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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

June 10, 1994

Air Date: June 10, 1994

SEGMENTS

A Garden Grows in Tijuana / Bebe Crouse

Children at an unusual orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico learn environmental ethics and responsibility by tending to their 8-acre urban garden. The project, at the Children's Village, has been an inspiration for other farming projects in Tijuana. Bebe Crouse reports. (06:13)

A German Town Takes Charge of their Energy Needs / Michael Lawton

Michael Lawton visits a small town in Germany that fought for the right to produce its own energy. Several residents of Shoenau built small hydropower and cogeneration plants in an attempt to get away from nuclear power as an energy source. When a utility company tried to outmaneuver the townsfolk for control of Shoenau's power, the energy entrepreneurs protested — and won. (07:24)

Listener Comments Segment

(02:20)

Grasping the Goal of a Green GDP / Dale Willman

After much planning, the US Commerce Department has taken the first step towards measuring the Gross Domestic Product with an environmental perspective. It's issued a valuation of non-renewable resources such as coal, petroleum and minerals. But greening the GDP has a long way to go — economists still can't seem to agree on the purpose or relevance of the project, let alone how it should be measured. Dale Willman reports. (04:27)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 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: Peter Thomson
REPORTERS: Erin Henessey, Betsy Bayha, Bebe Crouse, Michael Lawton, Dale Willman
GUEST:
COMMENTATOR:

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Around the globe there are growing grassroots efforts to produce cleaner and safer electricity. In one small German town, citizens want to take electricity distribution away from a nuclear-dependent utility and put it into their own hands. A referendum has nearly split the town.

?: The different opinions, even divided families - in public meetings people went as far as to accuse others of being bribed by the utility company.

CURWOOD: In Tijuana, Mexico, an unusual orphanage cares for homeless children and teaches them to do the same for the earth.

GIRL: I like how it's really peaceful here. We don't step on the plants and treat them badly because they're really pretty and they give us fruit and food.

CURWOOD: This week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.

Environmental News

THOMSON: I'm Peter Thomson with this week's environmental news. The second biggest killer of young black children in South Africa isn't violence or childhood diseases; it's air pollution. That's according to a study by South Africa's Department of National Health, as reported by the Interpress News Service. Now Interpress reports, the new government of the Johannesburg region has promised to curb air pollution there, in part by bringing electricity to black townships. Electrification would eliminate the need for coal and wood burning stoves, which Interpress says are big contributors to Johannesburg's bad air. The official is also pledging to crack down on industrial pollution in the Johannesburg area.

Smoking a pack a day of cigarettes is bad for you, but if you live in a highly polluted area, breathing can be just as harmful to your lungs. That's according to a study of 3 southern California communities with varying degrees of pollution, conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles. It found that high levels of pollutants such as particulates, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides, can reduce lung capacity almost as much as smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Donald Tashkin is a coauthor of the report.

TASHKIN: So that's about 1 cigarette an hour, and it takes about 10 minutes to smoke cigarettes, so that's 10 minutes of heavy exposure out of every hour, compared to a continuous low level of exposure 24 hours a day.

THOMSON: The report calls on public health professionals to put as much effort into cutting air pollution as they do into stopping smoking.

Environmentalists and timber interests say the fight over forests in the Pacific Northwest is far from over, despite the lifting of a court ban on Federal timber harvest there. The ban began a fractious environmental battle when it was imposed 3 years ago to protect the northern spotted owl, but as Erin Henessey of member station KPLU in Tacoma, Washington, reports, the lifting of the injunction may have little practical impact on the timber stand-off.

HENESSEY: When Seattle Federal Judge William Dwyer recently lifted a 3-year ban on logging in northwest forests, he made clear that Clinton's forest plan resolves the problems that led to the ban: that of adequately protecting the northern spotted owl. The Administration has called the decision very encouraging, but Laurie Henessey, with the US Office of Forest and Economic Development, warns that new timber sales will not happen overnight.

L. HENESSEY: For a timber sale to move forward, you need to advertise it. You need to go out and screen it to make sure it's consistent with the forest plan. Then you have to auction the sale.

HENESSEY: Timber industry officials are calling the judge's order to lift the ban insignificant, and are hoping for Congress to step in. Conceivably, Congress could order extensive logging and insulate it from all legal challenges. While Judge Dwyer has lifted the logging ban, he has not decided whether the plan in its entirety is legal. Environmentalists say the plan falls short of protecting declining salmon and other wildlife, while the timber industry says the plan violates numerous Federal laws. Dwyer is scheduled to hear further legal arguments to the Clinton forest plan in September. For Living on Earth, I'm Erin Henessey in Tacoma, Washington.

