Trump Admin Fires Key Science Advisors
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In a departure from standard practice, the Environmental Protection Agency has not renewed the terms of half of the members of a scientific review board. Ken Kimmell, President of the Union of Concerned Scientists, discusses with host Steve Curwood why this latest move is just one of several actions the Trump administration has taken to diminish the role of scientific research at EPA and elsewhere in the federal government. They also discuss why world leaders are anxiously awaiting the Trump administration’s decision about the U.S involvement in the Paris Agreement. (11:00)
Senate Saves Methane Rule
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Host Steve Curwood notes that three Republican Senators voted with Democrats to oppose the use of the Congressional Review Act to overturn Obama’s rule to control venting and flaring of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from public lands. (00:50)
Big Plans For and Against Big Oil/ Sandy Tolan
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North American oil and gas producers are rushing to build new pipelines as part of bid to gain more power in the international oil and gas markets, but they are running into fierce opposition at home. Reporter Sandy Tolan spoke with key players in the controversy, including residents of Louisiana'a Bayou country, where the hotly debated Bayou Bridge pipeline is still in the planning phase. (18:00)
BirdNote: Just Whose Ducklings Are Those?/ Mary McCann
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Wood Ducks avoid putting all their eggs in one basket – literally, by laying some of them in other ducks’ nests as an insurance policy in case disaster strikes their own nests. BirdNote’s Mary McCann explains that the duck that ends up with extra ducklings may not always be able to tell when she’s caring for alien brood. (02:00)
The Charm and Mystery of ‘Steve’
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When a group of photographers approached University of Calgary physics professor Eric Donovan with images of a purple streak in the sky, he had no idea what it was. So the unknown phenomenon was dubbed ‘Steve’ in the absence of an official name. Living on Earth’s Helen Palmer spoke with Eric Donovan about meeting ‘Steve’ and the quest to unravel the mystery of the strange streak in the night sky. (08:30)
The Place Where You Live: Chadron, Nebraska
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Living on Earth gives voice to Orion magazine’s longtime feature where readers write about their favorite places. In this week’s edition, Abigail McFee takes us back to her childhood in a small town in Nebraska and describes how the place echoes with history in every corner. (06:00)
HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Ken Kimmell, Eric Donovan, Abigail McFee
REPORTERS: Sandy Tolan, Mary McCann
CURWOOD: From Public Radio International, this is Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. President Trump keeps firing federal officials from top to bottom, with some saying the sacking of EPA science advisors is ominous.
KIMMELL: I'm kind of reminded of the phrase of Dick the Butcher in Henry XI when he was plotting an insurrection and said, "First thing we do when we get into power, let's kill all the lawyers." Well, I think the Trump administration, their agenda is, "Let's fire the scientists."
CURWOOD: Also backers say the push for pipelines is a bid for dominance by North American fossil fuel companies.
CRAMER: I view us as a North American energy block that rivals if not exceeds the global market potential of OPEC, and that's where the Dakota Access Pipeline comes in. That infrastructure has to of course involve moving oil to the coasts and having export terminals and all that.
CURWOOD: We’ll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.
[NEWSBREAK MUSIC: Boards Of Canada “Zoetrope” from “In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country” (Warp Records 2000)]
CURWOOD: From PRI, and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Donald Trump is notorious for saying, “You’re fired,” most recently to the head of the FBI in the middle of its probe of Mr. Trump’s suspected financial and campaign ties to Russia. In a less famous but still striking move, the Trump Administration also recently cashiered nine of 18 scientists serving on the Board of Scientific Counselors at the EPA, saying industry needed more representation. And published reports say the Interior Department is suspending the work of 200 advisory boards, calling the future of those panels into question.
Ken Kimmell is the President of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Ken, welcome back to Living on Earth.
KIMMELL: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you again.
CURWOOD: So, tell me first how important is the EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors an,d what's it tasked with doing?
KIMMELL: It's a board of experts in various fields, and they serve as a very important strategic resource to EPA to help and answer the question, “Are we doing the right science? Is the work we're doing really protecting the American public as best as we can, and are we using our scarce taxpayer dollars in the most effective way?” And the board is intended to give EPA advice at a very high level about how to conduct the best governmental science it can.
CURWOOD: And what do we know about the nine scientists who were dismissed from this Board of Scientific Counselors at the EPA?
KIMMELL: They are academic experts and some industry and governmental officials as well, representing a variety of scientific fields that all intersect with the work that EPA does. There's an expert in environmental economics, which is such an important field. There's experts in sociology because part of what EPA needs to do as a regulatory body is not just make rules, but make sure that people understand and accept them, and the community is brought in. There are members of this board who are climate experts. Some are experts in toxicology, which is all about the threats that different pollutants have on public health a,nd disciplines of that nature.
CURWOOD: So, Ken, to what extent is this dismissal within the normal scope of action for a new administration?
KIMMELL: Well, it's really not. Typically these board members stay on or two terms, at least six years. Part of the reason of that is, of course, you want to take advantage of their institutional expertise. Now, these nine members who were turned away had just finished their first term. As a matter of course they would've been renewed for a second term. In fact, they were told that they were going to be, and now very abruptly they've all been asked not to return, and part of the reason why the Union of Concerned Scientists is flagging this is because we think that this is really a part of a much bigger story. This is not an isolated action. It's connected to a lot of other things that the Trump administration is doing that really show, “A,” a lack of respect for science and experts, but, even worse, an effort to get them out of the way of an agenda which is to cut protections that all of us rely upon that come from the federal government.
CURWOOD: What actions are you thinking of?
