• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

September 8, 2000

Air Date: September 8, 2000

SEGMENTS

Malaria in Thailand / Orlando de Guzman

Some of the world’s leading malaria researchers are working in Thailand, along the country’s borders with Burma and Cambodia, studying the emergence of virulent strains of malaria. Orlando de Guzman reports on why scientists believe malaria is resisting current anti-malaria drugs and what treatments are currently being suggested. (11:05)

Technology Update / Cynthia Graber

Cynthia Graber reports on how a TV police chase inspired a hi-tech environmental detective work. (00:59)

Political Update

Living On Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard talks with host Steve Curwood about recent political developments, including the impending end of President Clinton’s term and his final efforts on several environmental initiatives. (06:15)

Letters

We dip into our mailbag and hear from some of our listeners. (02:30)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about the first computer bug. It was 55 years ago this week that first actual computer bug was physically extracted from a primitive number cruncher. (01:30)

Location Efficent Mortgage / Gary Johnson

There’s a new home mortgage program that may help curb suburban sprawl. Gary Johnson of Chicago reports on the Location Efficient Mortgage, which offers homebuyers financial incentives to live in the city and use public transportation. (05:45)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey tells us that honey not only delights the taste buds, but it also might have potential as a medicine. (00:59)

Climate Predictions

In the 1950’s there wasn’t much talk about global warming or climate change. In fact, those terms didn’t exist back then. But rising global temperatures was the topic of discussion among three scientists in a 1954 radio program “The Reviewing Stand” from Northwestern University. Living On Earth host Steve Curwood and Dr. John Firor of the National Center for Atmospheric Research listen to excerpts of the radio show and comment on the scientists’ observations. (10:30)

Grow Joe / Peter Clowney

It sometimes seems there’s a coffee shop on every corner. Ever wonder where all those used coffee grounds go? Mike Theuer, owner of a small café in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania decided to make use of his excess grounds. As Peter Clowney of member station WHYY reports, Theuer is marketing a coffee ground mixture as Grow Joe, a natural plant fertilizer. (06:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Orlando de Guzman, Gary Johnson, Peter Clowney
UPDATES: Cynthia Graber, Diane Toomey
GUESTS: Mark Hertsgaard, John Firor

FIRST HALF HOUR

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Folks in the eastern U.S. may be concerned about a dozen cases of West Nile encephalitis, but in Asia thousands if not millions of people are suffering from the resurgence of another mosquito-borne disease, malaria.

MOON: What's really scary is that more and more people are becoming resistant to quinine, the most common and powerful drug we have been using. Even when we give quinine to them, the parasites are still there in their blood.

CURWOOD: The race is on for more powerful drugs to overcome the more resistant strains of malaria, but health officials say it's an uphill battle.

WHITE: I think it would be very unwise to consider that resistance would not develop to any chemical that an organism is exposed to. Every time we have thought resistance would not develop in a microorganism that causes an infection, we're wrong.

CURWOOD: That story and more this week on Living on Earth. First the news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Malaria in Thailand

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. By the end of World War II, malaria had been eradicated from just about every industrialized nation. Even in less-developed lands, including Thailand, South Africa, and Kenya, health officials were able to bring the disease under control with quinine and other drugs. Now, things have changed. New, more drug-resistant strains of malaria are emerging, and last year about two million people died from the disease. Today the World Health Organization says malaria threatens nearly 40 percent of the world's population. Orlando de Guzman reports from the border of Thailand and Burma, a place called the global epicenter for new strains of the disease.

(Thunderstorm)

DE GUZMAN: Along the Dawna mountain range dividing Thailand and Burma, outbreaks of malaria come with the monsoon season from May to September. This is when mosquitoes breed easily in the dense jungle along the border. In this vast frontier, most people eke out a living planting rice and corn along the rugged foothills. Venture further into the forest and you enter a no man's land. It's home to heavily armed drug cartels and illegal loggers. Countless land mines litter the border.

(Ambient voices)

DE GUZMAN: This area is notorious for the most potent strains of malaria on earth. For villagers living here, malaria strikes hard and fast.

MASU SU: (speaks in native language)

TRANSLATOR: She go to the forest, she said, for the six day, for six days, then she feeling hot, hot, so she not feel good condition so she come here.

DE GUZMAN: Twenty-five-year-old Masu Su was unconscious when she was carried for six hours from a logging camp inside Burma. Her family brought her to the village of Mokothai, a cluster of bamboo huts with a clinic on the Thai side of the border. A serious case of cerebral malaria has left her shivering beneath a wool blanket despite the tropical heat.

MASU SU: (Speaks in native language)

TRANSLATOR: Before the chest pain, and the headache, and the dizziness, especially in the night time, with fever and she's not feeling good.

(Voices; a child screams)

DE GUZMAN: Malaria is caused by a blood-borne parasite that's transmitted through the female anopheles mosquito. Once a person is bitten, the parasite quickly retreats to the liver, where it grows and multiplies. It's not until the parasites emerge and spread into the bloodstream that painful symptoms appear. In a matter of hours the parasite can copy itself thousands of times, thrashing about and popping red blood cells.

