• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

May 18, 2012

Air Date: May 18, 2012

FULL SHOW

(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

Fixing a Deformed Frog Face

(stream / mp3)

Researchers found that tadpoles have the ability to regenerate parts of their bodies damaged during development. Now they’re trying to determine how that mechanism can be applied to human development. Biologist Laura Vandenberg of Tufts University tells host Bruce Gellerman about the breakthrough (5:25)

Hard-hit Neighborhoods in L.A. Seek Zoning Protection / Ingrid Lobet

(stream / mp3)

Environmentalists in Los Angeles say they have a new approach to cleaning up some of the most polluted neighborhoods. The new plan calls for special zoning, would limit pollution, and prioritize funding for small industries to purchase cleaner equipment. As Ingrid Lobet reports, the pilot project aligns environmental interests with those of local businesses. (6:00)

Counting the Impact of Bike Commuting

(stream / mp3)

If you build bicycle trails, will they come? A pilot program doled out millions of dollars so four communities could bulk up their bicycle infrastructure. Host Bruce Gellerman talks to Marianne Fowler, senior vice president of federal relations for the Rails to Trails Conservancy, about the difference a little funding makes. (7:00)

Copenhagen Bikes Update

(stream / mp3)

The city of Copenhagen wants 50 percent of its commuters bicycling to work or school by 2015. Host Bruce Gellerman talks to urban motility expert and Copenhagenize Consulting CEO Mikael Colville-Andersen about how the city is faring and what other cities can learn about making room for bicycles. (12:30)

The Place Where You Live / Lise Saffran

(stream / mp3)

In collaboration with Orion Magazine, Living on Earth introduces a new feature “The Place Where You Live.” This week, Lise Saffran of Columbia, Missouri tells us about her family’s special place in the Ozarks. (3:00)

The Art of Fermentation / Steve Curwood

(stream / mp3)

Microorganisms surround us—they’re in our bodies, and on everything we touch. Sometimes we use this microscopic community to our advantage, like to make pickles or brew beer. Author Sandor Katz tells Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood about how humans have learned to manipulate the process of fermentation to change the color, texture, and taste of our food, and also to increase food safety. Katz is the author of the new book, “The Art of Fermentation: An in-depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world.” (10:30)

EarthEar

(stream / mp3)

(2:52)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Laura Vandenberg, Marianne Fowler, Mikael Colville-Andersen, Sandor Katz
REPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet, Lise Saffran, Steve Curwood

[THEME]

GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Scientists have found a way to fix congenital defects in the faces of developing frogs…kids could be next.

VANDENBERG:If we could stimulate the pathway that's regenerating and repairing in a frog--in a child--it has huge implications for dealing with children that have a birth defect like cleft palette that can currently only be fixed with surgery.

GELLERMAN: A breakthrough in understanding how embryos develop. Also, an experiment in urban environmental development. In LA, a proposal to cut pollution and boost business:

GALLEGOS: This will the first time in the country that a regulatory entity has considered cumulative impacts, the overall burden of pollution that a community faces in making its land use and regulatory decisions, that's huge.

GELLERMAN: These stories - and a lot more this week on Living on Earth - stick around!

[THEME]

Back to top

ANNOUNCER ONE: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

Fixing a Deformed Frog Face

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville Massachusetts it’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Inside the developing embryo is the genetic blueprint that determines how the baby will turn out. It’s a complex process, not well understood and sometimes things can go wrong. For example, defects of the face such as cleft lip and palate affect more than 1 in every 600 human births. The congenital malformations underscore one of the big questions in developmental biology: how do complex shapes like the face put themselves together?

In a laboratory at Tufts University scientists think they’ve got part of the answer. Using tadpoles as a model, researchers have identified a “self-correcting” mechanism by which developing frogs recognize and repair head and facial abnormalities. The team has published its finding in the latest edition of the journal Developmental Dynamics. Laura Vandenberg is one of the authors:

VANDENBERG: A little while ago we had done a study that showed that there's a bio-electrical control of how the face develops. So what we did was look at frog tadpoles as their face is forming, and we found in areas where the eye will form, the nose will form, the mouth will form, there’s a flash of bioelectrical activity.

So, prior to those cells knowing that they should make an eye, they are different from their neighbors in terms of their bioelectrical properties.

GELLERMAN: What triggers the bioelectric charge?

VANDENBERG: So, in every cell of our bodies, there are little pumps and channels that are responsible for the flow of ions. So, that’s things that are positively charged, like a potassium ion, or a hydrogen ion—or things that are negatively charged, like chloride ions. And so these flow in and out of our cells and they change the bioelectrical properties of cells because they’re charged molecules. And what we found is that if we alter a pump in certain cells that we can change the way that the face develops.

GELLERMAN: So, the pump changes the flow of the ions?

VANDENBERG: That’s right. So if we block this pump from acting, then, normally hydrogen ions are pumped out of the cell, and we can prevent that from happening so that the cells stay more positively charged.

GELLERMAN: So you can change the development of a tadpole’s face and head?

VANDENBERG: That’s right. Just by changing the flow of ions. Not by changing a gene necessarily. So you can do this by treating them with a drug that affects ion flow, or by changing an RNA that affects ion flow.

GELLERMAN: Now, we know that frogs and tadpoles can regenerate, you know, cut off their tail, new tail. We can’t do that...

VANDENBERG: That’s right.

GELLERMAN: Does this have any application for people?

VANDENBERG: So, there is some regenerative capability in people. So your liver can regenerate; actually from a very small piece, it can regenerate. And one thing that you probably didn’t know is that children’s fingertips can regenerate. So if a child below the age of seven looses the tip of their fingertip and you leave the wound open so that the electrical flow can flow out of that wound, the fingertip can regenerate.

