Air Date: January 5, 1996
1996 Presidential Candidates Profile Series: Pat Buchanan/ Eric Westervelt
Eric Westervelt of New Hampshire Public Radio profiles presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan's record and rhetoric on environmental issues. Job protection is at the center of Buchanan's ideology. (07:00)
Alaska the Powerful
Reporter Joel Southern fields questions from Steve Curwood on the recent rise of Alaskan House and Senate members to key positions on committees influencing environmental legislation. (06:43)
Wet Cleaning/ Terry FitzPatrick
Chemical drycleaning is seen as risky business by some as the primary chemical used in the process has been linked to health problems. The Greener Cleaner in Chicago is using improved washing machines and detergent to clean clothes with minimal toxicity. Terry FitzPatrick of Living on Earth's Northwest bureau in Seattle reports. (06:00)
The Living on Earth Almanac
Darwin and the Galapagos Islands. (01:00)
Goby Fish/ Bob Carty
A newly introduced fish is rapidly reproducing in the Great Lakes. The Goby fish, originally from Russia, is thriving in all five of the Lakes. Bob Carty of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports on the proliferation of this non-native species and its impact on the food chain. (06:38)
International Treaty/ Michael Silverstein
Commentator Michael Silverstein reflects on the soon-to-be implemented international treaty commonly referred to as ISO 14000, and how he believes the new agreement on standards will aid businesses and the environment alike. (02:45)
Restoring Prospect Park/ Neal Rauch
Efforts are underway in Brooklyn, New York's Prospect Park to replenish the soil erosion caused by its millions of visitors. Modern ecologists are using a variety of techniques to help optimize the growth and health of vegetation in this 526-acre tract. Neal Rauch reports from the Borough of Brooklyn. (08:40)
A Farm in Winter/ Jane Brox
Author Jane Brox takes us on a tour of her family farm in Dracut, Massachusetts. Brox's 85 year old father John Brox also figures into this prosaic passage through a farm in its wintry decline. Mr. Brox passed away the week before this story aired. (07:13)
Copyright c 1996 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: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Mark Moran, Eric Westervelt, Terry FitzPatrick, Bob Carty, Neal Rauch
GUEST: Joel Southern
COMMENTATORS: Michael Silverstein, Jane Brox
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. As the presidential primary season lines up for the kick-off in New Hampshire, Republican Patrick Buchanan is saying he's for the environment but people have to come first.
BUCHANAN: I mean, how many acres do the owls need? You cannot give the northern spotted owl 9 million acres when you have families and communities are dying up there because some Federal judge has shut down their livelihood.
CURWOOD: Also, that funny smelling chemical they use at the dry cleaner's is bad for the health of laundry workers and consumers. Now a Chicago cleaner has found a way to do the job without toxic chemicals and business is brisk.
HARGROVE: Everyone that comes through the door remarks about how wonderful it smells here. You smell the clothes; the clothes smell wonderful.
CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this summary of the news.
MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. The earth's surface temperature reached a record high last year. Two separate reports by British and US scientists say the average temperature topped 58 degrees Celsius. That puts 1995 slightly ahead of 1990 as the warmest year since record keeping began in the mid 1800s. British figures also show that the years 1991 through 1995 were warmer than any similar 5-year period. A recent United Nations report attributes the warming trend to human activities such as the emission of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide released by the burning of coal, petroleum products, and wood.
This fall General Motors will become the first of the US Big Three automakers to sell electric cars on the mass retail market. GM's Saturn EV-1 will be a 2-passenger coupe marketed in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, and Tucson. Carrying a $30,000 price tag, it will have a range of 70 to 90 miles between charges. Next year GM plans to market an electric pickup truck nationwide. Last month the California Air Resources Board decided to extend the deadline for mandatory production of exhaust-free cars from 1998 to 2003.
A new report says plowing at night can dramatically reduce the number of weeds competing with farm crops. Results of the study have just been published in Agricultural Research magazine. Mark Moran of WOI reports from Des Moines.
MORAN: If the results of this study are confirmed, forget farmers plowing the earth in the hot afternoon sunlight. They'll be using futuristic night vision goggles and plowing in total darkness. The theory, researchers say, is simple. Light penetrates the soil as its being cultivated, allowing buried weeds beneath it to break out of dormancy. Even a full moon could provide enough light to trigger the reaction. Farmers who don't like the idea of using military night vision goggles have equipped their tractors with lights that shine only in front of the vehicle, leaving the newly-tilled soil in the dark. Supporters of night plowing argue it'll drastically reduce the cost of herbicides. Right now the average Iowa farmer spends between $20 and $50 per acre on chemicals. The report says nighttime plowing could cut that to between $5 and $7 per acre. For Living on Earth, this is Mark Moran in Des Moines.
MULLINS: The United States will resume collecting plutonium from spent nuclear reactor fuel, a practice it once urged other nations to give up to curb the spread of nuclear arms. The New York Times reports that the US will begin recovering the plutonium on a small scale at a site in South Carolina. Energy Department officials say reprocessing the fuel into hockey puck sized buttons is the safest way to deal with it. They say in its present form the substance is a hazard because it leaks into the water in which it's stored. But reprocessing could lead to other problems. The liquid that remains after processing is difficult to store, usually being kept in aging steel tanks. Environmental activists fear the decision to reprocess on a small scale may be a first step in a return to Cold War production of plutonium, creating widespread pollution. They want the spent fuel canned or encased.
