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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

January 29, 2010

Air Date: January 29, 2010

FULL SHOW

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SEGMENTS

Seeking A More Perfect Union

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President Obama laid out his policy priorities at his first State of the Union address. High on the president’s to-do list is passing a comprehensive Clean Energy and Climate bill. But to do so will take a shift in bipartisan support. Host Jeff Young speaks with Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress and Dave Jenkins from Republicans for Environmental Protection about the president’s emphasis on the need to address climate change. (07:00)

Manipulating the Climate

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Geo-engineering, the concept of altering the environment to mitigate climate change, has gone from fringe idea to the subject of Congressional hearings. Yet many scientists remain skeptical that it can be done safely. Jamais Cascio, author of “Hacking the Earth,” tells host Jeff Young that geo-engineering is ripe for ethical problems, chief among them international political conflict. (05:00)

Up in Flames

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The EPA recently announced a list of chemicals to be reviewed. On the list: flame retardants or PBDEs. Scientists say these chemicals, used to reduce the flammability of upholstery and carpeting, accumulate in our bodies. Host Jeff Young talks with Dr. Julie Herbstman of Columbia University about a new study that indicates PBDEs may affect the intelligence of young children. (05:50)

Another Look at Atrazine / Jessica Ilyse Kurn

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One of the most widely used herbicides in the U.S., Atrazine, is being reevaluated by the EPA. Some scientists say the weed killer negatively impacts the environment and human health. But Atrazine’s parent company Syngenta stands behind its product, claiming the nearly 6,000 studies, and the chemical’s 50-year use, are demonstrative of its safety. Living on Earth’s Jessica Ilyse Smith looks at the controversy surrounding EPA’s review of Atrazine. (06:00)

New Sierra Club Leadership

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Michael Brune is best known for using civil disobedience and aggressive negotiation tactics as head of the environmental group Rainforest Action Network. Brune talks with host Jeff Young about following in the footsteps of John Muir as he becomes executive director of the Sierra Club, the oldest grassroots environmental organization in the country. (06:15)

The Language of Landscape

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Living on Earth continues its series exploring features of the American landscape. It’s based on the book “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape,” edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney. In this installment, D. J. Waldie reads his definition of a term apropos for the season – dead ice. (02:05)

Chilling Out in Copenhagen / Bruce Gellerman

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Copenhagen will soon be using a very cool technology to ensure there's nothing rotten in Denmark. The first phase of its new district cooling system will soon be up, running and cooling the capitol city. Living on Earth's Bruce Gellerman takes a tour and learns that not only will it dramatically cut CO2 emissions and energy...at times, it'll be free. (06:40)

Note on Emerging Science / Bridget Macdonald

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The birds and the bees, and the crickets? Researchers have discovered a new species of cricket that pollinates an orchid. Living on Earth’s Bridget Macdonald reports. (01:40)

Chimps Gone Wild

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Curious to see how other animals look at the world? Researchers gave a group of chimpanzees at Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo a chance to capture their lives on camera. The result is Chimpcam - the first film shot by chimpanzees. Host Jeff Young talks with University of Stirling’s Betsy Herrelko about reality TV from a chimp’s eye view. (05:30)

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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Jeff Young
GUESTS: Daniel J. Weiss, David Jenkins, Jamais Cascio, Julie Herbstman, Michael Brune, Betsy Herrelko
ESSAY: D. J. Waldie
REPORTERS: Jessica Ilyse Smith, Bruce Gellerman

[THEME]

YOUNG: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth. I’m Jeff Young. The president defies Washington expectations with a strong call for Congress to act on climate change.

OBAMA: And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

[SOUNDS OF CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

YOUNG: One analyst says that breaths new life into the bill.

WEISS: As Mark Twain might say, the reports of its death are greatly exaggerated

YOUNG: Also, a disturbing new study suggests exposure to flame-retardant chemicals can cost kids IQ points.

HERBSTMAN: The kids with the highest exposure scored, on average, about five points lower than the kids with the lower prenatal exposures. And this is similar you know in the scale of what we’ve seen for lead.

YOUNG: Those stories and Chimpcam comes to TV. This week on Living on Earth – stick around.

[THEME]

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Seeking A More Perfect Union

President Obama lays out his policy goals for the coming year, heavy on jobs and clean energy. (Photo: Pete Souza, Courtesy of the White House)

YOUNG: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts – this is Living on Earth. I’m Jeff Young. In the days leading up to President Obama’s first State of the Union address, the buzz among beltway pundits was that climate change might not make it into the speech. What with the public focused on jobs and the economy, global warming? That would be downplayed at best. The President proved them wrong with a prominent call for Congress to deliver climate change legislation.


President Obama walks down the aisle of Congress to deliver his speech. (Photo: Pete Souza, Courtesy of the White House)

OBAMA: I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy. I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.

[SOUNDS OF AUDIENCE STIRRING, TALKING, APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: But here’s the thing - even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy - efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -– because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation

[APPLAUSE]

YOUNG: Climate change came higher in the speech than did health care. And the President used the phrase “clean energy” ten times – more than he mentioned Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Daniel J. Weiss directs climate strategy at the progressive think tank Center for American Progress. He, for one, was not surprised by this.

WEISS: From his first day in office he’s made getting America running on clean energy a key part of his domestic, economic strategy. Clean energy investments will create jobs in the short run and lead to long-term investments in the new clean energy technologies of the 21st century. What you’re seeing is that a huge part of the media has written the obituary for action on clean energy and global warming over the last year. In fact, as Mark Twain might say, the reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.

YOUNG: The President did of course make numerous mentions of clean energy, he also gave this list of other energy sources he wants to develop: safe, clean nuclear power plants, and he mentioned making tough decisions about opening new, offshore areas for oil and gas development. This is the kind of stuff that if a previous President had said that it would send environmental groups into a tizzy. What’s going on here?

