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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

October 20, 2000

Air Date: October 20, 2000

SEGMENTS

Hunger Roundtable

The 20th Anniversary of the United Nations' World Food Day highlights the need for continued work in the fight against world hunger. Author Richard Manning and Robert Mwanga, a research scientist from Uganda, join host Steve Curwood to discuss the latest developments in biotechnology and how they will play a key role in the fight against global hunger. (09:00)

Letters

Living On Earth dips into our mailbag to hear comments from listeners about our interview with presidential candidate Ralph Nader. (02:45)

Sports Update / Maggie Villiger

Living On Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports that the subway series between cross town rival Mets and Yankees has some environmental benefits. (00:59)

Farm Noise / Pippin Ross

Residents of Amherst, Massachusetts are set to vote on whether farmers are exempt from a local noise ordinance. As Pippin Ross reports, the man who filed a lawsuit about the early morning noise has caused farmers to band together to fight for, what they say is, their right to make a living. (04:40)

Hiking / Bonnie Auslander

Ithaca, New York writer Bonnie Auslander remembers that her move from the city to the country brought some personal as well as physical changes. (03:40)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about the Erie Canal. In 1825, mules tugged the first barge down this manmade waterway linking the Great Lakes with New York City. (01:30)

Seniors and the Environment / Monica Brady

A pilot AmeriCorps program is tapping into the skills of senior citizens for a variety of environmental projects. WBUR’s Monica Brady visited the Senior Environmental Corps of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. (05:50)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports that you don’t have to be a redhead to get skin cancer like one. (00:59)

Occidental in South America / Ingrid Lobet

California-based Occidental Petroleum has a checkered environmental legacy in South America. In Columbia, a tribe of Indians have threatened to commit mass suicide if the company goes ahead with plans for oil in their land. In Peru, native people living alongside a former Occidental oil field can't drink water or eat fish caught in the river. At the same time, a tribe in Ecuador has signed an agreement with the company, allowing Occidental to drill for oil in exchange for a promise to use environmental safeguards. Meanwhile, on the U.S. presidential campaign trial, Al Gore is being pressured to divest his family’s holdings in Occidental stock. Ingrid Lobet reports. (16:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Pippin Ross, Monica Brady, Ingrid Lobet
UPDATES: Maggie Villiger, Diane Toomey
GUESTS: Richard Manning, Robert Mwanga
COMMENTATOR: Bonnie Auslander

FIRST HALF HOUR

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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

With almost a billion humans already suffering from chronic hunger and populations still rising, the world's farmers are facing an unprecedented challenge.

MANNING: There needs to be a whole new set of technologies and ideas for increasing yield, at the same time that we pay a lot more attention to the quality of the environment.Ê And that's really what the second green revolution will look like.

CURWOOD: But much of new farming technology involves biotechnology, and the public worries about its safety.Ê Also, folks move to the country to enjoy peace and quiet.Ê The only trouble is, some don't like the noise that busy farmers can make at the crack of dawn.

BERNSTEIN: I was not sleeping. I was not a happy guy. I was not able to function very well, parent, or work very well.

CURWOOD: Those stories, and nature with friends and lovers. This week on Living on Earth, coming up right after the news.

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(NPR News follows)

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Hunger Roundtable

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Almost a billion people on the planet don't get enough to eat. We know that fact as we mark the twentieth anniversary of World Food Day, and its theme for this year: A Millennium Free from Hunger. Crop failure and poverty are two leading causes of world hunger, and increasingly developing nations are turning to biotechnology as a solution. In his new book, Food's Frontier, Richard Manning chronicles some of these projects. He joins me, along with Robert Mwanga, an agronomist from Uganda whom Dick Manning profiles in his book about the next green revolution.

MANNING: The first green revolution was placed on what one scientist called an easy money trick. And basically, it increased the yields of crops, specifically grain crops like rice and wheat, by making the plants shorter. That sounds very simple, but it did allow the plant to put its biomass into seed. At the same time they became more efficient in water, things like that. So they boosted yields astronomically by that fairly easy trick. The people who have done that work and are still doing that work have put their heads together over the last few years and said, "You know, we really can't get much more blood out of that turnip. That trick, that technological trick, is now at its limit." At the same time, they also realized things like chemical fertilizers and pesticides are taking their toll on the environment, and we can't go on doing things the way we've done them in the past. So, there needs to be a whole new set of technologies and ideas for increasing yield, at the same time that we pay a lot more attention to the quality of the environment. And that's really what the second green revolution will look like.

CURWOOD: Is the second green revolution a genetic engineering revolution that people are very concerned about? Please explain to me the role that you think biotechnology and genetic engineers should play in combating world hunger.

