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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

October 22, 1993

Air Date: October 22, 1993

SEGMENTS

Almond Brothers / Matt Binder

Matt Binder reports from the Great Central Valley of California about two brothers who farm almonds, side by side, in the tiny town of Hilmar. One brother cultivates his nuts the way most almond farmers do, with synthetic chemical fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. Just across the road his brother farms organically. And as you can imagine, they have some spirited debates. (06:45)

Worms Commentary / Ruth Page

Worms are of more than passing interest to Commentator Ruth Page, who thinks about such things at her home in Burlington, Vermont. (02:44)

Nafta 3-Way

The debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement has divided environmentalists. The disagreements center over such things as NAFTA's impact on pollution laws in the US; the highly-polluted US-Mexico border and the effectiveness of sanctions. In a three-way discussion, Steve talks with Kathryn Fuller, president of the World Wildlife Fund, which favors NAFTA, and Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, which opposes the deal. (07:28)

Letters Segment

Steve reads the mail. (03:09)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1993 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or retransmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Matt Binder, Pye Chamberlayne, George Hardeen
GUESTS: Kathryn Fuller, Carl Pope
COMMENTATOR: Ruth Page

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Today we meet two California brothers who have almond farms across the road from each other. One uses conventional chemicals . . .

RON ANDERSON: I see no reason for going organic. I know that our finished product is just as healthy as anything you can buy in a health food store.

CURWOOD: And the other brother uses organic methods to farm his almonds.

GLENN ANDERSON: This isn't just a business, this is a biological system that I am working with and I'm producing food that goes into people's bodies and those are issues that farmer generally don't deal with very much.

CURWOOD: Also, the leaders of two top environmental organizations share their opposing views on the North American Free trade agreement, this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.

Few new regulations, and very little extra money, will be needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2000. That's according to the climate change plan unveiled by President Clinton. The long-awaited proposal contains dozens of mostly voluntary measures to make buildings more energy efficient, encourage car-pooling, recapture methane from landfills, and plant trees to absorb carbon dioxide. Some environmental groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Defense Fund, were disappointed that mandatory reductions are not part of the package. They say without strict regulations, any downward trend in greenhouse gas emissions may not continue into the next century.

The Ukrainian Parliament has voted to keep the Chernobyl nuclear power reactor open. That reverses a two-year-old resolution to close the plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster. The lawmakers, facing fuel shortages and economic chaos in Ukraine, also voted to lift a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants.

Meanwhile, Russia has cancelled its plans to dump another load of low-level radioactive waste in the ocean, and they say they'll stop the practice permanently, if other nations help them build a plant to treat the material. The retreat came after heavy international pressure, brought on when a Russian military ship was videotaped pouring tons of liquid waste into the Sea of Japan.

Investigators are trying to piece together the last days of Navajo environmental activist Leroy Jackson, whose body was discovered in a highway rest area more than a week after he disappeared. From Tuba City, Arizona, George Hardeen has more.

HARDEEN: The 47-year old Jackson was a persistent and outspoken Navajo activist who had been battling loggers, his own tribal government, and the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs over destructive logging practices in the Chuska Mountains on Arizona's Navajo reservation. When he failed to return home October 1 to pick up clothes for a trip to Washington, DC, to meet with Interior Department officials, his wife and friend began a search. Eight days later his body was found across state lines in New Mexico. New Mexico Congressman Bill Richardson asked the FBI to investigate the possibility that Jackson was killed because of his activism.

RICHARDSON: Mr. Jackson was an environmentalist involved in very sensitive federal issues, with many individuals working in opposition to his work. He'd received death threats.

HARDEEN: The FBI says it has no jurisdiction in the case, but has made its resources available to the New Mexico State Police. For Living on Earth, I'm George Hardeen in Tuba City, Arizona.

NUNLEY: The Environmental Protection Agency will begin studying pesticides linked to breast cancer, infertility, and other reproductive problems. EPA officials told Congress the agency wants a closer look at chemicals like the insecticide endosulfan, which mimics the human reproductive hormone estrogen. The effects of these chemicals have been compared to that of the banned pesticide DDT, and some studies also link them to a worldwide reduction in sperm count.

This is Living on Earth.

Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus says a proposed billion-dollar plan to restore endangered salmon to the Columbia and Snake rivers won't work. A team of scientists says barging young salmon downstream is cheaper than modifying water flows from dams. But Andrus says that's a poor use of resources. He says Idaho doesn't need the power generated during the fish migration.