GELLERMAN: So the implications of your work are potentially profound.

VANDENBERG: Yes, and the really cool thing, if you think about it, is that if you need bioelectrical properties to build a normal face, perhaps a birth defect like cleft palate could be fixed by altering bioelectrical properties. Now, how would you do such a thing? Gene therapy for the most part has failed in humans—it has all kinds of problems associated with it, including the development of cancers in children who are treated with gene therapy.

But if you can use a drug that affects bioelectrical properties, then you could treat a fetus with a drug. So are the drugs that we’re talking about? The kind of drugs that we know are already safe for people to use—the kinds of drugs that affect bioelectrical properties of our gut when we make too much acid in our gut.

GELLERMAN: So where do you go from here?

VANDENBERG: What we’d really like to know is: is this really something special about the frog face, or is this more generally acceptable or understandable to how other animals develop the parts of their face.

GELLERMAN: So in the lab, when you go back from the studio today, what are you going to do?

VANDENBERG: Well, so, that’s where the second part of our work really started to change how we were thinking about things. We went and we looked at these animals that we have produced that have malformed faces, and we watched them develop over time and we saw the most fascinating thing. These animals can actually fix, on their own, problems with their faces. So they can repair a totally deformed face, by just giving them enough time.

GELLERMAN: So there’s a feedback mechanism. Something is triggering the deformity, something is telling them to change and repair - and they do it!

VANDENBERG: That’s right. So we trigger the deformity, but the animal can somehow sense: this isn’t right. And I need to fix it.

GELLERMAN: So if a child had a cleft palate, how come they aren’t getting a triggering mechanism saying hey, now repair that cleft palate?

VANDENBERG: So, perhaps this is also why we can only repair our fingertips for the first few years of life, or why our bodies don’t regenerate certain tissues. So if we could stimulate the pathway that’s regenerating and repairing in a frog…in a child…it has huge implications for dealing with children who have these deformities that currently can only be fixed by surgery.

GELLERMAN: Dr Vandenberg, thank you for coming in.

VANDENBERG: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Laura Vandenberg is a developmental biologist at Tufts University.

[MUSIC: Bjork “Pagan Poetry” from Vespertine (Electra Records 2004)]

Related link:
Article: Facial Defects Shown to Self-Repair

Back to top

 

Hard-hit Neighborhoods in L.A. Seek Zoning Protection

GELLERMAN: They're calling it Clean-Up, Green-Up. It's a proposal to create special zones around some of the most polluted neighborhoods in Los Angeles. It’s a response to residents who say: enough is enough - no more pollution. The idea: clean up the environment and help businesses thrive at the same time.

Advocates say it takes environmental justice to a whole new level that just might become a model for other communities around the country. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.

[OUTDOOR CROWD SOUND]

LOBET: On the steps of LA City Hall, about one hundred people gather to send a message to those inside: help cleanup the pollution in our neighborhoods. Janet Loredo is a high school senior.

LOREDO: I have eye infections and my vision has been affected by the pollution. Doctors have said it was due to pollution that I have eye infections. My sister is allergic and often gets rashes. My cousin suffers from asthma.

LOBET: Loredo’s neighborhood is near a major shipping port, freeways and refineries. She says she really feels the contrast with more upscale zip codes when she helps her dad in his landscaping business.

LOREDO: The refinery I live near operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week. I can see the difference between Pacific Palisades and Wilmington. It is clean and green in Pacific Palisades, but not in Wilmington. That is not fair.

LOBET: These people here support a proposal to make three L.A. neighborhoods Clean Up Greenup zones. The communities chosen have high rates of pollution and health effects caused by their location and the number of small and large businesses in the area.

Businesses within these zones would need to limit any new noise, pollution or bright lights if they want to expand. But the proposal isn’t only about limits. It also channels money to businesses so they can make improvements. Leonardo Vilchis with the group Union de Vecinos says keeping businesses in the neighborhoods is a crucial part of the pilot project.

VILCHIS: This is working with them so they continue being participants in their community, contributing to our economy and continue being our neighbors. This is not about punishing; this is about modernization.

LOBET: Some business owners like Dina Cervantes are onboard with the new zones. Her parents founded Triumph Precision Products, a machine shop, five decades ago. She welcomes help updating the family’s equipment.

CERVANTES: Some of our machinery is really old. You know, so I’m sure that there’s newer machinery that could change the air quality inside, you know, maybe a different filtration system.

LOBET: The proposal has some cutting edge social science behind it. Researchers at UC Berkeley, the University of Southern California and Occidental College have created first of a kind maps that include all sources of air pollution, plus social information – where people might be more vulnerable, where there’s less access to health care – even where babies are being born early or with low birth weight.

The researchers then shared these maps with community members so they could note unmapped facilities they think are contributing to emissions. Professor Jim Sadd of Occidental:

SADD: We find there are lots of un-permitted facilities. Now, I don’t mean to say they are illegal.

LOBET: What they are, Sadd says, is small, often garage operations that fly under regulatory radar. They’re often near each other and can act like larger facilities.

SADD: One example is auto paint and body shops. I think we’ve all driven through neighborhoods where there’s a lot of paint and body shops there. Well, when you actually map those you find there are a lot of paint and body shops tend to be clustered and together they contribute to higher level of cumulative exposure

LOBET: The researchers also asked residents to use their on the ground knowledge to pinpoint nursing homes and daycare centers, where there are numbers of sensitive people. Then, residents wore personal air monitors to measure actual exposure to small particles.

SADD: What we found was the levels we measured exceeded the state health protective limit about half the time.

LOBET: This research helped determine which three neighborhoods should be targeted as pilots for the Cleanup Greenup ordinance.

