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

August 25, 1995

Air Date: August 25, 1995


Amish / John Gregory

Many see America’s tightly-knit Amish communities as odd throwbacks to the days of the horse and buggy. But Amish beliefs don’t reject progress so much as they call for the sustainable use of God’s gifts of creation. This piece originally aired December, 1994. (08:15)

The Bluebird's Happy Return / Dan Grossman

Dan Grossman spends time with Lillian Files, also known as "The Bluebird Lady," and reports on how human intervention is helping to bring back this rare species. This piece originally aired September, 1994. (05:53)

Living on Earth Profile Series #14: Joseph Ling / Jon Gordon

Twenty years ago, 3M Corporation’s environmental scientist Joseph Ling created the “Pollution Prevention Pays” program, pioneering the concept of “green” American manufacturing. It transformed 3M — and much of the manufacturing world as well, as reporter Jon Gordon explains. (04:30)

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: Amy Eddings, Martha Bebinger, John Gregory, John Gordon

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Many see America's tightly-knit Amish communities as odd throwbacks to the days of the horse and buggy. But Amish beliefs don't say no to progress so much as they're saying yes to the sustainable use of God's creation.

KLINE: Even though we farm with horses, we still have modern technology right at our fingertips. You know, we can use modern technology; we just try to limit it.

CURWOOD: Also, North America's eastern blue bird was headed for extinction until it got some special attention.

FILES: This is the way we brought them back is by giving them human help. And if it wasn't for that, I'm sure the blue bird would have been gone by the way of the passenger pigeon.

CURWOOD: And we meet Joseph Ling, the environmental hero of the 3M Corporation, this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after the news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. An employee of Connecticut's Millstone One Nuclear Power Plant is asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to shut the plant down. Senior engineer George Galadis says Millstone's parent company, Northeastern Utilities, has repeatedly violated its operating license, lied to Federal regulators about safety features, and continues to operate under unsafe conditions. From WFUV in New York, Amy Eddings reports.

EDDINGS: The problem, says Galatis, is with Millstone One's cooling pool. It's designed to hold the spent fuel rods from the reactor and protect people from radiation. In his petition to the NRC, Galatis says that for 20 years Northeastern Utilities has routinely placed Millstone's entire fuel assembly into the pool during scheduled refueling breaks. The pool was originally designed to hold one quarter of this load. In addition, when the utility wanted to increase the pool's capacity, it told the NRC the pool had safety features that were not there. Galadis says the technical violations are must one issue addressed by the petition.

GALATIS: In any event, what I would consider to be the ethical issue of violating our license for so long, and then the NRC allowing us to do that.

EDDINGS: Northeastern Utilities did not respond to phone calls, but a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman says they were aware of these practices, and they did not appear to cause any health or safety hazard. Meanwhile, Northeastern Utilities has applied for another amendment to its operating procedures. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in New York.

NUNLEY: Guyana is asking the United Nations for help in dealing with a cyanide spill in the nation's longest river. The Esoquibo River was poisoned when a dam burst on a holding pond at a gold mine. The mine uses cyanide to treat ore and extract gold deposits. Almost 16 million cubic feet of the deadly effluent are believed to have poured into the river. There have been unconfirmed reports of dead animals and fish in the river, but authorities say cyanide levels aren't high enough to cause those deaths so soon after the spill. The river is an important source of drinking water for many of Guyana's 8,000 inhabitants. New York officials are wavering on a requirement that by 1998 a certain percentage of automobiles sold must be zero emission cars. But Massachusetts environmental officials say they'll stay the course. From WBUR in Boston, Martha Bebinger reports.

BEBINGER: New York has apparently struck a deal to postpone that state's zero emission car law until the year 2004, or even later if electric cars failed to meet conventional car standards. Sonia Hamill of the Massachusetts Environmental Affairs Office says the state has already rejected a similar deal because electric cars shouldn't be held to such strict standards.

HAMILL: There are niche market vehicles that will meet many people's requirements. For example, not everyone needs a four-door passenger sedan. Many people enjoy having a smaller car.

BEBINGER: Auto makers claim they shouldn't have to build a substandard car. They argue that because electric cars are prohibitively expensive, and battery ranges are so limited, they'll be stuck with cars consumers won't want to buy. For Living on Earth,
I'm Martha Bebinger in Boston.

