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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

November 24, 1995

Air Date: November 24, 1995

SEGMENTS

Flathead Reservation: Sovereign Nation / Jennifer Schmidt

On a Montana native reservation, it's a question of rights. The Salish and Kootenai tribes and some of their non-Indian tenants are in disagreement over water usage in the region. While the tribe has authority over water quality, many landholders would prefer the U.S. government to oversee their water supply standards. Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU reports on the differing points of view which have now led to legal proceedings. (09:02)

Dreaming of a Green Christmas / John Carroll

There's a touring Ecological Exposition, or Eco-Expo, and it's an opportunity for the conservation minded to find holiday items that focus on reused and recycled products. Reporter John Carroll recently went shopping (with Living on Earth producer Deborah Stavro,) and found a number of items that green money can buy. (05:55)

Simple Christmas

Steve Curwood talks with author John Lillienfeld on tips for enjoying the forthcoming holiday season without creating extra waste and needless environmental damage. (04:52)

The Living on Earth Almanac

(01:00)

Border Clean-Up: Still Crying Foul / Barbara Ferry

The hopes for environmental improvements along the U-S-/Mexico border cities in the two years since the NAFTA agreement was signed still seem out of reach. Barbara Ferry reports from the border city of Juarez, Mexico on the problems in cleaning-up its putrid sewage canals. (07:40)

Living on Earth Profile Series #19: Denis Hayes: Earth Day Pioneer / Terry FitzPatrick

5{ (04:58)

Toxic Sludge and Greenwash

Steve Curwood speaks with writer John Stauber. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton are co-authors of the new book Toxic Sludge is Good For You. The book documents a number of incidents where corporations, and even the U.S. government, have attempted to influence public perceptions through successful public relations campaigns to make them appear environmentally friendly — something Stauber refers to as Greenwashing. (06:06)

Sea Otters: Swimming for a Comeback / Rachel Anne Goodman

Now numbering 2,300, the sea otter population is beginning to grow slowly though steadily. Rachel Anne Goodman reports from Santa Cruz, California on whether the sea otter will be delisted from the Endangered Species Act anytime soon. (06:37)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1995 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: David Hammond, Robin Finesmith, Jennifer Schmidt,
John Carroll, Barbara Ferry, Terry FitzPatrick, Rachel Anne Goodman
GUEST: Bob Lillienfeld, John Stauber

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Congress gave Indian reservations the right to set their own standards for clean water. But today on the Flathead Indian reservation in Montana, a battle over water use between native Americans and white landowners is opening up old wounds.

SWEENEY: This reservation was illegally opened. Lands were taken illegally. People settled here illegally. I think that some folks are afraid that they'll be treated the way they treated others.

CURWOOD: Also the season of eating and gift shopping is off and running. We'll hear about how to spread good cheer with less consumption.

LILLIENFELD: The advantage to using less stuff is not only is it good environmentally and ecologically, but it's also good economically.

CURWOOD: We'll have that and more this week on Living on Earth. First the news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. The brother of an executed Nigerian activist says Shell Oil tried to trade Ken Saro-Wiwa's freedom for an end to international protests against the oil giant. The Observer, an English daily newspaper, quotes Dr. Owens Wiwa saying that during secret meetings in the summer of 1994, the head of Shell Nigeria offered to use the company's influence with the Nigerian government to gain his brother's freedom. In return, Shell wanted Ogoni tribal leaders to call off global protests against Shell. A spokesman for Shell International told the Associated Press that a number of private meetings were held with Wiwa, but refused to elaborate. Shell is a major extractor of Nigerian oil. The company has been criticized for continuing to do business there despite international condemnation for the Nigerian government's execution of Saro-wiwa and 8 other activists.

Two University of Michigan scientists may have found a way to trace lead and other heavy metal air pollutants thousands of miles back to their original sources. David Hammond of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports from Ann Arbor.

HAMMOND: Earlier this month at a meeting of the Geological Society of America, 2 Michigan researchers introduced an approach which may alter the way pollution is tracked and regulated. Trace metal tracking analyzes the isotopes or fingerprints of airborne pollutants and then uses those prints to identify the original source. What's unusual about this tracking system is that it's done by analyzing precipitation. Dr. Joseph Gurney, co-author of the study, says that's important because most heavy metals are washed out of the atmosphere when it rains.

GURNEY: You know that a lot of things that get into the environment are direct washout during precipitation events or from a rainfall event or a snow storm or so on. And so, what we've demonstrated is that you can do it with very low concentrations in your samples, which is the first time this has been done.

HAMMOND: Gurney says that this technique is relatively inexpensive and could provide researchers with a low-cost alternative for tracking the compliance of industrial sources. For Living on Earth, I'm David Hammond in Ann Arbor.

NUNLEY: One of South America's most famous rivers, the Oronoco, has fallen to its lowest water levels in over half a century, and deforestation could be to blame. Venezuela's National Dredging Institute says the 1,600-mile long river was down to 17 and a half feet of water at the end of October. That's well down from last year's level of 27 feet. The spokesman says the most likely cause is slash and burn deforestation by small farmers and miners near the river's headwaters, deep in the Amazon jungle. The river could drop to under 3 feet by next March.

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency is requiring that all new health standards take into account the special sensitivity of children and infants to environmental pollutants. From Living on Earth's Midwest Bureau in Cleveland, Robin Finesmith reports.

FINESMITH: In 1993, the National Academy of Sciences recommended that the EPA incorporate into its regulations the growing body of information about how children react to environmental contaminants. Children eat more food and drink more water for their weight than adults. They also breathe more rapidly and can inhale more air pollutants. Children's skin and other body tissues also may absorb harmful substances more easily. This information wasn't widely known when many health standards were set 20 years ago, but EPA administrator Carol Browner says the Agency must take those facts into account now.

