April 7, 2000
Air Date: April 7, 2000
Bush on Brown Fields
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush unveils a plan to speed the cleanup of the nation's abandoned, contaminated industrial sites called brown fields. Host Steve Curwood talks with the National Journal reporter Margaret Kris about what's in the plan. (05:15)
Pipeline Safety/ Jennifer Niessen
Jennifer Niessen of member station KPLU in Seattle takes a look at the recent spate of accidents involving gas and oil pipelines. Some groups are calling for tighter controls on the industry. (08:30)
The Elusive Fossa
Host Steve Curwood talks with Boston Globe reporter Vicki Croke about her search for a very hard to find animal. Fossa (fue-sa) live in the wilds of Madagascar, and may be the evolutionary link between the mongoose and cat families. But, research on these creatures is difficult because they are extremely hard to find. (07:00)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about the official mammal of the state of Texas, the armadillo. (01:30)
Mergers in the Organic Food Industry
Reporter Nathan Johnson takes us to a farmers' market in Santa Cruz, California to help explain how the organic food industry is booming and why the small, local farmers who began the trend are getting squeezed out of the market. (07:40)
Host Steve Curwood talks with author Peter Huber about his new book, Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists, A Conservative Manifesto. (06:15)
Ski Resort Expansion/ Stephanie Pindyck
Stephanie Pindyck reports on how expansion in the ski industry to accommodate the new wave of extreme sports is putting pressure on the environment in and around public lands. (06:45)
The Singing Milkman/ Jyl Hoyt
Reporter Jyl Hoyt sends us an audio postcard featuring Ormand Smith, who's dairy still delivers milk and ice cream to homes in southern Idaho - for a song. (03:30)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Jennifer Niessen, Nathan Johnson, Stephanie Pindyck
GUESTS: Margaret Kriz, Vicki Croke, Peter Huber
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Democrat Al Gore wrote a book on the environment. But as the campaign for president enters its next phase, Republican George W. Bush is the first one with an environmental manifesto.
KRIZ: I think that he's put out his marker and said: I'm not going to give up the environment as an issue. I'm not going to take your criticism of me lying down. Kind of muddles up people's minds when they're thinking, okay, who is the most environmentally inclined? Well, who's come out with their first proposal? It's been Mr. Bush, not Mr. Gore.
CURWOOD: Also, supertankers may be more visible, but oil and gas pipelines can cause major disasters right in your back yard.
MAN: The creek is full of oil. It's something toxic.
WOMAN: All right, we've got people on the way.
MAN: Yeah, well they better get here soon. You got a problem.
CURWOOD: And on the trail of the mysterious fossa of Madagascar. That and more on Living on Earth, but first this news.
(NPR News follows)
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. On most fronts, the campaign for the White House is now in a quiet phase. But when it comes to the environment, the race is starting to heat up. Earth Day 2000 is coming up at the end of the month, and George W. Bush is seizing the moment to come out with the first part of his environmental agenda. The move puts the Texas governor ahead of his rival, Al Gore. The Vice President has yet to issue his own broad environmental blueprint. The first priority in Mr. Bush's plan is to speed the clean-up of toxic sites that have been abandoned by industry. These so-called brownfields are often found in poor urban areas. Margaret Kriz, a correspondent for the National Journal, is here to talk about the two major parts of the Bush plan.
KRIZ: One prong would be to allow more flexibility for the way they're cleaned up, what kinds of standards that are used for the different kinds of brownfields. Another one is, once brownfields developers has [sic] cleaned up the location and met the state standards for cleanliness, Bush would like to lift all liabilities for the developer, so that any lingering pollution problems on the site or newly-discovered pollution problems wouldn't be their responsibility.
CURWOOD: Now, you've talked with Mr. Bush's environmental advisors. Why has he picked brownfields?
KRIZ: I think he picked something that he knew about, that Texas has been proactive about. They have already cleaned up a good 450 or so brownfield sites. And also, this is part of his approach of state's rights. On education and a lot of other issues he's trying to talk about having the states take more authority, more responsibility, for the issues that are involved, as opposed to being dictated from the federal government. And he sees getting Washington, or getting the bureaucrats out of the state's way as being the best way to clean up the environment, or at least that's how he's portraying this. And that's all part of his bigger agenda.
CURWOOD: Who do you understand is the audience of Mr. Bush's announcement?
KRIZ: Well, I think holding it in Pennsylvania, which is an important state for both Bush and Gore, made sort of the urban target. A lot of brownfields are located in Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh where he held the press conference. So he was partially targeting them. I think also he was looking for the suburban swing voters, the soccer moms and the people in SUVs in the suburbs, or the new technology guys who are out in Silicon Valley, who are very interested in the environment. But they're kind of these middle of the road guys. They might be a little bit more fiscally conservative, want to get government out of their lives. So they're not sure exactly how they're going to vote. If they're perceiving George Bush to be anti-environmental, it might push them more toward Mr. Gore.
CURWOOD: Margaret, I'm wondering why did he leave so much out of his first discussion of an environmental agenda for his campaign?
KRIZ: I think that this was something that was easy to do. He knew about it. He left aside some of the more vulnerable issues that he has, such as the fact that Texas has a real air pollution problem. Houston has surpassed LA as the smog capital of the nation. And there are a lot of other issues that they're not quite sure how they're going to approach at this point, because they are liabilities for him.
