July 1, 2011
Air Date: July 1, 2011
Fight Over Vehicle Efficiency Revs Up/ Mitra Taj
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The White House and automakers are negotiating the next round of fuel efficiency standards for new cars and trucks. Better mileage can help drive the country away from an addiction to foreign oil, but industry is pushing against boosting the average mileage of vehicles too quickly. Living on Earth's Mitra Taj reports. (04:15)
EU Carbon Market Slumps
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The European Union checks their greenhouse gas emissions through a cap and trade scheme where carbon credits are traded. But recently this market has weakened and the value of the credits has plunged. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Stig Schjolset, head of EU Carbon Analysis for Point Carbon, about why this is happening and if a carbon market can really work. (05:35)
Zero Waste Green Grocer
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Estimates suggest that a third of household waste is made up of food packaging. But one business in Austin, Texas, believes it has a solution. Christian Lane is co-founder of in.gredients, the nation’s first package-free and zero waste grocery store. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that customers will bring in their own reusable containers for everything from butter to beer. (06:15)
Science Note: Super Sturdy Steel/ Daniel Gross
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An entrepreneur in Detroit has invented a process that could reshape the metal industry. Daniel Gross reports on a mighty new type of steel. (01:45)
Closing State Parks/ Ingrid Lobet
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California operates the largest state park system in the country. But in order to balance the budget, the state is planning to close one quarter of all its state parks. In the first of two stories, Living On Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports on the surprising richness packed inside one small urban park. (06:30)
The Nature and Art of Fireworks/ Ike Sriskandarajah
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Every year we celebrate America’s independence by sending combustible cocktails called fireworks into the sky. And every year some environmentalists object. This year, a lawyer representing a coastal conservation group in California won a suit that would force locals wanting to light-up to first file an environmental impact report with the state. It nearly kept the town’s fireworks show grounded. Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah looks at the chemistry of what goes up and what comes down. Photo: Fourth of July on San Diego Harbor (Wikimedia) (05:00)
Listener Letters Dirt Winner
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Living on Earth opens up our mailbag to read your comments, criticisms and compliments. And host Bruce Gellerman announces the winner of our ‘tell us your best dirt-eating story’ contest. (02:00)
Protecting a Florida Treasure/ Andrew Skerritt
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The Sunshine State is filled with hundreds of fresh water springs. A family trip to Wakulla Springs reminds commentator Andrew Skerritt of the beauty of this natural resource and the need to conserve it for future generations. (03:05)
Central Park's Trees/ Bruce Gellerman
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Throngs of people walk through Central Park each year barely noticing the thousands of trees which give it its natural flavor. Ken Chaya, with his colleague Ned Barnard, has spent the last two years counting and mapping 19,933 trees to publish ‘Central Park Entire: The Definitive Illustrated Folding Map’. Host Bruce Gellerman learns about the landscape’s history, design and botanical value in a short stroll around the park. Photo: American Elm (www.cirrusimage.com) (10:35)
Show Credits and Funders
HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Stig Schjolset, Christian Lane, Ken Chaya
REPORTERS: Mitra Taj, Daniel Gross, Ingrid Lobet, Ike Sriskanderajah, Andrew Skerritt
GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International, it’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. President Obama's new roadmap calls for cars to get a lot more miles per gallon, or maybe miles per watt - or perhaps both.
BECKER: The technology that is in the hybrid vehicle is something American people love. They like high-tech products. They don't want a 1950s engine in a 2010 or 2011 vehicle.
GELLERMAN: Also - counting every tree in Central Park takes its toll.
CHAYA: What I’ve discovered in the last two years is this was my office. I was working in the park for two and a half years. There were times when I had to convince my wife over dinner table discussions that I was in the park all day, but, really, believe me - I was working!
GELLERMAN: Among the 172 species of trees in Central Park, there's a big apple. We’ll have those 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.
Fight Over Vehicle Efficiency Revs Up
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. The Obama White House scored a solid environmental victory two years ago when it got Congress to agree to raise fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. They hadn't changed much since the 1970s. Now carmakers have until 2016 to make vehicles that get an average of 35 miles per gallon. But the President drives a hard bargain – he wants cars that go even further on less fuel. Living on Earth's Mitra Taj reports.
TAJ: Getting carmakers to make cars more efficient can do a few things. It can ease pain at the pump by cutting down on the number of trips made to the gas station. It can cut our greenhouse gas emissions and imports of foreign oil. For President Obama, that means he can edge a bit closer to old campaign priorities.
OBAMA: Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.
TAJ: A range for new fuel economy standards by 2025 are on the table. On the low-end, 47 miles per gallon: on the high end, 62 miles per gallon - a standard which, right now, only fully electric cars can meet. In closed-door negotiations, the White House has reportedly suggested something in between: 56 miles per gallon, which would add up to vehicle emissions reductions of about five percent a year, the same rate in place through 2016. Opinion polls show most Americans support strong standards, but the auto industry says the real test of what the public wants is in new car showrooms. Wade Newton is a spokesman for the industry group Auto Alliance.
NEWTON: You do see some challenges when it gets to getting consumers to purchase our fuel-efficient autos. So you can design and build an auto that has this incredible technology on it but if no one can afford to purchase it, the vehicle just sits there on the sales lot. And worst of all, that customer - instead of buying the new auto - drives around in their old automobile, which certainly doesn't have all the fuel technology that we're working to introduce into the fleet.
BECKER: You know, the auto industry never learns a new trick. This is the same argument that they used in 1974 when they testified against the original fuel economy law.
TAJ: Dan Becker is the director of the policy group, Safe Climate Campaign. He says an industry that drove a fleet of SUVs into bankruptcy might not be the best judge of what Americans really want.
