• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

October 24, 2003

Air Date: October 24, 2003

FULL SHOW

(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

Share the Burden / Ingrid Lobet

(stream / mp3)

People in the nation’s most polluted neighborhoods are increasingly making their voices heard at the policy level, especially in California. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports on a trend that may revamp the environmental movement. (06:00)

El Anuncio del EPA

(stream / mp3)

For the past month, the EPA has aired paid advertisements on the Hispanic Radio Network. Among other topics, these ads feature what some members of Congress consider a plug for the president’s Clear Skies Initiative. Host Steve Curwood talks with Congressman Henry Waxman about why these ads may be illegal. EPA spokeswoman Lisa Harrison responds. (04:30)

Environmental Health Note/Occupational Hazards / Diane Toomey

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports on a study that shows teenage workers suffer illness from occupational exposure to disinfectants more often than adults. (01:20)

Almanac/“Man & Beast”

(stream / mp3)

This week, we have facts about half man/half beast creations. As Halloween draws near, a British archaeologist says these chimeric creatures are the work of our ancient psyches. (01:30)

Ecodemics

(stream / mp3)

Memories of West Nile Virus, Mad Cow Disease and SARS are still fresh, even after reports of the initial outbreaks have long faded. Author Mark Jerome Walters believes we should look to our own actions for the origins of these diseases. Host Steve Curwood talks with Walters about his new book, "Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them." (06:30)

An Unsung Hero / Cynthia Graber

(stream / mp3)

As part of the continuing series "The Secret Life of Lead," Cynthia Graber reports on one part of the lead research team whose contribution is often overlooked. (06:00)

It’s a Wild World / Sy Montgomery

(stream / mp3)

October has been a month of animals behaving badly. Or maybe they’re just being themselves. Commentator Sy Montgomery says that catching prey is fundamental to animals and sometimes people become the victims. (03:00)

Emerging Science Note/Water Power / Jennifer Chu

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a new development that could create electricity from water. (01:20)

Climate Stewardship Act / Jeff Young

(stream / mp3)

U.S. senators will soon cast their first votes on whether to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Most observers expect the measure will fail. But supporters say it will at least put the Senate on the record on global warming. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports. (04:45)

Busy Bees / Robin White

(stream / mp3)

Most people probably aren't aware that the honeybee is not native to the United States. But we do have about 4,000 native species of bees. And a group of researchers is out to convince farmers that providing habitat for them would reap economic benefit. Robin White reports from northern California. (08:30)

A Gap in Nature / Tim Flannery

(stream / mp3)

In another installment of our continuing series on animals that are no more, author Tim Flannery tells us about the Atitlán grebe, a nearly flightless bird that once lived in the Guatemalan highlands. (03:15)

This week's EarthEar selection
listen / download

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Mark Jerome Walters, Henry WaxmanREPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet, Jeff Young, Cynthia Graber, Robin WhiteCOMMENTARY: Sy MontgomeryNOTES: Diane Toomey, Jennifer Chu

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. When toxic facilities want to move into disadvantaged neighborhoods, opponents often face uphill battles. Now California is imposing strict guidelines on such development plans, and this approach could become the national standard.

TAKYORIAN: Definitely, this should be the guidance for environmental justice for the next 10-20 years.

CURWOOD: Also, complaints from Congressional Democrats that the Bush administration is ignoring the law in its efforts to promote its clean air bill.

WAXMAN: The Environmental Protection Agency is not supposed to be out there advertising and propagandizing the American people through paid advertising.

CURWOOD: And why carnivores can’t help themselves when it comes to seeing humans as prey.

MONTGOMERY: It’s like you’re on Atkins and there’s this donut on the table. The next minute, despite your best intentions, the donut is gone.

CURWOOD: Animals gone wild and more this week on Living on Earth, first this.

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder & Manuel Galban “Drume Negrita” MAMBO SINUENDO (Nonesuch – 2003)]

ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth Comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

Back to top

 

Share the Burden

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

We begin our program this week with a look at the latest evolution of the environmental movement. The image of the environmentalist as the weekend hiking, bird watching, affluent, white suburbanite is changing. A growing number of environmental activists are brown and black and yellow and red. And more and more, the ecology movement is taking cues from folks who have to live with the ill effects of runaway development. In California, the call for environmental justice is influencing policy at the highest levels and is affecting state regulations on air, pesticide use, water, and waste. Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet has our story.

LOBET: Few could remember a hearing quite like one in Oakland recently. Young Latino activists, military base mothers, and Laotian grandparents converged by the busload on the offices of the California Environmental Protection Agency. They came looking for recognition that their communities are unfairly polluted and a remedy to ease their burden.

(Courtesy of Environmental Health Coalition)

GUZMAN: [IN SPANISH] My name is Ester Guzman. Today, I've come to demand that you make the regulations for locating new facilities stricter. My children are sick. One of them had to have sinus surgery at just two years old. You've sent around mobile asthma clinics that hand out Claritin and inhalers, but the problem itself never goes away.

[CHEERING AND CLAPPING]

LOBET: Speaker after speaker pressed California officials to adopt a statewide environmental justice policy that requires detailed analysis of the cumulative impact new industrial projects have on neighborhoods. They also want a greater say over whether such projects should be considered in the first place. Michelle Prichard is with the Liberty Hill Foundation in Los Angeles which has been channeling funds to grassroots environmental groups since the 1980s.

PRICHARD: I think it is a major turning point. Community activists, academic scholars, policy experts have been working for many, many years to try to put something like this on paper that would create some standards giving equal protection for all communities with regard to the risks that are posed from environmental pollutants.