KIMMELL: Well, there are so many. I'll start with EPA and Scott Pruitt, who has a position on climate change that's directly contrary to what his own EPA scientists say on the website about the role of carbon dioxide. One of his first official acts in government was to decide not to ban a pesticide that his own experts had told him posed a significant public health and safety risk. We have a proposed budget that has deep and unprecedented cuts to the agencies and government that do science, like EPA or the Department of Energy or NOAA or NASA. And we have bills that are being supported by the administration that would make it much more difficult, for example, for academic scientists to participate in government and make it easier for industry to participate.
I'm kind of reminded of the phrase of Dick the Butcher in Henry XI when he was plotting an insurrection and said, "First thing we do when we get into power, let's kill all the lawyers." Well, I think the Trump administration, their agenda is, "Let's fire the scientists." If we lose the independence of our government scientists, we really lose a critical bulwark in making sure the government works for people and not just for industry interests.
CURWOOD: Now, a spokesman for the EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has said he's thinking about replacing these scientists with industry scientists -- academics with industry, I gather -- since they, and I quote here, "understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community". Now, I understand there are some industry scientists already on the board, am I correct?
Today, I was Trumped. I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.— Robert Richardson (@ecotrope) May 5, 2017
KIMMELL: There are industry scientists on the board, and there's also several people who have been involved in government at the state and local level.
CURWOOD: So, in your view, what's the optimal balance of industry and academia on the EPA science advisory boards?
KIMMELL: Well, first of all, I want to take issue with this idea of industry scientists and academic scientists. The criteria for picking advisory scientists should be their scientific excellence: How well they know this field, what their contributions have been to it, what their ability is to give excellent scientific advice to EPA. Whether they come from industry or academia or elsewhere is very secondary. And in particular, for this board we're talking about, this board doesn't even review EPA regulations. That’s a different scientific board that does that. This board is about giving advice to EPA about how to conduct the best possible science, and while there's no harm in having members of that board have an industry background, it really isn't, and shouldn't be, the criteria for membership on this board.
CURWOOD: Ken, what do you make of the failure of the Trump administration so far to appoint a science adviser to the President himself, someone right there in the White House that he can go and talk to if he has questions about science?
KIMMELL: Well, that's another example of a lack of respect for the role that science should be playing. Other presidents have had science advisors right in the White House. They have been important experts that have been routinely consulted on matters with a wide range of issues, and not to have someone with those scientific credentials in the White House is a problem particularly because we have a president who by his own admission has said he doesn't typically read much and doesn't get into the details of things.
CURWOOD: Ken, the Trump administration, as we speak, is still talking about whether not to keep the US in the Paris climate agreement. What do you anticipate the administration will do about Paris?
KIMMELL: Well, it's really unknown. As you are no doubt aware there appears to be a division within the administration about whether to stay in the agreement or not. He is of a general mindset that doing things to deal with the climate is inevitably bad for the economy. I think that is completely false, and all you have to do, really, is look at the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of jobs that are being created in the solar and the wind and the energy efficiency industries to see just how wrong that is. I do think that world leaders are contacting the White House and calling upon the White House to make the decision to stay in the agreement. Notably, many business leaders are doing the same thing.
I will say this though. It would be a travesty if we leave this agreement. We fought for decades to have an agreement that every country was involved in, not just the developed countries like ours, but the developing countries like China and India. We finally got that after decades of work. It's only been in effect now for a year, and the idea that we would pull out before even giving it a chance is incredibly distressing. It really risks making us a pariah nation. The only other two countries that aren't in this agreement are Syria and Nicaragua. Even North Korea is in this agreement.
CURWOOD: Now, toward the end of this month, Ken, the G7 meets, and Mr. Trump will meet with these leaders for the first time, really, as a group. And a big question there will be for him: What are you going to do about Paris? How do you think the G7's going to go?
KIMMELL: Well, I think that he has committed to giving them an answer to that question. Frankly, I think, if the answer is that the United States is going to pull out, he should expect that the G7 will have a very strong backlash. I also think that this is a president who is going to need these countries for cooperation on a lot of things, not just on climate, on trade, on fighting terrorism. And he really risks rupturing that relationship by pulling out of this agreement and creating the impression that when the United States gives its word, as we did when we signed that agreement, that it can't be counted on.
And that is a tremendous problem here that needs to get factored in.
CURWOOD: Before you go, Ken, to what extent are other countries stepping up to take the lead in the wake of US, and you could even say the EU is stepping back a bit from climate leadership?
KIMMELL: Well, I think so far countries have reacted well in the sense that they're going forward. They're doing all the things they need to implement the Paris agreement. None of them have said, "Well, if the US pulls out, we're going to pull out also." So, that's very, very good.
I think another thing that's very good is, we have states and cities and business leaders who are making it clear that they are determined to do whatever they can to make sure that the US does actually meet its commitments under Paris. And that's really important because it's not just up to the federal government. It's up to all of us and in particular states and cities and businesses to make up difference. And I do think that if we pull out of Paris you can expect that we will still have some representation through those groups of leaders. And I think it's important for the world to understand that Mr. Trump may have one view about the Paris agreement, but most people in the United States by wide margins think that the agreement was the right thing to do, and we should say in it.
CURWOOD: Ken Kimmell is the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Thanks so much for taking the time with us today.
KIMMELL: Thank you, Steve.
