Remaking the Mississippi--Engineering Marvel or Monster?
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Following the great flood of 1927, the U.S. government took on one of the mostly expensive projects in American history: engineering the Mississippi River to avoid floods and facilitate shipping. John Barry, author of the book Rising Tide, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America, tells host Bruce Gellerman about the successes and consequences of that endeavor. (06:20)
EPA Stalls on Cleaning Up Industrial Air Pollution/ Mitra Taj
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The Environmental Protection Agency recently decided to put on hold new regulations that would have limited pollution from industrial boilers. Some advocates fear the agency is giving in to political pressure. Living on Earth's Mitra Taj reports on the decision and whether it might help or hurt the agency's next big regulatory battle over enforcing new toxic air standards that could prevent thousands of premature deaths. (05:30)
Science Note/ Candles/ Wynn Tucker
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Thousands of communities struggle to keep their groundwater clean of toxics like TCE. It’s an expensive problem but, as Wynn Tucker reports, scientists have found a cheap solution - candles. (01:35)
The Republican Climate Conundrum/ Jeff Young
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As the 2012 president race starts to heat up some Republican candidates are now markedly cool about some statements they made in the past calling for cuts in carbon emissions. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young finds a lively debate within the GOP about how to match up political science with climate science. (06:15)
A Teenager Sues Uncle Sam over Climate Inaction
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A lawsuit has been filed in all 50 states and at the federal level, alleging that the government is required to protect the atmosphere on the behalf of children - and that they’ve failed to do so. The lead plaintiff in the federal suit is 16 year-old Alec Loorz, the founder of Kids vs. Global Warming. He tells host Bruce Gellerman about why he decided to sue the government. (06:40)
Blessing of the Bicycles/ Ingrid Lobet
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Bicycles can go faster than the average speed of cars in congested downtown areas, and their popularity and movement to advance them is growing around the United States. Andlike the days of yore when clergy blessed the nautical fleet, cities are now holding 'Blessing of the Bicycle' events to enhance divine protection for urban cyclists. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports from the recent Los Angeles gathering. (06:05)
Lion Meat, Anyone?/ Ike Sriskandarajah
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A probe by Living on Earth finds that some butcher shops are offering lion meat--but it's unlikely it came from some big game hunt. Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah found lion meat on the shelf at his neighborhood butcher and followed the trail to a dark corner of the exotic meat trade. (14:30)
BirdNote® - How Birds Produce Sound/ Michael Stein
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The complex song of birds is produced by a tiny, yet efficient, organ called the syrinx. Michael Stein tells us how it works. (02:10)
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In Masai-Mara Park in Kenya, recordist Bernard Fort recorded these small, melodious frogs during an evening rain. ()
HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: John Barry, Alec Loorz
REPORTERS: Mitra Taj, Wynn Tucker, Jeff Young, Ingrid Lobet, Ike Sriskandarajah, Mark Stein
GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. For 80 years, the Army Corps of Engineers has tried to control nature and contain the Mississippi but now the mighty river has other ideas.
BARRY: The river is not a tame tiger - it's a caged tiger. Before this flood is over, I would expect to see roughly 6,000 square miles under water. That is a lot of land.
GELLERMAN: Coming up - measures to control the Mississippi past, present, and future. Also, the government’s inaction on climate change has kids taking action to protect their future - they’re suing.
LOORZ: The legislative branch has kind of failed us and the executive branch - you know, Obama hasn’t been able to push anything through. So really the judicial branch is something that hasn’t really been tried before in terms of climate change.
GELLERMAN: Can you imagine if you actually won your court case?
LOORZ: (Laughs). That would be so crazy. Oh my god, that would be awesome.
GELLERMAN: These stories and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around!
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Every school kid learns to spell the name of the world’s 3rd largest river - it’s M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I. But while we call it the Mississippi River today, it’s really the Mississippi River System.
The flow of the nation’s mightiest waterway is controlled by a massive complex of engineered features, designed to keep river traffic flowing and divert flooding waters. The Army Corps of Engineers began building the modern system over 80 years ago but in recent weeks, snowmelts and rains of biblical proportions have tested it as never before.
In his book "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America," John Barry recounts the events that led to this attempt to control nature.
BARRY: It started raining in August 1926 and basically it didn't stop. Cairo, Illinois broke flood stage on New Year’s Day, 1927, and stayed above flood stage for 153 consecutive days.
The Mississippi overtops its banks and floods nearby farmland. (Photo: © 2011 Gary Braasch)
GELLERMAN: And the destruction was enormous.
BARRY: It was. I mean, there were ten separate flood crests that went down the river that year. You had a true inland sea - at its widest, the river was over 100 miles wide.
GELLERMAN: So Congress passes the flood control act of, what, 1928?
BARRY: That’s correct, yeah.
GELLERMAN: Coolidge signs it, but I guess, he was - he almost forgets to sign it. He was going off on vacation and only signs the bill, you know, by himself - no crowds, no reporters, no nothing.
BARRY: Well Coolidge was a very strange cat. His son died and after that, Coolidge was just detached from everything. Despite pleas from Republicans and Democrats, Coolidge never visited any of the flooded area. He wouldn’t even sign a photograph of himself to auction off at a fundraiser for victims.
You know, the flood had an enormous political impact on the U.S. because when the country saw these hundreds of thousands of people just utterly devastated, there was this huge shift in opinion. And people felt the federal government should indeed do something.
GELLERMAN: So Congress passes the flood control act of 1928, and it’s 300 million dollars - that was an enormous amount of money.
BARRY: An absolutely enormous amount at that time. The only thing more expensive than that was fighting World War I…that the government had ever done. Up until that time, people did not think the federal government had any role in lives of an individual citizen and barely any role in states.
GELLERMAN: So they proceed to build this huge system of locks, dams, levees, spillways, floodways - and it works, pretty much, right?