LOBET: What that means exactly is that developers who want to locate a waste disposal plant or build a new factory near neighborhoods where there are already heavy emissions or tainted water may soon have to answer a whole new set of questions and prove to regulators that they’ve listened to community concerns. Romel Pascual, whose title at California's EPA is Deputy Secretary for Environmental Justice, reels off some of the questions regulators will be posing to developers.

PASCUAL: It's – have you looked at other locations? Have you really looked at it? I think is the question. Tell us, have you looked at it? Demonstrate to us that there are not other places. How did you do those meetings? What kind of meetings did you have? Did you really sit out here and talk with folks? Or did you just post a meeting and hope that people showed up?

[CLAPPING]

FEMALE: Thank you to everybody who has spoken to the committee so far and…

LOBET: In the end, only one person representing California businesses voted against the new environmental justice guidelines. That lopsided tally reflects a new reality in California environmental politics, one in which emerging community groups are gaining some unexpected allies.

[BEEPING, ELEVATOR DOORS CLOSING]

(Courtesy of Environmental Health Coalition)   

LOBET: The 29th floor of PG&E, the electric utility that has powered San Francisco for 100 years. PG&E has its own environmental image problems. It was portrayed as the water-poisoning villain in the movie “Erin Brokovich,” and residents who live near PG&E power plants blame the company for high asthma rates. But PG&E Vice President for Environmental Affairs Robert L. Harris sat on the committee that drafted the new environmental justice guidelines and he voted for them. Part of it, he says, is good corporate policy. Part of it was also that activists backed down on one of their key issues – the precautionary principle. Put simply, environmental justice groups wanted the government and business to err on the side of caution, to look for non-toxic alternatives even when a product hasn't been proven to be harmful. But they opted for pragmatism and accepted language that promises something less – a precautionary approach – a term no one has defined.

HARRIS: The environmental community did move significantly, the environmental justice community, I should say on that particular issue. Because there were some people who felt strongly it should be precautionary principle language, with all the baggage that it brings with it. To move toward a precautionary approach was a significant change for them.

LOBET: Support like this from the 29th floor is becoming more common. The decision-makers are not as monochromatic as they once were. That's another reason the environmental justice agenda has migrated from the kitchen table to the boardroom. But not all businesses signed on to a document they believe will present a whole new set of hurdles and uncertainty. Chemical companies hard lobbied against it. Cindy Tuck of the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance cast the lone dissenting vote and says business will continue to fight even a watered-down version of the precautionary principle.

TUCK: You are talking about regulating based on allegations of harm, as opposed to credible information or good science. It talks about shifting the burden to a proponent of the project and there's the concern that it's not possible to prove a negative.

LOBET: Unlike the past however, the industry view did not prevail. California governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn't spelled out his views on environmental justice yet. But the combination of existing statutes and the growing push from community groups means this shift is likely to continue. Diane Takvorian chaired the California EPA committee.

TAKYORIAN: Definitely, this should be the guidance for environmental justice for the next 10-20 years.

LOBET: Meanwhile, a national EPA environmental justice advisory committee is tackling many of these same questions. So a policy at the federal level probably won't lag far behind California's. For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.

Related links:
- Communities for a Better Environment
- Environmental Health Coalition
- California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance

Back to top

 

El Anuncio del EPA

CURWOOD: Listeners to the Hispanic Radio Network have been hearing a lot about the environment from the Bush administration this month.

[MUSIC PLAYING, WOMAN SPEAKING IN SPANISH, BEEPING OF HEART MONITOR, WHIRRING OF EQUIPMENT]

CURWOOD: This paid advertisement is from the Environmental Protection Agency. It touts Clear Skies, the president’s bill before Congress to reduce power plant pollution.

[MAN SPEAKING IN SPANISH, MUSIC PLAYING]

CURWOOD: The ad is part of the agency’s educational drive during National Hispanic Heritage Month. Lisa Harrison, EPA spokeswoman, describes the campaign this way.

CURWOOD: The general gist in one of them is specifically focused on asthma. And the sound effects are a child wheezing and a mother discussing how her son has asthma, and they often go to the emergency room. And she believes it’s very important that the government to take steps to reduce air pollution, and the Clear Skies Initiative, if enacted, will be required to reduce toxic air emissions by 70 percent for mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide, and urges members of the Spanish speaking community to work for a better environment and log onto EPA’s Clear Skies webpage.

CURWOOD: This message, though, has raised concerns with several members of Congress, who say the EPA may have violated federal law. Among them is Democratic Representative Henry Waxman of California and he joins me from Washington. Congressman Waxman, what is your concern about these ads?

WAXMAN: Well, it’s really unprecedented for EPA to pay for advertising to promote a legislative proposal. In the past, the Environmental Protection Agency has put out public service announcements that might relate to air pollution issues, but this is using taxpayers’ funds for propaganda, for lobbying to advance a legislative agenda. And it’s in violation of – it appears, anyway, to be in violation of the prohibition in the appropriations for the EPA because it says, specifically, no funds can be used for propaganda purposes. And there’s also an anti-lobbying act which prohibits federal officials from engaging in campaigns about pending legislative matters. So there’s a question whether this whole ad campaign is legal.

CURWOOD: If the agency has violated these anti-lobbying, and what’s in the appropriations for it, what are the possible repercussions here?

WAXMAN: The possible repercussions are for the Justice Department to take action, and primarily to tell them to stop. And we’re trying to get to the bottom of it. We’re trying to find out who authorized this campaign, how much money is EPA spending, what parts of the country are they targeting. These are the kinds of questions that I think we ought to know more about.

CURWOOD: Who do you think is responsible for these ads, Congressman?

