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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

March 1, 1996

Air Date: March 1, 1996

SEGMENTS

Anti-Pemex Protests / Jana Schroeder

In the Mexican state of Tabasco in recent weeks, over sixty separate protests have occurred at oil wells against the government-owned Pemex company. Farmers and fishermen are complaining of pollution resulting in spoiled crops and catches. This same oil is being used as collateral for Mexico's debt to the United States, so the Mexican Government is starting to negotiate with the protesters to prevent blockades and disruption in oil extraction. Jana Schroeder reports from Mexico. (11:15)

Condors: Beware of Humans / Stephanie O'Neill

In preparation for an eventual planned release into the Grand Canyon, some California Condors are sent to learn to fear human contact for survival. This unique bird-of-prey training ground is run by an employee of the Los Angeles Zoo. Stephanie O'Neill reports from condor boot camp. (06:15)

Of Great Apes / Sy Montgomery

Commentator Sy Montgomery marvels at the similarities between humans and their primate next-of-kin. (03:15)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about pigs. (01:10)

Home Drinking Water: Consumer Tips

Host Jan Nunley talks with Consumer Reports chemist Jeffrey Martin for consumer tips about household drinking water and home water filtration systems. (05:11)

Living on Earth Profile Series #23: Carl Anthony: Keeper of the Vision / Tara Siler

Carl Anthony became recognized as a coalition builder while working to improve environmental standards between business and citizens in northern California's inner cities. Now the President of the Earth Island Institute, Anthony is dedicated to a multicultural staff, and bringing more people from all walks of life into the environmental mainstream. Tara Siler has this profile. (06:14)

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Blues / Betty Rogers

Betty Rogers reports from the Chesapeake Bay on the staggering decline of the crab so closely associated with the region and its economy. This winter, Maryland and Virginia started restricting blue crab catches in the hopes of preventing further decline of the population of crustaceans, along with the economic future of watermen dependent on them for their livelihoods. (11:38)

Listener Segment

Reactions to our recent segments on Utah Wilderness and deforestation in Cameroon. (02:20)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

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: Jan Nunley
NEWSCASTER: Peter Thomson
REPORTERS: Julie Edelson Halpert, Jana Schroeder, Stephanie O'Neill, Tara Siler, Betty Rogers
GUEST: Jeffrey Martin
COMMENTATOR: Sy Montgomery

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley. Oil.It's Mexico's down payment on economic survival, and it's promise that the US will be repaid for a bail out loan. But farmers and fishermen are saying No, gracias, to oil drilling they say is bad for their business and their land.

ORTIZ: Well we've got, if you take a good look, is massive uncontrolled exploitation. Why? Because politicians are selling the petroleum. Ecology doesn't matter. The important thing is to get the oil out.

NUNLEY: And tough love at a training camp for California condors, raised in captivity and returning to southwestern skies.

WALLACE: And that's what we're trying to achieve, is to have them be afraid of people in the wild, and react by flying to safety.

NUNLEY: This week on Living on Earth; first news.

Environmental News

THOMSON: From Living on Earth, I'm Peter Thomson. President Clinton has joined the call for repeal of the Salvage Logging Law, which allows renewed logging on thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive national forests. The salvage law suspends most environmental safeguards in the forest. The President signed it last summer as part of a budget bill, but the Administration now says it didn't foresee its broad effect. The salvage bill is promoted as a way of culling dead and dying trees and fire prone underbrush, but a Federal court has ruled that it also allows the commercial harvest of thousands of healthy trees in old growth forests. Environmentalists charge the provision is a bonanza for the timber industry, and threatens severe ecological damage to public forests from coast to coast.

Another study has reported a significant decline in human sperm counts. British researchers say that Scottish men born after 1970 had 24% fewer sperm than those born 12 years earlier. The cause of the fall is unclear, but some scientists suspect synthetic chemicals known as environmental estrogens. The chemicals can mimic female sex hormones or block male hormones. They are found in everything from pesticides to detergents to plastic wrappers. Dr. Stewart Irvine, who headed up the Scottish study, says the sperm count drop isn't sharp enoug affect fertility. Other recent studies have shown a fall in sperm counts in the United States and Europe.

