Show cover of Costing the Earth

Costing the Earth

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


Steve Backshall Goes Off Grid
Steve Backshall lives in a new build house which is very energy efficient and almost totally off-grid. However, achieving this has been extremely time consuming, expensive and pretty stressful. For this episode of Costing the Earth, Steve explores why -- when the cost of heating our homes is so high and we’re being encouraged to reduce our carbon footprint -- it’s so difficult and pricey to make where we live more energy efficient and access renewable sources of power. Steve describes exactly what he’s done to his house including triple glazing, batteries for electric power and even a bore-hole for water. He then hears about a research facility at the University of Salford where two new builds and a Victorian end-terrace have been constructed in temperature controlled chambers. There they test the efficacy of various energy saving and renewable technologies on the kinds of homes that most of us live in. Back in studio, Steve speaks to the Energy Saving Trust about the cost for householders of putting some of these measures in place and what grants are available. He also hears from the Sustainable Energy Association, a trade membership body, about what they believe should be done to make all of this more accessible and affordable. Producer: Karen Gregor
27:23 23/05/2023
Save the Microbes!
It's said that a teaspoon of soil contains more life than all of the humans on earth. Microscopic life that is - bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematode worms and microarthropods like springtails and mites, but there's increasing evidence that this invisible world, the earth's microbiome, is under threat. Author, biologist and presenter Gillian Burke is fascinated by soil and has fond memories of playing with the ochre-red soils of Kenya. Gillian digs into the science of soil to ask how to get more people to understand and care about this the trillions of organisms that exist beneath our feet in the same way that we do about the malnourished polar bear on an ice-cap or the endangered mountain gorilla, and what are the consequences of doing nothing?Contributors: Dr Colin Averill, senior scientist at ETH Zurich and co-founder of 'Funga' Chris Jones, Woodland Valley Farm Charles Nicholls, The Carbon Community Dr Elaine Ingham, Soil Food Web Dr Elze Hesse, The University of ExeterProduced for BBC Audio in Bristol by Toby Field
27:37 16/05/2023
Gardens of the Future
Climate resilient gardens are a feature of this month's Chelsea Flower Show, but how can the experts help the typical British gardener prepare for the future? To find out, botanist James Wong asks whether the way we garden could protect us against the effects of climate change, and if we can protect our gardens against more unpredictable weather patterns? James joins Chelsea designer Tom Massey as he chooses plants for a mould breaking show garden. He learns tips for dealing with more unpredictable conditions at the Royal Horticultural Society's flagship Wisley garden, and from climate savvy gardener Kim Stoddart in West Wales. In the heart of London, amid the brutalist concrete of the Barbican centre, James meets Professor Nigel Dunnett, and considers how plants could make human habitats more liveable during heatwaves and heavy rain.Producer: Sarah Swadling
27:37 09/05/2023
Investigation DRS
Many of us can remember returning our pop bottles to the shop in return for cash and wonder why we can’t use a system like this today to reduce, reuse and recycle. In Scotland a Deposit Return Scheme has been on trial, but in a complex material world it’s not as simple as the schemes we might remember.Tom Heap and Sepi Golzari-Munro turn detective to find out why the DRS (Deposit Return Scheme) is under threat and if it can survive to launch as intended. The scheme is causing issues for small businesses like craft brewers, it's angering politicians who are concerned about the added cost to consumers and it's being questioned by some waste management experts who believe the gains in recycling rates may be small in comparison to the huge costs of implementation.Defenders argue that we need to take action and that change is never popular but that similar schemes in Europe have achieved over 90% recycling rates.There are no simple answers with this one so it’s going to take some hard line detective work by our Costing the Earth crack team. Tom and Sepi step up to uncover the truth and consider the best future for bottle recycling. Producer : Helen Lennard