CURWOOD: What's the response that Mr. Bush is getting to his environmental plan?
KRIZ: Well, a lot of this is non-controversial. It's stuff that EPA has been doing in the past. But the two first proposals that he's come up with, the two planks that he's talked about, allowing more flexible standards and alleviating the liability for developers, have been things that people are real concerned about in the environmental community. They're afraid that he's going to be too easy on polluters. They feel that the federal government should perhaps dictate a little bit more where the money's going, so that the problems that they see as the worst problems get handled, instead of getting caught up in, perhaps, state politics. The Gore camp, interestingly enough, put out a press release right after Mr. Bush's speech, and noted that Mr. Bush had cut funding for Superfund clean-ups in his state. So, by Mr. Bush saying that more money should be dedicated to developing cleaner technologies is kind of an ironic statement as far as the Gore camp is concerned.
CURWOOD: If you were giving points for the advisors and the campaign strategists on this, which campaign picks up the points on this one? The Bush one or the Gore one?
KRIZ: I think the Bush campaign picks up a solid B+ on this from me. It's solid enough to look like a strong program. It isn't real aggressive, so it doesn't alienate anybody. I think that he's sort of put out his marker and said: I'm not going to give up the environment as an issue. I'm not going to take your criticism of me lying down. I'm going to come up with some real positive ideas, at least as far as the voters can see. Use this as a proactive, positive idea. And it kind of muddles up people's minds when they're thinking, okay, who is the most environmentally inclined? Well, who's come out with their first proposal? It's been Mr. Bush, not Mr. Gore. And, you know, for the man who wrote Earth in the Balance, which Mr. Gore did, this is kind of a lapse on his part.
CURWOOD: Margaret Kriz is correspondent for the National Journal. Thanks for taking this time with us today.
KRIZ: Thank you.
CURWOOD: Oil and gas are dangerous materials that have to be handled carefully on their way to market. Big oil tanker accidents and spills tend to grab the headlines, but pipelines also have major safety problems. One reason is that pipelines go just about everywhere. They're found in residential neighborhoods, as well as in sensitive wildlife habitat. And a recent spate of pipeline disasters is raising public concern. Jennifer Niessen of member station KPLU in Seattle reports.
NIESSEN: Bellingham, Washington, is a quiet coastal community of 63,000 people along the U.S.-Canadian border. A fishing town with a working waterfront and snow-capped peaks along the horizon. On June tenth of 1999, the tranquility here was shattered.
MAN: Okay, my dog's in seizure now.
WOMAN: Your dog is having seizures?
MAN: The fumes are everywhere. My dog can't walk anywhere. We're getting the hell out of here. Something's bad.
WOMAN: All right.
MAN: The creek is full of oil. It's something toxic.
WOMAN: All right, we've got people on the way.
MAN: Yeah, well they better get here soon. You got a problem.
WOMAN: Okay. All right.
NIESSEN: An underground pipeline, which runs directly beneath a popular city park, suffered a catastrophic rupture. Two hundred thousand gallons of gas flooded a pristine creek filled with salmon and otters. The fumes sparked a flurry of calls for help and a frantic emergency response.
MAN: We've got explosive levels, could probably take out two, three city blocks. We've got to start here and start evacuating homes and getting people out of the area.
NIESSEN: Despite the evacuation, the fuel was ignited by two young boys, Wade King and Steven Tsorvas, who happened to be playing in the park with a barbecue lighter.
MAN: I need all officers here immediately! All officers here immediately! We have a big explosion.
NIESSEN: The fireball raced down the creek, killing the two boys and 18-year-old Liam Wood, who was fly-fishing downstream. For a mile and a half, everything in the water and along the banks was incinerated.
WOMAN: Okay, we're going to get people on the way.
NIESSEN: The Bellingham explosion is the worst pipeline disaster in recent U.S. history, and it's prompted an urgent call for stricter regulation of the industry, not only because it underscores the tragic consequences of a pipeline failure but because it's just one in a string of accidents nationwide.
EPERSON: About 3:30 I received a call from somebody that said there was oil all over his farm.
NIESSEN: Gary Eperson is with the local emergency response team in Winchester, Kentucky, where another spill fouled another creek with crude oil in January.
EPERSON: So, I responded and I knew the location where this particular person had called from. And I found a creek that was just totally saturated, covered with oil. And it was gushing out of some culverts and stuff, and I mean it just, you know, an ungodly amount of oil. And then I saw a couple of areas where there were some sinkholes, and this oil was literally gushing two or three feet out of the sinkholes.
NIESSEN: There are more than two million miles of pipeline in the U.S. linking oil and gas fields, refineries, and major distribution centers. Just like veins and arteries supply our bodies with blood, the vast network of pipelines is the circulatory system of America's energy-dependent economy. The problem is that many pipelines were built decades ago, before people thought about the risks of placing them in populated areas. And over the years, corrosion and general wear and tear have taken a toll on the pipes themselves. More than 300 ruptures occur in an average year, leaking an estimated six million gallons of oil. The situation has angered Bob Rackleff, a county commissioner in Tallahassee, Florida, who has founded a grassroots group called the National Pipeline Reform Coalition. He says that competition pressures in the oil and gas industry, along with weak government regulations, leave companies with no incentive to look out for public safety or the environment.
