November 10, 1995
Air Date: November 10, 1995
Atrazine/ Robin Finesmith
Recent research into the combined effects of various chemicals shows some deleterious health effects. Of special concern is the substance Atrazine when it comes into contact with other pesticides and herbicides. Robin Finesmith of Living on Earth's Midwest Bureau in Cleveland reports. (05:10)
Joining Forces: The International Joint Commission
Dick Brooks talks with Steve Curwood about the environmental clean-up successes in the Great Lakes region of the U.S.-Canadian cooperation group the International Joint Commission. (06:03)
Green Auto Body Shop/ Stephanie Hemphill
Instead of wasting paint, thinners and other toxic substances, an auto body shop in Duluth has used some inventiveness to reduce harmful waste. Stephanie Hemphill reports from Minnesota Public Radio. (04:55)
Six Year Six Pack Ring/ Sy Montgomery
Six years ago, a concerned citizen invented an environmentally sound beverage six pack ring. After licensing, the invention is still sitting on the shelf. Commentator Sy Montgomery wonders why. (02:32)
The Living on Earth Almanac
WA Rejects Property Rights Ballot Question/ Terry FitzPatrick
Nineteen states already have laws ensuring property owners payment for land value lost to government regulations. Advocates in Washington state tried to raise the number to 20, but their election day efforts failed to pass the strictest compensation law in the country. Terry FitzPatrick of Living on Earth's Northwest bureau files this follow up report. (03:25)
Hope Against Hope
Author Bill McKibben explores examples of people living lightly on the earth, with host Steve Curwood. These people and their places are the subject of McKibben's new book Hope Human and Wild. McKibben, author of the 1990 best seller, The End of Nature, says fear & despair are lousy motivators of change. (08:27)
Apple Season in the Northeast/ Tatiana Schreiber
Tatiana Schreiber reports on new approaches among Vermont's apple growers. They're using fewer chemicals, and rediscovering hearty, old varieties. But northeast growers are up against tough competition from nature and from the market. (08:05)
Kudzu Medicine/ Ruth Page
Commentator Ruth Page makes the case for conservation, with Kudzu! This exotic weed which is overgrowing the southern U-S has long been recognized in Chinese folk medicine for its powerful cures. (02:33)
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: Terry FitzPatrick, Patrick Cox, Robin Finesmith, Stephanie Hemphill, Tatiana Schreiber
GUESTS: Dick Brooks, Bill McKibben
COMMENTATORS: Sy Montgomery, Ruth Page
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
New concerns from scientists that there may be special health hazards from the combined effects of pollutants.
PORTER: Atrazine by itself looks very clean. But when we begin to put in other compounds, like nitrates or other insecticides or herbicides, then things start popping up that didn't show up before.
CURWOOD: Also, we meet a small businessman who is finding that reducing pollution is increasing his profitability.
OGSTEN: Any time anybody before mentioned environment, there was always: how am I going to skirt the issue? And the fact that we've gotten involved now and can feel good about what we're doing, and then the byproduct of that is a better bottom line, how can you afford not to be excited?
CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.
NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. Voters in Washington State have rejected what would have been the most sweeping property rights law in the nation. Referendum 48 would have required compensation payments to property owners when regulations diminish the value of their land. From Living on Earth's Northwest Bureau at KPLU in Seattle, Terry FitzPatrick reports.
FITZPATRICK: Referendum 48 lost by a wide margin. Sixty percent opposed, 40% in favor. The vote split largely along urban versus rural lines, with cities rejecting the measure and most rural counties approving it. Uncertainty about the cost and the scope of Referendum 48 are being blamed for its defeat. One estimate predicted payments to landowners would have cost taxpayers $11 billion a year. Others predicted the measure would have threatened zoning and environmental regulations because it would be too costly to compensate property owners affected by land use restrictions. Property rights advocates say these fears were overstated and they're vowing to continue their fight. A spokesman says his group hopes to meet with environmental and civic organizations to craft a compromise measure to submit to the Washington legislature next year. For Living on Earth I'm Terry FitzPatrick in Seattle.
NUNLEY: Environmental experts are finding fault with the US Government report on how global warming may affect world food production. The Department of Agriculture study says that while climate change could cause geographic shifts in agricultural production, the level of food production should remain stable. USDA researchers say a worldwide warming trend would increase temperatures in mountainous regions, making more land suitable for farming and forestry. But warmer weather in the tropics and some other areas would render some land unsuitable for agriculture. The World Watch Institute's Lester Brown accused the report of underestimating the effects of global warming. He said that any change in climate systems will have an adverse impact on food production.
The number of Americans forced to breathe dirty air has declined by more than a third since 1990. But the government says 90 million people still breathe air that flunks Federal health standards. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 33 regions around the country, many of them metropolitan areas, failed to meet Federal standards for ozone, the major component of smog. But the latest results in EPA's annual Air Quality Report found a continuing trend toward cleaner air. Five years ago, more than 91 regions with a population of 140 million experienced unhealthy smog levels at least once during the year.
A new study of river pollution says Massachusetts waterways may be the dirtiest in the Northeast. Patrick Cox of WBUR in Boston reports.
COX: The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group says 68% of the state's rivers and streams are so polluted they're unsafe for swimming and fishing. That compares with 44% in Connecticut, 19% in Vermont, and 7% in New York. Factories are spilling fewer chemicals into rivers than they used to, but MassPIRG's Paul Burns says the new culprit is overdevelopment.
