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

June 2, 1995

Air Date: June 2, 1995


Alaskan Wilderness Refuge Offered up for Oil Revenues / Joel Southern

Three high ranking Alaska congressmen are spearheading a renewed effort to open Alaska's most controversial wilderness park to oil drilling. The three are hoping to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a part of the latest balanced budget bill. Joel Southern reports. (05:20)

An Organic Farmer in India: Spiritual Connection to the Land's Bounty / Sandy Tolan

Sandy Tolan visits with a farmer in India whose health and environs suffered under the nation's promotion of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. But he found renewal for his health, soil and spirit by turning to organic farming. (10:43)

Living on Earth's Profile #6: Frances Moore Lappé: Diet for a Fragile Planet

From her best selling book Diet for a Small Planet to her recent investigations into "food democracy", Frances Moore Lappé has influenced the way millions of people think about food and nutrition, and consequently, agricultural methods and means. Host Steve Curwood speaks with Ms. Lappé. (05:07)

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: Lisa Wolfington, Dan Karpenchuk, Joel Southern,
Sandy Tolan
GUEST: Frances Moore Lappé

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska has been off-limits to oil drilling, but Congress may open it up to help balance the Federal budget.

Also, one farmer in India says he's growing more since he stopped using chemicals.

PAL: Once upon a time, people used to call me a crazy fellow. But the fact that exists, so that nobody can deny the fact that it can be done with high productivity, it's not hard. My yield is increasing every year.

CURWOOD: And from the author of Diet for a Small Planet, thoughts on hunger.

LAPPÉ: Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but by a scarcity of democracy. Fewer and fewer people making the decisions about what is grown on that land and ultimately who gets to eat it.

CURWOOD: On Living on Earth. First the news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. The way has been cleared for the nation's first state-licensed dump for low-level radioactive wastes. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has approved the transfer of Federal land in the Mojave Desert to the state of California for the site. Outraged opponents say the Clinton Administration reneged on promises not to proceed with the land transfer until a state court ruled on the project and public hearings were held. They say the dump could contaminate the Colorado River and destroy the habitat of the endangered desert tortoise.

President Clinton says his threat to veto changes to the Clean Water Act will be good for the environment, but it may also result in some alliances with key moderate Republicans. From Washington, Lisa Wolfington explains.

WOLFINGTON: Standing along the banks of polluted Rock Creek in a picturesque setting at Pierce Mill, Mr. Clinton warned the nation's waterways would become even more polluted if the House rewrite of the Clean Water Act were to become law. But the President promised that would not happen.

CLINTON: Newspapers all over America are calling it the Dirty Water Act. And it won't get past my desk. (Audience applause.)

WOLFINGTON: Continuing his theme of portraying House Republicans as extremists out of step with the nation, Mr. Clinton reached out to moderate Senate Republicans.

CLINTON: I am encouraged that some people in the Senate, on both sides of the political aisle, have expressed the gravest of reservations about this House bill.

WOLFINGTON: President Clinton already has the support of environmental committee chair Senator John Chaffee, who has vowed not to consider the House bill. For Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Wolfington in Washington.

NUNLEY: New research says high levels of ultraviolet radiation may not be causing vision and skin problems among humans and animals living under the ozone hole in southern Chile. Researchers from John Hopkins University, the University of Chile, and the University of Florida, examined records of 7,200 hospital patients in the Punta Arenas area. They found no increase in medical problems caused by short-term exposure to increased UV radiation. Local veterinarians also told researchers they hadn't seen any cases of animal blindness. But the study's chief author, Oliver Schein, of Johns Hopkins, says long-term overexposure to UV radiation can still cause cancer and eye damage.

A Senate plan for nuclear power wastes puts several high-ranking conservative Republicans at odds. Alaska's Frank Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, wants temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, or at South Carolina's Savannah River site. Strom Thurmond says he doesn't want South Carolina to become a dumping ground, and Washington Republican Slade Gordon says states need to "start taking care of their own mess." Both sides are in the middle of costly clean-ups from the nation's nuclear weapons program.

Nations meeting at the upcoming G-7 summit will debate how to pay for shutting down the ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear power plant complex. Ukraine recently signed an agreement with a German company to replace the remaining reactors at the site. From Cologne, Dan Karpenchuk reports.

