Proponents of synthetic biology tout its potential for bringing about great advances in medicine, energy and cheaper foods. But health advocates worry that the risks to health and the environment may be too great. Pictured: a researcher using “synbio” to engineer new microbes as an alternative to yeast for turning complex sugars into biofuels.
PHOTO: Lawrence Berkeley Nationall Laboratory/Roy Kaltschmidt

EARTHTALK: Synthetic Biology

Dear EarthTalk: Should those of us who care about our health and the planet be concerned about the new trend in genetic engineering called synthetic biology?–Chrissie Wilkins, Bern, NC “Synthetic biology” (or “synbio”) refers to the design and fabrication of novel biological parts, devices and systems that do not otherwise occur in nature. Many see 

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The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster did cause many nations to reconsider their nuclear commitments, but many countries are still looking to nuclear power as a way to increase energy production without adding to greenhouse gas emissions.PHOTO: Kawamoto Takuo

EARTTALK: A Nuclear Power Resurgence?

Dear EarthTalk: I thought Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown would have sealed nuclear power’s fate, but I keep hearing otherwise. Can you enlighten?  — Jacob Allen, New York, NY The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster did cause many nations to reconsider their nuclear committments, though many European countries—Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden—had 

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The harsh winter we are having shouldn’t be viewed as a refutation of global warming, but rather as further evidence of a growing problem. Pictured: Trying to get around in Cortland, Illinois on January 4, 2014.    PHOTO: Michael Kappel, courtesy Flickr

EARTHTALK: Harsh winters and global warming

EarthTalk® Dear EarthTalk: Does the fact that we’ve had such a cold and snowy winter mean that global warming might not be such a big problem after all?– Lacey L., Lynchburg, VA It’s tempting to think that the cold air and snow outside augur the end of global warming, but don’t rejoice yet. According to 

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The next frontier in sprawl may be on the high seas, where the proliferation of fishing, shipping, tourism, resource extraction, energy development, military exercises and other human activity has begun to call into question just how vast our oceans really are. Pictured: a fishing trawler on the high seas.
PHOTO: Jon Anderson/Flickr

EARTHTALK: Ocean Sprawl

EarthTalk® Dear EarthTalk: I recently heard the term “ocean sprawl,” which was a new one on me. We all know “sprawl” as it manifests itself above sea level. But in the oceans? Can you enlighten?– Bill Chadwick, Nantucket, MA We are all familiar by now with “urban sprawl”—the uncontrolled spread of urban development into areas 

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Though natural gas emissions are still far to high for the fuel to be considered a global warming solution, lower overall CO2 emissions over the past 20 years are in large part due to the swapping out of coal at power plants and industrial facilities across the country for cleaner-burning and now more abundant natural gas.  
PHOTO: Portland General Electric

EARTHTALK: Cheaper natural gas lowering carbon dioxide emissions

EarthTalk® Dear EarthTalk: How can it be that carbon dioxide emissions are the lowest they have been in the United States in 20 years despite the fact that we have no binding federal legislation limiting them?- Jason Johnson, Port Chester, NY Carbon dioxide emissions are indeed lower than at any time since 1994, according to 

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Manufacturing facilities that do not depend on human labor to get work done may have some energy saving benefits but are certainly not beneficial overall considering the impact widespread adoption would have on needed jobs. Pictured: a Robotic arm loading Coca Cola bottles into boxes and loading the boxes onto an assembly line.
PHOTO: om Maglieri, 
courtesy Flickr

EARTHTALK: Dark Factories

Dear EarthTalk: What are “dark factories” and are they good for the environment?–Mitchell Pearson, Erie, PA So-called dark factories—otherwise known as “lights out” or “automatic” factories—are manufacturing facilities that do not depend on human labor to get work done. While they may have some benefits for the environment they are certainly not beneficial overall considering 

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There are many resources available to help parents and educators teach kids how to understand the issues and become better stewards for the planet.   PHOTO: Global Imagination

EARTHTALK: Teaching kids about climate change

Dear EarthTalk: Do you have any tips for explaining global warming and other complex environmental problems to my kids?–Peter Buckley, Pittsburgh, PA Kids today may be more eco-savvy than we were at their age, but complex topics like global warming may still mystify them. Luckily there are many resources available to help parents teach their 

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Holidays are festive and fun, they can take a toll on the environment. One way to be greener is to get a real tree, especially a potted (living) tree, which you can keep for years after the holidays pass.  PHOTO: Leonora Enking, courtesy Flickr

EARTHTALK: Greener Holidays

EarthTalk® Dear EarthTalk: What are some ideas for being greener this holiday season?– Beth Livingston, Camden, NJ While the holidays are festive and fun, they can take a toll on the environment. All that shopping, decoration, food preparation and travel adds up to more carbon emissions and more waste. But there are ways to minimize 

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A typical fracking operation pumps some five million gallons of water and chemicals underground to break up the shale. About half the water is removed during the oil and gas recovery process, leaving the other half underground where it can contaminate aquifers and degrade soils.
(PHOTO: Flickr)

EARTHTALK: Greener ways to ‘frack’ for natural gas?

Dear EarthTalk: I hear there’s a greener form of fracking for natural gas and oil that uses carbon dioxide instead of water to access underground reserves. Is this really better for the environment? — Jason Burroughs, Erie, PA Hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”) is a method of causing fissures in underground shale rock formations to 

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The Ecology Center’s 2012 Consumer Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Cars compared over 200 different cars across the 2010 and 2011 model years. Those scoring the most kudos in regard to interior air quality include the Honda Civic, Honda CR-Z and the Toyota Prius, pictured here.    PHOTO: Toyota

EARTHTALK: Pollution inside Cars

EarthTalk® Dear EarthTalk: Can you discuss pollutants in car interior materials, and also pollution inside cars originating from gasoline and diesel exhausts outside the car? — Mervyn Kline, Philadelphia, PA The interior of your car may seem like a safe haven from air pollution, but it may actually be quite the opposite. Chemicals emanating from 

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