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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

December 8, 1995

Air Date: December 8, 1995

SEGMENTS

Washington Round-Up / Gary Lee

Once again, President Clinton and Congress face a shutdown over Federal spending for the fiscal year that began in October, and increasingly, the environment is playing an important role in the budget battle. Steve Curwood interviews Gary Lee, environmental reporter for the Washington Post. (06:30)

EPA at 25 / William Ruckelshaus

One of the most contentious budget items is proposed deep cuts in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, created by executive order of President Nixon. As Congress debates future funding for the agency, William Ruckelshaus — EPA’s first director — comments. (02:32)

CAFE Regulations / Julie Edelson Halper

Sport/utility vehicles, pickups, and minivans are exempt from the stringent fuel efficiency standards that apply to passenger cars — and they’re more popular than ever. A Presidential advisory panel is expected to urge that CAFE standards should apply to both, but Congress isn’t expected to embrace the idea. Julie Edelson Halper of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports on the impasse. (04:42)

Horse Ranch / Jacinda Abcarian

A group of outdoor educators in Oakland, California is trying to break the grip of strictly urban life on teenagers by getting them out on horseback in the Oakland Hills. Jacinda Abcarian of Youth Radio in Oakland reports. (05:05)

The Living on Earth Almanac

The 155th anniversary of the bicycle. (01:00)

Asian Nukes

In Asia, dozens of new nuclear reactors are expected to start construction in the next decade to meet growing demand for electricity. But questions of safety and waste disposal remain, as they do in the US and Europe. Steve Curwood talks with Philip Shenon, who covers the rise of nuclear power for the New York Times. (04:17)

Korean Greens / Lucie McNeill

The price of South Korea’s huge post-war development binge has been high: a massive pollution hangover. Increasingly, South Koreans find rising incomes don’t mean much if the quality of life is poorer, and they are starting to speak out. Lucie McNeill reports on the country’s budding environmental movement. (09:19)

Animal Parts / Stephanie O’Neill

Asia’s booming markets have brought more demand for traditional medicines, many of which use the body parts of endangered animals. The US is pressuring Asian governments to shut down the trade, but some of the demand is coming from the US itself. Stephanie O’Neill reports on a US Fish and Wildlife Service initiative against traditional Asian medicines. (04:00)

Pollinators Commentary / Gary Nabhan

In the future, picking up the components for a holiday feast may not be so easy. Gary Nabhan comments. (02:56)

Gift Ideas from Listeners

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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: Ley Garnett, Stephanie O'Neill, Julie Edelson Halpert, Jacinda Abcarian, Lucie McNeill
GUEST: Gary Lee, Philip Sheenan
COMMENTATOR: William Ruckelshaus, Gary Nabhan

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. As the Federal budget battles continue, Republicans are scaling back their earlier threats to make drastic cuts in environmental protection.

RUCKELSHAUS: Like Bill Clinton, the Republicans are also waking up to the fact that the public considers environmental protection an important priority.

CURWOOD: Also, on its 25th anniversary, the EPA's first administrator has a progress report. And using horses to teach kids about nature and themselves.

WESLEY: So you see them go from the transformation of being totally afraid to even touch the horse to touching, feeling, you know, to riding, and you see the self esteem, and you see how they feel empowered to be able to handle a 1,300 or 1,500 pound animal.

CURWOOD: On Living on Earth. First news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. The US and Russia are among the first 25 signers of a treaty regulating fishing on the high seas. The pact hopes to ensure conservation and management of fish which spend at least some of their life cycle inside the 200-mile international limit. The accord also covers species such as tuna and swordfish, which migrate over wide areas. It's hoped the agreement will limit the kinds of disputes that have broken out recently between countries over declining fish stocks. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 70% of fish stocks worldwide are either depleted or rebuilding after previous over-fishing.

The Sierra Club has launched the first independent political campaign in its 103-year history. Highlighting the campaign is a series of paid ads attacking the Republican candidate in the race to fill the seat of Oregon Senator Bill Packwood. Ley Garnett of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.

GARNETT: Oregon State Senate President Gordon Smith easily won the Republican primary. Smith, who owns a multi-million dollar frozen food processing plant now faces Democratic Congressman Ron Wyden in the general election next month. The Sierra Club's Meg Ryan O'Donnell says the Oregon senate race is significant, because it's the first election since a Congressional effort to roll back environmental regulations.

O'DONNELL: We're here to tell you we care about the safety of our environment, we vote, and we're going to take back the government from these extreme right-wing politicians.

GARNETT: O'Donnell says Smith's voting record in the Oregon legislature, and the environmental record of his food processing plant, are abysmal. Though the Sierra Club campaign doesn't mention Ron Wyden, O'Donnell says Wyden has a good environmental voting record in Congress. A Smith campaign spokesman says Smith believes in balancing the needs of people and the environment, and that his factory is a good corporate citizen. For Living on Earth, I'm Ley Garnett in Portland.

NUNLEY: Over one-third of North America's livestock or poultry breeds are rare or in decline, and the UN report says nearly 900 farm animal breeds worldwide risk extinction. The report says genetic diversity among domestic animals is disappearing at alarming rates, due to indiscriminate cross-breeding and farmers who prefer on ebreed to the exclusion of others. The report estimates that 3 breeds are lost every 2 weeks, and predicts that 1,200 to 1,500 of the world's 4,000 to 5,000 domestic animal genetic resources now risk being lost.