KARPENCHUK: Ukranian officials estimate the cost of taking Chernobyl's 2 working nuclear reactors out of service at about $1.7 billion. In addition, the construction costs for the new gas-fired thermal plant are estimated at $2 billion. Recently, several western firms signed an agreement in principle with Kiev to close Chernobyl by the year 2000 and build the thermal replacement. Leading the group is a German company, Asea Brown Boveri, along with firms from Finland, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, and Japan. Mike Robertson is with Asea Brown Boveri. Robertson says the Ukrainian government has taken a major step by agreeing to pay for the closure and clean-up of the nuclear reactors.

ROBERTSON: We mustn't let them down. We have a golden opportunity, now, to clear up this problem once and for all, which is worrying the world. In particular Europe. And never before have we got this far in seeing a solution in sight.

KARPENCHUCK: The agreement doesn't mention how the money for the project is to be raised. That will be decided by the Halifax summit of G-7 industrialized countries. For Living on Earth, I'm Dan Karpenchuck in Cologne.

NUNLEY: Since improving industrial trade didn't harm the environment, increasing agricultural trade won't hurt it, either. So says a new report by the Office of Technology Assessment. But critics say boosts in global agricultural trade would drive down the price of farm goods, spurring farmers to use more chemicals to increase short-term crop yields. Mark Ritchie of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, accused the report of "generalized Washington ag-talk and very little fundamental analysis." But Ritchie agrees with the report's finding that current farm conservation programs over-emphasize prevention of soil erosion at the expense of water pollution and other more important concerns.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

Alaskan Wilderness Refuge Offered up for Oil Revenues

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the far northeast corner of Alaska is the last great expanse of pristine wilderness in the United States, the almost 20 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Millions of creatures live there free from the footsteps of civilization. But deep under its coastal plain, geologists say, there's a lot of oil. In the past, efforts to start drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have gone down to noisy defeat in Congress. But with their party now in the majority, Alaska's all-Republican Congressional delegation, which favors drilling, holds key leadership slots. Frank Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Ted Stevens chairs the powerful Senate Rules Committee, and Don Young chairs the House Resources Committee. These men have now attached a refuge drilling measure to the budgets that have passed the House and Senate. They expect the Federal Government to collect over a billion dollars a year in oil fees from the refuge. And they're betting that fear of a bigger deficit will keep President Clinton from making a veto. From Washington, Alaska Public Radio's Joel Southern has more.

SOUTHERN: At issue is whether to allow oil exploration on the 1.5 million acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The coastal plain is a band of fertile tundra and marshes by the Beaufort Sea at the north end of the 19 million acre refuge. Environmentalists compare the area to the Serengeti Plain in Africa. It's rich with Arctic wildlife such as snow geese, polar bears, and musk oxen. It's also the main calving ground for more than 150,000 porcupine caribou that migrate across the Canadian border and provide the subsistence base for Gwich'n native people in both countries. But big oil companies have a much different view of the coastal plain. They believe it could hold the last big petroleum find on the continent. For decades, environmentalists have prevailed in the debate about oil drilling there, but their fortunes have changed because of last November's elections. The Republican take-over of Congress put pro-development Alaskans in charge of key oversight committees. That's a big reason for the renewed push, says Alaska's Frank Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

MURKOWSKI: There's a lot of reasons. Some of them have some political overtones. Don Young and I have a similar responsibility, he in the house and me in the Senate. We have appropriate committees of jurisdiction; that's very important.

SOUTHERN: Murkowski, Young, and Senator Ted Stevens believe the drilling prohibition in the Arctic refuge is unreasonable. They say advances in drilling technology would minimize harm to the coastal plain ecosystem. Alaska's Democratic governor and a strong majority of state residents agree. The Alaska lawmakers say if enough recoverable oil is found under the coastal plain, it will enhance national energy security, boost the sagging domestic oil industry, and create jobs. They also say leasing fees and royalties to the Federal Government would help cut the national budget deficit. Accordingly, they've gotten anywhere from $1.25 to $2.3 billion of leasing revenues written into House and Senate plans to balance the budget over the next 7 years. Use of the budget process in a Republican-controlled Congress could expedite something the Alaskans have been waiting for a long time, and environmentalists are worried.

MILLER: We have a major fight on our hands to protect the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

SOUTHERN: That's Pam Miller. She used to be a Federal wildlife biologist in the Arctic Refuge. She now chairs the Alaska Coalition, a hundred-member organization of groups that includes the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club. Miller says use of the budget process will prevent full and fair debate of key environmental concerns about drilling.

MILLER: The back door strategy certainly makes it more difficult because there's much less opportunity for a public hearing, for debate. And it's tucked into a huge process with Medicare, Medicaid, and so on.