WAXMAN: Somebody in the administration who’s looking at the fact that the public is starting to see the Bush administration as hostile to environmental protection, even in the area of clean air. And they’ve targeted, as best we can tell, a very specific group. They’ve targeted an Hispanic audience. They’ve run ads on Spanish language radio, they’re doing a full page ad that we know about in a Spanish language newspaper. So it appears that they might have taken polls and said that the Hispanic population – probably no different from the rest of the population – is concerned about the Bush administration’s handling of the environment, and they’re trying to convince them that they should trust this administration.

CURWOOD: Lisa Harrison, spokeswoman for the EPA, says the agency is working to meet Congressman Waxman’s requests. But she argues the agency’s ad campaign is within the law.

HARRISON: Obviously, we do not agree with the charges. We obviously discussed this with our lawyers but, in our opinion the public information efforts do not violate the anti-lobbying act or the appropriations act lobbying restrictions specifically because they don’t expressly request members of the public to contact Congress in support of the pending Clear Skies legislation which would be the definition of lobbying.

CURWOOD: The EPA’s ad campaign on Hispanic Radio is scheduled to run through the end of October.

[MUSIC: Unknown Artist “Track 36” LOE BEDS IN A HURRY (No Label – Year)]

Back to top

 

Environmental Health Note/Occupational Hazards

CURWOOD: Just ahead: how humans are changing the ecosystem in ways that promote infectious diseases. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.

[HEALTH NOTE THEME]

TOOMEY: Most teenagers in the United States work at some point during their school years. And a new study shows that, compared to adults, children are more likely to become ill from occupational exposure to disinfectants.

Researchers gathered five years worth of data from the state of California and poison control centers across the country. They found more than 300 youths had became ill at work from disinfectants during that time. That’s about four times the annual rate for adults. None of the exposures were serious but more than 20 percent were considered moderate. For instance, one 17-year-old girl suffered corneal burns after accidentally splashing her face with disinfectant. In most cases, the youths were not wearing basic protective equipment such as gloves or goggles.

One industry stands out as being particularly prone to these types of accidents. Although just about a third of California youths worked in restaurants, that industry accounted for more than half of the reported disinfectant illnesses in that state. The authors say that their results point to the need for better education of employers, parents, and working children on the hazards of chemical exposure in the workplace and, perhaps, stronger regulations, as well.

That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Diane Toomey.

[HEALTH NOTE THEME]

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

[MUSIC: Sebastian Tellier “Fantino” LOST IN TRANSLATION (Emperor Norton-2003) ]

Back to top

 

Almanac/“Man & Beast”

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

[MUSIC: Portishead “Numb” DUMMY (Go! Discs Ltd. – 1994) ]

CURWOOD: They are the monsters we love to fear – werewolves and vampires. Half human/half beasts that are everywhere in modern culture, from horror flicks to Halloween costumes. What you may not know is that forerunners of these chimeric creations were subjects of some of the world's oldest human artwork.

CHIPPINDALE: There are a lot in Australia with kangaroo heads and then other kinds of creatures in Australia - flying foxes - which are a kind of flying fruit bat. Particularly, you get fruit bat heads on human bodies.

CURWOOD: Archeologist Christopher Chippindale has studied more than 5,000 rock drawings in Australia, South Africa, and North America dating back 12,000 years. He found only one common theme: drawings of human bodies with animal parts. The reason, he says, may lie in psychology.

CHIPPINDALE: People have to deal with the dark. They have to deal with mysterious things that happen in the night and so they make a world in which the animals are a part and a world in which the animals and human beings interact.

CURWOOD: Mr. Chippindale sees a link between these early fantasies and the monsters that haunt us today.

CHIPPINDALE: We don’t believe in imaginary things but there’s still a sense of this in vampires and zombies. And otherwise, they crop up in the movies as something to frighten with you, even though you know they’re only pretend.

CURWOOD: And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac. [LAUGHTER]

[MUSIC: Portishead “Numb” DUMMY (Go! Discs Ltd. – 1994) ]

Back to top

 

Ecodemics

CURWOOD: From the cattle carcasses of mad cow disease to the surgical masks of SARS, it’s hard to forget the images of the world’s modern epidemics. International labs are trying to find the biological origins of these fast-spreading and, in many cases, deadly diseases. But Mark Jerome Walters says that, in part, we are to blame for the scourge. Dr. Walters is a Florida-based journalist trained in veterinary medicine and he’s written a new book about the human impact on emerging diseases. It’s called “Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them,” and he joins me now. Welcome, Mark.

WALTERS: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Mark, in your book you coin the term “ecodemic.” Could you explain what this is?

WALTERS: We have traditionally used the term “epidemics” or “pandemics” to describe diseases. And the more I learned about these the more I came to realize the profound human hand in the emergence and spread of these diseases. And it seemed to me that we were just too often letting ourselves off the hook by calling them kind of a dispassionate, distant epidemics. And I coined the term “ecodemics,” number one, to honor the deep ecological roots of these diseases and also, in the hope of trying to shift some of the responsibility for these to human beings and away from nature.

CURWOOD: You write that epidemics historically come in waves, brought on, in part, by human activity. Can you trace some history of this for us, please?

WALTERS: When people first began to coalesce into settlements and to domesticate animals thousands of years ago, we really set up a situation where a number of diseases jumped to human beings. For example, you know, cattle were the original source of small pox. And we saw – it is widely believed that the common cold came from horses, measles from a mutant distemper virus in dogs. And even leprosy is believed to have arisen at this time. Five hundred years or so ago as the Europeans and others began exploring the globe, we know some of the stories about the terrible plagues that were introduced to the Americas, to the Pacific, to Hawaii, for example, and to Africa. Well, 150 years ago we saw that increased immunity and some medical advances had really brought a dramatic decline in infectious disease. But now, in the past 20 or 30 years, we have seen what is likely to be another great wave of epidemics.

