Costing the Earth

Costing the Earth


Programme looking at man's effect on the environment and how the environment reacts, questioning accepted truths, challenging those in charge and reporting on progress towards improving the world


The Sun King of China  

Meet Huang Ming, the Chinese inventor who describes himself as, 'the number one crazy solar guy in the world'. One of the prize exhibits of his museum in northern China is a vintage solar panel. It's a water heater, installed by President Jimmy Carter on the roof of the West Wing of the White House. Back in 1979 the installation was meant to symbolise a new solar-powered future for America. Instead, oil prices fell and Ronald Reagan removed the White House panels. 37 years on and it's China, not the US that's embracing the idea of a solar-powered economy. Huang Ming, an engineer, prominent political figure and businessman is leading the way with his foundation of Solar Valley. In 800 acres of land south of Beijing he employs 3000 people in solar research, development and manufacture. Peter Hadfield visits Solar Valley to see the fruits of the sun, from a solar-powered yurt to the world's biggest solar-powered building. He asks if Huang Ming can persuade his nation to turn its back on coal and oil and angle its face toward the sun. Producer: Alasdair Cross.

Four Menus to Save the Planet  

How should we eat to reduce our carbon footprint and save the planet? Should we all give up meat? Or eat only meat that's reared on grassland which couldn't be used for anything else? Or maybe eat intensively-reared meat that grows so fast that it has no time to emit a lot of methane before it's slaughtered? Aside from meat, how important are food miles? Some argue that food grown in hot countries and transported here by boat has a lower overall carbon footprint than food grown in Britain. Tom Heap chairs a debate from the Bristol Food Connections festival with four experts who have very different views, and present their own menus for low-carbon eating: Jasmijn de Boo, Chief Executive of the Vegan Society, Simon Fairlie, author of "Meat - A Benign Extravagance", Mark Lynas, environmental author, and Sean Rickard, agricultural economist. Producer: Jolyon Jenkins.

After Chernobyl  

When radioactive particles from the Chernobyl disaster landed in Germany's Black Forest one woman decided to change her country's relationship with nuclear energy forever. Julian Rush meets Ursula Sladek, founder of EWS Energy and prime mover in Germany's abandonment of nuclear energy. Following the story from the first detection of radioactive particles, through the persistent impact of radioactive caesium in the soil to the rapid development of renewable energy after the Fukushima disaster of 2011, Julian tells the story of the transformation that's known in Germany as the Energiewende. With Ursula's son, Sebastian he discusses the future for renewable energy in a nuclear-free nation and considers the influence Germany may have on the rest of Europe. Produced by Alasdair Cross and Melanie Brown.

The Mars of the Mid-Atlantic  

Ascension Island is a tiny scrap of British territory, marooned in the tropical mid-Atlantic roughly halfway between Brazil and Africa. It's the tip of a giant undersea volcano - rugged, remote and, up until around 150 years ago, almost completely devoid of vegetation. Peter Gibbs visits to learn how 19th-century botanist Joseph Hooker, encouraged by Charles Darwin, planted a forest on the island's summit to trap moisture brought by the trade winds, introducing a panoply of flora from around the world - ginger, guava, bamboo, ficus and dozens more. But is Ascension's cloud forest all it appears? He talks to conservationists struggling to cope with invasive species running riot, hears about the rescue of Ascension's tiny endemic ferns, encounters nesting turtles on the beaches and ventures among the chattering 'wideawakes' on the sweltering lava plains by the coast. Producer: Matthew Teller.

Digging Climate Change  

Professor Alice Roberts asks if archaeology can help us understand climate change. Producer: Helen Lennard.

From Iceland with Love  

The Ice Link interconnector would link Iceland's cheap and carbon free electricity from hydro and geothermal to the UK. It could provide the equivalent power of a medium sized power plant through a copper cable laid under the sea between the two countries. Crucially the power would be reliable and available when other renewable sources such as wind and solar are not. However, as Tom Heap discovers when he visits the land of fire and ice, environmental campaigners like Bjork fear that this green solution for UK homes could create a need to develop into the pristine wilderness of Iceland's Highlands. Should we pursue our global climate goals even if it has the potential to affect untouched and fragile landscape elsewhere? Tough decisions for Iceland and for us all. Producer: Helen Lennard.

Beasts of the Border  

As gates close against migrants entering Europe Tom Heap is in Croatia to examine the wildlife impact of the continent's new borders. Red deer have been found dying on the razor wire and the vulnerable local population of lynx is now split between Slovenia and Croatia. With a shrunken gene pool the lynx could soon be lost from the region. From the Austrian Alps, south through the Balkans to Greece the mountains provide a vital habitat for large carnivores like bear and wolf. As new fences rise across the region Europe's peak predators face a bleak future. Producer: Alasdair Cross.


