Christopher Joyce

Christopher Joyce is a correspondent on the science desk at NPR. His stories can be heard on all of NPR's news programs, including NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

Joyce seeks out stories in some of the world's most inaccessible places. He has reported from remote villages in the Amazon and Central American rainforests, Tibetan outposts in the mountains of western China, and the bottom of an abandoned copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Over the course of his career, Joyce has written stories about volcanoes, hurricanes, human evolution, tagging giant blue-fin tuna, climate change, wars in Kosovo and Iraq and the artificial insemination of an African elephant.

For several years, Joyce was an editor and correspondent for NPR's Radio Expeditions, a documentary program on natural history and disappearing cultures produced in collaboration with the National Geographic Society that was heard frequently on Morning Edition.

Joyce came to NPR in 1993 as a part-time editor while finishing a book about tropical rainforests and, as he says, "I just fell in love with radio." For two years, Joyce worked on NPR's national desk and was responsible for NPR's Western coverage. But his interest in science and technology soon launched him into parallel work on NPR's science desk.

In addition, Joyce has written two non-fiction books on scientific topics for the popular market: Witnesses from the Grave: The Stories Bones Tell (with co-author Eric Stover); and Earthly Goods: Medicine-Hunting in the Rainforest.

Before coming to NPR, Joyce worked for ten years as the U.S. correspondent and editor for the British weekly magazine New Scientist.

Joyce's stories on forensic investigations into the massacres in Kosovo and Bosnia were part of NPR's war coverage that won a 1999 Overseas Press Club award. He was part of the Radio Expeditions reporting and editing team that won the 2001 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University journalism award and the 2001 Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Joyce won the 2001 American Association for the Advancement of Science excellence in journalism award.

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6:04am

Sun May 6, 2012
Animals

The Dinosaurs' Nemeses: Giant, Jurassic Fleas

Originally published on Sun May 6, 2012 11:38 am

An illustration of the Chinese Jurassic "pseudo-flea," which lived in the Middle Jurassic in northeastern China.
Wang Cheng Current Biology

Fossil-hunting scientists are coming to grips with a new discovery that could change forever how we think of dinosaurs. What they've found is that dinosaurs may well have been tortured by large, flealike bloodsucking insects.

Yes, it appears that the greatest predators that ever roamed Earth suffered just as we mammals did — and as we still do. Fleas were thought to have evolved along with mammals — they like our soft skins and a diet of warm blood.

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3:14am

Thu April 12, 2012
Energy

Scientists Link Rise In Quakes To Wastewater Wells

Originally published on Fri April 13, 2012 10:22 am

Scientists who watch for earthquakes have discovered a big increase in the number of small quakes in the middle of the country. It's an area that's usually pretty quiet geologically.

The scientists suspect the quakes are caused by wastewater wells. They plan to discuss their findings later this month at a seismology conference, but they've shared the basics with NPR.

Bill Ellsworth, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, says new technology over the past decade has given scientists a much better feel for when the Earth shakes.

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3:08pm

Wed April 11, 2012
Energy

Quakes Caused By Waste From Gas Wells, Study Finds

A water truck heads up Colorado Road 215 along Parachute Creek. Water is key to extracting natural gas from deep underground.
David Gilkey NPR

The U.S. Geological Survey will soon confirm that the oil and gas industry is creating earthquakes, and new data from the Midwest finds that these man-made quakes are happening more often than originally thought.

Earthquakes happen when faults in the Earth slip and slide against each other. There's continuous stress on innumerable faults on our continent, but seismologists like Bill Ellsworth, from the U.S. Geological Survey, started seeing something odd about 12 years ago.

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3:39pm

Thu April 5, 2012
Animals

A 'Warm And Fuzzy' Dino? (Yes, But Mind The Teeth)

An artist's impression of a group of Yutyrannus. The 30-foot-long dinosaurs were covered with downy feathers — likely to keep the animals warm.
Dr. Brian Choo Nature

Thirty feet long and weighing in at around 3,000 pounds, Yutyrannus huali goes by the nickname "beautiful feathered tyrant." Yutyrannus earned the name "tyrant" because it casually ripped its prey to pieces. But it was also a snappy dresser: The huge predator was covered in downy feathers.