Australian scientists are scrambling to deal with a virus that kills both people and horses. Researchers say the new cross-species virus is responsible for the death of a noted horse trainer earlier this year and a farmer last October. The virus is related both to human measles and canine distemper, and it's the first known member of the measle family to affect more than one species. The organism causes shortness of breath, muscle spasms, and fever in both humans and horses, filling the lungs rapidly with blood so that the victim dies of suffocation within a few days. The Australian Ministry of Health has quarantined certain horses an d ordered a halt to racing in many areas. Investigators don't know the source of the virus or how it passes from horses to humans. So far there have been no reported cases of the virus outside of Australia. Officials say the threat appears to be under control there.

A controversial ocean noise study is back, despite the discovery of 3 dead whales in the test area. From Los Angeles, Stephanie O'Neill reports.

O'NEILL: An independent advisory board has concluded that the deaths of 3 humpback whales was most likely not caused by an ocean study on global warming. That word comes just weeks after the test by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography was stopped by the discovery of dead whales in the study zone. The test, called the Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate, uses short but very loud blasts of sound from an underwater transmitter to measure the changes in ocean temperatures. Environmentalists are concerned the sound may make whales deaf and affect their ability to migrate and eat. In an effort to appease those worries, project leaders agreed that in conjunction with the sound tests, they would conduct a $4.5 million study on the effect underwater sounds have on marine mammals migrating through the study zone. But the recent shutdown and weather delays have made it unlikely that such a study will take place before the whales return through the area next summer. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

NUNLEY: A disease that has plagued the developing world for centuries has nearly been eradicated. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta says only 100,000 cases of guinea worm disease have been reported this year. Nine years ago 3-and-a-half million cases were reported. Officials hope to eliminate the disease within 3 years. The guinea worm deposits larvae in water supplies; in humans those larvae cause nausea and fever and victims are bedridden for long periods of time. Outbreaks of the disease frequently ruin entire villages, which are prevented from harvesting their crops.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

Washington Round-Up

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Once again, President Clinton and the Congress are facing a showdown over Federal spending for the fiscal year that began in October. And increasingly, as we've seen over the past few months, the environment is playing an important role in the budget battle. For a look at how these issues are being handled as negotiations go down to the wire, we turn now to Gary Lee, environmental reporter for the Washington Post.

LEE: The overall budget for enforcement of all the environmental laws, including those for clean-up of drinking water, reservoirs, and for lakes and rivers, threatens to be cut in that budget. So because the enforcement budget would be cut, you could say that the whole gamut of laws, anti-pollution laws, would be affected by these proposed cuts.

CURWOOD: Now, as the budget negotiations have continued, the White House has said it will veto any bill that proposes cuts in environmental laws and regulations. Now, is this for real, or is this a negotiating position, do you think?

LEE: I think at this particular point, we could regard it as a negotiating position. And in fact it's a negotiating position which has had some effect so far. The Republicans started out by proposing a much bigger cut than they've ended up with now. Originally, we had thought that there would be about a third cut in the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, including a half, 50% cut in the budget for enforcement. But that's now been whittled down in the negotiations.

CURWOOD: Now, a lot of the moderates in the Republican party up on Capitol Hill have been very much opposed to some of these cuts in the budget bill. How much influence have they had?

LEE: They have helped bring, in their own words, the pendulum back to the middle somewhere on where the GOP stands on the environment. For example, there were quite a number of more than a dozen riders that were originally attached to the Republican proposed EPA budget, and those riders would have prevented or mitigated the enforcement of significant parts of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and so on. And in large part due to the pressure of the Republican moderates, most of the riders will not appear in the final budget.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering about the efforts to reform the 1872 Mining Law, one that essentially has the Federal government give away billions of dollars in mineral rights for just about nothing. Now my understanding is that the House Republicans are quite militant about changing that law, but the Senate is dragging its feet. Is that accurate? And if so, how do you think this will play out?

LEE: That's right. The House does want to bring about changes so that there's not such a big give-away and the Senate is, as you put it, dragging its feet on that particular issue, I think that this is one of those examples in which the western senators have a great deal of clout and they're mobilizing in a conservative way around this issue. And I assume that at the end of the day, that the House will end up having strong sway over how the legislation is finally -- finally changed or enacted, or whether it is at all.

CURWOOD: It looks like President Clinton is going to make environmental protection one of the key issues of his re-election campaign. What kind of record do you think he has to stand on here?

LEE: Actually, Clinton himself does not have a strong record on the environment. It has seemed that in the last couple of months Clinton has been willing to take up more -- a higher profile supporting the environment and saying that he's not going to stand for the threats that the Republicans are posing to it. So one of the things that we in Washington will be looking to, to determine how strong Clinton's leg is in making the environment a campaign issue, is whether he makes good on some of the vetoes that he has threatened on some of the proposals that the Republicans have made on the environment.

CURWOOD: One of the big bills that just passed without getting very much attention was this measure that eliminates the Federal speed limits. This was very much an environmental cause in the 70s, given our concerns about foreign oil and conservation. But now, nothing. What happened here?

LEE: Well, a couple of things happened. One is that the environmentalists failed to make that a major issue. They have in the course of the last few months, when the environment has been under such heavy debate in Washington, they've kind of picked and chosen what issues they would try to lobby hard on, and they didn't lobby hard against this particular one. So it sneaked past and now it's law. I think it also, the fact that it passed in such a stealth way, also reflects the fact that Americans in general have become somewhat complacent about the use of gasoline and other fossil fuels. We're not nearly as concerned about the negative effect that burning more gasoline would have on the overall environment as we were when the speed limits were first imposed.