The government in Westminster has promised England a new, national anti-litter strategy. But how do you persuade a throwaway society to use a bin? Chris Ledgard reports on anti-littering campaigns, from the litter ambassadors in the Swiss mountains, to litter enforcement officers in Wolverhampton. And he meets David Sedaris, a man dedicated to cleaning up the streets where he lives. Producer: Chris Ledgard.

The Environment after Exit  

From Roman Snails and Great Crested Newts in East Anglia to the lemon sole of the English Channel and the wind turbines of Fife, European legislation has a significant impact on the look and health of our wildlife and landscape. Tom Heap examines the potential impact on the British environment of an exit from the European Union. Produced by Alasdair Cross and Robin Markwell.

New York's Big Green Clean  

Tom Heap visits New York to find out how the city is cleaning up its dirty waterways and bringing back oysters to the harbour. New York is highly populated. The 8 and a half million inhabitants of the five boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Staten Island use a lot of water and create a lot of waste. As a result the myriad of waterways, streams and creeks that all flow around the city, the network of 'sewersheds' that meander below the sidewalks, not to mention the vast rivers: the Hudson and the East River have all, over several centuries become increasingly dirty, polluted with litter, oil and worst of all raw sewage. Each time rainfall exceeds around half an inch, the aged Combined Sewage Overflow systems discharge into the rivers. But in light of 'Super Storm' events such as Sandy and Irene, New York has begun to tackle the problem. The city's Department of Environmental Protection has embarked on on a 'Green Infrastructure Plan'. Over the next 15 or so years $2.4 billion dollars will be spent on rebuilding the city to help it deal with high rainfall. There are 'green roof' projects, tree-planting programmes, and 'bioswales' are being constructed: all measures to try and reduce the impact of a storm of a similar ferocity wreaking such havoc in the future. Meanwhile a group of plucky scientists are attempting to bring oysters back to New York harbour: once home to the largest oyster beds in the world, New York produced more oysters than the rest of the world combined. New Yorkers rich and poor alike dined on the shellfish. The waters of the harbour became so polluted that they no longer thrive there, but scientists from the Billion Oyster Project aim to have a billion oysters living in the harbour by 2030, so convinced are they that the water quality will have improved sufficiently by then. Recent storms in the UK have shown that basic infrastructure struggles to cope when facing a deluge of heavy rain and strong winds, and so when a major storm event hits a major urban centre the results can be devastating. Tom Heap discovers what knowledge could be gained from the New York project and whether similar sorts of measures could be taken in towns and cities in the UK. Presenter: Tom Heap Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.

Acoustic Ecology  

Peter Gibbs asks whether sound could become a vital tool in conservation, helping us understand far more about how wildlife interacts and how it is affected by changes in the environment . Technological advances in recording mean that we can now record huge amounts of data in remote locations. By using algorithms scientists hope to break down complex interactions between animals and their environment and be able to predict change or protect species. This is the emerging science of soundscape ecology. Scientists are hoping to apply big data solutions learnt from fields such as genetics to re-imagine conservation and asking all of us to listen and imagine what a world without natural sounds such as birdsong might be like. Producer: Helen Lennard.

The City That Fell into the Earth  

How do you move a city? Lesley Riddoch travels to Arctic Sweden to find out. Kiruna is gradually sliding into Europe's biggest iron ore mine. The city has to be rebuilt two miles away. That requires an extraordinary blend of planning, architecture, technology and stoicism. If anyone can do it then it's the Swedes. Producer: Alasdair Cross.

Requiem for a King  

Tom Heap tells the story of coal from Industrial Revolution to its apparent demise. As the world begins to fall out of love with coal, is it too early to write its obituary? Coal drove the Industrial Revolution in this country. It could be argued that it helped to put the 'Great' into Great Britain. Now, at least in Britain, we're turning our back on the sooty black stuff. The last deep pit, Kellingley Colliery, closed in December 2015 and all of the coal-fired power stations in the UK are set to close in the next decade. Coal is on its knees. But what about the rest of the world? China and the US have had an enormous appetite for coal and while both will continue to mine and burn the stuff for the coming decades, it is possible that we may have already reached 'peak coal' - the point at which coal demand will plateau, before declining. Coal will continue to lift developing countries through the various economic growth. It is expected that areas of South Asia will continue to depend on coal to generate power but even in those places they are hoping to implement new, cleaner ways of burning coal. The fuel could be facing a 'long sunset'. But is there a glimmer of hope? Carbon Capture and Storage has often been hailed as a potential cure-all for Carbon Dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, so could it step in now to save coal before it is confined to the annals of history? It may be too early to say. However in Canada there is one commercially operating plant. Many experts believe that we need CCS if we are going to seriously tackle our global CO2 emissions because, at least in the short term, coal will remain on his dusty throne for the coming decades. Presenter: Tom Heap Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.

