• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

August 2, 2002

Air Date: August 2, 2002

FULL SHOW

(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

World Summit on Sustainable Development

(stream / mp3)

The World Summit on Sustainable Development is expected to draw more than 60,000 people to South Africa at the end of the month. Host Steve Curwood speaks with Jan Pronk, special UN envoy to the summit, about what to expect from the talks. (11:00)

Biz Note/Power of Pizza / Jennifer Chu

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a Long Island power campaign using pizza. (01:15)

Almanac/Hot Air Balloon

(stream / mp3)

This week, we have facts about hot air balloons. It was 293 years ago that the first prototype took off and set fire to the drapes in King John V's chambers. (01:30)

Deconstruction / Cynthia Graber

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports from a deconstruction project in Washington, DC, where workers are carefully taking apart, rather than knocking down, a condemned public housing development so that much of the material can be reused. (06:45)

Bug Splats

(stream / mp3)

Bug splatter on your car bumper may be more than just messy gunk. Mark Hostetler, a wildlife biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, has made a small science of studying insect road kill. He talks with host Steve Curwood about the fine distinctions between green and yellow smears. (04:30)

LOE Today: Book Reading

(stream / mp3)

Author Sy Montgomery reads an excerpt from her book, "Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest." The book is being featured on our website, Living on Earth Today. (01:30)

Wild Thing

(stream / mp3)

12 year old Eden Joyner tells us about her up and down discussions with her grandmother about endangered animals. (03:00)

Health Note/Vacation from Vacation

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth’s Jessica Penney reports on how vacations may not always be a good way to relax. (01:20)

Generation Next: A Better Me / Bob Carty

(stream / mp3)

In the final installment of our series "Generation Next, Remaking the Human Race" producer Bob Carty looks at the potential for repairing and remaking our own bodies through gene therapy. Recent medical developments in this technology offer the promise of cures for many diseases. But, others warn that there’s a dark side to the science. (14:30)

EarthEar

(stream / mp3)

Sounds from California’s redwood forest. ()

This week's EarthEar selection
listen / download

Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodREPORTERS: Cynthia Graber, Eden Joyner, Bob CartyGUESTS: Jan Pronk, Mark HostetlerUPDATES: Jennifer Chu, Jessica Penney

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: From NPR News, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Rejiggering the genes that were given at birth may lead to major medical breakthroughs. It could mean cures for cancer and heart disease. Some of the early trials look promising.

PARSONS: About four months after my surgery, I just started to walk and doing a bit of exercises. And before my surgery, I couldn’t walk the length of my living room.

CURWOOD: But critics of gene therapy warn there are dangers inherent in the rush to bring it to the marketplace.

GELSINGER: Jesse’s entire body began reacting adversely. He went into a coma before I could get to Philadelphia and see him and died two days after my arrival, directly as a result of that gene therapy experiment.

CURWOOD: The debate over gene therapy as our series Generation Next: Remaking the Human Race continues this week on Living on Earth, right after this.

[NPR NEWSCAST]

Back to top

 

World Summit on Sustainable Development

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Ten years ago, Nelson Mandela was negotiating the end of apartheid in South Africa from his jail cell. George Bush was the 41st President of the United States. And he had to be persuaded to join the world’s leaders who were meeting in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the fate of the earth’s environment.

Today, Nelson Mandela is in the history books as the first black president of South Africa. And later this month, his protégé, Thabo Mbeki, will host an international summit on the environment in Johannesburg. More than 60,000 people are expected to attend what’s being billed as Rio+Ten.

But while some things have changed, much is still the same as it was a decade ago. George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the U.S. and, like his father, reluctant to join the 100 world leaders that the U.N. says have already committed to attend the earth summit. Alan Hecht is with the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

HECHT: There is no question that the administration knows the importance of this meeting and takes it seriously. And I think you’ll find there will be a good, strong delegation. But I just don’t know…that decision hasn’t been made as yet.

CURWOOD: Tepid interest in the U.S. is just one of many concerns of some around the world about the continuing pace of environmental degradation and widening economic disparities. The U.S. and Europe alike have been slow to keep the promises of financial support made at Rio. And rich or poor, very few nations have heeded the call to protect the environment that went out at the first of these environmental summits held in Stockholm in 1972. Nitin Desai is the United Nations Secretary-General of what is officially called The World Summit on Sustainable Development.

DESAI: Each of these events – the Stockholm meeting, the Rio conference and, these days, even the Johannesburg meeting – is often described as a wakeup call. And whenever people use that term, a wakeup call, I’m reminded of the alarm clock I have next to my bed which has a nice snooze alarm. So every time the alarm rings, I press the snooze thing, and go back to sleep.

But you know, the first time I can do that, and it stays quiet for 15 minutes. The second time I do that, it stays quiet for five minutes. But the third time I do, it doesn’t listen. And it keeps ringing til I get up, and start moving and acting.

So sometimes I say Stockholm was that first alarm, Rio was the second alarm, Johannesburg is your third alarm. And this time, you don’t have the option of pressing that snooze button. You’ve got to get up, get going, do something.

CURWOOD: The agenda for the Johannesburg summit calls for the world to address questions of water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity, among key issues of sustainable development. Parallel meetings by various activist groups will also focus attention on corporate responsibility and economic globalization.