Twenty creatures ranging from the world's biggest butterfly to a flightless parrot face extinction in the coming year. A report by England's World Conservation Monitoring Center says the species are threatened by pollution, poaching, and booming human populations. In danger of vanishing are Chinese alligators, the California condor, New Zealand's flightless Kakapo parrot, and the world's largest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing from Papua, New Guinea. The outlook is equally bleak for the Mediterranean monk seal that has fallen prey to saturation tourism; and for the Yangtze River dolphin, a constant victim of fishing boat accidents.
More than 200 endangered manatees died off the coast of Florida last year. That's the second highest annual death toll for the slow-moving sea cows. State officials say they're puzzled by the high mortality rate, but are encouraged that deaths resulting from human activity were down almost 10%. Manatees frequent warm, shallow water, and often drift just below the surface of the water, leaving them prey to speeding boats. Only about 1,800 manatees remain in Florida waters. The entire state of Florida has been declared a manatee sanctuary.
And many environmental experts hired by corporations in the 1990s are being ignored by their employers. According to a survey of health and safety officers at 185 corporations in the US and Canada, environmental professionals are not seen as equal partners by their corporate colleagues. Environmental managers told the Arthur D. Little consulting companies co-workers viewed them as contributing no real value to their companies. They say their only mission seemed to be in keeping the company out of legal trouble.
That's this week's environmental news. I'm Lisa Mullins.
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan is expected to do well in the nation's first presidential primary election in New Hampshire next month. That's the same state where he ran a strong second place finish to President George Bush in 1992, and damaged Mr. Bush's re-election effort. The presidency is the only office Mr. Buchanan has ever run for, but he's been in the limelight for more than 2 decades. He worked in the White House for both Presidents Nixon and Reagan, and today he's a syndicated newspaper columnist and TV talk show host. Mr. Buchanan speaks with the fervor of a deeply conservative populist. He says he favors the environment, but not at the expense of people and jobs. As part of Living on Earth's series of profiles of the major presidential candidates, we asked New Hampshire Public Radio's Eric Westervelt to take a closer look at Pat Buchanan's environmental philosophy.
(Ragtime music plays; a man yells into a bullhorn: "Go Pat go! Go Pat go! Go Pat go! Go Pat go! ")
WESTERVELT: At a recent campaign rally in Manchester, a throng of Buchanan supporters showed why the conservative talkmeister calls New Hampshire his second home.
BUCHANAN: Are you all talkin' about Pat Schroeder? (Cheers and applause and laughter; a man yells, "Yeah!")
WESTERVELT: Environmental issues rarely come up in Buchanan's stump campaign speeches except to bash Washington bureaucrats or meddlesome Federal regulations. But like most issues, Buchanan is ready with a quick response. He claims he's a strong proponent of conservation, noting that as a Nixon aide he supported establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. And, Buchanan says, he recently worked hard to stop the Disney Corporation's planned amusement park in Virginia.
BUCHANAN: I believe we've got to protect not only our natural heritage but our historical heritage. I fought with everything I had to prevent Disney from introducing into Chancersville, in the area of those battlefields, a huge Disney theme park featuring Mickey Mouse. I believe that we've done the right thing in cleaning up our rivers and cleaning up our air and cleaning up our beaches and preserving our natural heritage.
WESTERVELT: But Buchanan's no tree hugger. His brand of arch conservative protectionist populism champions small government, deregulation, lower taxes, and property rights. For instance, he says landowners should be fully paid by the government if the value of their property is affected by environmental regulations, even though he admits that would be a strain on the Federal budget.
BUCHANAN: Would be a great strain, but the alternative is to steal men's property, and we can't do that in America. One of the things the American Revolution was fought for, was not to let that happen. It was the idea that the king and the Parliament were basically stealing men's property without compensation.
WESTERVELT: Because Buchanan hasn't held any office, he has no voting record on the environment. But he says he wants Federal Bureau of Land Management acreage turned over to state control. And Buchanan calls for changing the Endangered Species Act, to give more weight to jobs in the economy. He charges that environmental extremists are, quote, "putting bugs, rats, and weeds ahead of workers and families."
BUCHANAN: And this is the kind of extremism we saw in Arizona when they put, set 2 million acres aside for the Mexican spotted owl. I mean how many acres do the owls need? You cannot give a couple of birds 2 million acres, the Mexican spotted owl, and you cannot give the northern spotted owl 9 million acres, when you have families and communities are dying up there because some arbitrary and capricious Federal judge has shut down their mills and shut down their industry and shut down their livelihood.
(Printing machines run)
WESTERVELT: Buchanan's tough talk resonates with New Hampshire voters like Cheryl Johnson, who runs her small printing business in the tiny town of Campton, nestled at the base of the White Mountain National Forest. Johnson is President of the New Hampshire Landowners Alliance, a local property rights group, and Vice President of the Alliance for America, part of the national Wise Use Movement that opposes environmental regulations. She says in 1992 Alliance members were on the front lines in Buchanan's army of campaign volunteers. And they are again this year.
JOHNSON: Attending rallies, putting up signs, bumper stickers, the whole works. I think he was an advocate for Wise Use issues before there was a Wise Use Movement; that is Pat Buchanan's nature. I think that he has, he's always been in that direction, because he's in favor of a limited government which is really what it comes down to.
WESTERVELT: But critics say Buchanan's support of working people isn't in their long term best interest. For example, Buchanan doesn't support restrictions on fishing in the once rich seas off New England's coast. Even though some scientists believe reduced harvests could save future fishing jobs. And he'd like to see national forests opened up to more cutting, saying harvest restrictions are throwing too many loggers out of work. Dan Weiss, with the Washington office of the Sierra Club, charges that Buchanan's populism is really thinly-veiled opportunism.