MANNING: Well, it's going to play a role, there's no question about that. And we first need to draw a distinction between biotechnology, which is a whole set of technologies, and the smaller area of genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is simply placing the genes, a hunk of genes, out of one species into another to pass along a trait. Biotechnology includes that, but it also includes things like reading the genome of a plant to understand exactly how it works, but not altering it in any way. So for instance, in Robert's program, he uses genetic markers to assist his breeding, but he doesn't change the genetics of that program. That level of biotechnology will be relatively uncontroversial. It will be an enormous tool. It cuts in half the time that Robert needs to field-test his variety, so he can get good quality food to the people in, say, four years instead of eight years. That's enormously important.

CURWOOD: Robert, I want to turn to you now. Tell me, what role do you see biotechnology playing in your own work in Uganda?

MWANGA: We have major problems on sweet potato diseases, specifically viruses. And bugs, specifically sweet potato weevil. If farmers don't harvest the crop promptly during a dry spell, the weevil will destroy the whole crop, and the crop will be lost. Now, the technology has the advantage that we can make fast progress to identify the genes that are resistant, and for the weevil there is at the moment no resistance that has been identified to last a long time. But with biotechnology, we think we can come up with resistant types.

CURWOOD: How important would that be to the folks in Uganda if you could do that?

MWANGA: Wow, that would be a big jump! Because as I have said, if we have developed a resistant sweet potato that can stay in the ground without being attacked by the weevil, then the farmer will harvest all his crop.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering, where are people hungry in this world? And in particular, I'm wondering, do we find these people in cities or in rural areas?

MANNING: Well, we find them in both areas, both rural and city. There are different levels of hunger and poverty in both places. But the universal is, they tend to be in the developing world, particularly concentrated in Africa, which has enormous problems feeding its people. A few in Southeast Asia, and some pockets in Latin America. But by far the worst is in Africa.

CURWOOD: Richard, in your book you talked about how the food crisis would be in better shape if people in the West seeking to help had a better understanding of how various societies and ecosystems work. You had a number of examples. In Africa, you talked about tannin and an ancient way of removing it, and how it confused folks who thought they were improving things. I wonder if you could tell that story to us now.

MANNING: It's an interesting example of making a mistake through our best intentions. People eat sorghum in Africa, and it's a really important grain crop. And it tends to be quite dark brown, and dark brown means it has tannin in it, which is bitter. That's what makes tea bitter. And it's also less nutritional when the tannin is in there. So, some plant breeders in the United States understood that they could breed that out and make a light-colored sorghum that would be far more nutritious and taste better, and therefore they'd do a favor for the people of Africa. What they didn't know was about a predator bird that lived in the area. And the bird is ubiquitous. It's like a sparrow here in the United States; it's everywhere. And as soon as they took the tannin out of the sorghum, the bird attacked it, because that bitter taste was keeping the bird off as well. And of course, the people in Africa knew that to a degree. And they had learned in their villages to process their sorghum with wood ash, which itself removed the tannin, and they were just fine before this whole system came along. But as soon as the system took the tannin out, then the birds ate all their crop.

CURWOOD: Robert, how has this kind of experience happened in Uganda, and in what ways have folks in the global community, in trying to help things, made things worse in Uganda for food?

MWANGA: Well, to some extent, by funding research that does not concentrate on prairie to crops, what is important for the farmers, for the population in Uganda, by focusing on coffee, by focusing on cotton, by focusing on tea, that has kind of led to a lagging behind. And I think in that way, we can say it has had a negative influence.

CURWOOD: Richard, how do you think that we can attain a future of sustainable agriculture?

MANNING: There's no single path to that. We're understanding that the solutions to these issues are as diverse as there are human cultures. And so, we have to understand that we in the developed world have to form partnerships with the people in the developing world. We have to do things like help people like Robert get the education and technical support he needs, but also to work within his country to help his country set its goals and to understand the needs of the people there, so that they can have a life with some dignity.

CURWOOD: Robert, how do politics, political stability, fit into these questions of feeding people?

MWANGA: When there is peace, people can grow crops. They can feed themselves. They can share the surplus. They have better living conditions. And so they have a better livelihood.

MANNING: Steve, I have a suggestion, something I would like to add.

CURWOOD: Go ahead.

MANNING: We talked earlier about what we can do in the developing world, what's important to developing agriculture. And one of the things we almost never think of but is vitally important, and is illustrated by Robert's case, is peace and political stability in an area. Robert had a partner when he started out in this program, and the two of them were putting together a grant to do their work. And we said sweet potatoes are important in Uganda, but they're also important in eight other countries in the area, or seven other countries in the area. And one of those was Rwanda. And Robert's partner was a plant breeder in Rwanda, who knew more about sweet potatoes, probably, than most of the people in the region. And as they were getting their program together, it's when the troubles broke out in Rwanda. And Robert's partner happened to be Tutsi, and he was taken out in his field and he was hacked to death with a machete. And so, that particular area of Africa lost its expertise in its most important food crop. That's the kind of things that happen when violence breaks out, and violence is really what has left a huge footprint on the work in Africa.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you both for joining me today. Robert Mwanga is a scientist in Uganda, and Richard Manning is author of Food's Frontier. Thank you both for joining me today.