BARRY: It works very well. And I might point out: these are, the levees themselves, are by a wide margin the strongest levees in the United States.
GELLERMAN: But even then, the Mississippi is not going where it really wants to go naturally.
BARRY: That’s true. The Atchafalaya River is a shorter route to the sea that starts above Baton Rouge - it’s where what is called the Old River Control Structure was built. That was completed in 1954, and it was completed because if the river was left to its own devices, it would go down Atchafalaya and it would leave Baton Rouge and New Orleans. And to prevent that from happening, they built this control structure.
GELLERMAN: They call the engineering of the levees and the dams and the dykes and the spillways and floodways - they call that ‘putting the river,’ the Mississippi River, ‘into a straight jacket.’
BARRY: Well, yes and no. I mean, as a friend of mine says, the river is not a tame tiger - it’s a caged tiger. Before this flood is over, I would expect to see roughly 6,000 square miles under water. That is a lot of land.
GELLERMAN: But here you have this slow-moving wall of water coming from upriver like a pig moving through a python.
BARRY: That’s not a bad analogy, yeah.
GELLERMAN: Yeah, well, with all of this water coming down, and all this silt, is that doing a good thing, or in the long run, a bad thing?
BARRY: As I’m sure you are aware, Louisiana has been losing coastal lands. We’ve lost 2,300 square miles - most of it in the last 50 or 60 years.
GELLERMAN: That’s just washing into the Gulf of Mexico.
BARRY: That’s correct. And the reason is, we have tamed the river in such a way that it no longer feeds that sediment to that land. Big floods like this carry an enormous amount of sediment, and unfortunately, we did not have a plan in place to maximize the use of this sediment.
GELLERMAN: So what would you do with all this sediment?
The Morganza spillway was designed to divert water from the Mississippi River during major flood events. It has only been used twice, in 1973 and 2011. (NASA)
BARRY: Well for one thing, there has been talk about building more diversions to allow river water into the marshland to rebuild them. That talk’s been going on for years. One of the biggest issues is going to be the shipping industry. One of the proposals, which is in the state’s master plan, is basically to create a new mouth of the Mississippi River that would allow the river to drop some sediment in areas much closer to population centers.
However, the shipping industry is concerned, because as yet, the engineering of how ships are going to get through that area has not been fully completed. New Orleans exists because of the shipping industry. You know, Pittsburgh is a port with direct access to the ocean because of New Orleans. So is Tulsa. You know, 60 percent of the grain exports from the Midwest go through New Orleans. So it’s not only a New Orleans issue - it’s a national issue.
GELLERMAN: Re-engineering the mouth of the Mississippi, though, sounds very expensive.
BARRY: It’s not cheap, no. (Laughs). None of this is cheap.
GELLERMAN: Well, Mr. Barry, thank you, I really appreciate it.
BARRY: Glad to be on, and a great pleasure talking to you.
GELLERMAN: John Barry is author of "Rising Tide.”
GELLERMAN: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to delay new rules that would curb industrial air pollution. The decision comes after intense pressure from companies and unrelenting criticism of the EPA from Republicans in Congress.
But supporters say the rules are overdue and the EPA’s delay raises concerns the Obama Administration is putting politics ahead of public health. Living on Earth’s Mitra Taj reports from our Washington bureau.
TAJ: A proposed regulation to curb hazardous air emissions from industrial boilers has been in the works for years. The rule has undergone study, delay, under-funding, and repeated court orders demanding sound regulations based on science. Now the Obama EPA has put the new rule on hold indefinitely.
COEQUYT: The biggest problem with this decision is that it introduced a new way to delay rules.
TAJ: John Coequyt works for the Sierra Club, one of the green groups that sued the EPA over its slow response in the past on this rule. He says the move is disturbing - and not just because of the thousands of premature deaths that could be avoided each year with its enforcement.
COEQUYT: So now, every rule they're going to want an indefinite delay while they reconsider all of the problems that industry is going to identify. And it's going to result in industry now coming up with problems that don't exist, and everyone's going to want it all the time.
TAJ: The EPA says it needs more than the standard 90 days to address the nearly 5,000 comments it got in response to its proposal. But this isn’t the first time the Obama EPA has postponed tough environmental enforcements.
Last month, it decided to put off finalizing new regulations on mountaintop removal coal mining. Last year, it held off on issuing new ozone air quality standards. And more than two years after 130 million tons of coal ash flooded homes and rivers in Tennessee, the EPA still hasn’t decided whether the toxic waste should be regulated as a hazardous waste.
Some suspect the EPA is on a path of concession-making with industry and worn down from repeated attacks since midterm elections by moderate Democrats and Republicans like Congressman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky.
WHITFIELD: If we want America to be competitive, to create jobs, to compete with China, we must stop this out-of-control EPA.
TAJ: Whitfield co-sponsored a bill to keep the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions that passed the Republican-controlled House but failed in the Senate. At the time, he emphasized the legislation would only take away the EPA’s climate authority, leaving the EPA’s ability to restrict traditional pollutants intact.
WHITFIELD: We're not changing the Clean Air Act in any way. Ambient air quality - all of those things will still be enforced.
TAJ: But just hours after the EPA put the industrial boiler rule on hold, Whitfield and two of his Republican colleagues sent a letter pressing the agency to delay another pending rule: air standards that would cut mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. Frank O’Donnell is with the environmental watchdog group, Clean Air Watch.
ODONNELL: Those power plants would have only three or four years to get their act together. They would either have to clean up or shut down. So it is truly the most significant proposal that the EPA has made.
Headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, where staffers are struggling to handle a backlog of overdue regulations amid criticism from industry. (Photo: thanigaivel)
TAJ: The EPA estimates enforcement of toxic air standards by 2016 would prevent up to 17,000 premature deaths and up to 140 billion dollars in health care expenses. But the Republican lawmakers pushing to give industry more time say the EPA has underestimated compliance costs.
Some see the rule, expected in November, as the bigger battle the EPA will have to fight, together with green house gas regulations, later this summer. But O’Donnell says sacrificing some rules to save others isn’t a smart strategy.
O’DONNELL: There's one theory out there that the EPA is saving its political capital for other standards that may carry a bigger bang for the buck. However, by making a concession, the EPA simply invited a further attack - perhaps because these opponents could smell the blood in the water, or in this case, the blood in the air.
TAJ: While members of Congress so far have only asked the EPA to give industry more time, industry itself has readied the legislation to force it to do so. A bill written by American Electric Power, one of the biggest and most coal-dependent utility companies in the country, would push various regulations, including restrictions on mercury back to 2020. Nick Akins, the president of American Electric Power, says his company is already struggling to keep up with existing regulations.
AKINS: We've had a substantial commitment to achieving these projects, and 60 percent of the increases to our customers’ electric bills have been environmental-related. The fact of the matter is, though, it took 105 years to build this system to where it is and you can't change it overnight.
TAJ: How do you address this issue of premature deaths in the meantime? I mean, some of the figures are really striking - children sick from mercury emissions - those are things that must weigh on you.
AKINS: Well, actually, our job in the utility industry is to balance a lot of interests. And there’s arguments that you've heard obviously that thousands of premature deaths will occur. We hear arguments on the other side as well - that there is no credible linkage in support there.
TAJ: It’s unclear whether the industry’s legislation to delay toxic air regulations will go anywhere - no member of Congress has openly embraced it yet. But it does put even more pressure on the EPA to hold back on enforcing another important public health rule. For Living on Earth, I’m Mitra Taj in Washington.
- Click here for more on the EPA's boiler decision.
- The Republican request to delay air toxic standards.
- Click here for a skeptical view of EPA's most-recent decision to delay regulations.
- Watch a video featuring Republican concerns that EPA regulations will hurt job creation.
- AEP's draft legislation to push back EPA's regulatory timeframe.
- EPA's factsheet on the economic and health impacts of curbing toxic air pollution.
[MUSIC: Traffic “Empty Pages” from John Barlycorn Must Die (Island Records 1970)]
GELLERMAN: If you have something to say about our show, you can post it at our Facebook page - it’s PRI’s Living on Earth. And you can follow us on Twitter: AT LivingOnEarth.
GELLERMAN: Just ahead - how the science of climate change has become the third rail for Republican presidential hopefuls. Keep listening to Living on Earth!
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Gerald Clayton: “Bond: Fresh Squeeze” from Bond: The Paris Sessions (Universal International Music BV 2010)]
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. Coming up - a teenager tries a new tactic to force the government to take action on climate change: he’s suing. But first here’s Wynn Tucker with this Note on Emerging Science.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]
The “candles” are really three foot long wax cylinders treated with potassium permanganate. (Credit Steve Comfort)
TUCKER: Candles can be festive, somber, or useful. Now researchers have a new use for them: to clean up groundwater. Thousands of landfills and factories across the country leak toxic solvents into groundwater. One of the most common toxics is trichloroethylene, or TCE.
To clean up TCE, scientists inject the chemical compound potassium permanganate into the ground. The method is effective but expensive and labor-intensive. Researchers at the University of Nebraska have found a much cheaper solution: they’re putting potassium permanganate in candles - three-foot long wax cylinders that are then buried in the ground. As groundwater flows past these candles, the wax cylinders slowly release the chemical permanganate that breaks TCE down into harmless materials.
And the wax prevents water from entering the cylinder and keeps the chemical from dissolving all at once, evenly distributing the chemical throughout an aquifer. These candles may take a long time to work their magic, but initial results show they can effectively clean up groundwater at a low price. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Wynn Tucker.
Read more about this story at ABC News-
GELLERMAN: A strong political wind blowing from the right has some Republican presidential hopefuls wishing they could change their past position on climate change. Many of the GOP candidates once agreed with the vast majority of scientists who say humans are responsible for global warming. But as Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, in this political climate, those statements are proving to be inconvenient truths.
YOUNG: It’s early in the race for the Republican presidential nomination but the debate on climate change is already heating up. On one side, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, from the past:
[PAWLENTY AD: “If we act now, we can create thousands of new jobs in clean energy industries. So come on congress, let’s get moving. Cap greenhouse gas pollution now!]
YOUNG: On the other side, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, from the present:
PAWLENTY: As to climate change or more specifically cap and trade, I’ve just come out and admitted and said, ‘look, it was a mistake - it was stupid.’
YOUNG: Pawlenty’s first statement came in a 2007 radio spot. Back then, Pawlenty pushed hard for clean energy and a cap on CO2. The second statement came during an interview last month with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.
And Pawlenty’s not just backing away from cap and trade. In a recent appearance on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Pawlenty questioned whether humans are contributing to climate change and accused climate scientists of dishonest behavior.
Former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year. Pawlenty now calls his past support for climate action “stupid.” (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
[PAWLENTY ON “MEET THE PRESS”: “The climate’s obviously changing, but the real question, the more interesting question, is how much of that is man-made, how much of that is the result of natural causes and patterns. Of course we’ve seen a lot of data manipulation.”]
YOUNG: Numerous investigations of climate science found charges of data manipulation to be baseless. And Pawlenty’s “interesting question” about whether warming is man-made has been answered many times, most recently by the National Academy of Sciences, which wrote that climate change is “very likely caused by human activities and poses significant risks.” Pawlenty’s not the only candidate coming under fire for climate change statements from the past. Here’s former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2007.
GINGRICH: The evidence is sufficient that we should move towards the most effective possible steps to reduce carbon-loading in the atmosphere.
YOUNG: Shortly after that appearance, Gingrich recorded this TV ad, sitting on a loveseat with Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
PELOSI: We don’t always see eye to eye, do we Newt?
GINGRICH: No, but we do agree: our country must take action to address climate change.
PELOSI: We need cleaner forms of energy, and we need them fast.
GINGRICH: If enough of us demand action from our leaders, we can spark the innovation we need.
PELOSI: Go to ‘wecansolveit’ dot org - and together, we can do this.]
YOUNG: This month, talk radio hosts at KTLK made it clear conservatives have not forgotten about that.
[GINGRICH RADIO INTERVIEW:]
HOST: What WERE you doing on that couch with Nancy Pelosi? (Laughter)
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, if you read what I said on the couch, I said this is a topic worth debating.
HOST: True, true.
GINGRICH: And I said we should be able to find incentives - the specific word I used - we should be able to find incentives to lower the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
YOUNG: Other Republican hopefuls face similar criticism. This is partly due to the tireless work of political operatives like Marc Morano. Morano was once a producer for Rush Limbaugh’s program and more recently communications director for Senator James Inhofe, a prominent climate change denier. Now Morano runs a web site called Climate Depot, which mercilessly attacks Republicans who dare to talk about climate change.
MORANO: Two things: don’t ever talk about it, and if you do, don’t ever support any of the global warming cap and trade bills and UN approach. The candidate could not say, ‘I’m a big believer in man-made global warming,’ and, ‘We must act on it and start talking about UN treaties and/or congressional action or supporting the EPA action.’ That candidate would be D.O.A. in the Republican Party primary process.
YOUNG: Morano points to polls showing interest in climate change dropping. Some other Republicans disagree. David Jenkins is with Republicans for Environmental Protection.
JENKINS: Morano has - you know, he created this web site as part of an advocacy effort against addressing climate change or reducing carbon emissions. And so it’s no surprise at all that he would try to beat up anyone that shows any inclination to take climate change seriously and look for solutions. But he’s not even representative of most Republicans, much less the electorate at large.
YOUNG: Jenkins says polling he sees indicates candidates who deny or ignore climate change are out of step with rank-and-file voters.
JENKINS: A majority of Republicans - you know, they favor some kind of limit on carbon emissions, they favor higher fuel economy standards. So, you know, the Republican electorate is much more diverse. It’s not represented by people who march in lockstep with Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh.
YOUNG: Former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina knows his party’s politics on this issue all too well. Inglis lost in last year’s Republican primary mostly, he says, because he said climate change was real.
INGLIS: Yeah, it is amazing to think that just listening to the scientists is seen as some sort of a heresy.
YOUNG: Inglis does not like what he sees in the early stages of the Republican presidential race.
INGLIS: Some folks are pandering - pandering to some very fearful people. And what we need is people to lead, not to pander. When you hear somebody say, you know, ‘climate change is a bunch of hooey’ because they heard it on talk radio or talk TV - if you’re a leader, you need to say, ‘well, you know, have you read what the National Academy of Sciences says - they say that this is happening, and it’s not conservative to ignore the advice of these scientists.’
YOUNG: Inglis is now working on a plan for greenhouse gas reduction that’s rooted in conservative politics. But until one emerges, Republican candidates face a tough race if they call for action on climate change. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young.
GELLERMAN: You’ll often hear parents and politicians say the government has to combat climate change to protect our children’s future. Well, now some kids are saying, ‘we’ve heard enough - we’ll see you in court!' Teens have filed lawsuits in all 50 states and federal court to force government officials to walk the talk and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
16 year-old Alec Loorz is leading the legal effort and making a federal case out of the government’s inaction. Loorz is a junior from Ventura, California and founder of iMatter.org. It’s an online movement to mobilize young people across the planet in the cause of climate change.
Loorz is telling kids to take to the streets in iMatter climate marches this summer and stand up for their rights in court.
Alec Loorz has been a climate activist since age 12. He’s now 16 and the lead plaintiff in a climate lawsuit against the federal government.
LOORZ: Young people - you know, my generation - we don't really have any real political rights. You know, we can’t vote, we can’t compete with rich corporate lobbyists. So really, you know, all we can do is trust our government to make good decisions on our behalf. But we’ve found that the government has basically failed us and that they’ve not done a great job protecting the land and the atmosphere that we need to survive.
The legislative branch has kind of failed us and the executive branch - you know, Obama hasn’t been able to push anything through. So really the judicial branch is something that hasn’t really been tried before in terms of climate change. And with a lawsuit, this is basically just kind of giving us teeth, so it’s not just marching in the streets and going, ‘Yay for the Earth!’ and stuff like that. So it actually has a chance to change something - to make a real difference.
GELLERMAN: Well, do you have a legal leg to stand on?
LOORZ: Yeah, we’ve been working with these lawyers, this group out of the University of Oregon - they’ve developed this legal theory called ‘atmospheric trust litigation.’ And it basically says that, you know…it uses old commons laws from a really long time ago that are basically about, you know, ‘we need to preserve nature for future generations.’
But they’ve used that theory to kind of sue on behalf of the atmosphere as a whole, and this is kind of like the first time that that’s ever been done. But the government actually does have a legal responsibility to protect the atmosphere for future generations, and they’re not doing that - you know, with all the greenhouse gases and all this stuff that we’re putting out into the atmosphere, it’s just kind of messing up the perfect balance of all of these systems and that’s what leading to climate change and all this stuff.
Children marching in Boulder, CO.
GELLERMAN: Well, there is something called ‘the public trust doctrine,’ which basically, I guess, says that the government is required to protect and preserve our shared resources. And I guess climate would fit into that category.
LOORZ: Yeah, exactly. It uses the public trust doctrine, but kind of in the past, people have used the public trust doctrine to kind of like sue on behalf of one lake somewhere or the air around one area - but this is the first time that it’s been done on behalf of the atmosphere as a whole. That’s really kind of why it’s groundbreaking and really exciting.