CURWOOD: Can you give me just a brief rundown of the various human impacts that contribute to epidemics?

WALTERS: Sure. I think that industrialized agriculture is certainly one of the most significant. We’ve seen that in mad cow disease. And we also see an element of the industrialized agriculture affecting the spread of West Nile virus. One of the reasons that the outbreak was so severe, recently, in Colorado, where more than 40 people have died, is because a mosquito that carries it out there breeds very well in irrigation ditches that are used in the farmland out there. Forest degradation – that is well documented, its close ties with the emergence of Lyme disease which, after all, has become the most common disease in the United States spread by a vector, a tick. And in many of these we see the whole idea of globalization and rapid spread, whether it’s spreading salmonella through the distribution of cattle feed, or SARS, which was spread very quickly from Hong Kong through global travel on airplanes and elsewhere.

CURWOOD: What kind of diseases to you see coming in the wake of climate change?

WALTERS: We are probably apt to see a number of diseases spread because the climate changes and makes one area more hospitable than it was before. For example, with malaria which is appearing in new parts of the world and appearing in places where we thought we had had it completely eliminated. For example, in Virginia where not long ago it was found for the first time in twenty years in both people and mosquitoes.

CURWOOD: You mentioned salmonella. Tell us, why is it such a problem?

WALTERS: Salmonella – there is a long history of that causing food poisoning in people. And the interesting thing as new waves and different types of salmonella emerged – they seemed to follow the introduction of certain antibiotics into agriculture. And so we’ve had lessons time and time again. You use a certain class or family of drugs to treat animals, to help them grow faster, and within months or perhaps years you begin to see antibiotic resistant salmonella in people. And so it’s both the most recent form of salmonella, which is called DT104, emerged and it was resistant to five different of antibiotics and some of the most of the most powerful antibiotics we had on the market.

CURWOOD: Mark, what diseases do you see on the horizon where human impacts on the environment are to blame?

WALTERS: We see other viruses tooling around elsewhere in the world that have caused very few deaths but have the potential for something quite large. The nipah virus, for example, in Malaysia. Here’s a virus that was originally carried by bats and did not seem to affect humans or any other species. And bats, because they had carried it for so long, were essentially immune. Well, because of burning of forests and climatic events, and the failure of the natural fruit crop for these bats, they were forced to change their migration route. And that brought them to cultivated orchards where there were also a lot of pigs. Then they infected pigs; pigs apparently infected humans. Now, if that were to emerge in the U.S. it would be an enormous problem, both in terms of public health and economic. And I do know some epidemiologists – that is their disease they seem to fear most. And that is why I think there is an increasing trend to try to understand the ecological part of these diseases, and I think it’s tremendously encouraging when you see this new level of collaboration and sharing of knowledge. For example, ornithologists become as important in the equation of understanding a new human disease as an epidemiologist. That is progress, and that is bound to take us somewhere, in my view, much better than we have been.

CURWOOD: Mark Jerome Walters is a journalist and author of “Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them.” Thanks for taking this time with me today.

WALTERS: Thank you.

Related link:
“Six Modern Plagues and How We are Causing Them” (Island Press)

Back to top

 

An Unsung Hero

CURWOOD: This year, Living on Earth has been following research underway at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the University of Cincinnati. Scientists there are trying to understand how lead can affect development, intelligence and even criminal behavior in young people. And each research team in the project has a member whose contribution is essential, but doesn’t get much recognition. Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber has this profile of one such unsung hero.

Biostatistician Rick Hornung.   

GRABER: Rick Hornung sits at his desk in a windowless office, surrounded by stacks of paper, a computer, and books with titles such as “Linear Models in Clinical Trials,” “Advanced Calculus,” and “Case Studies in Biometry.” Hornung says at cocktail parties he describes his work this way:

HORNUNG: I would be the guy that would say what is the risk of lung cancer if you smoke so many packs of cigarettes a day for so many years of your life. That's usually where I stop because beyond that, they probably lose interest. [LAUGHTER]

GRABER: It’s a simple explanation of what seems to be a complicated job – a biostatistician. Hornung began his training with the study of math, and followed with statistics. He received a doctorate in biostatistics which brings science into the mix to pull it all together. A biostatistician, he says, uses these skills in the initial stages of the research. At that point, the aim is to help scientists choose the type of study that would best tease out the answers to their questions.

HORNUNG: There’s, oh, dozens of different types of designs that could be considered. And so, my job is to try to steer the group to a design that’s not only doable but will sort of yield the maximum amount of information regarding the hypotheses that they want to test.

GRABER: For example, for the study of lead’s effects on children's IQ, the researchers chose to conduct a longitudinal study. This means they’ll follow their subjects over a relatively long-term period, in this case, five years. Hornung also helped the scientists figure out how large the study group would need to be to ensure that a drop in IQ is actually from lead and not from some other factor in the subject’s lives – in other words, the number of study subjects that would ensure a statistically significant result. So he asked researchers what they would consider a significant drop in IQ. He took this number and the length of the study into consideration.

HORNUNG: Given those things then, there are mathematical functions that involve probabilities and things of that nature that you can use to say, well, in order to do that, we will need a certain amount of subjects in, let's say, the low and high exposed area in order to be able to detect that difference.

GRABER: As a study progresses, Hornung does preliminary analyses to check how well the data is being collected. He’s at that stage now with the study on the effects of childhood lead exposure on adult anti-social behavior.

HORNUNG We have, oh, something – more than half of the data collected. And we kind of want to take a peek and see how things are going and give us some hints as to how we should analyze the data when it's completely collected.

GRABER: At the end of the study, Hornung will look at all the information about each subject – including factors such as income and education level – and tease out the effects of lead.