BROWNER: I certainly think there will be tougher standards as we guarantee that the health of our children will be protected. They are our most vulnerable and in many ways our most important population. They are our future.

FINESMITH: Browner says a number of departments within the EPA already use information on children when preparing health risk assessments. But this new policy will standardize the practice across the Agency. For Living on Earth, I'm Robin Finesmith in Cleveland.

NUNLEY: Columbia University is taking over the Biosphere II project in Arizona. The 3-acre glass complex containing replicas of a savanna, a marsh, and a rainforest, will be used as a scientific laboratory and tourist attraction. The original Biosphere project involved isolating 4 men and 4 women in a giant self-contained ecosystem for 2 years. Soon after the project came in for ridicule when it was revealed that fresh air had to be pumped in from the outside. Later, a crew member who left for treatment of a finger injury secretly took back 2 duffel bags full of supplies.

Well, they had turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner at the Green Acres Sanctuary in Donagle, Pennsylvania. The difference: these gobblers were the guests of honor, not the main course. Green Acres' Carol Morton is encouraging people not to eat turkey for the holidays. She says the birds are confined to small areas and mutilated at poultry farms, and that their beaks and toenails are cut off so they won't fight. Green Acres houses turkeys and at least 80 other animals that have been victims of abuse or neglect.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

Flathead Reservation: Sovereign Nation

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Under the treaties between the United States and many Native American nations, tribal lands have special sovereignty. For example, 10 years ago Congress gave Indian reservations many of the same rights to make their own clean water regulations that states have. In northwestern Montana, the Native Americans who govern the Flathead reservation have sought to implement their own stiff set of water protection rules. The move is being opposed by many landholders on the reservation who aren't members of the tribes, and the state of Montana has gone to court on their behalf. Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU in Seattle traveled to Montana to get our story.

SCHMIDT: In 1855, centuries of nomadic hunting in the Northwest came to an abrupt end for the Salish and Kootenai tribes. That year the tribes ceded most of their lands to the US Government in exchange for a guaranteed homeland on the Flathead Reservation.

(Flowing water)

SCHMIDT: The reservation lies within the Flathead Valley in northwestern Montana. Unlike many places in the arid west, it's a land rich in water. At the north end of the valley scenic Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, stretches for some 30 miles. To the east cold, clear creeks tumble wildly out of the Mission Mountains, providing abundant water for farming and ranching.

CASE: This is the North Crow drainage. This starts in the tribal wilderness area.

SCHMIDT: Georgia Case is a biologist for the Salish and Kootenai tribes. She spends much of her time collecting and testing water on the reservation. The Crow Creek site lies at the base of the Mission Mountains under a canopy of bright yellow aspen and larch.

CASE: When we come out we like to look and see how healthy the community is. If you were to walk up this creek you would see a lot of cutthroat trout. If you started flipping rocks you'd see a lot of stone flies, mayflies, and cattus flies, which are typically indicators of really good water quality.

SCHMIDT: In fact, most of the waterways on the Flathead Reservation remain in good shape. The tribes say they want to keep it that way . The Salish and Kootenai have recently set water quality standards for the reservation as part of a broader effort in Indian country to protect the environment of native lands. Bill Swaney is an environmental manager with the tribes.

SWANEY: What we're seeing is tribes that are very progressive and forward thinking and want to be able to determine the quality of life and the quality of the environment within the reservation boundaries.

SCHMIDT: But good clean water has become the subject of a bitter debate that's pitted tribal members against some non-native residents. Until recently, Indian reservations were a sort of no man's land when it came to water quality regulation. But Congress authorized tribes to establish their own water quality standards in 1987, and the Salish and Kootenai are among the first to assert that control. Some non-Indians charge the law gives tribes too much power.

(Lowing cows. A man calls out to them: "Yevo! Yevo!")

SCHMIDT: On this cold fall evening rancher Bill Slack leans over a fence and proudly points to some of his brown and white Hereford cows. The animals look fat and healthy. Slack moved here 30 years ago from Nevada.

SLACK: People wanted to know what I came up here for. Well, I came looking for green grass and water.

SCHMIDT: Slack owns nearly 600 acres of rich bottomland on the Flathead Reservation. He's not alone. Like other reservations in the west, the Flathead was opened to white settlement at the turn of the century. Now more than half the land belongs to non-Indians. Many of them dispute the tribe's right to set standards for water on their land. Slack says when he bought his property, he believed he would be subject to the laws of the state of Montana.

SLACK: I was told in no uncertain terms that I was buying a bonafide land the same as what I would buy anyplace else.

SCHMIDT: Slack points out that as a non-native, he's not allowed to vote for tribal council members. He says if the tribes have authority over his water, he's facing a situation of government without representation.

SLACK: Well, our concerns here as a family, as individual, is simply having a right to participate in setting regulations, and we have no doubt but that there's going to have to be regulations on maintaining the water quality. But we feel that there are things that we should all participate in, rather than being dictated to.

SCHMIDT: The state of Montana thinks the way to settle the controversy is through joint authority. They filed a lawsuit against the EPA, charging the Agency acted illegally by granting the tribes water quality authority over the entire reservation. Montana Attorney General Joe Mazurek says the state's position is that it has jurisdiction over non-Indian lands on reservations.

MAZUREK: It's not a question of whether the tribes have the capability to regulate. It's not a question of the standards that the tribe would set or enforce. It really is a basic, very basic sovereign question. I think it's more that the Federal Government should not pick one sovereign over another where we have a shared interest and a shared responsibility for enforcement.

