Endangered Forest/ Ann Murray
(stream / mp3)
A coalition of 300 environmental groups recently named the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania the most endangered national forest in the United States. The site is home to the country’s highest percentage of forest land open to commercial oil and gas drilling. But while the government owns more than 510,000 acres of the forest, the mineral rights to the land are private. As Ann Murray reports, this makes for a complex debate about oil and gas management in the Allegheny. (12:45)
(stream / mp3)
This week, we have facts about the Antarctica treaty. Forty-three years ago countries around the world declared the continent a scientific “safe-zone” free of military occupation and waste disposal. (01:30)
The Rural Life
(stream / mp3)
Verlyn Klinkenborg makes a living writing about the rural life for the New York Times. He lives on a small farm in upstate New York and has kept a journal of his routines there. Host Steve Curwood talks with Klinkenborg about his new book "The Rural Life." (09:00)
Lewis & Clark Trail/ Barrett Golding
(stream / mp3)
The year 2003 is the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark trail. Join us for a series of audio postcards by producer Barrett Golding who’s bicycling the length of the historic route. (03:30)
Conscious Shopping/ Jen Schaeflein
(stream / mp3)
Now that we’re in the busiest time of year for shopping, Chicago high school student Jen Schaeflein finds that she’s having a hard time keeping her hard-earned money in her wallet. (03:00)
Health Note/Antibiotic Resistance/ Diane Toomey
(stream / mp3)
Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on researchers from the Centers for Disease Control who have found a rise in antibiotic resistance of a common food-borne pathogen. (01:20)
Planetary Protection/ Robin White
(stream / mp3)
When we think of the risks of space travel, we don’t usually think of the dangers we might pose to the extraterrestrial environment. But some scientists say we should make an effort to prevent our microbes from contaminating life forms that might exist on other planets, like Mars. Robin White reports. (09:40)
Canadian Wine Marketing/ Don Genova
(stream / mp3)
Canadian food writer Don Genova says he's found a remedy for stress at an unlikely vineyard in the Canadian Okanogan, where wineries are popping up like mushrooms. (04:45)
HOST: Steve CurwoodREPORTERS: Ann Murray, Barrett Golding, Robin White, Don GenovaGUESTS: Verlyn Klinkenborg, Jen SchaefleinUPDATES: Diane Toomey
CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
CURWOOD: Amid signs that there may, in fact, be life on Mars new missions to the planet are on the drawing boards. But some worry that microbes carried from earth could wreak havoc.
RACE: If the life is truly Martian and, essentially, is distinct and unique, do we have a right to interfere with that and its existence and evolutionary trajectory? I don’t know the answer to that and I don’t know if any scientist or theologian does. It’s a question that stops you in your tracks.
CURWOOD: Also, commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg takes us home to his small and beloved farm.
KLINKENBORG: The number of people like me who have taken an interest in rural living is actually increasing. And it seems like there is a real renaissance of very much smaller farms now than there used to be, but it’s a renaissance nonetheless.
CURWOOD: The rural life, and more, on Living on Earth. Right after this.
CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service once said the mission of national forests is to provide "for the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the longest time."
National forests are still managed for multiple uses. They provide recreation, supply water and protect biological diversity. They also provide timber, and oil and gas wells operate in one-third of all national forests.
The Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania has the greatest proportion of land open to drilling and as many active wells as all other national forests combined.
The Forest Service says drilling works well with the Allegheny's land use plan.
But critics say drilling and logging make the Allegheny the "most endangered national forest in the country." Ann Murray has our report.
[SOUND OF DRILLING INTO ROCK]
MURRAY: A few miles from the Allegheny National Forest's southern edge, a 60 foot drilling rig dwarfs the young trees that surround it. At its base, a mud-soaked crew feeds pipe down a hole that they've bored deep into the earth.
HITCHCOCK: They've drilled a good hole out to size and everything properly. And they've worked with us...our schedule and stuff, and it’s worked real well."
MURRAY: Dick Hitchcock is on site this morning to check the crew's progress. He's with Pennsylvania General Energy, one of about 100 companies that operates in the forest. Although Hitchcock says it doesn't take much time to sink a well....
HITCHCOCK: They're in here three days and they're gone.
MURRAY: ….wells operate for 25 or 30 years. This one will join 6,000 active wells that are scattered across the forest floor. Buried 1800 feet below the surface, extraction of gas and oil from this rock formation is costly. PGE spends about 100 thousand dollars to drill and operate each well.
Oil well in Salmon Creek area of the Allegheny National Forest.
(Photo courtesy of Forest Service)
Kevin Elliott is the Allegheny's Forest Service supervisor. He says oil and gas extraction has a long history in northwestern Pennsylvania.
ELLIOTT: About the same time period that the gold rush was drawing folks to California, the first oil well in the country was developed just outside the Allegheny National Forest.
MURRAY: That well was sunk in 1859 and the area exploded with oil exploration and logging. The Allegheny's half million acres were purchased in the 1920s, 30s and 40s by the Forest Service. But the valuable oil and gas rights weren't for sale. The mineral rights under 94 percent of the forest remain in private hands and subject to state law. Kevin Elliott.