BURNS: Just by simply building a road, a condominium or a strip mall very close to the river's edge, what we're seeing is more and more water flows directly into that river and it doesn't have the chance to be absorbed by the regular natural vegetation that would otherwise exist there.
COX: For 3 years the chairman of the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee has blocked legislation creating development-free buffer zones along river banks. Buffer zones are supported by most lawmakers and by Massachusetts Governor William Weld. For Living on Earth, I'm Patrick Cox in Boston.
NUNLEY: More than 100 countries have taken the pledge to curb toxics such as DDT and dioxin. Delegates at a UN Conference voted unanimously to press for a legally binding deal, cutting emissions of persistent organic pollutants as part of a plan to combat ocean pollution. The pact focuses on chemicals such as PCBs, dioxin, DDT, and heptachlor, chlorine compounds that persist in the environment and can cause cancer, reproductive disorders and weakened immune systems. The agreement also asks rich nations to help poorer nations during the transition and provides a phase-out period for chemicals without ready substitutes.
And 2 decades after DDT dumping ended off southern California, sea lions there have dramatically lower levels of the pesticide in their bodies and their population has more than doubled. California sea lions once had the highest body fat concentrations of DDT of any marine mammal ever studied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, say pesticides in the sea lions' fatty tissue have declined more than 100-fold since 1970. From 1975 to 1993, the number of sea lions off the California coast has increased from 12,000 to 28,000.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. This year has not been a good one for those concerned about the quality of drinking water. Study after study has found substantial levels of pesticides and other farm chemicals in the water supply of many communities. Some of these chemicals are known to cause cancer. But cancer may not be the biggest worry. Many of these substances are also known to be disrupters of human and animal hormone systems. That means that they can wreak havoc with our reproductive and immune functioning, as well as our ability to think and perform other neurological tasks. Some say these chemicals are only harmful in high doses, and that current Federal health standards more than ensure public safety. But those claims are based on government regulations that test each chemical separately. Recent research suggests that mixtures of these chemicals can be harmful at low levels commonly found in the environment. From the Midwest Bureau of Living on Earth at WCPN in Cleveland, Robin Finesmith reports.
FINESMITH: If we lived in a world where there was only one environmental pollutant, life would be fairly simple. We'd have to worry about how much of that pollutant we came in contact with, and how often, but not much else. Of course, life isn't like that; there are thousands of potentially dangerous substances around us. But EPA regulations don't usually take that into account. The Agency screens chemicals one by one and sets safe exposure levels based only on contact with that one substance. But what happens when we're exposed to several of these at the same time? Say, for instance, a number of common pesticides?
PORTER: Atrazine by itself looks very clean. But when we begin to put in other compounds, like nitrates or other insecticides or herbicides, then things start popping up that didn't show up before.
FINESMITH: Dr. Warren Porter is a Professor of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who has been looking at the interactions of various pollutants commonly found together in the environment. The findings of his current research involving the herbicide atrazine haven't yet been published, so he's not talking about the specific results yet. But in another study published in 1993, he and 3 Wisconsin colleagues found some startling hormonal and neurological effects in laboratory rats exposed to combinations of 3 other pesticides, including a close relative of atrazine.
PORTER: We are seeing an elevation of thyroid levels. We are seeing a suppression of learning abilities and spatial discrimination capabilities. A suppression of speed of learning. And correlated with that, we have seen changes in certain nerve transmitters. Chemicals that the nerve endings release in the brain. Particularly, these changes have been concentrated in the memory and the motor coordination centers of the brain.
FINESMITH: This type of research is fairly new to science and challenges established toxicological and epidemiological practices, which generally look for health effects following a single substance line of inquiry. But proponents say it's vital if we're to understand how industrial and other chemicals actually affect us and the environment. Dr. Ana Soto is a professor of cellular biology at Tufts University.
SOTO: One of the things that concerned people working on the Great Lakes area, in special, was that wildlife was contaminated. Specimens were contaminated with a lot of different chemicals. And the problem was to discern whether the effects that are being manifested, like if, for example, if these animals cannot reproduce, is it due to one of those compounds? Or to the combined effect of all of them, or a few of them?
FINESMITH: Dr. Soto and her colleagues have tested the effects of mixtures of a number of commonly used chemicals on human cells in her lab. they combine things like pesticides, plasticizers, and food preservatives.
SOTO: Now, our experiments have shown that minute quantities of these chemicals, that if found singly, will not be a problem. When they are found together with other chemicals at those low doses, could be a problem because they can produce an effect.
FINESMITH: But Dr. John McCarthy, Vice President of the American Crop Protection Association, is skeptical. He doubts that otherwise safe amounts of industrial chemicals can combine together to cause problems in the real world outside of a laboratory. And McCarthy thinks it's virtually impossible to test for such real life effects in any credible way.
McCARTHY: It's kind of like a never ending game of trying to figure out what kind of mixtures. You not only have manmade chemicals, you have naturally occurring chemicals that might have the same thing. You know, what are the combinations and permutations of all this? So that it becomes almost a mind boggling exercise to figure out what kind of a potion do you put together to figure this out?