[SOUND FROM INSIDE LA CITY HALL]

LOBET: Now the proposal is advancing through government in the nation’s second largest city. L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar spoke to the city planning committee.

HUIZAR: Sometimes we just say, “It just can’t be done. We either did no planning or bad planning in the past and it can’t be corrected now. The fact that that car body shop is in the middle of a residential area and is polluting all these things – that’s just the way it is and we have to live with it now.” No, we should not just live with it now. There’s things we can do.

LOBET: But several representatives of Chambers of Commerce, including Brendan Huffman, said they are worried about some elements of the proposal, which call for pollution monitoring and noise reduction where industry is close to playgrounds and daycare centers.

HUFFMAN: “Buffer zones” between industry and residential communities—we don’t know what that means. Usually that means eminent domain. We heard terms like “parks” and “open space.” We don’t know where that funding is going to come from. Does that come from penalties on existing or new businesses?

LOBET: Here’s Jessica Duboff.

DUBOFF: The city is currently in a fiscal crisis, making tough choices and eliminating positions. Without a strong incentive component, this program becomes a duplicative set of regulations for business that are trying to grow through further investment in our city.

LOBET: The planning commission moved the Cleanup Greenup proposal forward. Among the many environmental justice veterans in attendance was Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment.

GALLEGOS: This will be the first time in the country that a regulatory entity has considered has cumulative impacts, the overall burden of pollution that a community faces in making its land use and regulatory decisions. That’s huge.

LOBET: Huge, advocates say, because there are polluted communities like this all over the country. For Living On Earth, Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.

[MUSIC: Chuck brown “We The People” from the Very Best Of Chuck Brown (Raw Venture Records 2005)]

GELLERMAN: Just ahead: Celebrating bicycling – ridership is up in the US, but in Copenhagen, it’s the road less traveled. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: “Up From the Skies” from Gil Evans Plays The Music Of Jimi Hendrix (RCA Records 1975)]

Related links:
- San Fernando Valley Environmental Justice Group Pacoima Beautiful
- Boyle Heights Environmental Justice Group Union de Vecinos
- Wilmington, CA Environmental Justice Group Communities for a Better Environment
- Method Developed by UC Berkeley, USC and Occidental College Manuel Pastor, Rachel Morello Frosh and Jim Sadd

Back to top

 

Counting the Impact of Bike Commuting

GELLERMAN: It's Living On Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. May is National Bike Month. It’s a time to commemorate a fast, cheap, pollution free way to get some exercise and smile away the miles on the way to work. Across the U.S. – three quarters of a million people regularly commute to work by bike - that’s up 40 percent in about a decade.

Davis, California, with 22 percent of workers commuting by bike, tops the list of cycling communities; Boulder, Colorado is at 10 percent, Eugene, Oregon at 8.3 – and Cambridge, Massachusetts rides in at just under 7 percent. In Cambridge, they paid homage to biking with a race to find the fastest mode of commuter transportation.

ANNOUNCER: Good morning everyone and thank you for coming to the first annual Rush Hour Race, to raise awareness about all our transportation options…


GELLERMAN: The three-mile rush-hour race pitted a bicyclist, a driver in a car, and a subway rider. And the winner was - well, we’ll tell you in a few minutes at the end of this segment…who do you think was fastest? But first, let’s back pedal five years. That’s when the federal Department of Transportation gave four places in the United States 25 million dollars each to improve their bike ridership and get people walking.

Money for the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program went to Columbia, Missouri; Marin County, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. Now to see if the hundred million was money well spent, we turn to Marianne Fowler. She's senior Vice President for Federal Relations at the Rails to Trails Conservancy.

FOWLER: The idea here is to build a system. One of the things we had found with previous investments was that we had a lot of projects on the ground but they didn’t connect. So the purpose of this project was to see if we gave four communities sufficient funds to start connecting their different facilities, would it accomplish a mode shift and a change in people’s behavior from driving cars to walking and biking - and of course the answer is, resoundingly, yes it did.

GELLERMAN: Wow - so you built it and they did come!

FOWLER: They did come! Now, there was urging. It was a combination of promoting, letting them know what’s going on, involving them in the whole process, involving the city or county leaders in the whole process. It really became a community effort: we’ve got this money, we’re going to build this system, now let’s use it.

GELLERMAN: So how well did it work?

FOWLER: It worked extremely well. It worked fantastically well. It worked well beyond our wildest expectations. In the three-year period, measured from 2007 to 2010, the four communities in aggregate showed a 22 percent increase in walking and a 49 percent increase in biking. And what this means is trips that would have otherwise have been taken by a car were converted and taken instead by walking or biking. And what those trips mounted up to over the three years was about 32 million vehicle miles averted.

GELLERMAN: 32 million miles! That’s about a third of the distance to the sun!

FOWLER: Is it really? I didn’t know that! I don’t think they were heading to the sun, I think they were heading to work, to school, to the library, to recreation, to the movies, to the grocery store, but I know they were out there enjoying the sun as they went.


May is National Bike month (Rails to Trails Conservancy)

GELLERMAN: What about the potholes to bikedom. Any disappointments and downsides?

FOWLER: Well, we’ve heard legends about how difficult it is to build roads, how difficult it is to deal with the bureaucracies of both the state DOTs and the federal DOTs, and those same sort of procedural barriers - we experienced those in the pilot project. If you want to install a bike rack, or if you want to build an interstate, you still have to go through a lot of the same procedures.

GELLERMAN: So, it’s bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy.

FOWLER: Well, we can take off one of those bureaucracies!

GELLERMAN: (Laughs).