ELLIOTT: Under Pennsylvania law, the management of the Allegheny National Forest cannot preclude someone's right to access their private property underneath the forest. That context frames a lot of the discussion-even debate-about oil and gas management on the Allegheny National Forest.
[SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS]
KLEISSLER: In Pennsylvania, it's kind of unusual. The person who owns the oil and gas rights under the land is typically given more rights than the person who owns the land.
MURRAY: Jim Kleissler directs the Allegheny Defense Project, a local environmental group. ADP believes drilling damages the forest's water and habitat. Kleissler says at least 4,000 acres of the national forest are taken up by existing wells. And scores of additional sites are under development.
[MAP BEING ROLLED OPEN]
KLEISSLER: It looks like there's construction up here. I brought these maps.
MURRAY: Kleissler walks through the Salmon Creek valley-an area he calls "one of the last best places" in the Allegheny. Stands of second-growth birch, black cherry and striped maple cover the hills and plateau in this 35,000-acre watershed. Before development started here in 1999, this part of the valley hadn't seen oil and gas drilling for decades.
KLEISSLER: It was just recreationalists that would come down here a few years ago and now it's just oil and gas trucks all of the time.
MURRAY: This afternoon, burly trucks rumble by on Forest Road 145 - a gravel road that parallels the path of the stream. As Kleissler follows the trucks up a private access road, he explains that ADP sued the oil and gas developer and the state for failing to protect Salmon Creek and it's tributaries from sediment, an organic pollutant. The parties recently reached a settlement. Development of the 50 sites contested in the suit will proceed. But the state and oil and gas company will fund a stream study to identify dragonfly and damsel fly species - bellwethers of stream health.
[SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS IN MUD]
KLEISSLER: Wow! Look at this.
MURRAY: Kleissler stops to look at a mud-clogged drainage pipe along the access road. He says the Allegheny Plateau's topography and weather make erosion even worse in these development sites.
KLEISSLER: It's dry today but it's been raining for the last few weeks pretty regularly, it’s supposed to rain over the next week fairly regularly. And they've actively constructing a road up here on top of the hill and this is probably the worst time for doing that. You're inevitably going to leave a fairly recently turned over soil exposed when it rains. And that means runoff. And that runoff means more damage to the creek.
Oil boom constructed to contain an oil seep going into Salmon Creek.
(Photo: Allegheny Defense Project)
MURRAY: When sediment collects in stream bottoms only animals and plants that can tolerate a change in their habitat thrive. Since Pennsylvania waterways are owned by the state, state agencies regulate streams in the national forest. Biologist John Arway of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission says the state is seeing more cases of erosion and sedimentation tied to the construction and use of well sites and roads. It can take years for changes in fish or invertebrate populations to show up. He says the state monitors the forest's larger waterways for long-term changes but not many of its smaller streams.
ARWAY: Right now, we're more reactive than proactive with that. We don't plan a lot but whenever we exceed the threshold then we react through the loss that we have which is not the best thing for the stream.
MURRAY: Spills and leaks also pose a problem to water and safety. About 20 years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spent millions to clean up spills in and around the forest. The massive effort coincided with the passage of the Oil and Gas Act. This state law made it illegal to discharge fluids such as brine or oil residues into unlined pits or streams.
The state is spending millions of dollars to locate and plug old wells that predate the law. No one knows how many of the tens of thousands of inactive wells still leak oil or gas. But John Arway says, over the years, companies have changed their practices.
ARWAY: Probably the big difference is oil and gas companies are handling their produced fluids a lot better than they had been. We're not seeing as many incidents that we have to respond to.
MURRAY: Industry officials say that the Allegheny's streams are getting good marks from regulatory agencies. Geologist Doug Kuntz is a vice president of Pennsylvania General Energy.
KUNTZ: When you look at this beautiful, pristine forest that we have out there, it has grown up around an active oil and gas industry. So the procedures that are in place with the Forest Service and the oil and gas operators work.
MURRAY: Kuntz says like most of the operators in the Allegheny, PGE carefully lays out its oil and gas fields.
KUNTZ: We'll drill a row of wells. Evaluate them and then step out another row of wells and drill those wells. So very deliberately we're feeling our way to see where the formation goes.
[SOUND OF WELL PUMP]
MURRAY: On a site visit, Kuntz points out that once fields have been established, company roads and well pads are built and managed by the book.
KUNTZ: We want as small a footprint as possible. Not only for environmental reasons but for the cost. And utilizing a well site and road intersection for the same purposes, it solves us from having to build a large pad.
[SOUND OF AIRPLANCE AND RADIO CRACKLES]:
PILOT: One zuloo (phonetic). Weather: wind calm. Visibility….(fades under]
WILLIAMS: Very extensive clearing, as you can see. A lot of canopy opening around this development here. And the beginning of fragmenting the forest into smaller and smaller patches in this area.
MURRAY: Several hundred feet above the Salmon Creek Valley, Professor Chuck Williams gazes at the terrain. Williams is a forest ecologist with Clarion University. He says the Allegheny is not only one of the most eroded eastern national forests, it's one of the most fragmented. Unlike steeper, less accessible land in the southern Appalachians, the topography of the Allegheny Plateau makes it relatively easy to build roads.