RACKLEFF: A responsible oil pipeline company that is conscientious about inspecting and repairing problems in its pipelines cannot compete against the rest of the industry, the norm for which is to let them leak.
NIESSEN: The pipeline industry says that's wrong, and despite the recent rash of spills the industry denies there is a problem. In fact, the Association of Oil Pipelines says the number of accidents has been cut in half over the past 30 years, even though the amount of oil flowing through pipelines has gone up dramatically. Ben Cooper, the Association's director, says there's no incentive to let a line leak.
COOPER: First, your business is not operating when you have a leak. Your reputation is damaged. You're going to have to repair the facility. It's much better to prevent a leak than to have to repair it afterwards, much less expensive to prevent it. And, you know, the penalties for not keeping oil in the pipe are severe.
NIESSEN: Mr. Cooper concedes the industry has suffered some black eyes recently. One company, Coke Industries, was fined $30 million for allowing 300 spills in six states. A fine like this, along with the deadly explosion of the Olympic pipeline in Bellingham, creates a strong public impression. But Mr. Cooper insists pipelines are safer than shipping oil in trucks or trains or tankers. And he claims what's needed is an effort to restore public confidence.
COOPER: The job for us as companies, the job for the federal government, the job for the state government, I tell you none of my company presidents wants to be having the conversations that the president of Olympic had to have with the families of victims of an accident like that.
(People mill about)
MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the senator would like to start the hearings, if I could ask everyone to find a seat, please.
NIESSEN: The families of the three people who died in Bellingham aren't consoled by the industry's safety statistics. They're calling for stronger governmental oversight, and they've begun to share their grief at public hearings.
MAN: First of all, just imagine that you're going to go home tonight, and your child isn't home. And never will be. Then, add to this the experience that each time you go to a gas station to get gas in your car, and you catch a smell of the gasoline as you're filling that up, you imagine what it might have been like for your child as he was engulfed by a wall of gasoline vapor while fly-fishing on Whatcom Creek.
WOMAN: Safety measures can and must be taken. Taking a human life is not a business liability. It is murder.
NIESSEN: This Congressional field hearing was called by Senators Slade Gorton and Patty Murray of Washington, who are sponsoring a bill to give individual states greater authority to inspect and regulate interstate pipelines. Right now that job belongs to the Federal Office of Pipeline Safety, an agency widely criticized as ineffective. Among the critics is Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson.ASMUNDSON: If the Office of Pipeline Safety were doing its job, we wouldn't have a debate. Because we wouldn't be asking for delegation of authority to the states to protect our citizens, because it would have been done. But it has clearly not been done. It's not even come close to having been done.
NIESSEN: Switching control of interstate pipelines may not be as easy as it sounds. The industry opposes local control, as does Rich Felder, associate director of the federal Office of Pipeline Safety. He says local regulations would create little more than confusion.
FELDER: Let me give you an example of one pipeline. Colonial Pipeline, it runs from Texas to New Jersey, and its control center is in Atlanta, Georgia. I guess the question is, who would set the standards? And the way we see it, we would rather work with all of the states up and down that pipeline corridor, identify their concerns, and then put together a comprehensive program which we honestly believe we have, to make sure that that pipeline is operated safely.
NIESSEN: Whatever the obstacles to state control, it appears the call for pipeline reform is gaining momentum. Vice President Gore has seized it as a campaign issue, and the federal Office of Pipeline Safety has begun a new initiative to toughen inspection standards. Elected officials, environmentalists, and other activists hope to come up with other solutions during a conference this month to ensure that the kind of tragedy that happened in Bellingham, Washington, doesn't strike someplace else. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Niessen.
CURWOOD: Just ahead, it's little but very tough. And only a few people have ever seen it in the wild. Madagascar's fossa is next on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. If you haven't heard of an animal called a fossa, you're not alone. Until recently, even zoologists knew little about these ferocious creatures that could be the evolutionary link between the mongoose and cat families. Fossa live in the wilds of Madagascar and eat, well, just about anything they can get a hold of, even if it's as big as they are. Vicki Croke, a writer for the Boston Globe, recently journeyed to Madagascar with fossa tracker Luke Dollar, to follow her obsession with these pint-sized killers
CROKE: The fossa is a bit of a Holy Grail for me. I came across the name of the fossa years ago, when I was working on a book about zoos. I became intrigued, had never heard of it before. And started to rummage around the scientific literature, and I couldn't find anything about it. Very little. And eventually, I interviewed Pat Wright [phonetic spelling], who is a lemur expert. She had an undergraduate student at the time, Luke Dollar, and she said his focus is the fossa and she got the two of us in touch.
CURWOOD: So, what exactly do they look like? They weigh about --
CROKE: They weigh less than a cocker spaniel. They're not as friendly as a cocker spaniel.
CURWOOD: I guess not.