(Screaming continues)

DE GUZMAN: At a clinic for Burmese refugees in the Thai trading down of Measot, malaria is the most common illness. Aung Moon, the medic on duty, says political instability within Burma is causing the disease to spill over into Thailand.

MOON: (Speaks in Burmese)

TRANSLATOR: Malaria is a big problem along the border, especially inside Burma, where they don't have clinics and doctors. These refugees don't know enough about malaria to take simple precautions, like using mosquito nets. When they get infected, they just buy a pack of painkillers. That's one reason why malaria is so high on the border.

DE GUZMAN: Aung Moon says refugees, mostly ethnic Karens, often get sick in their long trek through malaria-infested jungles to escape the Burmese army. The Thai government says this is why malaria cases have risen by 20 percent along the border since the mid-1990s. Although malaria is on the rise, Thailand shares a very small percent of the worldwide burden. Nine out of ten cases of malaria are in Africa. What's unique about Thailand is the strength of the parasite. Three of the most common anti-malaria drugs are useless here. Even quinine, an old ally used to fight severe malaria, is losing its punch, says Aung Moon.

MOON: (Speaks in Burmese)

TRANSLATOR: What's really scary is that more and more people are becoming resistant to quinine, the most common and powerful drug we have been using. Even when we give quinine to them, the parasites are still there in their blood.

DE GUZMAN: Resistance to drugs comes primarily from incorrect use. When a drug is taken irregularly or in low doses, not all of the parasites are killed off. The stronger pathogens that survive are then allowed to replicate. Quinine resistance was first documented in Thailand in the late 1980s, and researchers are closely monitoring its spread. There are fears that quinine resistance may move beyond Thailand into India and Africa. That's already happened to chloroquine, a synthetic and cheaper alternative. Dr. Francois Nosten is with the Shoklo malaria research unit. He's been tracking drug resistance along the border of Thailand since the early 1980s.

NOSTEN: The first case of chloroquine resistance was documented in 1957. Ten years later it has spread over the whole region, and in the middle of the 1980s it had already reached Africa. For certain drugs it's not a very quick phenomenon, but for other drugs the emergence of resistance is much quicker.

DE GUZMAN: In Thailand, for instance, it took only five years for the malaria parasite to become resistant to mefloquine, a drug developed by the U.S. Army. More alarming, says Dr. Nosten, is what happened to another drug called fancidar. The drug is an effective treatment in Africa. But in Thailand, the parasite became resistant to fancidar within two years.

NOSTEN: So it's a very clever organism and the type of parasite that we find in Asia is more capable of adaptation to its environment. But the exact, precise mechanism of how the parasite does all this, we don't know.

DE GUZMAN: Not only has the malaria parasite figured out how to escape the action of various drugs, it's also learned how to hide from our immune system. People who are infected with the disease never develop full immunity. Just how the parasite does this is key to developing a vaccine against malaria.

(Humming, fans)

DE GUZMAN: In an air-conditioned laboratory in Bangkok, Major Scott Miller from the U.S. Army is trying to unlock the biological underpinnings of the most deadly strain of malaria, plasmodium falciperum.

MILLER: These are our incubators. They are incubated at 37 degrees Celsius, which is roughly the temperature of the human body, where we grow malaria parasites in the laboratory.

DE GUZMAN: The U.S. Army is trying to develop a vaccine in case its troops are deployed in tropical countries. Dr. Miller says the U.S. Army is now less prepared to fight malaria than it was during the Vietnam War 20 years ago.

MILLER: Drug resistance in Southeast Asia is such that all of the drugs that are available on the U.S. formulary are ineffective, both in the prevention and to a large part of the treatment of falciperum malaria here. Therefore, if we had a large number of people come who were not immune to malaria, it is likely that malaria would be a serious illness that would affect those soldiers.

DE GUZMAN: Vaccine trials have been carried out in Thailand and in Gambia in West Africa, and so far results have been mixed. That's because once inside the body, malaria pathogens are able to change their appearance regularly, so the vaccine can't recognize them. The parasite is also extremely complex, containing a thousand times as many genes as HIV.

MILLER: The malaria parasite has been with humanity for many thousands of years, and it has proven to be a very difficult adversary, both in terms of our understanding the immune response that our body makes once we are infected with malaria, and also in terms of developing a vaccine against the parasite.

DE GUZMAN: With an effective vaccine a long way off, Thailand is relying on a promising anti-malaria drug called artemisinen. The drug is extracted from the wormwood plant. Highly effective, artemisinen has actually been used to treat fevers for over 2,000 years in China. In Thailand, artemisinen is used in combination with mefloquine. Dr. Nicholas White, a professor of tropical medicine at Oxford University, says the results were dramatic.

WHITE: In the mid-1990s it was really looking rather serious that we might be confronting completely untreatable malaria by this new millennium. But fortunately for us, a solution has come in the use of combination drugs. And this approach has prevented the emergence of resistance.

DE GUZMAN: That's because two drugs working together can kill off the infection completely. While combination drug regimens are highly effective, Dr. White remains cautious.