27:48 02/05/2023
Water pollution solutions
Sewage is now discharged into our rivers and seas on a regular basis. It's joined by agricultural pollution and a host of microplastics. In this special debate programme, Tom Heap asks what's gone wrong with our water system. How did we get into this situation, what will it cost to put it right, and how can we go about sorting out the mess we seem to be in? Tom is joined by a panel of experts to discuss the history, the finances and the future of cleaning up our waterways.Producer: Emma Campbell
27:51 25/04/2023
Losing Our History
When castles collapse into the sea or ancient burial places succumb to floodwaters we lose a slice of our shared culture. Qasa Alom reports from the Norfolk coast on the threats to our heritage and asks if we all need to prepare for the emotional impact of climate change.Researchers from around the world are taking a global look at personal and community responses to climate change, and they're finding that we react in much the same way whether our homes are falling from crumbling Norfolk cliffs, our shrines are swallowed by Bangladeshi floods or the road to market is blocked by expanding Sahara sands. Archaeologists from the University of East Anglia and Museum of London Archaeology discuss the emotional impact of losses already suffered and offer lessons from historic changes in climate, whilst researchers from the University of Ghana explain the cultural price being paid on the crumbling coastline of West Africa. Producer: Alasdair Cross
27:57 18/04/2023
Costing the Earth - The Power of Nature Writing
Costing the Earth - The Power of Nature Writing
27:32 11/04/2023
Energy Lessons
After a winter of spiralling energy prices, Tom Heap asks whether our attitudes to energy consumption have changed. What lessons have we learned in the last twelve months, both as individual consumers and as a society - or are we putting our heads in the sand and carrying on as normal? Last week the government announced its plans to update the UK’s net zero strategy, but what do its announcements tell us about its priorities when it comes to our energy use? Fuel poverty is hitting many people hard, but some environmentalists argue that the invasion of Ukraine and everything which has followed could prove to be a turning point for environmental change. In this programme Tom hosts a panel discussion on how the energy landscape is changing.Producer: Emma Campbell
27:37 04/04/2023
The Sound of Nature
Waves crashing on the shore, footsteps crunching on the forest floor. Stress levels plummet when we immerse ourselves in nature. Nick Luscombe meets the Japanese scientists working to bring the healing power of nature into the heart of the city. Nature's secret, they believe, isn't the sound you can hear, it's the high frequencies you can't hear. Only in our interactions with natural materials are these particular frequencies produced, frequencies that have a direct effect on our bodies.Producer: Alasdair Cross
27:19 28/03/2023
Jobs for a Green Future
UK commitments to phase out gas boilers and petrol cars may be good news for the environment, but do we have the skill to realise our ambitions? Where are all the trained workers able to fit heat pumps in our homes and electric car chargers along our roads? In this programme, Tom Heap joins trainees as they learn the skills they'll need in a greener economy, and asks how we will staff up the next industrial revolution.Presented by Tom Heap and produced by Emma Campbell.
27:55 21/03/2023
Greening the City
New technologies are vital in the drive to turn our fossil fuel-based economies green and drastically slash carbon emissions. That technology requires investment and an enormous slice of the cash required is controlled by the financial markets of the City of London. Tom Heap meets the City's movers and shakers to find out if they- and the wider financial services industry- are willing and able to finance the revolution.Producer: Reuben Smith-Burrell
27:46 14/03/2023
Prawn Free
Where do the prawns in your takeaway curry or pad thai come from? Peter Hadfield travels to South-East Asia to investigate the environmental impact of prawn farming.Producer: Alasdair Cross
27:30 07/03/2023
Surrendering to the Waves?