SOUTHERN: Someone else who's frustrated is Minnesota Democratic Congressman Bruce Vento. He's the lead House sponsor of an Arctic Refuge Wilderness bill. Vento says what's happening is no way to make a decision about oil exploration on the coastal plain.

VENTO: It doesn't make sense economically. It doesn't make sense environmentally. It doesn't make sense ethically. I would hope that deliberation, consideration, and reflection on this would prevail.

SOUTHERN: It's possible oil leasing in the Arctic Refuge could be authorized in bills Congress must pass this summer to lock a budget plan into law. The Alaskan lawmakers say the leasing revenues are important to the budget plan. If they're taken out, something else will have to replace them, maybe even higher taxes. That budget strategy is putting the Alaskans on a collision course with the Clinton Administration. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has jurisdiction over the refuge.

BABBITT: It's my own view that we should not open this refuge up at this time to oil exploration. I oppose it, I don't think it's in the interests of Alaska or of the 50 states.

SOUTHERN: Babbitt says he is working against development efforts. But President Clinton will have tough decisions on the future of Medicare and other big fiscal issues to make, when the budget legislation eventually comes to him. It's not clear if protection of the Arctic Refuge is high enough on his priority list to warrant use of his veto pen. For Living on Earth, I'm Joel Southern in Washington.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Tell us what you think. Should we cut the Federal deficit with oil revenues from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Call us right now on our listener comment line at 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. Our Internet address is LOE@NPR.ORG. You can also get transcripts and tapes for $10.

An Organic Farmer in India: Spiritual Connection to the Land's Bounty

CURWOOD: In the next 30 years, the world's population is expected to jump by more than 3 billion people, and each and every one of us will need something to eat. But for the past decade, per capita food production around the world has leveled off and started to decline, as soil erosion and the disappearance of croplands under cities have taken their toll. So, how will we eat? While the chemically-based green revolution boosted food production in the 60s and 70s, it also led to a lot of environmental damage. But there are techniques that can help grow more food without using much in the way of chemicals. As part of our month-long series on the global food supply, Sandy Tolan takes us to India, where one farmer has found an organic path to higher yields.

TOLAN: In India, signs of faith are everywhere, random and surprising.

(An imam calls from a minaret.)

TOLAN: In the capital, Muslims sit cross-legged and face Mecca, touching their foreheads to the Earth.

(Imam up and under; fade to Indian music.)

TOLAN: In the northern state of Punjab, turbaned Sikhs file silently around the reflecting ponds of the golden temple.

(Hindu singer and instruments)

TOLAN: In the south of India, Hindus enter a stone temple that stood for thousands of years, praying to Vishnu, while the cacophony of a horn plays on the walls of the inner sanctum.

(Horn continues.)

TOLAN: For many, faith is a way to accept one's lot in life. To make one's peace with fate. For others, it's a basis to change. Even when everyone says, what you're trying to do is impossible.

(Bird calls.)

PAL: When I came to this farm not a single tree existed. Now you see. Coconuts alone are two ton.

TOLAN: He's a short man, Manindra Pal, of slight build. And at 60, moving past middle age. But there is a power in his eyes. They hold you in their gaze. They give you the feeling he's learned something: something worth listening to.

PAL: If you grow a tree that is devoid of love, it perishes. Similarly the animals that you grow. Besides producing food, you must take into consideration the spiritual aspect of life.

TOLAN: The spiritual aspect of life. These are not the words of a typical farmer, even in India. And probably not many outside this 3-year-old Hindu Ashram that owns the farm would even listen to these gentle words if it hadn't been for one thing: Pal's success in producing food. Here at Gloria Land, a 100-acre farm of rice paddy near the Bay of Bengal, Pal has accomplished what few farmers in the world have even dared to try and many said could not be done. He's taken a highly productive farm, removed the chemical fertilizers and pesticides credited with making that high production possible, replaced them with organic material, and actually increased his annual yields.

PAL: Once upon a time, people used to call me a crazy fellow. But the fact that exists, so that nobody can deny the fact that it can be done, with high productivity, it's not hard. My yield is increasing every year.

(Conversations among workers)

TOLAN: Workers bend over in the hot sun. An old man in loincloth and turban separates the rice husk from the grain. The muscles in his back glisten. A woman in a purple sari, a load of chaff on her head, disappears into a 15-foot-high stack of hay.

PAL: I am very happy in the sense that I have found the sense of life. I don't live for myself; I live for the Earth. I live for all my brothers and sisters. And I try to do something which will be beneficial to the Earth in general, and I am also having the body which is of the same element of this earth and will go back to the earth.