GELLERMAN: Well I would imagine that most kids your age do write about climate change in high school assignments and that sort of thing, but you’re really taking it to another level. I mean, you speak to other teens - what do they say?
LOORZ: Every young person I’ve kind of run into - we all have this kind of like inherent, you know, subconscious understanding of what’s going on with our planet. And we’ve got this inherent calling to do something about it. I gave this presentation to a really kind of conservative school in southern California, and they were saying I was bringing political propaganda, and they were like going to picket outside my presentation and all this crazy stuff.
And when I went there, people were yelling out things in the beginning like, ‘Al Gore’s a liar,’ and stuff like that. But by the end, they were all completely silent, and I could just kind of see in their eyes that kind of spark, and I could see that sparkle - they were feeling some kind of passion. There were 750 kids at that presentation total, and afterward, 500 signed up to be part of an action team that day. So that just kind of shows just the power of young people becoming passionate about something, and I’ve seen that wherever I go.
GELLERMAN: You know, Alec, I was a child of the 60s, and I guess we felt that we could change the world back then, and maybe in some ways we did. But when I think of climate change, I think maybe my generation failed yours. I mean, do you blame us?
LOORZ: I don’t think it’s right to kind of blame the older generations, because yes, the generations before us have left us with this problem and kind of like put this problem onto our shoulders. But when our great-grandparents’ generation was first developing fossil fuels, they weren’t trying to be evil and mess up the atmosphere - they had no idea that there were any long-term consequences of using fossil fuels.
The point is now we do. And now we do realize that there is something wrong with using these fuels and we realize that they actually do mess up the balance of our planet, and they lead to all these crazy consequences and it’s going to take a revolution. And I think that revolution needs to be led by young people.
Dr. James Hansen and his grandson at an iMatter March in Washington D.C.
You know, not like young people standing up and taking over the world, or saying, you know, ‘Older people suck - it’s the youth who need to change everything.’ But it’s working together across generations to stand up on behalf of the young people and say that climate change is the most urgent issue of our time and we need to transition to a sustainable and just society on behalf of our children.
GELLERMAN: iMatter is the organization that you created - the website that organizes people around climate change, right?
LOORZ: Yeah, actually, when I was 13, I created this organization called Kids vs. Global Warming. And now, my big campaign that I’ve been working on is this international event called the iMatter March. And it’s a march where youth are coming together from all over the world to kind of stand up and make their voices heard.
GELLERMAN: So you’ve been involved in climate action since you were 12 years old - do you miss being a kid?
LOORZ: (Laughs). I mean, I’ve definitely sacrificed a lot to kind of do this work. I’ve kind of slowly, gradually gone from going to regular school to now being completely homeschooled. My social life has basically been obliterated, but honestly, I don’t really miss anything - I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. I really am perfectly happy with, you know, how my life and how this work and everything has turned out. And, you know, if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t do anything different.
Although, it does…I mean, I do sometimes feel like I would really like to just have kind of a normal life and hang out with people and do things - and I’m finding time to kind of be able to do that now. And I think after the march, I might just kind of decide to focus on writing or write a book or something and then just focus on having a teenage life, and maybe even go to a real school next year or whatever. I mean, I’m finding time to do things - I play music a lot, I listen to music a lot…but yeah, it’s definitely been a sacrifice.
GELLERMAN: Can you imagine if you actually won your court case?
LOORZ: (Laughs). That would be so crazy. Oh my god, that would be awesome.
GELLERMAN: Sixteen-year-old Alec Loorz is founder of iMatter.org and lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that charges the U.S. government isn't doing enough about climate change.
[MUSIC: Club D’Elf Scorpionic” from Electric Moroccoland (Club D’Elf 2011)]
GELLERMAN: Bicycle ridership is booming across the country - and no wonder. Bikes are a fast, pollution-free way to get around and a fabulous way to get exercise. For many, bikes are heaven sent, but safety is a concern, so they’re looking to a higher power than legs and gears can provide. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet has this from the eighth annual Blessing of the Bicycles in Los Angeles.
[SOUND OF BLESSING OF THE BIKES GATHERING]
LOBET: Despite unseasonable cold and rain and the fact that it was eight o’clock in the morning before a school day, a handful of kids mixed among the older bike riders as the clergy assembled. The Venerable Suhita Dharma had a particularly Buddhist message ready for the youngest riders.
VENERABLE SUHITA DHARMA: When you’re riding your bikes, mindfulness and awareness is the key. Don’t try to do too many tricks on your bikes in the public roads. I do see you do it sometimes. And if this keeps up, I am going call the Kung Fu Panda to come and talk to you.
LOBET: One middle schooler who heard the message had already had a serious brush with cars.
DENNIS ESPAÑA: I was on Olympic and Alvarado crossing Alvarado and the car was going on Olympic and as soon as I was crossing the street, it hit me - it dragged me to the middle of the street. (Crowd reacts). And like I had to pick up my bike and walk across the street and the lady tried to run away but my friends chased them on the bike. (Applause and laughter).
LOBET: Urban riders everywhere are vulnerable - part of the reason the bicycle blessing event in Los Angeles is held in front of a hospital. A reason riders look for all the help they can get.
BRUNO: Keep safe our brothers and sisters who ride these bicycles.
LOBET: Episcopal Bishop Joseph Jon Bruno presided, followed by Khaled Ibdah representing Islam.
BISHOP J. JON BRUNO: Protect us dear God and protect all these people who are trying to improve the environment in which we live.
KHALED IBDAH: (in Arabic first) In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful, may God bless our bikes, our riders, and help us make Earth a cleaner and safer place for all. (Applause).
MAN’S VOICE: With that, Bishop, we’ll start the blessing.
LOBET: And so the riders - in sweats, suits, spandex or bicycle police blue - lined up and rode past the Bishop to receive their actual blessing.
