. Chocolate is the unlikely substance at the heart of commodity wars. Cocoa has been reported to be more valuable than gold but will this mean the end of the nation's coffee break.

Over-farming has caused problems in chocolate producing countries in Africa and South America. The pressure to produce cheap cocoa has meant farmers have failed to replant and replenish. Soil has become unusable and mature trees are now reaching the end of their life cycle. Fair trade has been forced on even the biggest producers like Nestle as the only means to get the raw product. But, is it too little too late and is this late interest a real commitment to fair deals for farmers and their land?

There is concern that speculation by financial traders has helped to push up food prices worldwide, creating an unsustainable bubble that makes it even harder for many in the developing world to afford to eat. Workers in the UK have also felt the impact - Burton's Foods blamed higher cocoa and wheat prices for the closure of its Wirral factory - where Wagon Wheels and Jammie Dodgers are made - with the loss of over 400 jobs.
Palm oil is another growing problem. Cheap, easy to grow and lucrative, many cocoa farmers have switched to this crop and turned their land over to monoculture. Costing the Earth investigates the efforts to keep our favourite treat going and asks if this is the first commodity of many to succumb to over-production and unrealistically cheap market prices.
Apr 27 2011
27 mins
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Rank #11: Where Does Our Waste Go?

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Where do the contents of our bins end up? Tom Heap lifts the lid on the recycling industry to find out what happens to our waste beyond the kerbside collection.

What does 'recycling' mean? Are bottles and tins and plastic packaging recycled when they're collected from our homes? They might well be taken to the local MRF (Materials Recovery Facility) and separated out into different waste streams, but what happens then? Embarking on a road journey along the recycling chain, Tom Heap tracks his own domestic recycling refuse to find out how much - or how little - of it is actually recycled.

Tom is accompanied on this road trip by waste expert Dr Karl Williams of the University of Central Lancashire's Centre for Waste Management, during which he devises what we're calling Karl's Top Ten Recycling Tips.

1 It's not waste you're throwing away, it's a resource.
2 Recycling starts at home.
3 Read your local authority's recycling guide or visit their website as to what they collect, and do as it says.
4 Sort your recycling at source which is at your home.
5 If in doubt, put it in the residual bin or black bag, don't put it in with the recycling!
6 Where you can, separate different materials, (eg: take cardboard wrapping off plastic cartons, plastic film from paper).
7 Don't put your recycling in bags in the bin.
8 Household waste recycling centres will take those recyclables not collected at the kerbside by your council.
9 Where possible, separate glass from paper.
10 Remember you are giving materials the chance of a second life as something else.
Producer: Mark Smalley.
Oct 17 2017
27 mins
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Rank #12: Tunnel Beneath the Thames

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Every time more than two millimetres of rain drops onto the streets of London a combination of raw sewerage and rainwater overwhelms the Victorian sewers and pours into the River Thames, killing fish and disgusting the users of the river.

The solution being proposed by Thames Water is an enormous 15 mile long tunnel buried beneath the river as it flows through the city. There's little doubt that it will clean up the river but is the health of a few fish really worth over £4 billion of Londoners' money and years of disruption for those who live close to the tunnel construction sites?

In 'Costing the Earth' Professor Alice Roberts descends into Joseph Bazalgette's Victorian sewer system to see the extent of the problem and the scale of the new works.
Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.
Feb 21 2012
27 mins
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Rank #13: Eco-Cities

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Tom Heap investigates whether eco-cities are living up to their promise.

In years gone by, Costing the Earth has visited two eco-cities, which both promised that rapid urban development could be green, sustainable and profitable. Dongtan in China was meant to be part of "the quest to create a new world", according to British designers Arup. Masdar in the Arabian Gulf was to have "changed the world", according to British architect Norman Foster. But Dongtan never got built, thanks to Chinese political machinations and corruption, while Masdar has stalled, a victim of the world economic crisis.

China is still pressing ahead with over 100 new eco-cities. But does the idea of the eco-city make sense anyway? Critics say that some very ordinary new cities are being branded as "eco" in an attempt to give them a green marketing gloss, and that promoting the idea of the virtuous self-contained eco-city can mask a failure to build sustainably in the rest of the economy.
Producer: Jolyon Jenkins.
Apr 23 2015
27 mins
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Rank #14: The Future of Our National Parks

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2019 is the 70th anniversary of the legislation that created the first National Parks in the UK. At this crucial moment for the future of our countryside, Tom Heap asks how our best-loved landscapes can work better for people and wildlife. There are now 15 National Parks – all are protected areas because of their beautiful countryside, wildlife and cultural heritage. However, much has changed since the original legislation and many of these landscapes face significant challenges, including declining wildlife, a need for housing and poor public access. Tom visits two very different parks, the Cairngorms and the South Downs, to ask communities how they think National Parks should be improved to meet the needs of the 21st century. He considers some of the key issues; such as how to balance agriculture with enhancing and connecting habitats and how to deliver rural development and housing in protected landscapes.

Producer: Sophie Anton
Dec 05 2018
27 mins
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Rank #15: The Future of the Countryside

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What do we want from our countryside and how much are we willing to pay for it?

Tom Heap chairs a debate in response to the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan focusing on "Public Money for Public Goods " and asks what are public goods? Is food a public good?

Should public money be used to support food production or conservation and the environment? How can environmental enhancement be measured? What will the landscape of the future look like?