Cars could be spewing out 5 times as much pollution than allowed by Federal standards because emissions tests don't account for real world driving conditions. That's the conclusion of a report presented at an auto engineering conference in Detroit. Julie Edelson Halpert of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports.

HALPERT: The report found that the Environmental Protection Agency's test to certify a car's compliance with clean air standards doesn't consider conditions such as quick acceleration, high speed driving, and running the air conditioner at full power, which can tax the engine and substantially increase emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, the components of smog. University of Michigan physicist Robert Goodwin was an author of the report.

GOODWIN: Although these high power driving episodes only occur 1 to 5% of the time, the emissions during those episodes are so great that the total emissions due to that small amount of driving is significant, maybe on the order of a third to a half of the total carbon monoxide emissions.

HALPERT: Goodwin wants the EPA to revise its certification test to better account for the way cars drive once they are on the road. Specifically, he wants auto makers to improve the emission control technology on cars to ensure that the extra burst of fuel and exhaust emissions caused by swift acceleration is better controlled. The EPA is expected to issue a new version of the test in July. For Living on Earth, I'm Julie Edelson Halpert.

THOMSON: Dolphin safe tuna could become even safer under new legislation pending in Congress. The bill would lift a US embargo on tuna imports if the fish are caught using methods that protect dolphins. It requires certification by on-board observers that no dolphins were killed along with the tuna, and creates international protection for each type of dolphin that lives in the eastern Pacific. It's sponsored by the Clinton Administration. Tim Wirth, the State Department's Undersecretary for Global Affairs, says the bill would significantly lower dolphin mortality and toughen compliance.

WIRTH: The program that we currently have is a voluntary program, under which nations voluntarily agree. And it has effectively a ceiling of 9,000 dolphin mortality every year. The new program will be a binding program in which nations agree legally and it will have a ceiling on dolphin of 5,000 or fewer.

THOMSON: The bill has support from both parties, the fishing industry, and environmental groups including Greepeace and the World Wildlife Fund. But other groups, including the Sierra Club and the Humane Society, are opposed. They say it would allow tuna boats to chase and encircle dolphins that swim near tuna, and that could harm their ability to reproduce.

Scientists studying wildlife around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant have found a rodent that thrives in a highly radioactive environment. Researchers say the genetic makeup of a species of vole found near the plant is mutating at an incredible rate, but that it's breeding well and producing ever stronger offspring. Radioactivity usually triggers mutations in animal genes which can weaken the species, but the researchers say the high mutation rate in the voles is spurring genetic diversity, which is actually making them more resilient.

Finally, the notion that pushy Americans can be induced to eat themselves to death has given hope to friends of Britain's red squirrels. Britain is suffering from an invasion of North American gray squirrels. Now Britain's Forestry Commission may put poison in special hoppers that the big gray squirrels can open but the smaller reds can't. The native red squirrels have been crowded out of most of England's forests by the grays, which are more aggressive food collectors.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Peter Thomson.

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Anti-Pemex Protests

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley, in this week for Steve Curwood. For 2 weeks in February, hundreds of Mexican farmers and fishermen blocked access to oil wells in the southern state of Tabasco, protesting what they call damage to their lands and their livelihoods from oil drilling. Most of Mexico's oil production takes place in Tabasco and in the neighboring state of Campeche. Oil is vital to Mexico; it's a major source of foreign exchange and it's collateral for the multi-billion dollar loan the government took out from the United States last year when the economy crashed. That's why Tabasco's protesters were watched nervously in Washington, DC. But they fuel political fires within Mexico as well as Pemex, the state-owned oil company at the center of the controversy, has become a prime target for opposition politicians. There's a lot at stake for Mexico's government in Tabasco, and as Jana Schroeder reports there's a lot at stake for the local residents as well.

(A machete cuts through brush)

SCHROEDER: Damasio Garcia Sanchez is 85 years old. He still works this small plot of land in Tabasco's lowland farming region known as Chontalpa. Today he's clearing it by hand to prepare for the next crop of corn. The Chontal indigenous people have lived off farming and fishing here for generations, but in recent years they say intensive oil drilling by Mexico's state-owned oil company, Pemex, has changed their way of life and their chance for survival.