FOWLER: You can just say it as bureaucracy, bureaucracy. But the bureaucracy is there to ensure that we end up with a better product so that we are safer in the long run. We have the very important savings of safety, this increased safety, and in the four communities - fatal bicycle pedestrian crashes held steady or in some cases, they actually decreased.

GELLERMAN: So you had more people riding and walking and in most cases you had a decrease in the number of accidents. Oh!

FOWLER: Yes, because of the great community awareness that was created - the driving community was actually looking out for bicyclists and pedestrians. And obviously the more you have, the more accustomed you are to seeing people walking and biking, and so it had an overall safety impact. And keeping in mind that transportation is the biggest expense to American families after housing, if you make a big shift to walking or biking, you’re really saving your pocket book a lot of money.

GELLERMAN: Transportation is the second highest expenditure per household after housing?

FOWLER: Yes. Higher than food. I did a calculation of four communities in aggregate based upon what I had paid at the gas pump the Sunday before last, which was $4.15 for regular gas, and the savings came out to something over $6 million dollars.

GELLERMAN: Well, that’s still 94 million dollars less than what was spent. So I think a cynic and opponents to this system might say: well, come on, that’s not a fair trade….

FOWLER: But the infrastructure will last forever. The savings aren’t just for one year or just for the three years that we’ve measured so far - they’re cumulative and they’re ongoing. We’ve planted the seeds, the infrastructure has blossomed and it's there to be used into the future.

GELLERMAN: Well, I know the opponents keep on opposing this kind of expenditures- Republicans in Congress call it, quote: “frivolous use of tax payer money.”

FOWLER: Actually, I think the latest phrase is “unconscionable use of tax payer money!”

GELLERMAN: Uh huh. Well, they want to cut it out of the next transportation bill.

FOWLER: Some of them do, but not all of them do.

GELLERMAN: How much money do you think should go for bike and walking in the federal transport bill?

FOWLER: Hmmm. That’s a good question. So often we deal in the possible not the ideal. Years ago Bobby Kennedy had what was called the three percent solution. Three percent of the transportation bill should go into investments in biking and walking. And right now, we’re sitting at about 1.7 percent, and I would be happy in the next bill if we had a three percent investment in walking and biking.

GELLERMAN: Ms. Fowler, do you ride your bike to work?

FOWLER: No, I don’t, the distance is a little too far. But what I do is I ride my bike to my local metro station, metro to the closest station to my office, walk from that station to my office - so I actually get to do all three things - I get to ride a bike, use transit and walk - everyday.

GELLERMAN: That's Marianne Fowler. She's a Senior Vice President with the Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Related link:
The Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP)

Back to top

 

Copenhagen Bikes Update

GELLERMAN: Now to Copenhagen, Denmark—one of the bike capitals of the world—to update a story we did back in 2009. Living on Earth’s Eileen Bolinsky rode around the Danish capital with Marie Kastrup, project manager for the city’s bicycle secretariat.

BOLINSKY: There are 217 miles of bike tracks in Copenhagen, plus 25 miles of tree-lined cycle routes that crisscross in the city center. They’re reserved only for bikes and pedestrians and there are plans for even more.

KASTRUP: In Copenhagen investing in cycling is not just for the bicycles, it’s to make a better city. And in the city center we just have too much congestion if we want to have cars for everyone so the bicycle is a very space economic mode of transport.

BOLINSKY: And people in Copenhagen who choose pedal power are an enthusiastic bunch.

MALE: It’s economical. It's best for our little economy, so we just use the bike.

OLDER WOMAN: It’s easier to get around. Also, it costs a lot of money to take the bus. Then it’s for free and easy.

WOMAN: It’s freedom. You can get anywhere you want in a very short amount of time. And you get exercise, and you get fresh air, and all the good environmental stuff as well.

BOLINSKY: In Copenhagen’s harbor is a statue of the city’s icon – it’s Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. But now, the city’s bicycle project manager, Marie Kastrup, says Copenhagen has a new symbol.

KASTRUP: The bicycle girl is this cultural icon in Denmark, it sort of represents this healthy, authentic, happy, active woman, which is a symbol of Denmark. It’s the freedom you can have on a bicycle, and also sort of a healthy, democratic feeling that everyone is free to go on the bicycle and do whatever they want.

BOLINSKY: And what Copenhagen wants is to have half its residents commuting by bicycle in five years.

[OUTDOOR SOUNDS]

GELLERMAN: That was Living on Earth’s Eileen Bolinsky. Three years ago when we aired that story – 37 percent of Copenhagen commuters regularly rode bikes. The goal was to up that to 50 percent by 2014. To see how the Danes are doing we’re checking in with Mikael Colville-Andersen. He’s CEO of Copenhagenize Consulting, which promotes bicycling. He’s also known as Denmark’s bicycle ambassador. Ambassador Mikael, welcome to Living on Earth.

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: Thanks very much.

GELLERMAN: So, what does the term Copenhagenize mean?

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: Well, it seems to mean the kinds of ways that other cities can be inspired by what Copenhagen has done to promote the bicyclist as transport. What we’ve done here has been exported to many cities in the world, so Copenhagenizing is really a way of describing what is possible for other cities based on the Copenhagen experience.


Bruce Gellerman caught red-headed sans helmet.

GELLERMAN: Back in 2009 when our reporter was in Copenhagen, 37 percent of the city’s residents would be commuting by bicycle. The goal then was to have 50 percent of the city commuting by 2015, and where are you now?

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: Unfortunately, we’re at 35 percent now, so it’s going in the wrong direction! There seems to be a little bit of lack of political will to take it to the next level here.

GELLERMAN: Well, hold it! Why is it going down and how does politics play into that?

