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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

March 23, 2007

Air Date: March 23, 2007

FULL SHOW

(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

Capitol Climate Round-up / Jeff Young

(stream / mp3)

Al Gore's global warming road show hits Congress. Living on Earth's Jeff Young tells us about the visit and the frenzy of climate change activity at the Capitol. (06:00)

Rice and... Arsenic?

(stream / mp3)

A new study shows high levels of arsenic in rice grown in the American South. Rice is often grown in former cotton fields, where arsenic was long used as a pesticide. Living on Earth speaks with Professor Andrew Meharg of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, who conducted the study. (05:30)

British Invasion

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Warming temperatures in northern Europe are luring some southern species of insects across the English Channel for the first time in recorded history. Scientist Tim Sparks speaks with Living on Earth's Bruce Gellerman about the butterfly invasion of Britain. (05:00)

Taggers At Work / Rachael McDonald

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Western Monarch butterflies migrate, but biologists don't know exactly where they go when they leave the winter warmth of coastal California. Reporter Rachael McDonald spent a day with biologists who are trying to find out. (05:30)

Climate Committee

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When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi created the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, she named Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey as chair. Many will be looking to see just how much Markey's committee can accomplish before it expires in the fall of 2008. Congressman Ed Markey joins Living on Earth from his office in Washington, D.C. (06:30)

"Ask Beth" About Climate Change / Peg Winship

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Don't ask Peg Winship to give advice on teen problems anymore. The "Ask Beth" columnist is retiring her column after penning it for more than two decades. Now, she’s turning her attentions to global warming. (03:30)

Listener Letters

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Living on Earth dips into the mailbag to hear from listeners. (03:30)

Rhythms Del Mundo

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The spicy world rhythms of the Buena Vista Social Club meet pop hits in a new album to raise money and awareness about climate change. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Kenny Young who produced the album. (11:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUEST: Edward Markey, Rachael McDonald, Andrew Meharg, Tim Sparks, Kenny Young
REPORTER: Jeff Young
COMMENTARY: Peg Winship

[THEME]

GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth.

[THEME]

GELLERMAN: I’m Bruce Gellerman. Al Gore, preaching the gospel of climate change, tells congress that time’s running out: the planet’s in peril. And Eskimos invite congressional skeptics to the once-frozen North:

SWAN: Come to my village and see what we have to live with. Our people’s lives are in danger, while they say that they have their doubts how can they say things like that if they haven’t seen it, if they haven’t come to Alaska. Alaska is where it’s happening.

GELLERMAN: The heat is on in Washington to do something about climate change. Also: if you can’t stand the heat get out of the habitat. Butterflies from Southern Europe are making a beeline North and British scientists say more insects are right behind.

SPARKS: There are big changes going on now very big changes and we’ve only had you know, modest climate warming so far, about a degree, and there’s a lot more that’s going to happen in the future.

GELLERMAN: And playing tag with butterflies in California. These stories and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around!

Back to top

[MUSIC]

[NPR NEWSCAST]

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

[MUSIC]

Capitol Climate Round-up

Climate Crisis Action Day on the Capitol lawn. (Courtesy of Jeff Young)

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. The last time former Vice President Al Gore was on the floor of the U.S. Senate was more than six years ago when he was certifying the Electoral College vote that denied him the presidency. Since then, Gore has become the de facto leader of a new campaign that he says is bigger than politics—the fight against global warming. His film about the subject “An Inconvenient Truth” won Gore an Academy Award. And this week, his impassioned message about climate change won him an audience with the U.S. Congress. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young had a front row seat.

YOUNG: Fresh from the red carpets of the Oscars, Al Gore returned to the marble halls of Congress where he served as a representative and senator for 16 years. Despite his academy award, Gore told his former congressional colleagues he didn’t want star treatment.

GORE: Rin Tin Tin was a movie star. I just have a slide show.

[LAUGHTER]

YOUNG: In a packed hearing room Gore lectured on the scientific evidence for what he calls a planetary emergency of climate change. Then he asked lawmakers to consider what future generations will think of them.

GORE: Either they will ask: “What in God’s name were they doing? Didn’t they see the evidence? Did they think all the scientists were wrong? What were they thinking?” Or they’ll ask another question. They may look back and they’ll say, “How did they find the uncommon moral courage to rise above politics and do what some said was impossible?”

YOUNG: With that Gore challenged Congress to think big with a bold list of energy proposals: No new coal-fired power plants unless they can capture carbon emissions; an overhaul of the tax system to tax pollution instead of income. And perhaps the most ambitious idea: an immediate freeze on carbon emissions.


Climate Crisis Action Day on the Capitol lawn. (Courtesy of Jeff Young)

GORE: All of the complex formulas of how we might start reductions years from now and have a little bit in the first year and a little bit more in the second year - I think we need to freeze it. We do not have time to play around with this.

YOUNG: That’s far more aggressive than any proposal now before congress. No lawmakers embraced all those ideas but most agreed with Gore’s assessment of climate science and a need to act. The notable exceptions: the senior Republicans - Representative Joe Barton of Texas, and Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Barton questioned whether there is any link between carbon dioxide emissions and rising temperatures.

BARTON: It appears that temperature appears to drive CO2 not vice versa. On this point Mr. Vice President you’re not just off a little, you’re totally wrong.