HORNUNG: Then it's the job of the statistician to use mathematical or statistical models to isolate the effect that you're looking for, in this case, let's say lead on, in the case of delinquency, lead on criminal conduct and juvenile delinquency and things of that nature, and correct for socioeconomic status, for example...

GRABER (to Hornung): That sounds really hard to me.

HORNUNG: That's why they pay us a lot. [LAUGHTER] I don't want to sound like I'm bragging about our profession, but it is difficult. It takes years of training, a lot of experience, to do these sorts of things. Thankfully now with the age of incredible computer power, a lot of the analyses that we can do now, just 20-30 year ago just couldn't be done.

GRABER: Some people might think that scientists do their own analyses of the data in their research. And the truth is, most scientists do have statistical training. But multi-faceted studies that involve all the complications of human life call for the type of skill that Hornung brings to the team. Douglas Ris is the neuropsychologist who’s working with Hornung on the study of lead’s effects on anti-social behavior.

RIS: Most scientists don't have that kind of expertise that they need to handle these large data sets, these complicated data sets. The biostatistician often works behind the scenes, but their critical role is very much appreciated by the rest of the investigators, and we all know that we can't get along without it.

GRABER: And Hornung’s grasp of numbers, and of details, has served him well in other aspects of his life. He’s a good poker player. He’s also a top-notch vacation planner. He tells a story of a two-week boat trip through America’s southern riverways that eventually brought him to a dock in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. He had to figure out when to meet up with the owner. The owner suggested that Hornung call when he got close.

HORNUNG: And I said that's okay, I'll be there at noon on a certain day, and he said yeah, right. And I pulled up to the slip at like one minute after 12 on that day [LAUGHTER]. This guy was totally amazed. [LAUGHTER]

GRABER: But Hornung acknowledges that most people wouldn’t understand why he finds his work so exciting.

HORNUNG: I say this to people who are not statisticians and they look at me like I'm crazy, but I say I'm having a lot of fun doing this. And they think fun, how could this be fun. But if you work on a lot of different studies, then you know that some simply are more interesting or more intriguing or more challenging than others. And some, indeed, answer, in my view anyway, much more important questions for our society than others.

GRABER: And right now, Hornung says, figuring out how and at what levels lead affects us is one of those particularly challenging, intriguing, and important questions that he can help answer. For Living on Earth, I’m Cynthia Graber.

CURWOOD: You’re listening to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Support also comes from NPR member stations and Bob Williams and Meg Caldwell, honoring NPR's coverage of environmental and natural resource issues, and in support of the NPR president's council. And Paul and Marcia Ginsburg, in support of excellence in public radio.

Back to top

 

It’s a Wild World

CURWOOD: Given the recent spate of dramatic attacks, October would appear to be a month of “Animals Behaving Badly.” But commentator Sy Montgomery says don’t blame the critters.

MONTGOMERY: First, one of Siegfried and Roy’s famous white tigers critically injures the illusionist, biting him during a performance. Next, another tiger causes trouble in New York, this time for biting a man with whom he was sharing a Harlem apartment – along with a five foot alligator, by the way. And the following week, we learn that a grizzly bear has mauled to death a researcher and his girlfriend in Alaska. These stories have easily eclipsed most other news. No wonder. Tigers and bears are far more interesting than, say, politicians – for the simple reason that, until quite recently in our evolution, if you weren’t interested in big predators you quickly became a snack for one.

Which brings me to what is puzzling. People keep asking me, what made the animals do it? In Roy Horn’s case, images from a video suggest he actually slipped and the cat might have been trying to pick him up. Maybe so. But even very polite predators, predators who might know and love you, are still predators. Catching prey is fundamental to who they are. Sometimes, they just can’t resist. It’s like you’re on Atkins and there’s this donut on the table. The next minute, despite your best intentions, the donut is gone.

Not one of the people hurt or killed by these huge predators blamed the animals. Roy Horn’s words as he was taken to the hospital were, “Don’t hurt the cat.” As he was hauled off by police, the man bitten by the tiger in his apartment said, “The cat is like my brother.” And before he was killed, biologist Timothy Treadwell, in one of the stunning videos he made about the bears, thanks a grizzly named Quincy for not eating him. “If Quincy had eaten me,” he says, “Good cause. He’s a nice bear.”

The tragedy behind the tragedy is this: we have forgotten the true nature of wild predators. Precisely because they can kill us, these are the beasts thrill, horrify, challenge, inspire – and humble us. They enlarge our capacity for wonder and reverence. No matter what else these folks might have done wrong – and keeping a tiger in an apartment is very wrong – they all had one thing right. The very fact of their involvement with these animals shows they remembered we need wildness in our world. In very different settings, all these people were trying – with different degrees of success – to touch, in some way, the magnificent wildness of predators. To do so was worth, to them, a very great price.

CURWOOD: Commentator Sy Montgomery is author of “The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans.”

[MUSIC: Brian Reitzell & Roger J. Manning Jr. “On The Subway” LOST IN TRANSLATION (Emperor Norton-2003)]

Back to top

 

Emerging Science Note/Water Power

CURWOOD: Just ahead: the U.S. Senate gets ready to take a stand on global warming. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

CHU: What began as a conversation between two scientists in seemingly unconnected fields may one day end up as a new way to produce energy from water. Daniel Kwok studies electrokinetic phenomena. And Larry Kostiuk studies how energy is created. These two scientists who hail from Alberta, Canada knew that when a liquid meets a solid, the surface of the liquid becomes negatively charged. So they figured: if they pushed water through an extremely tiny tube to get the negative charge at one end, the opposite end of the tube should get a positive charge.

