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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

July 20, 2001

Air Date: July 20, 2001

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Kyoto -- Yea or Nay?

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The future of the Kyoto climate change treaty is at a crucial juncture as negotiations continue in Bonn, Germany. Host Steve Curwood discusses the treaty's chances with Ian Bowles, who served as Senior Director of Global Environmental Affairs with the Clinton Administration's National Security Council; and Hermann Ott, a climate policy analyst with the German think tank, The Wuppertal Institute. Also joining the discussion is Yuri Onodera, climate change campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth, Japan. (11:30)

Health Note

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Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports on how some common food seasonings like garlic, pepper and fennel may help the body build up its anti-bacterial properties. (01:30)

Almanac: Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle

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This week, facts about Richard Wagner's monumental opera, the Ring Cycle. Set in the Rhine, it's a tale of love, loss and deception among the dwarves of the forest. (01:30)

Germany's Crusade Against Climate Change / Chris Ballman

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Germany is taking a leading role in developing and marketing technology to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Living on Earth's Chris Ballman reports on Germany's chances for success and what it stands to gain and to lose in the effort. (13:00)

News Follow-up

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New developments in stories we've been following recently. (03:00)

Tech Note

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Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports on newly created florescent molecules that glow in the presence of metal pollution. (01:30)

Greenhouse Gamble

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Host Steve Curwood spins the greenhouse gamble wheel with MIT professor Ronald Prinn to see how much the earth may warm. (06:00)

ecoPerth / Karen Kelly

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Canada has said it is serious about climate change, but environmentalists complain the government has not passed any laws to mandate industry cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. At least one town has decided to take the issue of climate change into its own hands. Karen Kelly reports. (09:30)

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Kyoto -- Yea or Nay?

[Theme return]

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood speaking to you from Bonn, Germany where there's a bit of optimism, if only for the moment, here at the global warming treaty talks. Delegates say they are making meaningful progress. We'll take a look at what that means in a moment but first, some background. Nearly a decade ago, more than 150 nations including the United States ratified the UN Framework Convention to fight global warming. The Treaty called on the U.S. and other developed nations to take the lead against climate change by reducing emissions at home and helping less developed countries with money and technology to keep their emissions in check as well. But that treaty failed and emissions have kept rising, largely because there were no penalties for violations. So, the parties went to Kyoto, Japan in 1997 to try to put some teeth into the treaty which is now called the Kyoto Protocol. But efforts to work out final language have been mostly stalled since then. The protocol almost died last year in the Hague. The problem? Nations are still balking at strict limits and enforcement mechanisms. And when U.S. President George W. Bush declared this spring he was against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol it seemed all but dead. But it's not, at least right now. With me now to discuss the current negotiations are Hermann Ott, a climate policy analyst for Germany's Wuppertal Institute, Yuri Onodera, climate campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth Japan, and Ian Bowles, former senior director of the Environment for the National Security Council for both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush White Houses. I'd like to begin with a question I'll put to each of you: How would you define a successful outcome of these negotiations? Hermann Ott?

OTT: First of all, the best possible outcome would, of course, be if there was an agreement on the package, the full package, which is ecologically viable. Second best option, no deal in Bonn and moving forward to ratification, soon in the next year.

CURWOOD: What do you mean by that?

OTT: The Kyoto Protocol is alive. It can be ratified and it's workable. I sometimes compare it with a house. The house is ready. What we're negotiating here is the emergency exits. Right, and when it comes to those who want to live in the house, the parties that ratify, they should be able to define the design, location of those emergency exits.

CURWOOD: Ian Bowles?

BOWLES: I would define progress as sending a message back to the American government that the rest of the world wants to move forward on a treaty on climate change. Substantial progress on the rules to the Kyoto Protocol, allowing the rest of the world to set up an agreement to enforce in the coming few years.

CURWOOD: Yuri Onodera?

ONODERA: What, basically, the question is that we have to think realistically about the situation. If we can get some sort of brief idea or agreeing upon the package then we think that this a moving forward process. And also if Japan can clarify its position on whether or not it's going to ratify that would advance the agreement down without the U.S., that would be progress, as well.

CURWOOD: Now Dr. Ott, you've consulted with the German government on the issue of climate policy and the EU is pushing very hard right now on this treaty. From the EU's perspectives, what are the hurdles here, what are the principle hurdles?

OTT: The issue which made the Hague fail was sinks, that is the absorption of carbon by trees, soil, agricultural activities. And that is still major question here. How far can these absorption be accounted toward the obligations of the party. The second major issue is compliance. We have to determine whether a party failed or achieved its targets and then determine what are the consequences for that.

CURWOOD: Yuri Onodera, we're here on the third floor of the Maratine Hotel in Bonn. We're right outside the meeting place of the Japanese delegation, in fact they're rushing back and forth right now even as we speak. Japan seems to be the dealmaker or dealbreaker as these negotiations. How are they making the most of that position?