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: The level that we’re at now, or have been for many years, has been rather stable, and we have completed in many ways, the infrastructure for bicycles in this cities, including the bicycle lanes or bicycle tracks if you like. The next step really is taking even more space away from cars. We just don’t have any municipal politicians at the moment who are sort of willing to take that next big step.

The other thing, unfortunately, that has happened here is that the Road Safety Council started promoting bicycle helmets for the first time…three years ago and since then the same thing has happened here that has happened everywhere in the world: the number of cyclists is falling. We’re heading in the wrong direction. We should be promoting cycling positively and reclaiming the streets as it were and making them more human streets, more livable streets.

GELLERMAN: Well, hold it! You’re saying that the requirement that people wear helmets has led to a decrease in bicyclists?

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: Yeah, there’s no requirement. There’s very few places in the world where there’s mandatory helmet laws, but the simple promotion of them - suggesting that people wear them - we’ve seen this in every region of the world where helmets have been promoted, that cycling levels fall.

And, the countries that have legislated them - Australia and New Zealand back in the 80’s and 90’s, they had a fall of cyclists of 30 to 40 percent. And they’re struggling to get back to pre-law levels. It really is a sort of bullet-in-the-back-of-the-head to any bicycle culture.

GELLERMAN: Boy, that’s not what we learn here!

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: (Laughs). No, I know! But we do have a different tradition, really in Europe, of promoting cycling instead of promoting helmets. Even the high levels of the European Union government, you know, they’ve published studies saying: do not promote helmets because it makes cycling look more dangerous than it is. And all of the studies that show that cycling levels fall when you promote helmets is working in the wrong direction. So, we want more people on bicycles.

GELLERMAN: Boy, I’m going to safely predict something, and that is that we are going to get a lot of angry listeners responding to this.

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: It’s a whole different tradition that you have over there. And it’s really a question of marketing. Every city in the United States had a lot of bicycles on the urban landscape for decades and decades. What happened really was the advent of car culture, when folks started to focus on the automobile first instead of the other forms of transport, and the bicycle really was sort of pushed off the streets.

GELLERMAN: I can come up with an alternative hypothesis.

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: Uh huh?

GELLERMAN: In 2009, you had 37 percent of your population biking regularly, and now you have 35 - when I was there in Copenhagen, one of the things you had was bicycle traffic jams! And the other thing you lacked were bicycle racks! There would be bicycles stacked on top of each other! Could that be one of the reasons that people are turning away from bikes, perhaps?

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: These are issues, but I don’t think that’s a reason that you’d lose 2 percent. The places I go in the hours of a day, I don’t have a problem parking my bike - if you leave it outside of one of the train stations, sure. You see the chaos of parking outside of some of the train stations, sure - but I don’t think lack of parking would knock off two percent.

Traffic jams, there are some streets which are heavily congested on bicycles, but we’re improving that here in the city of Copenhagen, we’re putting in greenways for cyclists on five main arteries now, so, if you ride your bicycle 20km per hour, you’ll hit green lights all the to the city center. This actually has increased cycling on many routes. So, we’re tackling the issues of bicycle congestion and parking and bicycle rush hour, but it’s still not going in the right direction…

GELLERMAN: I know that Copenhagen had two goals to make cyclists feel safer in traffic and reduce the number of seriously injured cyclists by half, so….

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: Even the city of Copenhagen’s bicycle office will say the same thing: that this is about infrastructure - if you want to reduce injuries and death, you have to make it safer for cyclists with better facilities for cyclists - you know, taming what we call the sacred bull in society's China shop - you know, the automobile - making it safer for bicycles and pedestrians and people taking public transport.

GELLERMAN: Yeah, I’ve been to Copenhagen. What you’ve got are a lot of clunkers - heavy-duty bikes… very utility designed.

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: It’s not just Copenhagen, it’s all the main cities in Europe- it’s practical bikes for regular citizens. Citizen cyclists is what I call them to sort of separate them from the avid cyclists if you like. And all of the emerging bicycle cities we’re seeing now: Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, Seville, there were no bicycles in these cities five years ago. And now, they’re all doing amazing things to get people to ride bicycles, and the bikes that people are riding there are just regular bikes for regular people.

GELLERMAN: So, Mikael, I take it you don’t wear spandex-lycra shorts or a bike jersey?

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: No, only in my dark bedroom at night.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs.)

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: No, I don’t at all! I wear a suit if I’m going to a meeting on a bike - you can see that everyday here. We don’t dress for our journey; we dress for our destination. We don’t wear bus clothes when we take a bus, and we don’t wear car clothes when we take a car, it’s the same on a bike. You’re just a fast moving pedestrian. You look the same as the people walking on the sidewalks.

GELLERMAN: A lot of cities - Boston is where I am - we have these, you know, rental bikes that you can rent by the half hour or so. They’re very popular!

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: Yeah! I think there’s about 450 cities around the world with these bike share programs now, and it realty transforms the urban landscape - it’s really a great way to kick-start mainstream bicycle culture in a city. It’s a simple urban planning question, you know? If you think bicycle first, and you make it quick and simple and easy for people to go on a bicycle, then people will do it. That’s why we ride here - when we ask the citizens of Copenhagen every year what their main reason for riding a bike is - the majority, every single time, they say it’s quick and easy. Period. It’s simply the quickest way for me to get around.

GELLERMAN: So, your goal is still 50 percent of the citizenry riding cycles, and if so, by when?

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: Well, now it’s 2025, last I heard from City Hall. So that was actually changed since you were here, because 50 percent is really unattainable at the moment with the current climate. We need politicians who will really just do something to take it to the next level.

GELLERMAN: So, Mikael, instead of being Copenhagen’s bicycle Ambassador as an honorary title, why don’t you run for public office?

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: (Laughs). Bogged down in meetings and really bad coffee? No way!