CURWOOD: We asked the EPA for comment on the change of personnel at the Board of Scientific Counselors. The agency’s spokesperson J.P. Freire, wrote:
"Advisory panels like BOSC play a critical role reviewing the agency’s work. EPA received hundreds of nominations to serve on the board, and we want to ensure fair consideration of all the nominees, including those nominated who may have previously served on the panel and carry out a competitive nomination process."
- EPA information about the Board of Scientific Counselors
- NYTimes: “E.P.A. Dismisses Members of Major Scientific Review Board”
- E&E News: “Interior: Agency suspends advisory panels even as decisions loom”
- Union of Concerned Scientists blog post: “Advisory Committee Shakeup Targets Independent Science and Scientists”
- Letter from over 200 global investors urging G7 to stand by Paris Agreement
- CNN: “Trump administration delays Paris climate agreement decision”
- About Ken Kimmell
- Scientists from a BOSC subcommittee resigned following their colleagues' dismissal
CURWOOD: And in other Capitol Hill news, on May 10th, the Senate refused to repeal an Obama regulation on methane emissions under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to roll back rules made within 60 legislative days. This marks the first time under the Trump Administration that Senate action did not align with the President’s public position. Three Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, and Susan Collins of Maine joined every Democrat to retain the methane rule, which the House had already voted to kill. It requires industries drilling or mining on public lands and offshore to sharply cut the flaring and venting of the powerful global warming gas methane. The rule is still vulnerable to repeal though, using regular rule making procedures, but that could take years. So, for now the Obama methane restrictions still stand.
- Washington Post: “Senate unexpectedly rejects bid to repeal a key Obama-era environmental regulation”
- FiveThirtyEight data tracking when each member of the House and Senate votes with or against President Trump
- Original press release from Department of the Interior announcing the methane rule
[MUSIC: The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, “Silence Is the Question” on The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, Nonesuch Records]
CURWOOD: Coming up... the oil business began in America, and there’s an infrastructure bid to make America the home of big oil again. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and from a friend of Sailors for the Sea, working with boaters to restore ocean health.
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, “Silence Is the Question” on The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, Nonesuch Records]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.
In the early spring last year Native activists rode their horses through the snow to the edge of the Cannonball River on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, pledging to kill the “black snake”, the nearly 1,200 mile long Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL. Well, that fight was lost, as on May 14th thousands of barrels of fracked crude oil are scheduled to begin flowing through that pipeline, heading to a terminal in Illinois and then down toward the US Gulf Coast.
But Native and climate change activists say the struggle against DAPL was just one battle in a much longer war, with a dozen more Standing Rocks, on multiple front lines across America, as companies race to lay pipelines as quickly as possible. Campaigners warn the US is becoming a “petrostate.” US climate commitments, they say, and the very health of the planet are at stake.
Living on Earth contributor Sandy Tolan spent months investigating the new oil wars. Here’s his report.
[POLICEMAN ON BULLHORN, CROWD SOUNDS]
TOLAN: For 10 months, thousands of overwhelmingly peaceful protesters stood on the front lines at Standing Rock. They endured tear gas, rubber bullets, hypothermia, and vilification by the police and local media.
MAN ON BULLHORN: First of all, we need to know these protestors that are here, right now, eighty-five percent of them, based on the arrests so far, are from somewhere else. OK? They’re not from North Dakota. And if we follow the money of who’s paying them to get here, I want an investigation not unlike we do in a drug crime, not unlike we do in some terro, because they are terrorists...
TOLAN: In my five trips to North Dakota over the fall and winter, I was always struck by the intensity of the police and private security companies’ response -- the dog attacks, the hoses dousing protesters in sub-freezing temperatures, the metal detention cages modeled on dog kennels; the numbers scrawled on the forearms of the people they arrested: these seemed like tactics from another era or another country. I wondered why North Dakota was so intent on not losing the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
POLICEMAN ON BULLHORN: If you do not comply, you will be arrested for violations of North Dakota laws. Please disperse now.
TOLAN: Turns out, officials here were protecting a grand plan worth tens of billions of dollars. In that plan, the Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL, is North Dakota’s linchpin. It allows a glut of fracked oil from the massive Bakken formation to flow southeast toward the US Gulf Coast. Bakken oil is part of, what boosters call, the “North American petroleum renaissance.” The US is now the world’s third largest producer of crude oil, pumping more than Iran and Iraq combined.
North Dakota Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer says that means opportunity.
CRAMER: We have the potential to produce all we need and then some.
TOLAN: Cramer is a champion of DAPL and a climate change skeptic.
CRAMER: I view us as a North American energy block that rivals, if not exceeds, the global market potential of OPEC.
TOLAN: But if that’s to happen, Cramer says, North Dakota producers can’t keep shipping fracked oil by expensive rail to the east coast. They need more efficient means.
CRAMER: And that's where the Dakota Access Pipeline comes in. That infrastructure has to, of course, involve moving oil to the coasts and having export terminals and all that.
TOLAN: “Export terminals". You heard the Congressman right. Kevin Cramer says the Dakota Access Pipeline will carry oil for export.
CRAMER: So, yeah, I think Bakken crude is destined for the world.
TOLAN: Yet DAPL, Keystone XL and other controversial projects were justified in part in the name of American “energy independence”. Lorne Stockman of the watchdog group, Oil Change International, says that’s a line of bull.
STOCKMAN: The oil and gas industry is sort of wrapping itself in the flag and talking about energy independence, when actually what they're doing is turning the country into a resource colony for export of oil and gas.
TOLAN: So, the pipeline company Energy Transfer, backed by North Dakota officials, police, and the National Guard, fought that huge battle at Standing Rock, in large part so that US crude oil could leave the country.
CRAMER: We now get to play in the global marketplace.