MANNING: Thank you, Steve.

MWANGA: Thank you.

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Letters

CURWOOD: And now, time for your comments.

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CURWOOD: Many of you wrote to say thanks for our interview with Ralph Nader. Liz Kelly, who listens to us on KLCC in Eugene, Oregon, says the conversation spotlighted the differences among the political parties.

And some of you had some advice for Mr. Nader. One woman sent us an e-mail urging the Green Party candidate to spend more time building a political base. "Nader's big mistake," she wrote, "was not mobilizing the thousands of people who flocked to work for him in the early years."

Mary Donato, who hears us on KBSX in Boise, Idaho, wrote to comment on our interview with a General Motors executive. "Your guestâs statement that despite Herculean efforts to market the best electric vehicle in the world, GM has only been able to sell less than a thousand. It made me wonder what planet I've been living on for the past five years. Apparently, their efforts to get the word out aren't quite Herculean enough. I have never seen a television ad for an electric vehicle," writes Ms. Donato, "but I've seen plenty for large trucks and sport utility vehicles."

Several listeners said our report on fuel cell technology overplayed the danger of storing hydrogen. Tom Detwiler, who listens to WPSU out of Kane, Pennsylvania, writes, "Your piece did much to diminish the promise of fuel cells. The images of reporters fearful of sparks from their cameras, and of hydrogen's old nemesis the Hindenburg, constitute at best superficial reporting. Perfectly safe hydrogen storage is available in the form of metal hydrides."

And speaking of the Hindenburg and hydrogen safety, WHYY Philadelphia listener John Levin offers the following clarification. "The Hindenburg didn't blow up because of hydrogen," he writes. "Instead, static electricity caused a substance used to treat the skin of the Hindenburg to ignite."

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Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write 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.

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CURWOOD: Coming up: Newcomers find that moving to the country doesn't always ensure peace and quiet. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now, this environmental sports update with Maggie Villiger.

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Sports Update

VILLIGER: Take me out to the ball game on the Number 7 train, please, and save the environment. Riding the subway cuts down on pollution, and the New York Mets/New York Yankees subway series may make history for doing the same. That's primarily because they won't be spewing pollution into the atmosphere, since they won't be firing up the team jet to reach distant stadiums. Carbon dioxide emissions can be calculated on a per airline passenger mile basis, and that means about 700,000 pounds of CO2 would have been released if, say, the Mets were playing Seattle. That's assuming a 40-man roster. The greenhouse gas savings is even bigger when you include trainers, coaches, managers, the media, and dedicated fans. The savings couldn't come at a better time. Since the last Yankees/Brooklyn Dodger subway series in 1956, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 19 percent. That's this week's environmental sports update. I'm Maggie Villiger.

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

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Farm Noise

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's becoming a common story in sprawling America. City folks move to the country for peace, quiet, and pastoral beauty, only to wind up complaining about their new neighbors: farmers and farm animals. The smell of manure and waste runoff can sour the relationship. And of course, there's noise. A farmer's work is never done, and that means they're up at all hours running their machines when some new residents would rather be sleeping. In one New England community, the issue is being handled in the traditional way: the annual town meeting. Amherst, Massachusetts, will soon decide if farmers can run tractors, trucks, and chainsaws at any time of day. Pippin Ross has our report.

(Engines)

ROSS: It's a quarter of six in the morning, and this is the sound of the Wagner Sawmill and Dairy Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts. Not exactly a din, but enough of a racket to be heard by Ken Bernstein, a therapist who lives about half a mile away. The noise wakes him up hours earlier than he wants to wake up. And after a year, it's taken a toll.

BERNSTEIN: I was not sleeping. I was not a happy guy. I was not able to function very well, parent, or work very well.

ROSS: It all came to a head over the summer when Bernstein called the police ten times, to no avail. He then learned that Amherst has a bylaw prohibiting loud noises late at night and early in the morning. Armed with that information, Bernstein sought the advice of the town's lawyer.

BERNSTEIN: Who determined that the town bylaw seemed to include the farmers, who were obliged to operate within the hours of 7 AM and 11 PM. And this was waking me at 5:15 in the morning.

ROSS: The so-called noise ordinance was originally intended to control loud partying in the college town. Confident the law would help restore his sleep, Bernstein took his neighbor, farmer Howard Wagner, to court. The Wagner family has farmed the local hills for 62 years. The sawmill, which runs six days a week, was recently added to supplement dwindling income from their dairy farm. Howard Wagner was stunned when he received the court summons.

WAGNER: We didn't know who he was. He'd never come to see us and talk to us at all. So we had to go, had to get the lawyer and do it up the right way. And that was the end of that.