To test their theory the researchers needed a substance with a great many nano-scale tubes running through. So they chose the naturally porous substance clay. Their two-inch long ceramic tube contained up to a million miniscule channels running through it. And when Kwok and Kostiuk pushed highly pressurized water through the channels, they created, as expected, a negative charge at one end of the tube and a positive one at the other end – enough energy to power two small LED light bulbs.

More research needs to be done to figure out the most efficient way to take advantage of this phenomenon. But it could turn out to be another form of small-scale energy production, one that uses existing substances and is virtually non-polluting.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Jennifer Chu.

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

[MUSIC: Doves “Words” THE LAST BROADCAST (Capitol – 2002)]

Back to top

 

Climate Stewardship Act

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood, and coming up – giving native bees their due down on the farm. But first:

The U.S. Senate will soon have its first vote on whether to mandate reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases. Connecticut Democrat and presidential candidate Joe Lieberman and Arizona Republican John McCain are co-sponsoring the Climate Stewardship Act which calls for modest cuts in carbon dioxide and other gases that scientists say contribute to global warming.

Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent Jeff Young joins us to talk about the bill. Jeff, Senators McCain and Lieberman changed their bill earlier this month. Why’d they do that and what does the bill now call for?

YOUNG: It originally called for reductions in greenhouse gases in two phases with two target dates. They had modest cuts by the year 2010 and stiffer cuts in the following six years. The senators removed the second, more ambitious phase reductions. So, what the senate will vote on is basically a decrease of about one and a half percent from today’s emissions. That’s far milder than the cuts in the Kyoto protocol. They simplified the bill because they want a simple vote. It’s now pretty much a yes or no question on climate change: should we do something about this or not?

CURWOOD: Jeff, almost no one expects this bill to pass the Senate, much less to win approval by the more conservative House. So why is it important?

YOUNG: The senators and their supporters say it’s a long journey, it has to start with a first step, and this is it. Here’s Senator McCain explaining what he expects from the vote:

MCCAIN: We hope to get a substantial number. We’ve had more and more people sign on. but it’s an uphill battle. All special interests will be arrayed against it. But we’ll keep fighting. Took seven years to do campaign finance reform but we’ll win on this one over time.

YOUNG: And that’s a reference to McCain’s battle to reform campaign finance, another bipartisan effort that seemed hopeless at the outset. And he says the first step is getting senators on the record on the issue.

CURWOOD: Now Jeff, tell me now how this bill would work. What’s the mechanism for reducing emissions?

YOUNG: It’s what’s called a cap and trade approach. The government mandates a total limit on, say CO2, and then allots permits to major industries for each ton of that emission. The companies can buy and sell those permits, just so long as they have enough permits to cover their emissions. If that sounds familiar it’s probably because this is the same system that was used very successfully and economically to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. The bill would also allow companies to bank their leftover pollution credits and get credit for capturing carbon dioxide, something called carbon sequestration. And automakers could earn credits by exceeding the federal mileage standards on cars they make. This approach won support from scientists, from business groups, and local governments, and about 200 conservation groups. Here’s Daniel Lashoff. He’s science director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate program.

LASHOFF: It does not solve the global warming problem. No one is under an illusion that it will. But it crosses a fundamental political threshold between a series of voluntary initiatives that we’ve been undertaking for the last decade that have not been successful in reducing global warming emissions and a mandatory program that can really start the process.

CURWOOD: Jeff, tell me about the cost here. That’s the issue that really seemed to do in the Kyoto protocol with the Bush administration, concerns about the effects on the U.S. economy.

YOUNG: Economists at MIT analyzed this "stripped down" version of the bill. And they found that the higher energy costs that would result would cost about 10 to 20 dollars per American household. And the effects on employment were too small to measure. But critics say it’s a slippery slope that would lead to higher energy costs and trouble for the economy. This is Myron Ebell with the free market think tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

EBELL: It’s only not expensive if you think that the down payment on a product is the only part of the total price. There’s no point in starting this system of having limits on carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, oil, and natural gas unless you’re going to go further. Because at this level it has no purpose, it doesn’t do anything.

YOUNG: Supporters, of course, argue it does have a purpose but they would agree with him that more emissions reductions would be needed.

CURWOOD: Jeff, what do you think the final count on this vote will be?

YOUNG: I couldn’t find anyone who would even guess, really. There are 12 bipartisan co-sponsors on the bill, and about the only thing for sure is that any votes for it will be a net gain from the last time the Senate vote on a global warming issue. That was a non-binding resolution six years ago when the Senate voted unanimously against any Kyoto-style treaty on global warming.

CURWOOD: Well, we’ll all be watching. Jeff Young is Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent. Thank you.

YOUNG: You’re welcome.

[MUSIC: Heavy D & The Boyz “Nuttin But Love” NUTTIN’ BUT LOVE (MCA Records – 1994)]

Back to top

 

Busy Bees

CURWOOD: Bees pollinate crops worth billions of dollars each year and they help propagate wild plants as well. It's not just honeybees, a European import, that do this. There are also thousands of species of bees native to North America that work alongside honeybees to pollinate flowers. But some researchers say native bees are not getting enough buzz for the work they do. Robin White reports from the agricultural heartland of Northern California on an attempt to give native bees their due and make space for them on farms.

[BIRDS CHIRPING SOFTLY]

WHITE: The Capay Valley, about seventy miles from San Francisco, is a little piece of paradise chock full of organic farms.

[SOUNDS OF PEOPLE TALKING IN SPANISH]

WHITE: At the Full Belly Farm it's harvest season in the tomato fields and the shoulder high plants are heavy with red, yellow and green fruit. Farm laborers work the rows dropping tomatoes into buckets.