PILOT: There's a road off your wing tip.
WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah. This network of roads and openings will basically start to open up the forest and change the micro-climate to some extent and the composition of the forest.
Roads are built so trucks can travel to oil wells and other roads.
(Photo: Allegheny Defense Project)
[SOUND OF RADIO CRACKLING]
MURRAY: As more light reaches the forest floor, temperatures go up. As a result, plant and animal populations can change over time. Williams worries about the effects of fragmentation on species such as warblers and the federally endangered Indiana bat. These animals need unbroken blocks of forest to nest and forage. Roads can also act as corridors into the forest for invasive plants. One of the only ways to manage habitat in areas of the Allegheny, says Williams, is to buy the mineral rights. In 1999, the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued the same recommendation. Not so easily done, says the Forest Service's Kevin Elliott.
ELLIOTT: Number one, you have to have a willing seller and you have to have a checkbook big enough to buy those rights. That's not been the policy of the Forest Service, not just on the Allegheny, to solicit from Congress those kinds of funds.
MURRAY: The Forest Service did purchase the oil and gas rights under 35,000 acres of the Allegheny in the 1980s and left more than one-half of that land open to drilling. Restricted areas include land that Congress has designated as "wilderness.." This refers to land has little evidence of human development. The Allegheny has one of the lowest percentages of wilderness of all the national forests.
Although the Forest Service voices concern about restricting an energy-hungry public from access to reserves, less than one percent of U.S. oil and gas supplies comes from ALL national lands. Area oil and gas developers say they fill a niche market for lubricating oil and supply natural gas to several northeastern cities.
That's only part of what makes oil and gas drilling attractive. Pennsylvania General Energy's Dick Hitchcock says this local industry has for generations kept family and neighbors employed.
HITCHCOCK: My grandfather worked for Forest Oil and Quakerstate for 42 years and my mother is retired but still a part-time worker at Forest Oil and my dad has worked in the oil business all his life for Quakerstate.
MURRAY: What kinds of other jobs are available?
HITCHCOCK: Well (laughs) that is a good question. I just know mentally, I just think of this industry.
MURRAY: The Forest Service plans to open up a discussion about the industry and oil and gas extraction later this year. They will review the forest plan and provide a blue print for land management in the national forest for the next 10 to 15 years. The industry will make a case for the status quo. But the Allegheny Defense Project will lobby for a moratorium on new drilling and phasing out old development across the forest. Other groups will ask for more wilderness designations. The Forest Service predicts a long, passionate debate. For Living on Earth, I'm Ann Murray in Forest County, Pennsylvania.
[MUSIC: Larry Carlton, “Breaking Ground” Friends, MCA (1983)]
CURWOOD: Coming up, we begin a year-long audio journey along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: Larry Carlton, “South Town” Friends, MCA (1983)
CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
[MUSIC Brian Eno, “Under Stars” ApollO, EG Records (1983)]
CURWOOD: Forty-three years ago this week, a dozen nations met in Washington, D.C., to preserve the continent of Antarctica for scientific research. The 1959 Antarctica treaty set up a scientific “safe-zone” where research would be freely shared among treaty members. It also prohibited military activity and waste disposal.
But the spirit of cooperation didn’t erase all political lines. Back in the early 1800s, explorers began planting their nations’ flags on the continent’s frozen shores with little idea of just what they were claiming.
But when sitting down to hammer out the 1959 treaty, no country would renounce its claim, no matter how shaky. So, today, Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom still officially call portions of Antarctica their own. But don’t expect these nations to press their claims any time soon. No one wants to drill for oil in the harsh conditions, and there’s not much else in terms of minerals. Throw in sub-zero temperatures, tornado-speed winds, and most countries don’t think supporting a South Pole colony is a good idea.
Still, some 1,000 people from 27 nations perform vital geologic and climate research there year-round. And just in case you’re interested, there are still about 800,000 square miles of Antarctic wilderness up for grabs. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.
CURWOOD: From time to time, most folks feel the need to keep a journal, to record the events and observations of everyday life. Verlyn Klinkenborg makes a living out of crafting words into prose. But it’s not the writer in him that wants to keep a journal. It’s the farmer. Or, as he puts it—the son, nephew, and grandson of farmers.
In his new book, “The Rural Life,” the New York Times contributor and Living on Earth commentator chronicles the simple pleasures and daily chores of living on his small farm in upstate New York. Welcome, Verlyn.
CURWOOD: Verlyn, how do you define a rural life?
KLINKENBORG: Well, these days that definition is very different from what it was when I was growing up. For me the backdrop of the true rural life is the one established in my own mind by my aunts and uncles who farm in the midwest. People whose livelihoods come right out of the country, right out of the soil around them. That to me is the real rural life and it’s something that I always measure myself against and always fail miserably by comparison with.
CURWOOD: Each week, you make a trip down to New York City to write for the New York Times and your other projects, do your commentary for Living on Earth. I’m wondering what changes in you as the physical landscape changes?