TOLAN: For 40 years, that was illegal. During the Arab oil embargo, Congress imposed a ban on crude oil exports. Only American oil destined for Canada could leave US shores. But with all that fracking in North Dakota and Texas, the shale oil revolution changed the game completely.
HEITCAMP (on CNBC): And so North America is going to become the energy powerhouse for the world...
TOLAN: And Senators like North Dakota’s Heidi Heitcamp, a Democrat, started showing up on the business talk shows, along with oil executives, saying it was time to turn American oil loose.
HEITCAMP (on CNBC): And if you don’t allow the exports of this oil, they’re going to re-invest someplace else where they can market their oil.
TOLAN: And so in December 2015...
NEWS ANCHOR1: There is a big move in Washington as Congressional leaders have agreed to lift the nation’s 40-year old ban on oil exports...
TOLAN: Now, more and more, exhaust from American crude oil is destined to spew from tailpipes in Amsterdam, Beijing, Tokyo, even Caracas. Every day this February nearly 300,000 barrels of American oil went to China.
NEWS ANCHOR2: China became the biggest buyer of US crude in February. The country imported over eight million barrels.
TOLAN: Ironically, all this is happening as demand for oil in the US and other Western countries is flattening. You may wonder, then, why there’s a massive buildout of tens of billions of dollars in pipelines, oil storage tanks and export terminals. Perhaps that’s because of skyrocketing demand in the developing world.
Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, says the two go together.
MOFFITT: I think that they’re playing the long game, in that they are teeing things up to ensure that not just the United States, but the globe, stays reliant on oil for as long as possible.
TOLAN: Oil companies have seen the writing on the wall, Moffitt says, and they’re moving as quickly as they can --
MOFFITT: To lock in continued demand for product via this infrastructure. The industry is in a race to secure the export terminals and the pipelines that will get these fossil fuels to our coasts as fast as possible.
TOLAN: And yet, just as DAPL is but one big pipeline amidst a sea of new infrastructure, so was Standing Rock only one battle in a long war. Activists are taking to the front lines from Vancouver to Maine, from Minnesota to Oklahoma to Louisiana’s Bayou country.
FOYTLIN: In these troubling times, where we're seeing such an assault on water and earth, on our communities, I don't feel like anyone has the opportunity to slack or lay off.
TOLAN: I’m heading into Bayou country with Native activist Cherri Foytlin in her SUV, rolling past gleaming white cylinders -- crude oil tanks – part of that massive new infrastructure. Foytlin is raising six kids in a small town 150 miles west of New Orleans. But as state director of the Bold Alliance, she’s spending a lot of time on the road these days fighting pipelines, especially the proposed Bayou Bridge.
FOYTLIN: This is the continuation of assaults against our communities. We have so many pipelines in our state and so many accidents and so many leaks.
TOLAN: The Bayou Bridge would be built by Phillips 66, Sunoco, and Energy Transfer.
FOYTLIN: …Which is the same corporation who had committed human rights violations in Standing Rock in North Dakota. Their plan is to put in a pipeline that runs from Lake Charles to St. James across 11 parishes, including my own parish, where I live, and 700 bodies of water right down there in south Louisiana and the wetlands.
[SLAMMING CAR DOOR AND FOOTSTEPS]
TOLAN: Foytlin pulls up where a gravel road meets the softly lapping waters of a lake. We walk to the water’s edge.
FOYTLIN: We’re standing on the edge of some beautiful wetlands. You can see birds. That’s a wood duck flying over. I saw a pelican here just a few minutes ago.
TOLAN: In the distance, refineries belch smoke and orange flares.
FOYTLIN: The Bayou Bridge pipeline is going to go right through this body of water, right through those wetlands right there.
TOLAN: The Bayou Bridge recently cleared one regulatory hurdle, and now it’s closer to reality. Despite the complex social dynamics between Louisiana’s oil industry workers, fishermen and local communities, energy has generally held sway here. Yet back in the car, Foytlin tells me that in the age of Trump and Standing Rock, something has changed. Not long ago, two or three people would show up to protest a new energy project. But now...
FOYTLIN: We had a solidarity action for Standing Rock and several hundred people showed up, and that's, that’s historic for us. Yeah, we had two hearings, and in one case we had about 400, 450 people. We're definitely seeing a shift in awareness in consciousness and in people taking action.
TOLAN: It’s the same story at dozens of pipeline battles across the country. Activists, inspired by Standing Rock and spurred by Trump, are mobilizing. Sierra Club Washington lobbyist Athan Manuel says, that’s a big thing.
MANUEL: These pipeline fights are really, really important because we need to cut off the economies of scale for them, and stopping those pipelines is one way to do it.
TOLAN: But the economy of scale of the American oil renaissance, and the power behind it, is huge. So much more oil is pumping out of US wells, compared to just 10 years ago, that the very flow of it has reversed direction.
BRAZIEL: So you want to know how crude oil moves – Most of the crude oil in the United States moves right there.
TOLAN: A silver-bearded Texan in jeans and cowboy boots leans over a table in the high-rise conference room of his company, RBN Energy.
[SOUND OF UNROLLING A MAP]
BRAZIEL: There was a time when a lot of crude moved up from this area.
TOLAN: Rusty Braziel unfurls a giant map labeled “US GULF COAST CRUDE OIL INFRASTRUCTURE.” He traces his finger from Louisiana toward Cushing, Oklahoma, the “pipeline crossroads of the world.”
BRAZIEL: With all of the production that kicked in, in both Canada and North Dakota, now a lot of that crude moves back down this way.