ANDRUS: It's all shipped to Southern California so that they can turn off their gas and oil-fueled turbines that are more expensive than the hydropower.

NUNLEY: Andrus says salmon are as important to the Pacific Northwest as timber and mining.

After months of wrangling over how much recycled fiber is needed in paper before it can be called "recycled", the Clinton Administration has set a standard for Federal Government paper purchases. From Washington, Pye Chamberlayne has the details.

CHAMBERLAYNE: The 300,000 tons of paper the government buys every year will have to have 20 percent recycled fiber by late next year and 30 percent by the end of 1998. It will be the biggest increase in recycled paper purchases in recent history. It's considered likely to set a standard that state and local governments and many private companies will follow. Environmentalists say it will develop such a huge market that paper recycling programs that are currently stalled for lack of buyers will prosper, and paper costs will come down. In a concession to the paper industry, the order does not contain a ban on chlorine-bleached paper. But it does change brightness standards to encourage non-chlorine bleaching. For Living on Earth, I'm Pye Chamberlayne in Washington.

NUNLEY: A gaggle of geese are learning an old migration route from Canada to Virginia, by following the ultralight plane they think is their mother. It's part of an experiment to see if migratory birds can be taught their old routes. The project almost didn't get off the ground, because some US and Canadian officials feared the birds would start chasing airplanes. If all goes well, researchers plan to try it with other endangered birds such as trumpeter swans and whooping cranes.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

Almond Brothers

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.

Out in the Great Central Valley of California, there are two brothers who farm side by side in the tiny town of Hilmar, growing almonds. One brother cultivates his nuts the way most almond farmers do, with synthetic chemical fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. Just across the road his brother farms organically, without chemicals. And as you can imagine, there have been spirited debates. A few years ago, a researcher at the University of California at Davis found out about this sibling rivalry, and now the results of a five year study of the two farms are in. Matt Binder has our story.

BINDER: This is Glenn Anderson, using a long fiberglass pole to harvest almonds in his 20-acre organic orchard. Anderson is a vigorous 59-year old native of this area, but he's also explored the world, spending 15 years in Hawaii and Samoa. In 1980, he and his family returned to the farm his grandparents started 70 years ago. Anderson is proud of what he's accomplished as the area's first organic almond grower. He says the farm is a safer place to live now, and the land itself has been improved for posterity.

GLENN: The soil is nothing like it was when I first moved here: the color, the texture, the biology. Everything about it is different today than it was 13 years ago. There weren't earthworms on this farm when I moved here, now they're abundant. As soon as I irrigate this it will be instant earthworms throughout this orchard when I put on my final irrigation.

BINDER: Just across the road from Glenn Anderson's farm is a much larger, 95-acre almond orchard run by his older brother, Ron. Ron Anderson has never wanted to live anywhere else. The only time he left the Hilmar area for more than a vacation was when he was in the military in World War Two. Ron is big, strong, and wears bib overalls. He farms using conventional chemical methods.

RON: I see no reason for going organic. I know that our finished product is just as healthy as anything you can buy in a health food store.

BINDER: Despite their inevitable disagreements, Ron and Glenn seem to enjoy getting together to debate farming methods.

GLENN: This isn't just a business, this is a biological system that I'm working with and I'm producing food that goes into other people's bodies, and we want it to be of the highest quality, we want the earth to be preserved, we want the biology of these farms to be very diverse and complex and as balanced as possible.
RON: We're not creating a habitat just for earthworms; it's just a coincidence that they're there.
GLENN: The agribusiness mindset that we were all taught at the university has pretty much impermeated [sic] agriculture in the United States.
RON: He's always been something of a rebel. He's always been trying to preserve the world, you know. Like he went into the moped business in Hawaii because he was gonna save the world from all this exhaust fumes.

BINDER: They often come here to debate, to a sort of family battle field: a 20-acre plot of almonds owned by their sister, Shirley, but farmed by Ron. Three years ago Shirley decided she wanted to try organic farming, and Ron, the traditional farmer, agreed to stop spraying her portion of the orchard, as an experiment. But the transition to organic farming on Shirley's land hasn't been a success. This spring many of the almond flower buds were killed by fungi, the remaining nuts are small, and the orchard floor is covered with pigweed, which, Ron says, continually clogs up the harvesting machine.

RON: My sister inherited this when my mother passed away, so she's been listening to this goofy brother of mine, and has been convinced that she wants to go organic. So we can't use any Roundup or Paraquat or any of the commercial herbicides that I can on the rest of my fields. It makes it a nuisance to prepare the orchard floor for harvest.
GLENN: I used to have pigweed like you wouldn't believe, and I harvested through the stuff. So what happens over time is that these weed species will change - guaranteed!

BINDER: Glenn says he eliminated pigweed in his orchard through cover cropping, and a carefully controlled system of mowing and mulching. He says there's an organic way around every problem and every pest in an almond orchard, and the University of California study seems to bear that out. The author of the study, Lonnie Hendricks, walked through Glenn Anderson's orchard, showing me all the different species of spiders and beneficial insects that live there, and prey on almond pests

HENDRICKS: What we're seeing here, Matt, that's different is in Glenn's orchard, he has really encouraged his cover crop, he plants a vetch cover crop, and along with good sanitation and proper management of the cover crop he has been able to encourage enough beneficials that his pest problems are really quite minimal, and equal to conventional culture.

BINDER: Hendricks' study showed that nut production and quality were essentially the same in Ron and Glenn's orchards, with the cost of production also virtually even. The extra labor costs in Glenn's organic orchard were about equal to the extra chemical costs in Ron's. With the price of organic nuts 25 percent higher than regular almonds, Glenn Anderson is actually making a higher profit than Ron, per acre of trees.

Back across the road, the Hendricks study has convinced even Ron Anderson to try out some of his brother's methods, but Ron is still holding fast to the chemical option. And Ron is passing on his way of farming and his place in the family debate to his son, Arnie, who will take over management of his father's orchards when Ron retires later this year.

ARNIE ANDERSON: It can be risky to farm organically, because nature has its ways of taking its course. And if man goes ahead and takes his course, he can get a consistent crop every year.
GLENN: I think that remains to be seen, just how that's going to work out. We're still a little bit young with organic. I think over the long pull, if everything works out as we expect that it will, with building your soil year to year, that the organic system should eventually buffer itself and perhaps more sustainable than a chemical system.

BINDER: So the debate goes on in the Anderson family, into another generation now. Lonnie Hendricks' study suggests that the differences between conventional and organic almond growing have begun to narrow, and the Andersons may soon have less and less to argue about. For Living on Earth, I'm Matt Binder in Hilmar, California.

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Worms Commentary

CURWOOD: Worms are also of more than passing interest to commentator Ruth Page, who thinks about such things at her home in Burlington, Vermont.

PAGE: Crushed - that's what I am, crushed. When I talk to folks interested in learning what's in the earth under our feet, I always enjoy the part about earthworms. Sometimes I mention that the largest of these wonderfully useful creatures lives in Australia and can be ten feet long That so-called fact came from otherwise reliable books, but I now know it was sheer rumor. No one has done a systematic investigation. I learned recently from The Wall Street Journal it's likely the famous worms don't grow past three feet. Where'd that ten foot rumor arise? Possibly natural exaggeration by people who'd seen these staggeringly long worms and didn't run home for the tape measure. Then a careful researcher got into the act and insisted on precision. Well, three feet's pretty good. We're still impressed.

I've been an earthworm agent for years. After learning details of their long lives as tillers of the earth and producers of worm casts, the perfect plant-root food, I became a notable worm protector. I have an able assistant in a granddaughter who, at the age of 7, has probably racked up a hundred or more earthworm rescues. When she saw that I always saved earthworms dug up by mistake when setting out garden plants, she became an enthusiastic helper and now seriously impairs her parents' efficiency in turning the earth in their garden. Elizabeth is expert at gently moving a handsome worm to a safe spot and making sure it has moist earth over it so that the skin through which it breathes won't dry out. But the poor giant Gipsland earthworm of Australia needs an army of Elizabeths. People have visited Caranberra where the worms live just to see the creatures. The worms were thought to be common throughout a large territory - another rumor. A scientist has revealed that the worms don't inhabit a quarter of a million acres, as previously thought. They can only survive within a hundred feet of so of a water source, and most live inside stream banks, widely scattered. Homes are encroaching on the worms' area, and the wastewater and sewage from septic tanks gets into their burrows and kills them.

It's now known that the giant worm is quite fragile. It can live perhaps as long as 30 years in undisturbed areas, but those are rare on today's earth. The worm was unlucky enough to be discovered by humans.

Inevitable, I guess. Any worm that's three feet long and makes loud gurgling and sucking sounds as it chomps its way through the moist earth is bound to be noticed, even by passers-by only out for a good time. The minute people hear of any natural oddity, they want to see it and kill it and take it home to impress their friends. And then it's goodbye, earthworm.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Ruth Page comes to us from Vermont Public Radio.

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Nafta 3-Way

CURWOOD: In Congress, the House is now planning a mid-November date for a vote on the North American Free Trade Agreement, and as the jockeying comes down to the wire, all sorts of unusual political alignments are emerging. Jesse Jackson and Ross Perot are united in opposition, while Bill Clinton and Senate Minority House Leader Bob Dole are joined in support. And there are also some unexpected rifts - among, for example, environmental lobbyists. Some groups have endorsed NAFTA, while others have gone to court to try to block it. The environmental debate over NAFTA has centered largely on its impact on pollution laws in the US, a concern that's also been raised about global trade talks in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT. Much has also been said about the highly-polluted US-Mexico border. But there's more to the disagreement. To broaden the discussion we have two guests today: in Washington is Kathryn Fuller, president of the World Wildlife Fund, which favors NAFTA, and from San Francisco is Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, which opposes the deal.

I'd like to ask each of you to start with your basic pitch on NAFTA. Carl Pope, why don't you begin, then Kathryn Fuller.

POPE: Those of us who oppose this NAFTA believe that it is important to establish a very clear threshold at this moment and to achieve it because if we don't get these kinds of provisions in this NAFTA we don't believe there will be another NAFTA, and we believe that when we go to negotiate GATT later on, we will have a very difficult time making it clear to the rest of the world that the government of the United States will not trade away its environmental sovereignty through the use of trade mechanisms.

FULLER: I think any international agreement could always be improved. I think the bottom line for us is that we don't see the opportunity to renegotiate a stronger agreement. And what has been crafted, while not a perfect document or set of agreements, represents an enormous move forward in integrating environmental considerations, conservation of biological diversity, and so forth into an international trade regime. And that's a new benchmark from which all further trade negotiations will go forward.

CURWOOD: I want to start in right away with some specific points about the treaty. Some people suggest that when trade barriers come down, cheap American produce could flood Mexico and force thousands of small family farmers off their plots because they can't compete with agribusiness. Could you both react to that scenario that's been sketched by some?

FULLER: In fact, it was concern about just that set of issues that brought World Wildlife Fund into the NAFTA debate in the first place. Mexico, as you may know, is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, and there are quite remarkable tropical forests. So if pressures increase to turn the land into large-scale agribusiness, obviously those forests face increasing threats. That's not to say, though, that land transformation isn't going on right now, because trade barriers have come down substantially already. So having a commission on environmental cooperation that has within its mandate ability to look at land use, to quantify existing land use, to create additional incentives for biological diversity conservation, was really critical. So for that reason, we think NAFTA provides an opportunity in a cooperative setting to get at those issues that otherwise simply doesn't exist.

POPE: I guess my view would be that the real threat to Mexican agriculture is to Mexican farmers growing corn. Those are the ones to be most likely displaced by lower-priced corn coming in from the American market. And I think that a mechanism like those used in the European Common Market could have been adopted here. There could have been a carefully phased-in program, with financing, to increase the efficiency of those farmers, to increase their productivity, and to gradually incorporate them into other aspects of the Mexican economy. What is lacking in this NAFTA is a clear mechanism to ensure that this is an escalator upwards for Mexico.

CURWOOD: Recently the President put off a decision to impose sanctions against Norway for whale hunting. Do you believe, Kathryn Fuller, that this calls into question the Administration's willingness to use sanctions in North America, even if they would be allowed by a NAFTA?

FULLER: I really don't. I've been involved in wildlife trade issues since I was the US government's principle prosecutor back in the late '70s. It was my experience then, and it is now at World Wildlife Fund, that the threat of sanctions is a very powerful tool. Certainly, in the context of the NAFTA debate, if they hadn't been viewed as real, you wouldn't have had the pretty strenuous opposition from the Mexicans and the Canadians over the course of the negotiations.

CURWOOD: Carl Pope for the Sierra Club?

POPE: One of our concerns about this NAFTA is that we believe, with regard to global resources, like whales, it's not clear even that the right to impose sanctions would be allowed by this treaty. There is a sanctions section to NAFTA that's been hailed by the Administration as a major step forward; unfortunately, they agreed to a number of loopholes which as a practical matter mean that there will never really be any sanctions, because the Mexican government will be allowed to argue, correctly, that it can't really afford enforcement. But sanctions could have been designed to give individual companies incentive to comply voluntarily. It is their flagrant violation of Mexican environmental law which has created the environmental crisis in Mexico, and it is a real incentive to change their behavior which needed to be in this treaty, and unfortunately, we don't think it is.

FULLER: I do think that there is a pretty powerful there, Carl, because once you open up any environmental dispute to public scrutiny, have some sunshine, as the phrase goes, I think you see a lot of movement, a lot of change in corporate attitudes and corporate behavior. And the sanctions process opens it up so that the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund can ask for, and indeed demand, a lot of that information.

POPE: Well, I'm all in favor of sunshine, and I think sunshine will help. But I think sunshine combined with a realistic probability that dirty companies would not be able to export their products to the United States would work a whole lot faster and I don't think we have very much time left to resolve the environmental crisis in North America.

CURWOOD: I want to turn to one aspect of the NAFTA debate which is a bit unusual. NAFTA has divided the environmental community. There are several major groups supporting the agreement, and several are not. Can you both comment on this? Do you think this is part of a long-lasting split in the environmental community? First, Kathryn Fuller, World Wildlife Fund president.

FULLER: Here I think you've got an honest disagreement about the best way to get to the same place. But as to whether this signals a real split in the environmental community, I certainly don't think so. We all are working towards a common end.

POPE: This has happened before. It tended to happen on issues that the media were not as interested in, and therefore it hasn't tended to get the amount of publicity that this issue has attracted. But there have been a number of occasions in the past on which some environmental organizations had tactical disagreements and I would agree with Kathryn - we're talking here about a tactical disagreement, not about where we want to go.

FULLER: I think it's an affirmation of our pluralistic society.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you both for joining us. Kathryn Fuller is president of the World Wildlife Fund and Carl Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club.

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(Letters music up and under)

Letters Segment

CURWOOD: And now, some of your letters and comments.

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CURWOOD: Many of you responded to our recent features on grassroots environmental efforts. Stanley Berg, of Springfield, Oregon wrote in after hearing about the solar oven projects in Kenya. "Their usefulness in less industrialized countries is particularly apparent," Mr. Berg writes. "But solar box cookers offer a number of advantages here too. In addition to saving energy and thereby preserving our environment, they keep the house cooler, retain moisture in food, and can be arranged so the food will be cooked when one arrives home in the evening." Mr. Berg adds, "I've cooked literally thousands of meals in these devices. In fact, as I listened to this evening's broadcast I consumed a delicious solar cooked potato."

A listener in Prescott, Arizona was less pleased by a report about the proposed hike in grazing fees on public land. "As if public land grazing is quite a bargain compared to private land grazing," she says. "Not so! On public land ranchers bear all the expense of repairs to water supplies, fences, wages, veterinary and medicine costs, etc. There is good reason for the difference in the cost of grazing on public and private land."

Stefan Combs, of Minneapolis, called about our story on a clean air lawsuit against a copper smelter that is the leading private employer in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Combs says he's not surprised that local residents who depend on the smelter for jobs feel threatened. "When you shut down a plant, when you're no longer concerned about the everyday needs of working people, when you continually disaffect these people from the left, all you do is throw them into the arms of the reactionaries like Pat Buchanan. And maybe they're just giving business an opportunity to do what they intended to do already, but nevertheless it's happening, and they are being blamed. This is something that the greens have to think about."

CURWOOD: And finally, Peggy Sullivan called from Chicago to tell us that David Catlin's commentary about watching the fall hawk migration in Missouri reminded her of a hawkwatching trip she recently took with her family.

SULLIVAN: It was a wonderful experience for us. Our father was someone who had been always interested in all kinds of birds, and watching deer from the car and anything that we spotted - a rabbit along the road. And when we did that, it was probably 20 or 30 years after he died but I remember thinking, we've never been so close to him any other way as that day. And it's wonderful what a bond that makes. It made it for us and it made it between me and David Catlin this morning, so thank you for that.

CURWOOD: Your calls and letters help keep us going. Our listener line number is 617-868-7454. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are also available for ten dollars.

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Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

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