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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

November 24, 2000

Air Date: November 24, 2000


The Hague / Steve Curwood

Negotiators from 185 countries, meeting at the Hauge in the Netherlands, have failed to agree on final details of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to reduce green house gas emissions. The sticking point came around the methods that industrialized countries should be allowed to use to meet their reductions. Living On Earth’s Steve Curwood was in the Hague and speaks with Diane Toomey about the controversy between the U.S. and the European Union on this issue. (06:50)

Great Lakes Ice / Lester Graham

Scientists who take measurements of the thickness of ice on the Great Lakes say there’s been less and less ice cover in recent year, and global warming may be the reason. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports. (05:00)

Health Update / Cynthia Graber

Living On Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on the health benefits of bitter tasting vegetables. (00:59)

Radio Expeditions / Alex Chadwick

NPR’s Alex Chadwick reports on wildlife biologist Mike Fay’s extraordinary trek across the northern part of Africa’s Congo Basin. (08:45)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, we celebrate Peanut Butter Lover’s Month with facts about the beloved legume. (01:30)

Extreme Kayaking / Jyl Hoyt

Producer Jyl Hoyt takes a trip through the rapids with enthusiasts of a relatively new sport - extreme kayaking. (05:40)

Animal Update / Maggie Villiger

Living On Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on two toxic birds in New Guinea that give predators more than they bargained for. (00:59)

Fish Food

Can seafood lovers satisfy their appetites while keeping ocean species healthy? Host Steve Curwood talks with Vikki Spruill, executive director of SeaWeb, about some new guidelines to choosing the ecologically right fish for dinner. (04:00)

Homestead / Chris Ballman

Living on Earth’s Chris Ballman reports from South Florida on a controversy over plans to build a major airport near the Everglades, and how Al Gore’s silence on the issue may have cost him crucial Florida votes. (11:00)


This week, a singing ode to Florida’s vote tallyers. (01:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOSTS: Steve Curwood, Diane Toomey
REPORTERS: Lester Graham, Alex Chadwick, Jyl Hoyt, Chris Ballman
UPDATES: Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger
GUESTS: Vikki Spruill


(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

TOOMEY: And I'm Diane Toomey. International climate talks in the Hague have broken down. The key impasse between the United States and the European community is over how much trees should count when it comes to global warming.

JENKENS: In some parts of the world, perhaps in northern parts of the American continent and the Asian continent there may be areas where the planting of trees overall is actually warming the climate rather than cooling it.

CURWOOD: And we catch up with biologist Michael Fay on his extraordinary yearlong journey across Africa's last great uncharted territories.

NICHOLS: Last time I saw him, he was in this depth of paranoia about maybe not making it, because something was going to go wrong. You know, I'm like, what could go wrong after all he's been through?

CURWOOD: The Megatransect and more this week on Living on Earth, first news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

The Hague

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

TOOMEY: And I'm Diane Toomey. Talks in the Hague that were supposed to put the final touches on the Kyoto protocol to fight climate change collapsed November 24th. Steve, you spent much of that week in t the Hague with climate negotiators. What went wrong?

CURWOOD: A lot, Diane. One could say that the negotiators couldn't see the forest for the trees - literally. Now, one of the undone pieces of the Kyoto accord is - how much credit nations should get for what's called "carbon sinks" --things like forest and agricultural products that soak up carbon dioxide. Under the Kyoto Protocol the U.S. has committed to cutting the equivalent 600 million tons of carbon emissions a year, and we've done the math in this country and we say that we have 300 million tons a year that is taken up by trees and we should get credit for that. Well, that's what we walked into the negotiations with, anyway. In effect, that meant that the U.S. was trying to reduce its commitment by half. Later in the negotiations, we lowered our demand 125 million tons and ultimately, there was a deal with the negotiating team of Europeans for 75 million tons.

TOOMEY: So, at certain point, there was a deal on the table.

CURWOOD: Exactly. Hands were shaken around the table, and then the Europeans went back to the entire European community - a sub-committee had come to the U.S. and the deal fell apart because many of the Europeans said, "Nope, this is too much of a free ride for the U.S., which is, after all, the biggest source of industrial carbon in other greenhouse gasses" so the Europeans held out at 25 million tons. Now, I'm told that at various times in the last hours the US went to 50 and down to 40 but the gap was never closed and negotiations broke off.

TOOMEY: Why were there such high stakes over carbon-sync credits?

CURWOOD: Well, there are a couple reasons. Let's look domestically at the U.S. and politics here. Now, it's true that forests have the vast bulk of carbon but farming practices do account for about 25 million tons. Now, when you consider the opposition in the U.S. Senate to the Kyoto process so far, there are a lot of senators from farm states. And if farmers maybe would be getting cash or credits and connection with fighting global warming, that might change the minds of a lot of senators and maybe, tip the balance towards ratifying the treaty. The U.S. also wanted to get something for the forestry crowd.

TOOMEY: What's your take though on why the Europeans were so tough on this issue?