CURWOOD: Gary Lee is environmental reporter for the Washington Post. Thanks for joining us.

LEE: Thank you.

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EPA at 25

CURWOOD: One of the most contentious items of the budget fight is a proposed deep cut in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA as we've come to know it. The EPA was created by the executive order of President Richard Nixon in 1970, in response to the outpouring of public concern following the first Earth Day. Nixon named William Ruckleshaus as the Agency's first director. As Congress debates future funding of the EPA, we invited Mr. Ruckelshaus, who is now chairman of the Waste Handlers BFI, to share his thoughts about the agency on its silver anniversary.

RUCKELSHAUS: The Environmental Protection Agency is 25 years old this month. The problems that led to its creation, gross air and water pollution, symbolized by belching smokestacks, uncontrolled automobile emissions, and rivers that caught on fire, smell touch and feel kinds of pollution, are now largely under social control. Not completely, but largely. This success is due to the combination of an outraged public in the late 60s, a political response in the form of the creation of EPA, and 10 statutes passed in the 1970s, massive regulations which followed and billions of public and private dollars spent to deal with pollution.

Twenty-five years later, the environmental problems we and the world face have evolved. The laws we put in place in the 1970s are no longer adequate. In many cases they are far to prescriptive, and set standards of perfection impossible to achieve. They force EPA to act in ways that defy common sense and often unnecessarily anger our citizens. These laws need to be rewritten to conform to the environmental realities of the 1990s. EPA needs way more flexibility and Congressional trust than it now has if it is going to be an effective, efficient, and fair instrument at carrying out our national purpose of protecting the environment.

In my view it will not happen by the quick fixes and name-calling that has so characterized the current debate in Washington. Reform will not happen by drastically reducing EPA's budget, or by this Congress prohibiting EPA from carrying out assignments given by previous Congresses, and which assignments are still in the law. This is the approach which some in Congress favor and which has created so much furor in Washington in the last several months. It will not work, and the gridlock now emerging in the Congress and between the Congress and the White House will make that fact increasingly apparent.

Hopefully, out of this gridlock will come a growing awareness about the need to forge a consensus about reforming our laws. And Congress will give the appropriate assignment to EPA and the states to continue to progress toward our environmental goals. This is what reform is all about. So let's lower our voices and get on with the hard work.

CURWOOD: William Ruckelshaus is the chairman of Browning Ferris Industries and was the first administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Efforts to boost fuel economy have stalled. The public loves its gas guzzlers again. That's ahead on Living on Earth; stick around.

CAFE Regulations

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth; Im Steve Curwood. Big cars with big engines can mean bigger profits for both the oil and car-making industries. The trouble is, they also make more pollution, and add to the US dependence on foreign oil. So, 20 years ago Congress started requiring that automobiles get better mileage. But the lawmakers left a loophole that was literally large enough to drive a truck through. While cars have to meet stringent fuel efficiency standards, trucks do not, and today's popular and highly profitable sport utility vehicles, pickups, and minivans are considered to be light trucks that don't have to conform to the strongest fuel efficiency rules. A presidential advisory panel is expected soon to urge that fuel efficiency should be improved for both trucks and cars, but Congress is not expected to embrace the idea. From Ann Arbor, Michigan, Julie Edelson Halpert of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports on the impasse over fuel efficiency standards.

(Traffic sounds. A car showroom. Man: "... this 1996 Grand Caravan SE are also the stainless steel exhaust system, the dual no-horn, the compact spare tire...")

HALPERT: At Arbor Dodge, salesman Charles Robinet is touting the many features of one of Chrysler's most popular vehicles, the Dodge Caravan.

ROBINET: We have cup holders in the front for the passenger and the driver...

HALPERT: But one thing Robinet doesn't mention is fuel economy. The Caravan gets 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 miles per gallon on the highway. Probably not the kind of numbers Congress had in mind when it enacted the Corporate Average Fuel Economy program, or CAFE, back in 1975. The nation was just emerging from the oil crisis and the push to get more miles to the gallon was in high gear. CAFE required that by 1985 most cars would have to double their average miles per gallon. Automakers protested. They said the CAFE standards would force them to build pint-sized, unsafe autos. But John DeCheeko of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy says just the opposite happened. DeCheeko says CAFE resulted in better-designed cars that burn less gas and emitted fewer pollutants.

DECHEEKO: Our research indicates that the CAFE standards program has to be considered one of the energy policy's success stories of the past 2 decades. The amount of energy and petroleum in particular that has been saved by CAFE is really untouched by any other kind of initiative here in the United States or even worldwide.

HALPERT: The average fuel economy of most cars now stands at 27.5 miles to the gallon. But there's been little progress since that goal was reached 10 years ago, according to Marc Ross, a fuel economy expert at the University of Michigan. Ross says 40% of the new vehicles purchased today, including the popular minivans, are classified as light duty trucks and therefore are exempt from CAFE's toughest requirements.

ROSS: Unfortunately we're going to lose those gains because driving is increasing all the time. So in another 25 or 30 years we're going to be back where we were unless we reduce emissions per mile. And to reduce emissions per mile, one of the best ways to do that is to reduce fuel usage per mile.

HALPERT: The Clinton Administration tried to get light duty trucks to comply with tougher CAFE standards. But a provision in the new transportation bill prohibits any changes to CAFE through 1998. That news disappointed Alison Horton, director of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club.