WEISS: I think Pat Buchanan's populism doesn't extend past polluters' profits. He would like to take the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, our last undeveloped part of our Arctic coastal range, and give it to the oil companies. He would like to take the Tsongas National Forest, America's last rainforest, and give it to the big timber companies, many of whom will ship the timber overseas.
WESTERVELT: And that, Weiss says, means fewer jobs here at home. Jameson French, who runs a wood products business in New Hampshire, has helped organize a coalition of green Republicans in the state, trying to call attention to the GOP's attempt to roll back environmental laws. French says Buchanan is on the party's fringe when it comes to conservation, and his protectionist economics often creates a false dichotomy between jobs and the environment.
FRENCH: Healthy economy and healthy environment are very compatible, because they are not mutually exclusive. The Republican party has been associated since the time of Theodore Roosevelt with progressive policy on environmental issues and conservation policy in this country. And it's something that we should be proud of. It's part of the party. And to just dismiss all of that is sort of naive and dammit, I think we should, you know, I think it's a mistake to just throw that all away.
WESTERVELT: Buchanan agrees that there is a need to balance the economy and the environment. But he says the pendulum has swung too far toward ecosystems and away from people.
BUCHANAN: And I think there's a difference between conserving something and the preservationist point of view, which says it must remain untouched.
WESTERVELT: On this point as with most others, Buchanan elicits passionate support among his voters, who are fiercely loyal, exhibiting a kind of zeal rarely seen in electoral politics. They believe deeply that he's on their side.
MAN: I'm sure that he will be in favor of having a good environment for people to live in, but first comes people and then comes the environment.
WOMAN: People first.
WESTERVELT: For Living on Earth, this is Eric Westervelt in Concord, New Hampshire.
CURWOOD: Of course, the presidential elections aren't the only contest this year. Democrats are also hoping to recapture the US House and Senate. And part of the Democratic appeal for support stresses what they call the anti-environmental record of House and Senate Republicans. Perhaps the best example of the mood of the current Congress can be seen in the delegation from Alaska. Both senators and its lone Congressman are staunch Conservatives who are skeptical of environmental regulation, and who labored for years as part of a vocal minority. When the GOP took control of Congress last year, the tiny Alaska delegation gained tremendous clout thanks to seniority. Don Young became head of the House Resources Committee. And Frank Merkowski now runs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the Senate side. And next year, if Republicans keep control of the Senate, Ted Stevens is expected to ascend to the chair of the power Senate Appropriations Committee. Joel Southern covers Capitol Hill for Alaska Public Radio. He says Alaska's Congressional trio has at least one thing in common. They are...
SOUTHERN: Very ardently pro-development, all 3 of them. What is it, about 67% of Alaska is controlled in one form or another by the Federal Government. So they scrap and fight every way they can to make sure that there are no further restrictions in their point of view on Alaska resources.
CURWOOD: Now what about Ted Stevens? He's your state's senior Senator. He's pretty high in terms of seniority?
SOUTHERN: He is. And I believe the exact numbers are ninth overall in seniority in the US Senate, and third ranking Republican. He is a man with a sometimes notorious temper. He'll tell you that he never loses his temper; he always knows where it is. And he uses it to great effect. And a lot of people are just worn down sometimes bearing the brunt of that or fearing it. And he gets his way a lot.
CURWOOD: What are the key things on Senator Stevens' agenda when it comes to the environment? What's he most concerned with?
SOUTHERN: He is concerned that the timber industry is fading away there. He was an important player back when the timber industry really got up and going back in the 50s, and over the years has been a good friend to it. Some people don't like that friendship, but he certainly thinks it's important. He is also Chairman of the Senate Oceans and Fisheries Subcommittee, and he's working to reauthorize the Magnausen Fisheries Act, emphasizing cutting down waste and by-catch out in the oceans and conserving fish stocks and marine stocks generally.
CURWOOD: In the House side we have Don Young. He's Chairman of the Resources Committee, and usually painted as someone who's against environmental regulation and pro-development. Is that fair?
SOUTHERN: That is absolutely fair. He does not abide people he considers fools, and a lot of those fools in his mind abide in the Park Service, in the Fish and Wildlife Service. He thinks they're just too restrictive on natural resource development, natural resource extraction, and is constantly doing battle with the Interior Department over those issues.
CURWOOD: Young has some pretty good conservative credentials, and you'd think that the House leadership would like him. But I understand that Speaker Gingrich has been trying to rein him in. Is that accurate, and if so why?
SOUTHERN: Speaker Gingrich has a long history of being conservationist and concerned about wildlife issues. Congressman Young has some very different points of view, I think, with the speaker and with moderate Republicans about those issues, and we could see, maybe, environmental civil war between Republicans because there are very strong differences of opinion, especially between more moderate members and western conservatives.
CURWOOD: Now you go over to the Senate side and the same committee in the Senate -- over there of course it's called Energy and Natural Resources -- is also run by an Alaskan, Frank Merkowski.
CURWOOD: You'd think that with an Alaskan who's very pro-development sitting in that seat that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be open to drilling sooner or later.
SOUTHERN: Well, the issue is much bigger than Frank Merkowski's ability just to try to ramrod it through. It's a very strong, symbolic issue for environmental groups. And it's something that seems to resonate with a lot of people out in the country. There have been recent polls that show that, you know, anywhere from a strong 50% up to 70% of people really are pretty queasy about the prospect of going into this coastal plain area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and drilling for oil.
CURWOOD: Now, I understand that Alaskans pretty much favor the notion of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Is that right?