ONODERA: Well, previously we were very worried about Japan's position of too contradicting message. But since last week, last few days, the Minister Kawaguchi clarified that last conference which I think is progress that Japan sincerely negotiates and she has a mandate to fully conclude agreement of the package here so that gives her some leverage, I hope, to conclude, though Japan's position on sinks, in particular, is quite extreme.

CURWOOD: Let me be sure I understand this. So Japan is prepared to approve the deal, even though it doesn't want to say whether or not it would ratify such a deal. Am I understanding that?

ONODERA: Yes, you are correct, yes.

CURWOOD: Let me turn to you, Ian Bowles. Even though the U.S. has said it's not going to participate in this protocol, they do still have a seat at the table and some are worried that the U.S. will be obstructionist here. How do you see what's going on?

BOWLES: I'd say, overall, it's somewhat of a sad day for American diplomacy. We asked the rest of the world to delay this meeting with the idea that we'd come with specific proposals and alternatives. Those proposals and alternatives are not forthcoming but we don't really have much constructive to offer here.

CURWOOD: Now the U.S. has a lot of technical expertise that our nation has gathered over the last, what, 11 years. What's happening to that? Is that being injected into the discussions? By that I mean, just knowing certain details and a wealth of almost reference knowledge for this process.

BOWLES: I think that's largely on the sidelines. I mean American delegation to the Hague last November was 150 people. Here, the United States has about 35. Many of its experts are on the sidelines. Indeed much of the expertise that brought the Kyoto process forward came from the American government and that's not being brought to bear now.

CURWOOD: Briefly from each of you, an assessment on the quality of negotiations here. When things broke down in the Hague the mood was very pessimistic. Kyoto is dead or, certainly, in a terminal path. What do things look like now? Yuri Onodera?

ONODERA: The last four days, technical negotiations weren't showing much progress but meanwhile, I think that most important purpose, one of the most important purpose of this conference is to make a political commitment, political agreement, and in this regard, our Prime Minister on Sunday said to the tv that this conference itself isn't the place to decide. And then, there was a huge public outcry and reaction from, including European leaders directed to Mr. Koizumi. Then, he later (inaudible) Japan's strong commitment to the Protocol so that has given some momentum here beforehand. There was a very strong question about Japan's commitment to the process.

CURWOOD: Ian Bowles, you were a negotiator at the Hague. Now, you're watching. How do things look in this process?

BOWLES: I think the good news is that these issues themselves have been discussed for years. They are well understood. If there's political will to move forward, there's sufficient understanding of the issues themselves to be able to make a deal. I've seen in the past few days, some reasons for optimism, some reasons for moving more quickly to resolve issues, to identify issues for the ministers. I still fear that, uh, there will be, some of the fundamental differences between the parties that broke the Hague apart will continue. I tend to be of the view that moving forward on the rules and having progress is more important than getting all the details perfect.

CURWOOD: And the political will? How much is out there?

BOWLES: Hard to know. I think that's again where the G8 plays a role, to some degree.

To what degree can the European leaders encourage Japan, the United States, and Canada, the other G8 members, to pay some attention.

CURWOOD: Now, the G8 meeting of the industrialized nations is happening right now in Genoa as these climate negotiations are going on. Your Prime Minister, Yuri Onodera, has said to the United States that it won't come in without the United States being here, and yet, it's telling the European leaders that it wants to move forward, Japan will move forward, and ratify by the year 2002. What do you think will happen when your Prime Minister is in the same room with the European and American leaders?

ONODERA: Well, one of the concerns in the last few weeks which we have is the Prime Minister's commitment to this issue is somehow ambiguous. His strongest agenda is a structural reform and he went to the United States and he didn't criticize President Bush clearly on this issue. So, the European leaders can approach him and remind him of the importance of this issue since (inaudible) and the Prime Minister is committing so much energy on this process that we enforce the momentum within Japanese government to move forward on the leadership on the negotiation.

CURWOOD: Some people say look this can wait till Marrakesh in the fall, some kind of comprehensive deal for climate change. Hermann Ott, how much can be on hold for Marrakesh?

OTT: Well, if Bonn fails it would not be the end of the Kyoto Protocol and it would certainly not be the end of international climate policy, which is the most important. Because even if this fails, even if Marrakesh fails, this protocol can be ratified and should be ratified and enforced. International climate policy will remain an issue for the next century, for this century, and I'm very, very sure within five or six years those countries that are reluctant now, especially the United States, Canada, and Australia will be on board and will be part of the solution because the effects of climate change will be felt. And farmers and people in those countries will pressure the government and the United States since it is already being felt. Bush's, uh, ratings on environmental policy are the worst and it's part of his, let's say, plunge in rating. Dick Morris said "it's the ecology, stupid," and he geared it at George Bush, and he might actually lose elections because of that.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you all for your time. Yuri Onodera is campaigns coordinator for the climate change campaign of Friends of the Earth Japan. Ian Bowles is former Senior Director for the Environment for the National Security Council in both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush White Houses. And, Hermann Ott is a climate policy expert for Germany's Wutteral Institute and an advisor to the German government. Thank you all for joining us.

BOWLES: Thank you very much.