SCHMIDT: But the Flathead Reservation is a patchwork of private and tribal lands, and EPA Regional Administration William Yellowtail says joint regulation would be virtually impossible.

YELLOWTAIL: Take a stream that runs across a checkerboarded land base. If you have conflicting water quality standards on one piece of property, that then meanders onto the next piece of property which is subject to a different set of standards, then you just have an unworkable situation.

SCHMIDT: The bigger issue is one of control. The Salish and Kootenai tribes say it's time the state of Montana recognizes that they're a sovereign nation and have the right to govern on their reservation. Still, tribal chairwoman Rhonda Sweeney says white residents can participate.

SWEENEY: They have all kinds of opportunity for participation through our administrative process, and many choose to join in that process and others don't. That's their choice. But the opportunity is there and they do affect the kinds of things we do.

SCHMIDT: Finally, swirling around the entire debate, are long-held grievances about white settlement. The Salish and Kootenai remain bitter about the forced opening of the reservation to white settlement. Sweeney says she thinks some non-native residents may be worried that the setting of water quality standards is part of a larger effort to eventually force them off their land.

SWEENEY: I feel that there's a great deal of fear. This reservation was illegally opened. Lands were taken illegally. People settled here illegally. I think that some folks are afraid that they'll be treated the way they treated others.

SCHMIDT: The tribes say that's not going to happen. But ranchers and farmers opposed to tribal control remain wary. They say while the standards may be reasonable now, the tribes could always tighten them in the future and they'd have no way to stop the process. Rancher Bill Slack rejects the notion that this dispute has its roots in the way the land was settled or lingering tension between Indians and non-Indians.

SLACK: This isn't a racial issue and it shouldn't be perceived as a racial issue. This is a -- this is a property rights issue, pure and simple. Do we own our property as property owners? Do we have a right to participate in this thing?

SCHMIDT: University of Montana Law Professor Ray Cross says this case has the potential for reshaping Federal Indian law. On the one hand, he says, if the courts uphold the tribes' authority to regulate for water quality, it will be an important pro-sovereignty victory for Native Americans. On the other hand, he says, ...

CROSS: If there is a restriction of tribal sovereignty to solely trust lands, then I think it's going to be a real setback because if tribes and states can't agree with respect to regulation of the resource, you have a potential for really disrupting any sort of meaningful environmental regulation.

SCHMIDT: A hearing on the case is expected early next year. The EPA is confident the court will uphold their action. But the fight may not end in court. A Clean Water Act reauthorization bill passed by the House would bar tribes from regulating non-native lands on reservations. Tribes, however, aren't waiting to see what happens. Currently, dozens of tribes across the country are in the process of establishing water quality programs on their reservations. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt on the Flathead Reservation in Montana.

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CURWOOD: Some ecologically friendly holiday shopping advice is just ahead on Living on Earth. Stick around.

(Music up and under: "Jingle Bell Rock")

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Commentator John Carroll likes to take jabs at the folks who try to sell us stuff, and we've often aired his skeptical views on how merchandisers put the environmental spin on their products. But what about goods specifically designed to be environmentally friendly? We sent John to an Eco-Expo, where the latest green gifts for the holiday season were on display, and here's what he found.

(Milling crowds)

CARROLL: For those who think communing with nature is the ultimate gift, there's probably nothing more suitable than eco-friendly outdoor gear.

SALESPERSON: We manufacture and market high performance, environmentally oriented backpacks and apparel.

CARROLL: And what's good for the environment about them?

SALESPERSON: Well, the backpacks are made by weight out of 90% recycled materials, PET, soda bottles, old car tires, milk jugs, that kind of thing, and they're essentially completely recyclable, so they can be sent back through again.

CARROLL: We're looking for holiday gifts. Anything stand out from your collection?

SALESPERSON: I think our Alpine Classic, which is just a wonderful pack for, like, day hiking or a book bag for students, that kind of thing.

CARROLL: And the prices on those?

SALESPERSON: The Alpine Classic backpack is $59 and the pop-top fleece pullover is $79.

CARROLL: Great. And the name of the company again is?

SALESPERSON: Eco-Trek.

CARROLL: After a long day of clomping around in the woods or trekking through a convention center, who wouldn't appreciate a little something for those aching muscles? At one booth, we found some very soothing gifts for all those hiking enthusiasts on your list.

SALESPERSON: The microwave pads are filled with a very dense field corn and covered in cotton, and with about 4 minutes of heating in the microwave you get about a half an hour of heating pad, or if you have a sore muscle and you want to put some ice on it you can stick it in the freezer and it's -- of course using the microwave is environmentally sound. It uses a lot less energy. The eye pillows and the neck rolls are covered in silk, and the eye pillows are filled with flax seed and you put them on your eyes and it forces your eyes to relax just from the gentle weight. The neck rolls are filled with buckwheat and can be adjusted for comfort, and are all natural fibers.

CARROLL: And what are the prices of those?

SALESPERSON: $14.95 up to about $34.95.

CARROLL: For the neck rolls. And what about the microwave?

SALESPERSON: The microwave bags are $15.95.

CARROLL: And the name of the store?

SALESPERSON: The Green Planet.

CARROLL: In a pinch, that field corn in the microwave pads could also double as an hors d'oeuvre at parties. Of course, holiday parties mean dressing up, so distinctive jewelry always makes a welcome gift.

SALESPERSON: I make paper bead jewelry, and they're made from old magazine paper or used computer paper.

CARROLL: Okay, why don't you show us how this works, how you turn paper into something that looks just like a glass bead.

SALESPERSON: Sure. I start with a strip of paper, a triangular strip of paper that's cut from a magazine. And I put a little bit of glue at the tip. Then I put this between the two-needle drill that I have, and I roll it into a bead.

