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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

May 25, 2012

Air Date: May 25, 2012



EPA Under Fire for Bee Deaths

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A group of bee keepers have signed a petition asking EPA to ban a pesticide they believe is responsible for massive bee deaths. Center for Food Safety attorney Peter Jenkins tells host Bruce Gellerman the agency has failed to regulate a chemical they know is dangerous to bees. But Jack Boyne, from chemical company Bayer, cites hundreds of studies and says the pesticide is safe. Lastly, USDA scientist Jeffrey Pettis talks about the latest research on bee colony collapse disorder. (14:05)

Bicycle Helmet Wars / Ike Sriskandarajah

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American children are trained to always wear bicycle helmets. The evidence showing their benefit in a crash is clear. But are there unintended consequences to helmet-wearing that may be causing harm? Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah pedals through the center of helmet wars. (06:45)

Top Ten New Species List

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Every year Arizona State University’s International Institute for Species Exploration puts out a list of the top ten newly described or discovered species. Professor Quentin Wheeler describes the wackiest and weirdest of the bunch to host Bruce Gellerman. (06:55)

Poetry: Rod Clark / Rod Clark

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A poem is not a poem until it's read to another person, says Wisconsin poet Rod Clark. Clark shares a pair of his nature poems. (03:00)

Popular Energy Savings Bill Held Up

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An energy-efficiency bill in the Senate has bipartisan support, as well as backing from businesses and environmental groups alike. The legislation sailed out of committee last summer but, as Suzanne Watson of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy tells host Bruce Gellerman, supporters are worried that if it comes up for a vote, the bill could attract amendments that will doom it. (06:10)

High Schools Honored for Sustainability Initiatives

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Three public high schools are celebrated for their innovative approaches and solutions to energy issues. Host Bruce Gellerman spoke to students from each of the schools to find out how the school has tackled energy efficiency. (05:30)

Grammy Goes A-Gatherin’ / Ann Murray

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Dandelions can be the bane of a lawn owner’s existence. But for 97-year-old Grammy, dandelions are a culinary delight. Reporter Ann Murray of The Allegheny Front went out picking dandelions with Grammy on a nice spring day and has our story. (04:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Jack Boyne, Hannah Gilman, Peter Jenkins, Will Leask, Rebecca Park, Jeffrey Pettis, Suzanne Watson, Quentin Wheeler,
REPORTERS: J Rod Clark, Ann Murray, Ike Sriskandarajah


GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Something or some things are mysteriously killing the nation's bees. Some suspect a widely-used pesticide.

JENKINS: What it does is it becomes part of the plant itself, turning the plant into a twenty-four seven killing machine, and that's what's destroying honeybee populations.

GELLERMAN: We talked to a group that wants to ban the pesticide, the company that makes the chemical, and the government's leading bee investigator. Also, the list of life forms on planet Earth keeps growing but we've only scratched the surface.

WHEELER: Our best estimate is that there are perhaps 12 million living species, of which we've described about two million since 1758. The golden age of species discovery is just beginning.

GELLERMAN: And the latest discoveries are really weird. We'll have those stories and a lot more, this week on Living on Earth. Stick around!


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

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EPA Under Fire for Bee Deaths

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, MA, it’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. Scientists have a name for it: colony collapse disorder. But they still don't know what's causing the massive die-off of honeybees nationwide. Since 2006, half the bees have died. There are many suspects: cell phone radiation, climate change, parasites, and a growing suspicion that modern industrial pesticides play a significant role.

The new chemicals are called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. They're safer for people than older pesticides, but toxic to bees. One of the most commonly used neonics is clothianidin. It was approved for crops around the time the bee die-off was first observed. Now a coalition of environmental groups and beekeepers has filed a petition with the EPA urgently requesting that the agency suspend the sale and use of clothianidin.

Representing the group is Peter Jenkins, a lawyer for the Center for Food Safety.

JENKINS: Well, clothianidin is the newest of the systemic pesticides. It's used probably over 160 million acres of corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops, canola. We know that just in corn last year there were 92 million acres treated with this insecticide. That's larger than the size of Germany. And what it does is it becomes part of the plant itself, turning the plant into a twenty-four seven killing machine, basically, as far as insects are concerned. And that's what's destroying honeybee populations.

GELLERMAN: Well, what evidence is there that this chemical is killing honeybees?

JENKINS: There's quite a bit of evidence. There's a number of ways in which bees and other beneficial insects are being exposed to clothianidin and the other neonicotinoids. One is when the farmers are planting these corn seeds and other sorts of seeds that there's a lot of dust that comes off the seeds and it is very toxic to bees and it's well documented that it's at the levels that are killing bees. The worst thing about it, though, is that the half-life of these insecticides is very long, in some cases several years, so that it stays in the soil, it stays in the crop residues, it stays in the nearby plants and gets caught up so that bees are exposed to it year after year. So even if it's not used one year, the bees will still be exposed to it if it was used the year before.

GELLERMAN: So, Mr. Jenkins, how do you think this chemical kills bees? What does it do to them?

JENKINS: One of these recent studies, the important study from France, the mechanism is that it disorients the bees. You know, bees depend very closely on social communication, on being able to go out and then come back to the hive and somehow this thiamethoxam, another neonicotinoid, was messing up their ability to navigate and get back to the hive, and so if you don't get back to the hive, you don't bring the food back, the hive eventually fades away.

GELLERMAN: These neonicotinoids were introduced with the understanding that they were safer than other alternatives, things like the pyrethrins and the organophosphates, which were implicated in the book, Silent Spring.

JENKINS: Well, to a certain extent they are safer for humans and for direct exposure to larger animals like mammals and perhaps direct exposure to birds, but those other insecticides were used only periodically. These systemic insecticides, the neonicotinoids, they're in use all the time, so they're killing insects all the time. Here's the problem. This is what we laid out in our petition, which was in 2003, Bayer was told to do a study that showed there were no unreasonable adverse effects on honeybees. Well, the fact is that Bayer submitted a study several years late and a few years after that, in 2010, EPA took a closer look at that study and said it was inadequate. The reason the pesticide has to be controlled is because it was illegally approved in the first place. And that's what we've said in the petition, that's what the beekeepers are saying to EPA, that's what EPA's going to recognize.