KLINKENBORG: Well it depends on which direction I’m going. If you take the train into New York, you can feel yourself being compressed and realigned, and re-energized. And, in a way, the same thing happens as I go back up into the country. I get re-energized, but it’s with a very different set of plans in mind. I’m thinking about the duck house I’m going to build next spring for May 1st, when our twelve new ducklings and two goslings arrive. I’m thinking about how I’m going to convince my wife that we need to rent a pasture so we can start raising steers of our own. It’s a more expansive kind of energy that the country thrusts upon you, and I give into it happily every week when I go home.
CURWOOD: Your family of origin comes from Iowa where you resonate with the rural life there. But, in fact, in America, emergent America, the rural life begins really right where you make your rural life, in eastern New York State, just over the Massachusetts line there. What about this original bit of agricultural America speaks to you, informs your writing, informs your life?
KLINKENBORG: Well, it’s a very interesting piece of rural America up there because it’s the part of rural America that is now heavily wooded in a way where it wasn’t a century and a half ago. A place where as everyone knows old stone walls run through the countryside through the woods, suggesting a level of habitation that was very different. Not more people, but more farmers, more open land. What I witness, especially as I drive down to catch the train, is the last of the great agricultural valleys in eastern New York State. A place where there was a lot of dairy farming, a lot of chicken farming once upon a time. That’s mostly gone. And the idea that we are living in the middle of what used to be the great northwest, the wheat frontier for colonial America, is always striking to me, because so little of that is left in any real sense. The number of farmers are few. It’s a very pressured life up there. They’re under threat from all sorts of directions, and yet I think at the same time the number of people like me who’ve taken an interest in rural living and the kind of choices it offers you is increasing. And it seems like there’s a real renaissance of very much smaller farms now than there used to be, but it’s a renaissance nonetheless.
CURWOOD: Could you just briefly give us a tour of your land there in upstate New York and how you’re getting it ready for the coming winter?
KLINKENBORG: Sure, it’s a very complicated, it’s a very small place. People when they read my rural life pieces in the Times think I must be talking about 300 acres or something. It’s five acres. It’s enough land to get into trouble with. It’s deep woods on two edges of it. There’s an old barn that’s maybe only 15 years old, but old enough to be full of character in its own right. The land is very rocky, it rolls down from a high level to the west in a series of terraces and drops down to the ground to the highway level which is the lowest part of it. And we do what everybody tries to do who lives up there. We try to think about our firewood, we try to think about what we’re going to be growing the next year. The things we’re thinking about right at the moment, the first one is making sure we compost all the horse manure. Making sure we move the pigs often enough because our two pigs are actually plowing up our pastures for us. The thing I’m thinking about now is how I’m going to seed all that new ground so it will be better pasture next year. It’s all things like this, and a lot of it comes out of my own curiousity about how things work, and a kind of, it comes out of growing up in a do-it-yourself household as well. But, it also comes from watching the farmers that I know and respect and thinking about how they look at the land and the projects they have going on. It’s always preparation, and what underlies the preparation is how can we make the land better than it is naturally. How can we make the soil richer? How can we make the animals happier and more productive. And really, how can we make ourselves happier and more productive as a result?
CURWOOD: It’s interesting, as you write about the landscape, you also write about the language. The language of country living, I’m thinking of, and how that changes over time. I’m wondering, in fact, if you could read a little from this.
KLINKENBORG: Sure. Words abide, but new phrases enter the tongue and old phrases exit, reflecting the way the social landscape alters. If, for example, at an old-fashioned family supper, you leaned across the tablecloth to take the yams from under your sister’s nose, you were told you had a “boardinghouse reach.” It was code for saying, “You’re behaving selfishly, like someone who doesn’t live in a nice home but has to rent a lonely room and eat with strangers.” In short, you got indicted for bad manners, low-class affinities, and anti-social leanings. You don’t hear the phrase much anymore. It evoked a time in the west when laboring men drifted like sand, or a calm dormered establishment with apron-hem rules of behavior against which the strong young men who boarded there were constantly, if coltishly, kicking. These incarnations of the rooming life have disappeared, so we’re dropping the expression. When a phrase becomes archaic, as “boardinghouse reach” almost has, an echo from the past vanishes, like coal smoke in an age of gas heat. Such phrases were only a wrinkle in time, I know, but I miss hearing them anyway. Sometimes I wish I owned a weekend cottage in the country of the old-time tongue. A little cabin near my grandma’s lexicon. You could stop by for a touch of Depression wisdom and talk some farm talk. You could stay the whole summer after too much TV. You could come back replenished by speech that summoned the deep past the way the frost heaves stones to the surface of the earth.
CURWOOD: Is there a place where we can find this kind of rural language in living today?
KLINKENBORG: I think the thing to say is simply that it isn’t strictly a rural language. It’s true that if you go to rural Montana or rural Wyoming or Iowa out in the countryside, you’ll hear a different rhythm of speech, a different set of locutions. But I think that what I’m talking about in that piece and what I mean when I talk about the language of everyday poetry, is that every locale, every neighborhood, every human connection is capable of generating its own poetry. Whether it’s in the country or in the city or in the suburbs, for that matter. I think the trick is to listen. The difference is that in the rural living, the subjects are different. The nouns are different. The verbs are different. The activities the language reflects are different. And they conjure up a resonance and really a kind of strong sense of kinship in most Americans, no matter how far they feel they’re removed from the farm.