CURWOOD: Uh, well they were rolling their eyes at the notion that the U.S. could get, what they saw as, a free ride here. They see us as trying to dodge making hard choices such as building more efficient cars, shifting to renewable energy, changing our tax policies to encourage the conservations of fossil fuels. I mean, they see us riding around SUV's and say, "Excuse me, can you do something about that?" Americans use twice as much energy per capita - three times as much as the Japanese.

TOOMEY: Any other reasons?

CURWOOD: Yeah - the European politics, Diane. A number of the environmental ministers are from the Green party or the equivalent of it and they're pretty strong environmentalists. And this includes the Germans, the French, the Swedes, the Danes. Um, they were looking at home at the elections and they couldn't give, what they thought was, a free ride.

TOOMEY: How does the science play out in all of this?

CURWOOD: Good question, Diane. There's a lot of controversy over the science because the Europeans, in particular, see it as voodoo science that trees are going to sequester all this carbon forever. What happens if there's a forest fire, for one thing? They had a study from the British government don't always help global warming. Here's what the top climate researcher for the British government told me in an interview:

JENKENS: For example, if you plant trees - so called Kyoto forests - to absorb CO2 and if climate changes in such a way that those trees don't grow as fast as you think then the amount of CO2 that your going to absorb and take credit for is going to be much less than you thought, perhaps. Now, the other thing that trees do when you plant them is to darken the surface. If you think of an underlying surface that has got no vegetation and if trees are planted there and they grow then if you look at the earth from outside the planet you will see that those areas are much darker. Now, when they're darker they absorb more sunlight which warms the planet. And in some parts in the world, perhaps in northern parts of the American continent and the Asian continent, there may be areas where planting of trees overall is actually warming climate rather than cooling it.

CURWOOD: Jeff Jenkins of the British government's Hadley Center.

TOOMEY: So, the Europeans had a number of reasons to be nervous about carbon sinks. But this deal was so close. Why did it break off?

CURWOOD: Diane, I think an important reason is the level of the delegation the U.S. sent to the Hague. Frank Lloyd, the head of our delegation, is smart, he's competent, he's capable but he is Under-Secretary of State. He's well down the pecking order when it comes to international diplomacy. The French sent their president; the Brits sent their Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, the equivalent of vice president. There were other presidents and equivalents of vice presidents and plenty of full cabinet level ministers. We sent a deputy cabinet level minister. Now when things got stuck in Kyoto in 1997, Al Gore, Vice President of the United States showed up. This time Al Gore was nowhere to be seen. By the way, there were a number of U.S. senators though who did show up. Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts pushed hard on the delegation to be responsive and Republican Larry Craig of Idaho did inject an interesting note suggesting that if the Kyoto pact does get finished the U.S. Senate may be more willing to ratify it. Senator Craig has been a long time critic of the Kyoto process and a skeptic of humans causing global warming.

CRAIG: I think there is now a coming together of scientific minds that suggest that "yes the climate is warming and greenhouse gasses produced by all of us we believe may be a contributor of 30 to 40 percent a little more a little less" and if that's so, then it is significantly increasing the heating cycle.

CURWOOD: Republican Senator Larry Craig from Idaho.

TOOMEY: So the talks have broken down, everyone has gone home, what happens next?

CURWOOD: Well, technically this meeting was suspended so it could resume at any time, presumably after some footwork has been done. The French would like this soon, before a new U.S. president has been sworn in. That remains to be seen. There is another low level session already scheduled for late May that could be upgraded to a high level one. In the meantime, the urgency remains. The Europeans, in particular, are anxious to move foreword after the recent spate of flooding in Britain and in Western Europe. Public opinion there is linking these storms to climate change.

TOOMEY: Well thanks Steve, I'm sure we'll be following these developments.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth will be there, as always.

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Great Lakes Ice

TOOMEY: Let's turn now to North America. Folks in the Great Lakes region are noticing less ice over those waters and wonder about a link to global warming. Lester Graham of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium prepared this report.

GRAHAM: Researchers who study the Great Lakes environment are putting together a puzzle. They're piecing together the history of ice on the Great Lakes. When they're finished, they'll have specific data for the last 30 years and a rough sketch of ice patterns for the past 150 years. But there's something important they've already noticed: the last few years have seen a lot less ice on the lakes. Raymond Assel is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab.

ASSEL: If we continue to have these relatively mild ice seasons, say for the next five years or so, then that would certainly indicate that we are under a new ice cover regime in the Great Lakes region. But, it's much the problem that we have with trying to detect global warming. You know, once you can tell positively that you have it, you've already been in it for a while.

GRAHAM: Assel is not saying global warming is causing less ice on the Great Lakes. But he says it fits the scenario some scientists are predicting and those predictions are leading to some planning for the future. One economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago has already studied how global warming might effect one of the Great Lakes' most important industries.

(Harbor Sounds)

GRAHAM: Scrap, steel, stone and grain are among the hundreds of products shipped in and out of the Great Lakes and global warming would likely mean a longer shipping season because there would be less ice to block the channels and harbors. That's the good news. Here's the downside. Since ice covers open water it prevents evaporation. With less ice, there's more evaporation. Warmer weather would also mean reduced snowmelt and,ultimately, lower water levels in the lakes. That's a scenario University of Illinois at Chicago economist Richard Kosobud and his colleagues have been seeing for the last few years.