OTT: Thanks a lot.

ONODERA: Thank you very much.

[Music up and under.]

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Health Note

CURWOOD: Coming up, German technology leads the way in the fight against climate disruption. First, this health note from Diane Toomey.

TOOMEY: For thousands of years, humans have relished the flavors of spices in our foods. But we also may have been enjoying another benefit from those substances. Many spices such as garlic, pepper and fennel kill bacteria and fungi in food that can make us sick. Cornell University researchers set out to see how well various cultures made use of this anti-bacterial property. First, they looked at traditional meat recipes from 36 countries around the world. All of them called for bacteria-killing spices. What's more, recipes from hotter countries where bacteria grow more quickly, contained a higher concentration of these spices. But researchers wondered how much early cooks actually knew about the safety benefits in their spice cabinet. They decided to compare meat dishes with vegetable dishes to find out. Plants are protected against bacteria by natural chemicals, strong cell walls and a high acid level. This protection remains intact, even after some cooking. So, vegetable dishes should need fewer protective seasonings. The researchers hit the recipe books again. In all 36 countries, vegetable dishes called for far-fewer spices than meat dishes. It looks like our ancestors chose spices for more than their flavor or fire. That extra punch in the dish may have also kept them from getting sick. That's this week's health note. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And from the climate change talks in Bonn, Germany, you're listening to Living on Earth.

[Music]

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Almanac: Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood at the climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany.

[music]

CURWOOD: The climate change parley isn't the only event drawing international crowds to Germany. Every July, the town of Bayreuth hosts the Richard Wagner Festspiele. Now, that's a month-long celebration of the composer's enduring operas. Wagner is best-known for his Ring Cycle of operas, based on the Germanic legends of the Nibelungen, a tribe of rather unpleasant cave-dwelling dwarves. Now, some people say the famous Seven Dwarves, who fraternized with Snow White, are modern descendents of the Nibelungen. If so, somewhere along the line, Snow White's buddies became a lot more jolly than their ancestors, with the exception of Grumpy, of course. They did keep up the traditional dwarf occupation of mining and metalsmithingdom. And it is this Nibelungen love of gold that kicks off the first of Wagner's works, Das Rhinegold, in which the dwarf leader steals the gold of the Rhine maidens. The Nibelungen hammer the gold into a ring that bestows Master of the Universe status onto whoever holds it. But no one holds it for long. There's a curse. There's murder. There's infidelity and incest. And along the way, the gods start to wonder just who's in charge anymore. By the time the opera's end, the Rhine burst its banks, the ring winds up lost at the bottom of the river, and the world is on fire. Now, that's a story of global warming. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth almanac.

[music fades out]

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Germany's Crusade Against Climate Change

SPEECH: And the first compulsory measure is to agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to help each other to do so....

CURWOOD: There's a good reason why the United Nations climate negotiations are taking place here in Bonn, Germany's old capital. Germany, you see, wants to be seen as the world leader in efforts to curb global warming. So, when the Germans decided to move their capital back to Berlin after unification, they offered part of their old government complex to the U.N. climate change convention. The gesture is both symbolic and practical, and a quintessential German response to new global realities. Living on Earth's Chris Ballman reports on what's at stake for Germany as crusader against climate change. His story begins in the new Germany capital, Berlin.

[Men arguing in German]

BALLMAN: At a rally in the shadows of the Reichstag, just steps away from where the Berlin Wall once divided East and West, two men argue over the state of German democracy since re-unification. This is the new Germany and once-shunned topics like Communist evils and Nazi horrors are now openly discussed. Germans are putting the past behind, and many here say it's time to play a more assertive role on the world stage. And Petra Holtrup of the German Council on Foreign Relations says climate change is the perfect vehicle.

HOLTRUP: This, I think, comes from that Germany has found a topic that could play a leading role without being accused of trying to dominate everyone else.

BALLMAN: German concern for the environment isn't a new political maneuver. Germans got a wakeup call in the late 1970's when acid rain began destroying their beloved Black Forest. Later, Chernobyl sparked a fear that's led to a government pledge to dismantle the nation's nuclear industry. Anja Köhne of the German League for Nature and the Environment says recent soul-searching over past sins has sparked a new environmental awareness.

KÖHNE: We cannot go into this trip anymore about saving the world the German way because, I mean, we did pretty ugly things with that. But, the general thing, I would phrase it more positively. I would have a feeling "yeah, also, there were some lessons learned." And one lesson is that you should not take up more space than is due to you. And this is what you do in climate policy. If the industrialized countries emits so many climate emissions, this is using up more space and then this is a form of imperialism, and a form of corruption, which is not good.

BALLMAN: If Germany is setting the world agenda on climate change, it's doing so by setting an example at home-- with a plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions 25% by 2005.

SCHAFHAUSEN: That's our goals.

BALLMAN: And, that's Franz Josef Schafhausen. He's the man overseeing Germany's CO2 reductions, and he says that from the factory to the farm, in the home, office and automobile, emissions must be cut.

SCHAFHAUSEN: That's not only for environmental reasons but also for restructuring our economy, restructuring our society, creating new jobs, creating new technology, and being prepared for the future.

BALLMAN: Germany reduced carbon dioxide emissions 15% by shutting down East Germany's old, dirty industries and replacing them with modern facilities. Today, the emphasis is on cutting energy demand in homes and buildings.

[construction ambience]

BALLMAN: Restoring Berlin, Germany's capital, has created what is likely the world's largest construction site. Giant cranes fill the skyline and the din of the hammer is everywhere.

[hammering]

BALLMAN: With government loans and building codes that mandate energy savings, the architects of East Germany's remaking are going green. There are simple measures, like sensors in rooms that keep lights off until you enter, and subway escalators that don't move until you step on them.

[sound of people on escalator]

BALLMAN: Other plans are far-reaching.

KNAUMANN: You can see the skyline of Berlin and the sub-lying area of this power plant. All these buildings are connected with this power plant by pipes, underground pipes, and especially the feed loop by combined pipes.

BALLMAN: From a platform outside the control room, Andreas Naumann, can see the 60,000 homes and 500 businesses that get their heat and electricity from the Beiwag (sp) Co-generation Power Plant. When this was East Berlin, the plant burned oil. Now, natural gas and a high-tech feed loop system produce energy far more efficiently. And Naumann says, that means less pollutants going up the smokestack.

NAUMANN: The CO2 emissions are reduced by nearly 80% in comparison with the old power plant. And the CO2 reduction by the work of the new power plant is one million tons per year for Berlin.

BALLMAN: Co-generation is Germany's main avenue to reach its next carbon dioxide emissions target. And last month, government and industry agreed to double the output of co-generated power with incentives to build new plants and re-fit old ones. Other solutions to Germany's CO2 reductions are, literally, blowing in the wind.

[sound of wind turbines]

BALLMAN: Giant spinning rotor blades help Germany meet a lot of its future energy demands. I'm at the Klutchwitz Wind Park, about 50 miles south of Berlin, and I'm about to get a birds-eye view of Europe's largest wind park.

[squealing of lift]

BALLMAN: Park manager Henri Louvenhart prepares a tiny, open lift to carry us up to the turbine. There's only room for two so our translator, Paul Reid, must don a safety harness and climb a stepladder 255 feet to meet us at the top.

LUVENHART: Although bungee jumping is neat, it's not allowed (laughs).

REID: Oh, God.

BALLMAN: The turbine is about the size of a Winnebago. Inside, a computer controls the tilt and the speed of the rotors. A generator, a transformer, and a noisy cooler take up the rest of the space.

[machine noise]

LOUVENHART: In order that this trip up here is worth it all, we're going to take a wonderful look at the scenery around us.

BALLMAN: Henri opens a large flap, and below us, like giant pinwheels stuck in the earth, are the park's 44 high tech windmills. At full capacity, they make enough electricity to power 100,000 homes. Then, Henri tells us that this wind park sits on the remains of what was once Europe's largest open pit mine.

LOUVENHART: And you can notice from up here also, the contrast between the destruction of the old energy production of the mines where the landscape was completely altered and changed, to the new high tech and alternative source of energy the wind park provides which is a cleaner and more environmentally friendly and safer production source.

BALLMAN: By the end of the year, 10,000 wind turbines will dot the Germany landscape. They'll provide only about two percent of the nation's electricity, but renewable energy is key to the government's plan to wean the nation off nuclear power.

[wind turbine sound]

BALLMAN: The incentive for investors is a new government law. It guarantees renewable energy producers a price for the power they generate that's much higher than the energy made from fossil fuels. The government effort to jumpstart the industry does not sit well with some economists. Norbert Walker of the Deutsche Bank Group says the de facto subsidy ignores market realities.

WALKER: I guess, here, we probably have gone a bit overboard. It is very obvious renewable energy is something that can only be established over decades rather than years and you cannot possibly leave existing capacities unused and not pay a price for it. So, if you shutdown your nuclear energy plants then, of course, this has a cost for the economy and this has to be borne by the taxpayer.

BALLMAN: German policies to produce clean energy come with a huge price tag. Modernizing East Germany's industrial sector is estimated at about 75 billion dollars a year. Other government programs range from 20-50 billion dollars. Then, there's the eco-tax.

[car sounds]

BALLMAN: This gradual increase in petroleum prices is meant to curb demand and spur development of alternative fuels. It drew loud protests from truckers and farmers when it was introduced last year. And Petra Holtrup of the German Council on Foreign Relations says the public's pocketbook may be wearing thin.

HOLTRUP: I know that our support for climate change policy, in general, is around 80 or 90%. But, it depends how you ask. So if you connect this to "and what about our green tax, would you like to hire this out for about 3 D-mark per liter?" which is, in comparison to America, let's see, a gallon is about 3.8 liter which is about six or seven dollars per gallon, would you be willing to pay this (laughs)? I don't know. Well, the Germans are not willing to.