GARCIA: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: The land's worn out. Now it doesn't produce anything. If you plant yucca, you don't get anything. If you plant squash, it comes out all shriveled. Look at the banana grove I've got planted over there. Nothing. Before, the banana was big and beautiful. But now, what we are going to eat?

SCHROEDER: Small farmers like Mr. Garcia were among those who blocked access to the state-owned oil wells in this part of Tabasco in February. The protests have been led by one of Mexico's opposition parties, the Party of the Democratic Revolution or the PRD. Pemex, the state oil company, says the protests are politically motivated and exaggerate environmental damage from oil operations. Pemex has a policy of not granting interviews, but officials have complained that recent protests at 60 oil wells have cost the company as much as $13 million. Scientists who study the region say complaints by local residents are genuine. Dr. Alfonso Vasquez Botello is a geochemist at Mexico's National Autonomous University.

POTELLO: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: They are based on results, and from 15 to 20 years ago, which demonstrated with facts and statistics and published reports that petroleum extraction in southeast Mexico had already seriously affected large segments of the population. So for me, as a researcher, what's happening in Tabasco is nothing new. It's just that the people are responding difrently.

SCHROEDER: Dr. Vasquez says the government claims Pemex has improved its practices.

VASQUEZ: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: But the truth is, we don't see this improvement in our studies. To the contrary, we have found higher and higher concentrations of compounds derived from petroleum in organic tissues in water and sediments.

SCHROEDER: Pemex officials acknowledge that oil spills and gas emissions are partially responsible for ecological damage in Tabasco, but they insist there are also other causes, such as improper disposal of human wastes and use of pesticides and fertilizers.

(People gathering)

SCHROEDER: The state government of Tabasco has set up a commission to mediate between Pemex and farmers and fishermen. Chemist Leonardo Garcia Hernandez is the director of environmental protection at the commission. He says of the tens of thousands of complaints registered, only a small percentage are actually related to damage caused by Pemex. He says that after the oil company compensated some affected small farmers in the mid 1980s, people started to take advantage of the situation.

HERNANDEZ: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: All of a sudden it became an escape valve for all the economic problems in the area. There were more and more complaints from that time up until 1994, '95, it was like there was a complaint boom with some incredible claims. Many of them, I can assure you, without any technical backing.

SCHROEDER: Mr. Garcia believes environmental problems are getting mixed up with the region's economic and social problems. Pemex has vowed to pay out on all legitimate complaints, but says it won't pay a single penny to what's been termed the complaint industry. Still, the oil company says it has donated millions of dollars to economic development efforts in the region, including money for public works jobs for people who can't make a living the way they used to. But many say it hasn't made much difference. Jose Gordillo grows corn and beans on communally owned land in the village of Olcoatita'n.

GORDILLO: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: Sometimes the government comes around with its little program that pays less than $2 a day and lasts only 2 or 3 weeks. But it's only for a few people, only for those who support the government. They get the jobs.

SCHROEDER: Eight years ago a ruptured pipeline spilled oil into this river. According to Mr. Gordillo it's never been the same since. He says his community has been waiting 2 years for a response from Pemex to their complaints of environmental damage. Ernesto Martinez Oliva, who works for the Human Rights Committee of Tabasco, says there are many such cases of unanswered complaints and unfulfilled promises. He's personally experienced one of them. He lives less than a mile from the side of a pipeline explosion a year ago, that left 9 people dead. The government agreed to begin relocating families living in the area by August of 1995, but Martinez says nothing's been done.

MARTINEZ: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: The people haven't moved because they're poor. They don't have enough money to buy another house or buy another piece of land. This is why there are so many unhappy people around this state, because it's not the only agreement the state government has signed but failed to comply with.