FINESMITH: Mind boggling or not, it's an exercise the EPA is starting to tackle. Mixtures are a part of the EPA's new research into endocrine disrupting chemicals, and they're also part of the Agency's review of atrazine and related pesticides. Dr. Penelope Fenner-Crisp is the Deputy Director of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs.
FENNER-CRISP: We may not know fully how to do it, but how will you learn if you don't try? And so you start step by step; you don't try to figure out how a thousand things in your life may affect you all at once. You start small.
FINESMITH: Still, there remains considerable debate within the EPA and elsewhere as to how much emphasis should be put on research into the combined effects of chemicals, especially in light of other pressing research needs and shrinking Federal dollars. For Living on Earth, I'm Robin Finesmith in Cleveland.
CURWOOD: The herbicides being studied by the EPA and the University of Wisconsin, as well as other pesticides and many other persistent toxic substances are part of a broad chemical class known as organochlorines. That is, they're all related to the nearly ubiquitous chemical, chlorine. Scientists have made such a strong link between organochlorines and reproductive, neurological, and immune defects in animals and people that a ban on chlorine is under consideration in the United States and Canada. The loudest call in North America for a chlorine ban is probably coming from a US-Canadian government agency known as the International Joint Commission. Dick Brooks covers the Commission, also known as the IJC, from member station WOJB in Hayward, Wisconsin. Dick, thanks for joining us.
BROOKS: It's my pleasure.
CURWOOD: Can you give us a snapshot of what the International Joint Commission does? Especially in the context of its call for the elimination of chlorine?
BROOKS: Well, the International Joint Commission was a water use commission in the early 1900s. And in 1972 the United States and Canada passed the International Water Quality Agreement, and the IJC since that time has been responsible for overseeing the implementation, the monitoring, of the improvement of the water quality in the Great Lakes.
CURWOOD: Now, let's talk about this call to eliminate chlorine. Is this a call for a complete ban everywhere?
BROOKS: No; it's not a ban in fact. What it is, is we're talking about the sunsetting, or the phased-out use of chlorine. And most particularly in the use of chlorine as a feed stock in industrial process: pulp, paper mill, that kind of thing. We'll probably have chlorine around for purification of drinking water and things like that for some time.
CURWOOD: Why is it okay to use chlorine to purify drinking water, as opposed to using it in industry?
BROOKS: Well, in industry, where it's being used as a feed stock, as a chemical process stock, there are some serious problems called by-products. Dioxin is one of the primary by-products of the use of chlorine as an industrial feed stock. And if we're going to get rid of dioxin, we have to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of chlorine in industry.
CURWOOD: Dick, how did the International Joint Commission make the decision to call for this sunsetting of chlorine?
BROOKS: Well, the IJC for several years has been listening to its own science advisory board. It has commissioned many studies. It has brought in, you know, review of studies that have been done. And it was simply by marshaling the facts, doing the studies, doing an analysis and a review, and coming to a decision that the evidence was overwhelming, that some of these materials had to be eliminated if we're going to keep pristine water in the Great Lakes.
CURWOOD: This is a pretty unusual call. I mean, it doesn't seem to me that there's any other major governmental agency or quasi-governmental agency that's calling for the sunsetting of chlorine. How did the International Joint Commission come to be at the leading edge of this issue?
BROOKS: Well, first of all the IJC is an international agreement between 2 countries. It has the support of the EPA and Environment Canada. They have done a number of things. One of the key things they've done is they've created a citizen involvement all around the Great Lakes that can no longer be ignored. Business, government, are taking notice of citizen interest and citizen participation. I think that the IJC is at the leading edge because it's been risk taking, it has taken some very strong stands calling for elimination of chlorine, calling for the elimination of persistent toxic substances. And has developed a very, very powerful grassroots, citizen-based momentum, if you will, that is up against the inertia of bureaucracy that we see in some of these agencies. And I think as this momentum meets this inertia, it's getting some things done, and I think it's lent a power because of its international prestige that other agencies haven't been able to marshal.
CURWOOD: How has the US Environmental Protection Agency and its counterpart in Canada, Environment Canada, responded to this call for the sunsetting, the elimination of chlorine?
BROOKS: Both have taken under advisement the recommendations of the IJC. And I think that within the next year, both Environment Canada and EPA will be making announcements as to their positions. I think they're going to endorse the sunsetting of chlorine. I think they're going to endorse the virtual elimination of these other persistent toxic substances.
CURWOOD: Some criticize the International Joint Commission by saying it's just moving too slowly, that they've been calling for this sunsetting of chlorine for the last couple of years but, hey, nothing is going on. Is that a fair criticism?
BROOKS: I think it's not a fair criticism. I think that quite a bit has been going on. I mean, we're talking about 20% of the world's fresh water in the Great Lakes. That's not a small problem that we're talking about. But if you want to look back to 1970, before the water quality agreements were signed, Lake Erie was choked with algae, the Cuyahoga River had caught fire, Lake Erie fishery was closed for mercury, the Fox River and the Detroit River were too polluted for fishing, Love Canal was still undiscovered. I mean, there were all kinds of environmental problems in the Great Lakes Basin, all of which have been dealt with since 1970 . I think a lot has been accomplished. Billions of dollars have been spent in wastewater treatment. Many pesticides have been banned. Mercury has been reduced, lead has been removed from gasoline. So I think to say that there's not progress is incorrect. I think that when you look back like that, that's pretty remarkable progress. But when you say well, Jeez, I went to a meeting 2 years ago and they were talking about this and here it is 2 years later and still nothing is done, I think it appears, you know, it may be glacially slow but it's got the power of a glacier as well. It is moving, and it is making some very big changes.