HORTON: Global warming has begun, and the absolute number one best thing we can do to start turning the tide there and cut back on the pollutants that go into global warming is to increase fuel efficiency.

HALPERT: But auto makers aren't convinced that increasing CAFE standards would have a dramatic effect in countering air pollution.

(A shop floor: the sounds of hydraulic tools)

HALPERT: At Chrysler's 4-million square foot technology center in Auburn Hills, Michigan, a 1996 Dodge Stratus is being tested for fuel output. This sedan gets an average of 27 miles per gallon. Eric Ridenower, director of environmental and energy planning for Chrysler, says consumers would have to pay at least an extra $1,000 per vehicle to make significant improvements in fuel economy.

RIDENOWER: Of all the cars out there only about 2% of those cars sold get better than 40 miles per gallon, because quite frankly the customers aren't looking for those type of fuel economy cars. So it's, you give up a lot -- from a car like this you'd have to either reduce the weight, either by shrinking it or by putting very advanced materials in, which will raise the cost. You've got to drop down the performance, or you've got to do something else to this vehicle to get very high fuel economy, and each of those things that you give up customers value.

HALPERT: Ridenower says a gas tax of 50 cents to $1.50 a gallon would do far more to promote fuel efficiency than new Federal regulations.

RIDENOWER: When you've got, you know, gasoline cheaper than bottled water you get, you know, people not valuing it very much. And so they tend to drive more, which is actually one of the perverse effects of CAFE, is that when you make miles per gallon better and don't change the price of fuel you actually end up with a dollars-per-mile driven much lower.

HALPERT: And so for now, with gasoline prices relatively low and consumer demand for the lower mileage minivans continuing to rise, efforts to improve fuel economy are likely to face a bumpy road ahead. The CAFE standards are up for review again in 1997. For Living on Earth, I'm Julie Edelson Halpert in Ann Arbor.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: What do you think? Should vehicles like minivans, jeeps and Broncos have to meet the same fuel efficiency standards as cars? Call us at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try our e-mail address: 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)

Horse Ranch

CURWOOD: Some child development specialists say kids need wild places and relationships with other creatures to develop properly. And yet, exposure to the countryside and different animals can be hard for young city dwellers to get. A group of outdoor educators at Oakland, California, is trying to break the grip of strictly urban life on teenagers by getting them out on horseback in the Oakland Hills. Here they can ride over more than 1,000 miles of woodland trails while learning how to communicate with another species. Jacinda Abcarian of Youth Radio in Oakland has our report.

(Man: "You guys review the things we learned yesterday about controlling a horse." Second man: "Whoa!" First man: "Whoa, and that's -- what do you do for whoa?" Young man 1: "Stop." Young man 2: "Pull back." Man: "Pull back." Young man: "You want to turn right, you...")

ABCARIAN: In the hills high about the city streets of Oakland, Harvey Smith is sitting on the back of an Appaloosa horse. He's demonstrating riding techniques to a group of high school students gathered around after school.

SMITH: Again, notice. My feet are not in the stirrups, so I'm balancing. Again, I don't expect you guys to do that first off, but just actually...

(A horse snorts)

ABCARIAN: Smith is one of the founders of the Wild Cat Canyon Ranch. It's a youth program which brings teens an alternative to life in their urban neighborhoods.

MAN: Whoa! Whoa!

SMITH: ... walk. Just pull it. Slow it.

MAN: Whoa! Whoa!

(Several people laugh)

WESLEY: You know, when the kids first come here, you know, they see the horses. And horses are alive and standing there in flesh and bones, and it's quite a different thing than seeing one on television. And most kids, you know, have a different reaction to it. And the first reaction they have is fear.

ABCARIAN: Kenneth Wesley is known to the kids as "Sonny." Wesley used to counsel suburban teens in a local psychiatric hospital. But now he works with city youth here 7 days a week. He grew up around horses in Louisiana and believes that kids these days are deprived of contact with animals and the rest of nature.

WESLEY: So you see them go from the transformation of being totally afraid to even touch the horse to touching, feeling, you know, to riding, and, you know, you see the self esteem, and you see how they feel empowered to be able to handle a 1,300 or 1,500 pound animal.

(A horse whinnies)

ABCARIAN: Wesley and his partner Smith, another urban cowboy, established the ranch after convincing the Oakland City Council that this public land should be dedicated to environmental education for urban youth.

LAMAR: First time I got on one it was just, they just rode off fast and I was just scared.

ABCARIAN: Thirteen-year-old Lamar enjoys riding the horses but admits it took some getting used to. But like Lamar, the other students who come to Wild Cat Canyon Ranch don't immediately jump on a horse and ride off into the sunset. They must first learn to respect animals and do their fair share of maintaining the ranch. They repair corrals, groom the horses, and of course shovel hay and manure. It's hard work, but many teens say they appreciate the refreshing change from their daily lives.

STUDENT 1: It's quiet over here. People just chillin' over here, working on the horses and stuff like that.

STUDENT 2: There are no drug dealers on the corner. There ain't no yelling or no car sounds anywhere ain't no music.

STUDENT 3: It's a lot of fun. It's a way, I don't know, for me to just sometimes get out of the house or (laughs) you know, be like, yeah I'm going to go to the horse ranch and, you know, take the horses out. You know, just something for me to get out my energy.

STUDENT 4: I enjoy certain things. I mean I don't too much care for the manure.