(Sound of the drill)

SALESPERSON: And the interesting thing about this is I can adjust the bead by pushing it up and down and create a different shape. Like this one is a teardrop shape. Then I put this on the wire and dip the whole thing in a water-based polyurethane for 5 to 10 times, and when it's finished these beads are completely waterproof. They are as hard as wood. They are as smooth as glass. And a lot of people just won't believe that they're made from paper.

CARROLL: Well if you look closely enough you can tell that they are. They're really quite amazing.

SALESPERSON: Thanks.

CARROLL: And the name of your company is Paper Bead Jewelry.

SALESPERSON: Actually it's Minerva Creations.

CARROLL: Finally, since we have our own gifts to buy, we made a timely stop to check out some highly unusual clocks.

SALESPERSON: We have a nice line of clocks. Two varieties: the ones you see here that are in red, green, purple, and black, are from a material called Environ. And that's 40% recycled newspaper and 40% soybean. And it was developed by a 12-year-old girl for her science project. She put soybeans and newspaper in a blender, baked it in the oven, and her dad was impressed and brought it to the local university extension service and the Department of Agriculture eventually gave them a grant for $500,000. And now it's a full-fledged company making panels.

CARROLL: It almost looks like marble.

SALESPERSON: It's very similar to marble. They call it faux granite look. As opposed to the foam materials it's not painted on, it's solid throughout. The other clocks we have, 3 different styles, are recycled from shipping pallets, and about anywhere from 40% to 50% of the hardwoods in the United States are used to manufacture shipping pallets. And they come in oak and maple and birch and cherry, wood that you wouldn't normally associate with shipping pallets.

CARROLL: Well, they make a handsome clock. And the prices on these?

SALESPERSON: The retail prices for the wood mantle clocks are $19, and the enviro-mantle clocks are $25.

CARROLL: And your company again is?

SALESPERSON: Is Green Tech Incorporated.

CARROLL: Maybe we should hook up that 12 year old inventor of Environ with a few other government departments. She could probably crank out a soybean-based B1 bomber that the military could eat rather than fly. Failing that, here's hoping your holidays are as bright as she is. For Living on Earth, I'm John Carroll.

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Simple Christmas

CURWOOD: Mr. Lillienfeld.

LILLIENFELD: Yes, sir.

CURWOOD: What are you getting your friends and families this year as gifts?

LILLIENFELD: Gift certificates. First of all, it's a way for me to say to somebody I want to give you a gift that doesn't use a lot of stuff, but secondly, it's a way for somebody to get something that they want that I know that they're not going to throw away. And that basically means if it doesn't get thrown away, resources are going to be conserved.

CURWOOD: Bob Lillienfeld is an environmental consultant and editor of the ULS Report. That stands for Use Less Stuff. Lillienfeld, along with the EPA and 6 conservation organizations, is trying to promote that Use Less Stuff concept during the holidays. Now, I'd like you to break it down for me. How much of the 25 million tons of junk that's generated over the next few weeks is packaging and how much is paper and what proportion is food?

LILLIENFELD: Well, you hit on the big 3. Most of it is food followed by all sorts of packaging, paper, plastic wrap, ribbons, bows, boxes, and all those things we end up putting our gifts in. In fact, we estimate that Americans generate about 25% additional waste during the holiday season, which works out to be an extra 1 million tons of stuff each week.

CURWOOD: Now, you pulled together some 38 holiday tips for consumers, an effort to get us to consume less. What' s the most important thing we can do?

LILLIENFELD: Probably, to think smart about what you buy before you buy it. And by that I mean we always tend to buy more food than we really need during the holiday times. We tend to think that there probably are going to be 30 or 40 people visiting us when there probably are only going to be 3 or 4. So buying smart, shopping smart, really saves from wasting stuff after the fact. The other thing that it does is, it really saves us money. The advantage to using less stuff is not only is it good environmentally and ecologically, but it's also good economically.

CURWOOD: But wait a second. Maybe my Aunt Lillian is going to come over and maybe Uncle Wayne is going to come with them and, you know, with a couple of my cousins, or maybe not. Now, if I don't buy enough food to feed them they're not going to feel very welcome if they do stop by.

LILLIENFELD: Well, I have a defensive strategy for that. And that is to buy ahead of time what you think you're going to use to make sure that all your leftovers get used up as well. So that if you do buy a little bit more you have an extra, let's say, pound of turkey sliced up sitting in the refrigerator, you know in fact that you're not going to eat that turkey unless you have cranberry sauce to go with it. Buy a little extra cranberry sauce because that's going to guarantee that whether your Aunt Lillian comes over or whether you're going to sit in front of the next 3 days worth of football games, that food will be eaten.

CURWOOD: Now, a lot of us travel at the holidays, and we eat at our relatives' or friends' houses. I mean, how are we going to control the consumption problem there? I mean I can't tell my Uncle Bill how much he should cook or shouldn't cook.

LILLIENFELD: Well, start the first time around by taking less than you think you're going to eat, so that your plate has a little less food than you would probably normally take. The reason for that is to make sure that you eat it all. Think about the fact that probably everybody in your family left a little bit of cranberry sauce on their plate last year. Now it doesn't look like much, but on our collective American plate that one teaspoon of cranberry sauce translates to 14 million pounds of stuff that gets wasted and thrown out. If you think about the fact that there's more than cranberry sauce on your plate, there's also turkey and stuffing or maybe mashed potatoes, you can see how a little bit really adds up.

CURWOOD: What's the most egregious Christmas gift that you can think of? Within limits, a common egregious Christmas gift.