KOSOBUD: And these big ships, which are bringing out the things we produce here and bringing in raw materials, are just squeezing a number of these locks. And if the Great Lakes levels decline, then these locks will have to be rebuilt or the ships will have to be redesigned, and some port facilities will have to be redesigned and that could be expensive.

GRAHAM: Kosobud calculates the economic impacts could be great. Something, he says, planners and builders should keep in mind.

KOSOBUD: In a sense, we don't want to spend a lot of money now preventing something where we're kind of uncertain as to the exact decrease in lake levels, but they certainly ought to be built in on the margin. Planners, I think, ought to keep in mind that there are going to be - if global warming is serious - there are going to be significant changes in water temperatures, in lake elevation and ice cover, and these ought to be built into the plans.

GRAHAM: At the Waukegan Marina, just north of Chicago, water marks in the gray piers show just how far Lake Michigan's level has dropped. Mary Walker is manager of the harbor.

WALKER: Well, it's been a headache already and probably the biggest problem that we're suffering in Waukegan is that we have fixed piers. "Fixed piers" means that they don't float up and down as the water rises and falls. So, when you have highs and lows then sometimes fixed piers are a problem.

GRAHAM: Walker says she's also hired someone to dredge the channels to make sure the boats can get in and out of the harbor. But some sailboat owners have already moved their boats to deeper harbors.

WALKER: My biggest worry is that water levels will drop to the point that the harbor isn't usable. I'm sure that we're not going to see that I mean that would be quite a few more feet and I certainly hope that is and I'm hoping this is just cylicle but it certainly is a cause of concern.

GRAHAM: Scientists don't know yet how much the climate will change but almost all of them now agree warming of the planet is underway. Dan Lashof, Senior Scientist with the environmental group National Resources Defense Council says it's a pretty safe bet that the reduction in ice and lower water levels are part of the trend.

LASHOF: I think it makes sense to anticipate that climate will continue to change over the next several decades and to begin to plan for that and to build an expectation of changing climate into long-lived infrastructure investments. Of course, at the same time we should be doing everything we can do to reduce the pollution that causes global warming.

GRAHAM: In the meantime, the scientists at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab are compiling Great Lakes ice maps from several sources and comparing them from year to year. They hope to soon be able to tell whether the current ice pattern is just temporary climate variability or part of an ongoing warm-up of the planet's surface. For Living on Earth, I'm Lester Graham.

Back to top

TOOMEY: Coming up: a walk on the wild side. We join biologist Michael Fay on his Megatransect through one of the remotest parts of Africa. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this environmental health update from Cynthia Graber.

Health Update

GRABER: As you plan your holiday meals, don't forget the vegetables, even the ones that don't taste so great. Research shows the bitter taste that accompanies vegetables like brussel sprouts, spinach, mustard greens, and cabbage is caused by chemicals called phytonutrients. These are the same chemicals that give a bitter flavor to red wine and dark chocolate. And while phytonutrients may be hard to swallow, they're associated with cancer prevention and other health benefits. The food industry has spent years trying to breed out the bitter taste from these vegetables. Scientists think humans have a natural aversion to bitter flavor, since it's associated with spoiled or poisonous food. But food lovers in the Mediterranean know how to get around this dilemma of good taste versus good for you. They season these bitter pills with olive oil and a dash of salt to mellow the strong flavor. That's this week's health update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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(Music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

Radio Expeditions

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Wildlife biologist Mike Fay has undertaken a year-long trek across the northern part of the Congo Basin, a journey he calls the Megatransect. In a few months he'll emerge from the forest onto the Atlantic beaches of Gabon. Mike Fay is walking through parts of Africa that are among the least explored places on the planet. He's documenting some of his encounters on a field recorder for National Geographic Radio Expeditions. Many of these recordings were made late at night in a very noisy jungle, so you'll have to listen closely. Here's NPR's Alex Chadwick.

(Night sounds)

CHADWICK: An excerpt from Mike Fay's audio journal.

FAY: Today is the sixteenth of January, the year 2000, in what I call, today, the swamp.

CHADWICK: These are late night notes talked into a microphone after another long day's walk.

FAY: We crossed a doozie of a swamp today, without a doubt the most unpleasant swamp we've crossed since the beginning of the trip.

CHADWICK: And these are Mike Fay's tapes. I didn't get to go with him to Central Africa, and maybe that's a good thing.

FAY: It's very slow going. It's excruciatingly slow. And once in a while, you're up to your knee at best and up to your thigh, deep thigh at worst, in this muck, a chocolate pudding. You pull your leg out and it just kind of oozes up and leaves about a centimeter-thick coat of this goo on your leg. And you carry on.

CHADWICK: He's on a conservation trek -- he calls it the Megatransect -- to observe everything he can in the great wilderness in the center of Africa.

(Animal calls)

CHADWICK: He's got a dozen pygmy helpers, a computer, video camera, tape recorder, sophisticated navigating gear. But here's an old piece of forest lore, even more useful in an African swamp. National Geographic photographer Nick Nichols is walking parts of the Megatransect, and we spoke a couple of weeks ago at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

NICHOLS: When I first started with Mike five or ten years ago, we would follow an elephant trail into a swamp. And then we would lose him. We'd end up just having a hellish time getting through the swamp. If you really can stick with it, the elephant's going to find you the easiest route through that swamp, and he's going to find a hard bottom, instead of you walking off into some goop that you disappear into.