Producer: Sarah Blunt.
May 29 2018
27 mins
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Rank #16: Climate Change: Inconvenient Facts?

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With arctic sea ice shrinking and Antarctic sea ice growing, Tom Heap asks what is happening to the climate.

Despite the consensus of scientists around the world, there are still some anomalies in the computer models of the future climate. Tom Heap is joined by a panel of experts to tackle some of the difficult questions that lead to uncertainties in our understanding of the changing climate.

The perceived wisdom in the scientific community is that the climate is warming but evidence shows that even though Arctic sea ice is melting, there has actually been a growth in Antarctic sea ice. That, along with a documented slow down in the warming of the climate since 1998, has been a 'stone in the shoe' of the climate change story. So what is happening?

Tom is joined by BBC and Met office weather presenter John Hammond to put these 'difficult' climate scenarios to a team of experts: Mark Lynas is an author and environmental campaigner, Mike Hulme is professor of Climate and Culture at Kings College London and Dr Helen Czerski is a broadcaster and 'bubble physicist' at UCL.

With the help of this panel, Costing The Earth discusses how best to communicate anomalies that don't appear in climate models and make the science sometimes hard to comprehend.

Presenter: Tom Heap
Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.
Mar 31 2015
28 mins
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Rank #17: Demolishing Dams

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Large hydro-electric dams continue to be planned and built in Africa, Asia and South America. In Western Europe and the US they're tearing them down. Peter Gibbs wants to know why.

These wonders of engineering are a symbol of our ability to harness nature to produce renewable energy. The trouble is that many dams radically alter the natural life of rivers and harm their ecosystems. The majority of rivers in Europe and the US have dams on them, many of which are aging and no longer serve any useful purpose. Gradually the conversation is changing and communities are realising that dams don't have to be forever. Now there's a growing movement to remove the worst offenders and restore rivers to their natural state.

France is currently embarking on the biggest dam removal in Europe. Two large hydro-electric dams will soon be demolished on the River Sélune in Normandy. Here a choice had to be made between energy production and biodiversity. Peter Gibbs meets the different groups involved in the project to find out how they are planning for the removals. Will the opening up of wild salmon migration routes and improvements in water quality make up for the loss of low-carbon energy?

Producer: Sophie Anton.
Apr 24 2018
27 mins
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Rank #18: Future Forests

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Can Britain revive its forests and grow the wood we need for a greener economy? Tom Heap investigates as we approach the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of The Forest. Tree planting in England has hit a forty five year low which is alarming both the timber industry and environmentalists. Tom visits a new woodland in Central Scotland combining conifers with native tree species to offer wildlife habitats, flood prevention, and public access as well as timber. Foresters hope this new generation of mixed woodland will overcome resistance to tree planting, from those who fear a dark monoculture of conifers. Meanwhile, Ella McSweeney reports on a conifer planting boom in Ireland which, it's claimed, could damage the environment and price small farmers off the land. Back in the UK, Tom discusses how producing hardwood timber from broadleaved woodlands might give them a more secure future.

Producer: Sarah Swadling.
May 24 2017
28 mins
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Rank #19: The Future of Our Food

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Costing the Earth debates one of the most important issues facing the planet that affects all of us: Where will our food come from in the decades ahead.

The world population is expected to rise to 9 billion by 2050. That's another 2.5 billion mouths to feed, roughly the number of people currently living in China and India today.

Tom Heap is joined by an panel to chew over the question of what the world will eat as populations rise, climate changes and vital resources are depleted.

The panel is made up of experts from the world of food and agriculture: Professor Charles Godfray from the Oxford Martin Programme for the Future of Food; Colin Tudge, the man behind the Campaign for Real Farming; new Groceries Adjudicator, Christine Tacon; Sean Rickard an economist who specialises in food and farming; Tristram Stuart: winner of the award for 'Best Initiative in British Food' at last week's BBC Food and farming awards, the food waste campaigner behind the Feeding the 5000 and Pig Idea projects.

With Tom Heap in the chair they'll be debating whether we should put our faith in huge industrial agri-industry to feed the ever expanding world population or could organic farming hold the key? Will genetic modification be embraced as famine takes hold? Will vast factory farms pop up to avoid people going hungry, or will future farming operations be more holistic and community based, with everyone doing their bit to produce food for their friends and neighbours? Will we need to turn to algae, lab-grown protein and insect farms to keep our bellies full or will the developed world enjoy an artisan-baked, craft-brewed lifestyle whilst the rest of the planet scrapes a living from depleted soils?

Presenter: Tom Heap
Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.
May 06 2014
28 mins
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Rank #20: The End of Plastic

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Tom Heap meets a man on a mission: Eben Bayer is determined to eradicate plastic and polystyrene from the packaging industry and replace it with a bio-degradable fungus.

And he thinks he's cracked it. By combining fungus with agricultural waste to create packaging that's cheap, durable and biodegradable, Bayer hopes to disrupt an environmentally destructive industry valued globally at around £13 billion. He's looking at ways to roll his product out across the USA and beyond.

Plus scientists are also looking at biodegradable plastics made from potatoes, and even shrimps and silk in what could be heralded as a real game-changer

In this edition of Costing The Earth, Tom Heap asks if it's too early to be reading the last rites to plastic.

Presenter: Tom Heap
Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.
Nov 05 2013
28 mins
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