(A horse whinnies)

WESLEY: At first, you know, kids will come up and say ugh, what's that? Horse dookey! Ugh! You know? And they're several feet away. And then after we explain a little bit about it, well, okay, you know, these animals are vegetarians, you know. And also look over here, look at this pile of compost. You know, that was the manure several weeks ago, you know. And now, when that -- that reaction, you know, takes place in the compost pile, we're going to use that to enrich the soil, either here or someone's going to haul it off and take it someplace else.

ABCARIAN: Harvey Smith has taught high school and is now teaching students the important relationship between humans and their environment.

SMITH: We're literally introducing Oakland kids to oak trees. You know, Oakland was named after a tree, but the kids in Oakland don't know what the oak is. To get out and see a bigger part of the world broadens your horizons.

ABCARIAN: Wesley and Smith are now setting up a classroom at the ranch where they will teach veterinary science. But most of the learning takes place outside.

PERKINS: ... very subtle moves that are being looked out, you know? So they, you know, just with a nudge of the knee, you know, some body language, the horse is doing what the rider wants. And so that's kind of what you're trying to work up to. And they don't ...

ABCARIAN: Although he was born and raised in the city, Miles Perkins has been riding horses and regularly helping out at Wild Cat Canyon. He says the ranch challenges the cultural stereotype of young African American men.

PERKINS: Not a lot of people think that, you know, there are many African American people that are working with horses, and living, you know, down in the flatlands. But in fact that is the case. You know, you need to keep your options open.

(A horse trots and whinnies)

ABCARIAN: Wild Cat Canyon is all about new options. It's a place where East Bay teens can escape the stress of the city, find inspiration and skills, maybe get a head start in environmental careers. And start a new relationship with the natural world.

(A horse trots. Someone laughs)

ABCARIAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Jocinda Abcarian in Oakland.

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

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment, and the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up in the second half of Living on Earth: the building of an environmental movement in South Korea.

CURWOOD: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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CURWOOD: The nuclear power industry has been stymied in its attempts to put more reactors on line in the United States. But energy-hungry Asia is a different story. Dozens of new reactors are planned for the region. But critics worry about safety, waste, and the spread of nuclear weapons. Nuclear power goes east in this half hour of Living on Earth. First, this week's almanac.

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Next year is the 100th anniversary of the first American automobile. This year marks the 155th anniversary of the first bicycle. It was made in England by Kirkpatrick Macmillan. Of course the idea has been around much longer than that. In 1493 Leonardo DaVinci first designed a machine propelled by cranks and pedals with connecting rods. There are currently more than 147 million cars, trucks and buses registered in the US. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, those vehicles pump out half of all urban air pollution. There are at least 160 million bikes in the US, and they account for zero percent of air pollution. But only 1 in 40 of these is used for commuting. The rest are ridden for fitness, sport, or are simply collecting cobwebs in basements and garages. By comparison, in Denmark and Holland up to 30% of urban trips are by bike.

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Asian Nukes

CURWOOD: There hasn't been an order for a new atomic power plant here in the United States since 1979. But in Asia, dozens of new nuclear reactors are expected to start construction in the next decade, to meet growing demand for electricity there. But the questions of safety and waste disposal that have practically shut down American and European markets to the nuclear power industry remain in Asia, and there is still the concern that nuclear plants can support the development of nuclear weapons. Philip Sheenan has been covering the rise of nuclear power in Asia for the New York Times. I asked him why the Asian market is opening up.

SHEENAN: Well, there are several reasons. This part of the world is home to the fastest-growing economies on Earth, and those economies need energy to continue to grow. In Asia power demand is expected to triple over the next 20 years. At this point, most nations in this region are dependent on imported fuel and the idea of having to import 3 times as much as they do now is not very appealing. Nuclear power offers a domestically-produced form of energy that ends much of their need for foreign fuel, specifically oil. There's also a matter of prestige involved here. There's a perception, rightly or wrongly on the part of many Asian nations, that a developed nation, a modern nation, needs nuclear power. If my neighbor has it, why shouldn't I have it? For some countries, too, there is the more ominous logic that they may some day feel the need to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea, Pakistan, India, have all turned their nuclear energy programs into bomb-making programs.

CURWOOD: Alright let's talk, now, which countries are particular targets for the nuclear manufacturers.

SHEENAN: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, they all have sizable nuclear energy programs at this point. Japan produces something like 30% of its energy from nuclear power. In South Korea the figure is 40%. China is far and away the nation that is most aggressive now in pursuing nuclear energy. It opened its first commercial nuclear complex only last year, and it has plans for 30 more reactors.

CURWOOD: Thirty more reactors?

SHEENAN: Thirty more reactors over the next 30 years. Indonesia is talking about having dozens of nuclear power plants to feed its, you know, very fast-growing economy.

CURWOOD: Now why does a nation such as China, which has huge fossil fuel reserves, push nuclear power?

SHEENAN: For the Chinese it is again this matter of prestige, that nuclear power is seen as a means of nation-building. It's also, for the many -- Chinese scientists argued that it is in many ways a cleaner fuel than the coal that they have available to them now, which obviously is a heavily polluting fuel.

CURWOOD: Who are the major manufacturers of reactors that are involved in the Asian market now?

SHEENAN: Westinghouse, General Electric, there are several French companies, British companies. All are involved in pursuing nuclear projects in Asia. The French have recently opened a large complex in China, just 18 miles from the border with Hong Kong.

CURWOOD: And how much money are we talking about here? What's this market worth?

SHEENAN: Potentially tens of billions if not hundreds of billions of dollars for the nuclear power industry, which really has been shut down in the West in terms of construction. Asia is their savior.

