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Mongabay’s top 10 podcast episodes of 2023

Larry Lucas Kaleak listens to the sounds of passing whales and bearded seals through a skinboat paddle in the water. The sounds of bearded seals and bowhead whales are unique and distinctive, and can be easily heard in the vibrations of the wooden paddle. Image (c) Kiliii Yuyan.

  • It was a packed year on Mongabay’s podcast calendar, with a new season of “Mongabay Explores” taking a deep dive into the Congo Basin.
  • At the same time, the Mongabay Newscast continued publishing conversations with leading researchers, authors and activists, and it introduced a new co-host, Rachel Donald.
  • Our top 10 list includes examinations of the Congo Basin’s cobalt mining industry, a conversation with a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a botanist discussing the worrying decline of botany education, and a National Geographic photographer’s project highlighting the key role of traditional ecological knowledge for Indigenous communities and conservation.

In 2023, Mongabay launched the fourth season of its serial podcast, “Mongabay Explores,” highlighting the Congo Basin. The six-part series takes a close look at the second-largest rainforest in the world, the unique biodiversity it contains, and the social and ecological challenges it faces.

1. Mongabay Explores the Congo Basin: The ‘heart of the world’ is at a turning point

Our first “Explores” episode featured guests Adamas Cassinga and Joe Eisen, who provided deep background on the unique wildlife and conservation challenges of the Congo Basin.

2. Congo Basin communities left out by ‘fortress conservation’ fight for a way back in

The second Congo Basin episode was also one of the most listened-to in the series. This frank examination of the troubling history of “fortress conservation” in the Congo Basin featured Goldman Prize winner Samuel Nguiffo, Mongabay features writer Ashoka Mukpo and Congolese academic Vedaste Cituli.

The Batwa Pygmies were evicted from their home lands in the forest in the early 1990s when the Mghinga Gorilla National Park was established, leaving them landless and poor in a society that saw them as a lower class. Image courtesy of USAID Biodiversity & Forestry / Flickr.

3. What would it cost to protect the Congo Rainforest?

The fifth Congo Basin episode examined the complex web of broken promises behind forest protection and potential pathways to getting money where experts say it’s most needed. Guests included Paulo Cerruti from CIFOR-ICRAF, Chadrack Kafuti from Ghent University, Wahida Patwa-Shah of the UNDP Climate Hub, and Lee White, the former minister of environment for Gabon, shortly before the country experienced a coup d’état.

4. Botanists are disappearing at a critical time

Our earliest (and most popular) episode of 2023 featured guest Sebastian Stroud, a Ph.D. candidate in urban ecology and botany at the University of Leeds. This fascinating discussion probed the curious decline in botany education programs and the potential harm this could cause in the global fight against biodiversity loss and climate change.

5. Goodbye to blue skies? The trouble with engineered solutions

Should the world pump particles into the atmosphere to combat climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Elizabeth Kolbert said we should be skeptical of engineered solutions like this, and described a litany of instances where humanity has made ecological problems worse with attempted solutions.

6. What Indigenous knowledge can teach the world about saving biodiversity

Photographer Kiliii Yuyan joined the podcast to discuss the value of traditional ecological knowledge. He’s currently working on a media campaign with National Geographic highlighting five regions of the world, the Indigenous communities that steward these lands, and the knowledge they have to offer.

With a dip net, Karuk fisherman Ryan Reed searches for Chinook salmon under the watchful eye of his father, Ron, on California’s Klamath River at Ishi Pishi Falls in October 2020. The Reeds caught no fish—in stark contrast to earlier times. Before California became a state, the river saw about 500,000 salmon each fall, but last year just 53,954 mature Chinook swam up, a 90 percent decline. The nation now restricts salmon fishing to Ishi Pishi Falls, but with the slated removal of four dams, the Karuk hope the salmon will return. Image (c) Kiliii Yuyan.

7. Guyana gets ‘Drilled’: Weighing South America’s latest oil boom with Amy Westervelt

Award-winning investigative journalist and podcaster Amy Westervelt spoke with us about the eighth season in her acclaimed podcast series “Drilled,” which focuses on a deal between Guyana and ExxonMobil to tap oil reserves off the coast of Georgetown.

8. Climate change is no joke for Australians, says award-winning comedian Dan Ilic

Investigative humorist and podcaster Dan Ilic shared his recipe for communicating the harsh realities of climate change with hope, humor, and catharsis. This candid episode recorded on-site in Sydney also features Ilic’s insight into the conversation around environmental protection in Australia.

9. How our team debunked the U.N.’s climate neutrality claims

The United Nations is not climate neutral, despite its claims. In this episode, Jacob Goldberg explained how the New Humanitarian and Mongabay conducted an investigation that found a significant chunk of carbon credits purchased by the organization don’t represent actual emissions reductions.

Laborers at Land Rover's wind energy project purposed for carbon finance in India.
Laborers at Land Rover’s wind energy project purposed for carbon finance in India. Inage by Land Rover Our Planet via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

10. A just energy transition requires better governance & equity in the DRC

What does a “just” energy transition look like in the Congo Basin? Profits made from mining critical minerals in the global energy transition are largely not making their way to local and Indigenous populations, sources say. Mongabay interviewed Christian-Géraud Neema Byamungu and Joseph Itongwa Mukumo for this critical look at the cobalt mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bonus: Climate loss & damage fund ‘the furthest thing imaginable from a success’

Rounding out the list is the inaugural episode featuring Mongabay’s new podcast co-host, Rachel Donald, who took an in-depth look at the U.N.’s climate loss and damage fund and the arm-twisting that occurred at the U.N. Transitional Committee negotiations. This global fund, originally centered around reparations for climate impacts suffered by low- and middle-income nations, now no longer mandates that wealthy industrialized countries pay into it, and the funds are to be administered as loans instead of grants. These are developments that guest Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA called “the furthest thing imaginable from a success.”

Subscribe to or follow the Mongabay Newscast wherever you get podcasts, from Apple to Spotify, and you can also listen to all episodes here on the Mongabay website, or download our free app for Apple and Android devices to gain instant access to our latest episodes and all our previous ones.

Rachel Donald is an investigative reporter and journalism lecturer based in London. She hosts the podcast Planet: Critical and her latest thoughts can be found on 𝕏 via @CrisisReports and at Bluesky via

Mike DiGirolamo is Mongabay’s audience engagement associate, based in Sydney. He co-hosts and edits the Mongabay Newscast. Find him on LinkedInBluesky, and Instagram.

Banner Image: Larry Lucas Kaleak listens to the sounds of passing whales and bearded seals through a skinboat paddle in the water. The sounds of bearded seals and bowhead whales are unique and distinctive, and can be easily heard in the vibrations of the wooden paddle. Image (c) Kiliii Yuyan.

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