WHITE: I think it would be very unwise to consider that resistance would not develop to any chemical that an organism is exposed to. Every time we have thought resistance would not develop in a microorganism that causes an infection, we're wrong.

DE GUZMAN: Although Thailand has the misfortune of having the most drug-resistant strains of malaria, it does have the political will and health infrastructure to deal with the problem.

(Thai music)

DE GUZMAN: Educational campaigns through songs and posters make their way to the village level quickly and have raised the public's awareness about the disease. The country's successful malaria eradication efforts have confined drug-resistant strains to small, isolated pockets, mostly along its borders. Dr. Krongtong Thimarsarn, the director of Thailand's malaria control program, says it's important to think of malaria not just as a health problem.

THIMARSARN: In my country, I think the government considered malaria was the top priority among the diseases, because they consider that malaria is the barrier for improvement of the socioeconomic status of the country. So the best way is to get rid of the enemy.

DE GUZMAN: Thailand's successful campaigns to control malaria have not been so easily repeated by neighboring Burma and Cambodia. But the biggest fear now is that Thailand's newer, drug-resistant strains are slowly making their way to sub-Saharan Africa. It's happened before, but this time the effects are predicted to be much more devastating. For Living on Earth, I'm Orlando de Guzman in Bangkok.

CURWOOD: One footnote to our story. Recently there has been a lot of concern about the spread of malaria related to global warming. A new study out of Oxford University says that as the world heats up, places where malaria exists will shift over the next 50 years. Some places that are presently free of the disease, including parts of Mexico and the southern United States, will likely see outbreaks. But other regions, including parts of Brazil, Bolivia, and the Horn of Africa, are predicted to become malaria-free.

Back to top

Coming up: The politics of making monuments, and your letters. It's talkback time later on Living on Earth. Now, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

(Music up and under)

Technology Update

GRABER: One night, John Church, an Arkansas environmental official, was watching TV. And there on the screen, a police helicopter was chasing an escaping suspect on the ground using infrared detectors. Suddenly it dawned on him; maybe he could use the same heat-seeking technology to find the source of sewage polluting a nearby lake. Microbes that eat sewage release heat as they work, so sewage water is significantly warmer than groundwater. Mr. Church flew over the lake using infrared technology that could distinguish heat differences as small as three degrees, and found no fewer than 20 sources of sewage. A global positioning system allowed him to pinpoint the exact locations. Since then, Mr. Church has refined his system, and municipalities around the nation are interested, including New York - where the method could be used to locate sun-warmed pools of water, the perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile virus. That's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

Back to top

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Political Update

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. With Labor Day behind us and campaigns in full swing, it's time to think again about politics and the environment. Candidate endorsements are flying now, and joining me to discuss them is Living on Earth's political observer Mark Hertsgaard. Hi, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Hey, Steve.

CURWOOD: Mark, let's start with the recent endorsement by Friends of the Earth. This is a fairly liberal organization. It was talking about endorsing Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, but then, quote, "reluctantly" decided to back Al Gore. They had picked Bill Bradley in the Democratic primaries. What changed their mind?

HERTSGAARD: Well, they did say it was an agonizing choice, and in the end they were convinced that as much as they approved of Nader, really admired a lot of his stands and would have preferred to go with him, that a vote for Nader would end up being a vote for Bush. And since they also believed at Friends of the Earth that Gore was significantly better than Bush on this issue, they reluctantly decided that they had to back Mr. Gore.

CURWOOD: What kind of endorsements is George W. Bush picking up? His dad had a record pushing for the Clean Air Act. Of course, Republicans started the Environmental Protection Agency. How is he faring among the environmental vote?

HERTSGAARD: Mr. Bush has not gotten any environmental endorsements. And in fact Friends of the Earth, when they endorsed, that gave Gore a clean sweep of the three major environmental groups who do endorse presidential candidates: Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, and League of Conservation Voters. One must say, frankly, it's not surprising that Mr. Bush has not gotten their endorsements, because so much of his record and platform and statements this summer have been at odds with what the mainstream environmental movement believes. For example, Mr. Bush has come out and said that he wants to increase logging in national forests, that he believes not in fighting with corporations but negotiating with them. His exact quote was, "I don't think you can litigate clean air and clean water. I don't think you can legislate clean air and clean water," unquote. Those kinds of sentiments are not likely to get much support from Sierra Club types. And so it's not surprising Bush is going into the November election without any formal environmental support.

CURWOOD: It seems that a lot of the environmental activists seem to think that the Democrats are more friendly to them. And they've been pushing President Clinton to do things before he gets out of office, out of concern that Mr. Bush might well win this election. What kinds of things are they pushing, Mark?