GELLERMAN: Well, the question is, why are you going after the regulatory agency if they already know that this chemical is harmful?

JENKINS: (laughing) Well, the regulatory agency is the one that has the power to suspend the registration, and that's what the law says. If you don't have adequate studies showing that it's safe, that you have to suspend the registration - it's very clear and we think the agency's going to agree with us.

GELLERMAN: In terms of the regulatory process, you filed a legal petition with the EPA, they have 90 days to reply - if they come back and say to you, "You're wrong. The science says this stuff is safe," do you have recourse?

JENKINS: Well, you have recourse if the agency were to do what you said, because if they actually said that they would be wrong. But we're going to go to Congress, we're going to work on the political angles, we think there's a groundswell of support. We had over a million people sign petitions in support of our petition already - and when there's a public comment period we will be weighing very heavily on EPA and they just can't ignore it.

GELLERMAN: Well Mr. Jenkins, thanks a lot.

JENKINS: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: That's Peter Jenkins, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety.

Call entomologist Jack Boyne and you get an entirely different take on the safety of the insecticide clothianidin. Jack Boyne is Director of Communications with Bayer CropScience, maker of the neonic pesticide.

BOYNE: Bayer's position is simple, that is that honeybees play a critical role as pollinators in agriculture and Bayer CropScience, as a leader in the agricultural industry, has a vested interest in finding solutions to the real problem of bee health. Neonicotinoids is not one of them, however. The EPA has basically said, and stated on their website, that there is no evidence that these products pose a chronic threat or health hazard to honeybee colonies.

GELLERMAN: But back in 2003 when the EPA gave conditional registration to clothianidin, it said that "it's highly toxic to honeybees on an acute contact basis. And in honeybees the effect of this toxic, chronic exposure may include lethal and sublethal effects."

BOYNE: I don't know exactly that comment you're making, but I will say that like many insecticides, clothianidin is highly toxic to bees upon direct contact. But when used according to label directions as a seed treatment, honeybees are not exposed to concentrations to cause harm.
GELLERMAN: So, the notion that these bees are going into the fields, getting exposed to the systemic pesticides, these neonicotinoids, doesn't affect the bees? They're not collateral damage?

BOYNE: No, it doesn't. And the reason is that yes, some neonicotinoids are toxic to honeybees, but it's all about the level of exposure. So these neonicotinoids, they're used in many ways, but the primary use for the neonicotinoid is as a seed treatment, where you coat the seed. It's applied in the seed coating and the seed is planted and the product moves systemically through the plant as it grows and it targets foliar feeding insects, pest insects, and the amount that actually gets into the bee-attractive parts of the plant, the pollen and the nectar area of the flowers—is miniscule. So the exposure is so low, there is no effect on honeybees.

GELLERMAN: In Germany a couple of years ago, they were planting this, there was a mechanical breakdown in the planter and the seed coating got aerosolized and one hundred percent of the bees that were exposed to this stuff died. Germany subsequently banned the use of clothianidin on seed corn.

BOYNE: Well, you're partially right. Germany didn't ban the use, it suspended the use on that particular crop, it didn't ban the use of the product on other crops in Germany. But there was a case where the formulation of the seed treatment as applied to the seed was not done correctly so you did get dust exposure and it did cause some bee losses. There's a lot of work that's been conducted out there and again, the weight of the evidence clearly shows that these products do not pose a hazard to bees.

Researchers collect data on bee health. (Photo: Jeff Pettis)

GELLERMAN: I'm just wondering, on behalf of our listeners, what they're to make of this. You know, we've got an interview with somebody, they're a legitimate organization, they're beekeepers, they're lawyers, and they say, "You know, there's a real problem here and we need the EPA to get off the mark," and here you are, the makers of this, saying it's got a clean bill of health. I was wondering, what do I tell my listeners?

BOYNE: Well, one thing you might tell them is we do have a vested interest in this and in fact we have skin in the game. I will tell you that Bayer CropScience in Canada is the largest supplier of hybrid canola seed in Canada. Canola is completely dependent on honeybee pollination to create a new crop of seed and so we are the largest renters of honeybees for pollination purposes in Canada. Now, every acre of canola that we grow is treated with a neonicotinoid and we've been doing this for many years without incident, by the same beekeepers that bring their bees in. So I would say that's pretty compelling evidence. The other, in addition to the extensive studies we've conducted, is, you know, as a part of the agriculture, we know the importance of honeybees and therefore, I think it's ludicrous to assume that we would bring a product to market that would be as potentially devastating to honeybees as some may claim.

GELLERMAN: That's Jack Boyne. He's the Director of Communications with Bayer CropScience.

So should the neonic pesticide clothianidin be banned as some environmental and beekeeping groups are urging, or is it a relatively safe way to grow industrial food crops? The government scientist charged with finding an answer is entomologist Jeffery Pettis. He's research leader at the USDA's bee lab.

PETTIS: We've been on the hot seat a bit lately trying to figure out what's killing bees.

GELLERMAN: Do you know, or do you have a hint as to what it might be?

PETTIS: The bees we see dying from CCD are very sick. They have viruses, bacteria, fungi and things in their bodies and we think there's a combined effect of things like poor nutrition, pesticide exposure, things like that, leading to these pathogen outbreaks. So we think it's a combined effect. It's really hard to pin it on one - we're not going to find a single cause, we think.

GELLERMAN: So multifactor.


GELLERMAN: In the absence of these pesticides, do you think bees - these neonics - do you think bees would be dying or getting that sick?

PETTIS: Good question. Certainly they would be doing better, but bees have had a long association with pesticides and it's never been that good. Back in the 40's and 50's we had massive die-offs with some of the things they were using back then and this newer class of chemistry, the neonicotinoid group, it's just a new way of exposure. So it's coming now in nectar and pollen, which is not a route of exposure that we've seen in the past.

GELLERMAN: But is there any doubt in your mind that these neonics play a role?

PETTIS: Well, I would say that they're one of the suspects in the things that we see going on. I couldn't point to them as the leading cause. I have good beekeeper friends that say it is the leading cause. I guess for my research it's still multi-factorial and they're higher on the list than they were in the past, so they're definitely up there, and we're trying to find ways to balance that exposure. Because it's certainly not good for bees.

GELLERMAN: We heard from some environmental groups and beekeepers, and they say, you know, these neonics, they've got to come off the market. And then you've got the chemical companies and they say, no, no, no it's not causing this thing. The public is in the middle; what do I do?

PETTIS: Well, it's gotten very political and both sides have a bit of truth on their side, but certainly there's a new route of exposure and we know that bees are being exposed. It's a question of whether these things are leading the cause of some of the losses we're seeing. Our lab here and a number of labs around the country are doing a lot of research looking at the effects of pesticides so that's a very active area of research. I think, actually, from the two sides, the truth is actually a little bit in the middle. I don't know what the answer is and I know that there is a lot of interest from the general public and from farmers, beekeepers, and everybody in trying to resolve this thing.

GELLERMAN: Some of these colonies, 90 percent of the bees are dying.

PETTIS: We have been doing surveys of beekeeper losses for the past six years now and within a beekeeping operation, losses can be really severe. On average, we've been running at about 33 percent loss in the fall and winter. That's really hard for them to recover from economically.

GELLERMAN: Well, how do we recover from the fact that we've got all these colonies collapsing?

PETTIS: The bees are very resilient, but the beekeepers are even more resilient, but there's a limit to that. I mean their economic livelihood is at stake. But for us, the general public, it's our food supply. In other words, if we can't meet our pollination needs, then food costs would go up and we'd have less fruits and vegetables available.

GELLERMAN: I guess these bees are responsible for pollinating about 130 different crops that we eat.

PETTIS: Yes, it's only about a third of our diet, but the other two-thirds are the cereals - rice, corn, wheat, things like that, so you can survive on those but you really thrive on those fruits, nuts, and vegetables. So it's a very important part of the diet.

GELLERMAN: Well, Jeffery Pettis, thank you so very much.

PETTIS: Well, thank you. It's been a pleasure.

GELLERMAN: Jeffery Pettis is research leader at the USDA Bee Lab.

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[MUSIC: Miles Davis “Shout” from The Man With The Horn (Columbia records 1981)]

Just ahead, butting heads in the bicycle helmet war. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

Bicycle Helmet Wars

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. In our last show we pedaled National Bike Month and took an international turn in our conversation with Mikael Colville-Andersen. He's considered Denmark's bicycle ambassador. Biking is a way of life there and Colville-Andersen surprised us when he said bike ridership in Copenhagen, the capital, is actually going down. He blames advocates of bike helmets.

Kids, and adults, ride helmet-less in Amsterdam. (Photo: Scott Osberg)

COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: There's very few places in the world where there's a 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. It really sort of is a bullet in the back of the head of any healthy bicycle culture.

GELLERMAN: Well, them's fightin' words for many bike riders here in America, who wouldn't be seen riding without a helmet. Still, when it comes to bike helmets, we're a nation divided: about half of us wear them, half don't. Both wearers and helmet swearers are armed with statistics and Living on Earth's Ike Sriskandarajah rode right into the middle of the debate of what's called the helmet war.

SRISKANDARAJAH: When I got my own first two-wheeler - a sweet Trek 850, it came with freedom, fun…and an annoying accessory, mandated…by Mom.

MOM: I would tell you to wear a helmet. You hated wearing that helmet…

SRISKANDARAJAH: So after my mom closed the door, I’d run around back and ditch the helmet under a bush. And that worked - until I got caught.

MOM: I saw that and I ran and grabbed and got the helmet, and I'm running behind you and yelling and screaming "Ike - stop!" But I don’t even know if you heard me because you had your earphones on!

SRISKANDARAJAH: Around that same time, in 1989, helmet advocates dialed up the volume.

KID: When you ride one of these [magical sounds], you should wear one of these [magical sounds]. Whoaa. Here’s why.

Kids use peer pressure to teach good helmet wearing.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Johnson and Johnson funded the Safe Kids Campaign and made bike helmets a national issue. It forced parents to consider some gruesome statistics: 91% of bicyclists killed weren’t wearing helmets; 1,000 kids land in the ER everyday with bike-injuries—helmets reduce the risk of brain damage by 85%.

KID: Brain injuries are not cool!

SECOND KID: So be smart, wear a helmet.

SRISKANDARAJAH: The numbers were jarring. And the push worked. Bike helmets became standard.

MOM: Yes, I hope so. And I really believe that you do wear a helmet - you’re a grown up now!

Now Ike wears his helmet. (Photo: Ben Ewen-Campen)

SRISKANDARAJAH: Since that time, helmets themselves have grown up quite a bit. The sleek, safe bike helmets today look pretty different from the primitive gear of the 1970’s.

SWART: We called them hairnets because they were strips of leather-covered foam and they looked kind of like a hairnet. And that’s about all the protection they gave you.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Randy Swart is a long-time rider and the director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, which he runs out of his house in Arlington, Virginia.

SWART: When I asked experienced racers, "Are these helmets any good?" they said, "Well, they don’t do you any good at all on the impact, but as you slide across the pavement they keep your ears from being ground off."

When Randy Swart started racing in the 70's, these leather straps were affectionately called "hairnets." (Photo: Randy Swart/ BHSI)

SRISKANDARAJAH: He was involved in developing our national standard.

SWART: We were founded as the helmet committee of the Washington area Bicycle Association in '74 because there was no standard and there was all kind of junk on the market and you didn’t know what you were looking at. Then in 1999 the Consumer Product Safety Commission adopted a U.S. national standard.

SRISKANDARAJAH: That became the law for all helmets sold here. It specified how much of the head needed to be covered and the force the helmet could withstand. Today, no matter if you buy a $30 or a $300 helmet -

Bike helmets of all prices offer the same standard of protection. This $2000 fur covered Prada helmet is no safer than one in your garage. (Photo: FlickrCC/ mpieracci)

SWART: We found that the cheap ones performed exactly the same as the expensive ones. The lab was amazed. I was amazed.

SRISKANDARAJAH: After the PR push and the new uniform standards, the campaign found global endorsement with the tragic death of professional cyclist, Andrei Kivilev. The Union Cycliste Internationale oversees the biggest cycling competitions. Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Mario Zorzoli:

The death of Kazak cyclist Andrei Kivilev shocked the professional cycling world. (Photo: Wikimedia)

ZORZOLI: After the death of this cyclist everyone was highly concerned about the risk while not wearing helmets. This had been a problem already in the past, but finally UCI decided in 2003 we had to impose the wearing of helmets even at the professional level.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Earlier efforts had been defeated by riders; citing drag, discomfort and personal choice. But in the wake of this tragedy, the rule stuck, and 1,200 of the world’s most famous and admired bicycle athletes had to comply if they wanted to compete. But would this rule have saved Kivilev?

ZORZOLI: If the speed, and therefore the force of the impact is too elevated, then even such a protection as this may not be enough to save a life.

SRISKANDARAJAH: On a downhill, pros can reach 65 mph. Randy Swart, with the Director of the Helmet Safety Institute will tell you, with a head-on collision at that speed, even helmets have limits.

SWART: Yeah, you can say for certain it will help. You can’t say for certain that it will save you.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Most of us will never reach bike speeds that high. But a study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health confirmed that wearing helmets makes regular cyclists ride a little faster then when they aren’t wearing one.

(Photo: Scott Osberg)

OSBERG: It's called risk compensation or risk homeostasis and it's pretty controversial.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Scott Osberg is a traffic safety researcher.

OSBERG: You know I personally think there’s something to it. Especially children may feel they are safer so they can take all kinds of risks that they wouldn't take if they were not wearing a helmet.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Osberg wrote a paper, 15 years ago, that compared bicycle safety in helmet-prone Boston to helmet-averse Amsterdam—and found the death rates in the Netherlands to be significantly lower. He credited Amsterdam’s pro-cycling culture as one of the main factors: there’s safety in numbers.

OSBERG: I really believe there’s a theory that there’s a critical mass of bicyclists that, once you get up to that point, car drivers become more aware, they expect to see bicyclists and they drive more carefully. For instance, when I bicycle over in Amsterdam I feel perfectly comfortable not wearing a helmet. Whereas in Washington, DC, I would never want to do that.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Another study, funded by England’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council - shows that cars are twice as likely to drive close to a helmeted biker than a non-helmeted one. The English researcher running the study was actually hit twice while gathering his data. Both times he was wearing his helmet.

We asked Easton-Bell Helmets - the largest manufacturer of bicycle helmets - to weigh in, but they refused to comment. So… if Osberg and Swart could change one thing to make bikers safer:

OSBERG: Probably the infrastructure is the single most important thing in my mind.

SWART: Well, the obvious answer if you’re the Director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute is going to be helmets.

SRISKANDARAJAH: In an accident, you want to have your helmet on. But in terms of preventing accidents - the helmet might have a mind of its own. For Living on Earth I’m Ike Sriskandarajah.

Related links:
- The History of Bicycle Helmets By Randy Swart, Director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
- Scott Osberg’s Research on Bicycle Use and Safety In Paris, Boston, and Amsterdam
- Questioning the value of bike helmets
- Traffic Safety Facts 2009
- Cars drive closer to bicyclists wearing helmets
- Men bike faster when wearing a helmet
- Pedalcyclist Fatalities in Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes by Year, State, and Helmet Use

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[MUSIC: Various Artists/Don Gorda Project “Don Is Back” from Jazz Meets Funk Deluxe Session Vol.2 (Karmaluna Records 2012)]

Top Ten New Species List

GELLERMAN: The International Institute for Species Exploration has just announced its annual top ten list of newly described or discovered species. The list is released on May 23, coinciding with the anniversary of the birth of Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist responsible for the modern system of naming and classifying plants and animals. Linnaeus would be 315 years old and we’re certain if he could, he would sit up and take notice of this year's winning species. They're a mighty weird bunch. Quentin Wheeler is an entomologist at Arizona State University and directs the Species Exploration Institute. Welcome to Living on Earth.

WHEELER: Glad to be here.

GELLERMAN: I think Carl Linnaeus would have a lot of fun with these new finds.

WHEELER: I'm sure that he would, although I think he'd be surprised at just how fast new species are continuing to show up.

GELLERMAN: How many plants and animals are discovered each year?

WHEELER: Well, at present, the average is about 18,000 new plant and animal species each and every year.

Quentin Wheeler, entomologist and director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. (Arizona Board of Regents ©)

GELLERMAN: Wow, that's a lot of new species! I'm kind of amazed myself.

WHEELER: Well, not as many as I'd like to see. During Linnaeus' lifetime he knew about 10,000 species and thought that he probably knew most of them at that point. But our best estimate is that there are perhaps 12 million living species, of which we've described about 2 million since 1758, so we have a long way to go, and if we keep going at the pace of 18,000 a year, it'll take 500 years to get the job done.

GELLERMAN: So there's still stuff to be discovered?

WHEELER: The vast majority. The golden age of species discovery is just beginning.

GELLERMAN: Well, let's go to your new list, the top ten newly described or discovered species. The Sneezing Monkey?

WHEELER: (laughing) Yes, and that was some wisdom passed on to a team that were doing a survey of the status of gibbons, and were told by locals, who know the flora and fauna fairly well, that when it rains, there was a monkey known to them but unknown to science. The water gets into its nasal cavity and causes it to sneeze.

GELLERMAN: So it's got to rain for these monkeys to sneeze.

WHEELER: That's right. And as I understand it, when it's raining they'll tuck their head down sort of between their knees and try to keep their face out of the rain.

Spongebob Squarepants Fungus (Spongiforma squarepantsii) (Photo: Thomas Bruns)

GELLERMAN: I guess you guys had a lot of fun naming these. The one I like is Spongiforma squarepantsii...So, SpongeBob SquarePants!

WHEELER: I agree; that was my favorite name among the top ten this year. It's actually a fungus. It belongs to the family of Boli fungi that have pores instead of gills under the caps of the mushrooms. But this one looks very much like a sponge, both macroscopically and microscopically.

GELLERMAN: Who names these things?

WHEELER: There are a mixture of professional and serious amateurs around the world who are engaged in discovery and description. But as long as you deposit a specimen in a public museum and conform to a few rules of establishing the name, it's really not that difficult. The difficult part is learning all the species in the group you're studying that have been discovered in the last 250 years, because unless you know those, you can't be certain you're looking at a new one.

GELLERMAN: Well, I like one on your list - it's called Tomoya oboya!

WHEELER: (laughing) Yes, that's an absolutely gorgeous box jelly and unfortunately sort of as toxic and venomous as it is beautiful.

The Bonaire Banded Box Jelly, or Tamoya ohboya. (Photo: Ned Deloach)

GELLERMAN: So when you get stung you exclaim...

WHEELER: Oboya! (laughs) Among other things that I can't say on the radio!

GELLERMAN: I like this one: the devil's worm, ooh, that sounds weird.


WHEELER: If I had a favorite this year, and it's impossible to pick favorites, but that would probably be the one. And not because it's photogenic—it’s got a face only a mother nematode could love. But it showed up almost a mile deep in a mine in South Africa and the water out of the bore hole indicated that it had not been in contact with atmospheric conditions for 4,000, maybe as much as 6,000 years. So this is a very isolated habitat, almost a mile beneath the surface, and here's this multi-cellular organism living down there.

GELLERMAN: How did anyone know to look for this thing?

WHEELER: Well, I'm not sure that they were, but it showed up in the sample as they were extracting water from the borehole.

GELLERMAN: Professor Wheeler, did you ever discover a new species?

WHEELER: I have. I have actually never counted them, but it's over one hundred.

GELLERMAN: Any named after you?

WHEELER: There are, actually. As far as I know, there are three beetles.

GELLERMAN: What's the proper name, then?

WHEELER: Wheeleri. If it's named after a male, as it is in my case, then it ends in an "i," and if it were a woman it would end in "ae." And then we named a new species after President Bush called Agathidium bushi.

GELLERMAN: So was it a new bush that was discovered?

WHEELER: No, no, it was a beetle, one of my beetles. The best part was President Bush called me, which was fantastic. As a scientist, you don't ever expect to get a call from the Oval Office.

GELLERMAN: Is there an Obami?

WHEELER: There is a lichen that was named after Obama.

GELLERMAN: A lowly lichen for the most powerful man on earth.

WHEELER: (laughs)

GELLERMAN: Well, Professor Wheeler, thank you so very much.

WHEELER: Oh, it's been a delight. Thank you.

GELLERMAN: That's Quentin Wheeler. He's an entomologist at Arizona State University and Director of the International Institute for Species Exploration.

Well, sometimes you find new species and sometimes new species find you. Joining me in the studio is Living on Earth's producer Jessica Ilyse Kurn and Jessica, I understand you had a close encounter with a new kind of cactus.

KURN: That's right. I was on a research trip in college in Mexico and I was doing my thing and all of a sudden I lost my footing and I slipped down this mountain and I’m rolling down the mountain - little rocks everywhere. It was painful. And instinctively I put my hands out in front of me and luckily, instead of landing on my face, I landed on my hands with all my impact into a cactus.

Producer Jessica Ilyse Kurn with her swollen hand after falling down a rocky slope into a cactus. (Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

GELLERMAN: Ouch! That hurts!

KURN: It hurt. So I had an emergency whistle with me around my neck and I blew it because I was in shock and couldn't actually yell. My classmates came down to get me and when they pulled me out of the cactus, the whole entire cactus came with me - that's how embedded I was into this cactus.

And I was in a ton of pain. The cactus was poisonous and the spines were barbed so when you pulled them out part of your skin would come along with it. But my professor came up to me and said, "You know, it's a horrible story, I know you're in pain, but here's the clincher: this cactus, I've seen tons of cactus in my day and I've never seen this one." So he took a little sample of it and sent it to the Arizona State University and he was hoping it would be discovered as a new species. And if so, they would call it…Opuntia jessicana.

GELLERMAN: Well, we call her Jessica Ilyse Kurn. Thank you Jessica.

KURN: Thanks, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: And if you've ever found something new under the sun, we'd like to know about it. You'll discover a link for your comments, photos of a bruised Jessica Ilyse Kurn, and the top ten new species at our website LOE dot org.

Related links:
- Visit ASU’s International Institute for Species Exploration and see the other newly described species of 2012
- Learn more about the Opuntia genus

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[MUSIC: Donna Summer “Full Of Emptiness” from Love To Love You Baby (Island/Def Jam Records 1975)]

Poetry: Rod Clark

GELLERMAN: Writer Rod Clark maintains that a poem is not a poem until it's read aloud to another person. He says otherwise it lies dormant in its cocoon, never to be born.

Well, we have the airwaves and he has the poems and the voice, seems a shame not to let his words take flight. Here's Rod Clark with some verse and some musings that inspired them.

Clark’s Island, Rough Rock Lake, Ontario. (Photo: Rod Clark)

CLARK: When I'm up north, I love to go fishing toward evening, and there's always this mood just as the light is fading, darkness begins to descend, and it's at that interval, before darkness falls and the mosquitoes bite, that you're hoping that the fish will bite, too. So this is kind of an incantation, hoping that the fish will strike.

Night Bite
Now dark,
No lark,
What luck is this?
All this time our lake lures listless,
Dark and awesome, aproned isthmus
All these hours ‘til now.

Now see the rod twitch,
Ripple-splinter jackfish
Shatter/slash the river glass


[MUSIC: Ketil Bjornstad & Svante Henryson “Ice Melting” from Night Song (ECM Records 2011)]

Clark’s Island. (Photo: Rod Clark)

CLARK: Well, once more this it out, on a boat, toward evening, a butterfly has just landed on the prow of the boat and I am hearing the loon cry over Rough Rock Lake, which is up in Ontario. In the cry of the loon there's beauty and music but there's also an incredible sadness, almost a coolness that rises from the rocks. At evening, it is the most spooky and wonderful and mysterious sound you can imagine. So this is called "Island Evening."

Island Evening

Smoking river, silver boat
blue/black velvet Mourning Cloak
lingering on the evening’s prow.
Darkness falls upon us now,
and all the things that I have broken,
all the love I’ve left unspoken,
Echo in the loon’s libretto:
Hoo ha! ha! Hoo ha! ha! Hoo ha! He-e-e-e-e! ….

Related link:

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[The Cry of The Loon (Special Music Company 1989)]
GELLERMAN: Rod Clark lives and writes on a small farm in Cambridge, Wisconsin. He's editor and publisher of Rosebud Magazine.
[Music: Ketil Bjornstad & Svante Henryson “Ice Melting” from Night Song (ECM Records 2011) The Cry of The Loon (Special Music Company 1989)]

GELLERMAN: Be sure to check out our website for a new feature we call Living on Earth Now. Regular updates, new stories, and features. We think you'll like the one on anti-antibiotic restaurants. That's at LOE dot org. Coming up, readin', writin', and energy efficiency. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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: Sun Ra: “Reflections In Blue” from Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth (Evidence Records 1992)]

Popular Energy Savings Bill Held Up

States that have adopted energy savings codes for housing. (Online Code Environment & Advocacy Network–OCEAN)

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. These days, there's not much talk in DC about CC - that would be climate change. And you don't hear much about EE, either - that would be energy efficiency. It seems the issues are just too hot to handle for a polarized congress. But there is one bill, introduced in the senate last year that takes on climate changing emissions and energy efficiency. It's the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, authored by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman. The bill has strong bipartisan backing but it stalled in the senate. The American Council for Energy Efficient Economy recently issued a white paper diving deep into the details of the bill. Suzanne Watson is the ACEEE's Policy Director.

WATSON: Many times when you say energy efficiency people think about putting on a sweater or turning the heat down or turning off lights or basically doing without. And in fact, what we mean when we say energy efficiency, and what this legislation gets at is really using essentially the same amount of light, the same appliances, the same comfort of living but using less energy to do it.

GELLERMAN: Well, let's look at specifics. I'm looking at the bill, and the first big chunk of money goes to building energy codes. You want to basically set standards so that states can follow those, is that right?

WATSON: That's correct, yes. We essentially want to create a minimum standard, if you will. We want a standard that is going to be something that we know lots of other states are already doing, lots of other localities are already doing. So what we're really trying to do is gain ground on areas that just aren't doing as much as others have proved can be done. And therefore, create and build more energy efficient buildings.

GELLERMAN: So, overall, what would this bill save if it were passed as it exists right now?

WATSON: The annual savings on the Shaheen-Portman bill by 2020 would be four billion dollars in annual consumer savings; by 2030 it would be 20 billion dollars. That's every year, that amount.

GELLERMAN: And what's the cost of the bill?

WATSON: The bill as we've determined it from our analysis is about 600 million dollars over 18 years, so looking from 2012 through to 2030, we're looking at about a 600 million bill to the taxpayers, to the federal government.

GELLERMAN: There are two provisions in this bill that would make buildings more efficient and businesses more efficient. Both of those are loan programs that are federally subsidized, basically the federal government loans money out at zero and businesses get to use that. Is my understanding of that correct?

WATSON: Yes, that's true.

GELLERMAN: So let's say I'm a company and I've got a business, I want to retrofit my building, I get money from the federal government, they guarantee the loan, and I get to do the project?

WATSON: That's right. That's right, and then you get to pay it back in the savings you secure from the project after it's finished.

GELLERMAN: Businesses are in the business of being more efficient. Why do they need these carrots from the federal government to do that? Why don't they just become more efficient and therefore they get to save the money?

WATSON: Well, I mean, if you had a building downtown right now and you had a furnace in that building and that furnace had been in operation for 20 plus years, they can go for 40, 50 years - what would be an incentive to change that furnace out for a more efficient furnace, except a rebate program with some sort of a sweetener that essentially says maybe there's ten-year life on that furnace, but here's a small sort of down payment, if you will, for you to change that furnace out today instead of ten years from now.

GELLERMAN: So there's a big bang for the buck, what about carbon emission reductions? Have you calculated those?

WATSON: Yes we have. If you want to go back to 2020, we're looking at 29 million metric tons of avoided CO2 emissions by 2020. And then by 2030 we're seeing 108 annual emissions avoided, million metric tons annually, avoided of CO2 emissions.

GELLERMAN: So I wouldn't know a metric ton of carbon if I met it. Put it in a context I can understand.

WATSON: If you were to implement Shaheen-Portman by 2030, you would essentially remove 75% of the energy use of the state of Tennessee uses every year.

GELLERMAN: What happens now? I mean, the bill was introduced last year, it got out of committee but it went no place else...does it have life after the senate last year?

WATSON: We definitely in the community, I guess I'll say, feel that it does. It certainly gained a lot of momentum in just the last month when we've had the like of the National Association of Manufacturers sign on to support this bill and actually began to work messaging to the congress that this is important to them. We also have the United States Chamber of Commerce, which has businesses across the entire country, have signed on to support this bill. We have environmental organizations such as Sierra Club and others that are signed on to this legislation and want to see it happen. So there's a very strong momentum that's built now and I think this could carry this particular piece of legislation through.

GELLERMAN: So, this bill last year passed out of the energy and natural resources committee 18 to three. What's holding it up now?

WATSON: There've been other issues that have taken precedent in the Congress, things like financial markets and financial reform and the Shaheen-Portman bill, which has such strong support, does have the potential to attract amendments that could be problematic. It could include some things that would prevent EPA from enforcing some of the Clean Air Act, it could also repeal the lighting standards that went into play the first of this year, which U.S. manufacturers have retooled factories to create, so there are a number of reasons but we are now seeing, as I said earlier, some good momentum building in terms of bringing this to the floor soon. There's a lot of negotiation that has to go on, a lot of give and take and again, a very political year, so it isn't an easy process. It's going to be a matter of how much I think folks want to see good energy policy pass before the election.

GELLERMAN: Ms. Watson thanks a lot.

WATSON: Thank you, Bruce, I really appreciate this opportunity.

GELLERMAN: Suzanne Watson is policy director for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

Related links:
- Blog analyzing Shaheen-Portman
- White Paper on Shaheen-Portman from American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
- Alliance to Save Energy paper on Shaheen-Portman
- Environmental building code advocacy organization

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High Schools Honored for Sustainability Initiatives

Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy in Erie, PA has a 10.4 KW solar array on their roof.

GELLERMAN: Well, U.S. public schools spend more than six billion dollars a year on energy. That's more than on textbooks and computers combined. The National Environmental Education Foundation estimates a third of that energy in schools could be used more efficiently. After a nationwide search, the group has identified and is honoring three schools for their innovative use of energy-saving technology. The schools will receive 10,000 dollars each to continue their initiatives. We spoke with students at the winning schools.

GILLMAN: I'm Hannah Gillman, I'm a junior at Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, and I'm part of their Green Team. The students at the Collegiate Academy made some recommendations to the faculty and staff and student body to reduce electrical lighting and to replace it with natural lighting and in one year we improved our rating from 23 to 46 and saved about $11,000 and more than 180,000 kilowatts.

GELLERMAN: Just by letting in more natural light?

GILLMAN: Exactly.

GELLERMAN: Wow. That's quite a savings.


GELLERMAN: Well, I understand that the school's going to get $10,000 as part of the award and you've got to use it to further your energy initiatives. Do you have any idea what you're going to use the money for?

GILLMAN: Yes, right now we're actually working on making a garden on the side of our school and we're going to fill it with plants as well as vegetables and herbs and we really want to focus on conserving water, as well, as much as we can.

GELLERMAN: Well, congratulations again. That's terrific.

GILLMAN: Well thank you so much!

(Photo: Michael Wierusz)

EAST: My name is Will Leask and I go to the Secondary Academy for Success in Bothell, Washington and I'm a senior in high school. Recently this year the school installed a new ventilation system that monitors actively the carbon content in the air and it adjusts the ventilation accordingly, which has helped a lot to offset our carbon emissions. We also have a couple kiosks, electronic kiosks, placed around the school. Kids can mess around with them and see what energy usage is going on. One of our projects throughout the year was to make a mobile lab, with which we could take to elementary schools to teach about sustainability. Because one of the things we noticed about public education system in Washington and our district specifically, is that there's a very big lack of sustainable education in the elementary. So what we did is made a trailer, outfitted it with all sorts of interactive displays teaching kids about efficiency and alternative sources of energy as well as policy and how that affects energy usage in the country. We put six solar panels on top of the trailer. With our $10,000 reward what we're going to do is finish up our solar system by buying an inverter and a battery pack.

Students from Boston Latin School Youth Climate Action Network look at the plans for their new green roof.

PARK: Hi, my name is Rebecca Park. I go to Boston Latin School where I'm a senior. What our school did to win this really came from our after school organization, the Boston Latin School Youth Climate Action Network. One of the main things that got us this award was our commitment to making our school more energy efficient and more kind of conscious of environmental issues in general. We had an energy audit back several years ago now and we had such a low score that we were really motivated to take action. So we wanted to do not just the kind of small recommendations that they made, so we could do some of those such as turning the lights off in the vending machines and replacing a lot of light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones instead of the traditional incandescent light bulbs.

We also initiated projects of a much larger proportion that would both save energy for our school and also accomplish our educational goals and really engage the community and give opportunities for youth leadership and a different kind of education. We started a green roof project that we've been working on for a couple years now.

GELLERMAN: A green roof project...

PARK: Yes.

GELLERMAN: What is that?

Energy generation in the classroom at Secondary Academy for Success in Bothwell, Washington. (Photo: Mike Wierusz)

PARK: A green roof in the traditional sense might just mean vegetation, it might just mean solar panels, but the green roof that we have proposed and are working on achieving is really an educational space that takes a sample of all different kinds of features. So it does have vegetation, it does have solar panels and wind turbines, and even a rooftop greenhouse. But the real purpose is to be able to educate students from our school and from schools across the city and youths from all organizations across our community really.

GELLERMAN: I understand part of the innovation here had nothing to do with the technology; it had to do with your ability to raise money - fundraisers.

PARK: This is true, yeah. A lot of your time when you're trying to do a project this big does have to go to fundraisers, so we've had to be creative. Especially a lot of the online contents now have kind of a public voting component, so we've done things at school like have a kid in a green bean costume try to get people to vote online.

This mobile cargo trailer was retrofitted by Secondary Academy for Success students to be a mobile lab. It travels to elementary scools to teach sustainability and renewable energy.

GELLERMAN: A kid in a green bean costume?

PARK: Yeah, it was pretty fun.

GELLERMAN: How much money did you raise?

