• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

November 3, 1995

Air Date: November 3, 1995

SEGMENTS

Clinton Administration Takes a Stand / Terry FitzPatrick

Vice President Gore recently announced that President Clinton will veto any bill that includes provisions for oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wilderness Refuge. Terry FitzPatrick reports on the tough new talk coming from the White House on the Alaskan oil drilling question. (03:00)

Energy Conservation: More Action Needed?

Steve Curwood talks with William Moomaw, an International Environmental Policy Professor at Tufts Unviersity and a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Moomaw believes many policies beneficial to the world's climate can be put in place without economic harm. Moomaw further believes more pro-active efforts at energy reduction should go forward because present volunteer actions are not enough to curb the current pace of ozone depletion. (05:08)

Class vs Nature / Michael Silverstein

Commentator Michael Silverstein talks about the ways in which greater environmental awareness can displace workers. Silverstein sees a direct correlation between ecological planning, job losses and a diminished middle class. (02:53)

Michigan Tax Break for the Rich? / Gretchen Millich

Gretchen Millich of Michigan Public Radio reports on the efforts of the Huron Mountain Club to save their land from development with the Open Space Preservation Act. These rarified acres on the shore of Lake Superior may be left undeveloped if approved for a tax break by the state. Some feel the Act is meant for struggling farmers, while others feel it is intended for land protection no matter the class of the land owner. (05:36)

Freon Free in 1996

As of January 1, 1996 car manufacturers in the United States will start selling autos with air conditioning that is CFC(chlorofluorocarbon)-free. Some consumers are confused about what that means and how it may impact them. In this consumer information segment, Steve Curwood talks with Drusilla Hufford of the Environmental Protection Agency on what consumers need to know about this shift in auto air conditioning. (03:27)

The Living on Earth Almanac

(01:00)

AIDS Medicine May Save Cameroon Rain Forest / David Baron

An extract found in the African nation of Cameroon may help AIDS patients and the rainforest itself. David Baron of member station WBUR reports on the recent discovery of a potentially helpful drug in this heavily harvested rainforest, and how the National Cancer Institute is preparing for its possible demand. (08:32)

Pigs to People: Hog Farming Boom / Aileen LeBlanc

In North Carolina, pork now outweighs tobacco as the state's major product. Aileen LeBlanc reports from North Carolina on the environmental impacts of the hog farm boom. Waterways that transport hog waste and drinking water are being especially hard hit by this rising industry. (11:38)

Living on Earth Profile Series #17: Brian Rosborough Watches the Earth for Science / Steve Curwood and Deborah Stavro

In the latest in our series of environmental pioneers, Living on Earth host Steve Curwood and producer Deborah Stavro bring us a glimpse of Brian Rosborough, head of a non-profit called Earthwatch. Earthwatch in Watertown, Massachusetts links paying volunteers to scientific research projects around the globe. Hear how Rosborough got involved. (05:09)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Alex Kirby, Terry FitzPatrick, Gretchen Millich, David Baron, Aileen LeBlanc
GUESTS: William Moomaw, Drusilla Hufford
COMMENTATOR: Michael Silverstein

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. President Clinton says the Republican effort to balance the budget at the expense of environmental protection mortgages too much of our future. His Vice President pledges that Clinton won't compromise over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

GORE: Any reconciliation bill that opens ANWAR to drilling, he will veto. Period. Doesn't matter what else is in the bill.

CURWOOD: Also, controversy over tax breaks for private wilderness. Opponents call it welfare for the rich. But landowners say without help, they'll be forced to sell out to developers.

FARWELL: There is nothing like this in the United States. Nothing. We've got unique property here, and only because those of us who care for it so much have preserved it.

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

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. The West African republic of Nigeria is receiving international condemnation for sentencing environmental activist Ken Sara-wiwa to death. Sara-wiwa is a novelist and president of MOSOP, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. In England the activist's son has demanded that Nigeria be expelled from the British Commonwealth of Nations. From London, Alex Kirby reports.

KIRBY: Ken Sara-wiwa has won international acclaim for his crusade for his fellow Ogonis. They say the activities of international oil giants, especially the joint Dutch-British company Shell, have caused monumental havoc to their homeland, blighting farms and rivers with leaking oil, which often causes devastating fires. The Ogoni also charge the oil companies with denying them a share of their profits. MOSOP is committed to peaceful protest, but in May last year 4 Ogoni chiefs were murdered, allegedly by Sara-wiwa supporters. A special tribunal has sentenced him and 8 colleagues to death. There is no appeal against the sentences, which now await confirmation by Nigeria's military government. Nigeria is a former British colony, and London promptly deplored the sentences, which it said resulted from a flawed legal system. Amnesty International called them an outrage and a travesty of justice. And in the US, the playwright Edward Albee said the sentences were an abomination. Ken Sara-wiwa himself said after sentence had been passed that he had been found guilty before he'd even been tried. Nigeria is expected to face further condemnation later this month then heads of governments from the commonwealth, which groups Britain and its ex-colonies, meet in New Zealand. For Living on Earth, this is Alex Kirby in London.

NUNLEY: The House of Representatives has rejected efforts by Republican leaders to cut environmental regulations. On a 227 to 194 vote the House killed 17 amendments to a spending bill that would have sharply restricted the Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement powers. House and Senate conferees must now try to reconcile their 2 appropriations bills. The House wants to cut the EPA's budget by 34%; the Senate wants to cut 23% of the Agency's funding. This is the third time the House has voted on the EPA amendments. Last August the House also voted to kill the measures but then reversed itself just 4 days later. The White House is still threatening to veto the measure, which would also cut funding for NASA and the Veterans Administration.

