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

April 7, 1995

Air Date: April 7, 1995


Stalling on Electric Cars / Matt Binder

By 1998, two percent of the cars on the roads of California, New York and Massachusetts are supposed to be electrically powered, but will they be? Opposition from the auto industry is mounting as the deadline approaches, and there are signs that the Massachusetts governor is waffling. Matt Binder reports on the shifting politics of electric car mandates. (03:42)

Golden California Gone Green / Cy Musiker

California's standards for product labeling are higher than most states' in the nation. Some companies don't like the legislated definitions of what's recyclable, biodegradable, or ozone friendly. So far, the courts have upheld the green labelling threshold in the golden state, but there could be more challenges to come. Cy Musiker reports. (05:51)

Always, Rachel

Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring made her a household name, but her private life has been kept just that, very private. A newly published book of correspondence between Rachel Carson and her intimate friend, Dorothy Freeman, gives insight into Carson's convictions, and a remarkable friendship. Host Steve Curwood speaks with the book's editor, Martha Freeman, Dorothy Freeman's granddaughter, about the genesis of Silent Spring. (11:45)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1995 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
REPORTERS: Maureen Clark, Robin Finesmith, Matt Binder, Cy Musiker
GUEST: Martha Freeman

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Thirty years after the death of Rachel Carson, her most intimate letters have been published. The book reveals how she created Silent Spring, the literary masterwork that spawned the modern environmental movement.

FREEMAN: Part of Rachel's genius was that her understanding derived from the point at which intellect and intuition, thinking and feeling intersect in a person. That she brought a wealth of scientific knowledge to bear on the problem, but also her deep feelings for nature and her love for people as part of nature, too.

CURWOOD: New words from Rachel Carson, also big business goes on the offensive against California mandates for electric cars and environmental advertising, on Living on Earth. First this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are investigating the bombing of a US Forest Service office in Carson City, Nevada. No one was hurt in the incident. Investigators would not comment on the case, but a Forest Service spokeswoman said the attack could be an act of terrorism. County Commissioner Richard Carver, who advocates local control of Federal lands, says the bombing of the Ranger District Office at Toiyabe National Forest was done to gain public support for the Forest Service and to portray ranchers as fanatics, a charge the Forest Service vehemently denies.

An Alaskan judge has overturned a jury's verdict ordering Exxon to pay $9 million to 6 Native American corporations. The native groups had sued for damage to the land resulting from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but the judge ruled that the groups had already received more than that from an earlier $20 million settlement. From Alaska Public Radio, Maureen Clark reports.

CLARK: The native corporations had argued that the damage from the Exxon Valdez spill was not limited to oiled beaches, but extended to the entire ecosystem of Prince William Sound. During the 3-month-long trial last summer, their attorneys argued that declines in fish stocks and marine mammal and bird populations diminished the value of nearly 600,000 acres. Exxon attorneys said most of the land in question had never been touched by oil, and land that was damaged has since recovered. The jury decided that the native groups deserve $9 million in damages. It was far less than the $38 million they'd already received from a settlement fund and from a settlement with the company that operates the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Judge Bryant Shortel said late last month that Exxon didn't have to pay the $9 million reward because the native corporations have already collected more money than the jury intended they receive. For Living on Earth, this is Maureen Clark in Anchorage.

NUNLEY: Senate Democrats are voicing concern over the role industry lobbyists played in the drafting of a regulatory reform bill. In what the lawmakers describe as a unique move, 3 lawyers from the firm of Hunton and Williams briefed Democratic staffers on a bill to make environmental regulations harder to write. A spokesman for Democrat Senator Joseph Biden said he had never heard of such a briefing being conducted by outside lawyers. And Senator Patrick Leahy has called on the law firm to disclose who it represents and who paid for the lawyers' time. The lawyers and a spokeswoman for the committee said the trio were only serving as qualified experts. Hunton and Williams represent the tobacco company Philip Morris, as well as numerous utilities which would be affected by the bill.

According to the Energy Department, it will cost $230 billion and take at least 75 years to clean up radioactive waste at nuclear weapons plants in 30 states. But even after all that time and money, the Department says only 2 of the sites will be clean enough for public use. One of them is the Fernald plant near Cincinnati. From the Midwest Bureau of Living on Earth, Robin Finesmith reports.

FINESMITH: Fernald could be restored to its original, or green field, condition because it processed uranium rather than the deadlier plutonium, and because the cleanup can be accomplished without developing new technology. Still, more than $4 billion must be spent to make the land ready for public use, and the Fernald Citizen Task Force is currently at work deciding just what those uses should be. According to the Energy Department's Gary Stegner, most of the thousand-acre complex could easily become part of the community once again.