WIESS: Well, it would have sent people into a tizzy had President Bush talked about it because that’s all he would have talked about. One of the key goals of President Obama’s clean energy agenda is to reduce our use of foreign oil. Right now, one out of every five barrels of oil that we use is produced from a country that’s “dangerous or unstable” according to the State Department.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a conservative from South Carolina has made it clear that he bipartisan comprehensive clean energy legislation is going to include incentives to build more nuclear power plants as well as allow more offshore oil drilling. President Obama was signaling that those can be part of a comprehensive package that also invests in the wind and sun, invests in energy efficiency, and requires declining limits on global warming pollution.

YOUNG: So, from the environmentalist’s perspective, the unpalatable offshore oil and gas drilling is the necessary trade off to get to a climate bill. Would the climate bill be strong enough according to what we heard from the President to make it worthwhile?

WEISS: During the speech the President didn’t talk about any specific level of pollution reduction. However, as part of the Copenhagen negotiations he did put on the table a commitment to reduce U.S. global warming pollution by 17 percent compared to 2005 levels. That’s the same level that has been talked about as part of this Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman moderate, bipartisan global warming and clean energy legislation.

YOUNG: That’s Daniel J. Weiss with the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely associated with the administration. David Jenkins is with the group Republicans for Environmental Protection. Jenkins was impressed with the President’s emphasis on a bipartisan approach to climate change.

JENKINS: I thought that was huge and I think what the President said with his nod to nuclear and offshore drilling, it was clear that he was embracing of the bipartisan approach that Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are working on with respect to climate change.

YOUNG: Now, lets talk a bit about the republican response. Virginia’s newly elected governor, Bob McDonnell, a republican, here’s what he had to say:

MCDONNELL: This administration’s policies are delaying offshore production, hindering nuclear energy expansion, and seeking to impose job-killing cap and trade energy taxes.

YOUNG: So, Governor McDonnell calls this a job-killing push, sounds to me like this is still a tough sell among republicans.


The 44th President leaves his first State of the Union and pauses to shake a few house pages' hands. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

JENKINS: Well, I mean this is the same thing we’ve been hearing since they adopted the moniker ‘cap and tax’ and started attacking this back in the spring. You know, to pass a climate bill through the senate we need a handful of republicans. We don’t need the majority to be behind it.

And I think a lot of this is political posturing; trying to find ways to criticize the democrats. So, I think it’s less of an indicator in terms of the prospects for getting something done than might appear on the surface.

YOUNG: Do you find it interesting that the person who mentions that phrase ‘cap and trade’ is the person attacking it? And the person who’s trying to pass a cap and trade thing does not use that phrase?

JENKINS: Well, there’s been an effort to demonize cap and trade, which is really kind of funny given the fact that cap and trade has its origins back in the Reagan administration. And it was brought out by the first President Bush in response to the acid rain problem, and at that point it was environmentalists and democrats that were skeptical of it.

But, I think the President didn’t mention it because he understood the approach that Senators Graham, Kerry and Lieberman are taking, in that they’re keeping all options on the table. So, he doesn’t want to predispose the discussion to any one mechanism with respect to pricing carbon. But in terms of the President’s speech, the fact that he mentioned this so high up in his priority list and did so in a bipartisan manner, I think that really changed the mood and changed the prospects, and I think you’ll be hearing less from those would-be detractors in the future.

YOUNG: David Jenkins with Republicans for Environmental Protection. Thanks!

JENKINS: Thank you.

YOUNG: Reaction to the President’s speech was varied. The American Petroleum Institute was “encouraged by the President’s words” on oil and gas. Most mainstream environmental groups gave a thumbs up, but Friends of the Earth called Obama’s endorsement of nuclear and offshore drilling “a kick in the gut to environmentalists.” Ouch. What do you think? Let us know at comments at l-o-e dot org.

[MUSIC: Medeski, Martin & Wood “Kota” from Remixolarians (Indirecto records 2009)]

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Manipulating the Climate

Writer and ethical futurist Jamais Cascio. (Courtesy of Jamais Cascio)

YOUNG: Well, a controversial approach to climate change will get a hearing in the House Science Committee Thursday – geo-engineering. That’s the idea that we could offset some effects of global warming by intentionally altering the atmosphere. Long considered a fringe idea, geo-engineering is gaining more mainstream attention. Futurist Jamais Cascio – one of Foreign Policy magazine’s top thinkers of last year – wrote a book about geo-engineering called “Hacking the Earth.”

CASCIO: The idea here is that you can put megatons of sulfur dioxide particles into the stratosphere and that would have the effect of blocking out a very small percentage of incoming sunlight, about two percent is usually what people talk about. It would be enough to suppress temperatures.

Now, we know this can work because it’s actually happened before naturally. It’s actually one of the side effects of big volcanic eruptions. So, when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991 you actually had, for about a year, a global reduction in temperatures of about a half a degree centigrade.


Mount Pinatubo erupted on June 12, 1991. (Courtesy of USGS)

YOUNG: What do you made of geo-engineering as an option for dealing with climate change?

CASCIO: What these geo-engineering approaches do for us is delay the worst kinds of effects from temperature increase. They don’t change the underlying drivers, the underlying causes of global warming. They don’t change the various chemical changes that are happening in the atmosphere and in the soil and in the ocean.

All they do is suppress this one particularly bad symptom. Anyone who thinks that this is a solution is woefully mistaken. It is as much of a solution as taking drugs to suppress the worst aspects of adult-onset diabetes. Yes, it keeps you alive, but it’s not solving the problem. What solves the problem is to change your lifestyle.

YOUNG: From what I hear you saying about it, it sounds like it’s kind of the thing we might want there in case of emergency, break glass kind of scenario.

CASCIO: Exactly. It is very much a last ditch response because it has such incredible potential for its own set of problems. There are a number of models that suggest that this kind of geo-engineering would actually cause droughts in South Asia – essentially really decrease the annual monsoonal rains, which are a big part of the environmental cycle in South Asia.

There’s a certainty that this kind of geo-engineering would damage the ozone layer. And ultimately, the biggest issue is actually not physical, not chemical, but political because this is something that it doesn’t take a worldwide response to do. It’s potentially cheap and easy enough that one country – you know, it doesn’t even have to be a big power like the United States or China – one country could do it.