The Clinton Administration has cut off insurance to a US mining company that reportedly damaged Indonesia's environment. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a Federal agency providing insurance for US companies abroad, canceled a $100 million policy for the Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Company. It's the first time O-PIC has cut off insurance for environmental or human rights reasons. O-PIC provides insurance against the possibility that a company's overseas assets could be damaged or seized in times of political instability. O-PIC said expansion of Freeport's mining operations harmed tropical rainforests and rivers. The company claims O-PIC lacks a legal basis for canceling the coverage, and will await a final decision through arbitration.

The Chinese government admits it's having trouble relocating people as part of its effort to build the Three Gorges Dam. The official Xinhua News Agency says only 11,000 people living near the dam site have been moved. Nearly 30,000 more people in the area will have to leave in the next 2 years before the Yangtze River is scheduled to be blocked. Xinhua said the resettlement project has become an urgent task for central China's Hubei Province. The 396 mile-long reservoir created by the dam will eventually require relocating more than a million people. Last month the Clinton Administration asked the US Import-Export Bank to refrain from providing loans to US firms seeking contracts for the $27 billion project, citing potential environmental and human rights problems.

Tropical rainforests do work to balance to so-called greenhouse effect. That's according to a new study in the journal Science. Scientists had long thought the forests had little effect on cleaning the atmosphere of excess carbon dioxide because of their age and density. But new findings show they absorb huge amounts of the gas produced by burning fuels. The report found the southwest portion of the Amazon forest alone absorbs about half a ton of carbon dioxide per acre of forest annually. Nearly 4 million acres of the rainforest is destroyed by logging and fire every year.

Well, it isn't only environmental activists who are attacking Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich. Recently, the Speaker of the House was bitten on the chin by a baby cougar. Gingrich, an avowed animal lover, was nuzzling the feline brought to a fellow Congressman's office from the Columbus Zoo. The Speaker shrugged off the attack, explaining, quote, "It's teething. These are wild animals." Unquote.

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

Back to top

(Theme music up and under)

Clinton Administration Takes a Stand

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As House and Senate Republicans begin reconciling their different versions of the Federal budget, the Clinton Administration is toughening its stance on cuts affecting the environment. Vice President Al Gore is predicting that the Republicans don't have the votes to enact many of the changes they're proposing. And the Vice President is pledging that the White House won't cave in to Republican demands for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick has more.

FITZPATRICK: President Clinton has threatened to veto a wide range of Republican-backed bills involving the environment, including measures to scale back the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Park Service. Now, he says he'll veto the entire Federal budget, because it contains a rider opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. However, Clinton has backed down on the only environmental veto of his administration. Earlier this year, he rejected a budget measure that allowed logging of trees damaged by forest fires. Then, Clinton turned around and approved the salvage logging bill with only minor changes. Vice President Gore says that won't happen again. He says Clinton will not give in when it comes to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as ANWAR.

GORE: Any reconciliation bill that opens ANWAR to drilling, he will veto. Period. Doesn't matter what else is in the bill. If they satisfied us on 100% of every single, of every other item in that bill, and they opened ANWAR to drilling, he will veto it.

FITZPATRICK: Gore's tough rhetoric came in a speech before the Society of Environmental Journalists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It reaffirms the Administration's belief that the Republican revolution is foundering on issues concerning the environment, and that there is political ground to be made by the Democrats. Congressional leaders have seen growing defections of GOP moderates on bills relaxing pollution regulations. Gore says the Republicans know they're vulnerable on the environment. As proof, he quoted a recent memo advising GOP members of Congress to shore up their environmental image by attending a tree planting or cleaning up a park. "The time to act is now," the memo says, "before your opponents can label your efforts craven election-year gimmicks."

GORE: It then proceeds to list a menu full of craven election-year gimmicks. This document, and the approach it represents, is breeding ground for cynicism. It describes in some detail how elected officials can hoodwink their constituents to pretend that they're in sync with public concerns for safe and clean water, fresh air, and sustainable lands.

FITZPATRICK: Gore claims the political tide is turning on environmental issues. But it's unclear if the Administration can get its way through a veto showdown with Congress. But winning the Congressional debate may not be the Administration's only concern. Both sides seem to sense the power of environmental issues with voters, and are jockeying for position as they look ahead to the '96 elections. For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick in Boston.

Back to top

 

Energy Conservation: More Action Needed?

CURWOOD: Vice President Gore has also chided the Republican Congress for cutting energy conservation measures that could save more oil than what lies beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Energy conservation would also help efforts to reduce the threat of global warming. Along with many other countries, the US is way behind in its efforts to meet the goals of the international climate change agreement. Some say the Clinton Administration's voluntary program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions simply doesn't go far enough. Among them is William Moomaw, Professor of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University and a member of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Dr. Moomaw helped write the part of the upcoming report that looks at the potential impact of global warming. He says stronger policies could reduce the threat of climate shifts without causing economic harm.

MOOMAW: This report does 2 things. It first of all suggests that we, there is a stronger consensus that human activity is leading to global warming. Secondly, it identifies strategies and opportunities which are low-risk and low-cost, and which would be effective in slowing the increase of greenhouse gases.

CURWOOD: So, in other words, there's a lot of room for improvement that wouldn't really cost us anything.

MOOMAW: That's right. Reductions of carbon dioxide, for example, of 25%, could be implemented just in the normal turnover of capital stock, of new factory equipment, of new power plants over the next few years. Also, the analysis shows that much to many people's surprise, the industrial sectors of the industrial countries, that is, Europe, Japan, and North America, US and Canada, have actually been relatively flat in carbon dioxide emissions for the last 20 years. So that as we're talking about can we slow the growth of industrial emissions, we have actually already slowed them without any policies. And so what that raises for many of us is the question: what sorts of policies might actually lead to reductions?