Jan Pronk is the former Dutch minister of the environment and a special U.N. envoy for the World Summit. He achieved recognition last year as the chair of the final and successful round of negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. And he joins us now. Minister Pronk, critics say that in the past these summits have produced a lot of talk and little else. Why do you think this summit will be any different?

PRONK: Because the attention is not to talk on a text which might lead the international community to new promises and new ideas, new targets, but only to concentrate on action and the implementation. That is, closing the gap between words and action, between promises and deeds.

Some steps have been taken during the last ten years. It was not all negative. For instance, there was a climate treaty with the major exception of the United States not willing to participate in the treaty. But many other promises were totally unfulfilled. We promised more money for development. We got a dramatic decline in international development assistance.

So the problem of the 1990s was that we were concentrating on other issues, than on the issues which led us to promises ten years ago, which is creating frustration in many parts of the world.

CURWOOD: Minister Pronk, what has changed to think that now the world is in a mood to deliver on those promises?

PRONK: We see some progress in the political willingness of governments to go ahead. We did have, in the last couple of months, a number of international events. For instance, a conference on the future of international trade in Doha and the conference on international finance in Monterrey, which did lead to a bit more forthcoming steps being taken by a number of countries.

This does augur well for the Conference. But I would like to add it is not a conference on what the North, the rich countries, can do for the South, the poor countries. It is a conference also in the interest of people in northern countries themselves. We are deteriorating our own natural environment.

At the same time, we are leaving many people outside of the system. Quite a number in the world are feeling so alienated that they are becoming to be hostile against the system. Which means if we do not invest in sustainability, we will have more insecurity also threatening the welfare of the people in the North. There is a growing awareness of that specific self-interest of the world as a whole.

CURWOOD: Let’s look at one issue that’s bound to get a lot of attention at this meeting. And that’s energy. There’s talk that there could be agreement about setting a goal of renewable energy use on a global scale. But how would that work? How could that work, especially considering the issue that it costs a lot of money to set in place energy systems, money that poor nations do not have?

PRONK: Of course, it’s costly in the beginning for that reason. There are possibilities to use also international resource transfers for that purpose. As a matter of fact, in the framework of the climate convention, we have reached agreement to the extent that making it possible with the help of finance coming from the North to the South, the northern countries also, themselves, would benefit from this because then they could be credited by contributing to a lower output of greenhouse gases.

To that extent, we have, in a way, created an international market for renewability, which is good for the North and for the South and thus, cost-efficient.

CURWOOD: The United States doesn’t plan to participate in the Kyoto process and trading emissions. And in fact, within the United States, very little is being spent on renewable energy. How do you expect the world to go about building a large capacity in renewable energy without the participation of the United States?

PRONK: I foresee the following pattern. If Russia also would ratify the Kyoto Protocol, after the European Union countries and Japan have done that already, the Protocol will become operational soon. And then we have created a new market. Then there is a new political system; all countries, without the U.S., which is perhaps also felt as a threat by the U.S. Then there is a new legal system because then there is a treaty on this particular issue. And then there is a new economic system, a market.

That means that the U.S., at a certain moment, will come to the conclusion that it cannot afford to be excluded anymore. Also, in the interest of those companies in the United States, we would like to get access to that new market, market for new technologies in the field of energy, also a market crediting greenhouse gas emissions. And I foresee that that might be the case in, say, three to four years.

CURWOOD: The White House officially says it hasn’t decided whether or not Mr. Bush is going to South Africa. Privately, we hear from a number of folks that it seems highly unlikely. What type of impact do you think that would have on the talks?

PRONK: I would say the following. It was ten years ago when we did have the conference in Rio de Janeiro. Also felt highly unlikely that the then-President Bush would come. The conference took a turn to the extent that President Bush, at the time, felt that it was, indeed, necessary to be there. I would say this is also quite probable in Johannesburg.

And my message would be: President Bush, you cannot afford not to be in Johannesburg. Moreover, it is not a summit where the United States would try to do something good for other countries, a traditional North/South conference. It is a conference on the future of the earth and of its people, in the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and that includes also an American interest. The fate of the American people, the future American generations, is also at stake. And the future progress and the protection of the environment, which is so important for the American people, also will depend on international action. Be part of it.

CURWOOD: Jan Pronk is the special U.N. envoy to the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the former Dutch Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning, and the Environment. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.

PRONK: You’re welcome.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER: JALI KUNDA, "GRIOT," GRIOTS OF AFRICA, ELLIPSIS, 1997]

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 UNDER]

Related link:
United Nations Johannesburg Summit 2002

Back to top

 

Biz Note/Power of Pizza

CURWOOD: Coming up, the windshield as petri dish. Bug splat science is next, right after this Environmental Business Note from Jennifer Chu.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

CHU: This summer, as Long Islanders kick back with their favorite New York-style pizza pies, they may get a message along with a mouthful: at least that’s what the Long Island Power Authority hopes will happen. In a new ad campaign called the Power of Pizza, the electric utility provider is asking consumers to reduce their summer energy consumption over dinner.