CURWOOD: Dick Brooks, thanks so much for talking with us.
BROOKS: It's been my pleasure.
CURWOOD: Dick Brooks is a reporter on Great Lakes issues from WOJB in Hayward, Wisconsin. He's also the station's program director.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: How an auto body shop found that protecting the environment helped make it more money is just ahead on Living on Earth. Stick around.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As the folks around the Great Lakes have become more aware of environmental change, they're asking more questions about where water pollution comes from. People are often quick to point a finger at big business, but small businesses can help or hurt the environment as well. Stephanie Hemphill of member station KUMD in Duluth visited an auto body shop near Lake Superior that is finding that cutting down on pollution is boosting profits.
(Auto shop sounds)
HEMPHILL: Nobody likes to have to take their car to a body shop. You worry about the cost, the workmanship, and how do you know if the shop is honest? Well, here's something new to ask yourself: what is the shop doing with the hazardous waste that comes from fixing your car? Paint, paint cleaner, solvents, coolant. The thousands of body shops around the country generate tons of hazardous waste each year. Among the most dangerous are volatile organic compounds, which escape into the air and contribute to urban smog; and heavy metals, which are flushed down the drain and can cause nerve damage and reproductive problems.
OGSTEN: In the auto repair business, where we produce most of the waste is in the paint department. And the first place...
HEMPHILL: Joe Ogsten owns Ogsten Body and Paint in Duluth. He says the steps he's taken in the last couple of years to reduce waste are saving him about $30,000 a year. You can see his approach has you look around his bright, spotless shop.
OGSTEN: This is our paint mixing system, and with the colors that you see here we can mix any variety of colors that we need in the shop. In conjunction to this bank of mixing paints, we also have a computerized scale, and rather than going to the jobber to buy a pint or a quart of mixed material that we might only use one or two ounces of and end up with 14 ounces of waste, we can mix down to one ounce here. So if we have a small job where we only need an ounce or two of paint, we can only mix an ounce or two of paint. So right off the bat we've eliminated possibly 80, 90% of the waste on certain jobs.
HEMPHILL: Then there's the equipment for washing the paint guns. Ogsten used to use up to 2 quarts of thinner to clean each gun after a paint job. Now he's got a closed loop system that reuses thinner over and over.
OGSTEN: This piece of equipment in here is a solvent recycler, and anybody from Prohibition days would recognize this as almost being a still. The heating element reaches a point where the solvent turns into a vapor. The vapor goes into a cooling condenser and comes out as pure solvent again. The piece of equipment paid for itself probably the first year we had it. So then anything after that has gone in strictly to profit.
HEMPHILL: Ogsten found out about the solvent recycler in a trade magazine. When he saw how much he was saving, $5,000 to $6,000 a year, it led him to other new technologies designed to reduce waste. For Ogsten, the bottom line is the money he's saving; the environmental benefits come second.
HEMPHILL: Here at the Western Lake Superior Sewage Treatment Plant, they see it the other way around. Heidi Ringhoffer runs a program that helps small businesses cut down on their waste. She commends Ogsten's shop for its progressive actions.
RINGHOFFER: They've really looked at the issues and decided what was right, and they're really protecting the environment. The emissions, what they might be putting down the drain that might be coming to us that our sewer system has to process, that would just mean less chemicals, less hazardous waste that has to be dealt with by us.
HEMPHILL: Joe Ogsten wasn't always an environmentalist. He spent years looking over his shoulder, waiting in dread for the knock on the door from the pollution police.
OGSTEN: Any time anybody before mentioned environment, there was always: how am I going to skirt the issue? Some day they're going to come here in the little white suits and they're going to haul me away. And whether you want to believe it or not, you carry that burden around on your shoulders. And the fact that we've gotten involved now and can feel good about what we're doing, and then the byproduct of that is a better bottom line, how can you afford not to be excited?
HEMPHILL: With help from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Ogsten is sharing his ideas with competitors in a newly revived trade group. He says more and more shops around the country are realizing that by cutting down on hazardous waste they can improve their bottom line.
(Hammering, motorized sounds)
HEMPHILL: For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie Hemphill in Duluth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Environmentally sound innovations don't always get enthusiastic receptions from the world of business, says Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery.
MONTGOMERY: Joan Gordon, a former geologist from Chicago, was reading an article on plastic trash in the ocean. The picture showed a seagull with a 6-pack ring stuck in its beak, twisted around it head, slowly strangling. She just couldn't look. She flipped the page, and saw the sidebar to the story: what you can do. Cut the loops of 6-pack carriers before throwing them into the trash, it said; but she realized almost no one would bother.
So that minute, she put down the magazine, went into her kitchen, and began to build a design that would automatically break the ring of the 6-pack yoke when you pulled out the can. Within a few days she completed the first prototype. In the weeks that followed, she invented and patented about a dozen variations. In each, the yoke is designed with perforations and attaches to the can so that the act of pulling the can out makes it impossible for that ring to strangle an animal. She trademarked her invention "the freedom ring."