CURWOOD: Let me be clear about what we've accomplished so far and ask you: is this enough?

MOOMAW: Unfortunately, because we're still putting these gases into the atmosphere faster than they're being taken out by plants and the ocean, carbon dioxide, for example, will continue to grow even if we were to stabilize our emission. It's as though we're filling a bathtub faster than the water can drain out. If we wanted to keep things the way they are today, one of the other working groups has made estimates that we would probably have to reduce our carbon emissions by 50% or 70%.

CURWOOD: Otherwise the climate's going to change from what we today.

MOOMAW: Exactly.

CURWOOD: How effective is US policy in reducing carbon dioxide emissions?

MOOMAW: Well, the US has decided to try to do this on a voluntary basis. So there's some very interesting voluntary programs. The Environmental Protection Agency has its Green Lights program, where industries replace lighting with more efficient lighting, and basically what they get for it is a cost saving and a pat on the back. And a lot of companies, big corporations have done this. It's now pretty clear that those are not going to be enough to achieve the goal of stabilization, however.

CURWOOD: What should we be doing? How much should we be " should we be stabilizing or should we be reducing?

MOOMAW: Well, as I said, if we really want to prevent the effects of climate change, we're going to have to reduce. I think that one of the things that they need to do is not only to address voluntary programs at the large corporations. I think they also need to look at what municipalities can do to reduce energy, what states can do, and to provide information and opportunities for individuals to reduce their energy consumption.

CURWOOD: Give me some suggestions about what towns should be doing, what states should be doing, what individuals should be doing.

MOOMAW: Well, if you think about the number of vehicles that are owned by the state and municipalities, there's an enormous opportunity to reduce the fuel consumption, both in terms of purchasing more efficient automobiles and in terms of the way in which they're scheduled and used. Much of the gains that we've already achieved in terms of energy efficient municipal and state buildings, there's a lot of new technology since that was done back in the 70s that could provide additional gains. Working on more efficient ride share programs, public transportation commuter programs, there are a lot of things that could be done.

CURWOOD: And individuals?

MOOMAW: Again, there's been some major new technologies in windows, in lighting, in insulation. Many of these things are relatively inexpensive and also the next time one buys a new appliance, appliances are all labeled with energy-efficient labels. Look at the energy label. Get the most energy-efficient one. And even if each household were to simply reduce its energy use by 10%, it would show up in the national statistics.

CURWOOD: William Moomaw is Professor of International Environmental Policy and Director of the International Environmental and Resource Program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Thank you, sir.

MOOMAW: Thank you.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Does your car have air conditioning? Some advice about how to cope with the new Federal rules on freon, coming up later in this half hour of Living on Earth. stick around.

(Music up and under)

Class vs Nature

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. An economy that emits fewer greenhouse gases will be a more efficient economy, and if you think that means a more socially just society, you should think again, says commentator Michael Silverstein.

SILVERSTEIN: Politically speaking, environmentalism has been part of a laundry list of good causes since the 1960s. If you thought protecting nature was an important national priority, it has long been assumed you also support higher minimum wages for workers, gender parity, lifting up oppressed minorities and kindred causes. But as the reality of a new environmental economics takes hold, such a moral and ego-gratifying synergism faces increasing intellectual challenges. Yes, greening is certainly a more evolved form of economic behavior which uses energy and raw materials more efficiently, producing less waste, that is to say less pollution, in the process. And yes, greening makes a company or country more internationally competitive. And yes, one can no more opt not to green one's economy than opt not to computerize one's company, simply because the process is costly and difficult.

But a more evolved, efficient, and competitive economy is not necessarily one that brings about uniform prosperity. Indeed, it usually seems to work in ways that favor the few over the many, accentuate the have and have-not schism, and increasingly help bring about a 19th century economic inequality based on 21st century technology and management approaches. The dirty little secret of environmental economics is thus that the greening of the US economy, so long a questing beast of the environmental community, is by its very nature bringing about changes more akin to social Darwinism than social justice.

Environmental regulations, for example, are proportionately far more painful for smaller firms than larger ones. The near doubling of unemployment among middle managers since 1960 is closely related to corporate restructuring indistinguishable from greening initiatives. Countless unskilled union members have fallen from the middle class because of efficiency-based, ecologically sound capital investments.

It is easy and comforting to side with the angels on every issue. The pinch comes when support for one set of good works precludes support for another. Soon enough environmentalists may have to decide whether they want a super-efficient, ecologically sound and sustainable society purchased at the expense of Americans whose place at the table was tied to performing inefficient marketplace functions, or a less ecologically-sound society with a social system not so warped by extremes. Where do your true priorities lie? In preserving the endangered American middle class? Or preserving America's natural ecology? Which side are you on?

CURWOOD: Commentator Michael Silverstein is the author of The Environmental Economic Revolution. He comes to us courtesy of member station WHYY, Philadelphia.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Michigan Tax Break for the Rich?

CURWOOD: Just about all of us have to worry about taxes, but there is one set of people that is particularly vulnerable: the owners of large tracts of open land anywhere near developing areas. Many states have passed laws that give a tax break to people who don't sell out to developers. Recently, an exclusive private club in Michigan's Upper Peninsula cited the state's Farmland and Open Space Preservation Act in a bid to save nearly $100,000 in real estate taxes. But as Michigan Public Radio's Gretchen Millich reports, local residents complain that would force them to subsidize a rich enclave where ordinary townspeople aren't even welcome.

(Footfalls and flowing water)

FARWELL: We're standing at the north end of Mountain Lake. Very frequently we see eagles here, and loons. Last time I saw 2 pairs of loons.

