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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

September 29, 1995

Air Date: September 29, 1995

SEGMENTS

People are Warming the Planet

For the first time a United Nations panel of leading climate scientists concludes in a draft report that predictions of human induced global warming appear to be coming true. Host Steve Curwood examines some of the research which has led scientists to this conclusion — including data on the earth's recent rash of extreme weather. (07:00)

Vineyards Going Organic / Cy Musiker

Cy Musiker reports from the vineyard region of northern California where a number of wineries are incorporating organic farming techniques to improve the taste of their wine. From techniques in crop cover to using natural predators, growers are experimenting with an array of interesting methods. (07:24)

Living on Earth Profile #14: Alice Tepper Marlin: An Architect of Green Consuming / Amy Eddings

Alice Tepper Marlin is the founder and president of the Council on Economic Priorities, a group which publishes their findings on leading companies and their environmental practices. These consumer ratings guidebook volumes titled Shopping for a Better World encourage people to make informed decisions about what companies they buy from and support. Amy Eddings of member station WFUV has this profile of Marlin. (04:42)

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
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Rachel Anne Goodman, Terry FitzPatrick, Cy Musiker, Amy Eddings

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Many scientists have said that humans are warming the Earth, and in the future our climate will change. Now the world's leading climate watchers are saying the future has arrived. Our recent weather extremes should be blamed on humans, not nature.

CARL: I think it would be fair to say we're 90 to 95% certain that those changes we're seeing have a unique signature that would not be caused by natural variability alone.

CURWOOD: Also, we meet an architect of green consuming.

MARLIN: Green consuming has to do with casting your economic vote as conscientiously as your political vote, every time you step up to the cash register. The everyday decisions we make when we purchase something affect millions of people's lives.

CURWOOD: On Living on Earth. First news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: For Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. The Environmental Protection Agency has approved new specifications for low emission vehicles that could mean stricter emission standards for every state except California. But automakers say they won't adopt the new standards unless New York and Massachusetts drop their requirement for zero emission electric vehicles. The governors of those 2 states say they are willing to compromise on the electric vehicles but not to drop the zero emission standard entirely. California now has the strictest auto emissions regulations in the nation, and has the market clout to force Detroit to follow its standards.

Thailand's capital city, Bangkok, has some of the world's most polluted air, and one of the main contributors is a 3-wheeled gas powered rickshaw known locally as the tuck-tuck for the loud noise made by its 2-stroke engine. But the US government and a California-based company want to put some spark in the tuck-tuck. Rachel Anne Goodman reports.

GOODMAN: American Electric Car Technology of Van Nuys, California, has just delivered 3 prototype electric tuck-tucks to Thailand's government that they hope will lead to a quieter and cleaner Bangkok. Company officials received a $2 million grant from the US Agency for International Development to develop the vehicles. According to Lew Center, one of the new tuck-tuck's designers, each vehicle will initially cost $6,000, but he says costs could come down with increased production. Even though the tuck-tuck's current battery can only run for 3 hours, Center says a new battery will let it run for 5 hours between charges at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. And, if the electric tuck-tucks catch on, it could be a bonanza for American Electric Car. There are currently 10,000 gas-powered tuck-tucks in Bangkok. For Living on Earth, this is Rachel Ann Goodman in California.

NUNLEY: Decisions have been reached in 2 complaints before the North American Free Trade Agreement's Environment Commission. In one, the panel, made up of top environmental officials of all 3 countries, rejected a charge that the United States isn't enforcing its own environmental laws in violation of NAFTA side agreements. Twenty-five US environmental groups filed the complaint against new legislation allowing salvage logging in public forests and suspending parts of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. In the second complaint, NAFTA investigators found that raw human sewage, not industrial pollution, was responsible for the deaths of 40,000 migratory birds in central Mexico. Investigators said rivers of sewage flowing into an irrigation reservoir created a huge incubator for botulism, which poisoned food eaten by the birds. This case was seen as an important test of how well the 3 nations would be able to work together.

The United States coastal waters are coming clean. That's the conclusion of an 8-year study of chemical residues in shellfish by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency's Mussel Watch Project collected mollusks at more than 240 sites nationwide, then analyzed them for PCBs and other toxic elements such as copper, cadmium, and lead. The report attributed the decline to environmental regulations that have either banned or curtailed emissions of toxic chemicals like DDT.