BISHOP J. JON BRUNO: Come on guys! May you have no more crashes and be blessed.
Be blessed in the name of God, creator, redeemer, and sustainer. Amen. God is blessing you and your bike for safety in travel. God bless you in the name of God, creator, redeemer, and sustainer…
LOBET: That much more protected, they headed off to work and schooldays into morning traffic on Wilshire Boulevard. For Living on Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.
[SOUND OF PEOPLE MILLING, BLESSING OF THE BICYCLES, MUSIC]
GELLERMAN: You can see a slide show of the Blessing of the Bicycles at our website, L-O-E dot org. And while you're tooling around online, check out our sister program, Planet Harmony. Planet Harmony welcomes all and pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at my planet harmony dot com.
[MUSIC: JACKIE MITTO “WHERE DID THE MAJOR GO (REMIX) FROM IN AFRICA (HEARTBEAT RECORDS 1995)]
GELLERMAN: Coming up - lion: it's what's for dinner. We’ll tell the tale on Living on Earth!
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Gilman Ordway - for coverage of conservation and environmental change. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Kenny Werner: “Sada” from Balloons (Half Note Records 2011)]
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. Barbecue season’s here and for a real thrill on the grill, you might be game for a rare bite: lion. It seems the king of the jungle is available in some butcher shops across the country, including one not far from the den of Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah. Ike followed the trail of this big cat from the cooler of his neighborhood market to an obscure corner of the meat industry.
[HUSTLE AND BUSTLE OF MARKET]
SRISKANDARAJAH: A boutique grocery store in Cambridge, Massachusetts called Savenor’s is owned by Ron Savenor.
SAVENOR: I like to be known as the “meat guy.”
SRISKANDARAJAH: And managed by Juliana Lyman.
LYMAN: Savenor’s has been around since 1939. Its claim to fame is, we were Julia Child’s butcher.
[CHILD AUDIO: “Welcome to the French Chef, I’m Julia Child.”]
LYMAN: And when she moved to Cambridge, she was looking for someone who could supply her with the quality meats that she needed for her cooking show.
[THE FRENCH CHEF THEME MUSIC]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Lyman walks me through Savenor’s top-shelf meat cooler.
LYMAN: So we have amazing French pâtés, French foie gras, traditional, beautiful bacons, sausages that are all local…
SAVENOR: I tell people we’re the old fashioned butcher shop.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Old fashioned, but with a certain flair.
LYMAN: And then we have buffalo sausage, and then we have elk sausage…
SRISKANDARAJAH: In addition to the French Chef’s usual dinner fare…
[CHILDS FROM THE FRENCH CHEF: “A covey of quail, and a gaggle of geese, and a peep of chickens…”]
LYMAN: Python from Vietnam. Boneless turtle - domestic. And besides that...
SRISKANDARAJAH: In the middle of the meat menagerie…
LYMAN: We have the lion chop and the lion leg roast.
SRISKANDARAJAH: That sounds like a typo - with the ‘o’ and the ‘i’ reversed. A loin is a tender cut of red meat. A lion is an international symbol of power and courage - rampant on flags from Scotland to Sri Lanka. The lion is king.
[MUSIC FROM “THE LION KING”]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Steaks wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic - even for 60 dollars a pound - don’t sound like the king of the jungle. But if you can get past the sticker shock, Ron says this meat can tap into our most ancient appetites.
SAVENOR: I mean, if you look back over history, what did people eat? They ate local game because that was their protein.
[MUSIC FROM “THE LION KING” CONTINUES]
SRISKANDARAJAH: It’s hard to think of a noble big cat as protein or gourmet shoppers in Cambridge as primal hunters.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Savenor and Lyman admit that out of everything in their cooler of curiosities, lion creates an uproar.
SAVENOR: It’s funny because we sell alligator and we sell rattlesnake and people are okay about that stuff.
SRISKANDARAJAH: But lions?
LYMAN: Our customers are pretty polarized on it.
SAVENOR: You get people from hunters, to people who just love meat - and then you get other people who say, ‘oh, those are extinct and that’s bad!’
LYMAN: So it’s a real passionate reaction, and there’s really not a lot of in-between.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Savenor’s isn’t breaking any laws selling lion meat. The African Lion is not listed under “CITES”, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The store labels it “Free Range African Lion.”
[SOUND OF HUNTING DRUMS]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Which conjures up an image of a 19th century big game hunter, in khaki, aiming a long rifle into the African plains.
SRISKANDARAJAH: But Lyman assures me that that’s not how they get their lion meat - that would be illegal.
LYMAN: It’s not wild, it’s not safari, it’s not bushmeat - we can’t do that.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Butchers aren’t allowed to sell wild game. “Free Range African Lion” is just a butcher’s way of saying: if you’re going to offer something really unusual, you might as well have fun. And whether you advertise it as ‘feline filets’ or the ‘mane course,’ the ‘punch-lion’ is definitely part of the sale.
LYMAN: It’s definitely tongue-in-cheek. Selling exotics, it helps to have a sense of humor - because you are selling lion. This stuff is novelty.
SRISKANDARAJAH: So if Savenor’s isn’t importing from the Savannah, whose lion is it anyway?
SAVENOR: I can tell you the name of every farmer, where almost every piece of meat comes from.
SRISKANDARAJAH: “Almost.” But when it comes to the lion farm…
SAVENOR: I actually haven’t been to that farm, but I speak to the processor.
LYMAN: The distributor that we deal with we’ve been dealing with for years - decades. And every once in a while when they come across this, they’ll give Ron a call because they know that we can sell it.
[MUSIC - ENTRY OF THE GLADIATORS]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Most of us only “come across” lions when we’re at the circus or zoo.
LYMAN: I don’t know of circuses, I don’t know. I do know that they can come from zoos. The biggest source is conservation lands that need to cull the pride. Then they go to the farm to kind of live out their days. They’re not confined in a cage, so they - you know, they do roam around. Then they’re slaughtered. It’s all under federal inspection. The farms themselves - the places that it comes from - are the ones that are inspected.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Lion meat retailers from California to Cambridge repeat nearly the same story. They say that their meat is raised on a lion farm outside Chicago and that the farm is USDA-inspected. Online, at “ExoticMeatMarket.com” lion meat is even more expensive - a whole tenderloin retails for 1,400 dollars. The site claims:
[ANNOUNCER’S VOICE: “Our African Lions are raised in the State of Illinois. African Lions are slaughtered under USDA inspection. African Lion meat is processed in a USDA-inspected plant.”]
SRISKANDARAJAH: So I called up the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, the office that enforces the Animal Welfare Act. Spokesperson Dave Sacks says his office makes sure all sorts of animals on display are treated humanely.
SACKS: That would be circuses, and zoos, and aquariums and petting farms - that sort of thing.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Medical research, puppy and kitten farms, and even the breeders of exotic animals. But what about a lion farm?
SACKS: That would not fall under this program because those animals look to be raised for food or fiber and that’s not covered under the Animal Welfare Act.
SRISKANDARAJAH: So what about lions that used to be on display but are now tucked out of sight, say, on a meat farm near Chicago?
SACKS: Under the Animal Welfare Act, we only regulate regulated animals who are being used in regulated activities. So a lion would be a regulated animal, but if it’s not being exhibited to the public or being bred for resale, then we would have nothing to do with it.
SRISKANDARAJAH: So your office does not regulate lion meat?
SACKS: No it does not.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Another part of the USDA, the Food Safety Inspection Service, inspects all the standard grocery store meats - poultry, pork, beef - and enforces the Humane Slaughter Act. The office emailed me this blanket statement:
[ANNOUNCER’S VOICE: “The USDA does not regulate lion meat.”]
SRISKANDARAJAH: They told me to try the Food and Drug Administration. So I called Scott J. MacIntire, the FDA’s Chicago director.
MACINTIRE: What falls into FDA’s jurisdiction is anything that USDA doesn’t regulate.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Okay, so if I asked you…a live lion being raised or held for meat - is that FDA?
MACINTIRE: That’s a good question. (Laughs). I would hesitate to really commit one way or the other.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Even though the often-cited lion farm is in his backyard, MacIntire told me the Chicago FDA hasn’t inspected any living lions. But they have been to the place that processes dead lions for their meat. They heard about a local distributor who was supplying lion burgers to an Arizona restaurant and decided to check it out.
MACINTIRE: Yeah, that’s correct - that’s how we picked up on it ourselves. Once we were aware that Czimer’s was a processor of game meat, you know, we conducted an inspection.
SRISKANDARAJAH: “Czimer's Game and Seafood” is the name of the Chicago-area butcher putting lion meat on American tables. It’s been around for about 100 years - from around the same time that Upton Sinclair wrote about the Chicago meat industry. His portrayal of its unsanitary conditions in “The Jungle” led to the creation of the FDA.
FDA inspectors took samples of exotic meats from Richard Czimer’s store for DNA testing. Based on that “genetic analysis” , they accused him of false labeling and selling meat from the endangered grizzly bear.
MACINTIRE: And we referred that information to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife for whatever they deem necessary.
SRISKANDARAJAH: The Fish and Wildlife Service takes over jurisdiction when endangered animals are involved. This wasn’t Czimer’s first encounter with Fish and Wildlife. Special Agent Tim Santel spearheaded an investigation.
SANTEL: The investigation known as Operation Snow Plow…
SRISKANDARAJAH: How did it get that name, by the way?
SANTEL: (Laughs). Well there was a person in the Chicago area who was seeking to purchase tigers so that he could kill them and sell their various body parts. And the only information or identification they gave me at the time was - all they knew was he owned a snow plow business.
SANTEL: (Laughs). So that’s why I named it Operation Snow Plow.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Operation Snow Plow took six years of undercover work.
SANTEL: In our case, which we dealt with a large number of animals, I would say all but two were born in captivity - either at a roadside zoo, maybe they were a part of a circus act, maybe some animal broker had surplus animals. They came from all walks of life.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Santel says pet tigers and leopards can sell for as little as 1000 dollars on the black market. And a group of men in the Chicago area figured out that these animals were worth more dead than alive.
SANTEL: These guys, you know - they’re selling these hides for several thousand to ten thousand dollars a piece. The gallbladders are probably fetching them a few hundred bucks. You know, the teeth and claws might give them some more. The skulls are being sold for whatever.
SRISKANDARAJAH: The Fish and Wildlife sting uncovered what they called a multi-billion dollar black market.
SANTEL: You know, one particular day in March, 1998, there were, I think, eight tigers killed at one time. They were acquired from an animal dealer, brought to an isolated warehouse in suburban Chicago where two individuals with handguns shot all eight tigers.
SRISKANDARAJAH: They skinned them and extracted the valuable bits - just leaving the meat, about 200 pounds for each big cat.
SANTEL: At the end of the day, they found a buyer who was willing to purchase the carcasses.
SRISKANDARAJAH: The buyer: Czimer’s.
SANTEL: We saw just as many or more lions killed in Operation Snow Plow that we saw tigers killed.
SRISKANDARAJAH: There’s nothing illegal about killing or selling lions. But “in 2002 Czimer pleaded guilty” to selling federally protected tigers, a spotted leopard, and one liger. He served six months in federal prison and paid 116,000 dollars to the Save the Tiger Fund. Endangered tigers do have some protection, but lions have none.
ROBERTS: We have to recognize that the trend with lions is just as it is with tigers and has been for years. And we need to learn from those mistakes and not let the lion become the tiger of Africa.
SRISKANDARAJAH: That’s Adam Roberts, the executive vice president of the animal advocacy group, “Born Free USA” . Roberts says that lion meat is a regulatory black hole, and his organization sees more and more lions falling into it.
ROBERTS: What we’ve determined is that, on the one hand, you have a growing number of incidents of people selling lion meat, more availability of lion meat, but at the same time no increase in the protection for lions - so they’re fundamentally falling through the cracks.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Neither the USDA, the FDA, or the Fish and Wildlife service looks after these lions. Born Free USA thinks that a new protected status could help.
ROBERTS: That’s right - Born Free USA and a number of our colleagues at other animal protection and conservation organizations have petitioned the Department of the Interior to list the lion as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. And then it could be up to a year or so before we actually find whether the Department of the Interior will in fact list the animal as endangered.
SRISKANDARAJAH: A listing on the Endangered Species Act would control the trade of lion pelts and parts. Scientists estimate that the African Lion population has been cut in half over the past two decades - there are only about 40,000 wild lions left. The biggest threat to the pride comes from retaliatory killings and loss of habitat - not American appetites.
[SOUNDS FROM WITHIN SAVENOR’S]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Back in Cambridge, Savenor’s Market says they sell about 60 lion steaks a year. Mark, a butcher at “Savenor's” , prepared one for me. He heated oil in a pan and then dropped in the lion steak.
[SOUND OF SIZZLING OIL]
BUTCHER: You get a nice sizzle, if you can hear that…
SRISKANDARAJAH: Which promptly shriveled.
BUTCHER: And what’s happening is, it’s constricting - it’s starting to shrink because it’s muscle tissue.
SRISKANDARAJAH: I’ve never seen a dead thing fight so much.
BUTCHER: Predators are pretty much solid muscle. When you add heat to muscle, it automatically constricts.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Mark had to restrain the steak from clenching up like a fist.
[SOUND OF LION STEAK SIZZLING]
BUTCHER: So what I learned early in my career as a cook was: hold it down.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Mark seasoned the steak and store manager Juliana Lyman offered a taste.
LYMAN: Looks good, yeah? Doesn’t it? Nice. See, nice, little herb, little butter, little salt, little pepper. It’s surprisingly mild. If you weren’t told that it was lion meat, you’d be like, ‘huh, this is really...’
BUTCHER: Delicious pork.
SRISKANDARAJAH: It does tastes like pork. But because it’s so ‘muscley,’ you have to chew it for a long time. So on my lion hunt, this is what I found:
That no federal agency regulates raising or killing lions for food; that the exotic animal trade is murky and somewhat illegal; and that we can eat almost anything - but the story behind where our meat comes from can make it hard to swallow.
For Living on Earth, I’m Ike Sriskandarajah in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
[MUSIC: The Tokens “The Lions Sleeps” from The Lion Sleeps Tonight (BMG Music 1961/2003 reissue )]
GELLERMAN: From lions and tigers and bears to - oh my - birds.
[BIRD NOTE THEME]
GELLERMAN: Bird songs are complex - calls and melodies vary by species and purpose. And producing them is complex as well. Here’s Michael Stein of BirdNote®.
A Song Sparrow (Photo: Tom-Grey ©)
[CALL OF THE BRANDT’S CORMORANT; SONG OF THE NORTHERN CARDINAL; SONG OF THE SONG SPARROW]
STEIN: You just heard the grunt of a cormorant, the whistle of a cardinal, and the song of a Song Sparrow. Nearly all birds produce sound through an organ unique to birds - the syrinx.
[SONG OF THE CARDINAL]
STEIN: The syrinx is a set of muscles and membranes located where the two branches of the bronchial tubes converge to become the trachea. An adjacent air-sac helps build pressure in the syrinx. In many songbirds, this whole song-producing apparatus is not much bigger than a raindrop.
The syrinx is extremely efficient at creating sound, using nearly all of the air that passes through it. By contrast, we humans create sound using only two percent of the air we exhale through our larynx. Let’s listen again to the limited vocal range of the cormorant, whose syrinx is controlled by only one set of muscles.
[CALL OF THE CORMORANT]
STEIN: The cardinal, a familiar bird of central and eastern states, creates its pure whistle by producing sound in its left and right bronchial tubes simultaneously.
[SONG OF THE CARINDAL]
STEIN: The Song Sparrow, like many other songbirds, has five to seven pairs of muscles that govern the syrinx. It puts forth a cascade of trills and notes, as if singing a duet with itself.
[SONG OF THE SONG SPARROW]
GELLERMAN: That’s Michael Stein with BirdNote®. And you can wing your over to our website for photos of Song Sparrows. It’s L-O-E dot O-R-G.
- Bird sounds provided by the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Brandt’s Cormorant recorded by G.F. Budney; Northern Cardinal recorded by G.A. Keller; Song Sparrow recorded by G.A. Keller.
- BirdNote® How Birds Produce Sound was written by Chris Peterson.
[MUSIC: Various Artists “It’s The End Of The World And I Feel Fine” from Pickin On R.E.M.: A Bluegrass Tribute (CMH Records 2001)]
[SFX - Track “Fort-Kenya” from Nocturnal Concerts of the World, Vol. 1]
GELLERMAN: We leave you this week in Kenya, in the pouring rain.
[SOUND OF RAINFALL]
GELLERMAN: In Masai Mara National Reserve, small frogs create a sound similar to African stone xylophones. Who knew? Bernard Fort found shelter from the storm under a small wooden bridge where he recorded this evening chorus. It’s on a CD he calls “Nocturnal Concerts of the World.”
[SOUNDS OF FROGS IN A KENYAN RAINFALL AT NIGHT]
CD - Nocturnal Concerts of the World by Bernard Fort
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Helen Palmer, and Jessica Ilyse Smith, with help from Sarah Calkins and Sammy Sousa. Sadly, our interns Sean Faulk and Wynn Tucker are leaving - thank you guys - you are awesome! Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening!
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