CHADWICK: Can you follow an elephant now in a swamp?

NICHOLS: I can if I'm walking behind Mike. (Laughs)


CHADWICK: Dr. Fay spent more than a year plotting the course of his Megatransect, beginning at the edge of the Congo Basin at the southern tip of the Central African Republic. The route runs west from there, through the Republic of Congo and Cameroon and Gabon, across tens of thousands of miles. Much of it still uninhabited and unexplored. Photographer Nick Nichols.

(Buzzing wildlife)

NICHOLS: And I'm seeing the whole planet. I mean, I've been doing this travel for 25 years. There's no place that I know that we should focus on harder. This is huge forest that the elephants and chimps and gorillas can really be what they were and what they are, because they've still got enough space. We get out there and we're really on uneven terms where the elephants are in charge, and that's what you have out there.

CHADWICK: The Megatransect is meant to get a record of the region. Scientists and conservationists and African governments aren't sure what's there, because the terrain is so forbidding there's no record of anyone attempting such a trek. We're rejoining Mike Fay's audio journal now.

FAY: I hate to make allusion to war once again, but as the captain out here I keep pushing trips to do extraordinary things, which we did today.

CHADWICK: In the first months they cover hundreds of kilometers. Most days Mike Fay walking far in front of the group, a single pygmy with him. Then in January, they hit dense vegetation they must chop through with machetes.

(Footfalls through heavy brush and chopping)

FAY: The black ants are terrible, biting, pouring onto you from tasia leaves all day long. It's definitely wearing on me mentally, but I try not to show it. The seams are cracking.

CHADWICK: They call this area the green abyss. They are in it for months. Sometimes they struggle to make two miles a day.

FAY: The point man certainly sees my temper, but the troops in general don't. So I think that's okay. But I'd certainly like to have some nice forest for once, I'll tell you that.

(Monkeys scream)

CHADWICK: They can't reach the next supply point on schedule. It's harder to find streams and springs at the end of the day. One night, Mike Fay describes ladling water that looks like dirty milk from the bottom of an elephant wallow.

FAY: If it was tea, it would be great. If it was coffee, just a little bit too weak. But as far as pure drinking water, we're talking something we probably wouldn't even wash our feet in usually.

(Animal screams)

CHADWICK: But drink it they do. And they survive, and they do cross the green abyss at last. And enter the land of forest and rivers again. Sometimes there are logging camps. And downstream, a day or two away, distant towns. More data.

FAY: The transitions you see, the interface between the human and the wildlife zones, the large trees, the density of gorillas, the mokede vegetation, the logging wave coming from the south. It's all reading like a book.

CHADWICK: They find unexpected fields, terraced long ago. Remnant evidence of villages disappeared. Mike Fay believes people once did live in parts of this region, until the slave trade. This land is Joseph Conrad's heart of darkness, and it's becoming Michael Fay's, too.

(Animal calls)

FAY: I just don't want to go outside. I want to stay inside the forest. I don't want to see places where people sell things and people are wheeling and dealing in the middle of a beautiful tropical forest.

CHADWICK: Photographer Nick Nichols.

NICHOLS: Last time I saw him, he was in this depth of paranoia about maybe not making it, because something was going to go wrong. I'm like, what could go wrong after all he's been through?


FAY: As I walk and I walk and I walk, I want more. I want to get deeper. I want to get further in and I can't. I can only get as far as I've gone, and it's not enough.

(Animal calls)

NICHOLS: But if you go back to the ancient Africa expeditions, the forest is what always got these guys. They just killed them off with all the diseases. And I mean, particularly like Ebola, the big block he just went through harbors the Ebola virus. So, there's bad stuff out there. But this guy, in particular, just goes through it.

CHADWICK: Nick Nichols on the perils of the Megatransect. For Radio Expeditions, this is Alex Chadwick, NPR News.

(Jungle sounds fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our story on the Megatransect was produced by Van Williamson. Radio Expeditions is a co-production of NPR news and the National Geographic Society.

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(Music up and under)

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 in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supporting reporting on western issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; and the Ford Foundation, striving to preserve our ecological values.

(Music up and under)

TOOMEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio.

TOOMEY: When we return: the thrill of the riffle, the agony of the spill. The sport of extreme kayaking is just ahead. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


The Living on Earth Almanac

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

(Music up and under: "Peanut. Peanut butter, and a jelly joe. Peanut. Peanut butter...)

CURWOOD: As Americans munch their way through Thanksgiving's never-ending turkey leftovers, a peanut butter sandwich may sound like a welcome change. November is Peanut Butter Lover's Month, after all, so indulge. Peanuts are an excellent source of non-animal protein, though sitting down to carve a peanut butter ball on Thanksgiving hasn't quite caught on. Peanuts aren't really nuts at all. They're legumes whose seeds grow underground. Bacteria on the plant's roots take nitrogen from the air and convert it to food for the plant. These so-called nitrogen fixers are good for replenishing soil. So, in the early 1900's, George Washington Carver advised southern farmers to rotate peanut crops through their fields. Today, your average American eats about six pounds of peanuts every year, half of that in the form of peanut butter. That's enough of the sticky stuff to coat the floor of the Grand Canyon. And if you find all this talk of peanut butter disturbing, you may suffer from arachibutyrophobia. That's the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. And for this week, that's the -- (swallows) -- Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under: "Peanut. Peanut butter, and a jelly joe. Peanut. [May have another?] Peanut butter. [Peanut butter sandwich] Peanut. Peanut butter. [Mm mm mm, that's good]...)

Extreme Kayaking

TOOMEY: Thanks to stronger, lighter, more nimble boats and better training, the sport of kayaking is on the rise. The American Whitewater Association estimates the number of enthusiasts at around 700,000. Nearly 10,000 of them are so-called extreme kayakers who seek the most thrills and spills. Jyl Hoyt from member station KBSX in Boise, Idaho, got curious about what drives this breed of kayaker, and went downriver to find out.


HOYT: This stretch of the Snake River along the Idaho-Oregon border is deeper than the Grand Canyon and almost as spectacular. It's called Hell's Canyon, and boasts slick granite cliffs over green, frothy waves. Hell's Canyon has huge hydraulics and complicated currents. Twenty-five thousand cubic feet of water pours through here each second.

MAN: David, you've got some good surfing in here.

DAVID: I know. That's why I've got to get out, look and find out where it is.

HOYT: Our group is made up mostly of young kayakers. I'm on one of the big rafts that carry provisions and the other less-adventurous solos. As we approach the first rapid, all boats pull of the river so paddlers can look for routes through the waves and holes. Holes are pits of swirling water that spin you round and round if you drop in, and hopefully you back out, alive. Extreme kayaker Travis Bailor relishes the challenge. His goal is not just to get through the rapid but to stay in it, to play, twirl, and cartwheel.

BAILOR: It's easy for aerial maneuvers and big hole rides, looks to me. Bunch of holes and rocks. Looks like multiple lines for lots of fun.

HOYT: Trav, as his friends call him, grabs his paddle, slides his six-foot-five frame into a tiny plastic boat, fastens the skirt that keeps water out, adjusts his helmet, and takes off. I walk to a hill overlooking the rapid with Rob Studebaker to watch the show.

ROB: Whoo! Yeah! Look at that, yeah! Working out, Trav! Whoo-hoo! Yeah, that was sweet....

HOYT: Travis Bailor has set the pace. His pals line up their kayaks behind him and try to match his feats. Not everyone does. Some get, as Rob Studebaker calls it, schooled by the river.

STUDEBAKER: Getting beat up, trashed, taken to school, getting taught a little lesson by the river. Every once in a while you start feeling too confident, the river will reach up and smack you and give you a little education. (Laughs)

HOYT: This sport seems to attract a certain kind of person who doesn't feel fear like the rest of us.

STUDEBAKER: Most people think you're absolutely out of your mind, but you can't imagine doing anything else. Because the feeling you get right at that moment, you feel like you're flying. Like you're part of the river. You're absolutely just in perfect control, and if I could fly I bet that's what it feels like. Because it's just absolutely, absolutely amazing.


HOYT: We set up camp in a grove of hackberry trees laced with blood-red poison ivy vines. The sun turns the canyon gold, as 25-year-old Brett Wilcox, a Navy vet student and father of two, tells me about a challenging trip he did earlier this year.

WILCOX: I actually stopped and threw up because I was nervous. (Laughs) I threw up in an eddy, but I said I'm here to do this and I want to and I think I can. I know I can. I felt comfortable and I went and did it, and I did a great job. And I just let out the biggest yell I could and gave my friend a high-five. And we just sat there, and it was a great feeling of accomplishment. I was very happy.

HOYT: Many extreme kayakers go on to compete in white water rodeos, where they're judged on a sequence of tricks. Exploratory kayakers are different. Bill and Rob Studebaker spend most weekends searching for places others have never been. Waterfalls, remote rivers, and rocky streams. In the past 25 years, 135 experienced kayakers have died in the rapids. Two months ago, Bill got tangled in some fallen trees and almost drowned. And his son Rob almost died rescuing him.

R. STUDEBAKER: I don't know. There is definitely a point in that river where I thought I'm not going to be here, I'm losing my dad. It happens in a moment that -- that's just what it is, you just kind of accept it and just hope that your judgment is so that things work out. And fortunately, it did.

HOYT: After the accident, neither father nor son considered giving up the sport, in large part because of the friendships formed while risking their lives together.

R. STUDEBAKER: The relationships and the trust and the bond you develop with people that you paddle with in that situation are pretty, pretty wonderful relationships.

(Voices and running stream)

MAN: Okay, everybody! Let's go! Paddle out!

HOYT: In addition to bringing father, son, and friends closer together, extreme and exploratory kayaking bring people closer to nature, says Bill Studebaker.

B. STUDEBAKER: We're trying to be fish, and that's what fish do. We're competing, kind of, with the element. How close can we come to being water?