SCHROEDER: According to the influential independent magazine Processo, there are nearly 2,000 miles of pipelines crisscrossing Tabasco, and in 20 years there have been 30 explosions reported, with as many as 200 deaths. When protests were underway, Pemex announced a 6-fold budget hike for building and maintaining pipelines. It emphasizes that much of the money will go toward building new line to replace the old ones. But biologist Gonzalo Ortiz Gil is worried about much bigger problems, about an entire ecosystem that's been changed forever.

(A child speaks)

SCHROEDER: Mr. Ortiz works at the autonomous Chapingo University in Tabasco. He clears off a table in his home to spread out a well-worn, hand-drawn map of Tabasco's coastal region along the Gulf of Mexico. He says canals built by Pemex to transport its oil and machinery have increased ocean water flowing into an intricate natural system of lakes and rivers. He says the canals and causeways have changed water levels and salinity and created havoc for local farmers and fishermen.

ORTIZ: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: There are farmers whose pasture lands and coconut groves are under salt water. They've lost them. They should be paid for the damage. If we were in the United States, any court would have ordered such payments or the land that has oil underneath it, the oil will be theirs. They would be rich. They wouldn't be living in poverty. What we've got, if you take a good look, is massive uncontrolled exploitation. Why? Because politicians are selling the petroleum. If there isn't enough oil, more wells have to be dug. Ecology doesn't matter. The important thing is to get the oil out. This happened, for example, when Lopez Portillo was president.

SCHROEDER: That was back in the 1970s. Some Mexican environmentalists believe it's also happening now. They believe Pemex is under pressure to step up oil production, since Mexico put its oil up as collateral for the Clinton Administration's loan guarantee for $20 billion. In fact, Pemex recently announced it plans to boost oil production and increase oil exports to the United States to 75% of all exported oil. Mr. Ortiz says there are many ways such intensive oil drilling has affected the environment. He claims the government has evidence of acid rain, and he charges that wastes and sludge stored in pools at drilling sites are left to contaminate the ground and water table. Mr. Ortiz is one of the few scientists in Tabasco's capitol, Villahermosa, who are willing to speak so frankly. Some of the most qualified experts have government or university jobs they're afraid of losing, and only speak cautiously or off the record.

ORTIZ: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: I've been holding back from talking to the press about this problem because it has political implications, you know. But I decide that as academics, we have the moral obligation to say what we know about this situation.

SCHROEDER: Pemex has recently promised to conduct new environmental impact studies. But Mr. Ortiz says there is no lack of studies, nor of proposals from qualified scientists. But they've been shelved and ignored. One of those proposals is to give people living in the areas with ecological damage a chance to relocate and make a decent living again.

(Water being splashed)

SCHROEDER: The families living around the Mecoaca'n Lagoon might be candidates for such a relocation program. They've traditionally made their living from fishing and oyster farming, but oil spills during recent years have drastically affected oyster production. Rofino Lara Wilson has been fishing here since he was a kid.

WILSON: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: The only thing people can do is sell a few oysters here on the street at about a dollar a bag, or whatever they can get to survive. Because there's no other work here. Fishing is all there is. If we try taking our oysters to a market, we're turned away because people know the lagoon is polluted.

SCHROEDER: Mr. Lara talks of the days the fishing boats went out 6 days a week, and came back loaded with oysters. But that way of life, he says, is history now. For Living on Earth, I'm Jana Schroeder in Tabasco, Mexico.

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(Water being splashed; bird song)

NUNLEY: Saving California condors by scaring the daylights out of them, just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Condors: Beware of Humans

NUNLEY: Some time in early spring 9 California condors are scheduled to be released in the area around Arizona's Grand Canyon. It's a historic comeback for these magnificent creatures, and it marks another important step in a recovery effort that has helped the condors, once nearly extinct, reach a population of about 100 today. But many of the condors raised in captivity are far too comfortable with human beings and their gadgets for their own good. So in preparation for the Grand Canyon release, scientists are putting the condors through a rigorous training program, a sort of avian boot camp designed to teach the huge birds to stay away from human-made dangers. Stephanie O'Neill paid a visit to the Los Angeles Zoo, where the condors are going through their basic training.