The Makah Indian Tribe of Washington has voted to resume ceremonial hunting of gray whales, now that the whales have been removed from the Endangered Species List. The move is being closely watched by other tribes who would like to resume cultural hunts. From Living on Earth's Northwest Bureau in Seattle, Terry Fitzpatrick reports.

FITZPATRICK: Makah Indians have not hunted gray whales since 1926, when the US Government intervened to preserve declining whale populations. After decades of protection under the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts, gray whale populations have recovered to more than 20,000 animals. The Makahs plan to kill 5 gray whales next fall for ceremonial and subsistence purposes. The Makahs are the only Indians whose treaty with the US includes the right to hunt whales, and the tribe is known for its efforts to protect whale habitat in the Northwest. The Makahs are asking the International Whaling Commission to sanction the gray whale hunt. Other tribes in the US and Canada hope the Commission will set a precedent allowing Indians to resume small-scale whaling. Senior members of the Washington Environmental Council and Greenpeace say their organizations will not oppose the hunt. For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick in Seattle.

NUNLEY: The computer system the Environmental Protection Agency uses to track hazardous material is almost useless. A General Accounting Office report says the machines, which cost nearly $24 million to design and operate, have error rates as low as 3% and as high as 53% in their databases. The auditors say state EPA offices have fixed the mistakes they know about.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

People are Warming the Planet

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Climate change is controversial, because if humans are the major reason behind the gradual warming of the Earth since the Industrial Revolution, then huge changes in our behavior will be needed to respond. And the challenges will be great. Just remember, for example, that the 10-degree warming that ended the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago moved the eastern US coastline in about 100 miles, putting vast territory underwater. So much is at stake. And while the planet warms up, scientists say, our weather will be highly changeable, with more storms, droughts, and other extremes until the climate finds its new balance. Up until recently, the scientific consensus has been around a projection that if humans didn't reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases, the earth would heat up. But this had been only a projection, without solid proof. After all, the average temperature of the Earth has only risen about half a degree since the last century, and that might be due to the Earth's own natural variability in climate. But now the consensus is shifting. The United Nations panel of leading climate scientists says the predictions of human-induced global warming appear to be coming true.

KARL: We now believe that the evidence is much more in favor of man having an impact on the climate system.

CURWOOD: Thomas Karl is a senior scientist at the National Climatic Data Center in North Carolina, and a member of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. That's the UN body that reviews climate science and recommends policy. In a new draft report that has been circulated on the Internet, the panel says greenhouse gases are almost certainly affecting our climate right now, certain that those changes we're seeing have a unique -

KARL: I think it would be fair to say we're 90 to 95% signature that would not be caused by natural variability alone.

CURWOOD: Thomas Karl is talking about changes in the weather, like the bouts of extreme conditions we've experienced in recent years. The long drought in California, the searing summer of '88, the Midwest flood of '93, this year's rash of hurricanes. Computer models have long predicted increases in these kinds of local weather extremes as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases caused the planet to warm up and climate systems to shift. But there's always bad weather somewhere. And only recently have scientists found what the UN draft report calls, quote, "A pattern of climatic response due to human activities, that is identifiable in the climatological record." That record includes a new review of North America's weather patterns by Karl's research group that was recently published in the journal Nature.

KARL: Some of the data that we had available to us allowed us to look at whether or not temperature was becoming either extremely warm or extremely cold, precipitation and drought on either side of the kind of median category, either being very wet or being very dry, whether that was increasing. And we try and put all these factors together; we find that indeed, since the late 1970s, the extremes have increased.

CURWOOD: In fact, the insurance industry has calculated that even allowing for inflation, 12 of the 13 most expensive weather-related disasters in this century have happened since 1987. This kind of weather analysis is part of the new certainty on climate change. But the computer models which help to project the growing extremes have themselves changed. They've gotten better, researchers say, and been put to the test by some major events influencing the global climate. The biggest of these was the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, which temporarily put a halt to a 10-year string of record high years.