HERTSGAARD: They're pushing all kinds of things, Steve. They want -- one big item on their wish list is to get National Monument status from the president for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. That of course has been a bone of contention between environmentalists and oil companies for a very long time. There are 19.6 million acres there, 200 rare animal species, 350 rare plant species, the last pristine wilderness in America. It's already protected by refuge status by Congress, and that's part of the reason that the Clinton White House is not persuaded that a monument is in order here. It would basically end up being a political protection more than a legal protection. At the same time, they are pushing very hard in the other agencies to move things through. In the EPA, they've got 67 regulations that they're trying to rush through here, things like limiting the mercury emissions from power plants, limiting pesticide use. The Forest Service is finally going to get out its rule banning new roads in pristine forest areas. The Department of Agriculture is going to get out its new standards on organic foods. That of course was a big hullabaloo earlier this year. So clearly, Clinton is both burnishing his own legacy here and trying to solidify the Democratic and environmental support for Al Gore.

CURWOOD: Now, how is this monument question? That is, the president's power to designate a wild place as free from development, how is this playing in the present campaign?

HERTSGAARD: The Republicans have been steamed beyond belief about this, Steve. In Congress in June they tried to overturn it. They failed. Forty-six Republicans peeled off and voted with the Democrats. They don't like this. Clinton has either added to or outright designated as new monuments ten monument areas: 3.9 million acres in the West are now off-limits to development, drilling, mining, and so forth. Dick Cheney, the Vice Presidential nominee for the Republicans, has attacked the president, said that he's used his executive authority, quote, "willy nilly all over the West," unquote -- interesting phrase -- to create these monuments. And at the same time the Conservative Legal Foundation, the mountain states legal foundation, has sued the president, saying that he's exceeded his legal authority and he's not allowed to designate monuments just because, quote, "they are pretty, have endangered species habitat, or 800-year-old trees," unquote. Wherever you come down on this, Steve, it's clear that this is sharpening the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties as we go into this election.

CURWOOD: Before you go, Mark, I wonder if you could bring us up to speed on the Rodolfo Montiel case in Mexico. This is a fellow who's been thrown in jail for protests against logging there. He got a pretty stiff sentence just recently. The new president there, Vicente Fox, is supposed to be friendly to environmental activists. What gives?

HERTSGAARD: Good question. It's going to be a very major test case, the Montiel case. He was sentenced on August 28 to six years in prison despite the fact that the only evidence presented by the Mexican government were confessions, phony confessions that were extracted under torture. What's interesting here is that Fox has said that environmental protection will be a cornerstone of his administration. When he came to visit President Clinton on August twenty-fourth in Washington, he specifically requested a meeting with the Sierra Club and Amnesty International and the Goldman Environmental Prize, which Montiel won this year. So, we will see whether Fox, when he takes office December first, doesn't return to this case and perhaps try and strike a blow for justice in Mexico for environmental activists.

CURWOOD: Thanks, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer.

Back to top

 

Letters

And now, time for your comments. Paul Greenhalgh thanked us for our story about the Torrence Barrens Dark Sky Reserve near Ottawa, Ontario. He wrote that it inspired him to establish a dark sky park in his own community near Abbotsford, British Columbia. "The park," he writes, "is nestled into the base of Sumas Mountain, and offers a relatively good view of the Milky Way not seen from downtown Abbotsford."

Cala Beatty, who listens to us on KUMN out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, heard our story from Tampa Bay, Florida, where plans are underway to get drinking water from the sea. Ms. Beatty writes, "While desalinization of sea water appears to be an interesting fix, I wonder if water use reduction measures have been toyed with as well. Here in Albuquerque, more and more people are turning off their sprinklers and landscaping their lawns with ornamental rocks and plants that don't need much water. That will hopefully allow a sprawling region to continue to live with this aquifer for years to come."

And finally, this tale from Zaphira A. , who hears us on WNYC in New York City. She was not alone while listening to our profile of moose photographer Bill Silliker, and hearing him demonstrate moose mating calls over the airwaves. Zaphira wrote us that "my three cats, who had been resting comfortably on the couch, suddenly raised their heads as one, perked up their ears, got the most amazing expressions of interest and bewilderment on their faces, and simply stared at the radio in full alert. Had the moose calling gone on a bit longer, they would have either attacked the radio or mated with it. I'd say whatever he communicated to them, they seemed to get it." Well, Zaphira, just in case you and your cats are listening this week...

Back to top

(Moose call)

CURWOOD: We'll take your call any time. Our listener line is 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write to 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. And visit our web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. CDs, tapes and transcripts are $15.

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, supporting reporting on western issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity: www.wajones.org.

CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. Coming up: when less car means more cash. That story just ahead right here on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

The Living on Earth Almanac

(Music up and under: Richard Strauss, "Also Sprach Zarathustra")

CURWOOD: Next year, a couple of astronauts will have a problem with a computer named Hal.