CROKE: They're very long. And their tail is the same length as their body. They have enormous feet and claws on those feet. They have outsized canine teeth to do the job. And they're chocolate-covered with a little bit, some of them have a cream blaze from their throat down along their bellies. They look like a cat, and for years scientists did think that they were cats. In fact, they are in the mongoose family. Though there was a time in history, in the far past, in which the mongoose and cat families were joined, and the fossa may represent that individual.
CURWOOD: So what was it like tracking these fossa?
CROKE: We hiked about 20 miles a day through very rough terrain. There were itchy vines and lianas and we had to come crashing through them. Steep ridges. We would lose the -- the fossa's range in that area is probably something like 12 miles, and there were two fossa that Luke had previously radio-collared, so it sounds like a breeze to find them.
CROKE: However, the telemetry equipment had a range of two miles, the fossa a range of 12 miles.
CROKE: So we had a hard time. You'd start out in the morning, and you'd hear these very promising tocks over the radio. And within several miles of tracking them, you'd lose that signal to a ridge or a deep ravine. And we found that very often, when we were up on top of a ridge, to retrace our tracks we would definitely lose the animal. So, the fastest way down a ridge often was just to fall. Luke was the first one to discover that. We looked down a steep ridge and he fell down, I think by accident. But Roy, the photographer, Roy Toft, the photographer, and I looked at each other, laughed, held hands, and just jumped down. (Both laugh) And the three of us landed in that red Madagascar dirt up our noses, in our ears, streaking our clothes, and just had to laugh at each other. But when you're tracking a fossa, that's what you have to do.
CURWOOD: So how many days are you out tracking a fossa before you see one?
CROKE: We tracked for about seven days. Extremely arduous conditions. We also had had about 20 traps set out with live chickens in them to try to catch the fossa. And the day we were to leave, a fossa hit one of the traps and actually, it pulled the legs off of a chicken in there. The chicken had to be put to sleep humanely. But once she had hit a trap, we thought she would return and try to get the chicken again, and so we, against all odds and really coming up against our time frame, we stayed an extra day, hoping against hope that she would hit that trap. And she did.
CURWOOD: So what did you think the first time you saw it?
CROKE: To tell you the truth, I had tears in my eyes when I saw her. We got to see her, we tracked her in the morning and actually saw her from a great distance. And she was as elusive as the shadows of the forest. We saw her for one second. And it was a moment of incredible beauty. And you could see -- you know from seeing how the lemurs are so aware of any movement, and you think this animal hunts lemurs, it's able to get up to them in a flash. And what the fossa does is it grabs a lemur by the face with its canine teeth and eviscerates the lemur with its front claws.
CROKE: Fearsome animal.
CURWOOD: Before Luke Dollar started his research, much of what was known about fossa came from observations in the zoo, those that had been captured. What does the research tell us now? What sort of things is he discovering?
CROKE: For one, fossa are smaller than zoo specimens. In zoos, obviously, they get a high-protein diet all the time, and they lounge around. So the animals in the wild are a little bit smaller than the zoo specimens. We also know that they're not nocturnal. That had been thought previously. They are cathemeral, which means that they eat and nap and hunt in no set order. Whatever is convenient. They're true opportunists. We also know that they eat fish. No one knew that before, and it's kind of funny. Luke discovered that because he picks up fossa scat all along the trail. That's one of the main activities we had while we were there. And some fossa scat smelled fishy to him. And sure enough, when he broke it apart, there were fish bones in there.
CURWOOD: Now, Madagascar is an area that, since it's been separated from land for, what, almost 200 million years, 150, 200 million years, people never got there until fairly recently. And when they got there they found all these endemic animals and plants that are just found on Madagascar. But most of the wilderness that people found is gone. I mean, how much is left on Madagascar, of the aboriginal, unique ecosystem that it was?
CROKE: It's actually frightening. Ninety percent of the original forest is now gone from Madagascar. The island is about the size of Texas, 1,000 miles long. The ten percent of original forest that's left is mostly in a ring around the outer perimeter. And from the air, or even when you're driving through Madagascar, it's so apparent, the degradation of the environment. It's like a victim of war. It's battered, it's burned, it's scarred, and the red soil of Madagascar is just bleeding into the ocean.
CURWOOD: Now, how does this degradation of the environment, how does this affect the fossa?
CROKE: It's not known how many fossa there are. We do know that they can live happily in most every environment around the island. But what Luke is discovering is that the moment there's some disturbance in the forest, the fossa falls out. In the forest where we were, he expected, because of the prey density and the environment, that he would trap lots of fossa. He only trapped, in his three months there, two. There are lots of lemur researchers in the forest disturbing it. There are people collecting firewood, which they're not supposed to. Honey cutters actually cut down whole trees to get at the combs. And fossa, Luke now believes, are the first ones to leave the forest when there's disturbance.
CURWOOD: Vicki Croke writes the Animal Beat column for the Boston Globe. Her article about the fossas is in the April issue of Discover magazine. Thanks, Vicki, for taking this time with us.
CROKE: Thank you, Steve.