STEGNER: Something ranging from industries to green space. And I think the recommendations of the task force would probably say you can do just about anything with this site you want to, short of growing crops on it and having residential use.

FINESMITH: The citizen task force will also determine how clean residents want the site to be, by setting levels of acceptable risk for cancer that could result from remaining contamination. The group will release its final recommendations this summer. For Living on Earth, I'm Robin Finesmith in Cleveland.

NUNLEY: Canada's federal government says it will issue guidelines on the amount of free aluminum allowed in drinking water. Recent studies indicate links between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease, according to Dr. Barry Thomas of Canada's Environmental Health Directorate. The aluminum comes from purifying plants which use unspecified amounts of alum in treating the water. Because the sum total of alum currently in the water is unknown, Thomas says the government has no way to assess the risk to human health. It will be up to the provincial governments to evaluate and apply those guidelines.

Stratospheric ozone over the North Pole is thinning so much that a seasonal ozone hole similar to the one over Antarctica could soon develop. The Finnish Meteorological Institute says ozone levels in the Arctic are one third below normal this year, and may not stabilize for the next 50 years. With lower levels being found in many circumpolar nations, including Canada, Russia, and Finland, the Fin scientists want politicians to beef up the Montreal Protocol regulating ozone depleting chemicals such as methyl bromide and HCFCs.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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Stalling on Electric Cars

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In just a little more than 2 years many of us are supposed to be able to buy an electric car from a major car maker. California was the first state to order it 5 years ago as part of its campaign to fight its legendary smog. And since then, several other states in the congested Northeast have gone along. But GM, Ford, and Chrysler have fought hard against the electric vehicle rules. And recently, the political winds have begun shifting in their favor. Detroit's most recent victory has come in Massachusetts, where Governor William Weld is backing away from an electric car mandate; and New York may be next. But the most important battleground is California, the largest auto market in North America. As Matt Binder reports, Detroit is turning up the heat, but so far California Governor Pete Wilson and his regulators are refusing to wilt.

BINDER: Auto manufacturers are planning what they're calling a public education campaign to show residents of California and New York how the electric vehicle mandates will be a burden on car buyers. Jerry Espar is a spokesman for the American Automobile Manufacturing Association.

ESPAR: Right now, battery technology is not sufficient to allow manufacturers to produce a vehicle that consumers would want, or to do so at a cost that consumers could afford. And so in order to meet that market mandate, manufacturers will have to probably give away those vehicles or sell them at greatly below the cost to produce them. And in order to do that, then, they'll have to raise the cost of all the other vehicles that consumers want.

BINDER: Espar says the November elections showed that voters don't like this kind of government interference in the free market. He calls the electric vehicle regulations unfunded mandates. But Jerry Martin, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, the agency that originally adopted the mandate, says the Board members and their boss, Republican Governor and presidential candidate Pete Wilson, are all still fully behind the 1998 deadline. Part of the reason for Wilson's support, Martin says, is because Detroit's reluctance to develop mass-market electric vehicles has opened the door to a possible huge new electric automobile industry centered in California.

MARTIN: This is an industry that is growing in California, providing a lot of high-paying engineering and technical jobs for California, and no, the Board has not made any indication that they intend on changing that rule.

BINDER: Technical problems with batteries and other components have proven to be solvable according to Martin and those involved in the electric car industry. Mike Gage is the President of Calstart, a consortium of electric vehicle developers, electric utilities, and environmental groups.

GAGE: They've made all the same arguments that they're now making about electric cars about catalytic converters, about seat belts, and about air bags in cars: that they're too expensive, that they don't work, that they won't be able to sell cars in California if those things continue, and so on and so forth ad nauseam, for decades. And they've been wrong every time.

BINDER: The American Automobile Manufacturing Association says it has not yet decided the details of its upcoming multi-million-dollar ad campaign, and is currently conducting a search for a public relations firm to handle it. For Living on Earth, I'm Matt Binder in San Francisco.

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Golden California Gone Green

CURWOOD: The electric vehicle rule isn't the only environmental standard set by California that's being challenged by industry; advertising is another. Back in 1990, the Golden State passed a green marketing law that places tight limits on the use of environmental claims. If you want to claim your product is biodegradable, recycled or ozone-friendly, you have to meet certain standards. But some advertisers say this is an unconstitutional limitation on free speech, and they've gone to court to get the law off the books. Cy Musiker has our story.