CURWOOD: Let's talk now about safety. There have been some complaints from Asian environmental activists that the West is dumping its old and dangerous technology in the region. Is that the case?

SHEENAN: There is concern that, in some Asian countries and again China in particular, that nuclear power plants are being built with western design, western technology. But they're being put up too quickly and corners are being cut. There's been a great deal of concern about this new French-built plant near Hong Kong. There have been a rash of accidents at that plant that have alarmed a lot of people in Hong Kong, and the Chinese have up to now stonewalled on explaining what's going on.

CURWOOD: What about waste disposal? It's a big problem here in the West. How are these Asian nations going to deal with it?

SHEENAN: I think it's very safe to say that they haven't figured that out yet. It's a huge problem out here. South Korea, notably, has virtually no capacity left to store its spent fuel. Tons of it are building up and the government at this point is running out of places to bury it. Every time a new permanent site for disposal is proposed it produces a massive public uproar in the surrounding community.

CURWOOD: How big a worry is the proliferation of nuclear arms as more and more nations develop this nuclear technology? How many people are saying Hmm, I could do what Pakistan or what China or India has done?

SHEENAN: I think it's a tremendous concern. You know, we have several cases: North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, India. All have used their nuclear energy programs to begin the process of making bombs, and without a great deal of international supervision. The number of countries on that list of potential nuclear powers is bound to increase.

CURWOOD: The New York Times's Phil Sheenan speaking to us from Bangkok. Thank you, sir.

SHEENAN: Thank you.

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Korean Greens

CURWOOD: Forty years ago, South Korea was a desperately poor country still ravaged by years of war. But since then, like Japan and Taiwan, South Korea has had phenomenal economic growth. It has also had some serious growing pains, as illustrated by the latest allegations of high-level corruption. But behind the current headlines there has been another rude awakening from South Korea's huge development binge: a massive pollution hangover. Most of its rivers are dead, and its capital Seoul has some of the highest pollution levels in the world. Increasingly, South Koreans are finding rising incomes don't mean much if the quality of life is poorer, and they're starting to speak out. Lucie McNeill filed this report on the country's budding environmental movement.

(Traffic sounds)

MCNEILL: From the top of his 15-floor apartment building, Jin Yong-keun surveys a scene that seems straight out of a science fiction horror movie. This is Shindorim, a neighborhood in southwest Seoul. A thousand families live in this apartment complex surrounded by hundreds of refineries, belching smokestacks, and rusty, noisy factories that stretch as far as the eye can see. As the sun goes down the whole scene swims in a witches' brew of acrid, yellow smog.

(A man and woman speak in Korean. One English word: "Chemicals.")

MCNEILL: When this apartment compound and 2 schools were built in the late 80s, the city plan was to move the factories further out. But companies lobbied the government, arguing it would be too expensive to relocate. Jin Yong-keun is a stockbroker who lives quietly with his wife and their young son. He's always been on the side of business and economic growth, but what happened here last summer galvanized him into action.

YONG-KEUN: [Speaks in Korean]
TRANSLATOR: There was a big accident at the chemical plant over there. They produce sacharin, and 2 of the lines exploded. There was no fire, but a lot of smoke drifted this way. We all inhaled some of it, and 10 residents had to go to the hospital.

MCNEILL: That's when Jin Yong-keun started the Emergency Committee Against Pollution at Shindorim. All his neighbors joined the group, and somehow they've been able to make a difference.

YONG-KEUN: [Speaks in Korean]
TRANSLATOR: After the second explosion, we rushed over to the factory and demanded to see the plant manager. The company agreed to put filters on the smokestacks to reduce the foul smells, and they've shut down 2 of the chemical lines they produce. So the air is a little better now.

MCNEILL: For Jin Yong-keun and his neighbors, the explosion was a watershed. It showed them they had to put people's health first before economic growth.

YONG-KEUN: [Speaks in Korean]
TRANSLATOR: Korea is clamoring to become part of the global market, so I think it's time to switch to non-polluting industries. We should become a country where the environment is considered as important as the production and profits. I'm working on this because I remember when this country was beautiful.

MCNEILL: South Korea has come a long way. Twenty years ago, when Choi Yul started campaigning against pollution he was called a traitor. A slight, unassuming man in his late 40s, Choi YuI is the founder of South Korea's environmental movement. In 1994 he was given the United Nations Global 500 Medal for his work, and this year he's won the prestigious Goldman Award for environmental protection.

CHOI: [Speaks in Korean]
TRANSLATOR: Twenty years ago, Korea was so poor people were willing to put up with the pollution just to make ends meet. In fact, when the authorities found out I was starting an environmental group, they accused me of being against the system. But I just felt Korea had to face up to this problem.

MCNEILL: Choi YuI now heads the Korean Action Federation for the Environment. They have offices in most urban centers, and 22,000 active volunteers who stage protests, lobby government, and educate the public. Choi Yui says public opinion is on his side.

CHOI: [Speaks in Korean]
TRANSLATOR: Ninety percent of the people I meet tell me we are doing the right thing. The economy can't grow at this pace any longer. That's because pollution is actually slowing down growth. If industry can't get clean water, production costs will rise and our exports can't stay competitive.

(Traffic sounds)

MCNEILL: South Korea began heeding Choi Yui's message after 1988. That's when the country's military ruler stepped down, and Koreans elected their first civilian government in 30 years. An environment ministry was established, and the legislature passed various laws and regulations to control toxic emissions and protect natural habitats. That's also when the country's largest and most influential pressure group was formed.