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3:35am

Thu April 5, 2012
Environment

Shake It Off: Earth's Wobble May Have Ended Ice Age

Originally published on Thu April 5, 2012 9:25 am

A wobbling of the Earth on its axis about 20,000 years ago may have kicked off a beginning to the end of the last ice age. Glaciers in the Arctic and Greenland began to melt, which resulted in a warming of the Earth, a new study says. Above, Greenland's Russell Glacier, seen in 1990.
Veronique Durruty Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The last big ice age ended about 11,000 years ago, and not a moment too soon — it made a lot more of the world livable, at least for humans.

But exactly what caused the big thaw isn't clear, and new research suggests that a wobble in the Earth kicked off a complicated process that changed the whole planet.

Ice tells the history of the Earth's climate: Air bubbles in ice reveal what the atmosphere was like and what the temperature was. And scientists can read this ice, even if it's been buried for thousands of years.

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5:25pm

Wed April 4, 2012
Environment

Pollution Playing A Major Role In Sea Temperatures

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 6:20 pm

This NASA map shows the size of aerosol particles in the atmosphere. Green areas indicate larger, more naturally occurring particles like dust. Red areas indicate smaller aerosol particles, which can come from fossil fuels and fires. Yellow areas indicate a mix of large and small particles.
NASA Earth Observations

The Atlantic Ocean, especially the North Atlantic, is peculiar: Every few decades, the average temperature of surface water there changes dramatically.

Scientists want to know why that is, especially because these temperature shifts affect the weather. New research suggests that human activity is part of the cause.

Scientists originally thought that maybe some mysterious pattern in deep-ocean currents, such as an invisible hand stirring a giant bathtub, created this temperature see-saw.

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12:01am

Mon March 12, 2012
Energy

Power Grid Must Adapt To Handle Renewable Energy

Originally published on Mon March 12, 2012 11:08 am

Towers carry electrical lines in San Francisco. The electricity grid is a web of power stations, transformers and transmission lines that span the continent.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

The National Academy of Engineering in Washington, D.C., once asked its members to pick the greatest engineering achievement ever.

Their choice? The electrification of the country through what's known as "the grid."

Ernest Moniz, director of the Energy Institute at MIT, says they were right on the money.

"That reflects what an amazing machine this is, spread out geographically, always having to balance demand and supply because electricity is not stored," he says.

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6:23am

Sun March 11, 2012
Rebuilding Japan

Nuclear Woes Push Japan Into A New Energy Future

A liquefied natural gas tanker arrives at a gas storage station east of Tokyo on April 6, 2009. The shuttering of Japan's nuclear power plants has driven an increased reliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels.
AFP/Getty Images

The tsunami that struck Japan last year destroyed four nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station on the east coast of the country. Radiation spread through the air and into the ocean, and workers labored for weeks to quench the melting reactor cores. Farmland and numerous towns were evacuated and much remains off-limits.

Since then, Japan has been temporarily shutting down its remaining nuclear plants as the public debates whether to swear off nuclear power permanently. But saying no to nuclear has been and will continue to be costly.

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5:01pm

Wed February 22, 2012
Science

Climate Scientist Admits To Lying, Leaking Documents

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 10:30 pm

Peter Gleick is not just any scientist. He got his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley and won a MacArthur "genius" award. He is also an outspoken proponent of scientific evidence that humans are responsible for climate change.

And earlier this week, he confessed that he had lied to obtain internal documents from the Heartland Institute, a group that questions to what extent climate change is caused by humans.

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4:00am

Tue February 21, 2012
Science

Nature Has A Good Beat, But Can You Dance To It?

Rhythm in music is about timing — when notes start and stop. And now scientists say they've found a curious pattern that's common to musical rhythm. It's a pattern also found in nature.

12:01am

Fri February 10, 2012
Around the Nation

Nuclear Safety, Costs Loom Over OK'd Reactors

Originally published on Fri February 10, 2012 11:56 am

Steam rises from the cooling towers of nuclear reactors at Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Ga. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Southern Co.'s application to begin full construction of the nation's first new nuclear units since 1978 at Plant Vogtle.
Mary Ann Chastain AP

The nuclear industry is celebrating the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision to give the go-ahead for a utility company to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia, the first license to be granted for a new reactor in the U.S. since 1978. But last year's accident at reactors in Fukushima, Japan, still clouds the future of nuclear power, as does the cost of new power plants.

Southern Co. will build the reactors at its Vogtle site in Georgia, where two older reactors already operate.

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12:31pm

Mon January 30, 2012
Animals

Invasive Pythons Put Squeeze On Everglades' Animals

Originally published on Tue January 31, 2012 12:02 am

Nonnative pythons, like this one, are invading the Florida Everglades. As a top predator, the snakes have crippled the populations of rabbits, raccoons and other animals.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Scientists are reporting that aliens are wiping out the animals in Florida's Everglades.