(Checkout counter; a man asked, "Thirty-one thirty-nine...")

MUSIKER: Shopping is always a test of consumer skills. We fight for the best value even as we're tempted by products that claim they'll make us sexy and rich. A few years ago commercial advertisers figured out that some consumers would also pay extra for products that are easier on the environment. Toilet paper, for example.

MURRAY: It doesn't talk about how soft it is. It doesn't say it's squeezable, it doesn't have Mr. Whipple on it. Instead, it talks about the fact that no virgin trees went into the manufacture of these rolls of toilet paper. Now their forest is the urban areas of America.

MUSIKER: We're talking about Green Forest brand toilet paper in a Sacramento supermarket with Mark Murray. He's Executive Director of the group Californians Against Waste, one of the original sponsors of California's green marketing law. Murray says he thinks mainstream companies have every right to trumpet their products' green qualities, as long as the claims aren't false.

MURRAY: The most egregious example was the Pampers, the disposable diapers, where they went on an advertising campaign trying to suggest that the disposable diapers were compostable. While in fact only a few pilot programs in the entire country even had these programs set up. So in fact, they were making a claim that really wasn't responsible for California.

MUSIKER: So California legislators passed a law strictly defining green marketing terms. The word "recycled," for example, means a product must be made from at least 10% post-consumer material, not just reused industrial scraps. "Biodegradable" means that the product will decompose within one year into a nontoxic substance. Al Shelden is the Assistant Attorney General representing the state in Federal court.

SHELDEN: Now a consumer can't tell, for instance, if they're using a spray, hair spray type of product, whether or not it really is going to harm the ozone layer or not. These are not the kinds of claims that consumers can verify through use of the product the way they can, you know, if the soup is good-tasting or if some other product does what they have bought it to do.

MUSIKER: Shelden says no companies have been charged under the green marketing law, but advertisers claim the restrictions violate their First Amendment speech rights.

JAFFEE: The issue is not whether people should advertise truthfully in the environmental area. Of course they should. What California has done is go way beyond any type of protection of truth to say that there's only one way to talk about the environment; that's the California way, and we reject that.

MUSIKER: Don Jaffee is Executive Vice President with the Association of National Advertisers. He says some companies had to abandon packaging, which accurately stated a product's green qualities, because it didn't meet California thresholds. But the Association and its manufacturing allies have lost the first 3 rounds in Federal Court. In February the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier decision by a 3-judge panel which ruled that the state has every right to protect its citizens from fraudulent ads and to reduce the burden on its brimming landfills. The advertisers are almost certain to appeal to the US Supreme Court. Attorney Floyd Abrams, known as an expert on First Amendment issues, is their lead counsel. He finds hope in the dissent of one judge.

ABRAMS: Judge Noonan, the dissenting judge in our favor, said look, I know why they won't let you use the word "recycled." He said the word "recycled" is one of the sacred words in the lexicon of the green movement. And he said what you're really doing, California legislature, is taking certain words which have come to have very politically charged, very emotional impacts on the environmental movement, and making them off-limits for advertisers. And that, Judge Noonan said, is something that you really can't do.

MUSIKER: The stakes are very high. Advertisers say if they have to follow these guidelines in California, the nation's largest market, they'll have to follow them everywhere. So the California rules could become de facto national standards. Despite the legal battle, many manufacturers are having no trouble adapting to California laws. (Piped in music plays) We're back at the Sacramento supermarket now with Mark Murray from Californians Against Waste. He's holding a bottle of Tide detergent.

MURRAY: So Procter and Gamble, who has been one of the big proponents of the lawsuit here in terms of attacking California's environmental advertising law, has actually been using the environmental marketing law here in California, has been advertising - here we've got their Tide bottle plastic container - claiming, "Bottle made with 50% post-consumer recycled content." So this is a product that is living with California's law, it is probably marketing, I guarantee you, they're marketing this Tide bottle all across the United States probably all over the world, with the same label.

MUSIKER: While advertisers consider the next step in their fight against the California law, both sides are eagerly awaiting another Supreme Court decision. The Coors Company has argued that it should be able to advertise the alcoholic content of its beers. A ruling in favor of Coors could indicate the Court is more sympathetic to the free speech rights of advertisers than they are to government's right to determine what's good for the community. For Living on Earth, I'm Cy Musiker in San Francisco.

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(Music up and under)

Always, Rachel

(Rachel Carson: "We spray our elms, and the following Springs are silent of robin song. Not because we sprayed the robins directly, but because the poison traveled, step by step, through the now-familiar elm-leaf-earthworm-robin cycle.")

