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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

January 27, 2006

Air Date: January 27, 2006



Drought in East Africa Causes Crisis

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A severe drought in East Africa has taken a heavy toll on livestock and now, people are beginning to die from lack of food. Host Steve Curwood talks with Brendan Cox from Oxfam in Wajir, Northern Kenya about the crisis. LOE also speaks with Richard Moller, head of Wildlife and Security at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, about how the drought is affecting wildlife. (07:15)

Assessing the Planet’s Future

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More than a thousand scientists from around the globe worked together to examine the state of the world's natural resources and human health. They also made predictions for drastic increases in population and building construction. Host Steve Curwood speaks to Professor Steven Carpenter who authored the Assessment. (04:45)

N.Y. Governor Goes Green

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New York Republican Governor George Pataki says this will be a green year for the Empire State. The Governor will propose a plan to get alternative fuels at fuel stations across the state. As Governor Pataki tells host Steve Curwood, the plan will also provide incentives for improvements in the hybrid and flex- fuel car markets. (05:10)

Ford’s Secret Weapon

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The big headlines for Ford Motor Company have been centered around the extensive layoffs and plant closures slated for the next few years. But at the same time, the company came out with a plan to mass-produce recyclable hybrid cars that might just bring Ford back into the green. Tim O'Brien is the director of the Piquette Project. He joins host Steve Curwood from his office in Dearborn, Michigan. (05:30)

Winter Blahs

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Got the blahs from these cold and dreary winter days? Deutsche Welle Radio’s Don Macgillivray takes us to London’s Science Museum where there’s a light exhibit to help cure the season’s blues. (05:30)

Emerging Science Note/Follow the Money / Emily Taylor

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Researchers find that following the money may be the key to preventing pandemics. Living on Earth’s Emily Taylor reports. (01:30)

Challenging Pombo / Jeff Young

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More than 30 years ago, California Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey co-wrote the Endangered Species Act. Last year California Republican Congressman Richard Pombo tried to undo much of it--and that really angered McCloskey. Now the 78-year old retiree has moved to Pombo's district to challenge the powerful incumbent in the Republican primary. Living on Earth's Jeff Young profiles the race. (05:15)

Natural Chickens

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Four of the country's major chicken producers say they have drastically reduced the amount of antibiotics they use in their birds, and they're providing data to prove it. Host Steve Curwood speaks to Karen Florini of the advocacy group Environmental Defense about the struggle to get antibiotics out of U.S. factory farming practices. (04:15)

Cheers to Poet Robert Burns / Nina Keck

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January 25th is the anniversary of Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birth. And more than two hundred years later, people around the world still celebrate with traditional food and verse. Nina Keck of Vermont Public Radio attended a Burns dinner in Chittenden, Vermont and has our story. (07:00)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Sounds from a winter skating rink.

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Karen Florini, George Pataki, Tim O’Brien, Brendon Cox, Richard Moller, Stephen Carpenter
REPORTERS: Jeff Young, Nina Keck, Don McGillivray
NOTE: Emily Taylor


CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. Severe drought and growing famine have struck once again in East Africa.

COX: I spoke to an old gentleman who was around 70 who said this was the worst drought he can remember. And certainly it’s the worst drought within a generation, within twenty years.

CURWOOD: Parts of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have been with little or no rain for as much as three years. People and livestock are starving, and even if the rains come in March, it may be too late to avert a humanitarian crisis.

COX: The currency around here is not the Kenyan shilling, it’s cattle, it’s sheep, it’s camels, it’s goats. And once those die you’ve lost everything.

CURWOOD: Also, scientists forecast the prospects for the world’s ecosystems….and find a mixed outlook. And following the money to track the spread of disease. We’ll have those stories and more… this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.

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[MUSIC: Boards of Canada “Zoetrope” from ‘In A Beautiful Place Out in the Country’ (Warp Records – 2000)]

ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stoneyfield Farm.


Drought in East Africa Causes Crisis

Endangered Grevy’s zebra at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. Disease due to drought is killing some of the only two thousand of this species that remain in the world. (Photo: Barry P. Payne)

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

East Africa is currently facing a severe drought. Three years of minimal rainfall have triggered a crisis in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya. With shortages of food and water, and the death of livestock, aid agencies are warning that the area could see an epic humanitarian catastrophe.

Joining me on the line is Brendon Cox, the senior press officer for Oxfam International. He’s in Wajir, Kenya. Brendan, what are people there in Wajir saying about how bad this is?

COX: The situation here has come about mainly because of very severe drought. Speaking to people out in Wajir today, I spoke to an older gentleman, who’s around 70, who said this is the worst drought that he could remember. And certainly it’s the worst drought within a generation, within 20 years. The people I’m talking to are saying that these sorts of droughts used to come every 50 years, then they came every 20 years, now they’re coming every five years and they keep getting worse at each turn.

So that’s meant that you have massive failure of pasture, the animals all dying. You’ve got about 70 percent of cattle that have died in Wajir already. I’ve been out today around several watering holes and the area’s just festooned with the carcasses of animals. Cattle have died in the thousands, tens of thousands; sheep are dying now as well, and even camels are dying. So that’s the scale of the drought – when camels are dying you know you’re really into a very serious drought.

CURWOOD: The people in Wajir are nomadic, they’re pastoralists right? They raise their cattle and move essentially to find new grazing land. They don’t farm. So if they’re losing their cattle it means they have no livelihood and no food. What will happen to them?