The aliens are Burmese pythons from Asia. They've been slithering around south Florida for decades. But scientists now say the constrictors are so bad, they're eating their way through the swamps. And the federal government has decided to take action to prevent their spread.

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5:33pm

Thu January 26, 2012
Energy

Panel Charts Path To New Home For Nuclear Waste

Without a centralized national repository for nuclear waste, the radioactive material is currently being kept at various sites across the country. Above, large concrete canisters, each holding 14 55-gallon drums of waste, are loaded on a truck in Richland, Wash., in June 2005 where they were later shipped to a facility in New Mexico.
Jeff T. Green Getty Images

A panel of experts today set forth a plan for getting rid of thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Most of it is spent fuel from nuclear power reactors. It was supposed to go to a repository in Nevada called Yucca Mountain, but the government has abandoned that plan.

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12:01am

Wed January 25, 2012
Energy

Is The Booming Natural Gas Industry Overproducing?

Originally published on Wed January 25, 2012 12:25 pm

Hydraulic fracturing wells have been producing a tremendous amount of natural gas — far more than the current demand. Above, a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill at a fracking site in South Montrose, Pa.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

The practice of hydraulic fracturing — pumping fluid into underground rock to push up natural gas — has its detractors, especially among environmentalists. But it's becoming clear that whatever its drawbacks, "fracking," as it's called, is producing a lot of gas — maybe too much gas.

Fracking was once a small part of the natural gas industry, a technique to get hard-to-reach deposits in underground shale. Then the technology improved, and the dinner bell rang. Everybody wanted in. Now there's so much gas on the market that the price is at a 10-year low.

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12:01am

Thu January 19, 2012
Energy

Cheap Chinese Panels Spark Solar Power Trade War

Originally published on Thu January 19, 2012 10:36 am

Contractors with SunEdison install more than 1,000 Chinese-made solar panels on top of a Kohl's Department Store in Hamilton Township, N.J., in 2010. Energy generated by the solar system will cut the store's usage, on average, by 25 to 30 percent.
Robert Nickelsberg Getty Images

There's a solar trade war going on inside the U.S., sparked by an invasion of inexpensive imports from China.

The U.S. solar industry is divided over these imports: Panel-makers say their business is suffering and want a tariff slapped on the imports. But other parts of the industry say these cheap panels are driving a solar boom in the U.S.

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2:32pm

Thu January 12, 2012
Environment

To Slow Climate Change, Cut Down On Soot, Ozone

Originally published on Thu January 12, 2012 10:12 pm

An Indian street dweller prepares food on the streets of Kolkata. A growing number of scientists say that reducing black carbon — mostly soot from burning wood, charcoal and dung — would have an immediate and powerful impact on climate.
Deshakalyan Chowdhury AFP/Getty Images

Politically, climate change is off this year's campaign agenda. Jobs, the economy and social issues are front and center.

But scientists are working as hard as ever to figure out how much the Earth is warming and what to do about it. Some now say it's time for a new strategy, one that gets faster results.

Talk to Durwood Zaelke, for example. Zaelke is a grizzled veteran of the climate wars: He was in Kyoto in 1997 when the world's nations drafted a treaty promising to curb warming, and he has watched that promise fizzle while the planet's temperature continues to rise.

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12:01am

Thu January 5, 2012
Science

How Fracking Wastewater Is Tied To Quakes

Originally published on Thu January 5, 2012 3:00 pm

With the skyline of Youngstown, Ohio, in the distance, a brine injection well owned by Northstar Disposal Services LLC is seen in Youngstown on Jan. 4. The company has halted operations at the well, which disposes of brine used in gas and oil drilling, after a series of small earthquakes hit the Youngstown area.
Amy Sancetta AP

Small earthquakes in Ohio and Arkansas associated with hydraulic fracturing for natural gas have taken many people by surprise. Gas industry executives say there's no hard evidence that their activities are causing these quakes. But some scientists say it's certainly possible; in fact, people have been causing quakes for years.

In the 1960s, geologists realized that gold mines in South Africa had created small earthquakes. Caverns dug into the earth thousands of feet below the surface collapsed. The "pancake" effect caused quakes — in one case a magnitude-5.2 temblor.

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3:01pm

Mon January 2, 2012
Deceptive Cadence

Double-Blind Violin Test: Can You Pick The Strad?