SOUTHERN: Probably up in the range of, I don't know, 70, maybe 80%.
CURWOOD: What about other issues such as fishing and timber? Is there that kind of unanimity there? And how does Merkowski play those issues?
SOUTHERN: Well that's different, and I think especially in southeast Alaska you have to remember that southeast Alaska, the panhandle of Alaska is pretty much one big national forest, the Tsongas National Forest. And there are differences of opinion in that long stretch of forest about whether there should be the presence of the timber industry as there has been in the past. There are certainly some towns where they're very timber industry dependent, and others are staking their future and their fortunes on fishing and recreation and tourism, and that has caused conflicts, as Senator Merkowski and the other members of the delegation have tried to go in and do what they consider important and necessary to keep the timber industry there. They found people protesting and saying look, that is not where we are any more; we need to get beyond this. We need to find other ways to diversify and make a living.
CURWOOD: It seems unprecedented to have one state with such a strong influence in a particular area. Do you think they have any kind of strategic plan among them now, saying hey, look, we've got the leadership of both these committees and we're going to have a powerful senator, that we could perhaps prioritize some certain difficult things and push them through? Or do you think they're just going to play it as it lays?
SOUTHERN: Well, I think they have to a certain extent. Certainly pushing forward with the development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, that's number one priority I'd say. They also had an issue of lifting a 22-year-old ban on exports of Alaska north slope oil; that has come to completion, been signed into law now, and that is an accomplishment they can point to in the past year. I think Tsongas is probably second or third, depending on how you want to rank those 3. And they just have a long list of complaints about over-regulation, onerous regulation they think the Federal Government has imposed on Alaska land use. And there's more of that to come.
CURWOOD: Joel Southern heads the Washington Bureau for Alaska Public Radio. He spoke to us from the nation's capitol.
CURWOOD: Just ahead on Living on Earth: a way to clean your delicate clothes without using toxic dry cleaning fluids. Stick around.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. You might not think of your neighborhood dry cleaner as a potential threat to public health, but they're coming under increasing scrutiny because of a toxic chemical used in the dry cleaning machines. The chemical is called perchloroethylene, or PERC, and it's suspected to cause severe health problems. In the past few years dry cleaners have dramatically reduced PERC emissions. But now a unique project in Chicago is investigating whether PERC can be replaced by old-fashioned soap and water. We sent Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick to take a look.
(Traffic sounds; horns)
FITZPATRICK: From the street, the Greener Cleaner looks like any neighborhood dry cleaning establishment. But inside, you notice a big difference.
HARGROVE: Everyone that comes through the door remarks about how wonderful it smells here. You smell the clothes; the clothes smell wonderful.
FITZPATRICK: Ann Hargrove runs a cleaning shop that produces no chemical fumes. That's because the Greener Cleaner uses soap and water instead of dry cleaning solvents.
(Sounds of machines)
FITZPATRICK: A newly designed machine allows Hargrove to put delicate fabrics in the wash.
HARGROVE: I can clean anything that says dry clean only. There are very few things I can't do, and the reason I can do it is because I'm able to control the water level, the way it agitates, the RPMs in extraction, and the way I dry it.
FITZPATRICK: The process is called wet cleaning. It uses a specially formulated detergent that Hargrove claims works better than dry cleaning chemicals.
HARGROVE: The prints are brighter. The wools have more luster to them. And that's I think why the people continue to come back.
(An extractor slows down)
FITZPATRICK: The Greener Cleaner is privately owned, but the EPA is funding an analysis of its first year in business. Jo Patton of Chicago's Center for Neighborhood Technology developed the program.
PATTON: We proposed that a critical part of evaluating wet cleaning was to put it through a real world test. That a lab test with garment swatches really wouldn't test whether you could have a profitable business.
(A computer keyboard)
FITZPATRICK: From her computer, Patton tracks every garment washed at the Greener Cleaner.
PATTON: Okay, we've got 13% pants, blouses 7%, then we have...
FITZPATRICK: She also monitors the nuts and bolts of the business: gross receipts, labor costs, customer complaints. This information will be available to the country's 30,000 dry cleaners, some of whom might want to switch from perchloroethylene, or PERC. Dry cleaners have used PERC for decades because it's a proven stain remover that doesn't cause fabric to shrink or colors to run. However, there's growing evidence that PERC can cause serious health problems, including damage to the liver and central nervous system. It might even cause cancer. There's also concern that PERC contamination is spreading beyond dry cleaning establishments, to the air in nearby apartments and the food in nearby grocery stores. PERC can even contaminate household closets, where dry cleaned clothes are kept. The manufacturers of PERC acknowledge it's dangerous, but not at these short-term or low-level exposures. Steve Risotto directs the Center for Emissions Control, an organization funded by PERC manufacturers.
RISOTTO: People exposed to high levels in occupational settings have, you know, passed out, been, you know, been lightheaded, etcetera. It is a chemical that needs to be controlled, and where exposures, individuals' exposures need to be controlled. But it is not a chemical that is so bad that it shouldn't, it can't be used any more or it should not be used any more.
FITZPATRICK: Still, under pressure from the EPA, the dry cleaning industry has cut emissions of PERC by 40%. Bill Seitz, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Cleaners Association, thinks that's enough to protect employees and neighbors. He supports the limited use of wet cleaning, but dismisses attempts to completely replace PERC with water.
SEITZ: If water were as good as everybody says it was, or is, then there'd never be a dry cleaning industry. I mean we exist, the dry cleaning industry exists because of the limitations of water.
FITZPATRICK: Wet cleaning proponents say their new technology overcomes most of those limitations. But they do admit it can't clean everything.