COX: That’s exactly right. The currency around here is not Kenyan shillings, it’s cattle, it’s sheep, it’s camels, it’s goats. And once those die you have lost everything. People don’t have houses here, they certainly don’t have cars or bank accounts, so their entire assets are their livestock.

I went down to cattle market today. The price of a cow now has dropped to about $3; normally it’s about ten times that at least. People are having to sell, they have no choice. They have to accept humiliating prices or they have to accept the fact that their cattle, their sheep, their camels, will die on the journey back. That means, in either scenario, those people are going to be forced into poverty.

CURWOOD: And at the same time a bunch of people can’t even afford to buy those cattle, those goats, at distressed prices to feed themselves?

COX: Certainly not. No. People don’t have any money, essentially, here now. They’ve run out of all their, what we call their ordinary coping mechanisms, their ways that they deal with these droughts. This is several seasons of rains; this isn’t just one season of rains that’s failed. You have at least three seasons in a row now which have failed, and the result of that is pretty catastrophic. Walking across Wajir today you saw water hole after water hole that have gone dry; some of them haven’t had water in two years.

So what’s happening now is that, yes, there is some food being distributed. I went to a distribution point today where maize and (unintelligible) were being given out to families. But it is too little too late in many of these areas, and the question now is not if people are going to die, it’s how many are going to die.

CURWOOD: What’s the traditional diet there?

COX: The traditional diet here is generally made up of meat of cattle. Generally cattle is the most common animal you see around. People also do, obviously, when they sell their cattle they buy basic (unintelligible), basic cereal in the local market. So that’s the general diet. And obviously, when those cattle die, not only do you not have that meat to eat, you don’t have very much meat on those animals, you’re also not able to sell them. You’re not able to get that money. That means the local markets are closing down, the kiosks where many of these people would buy the supplements that they normally use. And that’s a really catastrophic impact on those pastoralists because they don’t have some of the key supplements that they need in order to feed themselves and their families.

CURWOOD: One of the rainy seasons in Kenya comes back in March. If the rainfall is back to normal how would that help things?

COX: If the rainfall is back to normal then it is going to certainly help, although it will come as a mixed blessing. When the rain comes, if it does come as it normally comes, then it’s quite heavy rain when it does hit. The final cattle who are on the edge of life and death will probably die; they’ll get wet in the rains. They’ll die of hypothermia during the nights, they’re too weak to shrug off the rain, to shake off the rain that will settle on them. Also, many areas will be cut off by the rains so it’ll be harder to get food aid into those areas.

Two or three weeks after the rains you’ll start to see the beginnings of pasture coming up and that will begin to obviously sustain the goats, the cattle, the sheep. And those that have survived, get them back up to the situation where they’re actually usable, where they’re sellable, and where they can produce some meat for the family. However, obviously there is the possibility that by then it’s going to be far too late, that almost all the cattle will certainly have died by then.

CURWOOD: Brendon Cox is a senior press officer for Oxfam International. Thanks for talking with me.

COX: Thank you very much. Take care.

CURWOOD: The drought in East Africa has also left wildlife desperate for water. Elephants are leaving their sanctuaries in parks, and having run-ins with humans. In one park, as many as 80 hippos have died, apparently from fighting over territory as their water holes dry up. Speaking with me from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya is Richard Moller, head of Wildlife and Security there. Hello, Sir.

MOLLER: Hello, how are you?

CURWOOD: What’s happening in the region just north of you there?

Endangered Grevy’s zebra at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. Disease due to drought is killing some of the only two thousand of this species that remain in the world. (Photo: Barry P. Payne)

MOLLER: Basically what’s happening is there is an anthrax outbreak, which is a disease that often appears in severe climatic changes, obviously being a drought or severe rains. In the last month 30 Grevy’s zebra have died as a result. And Grevy’s zebra are of extreme concern to Lewa in that there are only two and half thousand left in the world, of which there are just under 500 on Lewa.

CURWOOD: What’s the relationship between anthrax and the drought?

MOLLER: Anthrax basically lies dormant in the soil, and it will only appear when there’s an extreme climatic change.

CURWOOD: With so few of these zebras, could this drought wipe them out?

MOLLER: I can’t imagine them being wiped out but, having said that, we’re looking closely into a vaccination program whereby we’d vaccinate these animals from a helicopter and dart them from the air.

CURWOOD: What’s going on with the other wildlife there?

MOLLER: Well luckily a lot of the wildlife that lives in the area to the north, those animals are basically not reliant on water. In other words, they get enough moisture from the vegetation that they eat. We’re talking of animals such as Lesser Kudu, Reticulated Giraffe, Grant’s Gazelle, and they don’t have to go to watering spots to water. And it’s believed that the anthrax is being held in the very few watering holes that are occurring in that area.

CURWOOD: What about predators that eat zebra? What danger do they have from anthrax?

MOLLER: Obviously, if they eat a carcass that has died as a result of anthrax then they are now potential carriers. And the predators and scavengers that live in the area – there’s a few lions, not many, there’s a few cheetah, a good population of leopards, and the highest population is of hyena.

CURWOOD: Richard Moller of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.

Related links:
- Oxfam International
- Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

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Assessing the Planet’s Future

CURWOOD: The United Nations is expected to evaluate the East African drought in February, but much of the long-term forecast has already been compiled by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. For the past five years a team of 1,300 scientists around the Earth has taken a look at how the world’s ecosystems will do between now and the year 2050 as global population swells to nine billion. We spoke with University of Wisconsin Professor Stephen Carpenter, who is a fresh water expert and lead author of the assessment.