The message, "Take a bite out of your energy use this summer," will be printed on a quarter of a million pizza boxes to be delivered throughout Long Island this summer. The generic cartoon chef has been replaced with a picture of Uncle Sam sporting a utility hardhat.





As added incentive for pizza parlor owners, the LIPA is distributing the boxes at ten cents a box, a savings from the regular boxes. Piccolo Pizza in Bellmore is one of the mom and pop restaurants that decided to participate in the Power of Pizza campaign. Tom Valenti is the shop’s owner.

VALENTI: Sitting around the dinner table, the family will have a greater likelihood of talking about what’s on top of the pizza box. It’s a win-win for everybody involved. So sure, I’ll put them on all the pizza boxes.

CHU: So far, 100 pizzerias have ordered the Power of Pizza boxes. At an average of four people per pie, the LIPA hopes to reach nearly one million pizza eaters and energy consumers by Labor Day.

VALENTI: I hope they’re taking a big slice out of energy use this summer.

CHU: That’s this week’s Business Note. I’m Jennifer Chu.

[MUSIC UNDER]

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

[MUSIC: NEIL FINN, "RED ROOM," RAIN, SOUNDTRACK, EMI, 2001]

Related link:
Power of Pizza press release

Back to top

 

Almanac/Hot Air Balloon

CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER: "AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS" SOUNDTRACK, WEB]

CURWOOD: Everyone knows hot air rises. But 293 years ago this week, Bartolomeo de Gusmao demonstrated that objects can go up with it. The Brazilian priest and inventor was showing off the first prototype of a hot air balloon to no other than Portugal’s King John V.

During a court audience, he told the king that straw fire would lift a small half globe of paper to the ceiling of the king’s royal chamber. De Gusmao’s contraption took off, all right, but disaster was barely averted when the balloon drifted off and set fire to drapes and furniture. Nevertheless, humanity’s dream of flight had literally left the drawing board.

Today’s long distance balloons rely upon both helium and regular hot air that are contained in different compartments within the conical-shaped structures. Adventurers have reached altitudes of over four times the height of Mt. Everest in these heavy-duty balloons.

And just last month, Steve Fossett became the first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe. Now consider that materials like ultra-light Mylar and carbon alloys didn’t exist in the 18th century. And you can see that it was far from easy for two French brothers, Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Etiene Montgolfier, to launch the world’s first aeronauts in 1782.

King Louis XVI and 130,000 onlookers oohed and ahhed outside the palace at Versailles as they watched a very startled sheep, duck and rooster rise 1500 feet in the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon made of linen. The airborne menagerie landed safely eight minutes later and two miles away. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC UNDER]

Back to top

 

Deconstruction

CURWOOD: Usually we take down old buildings by blowing them up or knocking them over. But we didn’t always do it that way. In the past, labor was cheap and new resources were expensive. So, buildings were taken apart board by board, brick by brick, and the material reused. But since the 1950s, advances in machine technology have made it cheap and easy to build new structures and dump the remains of the old ones in landfills. Now there’s a new movement to return to the old ways of demolition. It’s called deconstruction. Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports.

[HAMMERING SOUND]

PRIMDAHL: That’s the sound of money being made.

GRABER: Jim Primdahl watches as a handful of workers split apart wood from a staircase. It’s lying on the floor in the shell of a former two-story home. Primdahl says the steps are made from solid oak.

PRIMDAHL: We’ve got 13 stair treads. We’ve got about $80 worth of oak material in just the treads alone. The risers, they’ll probably be able to harvest about 50 percent of the risers. And those are three dollars. So in that staircase alone, we have $100 worth of oak. We like stairs.

GRABER: Primdahl works for the non-profit Institute for Local Self-Reliance. His crew is taking down 348 public housing units in Washington, D.C., making this the largest deconstruction project in the country. Primdahl says deconstruction is a very deliberate, careful method of taking apart a building.

PRIMDAHL: The first things we take out are the last things that a builder would typically put in. So then we strip out all of the closet shelving. We strip out all the poles, all the closet poles. We strip out the trim, the molding, the doors and things like that. Then the next thing is the sheetrock. And then after that, we move them into the utility systems and the framing. So it’s a very systematic process of unbuilding.

GRABER: Demolition creates 135 million tons of waste each year. That’s according to the National Association of Demolition Contractors. They say about 30 to 40 percentage of that is crushed and then recycled. With deconstruction, 50 to 90 percent of a building is reused. These materials, such as old heaters, wires, windows, bricks, pieces of lumber, are mostly sold as is to other builders, or to renovators to use in new projects.

At the D.C. deconstruction site, Primdahl points to a row of homes that haven’t yet been taken apart. To most people driving by, they’d look like any boarded up old building. But that’s not how they look to Primdahl.

PRIMDAHL: When I look across a site like this, because of my last three years of experience, I see product, product, product, product, product. I don’t see boarded up buildings.

GRABER: If Primdahl seems excited, it’s because he’s found that deconstruction is both profitable and environmentally friendly. While labor costs for deconstruction are higher than for demolition, the difference is made up by avoiding landfill fees and by selling the recovered resources. And the environmental savings are significant. The only energy needed to take the buildings apart is human energy and some power tools, plus the transportation to take the materials to the next user. Landfill space is saved. But more importantly, there is less damage to the environment by avoiding processes such as logging to get wood for new boards. Nadav Malin is the editor of Environmental Building News. He says logging isn’t the only destructive process used to get the resources for buildings.