[TOMATOES DROPPING INTO BUCKETS, BEES BUZZING, PEOPLE TALKING IN SPANISH]

WHITE: It seems like for every plant there are a couple of bees buzzing around. Princeton University bee researcher Sarah Smith is out checking on them. She points out that it's not honeybees but bumblebees that are doing the work.

SMITH: Honeybees can't pollinate tomatoes. The pollen in a tomato flower is stuck up tight inside the flower.

WHITE: But bumblebees have a little trick to get the pollen out.

SMITH: Some kinds of bees do what's called "buzz pollination," and they buzz their wings in a special way to vibrate with the frequency of middle C, and that releases the pollen.

WHITE: Yes, you heard correctly, the frequency of middle C. The bumblebee is one of two American native bees that can do it. They grab onto the flower with their legs, bite the end of the flower tube with their mouths and buzz their wings as if their lives depended on it. To show how it works, Smith pulls out a tuning fork.

A native bee (Mellisodes sp.) foraging on a sunflower. (Credit: Sarah S. Greenleaf, 2003.)

SMITH: You buzz the flower with a tuning fork and you can see the pollen coming out – it’s pale yellow.

[HIGH PITCHED HUM OF TUNING FORK]

WHITE: That is incredible!

SMITH: Yeah.

WHITE: The flower releases what looks like a small puff of yellow smoke. It's pollen, and it's what the bumblebees take home to their nests, but only after pollinating the tomato plants. Smith says tomato yields increase four-fold when bumblebees are present. She's part of a team that's researching the free contribution native bees make to agriculture. And it's not just bumblebees. There are carpenter bees, digger bees, mason bees, sweat bees. There may be up to 4,000 species of native bees that can pollinate crops.

On another part of the farm Princeton researcher Claire Kremen, who oversees the study, is looking at a bee the size of a large ant flying into a pink blackberry flower.

KREMEN: This little bee here is a dialictus species. See how teeny it is? And on watermelon, for example, every time it visits it deposits not more than ten grains of pollen. But when visited many times by a little, tiny dialictus bee it adds up.

WHITE: Kremen's trying to find out what it adds up to.

KREMEN: Scientists have recognized for a long time that natural ecosystems provide valuable services to humanity, but the problem is that we don’t know what the actual dollar values of these services are in many cases.

WHITE: About 75 percent of crops need pollination. Farmers can pay beekeepers to truck in honeybees to do the job. It costs about $45 a hive and a field might need dozens of hives depending on the crop. But not so if your farm has habitat suitable for native bees. Kremen says farms that are close to wild land often have enough native bees to meet all the farmer's pollination needs.

[CHIRPING BIRDS]

WHITE: At Full Belly Farm it's not an accident that there are plenty of native bees around. Organic farmer Paul Muller works hard to grow not only plants but also insects.

MULLER: We have divided our farm into places where we can grow clover underneath our trees. We can have some weedy areas. It’s interesting, in weedy borders you can grow a tremendous number of insects.

WHITE: The weeds create continuous blooms so that bees and other beneficial insects always have nectar. The weedy borders don't look neat and tidy – this farm is a rambling mess – but it's alive with buzzing. Muller's been watching the ups and downs of the bees for the last two decades.

MULLER: We saw a general decline in honeybee population for a while and the bumblebees seemed to be more much more prominent in our system. Whether that was just a cycle that the bee population was going through we don't know.

WHITE: In fact, non-native honeybees have been in steady decline for 50 years. Blood-sucking mites have wreaked havoc on their population. And the arrival of the so-called killer bees in border states has scared off some beekeepers. So farmers have an eye out for alternatives.

Kremen's team has already found that native bees don't occur naturally on farms that are far from wild land. But they're looking to see if they can re-introduce bumblebees by using wooden boxes that imitate abandoned rodent nests where the bees usually live. To see how they're doing the researchers trek out in the middle of the night when the bees are more docile.

[CRICKETS CHIRPING]

WHITE: It's warm and the smell of fresh hay is in the air. At the edge of an orchard tree people huddle around a folding table. They open the square bumblebee boxes. Researcher Neal Williams describes what's inside.

[METAL CLANKING]

WILLIAMS: You’re seeing a mass of small lumps that are whitish-yellow which are cocoons, and larvae in big masses around, and some open little pot-shaped things that have a glistening substance at the bottom which is actually the nectar.

WHITE: The researchers take out the bees and place each one in a vial. When they've counted them it's a race to get the now angry bees back in the colony as quickly as possible.

[METAL CLANKING]

SMITH: I'm going to go ahead and put these queens back in now. You can hear them buzzing quite loudly. [BUZZING GETTING PROGRESSIVELY LOUDER] They're very large bees.

WHITE: The researchers are finding that bumblebee colonies placed on conventional farms don't grow as fast or get as big as those on organic farms. So Kremen is trying to persuade conventional farmers to make their land more bee friendly by using pesticides more carefully. She's also encouraging them to plant bee habitat such as hedgerows and large swaths of native plants that provide a year round source of nectar for bees.

One of the farms Kremen has been studying is run by Rick Rominger. It's a mix of conventional and organic fields. Today, Kremen's telling Rominger her idea for creating wildlife corridors for bees. She imagines stepping stones of bee habitat across the landscape.

KREMEN: And probably the more patches the better, for both nesting and foraging habitat and also to sort of deliver the bees close to where you want them to be operating.

ROMINGER: It's interesting. I guess, as a farmer I'd probably ask a real specific question like do they want a bank, do they want a certain amount of cover?

KREMEN: Right.

WHITE: Kremen tells Rominger that one bee they have studied, the svastra, is ten times better at pollinating than the honeybee. The numbers catch the farmer's attention – he grows sunflowers for seed. But to create the kind of habitat the bees need would take a cash investment.