NUNLEY: Carbon dioxide leaking from a dormant California volcano is to blame for the deaths of a large number of trees on the mountain. A study by the US Geological Survey reports high concentrations of CO2 emitted into the soil from molten lava deep beneath Mammoth Mountain in the eastern part of the state. Scientists first noticed the trees dying off in early 1990, after tremors were recorded for several months beneath the mountain. Scientists say the gas poses no direct threat to human life and is not a sign of an imminent eruption.

Trees and other land plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in concentrations far larger than ever before suspected. A new study in the journal Science reports that trees in the northern hemisphere soaked up half the world's fossil fuel emissions over a 3-year period. Scientists have thought the ocean was the major absorber of CO2. Since the ocean absorbs a fixed amount of carbon dioxide, researchers were concerned about a rapid build-up of CO2 leading to global warming. Scientists now think reforesting can remove a significant amount of carbon dioxide. While deforestation is a major threat to many tropical rainforests, the rate of CO2 absorption indicates a resurgence of temperate forests in the northern hemisphere.

The number of Americans who think environmental regulations haven't gone far enough has dropped 20% in the last 3 years. A Times Mirror poll says nearly two thirds of the population supported stronger environmental laws in 1992, and this year only 43 percent agree. But most Americans think the environment should take precedence when the choice is between environmental protection and the economy. Neither political party fared well in the survey; 41% view President Clinton's environmental actions unfavorably, but nearly half gave Congressional Republicans a negative rating as well. In a separate poll more than half those asked opposed efforts to cut the Environmental Protection Agency's budget. That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's easy to see the Amish as oddities. Dressed in plain clothes, shunning modern conveniences, and riding in horse-drawn buggies. But from their perspective, it's the English, the non-Amish, who are odd, pursuing what the Amish see as disrespectful use of land and natural resources. Self-sufficiency on their land became crucial when the Amish fled to the countryside to avoid religious persecution in 16th century Switzerland, and the Amish brought this discipline with them to the tolerant colony of Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Today, about 140,000 Amish live in tightly-knit communities in 22 states. And their strong tradition of stewardship has been handed down through the generations. To the Amish, the land is more than a source of food. It's part of God's creation, which they are called to tend and preserve. David Kline's family tends to 175 acres of creation in central Ohio. Last summer, reporter John Gregory visited the Kline farmstead to explore the unique Amish bond with the land. And today we re-broadcast his report. He found that while Kline's Amish community rejects some modern inventions, their view of technology is complex and sophisticated. And they adopt new tools only on their own terms.

(Sound of walking among tall grasses and dried husks)

GREGORY: On a cold fall afternoon, Amish farmer David Kline wades through his corn field, pushing aside the 7-foot stalks to clear a path. In the middle of the patch, Kline stops, kneels down, and grabs a handful of dirt.

KLINE: Smell that. Doesn't that smell earthy and rich?

GREGORY: Kline rolls the dirt through his thick, weathered hands and lets it trickle to the ground. At 49, his hair is brown with threads of gray and it wraps around the bald spot on his head and across the line of his lower jaw in the traditional Amish beard. Looking out on the modest white frame house where he was born and now lives with his wife and 5 children, Kline strokes his beard and explains the intricacies of Amish agriculture.

KLINE: We farm as America would have farmed 40, 50 years ago, you know, the smaller farms. The diversity in livestock. And we have maintained that largely because we stuck with the horse.

GREGORY: Kline's 120-acre farm has been in his family since 1918. He works 70 acres of this gently rolling Ohio land using only draft horses to plow, plant, and harvest. To bale hay, spread manure, and gather wood.

KLINE: It would happen in church that the bishop would point to the Scripture and say, okay, this is exactly the reason why we don't farm with tractors, because the Bible says thou shalt not use a motor-driven instrument in the field. (Laughs) No, no it's not at all. I would think it's horse farming, this goes so well with family life.

GREGORY: Kline says using horses keeps farms to a scale that a family can manage. And besides, they don't compact the soil like tractors do. They're much cheaper to operate. And they create their own fertilizer. Another staple of Amish agriculture is crop rotation: planting fields in clover or alfalfa, then corn, then oats, and finally wheat in a continuous 4-year cycle. This, says Kline, maintains soil fertility and saves money on chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

KLINE: So often, the agricultural colleges look at Amish farmers as oh " oh, they say, that way of farming. We left that 30, 40 years ago; we don't want to go back. That's a false impression because we "even though we farm with horses, we still have modern technology right at our fingertips. You know, we can use modern technology; we just try to limit it.