CURWOOD: Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about the rural life for The New York Times and is a regular contributor to Living on Earth. His new book “The Rural Life.” Is published by Little, Brown and Company. Verlyn, thanks for taking this time with me today.
KLINKENBORG: You’re welcome.
About Verlyn Klinkenborg
MAN 1: Fire in the hole!
[GUNSHOT, NATIVE AMERICAN CHANTING]
CURWOOD: 2003 marks the start of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.
[FROGS, YELLING, SPLASHING WATER]
CURWOOD: And we’ve been wondering what’s happened to the woods, waterways, prairies, and towns along the Lewis and Clark trails these past two centuries.
WOMAN (WITH DRUM): One two, three…
CURWOOD: So we sent producer Barrett Golding along the trail on a bicycle to bring back portraits of the people he met along the way.
CURWOOD: One of his stops was along the western edge of the Columbia River bar. It’s a place where the river meets the ocean, a dangerous place that some call “the graveyard of the Pacific.” And it’s where you’ll find the United States Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment. Duty Surfman Kyle Betts works on the Search and Rescue team there, pulling boats and people out of, perhaps, the most treacherous stretch of water on the West Coast.
[WAVES, ELECTRONIC BOAT SIGNAL, BOAT ENGINE STARTING]
BETTS: We’re designed for the worst that Mother Nature can throw at us. And that’s when we go out.
U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment
(Photo: Josef Verbanac)
BETTS: This is about the worst you’re gonna get on the West Coast. You got to figure almost all of the Pacific Northwest drains through the Columbia River, meeting those waves could come from the Sea of Japan or even as far as Alaska, and when it meets this big flow of water coming out, it just builds up the waves up to 30, 40 feet in height. They’re even recorded instances of 50 feet of wave coming in across this bar.
[WATER, BOAT MOVING]
Duty Surfman Kyle Betts
(Photo: Josef Verbanac)
BETTS: And it can get pretty nasty out here. The waves, they make a tremendous sound, like freight trains rolling in through the bar, you can here them coming. You don’t see them, because most of the time it’s the middle of the night you’re out there, and the wind is blowing about 50 to 75 knots and the rain piercing your skin, and breaks from every direction coming at you. To give you an idea what it can be like, lift a lid on your washing machine. (WATER ROARING) And the sound of the 40,000 pound boat straight up and then you’re falling 20 feet free falling, and you just feel yourself falling down the back side, and you can’t see nothing and the froth is blowing all over, and then you got kids, 18, 19 years old standing behind you, and their eyes are the size of saucers, wondering what you do. ‘What do we do, what do we do?” And I say, ‘When you feel the boat stand straight up, bend your knees, it’s a long ways down.” That’s basically all you can tell them.
[RADIO SOUNDS, WAVES]
BETTS: You see kids mature real fast. You know, they get here, they’re 18, just out of high school, they’re still talking about the prom dance, and the next thing you know you’re out there in these big waves, pulling people out of the water and saving their lives.
BETTS: You see people in the water, and you have to make that decision. Can I get in here and do this? And the waves are big and the wind is big, and you know you’re gonna put a million dollars worth of boat and five lives at risk to save one, and when you go in there and you pull that life out of the water, and you get them out and you get out safely, there’s no greater thrill they could give me, they could give me any award they want to, when you turn to that person and they say, “Thank you,” that’s the biggest reward you could ever get, I don’t care what kind of medal they pin on me for that.
CURWOOD: Barrett Golding’s portraits of the Lewis and Clark Trail, 200 years later are part of the Hearing Voices series, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. For more audio, images, and interviews from the trail, check out our web site at loe.org. That’s loe.org.
CURWOOD: You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: Ready, get set, shop! The holiday rush is boom time for retailers, and it can be a tough time for consumers on a budget. With all the dazzling displays in the malls and the parade of advertising in the media, high school senior Jen Schaeflein says she’s learning fast that it’s hard to hang on to her wallet.
SCHAEFLEIN: Shopping. What girl doesn’t love it? I know I do. Ever since I started work a year ago, shopping has been on my mind. Friday is when I get my paycheck. I walk into work with one thing on my mind: how am I going to spend this money?
But things didn’t start out as usual last weekend. Our paychecks were late, so when Saturday rolled around, I had no money. Not doing my weekly routine gave me a chance to think. Do I really have to have that new shirt? Just because the jeans are buy-one-get-one-half-off, do I really need another pair? To me, the mall is like a big light that attracts bugs. It’s too hard to ignore. But I hear a buzz in the back of my head every time I’m near one. Don’t go, you don’t really need anything.
There are so many people responsible for just one shirt, from the cotton picker to the cashier. Just one of my purchases affects all of them. If I buy that shirt, then they will get paid. But how do I know that my shirt wasn’t made in a sweatshop somewhere? Now I find myself thinking twice before I buy that new shirt. Do I need it? How many times will I wear it? It’s hard not to buy what I really want, so I’ve managed to find a balance that lets me buy what I want, and keep my closet from piling up with too many clothes. When I buy a T-shirt and pants, I give a T-shirt and pants away. My church has a donation box outside the parking lot. I put my new outfit in my closet, and grab an old outfit I don’t wear anymore, and head over to the church. I put my old clothes in the donation box.