ROMINGER: You like to think in the long term, but in our business if we trip this year we won't be here next year. And it's hard to say I'll spend a bunch of money this year and ten years down the road it'll be great. Well, it may not quite work out [LAUGHTER].

WHITE: Advocates say there are multiple payoffs for creating bee habitat on the farm. Hedgerows harbor a range of beneficial insects that keep pests under control and can help reduce pesticide costs. Hedges might also provide new wildcrafted crops such as blackberries or rose hips. But the reality is that most farming in this country is done by big business which may not be as open to change compared to small farmers. And agribusiness will probably need hard data first. So Kremen and her team say they'll go on counting bees looking for the commercial argument which will persuade even the bean-counters that re-wilding the farm is a good idea. For Living on Earth, I'm Robin White in Capay Valley, northern California

SMITH: Um, I think I have a bee on me.

WILLIAMS: Okay, right here…

SMITH: It’s in my shirt. I’ve got to get rid of the vial.

WILLIAMS: Alright.

SMITH: Whoo whooo! [LAUGHTER]

RESEARCHER: It’s right here – quick! Quick, it’s right here, oh…

Related link:
A slideshow of bees

Back to top

 

A Gap in Nature

CURWOOD: There is a convention in biology that says before a species can be declared extinct one must wait fifty years after a last sighting. But some animals have such a small distributions that their extinction is quickly obvious. Such was the case with the Atitlán grebe that inhabited only one place on earth, Lake Atitlán in the Guatemalan highlands. This nearly flightless bird likely had been cruising the waters of Lake Atitlan probably since before the last ice age. But as Tim Flannery explains in the latest installment of our series, “A Gap in Nature,” a number of factors led to the birds’ demise.

[MUSIC: Unknown Artist “Gap In Nature Theme Music” UNKNOWN ALBUM (Unknown Label – Year)]

FLANNERY: The Atitlán grebe was smaller than its distant cousin, the loon. Until about 1965 this dark-colored bird had a relatively stable population of around 800. But soon after that, both small and large mouth bass were introduced into the lake, and these voracious predators ate so many crabs and fish that little was left for the grebe.

   Atitlán Grebe (Illustration: Peter Schouten)

By 1975 the grebe population had plummeted by 75 per cent and although a conservation program was mounted to try to save the bird, other changes were afoot that would destroy them. The bird’s breeding habitat was being removed by reed cutters. To add insult to injury, the lake was being invaded by another competitor: a smaller, related bird known as the pied-billed grebe.

In the late 1970’s, researchers surveyed how many Atitlán were left by playing a recording of the night-time breeding call of the male. Any male Atitlán hearing this call would respond, and from that, scientists should have been able to estimate the number of breeding pairs still left. The trouble was, the calls of the pied-billed and Atitlán grebes were very similar. What’s worse, the researchers did not even know that the pied-billed grebe had invaded the lake. So the rosy results of the sound survey made it seem like there was a healthy population of Atitlán grebes.

That is, until one day, when the researchers approached some of the birds– which to their horror flew away. The scientists realized they had been counting the wrong birds – not the flightless Atitlán, but its smaller, flighted pied-billed relative.

Unlike the Atitlán grebe, the invading pied-billed grebe found the degraded lake much to its liking, and by the mid-1980s it was breeding there year-round. It may have even mated with the Atitlán, producing hybrids. In any case, by 1989 just two pairs of giant Atitlán grebe inhabited the lake, and none have been seen since.

CURWOOD: Tim Flannery is author of “A Gap in Nature: Discovering the World's Extinct Animals”. To see a picture and hear the call of the Atitlán grebe and other ex-animals go to our website livingonearth.org. That's livingonearth.org.

[MUSIC: Kevin Shields “Are You Awake” LOST IN TRANSLATION (Emperor Norton-2003)]

Related link:
For more extinct animals see our series “A Gap in Nature”
The call of the Atitlán grebe. (mp3)">

Back to top

 

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week, more stories about people and predators. In modern America, the two are encountering each other more and more, and often uneasily, as this call to 911 attests.

MALE: I’m on Rattlesnake Trail

[CHILDRENS' CRIES.]

FEMALE OPERATOR: Okay.

MALE: And we have two mountain lions following a group of children. They’re directly behind us. They're at about 100 feet.

FEMALE OPERATOR: Have they attacked anyone?

MALE: No.

FEMALE OPERATOR: Okay, I'm sending someone. Stay on the line.

MALE: Okay.

[CHILDRENS" CRIES]

CURWOOD: Former NPR science reporter David Baron joins me to talk about his new book, “The Beast in the Garden” - next time on Living on Earth. And between now and then you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to livingonearth.org. That’s livingonearth.org.

[MUSIC: Kevin Shields “Are You Awake” LOST IN TRANSLATION (Emperor Norton-2003)]

[LOUD MOOING SOUND; Richard Margoschis “Scottish Glen” WILD BRITAIN (The British Library Board – 1997]

CURWOOD: We leave you this week in Wild Britain.

[LOUD MOOING SOUND]

CURWOOD: On an October evening near Inverness, Scotland several rutting deer stags roar against the backdrop of a river.

[DEEP, GUTTERAL ROAR, GETTING HIGHER PITCHED]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced for the World Media Foundation by Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Jennifer Chu, Cynthia Graber, Ingrid Lobet, Diane Toomey and Jeff Young. You can find us at livingonearth.org. Andy Farnsworth mixes the program. Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.

[DEEP, GUTTERAL ROAR, GETTING HIGHER PITCHED]

CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes form the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; and Stonyfield Farm – organic yogurt, cultured soy, and smoothies. Ten percent of their profits are donated to support environmental causes and family farms. Learn more at Stonyfield.com. Support also comes from NPR member stations and the Annenberg Foundation.

ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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.