As sea levels rise, tough decisions are going to have to be taken about the flood defences of coastal Britain. How realistic will it be to continue to maintain them in future? In this programme, Qasa Alom asks whether we are facing up to this yet, and visits two places where the effects are already being felt. At Cwm Ivy on the Gower peninsula in South Wales, he visits a nature reserve where the decision has already been made to let the sea take back land which was originally claimed from it centuries ago. He walks along the sea wall which once kept the waves at bay, but which is now being left to gradually crumble away. The result is a landscape very different from the pasture and rough grazing which was here a few years ago. It's now being transformed into saltmarsh - a rarer and more valuable environmental habitat. It was a move which took careful consideration even for a nature reserve, but it's a much harder and more complicated decision when people's homes are involved. Qasa also visits the coastal village of Fairbourne in North Wales, which was earmarked for "decommissioning" almost a decade ago. He finds out what this could mean, asks whether it will really happen, and learns what the uncertainty of being labelled "the UK's first climate change refugees" has meant for the village's residents.Producer: Emma Campbell
27:19 28/02/2023
A Greener Government?
Months of governmental chaos have seen contradictory policies on the environment come and go. Tom Heap asks where the Conservative Party now stands on the environment. Should we expect more onshore wind or a continuing ban, will farmers be paid to help wildlife? And what are the underlying trends in the Conservative Party? Are most activists and MPs signed up to a Green Growth agenda or are climate change sceptics and fossil-fuel fans still a powerful force in the party that has governed the UK for most of the post-war era?Producer: Sarah Swadling
27:29 29/11/2022
Community Energy
Community energy might conjure up images of off-grid villagers working together to put up solar panels on a remote community hall. This is one model, but Tom Heap finds that there are now many more ways to join the clean energy revolution.From urban solar rooftop projects which train up young people as fitters to huge wind farms owned by a growing online army of committed enthusiasts, community energy is having a moment.It seems an incredible but simple idea. If we all own a bit of our energy system then we can decide the price that we pay to keep warm and keep the lights on. So what is standing in the way of more community energy? Tom Heap discovers more about how all of us could get involved with the future of energy.Producer: Helen Lennard
27:36 22/11/2022
How can I be a more sustainable parent?
Since becoming pregnant, environmental historian and broadcaster Dr Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough has aspired to bring up her two children as sustainably as possible. In 2017, a Canadian study recommended that people could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of children they have by one. It also pointed out how much bigger the carbon footprint of a child is in the West, compared to a child brought up in Malawi. Despite Eleanor's best efforts, she has found that raising 'eco babies' is not all that simple. From clothes and toys, to food, nappies and transport – parenting brings with it a whole pram-load of unexpected environmental impacts. And regardless of good intentions, parental pressures like a lack of support, the need for convenience and the price of eco-alternatives often means people fall back on more carbon-intensive options. So what needs to change to make it easier? Being a new parent is tough enough, without the feeling of failing the planet being added to the burden. In this programme, Eleanor sits down with her good friend Pamela Welsh, who also became a mother during the Covid pandemic, to discuss the areas where they are 'winning', and the occasions where they have been unable to make the greener-method work. They think about solutions and remind us that it is ok not to get it right all the time. Eleanor also meets individuals who are are attempting to come up with solutions to some of those difficulties - from mending clothes, recycling nappies, opening up cycling to parents with more than one child and renovating schools. Can the future of parenting be more eco? Presented by Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough Produced in Bristol by Natalie Donovan
27:45 15/11/2022
COP27: Meeting the Promises
