May 27, 2011
Air Date: May 27, 2011
Black Lung is Back/ Jeff Young
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An investigation into last year’s coal mine disaster in West Virginia reveals a tragedy within a tragedy: autopsies show most of the men who died in the explosion also had black lung. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports on the factors that allowed a disease many thought was history to come roaring back. (05:45)
The Best and the Worst U.S. Cities for Pedestrians
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In the last decade more than 47,000 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. A new report shows that the most unsafe cities were developed in the last half of the 20th century and were planned for cars, not people. Boston, Cleveland and New York are the safest; Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville are the most dangerous. James Corless is director of Transportation for America. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that senior citizens are especially vulnerable. (06:20)
Coal Could Fuel Oil Alternative/ Mitra Taj
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With record oil prices, some lawmakers and energy insiders are dusting off an old fuel alternative: liquid coal. Coal is here and it’s abundant but environmentalists warn that coal fuel creates twice as many greenhouse gasses as traditional oil. Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent Mitra Taj looks at the possibility of widespread use of liquid coal. (06:00)
Project Mohole Pioneers Deep Sea Drilling
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Half a century ago a prestigious crew of oil drillers and engineers embarked on an unprecedented scientific adventure. Their mission: to dig deeper into the earth than anyone had ever gone. Host Bruce Gellerman celebrates the anniversary of Project Mohole with Ed Horton, one of the original team members who went on to deeply influence ocean drilling. (08:00)
Garden Girl in the City/ Bobby Bascomb
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Gardening season is here again but the urban gardener doesn't need to be confined to growing plants in containers. In Boston, Patti Moreno, also known as Garden Girl, grows so much food in her backyard that she opens up a farmstand each summer. Living on Earth's Bobby Bascomb went to check out a garden that is anything but garden variety. (04:30)
Raising Kids in a Toxic World
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From pollution-induced asthma to arsenic embedded in playground equipment, the state of the environment is threatening the health of children. Author Sandra Steingraber talks with Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood about the challenges of parenting in a world with a changing climate. She calls on parents to get involved in environmental policy-making. (12:00)
Loon Crosses the Lake/ Mark Seth Lender
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Salt Marsh Diary writer Mark Seth Lender spent more than a week following a pair of common loons in British Columbia. He got up close and personal to the loons and witnessed an intimate event. (04:30)
HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Gary Quarles, Davitt McAteer, Robert Cohen, Edward Petsonk, James Corless, Ed Horton, Patti Moreno, Robert Pattinswir, Sandra Steingraber
REPORTERS: Jeff Young, Mitra Taj, Bobby Bascomb, Mark Seth Lender
GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Mining coal is dangerous work…breathing the dust can be deadly:
MCATEER: It’s really a sad fact when we have other countries around the world where they have eliminated black lung, we are now seeing a reemergence of this dreaded disease for the miners.
GELLERMAN: Coming up: an investigation reveals cases of black lung nearly double in just a decade. And pedestrian safety can be a walk on the wild side. We answer the question: why couldn't the senior citizen cross the road.
CORLISS: It was a UC Davis 20 year old who originally set a lot of the signal timing for pedestrian signals way back in the 1960s and we haven't changed much since then.
GELLERMAN: Mapping the places where streets are unsafe for people. And an attempt to dig deep into the earth comes up short. We’ll have these stories and more this week, on Living on Earth. Stick around
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. The deaths of 29 men last April in the Upper Big Branch coalmine explosion could have been prevented. That’s the message from the first official report on the West Virginia disaster.
Investigators found that the mine’s owner - Massey Energy - operated the Upper Big Branch in “a profoundly reckless manner.” The report also provides insight into another cause of needless deaths among coal miners: black lung. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports the old scourge of coal mining is back with a vengeance.
YOUNG: Gary Quarles is a West Virginia coal miner, as was his father, his grandfather, and his son, Gary Wayne Quarles. Gary Wayne was one of the 29 miners killed in the explosion in Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine. Early this year, Quarles learned that even before the explosion, his son was likely already doomed to suffer because of his work in the mines.
QUARLES: Gary Wayne had been in the mines for 13 years and from the autopsy report, at 34 years old, he already had black lung.
YOUNG: Black lung, technically coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, is caused by breathing coal dust. Since the early 70s, regulatory controls on dust greatly reduced the number of cases. But the lungs of the Upper Big Branch Mine victims show stark evidence that black lung is back.
MCATEER: Some 71% had some level of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.
YOUNG: That’s Wheeling Jesuit University Vice President Davitt McAteer, a mine safety expert who directed the independent investigation of the disaster. McAteer says the autopsies show a disturbing rate of the disease.
MCATEER: But it’s really a sad fact when we have other countries around the world that have virtually eliminated black lung that we now are seeing a reemergence of this dreaded disease for the miners.
YOUNG: McAteer’s evidence supports what pulmonologists and occupational health experts have been tracking in recent years: a dismaying increase in black lung cases. For decades, West Virginia University professor and pulmonologist Dr. Edward Petsonk had studied the decline in black lung,
PETSONK: Well, you know, I thought this was going to be a disease that you only read about only in the history books, in the textbooks.
YOUNG: But, then, in 2003 Dr. Petsonk noticed an up-tick in cases.
PETSONK: Since that time, the prevalence of black lung disease has just about doubled. There is a problem of both the prevalence but also, and perhaps most troubling, is the most severe forms of black lung which are both disabling and lethal.
YOUNG: That aggressive form of the disease, called progressive massive fibrosis, is showing up in the X rays that Dr. Robert Cohen sees in Chicago, where he is medical director of the nation’s black lung clinics.