Originally published on Mon January 2, 2012 9:53 pm

In a double-blind test by professional violinists, most couldn't determine — by sound alone — which violin was an original Stradivarius and which was a modern instrument. Above, a 1729 Stradivari known as the "Solomon, Ex-Lambert."
Don Emmert AFP/Getty Images

In the world of violins, the names Stradivari and Guarneri are sacred. For three centuries, violin-makers and scientists have studied the instruments made by these Italian craftsmen. So far no one has figured out what makes their sound different. But a new study now suggests maybe they aren't so different after all.

OK, here's a test. Clip one is a musical phrase from Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major. Clip two is the same phrase. The same musician plays both. But one is on a Stradivarius violin, the other on a violin made in 1980. See if you can tell the difference.

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1:38pm

Mon December 26, 2011
Animals

Endangered Turtle Survives Trans-Atlantic Journey

Originally published on Mon December 26, 2011 4:28 pm

A Kemp's ridley sea turtle like this one traveled 4,600 miles across the Atlantic ocean in 2008. After being rehabilitated in Portugal, it is being reintroduced into its native Gulf of Mexico waters on Tuesday.
US EPA via flickr

On Florida's Gulf coast Tuesday, there will be a celebrated homecoming. For a turtle. This is no ordinary turtle: Known as Johnny Vasco da Gama, after the 15th-century Portuguese explorer, it crossed the Atlantic twice — by sea and by air.

Johnny, as his human friends call him, is a critically endangered Kemp's ridley turtle. Only a few thousand of these sea-turtles exist, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. Normally, they do not migrate across the Atlantic.

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5:10am

Sat December 24, 2011
Energy

After Fukushima: A Changing Climate For Nuclear

Originally published on Sat December 24, 2011 8:25 am

The crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window on Nov. 12. The four reactors that failed were stabilized this month.
David Guttenfelder AFP/Getty Images

This year has something unpleasant in common with the years 1979 and 1986. In 1979, a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania melted down. In 1986, the Soviet reactor at Chernobyl blew up and burned.

This year's meltdown occurred in Fukushima in Japan, and nuclear power isn't likely to be the same as a result.

Nuclear power had enjoyed 25 years of relative quiet, but the Fukushima accident reminded people that despite improvements in safety, nuclear plants could still go horribly wrong.

For some, though, nothing has changed much.

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3:07pm

Wed December 21, 2011
Environment

Turbulence As Europe Passes Fee On Plane Emissions

Air travel contributes only 2 to 4 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. A new ruling says airlines flying into an out of European airports will have to pay a price for the carbon dioxide they emit from burning jet fuel. Above, a plane takes off from the Geneva airport on March 11, 2010.
Fabrice Coffrini AFP/Getty Images

A European court ruled Wednesday that airlines flying into and out of European airports will have to pay a price for the carbon dioxide they emit when they burn jet fuel.

U.S. airlines, which had been fighting the idea in court, say the European Union is trying to force other countries to reduce carbon emissions. Europe currently limits carbon dioxide emissions from its major industries to curb global warming. The ruling cannot be appealed, and the decision likely to end the dispute.

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5:42pm

Wed December 14, 2011
Energy

U.S. Nuclear Agency Suffers Leadership Meltdown

Originally published on Wed December 14, 2011 7:12 pm

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Chairman Gregory Jaczko (center) speaks Wednesday during a meeting of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. His fellow commissioners, from bottom left: Kristine Svinicki, William Magwood IV and William Ostendorff.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

The government organization charged with keeping nuclear power safe is having a meltdown. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission consists of five commissioners who direct the work of hundreds of nuclear engineers and other experts. They write the rules for how nuclear reactors operate.

Now four of those commissioners say the chairman of the NRC is a bully who's destroying their ability to do their job.

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5:00am

Sat December 10, 2011
Environment

Climate Activists: To Cut Emissions, Focus On Forests

Originally published on Thu December 15, 2011 5:56 pm

The world's forests act as massive sponges, sucking carbon from the atmosphere. Above, an aerial photo from 2009 shows massive deforestation in the Brazilian state of Para.
Antonio Scorza AFP/Getty Images

Some climate strategists are looking beyond the United Nations and the idea of remaking the energy economy — and toward the world's tropical forests.

