After the Durban Climate Conference
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Many of the delegates at the Durban climate talks have returned home and are congratulating themselves on a job well done. They agreed on a roadmap forward, but disagreed on almost everything else. Dr. Johannes Urpelainen is an assistant professor of Political Science at Columbia. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that while many countries consider themselves winners, the planet is losing. (4:30)
Adapting to our Warming Planet
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More dramatic floods, hurricanes, cyclones and wildfires, increases in global temperatures and higher levels of precipitation are consequences of climate change. In order to survive these environmental shifts, communities need to adapt their behaviors, says Frank Lowenstein of The Nature Conservancy. He talks with host Bruce Gellerman about how to plan for the future and adjust to a changing planet (7:30)
2011 at the EPA
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December marks the end of a rough year for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—from Republicans blocking multiple proposed rules to President Obama over-ruling new standards for smog. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Politico reporter Erica Martinson to recap EPA’s year. (6:00)
Evangelicals, Catholics Back Mercury Limits/ Ingrid Lobet
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Mercury from power plants can be harmful to developing fetuses. In an unusual alliance that has the potential to shift pollution politics, Catholics and evangelical Christians opposed to abortion are joining forces with child health advocates to lobby for stricter limits on mercury pollution. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports. (2:30)
Remote West Bank Villages Get Power/ Zak Rosen
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In the Mt. Hebron region of the West Bank, many Palestinian and Bedouin communities have little access to water and electricity. Now, a cross-cultural project among Israelis and Palestinians is bringing renewable energy to these villages, giving them a chance to increase their skills and incomes. Zak Rosen reports. (7:15)
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So what should they do with that fallen Sequoia? Host Bruce Gellerman hears some listener suggestions and the Forest Services’ answer. (1:30)
Adroitly Adrift/ Ari Daniel Shapiro
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Little floats armed with GPS units are providing scientists and fishermen with important information about ocean currents. These so-called drifters can monitor movement of fish, and the path of oil spills and waste. Producer Ari Daniel Shapiro went out with a group of students and scientists to drop some drifters into the water. (7:45)
BirdNote® Why Birds’ Feet Don’t Freeze/ Michael Stein
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Birds have adapted to cold weather to keep their legs and feet toasty, even during the coldest of winters. Michael Stein reports how it works. (1:50)
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Reindeer – also called caribou – are ubiquitous in the world’s northern latitudes, but the populations closest to the North Pole are dwindling because of climate change. Now there is a push to list the large deer as endangered. Jeff Flocken, the DC Office Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, tells host Bruce Gellerman what’s at stake. (5:35)
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Bagpipes and bells echo through a small village in Greek Macedonia during their winter festival. (1:10)
HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Johannes Urpelainen, Frank Lowenstein, Erica Martinson, Jeff Flocken
REPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet, Zak Rosen, Ari Daniel Shapiro, Michael Stein
GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Coming up: winners and losers from the Durban Climate Summit, and learning how to adapt to weather extremes in a climate changing world.
LOWENSTEIN: How is sea level rise - driven largely by climate change - going to affect coastal communities?
GELLERMAN: Well, they're going to get whacked!
LOWENSTEIN: Yes, but where? Is it going to whack your local hospital? Is it going to affect your evacuation routes?
GELLERMAN: How plants, animals and you will have to cope with the effects of climate change. Also: renewable energy powers a way out of poverty for Palestinian herders on the West Bank.
SHAHAM: With the electricity they will have light and they will have chadada, which is the electrical butter churning and he's going to have television and the woman can have a better time - they can rest better.
GELERMAN: Also, why bird feet don't freeze. Those stories and a lot more this week, on Living on Earth. Stick around!
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. The recent UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa went into double over-time, resulting in frayed tempers, blood shot eyes and what is being called the Durban Platform. Essentially, there are three major pillars to the platform - Pillar one:
ANNOUNCER: Nations will negotiate a treaty by 2015 leading to a legally binding agreement requiring all countries to cut carbon emissions by 2020.
GELLERMAN: Pillar two:
ANNOUNCER: The current climate agreement - the Kyoto Protocol - is extended for five more years.
GELLERMAN: But the US never ratified Kyoto, and Canada is pulling out of the treaty; - and finally Pillar three:
ANNOUNCER: The UN will create a Green Climate Fund of one hundred billion dollars a year to help poor countries cope with climate change.
GELLERMAN: But The Green Climate Fund is a fund without funds and there is no mechanism for raising the money. Johannes Urpelainen teaches political science at Columbia University. He says the Durban Platform produced winners and losers.
URPELAINEN: First of all I think we can all agree that the global climate is one of the losers. That this is not the kind of agreement that is really solving the problem. You can clearly see that the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change are losers, so these African countries, the low-lying island nations. But, at the same time, from a sort of political perspective, it seems to me that some of these negotiators are actually going back to their domestic constituencies and telling them that they’ve actually won.
So, the European Union interprets this as a historic precedent, because we, for the first time, have a real agreement to negotiate a global treaty. The United States says that it’s a victory for them, because they did not commit to anything unless China and India also act. And China and India say that it was also a victory for them because they did not commit to anything until the industrialized countries have moved. So, everybody is going back and saying that they got exactly what they wanted.
GELLERMAN: Something for everyone, but meanwhile, the emissions go up and the temperatures go up as well.
URPELAINEN: Exactly. Sometimes you get the sense when you look at these negotiations and you’re not having a very good day, you get the feel that a lot of this is more like a performance than a sustentative negotiation.
GELLERMAN: So, what would you do? The United Nations - is that the forum for future negotiations? Is there an alternative?
Dr. Johannes Urpelainen (Photo: Wikimedia)
URPELAINEN: This is a difficult a difficult question, and I’m not quite sure what the, sort of, right way to go would be. I don't think the United Nations negotiations themselves are sort of directly harmful. I mean, they do create this legal system for future commitments, and if they can mobilize some resources in this Green Climate Fund, I think that could be very helpful because then developing countries would have much stronger incentive to participate in the system.