ROSS: Bolstered by a stack of letters from neighbors saying the farm's sawmill didn't bother them, farmer Wagner was found not guilty of violating the noise ordinance. But the ruling was in no way an end to the saga. The court appearance infuriated local farmers.

WOMAN: They didn't leave.

MAN: They didn't leave.

WOMAN: No.

ROSS: The farmers met and drafted an amendment to the noise ordinance exempting all agricultural enterprises, everything from fish farming to landscaping. Farm council chair James Pitts says newcomers and urban transplants need to understand farms generate more than pretty scenery.

PITTS: So it's not only the noise. It's not only the smells. It's a whole range of things that people misunderstand about agriculture. And it's an educational process. I think a lot of us are used to it now. You ask if we get angry. Eh. No, we get even. No, actually -- (laughter)

ROSS: And hold their ground, says Dan Cooley, coordinator of the University of Massachusetts Agro-ecology program. Those fleeing cities for the country need to understand that without viable family farms, there won't be any countryside.

COOLEY: To stay economically viable these days, you need to be able to do heavy work, sometimes at strange hours. So if somebody is spreading manure at four in the afternoon when the kids come home, well, maybe the aroma has to be put up with a little bit.

ROSS: Sitting in his living room at daybreak, Ken Bernstein says he had no idea his complaint would hit such a raw nerve in the community. And he's hoping the tension will blow over soon.

BERNSTEIN: I think I was naive, and I don't think I was quite aware of the issues.

ROSS: Bernstein says at this point he'll figure out how to live with the noise. The noise ordinance exemption is expected to sail through the October thirtieth town meeting. The hope is such a pro-farming bylaw on the books will make it clear to people thinking about moving to Amherst that the town supports its farmers, even if on occasion they do things that stink and wake people up. For Living on Earth, I'm Pippin Ross in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Hiking

CURWOOD: Clashes over country living don't always take place between homeowners and farmers, or in courtrooms and town meeting halls. They can also happen on a more intimate level. That's what commentator Bonnie Auslander discovered soon after moving from the city to upstate New York's bucolic Finger Lakes region.

AUSLANDER: When I moved to the country a few years ago, I started dating an outdoorsy guy. You know the type. He wore hiking boots everywhere he went, even to his sister's wedding. This man took me hiking not for fun, but to improve my mind. So, we would stand in front of a ridge next to a pond or alongside a tree, and he would point out a stalled low-pressure system, a lacustrine community, and a prime example of floral pedoturbation, whatever that is.

I wanted to keep the conversation going, to respond somehow to this incredible barrage of eco-info. But my lack of expertise in the natural world left me speechless. It's no surprise. I grew up in the suburbs, and my family was too busy reading the New York Times or eating leftover Chinese food from cartons to care much about going outdoors. My mother wanted to move to an apartment where she wouldn't have to mow our lawn. A lawn, by the way, approximately the size of a throw rug.

Despite my family's indifference to nature, I grew fond of hiking as I got older. I enjoyed the light taps my feet made on the trail and how rugged clothes made my body feel longer and leggier. But mostly I liked how being outside made going back inside more piquant. There would be hot tea. There would be a cozy fire. There would be very slow kissing.

Even so, the boyfriend's habit of talking about the outdoors while already being outdoors struck me as redundant, not to mention pedantic. It got so bad that I decided to look for a hiking partner who knew even less about the natural world than I did. The new guy stumbled gamely down the trail, the tassels of his loafers bobbing up and down. He'd pause now and then to make sure his cell phone was still in range. We argued about which cafe made cappuccino with the deepest foam, and played matchmaker for our single friends. But when we got to my favorite spot by the river, the place where the dappled trees remind me of a painting by Corot, he didn't even seem to notice.

"Hey," I said, "look at those sycamores. They're so gorgeous."

"Sycamores?" he said. "What are you, a Girl Scout?"

"Uh, don't worry," I said. "Sycamores are the only trees I can identify. Really. The rest all look the same to me."

What had just happened? Had I gone over to the other side? What exactly was gained by calling a sycamore a sycamore, and was it the same thing that motivated my former boyfriend to call a pile of dirt by an upturned tree an example of floral pedoturbation? Is naming the natural world, classifying it, really that pedantic after all?

Well, gradually, I found middle ground, a sort of Zen spot along the trail. I've come to realize that nature isn't something I have to be bad at in order to appease someone else. Nor is it something I have to be good at in order to please myself. The sycamores don't care if I don't know their name, but they also don't mind listening to lectures about their preferred habitat. I've learned that what I appreciate most about nature is nature's generous indifference to who's doing the appreciation. So maybe the first boyfriend was right after all: hiking has improved my mind.

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CURWOOD: Commentator Bonnie Auslander lives and writes in Ithaca, New York.