FITZPATRICK: The Greener Cleaner still has problems with stubborn grease and oil stains. So staffers apply small amounts of industrial spot remover before putting clothes into the wet cleaning machine. They say they can live with a few drops of toxic chemicals if it avoids the need to clean an entire garment with PERC.
FITZPATRICK: Ultimately the final judge of wet cleaning will be the customer. And on this count, the Greener Cleaner seems successful.
MAN: I can't say that I've noticed a difference in the cleaning or the quality. But I mean it's just as good as anything else that we've tried, I think.
WOMAN: Yeah. I mean there are certainly cleaners that are cheaper, but I'm willing to pay a little bit more for things that I feel are safer. And what I like is that the clothes never smell.
FITZPATRICK: Already the Greener Cleaner staff is looking toward the next step in building consumer and industry acceptance for water-based cleaning. They want clothing manufacturers to stop labeling garments "dry clean only." For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick in Chicago.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Is there a business in your neighborhood that's taking an environmental approach? Let us know about it. Call at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try our e-mail address: LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $12.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
(Music up and under)
ANNOUNCER: 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.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Coming up in the second half of Living on Earth, winter on the farm with writer Jane Brox and her father.
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: In the heart of Brooklyn, New York, there's almost a half square mile of dense forest. New Yorkers love the woods of Prospect Park, but they may be loving it to death. For without help, no new trees can grow in this part of Brooklyn. The attempt to rescue Prospect Park in this half hour of NPR's Living on Earth. But first, this week's environmental almanac.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It isn't often that one person changes the way we see the world, but it does happen. One hundred sixty five years ago, Charles Darwin shipped out as a naturalist on the HMS Beagle to visit the Galapagos Islands. The animals Darwin saw there inspired his theory of evolution and forever changed humanity's vision of itself and its world. The Galapagos lie 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Most of the islands have been preserved and look much as they did in Darwin's day. But human presence has taken its toll. The sea tortoise, for which the islands are named, has been reduced in number from 200,000 in the 1800s to an estimated 15,000 today. Nearly 400 species of plants have been introduced into the Galapagos in the past century, threatening to crowd out the 400 native plant species, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Fishing and development are also forcing rapid changes in the ecosystems which inspired the whole notion of evolution.
(Music up and under: "Subsequently!")
CURWOOD: For almost a decade, people who live around the Great Lakes have been complaining about a foreigner, a non-native species of shellfish called the zebra mussel. The zebra mussel has multiplied so rapidly that it has changed the region's ecology, and clogged the intake pipes of water systems and industrial plants all around the Great Lakes. Now, another non-native species has been found in the lakes, a fish that eats zebra mussels. Could this be an ironic writing of an ecological imbalance? Well, not really. Bob Carty explains.
(A foghorn sounds)
CARTY: On the Detroit River just a couple of miles above the canyon of Detroit's skyscrapers, Patricia and Gord cast their lines into the muddy water a couple of times a week. Pat and Gord fish for fun; that's something there seems to be less of every day. Fishermen around here have to wear heavy boots so their feet aren't cut up by the shells of millions of zebra mussels that carpet the shoreline. And if zebra mussels weren't enough, anglers like Pat and Gord now have to put up with annoying tugs on their bait.
CARTY: What are you fishing for?
PAT: Perch. Not catchin' any. (Laughs)
CARTY: What do you usually catch?
PAT: That's new in the water. It's a small little fish that looks like it has a suction cup on its stomach and it comes from Europe.
GORD: They come out of the ships, ballast water I guess, and they dump it in the lake and that's how they got started I guess.
PAT: My brother in law thinks they're going to take over the water, because they multiply real fast.
CARTY: Real fast indeed. The goby fish was first discovered near here just 5 years ago. By this summer, the goby had spread to all 5 Great Lakes, from Lake Superior to Lake Ontario.
JUDE: When you look at other alien species that have come into the Great Lakes, like the alewife and the sea lamprey, it took them up to 20 years sometimes to make it through all 5 of the Great Lakes. This species is doing it different, and we've really not had that kind of a transfer of alien species before.
CARTY: David Jude is a researcher at the University of Michigan's Center for the Great Lakes and Aquatic Sciences. He is also the owner of a Michigan license plate that reads GOBY-1. That's because in 1990, David Jude was the first person who found a goby a long, long way from home.
JUDE: Gobys are members of the second largest fish family in the world, and include a lot of cave fishes. In other words, they can feed at night complete darkness, and that may have also been one of the traits that allowed them to get over here in the first place because they were in the ballast water of a ship in the k.
CARTY: Where are they from?
JUDE: They're from the Black and Caspian Seas in former Russia.
CORKUM: This is our lab freezer, and in here I have everything from frozen gobys to frozen adult insects.
CARTY: At the University of Windsor, on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, biologist Linda Corkum shows off the contents of some plastic bags in her freezer.
(Plastic bags crinkle)
CORKUM: And here's a goby. When you open the gut of a round goby you find all sorts of prey items, and in this one you can see that there are actually zebra mussels intact in the gut of the fish. It's quite amazing.
CARTY: And for a time, at least, quite promising. Here is a fish that loved to eat the little emigre from Russia. It devoured zebra mussels by the dozen. Now this was good news around the Great Lakes. After all, zebra mussels were becoming so numerous that they were sinking navigational buoys by their combined weight. Throughout the Great Lakes it has cost an estimated three quarters of a billion dollars up to now to protect water intakes from zebra mussels. So the goby was the great brown hope. But a false hope it proved. Aquatic scientist David Jude.