But I do believe that it would be equally and probably even more important for, sort of, smaller groups of countries - like the United States, European Union, Japan, China - to begin working together, not on having some plan of a grand treaty 10 or 20 years from now, but begin deploying clean technology, energy efficiency, doing these kinds of concrete small steps to change the way the energy game is played in different places.
GELELRMAN: So if there’s something in the Durban Platform for everybody, depending on your perspective, can we anticipate that the process is going to go on pretty much as it has?
URPELAINEN: I think so, at least for a while, because, now they again have another four years of breathing space. So, they can now waste a few more years not necessarily achieving much. Then I guess, the pressure, at some point, will build up and then depending on the political realities and economics and all that, at that time, either we will make some meaningful progress, or we’ll make some progress, or alternatively we’ll have a few more of these Copenhagen, Durban-style agreements where they agree only on more negotiation.
GELLERMAN: You’re from Finland, right?
GELLERMAN: What are they saying about the Durban Platform in Finland?
URPELAINEN: There’s some interesting discussion there. So, some groups, some environmental groups, some commentators who have been following this for a long time have been quite disappointed and they have highlighted the fact that they’re already sort of moving far away from their idea of limiting climate change - global warming - to two degrees Celsius, which is the sort of scientific, basic goal that many of the groups endorsed.
But others have then said that it’s a meaningful kind of continuation of the process, and these are often the people who have a sort of strong belief in the United Nations. Which, by the way, in small countries like Finland, often is a much stronger sentiment than for example in the United States.
GELLERMAN: Well, professor, thanks a lot!
URPELAINEN: Thank you very much!
GELLERMAN: Johannes Urpelainen is an assistant professor of political science at Columbia University. Well, it seems that pledge that climate negotiators made two years ago in Copenhagen to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees centigrade over pre-industrial levels, is a thing of the past.
GELLERMAN: Scientists say it's nearly certain temperatures are going to be higher, and now the question is: Can we adapt to a rapidly climate changing world? Frank Lowenstein is the climate adaptation strategy leader for The Nature Conservancy. He is just back from the climate summit in Durban. Hi, Welcome back.
LOWENSTEIN: Thank you very much, Bruce!
GELLEMAN: So, what does the world that we need to adapt to look like?
LOWENSTEIN: Well, we already are seeing climate changes. We’ve seen increases in precipitation on a global basis, and we’ve seen increases in global temperature - those two trends are going to continue. We’re also going to see an increase in climate extremes. So, although precipitation is going to increase on a global basis, there may be places that get very dry and other places that get very wet and flooded.
GELLERMAN: So, extremes: heavier rainfall, floods, stronger winds, cyclones, hurricanes…
A US Coast Guard Reservist wades into 2011 Mississippi floodwater (United States Army Corps of Engineers)
LOWENSTEIN: Yes, yes, stronger hurricanes. An increase in severe thunderstorms - a new article just out suggests that by the end of the century there will be a doubling of the frequency of severe thunderstorm conditions on the East Coast of the U.S.
GELLERMAN: Great, so now I'm without hope. How do I cope? How do we adapt to this changing world?
LOWENSTEIN: Well, the first thing we need to do is to be conscious about the need to adapt and to start to put in place policies in our everyday lives, in our cities’ planning, in our states’ planning and in our national policies to help us adapt.
The Nature Conservancy believes that natural ecosystems have a very important role to play in helping us to adapt. We need to preserve key ecosystems that are providing services to people, which we may not even be aware of, that are helping us to adapt today. And, in some places we need to restore ecosystems that have been degraded or lost.
GELLERMAN: Let’s talk about the ones we have to protect, how do we do that?
LOWENSTEIN: Well some of it is just putting the right incentives into place. And, some of it is recognizing the values of those ecosystems. So we’re sitting here in Somerville, Massachusetts. The water that we drink comes out of the Quabbin Reservoir, and the Quabbin Reservoir is kept very pure by the forests that surround that reservoir. And, with more precipitation, which is what we’re forecasted to get here in Massachusetts, there will be more erosion, more sedimentation. You may need a larger buffer of forests. You may need to manage those forests differently so that they do a better job with the filtration.
GELLERMAN: So, are we doing those things now? Are we preparing for more precipitation and the reservoir going up?
LOWENSTEIN: We are in the very early stages of doing this. There are some really good examples of places that are doing it.
GELLERMAN: For example?
LOWENSTEIN: So, in the desert Southwest, there’s an effort which is thinking about how do we mange the national forests so that they continue to deliver clean water to the cities of the desert southwest? Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Phoenix. So for example last spring with the wildfires that took place that were so dramatic in the desert Southwest and which, again, are in line with what we’re expecting more of with climate change in that region, there was massive erosion of sediment and charcoal into the rivers that provide the water supply for Albuquerque.
So if we manage the forests to reduce the risk of fire - go for a forest that has fewer, larger trees spread out more from one another - these are basic forest management techniques - we know how to do that - then we can reduce the risk of severe wildfire, and at the same time, capture more snow. By capturing more snow, we can preserve water flow into the summer longer, even as temperatures rise, and help further reduce the risk of wildfire.
GELLERMAN: The Nature Conservancy has a program - you’ve been using satellite imagery of the Long Island Sound - what do you hope to do with that information?
LOWENSTEIN: Sure, this is our Coastal Resilience Project. It’s really thinking about how is sea level rise, driven largely by climate change, and coastal storms, driven by both climate change and just past history - how is that going to affect coastal communities?
GELLERMAN: They’re going to get whacked!
LOWENSTEIN: Yes, but where? Is it going to whack your local hospital? Is it going to affect your evacuation routes, your roads that you need to get people out of the way of hurricanes? Which houses are most vulnerable? So all of these are questions that people need to know to start planning, and that should affect local zoning so that we build new facilities, new hospitals, new schools, in places that are not vulnerable.