Now, when you have this kind of technology that would enable us to make alterations to the planetary climate, you’re going to inevitably have political conflicts between the different kinds of states and institutions and powers about the use of this technology about what the end goal would be. It’s an enormously complex situation and something that we simply do not want to get ourselves mixed up in unless it is literally the only choice we have to avoid certain disaster.

YOUNG: What do you think is the likelihood that we might need a geo-engineering approach?

CASCIO: I think it’s more likely than not, unfortunately because…

YOUNG: Now wait a minute, you spent all this time telling me how it’s a disaster, now you’re saying we might have to use it?

CASCIO: Well, yes. It’s because over the past few decades we simply have been ignoring the problem of global warming. We’re in a situation where we simply no longer have the best option available to us. The best option would have been to deal with this 20 years ago.

And so, what we’re stuck with are a selection of less good options. Are we talking rapid decarbonization and what that’s going to the economy? Are we talking about making major changes to our energy infrastructure? Useful, but again, disruptive. These other alternatives are so seemingly unpalatable. It’s very likely that we’re going to be stuck in a situation where we will feel ourselves forced to take radical action.

YOUNG: What’s the morality of that? What are the moral hazards of making a choice like that?

CASCIO: There’s the moral calculus of how many millions of people are you willing to let die? Under a geo-engineering scenario, well, there you have the high likelihood of droughts in South Asia. You know, India has 1.2 billion people. If you don’t engage in geo-engineering, well, what happens when you have droughts, and wildfires, and massive storms, and pandemic disease, and refugees, and warfare over dwindling resources; sort of go down the list here.


Writer and ethical futurist Jamais Cascio. (Courtesy of Jamais Cascio)

You can see that all these choices entail some degree of ethical quandary. And for me the biggest moral guideline, the ethical guideline is looking not just at how does this affect us, but how does this affect future generations?

YOUNG: Jamais Cascio, thanks very much.

CASCIO: Thank you for having me.

[MUSIC: Timewarp Inc. “Alone and Nowhere (nubeat)” from Dub My Funky Groove (Timewarp Music 2005)]

YOUNG: Just ahead – a closer look at what EPA calls ‘chemicals of concern’ – keep listening to Living on Earth!

Related link:
Jamais Cascio’s Website: Open the Future

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Up in Flames

YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young. The Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, Lisa Jackson, recently laid out her top priorities for the coming year. And right at the top of the list – improving chemical safety.

JACKSON: We will be accelerating work on chemicals of concern and supporting reform of our nation’s chemical laws so that they keep pace with the chemical industry.

YOUNG: We’ll look at two groups of those chemicals of concern: ingredients in the weed killer, Atrazine; and the flame-retardants known as PBDEs. The brominated chemicals in those flame-retardants raise red flags for health researchers. Scientists now report a link between PBDEs in the blood and reduced IQ in young children. Julie Herbstman, from the Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health in New York helped write the study, which tested pregnant women and their babies.

HERBSTMAN: Well, we measured PBDEs in the umbilical cord blood of about 329 non-smoking, healthy women who are living in New York, and then we follow the kids over time and monitor their neurodevelopment using some standard tests and see how the kids are doing as they grow.

YOUNG: So, you’re able to keep track of them as they’re growing up; what did you find out?

HERBSTMAN: Yeah, well we have very dedicated study participants, who allow us to keep contacting them over time. And we found that kids who had the highest levels of PBDEs in their umbilical cords blood scored on average lower on these neurodevelopmental tests at multiple time points.

YOUNG: How big a difference did you find?

HERBSTMAN: You know the different neurodevelopmental tests have different scales. At four years the tests measure something like IQ, and what we found was that there were about five points difference. So, the kids with the highest exposure scored on average about five points lower than the kids with the lower prenatal exposures.

And this is similar in a scale of what we’ve seen for lead. We know that no exposures are safe, but these small changes might have meaningful differences, especially for the kids, who have, you know, low baseline scores to begin with.

YOUNG: Are the differences in IQ because of the chemical exposure or can we know that?

HERBSTMAN: We’ve adjusted for lots of other things that we know effect children’s development and IQ. We’ve looked at environmental tobacco smoke, mothers’ IQ, material hardships and other social stressors, breastfeeding, and we found that even after we’ve adjusted statistically for all of these other factors, we still see associations between PBDEs.

YOUNG: So, it’s a likely suspect?

HERBSTMAN: It’s a likely suspect.

YOUNG: How do these flame retardant chemicals – these PBDEs – get into us anyway?

HERBSTMAN: The primary route of exposure is thought to be dietary, and for infants this would include breast milk. But, more recently people have been thinking that it could also involve the ingestion of dust that contains PBDEs, and especially for infants and toddlers who are on the ground a lot and put their hands in their mouths a lot this could be a very important source in addition to breast milk.

YOUNG: You know as a parent of two small children I got to say losing IQ points that sounds very worrisome. But I also understand that this is a preliminary study – how concerned should we be here?

HERBSTMAN: Yeah, so this is really the first study of its kind in North America. The levels in North America are just much higher than they are in Europe or in Asia, so this is the first study of its kind and we’re really waiting to see if these results are replicated in other populations.

YOUNG: I guess a part of the irony with this is the reason we use these chemicals is partly motivated by improving child safety. I mean there was a good reason to want to make a child’s mattress less likely to go up in flames.

HERBSTMAN: It’s true, it’s true. It’s really important to have good fire safety, but there are alternatives we could be using that are chemical-free solutions like using less flammable materials, or changing product designs that would make them more fire-resistant, or we could be using less toxic chemicals.

YOUNG: So, EPA is taking a closer look at this general group of chemicals, these PBDEs. I understand some of them are already in the process of being phased out – what’s the status of these things?

HERBSTMAN: Yeah, some have been phased out through a voluntary cooperation between industry groups and EPA. Recently, EPA has listed these chemicals as ‘chemicals of concern’ and that means that they’ll require more testing in some states like California, Hawaii, New York have banned the manufacture, use, or sale of these compounds.