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(Music up and under: "I'm going up the country; baby donât you want to go? I'm going up the country; baby donât you want to go? I'm going to someplace where I've never been before. I'm going, I'm going where the water tastes like wine. I'm going where the water tastes like wine. We can jump in the water, stay drunk all the time...")

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: For early Americans, the commerce of the New World came to a screeching halt at the Appalachian Mountains, simply because there was no easy way around. But 175 years ago this week, a single mule tugged the first barge down the Erie Canal. The waterway connected New York City to the Great Lakes and carried pioneers west and raw materials east. When New York City Mayor DeWitt Clinton first proposed the canal, President Thomas Jefferson called it "a little short of madness" and wouldn't commit a cent of federal funds. After all, the Hudson River and Lake Erie were separated by 363 miles, 568 feet of elevation, and the Mohawk River. The four lead engineers had never even seen a canal before, and most of the designers and laborers were uneducated immigrants. But they did the seemingly impossible. They built an enormous aqueduct to carry the canal across a deep gorge, created a series of locks to counter the draining effect of the land's elevation, and even lined the canal with apple trees to feed the barge-pulling mules. When the dust settled, they had transformed Clinton's folly into an engineering marvel of ingenuity that remains an eighth wonder of the world. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Seniors and the Environment

CURWOOD: Seventy-six million baby boomers will reach retirement age in the next 20 years. And with life expectancy rising, these people could expect to spend as much as 30 years in retirement. A new federal jobs program is looking to make that time productive. AmeriCorps is tapping into the skills of a pool of senior volunteers to help protect the environment on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. From member station WBUR, Monica Brady reports.

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BRADY: On a clear, beautiful morning, John and Amy Trautwein are on a mission. The retired couple, both 67, are cutting back wild roses, bittersweet, and locust bushes on a walking trail in East Orleans at the far end of the Cape. John leads the way with clippers in hand.

J. TRAUTWEIN: The trail we're walking on now, the last two weeks we've been cleaning it out and getting the rose bushes that have been overcrowding us. And now you see, they've mowed it, which is great.

BRADY: The Trautweins are part of the latest segment of the national service program AmeriCorps. Last year, Cape Cod became one of six sites for an experimental grant program using senior citizens to protect the environment. Seniors in the program are required to give 900 hours of service over two years. In return they receive a stipend and money they can use toward continuing their education. John Trautwein says he and his wife never had time to volunteer before retiring a year and a half ago, and their only interaction with the environment was in their back yard.

J. TRAUTWEIN: We have such a long experience of different workings and having houses. You know what to do about cleaning up your yard and cutting things, and here we are out here doing it for the Park Service. It's wonderful.

BRADY: An estimated 60,000 to 80,000 senior citizens live on the Cape year round. Mary Carchrie, director of the AmeriCorps program on the Cape, says these seniors are naturally inclined to care about their environment.

CARCHRIE: I think it's something that people become more conscious of as they get older, because they see the changes that have happened since they were young in the environment, and the directions we're going. And there's a tremendous sense of stewardship among the old about helping to preserve the Earth for future generations.

BRADY: And there is plenty of environmental work to be done on Cape Cod's fragile ecosystem, which is made up of sandy soils low in nutrients, shorelines that are sensitive to erosion, and vegetation that's unique to the Cape. Seniors in the AmeriCorps program are monitoring piping plovers, an endangered species, surveying horseshoe crabs, testing homes for radon gas, and sampling water in swimming pools. The largest group of senior AmeriCorps members is on the Massachusetts military reservation in Bourne, which is an EPA Superfund site. Ten seniors are working on a mosquito control project and helping to set up a bees for biomonitoring project. Sixty-two-year-old George Muhlebach, a retired chemist, has been an amateur beekeeper for more than 20 years.

MUHLEBACH: Bees can be used as sentinels to bring back environmental pollutants, which then can be detected in hives. It's a way to establish whether there are and what kind of pollutants could be present in an area where, for whatever reason, people do not want or should go into.

BRADY: Muhlebach will help install 20 beehives in the spring to monitor an area on the base that has dangerous contaminants, such as Royal Dutch explosive and TNT. Muhlebach explains that bees forage for pollen in a one- to two-mile radius from their hives. While collecting pollen, they're also sampling air, soil, and plants with their legs, and bringing it back to the hives, which can then be analyzed. Muhlebach will stay with the project for several years, maintaining the hives. Air Force major Bruce Ruscio, who coordinates the AmeriCorps program on the base, says seniors bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the military reservation.

RUSCIO: It's a win-win, as far as the base is concerned, and I believe as far as the RSVP volunteers are concerned. We've had a tremendous response from the military personnel here and from the outside agencies that are involved in the clean-up of the base.

falkin: These we did last Friday. We ran a digester...

BRADY: On another part of the Cape, two senior volunteers are in the basement of the Barnstable County Courthouse, processing water samples from a nearby golf course that's being irrigated with wastewater.

FALKIN: I was an environmentalist long before I came to the Cape.