GELLERMAN: I’ll bet you they have exclusive bike racks!

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: Oh, god, they do! That building, it was from 1905, and they have the most beautiful bike racks on the planet! Indoors, mahogany paneling, it's gorgeous really, but that wouldn’t be enough for me to want to run for office.

GELLERMAN: Well Mikael, thank you so much.

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: No problem, thank you.

GELLERMAN: That’s Mikael Colville-Andersen – Denmark’s Bicycle Ambassador.
Actually, according to Denmark’s Council for Safe Traffic, one cyclist in three in Copenhagen wears a helmet.

[BIKE BELL]

GELLERMAN: So, do you wear a bike helmet? Well, fortunately, the Living on Earth studios are right next to a bike path and most of us commute to work by bike… and, everyone wears a helmet. It’s on this bike path that we did a little bit of an informal survey and spoke to people about whether they wore helmets:

WOMAN: It’s a lot safer! I got hit by a car the other day and it was really helpful! My head hit the pavement, at least my face did, and I think the helmet stopped worse injuries.

MAN1: I wear a helmet every time I ride a bike because, well, my friend got into an accident, and he wasn't wearing a helmet and now he has severe brain damage.

MAN2: Most of the time I don't wear a helmet - I guess the reason is, I mostly ride in conditions where I feel pretty safe.

[BIKE BELL]

GELLERMAN: Not exactly a representative sample, but according to the latest figures, half of Americans who ride bikes wear helmets most of the time. And Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah is here with me now, and Ike, I know you wear a bike helmet all of the time, right?


Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah always wears his helmet.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Yeah, my mom made me and I have since then.

GELLERMAN: So, she’s not checking on you know, but…

SRISKANDARAJAH: …It’s on my head.

GELLERMAN: So we asked you to investigate and people should wear bike helmets?

SRISKANDARAJAH: And it makes sense! I mean, if you think about a head-on collision, you want a piece of plastic in between your soft skull and the hard road, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that and this gets very polarized very quickly. Actually, people call it helmet-wars.

GELLERMAN: So, bike helmets - are they all they’re cracked up to be? A special report by Ike on his bike, next week on Living on Earth.

SRISKANDARAJAH: See you then, Bruce!

[BIKE BELL]

GELLERMAN: Now, back to Cambridge Massachusetts where a crowd gathers at the finish line to see who came in first, in the three-mile, Rush Hour Race - bicycle commuter, car driver, or public transit rider:

ANNOUNCER: And for the moment you’ve all been waiting for...with a time of 20 minutes…starting in Davis Square and ending in Kendall Square...at Genzyme Center we have our winner: Josh the bicyclist…

[APPLAUSE]

GELLERMAN: It wasn’t even close - the subway rider finished in second place, in 29 minutes and the car driver pulled in last, taking 32 minutes.


The biker wins easily! (Photo: Liveable Streets Alliance)

[MUSIC: John Cale “Bicycle” from Hobosapiens (Or Music)]

GELLERMAN: Be sure to check out our website for a new feature we call: Living on Earth Now - daily updates, new stories and features. You’ll like the one about witches and climate change. That’s LOE dot ORG. Coming up – Bubble - bubble - toil and trouble - what's brewing at LOE is sour and heady stuff -- stay tuned to Living on Earth!

Related links:
- Mikael Colville-Andersen’s Copenhagenize Blog
- Cycling Embassy of Denmark

Back to top

ANNOUNCER ONE: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, supporting strategic communications and collaboration in solving the world's most pressing environmental problems, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Gilman Ordway - for coverage of conservation and environmental change. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Various Artists/The Sura Quartet “The Caress And The Rose” from Jazz Meets Funk Deluxe Session Vol 2 (Karmaluna Music 2012)]

The Place Where You Live

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. This week, we begin a new collaboration with Orion Magazine. We call it “The Place Where You Live.”

[MUSIC: The Place Where You Live: Theme Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros “Home” from Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros (Community Records 2009)]

GELLERMAN: Home…be it ever so humble – or not – it's special. For more than a decade, Orion Magazine has asked its readers to put their memories of home on a map where everyone can see them. Well now, we’re giving them a voice so you can hear them as well. Our debut essay is about a family that created a home away from home.

SAFFRAN: My name is Lise Saffran and I live in Columbia, Missouri. To us, home really is this place where we have a community, and ties, and people who, you know, expect to see us show up, and worry about us when we’re not there and know what the content of our daily lives is like. About five years ago, a group of families joined together with my family to communally purchase 60 acres in Shannon County, which is in the Ozarks.


Everyone pitched in to build this cabin on the shared land owned by Lise Saffran’s family and four others. (Photo: Virginia Muller)

SAFFRAN: Our criteria were that we wanted it to be undeveloped mostly, and we wanted to have live water. It had to be on a creek, moving water. We all have children. We immediately began to go down and camp and clear trails, and then, eventually, we came together and built a structure. We have a pretty large cabin that we share and a lot of tent platforms that we camp on mostly.

[MUSIC: Jesse Kurn “Put It In The Bag” from In The Bag (Self-Produced)]

SAFFRAN: To reach the land that my family owns with four others, you must leave pavement for gravel and traverse a low-water crossing. For the uninitiated to Southern Missouri, a low-water crossing means you drive into the creek. For the uninitiated to communal property owning, it involves wielding power tools a long way from the hospital, learning about humanure and endless meetings at which even children present ideas as proposals.

It also means that you can load your children into the car and in three hours be walking down a rocky path where dogs race to meet you and your extended family rises up from their camp chairs to welcome you home.