GREGORY: In fact, groups of Amish are sometimes defined by the technology they use. The most conservative Amish use no tractors, indoor plumbing, or electricity, while more liberal groups, of which Kline is a member, may have plumbing or use electric generators and tractors for some activities.

(Tractor engine)

GREGORY: Kline uses a big green John Deere tractor to help grind corn in his barn. He also employs a small Honda generator to charge the batteries that power his electric fence, and to drive the machinery that helps him milk his 30 dairy cows.

(Milking pumps)

GREGORY: You name your cows?

KLINE: Mm hmm. The first one is Glow, and then Petunia. Doris. Joy. Ethel...

GREGORY: Although this selective use of technology seems random, even eccentric, to some outsiders, it's based on the Amish belief that machines should make work easier and not disrupt family life or tempt one to expand the size of one's farm. By not using expensive machinery, the Amish rely more on family and neighbors to help with farm chores, like baling hay and threshing wheat.

KLINE: It's a " and of course, to love they neighbor as thyself. You know, if you love your neighbor you don't want his land. Because then you wouldn't have a neighbor.

GREGORY: And contrary to popular belief, small farms still can be financially viable. Kline recounts the story of one local Amish couple who paid off a $100,000 farm in 6 years. On his own farm, Kline says his milk revenues, along with some grain and vegetable sales, supports his family.

KLINE: One might have a gross sale of $60,000 on the farm, and half of that is probably net. It's not, doesn't compare with Lee Iacocca, but you know, it's a good life. Or with these baseball players. (Laughs) But I have fewer worries, I'm sure. See, I'll never have to go on strike, and I'll never be out of work. And we'll always have food to eat.

(Traffic sounds)

GREGORY: Mount Hope, Ohio, is a thriving community of about 300 people, mostly Amish. It looks like many small towns with its hardware store, bank, grocery, and other businesses. But you're as likely to see an Amish horse and buggy drive down the main street as you are a car.

(Horse and buggy on the road)

GREGORY: This is where David Kline's family comes to shop, catch up on the local news, and occasionally enjoy a cone of chocolate frozen yogurt. Kline explains that the stability of Mount Hope and other small Amish towns reflects the dedication of the Amish to their communities and the quality of their land.

KLINE: Our community is only as good as its soil. If the soil is good and people are working that soil and then you'll have services. You'll have the fire department, you'll have hospitals, you'll have doctors. You'll have all the professions. Because after all, it all comes from that surrounding soil. If the soil is no good, or if the soil is poor, then it doesn't support people on the land and there won't be people there that will require those services.

GREGORY: Kline says that Amish farmers struggle with the same problems that all small farmers face these days. Low market prices, high land costs, and a trend towards factory farming operations that make farmers more dependent on distant corporations than on local communities. To supplement their incomes, Kline says some local Amish families will begin growing vegetables for produce wholesalers next year, while others may get jobs at the small wood and metal working shops in the area.

KLINE: The Amish have always been an agrarian people, and that's why I worry. We have only, like, 37% of our people are living on farms in this community. And as the shift is away from agriculture, I think we'll have to sacrifice so much.

(Door sliding on hinges, water being poured)

GREGORY: At the end of the day, after the cows are milked and the hogs are watered, Kline retreats to an old log cabin he rebuilt next to his house. The cabin is a place where Kline reads and works on his nature column for the local newspaper. Here again, the ironies of Amish life are present. In the glow of a gas lamp, Kline writes with a small word processor powered by a modified car battery. Resting on an old couch, he reflects on his younger days when he almost left the community. But now, Kline says he accepts the traditions that bind him to the Amish culture because of the satisfactions of living a Christian life that is ecologically sound.

KLINE: Then you know, when we say our evening prayers, it always comes across thankful for this free country we live in and thankful for the good land we have to work with. This land has been good to us, that it supports us, and that we care for it and we'll support future generations. Just from the soil on this farm.

GREGORY: Amish farmer David Kline lives with his family near Mount Hope, Ohio. For Living On Earth, I'm John Gregory.

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(Music up and under)

The Bluebird's Happy Return

CURWOOD: With its cheerful call, bright blue back and red chest, the eastern bluebird has long been welcomed as a harbinger of spring. Henry David Thoreau observed that the bluebird carries the sky on its back, and John Burroughs added it has the earth on its breast. But earlier this century, those sprightly bearers of earth and sky nearly disappeared. Imported English sparrows and starlings brought here from Europe squeezed the bluebird out of its springtime nesting and foraging areas, and pesticides further cut their numbers. But today the bluebird is making a comeback, thanks to hundreds of volunteers. In this rebroadcast, Daniel Grossman has our report from Tyngsboro, Massachusetts.

