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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

February 22, 2002

Air Date: February 22, 2002

FULL SHOW

(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

Green Japan

(stream / mp3)

Japan has a green reputation, but is it deserved? Host Steve Curwood talks with Living on Earth's political observer Mark Hertsgaard about the environmental reality in Japan. (05:30)

Mutant Fish / Tracy Hampton

(stream / mp3)

A harbor off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts is so polluted with PCBs, it’s been declared a Superfund site. That’s not unusual in this day and age. But what is extraordinary is the fact that one type of fish in the harbor has mutated in response to the pollution. (06:00)

Health Note: Memory Aid / Diane Toomey

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on how a new technology may one day help older patients remember to take their pills. (01:15)

Almanac: Toothbrushes

(stream / mp3)

This week, we have facts about toothbrushes through the ages, as we celebrate the anniversary of the first nylon toothbrush. (01:30)

GM Corn / Jana Schroeder

(stream / mp3)

In 1998, the Mexican government issued a moratorium on genetically modified corn to safeguard the diversity of its native corn. Despite the ban, GM corn has infiltrated the country. Jana Schroeder reports. (09:15)

New Source Commentary / Robert Stavins

(stream / mp3)

Officials from the Northeast, as well as environmental groups are preparing to battle the Bush administration when it announces what are expected to be major revisions to the Clean Air Act. Professor Robert Stavins, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, says those who want clean air should support some type of change. (02:45)

Fake Foxes

(stream / mp3)

Host Steve Curwood talks with Andrea Griffin, a researcher in Sydney, Australia. She is using stuffed foxes to train tammar wallabies to run away when they see this non-native predator. (03:00)

Business Note / Jennifer Chu

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a certain white fish you won’t be seeing anytime soon on some Bay Area menus. (01:20)

Buffalo for the Broken Heart

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The Great Plains used to be a land where buffalo were free to roam. Now, there are only scattered bands across that landscape. Host Steve Curwood talks with Dan O’Brien, author of the book Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch, about the wild animals that restored his ranch, and his life. (08:25)

Camel Ice Cream / Sarah Zebaida

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For thousands of years, people have put camels to use as beast of burden and transportation. Now, from the Negev Desert, comes another use for the animals. And this one might surprise you. (07:15)

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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Tracy Hampton, Jana Schroeder, Sarah Zebaida
GUESTS: Mark Hertsgaard, Robert Stavins, Andrea Griffin, Dan O'Brien
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Jennifer Chu

[INTRO THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Japan's government says it's sticking with the Kyoto Protocol and its mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emission, despite a voluntary plan promoted by the White House. But Japan's own emissions are rising, along with consumption.

HERTSGAARD: There are now convenience stores, these 24 hour convenience stores, on virtually every street corner. The faddishness for consumer electronics continues, the cars have gotten bigger in Japan, and as a result, despite the economic downturn, Japan is now using more energy today than it was ten years ago.

CURWOOD: Also, in Australia, wallabies born in captivity are learning about predators from a stuffed fox.

GRIFFIN: People actually get quite a fright when they stumble across it by mistake. If I put it behind a door and somebody walks into the lab all of a sudden, they will get quite a fright. It's very realistic.

CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this.

[NPR NEWS]

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Green Japan

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Japan is one of the countries that was most eagerly awaiting a climate change policy from the United States. Japan, of course, is where the Kyoto Protocol was hammered out in the first place, in 1997. And Japan is likely to cast the decisive vote for the treaty's ratification. Climate policy was on the diplomatic agenda when President Bush recently visited the Far East. And joining me now is Living on Earth's political observer, Mark Hertsgaard, who visited Japan himself to research its environmental situation. Hi Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Hi Steve.

CURWOOD: So, what was the Japanese response to the voluntary climate program that the Bush Administration has unveiled?

HERTSGAARD: Polite disagreement. Polite is very important in Japan, especially in diplomacy, and Prime Minister Koizumi did say that Mr. Bush's proposal was constructive. However, in their joint press conference after their meeting, he quite pointedly contradicted Mr. Bush's view. You'll remember, of course, that Mr. Bush backed away from Kyoto on the grounds that these kinds of environmental regulations would hurt the American economy. Prime Minister Koizumi said, "The economy and environment do not run against each other; rather, efforts to improve the environment will bring about development in science and technology and also generate greater economic development." Japan's environment minister, Hiroshi Oki, has said that Japan will proceed with ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, probably this spring.

CURWOOD: Now, how does the issue of global warming fit within the larger environmental context in Japan?

HERTSGAARD: Japan has a good reputation in some respects. Because they give rhetorical support to a lot of environmental goals; their cultural tradition indicates a respect for nature and simplicity and, of course, the automobile companies Honda and Toyota are the first ones to get hybrid electric cars out on the market here in the United States. On the other hand, internationally their reputation is not so good. As you know, they have been happy to buck world opinion on whaling and they're willing to Hoover up the oceans in terms of their fishing industry. So, it's rather mixed. I must say, when I was on the ground there, I was astonished at how poor the environmental performance is on the ground in Japan. I was up on Mt. Hiei, which is probably the most sacred mountain in Japanese Buddhism. Massive clear-cuts all up and down the mountain, and on your way there you pass through this terrible sprawl. There seems to be absolutely no zoning in Japan. And so the cities just morph into the countryside and the farmland is disappearing like crazy.

CURWOOD: Now, tell me how the Japanese reputation for consumerism - their love for new technologies, their desire to follow the latest trends - how does that affect the environment there?