JUDE: There's lots more zebra mussels than there ever will be gobys. They do eat a lot of zebra mussels, but I don't think they're going to exert any big control on zebra mussels; they're certainly no silver bullet for controlling zebra mussels. But they're another factor that will help control the zebra mussel population.
CARTY: The goby's appetite for zebra mussels may in fact be a serious problem. It's a matter of the food chain according to Dr. Linda Corkum. The problem is that after eating zebra mussels, the gobys are eaten by bigger fish.
CORKUM: Zebra mussels are associated with the bottom, and accumulate contaminants: PCBs, industrial byproducts, pesticides, a whole suite of organochlorines. And gobys will be able to transfer these contaminants to predatory fish. Such as the sport fish such as small mouth bass or various species of trout.
CARTY: If this food chain concentration of toxin occurs as scientists predict, anglers might have to stop eating some of their favorite sport fish. Part of the commercial fishery might even be threatened. And that's not all. Gobys can out-compete other fish for food. They're more aggressive. They can feed in dark waters. They spawn 6 times a year. And because they can eat zebra mussels, gobys have an unlimited food supply unavailable to other fish. David Jude has already seen the impact, particularly on a once abundant native species.
JUDE: A species of benthic, which is a bottom dwelling fish, called the model sculpin, has been almost totally eliminated or displaced by the round goby. To find this is really an astounding discovery; I've heard these reports from scuba divers, and it's also been reported from the Grand Calumet River. The other interesting part of that is that the Grand Calumet River connects with the Mississippi River at Chicago, in that area. So now they have got an access into the Mississippi River, too.
CARTY: The goby is just the latest example of how disruptive non-native species can be. Earlier, the lamprey eel nearly destroyed lake trout. More recently the zebra mussel turned Lake Erie from murky to clear by eating most of the lake's algae. And now the goby is changing the balance of biodiversity. On the bright side, in the future there may be fewer cases of non-native species hitching a ride into North America. Both the US and Canada have taken measures to get ships to exchange their bilge waters at sea before entering inland waterways. But David Jude laments that short of serving up gobys on our dinner tables, like they do in Russia, there's really nothing to be done about the non-native species already here.
JUDE: Exotic species are forever. They get into these lakes and they take over and they're here for the duration, and we're just going to have to live with them.
CARTY: For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty in Detroit.
CURWOOD: While governments try to come up with international rules of environmental behavior, such as how to regulate bilge that might hold goby fish, private corporations have been developing some standardized environmental rules of their own. Some are part of an initiative from the International Standards Organization, called the ISO or "eye-so" 14000. And, says commentator Michael Silverstein, this private path is an important way to protect the public good.
SILVERSTEIN: ISO 14000 is a generic name for a family of soon to be issued international environmental standards. It is a product of several years' work by national standards setting groups from 43 nations, an ambitious attempt to establish global criteria for environmental management. In years past, many industry, trade, and even environmental organizations have created their own environmental charters and programs. What makes ISO 14000 so unique and so potentially important is its global scope, and the fact that so many previously opposing interests are poised to buy into the concept.
Virtually every Fortune 500 firm, for example, has developed its own environmental systems over the years. ISO 14000 establishes benchmarks to validate these systems. Environment-oriented consumers confused about competing claims when it comes to the greenness of various products will soon have global standards in this regard. The European Union is working to meld its own eco-management and auditing scheme with ISO 14000, while Japan has announced it will adopt 14000 as its national environmental standard for industry. In the US, 14000 is being hailed in many quarters as a timely private supplement to government environmental programs. Indeed, because compliance with 14000 may ultimately be used by banks, insurers and investment analysts to gauge whether corporations are working seriously to reduce their environmental exposure. These institutions may emerge as marketplace regulators, picking up slack left by under-funded government agencies.
Only one major constituency, in fact, has remained largely silent on these standards to date: the environmental community. Here, distrust of any form of corporate self-regulation is so intense that 14000 is being viewed with confusion and even outright hostility. This is most unfortunate. These standards represent the true corporate internalization of environmental values. They are thus the future of marketplace greening. For environmentalists, at a time when the key to reanimating their movement lies in identifying greening with jobs and profits, the alternative to ISO 14000, it will be irrelevance.
CURWOOD: Commentator Michael Silverstein is the president of Environmental Economics. He comes to us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia.
CURWOOD: Just ahead on Living on Earth, efforts to keep a small piece of Brooklyn, New York wild. Stay tuned.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. So let's say you live in Bedford Stuyvesant, one of Brooklyn, New York's poorest neighborhoods, or Park Slope, one of its wealthiest. How far away do you have to go to take a walk in the woods? Not that far, actually. You can just go a few blocks and be in Prospect Park. Back in the 1800s when Frederick Law Olmstead was busy creating parks in many of America's cities, he joined forces with Calvert Vaux in New York to create Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and its far more famous cousin in Manhattan, Central Park. And for years, Brooklynites have hiked and played in Prospect Park's half square mile of forest, which recreates the vast forests which once blanketed New York. There's only one problem. As the trees of Prospect Park grow older, none are sprouting to take their place. Neil Rauch has more from Brooklyn.
(Crows caw. Ambient voices)
RAUCH: To the casual observer, Prospect Park looks like it's in pretty good shape. There's plenty of greenery during the spring and summer, a mosaic of colors in the fall, and the scene of snow-covered trees in the winter can be breathtaking. But when going on a tour with an expert, it becomes clear that the 250 acres of woodlands, roughly half the park, are in trouble.
TOTH: There is no new generation of trees growing underneath the mature canopy trees of this forest. These are woods without a future. Essentially, the ecological processes have broken down.