WALLACE: Make sure that when you're going with a net, you two, that you're not swinging the net in a big arc. You're just flipping it over the bird. And be aware that when you come down that hill it can be real slippery. So we're expendable, the bird isn't. Okay.

O'NEILL: Mike Wallace heads the California Condor Recovery Team at the Los Angeles Zoo, and is one of the best friends the condors have. Although they'd never know it. The only time they have personal contact with him, he's leading a brigade of threatening humans who march into their enclosure, grab them in nets, and then carry them to darkened crates where they sit alone until nightfall.

WALLACE: And then they're unceremoniously allowed to go back into the cage so they stumble through the night, tripping through the water. They're not on their perches. They're distressed. So by the next morning they're all worried about that nightmare they had the day before. And that's what we're trying to achieve, is to have them be afraid of people in the wild, and react by flying to safety.

O'NEILL: Under normal circumstances the young birds spend several years shadowing the adult condors and learning to survive, in large part by staying away from humans. But the captive born birds didn't fare so well. Even though they were raised in isolation from people, their natural curiosity led them to hang around humans with deadly consequences.

WALLACE: Having no experienced adults to mimic, they began to choose the most efficient, the most prominent perches in the area, which are telephone or power poles.

O'NEILL: As the condors spent more time around the poles and lines, they became overly confident. For instance, Wallace says, they often would look over their shoulder at their playmates as they chased one another through the taut, unforgiving wires.

WALLACE: Or they may even jostle that other condor off the roost in the middle of the night. In the moonlit night they will fly and try to regain that perch again, and I'm sure it's difficult to see those lines. So we have lost 4 California condors to power line collisions, and that's what they're doing. They're hitting the power line, then they fall for 60 or 75 feet depending on the type of line to the ground, and if they're not flying they're falling just like we would be.

O'NEILL: Today the boot camp experience is changing that. A specially equipped power pole perch installed in their enclosure teaches the birds to stay away by emitting an electrical zap when they land on it.

WALLACE: Okay, I think we're all set. (Moves things around)

O'NEILL: And equally successful, it appears, are the periodic harassment episodes. On a recent afternoon, 9 young birds just weeks away from release experience their third run-in with invading humans.

WALLACE: Mike is going to walk on the hillside, and the birds will be alerted.

O'NEILL: The handlers walk quietly into the 100-foot-long condor enclosure that's littered with animal bones and small carcasses picked clean by the vultures. On one end a large fountain provides water for the birds. And throughout, craggy branch-like perches give them a place to rest. On the far side of the cage are the condors, each weighing about 20 pounds, with wing spans that will eventually stretch to 9 and a half feet. They watch the humans warily. Then they leap off their perches and begin flying every which way like giant, frightened parakeets cornered by a cat.

(A motor runs. Man: "They're coming right down." Noises.)

O'NEILL: But there's no escape from the humans, and one by one all the condors are captured.

WALLACE: Okay you guys, we're going to keep it down a little bit. We'll move out; I guess everything's all set. No injuries that you saw.

MAN: No.

WALLACE: Okay. Good. You could tell that it's not fun for them. They're very, very tough birds.

O'NEILL: Wallace says this Pavlovian behavior modification has so far proved 100% successful. The 17 boot camp graduates, the only California condors now in the wild, are still alive. And Wallace suspects they'll pass on their newfound fear of humans to their offspring. The next big test comes with the planned release of these 9 birds into the Grand Canyon area.

WALLACE: It's grand experiment, and it's going to be assessed on a yearly basis, a continual basis basically. And I think it'll be very spectacular for the tourist on the south rim, north rim, wherever they are, to have a California condor come into their afternoon and circle overhead. It will be one spectacular sight, and probably one of the most memorable experiences if it's a close encounter.

O'NEILL: But Mike Wallace, leader of the California Condor Recovery Team, hopes it won't be too close an encounter, as it's essential the vultures retain their boot camp lessons if these largest and rarest birds in North America are going to survive. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

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Of Great Apes

NUNLEY: Where do you go when you go to the zoo? Well it seems like everyone eventually winds up at the monkey house. We all pause a little longer in front of the apes. Perhaps we're staring at where we came from and wondering if there but for a fluke of evolution go we all. Commentator Sy Montgomery says that in our zoos and in our laboratories we're giving our closest cousins less than their due.