(An office: a phone rings, a woman speaks in Korean)

MCNEILL: This bustling office is home to the Citizens Coalition for Economic Justice. One of its main platforms is fighting pollution. Dr. Yoo Jae-hyum is Secretary General of the Coalition. He says South Korea's corporations started to get the message in 1991, after a near-catastrophic chemical spill. For once, South Korea's courts swung into action. The chairman of the conglomerate that owned the plant was arrested and top managers were convicted and put in jail. Yoo Jae-hyum says this was a real wake-up call.

HYUM: Nowadays when I meet with the chairmen or the presidents of the big companies, they always say that. You know, from 1991, we suddenly saw that even the chairmen, the big guys, the owner, the God right? Even the chairman could be arrested and put in jail. So they just -- wow. We have to do something about this.

MCNEILL: In fact, some of South Korea's industries have realized it's in their interest to become good corporate citizens. Instead of fighting rear guard actions against government regulations, some are now taking the lead in designing environmentally friendly factories and products. Lee Hangul is president of the Daewoo Research Institute, an arm of the giant Daewoo Corporation.

LEE: If we introduce equipment which can save more energy than before, or more resources than before, that makes some new markets or so, and also prepares for the environmental issue, be very good for Korean manufacturers to be more competitive.

(An office setting)

MCNEILL: But despite significant progress, Yoo Jae-hyum of the Citizens Coalition for Economic Justice says South Korea still has a long way to go. He says everybody in the country is addicted to rapid economic growth and the rising incomes that go with it.

HYUM: For example, our national economy planning board is now the 15-year economic trend. According to that, after 15 years our general per capita will be $30,000, like Canada and Switzerland. Then we will have 24 million cars in our country, that's a prediction.

MCNEILL: So they're talking about tripling the number of cars and tripling the GNP in 15 years.

YU: That's right. That's right.

(Many voices at once)

MCNEILL: In Korea as everywhere else, it's the children who are most keenly aware of environmental problems. At this girl's high school in central Seoul, the students all know about their country's pollution problems.

GIRL: [Speaks in Korean]
TRANSLATOR: I worry most about water pollution and the destruction of the ozone layer. Of course the government has to act, but I think we all have to make some efforts by reducing the amount of garbage we throw out.

GIRL: [Speaks in Korean]
TRANSLATOR: I think of the country as a whole is not interested enough in environment. Big companies especially, and they should be. I feel the problem really started with my parents' generation. They only care about economic development. I wish they'd care more about environment.

MCNEILL: It's this kind of growing awareness that's pushing the government into action. Starting this year, Korean households will have to pay for every bag of garbage they throw out. And the authorities are also following up on a 5-year-old promise to create an environmental police corps, which would investigate polluters and bring them to justice. For South Korea, it would seem the days of feverish economic growth at all costs are coming to an end. People want better quality of life, and they're demanding that some of the country's growing wealth be spent on cleaning up the environment. For Living on Earth, I'm Lucie McNeill in Seoul, South Korea.

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CURWOOD: Just ahead on Living on Earth, the fight against traditional Asian medicines that use the body parts of endangered animals.

(Music up and under)

Animal Parts

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Asia's booming markets have brought more demand for traditional medicines, many of which use the body parts of endangered animals including rhinos and tigers. The US is pressuring Asian governments to shut down this trade, but some of the demand is coming from right here in the United States. So the US Fish and Wildlife Service has begun a new campaign in this country against using some traditional Asian medicines, and it carries a dual message: one aimed at concern for wildlife, the other for human health. Stephanie O'Neill reports from Los Angeles.

(A Chinese pharmacy; people speaking in Chinese)

O'NEILL: The shelves of this Chinatown pharmacy in downtown Los Angeles contain nothing but the usual pharmacy fare. But government officials say a lucrative and substantial underground trade in medicines containing tiger and rhino body parts happens here in L.A. and in other Asian communities nationwide. For centuries Asians have coveted tiger bones and rhinoceros horns as potent medical and sexual tonics that contain the power and strength of these 2 animals.

WOMAN: I don't think you can find on the counter, but there might be in some herb stores. I suspect that they might sell under the counter.

O'NEILL: This lifelong Chinatown resident and merchant, who asked to go unnamed, says she's never tried any of the substances, but is well aware that they do exist and are used.

WOMAN: Our families more, we believe Western medicine more. So, but there's still a lot of older generation people that believe in that.

O'NEILL: It's these people who are the target of a new US Fish and Wildlife Service campaign to stop the use of these medicines. The message is being sent through curriculum in schools, on billboards, and on Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and English radio airwaves.

(Korean radio announcers speak in Korean. Translator: "While the practice of using tiger and rhino in pharmaceuticals dates back some 4,000 years, if it continues at today's alarming rate wild tigers and rhinos could disappear before the year 2,000.")

HEMLEY: We're talking about the near extinction of two of the world's most revered species, familiar species, that are fast going down the tubes because of the illegal trade in their body parts.

O'NEILL: Ginette Hemley is Director of international wildlife policy for the World Wildlife Fund, which has endorsed the education campaign. Since 1970, 90% of the rhinoceros population has disappeared, leaving only 10,000 rhinos worldwide. And the number of tigers has shrunk to 5,000. Most of the demand for these animal parts is in Asia, but there is significant use here in the US. Wayne Paselli is a vice president with the Humane Society of the United States.

PASELLI: There is no rational basis for continuing the use of these products, and we need to get that message out to leave these animals in the wild where they belong.