TOLAN: His finger reverses, moving back toward the Gulf, and all its new terminals and storage tanks. But Braziel’s a bit of a contrarian. He doesn’t think much of this oil is leaving the country any time soon. For one thing...
BRAZIEL: We still import about seven million barrels a day, net imports. Now, we have to bring in a barrel for every barrel that goes out.
TOLAN: So, he’s skeptical of all the export talk. For starters, it has to make economic sense.
BRAZIEL: So, it costs me money to ship it there, right? So if I put it in a ship here, and I get the same thing for it there that I could have sold it for here, but I had to pay $2 to get it there, why would I do that?
TOLAN: In the year after the export ban ended, Braziel shows me on his laptop, exports hardly ticked up at all.
BRAZIEL: It’s nothing. It’s nothing. Nothing happened.
TOLAN: But more recently buyers in Japan, Singapore and China are beginning to pay more for American oil than producers can get back home. Especially after OPEC cut production last year. This year for the first time US exports topped a million barrels a day, double that of a year ago. The American petrostate is flourishing, just as the planet is warming.
TOLAN: And the cherry blossoms along the National Mall are blooming earlier and earlier.
GEMMILL: The very ground we walk on is melting beneath our feet.
TOLAN: Native activist Faith Gemmill sits on a patch of grass on a mild March afternoon, in the shadow of the Washington Monument. She’s come with thousands of others to stand with Standing Rock – and to move on to other struggles – for example, in her native Alaska.
GEMMILL: There’s actually communities that are on the coastline that need to be relocated immediately. It’s an urgent situation because the ice melting has allowed the erosion of the coastlines. And that's going to be the reality of other coastal communities anywhere in the US eventually, if we don't raise the profile of catastrophic climate change.
TOLAN: Gemmill is part of the Indigenous Environmental Network. She sits beside six large teepees across the mall from the Capitol building. Activists have been lobbying sympathetic senators like former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
[VOICES IN A CROWD]
TOLAN: And now Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley ducks into one of those teepees, and in his grey pinstripe suit plunks himself on the dirt. He sits in a circle among two dozen natives, all with their own stories of energy disasters on their homelands. Dallas Goldtooth was a leader in the battle against DAPL.
GOLDTOOTH: A lot of us are coming here to this camp that has been spearheaded by this fight against Dakota Access pipeline. But it’s not just one pipeline we're fighting against. It's not just Standing Rock. It's this global effort to keep fossil fuels in the ground and build really good solutions.
TOLAN: Merkley sits and listens for half an hour. He looks around the teepee, talking about his own “Keep It In the Ground” bill for federal land.
MERKLEY: By 2050, we must completely replace our fossil fuel energy economy with clean and renewable energy.
TOLAN: But he says, not much will happen in Washington any time soon. The fight is local, and it’s long term.
MERKLEY: The fossil fuel industry largely owns Congress. They've invested bazillions of dollars in campaigns to control the Senate and the House. So our response to that has to be to bypass the federal government, go directly to every local organization and say, “Let’s own this problem at the grassroots level and let's act.” That is a grassroots strategy because we cannot wait for the US government.
TOLAN: Outside the teepee, I see a young Navajo woman I’d met at Standing Rock. Vanessa Dundon, who goes by Sioux Z, was badly injured during the clashes with police when she was shot in the eye by a tear gas canister. Since then, she tells me, she’s had three surgeries, but still has only 10 percent vision in her right eye.
SIOUX Z: And I still have a few more surgeries.
TOLAN: But Sioux Z is more interested in talking about where the fight will go from Standing Rock.
SIOUX Z: It was really hard. Because we all fought so hard, but we’re still here, and we spread the fire.
TOLAN: She means that literally. Embers from the sacred fire in Standing Rock are being carried to other pipeline battles across the country, where they light up new struggles.
SIOUX Z: I've been to a few pipelines since I’ve seen you. I went to Texas. I went to the Pilgrim Pipeline up in New Jersey, and the one in Iowa just started. I want to go check them out too before I head back to Florida, where I've been to two of the camps there. I’m planning on going to Oklahoma. They're going to light their fire next week.
TOLAN: The fire has also spread, if only symbolically, to a white Southern woman on a lonely six acres of land in Louisiana’s bayou country.
ROSINSKI: We are walking in my backyard.
TOLAN: Hope Rosinski, a single mom, owns a home in the path of Energy Transfer’s Bayou Bridge pipeline, the last leg that begins with the Dakota Access, 15 hundred miles north.
ROSINSKI: But this is basically right here where the Bayou Bridge wants to come through.
TOLAN: Rosinski says, she won’t let the pipeline company cross her land in Louisiana’s Acadia Parish on its way to an oil terminal in St. James.
ROSINSKI: This is the right of way that pipeline came through -- I guess the end of ‘15 -- and I've been battling them for the past year. They've offered me money for an easement. I don't want them to come through.
TOLAN: Representatives of Energy Transfer have tried to cajole Rosinski with friendly talk, entice her with money, and threaten her with eminent domain. Finally, in March the company served her with a “petition for expropriation.” Still she’s not budging.
ROSINSKI: And I see things differently. I was very naive as to what goes on with these oil companies, and I don't want any part of it. I think that human life is much more important than a dollar. We can be okay without all that oil.
TOLAN: But the America First energy players are in power now, targeting what they say is $50 trillion in untapped petroleum. And so all that oil will flow through all those pipelines, toward all those export terminals, no matter how hot the planet gets. Unless, of course, activists like Hope Rosinski can find ways to stop them.