HOYT: For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Idaho's Hell's Canyon.


MAN: Who wants to move that rock with me? Just that stone...

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(Music up and under)

TOOMEY: Just ahead: how Al Gore's silence on a proposed major airport near the Everglades may have cost him crucial votes in Florida. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this animal update with Maggie Villiger.

(Music up and under)

Animal Update

VILLIGER: The people of New Guinea have known for ages that eating particular native birds can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Now scientists know why. It turns out pitohui and ifrita birds have a potent nerve toxin concentrated on their feathers and skin. The poison is gram for gram more dangerous than curare or strychnine. When predators taste these small, colorful birds, they are treated to a burning, stinging mouth. Even lice prefer not to stick around. No one's sure how these two unrelated birds produce their defensive mechanism, but it likely stems from something in their diet, maybe a berry or an insect. The pitohui and ifrita themselves seem blithely unaware of the pain they can inflict. The birds also possess some as yet mysterious protection against their own poison. That's this week's animal update. I'm Maggie Villiger.

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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, mail to: letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

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Fish Food

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Think danger and seafood and you probably think food poisoning, mercury contamination, maybe even red tide. Some marine conservation groups are taking a different tack. Instead of asking what fish can do to us, they're concerned with what we're doing to the fish. They've enlisted hundreds of chefs over the past few years to choose the fish they serve based on environmental criteria. Now they're trying to reach consumers before consumers reach the marketplace. They're offering lists to help orient seafood lovers in the world of ocean ecology. I asked Vikki Spruill, who directs the nonprofit educational project Sea Web, which fish get the green light for consumption.

SPRUILL: I would put on my better list, and right at the top of that list, Alaskan wild salmon, which has recently been certified by an organization called the Marine Stewardship Council. And this spring,, you'll actually be able to see labeled product in your grocery stores. So, Alaskan wild salmon at the top of the list. Striped bass, mackerel. Most farmed shellfish, like clams and oysters and scallops. Farmed catfish. Mahi-mahi. Tilapia. I think those would be on my list.

CURWOOD: But what about the fish you avoid the most? What are the ten fish that you, through your work, have come to decide you really don't think you should eat because of ecological concerns?

SPRUILL: At the top of the list would be farmed salmon and farmed shrimp. Chilean sea bass. Orange roughie. Sharks. Almost all of them are long-lived and slow reproducers. Bluefin tuna. Groupers. The tropical species; most all are overfished. That would be on my caution list.

CURWOOD: Anyone listening to us would have said: Salmon? Farmed salmon is bad and wild salmon in Alaska is good? I thought the wild salmon in a lot of trouble and farmed salmon is, well, it's better for the environment.

SPRUILL: A lot of people think that, and it's a problem. All aquaculture is not created equal. And it's true, we've even done some research that indicates that people think, when they buy farmed salmon, they're buying something better for the environment. But unfortunately, the way salmon is farmed today is destructive to the environment for the most part. Antibiotics, excess feed put in the pens, which creates nutrient pollution. Escape of farmed fish into wild populations, so you get disease events and habitat destruction. But not all aquiculture is bad. There are some good examples of aquiculture, too. Farmed scallops, clams, oysters, Tilapia, catfish. And this is yet another example of how we as consumers need to be a lot better educated about the seafood we eat.

CURWOOD: What criteria were used for making these lists?

SPRUILL: Are these fish being overfished? Are they well-managed? Is there too much waste in the fishery? Are habitats affected when the fish are caught? This is really a whole new conversation about raising awareness of the fact that the seafood choices we make have environmental impacts. And it is a new way to think about fish. We tend to think only about the health concerns, which of course are also significant.

CURWOOD: When you compare the health concerns with environmental ones when it comes to seafood, are there crossovers, contradictions?

SPRUILL: Absolutely. You know, if you're thinking only in terms of health concerns, you want to eat younger fish that haven't been in the ocean long enough to accumulate some of the contaminants. If you're thinking only in environmental terms, you want to eat fish that are older and have had a chance to reproduce. So that's a paradox.

CURWOOD: Listening to you talk, consumers are going to say "boy, I need help on this." All the fish that you like, the really important qualifiers, and the ones that you don't think should be consumed, again there are a lot of qualifiers. What should people take away from these lists?

SPRUILL: I think people should take away that there really are good choices, that there is no one size fits all solution for fisheries. There are hundreds of different fish from hundreds of different regions of the world. It's not like we're talking about a chicken or a cow. Every fish species is different. Eat more fish. But pick fish on the right lists, and pick fish that's good for the environment.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

SPRUILL: Thank you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Vikki Spruill is Excutive Director of Sea Web. You can find links to the seafood list on our Web site: www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org.

Related links:
- magazine.audubon.org/seafood/guide
- montereyaquarium.com/efc/
- seaweb.org

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(chanting - "Every vote counts.")