YOUNG: In the meantime, is there a way consumers can minimize exposure?

HERBSTMAN: Yes, that’s not really part of our research, but other groups like the Environmental Working Group have come up with some suggestions that include like looking at foam items because these compounds are used – these chemicals are used – in foam and textiles. So, you could take a look at your car seats or mattress pads to make sure that anything with a ripped cover or appears to be breaking down is not in use anymore.

They also suggest vacuuming with a special filter that would be more effective at removing the dust. But, I should say though these are probably good first steps, but these suggestions haven’t been validated yet, so probably preventive policies might be more effective at reducing overall exposure.

YOUNG: Epidemiologist Julie Herbstman at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Thank you.

HERBSTMAN: Thanks so much for your interest in our work.

Related links:
- **WEB EXTRA** Host Jeff Young talks with University of California at Berkeley epidemiologist Kim Harley, author on a new study showing that flame-retardants may prolong the length of time that it takes for women to become pregnant.
- Read Dr. Julie Herbstman’s study, “Prenatal Exposure to PBDEs and Neurodevelopment”

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Another Look at Atrazine

Atrazine is primarily used on corn plants throughout the Midwest.

YOUNG: That study’s in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Another study in the same journal also links PBDEs to fertility problems. You can read both studies at our website l-o-e dot org. EPA will also be giving greater scrutiny to Atrazine, the widely-used herbicide made by the company Syngenta. Living on Earth’s Jessica Ilyse Smith reports the company, scientists, and farmers are all speaking out on just how EPA should conduct its review.

SMITH: Driving through the Corn Belt in the Midwestern U.S. there’s a noticeable uniformity in the fields. Not corn-weeds-corn, but corn-soil-corn. These organized rows have much to do with the farmer’s heavy reliance on the weed killer Atrazine. About 76 million pounds of Atrazine are applied to the U.S. fields each year.

To put this in context, I met with one of my former professors, Timothy Griffin, head of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at Tufts University. He says, farmers use one to two pounds of Atrazine per acre.

GRIFFIN: If you did really back of the envelope math on that you’re looking at application maybe on 30 million acres, so it’s a lot of this particular product being used out on the landscape.

SMITH: Atrazine’s genius, says Griffin, is that it works by blocking a plant’s ability to photosynthesize, but only in certain plants considered weeds. Corn is resistant.

GRIFFIN: Corn actually would take up Atrazine just like a weed would and then it basically detoxifies it immediately.

SMITH: But this system is not as flawless as it seems. Some scientists worry there may be a link between Atrazine and cancer in human. They’re also concerned that the herbicide could have a negative effect on aquatic ecosystems. With so many questions surfacing, the EPA has decided to reassess the chemical.

Farmer across the country saw this as an ideal moment to voice an opinion about how the herbicide should be researched and regulated. In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson a coalition of farm groups claimed that past research on Atrazine was biased since much of it was funded by the herbicide’s creator, Syngenta. Paul Sobocinski works for the Land Stewardship Project, one of the groups that initiated the letter.

SOBOCINSKI: We need more research that’s independent, that’s not just whatever corporation that’s involved with putting a product forward, but we need research that’s done more on the public level. So that we know what’s being used out here.

SMITH: Sobocinski owns a farm in southwestern Minnesota. He used to use Atrazine on his farm until he started reading that the herbicide was found in water sources.

SOBOCINSKI: A monitoring program coordinated by U.S. EPA in 2003 and 2005 found that 94 of 136 public water systems had tested concentrations above federal drinking water standards.

SMITH: Also, a 2006 U.S. Geological Service study of agricultural areas found Atrazine present 80 percent of the time in streams and 40 percent of the time in ground water in these regions. Tufts Professor Timothy Griffin says Atrazine is water soluble and not held tightly to the soil. So, where water moves, Atrazine moves. Also, Atrazine is a fairly persistent chemical that takes a long time to break down in the environment.

GRIFFIN: And it’s also been in use for a very long time and over a very wide geographical range. So all of those things combined result in a presence of Atrazine in water mostly through the central United States because that’s principally where it’s used.

SMITH: Last year, Syngenta celebrated Atrazine’s 50th birthday. A date that is significant, says Griffin.

GRIFFIN: In the 1960s the EPA didn’t exist; it came into existence in the early 1970s, so products that are just being evaluated today are evaluated in a distinctly different way than they would have been 30 to 40 years ago.

SMITH: But Tim Pastoor, a scientist at Syngenta, says there have been many studies on Atrazine over its 50-year lifetime, most of which established the chemical’s safety.

PASTOOR: Just probably 6,000 or so studies that are available on Atrazine. With 6,000 studies to rely on, EPA could make a judgment that the product could be re-registered.

SMITH: But the farm groups contend that most of this research has been funded and conducted by Syngenta. And a Land Stewardship Project report on Atrazine shows that the herbicide is largely the reason that Syngenta’s profits grew 75 percent in 2007, and an additional 40 percent in 2008. So, Syngenta has a lot to lose if its product is more stringently regulated. Again, Syngenta scientist, Tim Pastoor.

PASTOOR: Well, you know, I can see why someone would be skeptical on something like that, but the stop gap that’s put in place for that for all registrants is that you can’t do a study unless you can verify every scrap of data.

SMITH: Pastor says EPA requires corporate research to adhere to strict practices. And he says Syngenta’s research is more reliable and complete than peer-reviewed academic research. The company warns that harvests will decline without this product. But farmer Paul Sobocinski says the European Union banned Atrazine in 2004 and crop yields are fine.


Atrazine is primarily used on corn plants throughout the Midwest.

SOBOCINSKI: There are a number of alternatives that are available to farmers, so this is not the end of the world. And they may cost a little more but when you look at human health, I mean, that’s a factor, too. If a farmer’s health is affected or if the public health is in any way affected, that’s a cost to society – it’s a health care cost.