BOWMAN: Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

CURWOOD: But 55 years ago this week, technicians at Harvard University found the first real computer bug when they extracted a crushed moth from a primitive number-crunching machine called the Mark II. That was the first known instance of a real insect causing a computer glitch, but the term "bug" had long been used to describe mechanical malfunctions. Early telegraphers would say there was a "bug" on the line whenever a strange noise emerged from the equipment. Thomas Edison increased the bug's habitat by insisting that he would have an electric light bulb up and working any day. He just had a few bugs to work out. Electrical engineers then picked up the term, using "bug" to mean any flaw in an electrical system. Etymologists, not entomologists, recall that even Shakespeare used the word "bug" to connote a disruptive event. One example of just how powerful these little computer bugs can be: in 1962, a single omitted hyphen in its computer code caused NASA's space probe Mariner I to fall back to Earth. The missing punctuation cost tens of millions of dollars. But if you want to see the original, head to the Smithsonian Institution, where Harvard's infamous moth is preserved and can be seen by appointment -- unless there's a bug in the scheduling computer. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

HAL: This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Location Efficent Mortgage

CURWOOD: An innovative loan program that may help put the brakes on suburban sprawl is now being touted by Fannie Mae, the nation's largest supplier of home mortgage funds. It's called the Location Efficient Mortgage, or LEM, and it offers cuts in interest rates and financial rewards for using mass transit to make staying in the city more attractive. The $100 million LEM pilot program was recently unveiled in Chicago. Gary Johnson reports.

(A bus revs up)

JOHNSON: Just off the bus from his job in downtown Chicago, Larry Holzen stops off at the neighborhood cleaners and grocery. He's on his way to the new condo he and his wife Terry have just purchased. Last year the Holzens sold their two old cars and bought a more efficient one, but they rarely use it.

L. HOLZEN: We drive, probably on average, once a week, and that's just to get to places that aren't in our neighborhood, like a grocery store or something that we don't have here. Pretty much everything else we need, like a local grocery store and restaurants, you know, bookstores, everything is within walking distance.

JOHNSON: Terry is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. She enjoys her six-block walk to work.

T. HOLZEN: I guess we could have moved far out to the suburbs and gotten a house with a lawn and everything else, but if we had moved very far out in the suburbs we probably would have had to have gotten two cars, which I don't think we could have afforded for the upkeep and gas and stuff like that. At this point in life, I think both of us just really like city living.

JOHNSON: The Holzens' lifestyle choices helped them qualify for the Location Efficient Mortgage, or LEM. In fact, a short quiz told them they're living the so-called LEM lifestyle. Their home is location-efficient by being accessible to public transit. They're not car-dependent, and they walk to things they need. Compared to a traditional mortgage, the LEM has low three percent down payment. It also allows the savings from using public transit and driving less to be added to total household income on which the mortgage is based.

Scott Bernstein is the founder of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which developed the program with Fannie Mae, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Surface Transportation Policy Project. He's bursting with statistics from the million-dollar study of big city driving habits that led to the LEM.

BERNSTEIN: The number one household expense in America is housing, but the number two household expense is transportation, over 90 percent of which is for driving around. You can roughly count, in America, on one dollar out of five of household expenditures going for driving around. It varies. It's less in Chicago and a lot more in Atlanta and Dallas, but it's still higher than it should be.

JOHNSON: In fact, the Center for Neighborhood Technology research shows that city dwellers, compared to suburbanites, spend one fifth the amount of money on transportation. In the Chicago area, location efficiency increases home buying power by roughly one year's income. In other words, if you make $30,000 a year and live a LEM lifestyle, you can afford $30,000 more house over the life of a mortgage. But it's not just economics that make the LEM attractive. William Able is the commissioner of Chicago's Department of the Environment.

(Applause)

JOHNSON: At a recent press conference, he said the LEM makes environmental sense.

ABLE: The smartest policy, smartest growth policy, is to reuse and recycle our cities. That's exactly what this does. It gets at air quality problems by getting people out of their cars and onto the street and onto public transportation and onto bicycles, and there are clearly few communities within the city of Chicago and few within the nation where there are so many opportunities for that type of walkability.

JOHNSON: Ultimately, the LEM program encourages people to think about how they live and its impact on the environment. Wim Wievel is the dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

WIEVEL: One of the interesting things about something like the Location Efficient Mortgage is that it is one of the few policies that very specifically tries to change the way that people live and where people live. And a policy that makes it very clear to people what the cost is that we really pay for being such an automobile-dependent society. So, to get a change in the underwriting criteria, which this essentially represents, that allows more people to buy homes, is very, very good. And if along with that it sends sort of a symbolic message about the cost of sprawl and the possible societal advantages of more concentrated living, that's all to the good.

(Bus engines)

JOHNSON: Meanwhile, Larry and Terry Holzen are excited about their new, Star Efficient washer and dryer. They purchased the unit with a $900 voucher given to them for taking a Location Efficient Mortgage and living in the city.

L. HOLZEN: Obviously it's more efficient for the environment than I really thought about; it was more a convenience issue.

T. HOLZEN: I just thought we lived like most other people who lived in the city. So it was nice to be rewarded for it, though, that's for sure.

JOHNSON: The Location Efficient Mortgage is also available in San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Other cities are currently considering the program.

(Bus engines)

JOHNSON: For Living on Earth, this is Gary Johnson in Chicago.