THOMSON: This is Living on Earth. Some environmental and fishing groups are suing the US to ban shrimp imports from countries whose fleets don't cut down on the killing of sea turtles in their nets. From San Francisco, Betsy Bayha has more

BAYHA: Congress passed a law in 1989 requiring US boats to equip their nets with so-called turtle excluder devices. The law also bans shrimp imports from countries that don't use the devices. But Todd Steiner of the San Francisco-based Earth Island Institute says only 11 countries that have shrimp fleets are in compliance. The US State Department has exempted the rest.

STEINER: They're ignoring more than 60 countries. They're saying that this law doesn't apply to those 60 countries.

BAYHA: Steiner says US trading partners may object to the lawsuit as a barrier to free trade in the same way they fought the ban on tuna imports from countries that kill dolphins. A Commerce Department spokesman had not seen the lawsuit, and couldn't comment on it. For Living on Earth, I'm Betsy Bayha in San Francisco.

THOMSON: Seven thousand tons of old US currency are thrown away every year. Now some of that's going back into circulation as plain old paper. Gridcore of California is mixing shredded greenbacks with old cardboard and white paper to create a fiberboard with a familiar look. Gridcore's David Saltman.

SALTMAN: It came out as a, a pale white panel with great flecks of green. And in some cases you can actually see little bits of the currency with the serial numbers printed on them.

THOMSON: Then there's Crane and Company's blend of currency and recovered cotton fiber in a sage green stationary which Crane's Rick Carr says has another environmental benefit.

CARR: Disposing of ink sludge in recycled paper is a big problem. So we thought by leaving the ink in the paper, we avoid that whole problem.

THOMSON: Perhaps recycled greenback wallpaper might be next, for those who like to surround themselves with money. The possibilities are endless.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Peter Thomson.

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(Theme music up and under)

A Garden Grows in Tijuana

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Tijuana, Mexico, is a tough border town, with hillside shanties and plenty of pollution. But some people dream of making it into a green jewel that could serve as an ecological model for the region. That transition may now be starting, on the grounds of an unusual orphanage. Along with care for homeless kids, the Children's Village also teaches nurturance for the Earth. Bebe Crouse has our report from Tijuana.

(Children's and women's voices; running sink water)

CROUSE: Meal time at the Children's Village is pretty much like within a big family. It's noisy and warm, with Mom dishing out the plates almost as fast as her children can shovel it in. The difference is, these children are here because they were orphaned, abused, or abandoned by their natural families. But this is no ordinary orphanage. Instead of warehousing them in big dorms, each child lives in a small house with 8 other kids and a woman they call Mom. They take classes in karate. They're learning to play the flute. And like most kids, they must help take care of the yard, which in this case is a 7-acre landscape of edible plants and fruit trees.

GIRL: I water the plants. I like to do it so they don't die. And also because they give us food, like apples and pears and [oranges?] And we eat all of it.

CROUSE: A giggling gang of 8- to 12-year-olds took me on a tour of the Village, interrupting our interview with the impromptu games of tag. I was asked not to give the names or backgrounds of any children here. But as they veered around clumps of tomatoes and dome-shaped plastic composters, the children wanted to be sure I knew they all helped make this garden grow.

GIRL: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: I help, too. I water the plants. And I take the garbage out to the garden.

CROUSE: The kids dutifully cart kitchen scraps and garden clippings out to the composters. They couldn't exactly explain why they were saving garbage, but project co-designer Bill Roley says that will come.

ROLEY: They've got the right idea now, to take the organic material to the composter. Now we've got to have a harvest of the compost to be able to show them that, how useful it is.

CROUSE: Roley and his partner Scott Murray are specialists in experimental agriculture. After the orphanage homes were bought, the foundation supporting the Village called them to landscape the barren grounds. Roley and Murray saw it as an opportunity to put their ideas to work, and they rounded up a team of volunteers from Tijuana and the US. Just beyond the swing set and soccer field, they dug 2 long swails that now channel rain water away from fragile hillsides and foundations and into the garden. And they hope to eventually recycle household water to use for irrigation. It's a landscape that Scott Murray hopes will integrate ecology, economy, and education.

MURRAY: We were motivated by creating an environment that would get richer and richer for the children, both as a place to be, as well as we're interested in expanding the diets of the children, and offering a vocational opportunity: learning about urban agriculture, urban forestry - you know, planting of trees, the growing of vegetables and things like that.