Moving water where the kids could play was on the list of essential criteria for Lise Saffran’s home away from home. (Photo: Virginia Muller)

SAFFRAN: We have marked each year of land-owning with an annual meeting on the gravel bar, followed by gin and tonics and music around the fire until the stars burn bright above us. The children splash in the creek and hunt for crawdads. Most days we live in town, in a house on a paved street. Even there, we carry our Ozark place within us. Home I have come to believe, is not necessarily the place you are from. It is certainly not the place you expected to be. It is the one you return to again and again.

[MUSIC: Tom Verlaine “Harley Quinn” from Warm And Cool (Thrill Jockey Records)]

GELLERMAN: Lise Saffran is author of “Juno’s Daughters.” Her family makes its home in Columbia, MO, and sometimes the Ozarks. Tell us about “The Place Where You Live.” You can find out more about our collaboration with Orion Magazine and how you can submit your essay by visiting our home on the web - it's LOE dot org.

Related links:
- Let us know about “The Place Where You Live.” To post your essay on the Orion magazine website, click here. Living on Earth will choose entries on the Orion page for broadcast.
- Lise Saffran wrote the book “Juno’s Daughters.”
- Listen to other Place Where You Live essays

Back to top

 

The Art of Fermentation

GELLERMAN: There’s magic in molds, yeasts and bacteria. Under the right circumstances these microorganisms can transform simple sugars in a vast buffet of foods. By some estimates, as much as a third of what we eat comes from this process we call fermentation. Today, we raise a glass and celebrate the process with Sandor Katz. He’s author of a new book about fermentation and he spoke with Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood.

CURWOOD: Your book is called The Art of Fermentation - so what fermentation it is an art?

KATZ: Well, human beings have been involved in this process refining the practices of fermentation over the process of millennia, really. All these cured meats and cheeses and breads. But what I really like to emphasize is the simplicity of these processes at their base. I'm really trying to empower people that they can recreate these processes in their own kitchens.

CURWOOD: And humans didn’t invent these processes, I mean, we just learned how to hone it and make it useful - right?

KATZ: Yes. Fermentation is the transformative action of microorganisms. It’s a natural phenomenon. Berries spontaneously begin to ferment, milk spontaneously begins to ferment. You know, there’s this inevitability to the process - human beings in varied environments basically learned to work with this process, how to subtly manipulate conditions to encourage the growth of certain types of organisms deemed to make desirable changes to food and beverages as opposed to other types of organisms which can result in foods that, you know, we might reject as rotten or spoiled and throw into the compost.


Kefir grains. (Photo: Lou Preston)

CURWOOD: What were the some of the first fermented foods that humans used?

KATZ: Well, it is generally accepted that alcoholic beverages are the most ancient forms of intentional fermentation. And my perspective really is that our primate ancestors were well familiar with the natural phenomenon of fermentation and were attracted by the smell of fermenting berries for instance, and probably were familiar with the feelings that can come along with eating a lot of fermented berries.

And lots of other animals have been documented in their pursuit of fermented fruit. There’s some really hilarious documentation of elephants in the jungle of Malaysia eating falling durian fruits and then becoming disoriented. I think what’s uniquely human, what’s a cultural accomplishment, is figuring out how to make this natural phenomenon on our terms.

CURWOOD: Let's talk a little bit, though, about the dangers. When I think of bacteria, fungi in food, I think of not nice things like botulism.

KATZ: Well, you are not alone. The fear that I continually encounter is the fear of: what if I get the wrong bacteria growing - how am I going to know if I have good bacteria growing in my sauerkraut, or what if I have bad bacteria?

We’ve all been indoctrinated to fear bacteria. You know, I don’t want to deny that there are bacteria that can make people sick, but really the process of fermentation, especially that’s applied to raw plant material, is intrinsically safe. According to the United States Department of Agriculture- there never has been a single case of food poisoning resulting from fermented vegetables in the United States.

And there really are not many foods that you can say that about - you certainly couldn’t say that about raw vegetables. But, even if a vegetable had been incidentally contaminated, once it gets submerged under brine, then the lactic acid bacteria every time become dominant in that system, and as they acidify the environment, they destroy any other types of incidental pathogens. It turns out that acidification is a brilliant strategy, not only for food preservation, but also for food safety.


Lactic acid bacteria, a vital organism for fermentation. (USDA/ARS Food Science Research Unit)

CURWOOD: And sometimes it’s even more delicious!

KATZ: And many times it’s more delicious. In fact, if you start thinking about the foods that we describe as gourmet foods - almost all of them are the product of fermentation: olives are fermented, cheeses are fermented, breads are fermented, cured meats are fermented. So, yeah, I mean fermentation also creates lots of really strong and delicious flavors.

CURWOOD: OK. Let's sample some fermented products and you sent over to us some radish kraut. Tell me a bit about it while I pry open this jar…

KATZ: That jar that I sent you came out of a 55 gallon wooden barrel filled with radishes - it takes 440 pounds of shredded radishes to fill that barrel.

CURWOOD: Whoa, wait a second - it says November 2011… I mean this is like six months ago - am I going to be good to go here?


Sandor Ellix Katz. (Photo: Sean Minteh)

KATZ: You are going to be so good to go!

CURWOOD: It takes a little muscle - here we go.

KATZ: (Laughs.)

[TAPPING SOUND]

CURWOOD: Alright, I’ve got it speared with a fork and… well…it’s very sauerkrauty and it tastes much better than your average radishes… no question about that. How hard is it to make this stuff?

KATZ: Incredibly simple, and I really recommend to any kind of a vegetable - doesn't have to be a radish - it could be cabbage, it could be a turnip, it could be carrot - shred them up and create surface area, lightly salt them to taste - spend a couple of minutes squeezing that so the juices drip out of it and then press that in a jar so the vegetables get submerged under their own juices.