Back to top

(Bus engines up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: Predictions of warming weather from almost a half-century ago. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

(Music up and under)

Health Update

TOOMEY: It's one of the oldest known remedies recommended by Aristotle and used on the battlefields of ancient Rome. And now modern medicine may be validating some of the benefits of honey. Honey has been shown to have anti-bacterial properties, thanks to the bees. The insects secrete an enzyme into the nectar they gather. This enzyme in turn produces the antibacterial hydrogen peroxide. In small clinical studies, researchers have found that honey, applied to burns, ulcers, and other wounds not only cleared infection but also reduced inflammation and stimulated the growth of new tissue. The medicinal use of honey may be particularly helpful in developing nations. As one researcher put it, honey is readily available, simple to use, and cheap. That's this week's environmental health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

Back to top

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

You can hear our program any time on our web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

(Music up and under)

Climate Predictions

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The year was 1954. Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. And on January twenty-first, his wife Mamie christened the U.S. Navy's first nuclear submarine the U.S.S. Nautilus. In May, the Supreme Court handed down the famous Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. And Elvis Presley had his first hit. In 1954, most of today's environmental issues were barely blips on the public's radar screen. The term "global warming" didn't even exist. Back then, most folks would have never imagined that in the summer of 2000 scientists would report that the thick ice cap that once covered the North Pole was shrinking and thinning. Or that nations would gather in Lyon, France, as they are this month, to negotiate greenhouse gas reductions. But in 1954, a very small group of people were thinking about melting ice caps and warming climates. As you might expect, most of them were scientists, and in May of that year they met at Northwestern University in Chicago to discuss their concerns on the radio.

MAN: Today the reviewing stand asks, "Is our climate getting warmer?" Our unrehearsed give-and-take discussion will describe recent climatic changes, and tell how they may affect the future of our world...

CURWOOD: For decades this recording sat gathering dust on a shelf in New York City's Public Library [Editor's Note: The recording is from the WNYC- New York City Municipal Archives Collection, not New York City's Public Library.]. Recently it was rediscovered by WNYC radio archivist Andy Lanset and producer John Rudolph, who are preparing programs to mark the station's seventy-fifth anniversary. They sent us the tape, and we'd like to share with you some of the program's highlights, with an eye toward putting the issue of global climate change in perspective.

PEDERSEN: The atomic bomb came on the market after 1940, and the main climatic change was before that year. So there can be no question that the bomb can account for it.

CURWOOD: One thing that makes this radio program so remarkable is the absolute certainty with which the scientists state the global temperatures had risen dramatically. Here the moderator, Martin J. Maloney, puts the question to Svere Pederson, a professor of meteorology at the University of Chicago; and Walter Schute, a research associate in geography at Northwestern University.

MALONEY: Within the limits of your professional concerns, can you answer this question? Is our climate getting warmer? Mr. Pederson, what do you think of that?

PEDERSON: Well, we can say what has happened, but we can't say what is happening now. All we can say is that the climate in the Northern Hemisphere and in particular in the polar regions, during the last 50 years, has gotten noticeably warmer. But whether that trend is continuing, no, I don't know, and I don't think anyone can say.

SCHUTE: And not until we have found the causes to this --

PEDERSON: Right --

SCHUTE: -- climatic fluctuation, can we start to predict anything.

MALONEY: How does this change amount? Now, presumably, there's an increasing temperature from 1900 to 1940, roughly. How has this changed conditions in the Arctic?

PEDERSON: It is especially the winter temperatures that have been changed. We have most of our information from the regions in northwestern Europe. And in northern Norway, for instance, the January temperature has grown about five, six degrees Fahrenheit, seven, eight maybe, even, higher, for January. And up at Spitzbergen around 75, 80 degrees north, it has become about 15 - 14, 15 Fahrenheit --

MALONEY: I think one of you was saying that -- probably you, Mr. Schute, that as a result of this the glaciers have receded?

SCHUTE: Well, they recede very fast, and they are still receding most places. Only some information from Norway, some information from Alaska, Canada, that talks about a few glaciers that are now advancing.

CURWOOD: Listening to this program got us thinking about the current debate over global climate change. If scientists knew a half a century ago that temperatures were rising, why is there still a debate over global warming today? Joining us now is Dr. John Firor, senior scientist and director emeritus of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Dr. Firor, in 1954 was this new information that global temperatures had been rising?

FIROR: It was new in the sense that people were just beginning to put together these miscellaneous pieces of information, such as this glacier's retreating and that glacier, and this temperature gauge seems to be reading higher than it used to. No one was focusing on climate very much in those days. It was just postwar. People were using the captured rockets from the Germans to measure things in the high atmosphere, which had not been accessible to measurements before. Computers had been invented, and the first crude attempts to forecast the weather with that. In other words, lots going on, didn't need any discussion or speculation about climate. I notice on the tape, none of the scientists is willing to speculate at all about possible causes. They're very cautious. Meteorology was not a science of high reputation in those days, just because weather forecasts were a joke. Everybody thought you can't really trust a weather forecast, so anyone who was labeled meteorologist was a little bashful about being too public about anything.

CURWOOD: So these scientists, would they have been considered to have been part of the scientific mainstream in 1954? Or are they way out on a limb?

FIROR: Svere Pederson was one of the greats in American science. He was the center of the mainstream of science in those days.