CARPENTER: When we looked at the ecosystem services, the things that people get from nature for free to sustain their lives, we found that many of those are deteriorating and the drivers are getting worse.

CURWOOD: So what do we get free from nature?

CARPENTER: Things like food, forest products, air purification, fresh water.

CURWOOD: The important things in life.

CARPENTER: Things that sustain life, that’s right.

CURWOOD: Talk to me about food. What’s the outlook for food over the next, well, until the year 2050?

CARPENTER: Well it’s mixed. But, for example, the dry lands of Earth, the vast prairies of Central Asia, the Americas, and Sub-Saharan Africa, are very fragile. Two billion people live in those regions. Most of those two billion people depend on the local land, local farms, for food, and those regions are extremely vulnerable to climate change and land degradation.

CURWOOD: And your specialty, water, looking ahead to 2050, what does that look like?

CARPENTER: Well, the demand for water is going to be larger than the supply. And water is an area where we have a lot of opportunity to use innovative technologies and innovative institutions to do better. And, in fact, the rosy message of the assessment is that we now have access to policies and practices that could significantly improve many ecosystem services by 2050.

CURWOOD: As scientists, you’ve come up with some policy solutions. For example, in your report you suggest that we stop giving rich farmers subsidies. How would that work?

CARPENTER: The magnitude of agricultural subsidies globally is enormous, many billions of dollars, and it occurs in poor countries as well as in rich countries. The agricultural subsidies create market distortions by essentially propping up wasteful practices. For example, here in the United States we spend a lot of money on agricultural subsidies, and a side effect of that spending is enormous damage to water quality, land condition, and in some cases air quality. And since we’re paying the agricultural sector anyway, why not turn those subsidies to good environmental outcomes for society?

CURWOOD: How will governments be convinced to make these changes? I mean, how do you change human behavior?

CARPENTER: Well, I think that that’s essentially a question about politics, and all politics is local, and the Millennium Assessment is playing out in different ways in different countries. There has certainly been a lot of interest in the United States from NGOs, from corporations, and from Congress in the report. I know from colleagues in Europe and in Asia that there’s enormous interest there.

I was just in China in December, and China is investing in a nationwide assessment of its ecosystems services that’s modeled on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment but focused particularly on China, just as one example. And China’s an enormous country; more than 20 percent of Earth’s population and an enormous consumer, so their interest, I think, is a very good sign.

CURWOOD: Stephen Carpenter is professor at the University of Wisconsin and was lead author of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Thank you, sir.

CARPENTER: Thank you very much.

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[MUSIC: Ward Hartenstein “Claycussion” from ‘Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones’ (Eillipsis Arts – 1996)]

CURWOOD: Coming up: Ford tries its hand at the recyclable automobile. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Thor “Fields of Innards (Excerpt)” from ‘Appetizers And Leftovers’ (I Eat Records – 2005)]

N.Y. Governor Goes Green

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. The governor of New York calls for his state to lead the country in energy independence.

PATAKI: We don't have to look far for evidence that the time to transition away from foreign oil is now. It is right there on the gas pumps and in our home heating bills.

CURWOOD: In his State of the State address, Republican Governor George Pataki proposed a plan to boost the availability and production of renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, in New York. First stop: getting the service stations along the New York Thruway to pump tax-free ethanol, biodiesel as well as low carb and compressed natural gas. The new plan will also encourage clean coal technologies, and offer incentives to expand the hydrogen and hybrid-electric car market.

Governor Pataki joins me from his office in Albany. Hello, Sir.

PATAKI: Hello, Steve, nice being on with you.

CURWOOD: Well thank you for joining us, Governor. Well tell me, so how are you going to get ethanol into the gas pumps of New York State?

PATAKI: Well it’s not just ethanol – it’s biodiesel, it’s compressed natural gas, it’s having plug-in power where people can have hybrid cars that use existing battery technology. All of which would end our, or would certainly reduce our, dependency on foreign oil; result in cleaner air; and also a stronger local economy.

What we are proposing, among many other things, is first to have an incentive program where we’ll provide grants to service stations across the state if they will convert pumps to E85, or biofuel B20, or put in a CNG refueling station. We’re going to direct that all of our thruway rest stops retrofit their stations to provide alternate fuel to vehicles. And then we’re going to encourage people to purchase the vehicles by giving them a $2,000 tax credit if they buy a hybrid vehicle.

CURWOOD: Let’s talk about ethanol in particular. Where’s all this ethanol going to come from for New York State?

PATAKI: Right now we don’t…we have a plant being built in a converted beer brewery in upstate New York that are looking to create an ethanol plant, but anywhere it’s produced in the world. Mostly in the United States, mostly in the Midwest. But we’re not just looking at ethanol from current sources.

The new technology that to me is enormously exciting is cellulosic ethanol. That is where you break down the cellulose fibers in woods or in grasses, biomass that can be replenished, and is replenished naturally, year after year after year. And preliminary indications are you can get 25 times the amount of energy out as the amount of energy that goes into producing the cellulosic ethanol.

CURWOOD: How much is it going to cost the taxpayers of New York to get this program going?

PATAKI: Well it depends on what you mean by cost. I’m a supply-side economic conservative, so you lower, you get rid of, the tax on alternate fuels themselves. Yes, the state is going to be taking a slight loss of revenue, but the consumer’s going to be paying 40 cents a gallon less for their fuel. I think ultimately the total estimated cost to the government of this package is about $200 million; but the savings, in terms of lowered pollution, less dependence on foreign oil, the creation of jobs through the creation of technologies and the production of fuel sources here in New York, would be a multiplier many, many times more than that.

CURWOOD: How many jobs are you talking about?

PATAKI: Well that depends on the success of the program. But ultimately, if today in the upcoming year we’re going to send a quarter of a trillion dollars overseas just to buy oil, and we can cut that in half – I think we can do far better than cut it in half – then we’re talking about hundreds of billions of dollars invested in the United States for jobs and products here, instead of just sending it overseas and getting nothing in return.

CURWOOD: Governor, how soon, when I go on the New York thruway, will I be able to get, say, biodiesel or E85 ethanol or?

PATAKI: I would love to see it this year. Two hundred thousand people today have vehicles that could use E85 or B20 as they’re currently configured. We have some CNG fueling sites across the state; I want to see us get more that have different types of facilities. So obviously it’s not going to happen today, but we want to have the government policies in effect as quickly as possible.

CURWOOD: Governor Pataki, some people say you might be running for President. And if you were President of the United States, what would you do?

PATAKI: First of all, I’m the governor of this state for another year, Steve. And I appreciate the speculation, but my goal in the next year is to do everything I can to continue to move New York State forward.

CURWOOD: Right, but that job isn’t open until 2009, so.

PATAKI: But with respect to national policy, it just seems to me that if government leads the way the ingenuity of the American people – the entrepreneurism of the private sector, the creativity of our research and science community – will allow us to solve these problems in a way that keeps those dollars here and keeps our air cleaner.

CURWOOD: George Pataki is the governor of New York. Thank you so much for taking this time with us today.

PATAKI: Steve, good being with you, and thank you for having me on.

Related links:
- To find out more about Governor Pataki's environmental policy click here.
- To find out if you're driving a flex-fuel car click here.

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Ford’s Secret Weapon

CURWOOD: So, how would you like a car that burns a lot less fuel, has a non-toxic interior and, when it finally costs too much fix, its maker will take it back?

Those are some of the concepts behind the secret Piquette project of the Ford Motor Company, named after the original model T plant. Ford quietly leaked the existence of the project to the press at the same time it announced layoffs of up to 30,000 employees and the closing of 14 plants in the years ahead.

Necessity may be the mother of invention…or in this case, environmentalism, as Ford figures out how to compete with eco-friendly big sellers like the Toyota Prius.

Tim O'Brien is the Vice President of Corporate Relations at Ford, and director of the Piquette Project team. Mr. O'Brien, thanks for joining us.

O’BRIEN: It’s my pleasure, Steve.

CURWOOD: Let’s talk about the business for a moment. Headlines recently have been filled with Ford’s woes; the market for cars is changing, the economy is changing. So I have to ask you this: is the mission of the Piquette Project to save Ford Motors?

O’BRIEN: I don’t think our mission is to save Ford Motor Company at all. Ford Motor Company certainly is in a very competitive business; we’ve set forth a plan that we think is going to position us to succeed in that business. But Bill and the company, I think, have a hundred-year history of really challenging the existing paradigm and rethinking what’s going to make us a successful business and a successful value to people in the future.

So without regard to how successful you are at the moment, you need to be thinking in those terms. And that’s really what Piquette is about. What is the future of the auto industry? How can we differentiate ourselves? What are the innovations that are necessary? What that might look like as early as 2008.

CURWOOD: Okay, let’s talk about some possible elements. I know, of course, that you have some trade secrets you don’t want to talk about publicly until you’re ready to go with them, but press reports say you’re looking at really a recycled vehicle approach, and also a fairly green vehicle approach. Let’s talk about how you might recycle a car. There’s a company out called Interface that makes carpets but doesn’t sell carpets; it leases them to customers, because when the carpet is old and worn out it takes it back and uses it to remake more carpets. Are you doing something along those lines?

O’BRIEN: Well I think the Interface example that you give is very instructive. They’ve rethought their business, and they’ve done a couple of important things. First of all, they’re addressing important environmental issues; but secondly, they’re trying to do that in a way that really creates a new and opportunistic business model. That is exactly what we’re trying to do here with the Piquette Project.

CURWOOD: So in the future I might lease a Ford, and when that Ford is too tired to go any further you’d take it back and remake it into more Fords?

O’BRIEN: Well I think what we understand, Steve, is that in a sustainable business future we need to create products that are not only valuable to the customer while the customer is using them, but have a residual value, whether it’s the technical components of the vehicle or the environmental aspects of the vehicle. We understand that that needs to have a value in the future and we think if we design that in we can begin to create a very different dynamic in our business.

CURWOOD: Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute is rather famous for his synthesis of what he calls the hypercar, ways that you can remake cars of different materials using, say, carbon rather than steel – I guess the goal there is to be ultra-light – and he says you can get 100 miles to the gallon that way. What of those factors is going to be in your new car?

O’BRIEN: All of those factors are going to be considered, Steve. I think our challenge here is to pick up the creative thoughts of people like Amory Lovins. And this notion of bringing in thoughts from environmental leaders like Amory, or businesses like Interface, is very much a part of Piquette. We need to bring those in to our business and then make a business case out of them. There is nothing that’s off the table, but at the same time we need to be serious-minded business people. This is not sustainable if it’s not affordable.

CURWOOD: So you’re not looking for a premium market, you’re looking for a mass market here?

O’BRIEN: That’s right. We want to make a vehicle that is responsive to the general marketplace. This should not be a science project; this should be something that makes sense to you and me as consumers.

CURWOOD: Now time seems to be really a pretty big factor in all of this. Do you guys have enough time? Has this been set in motion to give you the product?

O’BRIEN: Yes, we do have enough time, Steve. And actually what I like is we’ve set for ourselves a schedule that is less time than you would normally use in this company, or in our industry, to do something of this nature. We have to do things differently if we want different results, and that’s why I’m so glad that we’re doing things like the Piquette Project. We are not approaching our business in the usual fashion. We recognize that the usual fashion won’t succeed in the future. The Piquette is really a stretch opportunity to redefine what that future might be.

CURWOOD: Tim O’Brien is the Vice President for Corporate Relations at the Ford Motor Company and director of the Piquette Project team. Thank you, sir.

O’BRIEN: It’s my pleasure, Steve, thank you.

CURWOOD: Ford hopes the Piquette project will be ramped up enough by 2010 to be able to put a quarter million hybrid recyclable vehicles on the road.

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[MUSIC: The Letter E “Isabella” from ‘Long Player No. 5’ (Orange Twin Records – 2002)]

Winter Blahs

CURWOOD: When the sun heads south for the winter, those of us who live up north can end up feeling limp, listless and lethargic. This time of year, millions of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D. London's Science Museum just opened an exhibition offering a cure for these winter blahs: a good blast of light. Deutsche Welle Radio’s Don Macgillivray has this report.

GLENN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Light Lounge here at the Dana Center. A little bit of information about the Light Lounge: we do encourage you to act as normally as you can while you’re inside the Light Lounge. What you have to do is occasionally go outside…

MACGILLIVRAY: Michael Glenn welcomes visitors to the S.A.D. light show. This is rather boring when compared to a light show at a rock concert. Instead of an intensely-colored, wildly flashing experience, we have four bright white fluorescent lights hanging from the walls of this small room. About a dozen people sit on a circular sofa quietly reading.

GLENN: We do encourage you to try not to fall asleep while you’re inside the Light Lounge, otherwise you won’t feel any positive effects, no therapy at all. We can’t guarantee that you’ll feel any positive effects in just one session; it usually takes two or three sessions before you feel any effects of it.

MACGILLIVRAY: The people basking in the glow of these fluorescent lights are limited to a 20-minute session. A longer stay may be more beneficial, but the demand is so high organizers have to move them along to give everyone a chance.

GLENN: Do you have any more questions while you’re standing outside? Thank you.

MACGILLIVRAY: The guide, Michael Glenn, has been on duty here for a week. He’s never suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder before, but the lights are making an impression.

GLENN: I’m definitely feeling a positive effect from the therapy itself. From working outside the Light Lounge I do feel a lot more perkier. I do feel like I’ve got a spring in my step somewhat. I’m here from 12 o’clock to 8 o’clock at night. Usually I won’t be able to get to sleep until one, two o’clock in the morning because my body still thinks it’s the middle of the day instead of the middle of the night. I’m feeling a lot more upbeat and a lot more happy than I usually would be feeling at work.

MACGILLIVRAY: It’s a matter of chemistry: When we lose the sun the penila gland generates more of the hormone melatonin, and melatonin is the substance that makes us drowsy. In the winter, with the short days and heavy cloud cover, too many people become irritated, gain weight, and lose interest in pretty well everything except their beds. All they want to do is lay down and sleep.

This therapy is based on the premise that if the sun refuses to shine, we can always switch on the next best thing: a strong light bulb. To gain the full benefit all you have to do is park yourself before a powerful, full-spectrum fluorescent light box for as little as half an hour every morning. The best of these sun boxes chop off the potentially harmful ultraviolet rays.

MARSHALL: We have such gray, dull weather that I thought it would be rather nice to have some bright light. Well it’s been very gray since Christmas (laughs).

MACGILLIVRAY: Margaret Marshall and her husband, Ian, are beaming on their way out of the Science Museum’s light show.

MARSHALL: I think it affects everybody, and everyone I talk to at the moment seems to be gloomy.

IAN MARSHALL: I think the same as my wife, really. I particularly suffer from dull libido and dull feelings and irritability in the winter. I didn’t feel quite the feeling of elation about being out in the sun, but then I suppose you know this is only for 20 minutes. With the sun you think, wow, this could last all day, you know.

MACGILLIVRAY: For thousands of years the best advice doctors could give S.A.D. victims was to take a long, long winter holiday in the sun. Twenty years ago scientists introduced light therapy to help solve the lethargy. Researchers are now taking a new twist. Mike Ferenczy, biomedical science professor at Imperial College London explains how taking synthetic melatonin at night can fool the brain.

FERENZY: Really what matters is a difference between the amount of melatonin at night and that in the mornings. So if you were to take more melatonin in the evening before going to bed then that would help you sleep and then, because there would be more melatonin in your body, the penila gland wouldn’t produce any more. And so by the time you wake up in the morning the melatonin will have been destroyed and you may wake up with less melatonin than if you hadn’t taken any extra the night before.

MACGILLIVRAY: For some time, S.A.D. sufferers had
been advised to take St. John’s wort to help lighten their lives. But as Professor Ferenczy says, physicians now realize this has been a mistake.

FERENZY: This has been discredited. People have terrible side effects. Even though St. John’s wort is a natural compound, a herb, all the people who have tried to use it for S.A.D. have come to the conclusion it’s not a good thing. People end up with allergies, with skin rashes, and all sorts of problems with it. So be careful with St. John’s wort.

MACGILLIVRAY: After the terrific success of the Science Museum’s exhibition some local café owners looking for innovative ways to increase business are considering installing the special lights to attract more customers in winter mornings. But some people are resisting the artificial goodwill. They think gloomy winters are part of the natural cycle, and when spring finally arrives it’s more enjoyable. It’s something we can look forward to all winter.

CURWOOD: Our report on London’s light exhibit was produced by Don MacGillivray and comes to us from Deutsche Welle Radio.

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[MUSIC: Amina “Skakka” from ‘animaminA’ (Amina Music – 2005)]

CURWOOD: You can hear our program anytime on our website or get a download for your Ipod or other personal listening device. The address is LOE dot org, that’s LOE dot org. You can reach us at comments@.loe.org. Once again that’s comments@loe.org. Our postal address is 20 Holland Street Somerville, Massachusetts 02144. You can call our listener line at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988. CDs and transcripts are $15.

{MUSIC: Amina “Skakka” from ‘animaminA’ (Amina Music – 2005)]

Just ahead: 2 prominent republicans prepare to face off over ethics and the environment in a race for congress. First this note on emerging science from Emily Taylor.


Emerging Science Note/Follow the Money

TAYLOR: Who would imagine that Internet games could help us track the spread of epidemics? Scientists in Germany and at the University of California have developed a mathematical theory which can predict the path of a contagious disease by evaluating information from a simple online game.

“Wheresgeorge.com” tracks registered dollar bills for fun. In the game, when people receive bills, they are asked to log their location online. Scientists looked at the data from over 400,000 registered notes and found that humans, much like the currency they carry, travel in certain patterns.

But, currency isn’t the only thing people carry; they also carry germs. And with mobility at an all-time high, an epidemic, such as the Avian Flu, could spread at a rapid rate, killing millions before being controlled. So, researchers used the data from the “Wheresgeorge” website to create a mathematical formula that can be used to predict the paths of future epidemics.

Now, when we find where George is headed, we’ll know where the germs are headed…. and hopefully be able to stop them before it’s too late. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Emily Taylor.

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

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[MUSIC: Ashley MacIsaac “Rusty-D-Con-Struck-Tion” from `Hi, How Are You Today?’ (Linus Entertainment/Koch Records - 1995)]

Challenging Pombo

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. As chair of the powerful House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, the Republican Congressman from California, attracts plenty of attention with his pro-business, anti-regulation approach to the environment. Mr. Pombo seeks to re-write the Endangered Species Act, expand oil drilling, and sell off some public lands.

Those stands have now sparked a challenge from within his own party. Seventy-eight year-old former Republican Congressman “Pete” McCloskey, who once took on President Richard Nixon over the Vietnam War, is coming out of retirement to take on Mr. Pombo. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young has our report.

YOUNG: For much of the past decade, former congressman Pete McCloskey has been a farmer, enjoying his retirement growing grapes and olives in California’s Yolo County. Now, the decorated Marine veteran has left the farm for one more fight.

MCLOSKEY: Yep, (laughs) probably no fool like an old fool, but I think somebody has to challenge this man’s philosophy and his conduct. This man has called environmentalists radicals and almost communists, and I take umbrage at that.

YOUNG: McCloskey’s talking about California Congressman Richard Pombo, whose 11th congressional district is McCloskey’s new home. He made his campaign announcement in a noisy beer hall in Lodi, where he’s moved just to take on Pombo in the primary. Pombo’s actions in seven terms in office so routinely outrage environmentalists, the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial page dubbed him the "dark knight of the environment."

The contrast between the old moderate and the young conservative could not be sharper. Mccloskey co-founded Earth Day and spoke out against whaling. Pombo wants to drill in the arctic refuge and favors Japanese whaling. Last year Pombo wrote a bill to undo parts of the Endangered Species Act, the landmark law McCloskey helped write.

MCCLOSKEY: That Act is listed now for 33 years. There’s no question it could use some changes, but the changes that can be made should not gut the Act. And this man has tried to literally gut the Act. I have no problem running against him.

YOUNG: Actually running a campaign wasn’t the original plan. Last year, McCloskey and a few disaffected Republican moderates formed something called the "revolt of the elders" to round up opponents for House members like Pombo who are closely tied to now-indicted former majority leader Tom Delay. They couldn’t find anyone to take on Pombo, so McCloskey is doing it himself.

MCCLOSKEY: I think Mr. Pombo has been corrupted by his power as chairman. I think some watchdog in Washington called him one of 13 most corrupt members of congress. I think even conservative Republicans might be embarrassed out here to have their congressman one of 13 most corrupt in a town which is not known for lack of corruption.

YOUNG: The nonpartisan group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington put Pombo on that list of 13 for paying family members as campaign staff and taking campaign money from groups with business before his committee. Pombo is also under fire for taking money from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramhoff and his clients and then refusing to investigate Abramhoff’s dealings with Indian tribes.

Pombo was unavailable for comment. His campaign spokesperson, Wayne Johnson, says Pombo has done nothing improper and donated to charity the money he took from Abramhoff. Johnson claims the ethics complaints against Pombo are engineered by Democrats, and he says the same is true of McCloskey’s campaign.

JOHNSON: So we just think he’s in the wrong primary. He really ought to run as a Democrat. That’s who behind this is, the Democratic congressional campaign committee. We know that, they know that, if Pete McCloskey doesn’t know it he’s the only one.

YOUNG: Pombo is equally unapologetic about his environmental record. In this interview on energy issues last year he said he’s been singled out for criticism because he wants to increase energy supplies.

POMBO: We are doing something different. We are taking issues on the table congress has been debating for 30 years and doing something about it. People that like the status quo, who are dependent on the status quo, don’t like it. And you have the special interest groups out there screaming about it cause they don’t want us to do anything. You can’t go to the deep sea, you can’t go to ANWR, you can’t go to the Rocky Mountains, you can’t do oil shale, everything that’s proposed they’re opposed to.

YOUNG: Several national environmental groups have targeted Pombo this year and are
already active in his district. Sierra Club national political director Cathy Duval hopes voters in the conservative farming valley will give more thought to conservation issues.

DUVAL: I think McCloskey getting into the race is going to draw real distinctions around these issues. He really wants to draw distinctions between moderate republicans who represent the values of the citizens of California versus the extreme actions Pombo’s been taking.

YOUNG: But most political observers don’t take McCloskey’s challenge seriously. Alan Hoffenblum tracks state political races for the non-partisan California Target Book. Hoffenblum adds up Pombo’s incumbency, campaign money, and recently redrawn district boundary and concludes McCloskey’s chances are somewhere between slim and none.

HOFENBLUM: But the question is not whether he wins the primary but what percent of the vote he gets – how he does in the primary. There will be a lot of people looking. And that will be a strong determining factor as to whether or not a serious Democrat can win in November.

YOUNG: Hoffenblum says if McCloskey gets as much as 30 percent of the primary vote, it’s a sign that Republicans are unhappy and that Pombo could be in trouble. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

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[MUSIC: Os Mutantes “Trem Fantasma” from ‘Os Mutantes’ (Polydor – 1968)]

Natural Chickens

CURWOOD: Back in the 1950’s, farmers found that by adding small doses of antibiotics to chicken feed, the birds would grow faster and plumper. And with the rise of factory farms, the antibiotics help prevent disease.

But science now shows that the widespread use of these drugs in animal feed can make them far less effective for humans, as germs develop resistance. Four of the country’s top poultry producers recently announced that they will no longer use antibiotics unless birds are ill or directly threatened with illness.

Under pressure from major buyers, including McDonalds, the chicken business had already started reducing the use of drugs with Tyson Foods, the largest producer, recently cutting antibiotic use by more than 90 percent

Joining me is Karen Florini. She’s a senior attorney with the advocacy group Environmental Defense. Welcome to Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: So Karen, Tyson, which is the country’s largest producer of chickens, says that less than one percent of their birds now contain antibiotics. But the company has been scaling back for a few years, so what’s the news here?

FLORINI: This is the first time there are actually numbers coming out saying how much of the specific antibiotics that particular companies are using. It is important to note that these are self-reported, unverified data, so it’s not entirely clear how various companies are using certain terms. There remains a real need for consistent and verifiable data to be publicly reported so that we all understand just what the numbers mean. But it is very good news, because the numbers that they are reporting – the reductions, the 93 percent reduction – is a very big number showing some real progress in reducing antibiotic use in chicken production.

CURWOOD: Why are folks worried about antibiotics in their poultry and other meats?

FLORINI: Well, antibiotic resistance is a huge problem in human medicine. Resistant infections already kill tens of thousands of people annually, and the problem’s getting a lot worse. The problem of antibiotic resistance comes from overuse of antibiotics both in human medicine and in animal agriculture. And it’s clear that vast quantities of antibiotics are used in animal agriculture.

CURWOOD: Why are U.S. chicken companies making this move now? To what extent is this tied to marketing – concern about sales and consumer resistance or acceptance?

FLORINI: There’s been more and more attention being paid to the vast quantities of antibiotics that are getting used in agriculture, and more and more public pressure coming to the chicken and other meat producers saying this is not something we want. Organizations such as the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, many, many others are on record as saying it’s not smart to be using antibiotics this way.

Public concern about the practice is then increasing and the companies are hearing that and starting to make movements away. Tyson deserves a lot of credit for scaling way back on its antibiotic use, as does Perdue and Goldkist and Foster Farms. We’d like to know what the practices in the other chicken companies are so that it’s clear to what extent there is still a lot of antibiotic use going on there.

CURWOOD: What do groups like yours, Environmental Defense, and other advocates on this issue recommend be done?

FLORINI: FDA needs to take action, and because it’s very difficult for them to act on any kind of reasonable timeframe, Congress needs to enact legislation that says unless FDA determines these uses are safe, and can continue to be used safely consistent with modern scientific understanding, then those uses need to end. Just like with pesticide re-registration.

CURWOOD: Karen Florini is a senior attorney with Environmental Defense. Thank you so much.

FLORINI: My pleasure.

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Cheers to Poet Robert Burns

CURWOOD: People around the world raised glasses of Scotch whiskey, recited poetry and ate haggis recently – all to honor Scottish poet Robert Burns. The author of such works as “Auld Lang Syne” and “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose” was born on January 25th, back in 1759, and his popularity endures. Historians say that’s because unlike his contemporaries, who wrote in more formal prose, Burns wrote like he spoke – in the Scottish dialect of the time. This made his poetry accessible to rich and poor alike.

Vermont Public Radio’s Nina Keck reports on a small group of Vermonters who like to think their annual Burns dinner is not too different than parties the poet himself might have attended over two hundred years ago.


KECK: Jim McCrea and Lin Reuther both raise sheep in central Vermont, and both share a love of Scotland. So it kind of fit when the two friends decided years ago to try to make haggis and celebrate Robert Burns with a small dinner party.

McCREA: The night’s a special night and it developed over oh, I don’t know, over ten years. And I think it’s because we all encouraged each other to do the things we love to do. Lin loves to cook and loves to be the host. I love the poetry. I think Robbie Burns would enjoy it.

KECK: One of the highlights of the annual dinner is Lin Reuther’s haggis, a traditional Scottish dish that’s both beloved and reviled by natives.

REUTHER: The first year, of course, I didn’t have any idea on how to cook it. So I went to the Rutland library and they had two ancient books of Scots recipes – and so this is like from the 1800s – and the first time I read it, I thought, the pluck? What’s that? The lights? What’s that? And I actually had to find a Scottish woman who could tell me what these ingredients were in the haggis.

KECK: The pluck turned out to be a sheep’s heart, lungs and kidneys combined. The lights are the animals’ lungs. Reuther says you boil and chop up the animal parts, throw in some spices, several handfuls of toasted oats, stuff it all in a cleaned out sheep’s stomach, and boil it for three hours.

REUTHER: I have to say, sometimes as I’m chopping this stuff up I’m thinking, I’m going to eat this? And then it transforms itself inside this stomach. And of course a little bit of scotch doesn’t hurt either to go with it.

KECK: It also helps to have your own sheep.


KECK: Back in November at a neighbor’s barn, Lin’s husband Bill slaughtered one of their sheep for the party.

BILL REUTHER: I think it’s become part of the tradition for the Burns supper, that’s the only way we can get the stomachs. We can’t take a sheep to the commercial slaughter house because the FDA won’t let you get the stomach and the heart, and the lungs, so we couldn’t make a traditional haggis if we didn’t slaughter the sheep ourselves.

KECK: The Reuthers think using one of their own animals also adds to the authenticity of the evening. The 15 guests gathered two months later in the couple’s century’s old farmhouse, agree.

BILL REUTHER: Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention please? The haggis is about ready to be served and presented, so if you would take your seats.

KECK: It’s not a true Burns supper if the haggis doesn’t receive its due. So with much pomp and ceremony, the guests raise their glasses and salute what the poet himself called the great ruler of the puddin’ race.

A WOMAN: To the haggis! To the haggis! To Robert Burns!


KECK: This is an evening of history and tradition, of poetry and bawdy jokes, of kilts and Scotch whisky. It’s a party that harkens back to a time when people were more connected to the land, the elements and each other. Guests at the Reuthers bring homemade cheeses and bread, homegrown turnips, potatoes and greens, as well as bottles of home-brewed beer to share.

John Peterson, a high school history teacher, revels in the tradition of it all. Resplendent in a formal kilt, he raises his sword and, with a twinkle in his eye, theatrically launches into one of Robert Burns most famous poems, the “Ode to the Haggis.”

PETERSON: Fair firey on you sauncy, as lang’s me arm…

KECK: Didn’t quite catch that? You’re not alone. But if you’re like most people at a Burns dinner who don’t speak antiquated Scots, you sit back, raise your glass at the appropriate moments, and savor the theater of it all.

KECK: Guest John Hartman says the laughter, music and drama are what make this party so special.

HARTMAN: I think one of the reasons we celebrate him around the world is it was very much a part of the culture of Scotland in Burns’ day, the lively exchange of ideas, conversation and the goings on in an active social environment. And he lived in an incredibly social environment where people did entertain each other. And this dinner is really about those traditions.


KECK: With the holidays over and the days cold and short, this Burns dinner is a deep dark winter celebration of life and art - one these guests look forward to every year. For Living on Earth, I’m Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vermont.

[SINGING: Grim revenge has long been taking a nap, but we yet may see him walking. God help us when the royal heads are hunted like a marken. Away whigs away. Away whigs away. Yer just a pack of traitor loons. You’ll do no good at all. Down the law the whigs will fall all the tops will teary and the crow the raven and the rook will fly to the wood around my dearie. Down the law the whigs will fall all the tops will teary and the crow the raven and the rook will fly to the wood around my dearie.


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CURWOOD: We leave you this week slippin’ and a slidin’.

CURWOOD: Dennis Foley recorded these wintry sounds at the skating rink on Boston Common known as “The Frog Pond.”


MAN: Attention Frog Pond skaters, it’s time for the zambonie to come out and resurface the ice. Please be sure to safely and slowly exit the ice at one of the two exits we have on the ice. If you’re returning rented skates today, please be sure to tuck in the laces. Thank you very much. This process will take about ten minutes. Have a good one.

[“Frog Pond Ice Skating Rink” recorded by Dennis Foley on Boston Commons - Boston, Massachusetts (December 2005)]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Rachel Gotbaum, Susan Shepherd - with help from Christopher Bolick, Kelley Cronin, James Curwood and Michelle Kweder. Our interns are Bobby Bascomb and Emily Taylor. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Alison Dean composed our themes. You can find us at LOE dot org. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; and Stonyfield Farm: organic yogurt, smoothies and milk. Ten percent of profits are donated to efforts that help protect and restore the earth. Details at Stonyfield dot com. Support also comes from NPR member stations, the Ford Foundation, the Oak Foundation, and the Saunders Hotel Group of Boston's Lennox and Copley Square Hotels. Serving you and the environment while helping preserve the past and protect the future, 800-225-7676.

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