Rare Earth Elements

“Oil is the blood; steel is the body; but rare earth elements are the vitamins of a modern society.” While many of us can’t even pronounce elements such as praseodymium, yttrium, or gadolinium, these minerals drive our technology and our modern lifestyles. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill “common” Earth elements, these are the “rare” earth elements. But… they aren’t actually that rare. And their importance to modern life goes well beyond their unusual geology. On this episode, professor Julie Klinger speaks with producer Miles Traer about the geo-politics of rare earth elements, why they are considered rare, and the extreme lengths to which some people are planning to go in search of them.
 

Image by Materialscientist
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 Generic

Additional music in this episode provided by Kevin MacLeod
Inspired by Kevin MacLeod
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

THIS EPISODE WAS PRODUCED BY LESLIE CHANG, MIKE OSBORNE, AND MILES TRAER.

The Nature of Disney

Disney movies have captured the imaginations of children and adults for decades. The endearing characters, the colorful landscapes, and the epic tales of heroism carry a sense of wonder and playfulness. But what we rarely notice is that woven into many of these films is a deeper story about the natural world. In Disney movies we learn the rules of the forest, the hierarchy of the jungle, and humankind’s relationship to nature. Underlying every film is an implicit morality, one that seems so logical and universal that, as the audience, we hardly ever question its origin or message. In this interview, environmental historian Richard White helps us see the world of Disney with fresh eyes. Along the way, he challenges our assumptions about nature, and exposes how the stories of Disney are really stories about ourselves.

 

Image by wbeem
Licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic

THIS EPISODE WAS PRODUCED BY LESLIE CHANG, MIKE OSBORNE, AND MILES TRAER.

Inside the Cloud

A core tension at the center of many environmental debates has to do with our relationship to technology. After all, the environmental movement that arose in the 1960s was propelled by a desire to “get back to nature,” but these days we have an increasingly hard time escaping technology. It’s somewhat ironic, therefore, that we use the language of nature to describe so many aspects of the digital universe. Probably the best current example is the mysterious “cloud,” which has become so critical for modern computational systems. In this short piece, we examine the environmental footprint of the cloud, and we dig into the language the describes the products coming out of Silicon Valley.

THIS EPISODE WAS PRODUCED BY LESLIE CHANG, MIKE OSBORNE, AND MILES TRAER.

The Ecosystem Within

The microbiome is the term doctors use to describe the countless organisms each one of us carries in and on our bodies. In the last few years there’s been an explosion of research around how the gut microbiome is linked with our health. As Microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg tells producer Anna Lee, our microbiomes are like the control center of our bodies, affecting cognition, digestion, mood, and overall wellbeing. It turns out that that much of the current research into our gut microbiomes is best examined through the prism of environmental sciences. The challenges we face in the Anthropocene are the same challenges faced by the ecosystems we carry within.

Image by Nicola Fawcett
Licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

THIS EPISODE WAS PRODUCED BY LESLIE CHANG, MIKE OSBORNE, AND MILES TRAER.