I know my typical American ways of buying too much and giving back too little are not going to be solved by simply putting an outfit in a donation box after I go on a shopping spree. But as I look at my closet, I feel better that it’s not growing, and that someone else’s is.
CURWOOD: Jen Schaeflein is a senior at Queen of Peace High School in Chicago. She produced this commentary as part of Living on Earth’s Ecological Literacy Project. For more on our education project, and to hear work from other students involved in it, visit our website at loe.org. That’s loe.org.
[MUSIC The Jazz Warriors,“Chameleon” Rebirth of the Cool, 4th & Bway (1993)]
CURWOOD: Just ahead: how to be a good guest when visiting the planet Mars. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.
TOOMEY: Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control have found more evidence that the use of antibiotics in farm animals has led to a rise in antibiotic resistance in human diseases. The new research centers on Campylocbacter, a foodborne pathogen that’s found primarily in chickens and is responsible for almost two and a half million infections in the U.S. each year.
The antibiotic cipro is used to treat these infections in humans. But a similar drug, known as baytril, is used to treat the illness in poultry. A number of scientists believe this practice had lead to a rise in baytril-resistant microbes and that resistance has spread to humans.
The CDC study found that in 2001, 19 percent of campylocbactor samples from food poisoning cases tested positive for resistance to cipro. That’s up from 14 percent the previous year. The FDA has proposed banning baytril on poultry farms. A number of major poultry producers have already voluntarily done so. But Bayer, the company that makes baytril, is appealing the proposed ban and says use of this drug in sick birds actually ensures only healthy chickens and turkeys enter the food supply. That’s this week’s Environmental Health Note. I’m Diane Toomey.
CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: Stereo MC’s, “Fever” Rebirth of the Cool, 4th & Bway (1993)]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Coming up: grape skins for your skin. It’s vino therapy.
First, the huge sheets of ice that were recently discovered on the surface of Mars have scientists suspecting we may find microbial life there. But, just as we shouldn’t go to a dinner party with an infectious disease, we need to make sure when we visit the red planet we don’t leave behind any unwanted germs. Robin White has our story.
WHITE: You don’t have to go to Mars to understand the problem of contamination. Time and again here on Earth we’ve introduced exotic species that have devastated the local fauna. Margaret Race is an ecologist who now works in the esoteric field of space contamination but she started out studying mud snails in San Francisco Bay.
[SOUND OF LAPPING WAVES]
RACE: I wouldn’t expect to find them along here, they don’t tend to come in over rocky areas.
WHITE: The East Coast mud snail was accidentally introduced here into the Bay after the Gold Rush. Race found that 150 years later it had driven the native Californian snail almost to the edge of existence by competing for its food and eating its eggs.
RACE: So we know if you move organisms from one place to another on Earth you can cause ecological disruption. So, when we go to the moon or to Mars or to other places in the solar system, we have to do our science responsibly. That means you don’t move organisms around unless you do it very carefully.
WHITE: We don’t know if there’s any life on Mars to disrupt. But the idea that there could be has become less outlandish based on discoveries made here on Earth. Scientists have found that bacteria are almost everywhere --living in hot ocean vents at high pressure, in battery acid and in Antarctic sea ice. These hostile places are similar to the conditions on some of the planets and moons we might visit.
COCKELL: EVA crew, have you completed depressurization to 5 psi?
RADIO: Yes we have – we’re confirming five psi depressurization complete.
WHITE: This is not preparation for a moonwalk. Everyone you’re hearing is right here on Earth. We’re in the far Canadian Arctic where scientists from NASA and other agencies are studying what it might be like to send humans to Mars. To help them do that they’ve set up a prototype Martian home away from home. Two scientists dressed in fake spacesuits are about to leave the cylinder’s airlock for a mockup Martian walkabout.
COCKELL: EVA crew, you are go for complete airlock depressurization
WHITE: There’s a comical aspect to the scene but underneath the dress up some real science is going on. Scientists come here to bleak, brown Devon Island every summer because it’s the part of the Earth that is perhaps most like Mars. There’s a 12-mile wide meteorite crater, similar to thousands which litter the surface of Mars. And like Mars, Devon Island is extremely cold and dry and gets a lot of ultraviolet radiation. Andy Scheurger is a scientist at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He’s here studying microorganisms such as staphylococcus, coliform and candida, which sometimes drop off the human body. He’s trying to find out if they’re able to colonize the soil around the research camp.
[SOUND OF WIND BLOWING, SCRAPING SOUNDS]
SCHUERGER: As you can see, the ground is pretty compacted and somewhat frozen, but I’m just scraping off the top three or four millimeters. … I’m harvesting from tire tracks from human footprints …
WHITE: Schuerger believes that human bacteria – unlike microorganisms that have evolved to live in extreme environments – won’t be able to take hold on Mars. He’s hoping his study here will help prove that.
SCHUERGER: If we can document that the human-associated microorganisms are unable to colonize this harsh environment, then it’s very unlikely that human activities on Mars would contaminate the landing site around a Mars base.