ROSINSKI: I’m just waiting. Hoping and praying that we win. It’s time.
TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan.
This story is part of an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- The Times-Picayune: “With Bayou Bridge Pipeline, Louisiana again weighs oil, environment”
- Indigenous Environmental Network
- Army Corps of Engineers: About the Bayou Bridge Pipeline
- Bold Louisiana Bayou Bridge Updates
- An LOE report from Sandy Tolan about the Dakota Access Pipeline
- This story is part of the “Chasing Energy” series, produced by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting
- Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting | More from Tolan on Pipelines
[MUX - BIRDNOTE® THEME]
CURWOOD: Beside ponds, rivers, and in marsh-land, water-fowl are starting to take their first expeditions away from their nests, their gaggle of fluffy offspring tagging behind. But as Mary McCann explains, when it comes to Wood Ducks, what you see might not be what you imagine.
Just Whose Ducklings Are Those?
[Juvenile Wood Duck call, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/179353, 0.09-.13]
As a female Wood Duck swims across a pond with a dozen little ducklings in tow, we see her as a good mother looking after her brood. Well, it turns out that some of the youngsters might not be her own.
Wood Ducks nest in tree cavities or nest-boxes, and it’s well known that they’ll sometimes lay some of their eggs in other ducks’ nests. They’ll even lay eggs in the nests of other kinds of ducks, like Hooded Mergansers and Goldeneyes.
Biologists call this nest parasitism, or egg dumping. It may be a kind of adaptive insurance against the loss of a nesting female’s own eggs or brood – you don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket, after all.
But can a female duck tell when another duck’s eggs have been added to her nest? Perhaps, sometimes. Hooded Mergansers are frequent recipients of eggs from other species. And sometimes, they’ll push the alien eggs to the outer edge of their own clutch, or dump them right out of the nest.
[Female Hooded Merganser call, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/163898, 0.19-.22]
But not always.
So back to that brood of a dozen little ones we saw crossing the pond. It’s a good bet that the mother duck has at least one – and maybe more – foster ducklings in tow.
[Juvenile Wood Duck call, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/179353, 0.09-.13]
Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 179353 recorded by Logan Kahle and 163898 recorded by Steve N. G Howell.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org May 2017 Narrator: Mary McCann
[primary information source: Birds of North America Online]
CURWOOD: For photos of Wood ducks and ducklings, paddle on over to our website LOE.org.
[MUSIC: Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Jarvi, Peter and the Wolf, Op.67 on Peter and the Wolf/Cinderella (Excerpts) by Sergey Prokofiev, Chandos Records (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVyvcQPEj7E)]
CURWOOD: Coming up: the mysterious celestial phenomenon known as "Steve". That’s just ahead here on Living on Earth. Stay tuned.
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from you our listeners, and United Technologies - combining passion for science with engineering to create solutions designed for sustainability in the aerospace, food refrigeration and building industries. UTC companies such as Otis, Carrier, Pratt & Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems are helping to move the world forward. This is PRI, Public Radio International.
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, “Peter and the Wolf,” Op.67 ("Peter og ulven") on Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf - Britten: Young Person"s Guide To Orchestra - Saint-Saens: Carnival, by Sergey Prokofiev, Naxos Records (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh6bFyWKdZE)]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. The Northern Lights, known as Aurora Borealis, are among the most magical and awe-inspiring phenomena. And in Northern Canada, where they are often seen, there’s a Facebook group called the Alberta Aurora Chasers, who pursue and photograph the eerie green, blue, and sometimes even red lights. And now thanks to advances in low light photography and coordination with satellite readings, images of rather odd purple and green streaks have revealed a strange phenomenon, called “Steve.” Steve came to light as they say when University of Calgary astronomer, Eric Donovan, arranged a talk by NASA researcher Liz McDonald, and the Alberta Aurora Chasers showed up in force.
Eric Donovan told Living on Earth’s Helen Palmer what happened next.
DONOVAN: We went out afterwards to a pub, and they proceeded to start showing me photographs of the aurora that they take. And these are highly, highly talented photographers. They seem to have mastered the very difficult art of low light level photography with DSLR cameras.
One of them, guy named Chris Ratzlaff, said to me he had taken a picture of the proton arc. And we got into this little back and forth where I said, "No, you didn't," and he said, "Yes, I did," and I said, "No, you didn't." And the reason I was saying, "No, you didn't" was because there's a process called the proton aurora, and that is always sub-visual. You can't see proton auroral arcs. So, I said, "It's not that, but why don't you show me what you took a picture of." He showed me this beautiful, beautiful photograph of this kind of purple-mauve streak across the sky. I said, "That's not proton aurora. I don't know what it is actually." In science, we have this idea that you shouldn't put a name on something that attributes some physics, unless you know what is going on. And so I said, "Why don't you call it something else that doesn't imply a physical meaning?"
PALMER: So, what did he come up with?
DONOVAN: So, what he came up with, and he said this right away. He said, "I’ll call it Steve." And the reason why he said that was because there’s this children's movie called "Over the Hedge", and the animals in this animated film call the hedge, I think, or whatever's behind it "Steve" because it makes them less afraid. They don't know what it is, so they call it Steve. So, Chris said, I'll call it Steve for that reason. And all of a sudden, with the Alberta Aurora Chasers, this caught on. And over the course of the next months, you would see posts like, "Oh, I saw Steve last night from Athabasca,” or whatever, and it really became the name that we use colloquially for this phenomenon.
PALMER: So, let's have a listen to that bit of the movie, just where they're talking about Steve.