BECKER: The technology that is in the hybrid vehicle is something American people love. They like high tech products. They don't want a 1950s engine in a 2010 or 2011 vehicle. And there are costs to improving the technology. They're real. But they're made up for two to three times by savings at the gas pump.
TAJ: Becker says the President should insist on more than just a strong fuel economy standard. He should also make sure industry doesn't win any loopholes, like a delay or break, before ramping up to a stronger standard. But what the industry wants the most is to keep California in the negotiations. The state, home to the country’s largest car market, has the authority to set its own standards under its 2002 climate change law. Industry spokesman Wade Newton:
NEWTON: Well it's tremendously important to us as automakers that we're able to invest our resources in meeting an aggressive standard as opposed to meeting this patchwork of different standards for different geographic areas. And California has been at the table for all of this, and we're optimistic they'll continue to be at the table as we work on this new standard.
TAJ: California’s sway, paired with an auto industry politically weakened after taxpayer bailouts, helped seal a deal in 2009. But even if strong fuel economy standards past 2016 are adopted this year, a recent report out of the National Academies of Sciences found they alone can’t wean us off oil or slow climate change. Emil Frankel is the chair of the Transportation Research Board at the Academies.
FRANKEL: Given the ambition of these goals and the dependence on oil, it's not going to be enough in its own right. But it does seem to be where there's the least political resistance at this point.
TAJ: The White House, California, and the auto industry have until the end of September to reach an agreement. For Living on Earth, I'm Mitra Taj in Washington.
- An industry study found stronger fuel economy standards will be expensive.
- Click here for an NRDC rebuttal to the industry study.
- Republicans urge Obama to adopt an aggressive standard.
- Governors of 15 states caution against too strong a standard.
[MUSIC: Pink Floyd “San Tropez” from Meddle (Capitol records 1971)]
EU Carbon Market Slumps
GELLERMAN: California has announced it’s delaying implementing the state’s carbon cap and trade program. Officials cite a slew of lawsuits for stalling the market-based approach to cutting climate change gas emissions. Meanwhile, China, the world’s biggest polluter of greenhouse gases, is speeding up adoption of cap and trade to expand it nationwide by 2015. European Union nations were the first to enact a carbon market, but for the past few weeks the price for emission credits has been in a free-fall, making it a lot cheaper for companies there to emit climate-warming gases than convert to clean, renewable energy sources.
Blame, in part, the millions of free emission credits companies got when the market was first established and plans to provide them with even more in the near future. Also driving the price for polluting down are worries over the global financial mess and Greece’s economic woes. Stig Schjolset, head of EU Carbon Analysis for Point Carbon has been watching the market nosedive. Hi Stig - welcome to Living on Earth!
SCHJOLSET: Yeah, thanks!
GELLERMAN: Boy, there’ve been some breathtaking losses in the last few weeks. What, the market lost, what, a third in just four weeks?
SCHJOLSET: That is true. The market lost about four euros last week. So it came down from around 16.50 to 12 and a half euros in just about a week.
GELLERMAN: That’s in the price per ton of carbon.
GELLERMAN: Well what’s going on?
SCHJOLSET: Well the EU, as such, has a reduction target of 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. But what we have seen lately is that the European Commission, as well as the member states, have started to implement - or at least think about implementing - a number of additional policy measures. The European Commission published a draft energy efficiency directive last week. So what the market has been anticipating is that the energy efficiency directive will bring down emissions in Europe. And when emissions are going down, the price of carbon will also go down.
GELLERMAN: So the irony is as you improve your efficiencies, you lower the price for these carbon allowances - and that really drops the incentive to cut back efficiencies.
SCHJOLSET: Exactly, exactly. So what you can say - perhaps, slightly simplified way - is that European governments will be more willing to spend public money on things like improved energy efficiency and deployment of renewable energy. But of course once you spend the public money on reducing those emissions, you sort of lose the efficiency in the carbon market because the incentive to reduce emissions through the high carbon price will be reduced.
GELLERMAN: What’s the effect of Germany announcing that it’s going to get rid of its fleet of nuclear power plants by, what, 2022?
SCHJOLSET: Well short-term - German nuclear power production will mainly have to be replaced by fossil fuel production. So short-term will definitely increase emissions in Europe. And we have seen this spring that these nuclear phase-out decisions actually have supported carbon prices.
GELLERMAN: So because Germany announced that it’s going to phase out nuclear power plants, the price of carbon hasn’t sunk lower than it might have.
SCHJOLSET: (Laughs.) True.
GELLERMAN: There was a discussion that airlines that fly into Europe would have to abide by a cap and trade system. What’s happened with those conversations?
SCHJOLSET: All airlines landing or taking off from an EU airport will be covered by this scheme from first of January 2012. That is already written into the EU legislation. And the only thing that can change is - is if U.S. and Chinese airlines are able to be opted out through some of the court cases. They are now launched in the European Court of Justice.
GELLERMAN: Which airlines are those?
SCHJOLSET: It is three airlines in the U.S. and also three Chinese airlines. They have launched court cases to be exempted from their obligation to be included in the European carbon market.
GELLERMAN: Why should U.S. and China airlines be exempted from this?
SCHJOLSET: That is the question the European Commission is asking as well. U.S. and Chinese airlines are now disputing Europe’s right to put the mandatory cap on their emissions.
GELLERMAN: So if U.S. and China airlines win their court case, it would put them at a competitive advantage compared to other airlines.
SCHJOLSET: Yeah. They would be able to fly, for example, from New York to London without paying for the carbon they pollute on that route, while a European airline flying the same distance would then have to pay to cover its carbon emissions.