RAUCH: Edward Toth, Director of Landscape Management for Prospect Park, says that ecological processes weren't that well understood when the park was created in the late 1860s by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. The two men planned Prospect Park as a sculptured and manicured replica of rural New York, built around the remnant woodlands of western Long Island. It was intended to serve as a refuge from urban life, but Edward Toth says it soon became evident that the large number of visitors to the park were causing problems.
TOTH: Within the first years that the park was open, Olmstead was already writing about the serious impact of people trampling across new plantings.
RAUCH: Today, the 6 million visitors to the park each year means 12 million feet compacting the ground into a rock-hard surface. Now nothing can grow here, and severe erosion has resulted. In recent years mountain bikes have made the situation even worse. It's Edward Toth's job to reverse the woods' decline.
TOTH: What our challenge is as modern ecologists is to take our knowledge that we've gained in the 125 years since they've built this and look at how woods function and what they need to sustain themselves, and how that can happen in the face of this continued pressure from people.
RAUCH: These woods in fact have been under people pressure for hundreds of years. In the early 1600s forests here were cut down to make way for Dutch farms and then by the British for firewood. Later, Revolutionary War battles were fought on what is now park land. But the woods were never totally clear-cut at any one time. This allowed the forest to regenerate itself as farms and homes were abandoned. The current restoration project is trying to bring back this natural regeneration process.
ZIMMERMAN: We need to get over this rail first, so why don't we do that? Yes, we're going to break the law.
RAUCH: Landscape architect Christian Zimmerman and Edward Toth are using two strategies to help jump-start the process. On this badly eroded hill, they are taking active steps.
ZIMMERMAN: We're walking through an area that's filled with small plants that are anywhere from a foot or 2 to 3 feet tall. These are all native plants that were grown in our nursery. We grew over 20,000 plants for this project this summer and fall...
RAUCH: These wildflowers, along with logs placed on the hill, stabilize the soil. This will allow saplings that are now being planted to take root.
RAUCH: It was the perception that the woods are a haven for muggers that originally led to the cutting of the underbrush in the 60s and 70s. This left no plants to anchor the soil, and newly open land became an open invitation for all those feet. But the whole notion that more foliage leads to more crime may be a false one. Park administrator Tupper Thomas points out that the widely publicized murder of a teacher a few years ago, terrible as it was, was the only one in the 15 years she's been here. Not a bad statistic for this New York City borough.
THOMAS: It's 526 acres in the middle of Brooklyn. It's the safest place to be in Brooklyn. If you look at the crime rates in relationship to any other 526 acres.
RAUCH: Nevertheless, in a bow to the perception of crime, the new dense foliage will be planted some 10 feet back from the paths, with only low plantings right along the side to give park users more of a sense of security and, if necessary, a running start.
(Horns honking; traffic sounds)
RAUCH: This active landscaping work is being done in the middle of the park. Elsewhere a very different method is being tried.
ZIMMERMAN: Nature at work.
RAUCH: Landscape architect Christian Zimmerman reads one of the many signs posted around the park.
ZIMMERMAN: This area was once part of a forest. We are letting it slowly return to that state by not mowing the grass and by planting forest trees and shrubs. It may look overgrown to you, but nature is at work building a woodland. We need your help ...
RAUCH: Zimmerman and Toth take us along the edge of the park where this passive form of restoration is being used.
TOTH: There are processes in nature whereby a forest rebuilds itself if you start with essentially a meadow. That's a process of succession. If there are areas of the park that we're not going to get to for 15 years, if we stop mowing now and allow the woody plants to start growing again, nature will have done a great deal of work for us before we show up in our more active phase of dealing with that area.
RAUCH: One potentially controversial part of the restoration plan will be the removal of exotic trees put in by Olmstead and Vaux. The foreign trees have been aggressively reproducing, pushing out native species. One of these so-called weed trees, says Edward Toth, has firm roots planted in Brooklyn folklore.
TOTH: Tree of Heaven or ailanthus, which is known as the tree that grows in Brooklyn: the ailanthus tree was made famous by that story, and grows in most waste lots throughout the city. Although I have one in my back yard at home and I wouldn't cut it down for anything because it's the only thing we've got.
RAUCH: Cutting down mature, healthy trees in New York City parks is generally considered a sacrilege. But the Parks Department has made an exception in this case.
TOTH: Clearly these are four species where we can't coexist. And they weren't written about by Olmstead and Vaux as being integral to the design of the woodlands. I don't, in my heart of heart, think we'd have an argument with either Mr. Olmstead or Mr. Vaux at eliminating these four species.
RAUCH: Only saplings will be pulled at first. The mature trees won't be chopped down until after there are more native species filling the canopy. Even all this will not recreate a natural system. This park is a manmade setting, less than half of which is devoted to woods. The babbling brook, the duck pond, and the lake are all completely artificial, fed by the city's water system. Park administrator Tupper Thomas says Prospect Park is, after all, part of New York City.
THOMAS: The point is that it feels like you're in the Adirondacks, and you're not. You're in the middle of Brooklyn that doesn't have lakes. It doesn't have big mountainous hills. And it doesn't have rivers, and it doesn't have a forest. And this is the one place in Brooklyn where you'll find all that.
RAUCH: The restoration plan is expected to cost millions of dollars with $15 million coming from private fundraising and around another 28 from the cash-strapped city. But this may not really be a lot of money, considering that this project is going to take a quarter of a century. And as landscape management director Edward Toth says, the final results may not be known during most of our lifetimes.