The basic idea is to provide rich countries that emit lots of climate-warming gases another way to reduce their carbon footprint besides replacing or retrofitting factories and power plants. Instead, they could just pay poorer countries to keep their forests, or even expand them. Forests suck carbon out of the atmosphere. It's like paying someone to put carbon in a storehouse.

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2:42pm

Thu December 8, 2011
Humans

Grass Mattress Was A Stone Age Bed And Breakfast

Christopher Miller samples sediments from an excavation site in South Africa. Archaeologists found layers upon layers of burned bedding material, indicating that the hunter-gatherers who lived here 77,000 years ago stayed for a long time.
Courtesy of Lyn Wadley

In archaeology, you get special bragging rights when you can lay claim to the oldest specimen of something.

Scientists in South Africa may now qualify for what they say is the world's oldest bed. Well, not a bed exactly, but more like a mattress made of grass.

What Lyn Wadley, an archaeologist at the University of Witswatersrand, found were mats of grass and sedge piled half an inch thick on the floor of a cavelike rock shelter in South Africa.

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5:01am

Wed December 7, 2011
Environment

Can 'Carbon Ranching' Offset Emissions In Calif.?

Tall grasses in the San Joaquin valley in California suck carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in the soil. It's one option that environmentalists are pursuing for greenhouse gas "offsets" that can be bought and sold in the state.
Christopher Joyce NPR

Second of a two-part series on California's climate policies. Read part 1.

Climate experts are exploring the concept of growing dense fields of weeds to help soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Just over a year from now, California will begin enforcing a set of laws that limit emissions of greenhouse gases from factories, power plants and, eventually, from vehicles.

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4:45am

Tue December 6, 2011
Environment

Calif. Takes Big Step Toward Greenhouse Gas Limits

Originally published on Tue December 6, 2011 8:18 pm

Matt Horton is CEO of Propel Fuels, a company that installs equipment and pumps to handle biofuels. Horton says California is a great market because consumers are interested in renewable fuels.
Christopher Joyce NPR

First of a two-part series on California's climate policies

California is about to try a radical experiment. A little over a year from now, the state will limit the greenhouse gas emissions from factories and power plants, and, eventually, emissions from vehicles.

The U.S. Congress tried to pass a similar plan for the whole country but dropped the idea last year.

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4:54am

Mon December 5, 2011
Animals

The Deep-Sea Find That Changed Biology

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:14 am

Beneath 8,200 feet of water, the Alvin submarine scopes out the Pacific's seafloor in the 1970s. The geologists aboard weren't searching for life — they were on the hunt for hot spots and undersea thermal vents.
Courtesy of Kathy Crane

In 1977, a small crew of oceanographers traveled to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and stumbled across a brand new form of life. The discovery was so unusual, it turned biology on its head and brought into question much of what scientists thought they knew about where life can form and what it needs in order to survive.

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12:01am

Mon November 21, 2011
Environment

Boston's Leaky Gas Lines May Be Tough On The Trees

Nathan Phillips looks at methane data plotted on a map of Boston streets on Nov. 17. Data from a mobile methane "sniffer" and a GPS show a real-time display of the gas levels in Google Earth. The orange spike in the center of the screen, on St. Paul Street, indicates methane levels about two or three times above normal levels, Phillips says.
Robin Lubbock WBUR

A scientist in Boston has been driving around the city measuring leaks in the gas mains. He's found a lot, and he wants the public to know where they are.

Gas leaks aren't uncommon, and gas companies spend a lot of time tracking them down and repairing them. But the scientific team says they're surprised at how many they've found, and what those leaks are doing to the health of the city's trees.

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4:00am

Fri November 11, 2011
Environment

How To Put A Value On Oil Damaged Life In The Gulf

A law passed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill requires the government to assess the biological damage from big spills so fines can be fixed and damage paid for. The National Academy of Sciences has a report describing the methods and metrics of determining the "ecosystem services" that have been lost due to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

4:46am

Tue November 1, 2011
7 Billion And Counting

As Population, Consumption Rise, Builder Goes Small

Originally published on Wed November 2, 2011 12:33 pm

The world's population has just hit 7 billion people and continues to grow. Population experts are concerned about the rise in consumption that will accompany the increase in people. One California home builder, ZETA Communities, designs and builds small, highly energy-efficient homes.

Zeta Communities

The planet may not feel any different today, but there are now 7 billion people on it, according to the United Nations.

That number will continue to rise, of course, and global incomes are likely to rise as well. That means more cars and computers, and bigger homes: the kinds of things Americans take for granted. It's that rise in consumption that has population experts worried.

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