CARTOON CHARACTER 1: I would be a lot less afraid of him if I just knew what he was called.
CARTOON CHARACTER 2: Let's call it Steve.
CARTOON CHARACTER 3: Steve?
CARTOON CHARACTER 4: It's a pretty name.
CARTOON CHARACTER 5: Steve sounds nice.
CARTOON CHARACTER 6: Yeah. I'm a lot less scared of Steve.
CARTOON CHARACTER 7: Oh, great and powerful, Steve! What do you want?
CARTOON CHARACTER 8: I don't think he can speak.
STEVE: I heard that, young man.
ALL: Ahhhhh! Hahhhhh!
PALMER: That was an extract from the movie "Over the Hedge" when they discuss Steve. So, when you heard this name "Steve" did it seem to you like not taking celestial phenomenon seriously?
DONOVAN: No, no, not at all. I like it. I think it's fun, actually. But also, in physics, it's not unprecedented. In particle physics, they talk about charm and color, and things like this for properties of things that they don't want people to attribute a physical meaning to. So, you use some whimsical names. So in a way, Steve fits into this heritage of using whimsical names as a stand-in for a label, and I like the name Steve. I liked it right away, and I continue to.
PALMER: So, they said that it was a proton arc. You said it couldn't be a proton arc because you can't see proton arcs. So, what did you think it was?
DONOVAN: When I had seen it before, I thought it was an electron arc. But this time around, I could see it wasn't in the right place in the sky for an electron arc. The electron arcs are always north of the proton aurora in the northern hemisphere. This thing was south of the proton aurora so it couldn't be an electron arc. So, I didn't know what it was.
PALMER: So, faced with this, what did you do? What did you say?
DONOVAN: Well, we thought, “That's curious. That's interesting. Let's try to figure out what this thing is.”
And we have masses of cameras and other scientific instruments that we run, and they make very different kinds of data than we get with these DSLR cameras. And so, our data is way less beautiful. We collect it to accomplish certain things about understanding what's going on in the sky from a scientific point of view. So, what we did was we decided we wanted to figure out what this thing might look like in our data, and then to get an instance where we would see it in our data. And, one of these Alberta Aurora Chasers or someone else would have an image from a camera of the same thing, at the same time, in the same location, and we could see, yeah, that's Steve, and we would now know what it looks like in our data, and then that would give us a way of studying it scientifically.
PALMER: So, you then actually managed to get both the photographic data and your data. What did it tell you that Steve actually is?
DONOVAN: So, what happened was, we got an image in one of our cameras that had this feature that we thought might be Steve. I went onto Facebook. I posted, "Did anyone see Steve last night?" Five minutes later a woman from Vimy, Alberta, sent me a picture and she said, "Here's where I was. Here's where I was looking." And it was at the same time, and so we now knew this thing was Steve in our data.
And then, it only took a couple of hours. We found one of those satellites that has instruments from Calgary from the European space agency that flew through Steve while we were imaging it. We also had proton auroral observations that confirmed this thing was south of the proton aurora, and then from the satellite data we saw that the ion gas up there at 450 kilometers altitude was super hot - 6,000 degrees Kelvin -- in this little narrow line across the sky. The velocity of the ions was six or seven kilometers a second, which, for reference, is about how fast the space shuttle is moving relative to the ground, so very, very fast, and there was also no electric current associated with it that we could tell from the magnetometers on the satellite. So, we believe this is either caused by precipitating electrons that we can't measure right now, or there's some chemistry going on because of the heating, because of the very fast moving gas. It's definitely geospatial. It's definitely related to space physics. It's definitely coming from the magnetosphere. The energy is coming from the sun, but it's very different than anything we've dealt with before.
PALMER: So, where might this be coming from, or this is just basically interactions up there in the magnetosphere that we don't yet understand?
DONOVAN: My guess is that something is happening out in the magnetosphere on the night side of the Earth that’s causing a huge amount of gas to move closer to the Earth, and as it comes in, the stuff that is in the way has to get out of the way, and it starts to move westward fast. So, I believe this is being driven out in the inner magnetosphere by a kind of a collapse of the inner magnetosphere, stuff moving in and the staff that's there has to get out of the way.
PALMER: So, it's kind of like the thing that causes winds down here on Earth.
DONOVAN: It's very similar. I mean, there's a lot of electrodynamics involved which wind doesn't have down here, but it really is, it's a giant fluid in the system, and that fluid is moving around. And it's much more chaotic than the winds down here. I mean, wind is a very good analogy, very fast, very narrow wind.
PALMER: Well, it's fantastic that there is such a thing, there is this kind of stuff that is so unknown even to people who study the aurora, study the atmosphere like you. I mean, is this the first of many such things that may be just out there we haven't detected?
DONOVAN: You know, we tend to get wrapped up in solving problems in science, and we tend to get wrapped up in global warming, which, I mean, it's very serious obviously. We also think of science as the engine of the economy, and you think of science for innovation. And I think we forget about the inspiring nature of science, and that we're looking at the world. We're looking at the universe we live in. And I think what Steve has done is reminded me of the role we play in inspiring people because, I mean, I don't know what benefit there will be from Steve, except inspiring the public. I think we have to remember that science is also about discovery. It's about inspiration. It's about our world.
CURWOOD: Eric Donovan is a physicist and astronomer at the University of Calgary who helped identify Steve. He spoke with Living on Earth’s Helen Palmer. And for the record, Steve is a pretty good name.