Britain Disconnected  

Extreme weather this winter has cut off large areas of Britain from the outside world. Does our Victorian infrastructure need an urgent update? With parts of Cumbria cut-off since early December, bridges down in Yorkshire, hundreds of ferry cancellations and the West Coast train line out of action until March it's increasingly clear that Britain can't cope with the strong winds and floods that are becoming the new norm. Should we embark on a new transport revolution, pouring concrete and laying steel to future-proof our roads and railways or should we accept a disconnected Britain? Presenter: Tom Heap Producer: Sarah Swadling.

Murder in Cambodia  

Peter Hadfield travels to Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to investigate the illegal trade in Siamese Rosewood. Rosewood is a hard wood that is highly prized because it can be carved into ornate items of furniture, but the appetite for the wood is so voracious that Siamese Rosewood is now becoming critically endangered. The wood is traded on the black market and now the Siamese Rosewood tree is close to being totally eradicated. Not only that, those responsible for the smuggling are leaving a trail of death and environmental destruction in their wake. Peter Hadfield goes in search of the tree. He's on the trail of the smugglers and discovers the measures being taken to try and safeguard the surviving trees. Presenter: Peter Hadfield Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.

In Conversation with David Attenborough  

David Attenborough and a panel of influential thinkers on the natural world join Tom Heap to preview this month's Climate Summit in Paris. Can the world's leaders come to an agreement to save a warming planet? The director of Titanic, Avatar and Terminator, James Cameron tells Tom that a vegan diet can slash our carbon emissions. Former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd recalls what went wrong at the last climate summit in Copenhagen and explains why he's so much more hopeful of real commitments on carbon emissions from the Paris meeting. David MacKay, the government's chief scientific advisor on energy policy until 2014, tells Tom that Europe's renewable energy policy is unfit for purpose and David Attenborough raises the thorny issue of our rising population. Producer: Alasdair Cross.

River Quality  

Campaigners claim England's river life is under threat from 'insidious' pollution, yet the Environment Agency says rivers are at their healthiest in 20 years. Tom Heap visits the River Itchen, in Hampshire, and the River Thames to discover where the truth might lie. This is an important moment for rivers, the next five year plan for improving them is about to be published. The Government Minister for the Natural Environment, Rory Stewart, tells Tom what his priorities will be. Presenter: Tom Heap Producer: Sarah Swadling.

Antipasto Agony  

Bad news for lovers of tapenade and pesto. Olive trees are succumbing to a new disease. Tom Heap reports from Puglia on the ultimate foodie nightmare. The heel of Italy is currently gripped by an outbreak of Xylella fastidiosa, a voracious tree disease that is systematically devastating olive groves in the main areas of production for olive oil. 95% of the world's olive trees are in the Mediterranean, and Italy is the world's second largest exporter of oil, behind Spain. Rural communities risk being torn apart as the disease threatens the livelihoods of farming families that have grown olives in the region for centuries. The whole environment is set to change as trees die, leaving the landscape totally bare. Tom meets the scientists about to wage war on the bacteria: Professor Giovanni Martelli and Dr Donato Boscia from the University of Bari. They are working to find a way of stopping the disease from spreading. If they are unsuccessful, olive production in the whole of the Mediterranean basin could be at risk. Producer: Martin Poyntz-Roberts.

Coast: 50 Years of Change  

A new report from the National Trust reveals how how our coast has changed over the last 50 years. Tom Heap asks if we've become better or worse at protecting the nation's prime asset. He joins John Whittow who led a team of students to survey the coast in 1965 and compares his findings with a brand new study from Leicester University. Has the rapid urbanisation of the 1960s continued or has the tide been turned? What new threats are on the horizon? Producer: Alasdair Cross.

Paying For Our Parks  

Our National Parks are getting less money from central government - some have seen their grant cut by 40% in the past 5 years. To make up the shortfall, they're exploring new commercial opportunities. As well as coming up with individual fund-raising plans, the 15 National Parks in England, Wales and Scotland have formed a joint body, called National Parks Partnerships. It's exploring new ways of selling their collective logo: "Britain's Breathing Spaces". The idea is modeled on a similar organisation in the USA, which has done million dollar deals with companies like Disney and Coca-Cola. So, how far should our parks go down the commercial route? Tom Heap investigates. Producer: Chris Ledgard.

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