MILLICH: Frank Farwell stands on the rocky shores of Mountain Lake. Aside from members of the Huron Mountain Club, very few people have ever njoyad this view.

FARWELL: It's a lovely spot and of course there are a lot of hardwoods, particularly over there and on this side. The color in the fall is just breathtaking, absolutely breathtaking.

MILLICH: Farwell is president of the Huron Mountain Club and he's proud of this rugged wilderness on the shores of Lake Superior. Some of the largest trees in the country are found here, and rare and endangered plants and flowers grow undisturbed. Farwell says that's the legacy of the Huron Mountain Club.

FARWELL: There is nothing like this in the United States. Nothing. We've got unique property here, and only because those of us who care for it so much have preserved it.

MILLICH: The club was established over 100 years ago by a group of families of wealth and position. Members agreed at that time to leave the forest and lakes in their natural state. Today, descendants of those same families still enjoy the privileges of this private vacation spot. But Farwell fears that future generations may have to sell off some of the land to pay property taxes. To prevent this the club has applied for tax relief under Michigan's Farmland and Open Space Preservation Act, a tax break primarily sought by farmers in the lower peninsula who are under pressure to sell off their land to developers. The law gives them a tax break so it's to their advantage to keep their property undeveloped. Anne Wiodoe of the Sierra Club in Lansing supports such a tax reduction for the Huron Mountain Club.

WIODOE: Michigan has lost a large number of similar kinds of parcels to the Huron Mountain Club over the last decade or two, because hunt clubs and other associations that used to be able to afford these kinds of large, wild parcels no longer can. People just plain don't have the kind of resources or the kinds of interests that they used to have 50 or 60 years ago. So because it's unique, because of its location and because of the way it's been managed, it really needs to be maintained as a whole parcel.

MILLICH: Laws like Michigan's could ultimately serve as models for broader national programs, according to Laura Rose-Day of the National Wildlife Federation.

ROSE-DAY: Absolutely. The debate over how public and private benefits from land will be reconciled is a debate that certainly has swept the country, and often in unproductive fashion. And this is potentially, these kinds of programs are potentially a positive ground upon which people can come up with solutions to protecting biological diversity.

(Ambient conversation, clinking silverware)

MILLICH: Down the road at the bar at the Thunder Bay Inn, people in the local community think that talk about national models is only so much rhetoric. Karen Kiskis lives in Big Bay.

KISKIS: It's not meant for large, rich landowners to get a tax break. It's meant for people downstate whose land is being encroached by suburbs. Poor farmers, one-family farmers. I look at it as giving welfare to the 50 richest families in the state.

MILLICH: But Rick Jamieson of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs says it doesn't matter whether the owner is rich or poor. The law was intended to keep large tracts of land undeveloped.

JAMIESON: The government is full of tax breaks for the rich. There are many rich farmers that have benefited from this program as well as Federal programs. So I'm not sure this is anything different. Many large landowners tend to be wealthy, but that wasn't the point. It's not so much a subsidy of the rich as it's seen as a necessary tool to keep large parcels of land under one ownership.

MILLICH: Anne Wiodoe of the Sierra Club calls this concept the third wave of environmentalism. The idea that people will support a wilderness preserve with their tax dollars, knowing that in order to protect it they must never visit the area.

WIODOE: Understanding and providing for future generations is something that I think most people now realize is something we have to do with land. We don't just provide it for those who are here today. We provide it for future generations, and if we don't do it now that land will be gone.

MILLICH: Michigan's Department of Natural Resources is now reviewing the application, and says it appears to meet the basic criteria. A final decision is expected later this fall.

CURWOOD: That report from Michigan Public Radio's Gretchen Millich.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Freon Free in 1996

CURWOOD: As of January first, it will no longer be legal in the US to make CFC refrigerants, the most famous of which is known by its brand name Freon. This of course is the stuff that destroys the stratospheric ozone layer. One of the main uses of Freon is car air conditioners. Since 1994, car ACs have been made with new ozone-friendly chemicals. That's fine for drivers of new cars, but what about the rest of us who drive older ones? With the manufacturing ban and stories about the smuggling of CFCs, there's a common perception that drivers won't be able to get Freon to recharge their systems. Drusilla Hufford of the US Environmental Protection Agency says that's just not true.

HUFFORD: Unfortunately, there's a fairly widespread misimpression that what the Montreal Protocol and the Clean Air Act controls on the ozone-depleting substances, the CFCs, really means, is that everybody has to change over their air conditioning units, either in their cars or any other place on January first, '96. The reality is, the controls we have in place affect production only, and not use of the ozone-depleting chemicals. But EPA has been concerned about the possibility of consumers being misled. Because of that we've put out a whole range of fact sheets and we also have a hot line, which consumers can call. It's at 1-800-296-1996. And find out a little bit about conversions and about the retrofit program generally.

CURWOOD: So there's nothing to be worried about, then.

HUFFORD: Well, the reality for drivers of old cars, and I'm one of those, I have an '81 Mustang, is that we'll be able to find CFC-12 to use in our auto air conditioners for some time, probably.

CURWOOD: So, if you have a car that uses Freon, CFC-12, today, you don't have to worry, you're not going to be required to get rid of that air conditioning unit.

HUFFORD: We're not recommending conversions unless people have had, for example, some kind of major collision or are having other work done for some other reason, like a catastrophic compressor failure. But in cases where people do retrofit, costs are anywhere from $200 to $800 depending on the make and the model of the car.

CURWOOD: That's to put in essentially a whole brand new system.

HUFFORD: Exactly. That's to retrofit to, in most cases what people are moving to is HFC-134a.