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CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity; www.wajones.org; and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: Just ahead: Big business goes organic. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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SECOND HALF HOUR
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
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CURWOOD: Take a pig about the size of a possum and put a turtle shell on for a saddle, and you'll get something close to the armadillo. There are 20 species of the somewhat improbable armadillo throughout Central and South America, but in the U.S. you'll see only one: the nine-banded armadillo. The Conquistadors of Spain named the creatures for the armored plates, called scutes, that cover their backs. These plates are the last lines of defense against predators. But contrary to popular belief, the nine-banded armadillo can't roll itself into a ball to escape predators. Only its three-banded cousin can do that. The nine-banded armadillo has another tactic: If cornered, it will spring into the air to startle a predator. And when crossing a stream, an armadillo can either sink to the bottom and walk, or fill its chest cavity with air to help it float and swim to the other side. Texans find this creature especially charming. In fact, in the Lone Star State, the armadillo holds the honorable title of official state mammal. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: Not so long ago, if you wanted organic food you'd grow it yourself, buy it from a local farmer, or take a trip to the health food store. But today, you can get organic produce in giant supermarkets, not far from the Twinkies and potato chips. U.S. consumers are now spending six billion dollars a year on organic food, making it the hottest sector of the industry. Small farmers started this trend, but the lure of big profits now means big business is moving into organic production. Nathan Johnson begins our story at the farmer's market in Santa Cruz, California.
(A bell rings; background voices)
JOHNSON: The bell means it's exactly 2:30, and farmers who have set up tables in the middle of this downtown parking lot can now start selling to the students, restaurant chefs, and everyone else who's been waiting.
STEINBERG: Today we brought a nice range of winter vegetables. We have Meyer lemons. They're sweet lemons. We have anise or fennel. We have three kinds of chard: gold, red, and green. We have red Russian and red curly kales...
JOHNSON: Jonathan Steinberg is a lanky 40-year-old who looks like just another aging Santa Cruz surfer, but he's actually one of the most experienced organic farmers around.
MAN: I've never seen this before.
STEINBERG: It's a new variety, gold chard. We saw it in a small seed company's catalogue and said Oh, we've got to have that. It's really great. I think it's really tasty, too.
MAN: Yeah? It's going to look nice when you stir-fry it...
STEINBERG: Yeah, it's a color contrast...
JOHNSON: The revival of organic agriculture started here 20 to 30 years ago, when young people from the counter-culture went back to the land. And with the help of the Whole Earth Catalogue, they planted their first organic vegetable patches.
STEINBERG: Many of us were idealistic, and many of us weren't from farm backgrounds, and we had to learn it somewhere. But you know, the underlying feeling was sincere. Very, very sincere effort to make better.
JOHNSON: These early pioneers succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Stuff that used to be found only in hippie communes, like organic broccoli and free-range chicken, are now fairly common. But at some point, organic agriculture stopped being a cultural movement, and started becoming an industry. Organic farms and natural food retail stores are now reorganizing themselves into large, more financially-sophisticated companies.
STEINBERG: There used to be 50 market chains, and now there are eight or ten market chains. People that have been loyal to us have dropped out. We're taking a beating on our end. The guys that started it all might be out of business soon.
JOHNSON: As grocery stores merge, competition to supply them is fierce. There are more growers than ever, including large-scale conventional farmers who are switching some of their production to organic. As a result, last year Jonathan Steinberg lost money.
STEINBERG: It's really, really, really discouraging to spend my entire adult life doing this trade and working hard, not being a bum. You know, missing parts of my son's childhood, missing my beautiful wife. And then to do that all season and not make a penny. It's sad. It's been really hard for us. I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that we're really kind of discouraged.
JOHNSON: If farmers like Jonathan Steinberg want to survive, they have to make a choice. Either they can retrench into specialized markets, like selling directly to gourmet restaurants, or they can grow bigger, to compete with other large growers.
(A phone rings.)
WOMAN: John, you’re on nine!
JOHNSON: At the sales desk at Earthbound Farms, there are people taking orders from all 50 states, Canada, and even from overseas. At around 7,000 acres this is the biggest and one of the most profitable organic farms in the country.
GOODMAN: Everyone has different accounts. Like, Amy has a lot of the natural food accounts. She's got Whole Foods and Wild Oats, and some of the natural food distributors.
JOHNSON: Myra Goodman founded the company with her husband 16 years ago.
GOODMAN: But yeah, we'll talk to the buyers from all the supermarket chains. From Kroeger's and Publix and Albertson's, Safeway. So many of them are merged now, I don't, you know -- (Laughs) I don't know which are which.
JOHNSON: Outside the San Juan Batista headquarters, Ms. Goodman says to keep up with the boom in sales, they're building a state-of-the-art, seven million dollar refrigerator.
GOODMAN: This is our new 60,000 square foot cooler, and it's got that roof angle on one end because this is slated to be another 60,000 square foot cooler, to build in 2002. So we're finally anticipating our growth. And as you can see, it's like a three-story building that's going to be racked all the way up.
JOHNSON: Products like their pre-packaged salad mix are stored here, before heading out across the country in trucks for three, four, or five days. To keep the produce from wilting, they use machines called hydro-vacuums.
GOODMAN: They suck out all of the warm air, so your product is immediately chilled. And most of the stuff's actually going to get processed, so it will get washed through our wash line and you know, it will be fine.