Joan Gordon contacted the major bottling companies. They were enthusiastic. She got in touch with the plastic yoke manufacturers. They were receptive. They invited her in to show her design, and were so impressed they licensed her patent. And now should come the happy ending: all-American ingenuity solves the problem. But that's not what happened.
It's now 6 years later. Nothing like the freedom ring is available. Plastics manufacturers have published ads touting their commitment to environmental responsibility. The problem has been solved, they tell us, because the rings, when exposed to direct sunlight, will eventually disintegrate. That's nothing new, and has been the case for well over a decade. Not every environmental problem has a technological fix, but this one does. A fix that one woman, moved by the plight of a strangling seagull, saw in one evening in her Chicago kitchen. It's now 6 years later and animals are still needlessly strangling.
CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery lives and writes in New Hampshire. Her latest book is called The Spell of the Tiger.
(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.
(Music up and under)
ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major funding provided by 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. Support also comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation, and the Bullitt Foundation for Northwest reporting.
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Coming up in the second half of Living on Earth, voters in Washington State reject a referendum that would have required payments to property owners if environmental or other regulations lowered their property values. We'll also tell you how you listeners would have voted if you had the chance.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: With people worried about the threat of global warming and the dangers of toxic pollution, it's not easy to find stories of hope about the environment. But author Bill McKibben will bring us some in just a few minutes. One of his secrets: don't spend a lot of money. Hope in this half hour of NPR's Living on Earth; first this week's almanac.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Fifteen years ago the Superfund became law. It was a response to toxic chemicals seeping into a housing development at New York's Love Canal. The law's aim seemed simple enough: make polluters pay for the clean-up. Nearly $30 billion has been spent on Superfund since then, including more than $13 billion by the Environmental Protection Agency. Private spending is estimated at about $2 billion a year. As much as a third of the private funds go to lawyers. The EPA is now making an effort to see that not just lawyers earn a living from Superfund clean-ups. It recently unveiled an apprenticeship program that will let people living near the waste sites get training and jobs to help in the clean-up. And apparently the EPA needs all the help it can get. Of the nearly 1,300 Superfund sites on the national priority list, work has been completed on only 291.
(Music up and under: "Subsequently!")
CURWOOD: Environmental concerns were on the ballot in several recent state and local elections. New Jersey voters easily approved a $340 million bond issue to help finance the purchase of land for recreation and conservation. Voters in 2 Utah counties overwhelmingly rejected limits on development in their communities. In Colorado, voters split over growth limit measures with one being approved and one rejected. And in a closely-watched race in Washington state, voters defeated a proposal to compensate property owners when government regulations lessen the value of their land. The Washington vote could affect the property rights movement nationwide. From our Northwest Bureau at KPLU, Seattle, Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports.
FITZPATRICK: Referendum 48 would have gone farther than any property rights law has gone before. Any reduction in property value caused by the government would have triggered compensation. The sweeping nature of R48 became a rallying point for opponents. Environmentalists, civic organizations, even church and senior groups, joined forces to fight it. They stressed that the measure could have forced taxpayers to spend $11 billion a year. They claimed compensation payments would threaten the enforcement of zoning and environmental regulations. The message clearly worked: 60% rejected the proposal; only 40% approved it. The lopsided vote came as a surprise to most observers, but it does follow a national trend. David Sokolow is Director of the American Resources Information Network, a Washington, DC, coalition that opposes property rights initiatives.
SOKOLOW: This is the third time that the voters of a state have had a chance to take a look at this on a ballot, and the third time that they've defeated it. I think it makes pretty clear that while the property rights movement may claim to be a grassroots uprising, it's clearly not. It's clearly a special interest corporate funded movement that doesn't really have a base of popular support.
FITZPATRICK: However, property rights activists maintain that they are gaining strength. In the past 4 years, 19 state legislatures have adopted property rights legislation, and a bill is pending in Congress. Nancy Marzulla of the national group Defenders of Property Rights says the defeat in Washington won't kill her movement.
MARZULLA: It's never over if the issue doesn't go away, if the concerns which motivated these people to get it on the ballot in the first place are not satisfied. It's going to have to be addressed one way or the other.
FITZPATRICK: Nearly every state legislature is likely to debate property rights in 1996. But analyst Larry Morandi of the National Conference of State Legislatures predicts the defeat of R48 in Washington could change the nature of the debate.
MORANDI: I think states will look at that and say that's not the way we should go. That the people have decided that something that is that broadly based might be overkill.
FITZPATRICK: Morandi thinks measures involving only timber or wetland restrictions instead of all government regulations have a better chance of passing. In fact, that shift is already underway in Washington. Property rights advocates plan to rewrite Referendum 48 and resubmit it to the legislature early next year. For Living on Earth I'm Terry FitzPatrick in Seattle.
CURWOOD: How would you have voted in the Washington State Referendum if you'd had the chance? Two weeks ago we asked our listeners just that question, and today, in the wake of the official vote, we have the results of our own highly unscientific survey. Twenty-four of you favored the measure and 92 were against. That's about 80% opposed, compared to the actual vote of 60% opposed. Sally Bell, a listener to Maine Public Broadcasting, was among our no voters.
BELL: I think that the public has a right to clean water and clean air and sometimes that takes precedence. Real estate has never been a guaranteed right to a profit.