WHITE: Schuerger says most human microbes falling on the Martian surface would die off in minutes to hours.
Three thousand miles south of Devon Island at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, scientists say we can’t afford to take any risks. Karen Buxbaum leads the agency’s planetary protection unit. She says it’s good science to make sure we don’t put any microbes on the surface of Mars.
BUXBAUM: We’re always on guard that something that we would take with us from one expedition would confuse the results from the next.
WHITE: It reminds her of the woozle story in Winnie the Pooh.
BUXBAUM: Pooh and Piglet are walking around this big tree in the snow looking for a woozle. And after they’ve gone in one orbit around the tree they see another they see two sets of footprints. And they continue to walk around and they see more and more footprints and they begin to wonder if they are seeing the tracks of more and more woozles.
WHITE: NASA is going to great lengths to make sure we don’t mistake our own biological footprints as evidence of Martian woozles. Wayne Shubert is in charge of the Jet Propulsion Lab’s clean rooms. That’s where spacecraft are designed.
[SOUND OF STEPPING ON STICKY MATS]
To get inside we go through an elaborate decontamination process - stepping on sticky mats, putting on masks and robes and finally passing through the air shower.
[SOUND OF AIR SHOWER]
SHUBERT: What we are doing is blowing air to remove any of the dust particles that may have inadvertently landed on our smocks and gloves and hats.
WHITE: Inside, the clean room is white and spotless. A gentle breeze carries away dust particles that might land on parts of a spacecraft. Older equipment such as the Mars Viking lander was sterilized with heat. But today’s sensitive electronics would be damaged by that. So now, NASA’s wiping with alcohol and using ultrasonic vibrations to shake loose microbes that might be attached to parts. Technicians test constantly to make sure they’re keeping down the numbers of microbes.
WHITE: A centrifuge spins samples taken from a supposedly clean spacecraft.
SCHUBERT: Detection of microorganisms is sort of the flip side of planetary protection. On one side we are trying to get rid of them but we need to be able to verify whether they are there or not so we need to be able to detect them, too
WHITE: Schubert’s team is looking for the molecule ATP which is found in every living cell. If ATP is present the samples actually light up, telling the technician there’s life there. And that happens all the time. It’s almost impossible to get anything completely clean. For a craft that’s going to land on Mars, NASA’s goal allows for up to 300 microbial spores per square meter of surface and 300,000 spores per spacecraft. That may sound like a lot, but it’s far cleaner than a hospital operating room. Karen Buxbaum says spacecraft designers go to great lengths to achieve that.
BUXBAUM: If they can avoid mechanical structures that have concave or hidden parts or right angle surfaces and, instead, have smooth surfaces that are easy to wipe clean, they’ll do that. We want to have things that avoid the same effect as dirt getting stuck in the corners when you’re washing the floor year after year.
WHITE: There are people who argue all these precautions are ridiculous. Bob Zubrin’s the founder of the Mars Society, a private organization promoting human colonization of Mars. He says a natural exchange of material between Earth and Mars has been happening for billions of years. When asteroids slam into planets they knock off bits of that planet’s rock. Those bits go flying around the solar system and sometimes land on other planets.
ZUBRIN: This natural transfer between Earth and Mars is one reason why the efforts to stop contamination are almost certainly completely futile. The bacteria have innumerable numbers of their own spacecraft and they’re not going through the quarantine.
WHITE: Many pounds of dust and rock from Mars do land on Earth each year and vice versa. Some argue that life on Earth might have been started by microbes that hitched a ride from Mars. But Karen Buxbaum says the transfer process can take thousands, even millions of years.
BUXBAUM: The types of accelerated processes that we do with our exploration is not the same as a process that takes place over geological time.
WHITE: We’d be moving organisms from one planet to another in a matter of months. We just can’t predict what would happen if we did introduce microbes to Mars in that way. Remember Andy Shuerger scraping tire tracks on Devon Island? Well, it turns out after many months of analysis he found that human microbes had survived the harsh winter in the Arctic soil. It doesn’t mean they would thrive in the extreme climate on Mars, but it does remind us that bacteria are tricky little devils. We don’t fully understand them and if we spread them around willy-nilly, we could do damage. Ecologist Margaret Race thinks that if we do find life on Mars exploration will become even more difficult.
[SOUND OF WATER]
RACE: If the life is truly Martian…essentially is distinct and unique and that raises something that’s ethical do we have a right to interfere with that and its existence and evolutionary trajectory. I don’t know the answer to that and I don’t know if any scientist or theologian does. It’s a question that stops you in your tracks.
WHITE: Hopefully, it stops us long enough to make sure we get it right. But almost all the scientists who work on the decontamination process say the human urge to explore is fundamental to who we are. They say we shouldn’t get so concerned about contamination that it stops us from venturing to other worlds.
For Living on Earth, I’m Robin White in San Francisco.
[MUSIC: Brian Eno, “Signals”, Apollo, EG Records (1983)]
CURWOOD: The term “Canadian wine” was once synonymous with sticky syrup and a wicked hangover. But Canadian wines are now selling well and winning international awards. Across the South Okanagan region of British Columbia, acre after acre of desert land is now sprouting grapevines. Competition for customers is fiercer than ever, and as food writer Don Genova found, a few winery owners are trying some unusual marketing twists.