MONTGOMERY: All you have to do is look into the faces of the great apes and you can see the kinship we share. The chimpanzee shares with us nearly 99% of its genetic material. You can get a blood transfusion from a chimp. The other great apes -- gorillas, orangutans, they're so like us that early explorers who saw them for the first time recorded in their journals that they had encountered new races of people. That may sound silly to us now, we know so much better today. Confusing apes, mere animals, with people, what a laugh! Absurd.

Yet in laboratories across the country, we are treating apes as if they were people. We've taken thousands of these great apes away from their jungle homes to live inside buildings. We've taught chimps, gorillas and orangutans to use languages ranging from the American Sign Language of the deaf to languages developed to us on computers. From this we know that apes can, like us, invent entirely new phrases, make jokes, and creatively insult people.

We've trained chimps to be astronauts. We have orangutans performing in Las Vegas acts. We use apes routinely as stand-ins for humans in psychological experiments. And we're always trying to give apes human diseases, which no ape could contract in the wild, so we can test on them human treatments. Among the most horrible diseases is AIDS. So that a chimp might be the first to receive a new treatment for the disease. Meanwhile, doctors turn away terminal human patients who are desperate for any last ditch treatment.

It sounds very mixed up indeed, particularly when you realize there is no shortage of people, but there is a shortage of great apes. But no matter. The point is the great apes are in fact our closest kin. Every researcher using one of these creatures knows this, otherwise they'd be using a cheaper or more commonly available animal.

But wait. If these animals are really so like us, don't we then owe them special moral consideration? If these animals are so like humans, should they not be morally the last creatures we should be kidnapping, incarcerating, torturing and murdering? Some people, among them Jane Goodall, have proposed that apes used in research programs should be retired after serving a certain amount of time, their old age provided for in comfort and security. Like prisoners wrongly convicted, we should repay them for their suffering at our hands.

I once met a man who hearing this plan roared with laughter. A retirement plan for chimps! We can't treat animals like people, he said, that would be absurd. Wouldn't it?

NUNLEY: Sy Montgomery's book The Spell of the Tiger is due out in paperback this spring. She comes to us from member station WEVO in New Hampshire.

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NUNLEY: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Jan Nunley.

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ANNOUNCER: Major support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation for reporting on science and the envoironment; the Ford Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; and all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt -- whether supporting wore causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio

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NUNLEY: You may not be able to trust the water that comes out of your tap anymore but there are ways you can protect yourself against some possible contaminants. That's coming up in the second half of Living on Earth.

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SECOND HALF HOUR

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NUNLEY: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley.

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The Living on Earth Almanac

NUNLEY: They say it takes a strong stomach to watch the making of laws and sausage. So it's only fitting that in early March, just as presidential primary season moves into high gear, we observe National Pig Day. Pigs may be among the first animals domesticated by humans, possibly as early as 7,000 BC. Now pork producers say they're the world's largest source of animal protein. Pigs came to North America in 1539 with the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto. Escapees from his herds became the wild razorbacks of the southern US. Farmers used to call pigs and hogs mortgage lifters for their efficiency in producing usable food products. "Everything but the squeal" was the saying. It takes only 2 and a half pounds of grain to produce a pound of pork; that's much less than the 8 needed for each pound of beef. Still, the 95 million pigs consumed in the US last year themselves ate more than 31 billion pounds of grain. And for this first week of March 1996, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Home Drinking Water: Consumer Tips

NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. Last month the Environmental Protection Agency warned that Washington, DC's water and sewer system is so decrepit that it may pose a risk to the health of millions of residents. Meanwhile a Milwaukee study suggests that low levels of biological contaminants could cause chronic gastrointestinal problems. These are the latest in what sometimes feels like a flood of alarming news about the water we drink. As a society we're still grappling with how much protection of drinking water we can afford. But till that's resolved, families and individuals with a little money to spare can take steps now to improve the quality of the water they drink. Jeffrey Martin is a chemist for Consumer Reports who's studied drinking water and home filtration systems. He says it's what you can't see that can hurt you most.