TOLAN: Manindra Pal did not come to all of this suddenly. Thirty years ago, when the green revolution came to India with its promise of high production through chemical fertilizers and pesticides, Pal was eager to sign up.

PAL: I was the first participant of the green revolution in India and I was the most modern farmer. Anything new would arrive, I would be the first person to grab it. I would move Earth and Heaven to get the seeds or get the fertilizer or chemicals. And I did that for 7 years.

TOLAN: But as his fields became an eerily silent place of producing chemically-processed crops, a place devoid of all insects and birds, Pal became disturbed. And then one night he literally got sick of the chemicals.

PAL: I was perspiring. I felt sick. I had vomited profusely, and developed fever, but I went and had my bath in the evening. And the fish was floating dead. And when I go to the field I found a few birds are lying dead, and some toads are lying dead. And that day I revolted. I said this cannot be.

TOLAN: This was not, Pal decided, what his faith had taught him about the purpose of human birth.

PAL: And I said, what am I doing? I myself am a farmer, I am producing food not only for myself but for the country. And for my fellow brothers and sisters. And what will be the poisonous effects in the grains I will be eating? So all these things, when I used to kill birds by spraying! You grow that way and you die.

TOLAN: So Pal decided he had to abandon chemicals, not just pesticides but fertilizers, herbicides, all farm chemicals. It was more in keeping with his beliefs and the beliefs of his fellow devotees in the ashram, in life's sanctity.

PAL: This is the vibrance of life. The vibrations of life. Look, look, look here. The birds, I mean, they are probably collecting some insects. If I had sprayed they definitely wouldn't be there. Yes, yes, yes, demonstrate to my friend.

TOLAN: The birds are back now, and today Manindra Pal oversees what's probably the most successful organic farm in India. The dark soil retains its fertility unaffected by sterilizing agents and chemical fertilizers. His waters run clean, untouched by chemical pesticides. In their place are natural pesticides like the leaves of the neem tree. And Pal's rice yields have not suffered. They run close to the highest in India. Manindra Pal walks down a path between the vast green waves of rice paddy.

PAL: This has been in the field for 140 days. In another five days we'll harvest. You see, you can come down here and see.

TOLAN: Gloria Land is attracting curious farmers from Japan, Denmark, Holland, and Germany, to learn Pal's techniques. Pal has a simple success formula, really. He's converted the farm and retained its high production simply by reusing every ounce of the farm's organic material: decaying leaves, cow urine and cow manure. Fresh manure goes into the bottom of a pond where methane is produced, which fuels the farm kitchen. The remaining dung is then pumped out to the fields and used as a natural fertilizer.

(Cows mooing)

PAL: The thing is, you see, all your waste is gold if you know how to use it.

TOLAN: But not everyone has so much natural waste available. M.S. Swaminathan, the father of the green revolution in India, says Pal's work is impressive. But he says much of it is based on having a lot of cows and a lot of acres. Most farms in India are small and couldn't be set up in the manner of Gloria Land's hundred acres.

SWAMINATHAN: Twenty-five percent of the world's farming population are in India. Hundred million. Now, out of these hundred million farming families, 75 million farming families have land holdings of 5 acres and below. And out of them, a majority are one acre and below. Now, if you preach to them that you do this, you are organic farming, you do and so on, these are all people who can do, very rich people can do it. For the poor people, you can't do away without some fertilizer.

TOLAN: Manindra Pal says there are big obstacles for small farmers to convert to high productivity organic farming. For one thing, he says, producers of chemical fertilizers are trying to discourage successful organic farming because that would cut into their sales. Plus, he says, the Indian government isn't taking the lead in providing education and incentives for farmers to convert. And there are other challenges built into the way Indian farmers live.

PAL: Normally, all the farmers of India do not live in the farm. They live in village cluster, and all these animals live in the homestead area. The farm is one kilometer, two kilometers, away. Therefore, they are not able to recycle all the byproducts and the waste of animals effectively to the farm. They need transport, load facilities. That is why it is difficult. But still, it is possible. But the thing is, one should get down to it, one must have the motivation to do it.

TOLAN: For Manindra Pal, beyond the matter of motivation, there is the matter of faith. And for Pal, that's part of a wider worldview, a sense that everything's connected.

PAL: It is not the knowledge from books, but it is the knowledge by identity. In the tree, something is wrong, I should be able to know by identifying myself with the tree. The tree, too, has a soul. I, too, have a soul. And this is a knowledge which cannot be proved by the material science.