GELLERMAN: If EU was to win its lawsuit against the United States and China airlines, what would those airlines do - would they just stop flying into Europe?
SCHJOLSET: No, they wouldn’t stop flying into Europe. I think they would comply with the scheme and they would buy carbon permits to cover their emissions and add some costs to ticket prices, as European airlines will do.
GELLERMAN: You know, Stig, the EU carbon-trading scheme is the grandfather of trading schemes. Are other carbon markets around the world looking at what’s happening to the EU in terms of what they should do?
SCHJOLSET: Yes, European officials are of course working very closely with China. We also know that EU officials are discussing with New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. You know, I think, long-term - many regions would like to see compatible trading schemes and perhaps a movement towards a global price of carbon. But that is, I think, decades down the road because Europe is still far ahead of other regions when it comes to implementing a carbon-trading scheme and accepting relatively high carbon prices.
GELLERMAN: Well Stig Schjolset, thank you so very much, I really appreciate it.
SCHJOLSET: Yeah, thanks a lot.
GELLERMAN: Stig Schjolset is head of EU Carbon Analysis with Point Carbon.
[MUSIC - Lonnie Liston Smith “Exotic Mysteries” from Explorations: The Columbis recordings (Columbia Records 2002)]
GELLERMAN: Just ahead - closing state parks to balance the budget. Keep listening to Living on Earth!
[CUTAWAY MUSIC The Bad Plus: “You Are” from Never Stop (Bad Plus LLC 2010)]
Zero Waste Green Grocer
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.
It used to be ‘paper or plastic?’ But these days more and more supermarkets are encouraging customers to bring reusable bags. Now a new Texas company is saying, ‘BYOC’ - bring your own containers.
At the soon-to-be-opened Austin supermarket called
in.gredients , the concept of ‘pre-cycling’ will rule the aisles. Company co-founder Christian Lane joins me - welcome to Living on Earth, Christian!
LANE: Hey, thanks for having me!
GELLERMAN: So ‘pre-cycling’ - I know what recycling is - what’s pre-cycling?
LANE: Well pre-cycling really involves prioritizing those two of the three arrows you see on the recycling logo: reduce and reuse. And when you’re out of utility on any given product, or container, whatever the case is, you then recycle it at that point.
GELLERMAN: So I go to your supermarket - take me through the process.
LANE: Sure, so if it’s your first time coming in, you come in, you bring your containers, and we’re going to help you weigh them and label them. We’ll put a label on it so that way, going forward, those containers that you have don’t have to be re-weighed again. You go through the store, do normal shopping like you do in the bulk sections of other grocery stores, fill up what you need, and when you come to the checkout, we’ll deduct that weight from the overall weight and just charge you. You decide on an organization that you want to benefit some of the proceeds to, and yeah, just come back for more when you’re ready for it.
GELLERMAN: You have to make a charitable donation?
LANE: At this point, it’s what we’re hoping to do. We want to make a certain amount of the proceed to go to one of the organization that we’ve looked at to support.
GELLERMAN: So the idea is to produce as little waste as possible, or no waste.
LANE: Ideally, no waste. That’s right. The products that we use and the things that we consume have resources associated to them. Those resources are finite, for the most part, and we got to be responsible. So we’re really looking forward to encouraging people to reduce and reuse, and then recycle.
GELLERMAN: So since you’re not using all this disposable stuff, is your stuff cheaper?
LANE: We hope to be competitive and less expensive in a lot of areas. If you compare bulk transactions compared to their counterparts, they’re typically 30% less expensive. A lot of money goes into marketing and design of boxes - not to mention, there’s a lot of waste and the amount of food that gets wasted because it’s being provisioned in an amount that’s, you know, leaning towards the manufacturer, if you will, in terms of profitability, versus what the consumer really wants and needs and can actually consume in some given time period.
GELLERMAN: So they come in, they say, ‘Oh, I forgot my bags.’ What happens then?
LANE: No worries. We don’t want to be punitive, we don’t want to keep people out. So we’re going to have, you know, compostable bags, reusable bags, those kinds of things, to ensure we can facilitate the transaction. People are going to forget, you know, but it takes time to re-condition old habits.
GELLERMAN: So can you sell anything this way? Does your supermarket have everything?
LANE: Yeah, just about. We’re looking at doing a lot of local, organic and natural products and produce, and by doing so, we can actually be an extension to the farmer and the usual farmer-market-type placement that they do. The goal is to get the farmers to have their produce there and give them the opportunity to do beyond the 4-8 hours on the weekend and have their products available more days of the week.
GELLERMAN: Well down in Austin you’ve got a lot more local produce than we have here up in Boston, especially during the winter. For us, it would mean more turnips and potatoes.
LANE: Yeah, this is true. We are very fortunate down here to have long growing seasons, and it does play well to the concept and eating, you know, in season. Of course, eating in season can be a challenge but it can also be a way of diversifying the food that you’re eating. You know, when everything’s available everyday of the year, there’s a lot of things you’re not eating because you get stuck on, you know, whatever it is that’s always available to you. Eating in season brings a lot of diversity to your food and your diet. It’s a good thing to do and it’s a good thing to have as far as the environment is concerned too.
GELLERMAN: Now you sell beer and wine there, right?
LANE: Yeah, that’s the idea. It was actually part of the genesis, really, of this whole project, this whole undertaking.
GELLERMAN: You were sitting around having a bunch of beers saying, ‘Why don’t we do this?’ or - (Laughs.)
LANE: (Laughs.) Well to an extent, you know, we were sitting around thinking, a lot of cans and bottles going to waste here, and thinking about the beer enthusiasts and the popularity of Growlers - we thought, well why not just get 30-40 really good craft beers and dispense them into people’s Growlers since they seem to be a very popular thing.