MARTIN: If you have water that smells bad or tastes or looks bad, that's clearly objectionable and you might want to do something about it. But the ironic part is that the things which are probably more harmful, things like lead which is a chronic hazard, won't get you in the short run but eventually it could if it's high enough, and immediate threats which can occur unpredictably like cryptosporidium and bacterial contamination. Those are the things you can't taste or see, and they're really more dangerous than the aesthetic problems.

NUNLEY: How can you determine if something like that is in your water?

MARTIN: Lead, for example, can be tested for. There's reliable chemical tests that are quite sensitive for lead. But the usual problem with other things, which are microbiological contaminations which have been in the news lately -- cryptosporidium, for example, which was a problem in Milwaukee about a year ago, and even in New York City there have been periodic low levels of it -- those are very hard to predict. They're hard to find and there's really nothing you can do as far as testing your own water to prevent it. They can just occur at a moment's notice. Although it's rare.

NUNLEY: If you're concerned about your water, what kind of filter systems are available to use? And start with the simplest thing and then we can go to the more complex systems.

MARTIN: Okay, well the simplest things are the ones that are selling like hotcakes these days. Those are the carafe water pitchers. Those are quite effective actually in improving the aesthetic qualities of your water. And in some tests we recently did at Consumer Reports we found actually that the carafe water pitchers that you can buy are quite competent at removing lead as well as organic chemicals from the water.

NUNLEY: Okay, so the carafe, and then what?

MARTIN: Then you can go up to the filters, small filters which fit on the end of your faucet. Then there are the ones which sit on your counter top and connect to your faucet with a hose. Then you can go to under sink models, where you actually plummet the water under your sink through a filter and then it comes up sometimes to a separate tap on the sink. Then there are even larger models which are intended to process the water for your whole house.

NUNLEY: Are there any scams to watch out for in the whole water filtration business?

MARTIN: You betcha. If you're paying for a filter which is say about a foot high and 4 or 5 inches in diameter, a cylinder about that size, you shouldn't pay more than $100 or so for it. And for a counter top or an under sink filter, one, two, $300 is usually enough for one that has quite a large capacity.

NUNLEY: I'm assuming in the case of some of those bacterial contaminants, it would be a good idea to change out that filter fairly regularly.

MARTIN: As far as filtering goes, it's very hard to have a filter which will effectively remove all those things and then stay clean. If, say, a slug of bacteria or something gets into your filter, carbon can be a very effective medium for them to grow on, and there's lots of stuff in there, sludge and algae and everything. So bacteria can grow on filters, and if you have one you need to replace the filter at a regular interval.

NUNLEY: Or you might end up with worse water than you had to begin with.

MARTIN: You certainly can.

NUNLEY: Isn't there also a recommendation that you use cold water for certain applications, not hot water? Particularly if there's a danger of lead contamination?

MARTIN: That's a very good rule. You should never use hot water, the hot water tap, for any cooking or drinking purposes. It's, as you say, has sat in the pipes for a long period of time. It's sat in the water heater. Not that that produces any real problem, but if there's lead in the lines it will have higher lead content than the cold water.

NUNLEY: So better to run cold right out of the tap.

MARTIN: Right. And if you live in an area, say, in an inner city or an older section of some of our older cities, especially in the East, we found that it's not a bad idea to let your water run 30 seconds before you take the first cooking water in the morning.

NUNLEY: And it's not going to be that much in terms of wasting water.

MARTIN: No, you can water your plants with it if you really want to.

NUNLEY: All right, great. Jeffrey Martin is a chemist for Consumer Reports. Thank you so much for being our guest, Jeffrey.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

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Living on Earth Profile Series #23: Carl Anthony: Keeper of the Vision

NUNLEY: For decades the quality of life in America's cities has deteriorated. And the response of those who can afford it has been to move up by moving out. The results: urban blight, surrounded by suburban sprawl, at a high cost to human beings and the environment. So for a growing number of environmentalists the fate of our cities has become as much a concern as the fate of the wilderness. Among them is Carl Anthony, an architect, teacher, and activist who heads up the San Francisco based Earth Island Institute. He's convinced that to achieve a sustainable society, environmentalism itself needs to be reinvented to address issues of race, class, and urban life. As part of our series of reports on 25 leading figures in environmental change, Tara Siler has this profile of Carl Anthony.