(Cock crows, barking dog)

CROUSE: Murray and Roley are determined to share their holistic ideas of urban agriculture with local residents. They've already enlisted a cadre of volunteers to plant gardens at local schools. They've got some city officials interested. And ultimately, they hope to teach people how to use the techniques around their own homes.

MURRAY: This whole city looks very, very - very scary and very barren. And as it begins to blossom with these simple techniques, through the children, if they learn about growing a tree at their home and growing some vegetables, they can turn their whole city around in their lifetimes.

CROUSE: But their vision of Tijuana as a green jewel is still a few years away. The vistas here are mostly dusty gray. Since 1980, Tijuana's population has quadrupled as people streamed in from the countryside looking for work in its booming assembly plants. Their rickety homes cling precariously to steep slopes, some only a heavy rainfall away from destruction. Sewers and electrical service haven't reached many areas, much less any parks. But Roley believes projects like the Children's Village are an important beginning.

ROLEY: It's little steps, it's not big steps at this point. It's trying to deal with young learning habits before they start accumulating the BTUs that maintain our sort of active lifestyle.

CROUSE: It's a lifestyle that hasn't reached the humble squatter settlement where Yolanda Timoteo is raising 2 children. But soon, one of these gardens will bloom at her kids' school, and Timoteo is delighted.

TIMOTEO: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: The environment is important, because if we don't keep it clean and take care of the plants, how will we live? In all that filth? We don't want our kids to live like that. So ecology is very important.

(Children playing)

CROUSE: By taking responsibility for the care of these gardens, the children are gaining tools for their physical survival. But they are also discovering the rewards wrought by discipline and care. In that sense, the project is building good citizens and loving parents. And, the organizers hope, helping to break the cycle of poverty and abuse that brought many of the children here in the first place. Some may even translate the skills they develop tending the land into jobs when they're adults. And the garden could one day make the Village self-supporting. At the very least, it's brought peace and harmony to the lives of children that have seen way too much pain.

GIRL: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: I like how it's really peaceful here. We don't step on the plants or treat them badly, because they're really pretty and they give us fruit and food.

CROUSE: For Living on Earth, this is Bebe Crouse in Tijuana, Mexico.

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(Music up and under)

A German Town Takes Charge of their Energy Needs

CURWOOD: Germany harbors a strong anti-nuclear power sentiment. And recently the movement has taken on a whole new shape in a small town in the country's Black Forest region. Rather than marching and protesting, residents of the town of Schoenau are attempting to take over their town's electric utility and move it away from heavy reliance on nuclear power, to investment in what they say are safer and more efficient and renewable resources. As Michael Lawton reports from Schoenau, the town could become a model for others.

(Church bells, a car engine revving)

LAWTON: Even on a rainy day, Schoenau is a picturesque little town nestling in the hills of the Black Forest. It's not the sort of place which you'd expect to be the center of innovation. It's two-and-a-half thousand inhabitants are conservative both politically and socially. Since the area's main industry, spinning and weaving, died out, the town has become mainly a tourist resort. But I'm not here to look at Schoenau's surprisingly large church, or the attractive half-timbered houses. My appointment is down in a cellar.

(Running generator)

LAWTON: This gentle hum is the sound of the future in Schoenau; the town's first cogeneration plant is operating in the cellar of a newly-built house.

KIEFER: (Speaks in German)

LAWTON: This plant, says Wolfgang Kiefer, who installed it, is powered by natural gas. And it provides most of the heat for the building, as well as 12 kilowatts per hour for the regional electricity network. Because such plants produce both heat and power, they are far more efficient than a normal power station which just pumps its waste heat into the atmosphere.

KIEFER: (Speaks in German)

LAWTON: Kiefer and others in Schoenau hope that this plant will be the first of many, and the foundation for an experiment in environmental democracy, with Schoenau able to set its own energy policy. Their short-term goal is to take over the town's electricity distribution network, but their long-term goal is to get rid of nuclear power. That's an ambitious project, but they've come a long way since they started to be politically active after the Chernobyl disaster. Back then, in 1986, many Schoenau parents became concerned when they found out that their children had been playing outdoors on that sunny day when the plume of pollution reached Germany. The government had failed to issue any warnings. Michel Sladek is a local doctor and independent town councilor.

M. SLADEK: (Speaks in German)
TRANSLATOR: At the start we thought, without any doubt, the people in power will make it so that we stop nuclear power as quickly as possible. It was only when we saw that they weren't doing anything that we saw we'd have to do it ourselves, and that's when things started.