SMITH: Sobocinski switched to Monsanto’s Roundup, an herbicide that some scientists say is less toxic in the environment. As part of Atrazine’s reassessment, the EPA has assembled a scientific advisory panel to guide the process. Syngenta’s Tim Pastoor thinks this re-evaluation is a waste of taxpayer money.

PASTOOR: So, what’s propelling this is I think a lot of activist driven interest in Atrazine. I think they’re trying to make a bigger deal out of it than it should. I have to say that Atrazine is easily one of the best-studied products on the planet, and as a consequence, we stand behind the science.

SMITH: The EPA science panel will soon decide how to reevaluate Atrazine. The farm groups hope the panel will discredit Syngenta’s past research and start over with peer-reviewed, transparent studies. For Living on Earth, I’m Jessica Ilyse Smith.

[MUSIC: Echo And The Bunnymen “In The Margins” from Live and B Sides 2001 – 2005 (Cooking Vinyl 2005)]

Related links:
- Syngenta’s Atrazine website
- Learn more about the Land Stewardship Project.
- Check out the Land Stewardship Project’s report on Atrazine.

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New Sierra Club Leadership

Michael Brune is the new Executive Director of Sierra Club (Courtesy of: Lori Eanes)

YOUNG: America’s largest and oldest environmental group has a new, younger leader. The Sierra Club named 38-year-old Michael Brune its executive director. He takes over from Carl Pope who led Sierra for 18 years. Brune comes to Sierra from Rainforest Action Network, a group known for aggressive and creative activism. In the late 90s, Brune helped Rainforest Action target companies using wood from endangered tropical and old growth forests.

BRUNE: Home Depot was the largest wood retailer in the world and largest consumer of wood products in the United States. So, we began a large grassroots campaign designed to engage their customers and their employees and their investors to convince the company to change. Over the course of the campaign I began to get some calls from Home Depot employees who would say something along the lines of, ‘Look, you have to understand that working for Home Depot, it’s a great job,’ and they would say, ‘We don’t want to work for a company that is destroying rainforests.’

So, I got a call one day from an employee who said that he had been sitting around with a bunch of co-workers trying to figure out how to help us on our campaign. And he said, ‘Well why don’t you take your protests from outside the store and bring them inside? They’ll have more of an impact.’ I couldn’t believe I was getting free pro bono consulting advice from the target of our campaign.

But he gave us all of the intercom codes for Home Depot stores around the country, so we would go into a store and go to the intercom and leave a message along the lines of, ‘Attention Home Depot shoppers: We’d like to bring your attention to a sale we’re having on aisle 12 where there are mahogany doors that are being ripped from the heart of the Amazon rainforests.

In aisle 14 you’ll find western red cedar that’s coming from the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the most unique temperate rainforests on the planet.’ So we would do this around Home Depot stores all across the U.S. and across Canada, and eventually this plus a lot of other activities convinced Home Depot to do the right thing.

YOUNG: Brune applied similar tactics to pressure major companies like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and the Royal Bank of Canada over their investments in coal mining and tar sands oil. And Rainforest Action was a major player in a march last year on a power plant that burned coal to heat the U.S. capitol.

[CROWD CHANTING “HEY, HO, COAL HAS GOT TO GO…”]

YOUNG: High profile street demonstrations often ended with Brune in handcuffs.

BRUNE: I’ve been arrested probably about ten times protesting over-fishing in the northern Pacific, and Newt Gingrich’s contract with America to protect redwood forests in northern California, and to end mountaintop removal.

YOUNG: It seems to me that Rainforest Action has had a pretty in-your-face kind of approach: putting bodies in the street, and infiltrating stores, and willing to get arrested – is that what we’re going to see more of at Sierra Club with you at the helm?

BRUNE: Part of the Sierra Club’s mission is to engage in all lawful means to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. The Sierra Club has a very deep toolbox, a whole series of ways to affect change. I think that what you’ll see over the next several years at the Sierra Club is a continuing of the strong history of the Sierra Club and an evolution to continue to find creative and innovative ways to protect the planet.

YOUNG: What’s top of the agenda? What’s the number one on the to-do list now for the Sierra Club?

BRUNE: Number one is passing really strong federal energy and climate legislation. Clearly, there still is a strong majority in Congress of representatives and senators who are looking to pass good climate and energy legislation, and at the same time there’s a growing bipartisan coalition of representatives and senators who want to pass good jobs legislation. So, we like our chances and we’re going into this with eyes wide open because we know it’ll be a tough fight.

YOUNG: However, Rainforest Action was not exactly in sync with Sierra Club when it came to climate legislation. Sierra endorsed bills in Congress that rely on cap and trade mechanisms to limit greenhouse gases. Rainforest Action did not.

BRUNE: We were not in favor of cap and trade as the best mechanism to put a price on carbon and to have significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the future.


Michael Blume in a garden with his daughter (Courtesy of Michael Blume)

YOUNG: My recollection is Sierra worked pretty hard for cap and trade proposals; are you telling me that Sierra’s going to reevaluate its position on cap and trade?

BRUNE: As you know quite well, Jeff, the politics on climate change and energy is changing pretty quickly in Washington, D.C. Everyone will be taking a fresh look at what’s the best way to promote clean jobs, good jobs to reduce pollution and to increase energy security. So certainly the Sierra Club will be looking at any approach that will do the job.

YOUNG: It’s such a storied organization, the Sierra Club, and you’re now directly in the path of people like John Muir. I’m wondering do you have a favorite Muir quote or something you think of about him that becomes a sort of guiding principle for you?

BRUNE: I tell you, there’s a lot of pressure in the job. I can’t tell you how many people have brought that up in the past week. The Sierra Club, it’s such an important part of America really, if you look at the places that the Sierra Club has protected and the parks that it’s helped to create it really is so closely interwoven into the fabric of what our country has become.

I don’t have a single favorite quote of John Muir, but I can say that in a couple hours from now after the interview’s over we’re heading off into his backyard going deep into the Sierra – we’re going to be teaching our little girl how to ski. So I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be leading such an organization that has really a fantastic, and inspiring and colorful history. I think a lot about the work that John Muir and David Brower, and more recently, Carl Pope has done, and I hope that I’m up to the challenge.

YOUNG: Michael Brune the new Executive Director of the Sierra Club, thank you very much.

BRUNE: Thanks, Jeff; I really appreciate being on the show.

[MUSIC: Robert Glasper “Open mind” from Double Booked (Blue Note Records 2009)]

YOUNG: Coming up: turning old power plants – into something really cool – that’s just ahead on Living on Earth.

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 Gilman Ordway, for coverage of conservation and environmental change. This is Living on Earth on PRI – Public Radio International.

Related links:
- Sierra Club
- Rainforest Action Network

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The Language of Landscape

"Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape," edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney. (Courtesy of Trinity University Press)

YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young.

[HOME GROUND THEME: Daniel Lanois “O Marie” from Acadie (danielanois.com 2005)]

YOUNG: From time to time, we take the name of our program literally – and consider the nature of the earth we live on, its rocks, ridges and rivers. That’s when we pull out the book “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape” – with its definitions of terms to describe the soil under our soles and the hills over our heads. Today, D. J. Waldie reads his definition of a term appropriate for the season – dead ice.

WALDIE: Dead Ice. The advance of even a continent-sized ice sheet eventually grinds to a stop. This stalled, slowly melting ice (think of a landlocked iceberg) is said to be dead. Dead Ice has a potent afterlife, however, despite its name.

Large tracts of remnant blocks of ice created the wet, jumbled pothole and hummock landscape of the coteau uplands of North and South Dakota. Debris in the ice and soil deposited on its surface was shed from the melting ice as a semi-frozen gumbo of gravel and earth to form dead ice moraines, where the surface of the dead ice was insulated by a thicker crust of sediment, variations in the melt of the underlying ice allowed the soil to collapse into landscape features as round as a doughnut, a ring of glacial debris, and boggy as a kettle, a sink formed when a core of dead ice surrounded by earth eventually melts. These features collect rain and snowmelt and are favored by migrating waterfowl.

YOUNG: D. J. Waldie is an author, commentator and contributing writer for Los Angeles magazine. His definition of dead ice comes from “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape”, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney.

[MUSIC: Pat Metheny: Entry Point” from Orchestrionn (Nonesuch Records 2010)]

Related link:
For more on the Home Ground project, click here.

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Chilling Out in Copenhagen

The Little Mermaid presides over Copenhagen harbor, which will provide the cold water for the city's new district cooling plant.

YOUNG: From Ice – to a cool idea from Copenhagen. As global warming heats up the planet, the city-owned utility plans to cool the Danish capital using an updated version of a century old technology.

The first phase of the new system is scheduled to be up and running by early spring, and supporters say it will be ecologically and economically friendly. Not only will it enable Copenhagen to dramatically cut the use of air conditioning and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, at times, it will cool-off the city for free. Living on Earth Senior Correspondent Bruce Gellerman has our report.

GELLERMAN: It’s a crisp, cold evening in central Copenhagen, and engineer Jan Hoge says even on a winter day like this the city has a problem keeping computers and servers in downtown office buildings from overheating.

HOGE: It’s snowing now. It’s minus one or two degrees Celsius but still there’s a need for cooling here. And this is for server installations around the city, that’s amazing. Outside minus two and still a cooling demand.

GELLERMAN: That’s because of all electronics.

HOGE: Exactly.

GELLERMAN: These days half the energy Copenhagen uses for air conditioning goes to dissipate heat from rooms filled with computer servers.


Copenhagen's first power plant.

Looking for an environmentally friendly and profitable alternative to air conditioning, Jan Hoge didn’t have to go far from Copenhagen’s city center to the site of Denmark’s first electric generating plant, built in 1892.

HOGE: Here you can see we’re in an old power plant. This is the old chimney from the power plant.

GELLERMAN: Oh my gosh, it must be over 200 feet high?

HOGE: Something like that, yes.

GELLERMAN: Wow it’s huge.

HOGE: It’s huge, and old. [Laughs]

GELLERMAN: So they weren’t using this power plant for anything, or it was being used?


HOGE: It has been used. We have fired coal in here, and then after that it was oil for a period, and then due to environmental reasons – and it was also too small – then they stopped production here in the 70s, and since then it has been used for nothing you can say. So now we can say we use some of the old installations for a new purpose, so we think that’s a good idea.

GELLERMAN: Recycling.

HOGE: Exactly.

GELLERMAN: You’re recycling an entire power plant.

HOGE: [Laughs]

GELLERMAN: But instead of generating electricity, Copenhagen’s old power plant is being converted to produce district cooling, or as Jan Hoge says in Danish:

HOGE: Fjern koling…there you are. [Laughs]

GELLERMAN: Fjern koling?

HOGE: Fjern koling, perfect – you got it! [Laughs]

GELLERMAN: Actually, downtown Denver got it first in 1889, and district cooling – or centralized cooling as it’s sometimes called – is now used in Chicago, Las Vegas, Rockefeller Center in New York City, the U.S. Capital Building in Washington D.C., and it’s especially big in Europe:

HOGE: In our opinion if they can do it in Stockholm, which is a city further north of Copenhagen, and they can do it in Paris, which is further south of Copenhagen, why shouldn’t we do it in Copenhagen?


Jan Hoge leans on the pipes that return warm water back into the system. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

GELLERMAN: Jan Hoge has the can-do spirit needed to make sure Copenhagen gets its first district cooling system up, running, and chilling downtown office buildings in a few months. Just as district heat has been keeping Copenhageners warm by capturing and distributing excess heat from generating plants, soon companies will be able to connect to a centralized source for cooling:

HOGE: By introducing district cooling we can produce cooling with heat. Sounds crazy but it’s an old technology. Yeah, It works.

GELLERMAN: Let’s go see it.

HOGE: Yes, let’s go do that.

[SOUNDS OF WALKING]

GELLERMAN: We put on hardhats and head inside the old power plant where workers are putting the finishing touches on the district cooling system.

HOGE: As you can see this is a construction site so we’ll have people working here. But the machine here on your left side is an absorption chiller – basically this is only a container; there’s not much technology inside this one.

GELLERMAN: This is really low tech! This is a plumbing job.

HOGE: This is low tech. It’s really simple. It just has to be tight, and a lot of iron. [Laughs]

GELLERMAN: The key to Copenhagen’s district cooling system and what makes it special is that it’s flexible. The plant will use two kinds of absorption chillers. Some are the old tried and true technology that chemically converts waste heat produced by the city’s coal and gas powered plants, and some chillers use electricity.


Copenhagen’s windmills. (Photo: Jennifer Stevens-Curwood)

Since Denmark gets a fifth of its electricity from wind power – the largest percentage of any country in the world – when it’s really blowing it can drive the cost of running the district cooling system way down.

HOGE: This might sound a little bit strange but in Denmark we have periods where the electricity is not only zero, it will turn into a price of minus, which means you gain money using electricity – it sounds crazy. So I mean, this is interesting, yes?

GELLERMAN: But what’s really interesting and unique to district cooling Copenhagen style can be found in the basement of the refurbished power plant.

HOGE: So now you are really in the heart of the cooling center. This is inlet for the seawater system. Inside here you have the pipe coming in and then you have these six pumps circulating the seawater into the cooling center and back into the harbor a little bit warmer.

GELLERMAN: Two pipes, each nearly a yard in diameter, buried 20 feet underground re-circulate water three quarters of a mile from Copenhagen’s harbor. Originally built to cool off the old power plants generators, today the system provides cold water to the new district cooling plant. In winter, fjern koling will be free cooling:

HOGE: If we didn’t have these pipes we didn’t have this project because it would be so expensive for us to put in new pipes in the ground. And although they’re more than a hundred years old they look fantastic. We just have to reline them and now we use the seawater from the harbor to cool down our chiller units, and through the so-called free cooling. And what is free cooling? You produce cold water purely from the water in the harbor.

GELLERMAN: In the winter the carbon footprint from Copenhagen’s district cooling system will be virtually zero. Over the year, CO2 emission will be nearly 70 percent less than traditional air conditioning units and energy costs will be cut 80 percent. And because it’s largely automated, Jan Hoge says the plant will require just one person working eight hours a week to change filters.


An employee puts the finishing touches on the district cooling system. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

HOGE: We think this is a good idea. And I also think this could be used other places. The thing is you have to find these resources. You have to find out where do you have resources that otherwise would have been wasted. So maybe in other cities this could be waste heat from the industry. There is a lot of waste heat from industry. Use it for cooling production.

GELLERMAN: The first phase of Copenhagen’s new centralized system will start cooling down the city center by April. Delivering the big chill to the entire metropolitan area will take 15 years and cost a cool 400 million dollars. For Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman in Copenhagen, Denmark.

[MUSIC: The Sound Stylistics “Keepin On” from Play Deep Funk (Freestyle records 2007)]

Related link:
Click here to learn more about district cooling.

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Note on Emerging Science

A nighttime camera captured the cricket emerging from an orchid blossom. (Photo: Claire Michenau and Jacques Fournel)

YOUNG: Just ahead – sure you’ve heard a cat playing the piano – but just wait till you hear what chimps can do! First this Note on Emerging Science from Bridget Macdonald.

[BUZZING]

MACDONALD: The latest buzz about pollination usually involves bees. Now, scientists have stumbled upon an unusual pollinator – an insect known for hopping instead of hovering.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

MACDONALD: Bats, bees and butterflies are known for spreading pollen between flowering plants as they hunt for nectar. But strange new relationships can blossom when a plant moves out of the range of its natural mate.

European researchers were shocked when they saw the late-night activities of a new species of raspy cricket on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. The scientists used night-vision cameras to spy on the nocturnal cricket as it hopped out of an orchid, its head covered in pollen.


A nighttime camera captured the cricket emerging from an orchid blossom. (Photo: Claire Michenau and Jacques Fournel)

Hours of footage proved that the relationship is monogamous: this species of cricket is the orchid’s only partner. The sighting was the first ever report of pollination by an insect in the order that includes grasshoppers, katydids and locusts. The discovery shows how important inter-species partnerships can be in a diverse ecosystem.

And for scientists wondering about the extent to which crickets pollinate, the familiar chorus of nighttime chirping may never sound the same. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Bridget Macdonald.

Related link:
Read the paper on cricket pollination published in the Annals of Botany.

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Chimps Gone Wild

Liberius was one of 11 chimpanzees at the Edinburgh Zoo involved in the Chimpcam project.

YOUNG: It’s said that if enough monkeys tap away at keyboards for long enough, they’d eventually produce a work like “Hamlet”. How many monkeys? We don’t know.

But we do now know just how many chimpanzees it takes to make a television show: 11. And it took them about a year and a half. We know this thanks to the Chimpcam project at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, which boasts the first film shot entirely by chimps. University of Stirling PhD student Betsy Herrelko helped make Chimpcam happen.

HERRELKO: Well, Chimpcam was an idea that was formulated about nine years ago by a producer at Burning Gold Productions, John Capener. He saw a documentary on TV, it was terrible, poorly done, and he thought a chimp could have done a much better job filming that. And that’s when Chimpcam was born.

YOUNG: [Laughs] He literally saw footage and said, a monkey could do a better job. Well, does a monkey do a better job?

HERRELKO: Well, chimps are apes, so they’ve got a little bit better chance of understanding what’s going on than a few of our monkey friends. We tried to teach them the different properties of video before giving them a camera. And just kind of tossed it on in there, let them have a go at it. And they really just played around with it. I’m not confident I could say anything about if they understood it, but they had fun with it and we got some amazing footage that just shared a bit more about how they live their lives.

YOUNG: And who’s the cast of characters here?

HERRELKO: We have 11 chimpanzees from Edinburgh Zoo. They range in age from ten to 48, and there are six males and five females, and they’re possibly the funniest bunch of coworkers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

YOUNG: See this sounds to me like not too far from a reality TV show already.

HERRELKO: They have all the drama that a lot of viewers would appreciate in a reality TV show.

YOUNG: This is the real life Edinburgh Zoo edition.

HERRELKO: Yes. Exactly.

YOUNG: So, tell me how did the chimps react when you started handing them cameras?

HERRELKO: Well, they were really curious at first, which is exactly what we want to see as researchers. We want our animals to be excited about what we’re doing because we want them to have as much fun with it as possible. And the first day we put it in their enclosure the youngest chimp, Liberius, was very excited about it and didn’t want to give it up. So he kind of carried it around and tried to hide it a little bit from the higher ranking individuals. But eventually they all had a go at it, so it was really nice kind of a sharing activity.

YOUNG: So what is it that chimps like to record when they have a camera?

HERRELKO: Gosh, a little bit of everything. We got toes, different parts of their bodies, different parts of the enclosures, but on occasion we saw some beautiful moments like a lovely kind of panning scene of two chimps grooming in front of the camera, and some nice movement across the enclosure. So it’s things that you’ve never had a chance to see before really up-close and personal that makes it extra special.

YOUNG: So how did they actually operate the cameras?

HERRELKO: It’s a very primitive form of a camera, so they don’t have to do anything. They don’t have to hit record, they don’t have to zoom, it’s just stationary in that respect. But they just can carry it around and manipulate it however they chose. They can aim it on anything and there’s a five-inch monitor that they can watch what’s happening.


Liberius was one of 11 chimpanzees at the Edinburgh Zoo involved in the Chimpcam project.

YOUNG: I’m imagining it’s a little shaky, a lot of movement in the camera, I’m thinking…did you see the film “The Blair Witch Project”?

HERRELKO: I did. I did.

YOUNG: Is this the “Chimp Witch Project”?

HERRELKO: Oh, I like where you’re going with that. It’s a little less scary, but it’s definitely has that kind of shake appeal. So, it’s not for the weak-stomached folks out there.

YOUNG: This is described as a non-invasive project. What does that mean, and why is that important?

HERRELKO: To me, a non-invasive research project means it doesn’t cause pain or discomfort to the animals. And that’s usually important from a welfare standpoint; you want everything to be on your animals’ terms because if they’re happy then you’re going to get more better results that really reflect how they’re thinking. We don’t want them to be scared by anything by any means. And that’s something that Edinburgh Zoo’s really supportive of, as well as the University of Stirling. So it was really the perfect collaboration for me to be a part of.

YOUNG: No chimps were harmed in the making of this film we’re happy to report.

HERRELKO: Exactly. [Laughs]

YOUNG: Okay. And what did you learn?

HERRELKO: We learned that chimps are greatly different. They’re all individuals that have different learning techniques, and while we didn’t learn as much as we were hoping to about cognition, we have a great data mine about what it takes to start a research program like this. These are older chimps; they’ve never done anything like this before, and we wanted to take it as slow as they needed us to. And I’m pleased to say they were really excited about many aspects of it. So, we got to go pretty far.

YOUNG: And what’s the reception been like? Critical reviews, public response?

HERRELKO: We’ve had some incredible public response. The hits on the website, chimpcam dot com has been incredible, and going to the zoo site. It’s really been a pleasure just to see how interested people are in chimpanzee behavior.

YOUNG: And do you think this has, I don’t know, the power to change public perception of chimpanzees somehow?

HERRELKO: That’s what you always secretly hope. I think chimpanzees deserve a voice and I’m just so privileged to have a chance to share a little bit about what I’ve learned about them. I hope it will help them to realize how incredible these animals are. They’re intelligent, they can experience emotions – there’s a whole gamut that this film touches on, and if we can change just a few minds to encourage them to conserve a bit more then we’ll be more than pleased.

YOUNG: Besty Herrelko, PhD student at the University of Stirling who spearheaded the Chimpcam Project. Thanks very much!

HERRELKO: Thank you so much!

[MUSIC: Jazz Jamaica “Monkey Man” from Double Barrel (Rykodisc 1998)]

Related links:
- Check out this sneak preview of Chimpcam.
- Learn more about the Chimpcam project.

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YOUNG: On the next Living on Earth – Lions and tigers and – oh my!

MAZUR: Everyone has a story of a bear getting their food, so if you imagine a million people all letting a bear get into their food once, you know, you’ve got a problem.

YOUNG: We investigate the best way to scare off a bear – next time on Living on Earth.

[WAVELENGTH SOUNDS]

YOUNG: We leave you this week at the sea ice edge.

[SOUNDS CONTINUE]

YOUNG: Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth and perhaps one of the most difficult places to use recording equipment. Doug Quin set up an array of special equipment devised to withstand the harsh conditions. Quin used underwater mics called hydrophones to capture these hauntingly beautiful sounds of Leopard Seals, Weddell Seals, and Orcas. They can be found on the Wildsanctuary dot com CD “Antarctica.”

[STRANGE UNDERWATER CHIRPS AND HUMS]

YOUNG: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Bruce Gellerman, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer, Jessica Ilyse Smith, Ike Sriskandarajah, and Mitra Taj, with help from Sarah Calkins, Marilyn Govoni and Sammy Sousa.

Our interns are Emily Guerin and Bridget Macdonald. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. Steve Curwood is our Executive Producer. You can find us anytime at LOE dot org. I’m Jeff Young. 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 and smoothies. Stonyfield pays its farmers not to use artificial growth hormones on their cows. Details at Stonyfield dot com. Support also comes from you our listeners, The Ford Foundation, The Town Creek Foundation, The Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of climate change and marine issues. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, dedicated to the idea that all people deserve a chance to lead a healthy, productive life. Information at Gates Foundation dot org. And Pax World Mutual Funds, integrating environmental, social and governance factors into investment analysis and decision making, on the Web at Pax World dot com. Pax World – for tomorrow.

 

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