O'NEILL: This education campaign effort, however, goes beyond the usual appeal on behalf of animals. George Frampton, Jr., Assistant Interior Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, told reports and Asian community leaders that human health is also at issue. As recent laboratory studies showed, most of the compounds that purport to contain endangered species don't.

FRAMPTON: But what they do have in many cases, many cases, is potentially toxic levels of mercury and arsenic and other heavy metals. These foreign substances and heavy metals pose a particular health hazard to older people, to people who are not well, and to young children.

O'NEILL: And, US Fish and Wildlife Service officials say, even those medicines that falsely claim to contain rhino and tiger are helping fuel poaching. Kee Duk Paik, a Korean community educational leader, says it won't be easy to break Asian consumers from a centuries old tradition. But he's confident the campaign will work.

PAIK: We're going to pay much attention to conservation. In order to conserve those animals, We got to know, don't buy the medicine that contains those wild animal parts.

O'NEILL: The Los Angeles campaign targets the US's largest Asian community. The pilot project will continue through December and, if effective, will be implemented nationwide. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

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(Music up and under)

Pollinators Commentary

CURWOOD: The high holiday season is upon us again, and as we plan our holiday feast, one thing that most of us take for granted is that for a few dollars we can pick up whatever we need at our local store. Well, as commentator Gary Nabhan explains, in the future it may not be so easy.

NABHAN: My family's glorious holiday meals always remind me of the link between the cornucopia of foods we eat and the health of the ecosystems where these fruits and vegetables grow. Can you imagine Thanksgiving or Halloween without pumpkins? It nearly happened in several regions of the US this year due to a scarcity of the native solitary bees that pollinate pumpkins. These little squash and gourd bees are at constant risk from pesticides and from the destruction of their habitat.

When you look out over your holiday feast, you'll likely see sliced almonds, figs, and chestnuts. They may not always be there. The multi-million dollar almond orchards of California already have to borrow bee colonies from other states to service their flowering trees. The insects pollinating small fruit and nut orchards of the East suffer from chemicals produced by surrounding industries. Cranberry sauce and blueberry muffins, those holiday favorites, are also at risk. Twenty-five years ago, berry yields plunged nearly 75% following massive pesticide spraying in the woods near berry fields, and unfortunately manmade forces are destroying the habitats of bees, bats, butterflies, wasps, and moss that pollinate our crops.

If people think at all about these forgotten pollinators, they likely think just of the honeybee. But its population, too, is in serious decline. Since 1990, we've lost nearly a quarter of all honeybee hives in the United States. In a year when more environmental regulation rollbacks have been proposed than ever before, it's easy to understand how any retreat from protecting these species will aggravate the already serious decline in their numbers. In my home state of Arizona, alarmingly, almost half of the managed honeybee hives and 85% of the feral hives have disappeared in the last decade, and government support for beekeepers has also dried up. Before you cry "Bee welfare queens!" consider: if we lost all the honeybees in this country without any other wild pollinators taking over their chores, US food prices would likely rise by more than $6 billion a year.

Wild pollinators may seem abundant or unimportant, but it's vital to protect their habitats. The next time someone tells you to choose between jobs and the environment, invite that person over for dinner. Show them the foods that remain plentiful only because of legislation such as the Endangered Species Act. Protection for pollinators and for other threatened species is essential to protect our country's food supply. Gutting environmental safeguards is tantamount to destroying our holiday feast.

CURWOOD: Commentator Gary Nabhan lives in New Mexico. His latest book, with co-author Steven Trimble, is called The Geography of Childhood.

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(Music up and under)

Gift Ideas from Listeners

CURWOOD: Your gift ideas keep rolling in, and thanks to everyone for sending them along. So, are you ready? Let's hear some suggestions from Santa's Green Help Line.

MCDERMOTT: Hi, this is Stacy Jo McDermott. I listen to Living on Earth on KALW in San Francisco. And I'm finding that my favorite gift giving during the holidays is to do something for somebody else, specifically like a household chore. I visited my cousin in Seattle over Thanksgiving, and we did plastering holes in the walls. And at Christmas I'm going to be painting my sister's bathrooms in her new house for their gifts.

CURWOOD: And then, for those gifts that keep on giving, you might follow this suggestion.

CALLER: I have 5 granddaughters. I've opened up a savings account for each one. Opening with the amount of $50 and I'll have automatic deduction each payday of $2.50, only 2 dollars and 50 cents. It's all I can afford, but it'll show them that little money can become big money. And Merry Christmas to all of you. Bye.

CURWOOD: Finally, a family that listens to WPSU in University Park, Pennsylvania, that's grown tired of Christmas commercialism, has started a sharing tradition. They identify a local needy family...

CALLER: And totally anonymously do sort of a secret Santa thing and we don't really think of it as necessarily just charitable activity, because our family's Christmas together is to go out shopping for the family. And wrap all the presents together. And then on Christmas Eve deliver them together. And it's been just a wonderful experience. So if sharing this turns someone else on to that idea, I hope it's been useful.

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CURWOOD: The line's still open for more ideas for a greener holiday season. The number is 1-800-218-9988. Once again that's 1-800-218-9988. You can reach us over the Internet at LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. And our mailing address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $12.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Our senior producer is Chris Ballman and our editor is Peter Thomson. Our director is Deborah Stavro, our coordinating producer George Homsy, and our associate producer Kim Motylewski. Constantine Von Hoffman is news editor. Our production team includes Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Christopher Knorr, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, and Eric Losick. 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: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the Ford Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental ethics; and the Joyce Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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