LILLIENFELD: Okay. I do have an answer for you. A lot of people aren't going to like my answer because it's a traditional gift and it's, frankly it's perfume. And the reason for that is if you think about how much perfume you get, it's a teeny little amount, maybe it's a quarter to a half of an ounce. It comes in a heavy crystal bottle which is ensconced in some sort of paper or plastic container. Then that's put into a box, which is then wrapped up with some kind of cellophane which then has a bow on it and then has wrapping paper, etc. etc. etc. So the amount of gift you get is probably 3 % to 5% and the amount of packaging is in the neighborhood of 95%.

CURWOOD: Hm. If I stop giving my wife perfume will you give me a discount certificate for a divorce lawyer?

LILLIENFELD: (Laughs) No, but I can give you a bottle you can fill instead of having to buy a new one.

CURWOOD: Oh, that sounds better, doesn't it? (Laughs) Well, Mr. Lillienfeld, thanks for joining us.

LILLIENFELD: Well thank you, Steve, and have a lovely, trashless holiday.

CURWOOD: Bob Lillienfeld is an environmental consultant and editor of the ULS Report. That stands for Use Less Stuff. He joined us from the studios of WDET in Detroit.

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(Music up and under: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town.")

CURWOOD: Okay, now it's your turn. Give us your top choices for things to give at the holidays, and why. Your idea might wind up on the air. Call us right now at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try our e-mail address. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $12.

(Music up and under: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town.")

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: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town.")

ANNOUNCER: Major support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation for reporting on science and the environment; the Ford Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; 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: Coming up in the second half of Living on Earth, we meet a man who charges that too much environmental public relations is greenwash, designed to fool the public.

(Music up and under)

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's a great success story, or is it? Those lovable furry sea otters are back from the brink of extinction on California's coast. Some say it's time to take them off the Endangered Species List, but others say it's still too soon to be sure they'll survive. We'll have that and more on this half hour of NPR's Living on Earth. First we have this week's almanac.

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Think of earthquakes and our thoughts inevitably turn to California. Our fault is only looking at the Golden State. On the continental United States, the area with the second greatest number of fault lines is New England. November marks the 245th anniversary of the region's largest recorded quake. If they'd had Richter scales back in 1750, the meters would have peaked at 6.2. New England's most recent large quake came 190 years later, shaking the Granite State of New Hampshire for 4 days in December of 1940. The mother of all US quakes wasn't in California, nor New England, but the usually stable Midwest. Starting in December of 1811, some 2,000 tremors rocked the area around New Madrid in southern Missouri over the next 3 months. The largest of these quakes is estimated to have hit 8.8 on the Richter scale. So severe were these shocks that New Madrid sank about 12 feet, the Mississippi flowed north for several hours, and more than 150,000 acres of forest were flattened. Now that's an earthquake.

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(Music up and under: "Subsequently!")

Border Clean-Up: Still Crying Foul

CURWOOD: The North American Free Trade Agreement was ratified by the United States, Canada, and Mexico just about 2 years ago, amid competing claims about its environmental impact. Many hoped that debate would lead to help for the environmental mess along the US/Mexican border. But as Barbara Ferry reports from Juarez, Mexico's largest border city, residents there are still waiting to see signs of improvement.

(Traffic sounds, horns blaring)

FERRY: It's Saturday afternoon and traffic is bumper to bumper on the Zaragosa Bridge connecting El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. Zaragosa is the easternmost neighborhood of Juarez. There are still horse stables here, reminders that this was once a pastoral setting. But those days are gone.

(Honking horns.)

FERRY: Today more than a million and a half people live in Juarez. Most new residents have come from rural areas of Mexico. Hoping to find work in the hundreds of light manufacturing plants called Maquilladoras, that have sprung up along the border. Juarez is a booming city, but it still has no way of treating the 80 million gallons of sewage its residents produce each day. The raw sewage flows through the city in open canals. Juarenses call it Los Aguas Negras: The Black Waters.

(Flowing water)

FERRY: Just a few feet from the edge of one of these canals, about 50 people are building homes of cardboard and wooden pallets. Among them is Adriana Rodriguez. Her family came to Juarez 3 months ago, after her husband lost his job in a lead mine in central Mexico.

RODRIGUEZ: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: Down there, there aren't any Maquilladoras. There isn't any work. There isn't anything. So we had to come here to the border to find jobs.

FERRY: Adriana's husband now earns about $20 a week in a factory making circuit breakers. The money allows her to feed her family. But since moving to Juarez, Adriana says she's worried about living in the crowded, dirty city. Her 4-year-old son recently fell into a sewage canal.

RODRIGUEZ: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: He was trying to cross the bridge when he lost his balance and fell into the water. He came out all covered with greenish mud. And that's why we want to leave this place, because our son fell in. We don't want it to happen again, or that we get sick from living here.

FERRY: This mother's concerns about her family's health are well-founded, according to Jim Vanderslice, who heads the School of Public Health at the University of Texas.

VANDERSLICE: The main types of problems have to do with fecal oral diseases, all those diseases that you get by somehow ingesting pathogens that come out of the feces of other people. And this is, you know, vibrio, cholera, you know is the organism that causes cholera. All other bacterial organisms cancel factor, viral organisms that cause hepatitis-A virus. All those are fecally, fecal oral transmission. So if you look at what the root of the problem is, the root of the problem is proper excrete disposal.

(Running water)

FERRY: As the sewage canals wend their way south, they traverse wealthy neighborhoods as well as poor ones. Mission de Los Lagos is Juarez's newest country club. Mansions ring its golf course, and inside the restaurant daughters of the elite pose in evening gowns for photographers from the local paper. But even here there are problems with sewage. A canal used by farmers to irrigate their fields runs nearby and causes a stench. Chef Pierno Bries says it's a problem.