The COP 27 summit in Sharm-El-Sheikh is welcoming world leaders and climate negotiators to Egypt. In a year that has been rocked by the war in Ukraine and global economic instability, can COP refocus the world’s attention on climate? Tom Heap and Matt McGrath will take a look back at some of the pledges made last November in Glasgow for COP 26 to find out whether countries across the world are keeping to the agreements made on areas such as deforestation, methane reduction, finance and technology. Everyone agrees that current geopolitics will make significant global agreements to decrease emissions difficult but there may be signs of hope in the actions of individual countries. Tom and Matt will try to decipher where we are and what we might be able to expect from this years ‘Conference of the Parties’.To help them pick through the details our panel of experts include Bernice Lee from Chatham House, Danny Kennedy from New Energy Nexus, Mia Moisio from Climate Action Tracker, Piers Forster from the University of Leeds and Ben Caldecott from the Oxford Sustainable Finance Group.Producer: Helen Lennard
27:29 08/11/2022
CSI Oceans
Anna Turns investigates what over 30 years of post mortems on dolphins, porpoises, and whales has revealed about the state of the seas. The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme in England and Wales, and the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme, have carried out thousands of autopsies. Anna goes into the pathology lab with Rob Deaville from ZSL as he examines a Harbour Porpoise for clues about how it died, and how it lived. As Anna finds out from toxicologist Dr Rosie Williams and veterinary pathologist Dr Andrew Brownlow, evidence from post mortems shows animals' ability to survive and breed is threatened by pollution from long banned but peristent chemicals, known as PCBs. To find out how these chemicals could still be leaching into the environment Anna travels to the Thames Estuary with Professor of Environmental Geochemistry Kate Spencer. Producer for BBC Audio in Bristol : Sarah Swaddling
27:29 04/11/2022
The Lost World of Ice
The world's glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate. 2022 has been a particularly disastrous year in the Swiss Alps, where new figures show that glaciers have lost 6% of their total volume of ice during this summer's heatwave. Three glacier-measuring stations have had to close this year, as there simply isn't enough ice left to measure. In this programme, Jheni Osman travels to the Alps to see for herself how much the glaciers are retreating. She meets up with Swiss archaeologists, trying desperately to save ancient artefacts which are now emerging from the melting ice, after thousands of years frozen in time. She talks to a mountain leader, who explains that routes used by generations of hikers and mountaineers are now closing, as melting ice makes more and more of them too dangerous to walk on. Jheni asks the head of Switzerland's glacier monitoring team whether anything can be done to save the remaining ice from eventual destruction. She also talks to a cartographer at University College London, who shows her how maps are having to be re-drawn, and even international borders re-considered, to take into account our vanishing glaciers.Produced by Emma Campbell
27:42 25/10/2022
Saving Vietnam's Wildlife
Life can be pretty tough for the pangolin. This scaly-skinned ant-eater is the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world. Followers of some branches of Chinese medicine believe pangolin parts can cure anything from blood clots to cancer and they're willing to pay big money for poached animals.As a boy growing up in rural Vietnam Thai Van Nguyen watched his neighbours capture and kill a mother and baby pangolin. His disgust inspired an intense urge to help the pangolin and the threatened habitats in which it lives. Founding an independent conservation organisation in Communist Vietnam isn't easy, nor is facing down heavily armed poaching gangs engaged in the trade with China. Despite the challenges Thai has set up the country's first effective anti-poaching unit, disrupting the trade and catching hundreds of smugglers red-handed.Peter Hadfield travels to Vietnam to see Thai and his team in action and gauge the impact of his work on local communities and the country's attitudes to its native wildlife.Producer: Alasdair CrossPhoto courtesy of Suzy Eszterhas
27:21 18/10/2022
The Prehistoric Hitchhiker's Guide to Climate Change
Early humans adapted and survived in the face of a changing climate. Eleanor Rosamund-Barraclough joins an archaeological dig in Malta to learn the lessons for our own time.A team led by Dr Eleanor Scerri of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History is making remarkable discoveries about waves of human and animal habitation of the Mediterranean islands, but what can the fate of giant dormice, pygmy elephants and the hunters who may have relied on them for survival tell us about contemporary island life in a dangerous period of rising sea levels and searing summers?Producer: Alasdair Cross
27:42 11/10/2022
An Environmental Paw Print