BRADY: Seventy-four-year-old Bob Falkin is a retired mechanical designer. He's a member of the National Audubon Society and worked with the Clear Water Organization. His lab partner, 63-year-old Fred Anderson, had very little experience with environmentalism before he retired to the Cape and joined AmeriCorps.

ANDERSON: It's a fragile land up here, and I like the Cape so I want to contribute something to the environmental problems, you know, to take care of the problems.

(Scraping)

ANDERSON: We've got to dilute the solutions with 30 milliliters of purified water, right?

BRADY: The two spend ten to twelve hours a week collecting and analyzing water samples for ammonia and nitrate levels. The county takes the data and compiles a more scientific analysis. Bob falkin says he enjoys working on such an important project.

FALKIN: You know, if I'm not part of the solution I'm part of the problem.

BRADY: Volunteers for AmeriCorps on Cape Cod are so enthusiastic about their environmental projects, they hope the grant will be renewed after it expires in three years.

(Scraping)

BRADY: For Living on Earth, I'm Monica Brady on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

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CURWOOD: Just ahead: Big oil ties for Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

CURWOOD: Now, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

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Health Update

TOOMEY: We know that as a group, redheads have a higher chance of getting skin cancer than non-carrot tops. But new research shows being fair-skinned and red-haired isn't the only risk factor. Australian scientists tested a group of skin cancer patients for variations of a gene that controls pigment. Some versions of this gene lead to red hair, and also code for the production of red skin pigment in response to sunlight. The researchers found that many people with dark hair and skin who carry the recessive form of this gene have double the risk of getting melanoma compared to those who don't have this gene at all. The only way to find out if you have this form of the gene is to get tested. Researchers say when it comes to skin cancer, it may be necessary to delve more than skin-deep to gauge your true risk. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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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 as 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.

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Occidental in South America

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Big oil and the 2000 presidential campaign. Those words make most voters think of Texas Republican Governor George W. Bush and his running-mate Dick Cheney, both former oil men. But the Democrat, Vice President Al Gore, also has ties to a big oil company, Occidental Petroleum. His father, Albert Gore, Sr., was a close friend of Occidental's former chairman, Armand Hammer, and a member of the company's board of directors for 28 years. A good portion of the Gore family's wealth is a result of ties to Occidental. Al Gore, Jr.'s connection to Occidental has been getting plenty of attention recently because of a tribe of Colombian Indians. The Uwa fiercely oppose drilling on their ancestral lands. They've even threatened mass suicide to keep Occidental out. But the plight of this small group of Colombian Indians to keep their lives unchanged is only one chapter of a bigger story. As Ingrid Lobet reports, Occidental's oil leases in neighboring Peru and Ecuador have also brought the company into Indian territory.

(Loud engine)

LOBET: Few ever venture into Occidental's former Peruvian territory in the heart of the Amazon near the Ecuadorian border. Remote doesn't begin to describe this place. No roads lead here. The fortunate go by private plane or helicopter. Indians returning to their villages far upriver wait for the occasional market boat. Their trip will take a week. An outsider can hire a skiff with an outboard.

(Outboard motor)

LOBET: The silty waters of the Amazon River stretch six soccer fields across, bordered by dense green. Even at this pace it takes two solid days to get to the region where Occidental struck its black gold, the largest oilfield in Peru. This part of the river is Mr. Gilberto Calderon's backyard. A 63-year-old Quechua, he remembers the 70s oil boom, when Occidental drilled dozens of wells and shipped the crude downstream on small barges.

CALDERON: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: The oil boats, completely full, would collide with things in the river, break up and spread oil. The entire river covered with oil. The birds died. The ducks we were raising died. Then later they built the pipeline and there was a big rupture under the river. By the time they got to it, a huge amount of oil had spilled.

LOBET: Even today the brush and branches catching the current at the edge of the river are sometimes coated with black oil, and other evidence of spills isn't hard to find.

(Engine comes to a stop)

LOBET: At a site nearby, an oil pipeline dives underground and runs underneath the river.

(Footfalls)

LOBET: When the pipeline goes under the ground, there's a lagoon. It's dark brown water, and there are dead fish floating in it. Maybe about 40 small fish.

(Footfalls)

LOBET: Occidental and the company that recently purchased its operations have cleaned up acres of spilled crude oil, bulldozing it into pits. At one of these cleaned up sites, gray PVC pipes rise out of the mounds. Through the pipes comes the sound of oil underground, bubbling in the Amazon heat.

(Bubbling)

LOBET: A small lake of burped crude lies on top of one mound, but there is a worse problem. Lying right beneath every oilfield is a layer of scalding salt water laced with oil and heavy metals. When this water is released, it has to be treated, or better yet, reinjected into the ground.

(Bubbling)

LOBET: But the Indians who have been Oxy's neighbors say for years the company piped its millions of gallons of steaming brine directly into the streams where they bathe, drink, and draw their cooking water.

(Bubbling, scrubbing)

LOBET: A woman is washing pans in the river in front of her village, a small collection of houses. Dozens of native people in villages along the river tell stories like the one Herman Gomez tells here.

H. GOMEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: The doctors came, and the students two years ago, and they told us the water in our creeks was contaminated. "Don't drink it." Some people didn't believe and drank it anyway, and got sick, and some died. When we bathed in the water, it burned our skin. We would get blisters and our skin would turn white and peel off. The doctors also told us it contained lead. They said, "Please go get water from rain to avoid deaths."

LOBET: Gomez sits in his broad, open, one-room house, traditional except for walls of scavenged plywood stamped with the Oxy logo.

H. GOMEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: About three years ago the fish were just dying in huge numbers. When the people ate them, their stomachs swelled up and they started throwing up. There were lots of fish, and big ones. We were afraid to eat them. You'd slit them open and see their guts were all rotten, just a mess. And they smelled like chemicals.

(Bird calls; a voice on loudspeaker)

LOBET: Upstream at another village, a loudspeaker announces a community meeting.

(Echoes of people gathering)

LOBET: At that meeting, Soledad Dawmanuka, now raising her grandchildren, says she believes the water killed her 27-year-old son, who died vomiting blood. She speaks in Quechua.

DAWMANUKA: My son died drinking this water. We don't drink that water any more. The only water we drink is when it rains. The water in the stream is salty. When we bathe in it, our hair falls out. We look for water far, far away, but the children don't obey. They play in the water and get sick, and sometimes they die.

LOBET: After the meeting, people head in different directions, some for a local form of Bingo played with corn kernels.

(Shaking)

LOBET: Others to the evangelical church up the hill.

(Singing, tambourines)

LOBET: Occidental officials concede that up until this year, when they handed over their operations, they did not desalinate the production waters and piped all of them, millions of barrels, into tributaries of the Amazon River. Humberto Gomez is an attorney and chief of industrial and native relations for Occidental in Peru.

H. GOMEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: If you appeal to our feelings, whether we behaved well or poorly, you have to live in a context, not an ideal world. The context is the law. The law that governs your activities. I can say, "I did the right thing," if what I did was legal, and I can say, "I was wrong," if I didn't respect the law. And there's not a single case that's shown that the company acted outside its responsibility under the law.

LOBET: In fact, the company felt little weight of the law for its first 20 years in Peru. There were no environmental laws governing oil companies until the mid-1990s. Even then Occidental arranged for a seven-year phase-in, then sold before it had to fully comply. Occidental officials estimate that by then, they had completed 70 percent of an environmental cleanup plan. For Mr. Gomez, the attorney, compensation for harm to local residents would be out of the question.

H. GOMEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: We have no thought of any compensation because we have behaved well.

(Native music up and under)

LOBET: Two days voyage back by boat, three airplane flights, and several hours on bumpy roads bring us to another region of feverish oil drilling in the Amazon rainforest, this time in Ecuador. Unlike in Peru, Occidental is a recent arrival here. Facilities are modern, and that means cleaner.

(A man speaks in Spanish)

LOBET: Patricio Rivera, Occidental's environmental health and safety director in Ecuador, shows off a hangar full of oil spill boats and equipment, each geared to the width and current of a nearby river. This facility was the first business in Ecuador to attain international ISO 14000 environmental certification. A video produced in Spanish and English lays down the company's ground rules for subcontractors.

(Background music with voice-over: "With the goal of reducing to a minimum the effects of oil operations in Butadiene [phonetic spelling] and considering the high degree of sensitivity of the ecosystem, we have applied the cluster technology of drilling, thus avoiding a considerable deforestation...")

LOBET: And, in contrast to its Peruvian operations, Oxy's Ecuadorian video is explicit on the dangers of discharging production fluids.

(Voice-over: "Produced waters that result from productive processes are reinjected, avoiding in this way the contamination of rivers and estuaries that may be used by communities or by wildlife...")

LOBET: Even its critics say Occidental is one of the cleanest oil companies in Ecuador, and Mr. Rivera lists a series of Oxy's social improvements for nearby native communities, whose villages are nearly forgotten by the government. Fifteen classrooms, five community buildings, four clinics, a total of 64 projects.

RIVERA: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: We've built a health center here. We provide scholarship at the bilingual Quechua-Spanish institute. Another priority for us is self-sufficiency, and this community asked us for a coffee marketing project.

LOBET: Still, the presence of Occidental has pulled at the fabric of Indian life here. In Ecuador, Peru, and many other countries, the government owns all mineral rights and can put those rights up for bid regardless of who owns the land. But native people are increasingly vocal, and companies now often seek permission.

(Bird calls)

LOBET: Humberto Piyaguaje of the Secoya nation tells what happened in the late 1990s when Occidental Petroleum leased the right to exploit oil on Secoya land.

H. PIYAGUAJE: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: The company wanted to sign an agreement right away. And I said, "We the leaders of the three communities must talk among ourselves." And the company said, "No, we want to sign an agreement right now." They came again with an army major, and he said, "The State needs this project. You are part of the State, you are Ecuadorians. We need the petroleum, and the petroleum belongs to the State."

LOBET: Feeling pressured, Mr. Piyaguaje sought support at an international indigenous conference. While he was away, Occidental officials persuaded a younger leader to sign the contract for initial exploration.

H. PIYAGUAJE: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: And it had been signed without reading it. And all we had gotten were things like an outboard motor, a boat, some barbed wire, some roofing, and a little money. And it gave them access to all our 54,000 hectares, our most sacred, untouchable land.

LOBET: Next, the company pursued the right to drill test wells. The community struggled to set a value of the land that would be clear-cut.

H. PIYAGUAJE: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: There are some things we can't put a price on. Like our sacred places. There are places in the forest where the wild animals come in search of salt, animals like tapir and wild boar. We believe that souls exist there among the cedars, that give us wisdom. How can we calculate the price they're going to pay us?

(Bird calls)

LOBET: The Secoya council gathered a team of advisors. Facing resistance, company officials went around the council and negotiated separately with a single village.

H. PIYAGUAJE: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: That was when there was the biggest division between us. Imagine: 356 people, this tiny nation was on the verge of splitting apart. Finally they said to us, "Look, if you don't do this, we're going to give it to the State. We will expropriate your land." This made us very afraid. We said, how is it possible that just by obstructing this, that they're going to take the land away from us? That was the big threat that made them win. Because if they hadn't said this, I don't think we would have allowed the company in.

LOBET: The Secoyas and Occidental went on to negotiate a first in Ecuador, and perhaps a first in the oil industry: a code of conduct. It gives the tribe the right to sit down at the table with the company, the right to inspect all oil operation, and $600,000 plus $100,000 more if the company strikes oil.

Occidental is also using helicopters instead of building roads, averting a deluge of non-Indian settlers into Secoya territory.

When the Secoya agreed to work with the company, one thing they lost was the support of an environmental group in Quito, Accion Ecologia, which opposes all oil development. Adolfo Maldonado, a physician with the group, says the Secoyas let themselves be bought.

MALDONADO: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: The kind of development an oil company brings, a few solar collectors to create light, sure, that can be attractive to Indian people, a novelty. But so were the glass beads brought over by Christopher Columbus during the conquest. This is nothing but new glass beads.

LOBET: But Edison Piyaguaje, a young Secoya who is studying agriculture, sees it differently. He says the long negotiations changed his self-image.

E. PIAGUAJE: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: Before, I though they were so big and we were so small. Now we can talk to them. We feel like we're worth something, too, like we're almost equal. We're saying no, you can't harm the forest.

(Bird calls)

LOBET: Meanwhile, in Colombia, where the Uwa tribe is opposing Occidental, thousands of soldiers were called in to protect Occidental workers as they moved heavy equipment to their platform. Guerrillas there threatened to attack the convoy. And in Peru, natives in the region Occidental used to own say what they hope for is to one day again have clean water.

(Bird calls)

LOBET: For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet.

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CURWOOD: Human and environmental rights groups have zeroed in on Al Gore's ties to Occidental Petroleum. Because of his claim to be the environmental candidate, the Vice President is a particularly inviting target of demonstrators on the campaign trail

DEMONSTRATORS: Hey, Gore! What about Oxy, what about the Uâwa? Hey, Gore! What about Oxy, what about the Uwa?

CURWOOD: A few details about Al Gore's relationship with Occidental Petroleum. Upon the death of his father in 1998, the Vice President was named executor of his father's estate, which had major holdings of Occidental stock. The stock, worth as much as a million dollars, was transferred to a family trust. In March of this year, the Vice President resigned as trustee but remains a beneficiary. The Vice President has publicly remained silent on the Uâwa tribe and Occidental's exploration activities in South America. His campaign declined to respond to our story.

Al Gore is not the only candidate with ties to the oil industry. George W. Bush got his start in oil. And his running-mate Dick Cheney was a major oil executive. The industry has pumped more than $21 million into this year's elections. Eighty percent of those dollars went to Republicans. So, whether a Republican or a Democrat wins the election, oil and politics will continue to mix at the White House.

Back to top

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, as the campaigns wind down, it's the undecided voters who will swing the election for president. They live in battleground states like Ohio, and some of them have the environment high on their agenda.

WOMAN: It's nice to be sought after, and quite frankly the candidates need to care about ticket-splitting women like me.

CURWOOD: It's Ohio's undecided environmentalists 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, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, and Bree Horwitz. We had help this week from Carly Ferguson and Jessica Camp. Alison Dean composed our themes. 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.

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