YOUNG: Gore responded that consensus on global warming was like the consensus on gravity. In the Senate, he faced sharper criticism from Inhofe, who questioned predictions about sea level rise and hurricanes. Inhofe chaired the environment committee when Republicans controlled the Senate, and frequently calls global warming a hoax. Inhofe wanted Gore to answer questions about his personal energy consumption but insisted that he answer with only a yes or a no.

GORE: We purchase wind energy and green energy that does not produce carbon dioxide.

INHOFE: (interrupting) Senator Gore.

GORE: If I can continue.

INHOFE: Well you can’t, sorry.

BOXER: If you can allow, you’ve asked the senator an important question He’s answering it.

YOUNG: That was California Democrat Barbara Boxer, the new chair of the senate environment committee. To make her point she dangled in Inhofe’s face that symbol of senatorial power, the gavel.

BOXER: You’re not making the rules, you used to when you did this. You don’t do this anymore. Elections have consequences.

[APPLAUSE AND LAUGHTER]

YOUNG: It was good political theater. But it raises questions about Boxer’s ability to pass meaningful climate legislation. Any bill will need strong bipartisan support to survive a Senate where Democrats have just a tiny majority. One key Republican took a step in that direction after hearing Gore speak: Virginia’s elder statesman John Warner.


Speakers from various tribal communities in Alaska took to the stage at Climate Crisis Action Day.(Courtesy of Jeff Young)

WARNER: You have thrown down a very tough challenge today to the Congress and I’m prepared to take some risks and fight with you and our chairman.

YOUNG: Gore’s testimony was just the tip of the melting iceberg of climate activity on the Hill. In the same week, electric utility CEO’s considered a cap on greenhouse gas emissions; major Wall Street firms spoke about the investments that might follow such a cap; and a panel investigated whether the White House suppressed the work of climate scientists. And just outside the Capitol there was more.

ACTIVIST: (on P.A. system) Is it our moral responsibility to stop global warming?!”

[CHEERS]

YOUNG: Hundreds of climate activists crowded the capitol lawn for what they called a climate crisis rally. Some came from as far as Alaska. Colleen Swan lives in the arctic town of Kivalina where the melting permafrost threatens her community with massive sinkholes and rapid erosion.


Colleen Swan, from the Alaskan village of Kivalina, has Permafrost beneath her town that's melting,- causing sinkholes and coastal erosion that threatens residents' homes and drinking water. (Courtesy of Jeff Young)

SWAN: Alaska is where it’s happening, not here in Washington DC not in their offices, it’s happening now. I’m hoping that they’re paying attention this time because they need to. It’s not a question of whether it’s going to happen or not, it is happening and they need to listen.

YOUNG: Swan says she’s hopeful Al Gore’s climate warning will be heard. But she also remembers that he called the very first congressional hearings on global warming. That was 26 years ago.

For Living on Earth I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

Related links:
- "Understanding and Responding to Climate Change: Highlights of National Academies Reports"
- Al Gore's Climate Crisis website
- LOE's piece "Alaska's Changing Climate" by Gabriel Spitzer

Back to top

GELLERMAN: Later in the program there’s a new special house committee on climate change but just how special is it? We’ll talk with the chairman.

[MUSIC]

Rice and... Arsenic?

A rice field in the southern U.S. (Courtesy of USGS)

GELLERMAN: In states where cotton was once king, today rice reigns supreme. Consumption of rice in the U.S. has doubled over the last 25 years, and eighty percent of the rice grown here comes from states in the South Central part of the country. A lot of it is grown in former cotton fields. And when cotton was grown there, a lot of these fields were treated with pesticides that contained arsenic.

Dr. Andrew Meharg is a bio-geo-chemist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and an expert on arsenic in the environment. He investigated rice from these fields and he found that it contains unusually high levels of the toxic heavy metal.

MEHARG: The lowest levels are in Egyptian rice where you have 0.05 parts per million in the rice. U.S. rice from the south central region has around about 0.3 so that’s 6 times higher than Egyptian rice. It’s typically 4 times higher than Indian rice you would buy so it’s quite substantially more.

GELLERMAN: Well Dr. Meharg, how does arsenic get into rice in the south central region of the United States?


Professor Andrew Meharg (Courtesy of Andrew Meharg)

MEHARG: Well it has to be thought of in detail, but there has been a long history of using arsenical pesticides for cotton production, both as a pesticide for the boll weevil and also arsenic was used as a desiccant to remove leaves before boll harvest and that’s been going on for like the last hundred years. So over that time there’s been heavy use of arsenical pesticides in that cotton belt area.

GELLERMAN: Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical. How do you know that this is not just, you know, part of what’s in the background soil?

MEHARG: Well, there’s a lot of literature out there about concerns, particularly in Arkansas, about rice breeding because when they grow rice on this soils that’d been previously treated with arsenic they suffer from a disease called stripped head where crop yields are decreased and they specifically bred rice to grow on these high arsenical soils. So the fact is there’s been a large breeding program for states such as Arkansas to produce rice, which can withstand high levels of arsenic in soils. And that’s a pretty big clue that arsenic is a problem in those soils.

And when you look at the background geochemical data, which we’ve done for the different rice growing regions, which are a pretty good measure of what’s the background level of arsenic in the environment and what’s the background levels in soils, they’re much lower in the South-Central states than they are for California. Yet we find higher levels in the South-Central U.S. rice states than we do for California. So from the geochemical evidence it would suggest that California should have higher levels of arsenic naturally in rice rather than the south central region.