For many dog owners, watching your pet race around after a crow or leap joyfully into a stream is a source of great pleasure...but these natural behaviours all have an impact on the environment. Estimates of the UK dog population vary from 10 million all the way up to 13 million and the number has been rising in recent years, so their environmental paw print is growing.In this programme Tom Heap visits a nature reserve where dogs have been banned from some areas after being blamed for frightening wildlife, damaging rare habitats and adding excess nutrients to the soil via their excrement. He meets a farmer and dung beetle expert, who shows him how the drugs found in flea treatments and worming pills can leach out into nature. And what to do with all that poo - especially when it's wrapped in plastic bags?Meanwhile, across the world free-roaming dogs are having wide reaching effects. Dr Abi Vanak from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment says the 60-80 million free-roaming dogs in India are putting some native species at risk of extinction.Producer: Heather Simons
27:49 04/10/2022
The True Cost of Energy
In the UK, more than half our electricity is generated without using fossil fuels. Despite that, the rocketing price of gas has lead to matching increases in our electricity bills. Why the disconnect? What could we be doing differently so that consumers benefit from cheap renewable power? And what will the current crisis mean for our long term aims of reducing our use of fossil fuels?In this programme, Tom Heap asks an expert panel how our energy market can be reshaped to produce smaller bills in a low carbon future.He's joined by: Glenn Rickson - Head of European Power Analysts with S&P Global Commodity Insights Emma Pinchbeck - CEO of Energy UK, the trade body for the British energy industry Michael Grubb - Professor of Energy and Climate Change at UCLProducer: Heather Simons
27:48 27/09/2022
Wild Highway
Running 12500km from the Arctic Circle to the borders of Greece, the European Greenbelt is one of the most ambitious conservation schemes ever devised. The idea was to use the no man's land of the Iron Curtain that divided Communist East from Capitalist West as a wildlife corridor to allow rare and endangered species to travel unimpeded across the continent.On the 20th anniversary of the Greenbelt, the writer and anthropologist, Mary-Ann Ochota takes to the road, from the industrialised peat bogs of Finland through the Baltic states and Germany's dying forests to the peasant farms of the southern Balkans. The wildlife of these borderlands is rich and varied but the conservationists feel that they're battling forces bigger than those that created the Iron Curtain in the first place.Producer: Alasdair Cross
27:53 21/09/2022
Future Tourists
Nature and wildlife tourism has surged in recent years. Millions of us seem to want to want to follow in the footsteps of David Attenborough; meeting mountain gorillas, ticking off Africa’s big five mammals or hitting the waves to meet whales and dolphins. But is wildlife tourism good or bad for the world’s most sensitive environments?The Covid-19 outbreak gave us a sudden, unexpected opportunity to answer that question. Some of the most magnetic natural places on the planet lost their international tourists for two years. Naturalist and broadcaster, Mike Dilger has been to the cloud forests of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands to gauge the impact. Both of these extraordinary environments depend on tourism to pay for their protection, but should they continue to rely on travellers emitting vast quantities of carbon dioxide to get their fix of hummingbirds and marine iguanas?Mike is joined in the studio by Fiore Longo of Survival International, travel writer Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent and Vicky Smith from the eco-travel website, Earthchangers.Producer: Alasdair Cross
27:52 13/09/2022
Steve Backshall Listens to the Whales
Steve Backshall explores whether slowing down and quietening noisy shipping could help protect Canada’s whale population.A busy shipping lane between Vancouver Island and the Canadian mainland – known as the Inside Passage - is home to a community of Orcas. These are the unmistakable, sleek and distinctive, black and white members of the dolphin family otherwise known as Killer Whales. They’re smart and social and have a sophisticated language of clicks and whistles which helps them hunt and communicate within their family pods. Paul Spong runs OrcaLab which, for over 50 years, has carried out research into these whales. He and his partner, Helena Symonds, have long suspected that noisy boats impact whales. Their experience of listening to these Orcas and monitoring their behaviour has shown that some family groups, associated with these waters, have left. Others only appear at the end of the cruise-liner season. There are hydrophone recordings which illustrate how propeller noise forces the orcas to ‘shout’ or stop communicating altogether which impacts family-pod relationships and