GELLERMAN: Your Growler?
LANE: Yeah, Growlers, those kind of chubby, round - with a circular little handle on top - bottles, yeah. There’s another trend in California, I understand, with kegged wine, so we thought about, you know, doing beer and wine this way. But we asked ourselves, you know, let’s make this - we should do a full offering. We want to be sure we got a good, full business plan here, and we started expanding the scope into food.
GELLERMAN: Many years ago when I was living in Wisconsin, we had a place called the Willy Street Co-op, and basically you had to bring your own bags and containers - so this is not really a new idea, is it?
LANE: You know, it really isn’t. We’re really trying to facilitate a throwback to older ways of doing things, to the dawn of commerce. And that, you know, coupling it with some of the technology we have available to ourselves today, we can make those old ways easier to do.
GELLERMAN: Now I can see that the early adapters to this are going to be upscale consumers - you know, the…well, for lack of a better word, yuppies.
LANE: Yeah, that’s definitely an area I’m sure that we’ll go towards it. There’s some good confidence, though, that there’s other folks that do value the food and things that they’re putting in their body that may not be on the higher end of the economic scale. But the other thing is too - what we’re talking about doing - it is old and it is familiar to, you know, the Hispanic population and other ethnicities. They’re used to going to the market and having the beans and the grains and the produce and all these things not packaged. You know, they grab what they want, they put it in their bag, they pay for it, and go on their way.
GELLERMAN: So what’s been the response so far?
LANE: The response has been pretty crazy. It’s very, very, very positive, and people really embracing this concept. We’re getting questions about franchises, and come to Seattle, come to Portland, come to New York, come to LA, we want your story, we want your story, when are you going to be here - so it’s been almost overwhelmingly positive.
GELLERMAN: Well Christian, thank you so much, I really enjoyed it.
LANE: Likewise, the pleasure’s mine!
GELLERMAN: Christian Lane is co-founder of the zero-packaging supermarket, In.Gredients. The green, green grocer is opening its first store in Austin, Texas later this summer.
MUSIC - [Bill Laswell “Beyond Zero” from Dub Chamber 3 (ROIR 2000)]
GELLERMAN: Coming up - rockets, Roman candles, and lawsuits. But first this Note on Emerging Science from Daniel Gross.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]
Science Note: Super Sturdy Steel
GROSS: Steel is centuries old, and today it has to compete with the low weight of aluminum and the high strength of titanium. But a revolution in processing technology could make steel the strongest and lightest metal around.
A Detroit machinist experimented with heat-blasting sheets of steel and immediately quenching them in water. He called the end product Flash Bainite, and it’s a striking seven percent stronger than the most advanced steels. It’s also 30% more ductile, which means it stretches farther without breaking.
Steel comes from iron. Pure iron is soft, but heating it beyond melting temperature infuses it with useful carbon impurities. Scaling back the carbon to a controlled level turns it into steel. But advanced steels require a second heat treatment to strengthen them on a molecular level. This usually takes hours, but the Flash Bainite requires less than 10 seconds. It’s produced at 1100 degrees, hotter than the standard 900.
Some scientists and steelmakers are skeptical of the new metal. But it’s slowly catching on. Test results have been confirmed in an engineering journal, and the super steel may be picked up by manufacturers in the near future.
Flash Bainite could be useful in industries that need exceptionally strong and ductile metals, like transportation and civil engineering. It could even be used for building spacecraft - giving an Iron Age technology a Space Age function.
That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Daniel Gross.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME END]
Closing State Parks
GELLERMAN: Thirty-three states faced with red ink are getting out the ax and cutting to the bone - in some states, recreational areas are on the chopping block. But in California, they’re using a chain saw. The new budget there will close a quarter of the state’s parks. We have the first in a series of two stories from Living On Earth’s Ingrid Lobet.
LOBET: Since California announced it would close 70 of its 278 state parks, there have been shouts of ‘NO!’ from several quarters. Just recently, park users gathered at the state capital.
[VOICES AT RALLY: “Save our state parks!”]
LOBET: Shannon Ross came with daughters Amelia, six, and Fiona, ten. Fiona says she got to camp in Adobe State Park, two and a half hours to the north, with her class this year. Now it’s on the list to be closed.
FIONA ROSS: We slept overnight! And we were the last class to get to go there and it’s been something that our school’s done for years.
LOBET: The parks in this, the most populous state, get 70 million visits a year. But finances have reached a point of crisis and each cut relieves some small burden of debt.
LOBET: Places like Los Encinos State Historic Park in Los Angeles are slated to lock the gates.
[SOUNDS OF TRAFFIC]
DANDURAND: This park is right on Ventura Blvd and Balboa Blvd. And people who drive by have no idea that there’s this nice quiet little oasis in the middle of the San Fernando Valley.
LOBET: Jennifer Dandurand is park interpreter at Los Encinos. Almost as soon as you turn your back on that city traffic, it melts away. Five acres spread out before you.
DANDURAND: When people walk into the park, first of all they see several big lawns. And so a lot of kids like to use that just for running around or they like picnic games or they just enjoy laying around in the grass with their book, but probably the number one main attraction here is the pond.
LOBET: Dandurand sweeps her arm toward a fenced, concrete-lined pond in the shape of a guitar.
DANDURAND: People love to come feed the ducks and we sell duck food here. I mean, that’s actually how we fund almost all our education and interpretation programs - is through that duck food.
LOBET: This duck pond is actually what drew the first people to what was once a generous stretch of rolling oak land. It’s a natural hot spring, the site of an Indian village of longstanding. But 400 years ago, explorers from Spain found it just as attractive, and the native people of this place were soon forced into a new Catholic Mission: Mission San Fernando. Later, Mexico took away the church’s lands, and they passed to ranchers who raised beef to feed the new seekers of the Gold Rush. All that, right here, in urban Los Angeles.
DANDURAND: Pretty much when you think of the history of California, especially economically, you will find it played out exactly here at Los Encinos.
[SOUND OF DOOR UNLOCKING, STEPPING INDOORS]
DANDURAND: What we are in right now is an 1849 adobe building…
LOBET: With walls that are two feet thick and dark plank floors, this long adobe was built by the first Spanish private owners of the land. Now it’s full of furniture and kitchen tools, saddles and a wedding dress, intended to convey ranching and frontier life to today’s 10-year olds.
DANDURAND: About two weeks ago we had 180 kids, so seven classrooms of kids. So that was challenging, but it was fun.
LOBET: This ranch, or rancho, was also on the road that originally connected the missions: Camino Real. That means it was on the stagecoach route. The park has a mock-up of a stagecoach kids can step into to get a feel for just how unpleasant that early form of travel must have been.
DANDURAND: You would sit so close to the person across from you that your knees would interlock and you would bounce along - definitely makes flying by airplane and coach a lot more comfortable.
LOBET: But California’s sad finances mean fewer school field trips.
DANDURAND: A lot of the public school have problems because they don’t have bus money so it’s hard for them to come.
LOBET: Still, here in the heart of the LA’s San Fernando Valley, population is so dense some schools are close enough to walk here.
DANDURAND: So we have schools that come walking and they’ll come in - and if it were to close, they wouldn’t have that possibility.
LOBET: Ironically, aIl the exhibits here look new. Turns out the park re-opened just four years ago - after the Northridge earthquake. Because it’s so recently rebuilt, the place is wheelchair accessible.
DANDURAND: And so it’s one of the few places where, in a state park, people with disabilities are able to have exactly the same experience as the able-bodied.
LOBET: A bad economy erodes daily life in small and large ways. Los Encinos State Historic Parks - for all its rich history, pretty grass, and easy access - is a small and less used park. It was empty during most of this visit. Mike Wells is a state parks scientist, former district superintendent, and a veteran of prior rounds of brutal budget prioritizing.
WELLS: I hate for people to think that there are any unnecessary parks in this state park system, because they’re all part of the park system for a reason. And speaking as someone who had to go through this process of trying to triage, you know, which park units are non-essential - it is a terribly painful process and nothing any of us wanted to do. But there are certain realities that had to be dealt with.
LOBET: We’ll be hearing more from Mike Wells - about challenges in state parks and some creative ways of bringing money and volunteers to help them - next week. For Living on Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.
- For the slideshow
- California State Parks Foundation
- California State Parks
[MUSIC: Derek Trucks “This Sky” from Songlines (Sony Music 2006)]
The Nature and Art of Fireworks
GELLERMAN: The rockets’ red glare…the bombs bursting in air…
[FIREWORKS EXPLODE AND CRACKLE]
GELLERMAN: Give proof that…it’s the Fourth of July. But on the fifth, when it’s clean-up time, there are environmental costs to be accounted for. Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah investigates the chemistry of fireworks and what happens when they fall back to Earth.
[MAN CALLS OUT: “Watch this!”; FIREWORKS EXPLODE; “YEAH!”]
SRISKANDARAJAH: This fireworks show in Petersburg, Alaska sounds like hundreds, maybe thousands, happening over the Fourth of July weekend. It’s the one time each year the whole country celebrates with rockets and bombs. While most of us ‘ooh and ahh’ at the dazzling pyrotechnics in the sky, a few environmentalists, like Marco Gonzales from San Diego, complain.
GONZALEZ: Every time I’ve gone to a show that’s been near habitat, it’s just grated on me - the noise, the light, the cloud of smoke. It just hasn’t made sense that nobody looks at these because they’re on a holiday.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Gonzalez is the lawyer for the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, or
CERF. For a decade he has been suing to make firework shows accountable for their environmental impact. This year, he won. A judge ruled the San Diego and
La Jolla fireworks violate the California Environmental Quality Act.
GONZALEZ: The reason we focused on La Jolla is because it’s a very pristine and very protected marine habitat. You’re not allowed to fish, you’re not allowed to take boats into these areas, and yet once a year, we shoot off hundreds of pounds of fireworks into these highly protected areas.
SRISKANDARAJAH: It was the first time in the country that a court ruled that a fireworks show near water needed an environmental impact report. Then on June 3rd, the judge granted a stay on the ruling so the show in La Jolla could go on.
This legal battle in California is typical of the yearly tug of war between environmentalists and pyrophiles - a fight that the eco-blog, Treehugger, calls “the annual whine.” But firework makers have their own green heritage. The
Pyrotechnic Guild International’s mascot is a firework-wielding, green man dressed in leaves. Mike Swisher, a licensed firework manufacturer in Minnesota, says the guild’s tree-hugging slogan, “Stay Green,” is just a coincidence.
SWISHER: I certainly don’t think it was originally intended that way. The green man is taken from a book called “The Mysteries of Nature and Art,” published in 1635 by John Bate. In fact, there have been some misunderstandings about fireworks and the environment.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Where pyrotechnicians see misunderstanding, environmentalists like Gonzalez see smoke and obscurity.
GONZALEZ: A lot of people don’t know what goes into fireworks, what makes those bright lights, and what really falls down once they explode.
SRISKANDARAJAH: But Swisher does know. That rockets’ red glare…
SWISHER: Typical ingredients for that would be 60% potassium chlorate, 20% strontium carbonate, 15% resin - like red gum or shellac - and 5% dextrin.
SRISKANDARAJAH: And those bombs bursting in air…
SWISHER: That’s a salute - those are created with a material called flash powder and that’s usually a mixture of some oxidizer with powdered aluminum.
SRISKANDARAJAH: If enough metals like aluminum fall into the water, they could be eaten by small fish and work their way up the food chain. That could be toxic in fish eaten by humans.
And the most common oxidizer is perchlorate - that can cause thyroid problems in high enough quantities. But Swisher says there aren’t enough active ingredients to do damage.
SWISHER: If you were to look at the gross weight of fireworks used in a fireworks display, about half of that is inert - in other words, it’s paper or string. If you were using 500 pounds of fireworks, 250 of that is not even going to enter into the chemical reaction.
SRISKANDARAJAH: The EPA mostly has no problem with fireworks, and most Americans love them. But Marco Gonzalez is fine being the black cloud trying to rain on the Fourth of July parade. He has his own plan for Independence Day.
GONZALEZ: I’ll actually be in La Jolla, taking water samples. The way we view this is it’s a war. And there’s a lot of battles and there’s a lot of battlegrounds, so I think in 10 years will we have a lot more data on fireworks as a result of our efforts today? Absolutely.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Meanwhile, the rest of the country will enjoy the fireworks.
[FIREWORKS EXPLODE; “Go as fast as you can! GO, GO, GO, GO!!”]
SRISKANDARAJAH: For Living on Earth, I’m Ike Sriskandarajah.
Read CERF’s legal argument
[MUSIC: Igor Stavinsky “Fireworks” from The Firebird;Fireworks;The Song Of The Nightngale……(Decca Records 1991)]
GELLERMAN: Coming up - landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead used all the tricks of the trade that he invented to transform a desolate swamp into New York’s Central Park.
CHAYA: Frederick Law Olmstead was an illusionist - he was also a brilliant mind who people said could think and see in terms of decades. So as little saplings were being put in, he could actually envision what they would look like 10 or 20, or even 30, years later.
GELLERMAN: Now - a century and a half later - we meet the man who’s counted almost every tree in Central Park. Stay tuned - it's Living on Earth!
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation; Gilman Ordway - for coverage of conservation and environmental change, …… and the Sierra Club, helping students, workers, entrepreneurs and families create a healthy and prosperous clean energy future. Online at sierraclub.org/livingonearth. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Corea, Clarke & White: “Armando’s Rhumba” from Forever (Concord Records 2011)]
Listener Letters Dirt Winner
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.
[TYPEWRITER SFX AND THEME]
GELLERMAN: And time now for listener feedback…
[TYPEWRITER AND THEME]
GELLERMAN: A few weeks ago we got down and dirty with an interview about why some people eat clean dirt. Seems some soils can actually be good for you - and our conversation with nutritional anthropologist Sera Young about the practice of geophagy, or dirt-eating, evoked many a listener memory.
WILLIAMS: My name's Tonya Williams and I listen to WTSU 89.9 in Montgomery, Alabama. Geophagy? So that’s what it’s called. When I was a child, my mother told stories of dirt-eating binges she had while pregnant. The thought of her shoveling fists full of soil into her mouth, soil that was probably crawling with bugs and other critters, made me squeal with both revulsion and delight. “No Tonya,” she’d say, “not just any dirt, but clay.”
GELLERMAN: Must be something in the soil because we got this from another Alabama listener, Sarah Frazer: “My grandmother was a physician graduating from the Indiana Medical College in 1901, and I can recall my father telling me that she ate clay. I am now 70 years old, however, I didn’t think enough of the fact to try it myself.”
But before you decide to take a spoon or shovelful, you might heed this warning from veterinarian Barry Taylor: “Accidental ingestion of dirt contaminated by cat feces is a leading cause of toxoplasmosis infection in humans, which can lead to horrific birth defects or miscarriage. Please issue a warning against eating dirt - it is a very risky activity!”
Well we chewed it over, and Dr. Taylor is absolutely correct. Though I tried some dirt we got from Sam's General Store online and ate a lump on the air, and we had plenty left over, which we offered as a prize to the listener who came up cleanest about their use of dirt…and that would be Lisa Ross of Kernville, California.
She writes: “As a child I was compelled to cram dirt of any kind into my mouth until it was impossible to get more in. I loved the crunch and swallow. I also loved the taste and grittiness of burnt matches. Our old time physician told my mother not to worry, as I might be trying to fill a need in my diet.”
Well Lisa, congrats - we owe you some lumps, as well as a copy of anthropologist Sera Young's new book, “Craving Earth.” And thanks to all who sent in stories - and if you have a comment on any of our stories, you know where to find us: comments at L-O-E DOT ORG. Or our Facebook page is PRI’s Living on Earth - one word. Or you can call us at 800-218-9988.
[MUSIC: John Renbourn Spirit Levels” from Keeper Of The Vine: The Best Of John Renbourn & Stefan Grossman (Shanachie Records 2005)]
Protecting a Florida Treasure
GELLERMAN: Florida is the Sunshine State but it’s also blessed with more than six hundred fresh water springs. You can swim in some, including Wakulla Springs. Andrew Skerritt recalls his first dip.
SKERRITT: Every cell in my body seems to protest as I step gingerly into Wakulla Springs. The average water temperature is about 68 degrees, but on a steamy-hot Florida afternoon, it feels near freezing. But I’ve come twenty miles from home in Tallahassee - it’s too late to turn back. It’s time to be baptized into one of the deepest and largest freshwater springs in the world.