CURWOOD: And David Ford, a listener to WHYY in Philadelphia, thought things could go too far if such sweeping property rights laws were passed.
FORD: An individual can build a development that destroys the aquifer for a whole town, but that individual owes nothing to the community for taking away their clean water. Instead, the town owes him if they want to ensure a long-term supply of clean water. This allows individuals to blackmail communities. They can plan to build huge polluting enterprises and then blackmail the community for so-called just compensation.
TAMLIN: My name is Edward Tamlin. I listen to station KQED in San Francisco. It's not fair for these landowners to want compensation when the government does something to decrease the value of the land, and not be willing to pay back the community when the city or state does things which raise the value of their land. After all, these improvements are paid for by taxpayer money. I'm thinking of things like zoning or building hospitals or roads, putting in libraries, increasing police force. All of these things raise the value of land.
CURWOOD: But more than 20% of you supported the referendum.
WELLS: My name is Steve Wells; I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. And I do support compensation of property owners. If we all benefit from environmental regulation then we should share in the losses that go along with it.
CURWOOD: Finally, this listener to KUT in Austin, Texas, offered a compromise.
CALLER: I don't think that the government should have to pay the landowner for devalued land, but I certainly think that people who set aside their land for nature conservation should get a significant tax reduction. And that would encourage people to set aside land rather than discouraging them.
CURWOOD: Our Living on Earth listener line is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. LOE@NPR.ORG. And our postal address is Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $12.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: In 1990, Bill McKibben, for years a staff writer for the New Yorker, published the best-selling book The End of Nature. It was a brilliant success, but this great essay on the threat of global warming and other changes in the biosphere also brought with it a cloud of despair. McKibben's new work on the environmental crisis takes a different approach. It's about hope. McKibben looked around for signs of hope near his home in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, and then traveled to communities in Latin America and India, where he thought there were outstanding environmental successes. The result is a book called Hope, Human and Wild. I asked Bill McKibben how he got the idea.
McKIBBEN: One of the moments when I knew what I wanted to say was when I heard the news that in Vermont the state game department had certified the fact that there were mountain lions back living wild in Vermont, for the first time in 100 years. And I just had that kind of flash that goes through you that makes you understand that it's a different wood, one that has a mountain lion living in it. I wanted so much to figure out how to protect the recovery that was going on in our woods. Wanted so much to learn how we might start to back off some, because I felt very strongly that surge of hope. Hope that the future could be as rich in some ways as the past. Hope that my daughter might grow up where I live and hear a wolf howling there some day. And that was the moment that really got me to work.
CURWOOD: You start your book in the Adirondacks.
CURWOOD: And you celebrate all these wonderful things that are going on here. The land that was one clear-cut. But you sound kind of edgy about it, Bill McKibben; you sound kind of worried.
McKIBBEN: Well, clearly our progress there, and any place else that's beginning to make some sort of recovery, will not survive the kind of changes that are coming. Simply the fact that you put a, pass a law and say this is now wilderness, doesn't mean a thing. If the temperature goes up 4 or 5 degrees, that forest isn't going to care about the fact that it's in a quote "protected wilderness" unquote. It's going to be under absolutely severe heat stress. It's going to be trying to migrate north much more quickly. It will have to go much more quickly than a forest can in fact move.
CURWOOD: Why, with you worrying about the Adirondacks, did you start looking elsewhere for solutions?
McKIBBEN: Because it's clear that the problems that menace the Adirondacks and every other rural area, wild area, are as much global in nature as they are local. I wanted to find out if people really could learn to back off some in their demands on the natural world. Because if places are ever going to recover, that's what we're going to need to do, take a step back. I went to a city in Brazil, a place called Carachiba that should be an urban basket case like Rio or Sao Paulo. I mean it's poor and it's grown 500% in the last 20 years. It's a great place. Among other things, they've built the best bus system on Earth. The buses work so well, are so pleasant, that everyone uses them. And as a result they use 30% less fuel than people in the rest of Brazil.
CURWOOD: How did they make that change? How do they use a third less fuel with this massive bus program?
McKIBBEN: They were able to do it for 2 reasons. One, they're very creative and innovative. The mayor for many years is an architect. And a very clever guy. He does things like, he wanted to make the buses move faster. He figured out a way to allow you to get on this bus as you would a subway, with sliding doors, so that 20 people a second can get on and off the bus. Now it moves people as quickly as the New York City subway system moves people at rush hour. The other half is they had a real political will. They decided 25 years ago, they said in this city, buses are going to be more important than cars. We're not going to hesitate to shut down some streets, to make exclusive bus lanes, to do all the things that really allow this transit system to work.
CURWOOD: What's the lesson that we can take away from this kind of approach?
McKIBBEN: One lesson is that public action can work. We've been taught, since the age of Reagan, that public is synonymous with shabby and inefficient and not very nice. And there's been some reason for us to think that; things public haven't worked as well as they should have often in this country. But it does not need to be that way. And in the future, it probably can't be that way. One of our biggest environmental problems is the kind of cult of hyper-individualism, of everybody driving by themselves in their one car, wherever they go. We're going to need different approaches and more efficient approaches to deal with the future. And that's one of the reasons Carachiba gives me such hope.
CURWOOD: Now you also traveled to India, to the province, the state of Karala in the very southern tip there of India.