PARK: Over the last couple of years we've raised over $200,000. I'm not sure how much from the green bean episode itself, but we have raised over $200,000 and that's the last three or four years.

GELLERMAN: Boy, that's a lot of green, green beans or otherwise.

PARK: (laughing) Yeah.

GELLERMAN: Well, Rebecca Park of Boston Latin, thank you very much and congratulations again.

PARK: Thank you so much for having us.

GELLERMAN: And congrats to all the winners of the National Environmental Education Foundation's Sustainable Energy Award.

Related links:
- Find out more about the Collegiate Academy Green Team
- A story about Northwest PA Collegiate Academy’s energy-efficiency efforts is
- Boston Latin School Youth Climate Action Network
- Boston Latin School’s 2012 Energy Scrapbook
- Find out more about Boston Latin Schools’ Green Roof project
- Sustainable Engineering & Design at Secondary Academy for Success, Bothell, Washington
- Learn more about the Sustainable Energy Award

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[Music: Steely Dan “My Old School” from Countdown To Ecstacy (UMG Music 1973)]

Grammy Goes A-Gatherin’

GELLERMAN: Dandelions can be the crab grass on the lawn of life. But one person's grass-choking weed can be another's culinary treat. Ann Murray of the public radio program The Allegheny Front reports on one longtime dandelion-lovin’ woman.

CHRIS: I don't think you should walk over there.

GRAM: I can do it, come on buddy.

MURRAY: This afternoon, 97-year-old Virginia Dobell, a.k.a. Grammy, will not be deterred by some uneven ground and wild grasses. She's doing what she's done for the past ninety springs...gathering the season's first batch of dandelion greens for dinner.

GRAMMY: Look at this. This is like a bed of 'em.

MURRAY: So this looks promising?

GRAMMY: Yes, and if you tell me they're all red, I'll probably faint.

MURRAY: Red stemmed dandelions are a no-no for connoisseurs like Grammy.

MURRAY: If it's red, does it tell you that it's a bad taste?

GRAMMY: They're very, very bitter. OK, gotta have my knife, toots.

MURRAY: Grammy's grandson, Chris Fetter, pulls out a small kitchen knife from a paper bag. With considerable effort, Grammy hangs on her cane, bends over and starts cutting a big dandelion out of the ground.

Ninety-seven year old Virginia Dobell, aka Grammy, has loved dandelions for most of her life. (Photo: Chris Fetter)

GRAMMY: You always leave the base of the dandelion on...like so.

MURRAY: So what do you actually eat here? What part are we looking for to eat?

GRAMMY: Right there.

MURRAY: She points at the long light green, almost white dandelion stems and spines.

GRAMMY: They come in the tall grass. When they're about that tall...they're the yum yum ones.

MURRAY: Grammy should know. She's been rounding up dandelions since she was seven. Back then it wasn't just for fun. She and her big family depended on dandelions and potatoes for food all spring and summer. Just like the European settlers who brought the dandelion over here to fill out their paltry diet. The roots contain taraxacin, which stimulates digestion, and the leaves are full of vitamin A and D. Today, Grammy's passing on the tradition to Chris.

GRAMMY: You have to cut all the way around. Atta boy. See if you pull 'em up, you're in trouble. (Laughs)

CHRIS: I didn't do too good on that one.

GRAMMY: That's a white one, see. There you're talking sense.

MURRAY: While Chris cuts dozens of plants, Grammy tells me some dandelion pickin' stories. On one of her first excursions, her brother followed her to the family's apple orchard.

GRAMMY: So he gets in a tree and hides. When I get all my dandelions that I think's gonna do us for supper, I start for the house. And all of the sudden out of the tree he came. Grabbed my bag and spread the dandelions all along the way.

MURRAY: What a dirty trick.

GRAMMY: LAUGHS. Yes, a dirty trick it was.

MURRAY: Dirty tricks aside, Grammy's been making dandelion salads for years. Back in her apartment, she thumbs through the well-worn cook book her mother passed on to her in 1925. In the margin, her mom's written 'very good' next to the recipe for hot dandelion dressing.

Grammy picks a plant. (Photo: Chris Fetter)

GRAMMY: Of course, the first thing we do is fry the bacon and make that real nice crisp.

MURRAY: While Grammy gets the bacon going, Chris chops the dandelion greens.

CHRIS: Do you want to leave the leaves long Grammy or do you want them?

GRAMMY: No, in half so they’re, you know, easy to eat.

MURRAY: After they finish up, they pull out a big pan and mix in milk, egg, a little flour and lots of vinegar.

CHRIS: Tell me when.

GRAMMY: That's good enough.

MURRAY: Then they pour the concoction in with hot bacon grease.

GRAMMY: And we keep stirring, stirring, stirring. Now we're going to put it on the salad and just wish and wish and wish. OK it is ready.

Grammy’s recipe for hot dandelion salad dressing

MURRAY: Just in time for Sunday dinner. The table's set and Chris and his mom, Gloria, let Grammy take the first bite of dandelion salad.

GRAMMY: Ohhhhh it is good!!

CHRIS: Good job, Grammy.

GLORIA: Good job.

CHRIS: Tastes great.

MURRAY: This is Ann Murray.

GRAMMY: Oh heavenly days….

GELLERMAN: Ann Murray’s profile of Grammy comes to us by way of the Pennsylvania public radio program, The Allegheny Front. For Grammy’s dandelion recipe for Hot Dandelion Salad Dressing, check out our website LOE dot org.

Related links:
- Listen and read a story from the LOE archives about a plant biologist’s love for dandelions
- Find out more about The Allegheny Front

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GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Jessica Ilyse Kurn, Ingrid Lobet, and Helen Palmer, with help from Meghan Miner, Gabriela Romanow, and Sammy Sousa. And many thanks to our intern Mary Bates. We're sorry to see her go and grateful she shared her many talents with us. 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 - @livingonearth, that's just one word. 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.

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