CURWOOD: What does that mean, HFC-134a?

HUFFORD: Well, in terms of cooling capacity it doesn't mean much. We understand that the performance of this material is quite similar. The important thing for consumers who care about the ozone layer to know is that it doesn't have any chlorine in it, so it doesn't damage the ozone layer.

CURWOOD: How are the supplies of Freon right now?

HUFFORD: Supplies seem to be really quite high. There's been a fair amount of concern about the transition for some years, and it appears to us that many people in the industry have stockpiled, and that there are probably going to be reserves for at least the next several years. Now that doesn't mean that prices over time won't go up. But it does mean that people are not likely to be caught without any available supply of CFC-12 for existing equipment.

CURWOOD: Drusilla Hufford is acting director of the EPA's Stratospheric Protection Division. Again, the EPA hot line number for questions about car air conditioning is 1-800-296-1996. That's 1-800-296-1996.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major support from the Joyce Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in 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.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: A cure for AIDS? Not exactly, but an extract from a plant found in an African tropical rainforest apparently does stop the AIDS virus in its tracks. That and more coming up in the second half of Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. A lot of us love eating pork. But neighbors of huge hog factory farms say they are polluting the air and the water, and make it hard for people who herd swine in more sustainable ways to earn a living. Also, we meet the founder of the Earthwatch expeditions in this half hour of NPR's Living on Earth. But first, this week's almanac.

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Ninety-five years ago Anton Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya premiered in Moscow. It contains one of literature's most eloquent pleas for protecting the environment.

(PINE: "What must human beings be to destroy what they can never create? God's given us reason and power of thought so that we may improve our lot and what do we use these powers for but waste? We've destroyed our forests, our rivers run dry, our wildlife is all but extinct, our climate ruined. And every day, every day where everyone looks our life is more hideous.")

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: That was Larry Pine as Dr. Astrov in Louis Malle's film "Vanya on Forty-Second Street". The destruction of the forest as a metaphor for the destruction of civilization runs throughout Russian literature, from Pushkin to Tolstoy to Pasternak, and, of course Chekhov.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

AIDS Medicine May Save Cameroon Rain Forest

CURWOOD: Natural medicines from plants hidden in the world's tropical forests could be worth billions to humanity, scientists say, if those medicines can be discovered before the forests are destroyed. Some environmental activists suggest that such discoveries could help save rainforests. Many companies engaged in drug prospecting have promised to pay royalties to the nations where drugs are discovered to encourage conservation. Thus some say markets can be used to protect the rainforests. But others say that should a miracle drug be found, it might well set off a stampede that would wreck the ecosystem. David Baron of member station WBUR traveled to the African national of Cameroon to check on the habitat of a plant that holds strong promise in the fight against AIDS.

(Bird calls, walks through the jungle)

BARON: Johnson Jato has come to a hillside on the outskirts of Cameroon's capital Yaounde, as the sun sinks beyond the small homes and plantain trees in this lush tropical landscape. Jato, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Yaounde, stoops in the middle of a clearing in the weeds to check on his plants.

JATO: This is one of them. They started small, but now they are growing.

BARON: The plants look like tiny trees with slender, pointed, shiny leaves. Full grown, the plants will become vines, growing high into the rainforest canopy. Jato and others believe this plant species, with the unwieldy name ancistrocladus korupensis, could help solve 2 worldwide crises: the destruction of the world's rainforests and the AIDS epidemic. The plants contain a compound called michellemine-B, which in the test tube at least stops the AIDS virus cold.

JATO: It's in the leaves. We have tried to test every other part beginning from the main trunk to the small branches, but we haven't seen michelemine-B in any other part of the plant.

BARON: No one knows if michellemine-B will turn out to be a useful AIDS drug. Studies show while it can keep HIV from reproducing, it may also be toxic. US researchers hope to try the compound in AIDS patients for the first time this year. There's a lot of excitement surrounding michellemine-B. It's the most promising find so far in a decade-long program run by the United States government.

CRAGG: The goal is to explore nature as a potential resource for drug discovery.

BARON: Gordon Cragg heads the Natural Products branch of the US National Cancer Institute. Since 1986, Cragg's program has screened some 70,000 chemical extracts of plants, animals, and microbes from tropical rainforests and coral reefs. The main purpose has been to find new cancer and AIDS drugs. But Cragg says there's a secondary goal.

CRAGG: We are very interested in trying to promote conservation. And the hope is that if we get a good drug this will be an incentive. That countries will realize that natural resources do have potential in this area.

BARON: Many valuable drugs have come from the rainforests including quinine for malaria, and the powerful anti-cancer drugs vinblastine and vincristine. Pharmaceutical companies have gotten rich off such drugs. The countries where the drugs were found have gotten nothing. Cragg wants to see that change. The National Cancer Institute has promised as part of its decade-old program that if it finds any drugs the country of origin will receive royalties. Some pharmaceutical companies have followed the NCI's example, and are conducting their own searches for rainforest drugs. Again, with the promise of royalties. But Gordon Cragg says drug development takes many years and no marketable medicines have yet been developed from any of these new efforts. Michellemine-B could be the first.

CRAGG: In many ways, michellemine-B could be the interesting trial case here of just how is this going to work.

(Motors, honking horn)

BARON: In the Cameroonian port of Douala, giant logs from ancient trees lie stacked row upon row ready to be shipped overseas and made into furniture, plywood, and window frames. Cameroon is losing its forests at one of the highest rates in Africa. When the National Cancer Institute discovered that the ancistrocladus vine, an unknown species a decade ago, produces michellemine-B, a potential AIDS drug, environmentalists were thrilled. It was a chance to demonstrate in concrete terms the value of leaving Cameroon's forests standing. But Steve Gartlan, a representative in Cameroon for the Worldwide Fund for Nature, soon realized there was a problem. The discovery could actually fuel destruction of the forests.