FIROR: The volcano put a great deal of sulfur into the stratosphere and added together, there were enough particles to reflect an appreciable amount of sunlight. And so, some of the modellers took a bold step, and the moment they had a rough estimate of how much sulfur was in the stratosphere, did predictions. Said we predict that the climate will cool a certain amount, and it will start to recover and get back on its track of steadily increasing temperature by a certain date and so forth. And so far, those forecasts turn out to be right on the button.

CURWOOD: And today, after a 2-year cooling caused by the Pinatuubo effect, we've returned to the previous pattern of record hot global temperatures. Scientists say that if greenhouse gas emissions continue as expected, the average world temperature will rise about 1 to 4 degrees Celsius, or 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. And it would rise faster than many natural systems can adapt. Again, Dr. Firor of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

FIROR: Civilization and plants and creatures are quite sensitive to temperature. Some trees have a very narrow range of conditions which they can reproduce, and one of the scary possibilities of a climate change is that forests will need to migrate as they did as the Earth came out of the last Ice Age. It took us thousands of years to get out of the Ice Age. We may be producing a change of similar magnitude in 100 years, and they may not be able to migrate fast enough.

CURWOOD: On the other hand, bacteria, insects, rodents, and other disease-bearing organisms can respond quickly, almost instantly, to changing climate conditions. And rising temperatures are an invitation for them to expand their range. That's led some scientists to speculate that recent outbreaks of diseases like the Plague, Dengue fever, and the Ebola virus, are due to warmer global temperatures. The final language of the new UN report on climate change is still being debated. But most members of the panel we spoke with say there will be few changes when it finally does come out in December. Even before the report is formally released, governments around the world are already reassessing their policies on climate change. Few industrial nations, including the US, have met the voluntary goals of the 1992 International Climate Change Convention. Some Clinton Administration officials privately acknowledge that meeting the more urgent challenge of a climate that is already changing will call for even tougher measures.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Based on what we now know, do you think we should take more action to combat global warming? Call us at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try e-mail; that's LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is 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)

Vineyards Going Organic

CURWOOD: If you are among the growing number of folks who drink wine, you know there's almost a dizzying array of choices out there. There's the variety of grape, of course, but also the soil, the weather, the region; heck, even the barrel could affect the aroma and flavor of wine. And now some wine makers are saying that pesticides, fumigants, and synthetic fertilizers commonly used in many vineyards today have an impact on taste as well. The chemicals can also be expensive and damaging to the environment. As Cy Musiker reports from Northern California, a push to cut costs, boost consumer satisfaction, and protect the environment is leading more and more vineyards to go organic.

(Footfalls in a vineyard)

MUSIKER: Paul Dolan, president of Fetzer Vineyards, is walking by a row of Cabernet Sauvignon at company headquarters in Hopland, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. But Dolan's not looking at the slowly-ripening grapes; he's looking at the ground.

DOLAN: We're farming all of this organic. We have cover crops in all of our organic vineyards. We use things like purple vetch or oats or different types of peas. And the reason we use the cover crops is they attract what we call beneficial insects, so that the insects that used to attack the leaves or attack the fruit now have a predator in their midst, and so we've eliminated the need to have to spray and we've just totally balanced the environment above the soil.

MUSIKER: Many growers are also using cover crops to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers. But Fetzer Vineyards, which makes more than 2 million cases of wine a year, has been the most aggressive winery in California in converting from traditional farm practices to organic. During the past 8 years Fetzer has switched 1,200 of its own acres and encouraged its contract growers to convert 3,000 acres of their land to organic practices. The company is also making a big marketing push for its wine called Bon Terra, whose labels, Dolan says, trumpet the certified organic origins of their grapes.

DOLAN: We've actually started a club of growers so actively involved that they're willing to share the information, willing to spread the word to other farmers throughout California. Because ultimately, our goal is that all of the grapes in California are grown organically by the year 2,000.

MUSIKER: But Fetzer doesn't make organic wine, because like most wineries Fetzer still uses sulfites as a wind preservative. For organic wine, you have to visit some of California's smallest wineries.

(Hammering sounds)

MUSIKER: Tony Corturri is knowing the bung, the wooden plug, out of a barrel at his family's tiny winery on Sonoma Mountain. He draws a sample of 1994 Zinfandel and takes a taste of the dark red wine which will soon be ready for bottling.