I’ve lived in Florida longer than anywhere else in this country, but it takes a visit from my sister-in-law to lure me into this glorious water. My ten-year-old daughter accompanies me in. She holds nothing back as she swims to the nearest wood platform. Before long she’s running and jumping feet first into the green lagoon. The water is clear as crystal on the surface but murky at the bottom. Since the nineties, invasive hydrilla plants have threatened to choke and muddy this piece of paradise.
A trip to Wakulla Springs makes for the kind of idyllic summer day that southern novelists have long teased us about - those languid days of swinging from ropes into clear, clean water. When the sun’s rays dance over the surface, when time slows and the only things that seem to matter are the collision of flesh against water and the laughter of black birds in the distance.
The springs sit in the heart of Wakulla Springs State Park, long considered to be the gem of the Florida state park system. But this natural resource is more barometer and less ornament. Every day, 260 million gallons of water emerge from subterranean caverns, enough to satisfy a city of two and a half million people. The health of the spring reflects the quality of our drinking water.
The full majesty of the park and spring hits home as I stand on the observation and diving platform overlooking the springhead. I pretend to enjoy the view as I ponder testing my mettle. At fifty, have I finally mustered the courage to leap from a twenty-foot diving platform? As if to lend words to my thoughts, a father and son standing nearby banter about jumping in. The boy is fearless, while the older man hesitates. He hasn’t tried a cannon ball from this platform in twenty years. He’s unsure if he remembers how. This used to be the father’s spring. Now summers belong to his son.
That brief exchange illustrates what the spring, this iconic body of Florida water, symbolizes. It’s a community resource passed down from one generation to the next. It’s part of our environmental legacy, a gift. And each dive, each cannon ball, each collision of body against water serves like a handshake sealing a contract honoring our commitment, to conserve, preserve, and protect it.
For Living on Earth and Planet Harmony, this is Andrew Skerritt.
GELLERMAN: Andrew Skerritt teaches journalism at Florida A&M University in Tallahasee. His book, “Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial, and the AIDS Epidemic in the South,” will be published this fall. Professor Skerritt also contributes to our sister program, Planet Harmony, which pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at myplanetharmony.com.
Learn more about Florida springs
[MUSIC: John Renbourn Spirit Levels” from Keeper Of The Vine: The Best Of John Renbourn & Stefan Grossman (Shanachie Records 2005)]
Central Park's Trees
[BUS HORN; RUMBLE OF TRAFFIC]
GELLERMAN: It’s 7:30, Saturday morning. I woke up in the city that never sleep, and here, at the West 72nd street entrance to New York’s Central Park, dogs tug on leashes and joggers yawn and stretch, getting ready to run.
[LIGHT BIRD CALLS]
GELLERMAN: Take just a few steps into the park and the air quickly cools, and the city quiets. Nearby a dogwood tree and next to it a tall, lean man in khakis with a backpack and binoculars turned the wrong way around. He’s using them as a microscope to study a leaf.
CHAYA: My name is Ken Chaya, and I’m a New Yorker and I’m a graphic designer and an artist. I’m just a guy that really got interested in the Park and its wildlife and its plant life, and I’ve been walking around the park as a birder for 20 years and only in the last few years did I discover the world of trees.
GELLERMAN: And how! Ken Chaya and Ned Barnard spent the last two years surveying every square inch of Central Park’s 843 acres, counting and mapping virtually every single tree of significant size. The result: “Central Park Entire: The Definitive, Illustrated Folding Map.”
CHAYA: All 19, 933 trees on this map represent real trees in the park. It’s a work of many, many hours and miles walking through the park and identifying trees and placing them precisely where they occur.
GELLERMAN: So if I pull out your map…
[PULLS MAP OUT OF BAG AND OPENS IT UP]
GELLERMAN: I want you to find this tree.
CHAYA: Okay. We’re standing in Strawberry Fields. Strawberry Fields is this teardrop shape.
GELLERMAN: Right off 72nd street.
CHAYA: And there’s the Imagine Mosaic just across the path. And we’re here - and this is the American Elm we’re looking at, right here.
GELLERMAN: (Laughs.) That’s unbelievable - that you’ve mapped every single tree.
CHAYA: And American Elm has these lovely serpentine limbs that reach out and snake around.
GELLERMAN: It’s enormous!
CHAYA: Oh, yes it is. Here in Central Park you will find the largest stand of American Elms in the world, in the entire world, and that’s on the mall. There’s also the largest line of American Elms on 5th Avenue, just outside the park, and that runs for nearly two and a half miles, from 59th Street to 110th Street.
GELLERMAN: Which is the length of the park.
CHAYA: That’s correct.
GELLERMAN: Let’s take a walk.
CHAYA: People come here and think, this is what Manhattan really looked like before the city grew up and it’s not true. This area that we call Central Park was actually a desolate swamp.
GELLERMAN: Then in 1857, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead and his partner Calvert Vaux won a design competition. And over the next 16 years, they transformed the swamp into Central Park.
CHAYA: And what I discovered, as I began to walk through the park and learned how to identify trees and learned how to appreciate them, I began to see Olmstead’s vision. I began to see how he used trees the way an artist uses color and texture, and how he created walls, corners, curtains, all sorts of textures by his use and his masterful planning of trees.
GELLERMAN: This place that looks so natural is totally contrived. He designed every nook, cranny, rock, tree, blade of grass.
CHAYA: It’s the most natural-looking unnatural place, probably, on the planet.
GELLERMAN: I was reading about Olmstead, and he would play tricks - optical illusions - with foliage and trees. He would put dark trees in the foreground and then the light-colored trees in the background, and it would give the sense of depth.