GARTLAN: If it got out in the Western press that ancistroclatis was a cure for AIDS, there would be charter flights arriving in Yaounde. There would be uncontrolled searching, ripping off of the forest to find these plants. You would run the risk of getting the whole forest completely destroyed in the uncontrolled search for these plants.

BARON: So, Gartlan's organization is working with the National Cancer Institute to prepare for the possible overwhelming demand for ancistrocladus leaves if michellemine-B proves effective. The plan now is to domesticate the plant, to turn it into a cash crop that farmers can grow, so people don't have to scour the rainforest for wild vine.

(Running motor, birdsong)

BARON: At a small nursery in the rainforest in central Cameroon, forestry worker Christopher Njoya is raising large numbers of tiny ancistrocladus vines. Njoya has learned to grow the plants from stem cutting, and he's had good success in getting the cuttings to root.

NJOYA: We have rooting rates up to about 70% in 3, 4 weeks.

BARON: Njoya is trying to breed plants with especially high levels of michellemine-B, and thus especially high value. And he's learning how to grow the plants outside their native habitat so they can be grown on farms outside the rainforest. Some test farms have begun cultivating the vine. If michellemine-B proves to be a viable treatment or cure for AIDS, the drug could have a market in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Joseph Edou, economic advisor to Cameroon's prime minister, says this vine could provide his poor country with 2 new sources of income.

EDOU: One for farmers and one for the government. The farmer can benefit it as a personal revenue, and the government can get royalties in the public treasury.

BARON: But here again, some environmentalists question if the National Cancer Institute program will achieve its desired goal of promoting conservation. After all, if Cameroonians can grow the ancistrocladus vine outside the rainforest, what incentive will they have to protect the forest? Furthermore, Cameroon's government has made no promises that any royalties it receives will be used on conservation programs. Gordon Cragg of the US National Cancer Institute says he hopes and expects some of the money would go in that direction, but he can't mandate how another government spends its funds.

CRAGG: This is perceived as a weakness in this whole compensation issue. That are you sure that it's going to get back to the right people? But the, you know, the rationale for promoting conservation is, well, gosh, we've found a plant that's produced a potential anti-AIDS drug, a plant which was literally unknown in that region. What else is there out there in your forest? Hopefully this will provide that incentive to many countries around the world to conserve and look at their resources.

BARON: Environmentalists who agree with this concept still have one nagging fear. What if, as could well happen, michellemine-B proves to be ineffective or too toxic when tried in AIDS patients? What if no drugs are found in Cameroon's rainforests? Could the National Cancer Institute's program backfire? After all, the program encourages forest preservation for economic reasons. If a country has no medicines waiting to be harvested in its forests, it might conclude by that same economic logic that the rational course of action is to continue turning its trees into lumber. For Living on Earth, this is David Baron reporting.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Pigs to People: Hog Farming Boom

CURWOOD: Nationwide, more and more meat is being produced from factory farms where thousands of animals are concentrated into small spaces. In North Carolina, for example, so many hogs are being raised on factory farms that pork has replaced tobacco as the state's top agricultural product. Most of North Carolina's hogs are owned by a few large corporations, and are raised on contract at what used to be family farms. Critics charge that confinement hog farming causes air and water pollution and undercuts producers who use more sustainable methods. From member station WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina, Aileen LeBlanc has our report.

LeBLANC: The sign on the dirt road which turns into Ronny Mathis' farm has the picture of a pig, the words, "Prestage Farms," and the name of the Mathis' farm Triple-M. These small aluminum signs are seen frequently in Bladen and Sampson counties in North Carolina. Prestage is one of the state's large corporate pork producers, and Ronny Mathis is a contract farmer for the company. Mathis, and his father before him, had dedicated much of their farmland to tobacco, but he's recently added confinement hog houses.

MATHIS: Everybody's, you know, against tobacco these days. If the tobacco fails, or something happens to it, maybe we can you know survive now, you know.

LeBLANC: The hogs here were born and raised on other farms. They're fattened, or "finished," on the Mathis farm until they're ready for slaughter. Nearly 10,000 hogs are kept in what's called total confinement in 13 separate houses. They eat here, sleep here, and drop their waste here, which falls through the slatted floor to a pit below. Ronny Mathis.

MATHIS: You fill the bottom of the house with about 18, 12 to 18 inches of water, and then once a week we pull the plug and turn that water out into the lagoon, and then pump new water back into the house, what we call recharge it, once a week.

LeBLANC: The water, which is flushed from beneath the hog houses, carries with it a week's worth of waste from the pigs. It flows through pipes into one of 2 clay-lined lagoons, each of which holds the waste from about 5,000 hogs. The waste decomposes a few days before being sprayed on adjacent fields as fertilizer. It's an efficient way of farming. A lot of animals are raised on very little land and their abundant, nutrient-rich byproducts are used to grow needed crops. But the efficiency has come at a cost: to the environment and to the neighbors. A few years ago Roger Picket had a hog operation move into his neighborhood in Duplin County.

PICKET: Anytime I get an east-northeast wind, no wind, high humidity, about any of those conditions, all of a sudden you get a very sharp, distinct smell of urine and feces. I mean, hog urine has its own unique smell; it's sharp, it's very sharp. In 1993 I had 262 stink days.

LeBLANC: Neighbors also complain of health problems from the ammonia-laden hog waste odor. Common complaints are of eye and throat irritation. But research has also found that residents who are exposed to the smells are more depressed, tense, angry, fatigued, and confused. The problems come not from raising hogs per se, but from squeezing 10 and 12,000 animals on a very few acres.