JOHNSON: All this processing and technology exposes the company to criticism that it's too much like the agribusiness companies people rebelled against 25 years ago. But Ms. Goodman says Earthbound Farms is succeeding in doing just what those rebels always wanted. It's helping to change the way America grows its food. She cites a partnership between her company and the nation's leading non-organic lettuce grower, Tanamura and Antle ,that will cause Tanamura to stop using chemicals on land it uses to grow crops for Earthbound Farms.
GOODMAN: Their plan is to transition acreage forest as needed. And what it proves is that organic agriculture is viable for the future.
JOHNSON: Still, as a few big retail and wholesale players start to dominate the organic marketplace, old-timers like Warren Weber worry the organic industry is losing the things that made it popular to begin with.
WEBER: It's a good creek. It's a very strong creek, has a lot of steelhead in it.
JOHNSON: Warren Weber farms along Pine Gulch Creek in Bolinas. Along the stream bed are dense stands of native California buckeye and white alder.
WEBER: As you can see, looking at the banks, you know, they're very wild.
JOHNSON: Is this where you got your start in farming?
WEBER: Yeah. Oh yeah. We came out here. See that caboose? I lived in that in the beginning, and we farmed with horses and, you know, we were, you know, the beginning, really, of organic farming. (Laughs)
JOHNSON: To him, organic means much more than just farming without chemicals.
WEBER: What it means to be organic has a lot to do with the kind of farm it is and the environment it's in. It has a lot to do with the local nature of our food supply. And we're losing that.
JOHNSON: He agrees that consumers are still better off by buying organic produce, even if it's mass-produced for large supermarkets.
WEBER: It's getting something that's better, clearly better than the alternative pesticide, chemical thing. But it's still a highly-industrialized product. Once that becomes fairly apparent, I'm hoping that we'll have some sort of a resurrection, you know, of smaller stores, medium-sized stores, wanting stuff that's fresh, wanting stuff that's local. Wanting stuff that's from family farms.
JOHNSON: Small farmers are starting to think about these ideas. There's talk of adding a new, more robust organic label, a label that can bring together concerns about the health of both the environment and of small family farms. Combining environmental and social values into a single food label is a big step. But remember, these same folks were once called foolish for eating organic greens and goat cheese. And look what they've created. For Living on Earth, I'm Nathan Johnson in Bolinas, California.
CURWOOD: Most environmental advocates want to protect the health of the planet, but they don't all agree on how to do it. One approach is taken by author Peter Huber. He calls himself a hard green. That's also the title of his new book, Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists, A Conservative Manifesto. Mr. Huber says too many environmentalists have lost focus of the most critical problems.
HUBER: The soft greens, to my mind, are much more preoccupied with what I think of as micro-environmentalism. The trace pollutants, the large computer models, and seem to have lost, in my view, their focus on conserving wilderness areas, forest, shore, and the real wide open spaces that I think should be the primary and most direct focus of environmentalism.
CURWOOD: As a hard green, what do you believe the current state of the environment is?
HUBER: That depends, you know, where you're looking. On this continent, much as we are taught and urged to believe otherwise, the fact is that since 1920 we have been actually reforesting this continent. We're still cutting down some old growth forests, and I think that's as unfortunate as anybody in the conservation movement. But overall on this continent, we've actually added somewhere between 50 and 150 million acres of regrowth, regrowing forest in the last 70, 80 years. Clearly, our air and water quality are higher, and overwhelmingly the reasons are certainly government intervention and public concern, very much so, have played a role. But overwhelmingly it is because we have harnessed technologies that allow us to separate our own livelihood and our own wealth from this relentless spread across the surface that characterized the first couple of centuries of our own life on this continent, and that still characterize the primary mode of life in the rest of the world, certainly the developing world.
CURWOOD: You're talking about a reliance on fossil fuels?
HUBER: Primarily through fossil fuels and other harder energy technologies. We've learned how to use fertilizers. We've got better crops, higher-yield seeds. We've learned how to cut losses in transporting our food with packaging and with anti-oxidants and preservatives. These things may have other aesthetic and other consequences one can discuss. But the overwhelming primary impact has been to radically reduce the amount of land we have to occupy to satisfy our own needs. And that ought to be the primary test of whether we're moving in the right direction with regard to the wilderness, or the wrong direction.
CURWOOD: Some would say that this reduction in the use of the land is resulting in widespread contamination of the atmosphere. The use of introduction of large amounts of carbon, which scientists tell us is going to change the Earth's climate. Do you believe this?
HUBER: There's absolutely no doubt that we burn huge amounts of fossil fuel on this continent, about 1.6 billion metric tons a year on our continent. And I want to start with our continent, and then do the globe. But we have to separate them. Astonishingly, however, as best people can measure these things, and they've measured them rather carefully, carbon dioxide levels are higher off the Pacific than they are in the Atlantic, even though the prevailing winds blow west to east. Now how is this possible? We're burning all this carbon into the air on our continent, yet carbon dioxide levels drop from west to east. And the best explanation at hand, and these are real data, I mean the explanation is more complicated, but the best explanation at hand is because our great-grandparents cut down so much forest, because we're reforesting so rapidly at the moment and adding new soil, and creating new carbon sequestration ecosystems. That at the moment is keeping our books in reasonably close carbon balance.
CURWOOD: If we are warming the planet, this is something that's really dangerous for the planet. So let me ask you, Peter Huber, do you think that our use of fossil technology is warming the planet? The world's use of fossil technology.