CHAYA: Yes. Frederick Law Olmstead was an illusionist - he was also a brilliant mind who people said could think and see in terms of decades. So as little saplings were being put in, he could actually envision what they would look like 10 or 20, or even 30, years later. What he wanted to do there, I believe, was take people out of the congested, concrete, sea level city experience and give them an open, wide, pastoral experience here in Central Park.
Once this enormous masterpiece of American design and landscape opened, I think it taught the people of New York - and then the nation - that cities could be beautiful. They didn’t need to be all buildings and tenements, and you can have a nature experience in the middle of one of the most populous cities in the world.
GELLERMAN: Okay, so - let's keep walking.
CHAYA: Over in that grove over there is at least two trees that are one-of-a-kind in the entire park. There’s an unusual tree called a Frank Linea, the only one in the park. And just beyond it, if we were to take this walk around, there’s an olive tree, a Russian Olive - the only one in the park.
[FOOT STEPS ON GRAVEL MATERIAL]
CHAYA: Over here I want to show you something because this is a real rarity. If we walk over to this little rock outcrop - and actually right here, this is good - if we stare straight through, we’re looking at three very tall trees at the end of this meadow. These trees are known as Dawn Redwoods. Now the interesting thing about Dawn Redwoods is they were believed to be extinct until 1941 when a grove of them was discovered on a high mountaintop in China. So here we are - we're looking at something that history had written off with the dinosaurs and there’s three of them at the north end of Strawberry Fields.
GELLERMAN: I have a question for you. I’m not a tree guy - I'm going to guess that this is a sycamore.
CHAYA: You are half-right. This tree is a London Plane. It’s a hybrid between an American Sycamore and an Asian Sycamore. London Planes are hardy trees that tolerate drought, compacted soil, air pollution, people on cell phones, you name it - they're tough New York trees!
GELLERMAN: (Laughs.) If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!
CHAYA: Absolutely. And Robert Moses, who was the park’s commissioner in the 1930s, planted almost all of the London Planes we’re seeing now in the park. This probably wouldn’t have been the choice of
Frederick Law Olmsted to plant that many, but this is the way the park has evolved from its earliest days to today.
GELLERMAN: This…I’m looking - you can almost not take a perspective here, a view, without seeing birds and birds and birds. Look at that.
CHAYA: Yes, we’re hearing robins, catbirds…I hear a red-eyed vireo right above us. The trees create this wonderful habitat for birds. I’ve been birding for two decades in Central Park - it is one of the world’s most famous places to bird. I’ve met people who have traveled here from Asia and Europe just to bird in Central Park. Forget about Broadway and Times Square - they come here for the birds. (Laughs.)
And one of the reasons we have so many birds in Central Park - well I can give you two very good ones. Central Park is located right on the Atlantic flyway, so it’s an important stop right on the migration route. But two, the variety of trees that we have here that produce food for birds in all seasons, whether you eat insects or you eat seeds or you eat fruit or you eat sap or you eat insect larvae that’s underneath the bark - there are trees here that provide all of that. It’s an abundance of food source for birds in all four seasons, particularly during the migration in the fall and spring.
GELLERMAN: It smells fantastic. It’s amazing - it's like being in a flower shop or something!
CHAYA: Well I’m so glad you mentioned that because we have wild roses here in front of us.
GELLERMAN: Oh is that - is that what that is?
CHAYA: Yes. We also have - and these are all plantings of course. We also have Linden Trees that are still in bloom that we’re getting some fragrance from. And when you realize that many of the flowers on the trees are only here for a short time - we have a very, very small window to enjoy the lovely colors and the aroma - and it only happens once a year. And maybe we have 10 days, or maybe 12 or 14 days. It makes me think deeper thoughts about time, and the environment, and decisions that I want to make about my life.
GELLERMAN: How so?
CHAYA: Well I could…I could decide to spend a good portion of my time in an office, and I’ve done that for 30 years. But what I’ve discovered in the last two years is this was my office. I was working in the park for two and a half years. There were times when I had to convince my wife over dinner table discussions that I was in the park all day, but, really, believe me - I was working!
And of course she and my son - Joan and Lucas - both would sometimes roll their eyes and say, ‘Well there goes Dad, talking about trees again and he’s been in the park all day again today.’ But now they’re seeing, with the map being out and orders coming in, and I’m grateful for that because I want to share my experience and what I’ve discovered and the appreciation I have for this wonderful place called Central park with other people.
[MUSIC: GERSHWIN PLAYS AMID BIRD CALLS]
GELLERMAN: Well Ken, thank you so much - that was great fun, I learned a lot, thank you.
CHAYA: Thank you, Bruce, it was my pleasure, and anytime you want to come back to Central Park and take a walk with me, just give me a call.
- Visit Chaya and Barnard’s website
- "New York City Trees: A Field Guide for the Metropolitan Area" - By Edward Sibley Barnard
- Frederick Law Olmsted
[Duke Ellington “Rhapsody In Blue” from The Reprise Studio Recordings (Rhino/Warner Bros 1999)]
GELLERMAN: Birder, tree lover, and graphic artist Ken Chaya. He and Ned Barnard created “Central Park Entire: The Definitive Illustrated Folding Map.” For photos of our trip around Central Park and a link for more information about the map, head to our website, L-O-E dot O-R-G.
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Helen Palmer, Jessica Ilyse Smith, and Jeff Young , with help from Sarah Calkins, Gabriela Romanow and Sammy Sousa. Our interns are Daniel Gross, Stephanie McPherson and Anne-Marie Singh. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us anytime at L-O-E dot org. And check out our facebook page - it’s PRI’s Living on Earth. And you can follow us on twitter - at livingonearth - that’s one word. 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 justeatorganic 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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