BRIES: That was one of my first comments when the owners asked me to come up from Chihuahua, from the country club in Chihuahua, and they asked me to come up here and take over the kitchen here. One of the first questions I asked of the owner of the club was what's on tap about this odor that permeates the front part of the club, really?

FERRY: Everyone agrees Juarez needs sewage treatment. But the plants bear a big price tag. Forty million dollars. NAFTA's environmental site agreements are supposed to address these problems. Under the treaty, the US and Mexico set up the North American Development, or NAD Bank, to provide loans to border cities. Roger Frauenfelder is general manager of the border environmental cooperation commission, which reviews projects and recommends them for financing.

FRAUENFELDER: What needs to be recognized is the moneys that are being set aside for financing border infrastructure through the backing NAD Bank, is not a giveaway type program. It's not foreign aid. On the contrary, it is a new paradigm and by all measures that I can take is one that we need to pursue, because there's a lot of work to do here.

FERRY: But 2 recent developments are holding up border cleanup plans. In Washington, DC, Congress is threatening to slash NAD Bank funds. Meanwhile, in Mexico, the crash of the peso has cut buying power in half. So, even if low-interest loans were available, Juarez mayor Ramon Galindo says there's one simple reason he can't use them.

GALINDO: We don't need loans, because we can't pay them back.

FERRY: To help pay for the plants, Galindo says he would have to raise water rates by 100%. And given the state of the economy, he says that's not feasible.

GALINDO: People can't, in Juarez, pay for this huge increase on the rates of the water, because of the treatment plants. So when you ask me, when are you going to work on this project, I don't know. I don't know because I'm not sure I'm willing to provoke this increase on the expenses of people, because people won't pay. They eat, or pay the treatment plants, so they'd rather eat.

(Man's voice: "While I've got the floor maybe I should comment. As the current...")

FERRY: Back across the bridge in El Paso, environmentalists and government officials from both sides of the border are meeting to find solutions to problems they share. Wes Leonard, who directs the Center for Environmental Research Management at the University of Texas, says his hopes that NAFTA would bring changes to the border have dimmed. He says lack of progress on sewage treatment in Juarez is only one example.

LEONARD: If something like this were happening in any other part of the country, it would be a national outrage. We would have Senate hearings in Washington. Action would be taken. But since it's the border, since it's Mexico, it's accepted. And something's going to have to change.

FERRY: Juarez and El Paso officials say if their respective governments abandon them they'll seek funding for the treatment plants from other sources, including private foundations and the Maquilladora industry. Until the money is found, border residents here will have to wait for the environmental promises of NAFTA to be realized. For Living on Earth, I'm Barbara Ferry in El Paso.

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(Mexican troubadours play; music up and under)

Living on Earth Profile Series #19: Denis Hayes: Earth Day Pioneer

CURWOOD: The first Earth Day in 1970, which attracted perhaps 20 million people to peaceful demonstrations all over the United States, was a remarkable moment of mass harmony in an era of confrontation. Perhaps the most important architect of this watershed event of the environmental movement was a young student at Harvard Law School. As part of our continuing series about pioneers of environmental change, Terry FitzPatrick at our Northwest Bureau at member station KPLU in Seattle has this profile of Denis Hayes.

(A newscast: sirens sound. "Sirens and fire engines, ambulances, police cars, burglar alarms... rampage of rioting and looting in a small section of the Negro community on the south side of town...")

FITZPATRICK: America's modern environmental movement was born in an era of rage and confrontation. By 1970 the nation was torn by a decade of racial strife and antiwar protests.

(Newscaster: "And now they've got the demonstrators on the run up Bay Street." Demonstrators shout.)

FITZPATRICK: Denis Hayes was a student activist then. Amid this polarization he saw an opportunity to build a grassroots campaign to protect the environment.

HAYES: Environmentalism seemed to me from the start to hold a unique ability to pull America together. Where most of the other issues that were traipsing across the floor were hugely divisive things, environmental issues had such a broad public approval that they could be used, in a fashion, to help rebuild American consensus around some shared values.

FITZPATRICK: Hayes discovered his values when he dropped out of college in 1964 for a 3-year hitchhiking trip. In Africa and Asia he saw unspeakable poverty and widespread environmental destruction. Back in the US he dedicated his life to building a society that understands the connection between the quality of human life and the quality of our air, land, and water. In 1970, Hayes was asked to organize a nationwide college teach-in, designed to build support for antipollution laws in Congress. But he was convinced concern for the environment could resonate beyond campus activists.

HAYES: The huge amount of this momentum came not from students at all, in reality. It came from an almost disappeared species: the housewife and the single income family with a good education and time on her hands, and that was really the mobilizing intelligence behind Earth Day. I guess I was smart enough to see that and to shift the focus of it away from campuses and fairly aggressively into community oriented events.

FITZPATRICK: The strategy worked. More people participated in Earth Day 1970 than any other event in American history.

(Newscaster: "Kindergartners and first graders in a predominantly black school darted around the school grounds picking up just about everything in sight, including a lot of dead leaves. That wasn't exactly the right idea, but they certainly had the right spirit...")

FITZPATRICK: This outpouring of concern turned environmentalism into a broad-based social movement. Denis Hayes has changed since the days when he organized the first Earth Day. During the Carter Administration, Hayes ran a Federal program to develop renewable energy technology. He now directs a Seattle-based foundation, which supports, among other things, Living on Earth. These experiences have tempered his outlook. Hayes no longer forecasts ecological catastrophe, like he did in his first Earth Day speech, with this comment about smog.