HERTSGAARD: Not very well, and it's true, Japan's consumerism has increased pretty dramatically over the last ten years, despite the fact that Japan has been mired in recession. Everything that you buy is over-packaged. Even a single apple will be wrapped two or three times in plastic wrap. And there are now convenience stores, these 24-hour convenience stores, on virtually every street corner. The faddishness for consumer electronics continues, the cars have gotten bigger in Japan, and as a result, despite the economic downturn, Japan is now using more energy today than it was ten years ago.

CURWOOD: So, what is the approach that Japan takes to environmental problems?

HERTSGAARD: Generally, Steve, it's volunteerism, and this makes an interesting parallel to Mr. Bush's proposals here on climate change. In Japan the government and the industry work much more closely together than usually happens here in the United States, and they tend to try to develop a consensus approach. What that means, though, is that industry and government generally come up with voluntary approaches to whatever the environmental issue is. Very rarely do they use the kind of mandatory restrictions that we here in the United States have, say, in the Clean Air Act and, for that matter, the Kyoto Protocol. So it's not surprising that Japan's Federal of Economic Organizations, the Keidanren, which is all the big industries, they have come out very strongly against Kyoto and in favor of Mr. Bush's climate change policy.

CURWOOD: Tell me how the situation in Japan compares with other wealthy nations.

HERTSGAARD: Well, you'd have to say, only the United States really has a bigger environmental footprint, and not by much, at least on a per capita basis. And this was borne out in a confidential report that the German government issued last summer about Japan's environmental performance. The Germans criticized what they called the enormous gap between Japan's environmental rhetoric, which is green, and its environmental performance, which is much less than green. It's true that Japan's energy efficiency is still higher than Europe's, but its use of energy has increased even during the 1990s recession, and they have basically talked a lot about developing alternative energies but done very little. And this suggests, as the German report implies, that this voluntary approach simply hasn't really yielded benefits.

CURWOOD: So, what does all this mean for the prospects of Kyoto then, Mark?

HERTSGAARD: Well, as you pointed out, Japan is the swing issue on this: you need 55 percent of the world's global emissions to ratify this treaty for it to come into effect - that means Europe, Russia and Japan. If any one country drops out, that's it. Now, the Japanese government clearly is pushing very strongly and wants to ratify this, if only because of the question of face: the Kyoto Protocol does have Japan's name on it. On the other hand, the Keidanren has already complained that if the United States does not ratify, this will put Japanese industry at a competitive disadvantage. So that's the forces that we're going to be watching over this spring, to see whether Japan really does go through and ratify Kyoto.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. Thanks for coming in, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: You're welcome.

[Kodo Drummers of Japan, "Drums of Thunder", KODO LIVE]

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Mutant Fish

CURWOOD: Beneath the waters of New Bedford Harbor in Massachusetts lies sediment highly contaminated with PCBs. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used in factories that once operated near the harbor. From the 1940s to the 1970s these chemicals were dumped into the water. The harbor is now a Superfund site with PCB levels more than four times greater than what is considered safe. One species of fish is thriving there despite long-term exposure to these toxic chemicals, but, as Tracy Hampton of member station WCAI reports, that's not necessarily good news.

HAMPTON: Mark Hahn of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution enjoys showing off his collection of killifish. His lab is filled with large fish tanks. In each one there's a different group of fish the biologists are studying.

[SOUND OF MACHINERY]

HAHN: This is Fundulus heteroclitis, which is the Atlantic killifish, sometimes called the mummichog. And when the males are mature they have this beautiful yellow color that you might see on some of these guys, whereas the females are more of a dull, but still a pretty, more of a dull white.

HAMPTON: Hahn gets his killifish from nearby estuaries and marshes and he brings them back to his lab where he studies their genetic make-up. He's interested in discovering how these four to five inch fish, as well as other vertebrates, are affected by pollution.

HAHN: It's a very interesting ecological question: What happens when animals are exposed for many generations to very high levels of contaminants? Obviously, one thing that could happen is the population could be eliminated. But another thing that might happen is that the population is able to adapt in some way, through genetic changes, adapt to the high levels of pollution there.

HAMPTON: And that's just what Hahn has found at the New Bedford Harbor. There are plenty of killifish living there, and they seem to be eating and reproducing without any trouble. This shouldn't be happening, though. Other fish died once the waters in the harbor became so polluted. Hahn wondered why the killifish could survive, so, after he took a closer look, he found something unusual. Before we hear about that though, let's step back for a moment and look at what happens when a normal fish is exposed to harmful chemicals. In that case, the body steps up production of certain enzymes, in order to break down pollutants.

HAHN: Now, when the PCBs are broken down, some of the breakdown products are less toxic, so that's beneficial for the fish. But other breakdown products are more toxic. So in a normal fish we have this balance between production of less toxic metabolites and more toxic metabolites.

HAMPTON: The killifish in the New Bedford Harbor have somehow managed to turn off this breakdown response entirely.

HAHN: They have shut down this pathway that's involved in all of these events and, for reasons that aren't yet clear, on balance, that leads to fish that are more resistant to the toxicity.

HAMPTON: Hahn theorizes that, since these killifish don't respond to PCB exposure in the normal way, meaning they never step up the enzyme production, they make fewer of the PCB breakdown products. Remember, some of those breakdown products are even more toxic than the PCBs themselves. And this may be the reason they can survive in this poisoned environment. But, just because the killifish have been able to adapt, that doesn't mean they're perfectly healthy. Sarah Cohen is a geneticist at Harvard University who works with Hahn. She says these fish may be even more susceptible to the toxic effects of other chemicals.

COHEN: There's a cost to that kind of alteration, and it can be quite a severe cost. For example, we see that, if there's other kinds of dangerous compounds in the environment, if the organism has shut down that pathway in response to heavy PCB loads, then it can't metabolize other harmful compounds that are present in the environment. So there's really a tradeoff to adapting to these very extreme situations. You can't have it all.

HAMPTON: Another cost is the effect these fish are having on other animals after they are consumed. Now, while normal fish do break down PCBs, some of the PCBs in their body remain intact, so some toxins accumulate in their tissues as well. Of course, when these fish are eaten, these low levels of PCBs are passed onto other animals. But the normal fish can only tolerate so many PCBs before they would be killed by them. So there's an upper limit to the amount of PCBs they can build up and pass on. But, with the New Bedford fish, this isn't the case. Again, Mark Hahn.

HAHN: With these resistant fish in New Bedford, they're able to build up higher concentrations of PCBs than a normal fish would be able to accumulate. Therefore, when these resistant fish are eaten by something else, by a bird or by a larger fish, those higher concentrates of PCBs are then available to the predator. The concentration of PCBs in the killifish in New Bedford Harbor that we have measured and that other people have measured are somewhere around 10,000 times higher than what we see in clean sites nearby.

HAMPTON: So far, Hahn says, reproductive problems in elevated death rates have been found in some birds, such as terns, that feed on killifish. Other fish, as well as birds at other PCB Superfund sites, have developed similar adaptations. Cohen and Hahn are also interested in seeing how their fish studies can apply to other areas of research, including how humans vary in their sensitivity to chemicals.

HAHN: For example, by studying the sensitive and resistant populations of fish, we can perhaps learn something about how the individual humans might differ in their sensitivity. That is, we're using the fish as models of the two ends of the spectrum of sensitivity.

HAMPTON: These researchers are also curious about what will happen to these fish when the New Bedford Harbor is finally cleaned up, a process the Environmental Protection Agency says will take years. The question is, are they so well adapted to their polluted environment, they'll no longer be able to live in a healthy one. For Living on Earth, I'm Tracy Hampton, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

[Quabais Reed Ghazala, "Silence the Tongues of Prophecy," GRAVIKORDS, WHIRLIES & PYROPHONES (Ellipsis- 1996)]

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Health Note: Memory Aid

CURWOOD: Coming up, rethinking the best way to protect clean air. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.

[THEME MUSIC]

TOOMEY: As the world's population continues to age, some scientists are exploring ways in which technology can help the elderly. One such device is the pill pet. It's an electronic alarm under development at M.I.T.'s Age Lab, and researchers hope it will be too cute to be ignored. A pill pet is a brightly colored round furball with ears. About the size of a small pillow, it contains a computer screen in its belly. After programming, the pill pet makes a beeping sound when it's time for its owner to take medication. The computer screen tells the patient what pill to take, but researchers envision a talking pill pet one day. The pill pet works, in part, because it needs attention. If you don't press a button to confirm you've taken your medication, the pet becomes ill and eventually dies an electronic death. It then has to be taken back to a doctor or pharmacist for reprogramming. In trials, elderly women who had taken pill pets home grew so attached to them, they didn't want to give them back. At the moment, though, the pill pet is still being developed and isn't for sale. That's this week's Health Update, I'm Diane Toomey.

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

[MUSIC: Ikarus, "Touched the Sun," TOUCH THE SUN (EarthTone - 2001)]

Related link:
press release from the MIT's AgeLab">

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Almanac: Toothbrushes

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

[Raffi, "Brush Your Teeth"]

CURWOOD: If you have dreamt of living in another time, say in Babylon, ancient Greece or during the Ming Dynasty, there is something you should consider as a time traveler - pack your toothbrush. Those nylon bristles that scrub up your pearly whites haven't been around all that long. It was during this week, in 1938, that DuPont introduced the first nylon-bristled brush. But dental care wasn't always so refined. The ancient Greeks chewed balls of wool dipped in honey to clean their teeth. Europeans of old used toothpicks of goose feathers and silver. And, beginning about 1400 years ago, people in China made toothbrush bristles by plucking the neck hairs of the Siberian wild boar. Visitors to the region thought it was a great idea, and the tooth brush bristles spread around the world. Now, if you've lost your brush and can't find a wild boar, just pick up a twig.

SWANK: You just take that stick and remove the bark from one end, and you can use a rock to mash it, to get the fibers of the wood individualized.

CURWOOD: Dr. Scott Swank, with the National Museum of Dentistry, says the chew stick dates from Babylonian times, but people still use them in parts of Africa and rural America. In ancient Rome, members of the upper class had special slaves to clean their teeth, but the taste of luxury ended there. Recipes for ancient toothpastes include burnt shells, talc, and lizard livers. Ah, lizard liver. Just the right taste for a kiss. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC OUT]

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GM Corn

CURWOOD: Mexico is the birthplace of corn, one of the world's most important crops. More than 300 varieties of corn grow in Mexico. In 1998, in order to protect this rich biodiversity, the Mexican government placed a moratorium on planting genetically modified corn there. But, despite that ban, GM corn has been discovered growing in a remote area of the country. And, as Jana Schroeder reports, the discovery has touched off a vigorous public debate.

SCHROEDER: Driving up the Sierra Norte mountains of Oaxaca the first thing you see as you approach the town of Capulalpam is a patchwork of houses and cornfields. Most everyone here has a backyard corn patch, since corn is a basic ingredient in the Mexican diet.

[SOUND OF CORN STALKS RUSTLING]

SCHROEDER: Only a few still work the land full time, like Mario Santiago, who has a bigger cornfield, on the edge of town.

[SANTIAGO SPEAKING SPANISH]

VOICEOVER: We only harvest when the moon is full, not when the moon is still new. Our ancestors taught us this way of doing things.

[SOUND OF SPANISH CONTINUES IN BACKGROUND]

SCHROEDER: Mario Santiago says traditional methods of farming are still used in Capulalpam. Inhabitants of this community are Zapoteco Indians, and, while they no longer speak their native language or wear traditional dress, they proudly preserve many traditions, like planting their own native varieties of corn that have evolved over centuries. Mario Santiago names the three varieties of native corn grown in his community a black, a white and a yellow. He says he chooses the best ears of corn from each harvest to use as seed for the next season. That's what most indigenous farmers in Mexico do, instead of buying commercial corn seed.

[SOUND OF ROOM]

SCHROEDER: Francisco Chapela is an agronomist who works with indigenous farmers in Oaxaca. He says the evolution process for corn is very much alive.

CHAPELA: It is still exploring new, genetic possibilities, so you are having new varieties. It's amazing is that you, in ten years, can find in the same place new varieties.

SCHROEDER: Francisco Chapela says it's vital to protect this genetic information, since corn's potential for feeding the growing world is still developing. So, like most everyone else in Mexico, he was surprised to find genetically engineered DNA among Mexico's native corn grown in remote Capulalpam in the state of Oaxaca. The contamination was discovered when the rural assistance group he works with was helping local farmers market their organic corn. They wanted to advertise the corn as GM-free but needed a way to back their claim.

[SOUND OF ROOM]

CHAPELA: We were sure, we were completely sure, that all the corn here was completely clean. So we just needed to have the proof that it was clean, to start selling it, to start promoting this kind of corn in the market.

SCHROEDER: He asked his brother, Dr. Ignacio Chapela, of the University of California in Berkeley, to test the corn from the Capulalpam area. Transgenic DNA was found in five to ten percent of the corn in the fields sampled. These results, published in the science journal Nature, were alarming for environmentalists, since Mexico is considered the center of origin and diversity of corn. A possible source of the genetic contamination was found in the corn sold at local government stores run by the Diconsa agency.

[SOUND OF CORN BEING SCOOPED AND WEIGHED]

SCHROEDER: The discount priced corn is sold to low-income families in thousands of rural communities across Mexico. Elfego Martinez works at the Diconsa store in Capulalpam. He says seven tons of corn are sold every month in this community of only 3,000 inhabitants.

[MARTINEZ SPEAKING SPANISH]

VOICEOVER: People don't grow corn like they used to. You can't cover your costs. Now, it's more like a pastime.

SCHROEDER: Diconsa reports that a third of the corn it sells is imported. Almost all the corn Mexico imports is from the United States, where GM corn is grown in large amounts. In the University of California study the corn sold at local Diconsa stores was analyzed and 40 percent had genetically engineered DNA. That makes this corn the leading suspect for having contaminated Mexico's native corn in Capulalpam, and maybe in other parts of the country. But Mr. Martinez says the corn he sells at the Diconsa store is mostly used for making tortillas.

[MARTINEZ SPEAKING SPANISH]

VOICEOVER: It's not used for planting. Well, some might try it out, but that's all. Like over there, there's a plant growing right there.

SCHROEDER: Mr. Martinez points to the end of the walkway leading up the store, where a single corn stalk has sprung up; proof that, while the corn sold by Diconsa may be designated for consumption only, there's nothing to keep it from sprouting and growing.

MAGALLON: Diconsa sells this cheap corn in poor communities, in communities farmed by farmers that, what they have done for thousands of years is to try the seeds, to experiment with the seeds.

SCHROEDER: Hector Magallon is a consumer advocate with Greenpeace in Mexico. He says Greenpeace warned that genetically modified corn imported from the U.S. would end up being planted, despite a 1998 government ban on planting GM corn.

MAGALLON: They didn't tell anyone, "You shouldn't plant this, it's only for food, don't plant it". And somebody planted it.

SCHROEDER: Magallon says Greenpeace sees a contradiction between prohibiting the planting of GM corn while allowing it to be imported. While his group is calling for Mexico to immediately stop all GM corn imports, others say GM corn must at least be separated from non-GM corn and used only for specific purposes. Victor Villalobos is Mexico's Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. He says most imported corn goes directly into food processing, to make oil, starch and sweeteners. And he doesn't see a need for separation.

[SOUND OF VILLALOBOS SPEAKING SPANISH]

VOICEOVER: Some of the organizations who are calling for separation should think about who is going to cover the added costs for low income sectors, because this will directly affect the cost, and it will have to be paid by consumers.

SCHROEDER: The Agriculture Ministry is not convinced a problem exists, even though a study of Mexico's own National Institute of Ecology confirmed the results from the University of California study. Victor Lichtinger, the Environment Secretary, has expressed his concern for protecting Mexico's corn, and called for immediate actions. Environmentalists say the Mexican government is giving mixed messages and taking too long to respond. It has yet to announce any measures. The Agriculture Ministry says results must be corroborated by another study currently under way. Some environmentalists suspect this is a delay tactic to wait until public attention diminishes. But, even if the earlier findings are confirmed, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Villalobos insists Mexico's native corn varieties are not at risk.

[VILLALOBOS SPEAKING SPANISH]

VOICEOVER: They've been growing side by side with hybrid corn varieties for the past 50 years, and today native corn is still native and hybrid corn is still hybrid. Transgenic corn is just another hybrid.

SCHROEDER: But agronomist Francisco Chapela disagrees. He says that in transgenic corn foreign genes from a different species, such as bacteria, are introduced, with consequences still unknown. In the worst of cases, he says, native varieties could experience major changes in their genetic systems, making them useless as seed, unable to reproduce. That would mean a loss in genetic diversity that experts say may be needed in the future, to adapt to changing climatic conditions, new plant diseases, and other unpredictable circumstances in different parts of the world. Francisco Chapela believes agricultural policy in Mexico must be changed, to support the important role played by indigenous farmers.

CHAPELA: The main role of the communities in south Mexico is not to produce truth, it's to keep the genetic information in their fields. So we have a responsibility, with the food security in the world, to keep that information.

SCHROEDER: For indigenous farmers in Oaxaca, preserving their ancient corn varieties is as important as preserving their music, their culture and way of living. For the rest of the world, it may be as important as guaranteeing food security for future generations. For Living on Earth, I'm Jana Schroeder, in Oaxaca, Mexico.

[Michael Brook, "Andean", COBALT BLUE (4a.d. - 1992]

CURWOOD: You can hear our program anytime, on our website. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800.218.9988. That's 800.218.9988. CDs, tapes and transcripts are $15.00.

[MUSIC OUT]

Related link:

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New Source Commentary

CURWOOD: The Bush Administration is expected to make major changes to a portion of the Clean Air Act called New Source Review. New Source Review requires power companies to modernize their pollution controls when they make major upgrades to their plants. The White House has called the rule into question, saying it costs industry too much and hinders new power generation. Two key federal agencies are at odds over how, and even whether, New Source Review should be changed. The Department of Energy favors the president's plan, while some employees at the Environmental Protection Agency say the proposals are biased toward industry and don't go far enough to protect public health. Robert Stavins is a Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He says those who want to protect our air should welcome the end of New Source Review.

STAVINS: New Source Review dates back to the 1970s. The lawyers and engineers who wrote the law thought they could secure environmental progress by imposing tougher emission standards on new power plants than on existing ones. The theory was that emissions would fall as old plants were retired and replaced by new ones. But the past 25 years have shown that this approach is both excessively costly and environmentally counterproductive. The reason is that it motivates companies to keep old and dirty plants operating, and to hold back investments in new and cleaner power technologies. It also discourages companies from maintaining power plants. Because the line distinguishing routine upkeep from new investment is notoriously murky, plant owners face protracted legal wrangling over whether they've crossed the threshold that requires them to meet new standards. So maintenance is deferred and reliability compromised.

Research has demonstrated that the entire New Source Review process drives up costs tremendously, not just for electric companies but for their customers and shareholders - that is, for all of us. Most important, New Source Review has resulted in fewer environmental gains than would have occurred if firms had not faced this disincentive to invest in new, cleaner technologies.

It's time to replace New Source Review. The solution is a level playing field where all electricity generators have the same environmental requirements whether plants are old or new. The best approach is to cap total pollution and use an emissions trading system to assure that any emissions increases at one plant are balanced by offsetting reductions at another. Then plant owners will face the correct incentives with respect to retirement decisions, investment decisions, and decisions about the use of alternative fuels and technologies to reduce pollution. It is not only possible, but eminently reasonable, to be both a strong advocate for environmental protection and a strong advocate for the elimination of New Source Review.

CURWOOD: Robert Stavins is professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. A version of this commentary first appeared in The Boston Globe, and was co-authored by Howard Gruenspecht, a resident scholar at Resources for the Future.

[Boards of Canada, "Ready, Let's Go," GEOGADDI (Warp - 2002)]

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Fake Foxes

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. Animals born in captivity have a mixed record at making it in the wild. One of the biggest problems can be getting them to understand the danger of predators. That's the case with tammar wallabies. These small marsupials are on the brink of extinction on mainland Australia, because they don't sense danger when they encounter predatory, non-native cats and foxes. Andrea Griffin is a researcher in psychology at Macquarie University in Sydney. She's training captive born wallabies to fear their predators, in hopes they might survive once released into the wild. Ms. Griffin, why don't tammar wallabies naturally fear foxes and cats? I'd think that would be instinctual.

Photo courtesy of Macquarie University, Sydney, AustraliaA tammar wallaby at the
Macquarie University Marsupial Park.
(Photo courtesy of Macquarie University,
Sydney, Australia)


GRIFFIN: Foxes and cats have only recently come to Australia. Foxes were only brought over by the European settlers about 130 years ago. So they are, in fact, a novel predator for tammar wallabies.

CURWOOD: You have now enrolled these wallabies, or some of them, in a predator aversion school. What's your technique? What do you do to teach them about predators?

GRIFFIN: Well, I use a stuffed fox, and I teach them to associate a fox with something they're naturally afraid of, and that's being caught by humans with nets. So in practice, I use the stuffed fox as the signal, so they become afraid of it, because it signals that they're going to be caught by a human, which they absolutely hate.

CURWOOD: Tell me a bit about the fox; what exactly does it look like?

Photo courtesy of Macquarie University, Sydney, AustraliaAndrea Griffin with the model
fox she used to train tammar
wallabies to recognise and fear.
(Photo courtesy of Macquarie University,
Sydney, Australia)


GRIFFIN: It looks like an absolutely real fox - it is a real fox, and people actually get quite a fright when they stumble across it by mistake. If I put it behind a door and somebody walks into the lab all of a sudden, they will get quite a fright. It's very realistic. For example, my dog gets very freaked out when she sees it.

CURWOOD: Tell me a bit about the range of response of the students of this. What do the best students do? What do the good students do? What do the C- students do?

GRIFFIN: The very good wallabies run away and continue running and continue alarm thumping. That's the very highest response that I see. They're inside an enclosure, so they're very motivated to try and get out of that enclosure. The B- students, they might hop away as far as they can, then they'll stop and they'll keep watching that predator.

CURWOOD: And the ones that fail?

GRIFFIN: I don't have any that fail. They all learn.

CURWOOD: All good students! Now, animals can teach each other, sometimes, about dangers. What experience have you had about this among the wallabies?

GRIFFIN: I do have evidence that the wallabies can learn from watching another wallaby that has been previously trained, because, we're not going to be able to train every single wallaby that goes out into the wild, and they have to be able to learn from each other once they're out there. For example, experienced mothers would have to teach their young to be fearful of foxes, so that these responses that we've trained in captivity are maintained in the population. But those experiments are still underway.

CURWOOD: Andrea Griffin is a researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

GRIFFIN: Thank you.

[Anonymous, "Survivor 2 TV Theme," CBS, 2001]

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Business Note

CURWOOD: Just ahead "Buffalo for the Broken Heart," a new book from author Dan O'Brien. First, this environmental Business Note from Jennifer Chu.

[THEME MUSIC]

CHU: Take a pass on the Chilean sea bass, is the new motto for some Bay area restaurants these days. Trendy eateries like Chez Panisse and The French Laundry are bumping the popular white fish from their menus, to try to save it from extinction. Chilean sea bass is what's known as white gold in the fishing industry, and has been making a splash on American menus for the past ten years. But, due to increasing consumer demand, the tasty fish have been overfished. Under the Antarctic Treaty System fishers are allowed to catch up to 19,000 tons of Chilean sea bass each year. But pirate fishers have illegally caught and sold more than 49,000 tons a year, since 1997. That's about two-and-a-half times the legal limits. To complicate matters further, the bass, also known as Patagonian toothfish, takes as long as ten years to reach reproductive age, which makes it even harder for the species to keep up with the fishing industry. Scientists now predict that the fish will be completely depleted in the next two years. So far, 65 San Francisco restaurants have pledged to keep Chilean sea bass off the menu for the next five years, when, hopefully, its numbers bounce back. That's this week's Business Note. I'm Jennifer Chu.

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

[MUSIC: Anouar Brahem Trio, "Astrakan Cafe (2)", ASTRAKAN CAFE (ECM - 2000)]

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Buffalo for the Broken Heart

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Since the last days of the Wild West, the Great Plains have been known as cattle country, but long before ranchers put cows to pasture there, the plains ran wild with buffalo. During the late 1860s, 60 million buffalo were hunted and killed for their flesh and hides, or simply for the thrill. By 1875 only scattered herds of the animals remained. Now about 75 ranchers throughout the Northern Great Plains are trying to bring the buffalo back. Dan O'Brien is one of them. He raises buffalo in the Black Hills of South Dakota. And he's author of the book, "Buffalo For the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch." Dan, welcome to Living on Earth.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Steve, it's good to be here.

Photo: Wild Idea Buffalo Meat(Photo: Wild Idea Buffalo Meat)

CURWOOD: First of all, what brought you to the Black Hills?

O'BRIEN: I came to the Black Hills probably 28 years ago, to get out of graduate school, and I think what I needed at that time was to get away from all that crunch of industry. I was from the rust belt. It was within weeks of Kent State. I wanted to get away from all of that turmoil. And I came out here, and when I hit the Great Plains and was able to look around and could see the possibility for solitude and to build a life, an honorable life, it took. And I've been here ever since.

CURWOOD: You have to explain to us what the title of your book means. I mean, what do you mean, buffalo for the broken heart?

O'BRIEN: I went through a rough period in my life, as I think we all do from time to time, and it coincided with a rough economic period in Great Plains agriculture. And the whole book is a two-year memoir, really, of my efforts to regain health for myself and to regain health for my land via the conduit of buffalo.

CURWOOD: Dan O'Brien, there's a passage in your book where you describe one of your first encounters with the buffalo of the Black Hills. Could you read a little from this, please?

O'BRIEN: Sure, I'd be glad to: "Trying to make a life as a cattle rancher in the economy of the Great Plains makes for a lot of driving, and one afternoon a dozen Septembers ago it led me to a remote dirt road along the southern boundary of Bad Lands National Monument. I was thinking about the mortgage payment that would come due in October and the recent, inexplicable dip in cattle prices that would cut my income in half. I drove too fast, and, when I came over a dusty rise, I nearly ran into an enormous bull buffalo. He reclined luxuriously in the center of the dirt road, stretched out in the sun like a 2,000 pound tom cat. By the time I'd braked, I'd gotten way too close and was struggling to get the gear shift into reverse, when he raised his head and looked straight into my eyes. We stared at each other for perhaps a minute, and for that minute all my business worries were dwarfed by this dose of reality lying in the road ahead. Leisurely, the head dipped and the legs pulled under the great beast. The short, paintbrush tail whipped in the dust and the bull rocked once, twice, and up onto his feet. He shook like a dog, creating a cloud of dry South Dakota soil that drifted away in the cooling evening breeze. He took one last look at me before he moved off the road, into a nearby draw, and out of sight."

Photo: Wild Idea Buffalo Meat(Photo: Wild Idea Buffalo Meat)

CURWOOD: And somewhere between that first encounter and now, you changed hats, from being a cattle rancher to a buffalo rancher, farmer, herder? What changed your course, and why buffalo?

O'BRIEN: I've always been a fella that likes the wild, and there was something about cattle that always made me a little bit uneasy, because they are so tame. There's a myth about cattle. That myth is that it's a tradition that reaches back almost to the beginning of time in some people's mind. In fact, the tradition of cattle is only probably 80 years old. Cattle grazing is an experiment that has not panned out very well on the Great Plains. And, as a result, our communities have been dying ever since that great experiment started, 80 years ago. And when I finally put together the economics for using my grazing land to raise buffalo, and how to do it in a wild way, there was no stopping me. I was not satisfied with tame, old Hereford cows anymore.

CURWOOD: If I were to come out the front door of your house, what would I see? And how big is your place?

O'BRIEN: Well, my place is 1700 acres, and, when you stop out the front door of my house you see Bear Butte, off to the southeast about six miles, it's a sacred site for the Sioux, and you see the Black Hills, another three or four miles straight south.

CURWOOD: You have 1700 acres but, how does the song go, buffalo like to roam? How do you fence those guys in?

O'BRIEN: It turns out that buffalo are not some crazy animal that crashes around into things, but I didn't know that at the time. I built five wire fences and built about eight miles of that around my place. And I have found that they actually do not test the fence. If they have enough grass where they are, if they have enough pasture where they are, they don't want to roam. They only roam when they need to, but, when they need to, they do go.

CURWOOD: If you take the ecological lens to look at cattle as livestock or buffalo as livestock there in the Northern Great Plains, what do you come up with?

O'BRIEN: Just because cattle and buffalo look a lot alike, doesn't mean that they're treating the land the same way. Now, on my place, for instance, 50 years of cattle or thereabouts has really stressed native plants, and, by putting buffalo back on the plains, some of those native plants are definitely starting to come back.

CURWOOD: How do you prepare these buffalo for market? I mean, to cut to the chase, how do you slaughter them?

O'BRIEN: We have gone to great lengths to get inspection of our meat where we can kill the buffalo in the field. What we do is let the animals grow to two years old, and then we go out and try to randomly select our group for slaughter, and we shoot them right there, right out of the herd, the same herd they've been with their whole life. There's no ramming them into trucks and trailers and hauling them off to a slaughter plant where they're killed full of adrenaline and fear. They just lay down and go back to the ground that they've lived on their whole lives. And, it's a distasteful part of the job, but it is a part of the job, and I like to believe the same way that my Lakota friends believe, that if you do these sorts of things with honor, that the buffalo does not take offense.

CURWOOD: In one part of your book you quote some lyrics from a Jerry Jeff Walker tune called "Night Rider's Lament." Perhaps you could quote from that, or at least a piece of it, right now.

O'BRIEN: Well, I think I can remember: "They asked me why do I ride for my money, why do I rope for short pay? I ain't getting nowhere and I'm losing my share. They say I must have gone crazy out there."

CURWOOD: So, what strikes you about those words?

O'BRIEN: I have friends, of course, all over the country, and they really do wonder what I'm doing out here without a television and without any movie theatre to go to, or symphony or any of that sort of thing. And it strikes me that there is something intrinsic in us all, certainly in the Jerry Jeff Walker song, that leads me to believe that everybody needs a little bit of that open space, and everybody needs a little bit of what I've got. And that, finally, in the balance, I'm not deprived at all. Perhaps I might even be the lucky one.

CURWOOD: Dan O'Brien is author of the book "Buffalo For the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch." Dan, thanks so much for taking this time to talk with me.

O'BRIEN: You bet. Thank you, Steve.

[Jerry Jeff Walker, "Night Rider's Lament"]

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Camel Ice Cream

CURWOOD: The camel is perfectly suited to the desert, with its legendary ability to go long distances and periods without water and its anatomy adapted to the sand. But as Sarah Zebaida tells us, the camels of Israel's Negev are finding new admirers of their talents in the desert or, perhaps I should say, dessert.

ZEBAIDA: Reuven Yagil is both a veterinarian and a professor of human physiology. And he's used his expertise in both those fields to make and market a most unusual product: camel milk ice cream.

Photo: International Camel Center(Photo: International Camel Center)

YAGIL: When I finished veterinary medicine, in Holland, I joined what was then the Negev Institute for Arid Zone research, which was supposed to find food alternatives in the desert. I thought maybe we could learn from the camel something that would help us breed a better cow or something else, which I soon saw was untrue. And then I saw it was an untapped source of food. Of course, we had forgotten that camels were originally domesticated, for their milk, so I started to look into milk and the milk production, and the more I looked the more I was astounded that we were not tapping this source and not using it.

[SOUNDS OF CAMELS]

ZEBAIDA: This is the International Camel Center, which Yagil founded nearly ten years ago. It's in the heart of Israel's Negev Desert, a remarkably arid region of craters and mountains and 120 degree summer temperatures. The herd of 140 camels provides the milk for Yagil's ice cream. But the Ben-Gurion University professor had to fend off skeptics for nearly two decades before he could establish his business.

YAGIL: Well they said, first of all, the camel is a dirty animal that nobody would want to work with. Second of all, they said the camel is an animal that is nomadic, it has to roam everywhere, you cannot keep it in one place. Third, they said, even if you could keep a camel in one place, you won't get more than one liter of milk. Fourth, they said, even if you could make ice cream from the camel milk, nobody will ever eat it.

ZEBAIDA: But the skeptics turned out to be wrong. The camels here seem content. Each has been given her own name and is free to roam inside the two spacious paddocks. And Yagil's business is booming. His trade name for his ice cream is Gamalida, a word that comes from the Hebrew for ice cream, glida, put together with a word for camel, which is gamal. Orders for cherry, date, fig, mango and melon flavored gamalida have come from as far away as Japan. Contrary to the skeptics' estimate, a healthy camel can produce a phenomenal 26 quarts of milk every day, even if it hasn't drunk a drop of water for two weeks. That's about 20 times more milk than a cow would be able to produce in a similar climate.

[CAMEL SOUNDS AND MILKING]

Clara van Crevald is one of the three partners in the business, and maintains her impressive biceps by milking twice a day. Milking camels is a two-person job on this farm. The camels spend less time being milked, and four hands quickly fill up the buckets.

VAN CREVALD: Now, the milking itself is not a strain; it's - I love doing it. People that say that camels are smelly, I think they don't know what they are talking about. If you compare the camel to milking a cow, you stand up to your knees in their droppings. Well, the camels are completely dry. They have a smell, but it's the smell of the animal, it's not the smell of the droppings. And working there, at the back of the animal, is no problem.

ZEBAIDA: Van Crevald says if the camel is content, it will stand patiently for its milking. But if a camel is cross, it does have a list of tricks to perform for her.

VAN CREVALD: They can kick, and it hurts. If they really want to upset you, they can not spit but give up. Some people think that camels spit, but they don't spit like the llama. They just give up their food. And, because they're ruminants and it has been in their stomach, it's smelly. They won't really bite. In all the years I've been working, I saw one camel biting, not me, somebody else.

ZEBAIDA: After almost an hour in desert heat, I was ready for a taste of the finished product. Clara van Crevald tempted me into the ice-cream parlor of the Dromedairy.

VAN CREVALD: The very favorite is date ice cream, but then I have cherry and vanilla and chocolate and mocha and, for Rosh Hashanah, for the Jewish New Year, I make apple and honey ice cream.

ZEBAIDA: Which one is this one, over here?

VAN CREVALD: That's apple, without honey.

ZEBAIDA: Well, it looks just like ice cream. It looks lovely and luscious, with apple bits in it. That's just fine, that really doesn't taste like camels at all.

VAN CREVALD: Excellent.

ZEBAIDA: After my visit to the ice cream parlor, I scoured the Negev Desert for an opinion from the most discerning ice cream connoisseurs.

CHILDREN: Very tasty. Mm. Mm. Fantastic!

ZEBAIDA: But camel milk products aren't for everyone's palettes in Israel. There's disagreement in the religious Jewish population as to whether camel's milk is kosher. Again, Reuven Yagil.

YAGIL: According to a story of the religious Jews that come from North Africa and the Middle East, they say it was in order to separate the Jews from their neighbors. So they said, you cannot eat the camel, but they never ever said you could not drink the milk, because it was the only source of milk available to them. Well now, it depends on who you speak to. If it's the rabbis that come from the Sepharadim that's from Africa, a lot of them even drink milk here, and they say, yes, it is kosher. The Ashkenazi rabbis, that means coming from Europe, they say, no, if you cannot eat the camel, you cannot drink the milk.

ZEBAIDA: For the majority of Israelis, camel milk ice cream comes guilt-free. It's very high in protein and low in fat, and the camel fat is laden with a healthy type of essential fatty acids. And it doesn't seem to produce a reaction in people with allergies to dairy products. But camel milk and its ice cream have other benefits. Guftan Abu Rakaik is a native Bedouin nomad from the Negev Desert and divides his life between his two wives. Guftan says Bedouins have sworn by the legendary camel milk for centuries.

[ABU RAKAIK SPEAKING AND MUSIC]

VOICEOVER: They say that anyone who does not use camel milk will have all sorts of illnesses and problems. In Bedouin tradition, we are allowed to have three and even four wives, but if a man can't marry a young woman because he does not have the strength, he goes to find some camel milk. This is because it fills you with male potency and virility.

ZEBAIDA: Soon, there may be more camel's milk products to choose from. Because of its non-allergic property, a human infant formula is said to be in development, and Australia, Kazakhstan and Mauritania have sent delegations to the International Camel Center to learn how to put their own camel populations to better use. For Living on Earth, I'm Sarah Zebaida, in the Negev Desert, Israel.

[Rachid Taha, "Ya Rayah", ARABICA, (Bar De Lune - 2002)]

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week, the endangered kiwi bird is the national symbol of New Zealand.

[SOUND OF KIWI OVER MUSIC]

MAN: They have all sorts of unusual features, such as nostrils at the tip of the bill rather than at the base of the bill. They have no tail. Their wings are really short little stumps. They run around at night on the forest floor. They're quite an interesting creature.

CURWOOD: We'll hear about New Zealand's efforts to rescue these large, flightless animals from the brink of extinction, next time on Living on Earth.

[MUSIC OUT]

[SOUNDS OF BIRDS]

CURWOOD: Before we go, it's no secret that birds have some of the most developed vocalizing mechanisms on the planet. And birds also have some of the most sensitive and selective hearing systems in the animal world. As David Dunn discovered, good talkers and good listeners make for good conversation. He recorded this exchange between Magellenic penguins and cormorants, as the large seabirds gathered at Tierra Del Fuego, Chile.

[SOUNDSCAPE: David Dunn, "Magellenic Penguins and Cormorants", WHY DO WHALES AND CHILDREN SING? (EarthEar(r) - 2002]

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, Jennifer Chu, Jessica Penney, and Gernot Wagner, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Bree Horwitz and Milisa Muniz. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. We had help this week from Rachel Girshick and Jessie Fenn. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Ingrid Lobet 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: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Educational Foundation of America, for coverage of energy and climate change; The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change; the Ford Foundation, for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues; and The Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues.

 

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