[MUSIC: The Highwaymen, “Ghost Riders In the Sky” on Live: American Outlaws, composed by Stan Jones, Sony Legacy]
CURWOOD: We head to Nebraska now for another installment in the occasional Living on Earth/Orion Magazine series “The Place Where You Live.” Orion invites readers to submit essays to the magazine’s website, to put their homes on the map and we give them a voice.
[MUSIC: Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes “Home” from Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes, Rough Trade Records, 2009]
CURWOOD: Thoughts of a childhood home out west inspired today’s essay.
[MUSIC: Gillian Welch, “Revelator,” on Time (The Revelator), composed by David Rawlings/Gillian Welch, Acony Records, 2001]
MCFEE: I think when people normally think of Nebraska they imagine flat fields of corn and dirt roads between them. And Chadron is really close to the border of South Dakota and we have a state park right outside of it, so there were hills and bluffs and pine trees. But everywhere you went you could still see the entire sky above you.
I’m Abigail McFee and this is my essay about Chadron, Nebraska.
Picture a blue trailer built in the 1970s, with a wide yard on three sides and green linoleum in the kitchen. Place it at the end of a street lined with locust trees. Imagine a square window at the end of the trailer, no more than a foot wide. The curtain is pulled to the side, and at night the warm glow of the kitchen light is always visible through this window.
We moved to the trailer when I was six years old, after my parents separated. When the last of the summer thunderstorms struck, my sister and I lay awake in awe at the sound of rain pounding the thin walls. There was a feeling of confinement to the trailer and also a sense of expansiveness, as if we were closer to the world outside of it.
The town we now lived in had been a trading post on a creek in 1841, managed by French-Indian fur trader Louis Chartran. The creek took his name, which later tongues murmured into “Shattron,” which evolved again before it became recognizable.
Chadron, Nebraska: Part prairie grassland, part forested hills, part sidewalk that pierced my heel with a locust thorn, part trails we wandered at age ten pretending to be lost explorers, part tree near those trails where a math professor was found burned and bound, part steady hum of the wind.
After the trailer was painted tan with white trim, after my mom and sister moved to New Mexico, after my childhood bus driver retired, after forest fires charred 40 square miles of trees and got us onto CNN, I moved into a basement apartment on the corner of 2nd and Bordeaux, named for another French fur trader. That winter, I managed to get three flat tires. That spring, I graduated as high school valedictorian. That summer, a local author published a book about the math professor, who had lived, he wrote, in the basement of a white house on the corner of 2nd and Bordeaux.
I had moved to Boston for school, but the place was still inside me.
[MUSIC: Gillian Welch, “Revelator,” on Time (The Revelator), composed by David Rawlings/Gillian Welch, Acony Records, 2001]
I think Chadron, Nebraska, was my childhood in a sense. It was this place that really got inside of me, where I knew all of the people around me, all of the kids I grew up with. And I had all of these landmarks of memory, which I think is something that is true of almost any childhood. But the interesting thing about living there was that it was rooted in such history. So every summer in the second weekend of July we have a celebration called Fur Trade Days in Chadron and people will dress up in costumes and there’s a buffalo chip throwing contest and everyone eats fried bread. My dad especially would come and visit that weekend. That was his favorite because he was fascinated by the history of the fur trappers, and so he would dress up like a fur trapper and compete in the costume contest. And, you know, I had that, and I had the whispers of Louis Chartran who had been the reason that our town got its name, even though it was through this very warped history. So they were just these people who kind of populated our lives even though they were no longer alive, just as much as the people who we would run into at the grocery store.
[MUSIC: Gillian Welch, “Revelator,” on Time (The Revelator), composed by David Rawlings/Gillian Welch, Acony Records, 2001]
And I think I lived there at exactly the right time, where it spoke to all of the questions that I had about the world. It kind of fostered this wildness inside of me that ironically made me want to go elsewhere. But I think a lot about the unobstructed horizon, because it’s not something that I experience as much now that I’m living right outside of a city. But you had the sense that the natural world was really spreading out around you in an endless way. And I do, when I think about it, just have this feeling of warmth because, you know, there was a sense of never really having to hurry. I think most of my memories, it’s like they go on and on, just hours and hours spent in the backyard, playing or running around on trails in the state park.
When I go back to Chadron, everything about the landscape feels exactly the same to me. A lot of the landmarks that I point to were things that I would’ve taken for granted without having some distance from the town. Even just driving by the turn off on familiar roads or, you know, passing the supermarket that everyone shops in, all of those things seem much more precious when you don’t see them before... its almost as if I forgot they could exist without me, but then when I return to this other place where they’ve always existed, it seems completely normal to me and natural that everything would be, you know, so similar to how it was when I left it. And it's almost as if I could just re-enter that world.
CURWOOD: That’s Abigail McFee and her essay about Chadron, Nebraska. You can find pictures and details about Orion Magazine and how to submit your essay, if you want to tell us about the place where you live at our website, LOE.org.
[MUSIC: Cyrus Chestnut, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on Spirit, composed by Paul Simon/arr.Cyrus Chestnut, Jazz Legacy Productions]
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Naomi Arenberg, Bobby Bascomb, Savannah Christiansen, Jenni Doering, Noble Ingram, Jaime Kaiser, Don Lyman, Alex Metzger, Helen Palmer, Adelaide Chen, and Jolanda Omari. Tom Tiger engineered our show with help from John Jessoe, Jeff Wade and Jake Rego. Special thanks this week to Caitlin Plummer and Rebecca Gibian and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can hear us anytime at LOE.org - and like us, please, on our Facebook page - PRI’s Living on Earth. And we tweet from @LivingOnEarth. I'm Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.
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