Audio Astra: Saving the planet, home to vultures, combatting COVID-19

July 16, 2021 3:33 am

Heartland Farm near Great Bend is operated by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. (Brian Grimmett/Kansas News Service)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

Reporting on climate change is a staple in coastal areas, but the topic emerged a few times this week in the audio reporting in Kansas. While Kansans are not experiencing hurricanes and wild fires, climate change is shifting the environment in so many respects, from small and trivial ways to invisible but deadly ways. 

Former governor Jeff Colyer sits down with the Kansas Reflector’s Tim Carpenter for this week’s installment of the podcast. While the primary for Kansas governor is more than a year away, Colyer is looking to establish his candidacy through events recruiting volunteers and interviews like this one. Many times during the interview, Colyer criticized Gov. Laura Kelly, who he hopes to face in the general election. 

However, he did little to create distinction between his views and those of Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the other formidable Republican candidate. In fact, he didn’t mention Schmidt. How Colyer will create daylight between his policy positions and Schmidt’s will be an evolving story in this campaign. Colyer also notes that his team has changed significantly since the slim 2018 primary defeat to Kris Kobach. That team might want to sharpen his answer on Medicaid expansion: As a surgeon, he provides an answer that is vague, overly technical and perhaps misleading. I say “perhaps” here, because after listening to his answer a few times, his critique of expansion remains muddy. Otherwise, Colyer cultivated a polite and moderate voice, gently encouraging vaccination and evading most positions from the Trump faction of the GOP.


Kansans Of Faith Evangelize For Saving The Planet From Climate Change
KMUW, July 13, 2021

As a former teacher at a Catholic high school, I am fascinated and sometimes bewildered by the political strain that happens within that faith community. As a teacher of journalism at that school, I encountered students, administrators and parents who hoped to influence how our student publications voiced student opinions — or even covered the news of the school. Always present was the calming voice of the nuns whose order founded the school. Their views of helping the “dear neighbor” provided a north star that everyone could agree on. 

So, Brian Grimmett’s report here is vital. How are communities of faith, especially ones that contain climate change deniers and environmentalists, negotiating that tension? 

His visit with the Dominican Sisters of Peace in Pawnee Rock provides anecdotes of their “eco-spirituality” and also their evangelism for climate-conscious farming. As sister Jane Belanger says, “If you don’t have a life-sustaining planet, you don’t have life.” And Grimmett points out how the common religious value of caring for the poor “will be key to convincing more people of faith to act on climate change.”


Salina, Kansas, Home to Vulture ‘Convention’
NPR, July 12, 2021

A less dire but more visible sign of our human influence on the Kansas environment? The vultures. Yes, the vultures that ornament trees — and decorate cars with their droppings — from Salina to Ellsworth to Hays.

Both “Up To Date” from KCUR and a story from High Plains Public Radio enlisted Chuck Otte from the Kansas State University extension office in Geary County and Sen. Randall Hardy from Salina. Hardy explains how the birds fill the tree near his house while Otte guesses at why so many more birds are visiting Kansas. His first guess is warmer temperatures provided — once again — by climate change. This more frequent heat makes roadkill more tender and therefore easier for the vultures to scavenge. His second guess (a bit less convincing) is that more cars on the road are creating more roadkill for the vultures to eat. 

The Kansas trees that these birds have selected for their migratory homes will likely remain so each year. David Condos amusingly describes how Ellsworth used light and sound to shoo the birds away. At first, they didn’t go far, and then they didn’t go anywhere at all in response to the noises and spotlights.


Pittsburg COVID Update
Uncovering Kansas, July 10, 2021

The “Uncovering Kansas” podcast interviews two community leaders for this update on how Crawford County and Pittsburg are combating the COVID-19 virus. The episode is a follow-up to a September interview on the same topic

The more recent interview congratulates the former mayor and chamber of commerce for their success that has every metric “in the green.” And chamber of commerce president Blake Benson credits the approach that the county took: designating the county health department as the clear authority on the virus and following their advice. 

Unfortunately, this episode is also a cautionary example in how quickly COVID conditions can change. Since the interview (which was before Fourth of July) and after its July 10 release, the virus has spread in the county, aided by proximity to many cases in Springfield, Missouri, and the more contagious Delta variant. The county’s metrics are spiking now into the yellow, orange and red. 

Like many cities, Pittsburg might need to accelerate the tactics that this episode touts as successful to keep the virus at bay, businesses open and school on schedule.

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.