GELLERMAN: Are there fields in the United States that were once treated with arsenic for non-food crops and now being used to raise food, besides rice?


A rice field in the southern U.S. (Courtesy of USGS)

MEHARG: Historically arsenic was, inorganic arsenicals were used as a first generation pesticide and they were widely used famously for orchard pesticide treatment where they used lead arsenate. The answer to that is yes but the main problem of arsenic in agriculture is really particular for rice due to the way that rice is grown. Basically rice is the only major crop that is grown under water saturated soil conditions, i.e. the soil is flooded. And under those conditions arsenic is mobilized where with other crops they’re grown with plenty of oxygen around the root system and the actual arsenic in bulk is locked in the soil and doesn’t get into the plants to such an extant as for rice.

GELLERMAN: In Bangladesh where they have very high levels of arsenic in the water there’s a huge problem and people manifest arsenic poisoning in a variety of ways, but one of the ways is that they get sores on their hands and their feet, the soles of their feet. Um wouldn’t we expect to see something like that here in the United States?

MEHARG: When you do the risk assessment, the risk assessment has been done for the USA by the US EPA and they’ve actually found that there is a risk for the US based population and that’s why the US levels in water were reduced, because the risk from arsenic to the US population was more perceptible, and above background, particularly for lung and bladder cancers and what we’re finding is that the levels of arsenic in rice for certain subpopulations exceed those current levels for safety and water. And eating high levels of rice, they’re actually well over what they should be consuming.

GELLERMAN: How concerned should the average consumer of rice in the United States be? I think I’m pretty average. I eat rice two times a week or so.

MEHARG: I think the average consumer should not be that concerned. It’s more the people who have high amounts of rice in their diet. And there’s a range of subpopulations which’ll have higher rice levels, amounts of rice in their diets such as Hispanics, Asians, also people who suffer from like, celiac disease where you have gluten intolerances, tend to use rice as a wheat substitute. So it’s those people who are of concern. Also rice is used in baby formula, as well, so that might be a concern it’s really the populations who consume a high amount of rice that should be concerned. And they are substantial again four percent of the US population is of Asian origin and so four percent of 250 million is a lot of people.

GELLERMAN: Well Dr. Meharg I want to thank you very much.

MEHARG: No problem.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Andrew Meharg’s paper on the elevated levels of arsenic in the South-Central United States appears in the latest edition of the journal, Environmental Science and Technology.

Related link:
Market Basket Survey Shows Elevated Levels of As in South Central U.S. Processed Rice Compared to California: Consequences for Human Dietary Exposure in Environmental Science and Technology

Back to top

[MUSIC]

GELLERMAN: Coming up: butterflies and other insects migrate north to beat the heat. That’s just ahead on Living on Earth.

[MUSIC]

British Invasion

The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) (Photo: (c) Tom Peterson 2004)

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Butterflies are beautiful and soon they’ll be fluttering back into many fields and gardens, a welcome sign of spring. But in Great Britain, it seems, some butterflies and moths are wearing out their welcome.
Joining me on the line is Dr. Tim Sparks. He’s an environmental scientist with the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in Cambridgeshire, England. Welcome to Living on Earth Dr. Sparks.

SPARKS: Hello, thank you.

GELLERMAN: So, I understand that from reading your article in the European Journal of Entomology that the number of species of butterflies and moths has increased to Britain four fold in the last 25 years. Sounds like a good thing to me.

SPARKS: Well, I mean, it’s certainly good for biodiversity, in that sense. And um where as 25 years ago we regularly got 10 species arriving each year, um we’re now getting more like 40. And there are good things and bad things of course. We appreciate the butterflies when they come in but we’re not necessarily so keen on some of the moth species, which may be pests as well.


Tim Sparks (Courtesy of Tim Sparks)

GELLERMAN: Why are they coming in such great numbers?

SPARKS: Well, it’s very clear that this is all to do with warmer temperatures further south in Europe. So in summer when it’s warm we get this northwards movement of butterflies and moths and they cross the English Channel and they turn up on the south coast. And in many cases we’re seeing species for the first time.

GELLERMAN: So when these new species come to Great Britain are they taking over the habitats of you know the indigenous species?

SPARKS: Well, that’s something we don’t know too much about and it does cause us concern. We don’t know exactly what the competition will be. We do know with introduced species that they can cause huge problems for native species by out-competing them. And we’ve got lots of examples in this country of that happening.

GELLERMAN: Well, we all know about the destruction caused by the gypsy moths. Are you seeing any destruction from any of these butterflies or moths that are coming in?

SPARKS: We’re not seeing that yet. I mean there is always concern that some of these moths are pests of agriculture, um and they would include the family which are known as Tineidae moths which attack root crops. Um we don’t have any evidence yet of big economic problems but that doesn’t say that we won’t get that in the future.

GELLERMAN: Well, butterflies and moths are of course insects. Are you seeing other insects then invade?

SPARKS: We are we’re seeing new dragonflies, we’re seeing new crickets, we’re seeing new bees, we’re seeing new flies. All the evidence is pointing towards a much greater number of species um, starting to turn up in this country. And we believe that it’s happening in many other species groups as well which are currently not very well recorded. We’re very lucky that people are keen to record moths and butterflies and dragonflies and butterflies but there are some very obscure insect groups out there that don’t have many fans and don’t have many people recording them.

GELLERMAN: So, Dr. Sparks has Southern Europe seen new insects coming up from further south than they are?