LAWTON: So Michel Sladek and his wife Ursula helped found Parents for a Nuclear-Free Future. They held lectures about the dangers of nuclear power and supported a hospital near Chernobyl. But, as Ursula Sladek says, they also decided to take more concrete steps.

U. SLADEK: We also thought about saving energy, and we made energy saving competition. We do that now, since 7 years. And I think it's very successful here.

LAWTON: But the anti-nuclear parents soon realized that you couldn't go on saving energy forever; you'd always need some electricity. But you could try to produce it as ecologically as possible. So, 31 Schoenau energy activists set up a company to fund small-scale environmentally-sound power stations: hydroelectric generators and cogeneration plants in private houses and public buildings in and around Schoenau. They hoped that their example would lead to many more such power stations being built, but they repeatedly came up against the utility company, which refused to pay a commercial price for the electricity they produced. Michel Sladek and his supporters on the town council tried to get the utility company to change its pricing policy.

SLADEK: (Speaks in German)
TRANSLATOR: After months of negotiation, we had no success. And only after we'd seen that this was impossible, we said well, if the current supplier won't do it, then we'll have to get the electricity supply network into our own hands, so that we can build up an ecologically-sound network which can achieve our aims for the environment and for the future.

LAWTON: And that meant taking on the regional utility company whose contract with the town to supply it with electricity comes up for renewal at the end of this year. the activists began planning to put in a bid to take over the service. But the company tried to out maneuver the environmentalists by offering a much better deal if the town would renew the contract early. The council felt that the utility company's bid was an offer they couldn't resist, and they voted to accept it. Helmut Pfefferle is one of the town councilors who voted for the offer.

PFEFFERLE: (Speaks in German)

LAWTON: The utility company is doing a good job, he says, and their financial offer was extremely advantageous to the town. Sixty percent of their power is hydroelectric, so it's already environmentally friendly. If we don't have any problems, he says, why change? But those arguments don't convince the environmentalists. They point out that the other 40% of the town's electricity comes from nuclear power. So, immediately after the council vote, they called a referendum to overturn it.

(People singing around a piano, to the tune of the Beatles song "Lady Madonna")

LAWTON: The campaign to win the referendum was a lively affair. The activists even had a cabaret group called The Watt Killers performing in front of the town hall. According to the current mayor, who's remaining neutral, the issue split the town.

SCHOENAU MAYOR: (Speaks in German)
TRANSLATOR: It was a very passionate affair. The different opinions even divided families. It wasn't so easy. In public meetings people went as far as to accuse others of being bribed by the utility company. It got very personal and emotional.

LAWTON: Seventy-five percent of the town's voters turned out on voting day. The result made national headlines. The rebels won handsomely, and the council was forced to withdraw its acceptance of the utility company's offer. But now comes the real challenge: the activists have to develop a viable alternative to the utility company, so that they can actually win the contract at the end of this year. The signs seem to point in their favor. They've earned the respect of the people of the town, as a local restaurant owner told me.

RESTAURANT OWNER: (Speaks in German)
TRANSLATOR: He says he wasn't sure about them when they started but now they've got good reliable people. Business people. And even the housewives in the group, he says, they really know what they're talking about. Yes, you have to take your hat off to them.

LAWTON: The Schoenauers, though, are already looking forward to new projects such as their scheme to turn the town's old weaving mill into an ecological industrial park. The Schoenauer Energy Project is being watched with interest in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Other utility companies are waiting to see if decentralized electricity production will prove workable, and other communities are wondering if they couldn't take over their own network, too. If the Schoenauers pull it off, it could be a step on the way to a new democratization of energy. For Living on Earth, I'm Michael Lawton in Schoenau.

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(Music up and under)

Listener Comments Segment

CURWOOD: Last week we reported on the Disney Corporation's plan for an American history theme park in the historic Virginia countryside. And we asked you if Mickey, Goofy, and Donald should be welcome there. We had a flood of response, and this is what some of you had to say.

CALLER: This is Doug Loman from Eaton, Ohio. I'm dead set against it. I'm tired of this country selling its historical heritage for the all-mighty minimum wage job that's promised to them. This ground is hallowed, and as we are looking on the anniversary of D-Day we need to remember the sacrifices that were made by these young men, on both sides, for what they strongly believed in. Sacrifices that probably wouldn't be made today. Absolutely not, no amusement park on this ground.

CALLER: My name is April Moore. I live in Virginia, not that far from the planned Disney park. And I think it's a very bad idea. Last November, we were just told, suddenly, that Disney was coming to Virginia, but this was before anybody in the area had had any inkling of what was happening. It was done in secret. I don't feel that Disney has been dealing straight with the public. And when they say that they can have environmental protection and growth at the same time, I don't know who they're kidding.