BALLMAN: Talk of an increase in the eco-tax is so sensitive, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says he won't discuss the matter until after the next election. Meanwhile, Germany's CO2 emissions from cars, trucks, and other transport are up 11% this year. Recent reports also show industrial output rising faster than expected. Take away the CO2-free energy produced by nuclear plants and Germany may wind up in the embarrassing position of failing to meet its own targets.

HOLTRUP: And then we'll get into real trouble now because, of course, now they try to play a leading role in implementing, putting into force the Kyoto Protocol, and they can't go back without losing their face.

BALLMAN: If, and when, Germany meets its emissions targets may be a moot point. The restructuring of the country's energy sector is well underway. Analysts call it a "no-regrets investment" in the nation's economic future. Markus Kurdziel, science coordinator for Germany's environment minister, says already 100,000 jobs have been created. And the biggest gains are yet to come.

KURDZIEL: If we are the first to bring new technologies forward, it's probably us to be number one in export

BALLMAN: Germany's environmental exports are growing up to five times faster than exports overall. It's already the world's lead supplier of renewable energy products. And one market, just to the east, is all but guaranteed.

[coins pouring out)]/p>

BALLMAN: At a coin mint in Berlin, a machine spits shiny, new Euro-dollars into a sorter. The Euro goes into circulation throughout most of Europe next year and Germans like the sound of the future.

[more coins]

BALLMAN: Twelve Eastern European nations are in line to join the EU. But to gain entry, they must meet strict environmental standards...And Felix Christian Matthes of the Uko Institute says German technology is standing by.

MATTHES: The only chance for prosperity in Germany is the export because the future of Germany industry is not steel, and not coal, and not cement. It's high technology because in the information technology there's a large gap to the Americans, for example, and the only chance to get new markets, it's the energy efficiency market and the environmental market.

BALLMAN: The odds of this German gamble are affected by the climate negotiation process. Germany is pushing hard for the Kyoto Accord. The more nations that ratify the treaty, the more nations will need the technology to implement its emissions reductions. (wind turbine ambience) And Germany is poised to supply them and fulfill its climate change mission to do well by doing good. For Living on Earth, I'm Chris Ballman.

[wind turbine ambience fades]

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News Follow-up

CURWOOD: From the climate change talks in Bonn, Germany, you're listening to NPR's Living on Earth.

[News follow-up theme music]

CURWOOD: Time now to follow-up on some of the news stories we've been tracking lately. You may recall our reporting about socially responsible investing - that's when people put their money where their values are as they manage their finances. A new index called FTSE4Good is being launched to advise investors on how public companies stack up on such issues as the environment and human rights. William Oulton chairs FTSE Americas. He says the index will pressure firms to defend their records.

OULTON: They can't avoid the issue, because it will be clear to everyone that if they're not in the index then we will tell the world at large why they're not in and where they've failed. There's no hiding from that.

CURWOOD: Tobacco interests, weapons makers and nuclear power purveyors are excluded from the FTSE4Good index.

[chimes]

CURWOOD: There's a setback in the controversial plan to train wolves not to attack livestock by zapping them with shock collars. One of the wolves that went through this aversive conditioning is now being blamed for a death of a calf in Montana. But Ed Bangs, who heads the federal wolf recovery program, says these animals would have been killed if they hadn't gone through the program. Sparing them, if only for a season, he says, has benefits. Two of those wolves became fathers this spring.

BANGS: We have two extra litters of wolves in the greater Yellowstone area because of our attempt to use these wolves in that research and then release them back to the wild. So from a biological standpoint the program was successful even if we didn't really teach them, we don't think, to avoid cattle.

CURWOOD: The scientists aren't giving up though. This fall another wolf pack is scheduled to receive aversive training.

[chimes]

CURWOOD: A Missouri wildlife reintroduction program has hit a snag. The State has decided not to bring back elk herds after all. The reason? Fear that elk can carry a form of mad cow disease known as chronic wasting disease. While there's no evidence chronic wasting disease can spread to people or cows, Stephanie Ramsey of the Missouri Department of Conservation says are just too many unknowns to go ahead with the program.

RAMSEY: There's not a cure, there's not a live test. We thought that the risk was too great. We have an excellent wild deer population here in Missouri that we've worked hard to rebuild and of course there are also agricultural concerns.

CURWOOD: Missouri could change its mind if scientists learn more about the disease. In the meantime, some elk are coming into Missouri on their own from neighboring states.

[chimes]

CURWOOD: And finally, you may recall the possum problem we reported on in New Zealand not long ago. Well, some entrepreneurs there have decided to try putting a lid on the problem of too many possums, literally. They're marketing possum meat as pet food in a can. The brand name? You guessed it. Possyum! And that's this week's follow-up on the news from Living on Earth.

[News follow-up theme music]

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Tech Note

CURWOOD: Just ahead, a gambler's eye view of the odds of serious climate disruption. First this technology note from Cynthia Graber.