HUBER: Well, on this continent I am sure, and I argue in my book, that our use of fossil technology is not, because we are keeping our carbon books in balance with that technology. Without that technology, we would not be reforesting this continent. Without that technology we would not have shrunk our agricultural footprint. We couldn't have done so. For the rest of the world it is perfectly clear that carbon books are not in balance. The Third World is heavily deforesting at the moment, but they are not by and large using the fossil technology. They are net carbon emitters precisely because they are burning down their forests and spreading across the land. Their main source of horsepower is still the draft animal, a tremendous emitter of methane and a very inefficient user of land. And that's where the net carbon emissions are coming from. The more you believe and are concerned about the climate models, the harder you should be looking to move the Third World through the transition that we ourselves went through in this century, which is a transition from a situation where you're deforesting your land and spreading across it, to a condition where you're reforesting it and shrinking the human footprint.
CURWOOD: So the idea would be to have the developing world use more and more fossil fuels. That would solve the climate change problem?
HUBER: Well, let's state it fairly and honestly. The objective ought to be to have the Third World deforesting less and less. To move into a condition of reforestation. And then you ask yourself what it takes to get them to that point. And if you don't want to ask that, you just don't want to struggle with the problem. Because that is the primary objective. That's -- the main problem at the moment is not the continent where the carbon books, as best people can measure them, are in balance, where the sinks are as large as the sources, but the places where they're not in balance. And you have to ask yourself, this can't be a touchy-feely issue. We have to ask ourselves objectively and seriously what are the technologies, what are the means that have allowed us to reverse course? I mean, what accounts for our successes, and how can we help other countries realize similar successes? These are how the debates should be engaged.
CURWOOD: Peter Huber is a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute and a columnist for Forbes magazine. His new book is titled Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists, A Conservative Manifesto. Thanks for joining us.
HUBER: Thank you.
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CURWOOD: If you missed any part of this week's program, you can listen on our Web site at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us. Our address: email@example.com. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Coming up: The environmental impact of the expanding ski industry. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. There are some big changes underway at many of the nation's ski resorts. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to call them just ski resorts any more. People are whizzing down the slopes these days on boards and tubes, even bicycles designed for the snow. This new wave in winter play is boosting demand for more cleared land to accommodate more customers. So, some resort owners are turning their eyes toward public lands. Living on Earth's Stephanie Pindyck has our report.
(Whooping and hollering)
PINDYCK: Thirty thousand spectators traveled to Mt. Snow, Vermont, early this year to watch the X-Games, an annual competition of all things extreme. Athletes come here to stretch the limits on everything from snowboards to snow bikes to 16-inch trick skis.
(Bells ring, the crowd yells)
PINDYCK: Mt. Snow's director of alternative sports, Chris Bluto, says this event helps build a loyal following for new forms of winter recreation.
BLUTO: I think mountains are really starting to open up as just a general winter playground. So, someone looking to get out in the winter time and come for a vacation has a lot more options available to them in the snow-sliding world.
PINDYCK: All these new activities, though, require new terrain. Most skiers like open glades and moguls, while boarders often prefer half-pipes and jumps. Many resorts are expanding in order to customize different runs for different sports.
(An engine runs; beeps)
Inside his Snow Cat grooming machine at Mt. Snow, Eliah Hamilton says skiers and boarders are picky.
HAMILTON: A lot of people don't really think it's worth it to put all this work into pushing snow around and building jumps for people when we can just have people come here to ski. But people aren't coming here just to ski any more. It's a whole different experience now.
PINDYCK: But expansion efforts at dozens of resorts in New England, Colorado, and other western states, have turned winter recreation into a battleground. Several environmental groups have been fighting the resort industry, contending that many expansions threaten endangered wildlife and old growth forests. Jeff Berman, president of a group called Colorado Wild, says skiing takes a bigger toll than most people think.
BERMAN: Well, ski areas expanding into untouched forests, those are called logging operations. You have to log in order to create additional ski runs. You have to build roads and put in lifts.
PINDYCK: In the west, much of this damage occurs on public land because most resorts operate under long-term permits granted decades ago by the U.S. Forest Service. Mr. Berman contends the agency didn't adequately consider the environmental consequences of ski slopes back then. And today, he says, the agency still fails to think about all the condominiums and hotels that pop up near ski resorts.
BERMAN: All these impacts are not generally studied when the Forest Service studies and approves a ski area expansion on the public lands portion.
(A ski lift hums)
PINDYCK: The best place to see what Mr. Berman is complaining about is at one of America's priciest and best-known resorts, Vail, Colorado. On a typical day thousands of people ride the high-speed lift to the top of the mountain. They're drawn here by the legendary terrain and bright sunshine.
(To woman) So how would you describe the day out today?
WOMAN: Oh, it's beautiful and sunny.
MAN: Yes, it is amazing.
WOMAN: And I'm hopeful, you know, at least if the skiing isn't too good I'll get a tan.
(People milling around)
PINDYCK: Inside the Two Elks Lodge, skiers and boarders are enjoying hot chocolate and chili. This building has become Ground Zero in the battle over winter resorts. The original lodge here was burned to the ground 18 months ago by activists upset that Vail was expanding into a roadless corridor used by wildlife. Jeff Berman of Colorado Wild says the situation underscores a problem at many resorts. He claims expansion on public land is designed to enrich private landholders nearby.