COHEN: Huge conglomerate scars of coal dust and silica dust and scar tissue that are in the lungs. We should not be seeing that advanced disease anymore. And we are seeing a number of cases of this and clusters of this disease, so that is very, very real.
YOUNG: Researchers have identified hot spots of new cases, including the central Appalachian coalmines, and they have a few theories on what’s happening. Lax enforcement and monitoring of dust may be contributing. Davitt McAteer suspects changes in mining practices may also be to blame as higher coal prices and diminishing reserves push miners into more marginal seams of coal.
MCATEER: We’re in narrower seams where the mining process allows us to cut the rock. And it’s cheaper in fact to cut the rock, load it and take it outside and separate it on the surface. It’s cheaper than trying to cut carefully and cut only the coal seam itself.
YOUNG: That’s a problem, explains Dr. Cohen, because when the powerful mining machinery cuts the rock layers above and beneath the coal, it produces silica dust.
COHEN: And that dust is more toxic than coal dust, which is toxic in itself, so that they may be exposed to a sort of combination of dust that’s more toxic than in the past.
YOUNG: Cohen says mining has also gone through major labor changes, with fewer union operations, longer hours for miners and fewer chances to switch positions in a mine. Gary Quarles says his son had tried for years to get his bosses at the non-union, Massey-owned mine to let him change his job.
QUARLES: He’d been wanting off of that job because of the dust. He said, you know, it’s bothering me. And they would never take him off of it. And usually, if you’re doing a good job for a company, they don’t want you off of that job, you know.
YOUNG: Quarles says his son worked 7 years at a position known as the dustiest place in a mine. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health looked into coal dust and found the current standard for the amount of respirable dust was not sufficient. NIOSH recommended cutting the allowable limit in half. That was in 1995.
In 2009 the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, proposed regulations based on that recommendation, but the mining industry is resisting. In testimony on the proposed rules the industry cited higher costs and questioned whether medical evidence supports a need for the new standard. Dr. Edward Petsonk says the cost issue may be real but so is the medical need.
PETSONK: There is all this scientific evidence. And it is one of the most difficult diseases to succumb to, it’s like having a screw tightening slowly across your throat until you gasp every minute of every day and it really is entirely preventable by adequate control of dust.
YOUNG: The National Mining Association did not respond to an interview request for this story. The comment period on MSHA’s new dust rule was recently extended through the end of May. For Living on Earth I’m Jeff Young.
[MUSIC: Hazel Dickens, Black Lung, from Coal Mining Women, Rounder Records: “He’s lived a hard life. And hard he’ll die. Black lung’s done got him. His time is nigh.”]
[SOUNDS OF BUS]
GELLERMAN: Most days I commute to work by bus. It's quick and easy.
[BUS SOUND: STOP REQUESTED]
GELLERMAN: But the hard part comes in the evening…when I head home.
[ROBOTIC BUS ANNOUNCER: Trapelo Road. BUS AIR BRAKES.]
GELLERMAN: Thank you.
BUSDRIVER: Have a good day!
GELLERMAN: I have to cross 2 lanes of traffic - on a busy road. The nearest crosswalks and traffic lights are a quarter of a mile away - so I jaywalk, dodging cars, trucks and buses.
GELLERMAN: And yet compared to other major cities in the United States, metro Boston is judged the safest for pedestrians...that's according to the just released study, “Dangerous by Design," from the groupTransportation for America. James Corless is the director of the organization, and Mr. Corless, hi, welcome to Living on Earth!
CORLESS: Thank you for having me.
GELLERMAN: Well, Mr. Corless, as you heard, I was getting off my bus, crossing the street, and taking my life in my hands. Sound familiar?
CORLESS: It does. Our report shows the last decade alone, 47,000 people have lost their lives simply crossing the street.
GELLERMAN: And those are people killed- what about injuries?
CORLESS: 688,000 injuries over 10 years, the last decade.
GELLERMAN: That’s interesting, because Boston and Cambridge are, according to your report is the safest major urban center in the country. Why is some place like Boston safe and other places not?
CORLESS: Well, if you look at the top ten list you’ve got places like Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Las Vegas, Pheonix, Huston, Dallas - these are places that were really built in the latter half of the 20th century- they were built with traffic in mind. Wide, high-speed arterial streets, it was the model for how we built a lot of our neighborhoods and subdivisions in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when it was just sort of imagined that we would, sort of, no longer need to walk anywhere.
And clearly, even from a public health perspective, we’re having doctors tell us that we need to have more exercise, go out and, you know, walk half a mile or jog. And frankly, the irony is, there’s not a lot of safe places to go and do that.
GELLERMAN: Your report says that there are some groups that are more prone to being involved in pedestrian accidents than others…
CORLESS: That’s right. Seniors, they’re at much higher risk- they’re out walking, they’re actually, generally speaking, more in places with better weather, they’re, a lot of them, retirees. Many seniors actually… they don’t have enough time to even cross some of these big, dangerous streets. There was an old story- it was a UC Davis 20 year-old who originally set a lot of the signal timing for pedestrian signals way back in the 1960s and we haven’t changed much since then.
GELLERMAN: So what do we do about that? I noticed reading your report you mentioned ‘road diets.’ What’s a road diet?
CORLESS: A road diet is looking at the entire street from curb to curb and thinking about trying to accommodate all users. So, perhaps rather than six lanes of traffic, you go to four.
You have a turn lane to accommodate turning movements, you have bike lanes, wider sidewalks. It’s a lot about the width of streets - it’s a lot about the visual cues that we provide drivers that slows that speed of traffic down which is really critical, because if you’re hit at 30 miles per hour or above, you’ve a very slim chance of surviving.
GELLERMAN: No wonder one of the cities that ranks very high over the last many years of the reports is St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay area.
CORLESS: Right, a lot of Florida cities, in fact, four of the ten most dangerous regions are all in Florida.
GELLERMAN: In St. Petersburg, they use a system, a new system, called the enhancer. I want you to hear it because this uses sound and lights to get people’s attention.
[ENHANCER: Hi there, to cross the road, push the red button/ Hola, para cruzar la calle, por favor, aprete la buton rojo.]
GELLERMAN: So I guess this LED flashes very fast and it notifies drivers. And, as you heard, it’s in Spanish.
CORLESS: Right, which, as our report shows, if you’re Hispanic, the pedestrian fatality rates are much higher in fact. Hispanic seniors have some of the highest fatality rates for pedestrians of any demographic group.
GELLERMAN: And why would that be?
CORLESS: A lot of racial, ethnic minorities, folks on fixed income, low incomes - they’re walking more, they have less access to vehicles, and they also live in neighborhoods with some of these really big, wide high-speed streets.
GELLERMAN: Well, I want you to hear the second message that you get with this enhancer, because it seems to have really worked.
[ENHANCER: Hello! You’ve activated the cross-walk signal. Wait for the traffic to stop before you cross. To show traffic that you want to cross, place one foot near the curb-line, and remember, thank the driver for stopping as you are crossing the roadway.]
CORLESS: More of these kinds of cues for both pedestrians and drivers is a very good thing. Distracted driving, we believe, plays a role in some of these fatalities, but also I think we can’t underestimate the value of just simply designing streets to be safer.
GELLERMAN: What proportion of federal money goes for traffic safety for pedestrians and bikers?
CORLESS: Very little, actually, goes for those purposes. For walking and bicycling and those kinds of safety activities - even though it is 12 percent of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians, less than two percent of the money gets spent on making the roads safer for people walking.
GELLERMAN: Congress is supposed to authorize the Federal Transportation Bill every, what, six years, right?
CORLESS: Every six years. We’re 600 days late on the last authorization.
GELLERMAN: Why’s that?
CORLESS: Well, there are a lot of reasons. The first and foremost, which is par for the course these days, is that they don’t have enough money. The federal gasoline tax, 18 cents a gallon, is not bringing enough money into the federal highway trust fund, raising the gas tax at a time of high gas prices is not popular.
GELLERMAN: So if you had to do one thing, make one change - what would it be?
CORLESS: We as Transportation for America, would like Congress to adopt complete streets policy, which basically says, look, every time you go in and fix a road, you tear it up, you repave it… put in some bike lines, put in a sidewalk. Do it right the first time so you don’t have to come back later and fix it at great expense. More people are walking and bicycling today even though it still is unsafe out there, and the younger generation really seems to be much more interested in a different lifestyle that includes, sort of, more walk-able neighborhoods.
GELLERMAN: Well, James Corless, thank you so very much, I really appreciate it.
CORLESS: Thank you for having me.
GELLERMAN: James Corless is Director of Transportation for America.
Report: Dangerous by Design
[MUSIC: Safe Streets – Corless: Miles Davis “Fat Time” from Man With The Horn (Columbia 1981)]
GELLERMAN: Just ahead – science sinks to new depths…a look back in time to Project Mohole. Keep listening to Living on Earth!
[CUT AWAY MUSIC: Miles Davis: “Ursula” from Man With the Horn (Columbia Records 1981)]
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. How many miles per lump of coal does your car get? Converting coal into a fuel you can use in your engine is an old technology, but it’s being considered anew by some in Congress - who see coal liquefaction as a way to help free the nation from petroleum, and ensure energy security. But opponents charge, it’s just a dirty way to speed up climate change. Living on Earth's Mitra Taj reports from Washington.
TAJ: During the 70s, Jimmy Carter pitched a unique alternative to Middle Eastern oil:
CARTER: Coal, which is our most abundant energy source.
TAJ: Coal is heard a lot these days on Capitol Hill. Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, says the fossil fuel can save us from the dangers of relying on foreign countries for fuel.
MANCHIN: I still remember waiting in line for gas in the early 70s, it’s something I never thought could happen in America.
TAJ: Like President Carter, Manchin wants to use coal not just to generate electricity, but also as gasoline for car and jet engines. Carter spent billions to develop liquid coal during his administration, then politicians and the public lost interest when oil became cheap.
Fast-forward forty years, the high price of oil is making it interesting again, but there are climate change concerns now as well. Liquid coal produces about twice as much carbon dioxide as conventional petroleum, but Manchin says with the Middle East on shaky ground, coal fuel is worth another try:
MANCHIN: That is one of the many reasons why I’m co-sponsoring the American Alternative Fuels Act with my colleague John Barraso from Wyoming. Among other things the bill would break down barriers.
TAJ: The barrier Joe Manchin would like to break down relates to the federal government— current law restricts it from buying alternative fuels that emit more greenhouse gases than petroleum.
SIU: All it says is that federal agencies cannot make things any worse than they already are. It’s status quo.
TAJ: Brian Siu is a policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says repealing the law Manchin targets would allow the fuel-hungry Department of Defense to enter into long-term contracts for liquid coal and oil shale.
And the Republican-controlled House just passed defense legislation that would do just that. A little-noticed detail in the defense bill allows the military to buy any alternative fuel it wants, regardless of how much it contributes to climate change. Siu says the Senate should fight to keep the current law the way it is:
SIU: It doesn’t require greenhouse gas emissions to even decline, it just says if they are going to access the public coffers, then they should simply be able to at least meet the status quo, especially given all the national security and environmental risks of climate change.
The military is the biggest consumer of oil in the country, and can use its purchasing power to encourage emerging markets for fuel alternatives. And the armed forces, particularly the Navy, DO want to get off foreign oil.
QUINN: By the year 2020 the Navy ashore and at sea and all of our tactical programs, will be running on 50 percent alternative energy. And when we’re talking ships, airplanes, so forth that basically means alternative liquid fuels.
TAJ: John Quinn, in charge of helping the Navy meet that goal, spoke at an energy conference earlier this year. It’s unclear whether the military would even want to buy liquid coal, if allowed. The Department of Defense declined to comment.
But Siu says liquid coal already gets a boost. Every gallon earns producers a 50-cent tax credit. If the industry really takes off, Siu says that could add up to huge tax breaks:
SIU: Right now it’s not a lot because there are no commercial-scale coal-to-liquids facilities. But if you do the math, as soon as these coal-to-liquid facilities come on line, you’re looking at about 380 million dollars per year for every single facility, so this is kind of like the holy grail of moral hazard.
TAJ: But liquid coal enthusiasts see it as the holy grail of energy independence. Adam Victor is the president of Transgas Development Systems, a company that recently broke ground on a liquid coal plant in West Virginia.
VICTOR: In fact, we’re hoping that once this facility is built, we’re going to see an explosion of this industry, and 44 of these plants will displace 100 percent of the US imports of gasoline.
TAJ: Victor, a climate skeptic, says fuel from his plant would be traded on international markets, but would physically end up in gas stations in places like West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
He says he’s secured private financing for the project, in part with the help of a company called Uhde, the chemical engineering division of the German industrial conglomerate ThyssenKrupp. During WWII ThyssenKrupp provided Nazi Germany with… liquid coal. The coal-to-gasoline process got its start in Germany in the 1920s, and Victor says what’s keeping it back in the U.S. now, are incoming EPA greenhouse gas regulations.
VICTOR: And so I would say that if there was one thing that could be done to have this technology explode throughout the country is to simply waive the greenhouse gas emission standards for these plants. And you know, if they want to do it temporarily for five years—they did it for ethanol.
TAJ: And lawmakers from coal states, many opposed to EPA’s climate regulations, have more ideas for coal fuel. Earlier this month, West Virginia representatives from both parties proposed mandating a minimum amount of liquid coal to be blended into gasoline, much like ethanol is today. Democratic Senators from coal-rich Montana have have proposed extending defense fuel contracts to give alternatives like liquid coal more security. And an energy bill proposed by House Republicans would require the Defense Department to invest in a liquid coal plant that produces at least 10,000 barrels a day.
Whether liquid coal gets a thumbs-up depends on upcoming decisions in Congress, and how seriously lawmakers take, not just the threat of energy dependence, but also the threat of climate change. For Living on Earth, I'm Mitra Taj in Washington.
- Click here to learn more about how Transgas Development Systems plans to turn coal into gasoline
- Brian Siu blogs on fuel policy for NRDC
- A RAND corporation study found liquid coal is a better military choice for an oil alternative than biofuels.
[MUSIC - from The First Deep Ocean Drilling documentary, 1961: fade under Bruce.]
GELLERMAN: 50 years ago - spring 1961, off the coast of Baja Mexico scientists reached new depths.
[ANNOUNCER: - from documentary - This is a story about a scientific and engineering adventure unique in the history of the ocean. This is the first deep ocean drilling.]
GELLERMAN: It was called project Mohole - named after the Mohorovicic discontinuity, the boundary between the earth’s crust and the mantle. The project was organized by the National Academy of Sciences.
[ANNOUNCER: Willard Bascom, director of the Moho project for the Academy, is speaking; “We must go in water nearly 30 times deeper… obviously these are very difficult engineering problems.” ]
GELLERMAN: They had to go through 12 thousand feet of water and hoped to drill miles into the ocean floor but only got 600 feet. Still, it was a deepwater record - accomplished by a team of academic scientists and oil industry specialists.
[ANNOUNCER: Dr. Jack McClellan, chief engineer of the experimental drilling project. Peter Johnson, Naval Architect, Edward Horton, drilling engineer, designer of special tools and equipment.]
GELLERMAN: Ed Horton is still a petroleum engineer - half a century after project Mohole broke new ground, he’s still in the deepwater drilling business. Ed Horton, welcome to Living on Earth.
HORTON: Thank you, I’m glad to be here.
GELLERMAN: So how did you get involved in project Mohole?
HORTON: Well, it was quite by accident in a way. I knew one of the principal persons that were involved in it, and Willard Bascomb said: ‘would you like to join my team on this new adventure?’ and I said, ‘I would very much like to.’
GELLERMAN: So take me back there - were you aboard the ship?
GELLERMAN: What was it like when you were drilling? Was it boring, I guess, you know it kind of…
HORTON: Have you ever been on a ship that’s drilling 12,000 feet of water for the first time?
GELLERMAN: (Laughs) No…
HORTON: OK, well then, I’m glad you said no, because if you said you were bored, you better find a new job!
GELLERMAN: (Laughs) So, it was very exciting then.
HORTON: Of course it was exciting!
GELLERMAN: Do you remember that John Steinbeck was aboard the ship as it was drilling and he was writing about it for Life Magazine?
HORTON: I was well aware of that, and I had a few chances to talk to him. He was a very impressive person to be associated with.
GELLERMAN: He wound up writing about it - he called the ship that you were aboard… that it had "sleek racelines of an outhouse standing on a garbage scow"- not very complimentary!
HORTON: I thought that was very descriptive, though, and it sounds like something he would say, and I’m very impressed with the fact that he called a spade a spade.
GELLERMAN: (Laughs) But it did the job, huh?
HORTON: It did a very good job.
GELLERMAN: So, Mr. Horton, how far did you get down there with Project Mohole?
HORTON: I think it was about 100 meters or something like that. I can’t remember, but we did get cores, too, that was the main thing. It would be easy to go down in 12,000 feet of water and drill a hole. It was a little more difficult to go down and drill a hole that deep, which isn’t very deep, but it was deeper than any other core that had been taken at that depth - by a long shot.
GELLERMAN: Well, you came up with one of the key new pieces of useful technology that made project Mohole possible - the guide shoe - do I have that correct?
HORTON: How did you know that I invented the guide shoe?! (Laughs) I never told anybody about it, but it was a way of keeping the drill string from breaking in the really deep water. It was pretty dumb and simple, so I was able to invent it.
GELLERMAN: So what does a guide shoe look like, and how does it work?
HORTON: Well, if you took a trumpet and just took the bottom of it, and you ran a piece of straw or something through it, the bending radius would be restricted by the curvature of the mouth of the trumpet, and then the ship would be the mouth of the trumpet, so as the ship rolled with the seas, the drill pipe or the risers as used now would be restricted in its bending.
GELLERMAN: So, back then you were a young petroleum engineer, and you invented the tension leg platform and the spar, which according to your company website says together these two products alone represent the vast majority of all combined floating, drilling and production systems operational in the world today. Now you’re one of the most accomplished deepwater petroleum engineers in the world, I guess, right?
HORTON:Well, I don’t know about that. (Laughs) It’s hard to say- as long as you say I’m one of many deepwater engineers.
GELLERMAN: So, how far can we go down now?
HORTON: How high is the sky?
GELLERMAN: There’s no limit?
HORTON: Of course there’s a limit, you’ll come out the other side.
GELLERMAN: (Laughs). You know, at the time this was called the earth sciences’ equivalent of the space shot. Is that what was going on in your mind? Did you think that?
HORTON: No. I can tell the difference between a space shot, and drilling a hole.
GELLERMAN: (Laughs) So, I’ve gotta ask you, Mr. Horton, every kid wants to go out in the backyard and dig a hole- why did you get interested in drilling?
HORTON: Well, that’s not a difficult question. I was interested in oil, and I saw a movie called Boomtown, and it had Spencer Tracy in it , I think, and Clark Gable, and the two of them were wildcatters, and I think it was in Oklahoma…
[MOVIE CLIP - Boomtown: Hey look, I’m an oil man too, you know, I haven’t been drilling all my life for gophers!/ Hey, wait a minute, little man, I was pulling it out of the ground when your ma was giving it to you for your health…]
HORTON: They both had good-looking girlfriends, which made it more exciting for them…
[MOVIE CLIPS: Hi Evie, how’s my barrel of sweet Spanish crude/ Where you been hiding, honey?/ I hear they’re running a big wildcat out in California/ Wildcats, wildcats! Always looking for wildcats. When are you going to settle down, darling?/ What the heck, Evie. Travel and brag, brag and travel. Maybe I’ll hit oil where there ain’t.]
HORTON: But they ran out of money and they begged, borrowed and stealed to drill a little further. And then, all of a sudden, in the derrick, I think it was wooden, and it started to rumble and shake…
[SOUND OF RUMBLING OIL DERRICK IN FILM]
HORTON: And then black stuff came up all over and they were all covered with mud. Both Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy…
[MOVIE CLIP: Woohee, you’re rich mister. / Boy ain’t that a beautiful black cloud…]
HORTON: And I thought, boy, that’s a real way to live - this is an adventure.
GELLERMAN: Did Mohole live up to that adventure?
HORTON: Uh, in my mind it did, and it wasn’t as muddy as it was in Boomtown, but it certainly gave me an incentive to stay with the oil industry, and it’s had just as many adventures, very few of them in my career have been very muddy, but when you watch one of these spars and then involved in a tip-up, and you hope it’s been designed right and when it comes back up again, it just… makes me shiver, in a way. Looking at it - you say, ‘Golly, that’s a hell of a sight!’ And I don’t think that there are very many people besides me that have been able to have that joy and the pleasure.
GELLERMAN: Mr. Horton, it has been a real pleasure talking to you.
HORTON: Well, and a pleasure trying to answer your questions to the best of my ability (Laughs).
GELLERMAN: That’s Ed Horton, president of Horton Wison Deepwater. 50 years ago he was an engineer on Project Mohole. For photos and John Steinbeck’s article about the project, go to our website, L-O-E dot org. And while you're 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: Bill Frisell “The Pioneers” from Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch Records 1999)]
GELLERMAN: Well, from digging a deep hole in the earth’s crust for science, we go to the shallow kind for planting seeds. And who better than Garden Girl to help with the spade work? Garden Girl is urban gardener Patti Moreno of Roxbury, Massachusetts.
Recently she showed Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb how to grow seedlings indoors. Now - it's time for Bobby - the plants and Patti - to head outside.
[SOUNDS OF CHICKENS: “I just want to see if there are any eggs under these ladies over here…No, no eggs. Bummer!]
MORENO: They start producing eggs, actually, at 20 weeks. That will be like a few a week, then, as they mature, one a day.
BASCOMB: For the average person that wanted to have, you know, backyard chickens, how feasible is it?
MORENO: It’s so easy. It’s much easier than a dog. You never have to walk them, unless you want to. (Laughs.) They are my garden helpers - they scratch and till the soil for me - they eat all the bugs, and then, they fertilize it…
[SOUNDS OF MOVEMENT]
MORENO: Let’s go over to my smaller garden. We’re going to get to work a little bit over here.
BASCOMB: Are you going to put me to work?
MORENO: We’re going to put you to work. This is, basically, a demonstration garden that I wanted to put together to show what you could do in like an average size backyard. Being Puerto Rican, one of the raised beds I plant every year is a Latin-Caribbean mixture of beans and peppers and cilantro, all of the things that you would need to make this thing called sofrito, which is a kind of base flavor for a lot of the food that you would eat in Latin-Caribbean culture.
[MUSIC: Yomo Toro/Roswell Rudd “Tres Cuatro from El Espiritu Jibaro (Sunnyside Records 2007)]
MORENO: I have a 4x4 raised bed that’s two tiers high. And then I have a square foot grid that I made that fits right into the raised bed, and that’s going to be basically our guide as to where we’re planting everything.
[MUSIC: “Mayor G from El Espiritu Jibaro (Sunnyside Records 2007)]
MORENO: We’re going to companion plant. In this whole bed, we’re going to be able to make an amazing stirfry, so we’re going to have, you know, the eggplant, the Siamese dragon stirfry mix, which just has tons of different Asian greens in them.
Arranging different configurations of raised beds is like my hobby. That’s just fun for me - Saturday night, planning raised beds! It’s a party!
[MUSIC: Johnny Pacheco “Azucar Mami” from Viva Salsa (Charly Records 1991)]
PATTON-SPURILL: Look, Asian greens are nice, it’s nice, it’s spicy, it’s a different taste… how about some potatoes and some corn and some lettuce. My name is Robert Patton-Spurill and I’m Patricia’s husband. I want a record of potato - I want to do 800 lbs of potato. I’m trying to do 200 lbs of corn.
BASCOMB: Wait a second, how big is this garden that you’re growing this all in?
PATTON-SPURILL: Pretty small. It’s that big - it’s only 4x8.
MORENO: This part is for his man-garden this year.
PATTONSPURILL: You know, a lot of people grow potatoes in trash barrels, and that’s the coolest thing ever, because basically they put the potato at the very bottom in like 6 inches of soil, and as it grows up, they keep filling soil around it. And then, at the end of the year, they dump it out on a tarp, pull all the potatoes off, and then they start it over again, and then that one trash can version, people have done really gigantic amounts of potato in it.
MORENO: We, every year, manage to eat so many meals from the garden. You know, the supermarket people do not know me.
[MUSIC: Johnny Pacheco “Azucar Mami” from Viva Salsa (Charly Records 1991)]
MORENO: Urbanites, it’s our responsibility to start being as sustainable as we possibly can, because in the very near future, there’s going to be 70 percent of the world’s population that’s gonna live in cities.
[MUSIC: Johnny Pacheco “Azucar Mami” from Viva Salsa (Charly Records 1991)]
MORENO: Anything you grow and then eat is going to be the tastiest thing you’ve ever had, as long as you don’t burn it - you’re fine. And it’s a lot of fun!
[MUSIC: Johnny Pacheco “Azucar Mami” from Viva Salsa (Charly Records 1991)]
GELLERMAN: Garden Girl Patti Moreno gives green tips on the Home and Garden website. She spoke with Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb. Coming up – a bird lover goes loony over... what else? - loons. Stay tuned - it's Living on Earth!
Patti’s Video: How to Build a Raised Bed Garden
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: Miles Davis: “Joshua” from Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1963-1964 (Columbia Records 2004)]
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. Sandra Steingraber is an ecologist, an author, and a cancer survivor. In her new book “Raising Elijah, Protecting our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis,” Steingraber combines her professional interests with her personal life.
STEINGRABER: My son Elijah is named after a 19th century abolitionist from my home state of Illinois, Elijah Lovejoy, who was assassinated by a pro-slavery mob in 1837, and yet, his writings that condemned slavery went on to inspire the abolitionist movement.
And so I, as an ecologist, feel as though every day I am confronting the moral crisis of our age, the environmental crisis. So I wanted to name my son after someone who, every time I said my son’s name I’d be reminded that big changes are possible.
GELLERMAN: Sandra Steingraber recently stopped by our studios and talked about her new book with Living On Earth's Steve Curwood.
CURWOOD: In your book, Sandra Steingraber, you write that our environmental policies pretend that children, who make up, what, 40 percent of the world’s population- don’t exist. What do you mean by that?
STEINGRABER: Our environmental policies historically have not taken kids into account. When we estimate and promulgate all these regulations on how much toxic exposure is acceptable, for example, until the 1990s, our idea about how much radiation exposure was acceptable, was based on this hypothetical reference man, who’s 150lb middle aged white guy.
So the special vulnerabilities of children to radiation exposure very early on, just as their brains are getting developed and so forth, wasn’t part of the calculation.
CURWOOD: There was one reviewer who said that your book brings to light that, quote, “the environmental crisis is a parenting crisis.” Why?
STEINGRABER: The environmental crisis is a crisis of family life because it takes away the ability of parents to keep their children safe from harm. For example, we know that air pollution not only can cause asthma but it also, in early life, can alter the development of the respiratory tract in ways that stunt the lung development of children. So that those children go on to become individuals who have smaller lung capacities and therefore are at higher risk for all kinds of respiratory disorders.
And so you know, the parents who are in the emergency room with a child with an asthma attack, or standing in line at the pharmacy to get the prescription for the inhaler filled - we’re the ones paying the price for an energy policy that does not protect children’s health.
CURWOOD: I have to say, the story in your book that I find most troubling was the one about pressure treated wood or chromated copper arsenate, at your daughter’s nursery school. Please tell me the story.
STEINGRABER: Well, when my daughter was three, we enrolled her in a nursery school, and out back was a wooden play structure shaped like a castle with turrets and drawbridges and things like that and the children would run up and down and run their hands up and down on it and make slush balls in the winter and so forth. And during that year the EPA made a decision about arsenic as a preservative in pressure-treated wood.
It decided that the risk to children was too great to allow that use to continue, and so new wood was not allowed to contain arsenic. However, all the old equipment that was already out there, all these backyard decks off of people’s kitchens, all these picnic tables and play structures, well there was no attempt to even help communities like ours figure out what to do.
And so another biologist mom and I tested the arsenic on the play structure, and the results that came back were really troubling. The arsenic was many times higher than the state of New York would allow for a cleanup at a superfund site. Eventually, rancor kind of spread throughout the parent group as we realized the expense of fixing this fell on us. There wasn’t going to be any help forthcoming.
I think all of us felt very strongly - you know, we’re all conscientious parents, but we’re not hepa-filters. We can’t put our bodies between those molecules of arsenic and the insides of our children.
CURWOOD: What’s toxic about arsenic, particularly for children?
STEINGRABER: Arsenic is a heavy metal, and it's both a carcinogen and a developmental neuro-toxicant, which means that we know it has the ability to cause cancer on the one hand, specifically lung, skin and bladder cancers, but a far more immediate risk is the ability of arsenic, like other heavy metals such as mercury and lead, to sabotage the developing architecture of the brain in such a way that cognitive abilities, attention, learning and so forth, are compromised.
CURWOOD: Near the end of your book, you bring up the story of finding a rabid bat in your house. And I found it interesting how shocked you were that the county was concerned with a preventive approach and was quick to reach for the public wallet to cover the cost of inoculating against the prospect of getting rabies.
STEINGRABER: My children discovered a bat in their bedroom, and I dialed the after-hours rabies prevention hotline number. Within 15 minutes I had a specialist standing next to me at 10 o’clock at night, who captured the bat, took it into the Department of Public Health, and within 24 hours I got a phone call letting me know that indeed the bat was rabid.
Long story short, we all ended up with prophylactic rabies shots, and in the course of deciding whether we needed them or not, the prevention specialist at the county public health department let me know that in case my insurance would not agree to pay for the rabies shots, which were many thousands of dollars, that the county would pick up the price, because they wanted nobody to make this decision about whether to go forward with getting these shots on the basis of money.
He said, ‘we want to err on the side of caution here.’ I had the precautionary principle incarnate, here, we were going to protect my kids no matter the cost. Well, I had just come through the whole arsenic in the playground incident where I could get nobody in the government on any level to help me solve this problem.
So I realized that we are capable, as a society, of preventive action around an environmental threat to children. But our ability to do that is really specific to threats that are visible, like a bat in your bedroom. And when it comes to toxic chemicals, which can be as deadly as rabies, we take a different approach. The arsenic in the playground equipment is a known carcinogen. There’s no doubt that it causes human cancer. And so, the difference between how we respond to a rabid bat and how we respond to arsenic-infused playground equipment is not one of evidence or proof.
CURWOOD: How do you talk to your children about climate change?
STEINGRABER: Well, I don’t talk to them a lot about climate change. I think it's one of the topics that is the job of adults to deal with. So there’s this story about Elijah when he was four, he asked to be a polar bear for Halloween. And I went to work sewing him a polar bear costume. And as I sewed it together, I began to realize that this costume may well outlast the species.
And on Halloween I was out there with my son, the polar bear, and what I saw were children who were bumblebees - they’re also in trouble right now, children who were penguins - heading for extinction. So it’s a whole village full of children dressed up as animals who are in trouble. And if that bothers us then what is our responsibility during this moment in history as parents to do? I’m not interested in turning children into atmospheric junior rangers who think that they have to protect the stratosphere against ozone depletion or too much carbon dioxide. I want them to go outside and play and to develop a sense of natural wonder about this incredible world that we live in and it’s my job, as their mom, to be looking out for danger.
CURWOOD: So in the end you don’t say much of anything to them about global climate change?
STEINGRABER: Well, it was my decision not to. But I ended up having to talk to my kids about climate change because my children asked me questions like: "momma is it supposed to be so hot?" My children gather together with other children and talk about how the earth is sick.
You know, this is like children hearing about sex on the playground - you want to make sure you have your own narrative story before they hear it from their peers - so in fact, there’s another big talk that parents now need to have with their kids that is almost the opposite of the sex talk.
And the reason why I think it’s the opposite is because the sex talk is all about creation - the climate change talk is all about what Bill McKibben calls ‘de-creation’ the unraveling of life. The extinction of species, and it actually is a much harder talk - I’m really good at the sex talk, I can give an age-appropriate sex talk to almost any kid you give me. The climate change talk is a harder one - and I think it’s one that parents avoid because it’s painful. And that’s not where we want to be as parents I think.
CURWOOD: Throughout your book, you return to the idea that we cannot rely on our government to protect our children. You do note the exception, around the rabies exposure. How do we protect them instead and what should we demand of our government?
STEINGRABER: We can’t turn our houses into kind of latter day bomb shelters and keep all the chemicals that are in the air and the water and the food from entering our children’s bodies. The only solution has to be the forceful engagement of parents in the political system so that we demand a radical redesign of our energy, our agriculture, and our materials' economy in a way that allow for the protection of children.
In 'Raising Elijah', I’m really calling on parents to be heroes. I’m not calling on them to simply recycle. I’m calling on them to do something much bigger. And it’s why I called the book 'Raising Elijah', to remind us that there were other points in history where parents played these roles. Elijah Lovejoy himself, the namesake for this book, at the time he was assassinated he was the father of a two year old and part of his motivation was as a father - the kind of empathy he felt for slaves whose children were being sold away from them - made him believe that the argument that our economy could not be completive without unpaid human labor, that there was a much bigger moral argument.
And I’m trying to make that same argument about the big moral crisis of our time, which is the environmental crisis. The environmental crisis now has gotten to the point where our children are not safe and we can’t plan for their futures, and therefore, parents need to insert themselves into the political process to redesign the whole system to change it.
CURWOOD: Sandra Steingraber is a biologist, poet, mother and author of 'Raising Elijah: Protecting our Children in the Age of Environmental Crisis'. Thank you so much!
STEINGRABER: Thank you Steve.
GELLERMAN: That’s Sandra Steingraber speaking with Living on Earth's Steve Curwood.
[MUSIC: Bob Dylan “Tangled Up In Blue” The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 (Columbia Records 1991)]
GELLERMAN: Mark Seth Lender has a thing for loons. He’s followed, videotaped and recorded the sounds of the aquatic birds up and down the East and West Coasts. He’s seen many a loon. But on a lake in British Columbia, Mark found a pair of common loons that were decidedly uncommon.
LENDER: Loon crosses the lake. His flight call and the music of his wings linger like a trail of vapor, an invisible wake, and lands far, at some distant place. Where, only for him, someone waits.
[LOON CALL, BOAT SOUNDS, ENGINE STOPS, BOAT GLIDES, MORE LOON CRIES]
LENDER: Daybreak. Loon, on her nest, lays her head down low, her neck an arc of infinite grace. Her beak, thick, weighty as a stone spear points an accusing finger as I draw near, an admonition that warns, and endears.
Neither stillness, nor the checkered black and white of her back meant to mimic the speckling of sun on water ruffled to silver by a breeze of air conceals from those who would harm. No matter what her fate, here she will reside to guard the precious pair of mottled eggs upon the weave of grasses she has made. That is her truth. She will abide. Day fades to black.
[KINGFISHER CALLS, CHIPMUNK SOUNDS. VARIOUS BIRDS CHIRPING]
LENDER: Morning. Fog thickens the early light. Loon, as dark as the penumbra of the moon, is uneasy. The male, her clone to a feather comes quickly now and takes her place to reveal - one remaining egg and one brown shape formless as carpet lint till it opens its eyes!
[SOUND OF SONGBIRDS, SPLASHING SOUND, SWIMMING LOON SOUNDS]
LENDER: Afternoon. New Loon looks about, encountering the blurry world aware, without worry, no doubts. That same day stumbles across the threshold (to him a small cliff) and swims, stable as a top. The male loon, his father, approaches. He is enormous, that dreadful garnet eye fierce as a dragon, the powerful beak. Yet offers, so gently, a tiny wriggling orange worm dredged from below and First Born takes his first meal in this world.
[LOON SOUNDS, TRUMPETING, SPLASHING]
LENDER: The great loon moves away and dips his face, searching, dipping, searching, then one quick breath and tumbles soundlessly beneath. Again night. Again, day. Another loon is born. First Born does not like it, dunks Second Born who comes up sputtering and pushed aside.
[SOUNDS OF BABY LOONS]
LENDER: But parents provide equally between, equally watch and care, allow them to hoist upon a parent’s waiting back to ride that boat of feathers and flex their new wings. Cloud, the threat of rain.
LENDER: Loons on the wizened surface of rough water coast and glide. Siblings, well fed, satisfied but keeping near, as if in anticipation. And, like a thing foretold, the jaws of the great male loon part, and he turns, and leaning down to where his offspring wait, calls, loud, the call he’s called these ten thousand years imprinting upon their minds their true, their only name.
[LOON CALLING, ECHOING, PADDLING NOISES, LOONS CRYING TOGETHER]
LENDER: Distant thunder, lightning. I pull away, hurrying to the safety of dock and fastened line. About the lake smoke curls in the dying pines.
GELLERMAN: To take a gander at some of Mark Seth Lender’s loon photos, and to find out about his new book, Salt Marsh Diary, a Collection of Writings on Wildlife, head to our website LOE dot ORG. And if you have comments about our show –flock over to our facebook page: It’s PRI’s Living on Earth. And you can tweet us…on Twitter - at LivingOnEarth - that’s one word.
- Back Story: Listen to a short interview with Mark Seth Lender about his fieldwork seeing loons in British Columbia.
- Purchase an autographed copy of Mark Lender’s new book “Salt Marsh Diary” and some of his photos, with proceeds going to Living on Earth.
- Salt Marsh Diary
[MUSIC: Forty Piece Choir “Soon The Loons” from Face Your Fear (Cooked County Records 2007)]
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer, Jessica Ilyse Smith, Ike Sriskanderajah, Mitra Taj and Jeff Young, with help from Sarah Calkins, Gabriela Romanow and Sammy Sousa. 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!
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 invites you to just eat organic for a day. Details at just eat organic dot com. Support also comes from you, our listeners. The go forward fund. And Pax World Mutual and Exchange Traded 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.
ANNOUNCER 2: PRI Public Radio International.
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