MALIN: Brick is made primarily from clay. And so there is the open pit mines where they extract the clay from the ground and then the heavy energy costs, usually these days in the form of natural gas to fire that clay into brick. A lot of the metal materials in our buildings, certainly hardware, doorknobs, hinges, light fixtures, things of that sort, metals, of course, are also originally mined from the earth and then processed through, frankly, some pretty energy-intensive and polluting processes.

GRABER: Reusing materials like bricks and light fixtures avoids this damage entirely. Over the past five years, deconstruction initiatives have been growing rapidly, as crews have taken apart barns, military bases, even old Victorian homes all around the country.

But deconstruction today is still on the margins of the demolition industry, accounting for maybe one percent of all demolition. Most of the deconstruction projects are run by non-profit organizations. It’s a challenge for these groups to break into the construction and demolition industry, which is known to be very resistant to change. And then there’s the question of demand.

TURLEY: We have to have our Americans get by their bugaboo against reused and materials slightly used.

GRABER: Bill Turley is executive director of the Construction and Demolition Recycling Association, an industry-based recycling group. He thinks deconstruction is a good idea. But he’s skeptical about the growth potential in the U.S. He says that right now there just isn’t a strong market for the materials.

TURLEY: You know that tomorrow, if you were building a house, or most people when they’re building a house, to go to pick out the bathroom fixtures, are they going to go to the reused store or they going to go order some new ones? Are they going to ask for new timber beams in their house or are they going to go pick some reused ones?

The builder, himself, what is he going to want to use? Is he going to want to use something that’s certified solid, that it’s going to hold up this building, and he’s not liable for 20 years from now? Or is he going to want some reused lumber that’s not certified yet?

GRABER: Proponents of deconstruction say certifying the quality of their product will help solidify the market. For instance, there’s now a nationwide program underway to grade reclaimed lumber. This way, builders will be assured of its strength, and can use it in the framework of new buildings.

[HAMMERING SOUND]

At the D.C. site, Primdahl says they haven’t had a problem selling the used materials. And there is another benefit to his deconstruction project. It creates jobs. Deconstructing this D.C. public housing site takes 50 workers, as opposed to the ten that would be needed for demolition.

Jamail Harris is the site safety facilitator and product management supervisor. He says salaries are good. But best of all, the workers are from the neighborhood.

HARRIS: It’s an opportunity for a lot of people. So I’m just blessed to have it here within our own community.

GRABER: Like other community-based deconstruction groups around the country, the crew here will eventually have the opportunity to own the deconstruction company. And they also will have the first options to buy homes that will be built on the sites of the houses they’re taking apart. For Living on Earth, I’m Cynthia Graber.

Related link:
Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Back to top

 

Bug Splats

CURWOOD: If you’ve just come back from a long road trip, chances are you picked up a few thousand squished hitchhikers. But before you take a squeegee to clean those insects off your windshield, consider that you can learn a thing or two from bug splats.

That’s what Mark Hostetler would tell you. He’s a professor and wildlife biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville who has been studying windshield splatter as a hobby. The result is his book, That Gunk on Your Car: A Unique Guide to Insects of North America. Mark Hostetler joins me now from his primary research location, the Greyhound bus station. Welcome, sir.

[SOUND OF BUS ENGINES]

HOSTETLER: Glad to be here.

CURWOOD: So why are you down at the bus station?

HOSTETLER: While we’re here, there’s a few buses that will be coming in from Jacksonville and Tallahassee. And given the weather – it’s pretty humid out – they’re going to be covered in insects. And we’re going to check out some of the remains of these insects and see if we can identify a few of them.

CURWOOD: Now how do you identify an insect from just a smear? What do you look for?

HOSTETLER: Well, its color, texture, size. I did not do taste or smell for people. But many of the insects you can tell by, what we call, different families or orders of insects. So I can tell the difference between, let’s say, a dragonfly versus a butterfly.

CURWOOD: What exactly is the difference between a dragonfly splat and, say, a butterfly splat?

HOSTETLER: Well, the butterfly splat tends to be much more yellow. That’s the combination of the inside portions of the insect and also the pollen that it’s carrying. So those tend to be much more yellow, creamier than a dragonfly splat that tends to be a little bit gunkier. It tends to be more three-dimensional, with parts of the dragonfly in there. And it tends to be more of a gray, creamy color.

CURWOOD: What’s the strangest insect splat that you’ve ever found?

HOSTETLER: Probably the one that’s the most fascinating is, if you ever hit a firefly or a lightning bug, as they call those up north, when you hit them, it’s like going through a time warp because they actually leave a glowing residue for a split second on your windshield. So as you drive through a batch of them, you actually have a bunch of glowing residues going off your windshield.

[SOUND OF BUS APPROACHING]

HOSTETLER: Here comes a bus right now. Let’s go over there and take a look at it. This bus is from – I believe it’s from Jacksonville. And we’re in Gainesville. So it’s gone across maybe about 70, 80 miles. And we’re looking at the front. It is pretty much covered full of those very specimens here. There’s a lot of mosquitoes and midges because it’s been a cloudy day. And they’ve come out even during a cloudy day, the mosquitoes do.