CIPES: The sounds in this hallway, going up to the pyramid, are especially beautiful, because of the resonation, you hear the echo off the walls, and everyone is always enchanted by the candlelight,
[SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS]
GENOVA: Most pyramids are found in the Egyptian desert; this one is at an organic winery, the Summerhill Pyramid Winery near Kelowna, British Columbia.
CIPES: The dimensions of the pyramid are based on an eight percent replica of the Great Pyramid. And it's the same angles as the Great Pyramid, and it's also oriented to true North, just as the Great Pyramid is…(fade under)
GENOVA: Stephen Cipes is the proprietor of the winery. He's a New York City real estate developer who escaped to the calm of this valley to raise his children. He believes the two pyramids he built here have the power to somehow improve the quality of the wines he ages in them. While he says they're not scientific claims, he's fond of telling visitors how the vortex created by the pyramid can change the properties of foods and liquids placed within it:
CIPES: For instance, if you put raw milk in here, it will turn to yogurt, it won't rot. If you put meat in here it will petrify. It changes the flavors of liquids, that's the most amazing thing. It brings out the qualities or the bad things about it whatever they are.
GENOVA: Skeptics can joke about it all they like, but this guy is good for the Canadian wine industry. His sparkling wines have won Champagne awards in France. He's bought specialty equipment for organic grapegrowers to share so they can keep their businesses going. And, during peak tourism season, up to three thousand people a day visit the winery.
As we left the pyramid, we stopped by a large crate heaped full of grape stems, skins and seeds left over from this year's harvest and crushing process.
CIPES: Nice to feel the touch of it, eh? Feel, it's probably healthful for your skin just to play in this stuff, hey? These are the leftover seeds, they call them pips, that actually are composted and put back into the soil, but now we're going to use the phenolics and the resveratol that's buried in these….
GENOVA: Absolutely nothing here is going to waste. I traced these grape leftovers to downtown Kelowna:
PENDER: Oh great, that's our first harvest of stems right here. So they've been drying so now we're going to use these in exfoliations but these have gotta be milled here and ground so they're not quite so slivery.
GENOVA: That's Debra Pender, owner of the Beyond Wrapture spa in downtown Kelowna. She's recycling the Summerhill winery waste in her new “vinotherapy” treatments.
PENDER: So, let's just go ahead here, Toby...
GENOVA: Her assistant is pounding some grapeseeds into a scrub mixture for my exfoliation and massage:
PENDER: So, what we've done here is we've taken the pulps and the pips and we've just taken a handful of it and we're applying it to the body, can you feel the exfoliation, Don?
[SOUND OF SCRUBBING]
GENOVA: At this point I'm in grape heaven. The warm scrub smells and feels good, but vinotherapy is supposed to be good for you, as well. The therapy was developed in the 1990's by a pharmacology professor at Bordeaux University in France. The first vinotherapy spa opened in Bordeaux two years ago, and when Pender heard about it she thought it was perfect for Canada's wine country:
PENDER: Well, this is exactly all the stuff with spa-ing that is so important and with the skin care. We get a lot of people with skin problems in here and here right now Summerhill is just throwing away the byproducts so we can use it and it's beneficial to us as humans. I just thought that was really interesting.
GENOVA: Days later, my skin was still feeling soft and smooth. Bookings for the treatments have been brisk. Pender is developing a line of take-home vinotherapy products such as soaps and lotions. Stephen Cipes is talking about building a spa at the Summerhill winery, near the winery's restaurant. Hmmm. Pyramids, vinotherapy, food and wine. Not a bad place to eat, drink and be cosmic. For Living on Earth, I'm Don Genova, in Kelowna, British Columbia.
[MUSIC: Stan Getz & Kenny Baron “East of the Sun” People Time Verve (1992)]
CURWOOD: And for this week, that’s Living on Earth. Next week, auto-immune diseases, like lupus and schleroderma, have no cures and are little undersood by scientists. But in Boston, health officials are looking for clues among a cluster of affected women and the industrial chemicals that pervade their neighborhood.
WOMAN: I never really felt a sense of urgency but after the three deaths in 2001, I feel that sense of urgency. Urgency to get some answers before the rest of us are dead.
CURWOOD: Cluster mysteries, next time on Living on Earth.
[OMINOUS FOREST NOISES, BIRD CALLS]
CURWOOD: We leave you this week with an acoustic walk in the woods. French Canadian Bernard Fort uses a little studio wizardry and electronic manipulation to deliver this composition of bird calls recorded in the forests of Quebec Province. It’s called “Etude Forestiere.”
[EARTHEAR: Bernard Fort “Forestiere” Earth Ear (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 Cynthia Graber. Maggie Villiger, and Jennifer Chu, along with Al Avery, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Jessica Penney and Liz Lempert. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. We had help this week from Anna Kraftson-Hogue, Jesse Hardman, Andrew Strickler, Nicole Giese and “The Alleghney Front” at WYEP in Pittsburgh.. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.
CURWOOD: Our technical director is Chris Engles. 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.
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