McKIBBEN: That's right. Amazing place. Thirty million people live in Karala, which means it's about the population of California. So we're not talking about a sort of tiny example here. Karala is extremely poor, even by Indian standards it's poor. People make about $300 a year on average, or in other terms, about 1/70th what Americans make. Hence, their impact on the environment, at least on things like the atmosphere, is about 1/70th what ours is; they're just not burning much fossil fuel there. On that amount of money, they have a life expectancy that's the equal of ours. Their infant mortality rate is close to ours. Their literacy rate and their female literacy rate are better than ours. Their birth rate is lower than ours, and they'll reach zero population growth before we will.
CURWOOD: So tell us, what's the secret, though of Karala? If they have the same life expectancy and infant mortality rates that we have and better literacy rates, for that matter, and they're doing it with 1/70th of the money, what's their secret?
McKIBBEN: They focused on redistribution as opposed to economic growth and they've set clear priorities. Sixty percent of the state budget goes for health and for education. You can't go more than a couple of miles there without bumping into a free health clinic. Everybody uses these free health clinics all the time. Therefore, their infant mortality rate is low, they're not worried about their kids dying. Therefore, they have one or two kids instead of four of five kids, because they'll know that they'll reach adulthood. It's " it's a remarkable place because it breaks the intuitive link in our minds between more and better. It's not that we need to live like the people there live. They're too poor. But that span of 70 times, that gives one at least a little bit of hope that the alternative to our consumerist civilization is not dying at the age of 30 in a dark cave someplace.
CURWOOD: And after you took these trips, how did you face the threats, the challenges, that you have in the northern forest?
McKIBBEN: It made me understand that a large part of our future there is going to be learning our own ways, our own appropriate ways to back off. To figure out how to place fewer demands on the planet. There's no, you know, obvious environmental future for any one place on earth, that we're all going to have different futures. But in common, we're all going to have to learn to be much more self-sufficient than we are. In New England, we'll know that we're making environmental progress the day that we drink more apple cider then we drink more orange juice. Because we can make apple cider ourselves, you know? We don't need to send a jet to Florida for it. That's what I mean by self sufficiency.
CURWOOD: I want to thank you very much. Bill McKibben's latest book is called Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth.
McKIBBEN: Thanks, Steve.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: If New Englanders are going to have plenty of local cider, they need a strong apple industry. But the region's small orchards are facing stiff competition from big growers elsewhere. One way to stay competitive, of course, is to keep costs down. Many orchard operators are doing that by cutting the use of expensive farm chemicals. From Vermont, Tatiana Schreiber reports that no spray and low spray apple production is gaining in the orchards of New England and paying both financial and environmental dividends.
(Man: "These are more empires, golden delicious. These are liberties. These are Cortlandts...")
SCHREIBER: Matt Darrow and his brother Evan grew up on this 250-acre hillside orchard, first planted to apples by their grandfather in 1914. It's a large farm by Vermont standards. Even though they can sell most of their apples, intensive competition from large growers in Washington State and abroad means they're just squeaking by. They recently made the painful decision to sell off part of the farm to pay the bills. To improve the bottom line, they're intensifying efforts to cut back on chemical pesticides.
DARROW: Chemicals are astronomically expensive, and after 3 years of a downward-spiraling apple economy, we need to save every penny we absolutely can. Spraying is also very time consuming, and we have more things to do in life than spray.
SCHREIBER: The Darrows have switched from conventional, heavy chemical use to integrated pest management or IPM, using biological controls and horticultural techniques that minimize harmful chemicals. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that New England farmers who've converted to IPM are saving up to $150 an acre, thousands of dollars a year. Another benefit for the Darrows is that less spraying means less health risk for their neighbors and themselves.
DARROW: If you're worried about chemicals in your diet, or in the environment, who spends more time in the orchard and eats more apples than anyone else? Ourselves and our families.
SCHREIBER: Vermont extension agents say nearly 90% of the state's commercial apple growers have switched to some form of IPM. Most of these farmers are saving money at it. Some find they're also saving wildlife habitat and increasing species and landscape diversity.
BOSTON: The diversity of agricultural landscape is what makes Vermont, Vermont. To lose apple orchards as part of the agrarian landscape would be to lose a major segment of what makes Vermont special.
SCHREIBER: Clarence Boston uses an advanced IPM program in what is sometimes called an antique orchard: 12 acres of standard fruit trees, some 70 or 80 years old. On clear days he can look across the orchard, its tall trees still laden with last of the season northern spies, to Mount Monadnock 40 miles away in New Hampshire. Just below the house are 2 ponds and the farm itself includes acres of wetlands and woods. Boston is an IPM consultant working with some 60 farmers in 5 states.
BOSTON: To biologically control pests, the orchard has to be alive. Sterility was the goal of pest management for many years. The object was to get as close to 100% kill, was literally the word used.
SCHREIBER: Now Boston claims to have counted 500 species of insects in his orchard.
BOSTON: And of those, 12 are major pests, 30 are minor pests. And the rest, really, are just hanging out...
SCHREIBER: A vast array of birds from Eastern blue birds to kestrels feed on these insects and provide some control. Otters and herons visit Boston's ponds and coyotes feed on the meadow voles. All these creatures are part of the predator-prey balance that's the cornerstone of Boston's IPM horticultural program. But Boston has found that insect and disease problems caused by New England's humidity make it nearly impossible to use completely organic methods.