BERMAN: What we often find is that there are other motivations for the expansion, and that simply stating we need to improve the quality of the ski experience for the public is a ruse. Often, the underlying motive is either real estate development, increasing the value of adjacent private lands owned by the ski company or other folks that are tied with them.
PINDYCK: Officials with Vail weren't available for an interview. But at the National Ski Areas Association, spokeswoman Geraldine Hughes says critics are wrong to focus on real estate, and to criticize an entire industry based on one conflict.
HUGHES: I would just like to assure everybody that, indeed, we are in the resort business. Lift tickets are still the largest single source of revenue for ski areas. Real estate nationally accounts for about five percent of ski area revenues. And so, again, there is a perception out there that resorts are in the real estate business, and I think that perception is driven by the very few publicly-traded companies that are out there.
PINDYCK: Three ski companies are publicly traded right now: Vail Resorts, American Ski Corporation, and a company called Intra-West. But all three are using the money raised by recent stock offerings to fuel numerous expansions and acquisitions. Together, these Big Three companies are worth about a billion dollars, and control one third of all skier visits nationwide. It's too early to tell how far the consolidation trend will go, and if the type of expansions at Vail and other large resorts will spread throughout the industry. The critics, though, are having an effect. The Ski Areas Association is drafting environmental guidelines covering everything from the design of new runs to sewage treatment and the use of water for making artificial snow. Geraldine Hughes says skiers and environmentalists have been invited to help write the guidelines. But she notes it's difficult to satisfy everyone.
HUGHES: It's ironic, because the same person who views themself [sic] as an environmentalist and who really appreciates the natural beauty that surrounds them when they're skiing will be the same person who will want a faster lift, will want some new terrain to conquer.
PINDYCK: The Ski Association guidelines are expected in June, and all eyes are on a pending Forest Service ruling in Colorado. The outcome could severely restrict expansion plans at 12 big resorts, and set a precedent nationwide. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie Pindyck.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: A way of life that's disappeared in many parts of America lives on in southern Idaho. Smith's Dairy started bottling and delivering milk to homes back in 1944.
(A large door opens)
CURWOOD: You could smell the butterfat when you enter Smith's Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street in the town of Buhl along the Snake River. In the back of the shop is the bottling plant. Step through the swinging doors and you can see the glass bottles on their way to the pasteurizing machines. You'll also get a history lesson from Ormand Smith.
SMITH: I still know all the names of all the dogs of the customers and the kids, and we're now delivering to five generations of kids. We actually deliver to the homes.
CURWOOD: Like his father and grandfather before him, Ormand Smith bottles and delivers 500 gallons of milk each day to residents of this farming community. But Ormand Smith does one thing his forebears didn't. He sings while he works.
SMITH: Needless to say, it keeps you busy. At 200 gallons an hour, well that means you have to pick up 400 half-gallon bottles in an hour's time. So man, you have to stand here and really work fast to keep things (Singing) rollin', rollin', rollin', keep that milkin' rollin', rawhide! And I like to sing, too, at the same time, so I can keep rhythm with all the machinery. But I enjoy it. We also make our own homemade ice cream here. I love to sell (Ululates) Oreo cookie! I sell Oreo cookie ice cream and bubble gum and White House cherry, coconut, and pineapple. And then of course the standbys, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, maple nut, all of these different flavors. So it keeps our hands full, but the main thing we've done all of our life, all the other dairies have quit, is home delivery. We still take the milk to the homes, and if a person wants us to put it in the refrigerator we'll put it in the refrigerator. I used to joke and say we would make the beds and do the dishes when we go through, but that's sort of maybe telling a little tale. Maybe we don't do that exactly.
SMITH: You never get rich but you've got a thousand friends. Everybody in Buhl, I know everybody in Buhl and most of the surrounding towns, and they all wave at you and you wave back. And this is what is so good about, there's a lot more to life than money. Oh, we've got to go outside and listen to my bullhorn. I've got to show you ... we've got to go out here and listen to what everybody hears in Buhl, Wendell, Fighter Castle, Ford, and Hagerman, Twin Falls [phonetic spelling]. They hear my bullhorn coming down the road. But this is what everybody hears. (Blows on bullhorn) See, that way they know that Bessie the Hereford's coming down the road! (Blows on bullhorn, sings) In the morning she gave fast rides. In the nighttime she came homogenized. Oh Bessie, my heifer, let's clean the wall of cows. See, they hear that and then they know, Smith's Dairy's coming down the road! (Laughs) We're the last of a dying breed, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
CURWOOD: Jyl Hoyt produced our audio snapshot of Ormand Smith, the singing milkman of Buhl, Idaho.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, and Maggie Villiger, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Hanna Day-Woodruff, Steven Belter, and Emily Sadigh. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Peter Thomson is special projects editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. We bid a fond farewell to Terry FitzPatrick. Terry's dived under the ice of Antarctica, edited truculent copy, and personed our Seattle bureau over these years. We will miss you, Terry, and the flying fish. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; the Surdna Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
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