LEWIS: That's not a farmer back there; he's not a farmer.

LeBLANC: Gail Lewis is an officer with the Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry. A row of hog houses was built behind her residence in rural Pender County.

LEWIS: This is an industry? This is just like a factory back there; had a factory been going to come back there I would have been notified, I would have seen about it in the newspaper, I would have had a shot at talking against it or having some say-so. There would have been a permitting process. It's incredible. They're hiding under rules that were put in to protect Old MacDonald's Farm, and that is not Mr. MacDonald back there.

LeBLANC: Just how different these types of farms are became clear last summer with the incident at Ocean View Farm.

(Motor running. A man speaks: "This is a whole in the dike and it could be kind of a weak point from here on in....")

LeBLANC: On June 21st, 25 million gallons of waste from a 10,000 hog facility on Onslow County poured through a hole in the farm's lagoon dike and flowed over fields, roads, and into the tributaries of the new river.

(Vehicle sounds continue)

LeBLANC: Dump trucks filled with clay rolled in and repair on the dike began, but the damage was done. Within days thousands of fish were dead and health officials warned summer boaters, skiers, and swimmers to stay out of the water. Dr. Joanne Burkholder of North Carolina State University was among a handful of scientists who rushed to the scene.

BURKHOLDER: We found no dissolved oxygen even in the very top of the water column, and fish had died, begun to suffocate and were dying along the banks, and also were up in the bushes where the water had come through with a little more force, lying dead. The other problem that we noticed was extremely high counts of fecal coloform bacteria. The state standard is 200 colonies per 100 milliliters in surface waters in that area, and we were measuring as high as about 6-and-a-half million.

LeBLANC: The Oceanview spill only the first of a rash of accidents which ultimately prompted North Carolina governor Jim Hunt to order inspections of the state's near-4,000 chicken and hog lagoons. About half the inspections are done, and inspectors so far found 49 major waste violations. Some because of improper management, but some the result of intentional violations. Debbie Crane is with the Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources.

CRANE: And what we have seen has ranged from really horrible " in Pitt County we found a guy who, he put in a series of pipes that took it right down to a stream. That's the really bad one. We found in Green County a gentleman who basically had killed every tree within about a half mile of one side of his farm, because he was just letting it run over the edge of his lagoon and it was just, you couldn't tell where the lagoon began and the swamp began. They ran together.

ROSE: Anybody that willfully causes hog waste or pollution to go into our streams should not just be fined. They should be criminally prosecuted.

LeBLANC: Charlie Rose represents a significant portion of North Carolina's hog country in Congress.

ROSE: I've had developers come to me, people who develop subdivisions, and they would just, in horror, they would say if we allowed 500 gallons of human waste to leak out into a public creek or into a river, you all would put us under the jail.

LeBLANC: Rose is pushing Governor Hunt and the state legislature to tighten regulations on the hog industry. The governor has responded to the outcry caused by the string of lagoon failures by appointing a blue ribbon commission to study the industry and perhaps propose changes. The commission members have their work cut out for them. A recent series in the Raleigh News and Observer documented the influence of hog industry leaders on North Carolina politics. The owner of one of the largest pork producing companies spent years in the North Carolina legislature making state laws friendly to hog growers. Producers are currently exempt from some state sales taxes and all county zoning restrictions, and their liability for environmental offenses is limited. Since 1990, corporate pork producers and others directly related to the industry have contributed $440,000 to Governor Hunt and others in political power. Neither the Governor, nor former state legislator and hog producer Wendell Murphy, were available for interviews. But other key figures are proud to speak of where the industry is in North Carolina and how the state helped it to grow.

FAISON: I think North Carolina, basically, is I think, Governor Hunt, the whole government is business friendly.

LeBLANC: Sonny Faison is President of Caroll's Foods, another of North Carolina's biggest pork producers.

FAISON: But I think that they could show and you could prove in North Carolina, we are as environmentally sound as any state in the union, too. But we try to work, I think the government here tries to work with business, not against it as it does is some more liberal states.

LeBLANC: Faison acknowledges that there have been problems with some hog operations. But he says these have largely been confined to non-corporate facilities, a contention that is backed up by the state inspectors. And Faison says North Carolina is already addressing any lingering concerns. Even before this year's series of accidents and the appointment of the Blue Ribbon Commission, tighter regulations were being phased in. Faison says Caroll's Foods Farms are in compliance with the new 0200 regulations 2 years ahead of the deadline.

FAISON: We welcome the 0200 regulation. We think that the hog business needs them. We're going to operate under them. We feel that once this is done, that the disasters we've seen in the hog business, which, the word disaster, I'm even using it, but I call them minor spills. Once they will be avoided, that there will be no damage whatsoever, and that after a couple of years of operating like this on a very sound basis once again the public image will reverse, and all the hog industry will have the respect that's deserved if they operate properly.

LeBLANC: Faison's assurances, the new regulation, and Blue Ribbon Commission haven't satisfied critics. They say that even if all the lagoons are properly built and maintained and the farms operated according to guidelines, there are inherent problems in dealing with the sheer volume of hog waste being created on confinement farms. Hog farm neighbor Roger Picket.

PICKET: When you're putting out that large volume in an area, it can't soak it up. Average land around here, no way.

LeBLANC: Waste that isn't absorbed can still enter local waterways and groundwater supplies. In recent months, drinking wells have been found contaminated and over 10 million fish been killed in southeast North Carolina in recent months due, scientists suspect, to nutrient overloading from animal and human waste and fertilizer runoff.