(Birdsong. Woman's voice: "Ula! Hi there! I'm making a house call to see about your sparrows, okay? So can we go out in the yard and take a look now? "Sure." "Yeah, all right." "We'll go down this way...")

GROSSMAN: It's late in the day and a thunderstorm is approaching. But Lillian Files, known locally as the Bluebird Lady, has a mission to accomplish: to help get rid of a pair of English sparrows that has invaded the bird box of her neighbor Ula Quint.

QUINT: Yesterday morning I just thought it was strange because I didn't see the bluebirds any more. And then I looked out my window and the bird, a bird flew out, landed on the grass and I looked, and it was a sparrow. So um, you know, I came down here and I saw the mess. The eggs on the ground and, you know, it was " it's very discouraging.

GROSSMAN: The adults were spared. But the eggs were pecked with holes and tossed onto the ground. Files, past president of the North American Bluebird Society, says sparrows are only one of the many threats to the bluebird. Other birds such as house wrens and swallows also carry out aggressive attacks. And raccoons often eat the tiny eggs with chicks.

(Sound of metal scraping on metal. Files: "I have to hold this up right now. Oh boy, there it is...")

GROSSMAN: For sparrows, the solution is obvious. Files shows her neighbor how to install a trap to capture the predatory bird.

(Files: "You set it up here." "Okay." "Okay. Then the bird flies in the box, and it lands on this, and then it can't get out. And from your house you could see this " you could see it's red or something, you know. Now the only thing is " " "And then I have to call you." Files laughs. "I'm the villain!" Birdsong.)

GROSSMAN: With luck, the adult bluebirds will return and raise another clutch of chicks this season. Lillian Files says the bluebird was once as common as the robin. Its exquisite coloring, a deep, iridescent blue back and rusty red breast and spunky boldness, made it a favorite farm bird. Forty years ago, when Files was in her late 20s, the bluebird was common near her home here. But she soon discovered that it was uncommon elsewhere.

FILES: Some folks came up and said Lillian, you have a rare bird. And it was the bluebird. And of course I did admire this bird because it's so beautiful. And then I wanted to know why it was rare. I thought everybody had them here in the country. And then I found out why they were rare, and I sort of dedicated myself and the rest of all these years through trying to make the bluebird come back.

GROSSMAN: The bluebird prospered in the agrarian landscape of 19th century America. It lived in the cavities of rotted trees on the edges of fields. But in the 20th century, small farms began going under. Pastures became forest and suburbs. Meanwhile, the European house sparrow and starling proliferated. And after World War II the country was doused with harmful, persistent pesticides, including DDT. By 1977, the population had plummeted by as much as 90%. But a ban on DDT, and the efforts of volunteer organizations such as the North American Bluebird Society, helped to bring the bluebird back. Among other things, the society encouraged people to build wooden birdhouses to replace natural habitats. Files says these boxes are still essential, and that they require constant tending.

FILES: We always say if you don't want to monitor your boxes at least once a week, forget it. Don't even put up a bluebird box. Because these birds need human help so badly...Take a look, take a look! He's beautiful! Right in front of us. See that blue? You gotta fall in love with a bird like that! (Laughs)

GROSSMAN: With a pace nearly as peripatetic as a bird, Files leads me on a tour of her own little piece of bluebird habitat behind her home. She stops at one of her 47 boxes and pulls open the front. Inside is one of the 2 pairs of bluebirds nesting here this year.

FILES: Let's see; hopefully everything is okay in here. Okay. Now wait a minute. Yep, they're alive, okay. Now those are 5 baby chicks that were just born last Saturday, but they're kind of sleepy right now, and the father and mother...

GROSSMAN: Files's gentle meadow appears like a pastoral paradise. But for the bluebird it could be more like a cool jungle full of vicious predators.

FILES: Looking right over there now, there's one of our worst predators, and that's the English sparrow. And the starling and the English sparrow's not a native bird, and it's open season on them; you can trap them and do whatever you want. But I sometimes say recycle them, give them to a rehabilitation center so they can use them to feed owls and hawks.

GROSSMAN: Files compares the alien sparrow to the destructive gypsy moth. She kills those she catches and donates them for food to people rehabilitating ailing birds of prey. But Files also uses her property as a sort of laboratory for less drastic ways to discourage predators. She says it's efforts like these that have helped the eastern bluebird population to more than double in the last 2 decades.