HAYES: Tens of thousands of people will soon die in Los Angeles in a thermal inversion that's probably now inevitable, and there's not a single instrument within the existing order that is stopping the poisonous flow of traffic into that system. We cannot pretend to be concerned with the environment...

FITZPATRICK: Hayes is somewhat embarrassed these days when listening to his youthful rhetoric. But he contends the alarmist tone was right for the times. Now, Hayes seems less strident and more philosophical. Instead of demanding that the government clean up America, he's working to get individuals to accept responsibility for building a sustainable society.

HAYES: We'd like to create a system within which people feel like they are acting in their own immediate self interest rather than feel like they are oppressed and being manipulated by faceless remote governmental bureaucrats, in order to lead lives where they are making the most efficient possible use of resources and acting in a way that allows them to pass onto their kids a world as wonderful as the one that they inherited.

FITZPATRICK: Earth Day organizer and environmental strategist, Denis Hayes. For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick reporting.

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CURWOOD: Just ahead on Living on Earth: a warning from a critic of high-powered public relations. He says it's bad for democracy.

(Music up and under)

Toxic Sludge and Greenwash

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Ever since industry has come under fire for causing environmental damage, it has also spent a lot of money trying to persuade the public that it's making progress. And in truth, many companies have become more careful of how they use natural resources and therefore are worthy of commendation. But more of them are claiming good works than deserve credit, according to John Stauber, a critic of the public relations industry. Mr. Stauber claims some companies spend millions of dollars greenwashing their images and misleading the public about their handling of the environment.

John Stauber is the publisher of PR Watch, and with coauthor Sheldon Rampton of a new book called Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies, and the Public Relations Industry. Big time corporate PR, Mr. Stauber says, is not good for our values or politics.

STAUBER: The power of PR corrupts our democracy. The idea in a democracy is that people educate themselves, debate, and determine issues of public policy either directly or for, through their elected representatives. What the PR Industry does is it allows major corporations to dominate politics and public policy, so it undermines the most fundamental principle of democracy, which is letting the people debate and decide public policy.

CURWOOD: Okay, I want to be sure I understand your case here, though. Are you saying that companies, rich companies, shouldn't have the right to hire professionals, to put them in the best possible light?

STAUBER: Companies certainly have the right to put forth their message. We're not really talking about rights here. Rights adhere to individuals in a democracy. The problem to a very large extent is money. Because of the massive amount of capital and access to the media that these companies have, they're able to project a false image of what their true environmental record is, for instance. We can look at a company like Dow Chemical. Dow had a terrible public image coming out of the 60s because it was identified with toxins like Agent Orange and weapons like napalm, so they began spending a lot of money on PR, and advocacy advertising, and they have successfully changed their image according to surveys of public opinion. Yet in reality, Dow still remains a very major polluter, so what I would recommend is just a fundamental buyer beware attitude towards how corporations operate.

CURWOOD: Tell me now, what's the difference between advertising and public relations?

STAUBER: Advertising is right in your face. When you're watching the evening news and they break to a commercial and you see an ad, you know that that's a company trying to sell you a product or sell you an idea. Public relations is much less visible. In fact, there's an axiom that public relations works best when it is invisible. And it's now at least a $10 billion a year trans-national industry made up of huge firms like Hill and Knowlton, Burston Marstellar, Katchum, that are available to major corporations, governments and the wealthy, to control public opinion and public policy.

CURWOOD: Are there examples of honest corporate communications out there?

STAUBER: Sure there are. There are 150,000 public relations practitioners in the US, and many of them, perhaps most of them, on a day-to-day basis, are conducting fairly benign education campaigns, and some of what the public relations practitioners do is important.

CURWOOD: Tell me, John Stauber, what's the difference between a company which is honestly responsive to community concerns and one which is greenwashing? I mean, how can a citizen tell?

STAUBER: It's not often easy to tell because again, public relations works best when it is invisible. And I think what the public has to do is remember what the business community knows, which is that every company is in business for one reason only, and that's to increase the profits at the bottom line. And it's very, very difficult for any company to maintain a good socially responsible and environmentally responsible record if those activities seem to detract from its bottom line.

CURWOOD: What changes to do you want in the public relations industry? How would you change it to make it, in your view, more honest and more appropriate for democracy?

STAUBER: The public relations industry is very difficult to reform, because it's essentially a propaganda industry. And the bottom line for me is that we have to develop a citizenry that's aware and vigilant, and somebody's always going to be trying to propagandize that citizenry.

CURWOOD: Do you think there should be rules governing the public relations industry?

STAUBER: There could be laws that require much better labeling of what's clearly persuasive propaganda. For instance, TV spots representing an issue brought to you by some coalition, it would be nice if those TV spots were required to say this was paid for by the insurance industry or the chemical industry or a specific company. There's no law requiring that right now, and it's very confusing.

CURWOOD: John Stauber is publisher of the newsletter PR Watch and coauthor, with Sheldon Rampton, of the new book Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies, and the Public Relations Industry. Thanks for joining us.

STAUBER: Thank you, Steve, it's been a pleasure.

CURWOOD: And I just can't resist asking you, is this interview good PR for your book?

STAUBER: (Laughs) Well that's up to how you edit it.

CURWOOD: (Laughs)

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(Music up and under)

Sea Otters: Swimming for a Comeback

CURWOOD: There are few creatures with more charm than the California sea otter. The furry critters have become popular images on calendars and posters. When they almost went extinct in the 1970s, the Federal Government quickly put them on the Endangered Species List. Now the California sea otter population has bounced back, and some scientists who work closely with the marine mammals say it's time to think about taking them off the Endangered Species List. But delisting is not proving to be so easy. Other marine biologists say pollution may be compromising the immune systems of the sea otters, and they are still vulnerable. Rachel Anne Goodman has our report from Santa Cruz, California.