CALLER: My name is Homer Herd. I live in north Florida. If anyone has any seen Orlando before Disney World came there and after, I don't think there would be any doubt but what it would be bad for Virginia.

CALLER: I feel really torn. I heard one of the people that was interviewed saying that development's coming no matter what; it's gonna happen. And if that's the case, which it may very well be, then why not have it be something that's going to provide education like this?

CALLER: Hi, this is Mark Shargel in Santa Cruz County, California. And I think it's a horrible idea. It sounds like they're taking the land that Washington and Jefferson walked on and turning it into another Mickey Mouse house. I think Jefferson and Washington would be spinning in their graves if they could hear about the proposal.

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CURWOOD: We'd like to hear your comments about our program. Call 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

(Music up and under)

Grasping the Goal of a Green GDP

CURWOOD: The economic health of nations is usually measured by its gross national or domestic product: the total value of goods and services produced. But in recent years, some have argued that GNP and GDP give us a skewed view of economic growth and health, because they don't include the value of environmental resources, or the cost of their depletion or degradation. Now the Clinton Administration is taking the first steps in making the GDP greener. The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its first annual accounting of the value of nonrenewable resources. Things like coal, petroleum, and minerals. The figures will be used as a benchmark to help measure how well we're conserving US national wealth. And they're part of a 3-part process which will eventually measure the value of renewable resources, such as timber and fish. And of intangibles like clean air and clean water. Dale Willman reports from Washington.

WILLMAN: The first stage's figures were contained in what the Department calls its Integrated Economic and Environmental Satellite Accounts. The figures hover alongside the GDP, but are not actually factored into the quarterly estimate. Dr. Carol Carson is the BEA director. She says the new data confirm that mineral resources are an important if small part of the nation's productivity.

CARSON: It shows, for example, that mineral resources, if added to business equipment structures and inventories, would amount to an additional 3 to 7%.

WILLMAN: That's 3 to 7% added to the nation's private capital stock, which would increase the GDP only slightly. In the long term it's hoped that this whole process will begin to establish a baseline of information. This baseline can then be used in the future to help score our success or failure at environmental stewardship. For instance, if the figures for 2010 are drastically below those established now, it should be a warning signal of environmental degradation. But many economists say that beyond that narrow scope, the usefulness of the figures plummets dramatically.

DARMSTADTER: I think you'll find very little implication or very little practical use that will be made of this in the United States.

WILLMAN: Joel Darmstadter is a Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC. The US has such a diverse economy, he says, that including the value and depletion of environmental resources in the nation's gross domestic product would still have just a slight effect on the overall numbers. Those really benefiting from such accounting practices, says Darmstadter, will be the lesser developed countries.

DARMSTADTER: For a country such as Costa Rica, which is disproportionately dependent on the production and export of natural resources in its gross domestic product, why an adjustment may be a much larger proportionate, have a much larger proportionate effect on its gross domestic product than in the United States: perhaps 10 or 15 or 20%.

WILLMAN: The US and Costa Rica are just 2 of a growing number of nations to begin collecting this information. So most economists seem to agree that the collection of these environmental figures, along with the country's GDP is, overall, a good thing. But the disagreement comes when you ask how those figures should be calculated. Salah El Serafy, a consultant with the World Bank, says that looking at the commodity price of these resources allows the numbers to be affected by the radical price swings often found in those markets.

SERAFY: It makes you think you are rich or you are poor, and it introduces volatility, which national income accounting should not be dealing with.

WILLMAN: Instead, says Serafy, he would like to see a system that just looks at the yearly change in the supply of the resources, and not the complete stocks. this smaller value, he says, would reduce the potential volatility of the numbers and make them more useful. But Carol Carson of the Commerce Department says they don't expect these figures to be the ultimate answer for everyone, and she says she welcomes input from others. Meanwhile, if more funding is made available, Carson is ready to more on to the second of the 3 stages, coming up with a similar set of measurements for renewable resources. The third step involves placing a value on intangibles. Many economists, though, say that's next to impossible. Even if a value can be agreed upon for clean air, how do you price a sunset over Yosemite National Park. For Living on Earth, this is Dale Willman in Washington.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Our producer and editor is Peter Thomson. Our director is Debra Stavro. Our coordinating producer is George Homsy. Our associate producer is Kim Motylewski. Our production team includes Chris Page, Jan Nunley, Jessika Bella Mura, and engineers Laurie Azaria, Bill Haslem, and Keith Shields. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.

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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