CURWOOD: By the way, some of the data they were talking about seems amazing. Fifteen degrees warmer at Spitzbergen than 40 years ago? That sounds like a pretty big jump to me.

FIROR: That is. I'm surprised at that number, and I've pored through a few journals, seeing if I could find other references to that, and I can't. But we do know in retrospect that the Arctic has warmed much more rapidly than mid-latitudes and the equatorial zone. And that, not only that, this Arctic warming is what is predicted by the best of our climate models. So it fits together, so I'd hate to doubt Professor Pederson. It may in fact be an accurate measurement.

CURWOOD: One of the things that really caught my ear when I first went through this tape was the positive sense that the scientists had about climate change. In other words, the rising global temperatures, they seemed to think that this would be a good idea. And that view contrasts sharply with the view that is held by many scientists today. Let's play that section of tape. Again, we're going to hear moderator Martin J. Maloney questioning Svere Pederson, professor of meteorology at the University of Chicago.

MALONEY: What practical effect does this change in climate have on life in the Arctic? What difference does it make outside of the realm of scientific --

PEDERSON: When the climate changes, this polar ice, northern waters become navigable and there is more activity up in the north. In other words, if I may use an old phrase, say that the geopolitical world that is in somewhat disrepute since the Hitler era, is not a bad word, and the geopolitical balance begins to change.

MALONEY: In what say, sir?

PEDERSON: In the way that the Arctic no longer becomes a barrier between the nations surrounding the Arctic.

MALONEY: The Arctic now becomes an open trade route, for one thing.

PEDERSON: More or less open. I think that has happened in the past that there is no summer ice in the Arctic. There is evidence to indicate that, that from 1300 to 1700 there was a maximum of polar ice, and now it is receding. The thickness of the polar ice has sort of decreased by about 40 percent over the period of 60 years, the earlier shrunk very greatly. And now, if this trend, and I say if, if it goes on, it will only take another 50, 60 years to get rid of the Arctic ice in summer.

CURWOOD: And Dr. Firor, in the year 2000, the Arctic ice was gone from the North Pole in the summer.

FIROR: (Laughs) Good prediction that he didn't care to make.

CURWOOD: Dr. Firor, was it common for scientists who studied climatic changes in these times to see the warming global temperatures as a good thing, as a positive trend?

FIROR: I think so. And a lot of that is still abroad, where people think of climate change only in connection with how people live. They say, well, people moved to Arizona when they were tired, so warmer climate must be a good thing. What they don't recognize is that people are dependent on the biological wealth of the earth, ecosystems of one sort or another. And ecosystems are not adaptable. If you change the temperature of a forest, make it higher, many of the tree species cannot reproduce. Their seeds will not germinate at higher temperatures, things of this sort. So the question of whether a climate change is good or bad has been debated, but the shift has occurred over 20 or 30 years to saying it's mostly bad because there are irreversible changes that will affect everything we do, and many of them are detrimental to human occupation of the earth.

CURWOOD: Dr. Firor, thank you for listening along with us and for your comments.

FIROR: You're very welcome.

CURWOOD: Dr. John Firor is senior scientist and director emeritus of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

MAN: You've been listening to a transcribed Northwestern University reviewing stand discussion: Is our climate getting warmer? We want to thank our guests for day, Max E. Britton, associate professor of biology at Northwestern University; Svere Pederson, professor of meteorology at the University of Chicago; and Walter Schute, research associate in geography at Northwestern University. Our moderator was Martin J. Maloney, associate professor of radio and television in Northwestern's School of Speech.

CURWOOD: This segment was produced was John Rudolph. Special thanks to member station WNYC in New York, and New York City's Municipal Archives.

Back to top

 

Grow Joe

You may have heard that dumping used coffee grounds into the soil of your potted houseplants can actually be good for them. And you may have tried working coffee grounds into your back yard garden. But here's one thing I bet you didn't do: patent the idea. That's because Michael Theuer, owner of Cool Beans Coffee and Tea in the small town of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, has the only patent pending in the U.S. to make plant food containing coffee beans. He calls his product Grow Joe, and we sent producer Peter Clowney to check it out.

(Ambient voices, music)

CLOWNEY: Cool Beans Coffee and Tea is just four years old, but it's tucked into the basement of the oldest building in Bellefonte, built around 1795. A few steps down from street level, the cafe is bright with sun from the front windows and from the two orange fuzzy chairs that sit against the right wall. Wood tables and chairs fill much of the room, and against the left wall stands a bookcase holding paintings and games and 12 volumes of journals kept by customers and employees.

(Grinding)

THOMAS: This is for our house coffee. This is the Colombian.

CLOWNEY: This particular Friday at noon, John Thomas and Janet Armstrong mind the coffee bar at the end of the room. Stuck to the edge of the bar, next to the muffin basket, is a sheet of clippings about Grow Joe, the store's very own coffee ground plant food.

ARMSTRONG: It got mentioned along with a whole bunch of other products like cricket crap, and poo pets, stool toads and turtles, squanto's secret, all natural products that are out there on the market these days.