GOODMAN: Each spring and fall, teams of marine biologists armed with maps and high-powered binoculars count the otters from cliffs along the California coast.

(Man: "Well there's 3 otters sitting up there altogether...")

GOODMAN: California's sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction for their fur a century ago. Their numbers plummeted from an estimated 18,000 to about 50 otters. But with the help of the Endangered Species Act, they've begun to bounce back, showing a steady average growth rate of 5 percent a year over the last 15 years.

(Man: "Try to find those mothers and pups back there, see if they're still...")

GOODMAN: I catch up with a census team at the edge of a Brussel sprout field near Santa Cruz. Gray clouds hang over the swells muting the colors, but making for good otter viewing. The team has spotted 3 mothers and pups in this cove.

(Man: "Oh boy, okay, let's see...")

GOODMAN: Recent counts have identified 2,300 animals. That's led a Federal advisory team to talk about the possibility of delisting the southern sea otter in as soon as 5 years. Jim Estes of the National Biological Service is one of the country's leading experts on sea otters.

ESTES: What we recommended was that once the recovery criterion, I've forgotten again the exact number, but somewhere in the mid to high 20, 26, 2700 -- once that number had been reached it would have to be maintained for 3 years in succession. Then the Fish and Wildlife Service could consider delisting the population.

GOODMAN: The team arrived at the delisting number by using computer modeling to calculate how many otters would survive a major oil spill, the threat considered most lethal to the population. Given current growth rates, Jim Estes feels optimistic about the otter's future.

ESTES: We have a growing population, and you know, on a global sense, that's an unusual situation. So I'm heartened by that. I think we're dealing with a species and a population which is doing a lot better than many others. I'd like to see them growing at 15 to 20% a year.

GOODMAN: But not all the signs are good. California sea otters are growing 15% slower than their Alaskan counterparts, and over 50% of all pups die before weaning. Ellen Furrow Daniels is the head scientist at Friends of the Sea Otter. She says it's far too soon to begin talking about taking the otter off the Endangered Species List.

DANIELS: Our concern is that, you know, people are just going to use a head count only as a basis for delisting. And the Fish and Wildlife Service has said they pretty much don't really care if the population is growing at a slower rate than usual. Last spring count we only had a 1% population growth instead of 5. Or if the population is unhealthy for any reason because as long as they see some population growth, they're satisfied that that's sufficient.

GOODMAN: Some of the losses may be due to sharks and human shellfishing activities at the edges of the otter's range. But there may be other problems, too. Rochelle Stadler of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and her colleagues have just captured a mother otter and her pup. On the deck of their research boat they struggle to weigh and tag the unwilling animals.

(An otter screams)

STADLER: Up here we've found a lot of parasites in animals. We're not sure if it's, you know, a trend that they're starting to get more parasites than they had before. It seems like from animals since the 70s, the parasites in the otters have been increasing a little bit.

GOODMAN: A two-year study by the National Wildlife Laboratory found that 40% of the dead otters they examined had died of infectious diseases. In July, scientists were alarmed when 11 carcasses washed up in Monterrey Harbor. Veterinary pathologists still can't find the cause. Ellen Furrow Daniels of Friends of the Sea Otter worries that chemical pollutants may be threatening the otter's immune systems.

DANIELS: The sea otters carry heavy body burdens of environmental contaminants and trace metals and things like that. And to our knowledge, you know, it doesn't cause outright death of the animal, and so everyone just kind of shrugged their shoulders and said well, they carry heavy burdens of these trace metals and pesticides; so what?

GOODMAN: One study showed PCB levels in California otters was 38% higher than in their Alaskan counterparts. DDT levels were 800 times higher. Very low PCB levels have been shown to cause reproductive failure in minks, a related species. But it's uncertain whether researchers will be able to explore some of these questions. The Federal lab which dissects and analyzes sea otter carcasses had its budget cut by 30% as part of Federal downsizing. And Washington politics may be playing a larger role in the fate of the sea otters. Ellen Furrow Daniels says the move to delist the otters may be part of a PR effort to shore up support for the Endangered Species Act.

DANIELS: At the time that we need to be putting greater effort, probably, into getting to the bottom of some of these emerging issues with sea otters, they're being pushed toward delisting, so they can be a success story. I'm not sure the time is right for them to be a success story.

GOODMAN: Even if in 5 years the southern sea otter is removed from the Endangered Species List, the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act would still provide some of the same protections until the species grew to some 8,000 to 10,000 animals. Researcher Jim Estes feels that whatever their Federal status, the California sea otter will continue to recover.

ESTES: I've never been able to imagine that there would not be some effort being put into conserving and doing research on the sea otter in California, because they -- it seems to be a species that so many people are concerned about.

(Man: "Oh, there's another, a third one. Oh boy, okay, let's see...")

ESTES: The US Fish and Wildlife Service will take up the issue of delisting early next year. For Living on Earth, I'm Rachel Anne Goodman in Santa Cruz, California.

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(Man: "Uh, I'm not seeing them..." Woman: "At one o'clock." Man: "Yep, oh yeah...")

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's senior producer is Chris Ballman. Our editor is Peter Thomson, our director Deborah Stavro, our coordinating producer George Homsy, and our associate producer is Kim Motylewski. Constantine Von Hoffman edits the news. Our production team includes Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Eric Losick, Christopher Knorr, Mark Borrelli, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, and Jessika Bella Mura to whom we wish a fond farewell. Our engineers in the WBUR Studio are Karen Given and Laurie Forest. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthelliere and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major support from the Ford Foundation for reporting on environmental and development issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; and the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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