[Technology theme music]

GRABER: Heavy metals in wastewater pose a threat to human health. For instance, high levels of cadmium have been linked to digestive problems and to certain forms of cancer. And mercury can cause problems with fetal development and nervous system damage. At the moment, the only way to look for the presence of metals in water is to remove a sample and test it. That's expensive and time-consuming. And it only gives a snapshot of conditions at that moment. Now researchers from Brigham Young University have developed glowing molecules that they hope will solve the detection problem. It works like this. There are molecules that attach themselves to the electrons floating around in metal ions. Now for the glowing part. These scientists have developed another substance that they've attached to the molecules. And this substance, once bound to the metal, is what glows under ultraviolet light. The detector for zinc turns an orangey-yellow, the one for mercury glows green, and cadmium produces a bluish tint. Scientists are now working to anchor these molecules in quartz. Once they do that, they hope to be able to leave that rock in the water to be able to continuously monitor its pollution-detecting glow. That's this week's technology note, I'm Cynthia Graber.

[Technology theme music ends]

CURWOOD: And from the climate change talks in Bonn, Germany, you're listening to Living on Earth.

[Music]

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Greenhouse Gamble

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood in Bonn, Germany for the climate change negotiations. And when it comes to global warming, the amount of information out there can seem overwhelming. There are studies upon studies predicting how much carbon could be released into the atmosphere in the coming years and how the planet might respond over the next 100 years. Many of the studies have come up with similar results, but there are some important differences as well. A group of scientists and economists has come up with a way that tries to make sense of that range of possible outcomes. They reviewed a hundred different global warming scenarios generated by computer models. They crunched the results and gave them odds. Then they used the numbers to make pie-shaped wedges and pasted them onto a giant gambling wheel, like the kind you might find at a casino or TV game show. Just before I left for Bonn, I went to visit Ronald Prinn. He's the co-director of this project. I found him and his global warming version of the wheel of fortune in his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

[spinning sound]

PRINN: We call it the greenhouse gamble, somewhat tongue in cheek in saying that. The special aspect of the wheel, of course, is that in this illustration of the odds of various amounts of warming, if we don't enact any policies, you only get one spin. And whatever it lands on you live with. So if it lands on the 'greater than eight degrees Fahrenheit' and you see this, the odds are not zero. You could land on the 'greater than eight degrees Fahrenheit' and then obviously we will be in deep trouble.

CURWOOD: Well it's time to give the wheel a spin. Go ahead Professor Prinn. Let's find out what's going to happen to the planet.

[spinning sound]

CURWOOD: Bingo! 'Three to four degrees Fahrenheit rise.'

PRINN: That's right in the middle of the range. And maybe no surprise, it's one of the biggest slices of the pie. We had very high probability that we were either going to land on 'three to four' or 'four to five degrees Fahrenheit.'

CURWOOD: It's just on the line between 'three and four' and 'four and five.'

PRINN: Exactly.

CURWOOD: What would that mean for this planet?

PRINN: That amount of warming globally is not the amount of warming you would get in the tropics or the poles because the warming is uneven. There'll be a lot more warming in the polar regions than in the tropics. So four degrees F global average increase in temperature would correspond in the Arctic and Antarctic regions to perhaps six or seven degrees F temperature there. So one would begin to really worry at that point about the stability of the ice sheet, the stability of the boreal forest regions, the stability of the tundra regions.

CURWOOD: What are the implications of that?

PRINN: Well the ice sheets in the high latitudes are important in a number of ways. First they do contain a lot of water. And if they melt then they contribute to sea level rising. The sea level will rise with global warming anyway and that is because when you heat up water, the ocean water, it expands. Most of us are familiar with the fact that when you heat things up they tend to expand. Well ocean water certainly behaves like that. So along with this global warming we're talking about here, we would project perhaps up to maybe a half a meter of sea level that could accompany this amount of warming.

CURWOOD: OK, here we are at MIT in Cambridge Massachusetts. We're on a river, the Charles River. It's beautiful out there today. If there were a rise in the ocean, it's just down there at a dam, what would things be like here at MIT?

PRINN: Well, we would have a couple of hundred years to adjust to it. One presumes that if we wanted to keep MIT where it is now and not move further inland, with the help of the rest of the city of Boston that we would increase the size and the height of the dam and construct similar systems, dike systems, around the city of Boston to protect the low-lying areas. Perhaps the rich countries could preserve to build dikes, to preserve New Orleans, for example, which would be one city that would be certainly susceptible to sea level rise. But what about the folk in Bangladesh where routinely already significant fractions of their coastal land area get inundated when they have large typhoons. Even a half a meter sea level rise for Bangladesh would be a very very serious issue for them.

CURWOOD: Now what about the odds of not having much of anything at all happen with temperature change and the planet?

PRINN: Yeah. Next to the 'greater than eight degrees F' there's one that says 'less than two degrees F.' And that's a very small amount, it's about equivalent to what we've seen over the past 120 years in warming and we've survived. So if we landed on the 'less than two degrees Fahrenheit' small slice there, when we spin the wheel, then we can count our lucky stars, right? That the global warming is not going to be anything that we should be deeply worried about.

CURWOOD: So alright, I'll give it a spin here.

[spinning sound]

PRINN: 'Seven to eight degrees Fahrenheit' this time.

CURWOOD: Oh my. So what does that mean?

PRINN: Well, this is the outcome that nobody would want. We would be looking at something like maybe 12 degrees Fahrenheit or more temperature rise in the polar regions. This amount of global warming in the middle of the continent could mean significant drying out. This amount of global warming would certainly be accompanied by more rainfall in many areas of the world because higher ocean temperatures mean more evaporation, more total rainfall. The difficulty at the end is we don't where we're going to land on the wheel. And the challenge for policymaking is to replace the wheel that we have here by one that has much smaller slices where you're getting the high amounts of temperature rise and much bigger slices where we're getting relatively small amounts of temperature rise. So that's the aim, that would be the aim of a policy, to change the sizes of the slices on this wheel.

CURWOOD: Ronald Prinn is professor of atmospheric chemistry here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also directs the Center for Global Change Science. Thank you sir!

PRINN: You're welcome.

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ecoPerth

CURWOOD: Canada's government has made it clear that for now at least, it's not going to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. It says it's waiting for the U.S. to come along. But Canada's official response isn't stopping the residents of one of its towns. The people of Perth Ontario are already reducing greenhouse gases with a program they developed themselves. Karen Kelly reports

M. PEGG: This is my garden. It just keeps getting bigger and cutting out the grass. I mean the idea, what we're trying to do, is mulch more...

KELLY: Maureen Pegg stands on one of the few remaining pieces of grass in her backyard. She recently mulched most of the footpaths. Everything else has been taken over by a jumble of tiger lilies, raspberry bushes and rows of vegetables. Pegg says it's only a matter of time before her grass disappears altogether.

M. PEGG: It's a conservation measure, less water used, less energy used in the long run.

[push mower ambience]

KELLY: In the front yard, Maureen's husband, Sid, is drawing long, straight lines with a push mower.

S. PEGG: As a kid, I had to use one. You save electricity, you don't use gas, and it's very good exercise for me.

[outdoors ambience]

KELLY: Conservation is part of the Peggs' everyday life. They use rainbarrels to collect water for the garden. They compost their weeds and food scraps, reducing their garbage. They disconnected their dishwasher and now they throw the soapy water on their plants. And, they leave their car at home. The Peggs see these as baby steps in the fight against climate change. But they believe their actions can make a difference.

M. PEGG: I think I've become much more aware of things that little people can do. That it doesn't have to be 'the government' doing it for you, that it can come from the bottom up.

S. PEGG: It's the right thing to do. And we taught that to our kids. If more and more people get involved, it's better for the environment.

[outdoors ambience continues]

KELLY: The Peggs have always tried to conserve -- but say they've taken extra steps since their town pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by the year 2010. The drive is being led by a nonprofit organization called ecoPerth. The group was started in 1999 with the help of a federal grant. It's mission is to make their hometown of Perth, Ontario the most climate-friendly community in Canada. Alfred Von Mirbach is one of ecoPerth's founders. He says they saw an opportunity to make climate change a local issue.

VON MIRBACH: If we could get people really to come on board, they would understand a real big picture of what this is about. And so here was an opportunity to work with that at so many different levels and try to get people to embrace a more eco-efficient way of being and more particularly, we could do it in our little community.

KELLY: In some ways, Perth seems ripe for this transformation. It's a town of just 6 thousand people, with a healthy dose of artists, farmers and city folks in search of a simpler lifestyle. There are also big cars, fast food, and the trappings of modern life. Von Mirbach says they realize that most people aren't going to change their lifestyle to address a global problem like climate change. So, ecoPerth mainly focuses on economics and quality of life. Greenhouse gas reduction is presented as an added benefit. The group's motto is "Awareness Through Action."

VON MIRBACH: We just said, well let's do the actions, if people see the actions, then they'll understand what we're doing.

KELLY: Actions like the local flavor campaign, which links local farmers with stores and consumers. Not only does this increase support for neighboring farms, it reduces the fuel spent on long distance deliveries. ecoPerth also convinced the police to adopt bicycle patrols. And they sponsor tire pressure clinics, to improve cars' fuel efficiency. Von Mirbach says ecoPerth's job is to make it easy for people to do the right thing.

VON MIRBACH: They don't have to know why we're doing it particularly. They may be doing it because it reduces a parking problem, not because it reduces CO2 emissions. But once they come on, if they see that they've been involved in five or ten ecoPerth actions and they understand now that those all actually have CO2 benefits to them, then they'll embrace it.

KELLY: ecoPerth estimates that, so far, about ten percent of the townspeople have taken steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. And they're hoping those folks will serve as role models for their neighbors.

MAN: It's also wise to put a little bone meal as a phosphorus source....(fades under)

KELLY: At the ecoPerth annual tree sale, volunteers offer advice on energy efficient landscaping. They suggest planting evergreen trees to block the winter winds. And shrubs around the house to prevent heat loss. And they point out that air conditioners don't have to work as hard when they're shaded by trees. Brochures explain that a single tree will remove ten kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. If it's planted for energy efficiency, ecoPerth estimates it'll help remove 100 kilograms of CO2. Perth resident Kathy Wilson is planting trees to reduce wind exposure and provide shade.