TOLAN: The spiritual part of Pal's work, like his methods, won't apply to all farmers. But Manindra Pal provides a glimpse, in a world starved for real examples, of a way of farming, and perhaps, a way of thinking, that may allow for many more generations down the road.

PAL: Love is the code of everything. If you don't love your plants, if you don't love your animals, if you don't love your birds, obviously they depart. And where love exists, where the fellow feeling exists, everything survives. Everything blossoms. This is the language of the soul.

TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan in Pondicherry State, southern India.

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(Indian music, Hindu horns blaring)

Living on Earth's Profile #6: Frances Moore Lappé: Diet for a Fragile Planet

CURWOOD: Twenty-four years ago, an unusual cookbook burst onto the American scene: Diet for a Small Planet, written by Frances Moore Lappé. And it helped change the stature of vegetarianism in this country. Meat, Lappé wrote, is not necessary to get complete protein. The combination of vegetables such as beans and rice is just as good and far gentler on the planet's resources. Ms. Lappé's work taught the more than 3 million people who bought her book about some hidden costs of eating meat. Lappé wrote, for instance, that each pound of beef takes more than 20 pounds of grain to produce. As part of our series on 25 important people related to environmental change, we talked with Ms. Lappé, who now co-directs the Center for Living Democracy in Brattleboro, Vermont. I asked her what she sees as the biggest change since she first published Diet for a Small Planet.

LAPPÉ: I think the most incredible change that I have seen is people's openness to whole foods, and to the concept that we do not need meat at every meal to thrive. And a greater understanding of the connectedness between our daily choices and the larger impact that has on the Earth itself.

CURWOOD: Americans are eating less beef, but we seem to be consuming more pork and poultry. I think it's 10 pounds a year more per person of those. I'm wondering if our change in meat-eating habits has really made that much of a difference.

LAPPÉ: No, I agree that, the implication is that it hasn't in any fundamental sense, and the forces that drive the overuse of our agricultural resources are just as much intact as they ever were. What I try to communicate in the second and third rewrite of that book, Diet for a Small Planet, is that fundamentally, farmers are driven to overuse the land simply to stay in business. That pressure, the market pressure, is what drives the overuse of our soils and what's driving the continuing application of massive amounts of petrochemicals. And that has certainly not altered; in fact, I think the pressure may be even greater today. In essence, what I have tried to do throughout my life is to keep pulling away the layers of the onion, asking why, why, why? To keep the food metaphor here, of course. Each layer, why is it? And fundamentally, that process led me to focus on who makes the decisions about what is grown and ultimately who gets to eat. I came to say, actually by the early 80s, that hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but by a scarcity of democracy. Fewer and fewer people making the decisions about what is grown on that land and ultimately who gets to eat it.

CURWOOD: The problem is a shortage of democracy, you say. What about this country? This is a democratic country. Why do we have hunger in the United States? Surely we have a democracy here.

LAPPÉ: We have a democracy understood as a structure of government, a set of constitutional protections, a multi-party system. But what I came to realize, the nature of today's problems, their depth, their interrelatedness, their pervasiveness, means that they cannot be solved from the top down. They cannot be solved by a few experts or a few elected officials. They have to involve us all in decision making ourselves. And that's what I think of as a living democracy. And that's what I gradually came to see, that the only thing that can work is to show people where there is real democratic participation that is working today. I really do believe that hope is the most important motivator for action, and more and more people cannot see grounds for hope.

CURWOOD: Any signs of hope in the area of food?

LAPPÉ: Well, I think that certainly where people are working in their communities to link up with local farmers, that community-supported agriculture, where farmers are directly supported by consumers in nearby towns, I think this didn't even exist 20 years ago. And I think that's a very, very constructive movement. I think more and more farmers are beginning to question dependence on chemicals. And that's considered maybe good business. I think that is certainly a sign that is very, very hopeful. The common element here is people understanding a sort of the demystification of the expert up there who has the answer, and regular people seeing that the solutions might be right in their own communities.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Frances Moore Lappé is co-director of the Center for Living Democracy in Brattleboro, Vermont.

LAPPÉ: Thank you very much.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. Our staff includes Deborah Stavro, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. We had help from Jessika Bella Mura, Liz Lempert, David Dunlap, and Bob Emro. Our WBUR engineers are Keith Shields and Mark Navin. 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: Living on Earth is made possible with major funding provided by the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; and all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside. Support also comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation and the Bullitt Foundation for Northwest reporting.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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