CURWOOD: How can you tell it’s a mosquito versus a midge? Isn’t it just sort of muck or yuck?

HOSTETLER: Well, with the buses, this is the way I identify them for the book, actually collect the data, is that when they hit the flat surface, they stick. So you have portions of the bodies along with the splat there. So I can look at the bodies and determine what they are.

When you hit them on your windshield on your passenger car, your windshield is sloped, and usually they’ll ricochet up over your car. So you won’t see the insect again. And, there’s actually a couple of – what is that? It’s a ladybug, upside down ladybug that’s stuck on the bumper here.

CURWOOD: What’s the easiest insect splat to identify? And what’s the hardest?

HOSTETLER: Well, probably the smaller insects are the hardest. Like, we have a chapter in the book called No-See-Ums. And these are just little watery smears. And you don’t know which no-see-um, or is it a small fly, et cetera. So the smaller the insect, the harder it is to identify.

But the easiest ones are definitely the moths and butterflies. Those tend to be the largest splats. And the way their wings are structured when they hit, they actually drag up your windshield. So it’s not usually a compact splat. It’s strung out for a number of centimeters.

CURWOOD: What do you find on motorcycle helmets?

HOSTETLER: I have not checked motorcycle helmets. Now that’s an up close and personal encounter with a splat!

CURWOOD: Mark Hostetler is a wildlife biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He’s also author of the insect guide That Gunk on Your Car: A Unique Guide to Insects of North America. Thanks for speaking with me today and happy hunting.

HOSTETLER: Yeah. Have fun. Thanks a lot.

Related link:
Buy the book from Amazon

Back to top

 

LOE Today: Book Reading

CURWOOD: Starting Monday, August 5th, our web page, Living on Earth Today, is featuring author Sy Montgomery reading daily installments of her book, Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest. The New York Times Book Review called Sy Montgomery "equal parts poet and scientist," and declared the book "a captivating account."

On her journey, Sy searches the Amazon for the elusive Pink River Dolphin, animals that have become legend to the local river people who both fear and revere them. In this excerpt, Sy writes of what it’s like to swim with these mythic creatures.

[MUSIC]

MONTGOMERY: In the water, I was a creature transformed, no longer terrestrial, no longer bipedal. I shed the world of earth and air. I left behind the way I breathe, the way I move, the very weight of my body. Each immersion offered a baptism, a new birth.

Inside the water, I swam in the womb of mystery where pink dolphins looked into my face, where every element, including my own future was utterly out of my control, and where the most impossible of possibilities come true. As I emerged from the water, my body suddenly felt leaden, spent.

CURWOOD: To hear more about the pink dolphins of the Amazon, go to our website, loe.org, anytime throughout the month of August, and hear Sy read a new installment each day. That’s the Living on Earth Today website at www.loe.org. You can also see pictures of the pink dolphins and Sy’s expedition in the Amazon. You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

Back to top

 

Wild Thing

CURWOOD: In homes across the nation this summer, relatives are gathering for family reunions. Sandwiched between card games and the big barbecue are some poignant intergenerational exchanges, including one that 12-year-old Eden Joyner had with her grandmother.

[BIRD CALLS]

JOYNER: Seventy-eight kinds of birds are endangered in the United States. It’s not just birds. Lots of other plants and animals are at risk. There are only about eight panthers left in all of Florida, where I’m from.

I used to think that everyone cared a lot about endangered species. I was surprised that my Grandma didn’t seem concerned at all about animal extinction. I asked her about it.

GRANDMOTHER: I hadn’t really thought about it too much. It seems like there are still so many animals around that I guess I don’t worry about just any old thing, not being any more of them around.

JOYNER: I showed her a book of extinct animals, and asked her how she thought about them.

GRANDMOTHER: Some of those pictures were sort of adorable, like pictures you would see that a person had a dream or watched in a movie. And I’m sad that they’re gone, but no, I wasn’t very affected by that.

JOYNER: But I’m affected! In Florida, the manatees might become extinct. I also told her about how passenger pigeons were hunted to extinction.

GRANDMOTHER: There are other pigeons that are a nuisance. So around the building that I work in, there are droppings everywhere. And they have little shock things so that the pigeons can’t land on the ledge, and then poop on the people below them.

It’s not that I’m truly negative toward animals. We’ve had a family dog all our lives. It’s just that animals were created to provide a service and to be an adjunct to the work we did on a farm. And, just, human beings have my priority.

JOYNER: My grandma’s not mean-spirited. She helps those less fortunate everyday. I care about humans, too. But I think we need to make room for other living things, like Noah did on his ark. I asked my grandma what her religion says about animals.

GRANDMOTHER: That’s interesting that you would ask that. Because only today, in my daily Bible reading, it mentioned something that we should honor the animals and not use them unkindly. It seems that maybe I need to have a more sympathetic view or empathetic view to the lot of animals.

JOYNER: Thanks, Grandma. If more people cared about animals and their habitats, maybe my grandchildren will get to know and see animals that we take for granted today. Because extinction is forever.





[MUSIC: THE TROGGS, "WILD THING"]

CURWOOD: Eden Joyner lives in Tallahassee, Florida. Her story was produced by her aunt, Patricia J. Priest.