SPARKS: Yes, certainly I mean, there’s been a shift both towards the poles and up mountain sides as well. So, we’ve seen species that are getting, um, further up mountains than they used to be, um, and we’ve also seen some new species in Southern Europe. We know more perhaps about Gibraltar and um. They now have their own population of monarch butterflies. Interestingly in Gibraltar it’s not migratory so it’s a resident species in Gibraltar before is was present on the Canary Islands out in the Atlantic and it now seems to have become resident in Gibraltar.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Sparks, I understand that you model your data on a computer. Um what does that model look like?

SPARKS: Well, the sorts of models that I use are statistical models. Where we’re actually looking at changes and we’re trying to relate those changes to temperature effectively. And what we’d ultimately be liking to do is predict in the future by how much things will change as the temperature will continue to increase.

GELLERMAN: Are you at your computer now?

SPARKS: I am.

GELLERMAN: Ah, can you pull up a model for me?

SPARKS: Ok, for instance I can look at my computer at the moment and I’m currently working on two bird species: Sand Martin and Swallow. And I can clearly see that the Sand Martin which used to arrive at the beginning of April, 50 years ago is now arriving about 20 days earlier than that. And that’s a big change over a relatively short time span.

GELLERMAN: That’s going to really change the ecology of well, Great Britain if not the rest of Europe.


The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) (Photo: (c) Tom Peterson 2004)

SPARKS: Yes, I mean we’ve already seen a few examples of species that have been migratory starting to settle. Two classic examples in birds are the Chiffchaff and the Black Cap, both warblers which are now present in large numbers in Britain during the winter. But we’ve also seen a few migratory butterflies, the Red Admiral and the Clouded Yellow which traditionally, um, haven’t survived a winter in this country are now being able to do so. So they’re present in the country all year round.

GELLERMAN: These butterflies and moths have some great names. You mentioned Clouded Yellow, Red Admirals.

SPARKS: Yup.

GELLERMAN: The Hoary Footman?

SPARKS: (laughs) Well the Hoary Footman’s a moth. Yeah, there are big changes going on now, very big changes and we’ve only had really modest climate warming so far, about a degree. You know there’s a lot more that’s going to happen in the future.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Tim Sparks is an environmental scientist at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in Monks Wood, Cambridgeshire Britain. Dr. Sparks thank you very much.

SPARKS: My pleasure thank you.

Related links:
- The Center for Ecology and Hydrology: "Migrant Butterflies and Moths Invade the UK as European Temperatures Rise"
- More information on the Clouded Yellow butterfly
- More information on the Red Admiral butterfly

Back to top

 

Taggers At Work

Monarch 6 (Tom Moss-CA State Parks)

GELLERMAN: Meanwhile here in the US, Western Monarch butterflies are having a tough time. A lot of their habitat is being chopped up by development. Every fall, about a million Western monarchs descend on the California coast to spend the winter and then they fan out throughout the West for the summer. The problem is, wildlife biologists don’t know precisely where all the butterflies go, so they don’t know which places to protect.

That’s why western monarchs are now being captured and tagged, so biologists can track them. How do you tag the delicate wings of a butterfly? Very carefully as Rachael McDonald of station KAZU found when she tagged along with biologists in the town of Pacific Grove, on Monterey Bay.

McDONALD: Pacific Grove's George Washington Park is a shady grove of trees on the edge of a quiet residential street. Here, on a cool late winter morning, wildlife biologist Jessica Griffiths is reaching high into a live oak tree with a 15-foot pole with a net on the end. She's shaking the pole.


Monarchs are captured using a net on a pole that extends 25 feet up to where the butterflies are hanging. (Photo: Tom Moss-CA State Parks)

GRIFFITHS: So you can see they're really cold right now they’re not moving very much.

McDONALD: The monarchs are all clustered together at the end of a branch.

[SHAKING SOUND]

GRIFFITHS: Rise and shine

McDONALD: Griffiths shakes the butterflies into the net and then lowers it and, with the help of a volunteer, carefully pours the insects into a paper bag.

[MONARCHS GO INTO THE BAG]

McDONALD: Griffiths instructs the six volunteers helping her tag monarchs today. They're sitting on folding chairs in the middle of the forest. Each pair has a bag full of untagged butterflies and another bag for tagged ones.

OLSEN: Female

McDONALD: One at a time, intern Jen Olsen takes a butterfly out of the bag, identifies it as male or female then gently attaches a tiny fingertip sized sticker to the underside of its wing. She's careful not to touch the top part of the wings where delicate, brightly colored scales could be rubbed off. Another volunteer notes the insect's gender on a data sheet.


This small sticker is placed on the monarch's wing.
(Photo: Tom Moss-CA State Parks)

This is a pilot program of the Ventana Wilderness Society, a local non-profit funded by donations and grants. Biologist Jessica Griffiths says the goal is to understand two things about the monarchs that come here. One, where do the butterflies go during the winter?

GRIFFITHS: Butterflies come to specific places on the California coast to spend the winter and we have actually long suspected that they probably move around during the winter between over-wintering site; however, that's very hard to tell when the butterflies are not marked in any way because all the butterflies look the same.

McDONALD: Each tag has a toll free number and a tracking number for the particular butterfly. Several months ago, Griffiths's team tagged about a thousand butterflies. A few weeks later she got a call from someone who found a tagged one up north near Santa Cruz, another was found in Big Sur more than 40 miles south of here.

GRIFFITHS: Just that data alone made the tagging worthwhile because we really didn't have any idea that they could move so far so quickly.

McDONALD: Griffiths hopes this information helps conserve western monarch habitat up and down the central coast. That habitat is disappearing.


(Tom Moss-CA State Parks)

GRIFFITHS: We can't just, you know, protect, for example, the monarch sanctuary in Pacific Grove and think, well that's one spot, that's enough for them. We need to try and conserve as much habitat as we can.

McDONALD: Then, she says, once the monarchs leave for the spring and summer months, she hopes the tags will show her exactly where they go.

GRIFFITHS: What they do is they're going to all mate together in sort of a big frenzy and then they leave the central coast and then they disperse inland in order to find milkweed which is their host plant. But we don't know exactly where the butterflies from Pacific Grove go. Do they mostly go north or south or, where do they go?

McDONALD: The Ventana Wildlife Society had to get special permission from the city council to tag the butterflies. A local ordinance makes it illegal to touch or bother a monarch butterfly. Anyone who does so gets fined a thousand dollars. Once a bag full of monarchs is tagged, they can be released. The team puts bags of butterflies in the sun on folding chairs so they can warm up.

[BUTTERFLIES MOVING IN THE BAG]

McDONALD: The butterflies are fluttering their wings. Nelly Thorngate, another wildlife biologist with Ventana says when the monarchs warm up their circulation starts up.

THORNGATE: You can see them do this in the trees too. At about this time when the sun starts to hit the trees they'll open up in their clusters and start to shiver as a bunch. What's neat is that they seem to hit a critical mass like that where they'll all shiver and kind of open their wings and be hanging out and then all of a sudden everyone will take off at once and it's amazing to see.
McDONALD: But here Thorngate and Griffiths let the insects go, one at a time.

GRIFFITHS: Would you like to release one?

McDONALD: Griffiths addresses a young volunteer, a little girl with her father, helping.

GRIFFITHS: Okay, so what you're going to do is you're going to hold him. I'm going to pass him to you and you're going to hold him with the wings closed and you're going to go like this and when your hand is up high that's when you're going to let him go okay? There you go!

McDONALD: And the monarch takes off.

GRIFFITHS: Whoa, let's see if he can do it. All right, there he goes.

McDONALD: They’ll follow the milkweed fanning out across the West. For Living On Earth, I'm Rachael McDonald in Pacific Grove, California.

Related link:
Ventana Wildlife Society

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[MUSIC]

Climate Committee

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), and Rep. Todd Russell Platts (R-PA) introduced legislation that will require vehicles to improve their fuel economy standards by at least 4 percent every year, reaching 35 miles per gallon by 2018. (Courtesy U.S. House of Representatives)

GELLERMAN: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has put global warming and energy independence on the front burner and fast track. But infighting among powerful House committees threatens to bog the process down. So Pelosi has created a new committee to speed things up. The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is chaired by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey. He joins us from his office on Capitol Hill. And hello, Congressman Markey.

MARKEY: Thank you for having me.

GELLERMAN: The committee that you now head doesn’t have the power to actually draft legislation. So what are you actually designed to do?

MARKEY: Well, first to revive the public interest in taking bold and effective action to find solutions to the looming catastrophe of climate change. That’s after six years of Republican denial controlling the House, the Senate, and the Presidency. And obviously there’s a lot of education that needs to take place.

Then to recommend strategies in one reducing our addiction to oil without worsening global warming. And two reducing carbon emissions without worsening our addiction to oil.


Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), and Rep. Todd Russell Platts (R-PA) introduced legislation that will require vehicles to improve their fuel economy standards by at least 4 percent every year, reaching 35 miles per gallon by 2018. (Courtesy U.S. House of Representatives)

GELLERMAN: Well, you mentioned educating Congress. You don’t have to go very far because five out of six Republicans on your committee voted against creating the committee.

MARKEY: Obviously there still is a lot of resistance in the Republican Party to the notion that climate change, global warming is even a problem. So, yes there’s going to be a very significant difference of opinion between the Democrats and Republicans on this issue. And that’s good because we need to have the public debate. And we as Democrats believe that the public is ready to move and we are going to win.

GELLERMAN: I’m just wondering if the very name of the new committee, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, can be construed as a contradiction in terms. I mean you can have energy independence. We can use all of our coal and polluting resources and that doesn’t help global warming.

MARKEY: Well, that is not necessarily so. In other words there are technologies that make it possible for us to advance both goals simultaneously. So that we can using new hybrid technologies and other automotive technologies dramatically break back out the amount of oil that we import. We can use new cellulosic technologies in order to develop alternative fuels in our country that similarly will reduce our need for importation of oil, ah, and use other strategies as well that don’t lead to more pollution but less. And simultaneously back out the oil which we import from OPEC so they’re not mutually exclusive. In fact using new technologies, it also produces new products that we can export around the world because we’ll become the leader in the production of those new products.

GELLERMAN: What about nuclear power?

MARKEY: I think that nuclear power should compete in the market place. It’s a very mature technology. It is a very wealthy industry. The question is: can it compete? No one has invested in a new nuclear power plant since 1974.

GELLERMAN: You know when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formation of this committee she gave a deadline, a very short deadline. She wants a bill by July fourth.


Rep. Edward J. Markey, a senior member of the House Resources and Energy and Commerce Committees, urged the Republican Congress to fix the loophole that allows oil and gas companies to skirt payment of royalties for drilling on federal lands. (Courtesy U.S. House of Representatives)

MARKEY: Nancy Pelosi believes that this is a generational challenge for the United States. And she has created very ambitious goals for the Congress to meet. It’s a reflection of how important she believes the issue is. And she’s made it clear that she intends on seeing real action in this Congress.

GELLERMAN: Well, the Democratic Congressman from Michigan, John Dingell, is the House Energy Chair. He doesn’t deny global warming but he’s not very thrilled with your committee. He called it what, he says it’s about as relevant as feathers to a fish.

MARKEY: Well, he is now saying that he wants to work towards the goal of passing legislation and that’s good.

GELLERMAN: You’re a vociferous advocate for increasing the CAFE
Standards the efficiencies of automobiles and John Dingell is not. Ah, you had some leaders from the auto industry before your committee and they’re not thrilled with increasing the CAFE standards. I think what, it’s four percent a year you want to increase the efficiency of cars?

MARKEY: My goal is to increase the fuel economy standards by four percent per year over the next ten years that would come out to be ten miles per gallon increase the fuel economy standard to approximately 35 miles per gallon for the American automotive fleet. That’s a standard, which the National Academy of Science says can be met using existing technologies. So the debate there is going to be whether or not any flexibility is given to the Department of Transportation, to the Bush Administration or its successor administration. My argument is that there should be no discretion what so ever.

GELLERMAN: Well, what do you think are the odds of getting a comprehensive global warming bill before the 2008 election?

MARKEY: I am optimistic that we can produce good legislation. In the end though, obviously, if President Bush wants to exercise his veto power that would complicate that process. But I do believe that Congress does follow the public and here the public is way ahead of the public institutions that have had responsibility for solving this problem. And I think as a result we are much closer to having an answer than we have ever been in our history.

GELLERMAN: It seems to me that if your vision of America comes true, 20 or 30 years from now, we’ll have a very different country, a very different country.

MARKEY: I think we’ll have a very different economy. We’ll have a very different world. If the United States becomes the leader we will have reformed our relationship with OPEC and with Green House gases. That’s a challenge which our country can meet.

And if we make the investment in these new technologies for the next 20 to 30 years we can do for energy technology what happened for telecommunication technologies in the 1990s. And that’s the pace of technological change that we need in the energy field as well.

GELLERMAN: Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey is chairman of the new House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Congressman, thank you very much.

MARKEY: Thank you for having me on.

Related links:
- Congressman Edward Markey's website
- SourceWatch.org on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming
- LOE's interview "Accusations of Interference on Climate" with Congressman Henry Waxman, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

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[MUSIC]

GELLERMAN: Just ahead: an advice columnist puts down her pen and picks up the banner of global climate change.

[MUSIC]

ANNOUNCER: Support for the Environmental Health Desk at Living on Earth comes from the Cedar Tree Foundation. Support also comes from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for coverage of population and the environment, and from you our listeners and from member stations. This is Living on Earth on PRI- Public Radio International.

"Ask Beth" About Climate Change

"Ask Beth" columnist Peg Winship (Photo: Richie Bittner)

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.

YOUNG WOMAN: Dear Beth, I’m fourteen and my boyfriend is pressuring me to have sex with him but I don’t think I’m ready. I don’t want to lose him. What should I do? Signed--Confused

GELLERMAN: Dear Confused well, I just don’t have an answer for you, but for almost fifty years, advice columnist “Ask Beth” has been answering questions like this one from teenagers. Elizabeth Winship wrote the “ask Beth” column for a quarter of a century before handing it off to her daughter, Peg Winship.

But now, “Ask Beth” has answered her last questions about teenage relationship troubles. Peg Winship is retiring the column and turning her attention full-time to what she says is a far greater challenge confronting teens today.

WINSHIP: The burning issue for me now is not whether young people are having sex or not but what kind of a world they’ll be inheriting from us. I fervently believe the most critical factor in our kids’ future is global warming. The more I learn the more convinced I’ve become that we have a very short time to improve the outcome for our children. If we wait until “more is known” it will likely be too late.


"Ask Beth" columnist Peg Winship (Photo: Richie Bittner)

Why are people ignoring this? Why are the serious implications for life on earth still not getting a fraction of the attention reserved for the Anna Nicole Smiths? The media hasn’t done its job - we’re in denial - things are so grim we feel powerless. The reasons don’t matter, what matters is that if you are listening to this, the jig is up. We really can’t make any more excuses. We’ve all got to get to work. Fortunately, it’s an issue each of us can do something about.
What can you do? Become informed. It’s actually fascinating to learn about the earth’s climate and to see how energy is interwoven throughout our lives. You’ll get inspired to take action, with your families, in your home, at school and at work. Do an energy audit with your kids and figure out the many ways to reduce your CO2 emissions.

It does take perseverance and gentle reminders to develop new habits. My husband and I are retraining ourselves to turn out all our lights except for the room we’re in and to unplug our energy draining gadgets. It surprises me how long it’s taking. I’m not Ed Begley Jr. yet, but I’m finally developing a turn-off reflex and each time I do, I get a positive little buzz.

We can’t wait for our leaders to lead us—we must demand that they do. Pressure your representatives to pass strong legislation to reduce our heat-trapping emissions 80 percent by mid-century. They need to hear an urgent and constant drumbeat from every-day citizens that drowns out the corporate fossil fuel juggernaut. When they hear from enough of us they will respond.

Conserving and developing sustainable practices is actually innately satisfying. If we truly change our ways we won’t diminish or “lose” our lifestyle—we’ll gain enormously. When people are asked to reflect on the highlights of a past year, they usually mention slowing down and connecting with family or friends, taking notice of something beautiful in nature. We can experience lots more of this.

We have the most exciting challenge before us that has yet to be achieved – we have to overcome our ignorance, greed, fear and aggression to create a sustainable way of life on earth. Survival of our civilization is at stake. We have a good chance of saving it if each of us acts now.

GELLERMAN: "Ask Beth" columnist Peg Winship lives in Cambridge, NY. She recently discontinued the column to focus her attention on global warming.

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[MUSIC]

GELLERMAN: Coming up hot music for a warming climate but first, let’s open the mailbag.

Listener Letters

[LETTERS THEME]

GELLERMAN: We recently reported on efforts by scientists to take cellulose-digesting microbes from the guts of termites genetically modify them and then use them to help make the biofuel ethanol. Scientists see it as part of the solution to our energy challenges.

But Rebecca Chamberlain, who listens on KUOW in Seattle, wondered whether it might not just create more problems. She writes, “Once you unleash a genetically engineered microbe you can’t take it back. What side effects are these modified microbes and termites going to have on the planet?”

Our interview with Dr. Marsden Wagner, the obstetrician and former director of Women and Children's Health at the World Health Organization raised the ire of several listeners. Dr. Wagner claims in his new book “Born in the USA” that the modern American maternity system is broken, and that obstetricians are largely to blame and midwifery is the answer.

But a listener from Lee, New Hampshire, writes that Dr. Marsden is a Johnny-come-lately to the midwife movement. He writes that there has been a healthy awareness about the dangers of hospital births for at least 20 years, and families have long tried to correct the problem by turning to midwives.

Dr. Lisa Moore, an Associate Professor of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of New Mexico, took issue with the interview for the opposite reason. Dr. Moore writes, “The truth of the matter, is that early in the last century the maternal death rate was one in 100 live births. And the reason that that’s no longer true is because of the intervention of doctors.” The fact that the U.S. has the second highest infant mortality rate among developed countries, she says, is solely due to poverty.

Finally, we reported a few weeks ago that British billionaire Richard Branson is offering 25 million dollars to anyone who can develop a technology to remove a billion tons of carbon dioxide a year out of the atmosphere. In that report we mistakenly said that one of Branson’s companies is Virgin Records. A listener wrote in to remind us that Branson sold Virgin Records fifteen years ago. Given the current state of the record industry, the listener adds that Branson was a visionary even then.

If you have a vision about anything you hear on the show, let us know about it. We’re all ears. Send us a note at comments@loe.org. That’s comments@loe.org. Or call our listener line at 800-218-9-9-8-8. That’s 800-2-1-8…99-88.

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Rhythms Del Mundo

CD cover (Courtesy of Artists' Project Earth)

[MUSIC: Coldplay “Clocks” from: ‘Rythms del Mundo: Cuba.’ (APE Vision and Universal Music TV – 2006)]

GELLERMAN: You’ve heard it before but probably not like this.

[MUSIC: Coldplay “Clocks” from: ‘Rythms del Mundo: Cuba.’ (APE Vision and Universal Music TV – 2006)]

GELLERMAN: It’s Coldplay’s smash hit “Clocks,” mashed up with the rhythms and arrangements of Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club. It’s on a new record of hits and standards given the Buena Vista treatment. The album is called “Rhythms del Mundo: Cuba and it’s a benefit for climate change awareness and natural disaster relief.

The record features the familiar sounds of artists like Sting, Jack Johnson, Radiohead, the Arctic Monkeys and the Buena Vista Social Club’s own Ibrahim Ferrer all with the Buena Vista’s now famous Cuban flair.

The project was brought together by songwriter and producer Kenny Young. You might remember him for the old Drifters song “Under the Boardwalk.” He joins us. Kenny Young, thanks for being here.

YOUNG: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Well you have worked in the past with some amazing you know celebrities, incredible talents: U2, Paul McCartney, Sting, Pink Floyd. How do you get these people to work with you? Did you have to call in any favors?

YOUNG: I don’t do anything for them. I don’t make them crocheted hats or anything. I just ask them nicely and I don’t take no for an answer, basically.

GELLERMAN: Well what is the role of an artist as an activist? Is there a responsibility of the artist in society to play a role?

YOUNG: I think so because artists relate to the mainstream and the mainstream is who we’re really trying to reach. It’s one thing to preach to the converted like so many of my colleagues are. But we have to get to the people, the masses. That’s the way we have to work. That’s the way I feel I have to work. Although a lot of musicians are hesitant to commit themselves. And that’s because, I think, a lot of famous musicians are not given the sort of leeway they should have because the people behind them tell them, you know, “This is not good for your career.” I think that’s why you don’t have more famous artists sticking their necks out.

GELLERMAN: So Sting is on the album. How did you do this? Did you take his lyrics out and then apply it to the Buena Vista Social Club? How did you do it?

YOUNG: Well, Sting is an interesting, an interesting one I had stings vocal track and guitar, and just the vocal and guitar. We worked the track around there, just those two elements.

GELLERMAN: Let’s listen to it a little bit, ok?

YOUNG: Great.