GELLERMAN: So there are things we can do to our environment to help us adapt to a changing world. What about wildlife that can’t adapt?
LOWENSTEIN: Well, there’s a lot of thought going into that, and we’re already seeing a movement north by animals and plants. We’re seeing a shift in seasonality. We’re seeing that plants come to flower earlier, birds return from their southern migration earlier and leave later.
So we’re seeing plants and animals making changes on their own. Sometimes we’re going to get in the way of that. You know, if you’re an owl, if your habitat has moved 100 miles north, you can fly over a city to that new habitat. If you’re a snail, that’s a tougher task. So, there’s a lot of effort going into thinking about where are the suitable habitats going to be, and how can we help plants and animals to reach them? How do we preserve maybe corridors that enable wildlife movement between natural areas?
GELLERMAN: You mean, a corridor, a way of getting…a channel basically? Through an ecosystem, or…
LOWENSTEIN: You know, it’s more thinking about it not as a strict corridor, like- we’re going to put up a fence and plant forests linking to another one. But maybe what we’re going to do is find out a way to reduce the ecological contrast so that the farms and second-growth forests are more like the older forests. And so plants and animals that live in that older forest are able to move into that surrounding area and diffuse through to the next large forest block.
GELLERMAN: Have you ever thought of what you’re personally going to do if your place where you live has weird, extreme weather?
Image of the 2011 Mississippi Flood
LOWENSTEIN: Absolutely! Yes. I live in Western Massachusetts, and in the last couple of years we’ve seen terrible ice storms that left people without power for over a week in many cases. And, then huge tree damage that again left people without power for up to a week after the October snowstorm.
And also Hurricane Irene left some people without power for days, and up to a week. So, we’re seeing those kinds of climate extremes changing things in our community. My wife and I are thinking about putting in a couple of woodstoves in our house as a backup source if the power goes out.
And, we have already put in solar panels to help generate electricity and create a more diffuse electrical network. If instead of being dependent on a few large power plants, if we have dispersed power sources across a larger area, that’s likely to be more resilient.
GELLERMAN: Well, Frank Lowenstein, thank you so very much for coming in.
LOWENSTEIN: Thank you, Bruce, happy to have been here.
GELLERMAN: Frank Lowenstein is the climate adaptation strategy leader for the Nature Conservancy.
- The Nature Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience Program
- The Nature Conservancy
[MUSIC: Beaver & Krause “Short Film For David” from Gardharva (Rhino Entertainment 2005).]
GELLERMAN: Just ahead: It was a year the EPA took its lumps - and not just from coal. Keep listening to Living on Earth!
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Jimmy Smith: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from Christmas Cookin (Verve Records 1992).]
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. This has been a year when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could’ve used some protecting itself. Republicans cheered when President Obama overruled the EPA’s proposed tough new standards for smog last fall.
The president, citing “regulatory burdens” and the cost to the economy, sent the regs back to the EPA for more study. But his decision set environmental groups seething. They cited studies that reducing smog would save tens of billions of dollars in health care costs and prevent 12 thousand premature deaths.
Ire was also directed at the EPA when it raised environmental concerns about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. It’s designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. President Obama punted again, ordering the EPA to review the project and come up with an answer by 2013.
All in all it’s been a busy, contentious year for the EPA. Erica Martinson covers the agency for the news organization Politico.
MARTINSON: EPA was big business this year; big focus on fuel economy for cars this year, and some interaction between EPA and Department of Transportation and the auto industry.
GELLERMAN: Yeah, that fuel economy story didn’t get a lot of play. Basically the Obama Administration was raising the standard to, what 54 and a half miles per gallon by 2020, yeah?
MARTINSON: Yeah, they’ve done a lot to encourage some trucks that have better fuel economy - that’s something quite new. But, I think that it seemed to sort of slide by in the national eye.
GELLERMAN: What other stories stood out?
MARTINSON: Well, fracking has been pretty big this year. There’s a lot of fracking stories, it’s really not just one. But, the Marcellus Shale, it sort of changes the game for natural gas in America, which changes the game a lot for EPA, in the way they decide to do certain air emissions rules. The price of natural gas has gone down so dramatically that it opens it up for a lot more options for regulating utilities and power plants.
GELLERMAN: But, they haven’t made standards, they haven’t enforced things in terms of fracking, have they?
MARTINSON: Well, they’re doing a lot of research. (Laughs). EPA is also working on some rules that would regulate the disposal of fracking fluid - all the sorts of stuff that gets pulled back and there’s concern about it going to waste water treatment plants or ending up in local streams.
GELLERMAN: A lot of decisions like this were kind of like non-decisions in a sense. I’m thinking about things like the Keystone pipeline decision.
EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)
MARTINSON: Yes. That was another big environmental story this year. EPA was one of the key critics of the pipeline decision - they never turned in their final environmental impact statement, the White House pulled back that decision before it happened as well.
GELLERMAN: Basically, they punted and said, ‘well, we’re going to need more information.’
MARTINSON: Yes. ‘We’ll talk about it after the election.’
GELLERMAN: You know, Erica, the EPA has really been a lightning rod for the administration, maybe a punching bag for the Republicans might be a better metaphor.
MARTINSON: It sure has. That’s been a huge focus of the House GOP this year. Not as much in the Senate. Most of the House jobs bills are largely tied to the EPA, either rolling back various EPA regulations, or just largely cutting back their ability to regulate at all.
GELLERMAN: Well the smog ruling really was, I think the big one because that’s the one where President Obama basically said, ‘No, it’s jobs - it’s the economy - not science, that’s going to determine how we enforce this regulation.’
MARTINSON: Uh huh. You know, I expect that we’ll see a lot more of this ‘jobs vs. environment’ coming up in the next year.
GELLERMAN: The President’s taken a lot of heat from his base because of some of the decisions that he’s overruled at the EPA.