CORTURRI: Nothing's added to the wine; it's real simple. Natural yeast fermentation, unfiltered, unrefined. It's a pretty pure representation of the vineyard and the vintage.

MUSIKER: Corturri uses only organic grapes for his 3,500 cases of wine a year, and he doesn't add any sulfur beyond what's used to control mildew in the vineyards. This is organic wine. But Corturri doesn't use his wine's all-organic status as a selling point.

CORTURRI: Because the problem being, it's real easy to get stuck into a niche. In any food industry, and especially in the wine business, if you make a big claim organically grown, no sulfites added, it starts looking like a health food as opposed to a wine. And our position is that number one, it's a fine wine. And oh by the way, and if you're interested, the grapes are grown organically, nothing' s added to the wine.

MUSIKER: This ambivalence runs through much of the wine industry's natural farming movement because, among other things, organic wines, especially whites, have had a poor reputation for quality. Even at Fetzer, which pays a premium to its organic growers, Paul Dolan says he isn't convinced consumers care.

DOLAN: For us it's become more of a philosophical way of operating, and a competitive edge from a quality standpoint. We're not so sure that the consumer really is all that interested in buying environmental products; they just want it to taste good. And what we're saying is, organics makes things taste better.

MUSIKER: It's not that you can taste the agricultural chemicals in other wines, but Dolan claims organic grapes have more of the subtle flavors that make good or great wine. But other factors are also pushing grape farmers to reduce their chemical use. A few growers, Fetzer among them, have managed savings of up to 10% per acre when they switch to organic farming. Growers have also watched state and Federal regulators shrink the arsenal of their available pesticides. Many growers are also worried about farm worker safety and the safety of their own families in homes adjoining the vineyards. Even growers who hesitate at going completely organic are using a lot fewer chemicals.

KLUG: Along the creek here, we just passed one of our owl houses and one of our hawk perches. We've also done some pretty aggressive tree replanting along this riparian corridor...

MUSIKER: We're getting a tour, now, of a vineyard owned by the Robert Mondavi Winery in Carneros, at the southern end of Napa.

KLUG: We've got the hawk perches and owl houses for predatory avian species to help us with mouse problems, gopher problems, vole problems. With the cover crops, they're kind of the down side.

MUSIKER: Vineyard Director Mitchell Klug and wine maker Tim Mondavi are explaining how the winery has developed a new 400-acre vineyard and worked with other growers to restore neighboring Wichika Creek. Tim Mondavi says the winery takes seriously its responsibilities as stewards of the land, but they have no plans to register any vineyards as organic. The winery sometimes uses the mild herbicide Round-Up for weed control. Sustainable methods have meant higher costs, but Mondavi says they've been worth the investment.

MONDAVI: We love what we're doing so much, we want to do it again next year. But we want to do it at a better level. And so we're putting out these experiments to teach us how to do it. So is this change expensive? Yes, it is. Who's at the head of the pack? Who's able to produce better quality? Who's able to command regard for the value of their more expensive wine?

MUSIKER: The Robert Mondavi Winery has switched to integrated pest management and other sustainable techniques in nearly all its 1,200 acres of Napa vineyards. So Mondavi has joined Fetzer and Sutter Home, Buena Vista, even Gallo, which owns the largest organically-farmed vineyard in California, in leading the industry's use of these techniques. Dennis Culver is a full-time integrated pest management consultant to a group of dozens of growers in the Lodi region of the Central Valley.

CULVER: The growers, you know, have 2 options. They can either put their heels down and say we're not going to change and we're going to fight this all the way. Or they can be progressive and say well, we know we're not going to have all of these pesticides to use in the future. We know it's good for the environment and good for the workers and say okay, we need to find another way. And we need to start looking at those now. They are going to have to go back to doing a lot of the things that their grandfathers did.

MUSIKER: Still, there are no hard figures on how many of California's 350,000 acres of wine grapes have been converted from traditional to sustainable farming. Some vineyard consultants guess about a third. But if wineries like Fetzer find commercial success labeling their wines as made from organic grapes, the change in farming practices will surely accelerate. For Living on Earth, I'm Cy Musiker in San Francisco.

