• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

November 10, 2000

Air Date: November 10, 2000

SEGMENTS

The Environment and Election 2000

Host Steve Curwood leads a roundtable discussion about how the environment played in the election. Guests include pollster Al Quinlan, Deb Callahan, director of the League of Conservation Voters, and Lynn Scarlett, director of the Reason Foundation. (11:45)

Technology Update / Cynthia Graber

Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a new snake-like robot that’s designed to explore distant planets. (00:59)

Green Future

Host Steve Curwood talks with John Rensenbrink of the American Association of State Green Parties about Ralph Nader’s role in the presidential race. The Green Party candidate effected the outcome of the election, but did not hit the five percent vote threshold needed to qualify for federal funds in the 2004. (06:40)

Listener Letters

Listeners comment on our reports about Occidental Petroleum, anti-noise measures in rural Massachusetts, and the cause of floods in Vietnam (02:10)

Ohio Voters

Host Steve Curwood talks with three Ohio voters who were undecided just days before the election about how they made their presidential picks. (03:30)

Bower Tribute / Bill McKibben

Writer Bill McKibben pays tribute to environmental leader David Brower who died on November 5th. (03:40)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports that the USDA has stepped up its fight against the spread of rabies using biscuits baked with raccoons in mind. (00:59)

Climate Change Talks

The next round of negotiations on an international treaty to deal with climate change begins later this month in the Netherlands. Host Steve Curwood talks with author Ross Gelbspan about the make or break issues and the possibility of a breakdown of the Kyoto Protocol. (05:00)

Arctic Ice / Bob Carty

Producer Bob Carty travels to Canada’s western Arctic and reports on how warming temperatures and thinning ice in that region could alter weather patterns and effect life for people well south of the polar belt. (12:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

(music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's limbo time for George W. Bush and Al Gore as they wait out the final results of the presidential election. Meanwhile, Green party candidate Ralph Nader has been dancing in the streets.

NADER: Tomorrow the Green party will emerge as the third largest party in America, the fastest growing party in America·

(crowd cheering)

CURWOOD: The Greens may have failed to reach their goal of five percent of the vote, but party leaders are claiming they made the difference in this close election and are now a force to be reckoned with.

RENSENBRINK: The environmental movement up to this time has been satisfied it seems to me with sitting below the table asking for the people at the table to give them some scraps. Now it's time for us to move to the table itself.

CURWOOD: Also, analysis of how the environment affected voting patterns and may help reshape congress. We'll have that and more this week on Living on Earth. First news.

Back to top

(music)

The Environment and Election 2000

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. We had planned to come on the air this week and discuss the environmental agenda of the next administration and maybe take a look at some of the possible appointees for key environmental positions. I guess that didn't quite work out as we had hoped since no one knows who our next president will be right now. But we do know a few things about the election including the make-up of the House and Senate and just how important the environmental vote was this election season. My guests now are Alan Quinlan, of the Democratic polling firm, Greenberg-Quinlan Research. Hi Alan.

QUINLAN: Hello Steve.

CURWOOD: And Deb Callahan is with the League of Conservation Voters. Hi Deb.

CALLAHAN: Hi Steve, nice to talk to you again.

CURWOOD: And Lynn Scarlett with the Reason Foundation. Hi there.

SCARLETT: Hi Steve.

CURWOOD: Alan Quinlan, first question to you, our pollster. How did the environment play out in this year's election?

QUINLAN: Well the environment became a, was a higher priority in this election than we've seen, frankly in my lifetime. You can start at the top of the ticket with the presidential race, where the environment truly became a, one of number of issues, not the single issue, obviously, at the top, but one important issue in the presidential campaign. It was the first issue that Al Gore used as a comparative in a television commercial immediately after the conventions. It was the first comparative to run nationally. It was the first issue he mentioned in his acceptance speech, and it was the first issue that Joe Lieberman mentioned in his acceptance speech. So the Democratic top of the ticket clearly saw it as an issue on which to draw a contrast with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. And I think used that fairly effectively during the campaign.

CURWOOD: Were there any surprises in this campaign?

QUINLAN: Yes, a few that I think surprised a lot of people. First of all more candidates in Senate races and Congressional race used this issue in their campaigns. And we saw it used not only on the coasts but also in the heartland. In the state of Michigan, George W. Bush and the Republican party tried to make Al Gore's environmental record and some of the statements he's made in the past an issue in the campaign and tried to drive UAW members and auto workers away from Al Gore. It failed miserably. And Al Gore carried the state by about five percentage points and drew tremendous majority support from auto workers. In Montana a very conservative state, Conrad Burns was under siege by environmental organizations and others for his record on the environment. And in the end a race that could have easily been 15 to 20 points in the Republican column, as the presidential race was in that state, became a three point race, and Conrad Burns was almost defeated. So raising this issue in the Heartland where there are records to compare clearly is, can be a very effective campaign tool.

CURWOOD: I'd like to turn now to Lynn Scarlett with the Reason Foundation. Now you're here with us not as a representative of them but as an advisor to the Bush campaign, right?

SCARLETT: That's right.

CURWOOD: Now tell me with or without Mr. Bush in the White House, what do you think the Republican agenda in Congress will be on the environment?

SCARLETT: Well Steve, I think two things will shape what the Republicans will do on the Hill this year. One is that, of course, we're coming out of ten years of a deep divide between Democrats and Republicans in which environment really, there was a big chasm between them, lots of fireworks. And I think many Republicans are actually quite frustrated at that and would like to move beyond that and find some points of convergence. So the second thing I think, though, that will reinforce that olive branch approach, if you will, is that clearly with this tight election, not only at the presidential level, but across the country in the congressional races, clearly there's no strong mandate for dramatically new directions for either party here. So I think that this is a time when we'll likely see the Republicans extend an olive branch of some sort, try to find points of convergence, issues they can work on on the environmental front and de-emphasize some of the fireworks. Now don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean there won't be some of those fireworks, but I think there's going to be some attempt to go a new direction here. CURWOOD: And who will be carrying the green flag in the Republican party on the Hill?

SCARLETT: Well I think clearly Senator Smith, who is chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. He took over when John Chaffee died. I think clearly he will be a leader and he has shown already that he is interested in that olive branch. He is interested in some environmental endeavors and initiatives that are positive. On the House side less clear. Of course there are some folks still that are going to continue to dwell on the sound science issue and cost/benefit analysis, but I think you have some new emerging leaders, folks like Paul Ryan, a young Congressman from Wisconsin. Environmental issues are very important to him. I think we'll see folks like that helping to lead the way with the olive branch and see if they can't find some common ground with Democrats.

CURWOOD: Now Deb Callahan, you are president of the League of Conservation Voters and your organization endorsed Vice-President Gore for the presidency. So I'm going to ask you to talk about the Democrats here. No matter who is in the White House, with or without Mr. Gore there, what will they be trying to accomplish on Capitol Hill this time?

CALLAHAN: I love Lynn's optimistic comment that there will be olive branches extended from both sides and that would be a great thing. I'm not so sure though that the policy chasm that has sort of separated Republicans and Democrats on environmental issues has changed. Through the election, I saw a lot of sort of rhetoric change, "Yes, I'm clean air, clean water." But I didn't hear the sort of underpinning proposals change necessarily. I do think who sits in the White House makes a big difference. If Bush is elected with the same leadership in the Congress in the House and the Senate, then I think you'll see the sort of Contract with America kinds of anti-environmental proposals move out of the House and Senate. And that's not because there aren't Republicans who are strong environmentalists, conservationists and allies, but you look at the leadership in the House and the Senate, they're some of the most anti-environmental members that we see. And so we will have to wait and see. And I think that the White House has a lot of bearing. That said I think because we know the House and the Senate are so close in numbers, numerically, the most important members in both of those bodies are going to be those folks who are willing to cross the aisle. Leave party allegiances behind and follow what their constituents want them to do in terms of the environment and join together and create, you know, strong environmental policies.

CURWOOD: Deb, by the way, who among the Democrats will be leading the environmental effort on Capitol Hill?

CALLAHAN: It's interesting the leadership in the House, Gephardt got a 93 percent on our score card, Bonyer got a 97, those folks are, you know, clearly have lead on this agenda along with people who've run committees though we're seeing some of the committee leaderships shift around, or what I should say ranking of minority committee leaders. So for instance, George Miller who has been, he's in the pantheon of environmental leaders around the country. He will no longer be the ranking Democrat on Resources Committee. So on the committee level, you know, there will be new leaders, but on the Democratic side we're well served by the people at the very top of the party.

CURWOOD: Alan, I'd like to come back to you and tell us what you see, in the numbers, about the role of the Green Party in these presidential elections. Where did the Nader votes really make a difference? And how closely tied to the environment were they?

QUINLAN: Well the Nader block is tied to the environment, but there are other dominant issues that play into the Nader phenomenon, as we might call it. Nader did not affect the presidential race in many places. If you look at where he ran the strongest, most of those states Al Gore won, you know, California, Washington state in the west, Wisconsin in the mid-west, Minnesota in the mid-west, and most of New England. You know his vote approached six, seven percent in Vermont and Maine, but Al Gore still carried those states handily. There are three states in which he clearly had an effect. The first is Florida. Anytime you lose a state by 300 votes, it's somewhat, even though Ralph Nader only got two percent of the vote, obviously that's enough to swing a race that close. And exit polls show that Nader voters would have supported Gore by about two to one after a third of them sat home. Oregon was the other state Al Gore lost by two points and Ralph Nader got about four and a half percent of the vote and the other was New Hampshire, where Al Gore also lost by about a point and a half and Ralph Nader got about four, four and a half percent of the vote. So he clearly had an effect in those three states, but the effect was not as broadly felt as some might have thought going into the election.

CURWOOD: We're just about out of time here, but quickly, Lynn Scarlett, Alan began our discussion saying this is a historic moment for environmental voters and the issue. Do you think that's what we see?

SCARLETT: I'm not sure I would go quite that far. I think we've seen over the last decade an evolutionary growing importance of environmental issues for the American populous. And what we do have is, at the local level, increasing importance of environmental issues. Governor Bush in his, as he was campaigning, in fact, the three speeches he gave on environment all kind of dwelled on kind of local issues -- hazardous site clean-up, conservation -- backyard kinds of things. When you thrust that to the national level the environment was really not particularly prominent in the three big debates between the presidential candidates. So yes it's an important issue, kind of at the margin, but it has not yet quite come center stage at the national level that perhaps might still loom in the future.

CURWOOD: Deb Callahan, what do you think?

CALLAHAN: I actually see it a bit differently. This is a hard issue to sort of characterize because it's such a broad issue, but I think that people know that there was a real serious debate about the future of energy policy in this country. I think people heard a lot of discussion about air quality, about drilling in the Arctic, about other important environmental issues. So it's not a "I'm pro-choice, I'm pro-life" issue. Yet when you go back and you look at debates, in the second debate there was quite a lengthy discussion near the end of the debate about the environment. In the first debate there was a discussion about the environment. In the third debate there was a discussion about agricultural aspects of conservation. There were spots by the Republican and Democratic parties and by both candidates on the environment, and so I do think it was an important issue. That said, a national poll that we did that Peter Hart did, showed that only about 50 percent of the American public understood that there were real differences between Bush and Gore on the environment. I think in part Ralph Nader saying there was no difference sort of underpinned that attitude, but it was a, it was a very, very important, I think, top-middle tier issue. I think it was the top of the second tier.

CURWOOD: I'd like to thank all of you for joining us today. Lynn Scarlett is director of the Reason Foundation. Thanks.

SCARLETT: Thanks, great to be with you.

CURWOOD: And Deb Callahan directs the League of Conservation Voters. Good-bye Deb.

CALLAHAN: Good to talk with you Steve.

CURWOOD: And Alan Quinlan, president of Greenberg-Quinlan Research had the numbers for us. Thanks Alan.

QUINLAN: Thank you Steve.

CURWOOD: And maybe once when we know who our president is we can try again.

Back to top

(music)

CURWOOD: Coming up, the Green Party sees a bright future ahead in the aftermath of the presidential elections. Stay tuned to Living on Earth. Now this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

Technology Update

GRABER: On earth, they slither over rocks, through dirt and sand - and now they may help us discover what lurks in outer space. Exploring the unknown demands flexibility, and robots modeled on how snakes move can go almost anywhere. They can slide through cracks, wind over gravel, or scooch like a centipede over boulders. The first snakebot was designed to rummage through earthquake rubble. It was modeled on a remote controlled car and went where humans told it to go. But, in space it wouldn't be able to respond to commands fast enough to avoid hitting obstacles. So, NASA scientists are working on a new, improved version. Their snakebot will have sensors so delicate the machine can actually feel obstacles in its path, even determine the quality of the sand it squiggles across. This way, the snakebot can get to get from point A to point B without breaking too many circuits. That's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

Back to top

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

(music)

Green Future

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader captured only 3% of the popular vote nationwide. But in states such as New Hampshire, Oregon and most importantly Florida, that was enough to prevent democrat Al Gore from winning much-needed ballots. For the first time in history, a political party that has the environment up-front in its platform has made the crucial difference in a national election here in the United States. Celebrating on election night, Ralph Nader said it's just the beginning.

NADER: Tomorrow, the Green party will emerge as the third largest party in America, the fastest growing party in American·

(crowd cheering)

CURWOOD: To assess future Green party politics, we turn to John Rensenbrink, the founder of the American Association of Green Parties. He says this election marks a new day for the environmental movement.

RENSENBRINK: The environmental movement up to this time has been satisfied it seems to me with sitting below the table asking for the people at the table to give them some scraps. That may sound harsh, but I think that's what's basically happening. Begging posture, a protest, begging posture. Now it's time for us to move to the table itself. To insist on our right to be at the table and that means really getting serious about political activity and political organizing and electoral campaigns. And to the point where we have our own people in power and that is the way it seems to be we will basically address the situation that is so terribly severe in this country and in the world on environmental issues.

CURWOOD: What is the Green environmental agenda?

RENSENBRINK: To me and to many of us the issue of shifting as fast as possible from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy is really fundamental. A second major concern is environmental justice -- the degree to which poor communities and communities of color have been savaged by the placement of toxic industries and so forth in their areas. And then shifting to the global situation, the World Trade Organization needs to have a fundamental modification so that the threat that now exists because of that organization to environmental laws to labor laws to social issues that local, state, and national legislatures have passed, they're being undermined by WTO decisions. That has to be really addressed very, very severely and starkly.

CURWOOD: The race for the White House was tight in a number of states, and some say after the balloting on November 7, that Ralph Nader may well prove to be the spoiler for Al Gore, that the difference between Gore picking up the four electoral votes of New Hampshire was Nader's vote, that obviously, the difference in Florida comes from Nader's votes. What kind of fallout, based on these criticisms do you anticipate for the Greens as a party?

RENSENBRINK: Well the fallout will be not inconsiderable because it's already happening. Democrats are trying to look for a scapegoat, which I suppose, is natural in a very close election like this, people look for scapegoats and there it looks like Nader has really made the difference. In some ways, you know, we could be proud of that because in some ways it's really true that the strength of an opposition challenger is measured by how much they affect the outcome. So in that sense we're here, and they paid attention to us. They didn't want us in the debates, but in the last three weeks of the campaign suddenly they had to pay attention to us and tried like the dickens to get us to change. The other thing I think that is lost in this analysis is Gore's own failure to attract and to keep his own base. I think he only came on very, very late with a strong environmental position.

CURWOOD: John, now the Green Party was looking for five percent for federal financing, didn't get it, how do you build a party without this federal support?

RENSENBRINK: It would've been very good and very interesting if we had gotten five percent and thus qualified for federal money four years from now. But that I don't think will impede our progress very much, because as I said, we have the infrastructure all over the country. We gained eleven more ballot status parties as a result of this election. We got six percent in a lot of very interesting states especially Maine and Minnesota and Oregon and Iowa, for example. We've done very well in this campaign.

CURWOOD: Third parties in the U.S. have had a tough time keeping the momentum going after a strong start. I'm thinking back, of course, the independent effort by John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot getting the Reform Party going in 1992, then accused of being a spoiler when Bush was not able to hang on to the White House. Tell me how the Greens are going to be able to break out of that pattern of sort of the shooting star third party phenomenon - bright light and then gone.

RENSENBRINK: I go back to the fact that Ralph Nader is in alliance, as it were, with the Green party. The Green party pre-existed his entrance in presidential politics. So the future, I think, is one of, how effectively can Ralph Nader and his entourage work together effectively within a pre-existing and strong Green Party. We're evolving too of course as a Green Party as we add more states all the time, and we will be having over forty states associated with the Green Party, with the Association of State Green Parties. So I think this is going to be a really interesting ride for us and an interesting evolution towards a more and more effective and more and more solid, I mean by solid one that is securely organized from the grassroots on up.

CURWOOD: What will we hear next from the Greens nationally?

RENSENBRINK: We, we're going to be having a strategy session in Washington, DC in a couple of weeks. But I think out of that will come a bunch of strategies, but certainly one will be how can we effectively use the political muscle that we've got so far on behalf of the environmental agenda. And I can visualize Ralph Nader testifying on issues that are coming before Congress and the Senate. And he will be there not as a consumer advocate, but he will be there on behalf of three million voters.

CURWOOD: John Rensenbrink is cofounder of the American Association of State Green Parties and author of Against All Odds: The Green Transformation of America. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

RENSENBRINK: Steve it's been really delightful talking to you and I appreciate very much the opportunity.

Back to top

(letters theme music)

Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And now time for your comments. A number of you responded to our story about Occidental Petroleum and its history with the people and land in South America. Reverend Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley who hears us on WBUR in Boston writes: "I am still reeling from your report. I learned about this issue last Spring and have been advocating for my pension fund, Fidelity, which invests in Occidental, to be reviewed for social screening. It was not until this morning's report that I really FELT the impact of this reckless corporate greed." And Deborah Ofsofwitz, who listens to WMFE in Orlando, Florida had the following observation: "Isn't it interesting that the lawyer representing Occidental makes no distinction between legally correct and morally correct. They have done nothing wrong in Peru legally, perhaps, but that doesn't make it right... it makes the law wrong." Our story about an Amherst, Massachusetts man who's suing a nearby farmer for noise pollution drew this suggestion from one listener. "Buy some earplugs!" (Amherst farmers asked for and won an exemption from the town's noise law, by the way.) Meanwhile, Elizabeth Parker called in from Camden, Maine, where she listens to Maine Public Radio. Ms. Parker says that in her part of the world it isn't only noise that's driving people away. "We here have the ironic condition now of our mountains being protected from sprawl by the pesticides that are sprayed on the blueberries. People like to build on the mountain tops because they think it's a pure environment and then they get sprayed by helicopters that are spraying the Maine wild blueberries." And Mark Coats, who listens to KUT in Austin, Texas says our coverage of the floods in Southeast Asia reinforced a common misperception by placing some of the blame on the victims themselves. "I lived in Southeast Asia for years," he writes, "and living close to the river is not new. The size of these floods is. The logging and cutting of the mangrove trees is not the work of the poor. The hills upstream... are clear cut for their valuable hardwood. The mangroves give way to commercial shrimp ponds, to grow shrimp for export. Both are done by companies to export product to international markets. It isn't healthy to give corporations and the rules of global trade a free ride for their part in floods." Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org.

Back to top

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation environmental information fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for reporting on science and the environment, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Surdna Foundation and the Ford Foundation, striving to preserve our ecological values.

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood and this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return, how some undecided voters in Ohio resolved their dilemmas when choosing a president. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(music)

Ohio Voters

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. Last month we traveled to Ohio to talk to undecided voters about their views on the presidential race. The final tally in this swing state was 50% for Bush, 46% for Gore, 3% for Nader and 1% for Buchanan. Today we again visit with some originally unsure Ohioans who eventually made up their minds and cast their ballots. I'm joined now by Tom Ernie. Hi Tom!

ERNIE: Hey, how you doing?

CURWOOD: And Marilyn Welker.

WELKER: Hello!

CURWOOD: And Rob Boley.

BOLEY: Hello.

CURWOOD: Now during the campaign season you were all wavering between Al Gore and Ralph Nader. And Tom, let's start with you. How did you make your decision in the end? ERNIE: It was a difficult decision. I even had a little difficulty when I got into the voting booth, but I realized that I agree with the political stands that Ralph Nader had made throughout the campaign. When I looked at the vote, there was much more at stake here than just my ideology. I started to view the possibility that the strong Nader role, which I still hoped that secretly that he did well and got the five percent, but I was fearful that he was going to prevent Al Gore from winning and it would cause George Bush to win. And then the issues I care about the most would be at the highest risk: the environment, the role of corporations in America, our economy.

CURWOOD: Marilyn, what did you decide to do when you got into the voting booth?

WELKER: I voted for Al Gore.

CURWOOD: What won you over?

WELKER: Several things. One, a column that was written by Nat Henthoff and he compared Ralph Nader to the Socialist candidate Norman Thomas who had run for election back in 1928 through 1942. He pointed out that his work was about educating voters, not winning the election and how many issues had come to the fore and passed after he disappeared from the scene. And I thought that's Ralph Nader's role. I'm going to give Al Gore the benefit of the doubt. I think that he is extremely smart and I believe that he is a man of integrity and he does want to go down the road that Ralph Nader can speak of so strongly.

CURWOOD: OK, Rob, now we're going to turn to you. How did it work out for you?

BOLEY: I ended up voting for Ralph Nader.

CURWOOD: I'm sure you heard the criticism that a vote for Nader was a wasted vote or a vote for Bush. How did you respond to that criticism?

BOLEY: I guess I feel that belief and action kind of go hand in hand and I believe in just about everything Nader says and I just felt like I owed it to myself to vote for him. And I guess I feel that your vote is your voice and that's what I wanted to say in this election, that I support Nader.

CURWOOD: Marilyn, how do you think the history books will look at all this?

WELKER: Politics is in many ways where the action is not, at this point. I believe that what is happening so escapes the media in terms of change and social transformation and it's not in the political realm by and large. So I would hope that we could come to that realization and understand that news is far more than politics and that political leaders often end up being followers of what is already taking place at the grass roots.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you very much Rob Boley, Tom Ernie and Marilyn Welker.

WELKER: Thank you Steve.

ERNIE: Thank you.

BOLEY: You're very welcome.

Back to top

 

Bower Tribute

CURWOOD: On Saturday November fourth in Berkeley, California an 88-year-old man cast an absentee ballot for Ralph Nader. It was a poignant final act in a long life devoted to the environment. David Brower, a national leader, some would call him the national conscience of the environmental movement, died the following day after a bout with cancer. Writer Bill McKibben has this remembrance.

MCKIBBEN: By the time I first met David Brower, he was long since a legend, a legend twice over, in fact. I knew him as the single great environmentalist of the twentieth century, of course. But not until we spent a few days in Yosemite Valley, talking and hiking and staring up at the great granite walls did I really understand that saving the world was his second career. He carefully pointed out to me the landmarks of his first: the routes he'd pioneered up that high Sierra rock in the 1930s, when he was America's greatest climber. Even in Yosemite, though, surrounded by the evidences of his youth, he had very little time for nostalgia. I never met such a charge-ahead man in my life. This was more than a decade ago, when climate change, for instance, was still a hot new topic. But he'd already assimilated the horrors of global warming, worked out the battle plan, and seen ahead to the need for an eventual era of environmental restoration. He'd done it as intuitively and as carefully as a climber facing a steep new pitch-but of course he'd done it before. Brower was at the heart of every important environmental battle since the Second World War (he'd spent the war training ski troops for the Tenth Mountain Division). He saved the Grand Canyon. He made us understand the glory of redwoods and tide pools, the coffee table books that he published with people like Eliot Porter and Ansel Adams made more converts than almost any nature books in history. And - most crucially - he led the entire movement as it made the transition from conservation to environmentalism. He pushed so hard that he ran afoul of every organization he built, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, you name it. But if he was ever bitter at the staidness and conventionality of his supposed allies, he hid it well, diluted it in his unceasing joyous passion for the natural world in all its forms. I remember last spring going to New York for a day of protests at Mayor Giuliani's plans to rip up 200 community gardens and sell the land to developers. These gardens were lovely oases in the Lower East Side and the burned-out Bronx, and the neighbors were out in force to defend them. As we went from one to the next, I said to my wife, "David Brower should be here. He'd know what to say." And so, of course, as we turned into the next half acre plot there he was, gaunt and a little watery-eyed, voice a little strained, but as convinced as ever that we needed something more than "development" to make the world work. We talked on the phone late last week, as he left the hospital to come home for the last time, and though his voice was hoarser still, the spirit was unmistakably his. "What we need, no matter who wins the election, what we need is a shadow government to keep the pressure on," he said. I have no doubt he has already joined that greater shadow government, and if John Muir is Secretary of the Interior, and Rachel Carson runs the EPA, than David Brower has signed on as Inspiration in Chief.

(music)

CURWOOD: Writer Bill McKibben remembering environmentalist David Brower. Mr. Brower died on Sunday, November fifth at his home in Berkeley, California. He was 88.

Back to top

Just ahead, concerns over climate change are heating up in the arctic and at the international negotiating table. Stay tuned to Living on Earth. Now this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

(health theme music)

Health Update

TOOMEY: The federal government has upped its fight against the spread of rabies. The main targets are raccoons. But, the animals will be fed, not killed. Most rabies cases occur in wild animals and about half of those involve raccoons. The rabies strain that infects raccoons is held in check now at the Ohio border. But, the US Department of Agriculture wants to push that western boundary to West Virginia and stop the spread of the disease northward. So, officials plan to fly over forests in places like Ohio, New York and Vermont and drop biscuits filled with oral rabies vaccines. The food is specially designed to appeal to the raccoon pallet. But, suburbanites won't have to worry about biscuit bombs hitting their roofs. In more heavily populated areas, the bait will be placed by hand. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

Back to top

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth. You can hear our program anytime on our web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're on-line 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. CD's, tapes and transcripts are fifteen dollars.

(music)

Climate Change Talks

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. This month in the Hague, Netherlands the next round of the international negotiations on a treaty to cut greenhouse gases will take place. So far thirty countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, but 55 are needed for the agreement to go into effect. Many are saying these negotiations are make or break for the treaty. Joining us now to talk about them is Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat Is On: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-up and the Prescription. "Hi Ross, how are you?

GELBSPAN: Hi Steve, thanks for having me on the show.

CURWOOD: Ross, what's on the table this time around?

GELBSPAN: On the table this time around in the Hague, Steve, basically is an attempt to finally define key mechanisms to put the Kyoto Protocol into action. In particular delegates will try to hammer out rules to govern emissions trading, they will also try to resolve the issue as to whether sinks will be allowed as counting toward countries' obligations. Sinks are basically trees and vegetation that absorb carbon dioxide. These will be very excruciating negotiations.

CURWOOD: What are the issues and problems with sinks and trading emissions?

GELBSPAN: In terms of emissions trading, under which basically countries that emit more than they are allowed to can buy rights from countries that don't emit as much. The real problem is this emissions trading is not monitorable, there's no enforcement mechanism and it's the source of huge equity controversies between the countries of the north and south. For instance the countries of the north want their emissions allocations based on 1990 levels to ensure continuity of their economies. The countries of the south say no, they should be based on a per capita level and that would mean if every resident of the U.S. had the same emissions rights as every resident of India that our economy would go down the tubes. I happen to think there is moral justice behind both arguments but that's a very, very serious issue here.

CURWOOD: And the sinks?

GELBSPAN: There are serious problems with the sinks approach. Sinks are basically means, is a shorthand for the use of vegetation and trees to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. The Clinton administration announced this summer that the U.S. can virtually meet all its obligations by planting trees. The problem with that ultimately is this: the UN body of 2000 scientists from 100 countries are basically the main body on climate science is very clear that to allow our climate to restabilize in a hospitable way requires global emissions reductions of 60 to 80%. And if all the world's forests were preserved and barren areas were reforested that would only account for about 15% of that obligation. It's a very inadequate mechanism.

CURWOOD: How will the U.S. respond then?

GELBSPAN: Probably not very strongly. You have a presidency with no mandate, given the closeness of the election, you have a divided Senate, and I think until you feel the force of a very strong seachange happening in the corporate world which is now beginning to understand the huge economic opportunities involved in a global energy transition, I think it will take that before you see any real movement on the part of the U.S. government.

CURWOOD: That's going to take a lot of time, what will the Europeans do?

GELBSPAN: Well, it's interesting. The Europeans are already breaking ranks with the U.S. They are disgusted with U.S. foot dragging in these negotiations. As a result, Holland just completed a plan to cut its emissions by 80% in the next 40 years, Britain has committed to 60% cuts in the next 50 years, Germany's looking at 50% cuts. It's very encouraging in the sense that these countries want to move very aggressively to deal with the climate crisis, but it could be very depressing because it could signal a total diplomatic meltdown of the Kyoto process.

CURWOOD: Now if the Kyoto negotiations do collapse, what happens next?

GELBSPAN: Well, I think you will see the world regroup and come at this problem much more aggressively. I think they will drop these low Kyoto goals and really shoot for the 60 to 80% reductions that are required. The scientific community is saying the climate is changing far more quickly than they had originally anticipated and that the systems of the planet are way more sensitive to even a little bit of warming than they had thought. So I would foresee governments coming up with much more sweeping changes. For instance, changes in the subsidy, energy subsidy policies in industrial countries. Today the U.S. spends $20 billion a year subsidizing coal and oil. I could see that money being taken away from fossil fuels and put behind renewable energies as a big incentive for the oil companies to become aggressive developers of fuel cells and solar systems and wind farms and so forth.

CURWOOD: Could you say that right now businesses are leading the U.S. government in this area?

GELBSPAN: Multinationally, I would say absolutely. Shell has just spent $500 million on a new core company to create renewable energies, British Petroleum anticipates doing a billion dollars a year in solar commerce by the end of the decade, Ford and Daimler Chrysler have just invested a billion dollars to start turning out fuel cell cars by the year 2004. So I actually think the real lead in this whole area is coming from the corporate community now.

CURWOOD: Ross Gelbspan is author of The Heat Is On: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-up and the Prescription. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

GELBSPAN: Thank you so much Steve.

Back to top

 

Arctic Ice

CURWOOD: We turn now to the western Arctic, which has become one of the planet's hot spots, a place where temperatures are going up faster than anywhere else. Rising arctic temperatures are having dramatic effects on the plants, animals and people who live there. But climate change in the north is not a distant problem. The melting of permafrost could speed up the production of greenhouse gases. And the loss of Arctic ice could create a feedback loop and alter global ocean currents, with serious weather implications for people in the south. Bob Carty reports. (ocean waves and wind)

CARTY: On the edge of the Arctic Ocean there is a tiny village that calls itself "the top of the world." This is Tuktoyaktuk - the last human habitation on the mainland of Canada. You can't get here by road. The community is surrounded on one side by millions of acres of treeless tundra and on the other by a sea that's frozen over for more than half the year. Looking out over the vastness of ocean and tundra you can't help but wonder how a place so isolated and remote could deeply change the lives of people in the south. But it can. And one reason is what climate change is doing to the ground under foot.

(Door opens in shed)

KLINGENBERG: We're at the community ice house freezer. It just looks like a small shack, warehouse. CARTY: Charles Klingenberg is the land and development officer for the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk. And today he's showing off one of the village's prized facilities.

(Opening lid)

KLINGENBERG: I just opened a lid, lifted the lid up and it's about 4 feet by 4 feet and looks like a mine shaft and it goes down 30 feet. Here in the Arctic here, Tuk region anyway, that's what we sit on, maybe we have one to two feet of topsoil and beneath it is usually comprised of straight permafrost. And it goes down I'm not too sure how far.

CARTY: Then, let's go. (stepping on ladder)

KLINGENBERG: OK. When you're coming down, you should be careful because ice can build up on the ladders and it can get slippery.

HINES: Once you get below the active layer, which is the surface layer of the soil that thaws every year, it can be permanently frozen. And most permafrost we know in the north has been frozen for a long period of time. And it can be really thick, sometimes even over a thousand meters thick.

CARTY: Mark Hines is a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. He explains that the permafrost Charles and I are climbing down into is made up of a lot of different stuff... there's ice and rocks and soil and lots of very old vegetation. At the top of the ladder, it's soft and mushy, but from three feet down, it's frozen as hard as rock.

(climbing)

CARTY: When plants grow here in the Arctic, they absorb carbon from the air. But when they die they don't decay like plants in the south because they are frozen so much of the year. Eventually all that dead plant matter becomes part of the permafrost. And that makes Arctic tundra, at least until now, an important carbon sink. In fact, Arctic tundra contains one-third of the earth's stored soil carbon. Mark Hines:

HINES: It is one of largest carbon storage sites on earth. And so as you have some warming in the north, which is certainly occurring now, this active layer at the top that's thawed will get deeper and deeper over time. And once that material is thawed it's ability to decompose is increased drastically and that's what we're worried about. We have the potential for putting carbon back into atmosphere at a rate that's considerably larger than in the past. We now go from a sink to a source for carbon..

KLINGENBERG: Ok. We just came down a 30 foot ladder and we're standing at the bottom of the ladder. There's three separate tunnels, each hallway has about 10 to 15 rooms. It's just a community freezer where people can store meat and fish and everything else that needs to be frozen.

CARTY: So this is very efficient.

KLINGENBERG: Yes, it doesn't cost nothing to operate.

CARTY: Permafrost is a good thing?

KLINGENBERG: Here, yes. (laugh)

CARTY: But when it comes to greenhouse gases, permafrost is now a bad thing. Arctic tundra is releasing more carbon dioxide than it absorbs. According to a US government study, it's not a huge amount -- perhaps the equivalent of 3% of all the carbon emitted from fossil fuel burning. But that percentage could increase. If temperatures rise, more tundra will melt, releasing more carbon dioxide, which then warms the earth more, causing more tundra to melt. A vicious cycle. And carbon dioxide isn't the only greenhouse gas that worries biologist Mark Hines.

HINES: If the climate change results in warming as well as more wetness, then we're going to have a perfect environment for producing methane gas.

CARTY : And why is that important in terms of greenhouse effect?

HINES: Well the methane gas is a very strong greenhouse gas. It's about 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and that's due to its increased ability to absorb radiation that's leaving the earth heading back to space. So that would then increase the temperature of the atmosphere even more rapidly than you might expect simply with CO2 alone. CARTY : Is this just a regional impact, or is it wider?

HINES: It's really a global impact. And that's primarily because methane and carbon dioxide are relatively long-lived gases in the atmosphere. And so if the north is the source of the methane for example, that methane will stay in the atmosphere long enough to literally be transported almost globally. So that anything that happens in the north in terms of methane and carbon dioxide is going to have an effect on the rest of the earth simply by these gases moving to the rest of the earth. (door closed and wind)

CARTY: Back on the surface Charles Klingenberg locks the door to Tuktoyaktuk's ice house. At 30 feet deep, this permafrost freezer is not in any imminent danger. But climate changes can occur surprisingly quickly. Look at what has happened to sea ice in front of Tuktoyaktuk. Sixty years ago a Canadian ice-breaker passed by here. It was trying to make a summer voyage from Pacific to Atlantic through the Northwest Passage of the Arctic Ocean. The ship was called the St. Roch.