CURWOOD: The voice of Rachel Carson, who died of breast cancer in 1964, shortly after she published perhaps the most famous ecological book of modern times, Silent Spring sounded the alarm about the dangers of the widespread use of pesticides and changed the way we think about our relationship to nature. And the book helped to spawn the modern environmental movement.

Trained as a zoologist, for many years Rachel Carson worked for the US Fish and Wildlife service before she achieved fame and relative fortune with the publication of her 1951 bestseller, The Sea Around Us. She had always wanted to live at the shore and write about nature, so she took some of her royalties and built a summer home on Southport Island on the Maine coast.

Dorothy Freeman, a teacher who summered a few houses away on Southport Island, made a concerted effort to meet her celebrity neighbor. Quickly the two women found they were kindred spirits in their love of the Maine seashore, and they developed the most intimate of friendships. And as Rachel Carson conceived and wrote Silent Spring, Dorothy Freeman became her most important source of support. Rachel Carson's earlier literary success ensured that Silent Spring would have a broad audience; indeed, the book debuted in The New Yorker, and was quickly the subject of comments from President Kennedy and CBS News.

But Rachel Carson herself was a private person, and little was known of her personal experiences and beliefs beyond her public writings. But during the 12 years she and Dorothy Freeman knew and cherished each other, they exchanged about a thousand letters. When Dorothy Freeman died in 1978, she left several hundred of these letters to her granddaughter Martha, who has now published them in a collection called Always , Rachel. Martha Freeman recalls that the 2 women shared passions for birds, cats, classical music and the ocean, with each other and with her.

FREEMAN: I remember them as my guides to that beautiful place, to tide pooling on Rachel's beach, to walking in the woods with the both of them, to having them just want me to experience the beauty of the sun through the trees, the salt in the air, the moss under feet, the little starfish and periwinkles in tide pools.

CURWOOD: These letters go through so many aspects of Rachel Carson's life and your grandmother's life. And there's a section that they talk about the creation of Silent Spring itself. I'm wondering if you could take us back to February 1, 1958, when Rachel first tells your grandmother Dorothy about her idea for the book.

FREEMAN: Sure. Rachel writes, "About the book. It was comforting to suppose that the stream of life would flow on through time in whatever course that God had appointed for it. Without interference by one of the drops of the stream, man, and to suppose that, however the physical environment might mold life, that life would never assume the power to change drastically or even destroy the physical world. These beliefs have almost been part of me for as long as I have thought about such things. To have them even vaguely threatened was so shocking that as I have said, I shut my mind, refused to acknowledge what I couldn't help seeing. But that does no good, and I have now opened my eyes and my mind. I may not like what I see, but it does no good to ignore it. And it's worse than useless to go on repeating the old eternal verities that are no more eternal than the hells of the poets. So it seems time someone wrote of life in the light of the truth as it now appears to us, and I think that may be the book I am to write. Oh, a brief one, darling, suggesting the new ideas, not treating them exhaustively. Probably no one could; certainly I couldn't."

CURWOOD: From these letters, Martha, what is it about Rachel Carson, what was it about her character, her being, that allowed her to have this insight that no one else, up until her time, had?

FREEMAN: My feeling is that part of Rachel's genius was that her understanding derived from the point at which intellect and intuition, thinking and feeling intersect in a person. That she brought a wealth of scientific knowledge to bear on the problem, but also her deep feelings for nature, her real understanding of the lives of the sea creatures on her beach, of birds and fish, and her love for nature, and her love for people as part of nature, too.

CURWOOD: Now your grandparents were at first quite worried about this project of Rachel's. It was called the poison project.

FREEMAN: The poison book.

CURWOOD: The poison book. Can you tell us about their thoughts?

FREEMAN: Well, my grandfather worked for a large agricultural feed company; he was an executive. And so he was, they were concerned for her personally, that the message she was going to deliver would not be taken kindly by some pretty powerful interests in this country. And they wanted the message out but they were concerned that their friend Rachel was going to be the one to take it on.

CURWOOD: There was this enormous backlash against the publication of Silent Spring. Indeed, as your grandfather worried and your grandmother worried, there was outcry from the chemical companies and other people as well. Did Rachel and your grandmother write much about this at all?

FREEMAN: They did write, yes, they did write some about it, and it's amazing. Rachel was just not daunted by the attacks. They did not seem to throw her off-center. She just replied to them. She kept getting her message out in speeches, in articles. She just was very certain of what she understood.

CURWOOD: All right; let's hear a bit from some of these speeches. Now here's a talk that she gave to the National Women's Press Club in 1962.