Back to top

 

Health Note/Vacation from Vacation

Just ahead, designer genes with a DNA label. First, this Environmental Health Note from Jessica Penney.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

PENNEY: If you feel well-rested after your summer vacation, count your blessings. According to a new survey, most people come back from a holiday more worn out than before they left. The Gallup Poll was funded by a drug company that wanted to promote good sleeping habits.

Of the survey respondents, 54 percent said they returned from vacation feeling tired, including 19 percent who said they felt very tired or exhausted. Of the reasons for this fatigue, many people cited a lack of sleep associated with the trip. Some folks stayed up late packing the night before the trip, and others stayed up late partying once they got to their destinations.

Vacationers also complained of unfamiliar beds causing lost sleep. The most tiring vacations were trips to amusement parks and camping. The most relaxing vacations were cruises. Employers with groggy workers should note that another problem vacationers mentioned was the pressure placed upon them to work longer hours before a trip to make up for lost time.

And a final note for those visiting family: You might want to carefully pick just which relatives you see. Because vacationers from that category gave the most varied responses. That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Jessica Penney.

[MUSIC UNDER]

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

[MUSIC: LIAM FINN, "LUCID DREAM," RED ROOM, RAIN, SOUNDTRACK, EMI, 2001]

Related link:
Sanofi-Synthelabo Inc. press release on the poll

Back to top

 

Generation Next: A Better Me

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. The genetic code found in each and every one of our cells tells our bodies what to do. Genes may order us to grow black hair, be vulnerable to breast cancer, or develop an uncanny knack for composing music.

Today, science is approaching the point at which the genes given to us at birth can be altered with what’s called gene therapy. Gene therapy may someday make it possible to cure such deadly disorders as heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and cancer. Gene therapy also could alter body shape, athletic ability and even hairlines.

As Bob Carty reports in the final installment of our series Generation Next: Remaking the Human Race, gene therapy not only raises hopes for human progress, but also poses disturbing ethical questions.

NURSE: We’ll put all the electrodes on your chest. We’ll connect the wires. And then we’ll get you to walk on the treadmill for a while.

CARTY: In a Toronto hospital, a 54-year-old man stands on a treadmill, naked to the waist, wires attached to his chest flowing off to a battery of blinking machines.

MALE: I want you to take nice long steps. The machine is going to start slow, and gradually we’re going to increase the speed of the machine. Take it easy, and see how much you can do.

[SOUND OF TRADMILL]

CARTY: The treadmill starts moving, and so does the patient, walking slowly at first, then faster. The electrodes monitoring his heart and lungs will tell researchers whether they’re making another step toward a new kind of medicine, gene therapy, a kind of therapy that offers this patient his only hope of living. His name is Clayton Parsons.

PARSONS: Before my gene therapy, I couldn’t go on the treadmill for more than a minute and a half, two minutes maximum.

CARTY: Clayton Parsons was a factory worker for 20 years. But then he began to have chest pains. The problem was his heart.

PARSONS: I had a quadruple bypass done in 1983. I had a double bypass done in 1984. I wasn’t supposed to go back to work. But I went back to work until about 1995, I started to have more trouble. My arteries are blocked, and it restricts the blood flow. And I was just having a lot of angina. It was like a real bad, bad heartburn. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t do nothing.

CARTY: Clayton Parsons’ coronary arteries became so blocked he couldn’t have yet another bypass surgery. He was running out of options.

PARSONS: Two years ago, doctors told me they couldn’t do nothing else for me. In fact, one doctor told me I only had about two years to live, a dead end. Well then I got a hold of a doctor. And he said he knew some doctors in Toronto that were trying this new gene therapy thing out.

CARTY: One of the Toronto doctors Clayton Parsons went to see was Duncan Stewart, a cardiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital. Dr. Stewart explains that genes are just combinations of basic chemicals, or enzymes, that make proteins. These proteins tell our cells, be they heart cells or liver cells or skin cells, how to do their work.

Scientists think they can use gene therapy to replace a missing gene or fix a bad one, and thereby restore cell growth, or stop the growth of cancerous cells, or infectious diseases. In fact, most gene therapy experiments are in the fields of cancer, HIV/AIDS and heart disease.

When Clayton Parsons turned up on his doorstep, Dr. Stewart recognized a good participant for a gene therapy trial for heart disease.

STEWART: We enrolled him in a clinical trial, a phase one of a gene therapy trial, which means that we’re predominantly interested in the safety of the procedure, and though we’re also obviously looking at whether it works or not.

PARSONS: Gene therapy is – they inject genes into the heart muscle. If it works, it’ll grow new arteries, if it works. I phoned Toronto and made an appointment, because I had no choice.

STEWART: We attempted to improve the blood supply by injecting genes into the heart muscle, that code for factors that stimulate growth of new blood vessels.

CARTY: The surgery happened just over a year ago. Dr. Stewart and his colleagues opened up Clayton Parsons’ chest, and injected specifically designed genes into the heart arteries. Then they closed him up. The hope was that the genes would fuse with tissue cells of the arteries, and help them start growing again.