You don’t have to wait for six months - they have the potential to last for more than six months if their in a cool spot, but really you can start to taste them after a couple of days. But, really, what I recommend, because the taste changes as the process progresses, just taste them at frequent intervals and one it gets to be sour enough for you, strong enough for you, move them into the fermentation slowing device that you have in your kitchen, which is called a refrigerator, and then you can just eat it as you like it.

CURWOOD: So, let's continue our little taste odyssey here, and I have with me some yogurt, and it has this little emblem on the side that lists all these different microorganisms: S. thermofilis, acidopholis, and a couple more. And let's take a taste here…hmm… I have to confess that it’s my usual breakfast and it tastes really good.

Published by Chelsea Green Publishers (2012)

KATZ: You and most people listening to this eat fermented foods everyday. They just are embraced by the culture.

CURWOOD: And this is supposed to be really healthy for me.

KATZ: Sure - yogurt and sauerkraut and other foods that contain live lactic acid bacteria essentially help to replenish and diversify the bacteria in our digestive systems and that enables us to digest food better, to assimilate more nutrients from the food that we eat, and it also has benefits in terms of immunity - protecting us from other types of bacteria which could be dangerous.

CURWOOD: Sandor, what are some of the most surprising foods that are fermented?

KATZ: Well, people are always surprised when I tell them that coffee and chocolate are fermented.

CURWOOD: What?

KATZ: The reason why we're mostly unaware of it is because it’s happening on the harvesting end. With chocolate in particular, the freshly harvested pods, before the cacao seeds are removed are moist and allowed to ferment and the fermentation actually dissolves the fibers that holds the seed in place in the pod, and makes it easier to remove the seeds but it also initiates some biochemical changes. It is considered essential for the flavor development.

CURWOOD: Your book is filled with recipes, and - at the very end - what you call a cultural revivalist manifesto. I’m wondering if you could read a section of that to us, please?

KATZ: Ah sure. "Historically, by necessity, we related to the plants and animals we ate. We knew them, relied upon them, and through their pursuit and cultivation, we were intimately connected to our environment. We need to become reconnected to the sources of our sustenance: respect, honor and appreciate the life that goes into our food. We have co-evolved with these other beings and our fates are intertwined.”

CURWOOD: How can fermentation help us to reclaim our food from the industrialized food system?

KATZ: Well, fermentation offers a very accessible opportunity for people to become more connected to these invisible life forces that are inside of us and all around us. There are many ways for people to get more connected to the sources of their foods including having a garden, but especially for people who may feel that that’s not a possibility for them. Fermentation is a way that anybody can be cultivating their own food or other forms of life - it’s really very intimate, so you know, I think that that is the main way.

CURWOOD: OK. Now it’s time for us to have our final taste of food - and I’ve saved…well, maybe I’ve saved the best for last. We have here a tall bottle of beer that our producer Jessica Ilyse Kurn has made at our home, and I thought we’d give it a try:

[SOUND OF TOP OF BEER COMING OFF]

KATZ: I heard, I heard a little release of pressure there.

CURWOOD: I smell the strong malt, a very sweet malt aroma. Let me see what it tastes like. Mmmm - this is really good! I’m sorry we’re meeting electronically here - you’re at a studio in Nashville, and I’m here in Somerville, MA, but if you could see me you could see that I’m raising a glass and a toast to you and your book.

KATZ: (Laughs.) Well, thank you so much, Steve.

CURWOOD: Sandor Katz is the author of the new book, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World. I'm Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Katz: Gil Evans “La Nevada” from Out of The Cool (Impulse Records 1996 Reissue)]

GELLERMAN: On the next Living on Earth, on the hunt for a culinary delight - a ninety-seven year old forager finds a field of dandelions.

GRAMMY: Look at this. This is like a bed of 'em. And if you tell me they’re all red, I’ll probably faint.

GELLERMAN: Don’t eat the red ones! Grammy goes a–gatherin’, next time on Living on Earth.

[MUSIC CONTINUES…]

Related links:
- Visit Sandor Katz’s website, Wild Fermentation
- Learn more about the book
- Read a New Yorker Article about Sandor Katz: “Nature’s Spoils: The underground food movement ferments revolution” By Burkhard Bilger
- Read “Preserving Plenty: The Beauty of Fermented Foods” in Saveur By Sarah Dickerman

Back to top

 

EarthEar

[SOUNDS OF BRAZILIAN COASTAL FOREST- Douglas Quinn from Cartinga: Soundscapes from the Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest (Conservation International)]

GELLERMAN: We leave you this week in a Brazilian coastal forest.

[SOUNDS CONTINUE]

GELLERMAN: Brazil's Atlantic Forest is one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world. It’s also among the most threatened. Once a vast half million square miles - it's now been reduced 90%. The loss of the forest habitat threatens the home of the endangered northern muriqui, or woolly spider monkey. Douglas Quin recorded these sounds at the Caratinga Biological Station in Brazil's Atlantic Forest. This is from his CD Caratinga.

[SOUNDS OF MURIQUI]

Back to top

 

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Jessica Ilyse Kurn, Helen Palmer and Ike Sriskandarajah, with help from Meghan Miner, Gabriela Romanow, and Sammy Sousa. Our intern is Mary Bates. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us anytime at LOE dot org – and don’t forget our Facebook page -- it’s PRI’s Living on Earth - and you can follow us on Twitter - at living on earth…that’s just one word. And special thanks this week to the the Liveable Streets Alliance for providing audio for the Rush Hour Race. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening!

ANNOUNCER ONE: 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 paxworld dot com. Pax World for Tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER TWO: PRI, Public Radio International.

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-587-2660
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Experimental
We have a new community section. Tell us what you think!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an autographed copy of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.