BURTON: In 1940 they were ordered through the Northwest passage as part of a wartime effort. The voyage was to take them what they calculated would be 90 days. In reality it took them 27 months. They spent two full winters locked in Arctic ice and barely made it out.

CARTY: Sgt. Ken Burton is the skipper of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police icebreaker, the St. Roch II, speaking by satellite phone from somewhere in the North Atlantic. This summer Sgt Burton and his crew retraced the voyage of the original St. Roch sixty years ago. When Sgt. Burton set out he expected to run into a lot of ice. He was shocked by what he found.

BURTON: It was a really interesting year this year. From Tuktoyaktuk right through to Pond Inlet we didn't see any ice at all, which is pretty much unprecedented in the last few decades up here to be able to travel that far north without worrying about ice.

CARTY: How many days did it take you to do what the St. Roch did?

BURTON: We were able to complete it in four weeks and that's the section that took the St. Roch a little over 18 months to complete.

CARTY: Such anecdotal evidence carries weight because it corroborates the scientific and historical data on sea ice. There seems to be a terrible feedback loop at work in the Arctic. When the Arctic Ocean is covered with white ice it reflects the sun's radiation back out into space. But melted, the sea is black. It absorbs more heat. Which in turn melts more ice.

BURTON: I've never seen anything like we encountered this year. The weather has been unusually warm. The school children in Spence Bay were expressing alarm because there was a new insect they had never seen there before. And it was a dragon fly. And stories like that I think should send out an alarm bell to academics and the scientific community. The ramifications of a warming trend, particularly the ramifications of an ice-free passage period for the Northwest Passage are absolutely tremendous.

(ocean waves and motor boat in distance)

CARTY: The ramifications have already started. And some of them are positive. Here on Banks Island in the middle of the Canadian Arctic Ocean, 150 German tourists are shuttling from their cruise ship to the shore to visit a native village. The ship makes regular Arctic tours but this is the first time it's been able to visit the community of Sachs Harbour because this year there has been no pack ice in the way. Less Arctic sea ice could also be a bonanza for shipping companies. If cargo ships can go from Japan to Europe across the Arctic they can shave 5,000 miles off the voyage. But there's a more negative side. The Arctic is part of a global system by which the earth regulates its temperature. It does it with air and ocean currents. The Gulf Stream, for example, keeps much of western Europe warm. It does that by pumping warm water -- a volume 25 times greater than in all of the earth's rivers -- out of the tropics up to the North Atlantic. Rob McDonald is an ocean and ice expert with Canada's Institute of Ocean Sciences.

MCDONALD: The Gulf Stream is pulled up into the Arctic as part of a loop where when it gets there the water is cooled and descends and then continues on in this large scale conveyor belt as Wally Broeker has called it.

CARTY: But the Gulf Stream conveyor belt faces a climate change threat. It comes from the possible release of more fresh water from the Arctic from melting pack ice, receding glaciers and additional precipitation. When that fresh water flows out into the North Atlantic it could dilute the salty water of the Gulf Stream just at the point where the Gulf Stream is sinking. If it stops or slows the sinking, the Gulf Stream could be shut down.

MCDONALD: And that's what people worry about because if you shut the conveyor belt off you could have a dramatic effect on the climate of a place like northern Europe -- years that had no summer. You would not be swimming in PEI, and you might also find the ocean climate changed such that fish stocks were not very happy there and you lost them.

CARTY: But surely that would happen over a long period of time?

MCDONALD: Well, people who study climate have always thought that, that climate is kind of a slow thing, but these changes can happen very quickly, in fact they can happen within a decade.

CARTY: That's a surprise.

MCDONALD: Quite a bit more than a surprise it's very worrisome because it means that some of the impacts we're talking about may happen suddenly to us or our children and these are not things we will be able to adapt to very quickly if that is the case.

(ocean waves and motor boat)

CARTY: The scenario that the Arctic could directly transform major weather patterns of the entire globe is just that, a scenario. But it is one that has created a major buzz among usually cautious scientists. They say we ignore the climate changes now occurring in the Arctic at our peril. This region is not just a sentinel of things to come later in the south. The changes that southern greenhouse gases seem to be making here may come back to haunt us all. For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty in Tuktoyaktuk, in the western Arctic of Canada.

Back to top

(waves)

(music)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, most of the dinosaurs we know have been unearthed in North America and Asia. But an expedition in Africa's Sahara Desert has uncovered a completely new breed of the creatures.

RESEARCHER: The animal reached 40 feet or more. Jaws essentially as long as my body. This is a big crocodile. Maybe twice the weight of the largest living crocodile today.

CURWOOD: Discovering new dinosaurs, 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 Carly Ferguson. We had help this week from 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.

(Music up an under)

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 Ford Foundation, the Richard and Rhoda Gildman Fund and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

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.