TOTH: Long time is what we're about here. We're talking about processes that are going to take 50 to 100 years to tell us if we're succeeding at what we're doing. I think the reality is given the impacts that we have, that this will always continue.
RAUCH: For Living on Earth, I'm Neil Rauch in Brooklyn, New York.
CURWOOD: Prospect Park is an oasis in the midst of the asphalt desert of urban sprawl. Jane Brox also lives in an oasis. It's her family's farm in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. She's written about it in her book Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and its Family, published by Beacon Press. In it, she recounts the story of her grandparents who bought the land at the turn of the century when the area was mostly agricultural. And how now, cut through by a busy road, the farm is one of the very few left in the area. But as Ms. Brox tells us, even a small family farm in the shadow of the city in the dead of winter is rich with life.
JANE BROX: The barn has been cold for years, and in a hard winter snow accumulates on the roof. Back when my grandfather kept a dairy herd, the cows warmed the barn enough to meld a moderate snow falling on the shingles. This was early in the century, and the farm itself looked far different than it does not. An open country then, the pasture and fields running to the horizon, one set off from the next with walls built from stones that had been cleared from the land.
JOHN BROX: You know, that don't seem so long ago. But it was, 60, 70 years ago.
JANE BROX: When my father took over the farm, a small dairy herd could no longer support the family. So he gradually sold off the cows as he expanded his vegetable crops. The herd was gone by mid-century. The farm I've always known is 50 acres cultivated in crops we sell on our farm stand. People from the surrounding cities and suburbs drive here to buy sweet corn, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, peas, apples, peaches. Our winter barn is swept and neat and rowed with machinery. Harrow planter, cultivator, rice spreader. It smells a little oily and metallic, and is utterly still in the cold as I stand here. Not even a swallow lighting off the rafters. Remnants from its earlier use are hanging on nails struck into the back wall. A double yoke, a horse's collar, a rusting sigh.
(Metal on metal sounds)
JANE BROX: And the far pastures have grown into woods. Their soils are too poor and stony for our crops.
JANE BROX: Now I walk here among white pines whose soft tops sway. Those trees protect me from the brunt of the wind, so I can walk a long time.
JANE BROX: I can't imagine these woods as ever having been part of any farm. Though countless signs tell me otherwise. (Watch, there's barbed wire here.) There are stone walls here, too, squared off through the trees. I found strands of barbed wire, an ox shoe, an old milk cans half sunk in dust. I could probably find such remnants in any woods I walked through in these parks. At the turn of the century the farms were countless. All you could smell was cows, my father remembers. And he tamps his ash cane as he names down the places. Bragden had 30 cows; Dooley must have had 20 or so. Stevens, he had a small herd. Cox, Clough...
JOHN BROX: And John Perry Mashado and sons had about 25. And the Ritzes and all that cattle.
JANE BROX: What were once those families' homesteads and pastures are housing tracts now, or convenience stores, supermarkets, small industries. On the road, there's traffic at all hours, and tankers drive our milk in from the north and west in the middle of the night. I can count the remaining farms in this part of the valley on one hand.
JOHN BROX: Old man Cox used to come up with a wagon every night and take the milk...
JANE BROX: My father tamps his cane again as he counts the children who lived up and down the road when he was young. There were 10 at Bailey's, he says, 14 at Cloughs. We were 9. There must have been 50 of us just along these few miles. He pauses for a moment, then goes on. Now we're alone here, he says, speaking of my mother and himself. If you have your own house, your brother has his...
JOHN BROX: See the generations change...
JANE BROX: He talks as if we were, and I guess we are, some tough old remnant, too.
JOHN BROX: Yeah.
JANE BROX: Though it never seems so in the middle of summer, when everyone has a shoulder to the picking, hoeing, and packing. And there are days when workers are in and out of the fields until nearly dusk. But all that goes in a matter of months. Corn field after corn field is harrowed down and planted in winter rye. One cold star-hung night kills the tomato and cucumber vines, and frost settles in the low place in the orchard. The last yellow leaves fall to reveal the spare turned branches of the apple trees, and we face a stretched out white time. More than anything I miss the voices I'd hear calling across the field. Just simple orders really: okay! Don't forget the twine! I need more baskets. Or 2 or more talking as they rest on overturned crates or stop for water at the end of a row. They've all scattered to their own lives for the winter.
JOHN BROX: The weeds have grown in the greenhouse.
JANE BROX: Yeah.
JANE BROX: Snow has settled in the fields and woods now. My father spends much of the day at his desk going over figures, or he puts his magnifier to the pages of the American Agriculturist. He tells me he's just read a piece about an organization that matches up people who want to buy working farms with farms that are for sale. And then we talk about how that sort of thing could never happen here. We're too close to Boston. The start-up costs, the land values, the taxes are all too high. It's talk we've fallen into more often than not this winter. Even a few years back he'd be thinking instead about trying a new supplier for the early corn seed, or about buying a new orchard mower. But this winter he's 85. He leans on his cane and counts another vanishing thing.
JOHN BROX: Blue birds. We used to have big blue birds every summer. That was our world, you know.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: John Brox died shortly after we visited him and his daughter Jane Brox on her farm in Dracut, Massachusetts. Jane Brox says the family plans to keep on farming.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our portrait of the Brox farm was produced by Sandy Tolan. And special thanks to member station KPLU, Seattle. Senior producer for Living on Earth is Chris Ballman. Our editor is Peter Thomson and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. We also had help from Marny Kimmel, Christopher Knorr, Mark Borrelli, 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.
(Music up and under)
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.
(Music up and under)
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
This Week's Books
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.
Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.