WILSON: I think it's really important because of the value of the trees and what they put back into the environment and the cleansing effects of the trees.

[Tree sale ambience continues]

KELLY: More than 18 thousand trees have been sold over the past three years. That's an average of three trees per Perth resident. The group draws people into programs with discounts and the promise of savings on their energy bills. For instance, rain barrels are sold at cost. And ecoPerth uses federal funding to provide discounts on solar hot water systems. Von Mirbach says they try to appeal to the things people care about.

VON MIRBACH: That's the sort of carrot-stick combination that we're really hoping gets people on board. So they say okay, if you're going to help me part of the way, then for sure I'll do this and so it's great from a greenhouse gas standpoint.

KELLY: Using economic incentives has worked with the town council, as well.

[sound of door opening and then walking upstairs]

KELLY: Jim Connell climbs a narrow staircase to the attic of Perth's town hall. He ducks to avoid hitting his head on the low beams. And then points to a 150-year-old stone wall layered with pink insulation.

CONNELL: Part of this project is to seal the perimeter at the attic reducing some energy consumption that way.

KELLY: Connell is the town's building inspector and he's overseeing the energy retrofit of five buildings. The program includes installation of energy efficient lighting, timed thermostats, and room sensors that automatically turn off the lights. Connell says ecoPerth initiated an energy audit of the town's buildings. Once councilors found out how much they'd save, he says, it was an easy sell.

CONNELL: The major motivating factor is if you can carry out a certain amount of work and see the capital returned in the energy savings, it only makes sense to do that.

KELLY: The project will cost an estimated 260,000 American dollars. It's expected to save the town about 30,000 dollars a year in energy costs. And the extra bonus is it'll reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 140 tons annually. That's about 30 percent of the town's total emissions. ecoPerth's Alfred Von Mirbach says this example paves the way for a retrofit of larger businesses. It's expected all of these projects will help Perth achieve about half of its greenhouse gas reductions. It's also given the town a bit of notoriety. Last year, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities named Perth the most sustainable community in Canada. And the ecoPerth founders often travel to help communities interested in creating similar programs. Environmentalists like John Bennett of the Sierra Club of Canada say these grassroots projects are worthwhile. But the Canadian government has to do more.

BENNETT: We have not passed one law in Canada, not one law, that will make significant changes in our greenhouse gas emissions. So we're not serious about this, we're not serious at all.

KELLY: But Neil McLeod insists the government is serious about climate change. He's Director General of the Office of Energy Efficiency in the Ministry of Natural Resources.

McLeod says the government sponsors voluntary programs for industry. And it's spending almost 720,000,000 dollars on climate change education and research over the next five years. McLeod contends tougher laws aren't necessary.

MCLEOD: We prefer the voluntary approach in Canada and we monitor it closely and when we have a voluntary program in place and it works, we don't see any reason to have a bunch of laws and regulations. It can just introduce a lot of bureaucracy, sometimes you need to do that, but if you can achieve what you need to achieve without getting into all that, we'd rather try that first.

KELLY: But the lack of existing federal legislation is discouraging for some residents of Perth. Sid Pegg is one of many who wonders why the government isn't doing more.

S. PEGG: You can do a lot on the grassroots level, but you still look to your leaders, look to your government, they have to take a big step and they have to take care of all the air emissions and the pollution themselves. They're saying it, and they must do it. And then that will give the grassroot people more hope that what they're doing is the correct thing.

[push mower sfx]

KELLY: Every time Sid Pegg uses his push mower or his composter, it gives him a bit of hope, that he's taking a step in the right direction. He's not sure when, or if, the Canadian government will force the big polluters to make sacrifices, as well. But until then, he and the people of ecoPerth will continue to take matters into their own hands - and keep encouraging their neighbors to do the same. For Living on Earth, I'm Karen Kelly in Perth, Ontario.

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week, once one of the most polluted places on Earth, Mexico City has just celebrated its first year in a decade without a smog alert. Air quality is improving, but city officials wonder how long they can keep the skies blue.

MAN: We have on one hand the potential for a cleaner city using newer technologies. But there is a race with the natural growth of the city in terms of more population, more cars, more trucks.

CURWOOD: Putting off pollution in Mexico City, next time on Living on Earth.

[Music fades. Kyoto outdoor sounds]

CURWOOD: We close this show from Bonn, Germany with sounds from the Japanese city that bears the name of the treaty being negotiated here. Sarah Peebles recorded the subtle ambience of an outdoor temple in Japan's ancient capitol, Kyoto. She calls it "Revolving Life."

[Sounds of Kyoto]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu and Gernot Wagner, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Milisa Muniz and Bunny Lester. We had help this week from Katy Saunders and Marie Jayasekera. Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar. 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.

ANNOUNCER: Major support for Living on Earth's coverage of climate change comes from the Educational Foundation of America. Additional support comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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