hunting. Broadening the research is Janie Wray of BC Whales. While Paul and Helena concentrate on Orcas, BC Whales also research Fins and Humpbacks. Janie's team has recently increased the string of hydrophones which now stretches along the entire coast of British Columbia. This development coincided with the pandemic when the oceans became a little quieter: for a while the cruise liners and whale-watching boats disappeared. This phase could provide a breakthrough - if the recordings made during these quieter months can prove that the whales benefitted from the peace, can boats be persuaded to slow down or even change route?Another vital member of the research team is Dr. Ben Hendricks, he’s a software designer who has written a programme that can analyse vast amounts of recorded whale song very quickly, meaning humans no longer need to listen to everything in real time. All these different threads of research, when pulled together, could be enough to gather the evidence needed to further protect Canada’s resident and transient whale populations. Also taking part in the programme is Erin Gless of the Pacific Whale Watch Association. She says whale watching vessels have made improvements to ensure they view wildlife in a non-invasive way. The programme image is of Steve kayaking alongside an Orca.Presenter: Steve Backshall Producer for BBC Audio in Bristol: Karen Gregor
27:42 06/09/2022
Ukraine: A War on Nature
It's said that the environment is the silent victim of war. In this programme, Tom Heap finds out how the conflict in Ukraine is affecting environmental work in the country. With so many people forced to flee, what happens to projects which were trying to protect fragile wildlife habitats? He talks to an award-winning Ukrainian environmentalist who has had to temporarily abandon his conservation project around Chernobyl in order to help with the humanitarian aid effort. Meanwhile, with airstrikes taking place in some of the most industrialised areas in the east of the country, the risk of long-term contamination from damaged coal mines and nuclear installations is very real. Tom asks what lessons can be learned from previous wars around the world, and discovers how long-lasting the environmental impacts of military action can be. How can environmental concerns be can be given a voice, instead of remaining the silent victim, at a time when the focus is understandably on saving human lives?Produced by Emma Campbell
27:56 24/05/2022
Sustainable Sport for the Future
Two of the biggest sports events of the year, the Commonwealth games in Birmingham and the FIFA world cup in Qatar have pledged to be the most sustainable and green sporting events to date. Both have made bold statements 'the first sustainable commonwealth games' and the ‘first carbon-neutral FIFA World Cup'. Qasa Alom finds out if they can really deliver and just how sustainable and green these global sports events will be. Starting off with his home city of Birmingham Qasa discovers some of the changes taking place, from stadium infrastructure to transport and offsetting. Will these commonwealth games be the first games with a carbon neutral legacy and set a benchmark for future games?The sporting world is starting to rise to the challenge, and it must, already major International tournaments are being adversely affected by a warming climate. At the FIFA World Cup in Qatar teams will be playing in artificially cooled stadiums with games held, controversially, in the cooler month of November and December. Qasa finds out if future world class sports events will require radical solutions in a changing climate, and what sporting events can do to curb their own emissions. Producers for BBC Audio in Bristol: Perminder Khatkar and Helen Lennard
27:47 17/05/2022
How Green Is My Money?
Making your finances work harder against climate change. Tom Heap speaks to Richard Curtis, British film director and architect of Comic Relief, about his Make My Money Matter campaign. This encourages everyone to find out where their pension money goes. He also speaks to the boss of a UK bank, Bevis Watts, and to the campaign director of about how easy it is to move your bank account elsewhere. A special episode for anyone worried about what their money is - or isn't - doing to keep the planet green.Interviewees: Lisa Stanley of Good With Money Bevis Watts of Triodos John Fleetwood of Square Mile Investment Consulting and Research Sophie Cowen of Richard Curtis of Make My Money MatterThe presenter is Tom Heap and the producer in Bristol is Miles Warde
27:45 10/05/2022
Green Power in the Far North
Green industry is heading to Scandinavia's far north. Fossil fuel-free steel and clean, green wind energy are in great demand but what does this rapid development mean for the indigenous people of the region? Richard Orange reports from Sweden.Producer: Alasdair Cross
28:49 03/05/2022

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