(Motor running)

LeBLANC: Back at his farm, Ronny Mathis says a few bad apples in the business need to be dealt with. But he says, if America wants plenty of pork, they have to accept some unpleasant circumstances.

MATHIS: There's only a minute number of farmers, compared to the population of the United States, and we're feeding all of the United States. And we're doing it cheaper than any other country in the world. People eat cheaper here than they do anywhere in the world, and sometimes you have to, you know, accept things that " to each cheap, you might not normally, you know, want to do.

LeBLANC: And the industry continues to grow. Hogs outnumber people in North Carolina now. And in one area the ratio of pigs to people is 25 to 1. But the question of how many hogs is too many remains. North Carolina is now slaughtering 40,000 hogs a day, and another packing plant capable of slaughtering 30,000 more is looking to locate in the state. For Living on Earth, I'm Aileen LeBlanc in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Just ahead on Living on Earth, citizen helpers for scientists in exotic places.

(Music up and under)

Living on Earth Profile Series #17: Brian Rosborough Watches the Earth for Science

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Throughout the year, Living on Earth has been profiling American environmental pioneers. This week we meet Brian Rosborough, founding president of the research organization Earthwatch. It was Rosborough's brainstorm to send paying volunteers on scientific expeditions around the world.

(Computer sounds, beeps, dolphin speech. Man: "Panels fit.")

CURWOOD: A half-dozen volunteers in Hawaii are helping scientists teach dolphins language, which will also help us learn how human language evolved. It's one of nearly 2,000 scientific research expeditions in 100 countries that have been sponsored by Earthwatch, a nonprofit organization in Watertown, Massachusetts. Over the past 20 years, Earthwatch has established a new approach to environmental research which makes scientific research assistants out of ordinary citizens. Scientists from many fields, physics, archaeology, geology, medicine, apply to Earthwatch for help funding and staffing their field expeditions. Volunteers sign up with the scientists of their choice and contribute 2 or 3 weeks of free labor and a share of the expedition costs. In return, they gain firsthand scientific field experience, often in remote regions inaccessible to the general public. They track timber wolves in Minnesota, sift through archaeological digs in Mallorca, collect insects from Peru's tree canopy, rise at 5 in the morning to band song birds in Canada.

(Dolphins sounds, whistles)

CURWOOD: Creating such an unusual organization and making it fly required a combination of dedicated environmentalist, high flying adventurer, and hard-nosed entrepreneur. In essence, a business executive in a wetsuit. That person was founding president Brian Rosborough.

ROSBOROUGH: In the early years I was in volcanoes, I've dived on wrecks, I've been in the canopies of forest trees. Over the years I have tended to go on projects that seemed to have more risk involved.

CURWOOD: Risk has been a familiar theme in Rosborough's career. As a former Wall Street investment banker and attorney, Rosborough specialized in corporate acquisitions, until the day he was approached by scientists at the Smithsonian to sponsor an expedition to Africa. he volunteered himself and left Wall Street behind. Today he uses his business acumen to help scientists get more support for constructive ideas.

ROSBOROUGH: The way Earthwatch works is to look for agents of change, people who are vectors in some sense to solving a problem. And we take that quest and then take it public. We sell shares, so that you have a chance to involve yourself in the solution of the problem.

CURWOOD: Rosborough's entrepreneurial approach helped Earthwatch become the third largest private funder of science research in an era of scarce dollars and endangered ecosystems worldwide. And Earthwatch's unique team approach has inspired others. Montana State University biologist Bob Crabtree led an Earthwatch expedition to track coyote, elk, and bison in Yosemite. Then, using Earthwatch as his model, he started his own organization.

CRABTREE: In times of shrinking budgets and increasing environmental concerns, it's really provided an excellent option in order to sustain research and education programs.

CURWOOD: But Crabtree says money isn't the most valuable contribution that volunteers bring to research expeditions.

CRABTREE: I was just amazed at the quality of people that attend these expeditions. It's like the best students you could ever imagine. Not only do they contribute funds to work but they really come ready to go, and the quality of work that you get is very excellent. And you know, being an educator, there's no better feeling than having a great student leave very happy, and feeling that they've really accomplished something.

CURWOOD: Among the accomplishments of environmental organizations such as Earthwatch are hard-won legislative victories. Volunteers protecting nesting leatherback turtles on a beach in the Virgin Islands led to the creation of a national wildlife refuge. And on Hawaii, thousands of pieces of data collected by Earthwatch volunteers helped win legislation to protect the endangered pelila bird. Expeditions like these are hard work that people pay to do, but Earthwatch volunteers like Innes McDade aren't complaining.

MCDADE: My fantasy is sort of every three years or so to go through their brochure and pick one and do one until I die.

CURWOOD: With their glossy catalogues, exotic locales, and sometimes hefty price tags, some skeptics suggest that Earthwatch and other volunteer research expeditions are more fun-filled adventure vacations than science education. Brian Rosborough says that's just not so.

ROSBOROUGH: I'd like to think that it's an alternate form of education. Some people think science can't be taught indoors.

CURWOOD: Is your organization an eco-tourism organization?

ROSBOROUGH: I don't think so. Earthwatch is closer to Tom Sawyer, probably, than eco-tourism.

CURWOOD: Tom Sawyer?

ROSBOROUGH: We ask people to paint the fence, pay for the paint, and bring their talent.

CURWOOD: Brian Rosborough, founding president of Earthwatch in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. Our production team includes Deborah Stavro, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, and Constantine Von Hoffman. Also, Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, and Eric Losick. Our engineers in the WBUR Studio are Trish Anderton and Mark Navin. Our Harvard engineers are Larry Bootaleer and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt " whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; and the Great Lakes Protection Fund.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.