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(Music up and under)

Living on Earth Profile #14: Alice Tepper Marlin: An Architect of Green Consuming

CURWOOD: Every time you reach for your wallet or checkbook, you're making a decision about how the world's resources will be used, and the resulting impact on society and the environment. That's the message of Alice Tepper Marlin, Founder and President of the Council on Economic Priorities. For more than 20 years she's been a leader in promoting socially and environmentally responsible investing and consuming, and for almost a decade she has published edition after edition of what some call the Green Consumer's Bible, Shopping for a Better World. As part of our ongoing series on 25 environmental pioneers, reporter Amy Eddings of member station WFUV caught up with Ms. Marlin in Manhattan.

(A shopping basket is rolled)

EDDINGS: I'm grocery shopping with Alice Tepper Marlin. She's brought a copy of Shopping for a Better World with her, and on this sweltering, hot day in Manhattan we stop in front of the ice cream case and look up the different brands. The book grades companies from A to F on 8 issues, including environmental stewardship, the advancement of women and minorities, and charitable giving.

MARLIN: If you wanted to reach for Breyer's ice cream, for instance, you'll find in Shopping for a Better World that it's made by Phillip Morris, a company that's one of the major tobacco sellers, and earned only a D in their environmental stewardship and in charitable giving. It's a sharp contrast with an ice cream right next to it on the counter, Ben and Jerry's. It earned A in virtually every category that we rate.

EDDINGS: CEP is perhaps best known for Shopping for a Better World. When the first edition was published in 1988, the guide was the first of its kind, and with over a million copies sold it's one of the most successful. Four out of five readers told the group they changed brands based on the grades, and over the years many poorly rated companies have asked CEP for suggestions on how to improve. The book became the cornerstone for what's now called green consumerism, and Tepper Marlin believes it's a way of thinking that can have enormous clout.

MARLIN: Green consuming has to do with casting your economic vote as conscientiously as your political vote, every time you step up to the cash register. The everyday decisions we make when we purchase something affect millions of people's lives.

EDDINGS: Alice Tepper Marlin learned about that clout in the late 60s, as a securities analyst on Wall Street. Although the job was exciting, it differed wildly from her civil rights and anti-poverty work.

MARLIN: Every once in a while I would think: gee, the impact I have with my volunteer time up in Harlem is so small compared to the impact I have in the normal course of doing business on Wall Street. So I felt I'd like to be able to live my life in a way that my core work had an effect on the issues I thought were really important.

EDDINGS: In 1970, one year after it was founded, the Council on Economic Priorities published a report on the pollution control records of pulp and paper companies. The negative findings were widely reported, and within 2 years Tepper Marlin says the industry made big improvements. Similar reports on the steel, coal, oil, and nuclear power industries followed. And in 1992, CEP launched its Campaign for Cleaner Corporations, an annual list of the nation's top polluters. Many of these companies now work with the Council to clean up their environmental records. Environmentalists applaud green consumers and for changing what Americans buy, but some critics say it doesn't address the fact that Americans buy too much. Over-consumption and the strain it places on the world's resources is a growing concern of many activists, and they want the CEP to encourage people to buy less. Tepper Marlin says the group already does.

MARLIN: The reason that's not so widely known is because many organizations have that message, and what's unique about the Council on Economic Priorities message is that we give you the knowledge to empower you to cast your economic vote on social and environmental grounds.

EDDINGS: Although her job has always been challenging, Alice Tepper Marlin says the trend toward multinational corporations is making it harder for CEP to accurately track a company's social performance. She says that's because international standards vary widely on social issues like child labor, fair employment, and environmental quality. On her wish list for the future is something like a global securities and exchange commission to establish reporting and disclosure guidelines on social and environmental issues. But that's the future. Right now, it's hot and muggy, and the wish list includes something cool and refreshing. Because of Alice Tepper Marlin and the Council on Economic Priorities, we know what else we're buying when we select that quart of ice cream. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in New York.

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(Rolling supermarket cart, followed by music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's associate producer is Kim Motylewski. Our production team includes Peter Thomson, Deborah Stavro, George Homsy, Constantine Von Hoffman, and Jan Nunley. Also, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, David Dunlap, and Susan Shepherd. Our WBUR engineers are Keith Shields and Frank DeAngelis. Our Harvard engineers are Larry Bouthelliere and Jeff Martini. 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 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 National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.

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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