[MUSIC: Sting “Fragilidad” from: ‘Rythms del Mundo: Cuba.’ (APE Vision and Universal Music TV – 2006)]


Kenny Young is the co-founder of Artists' Project Earth and producer of the CD "Rhythms Del Mundo."
(Courtesy of Artists' Project Earth)

GELLERMAN: You know, Kenny Young, I think I like this version better.

YOUNG: (laughs) I do to actually.

[MUSIC: Sting “Fragilidad” from: ‘Rythms del Mundo: Cuba.’ (APE Vision and Universal Music TV – 2006)]

YOUNG: I ran into him in, in Brazil of all places. We were both working on rainforest conservation and ah, I asked him if he would let us have Fragile. He promised to send me the track and he said, yes you could use it. And then came this project and I thought immediately, that was the first artist I thought of because I remembered that that track would be perfect to do with musicians from Buena Vista Social Club. And I thought as I’m doing this project, “Let me see if I can work that song in.”

[MUSIC: Sting “Fragilidad” from: ‘Rythms del Mundo: Cuba.’ (APE Vision and Universal Music TV – 2006)]

GELLERMAN: Where does the money go? You don’t pay the performers, so what happens to the money?

YOUNG: Well, the money goes through Artist Project Earth, which is a foundation that will raise awareness of climate change and it’s for natural disaster relief. So, all the money that comes into the charity is going to go to different projects. And we have a board of advisors and experts, and we’re going to have people sending all sorts of proposals on our website, which is apeuk dot org, which stands for artist project earth UK dot org.

GELLERMAN: So, how much money can an album like this raise for global warming?

YOUNG: Well, if we sell a million copies we’ll probably raise about three and a half million dollars.

GELLERMAN: You have a song by Ibrahim Ferrer actually you have it twice on the album and he of course recently passed away. Why did you choose this song?


(Courtesy of Artists' Project Earth)

YOUNG: I don’t know. I always wanted to record As Time Goes By with a Spanish sort of salsa rhythm or a Bolero type rhythm. And I kept trying to get in touch with Ibrahim but Ibrahim was not too well. And he was just coming off his tour. And as a result I had to wait. And then I sort of got a hold of his itinerary and found that he was going to have a couple of days off from his tour in Barcelona. So I called up his manager and his record company and I begged them to let him come into the studio just for an hour or two. Finally, ah, I got the ok and Ibrahim came in.

He was very humble and very just you know a true professional. He loved the idea of doing this as a cause. And he gave an amazing performance and it only took two or three, going over the song two or three times. And um about a little over a week after he did the vocals I had heard that he passed away. I was in New York and found out. It was an incredible shock to me. Um, but he, this served as a wonderful tribute to him. It was a great performance.

GELLERMAN: Let’s listen to a little bit of it, ok?

[MUSIC: Ibrahim Ferrer “As Time Goes By” from: ‘Rythms del Mundo: Cuba.’ (APE Vision and Universal Music TV – 2006)]

GELLERMAN: Boy, is that beautiful?

YOUNG: Isn’t it just beautiful.

GELLERMAN: Don’t you run the risk of people saying, “I love the music, what was the cause again?” You know?

YOUNG: Um, well, you know people, if people don’t know about global warming then it’s their problem because it’s going to face every one of us more severely every year in the future unless we do something really. Unless we stop wasting energy, unless we start using public transportation and get energy-saving light bulbs. You know things like that, turning off lights. We have to be conscious. We have to change our consciousness about what we’re doing on this planet.

GELLERMAN: Do you have a favorite on the album?

YOUNG: Um, well I’ve gotta say that Clocks is still my favorite. I also like the Arctic Monkeys.

GELLERMAN: Tell me a little bit about it.

YOUNG: Um, I wanted to get this track. I listen to the Arctic Monkeys because you know, I come from England and this band you know, I’ve heard it for quite a long time. I listened to their album and I thought, “I’ve got to get them on the album somehow.” I listened to ah Dancing Shoes and I thought that would lend itself well to a Latin feel. Alex, who’s the lead singer and guitarist he loved it. And he said, “Yes please, do Dancing Shoes.” And we did. We went into a studio the musicians, the Cubans, loved the track. They just had a laugh about it. And um the result is what you hear. I think it worked fantastically well.

[MUSIC: Arctic Monkeys “Dancing Shoes” from: ‘Rhythms del Mundo: Cuba.’ (APE Vision and Universal Music TV – 2006)]

GELLERMAN: So, Kenny Young is your foot going up and down?

YOUNG: (laughs) Yeah, I never get tired of that track.

GELLERMAN: It’s really terrific.

YOUNG: It’s been a pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed it. And I hope some people don’t take me lightly when I talk about um climate change but also, you know, keep a smile on your face and keep dancing (laughs).

[MUSIC: Arctic Monkeys “Dancing Shoes” from: ‘Rhythms del Mundo: Cuba.’ (APE Vision and Universal Music TV – 2006)]

GELLERMAN: Kenny Young is the producer of the new benefit CD Rhythms del Mundo: Cuba.

Related link:
Artists’ Project Earth

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Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Eileen Bolinsky, Ian Gray, Ingrid Lobet, Emily Taylor, Peter Thomson and Jeff Young - with help from Bobby Bascomb, and Kelley Cronin. Our interns are Paige Doughty and Meghan Vigeant. Dennis Foley is our technical director with help this week from Aaron Read and Jeff Turton. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. Our executive producer is Steve Curwood. You can find us at loe dot org. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening.

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