TOOMEY: "Every vote counts." This chant by demonstrators in West Palm Beach, Florida, is the understatement of election 2000. A few months ago the state of Florida was thought to be solidly in the camp of George W. Bush. Of course, it turned out to be a lot closer than that. While much has been said about the question of vote counting, today we turn our post-election attention to plain old vote getting. Or perhaps we should say vote losing, over a key environmental issue. Our story takes place on the edge of the Everglades in a town called Homestead. A controversial plan calls for converting an old Air Force base there into a major commercial airport. Some say candidate Al Gore's silence on the issue may have cost him crucial Florida votes. Living on Earth's Chris Ballman reports.

BALLMAN: You could say Homestead became a political issue just as the winds of Hurricane Andrew were fading. The 1992 storm all but destroyed an Air Force base there, and when the federal government decided not to rebuild the facility a group of South Florida business and civic leaders stepped in. They wanted to construct a world-class airport on the skeleton of Homestead. Their goal was to restore the local economy, crippled when the Air Force base closed. They also said a major jet port at Homestead handling hundreds of flights a day would help relieve congestion at nearby Miami International. Alex Penelas is the Mayor of Dade County.

PENELAS: We're going to run out of space at Miami International Airport by the year 2012. So if it's not Homestead Air Force Base, which is within the urban development line, then where are we going to build a new airport? In the Everglades? I don't think anybody wants that.

BALLMAN: Well, no. But South Florida's environmental community said a major airport at Homestead was just as bad. The Everglades lie eight miles to the south. A few miles to the east sit Biscayne National Park and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, both home to fragile coral reefs and aquatic life. When Lloyd Miller, an environmental activist who lives near Homestead, thought about the noise pollution and development a major airport would bring, he feared the worst.

MILLER: We know the park will be destroyed. And apparently, that hasn't sunk through, or apparently people don't care.

BALLMAN: A preliminary environmental analysis by the Air Force suggested that the airport could be built if a number of steps were taken to reduce its impact on the environment. But in January of this year, when the heads of the Interior Department and the EPA disagreed with that assessment, the report's release was put on hold. Meanwhile, Vice President Gore urged "a continued discussion of how a balanced solution can be found that can help the community without hurting the environment."

CHENOWETH: Well, it's frustrating to see that it's taken so long for the administration, the current administration, to make a decision on this.

BALLMAN: Michael Chenoweth, president of Friends of the Everglades, says there is one reason for the delay.

CHENOWETH: Politics.

BALLMAN: Political analysts say Al Gore was walking a tightrope over Homestead. Coming out for the airport would alienate environmental voters. Coming out against it would offend key backers of the plan, including Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and Mitch Berger, Gore's top South Florida fundraiser.

McGINTY: Well, all of that is just ludicrous.

BALLMAN: Katie McGinty is the Gore campaign's chief advisor on environmental issues.

McGINTY: The only reason we don't have an airport there built and operating right now today is because Al Gore blew the whistle, put a stop to it, said that he demanded a thorough environmental analysis and review.

BALLMAN: Gore campaign officials say that it would be inappropriate for the Vice President to take a stand on Homestead until the government's final environmental analysis is released. The report was due in late October. Then, in a move with further angered environmentalists, the deadline was pushed back until after the election. Don Chinquinna co-chairs the Florida Everglades Coalition.

CHINQUINNA: Somebody in the White House made a decision not to release that SCIS, and they told the Air Force not to, and they withheld it till after the election. So, that further added to our own concerns and worries as to where the vice president might actually be going in the final analysis.

BALLMAN: Again, Gore's environmental advisor, Katie McGinty.

McGINTY: And I think that now we have partisans in this debate and advocates in this debate who are reaching for whatever arguments, even if it damages the one person who has been their champion. But reaching for whatever arguments they think can help them to secure the prize that they particularly are after. And I think it's a very short-sighted strategy in this case.

(Drumming and chanting)

BALLMAN: In the closing months of the campaign, the Green Party targeted Homestead. In a mid-October press conference in Tampa, and at a Miami rally three days before the election, Ralph Nader pointed to the controversy when citing the lack of difference between the two major parties.

NADER: And who has come out against converting the Homestead Air Reserve Base into a commercial airport? The Green Party's come out against it. But not Al Gore or George W. Bush. (Cheers from the crowd) Al Gore, Al Gore in his wavering, waffling style, says he hasn't decided yet. (Laughter from the crowd) He'll decide after the election...

BALLMAN: Hillary Gerber was in the crowd listening to Ralph Nader chastise the vice president. Gerber is a native Floridian. Her father was in the Navy. And she remembers going to the PX at Homestead to buy diapers for her little brother. She also remembers family vacations to Biscayne National Park. She knew the race in Florida was close, and her Democratic friends warned her that voting for Nader could throw the election to George W. Bush. But in the end, she says Gore's silence on Homestead cost him her vote.

GERBER: I think that if Al Gore had taken a stand on that issue, I might have considered being part of that 50 percent margin that left Nader at the last minute and went and voted for Gore. Because then I could have been swayed. But he never did.

WEINTRAUB: I have always chastised people who would vote for third parties. I thought it was kind of stupid, actually. I thought it was a needless protest vote that went nowhere. I've always voted Democratic, up until now.

BALLMAN: David Weintraub runs the Center for Yiddish Culture in Coral Gables. He also abandoned Al Gore for Ralph Nader in the closing weeks of the campaign. It wasn't an easy decision. Weintraub says he sent at least four e-mails to Gore asking him to explain his position on Homestead. He waited and waited for a response. None came.