FILES: This is the way we brought him back is by giving them human help. And if it wasn't for that, I'm sure the bluebird would have been gone by the way of the passenger pigeon.

GROSSMAN: For Living on Earth, this is Daniel Grossman.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: We're always glad to hear from you. Call us at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try our e-mail address. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

Living on Earth Profile Series #14: Joseph Ling

CURWOOD: Many companies these days have found they can cut costs by cutting pollution, but 20 years ago the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, 3M, was a lonely pioneer among the major corporations in the field of pollution prevention. Today, 3M is still a big polluter, but its environmental gains have set a course for many others to follow. As part of our series on 25 environmental leaders, John Gordon of Minnesota Public Radio profiles Joseph Ling, the man credited with leading 3M's anti-pollution effort.

(Factory motors and whirring)

GORDON: Workers at the St. Paul tape plant guide giant rolls of plastic through huge machines while the material is coated with adhesives. This plant used to spew tons of smog-causing solvents into the air, but in 1983 the plant found ways to recover and reuse its emissions. Now, plant manager A.J. Cook says the operation has cut solvent emissions by 90%.

COOK: Well, we have very few solvent emissions from our tape making operations, even though many of our processes do use solvent. And you go back 12 years, 15 years or more that we had emissions from all of those processes.

GORDON: A certificate hangs on the wall of Cook's office. It's a commendation from Joe Ling, whose 3P program encouraged 3M employees to think about pollution in a radical new way. 3P means Pollution Prevention Pays. Joe Ling began the program in 1975 when he was 3M's Vice President for Environmental Engineering and Pollution Prevention. The company's CEO asked him to find a way to cut costs associated with removal technology, treating pollution after it's created. In a 1977 company film shown to all 3M employees, Ling explains the idea behind 3P.

LING: Over the long run, and in the face of growing environmental restrictions, remove technology is a losing proposition. It represents the type of add-on increments that increases our cost and uses up additional natural resources. Besides, whatever is removed doesn't just disappear. We have to put it somewhere. Therefore, the ideal solution is not to create a pollution problem in the first place.

GORDON: Ling emigrated from China in 1948 and earned the University of Minnesota's first PhD in sanitary engineering. With 3P he challenged plant managers all over the world to invent new processes to prevent pollution. In one early project, 3M figured out a way to coat Scotch brand tape with adhesive using water rather than solvents. Tough air regulations make it expensive for corporations to discharge solvents. By using the water process, 3M saved money. 3M says it saved more than $750 million through some 4,000 individual 3P projects. Joel Makower, publisher of the Green Business Letter, which tracks and promotes environmentally friendly manufacturing and consuming, says pollution prevention was a radical idea in 1975.

MAKOWER: I think the best thing that 3M proved is that you can make money by being environmentally responsible. In fact, you can lose money by being environmentally irresponsible. 3M helped us understand that from a company's perspective, pollution or waste represents something that the company bought, but couldn't use, and in fact had to pay to get rid of.

GORDON: Joe Ling's impact is far-reaching. He not only changed the way 3M does business, but he's credited with helping to transform the way many other manufacturers operate. Retired 3M executive Robert Bringer succeeded Ling in 1984.

BRINGER: I think what Joe brought to the program was a real belief in it, number one, that this was really the way to go, and number two, sort of a boundless enthusiasm to sell the program, not only inside the company but outside the company, too.

GORDON: Ling is now 76 years old and has been retired for 11 years. He says he was inspired in part by Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, but says he actually doesn't have much patience for environmentalists.

LING: The environmentalist is asking somebody else to solve their problem. No, no, no, here and now we want you to solve the problem. The pressing issue is a solution: how do you solve the problem? Engineering solves the problem.

GORDON: Critics warn against giving 3M too much credit. They point out 3M is still a major polluter and has a long way to go to become a truly green company. Still, under Joe Ling's 3P program, 3M compiled a record of environmental achievement that set an example for others to follow. For Living on Earth, I'm John Gordon in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. Our production team includes Deborah Stavro, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, and David Dunlap. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Keith Shields and Frank DeAngelis. Special thanks to Jeff Martini and WFPL, Louisville, Kentucky. Michael Aharon composed our theme.

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

ANNOUNCER: Major support for Living on Earth comes from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Joyce Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the National Science Foundation for reporting on science and the environment; and Jennifer and Ted Stanley.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid transmission and distribution deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


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