CLOWNEY: Cafe owner Mike Theuer walks into the room. He immediately spills hot chocolate on his shorts, mutters "Jiminy Cricket," and reaches under the bar for the messy bucket that inspired his invention.

THEUER: Two Februaries ago I was standing here, dark as heck, and a friend was over there on the other side of the counter. And I was lamenting about all these disgusting coffee grounds. They weigh a ton. It was not only difficult but obscene to throw away that much stuff. And he said, "You know, earthworms. Instead of growing your earthworms in them, throw it in your garden." And then I thought yes, plant food! That's it!

(Footfalls down stairs)

CLOWNEY: Theuer's careful to credit not just his friend but his grandmother. He says she used to spread coffee grounds on her roses, and then sprinkle some eggshells on top to cut the acidity. Armed with conventional wisdom and an untried marketplace, Theuer revved up his entrepreneurial spirit.

THEUER: Here's the drawing operation. Just pallets with one level of board removed, quarter inch wire, and then window screen on top of that, onto which I pile the wet coffee grounds. The air comes in from underneath and the heat lamps from above dry it all.

CLOWNEY: Theuer's operation is small. He's invested only $800 in his fertilizer business so far, and a family friend lent him the use of the cellar up the hill from Cool Beans. From here, Theuer hauls the beans to another borrowed site, an old carriage house in which he's built a three by three by three-foot bin for combining the coffee with Grow Joe's other ingredients.

(Ratcheting)

THEUER: Dried blood. Here's the lime. Here's the potash. Bone I've run out of. Coffee grounds in this tub. I'll scoop it out with this scooper.

CLOWNEY: Theuer looked at books and at the ingredients of other fertilizers to create his formula. He worked out a nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium ratio of 6-8-6, which he says is lower than what he sees in some commercial products but as effective. Theuer sells about two bags of the mix each day in his store, some online at his Web site, and some in garden stores around the U.S. Nestle and Folgers have each offered to give him ten 24-ton truckloads a week of used grounds, if he pays for transportation. Theuer plans to take advantage. He's got an old feed barn lined up with 60-ton stainless steel mixing bins. He says he's not just doing this for the cash. It also feels good to make something natural.

THEUER: Chemical, chemical, chemicals everywhere. That doesn't make sense. It's kind of like, why don't we just remove the plant from the dirt and spray the chemicals directly onto the roots? Why don't we make it all hydroponic stuff? Because that's all the chemical is doing is going right into the ground, going directly into the plant and making it look green. Nothing's sustaining the soil or nourishing the soil. Natural fertilizers do.

BURGHAGE: Bottom line is, it's the same stuff. Whether it's inorganic or organic, nitrogen is nitrogen and the plant can't tell the difference.

CLOWNEY: Rob Burghage is extension specialist in floriculture at Penn State University, which is about ten miles up the road from Bellefonte. Mike Theuer brought Grow Joe to him to see if he liked the product. Burghage passed it on to a colleague, Jay Holcolm, who asked two undergrads to test Grow Joe against a commercial inorganic fertilizer. The results: they performed about the same on cauliflower, and Grow Joe's beets grew up scraggly. Both professors say Theuer needs to fine-tune the dosage. Generally, they support the impulse to find something good to do with all those grounds. And guess what? Burghage says coffee with really good flavor might even be better for a plant.

BURGHAGE: The same thing is obviously going to be true for coffee. You know, there are potential for some organic compounds out of the coffee that could also either feed the plants or feed the microbes that are in the soil, which can help the plants, too.

(Traffic)

THEUER: Oh, I'm bad at plants.

CLOWNEY: In the car ride with Mike Theuer back to Cool Beans Coffee and Tea, talk turns to the hanging plants in the cafe window. They're not looking so good, because he neglects them.

(To Theuer) So what do you mean, you're bad at plants. That doesn't bode well for Grow Joe.

THEUER: No, it doesn't. I stink. Everyone who comes into the shop says, "These are horrible advertisements for Grow Joe." They are, they're crappy.

CLOWNEY: But Theuer's not much of a coffee drinker, either, and the cafe's going fine. He says Grow Joe's going to get its shot. He's just found five investors who put up a total of $48,000 to build his operation in that old barn.

THEUER: I work it, I work at this, but no one appreciates it.

CLOWNEY: For Living on Earth, I'm Peter Clowney in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

Back to top

 

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: Most people who get Lyme disease are cured after a few weeks on antibiotics, but some patients believe their infection is the cause of ongoing and debilitating symptoms.

MAN: One of the things that really gets me about all this is that the patients themselves are being accused not only of being crazy, but they've been accused publicly, I've seen at a hearing on Lyme disease, of being addicted to antibiotics. And do they think that there's some kind of high that we're getting out of antibiotics? I mean, that's absolutely ludicrous.

CURWOOD: A look at chronic Lyme disease next time on 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, Maggie Villiger, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, and Bree Horwitz. Alison Dean composed our theme. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is our science editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for reporting on marine issues; the Surdna Foundation; the Town Creek Foundation; the James and Kathleen Stone Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.