BOSTON: That is apple scab disease. Those cracked, gray lesions in the deformed fruit. That's why I spray; I can't sell fruit that looks like this...
SCHREIBER: Still, Boston says he uses only half the manufacturer's lowest recommendation for sprays, and sprays only 5 or 6 times a year instead of 10 or 12. He also uses mulch instead of herbicides, and natural fertilizers. The switch to IPM techniques like these has helped some orchardists get by. But Boston says there's another key to maintaining long-term sustainability.
BOSTON: Now this cultivar is Mutsu. It's a great apple, it's a golden delicious by indo-Japanese apple.
SCHREIBER: Boston grows 30 different varieties. But in the state overall, 70% of the acreage is planted to a single variety, the Macintosh, and the state of Vermont is trying to sell the Mac as the New England apple. Clarence Boston says that's short-sighted.
BOSTON: We should not be sticking our heads in the sand and saying we can live or die by Macintosh, because we can't. Macintosh is a great apple. But in Vermont, what we have to do is to diversify.
SCHREIBER: Boston says sustainable apple farming in Vermont should include older varieties that have some natural disease resistance and new cultivars that need less spray or have great flavor when grown at Vermont's high altitudes. Diversity, he says, is the key to a healthy ecosystem, and also provides an economic buffer should the Mac crop be damaged or its market share falter.
BOSTON: This is elsar, this variety, which is a Dutch apple, golden delicious by Ingrid Marie. Nice name, huh?
SCHREIBER: Uh huh.
SCHREIBER: Researchers are studying new disease-resistant varieties through the Northeast Sustainable Apple Project. The project's also looking at computer assisted insect control and other high-tech approaches. But unlike more limited applications of IPM, the more advanced methods may not be cost effective at first. For instance, it takes 8 to 10 years for apple trees to mature, so growers are reluctant to plant new varieties until they're sure consumers want them. So far it's been a tough sell.
WEBSTER: I bought Macs for applesauce and pies.
SCHREIBER: Patti Webster is buying apples at Clarence Boston's farm stand. She says she'd need a push to try a different apple grown to need less spray.
WEBSTER: Yeah, I sort of go the same route all the time, because I know I like my pies with Macs. But I would have to be educated, I guess. Someone would have to take me by the arm and make me taste them. I'd pay more for an apple that wasn't sprayed.
SCHREIBER: Providing that kind of education is beyond the means of most farmers on their own. But talks are underway to start a region-wide project promoting the benefits of a wide variety of low-spray, locally-grown apples. That could help farmers like the Darrow brothers and Clarence Boston see their investment in ecological growing methods pay off. And, they hope, keep their orchards alive. For Living on Earth, I'm Tatiana Schreiber in Brattleboro, Vermont.
(Footfalls. Boston: "Now this is an old variety...")
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: The smarter we are, the more we know what we don't know. And one thing we are profoundly ignorant about, says Living on Earth commentator Ruth Page, is the value of species. Even common weeds.
PAGE: For centuries, oriental healers have used 2 ordinary plants to alleviate diseases that still baffle our Western doctors. Southerners hate kudzu plants; they're like Genghis Khan marching inexorably across any and all open landscape. But kudzu root has long been used in the Orient to cure alcoholism. Tests here show it contains 2 chemicals, daidzin and daidzein, that may do the job. Given a choice between dishes of water and dishes of liquor, hamsters that imbibed the chemicals go to alcohol dishes only half as often as their untreated siblings. Researchers aren't sure why, but suspect the chemicals interfere with the breakdown of alcohol in the body.
The other Chinese remedy battles Alzheimer's disease, one of the most dreaded, difficult, and expensive afflictions in human society. Oriental folk doctors learned that people who drank tea brewed from a certain club moss, Huperzia serrata, found their memories perked right up. If they release that stuff here I'm getting in line.
In recent years researchers at a Shanghai institute isolated a natural compound in the tea that inhibits " are you paying attention? " the formation of acetylcholinesterase. We'll call it ACE. ACE is an enzyme that breaks down AC, acetylcholine, which is a key chemical messenger in the brain vital for memory and awareness. The club moss chemical keeps ACE from forming. Science News says the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, is studying the compound, called Huperzine-A.
The human brain needs the AC, acetylcholine, part of ACE, but addition of the E, esterase, destroys it. So during the centuries when the Chinese drank their club moss tea, they were protecting their memories; and modern Western medicine has finally recognized that as fact, not just folklore. Mayo has licensed use of the club moss chemical to a New England company that seeks permission to test it on humans this year. There's been so much of this kind of news lately, it makes you want to save everything from extinction, doesn't it. Who knows what other super cures, or even symptom relievers, nature may be waiting for us to discover in some weed or other greenery that we may not even have heard of yet?
CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Ruth Page lives in Burlington, Vermont, and comes to us courtesy of Vermont Public Radio.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. Our director is Deborah Stavro, our coordinating producer is George Homsy, and Kim Motylewski is our associate producer. Constantine Von Hoffman is our news editor. Our production team includes Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, and Eric Losick. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Karen Given and Laurie Forrest. Our Harvard engineers are Larry Bouthelliere and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
(Music up and under)
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.
This Week's Books
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Newsletter [Click here]
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.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
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 wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth