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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

December 31, 1993

Air Date: December 31, 1993

SEGMENTS

The Cooperative Automobile / Michael Lawton

Reporter Michael Lawton explores a car-sharing program that has taken hold in Germany. The founders of "Stattauto," which means "instead of a car," consider private car ownership wasteful and unnecessary for many urbanites. (06:30)

A Look Back on the Green Days of 1993...

Host Steve Curwood talks with Eugene Linden of Time magazine and reviews the major environmental trends and events of the past 12 months. (05:23)

...And a Green Cast On 1994

Advocates and journalists from around the country go out on a limb with their environmental predictions for the new year. (05:25)

The Dark Days of Winter / Nancy Lord

Commentator Nancy Lord reflects on the long, dark winter days in Homer, Alaska — and a few reasons why the months should be cherished as well as endured. (03:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

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

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Melinda Penkava, Betsy Bayha, Mike Schatz, Michael Lawton
GUESTS: Eugene Linden
COMMENTATOR: Nancy Lord

(Theme music intro)

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

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

You've heard of food co-ops, housing co-ops and cooperative banks - how about cutting pollution and saving money with car co-ops? It's an idea that's catching on in Germany.

FERBER: In Cologne we have one million people and 500,000 cars, and with our system twelve people use one car.

CURWOOD: Also, a look back at some of the biggest environmental stories of '93, and a look ahead at some predictions for '94.

LINDEN: In a word, compost. Compost is going to be hot. You're going to see little piles crop up all over the world, and big piles, as cities explore the potential for composting paper and other organic waste and even sewage.

CURWOOD: And some thoughts about those long winter nights in Alaska, on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins with this week's environmental news.

As the Endangered Species Act marked its twentieth anniversary in December, supporters and opponents are lining up behind competing measures to revise the law. From Washington, NPR's Melinda Penkava reports.

PENKAVA: The Endangered Species Act has been at the center of many battles between environmental groups and the development community, and some competing bills in Congress reflect that division. Florida Congressman Billy Tauzin's measure would force the government to pay compensation to property owners if they had to protect species on their land, and under his bill, fewer plants and animals could be listed as endangered. Taking the opposite approach is Representative Gerry Studds of Massachusetts, who proposes that the Act cover species that may become endangered. His bill has 105 co-sponsors; the measure more favorable to development has attracted 93. An environmental lobbyist predicts it will be a close vote. For Living on Earth, I'm Melinda Penkava in Washington.

MULLINS: Attorney General Janet Reno has tapped the acting head of the Justice Department's controversial environment section to be its permanent head. Reno says Lois Shiffer brings a strong background in environmental issues to the job, but at least one prominent critic of the division doesn't like the choice. Jonathan Turley was lead counsel for a Congressional panel which investigated charges that the department has gone easy on corporate polluters. Turley says Shiffer's brief tenure at the division may have already made her too much of an insider to reform it.

TURLEY: Ironically, it is the experience that she has with the division which militates against her confirmation with some people in Congress.

MULLINS: Shiffer's nomination must be approved by the Senate.

For the first time in two decades, California's population growth rate is lagging behind the rest of the nation. And that's good news for the state's environment - at least for now. Betsy Bayha reports from San Francisco.

BAYHA: Population growth inflicts some of the greatest damage on California's environment, reducing water quality, fouling the air, and depleting forests, topsoil and other natural resources. The director of California's Resource Agency, Douglas Wheeler, says the new population statistics, showing a growth rate of only one percent, is good news, but only in the short term. Over the long haul, says Wheeler, the state is preparing for a population growth of up to 600,000 each year.

WHEELER: It's too soon to draw conclusions from what appears to be one aberrational year. As California's economy recovers, and it surely will, we will see a resumption of population growth the size of the city of San Francisco every year.

BAYHA: Much of California's population slowdown is attributed to an exodus of unemployed people seeking jobs in neighboring states. For Living on Earth, I'm Betsy Bayha in San Francisco.

MULLINS: The Federal Government has temporarily halted the importation of pandas from China, while it assesses its impact on the animal's dwindling population. Panda exhibits in the US have helped generate public support for saving the animals. But there is mounting concern that the high prices paid to China for loans of pandas may actually encourage their removal from the wild.

This is Living on Earth.

Bowing to growing domestic pressure, the Japanese Government has promised a full-scale environmental review of the controversial Nagara River dam project. Opponents claim the nearly-completed dam would destroy the country's last major undammed river. Mike Schatz reports from Tokyo.

SCHATZ: Construction Minister Kozo Igarashi said he will spend the next year studying whether to mothball the $1.5 billion dollar dam for environmental reasons. Igarashi also said he might delay spending the final $80 million needed next year to finish the dam, which is now 95% complete. The government is not required to conduct an environmental impact study before approving major public works projects, which are rarely reconsidered once underway. Local residents claim the fisheries they depend on have suffered since work on the dam started in 1988. Opponents also argue that the dam is unnecessary, and could increase the risk of flooding. While Prime Minister Morahiro Hosokawa has vowed to complete the dam, there's now a chance it may never be used. For Living on Earth, I'm Mike Schatz in Tokyo.

MULLINS: Vietnam's official government newspaper reports that the country has adopted its very first environmental protection law. Domestic and foreign companies must pay damages if their activities harm the environment, and fees may be assessed to help offset the cost of environmental protection. The Vietnamese environment is still suffering from the ravages of the long war with the US.

A group which monitors genetic diversity in agriculture says many once-common breeds of farmyard animals may be in danger of extinction. Researchers at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy say that modern, standardized methods of food production have narrowed the agricultural gene pool, and that key parts of our food supply could be susceptible to disease. Dr. Philip Spaunenberg is the Conservancy's technical director.

SPAUNENBERG: The danger is that if we need some disease-resistance trait, that no longer would be available since it would be lost from the gene pool.

MULLINS: The group has recently compiled a database of breeds most at risk for the Federal Government.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Lisa Mullins.

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(Theme music up and under)

The Cooperative Automobile

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

Imagine life without a car. It's tough to do these days, even if you live in a big city with good public transit. There's always someplace the trains or buses don't go, or don't go fast enough or frequently enough, anyway. So you get yourself a car. And once you've put all that money into it, the extra cost of actually driving it can be less than the alternative. So you end up driving places where you could get to by bus or train. And you become part of that monster that everyone curses, traffic. Renting a car only for the times when you really need one isn't a great option - it's expensive, time-consuming, bureaucratic - and often unavailable to young or lower income people. But there is another option that's starting to catch on in Germany - car sharing. Car sharing clubs give their members access to a car when they need it, but help them avoid the hassle and cost when they don't. Reporter Michael Lawton is a member of such a club in Cologne, Germany. He says they're helping to cut costs, cut pollution and cut congestion.

(Sound of telephone call)

LAWTON: That's me, phoning the 24-hour booking service to reserve my car. I usually use public transport to get around, but I needed a car this time to get to a store which was on the edge of town. Now I've booked it, all I have to do is to go to the car's reserved parking space, which is about ten minutes' walk from home. Well, I've just arrived at the car-parking space and I've picked up the keys to the car. They are in this little safe, which is beside the car, and I have the master key to the safe, as do all the other members of the scheme. Now all I have to do is simply get in the car and drive away. . .

(Sound of car starting)

LAWTON: . . . straight into the kind of stop-start traffic which is typical of big-city driving. No fun at all. And that's one of the reasons why the Cologne car-sharing scheme, Stattauto - which means "instead of a car" - has been such a success. The scheme is just two years old, but it already has 140 members who share eight cars. Uli Ferber is its founder and manager.

FERBER: In Cologne, we have one million people and 500,000 cars, and with our system twelve people use one car, and it's one possibility to reduce the cars and to reduce the kilometers.

LAWTON: And reduce the cost as well. Janet Berridge is one of the active members who attends the regular Stattauto meetings. She told me that she breathed a sigh of relief when she got rid of her own car and joined the scheme instead.

BERRIDGE: I added up what the car had cost me, and I realized I was paying out a great deal of money per month in order to just have those four wheels sitting in the garage. And sometimes I didn't use the car for several days, and that seemed a very expensive luxury.
LAWTON: How often do you use the Stattauto now?
BERRIDGE: About once a month.
LAWTON: Have you got an idea of how much you save?
BERRIDGE: Oh, I would say three or four hundred marks a month.

LAWTON: That's between $180 and $240, and that's after she's paid for all her public transport. Of course, car-sharing can only work in a city like Cologne, which is fairly densely populated and with a good public transport system. Cologne's car-sharing is nevertheless fairly small. But if I want to find out what the car-sharing future could look like, I've got to go to Berlin.

(Sound of traffic)

LAWTON: This Berlin traffic makes Cologne look like a quiet country village, and so it's no surprise that car-sharing started here. Carsten Petersen founded Stattauto with his two brothers in 1988. Like many students, they shared a car, but because they didn't live together, they used an answering machine to keep track of its movements.

PETERSEN: And this was very successful, and friends, and friends of friends, wanted to join in, and after a short period we had not only two very old cars, but three and four.

LAWTON: Now, Berlin's Stattauto has 90 cars, which are shared by 1300 people. On average, for every fifteen users, five have given up their car to join, and the longer they are members, the less they drive. They soon realize that it's cheaper to travel by public transport, and so they only use the car when they have to. And Stattauto tries to help them make sensible decisions about the kind of transport they use.

PETERSEN: We are enemies not of cars, but of private car owning, because private car owners use their cars for any reason, and even if it's completely illogical and unreasonable to use a car. But private car owners do so because they have an emotional and psychological and economical relation to their cars. We want to make the decision as easy as possible.

LAWTON: Stattauto has therefore introduced its "mobilcard', which acts as a passport to integrated transportation. The "mobilcard' opens the safes which contain the car keys; it's a pass for the Berlin public transport system and a charge card for taxi bookings. You can use it to get railroad tickets, and book a car from a car-sharing scheme in the city you're going to - you can even hire a kayak on one of Berlin's lakes. These ideas are catching on elsewhere. There are now over 45 car-sharing schemes in Europe, and there's interest in the US too. Carsten Petersen hopes to go to Oregon in the spring to explain the idea there. Back in Cologne, Uli Ferber is also trying to extend Stattauto's range with a discounted rail ticket service. But he's found that, for some people, Stattauto is merely a transitional step.

FERBER: Some people had a lot of problems before they came to Stattauto, and after one year and a half we have some people who go out of Stattauto and now they don't need a car, they don't need Stattauto.

LAWTON: So, as well as cutting down on pollution, Stattauto can also be seen as the nicotine tablets that help get you off automobile dependency. For Living on Earth, I'm Michael Lawton in Cologne.

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(Music up and under)

A Look Back on the Green Days of 1993...

CURWOOD: Well, it's that time of year again, time to look back over the last 12 months and pick out some of the big stories on our beat. To help us this year we've enlisted Eugene Linden. He's a senior writer who covers the environment for Time magazine, and he joins us now from the NPR studios in New York. Welcome to the program, Gene, now let's start with politics. What do you think was the most important environmental story in that area in the US this year?

LINDEN: Well, in political terms I think the election of Clinton clearly is important environmentally. He brought with him of course Al Gore and appointed Babbitt to be head of Interior, and salted the Administration with a lot of very good people.

CURWOOD: Who else in the Administration?

LINDEN: I think putting Tim Wirth in the State Department. He's dealing with international environmental issues, among other things, and I think he's been deeply involved in reversing the US stance on donations to organizations involved with population issues. And that's very important. I think population is, probably drives most of the global environmental issues in one way or another, and the US has been out of the game for over ten years. Now we're getting back in it.

CURWOOD: All right, what do you think is another important story this past year?

LINDEN: Well, I think what's happening with endangered species is interesting. I mean, Babbitt and the Interior Department put through this plan in Southern California to try and work at an ecosystem level, to save the California gnatcatcher before it reaches the point of being declared endangered. Their environment is coastal sage, and it allows - coastal scrub, rather, and it allows that to be bulldozed in certain cases. So some, it's the type of deal that may well take some of the pressure off the Endangered Species Act.

CURWOOD: All right, let's move away from Washington. Where are some of the other important stories of last year?

LINDEN: Well, one thing that caught my attention was that both in the spring in the Northern Hemisphere and in the fall in Antarctica, readings for ozone depletion were sort of off the charts in terms of being far worse than the models had predicted. It's kind of alarming. Now there may have been volcanoes may have exacerbated the depletion in the Northern Hemisphere, but they were seeing record low readings in some northern European countries and Canada, and recently a Canadian study documented that in fact UV-B radiation, which is very dangerous radiation, is increasing on the ground. And that's very disturbing, because we're going to be stuck with the consequences of ozone depletion 'till well into the next century, before we even get back to the present-day levels, it'll continue to get worse to the year 2002. And it think it's what happens when you delay in taking action on issues that have a long lifetime. Global warming's another one.

CURWOOD: So how big a story was climate change in 1992?

LINDEN: Well, it is a big story whether or not we treat it as a big story. We're beginning to see people who feel the costs of climate change. One of these is the insurance industry, a few trillion-dollar industry about the same size as the energy industry. They look at what's happened in the last twenty or so years, and they say climate has changed for whatever reason, sea level has gone up a foot. We have ten storms in the last seven years producing losses over a billion dollars. And these are all the types of events that are predicted should global warming arrive, and they're here now, not off in the middle of the next century. So the insurance industry is sort of awakening to this issue, and if they step to the plate on this, it may have more to do with affecting policy on global warming than a dozen Rio conferences, which really haven't produced all that much.

CURWOOD: Gene Linden, some people say that the environment is falling off the radar screen of public consciousness, that the urgency that was around the story, let's say, during Rio, has backed off. Is that fair to say?

LINDEN: Yeah, I think it is fair to say, I think the major news outlets have given less attention to the issue this year. I think there has been a little bit of - revisionism, may be the appropriate term - in fact the very day that some bad ozone readings were released, there was a story in one of the major newspapers about how the ozone threat has been dealt with and it was overstated to begin with. I think the missing element in the debate about the environment has been fear, and that is that until recently, even with people who speak otherwise they treat it as an amenity issue - you deal with environment after you deal with the economy, or you deal with the environment after you deal with other issues. And there isn't that fear of consequences. Now, what you see around the world is when environment gets translated into a health issue, people act. In Japan, which has behaved very badly in the past on whaling, on endangered species, on overfishing and that sort of thing, cleaned up its act in a hurry when air pollution surfaced as a health issue. And that's why I say this insurance industry issue is important because here's a group that is beginning to get scared about climate change, and beginning to take action.

CURWOOD: Well, thank you very much. Eugene Linden is a senior writer for Time magazine. He concentrates on the environment. Thanks for joining us.

LINDEN: My pleasure. Thank you.

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(Music up and under)

...And a Green Cast On 1994

CURWOOD: The big stories of 1994, of course, have yet to be told. And they'll probably be things that we can't predict sitting here in our studio. But that hasn't stopped us from trying anyway. So we called around the country in the waning days of the old year, asking people for their predictions about what environmental issues will make news in the new year. Here are some of their comments.

EGAN: This is Timothy Egan, I'm the New York Times national correspondent based in Seattle. I cover the resource issues of the American West. You have in the Columbia River what used to be the largest salmon runs in the world; there were something like ten million king salmon came up the Columbia. Now these runs are all endangered and in real trouble. Water users, irrigators, cities have been using that water at a subsidized rate and the salmon are dying because they're not getting enough flow. So you have a whole bunch of forces like fishermen and environmentalists, et cetera, who want to restore these salmon runs. The big test this year is will they use the Endangered Species Act to save these salmon? It's sort of an issue that goes to the heart and soul of the Pacific Northwest, and it's an issue that goes to how this region defines itself.

ENGLEMAN: I'm Robert Engleman, and I direct a program on population and the environment for Population Action International in Washington, D.C. Well, 1994 is going to be an interesting year in terms of water. Every year there are 90 million more people and exactly zero gallons more fresh water. More and more of the lending institutions like the World Bank and the United Nations are recognizing the need to develop water infrastructures, especially in the developing world. So expect to see a lot more discussion of international water rights, transboundary water shipments, and potential high-tech solutions for problems of water scarcity. Another prediction: in a word, compost. Compost is going to be hot. You're going to see little piles crop up all over the world, and big piles, as cities explore the potential for composting paper and other organic wastes, and even sewage. The nations of the world will be negotiating an international treaty next year on desertification. The need to get humus - carbon-rich humus - into sterile and eroded soils is staring the negotiators right in the face. Compost puts humus into soil and it keeps it there better than any other method people have devised.

FERRIS: My name is Deeohn Ferris, I'm program director of the Environmental Justice Project for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. In 1994, the Clinton Administration will find an Executive Order on Environmental Justice. It will be a good tool in the hands of those who are adversely affected by disproportionate impact, which occurs in communities of color and low-income communities.

COPELAND: I'm Mike Copeland, and I represent the Political Economy Research Center, a market-oriented think-tank dealing in environmental issues. We see an increased emphasis on scientific credibility in the media. In the past we've seen several examples where original articles such as articles on Alar and the spotted owl turned out to be highly inflammatory and scientifically incorrect. And I think the media is going to be very carefully monitoring future claims. I believe the people who now profit by scaring us about upcoming environmental disasters are going to have a little bit more trouble making a living.

MAKOWER: This is Joel Makower, editor of the Green Business Letter. I think in 1994 we're going to have to take another look at the BTU tax. The economics of it makes too much sense, at least in terms of our budget deficit. The question is how to make it politically palatable. I think we are going to be seeing a lot of this talk if not actual action on this in 1994.

BROWN: This is Les Brown at the Worldwatch Institute. One of the things to watch in 1994 is the price of rice, which is now an environmental indicator as well as an economic indicator. The world rice price doubled in 1993. The real question in 1994 is whether the world's rice farmers will be able to produce enough rice to rebuild stocks, or whether, for various environmental reasons, they're pushing against some of the limits in countries like China and Japan in particular.

RYAN: My name is Teya Ryan, I am the executive producer of the CNN Environment Unit. I think the whole move in 1994 is towards influence of regional groups, be they from the wise-use side, be they from the environmentalist side, I think that this idea of large groups being able to speak for the entire country is going to diminish. I think Superfund in 1994 will look very different from what it looked like in 1993 and in the past ten years; I think the EPA's going to be more reluctant to clean up toxic waste, I think more of the money for that clean-up will be put more on industry and the polluting industries. And of all that I've said, I think at least one will be featured in a 1995 Living on Earth story titled, "The Really Bad Predictions for 1994."

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(Music up and under)

The Dark Days of Winter

CURWOOD: With the winter solstice now past in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are growing longer again, as we swing towards summer. But for commentator Nancy Lord in Homer, Alaska, thoughts of bright days are still very far away.

LORD: This time of year, when I talk to people outside of Alaska, they invariably ask if it's dark all the time - except for when they get their geography or astronomical coordinates confused and ask if it's light all the time. This happens more often than you might think. I don't live particularly far north in Alaska, and on December 21st, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, we had five hours and 59 minutes of daylight. This is quite a bit of light compared to Barrow, Alaska's farthest north town. There the sun set on November 18th, and it won't be back up again until January 24th. But yes, it's dark a lot in the winter here. Even when the sun's up, it's not up very high. It slides along just over the mountaintops, usually behind clouds, and at best offers us only a cool yellow glow. Some people don't like the dark. There's even a disease now - SAD, S-A-D, Seasonal Affective Disorder - which used to be known less scientifically as depression, cabin fever, winter blues, or an urgent need to skip to Hawaii. Those of use who stick it out in the North have our ways of coping. We turn on extra electric lights, lots of them, all over the house. We learn to organize ourselves to do those things that need daylight doing - like skating around the lake - in the middle part of the day. Instead of wasting fireworks on the blue skies of July, we save them for New Year's. We lounge around in steamy outdoor hot tubs; the cooler the air temperature the better, and best of all a chance to press your hot self into angel wings in the snow. And then there's sleep. There's nothing wrong with catching up on a little sleep during the longest nights. Relax, read a few good books. Take a lesson from the Dena'ina, the Native people of this place, who called this time of year The Month We Sing. Without the sun, and away from the electric and car lights of town, there's still a surprising amount of winter light. Moonlight falls across snowfields, bright enough to cast shadows, and even on moonless nights, the white world reflects sufficient starshine to guide your scratchy skis. There's no need for a flashlight once you learn to read the snow and the shadows, to feel the ground under your feet and the wind in your face, and to listen. When you let your eyes open up to the dark, you chance your best look at one of the greatest pleasures of the Northern winter - the pulse and the shimmy and the red flare of the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights. Even so,I admit to appreciating the already-lengthening days. Today we have two minutes more daylight than yesterday, but it's February I look forward to - when every day will bring us five or six more minutes of coveted light.

CURWOOD: Commentator and writer Nancy Lord lives in Homer, Alaska. She comes to us from member station KBBI.

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(Music up and under)

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