MARTINSON: Yeah, the ozone decisions have been pretty tough for him. I think that one might argue that his turnaround on Keystone could be tied into getting some of that base back. And, I think that they’re pretty primed to come out with mercury rules for power plants that they’re probably hoping will shore up that base a little more and bring back the environmentalists into the fold for the Obama camp.
GELLERMAN: Yeah, it seems like there is going to be a big announcement by the EPA about mercury.
MARTINSON: Yes, EPA is about to announce their rule for mercury air emissions at utilities and power plants. It’s one of the bigger rules they’ve ever done. It’s going to cover a lot of coal-fired power plants, which means all the older coal-fired power plants that are 30, 40, 50 years old that haven’t been as tightly regulated in the past, at lot of them will shut down. So, that’s caused quite a bit of drama here on the hill, also caused quite a big fight over how it’s going to affect electricity reliability.
GELLERMAN: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has had a very tough, and I think frustrating year. I think that a lot of people on the hill would just as soon put a lump of coal in her stocking.
MARTINSON: (Laughs) That’s true, she’s had a difficult go of it, both inside the Administration and, also you know, on the hill there is kind of nothing she can do correct. You know, that’s nothing new to EPA, there’s almost nothing they can do that they don't get sued over.
GELLERMAN: Has Lisa Jackson expressed frustration?
MARTINSON: Well, she’s a little more balanced in her public conversation. She’s certainly frustrated I think with the level of discussion on EPA as a job-killing agency. She’s fought back in recent months - going on a bit of a media tour – but she’s lost a few battles in her own Administration. She’s had a pretty difficult year. And, it was just announced this week actually that one of her closest personal advisors Seth Oster announced he’s heading off to the private sector. So I wouldn’t wonder if that’s not a sign of things to come.
GELLERMAN: Well, what’s the fate of the EPA budget look like?
MARTINSON: Well, they’re up against some cuts. I think the their latest numbers I saw were they’re going to lose about 300 million in the budget that may or may not be passed very soon here. And, they like everyone else are up for a lot of automatic spending cuts come 2013, since the super-committee failed to achieve their goals.
It’s a little unclear as of yet how much EPA is going to lose. But there can be a fairly convoluted process that can allow Congress to aim at specific agencies, particularly when there’s not a budget, so the EPA could be up for quite a bit more trouble.
GELLERMAN: Erica Martinson is an energy reporter. She covers the EPA for Politico. Erica, thank you so much.
MARTINSON: Thank you.
Visit Politico’s website
GELLERMAN: Well, for 20 years the EPA has been wrestling with regulating mercury. Most of the mercury in the environment comes from coal-fired power plants - and today one baby in six in the U.S. is born with dangerously high levels of the neurotoxin. Now the EPA is at last launching its new standards and a religious coalition is adding its voice to the debate. Living On Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.
LOBET: An alliance of Catholics and evangelical Christians opposed to abortion has been pressing EPA to set limits on mercury to protect the neurological development of babies in utero. It’s airing ads like this in seven states.
[TV AD, PASTOR TRACEY: Coal burning power plants in our region have helped raise mercury levels in our waters, threatening the unborn with permanent brain damage. That’s why I am counting on Senator Alexander to defend the EPA’s ability to protect the unborn from mercury pollution.]
LOBET: The ads were produced by the Evangelical Environmental Network. Reverend Mitchell Hescox is president. He says 100 other faith leaders, the National Association of Evangelicals and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have signed on. Reverend Hescox and colleagues have visited the offices of dozens of members of Congress in recent years to lobby on the issue saying:
HESCOX: If their faith is important to them, and life is important to them, shouldn’t you be concerned about what mercury does to our unborn children?
Rev. Mitchell Hescox, now president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, at a National Day of Prayer in Washington.
LOBET: The issue of fetal health is not the only reason they’ve become involved in the mercury issue. The fact that 40 percent of the country’s lakes and rivers are contaminated with mercury, which rains out of the atmosphere and is taken up by fish, is also moving people.
HESCOX: So we’re just poisoning our God’s creation and we’re taking away the things like family fishing, recreational activities that many of us have enjoyed who are natural outdoors people.
LOBET: Many coal-fired power plants have already invested in the equipment that removes mercury from their emissions. The EPA says new rules would eliminate more than 90 percent of what remains. And an alliance of Evangelical and Catholic voters with children’s health advocates is a development that could prove formidable in pushing for action on pollution issues. For Living On Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet
GELLERMAN: You can hear the full interview with Mitchell Hescox at our website LOE dot ORG.
- WEB EXTRA: Click here to listen to the full interview.
- Evangelical Environmental Network TV, Radio Ads
- Industry Study: Utilities Able to Comply with Mercury Rule
- Open Letter by Utilities Who Oppose Mercury Limits
[MUSIC: Steven Bernstein’s MTO “Family Affair” from MTO Plays Sly (Royal Potato Family 2011).]
GELLERMAN: For some Palestinians and Bedouin communities on the West Bank, herding is a way of life, and so is poverty. Residents have limited access to water, electricity and food. But a group of Israelis and Palestinians is trying to make a difference and renewable technology is the key. Zak Rosen has our story.
ROSEN: It’s not that Israeli Dhalia Shaham doesn’t care about the prospects of Palestinian statehood. She does. If this were three years ago, she’d be following any sort of geopolitical development very closely. But today...
SHAHAM: Most of the discourse is about one state or two states. Where will the border cross? And that I find is one of the least important questions if you’re thinking about what peace would look like and how people are going to live.
ROSEN: Dahlia’s idea of what is important changed after she became disillusioned with her job at a think tank that advises the Israeli government on policy planning.
SHAHAM: The question is how people actually live and how their interests are taken care of and how they find ways to cooperate. And actually doing that work and finding out how this cooperation can take place and what are the limits of that cooperation is what I’m involved in now.
[SOUND OF CAR WINDOW OPENING: (To guard at checkpoint) “Boker tov.” WINDOW CLOSES, SOUNDS OF DRIVING]
SHAHAM: Yeah, so going into the West Bank, is no problem.
ROSEN: I’m driving with Dahlia from Tel Aviv, down to the West Bank to South Mt. Hebron where it’s sunny and rocky and pristine. On our way to a small village called Tha’le we pass several Jewish settlements, as well as young boys riding donkeys behind herds of sheep.
SHAHAM: It’s kind of like the western outskirts of Hebron.
ROSEN: At least once a week, Dahlia drives from her home in Herzilia, near Tel Aviv into South Mt. Hebron.
ROSEN: I am the Development Manager for COMET-ME.
ROSEN: COMET-ME stands for Community Energy and Technology in the Middle East. And what they do is build and install wind turbines and solar panels in small Palestinian and Bedouin villages.
[ARABIC BEING SPOKEN, LAUGHTER]
ROSEN: Tha’le, like a lot of villages in this area is made up of just a dozen or so families. The people here live in shanty-like tents or caves. That’s why they’re known as cave dwellers.
SHAHAM: A lot of them are in constant struggle to be able to hold on to the lands where they’ve been living for dozens of years that are being encroached on by settlement activity or military activity.
[SOUND OF WIND]
ROSEN: From where I’m standing, on top of a hill, on the outskirts of the village, I can see an electric line just a few hundred meters away. But the people here, mostly herders, don’t have access to that energy.
SHAHAM: In order to understand the political complications that deprive these people of electricity, you need to understand the structure of the Oslo accords that divided the West Bank into area A, area B, and Area C.
ROSEN: Area A is under full control of the Palestinian Authority.
SHAHAM: Area B is under civilian control of the Palestinian Authority but security and military control of Israel.
ROSEN: And then there’s Area C where Tha’le is, along with 62% of the West Bank. And it’s in Area C where the Israeli settlements are.
SHAHAM: Area C is under full control of the Israel Civil Administration and military. So these communities that are in Area C...
ROSEN: She’s talking about the Palestinian and Bedouin communities.
SHAHAM: They cannot receive services from the Palestinian Authority, because the Palestinian Authority has no authority to supply services. And they do not receive services from the Israeli Civil Administration.
ROSEN: And so, since some of these rural communities don’t have access to electricity, COMET exists as way for them to get it.
ORIAN: These are batteries that are specifically designed for solar applications for off-grid. The chemistry is specifically adjusted for that.
ROSEN: That’s Elad Orian. He and another Israeli physicist founded COMET in 2009. Today, they have eight employees. Half Israeli and half Palestinian.
[JAMEEL AWAD, SPEAKING IN ARABIC]
ROSEN: This is Jameel Awad. He’s 47 years old and has lived in Tha’le for his entire life. He wears chunky, brown, work boots and a blue kafia on his head.
[JAMEEL AWAD, SPEAKING IN ARABIC]
SHAHAM: He said that with the electricity they will have light and they will have chadada, which is the electrical butter churning and he’s saying we’re going to have television and the woman can have a better time and they can rest better.
ROSEN: In Tha’le, goats and sheep are the community’s lifeblood.
SHAHAM: Like if you have extra money you buy a sheep. It produces dairy products – they hardly do anything with the wool – so it’s mostly dairy production and then selling the sheep off as meat too.
ROSEN: Before they had electricity, the women here would spend up to three hours manually churning butter with the skin of a goat. But now, they can buy electric butter churners. Saving lots of time and energy. And, before electricity, there was nowhere to store their freshly churned butter. So it would usually turn into soup by the time it got to market. But now, they can store it in their refrigerators.
COMET has installed mini-grids in over a dozen communities so far. And in those villages, they say the electricity has increased the communities’ income by as much as 70 percent. That’s a big deal here; in one of the poorest regions of the world.
[SOUND OF COMET EMPLOYEE, SPEAKING IN ARABIC]
ROSEN: Since Tha’le sits at the bottom of a valley, COMET hasn’t installed wind turbines here, just 30 solar panels. And now that they’ve been installed Ala Qawasmi, a COMET employee from Ramallah leads a workshop with the residents. He explains the dos and don’ts of their new hook-up.
Then he hands out a laminated chart with text and pictures. It shows that it’s okay to use cellphone chargers, refrigerators and light bulbs. But the use of tea kettles and warm water washing machines will suck up too much energy.
SHAHAM: In South Mt. Hebron, even if occupation ends tomorrow, and the Palestinian state starts extending its national grid, it would still take years before they actually reach those communities.
ROSEN: More than once, Dahlia mentions her role here in the West Bank. She’s here because she and COMET have knowledge and technology they want to transfer.
SHAHAM: And you need to have an exit strategy.
ROSEN: And that’s why in the future, COMET hopes to move toward being run almost entirely by Palestinians.
SHAHAM: You need to develop this in a way that you cannot be there anymore and that it can keep going.
ROSEN: So after the workshop, someone from Tha’le will emerge as the electricity manager for their community. They’ll be taught basic diagnostic care and upkeep for the system. And each household will pay a utility bill, which goes toward subsidizing the cost of the program.
SHAHAM: In this work, my favorite thing about it is that I’m not bothered by the question, well I am bothered by it, but it’s not part of my work to talk about whether there’s gonna be peace or conflict. I’m in an island of peace. That’s where I work. And I'm not there because I’m Israeli and they’re Palestinian. I’m there because I have a function in an organization that provides them service.
ROSEN: And as long as the poverty gap exists in this region of the world, Dahlia wants her work to involve the people who are marginalized the most. For Living on Earth, I’m Zak Rosen.
[MUSIC: Club D’Elf “Instar” from Electric Moroccoland (Club D’Elf Music 2011).]
GELLERMAN: We have these updates and listener feedback from two stories we recently aired. When one of the huge trees in the Sequoia National Forest in California fell, blocking a path, we asked: What should they do with the lumbering giant? Mary Jo Graham listens on WBFO in Buffalo and wrote: “Let it decompose and provide food and shelter to other species.”
“Drill a tunnel through the trunk,” was a favorite suggestion. And Bill Polkinghorn, who listens to our podcast in Maryland, had this idea:
(Photo: Sequoia National Forest)
POLKINGHOR: Cut the tree to produce large round tables. Use one of the tables at the visitor center so that visitors could count the rings. Auction off the other tables to the highest bidders, such as law firms, corporations or convention centers. Use the proceeds from the sale to support the Park Service.
GELLERMAN: Well - it's the Forest Service that made the call, and it has decided to just leave the sequoia where it fell, and build a boardwalk around it. And - we got an earful from listeners who cried foul when it came to our judge's choice for a jingle for the fish: Asian carp…rebranded as silverfin. The final selection didn't mention silverfin… mea carpa! You can hear all the jingles at our website - LOE dot ORG. And keep the feeding frenzy coming. At our website you'll also find our new survey about our show. Let us have it.
[MUSIC: Booker T Jones “The Vamp” from The Road From Memphis (Anti Records 2011).]
GELLERMAN: Coming up – it's raining on Santa's Parade - his reindeer are threatened. Stay tuned to Living on Earth!
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: John Scofield: “Chipmunk Christmas” from Yule Struttin: A Blue Note Christmas (Blue Note Records 1990).]
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 city bound kids explore and enjoy wild places they'll later strive to protect. Online at sierraclub.org/livingonearth. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.
GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. To measure and calculate the flow of ocean currents, scientists use a simple device called a drifter. It's a little float carrying a satellite tracking unit. But as Ari Daniel Shapiro reports, drifters play a big role for lobstermen who use them and for the students who build them.
MANNING: Each drifter has a story to it.
SHAPIRO: The story of the drifter project starts with this guy, Jim Manning. He’s an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. And Manning’s the one who thought up the idea of partnering with a variety of community colleges to design and build drifters. Drifters that could be used by the colleges for their own research, and to facilitate the science of oceanographers elsewhere. Manning leads me outside.
[SOUND OF DOOR OPENING]
MANNING: We’re just going out to the storage barn here where I keep all my junk and assorted parts of drifters.
[SOUND OF JANGLING KEYS]
SHAPIRO: He shoves open the door to reveal a large warehouse filled with metal shelves piled up with all sorts of salt-encrusted equipment.
MANNING: I should clean this out someday.
SHAPIRO: We walk down one of the aisles and dust off some gear.
MANNING: Let’s see if we have any parts. These are some of the older units.
[SOUNDS OF RUMMAGING THROUGH STUFF]
MANNING: Simple flotation with stainless hardware, fiberglass rods that hold the sails together.
SHAPIRO: There are a handful of different drifter models here. The ones being built these days are made from PVC piping, cantaloupe-sized Styrofoam floats, and flexible plastic sheets or sails. The sails wrap around the PVC skeleton kind of like a hoopskirt and give the currents something to push against. The flotation is rigged to get the drifter to hang at a particular depth: at the surface, say, or five meters underwater.
A few weeks later, on a cold, bright morning, I'm standing near the dock at Southern Maine Community College, or SMCC. A team’s getting ready to take a boat out a short ways to drop a couple of drifters into the water. Brian Tarbox is part of that team. He’s a faculty member at SMCC and a former lobsterman. Tarbox unfurls a map showing me where we’re headed.
[SOUND OF MAP UNFURLING]
TARBOX: So, here we are right here on the South Portland shore. What we’re looking for is to get the drifters out past Cape Elizabeth. We start ’em off in Hussey Sound. Hussey Sound’s got a pretty good current on the going tide. They’ll have to run through the gauntlet of lobster gear.
SHAPIRO: How do you steer around that, do you just hope, kind of?
LONG: Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
One of the drifter deployment teams at Southern Maine Community College in the waters off Portland. (Photo: Tom Long)
SHAPIRO: Drifters move passively with the currents. They can’t be guided once they’re set afloat. So the drifters might snag or get entangled on the lobster gear scattered all over the sound. But as long as they steer clear of all that, then they’ll provide tracks of where the currents are flowing and where the water’s moving.
Each drifter’s got a small GPS transmitter glued to it that relays its position via satellite for remote tracking. Tom Long is the science lab manager at SMCC.
LONG: Students who’ve come onto the project are asked to help design and build these units that are gonna be used by researchers, not just by us. What the students get out of that from a practical point of view is how to think about design, how to put that design into action, into reality. And then there’s just the physical skills of learning how to build things, you know, use a table saw, that kind of thing.
SHAPIRO: And are you nervous about anything, or is there anything to be concerned about today?
LONG: Today? Nah, the only thing I’m nervous about today is the transmitters, to be honest with you. They’ve been a little quirky for us lately. And so I’m going to be very anxious within the next hour or two to see that we’re actually getting good fixes. That’s what I’m nervous about. But other than that, have a good trip!
[BOAT SOUNDS: All set? All set.]
SHAPIRO: As we motor out towards Hussey Sound, Catherine Chipman, one of the students involved with the project, points out a couple of landmarks.
CHIPMAN: That’s Fort Gorgeous right over there. Think that’s Peak’s Island.
SHAPIRO: So, can you tell me, you’ve been involved with helping to build some of the drifters as well?
CHIPMAN: I did for a short period of time, but then my school schedule didn’t really allow me to work on them too much.
SHAPIRO: These days, Chipman’s working on a research project using the data from some of the drifters she used to build. The drifters we’re deploying today are going be used by a professors at SMCC to teach about local currents in his oceanography class.
[SOUND OF CHANGING BOAT’S GEARS]
SHAPIRO: Tarbox steers the boat to the deployment location. One of the drifters is to float at the surface, and the other is to drift about 5 meters down.
LA LOMIA: We ready?
TARBOX: I guess so, yeah.
LA LOMIA: I think I’ll put this in first.
SHAPIRO: The drifters are on their way pretty quickly, and Kara La Lomia, a technician who helped to build them, looked delighted.
LA LOMIA: (Laughs.) That’s trucking along pretty good, isn’t it?
SHAPIRO: So what are you thinkin’? Does it look good?
LA LOMIA: It looks very good. And it’s nice to be able to see the two side by side and compare how they’re floating for right now. We’ll have to see what happens here.
SHAPIRO: We watch the drifters move off for a couple of minutes. Then Tarbox guides us expertly back to the dock. I turn back to La Lomia. So what’s it like to kind of come out here and say goodbye to them? To kind of put them in the water, and set them free?
LA LOMIA: It’s always very exciting. I like to be part of coming out here to let them go. I’ve worked on them for so long, and it’s just great to see them go out.
SHAPIRO: When we get back to the dock, a tall, trim, local lobsterman named Elliott Thomas is waiting for us. We walk inside, and he explains what all this has to do with his line of work.
THOMAS: There seems to be a trend over the last 10 years of getting fishermen involved in science.
SHAPIRO: Do the lobsterman pretty much know why these drifters are out there?
THOMAS: Those who follow do know. I mean, the movement of the drifters can indicate movement of lobster larvae before they settle. So it’s a good thing for people to know.
SHAPIRO: By tracking ocean currents, the drifters can also say something about how fish and clam larvae get dispersed. Where invasive crabs might end up, or the path that waste might take coming from a power plant. These drifters even helped keep track of the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. Before leaving campus, I drop by Thomas Long’s office to make sure the transmitters on those two drifters we deployed are working okay.
LONG: As you can see, we’ve got two relatively new pings off of our drifters, which is a good thing.
SHAPIRO: So, this must be kind of, I mean this is exciting for me: We just went out on the boat to put these things in the water, and you’re already getting data right here in your lab.
LONG: Well I get excited every time we do it. And it engages the students too.
CHIPMAN: It’s like you learn one thing and then you keep wanting to know more about it ’cause there’s really no end. It’s like seeing something interesting and then being like, ‘Oh, I wonder what that’s all about.’ And then actually getting to really try and figure it out. I think that’s awesome.
LONG: It’s almost like having pets out there that you can watch, you know? People get very interested in it, in following it, in where they’re going.
SHAPIRO: For Living on Earth, I’m Ari Daniel Shapiro.
GELLERMAN: Our story – Adroitly Adrift – comes to us from Ocean Gazing, a podcast about our seas produced by COSEE NOW. To learn more about Ocean Gazing and its new teaching curriculum, drift over to our website: loe.org.
Ocean Gazing website
[BIRD NOTE THEME]
GELLERMAN: Baby, it’s cold outside. But birds don’t get nervous when the temperatures drop - they don't get cold feet. Bird Note's Michael Stein tells the tale.
[SOUND OF MALLARDS QUACKING]
A dark-eyed junco sits on a icy branch. (Photo: © Mike Hamilton)
STEIN: Have you ever watched ducks walking around in freezing temperatures and wondered how they keep their feet from freezing? The ducks seem oblivious to the cold, even as they stand on ice covered lakes and streams. Or perhaps you’ve been concerned that the tiny feet of songbirds will freeze to metal perches.
[HIGH PITCHED WINTER SONG OF PACIFIC WREN]
STEIN: Unlike our feet, birds’ feet are little more than bone, sinew and scale, with very few nerves. But it takes more than a lack of nerves to keep their feet from freezing. A miraculous adaptation called rete mirabile is responsible. This fine, net-like pattern of arteries that carry warm blood from the bird’s heart is interwoven with the veins carrying cold blood from the feet and legs. This interweaving warms the cold blood in these veins, before it reaches the bird’s heart. This system keeps the bird’s legs and feet warm, even without leggings and slippers.
[WINTER SONG OF PACIFIC WREN]
STEIN: And, those little songbirds feet? Don’t worry. Birds’ feet lack sweat glands and stay dry, so there is no danger of them freezing to metal perches.
This northern flicker’s feet won’t stick to the icy metal. (Photo: © Mike Hamilton)
[WINTER SONG OF PACIFIC WREN]
STEIN: What was that called again? Rete mirabile.
[WINTER SONG OF PACIFIC WREN]
GELLERMAN: Mirabile dictu! That’s Michael Stein of Bird Note relating something wonderful about birds and cold feet. To see some photos of birds standing up to the cold, make tracks to our website loe.org.
- Call of Mallard and the song of the Pacific Wren provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Mallard recorded by A.A. Allen, Pacific Wren by G.A. Keller.
- BirdNote® Why Birds’ Feet Don’t Freeze was written by Frances Wood
GELLERMAN: Well, 'tis the season...
[MUSIC: Ray Charles “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” from A Jazz A Blues Christmas (Putumayo Records 2008).]
GELLERMAN: Rudolph had a hard life at the start, but his leadership abilities shined through.
[MUSIC: Ray Charles “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” from A Jazz A Blues Christmas (Putumayo Records 2008). "Then how the reindeer loved him, as they shouted out with glee. They said, 'Rudolph, you read nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history!'"]
GELLERMAN: Sadly Rudolph could soon be history. Some populations of reindeer, also known as caribou, certainly don't have a bright future. That’s according to Jeff Flocken. He's head of U.S. policy for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
FLOCKEN: These are the ones that people probably have in their mind when they thinking of Santa’s reindeer because they’re closest to the North Pole. The two species that we’re most concerned with: the peary and the dolphin union populations are the northernmost caribou, and they’re found in northern Canada on Victoria Island, and other islands up there at the top.
Peary caribou are smaller and whiter than other reindeer, adaptations that help them survive in the northern most latitudes. (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration)
GELLERMAN: I’ve got to ask you, do they have red noses?