PARSONS: About four months after my surgery, I just started to walk, and doing a bit of exercise. And before my surgery, I couldn’t walk the length of my living room. I think it’s great. It gave me a new lease on life. I feel great. I feel great.

CARTY: Cases like Clayton Parsons are generating a lot of hope, and also a lot of scientific and corporate interest in gene therapy. Around the world, there are now 600 trials underway. But it’s been a rocky road. Gene therapy began almost 12 years ago. But it’s only had a handful of clinical successes. And it is still not an approved treatment.

You wouldn’t expect that given the amount of media attention gene therapy has received, though. So much, in fact, that in 1995, the U.S. government slapped the wrists of the research and development companies, telling them to cool it. Their glowing promises for gene therapy were just not justified by clinical results.

Still, press releases continued to suggest that gene treatments were just around the corner. Then came a major and tragic setback.

GELSINGER: I am addressing this committee in the hope of bringing to light some very serious concerns that I have as a result of my son’s death.

CARTY: In early 2000, Paul Gelsinger appeared before a Senate Committee in Washington. His son, Jesse Gelsinger, had died in a gene therapy trial. It became a case that illustrated both gene therapy’s health risks and its commercial temptations. It happened at the University of Pennsylvania where scientists were testing a gene therapy for a liver disease known as OCT.

Ironically, Jesse did not need to join the trial. His OCT was not life-threatening. The trial would do him no good. But doctors at Penn University told him he would be helping other children. And Jesse agreed to take part. He was 18.

GELSINGER: He believed, after discussions with the representatives from Penn, that the worst that could happen in the trial would be he would have flu-like symptoms for a week. I trusted this to be a well-controlled and purely ethical effort.

CARTY: Paul Gelsinger only learned later about the safety risks of gene therapy. The most pressing risk is in the way genes are introduced into patients, usually with the use of viruses. Stuart Newman is a Professor of Cell Biology at the New York Medical College. He says viruses can do what scientists have a hard time doing – they can get inside human cells. In fact, that’s how they reproduce. So gene therapy uses viruses as a vector or vehicle to carry genetic material into millions of cells, just like infecting them with the flu, but with a virus that is disarmed.

NEWMAN: The idea was to take one of these viruses to try to knock out what it is about the virus that makes it cause a disease, and put in the desired gene, and then inject it into the desired tissue. But there is always the chance that the gene that you put in will be carried to other places besides the tissue that you’re targeting, and that the virus that’s been debilitated in order to perform this function, even that virus itself may not be so innocuous. And in the case at the University of Pennsylvania, a young man died.

GELSINGER: Less than 24 hours after they injected Jesse with the vector in an amount only one other person had ever been given, Jesse’s entire body began reacting adversely. He went into a coma before I could get to Philadelphia and see him, and died two days after my arrival, directly as a result of that gene therapy experiment.

NEWMAN: It looked like it was like an allergic effect to something that the virus was making. The claim was that the virus was innocuous. But they put in very large amounts of the virus. And the administration of the virus was an unapproved route of administration. And they were just using this person as an experimental model.

CARTY: Jesse’s allergic reaction to the virus vector was not the only anomaly in the experiment. The autopsy found the virus vector not just in Jesse’s liver, where it was supposed to be, but elsewhere in his body. That raises the concern that genes could migrate to reproductive cells, and cause unintended genetic changes to future generations. Also at Jesse’s autopsy, doctors found the virus vector had mutated. The concern here is that, if viral vectors can change inside humans, or mix with other virus DNA inside of us, they could create an entirely new disease. That’s why there are proposals that gene therapy patients should be monitored for such diseases for up to 20 years. Researchers are also trying to improve other methods of getting genes into patients.

The scientific issues raised by the Gelsinger case are matched by the ethical ones. It was later revealed that the director of the University of Pennsylvania Institute, where Jesse’s trial was conducted, was heavily invested in the stock of the company that helped finance that very institute. Testifying before Congress, Jesse’s father, Paul Gelsinger, suggested that commercial interest may have been the reason he and his son were not fully informed of the risks.

GELSINGER: Looking back, I can see that it was very naive to have been as trusting as I was. I learned after Jesse’s death that Penn had removed from the information they gave Jesse and me any reference to deaths of monkeys, which had previously appeared in their documents. The secretive nature of gene therapy research and the motivations behind the race for results are what trouble me most.

I have read that my son’s death has been called by one of the leaders in this field as ‘a pothole’ on the road to gene therapy. His death was no pothole. It was an avoidable tragedy. I am not against gene therapy. However, when lives are at stake, and my son’s life was at stake, money and fame should take a backseat. No more fathers should lose their sons.

CARTY: After the Gelsinger scandal, American authorities temporarily shut down gene trials at the University of Pennsylvania. But they found the problems there were not unique. They found more than 600 other cases of adverse reactions in gene therapy trials, including deaths that had not been reported.

That led to changes in reporting systems, and better informed consent procedures to prevent companies from hiding information from patients and regulators in the name of protecting their proprietary or commercial information. The Gelsinger family received an out of court settlement from the University of Pennsylvania.

Since the Gelsinger setback, gene therapy trials have resumed. And there have been a host of positive results, but also a couple of new problems.