CARSON: Now, I don't want to belabor the obvious, because anyone who has really read the book knows that I do favor insect control in appropriate situations. That I do not advocate the complete abandonment of chemical control. That I criticize modern chemical control not because it controls harmful insects but because it controls them badly and inefficiently. And because it creates many dangerous side effects in doing so. I criticize the present methods because they are based on a rather low level of scientific thinking. We really are capable of much greater sophistication in our solution to this problem.

CURWOOD: The years in which she was writing Silent Spring, 1958 to 1962, were trying for both Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman. Freeman's mother was dying and her husband's health was beginning to fail. Martha Freeman says illness and death were also ever-present for Carson.

FREEMAN: For Rachel, Rachel's elderly mother also lived with her and her health began declining in that period. Rachel's niece died, a woman that Rachel had supported throughout her life, and Rachel adopted the niece's 5-year-old son. So Rachel was taking care of a youngster and an elderly mother in ill health at the time when she was trying to write Silent Spring, and also discovering that she herself had cancer.

CURWOOD: The book is finally done, she sends off what will be printed in The New Yorker. And she gets a letter back from The New Yorker magazine editor, William Shawn. And the letter that she writes to your grandmother about the acceptance from Shawn and what it all meant to go through this is very powerful. I'm wondering if you could read that for us now.

FREEMAN: Yeah, I'd be happy to. There are 2 names mentioned in here that I should clarify for people. One is Roger, her grand-nephew who is now her adopted son; and Jeffy, her cat. So Rachel writes to my grandmother, "I longed so for you last night to share my thoughts and feelings. It was odd. I really had not been waiting breathlessly for Mr. Shawn's reaction. Yet once I had it, I knew how very much it meant to me. You know I have the highest regard for his judgment, and suddenly I knew from his reaction that my message would get across. After Roger was asleep, I took Jeffy into the study and played the Beethoven Violin Concerto, one of my favorites, you know. And suddenly, the tensions of 4 years were broken and I got down and put my arms around Jeffy and let the tears come. With his little warm, rough tongue, he told me that he understood. I think I let you see last summer what my deeper feelings are about this. When I said I could never again listen happily to a thrush song, if I had not done all I could. And last night, the thoughts of all the birds and other creatures, and all the loveliness that is in nature, came to me with such a surge of deep happiness that now I had done what I could. I had been able to complete it. Now it had its own life. And those are the thoughts I would have shared had you been here. I wish you were."

CURWOOD: Ultimately, Congress, President Kennedy acknowledged Carson's ideas and they had great staying power over these last 30 years. And by the Spring of '63 it was pretty clear, at least to your grandmother, and she wrote to Rachel to tell her so. I'm wondering if you could read from this letter of May 15th. And bearing in mind now that Rachel's pretty ill by this time, that her health is going down pretty fast.

FREEMAN: My grandmother wrote to Rachel, "A thought struck me last night, that suddenly the dear old Sea Around Us had been displaced. I never dreamed that could ever happen. That now I think your fame will rest on Silent Spring. When people talk about you, they'll say: Oh yes, the author of Silent Spring. For I suppose there are people who never heard of The Sea Around Us, strange as that may seem to us. But surely I doubt if there is a household in this country where your name is unknown. How could it be from Peanuts to CBS Reports not to mention all the lawns which have become a major concern now, what to do for crabgrass because Rachel Carson says... (Birdsong sounds) Oh darling, the wood thrushes and orioles have been sounding your praises while I've been writing. This spring is far from silent, and because of you there is a chance now that future springs need not be. Bless your heart. I don't suppose you can put into words how you feel about all this. So I shall just try to feel with you."

CURWOOD: Eleven months after Dorothy Freeman wrote that letter, her good friend Rachel Carson died of breast cancer. Rachel had told almost no one of her own illness, but she had spoken loudly about the poisoning of the planet, and the world listened. In 12 years of friendship, Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman had exchanged over a thousand letters. Many of these are now collected in the volume Always, Rachel, edited by Dorothy Freeman's granddaughter, Martha Freeman.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Our listener comment line is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Or zap us through the Internet at LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

Living on Earth is directed by Deborah Stavro and produced and edited by Peter Thomson. We had help from George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Con Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Heather Corson, and David Dunlap. Our WBUR engineers are Keith Shields and Louis Cronin. Special thanks to Jeff Martini. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and recorded at WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Major contributors to Living on Earth include all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the Great Lakes Protection Fund; the George Gund Foundation; and the Bullitt Foundation for Northwest reporting.

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