FLOCKEN: (Laughs.) None that I’ve seen. The species that we work with… what we’re talking about today, like the peary, are probably smaller than most people think of in terms of caribou. They’re very light colored, kind of white, with a dense fur. And the dolphin union ones are a little bit darker, they have the velvet covering their antlers, they’re beautiful animals, but the glowing nose? I haven’t seen that.
GELLERMAN: (Laughs.) So now we’ve got these two populations, one’s called union dolphin and the other is called peary, right?
GELLERMAN: And, they’ve got problems!
FLOCKEN: They’re in serious trouble. Well, caribou across the world, they’re all found in the northern hemisphere in these cold temperatures, are declining. They think an average decline of about 60 percent from historic highs.
And, these in the most northern part are even in more trouble. During the last few winters, they’ve found mass die-offs of the peary ones in particular. Up to 84 percent of the population they think to have been lost.
GELLERMAN: Why is this happening, do we know?
FLOCKEN: It’s climate change. The temperature, the weather and the landscape are all changing in the arctic. So, in particular, with this species - they’re a browsing species - and they need to have access to the different plants and native shrubs that grow in the tundra where they are in the winter.
So usually in past times, there’s kind of a light, fluffy snow that falls in that region, but now, because of the temperature, they tend of have a heavy, icy rain. So, what’s happening is, it’s freezing over these plants so the reindeer can’t access them for food. What’s happening - they’re starving or they’re spending too much energy trying to find food. As a result starvation, malnutrition, low-reproductive rates, and that’s causing these die-offs.
GELLERMAN: Wow. Are they endangered?
FLOCKEN: Yes, well, that’s a great question. In Canada, the Species at Risk Act, which is equivalent to our own Endangered Species Act, peary are listed as endangered. They’re considered a species in imminent danger of extinction and the dolphin union are considered a species of special concern. What the International Fund for Animal Welfare, where I work is doing is, we petitioned in September 2009 to get the U.S. to list the species as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
GELLERMAN: If Canada is taking care of this, why does the United States have to get involved?
FLOCKEN: The U.S. Endangered Species Act, which is considered one of the best laws in the world for protected species, has the ability to list domestic or foreign species. Currently, we have about 2,000 species on the list of which 607 are foreign. In this case, paying attention to the fact that climate change is most likely going to be the leading driver of extinction for species in our lifetime for species.
And every time a species like polar bear or caribou or the ice-dependent seals or Pacific walrus is continuing to decline from climate change, we’re hoping that the more attention that goes through this, the more people change their habits. And the more that the international community tries to address the problem of human climate change.
GELLERMAN: So, by putting them on the Endangered Species List - the United States Endangered Species List - you could perhaps offer them protection, but against climate change? How would that work?
FLOCKEN: Well that's, you know, it's a good question. The U.S. Endangered Species Act, the Obama Administration has chosen to follow the Bush Administration’s lead and is not using that as a way to regulate the impact of climate change due to actions here in the U.S.
But every time that we learn more about different species that are declining because of climate change, it opens up that opportunity to bring back that discussion. To try to have international laws that will really start addressing meaningfully the things that we are doing to contribute to climate change and global warming.
GELLERMAN: So, the Obama Administration is not using the Endangered Species Act to respond to the affects of… the impacts of climate change.
FLOCKEN: Correct. They will not regulate carbon-emitting processes because of the Endangered Species Act.
GELLERMAN: There are going to be a lot of people who are going to celebrate Christmas and they’re going to have reindeer on their lawns, you know, they’re going to be singing Rudolph, and I’m wondering how many of them appreciate the fact that these animals are so endangered.
FLOCKEN: Well, what we hope to do is that they think about what they do, and instead of driving to the local grocery store, maybe they’ll walk. They’ll think about getting more fuel-efficient cars, the next time they purchase one. And, making individual choices that will ensure that reindeer stay for the future - that Santa has a full team of reindeer driving across the sky. And, also of course, that decision-makers in governments really start looking hard at what’s causing climate change, and help species like reindeer, polar bears, certain whales, arctic foxes… all these animals that are being impacted by a warming climate.
GELLERMAN: Jeff Flocken is head of U.S. policy for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Jeff, thank you so very much and Merry Christmas.
FLOCKEN: Thanks you and Merry Christmas to you too, Bruce!
[MUSIC: Natisse (Bambi ) Jones “Can Reindeer Fly” from Christmas With Miss Butch Records (Mardi Gras Records 2000).]
[SOUNDS OF BAGPIPES, MUSIC]
GELLERMAN: We leave you this week in the midst of a winter festival parade, in Kali Vrisi, Greece.
[SOUNDS: Steven Feld “Festival Parade at Kali Vrissi” from Bells And Winter Festivals of Greek Macedonia (Smithsonian Records 2002).]
GELLERMAN: Bagpipers lead the crowd down the winding streets of this village in Greek Macedonia. Boys and men follow, wearing bells on their traditional costumes.
Steven Feld recorded their pipes, bells and whistles for his CD “Bells & Winter Festivals, Greek Macedonia.”
[SOUNDS: Steven Feld “Festival Parade at Kali Vrissi” from Bells And Winter Festivals of Greek Macedonia (Smithsonian Records 2002). - VOICES YELLING, DRUMS, PIPES, CLANKING OF BELLS, WHISTLES]
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Jessica Ilyse Kurn, Ingrd Lobet, Helen Palmer, and Ike Sriskandarajah, with help from Sarah Calkins, Gabriela Romanow and Sammy Sousa. And today we bid a very fond farewell to our terrific interns, Raphaella Bennin and Jack Rodolico - we hope it's been as much fun for you as for us. All the best, guys! Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes.
You can find us anytime at LOE 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. And don’t forget to check out the Living on Earth Facebook page.
It’s PRI’s Living on Earth. And you can follow us on Twitter - @livingonearth, that's one word. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening!
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