WEINTRAUB: We are in a very environmentally sensitive area. I think people have had enough with the development, have had enough with the pollution. Taking a position would have at least told me that this guy has a backbone. Not taking a position at all to me was pandering to where the money was coming from.

BALLMAN: There was no exit polling on the Homestead issue, so a definitive analysis of its effect on the Gore-Nader vote breakdown is difficult, if not impossible, to determine. But in a poll with likely Florida voters taken two months before the election, 63 percent of respondents said building a major airport at Homestead would increase pollution and sprawl and threaten nearby Biscayne Bay and the Everglades. Mark Mellman is president of The Mellman Group, the Washington, D.C.-based polling firm, which conducted the survey.

MELLMAN: Any politician that takes a stand against this airport has the possibility of picking up votes on that basis.

BALLMAN: The heads of South Florida's environmental groups took note of that poll, and they pleaded with Gore officials to head off an expected swing of votes to Nader. Florida Everglades Coalition co-chair Don Chinquinna.

CHINQUINNA: We even hosted a meeting here with his campaign, where they came down, you know, during the week or so before the election, asking for our support. And we told them in no uncertain terms that even if you could convince the environmental community that you're on the right side of this issue, we can't convince our followers. We can't convince our membership. Because they feel so betrayed by your silence that they're fearful that you're going to do the wrong thing. That you're going to go ahead and award this airport to Dade County. And as a result, they're voting for Nader.

BALLMAN: On election day, nearly 97,000 Floridians voted for Nader. In the three heavily Democratic counties in and around Homestead, Nader picked up 13,000 votes.

CHINQUINNA: It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened. People did not trust Al Gore any more because of his position on the airport, and, just my own humble opinion, I think it cost him the election.

McGINTY: Plenty of people can serve as Monday morning quarterbacks.

BALLMAN: Once again, Gore advisor Katie McGinty.

McGINTY: Ralph Nader has never lifted a finger on this issue. If it were only for Ralph Nader we'd have an airport operating there now, because he has never surfaced, never been active, never been helpful on this issue, ever. Period. And even though it meant that he would be criticized, as he is being criticized, Al Gore stood firm in defense of a process that's critical if this issue is going to be handled properly.

(Milling voices)

MAN: (on microphone) We're going to have everybody on this country calling that White House line comment operator until the President of the United States gets the clear message that these two national parks are not for sale...

BALLMAN: At a meeting in Coral Gables, Sierra Club members plan their next strategy on Homestead. The government's final report on what to do with the air base is due out in December. A decision on the airport's future will come 30 days later. So they're turning their attention now to President Clinton, asking him to pull federal support for the airport before he leaves office. Or at least come out in favor of the environmental community's plan to turn the old air base into an office and tourist complex. Others hope that Al Gore, whether he is the next president or the outgoing VP, will finally weigh in on the issue. That's why Lloyd Miller decided to vote for Gore.

MILLER: In terms of this issue, it was a reluctant vote.

BALLMAN: Homestead is not the only place where Al Gore's silence on environmental issues may have cost him some votes. Activists note the vice president never came out for or against breaching dams in the Pacific Northwest to restore runs of endangered salmon. And an unkept promise to close an incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, haunted him throughout the campaign. In those states the vote margins didn't matter. But in Florida, a contentious environmental issue in a small town may have made all the difference. For Living on Earth, I'm Chris Ballman.

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CURWOOD: And now, time for your comments.

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CURWOOD: Actually, we only have time for one comment this week, but we think you'll enjoy this. It's a singing telegram of sorts from Mary Jane Newborn. She called from Cincinnati, Ohio, where she listens to WKNU across the river in Highland Heights, Kentucky, to dedicate this little ditty to all those Florida ballot counters and vote watchers. Ready, Mary? And a one, and a two, and a...

NEWBORN: (Singing to the tune of Camptown Races) Oh, the countdown ladies sing this song: Do that, don't do that. The countdown race go all month long: do, don't all day. I press down with my chad caved in. Do that, don't do that. I go back home with no clear win, do, don't all day. Grind to count all night, grind to count all day. I vote my conscience but I'll be screwed now, either way.

CURWOOD: Your comments, singing or otherwise, are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. 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: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: Libby Montana made headlines this year when a spate of illnesses and deaths were tied to a defunct mining operation. Now there's debate over whether to start mining again to save the area's moribund economy.

MAN: My son told me here the other day when he was driving down the road that he wanted to make a living the way his dad did. And I told him no, get into computers where you've got something you can count on and look forward to in the future. Because it's one hard, hard chunk of life to live.

CURWOOD: Making a living the hard way, next week on Living on Earth.

TOOMEY: 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, Carly Ferguson, and Mi;isa Muniz. A special thanks this weeks to Stephen Belter and Alexis Milner.

CURWOOD: Alison Dean composed our themes. Our Technical Director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our Western Editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our Senior Editor. And Chris Ballman is the Senior Producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

TOOMEY: And I'm Diane Toomey. Thanks for listening.

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

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