SPORTS ANNOUNCER: And it’s a clean start. This Men’s 100 meters… let’s watch Maurice Green in lane 5. Maurice Green coming down. It looks like Maurice Green all the way. Maurice Green is the 100-meter champion!

CARTY: One problem is the possible abuse of gene therapy by competitive sports. Gene therapy could be used not just for treating diseases, but also for enhancing performance, giving an athlete an edge, for example, with stronger muscles or more tolerance for pain.

Lori Andrews is worried about these so-called ‘off-label uses’ for gene therapy. Andrews is the director of the Center for Science, Law and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the co-author of a book called Body Bazar.

ANDREWS: There’s a technology that’s being proposed to genetically enhance people’s hearts after they’ve had a heart attack to get them back to normal. But athletes also want to use that technology to get more oxygen to their heart for sports. And once a technology is approved by our Food and Drug Administration, doctors have the right to use it for about any other use they want in patients. It’s like using aspirin as a blood thinner for heart patients and so forth. One problem with off-label uses of genetic technologies is that means there’s going to be no safety data kept. And another big problem is it will take decades, if not generations, to find out what the side effects were.

CARTY: Olympic officials are so worried about gene therapy that they recently held a major international consultation. They’re concerned gene therapy will become like drug doping, a way to cheat the clock or beat the record, but one that would be very difficult to detect. And if that is not troublesome enough, gene therapy could also change the way we look at war. Lori Andrews:

ANDREWS: I’ve gotten several calls from groups who want to explore the possibility of using genetic engineering to create soldiers who are going to be less affected by toxins like Agent Orange, or using genetic information about people for biowarfare, in fact, to be able to create an anthrax that hones on to a genetic code so that you can target certain ethnic groups.

CARTY: People have actually approached you with these ideas?

ANDREWS: People have approached me with those ideas. This could lead to an ethno-bomb where, as opposed to the smart bombs that target particular buildings, this would target particular ethnic groups.

[SOUND OF TREADMILL]

NURSE: Stop the treadmill. Come on back and have a seat. How are you doing?

PARSONS: I just feel a little tired right now. And other than that, I feel pretty good.

CARTY: Back in Toronto, Clayton Parsons has just finished his treadmill testing. The results are encouraging.

PARSONS: Before my gene therapy, I couldn’t go on the treadmill for more than a minute and a half, two minutes. This time, I was on it nine minutes.

CARTY: Clayton’s doctors are cautious about drawing conclusions from these results. They can’t really say whether the gene therapy is working, or if it’s a placebo effect, or the result of invasive surgery itself. More controlled Phase Two trials are now underway. Many experts believe some form of gene therapy will be a reality within five years.

Gene therapy has not generated the opposition that’s been experienced by technologies like cloning and germ line manipulation. But as a society, we will still have to address some of the major issues it raises, whether it should be used as a weapon of war, or as a way to cheat in sport. And above all, who will have access to this revolution in medicine, and for what reason? For Living on Earth, I’m Bob Carty in Toronto.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER: BIONAUT, "LUBRICATE YOUR LIVING ROOM," LUBRICATE YOUR LIVING ROOM, MATADOR, 1996]

Back to top

 

EarthEar

Sounds from California’s redwood forest.

Related link:
Listening to Nature: A Soundwalk across California.

Back to top

 

CURWOOD: You can hear the entire five-part series Generation Next: Remaking the Human Race on our website. Just go to loe.org and click on the Generation Next link. That’s www.loe.org. And for this week, that’s Living on Earth.

Next week, Alaska’s Copper River Delta is a place so wild it changes almost everyone who gets a chance to raft down between its majestic glaciers.

LANKARD: In my lifetime, I have seen two big faces fall. And it pushed these two women who were standing by the bank 250 feet back into the brush. And when they came to, one of them was in a tree, and the other one kind of leaned over and looked to her right, and here was a big fat salmon flopping, trying to get back in the water.

CURWOOD: It’s a Cooper River caravan, next time on Living on Earth.

[MUSIC UNDER]

[BIRD CALLS]

CURWOOD: We leave you this week with a sound walk across natural California. Along the way, you’ll hear a Northern Pygmy Owl, a Hermit Thrush, a Varied Thrush, a Stellers Jay and, of course, a Spotted Owl, all served up on a bed of redwood forest ambience. It’s from The California Library of Natural Sounds Production called Quiet Places.

[ANIMAL SOUNDS: CALIFORNIA LIBRARY OF NATURAL SOUNDS, "REDWOOD FOREST AMBIENCE," QUIET PLACES, EARTHEAR 2002]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. You can find us at www.loe.org. Our staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Chris Engles and Al Avery, along with Julie O’Neil, Susan Shepherd and Carly Ferguson. Special thanks to Ernie Silver.

We had help this week from Jamie McEvoy, Max Morange and Emma Uwodukunda. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.

Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Ingrid Lobet heads our western bureau. 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.

ANNOUNCER1: Funding for Living on Earth comes from The World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for coverage of Western issues; The National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education; The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, supporting the Living on Earth Network, Living on Earth’s expanded internet service; The Educational Foundation of America for coverage of energy and climate change; The Ford Foundation for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues; The David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; The W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity, www.wajones.org; The Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues; and the Town Creek Foundation.

ANNOUNCER2: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

This Week's Music








 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.