WOMAN: How long has this been going?

SILER: At a meeting at the Earth Island Institute, Carl Anthony and his staff are discussing the agenda of an upcoming meeting by San Francisco's Environmental Commission. Mr. Anthony, usually intense but jovial, throws his hands in the air in frustration and leans back in his chair.

ANTHONY: And these people just keep forgetting the poverty part of it. You know, it just -- anyway, don't get me started on that.

SILER: Carl Anthony's passions are consumed by the inner city and its environment. Crime, drugs, and environmental hazards have made much of urban America a dangerous place to live. But Mr. Anthony says the reaction by more affluent people to flee the city won't solve the problems. He says it's primarily people of color who bear the brunt of these social and environmental hazards, and they can't afford to flee even if they want to. And so Mr. Anthony has taken on the task of creating healthier human environments within the inner city. He says if we don't address these basic issues people will continue to abandon the city, leading to more suburban sprawl, dependence on cars, and depressed downtowns.

ANTHONY: The work that we do thoroughly embraces commitments to protect biodiversity and the biological resources that life depends on. Our view is that the only way to protect them is to make sure that questions of social justice are incorporated from the very beginning in developing strategies.

SILER: Mr. Anthony's dedication to developing an environmental agenda that's relevant to the lives of inner city communities first began when he was getting his masters in architecture in New York in the 1960s.

ANTHONY: We tried to build parks in Harlem, and we found ourselves confronted with neighborhoods and communities that were more concerned about rats and roaches and the fact that they didn't have hot water in their apartments. And we were saying gee whiz, wouldn't it be really great to have a park out here. And it was like, you know, it was a language that was totally incoherent.

SILER: Among the lessons Mr. Anthony gleaned from his Harlem experience is that communities have to be involved in addressing the issues that affect them. That philosophy is now embodied at the Earth Island's Urban Habitat Project, which Mr. Anthony cofounded. Here, he and his staff work on issues such as public transportation, land use, military conversion, and creating community gardens in poor neighborhoods.

(Machinery running)

SILER: This industrial cooling system is the sound of Mr. Anthony's success. In 1991 Bayer Corporation wanted to enlarge its pharmaceutical research and production facility in Berkeley. The company was the city's second largest employer, and the proposal meant hundreds of more jobs. But this traditionally liberal, academic town feared that such an expansion could pose environmental problems, such as chemical spills into the nearby San Francisco Bay or even an explosion during an earthquake. As chair of the Berkeley City Planning Commission, Mr. Anthony literally convened hundreds of community meetings. Ultimately, the company agreed to state of the art environmental controls and an ongoing social investment program in the city. Loni Hancock, Berkeley's mayor at the time, says Mr. Anthony's dedication to the environment and the community helped make consensus possible.

HANCOCK: And I have to say when I looked out over the audience the night that we finally signed and saw both the business community in Berkeley, neighborhood activists, people from the company standing and clapping as we approved the agreement, you knew this was a real example of being able to pull the community behind a very important venture that will play a large role in the economic stability of the city for years to come.

SILER: California Congressman Ron Dellums was so impressed with this agreement he asked Carl Anthony to head up the East Bay Area's efforts to create new environmentally friendly jobs for thousands of defense workers left unemployed from base closures. There's now a factory at the Alameda Naval Base producing parts for electric and natural gas automobiles, and there are plans for a Native American cultural center at another base.

(Man talking softly at meeting)

SILER: Nearly all of those working here at Urban Habitat are people of color who refer to Mr. Anthony as the keeper of the vision. One of Mr. Anthony's central goals is to bring more people like himself into the leadership of the environmental movement.

MAN: The fact of the matter, we've been out there trying to get more people of color involved in these things. So I think we need to be, acknowledge the value of having people who have come through our process becoming effective in the world and also carrying our name.

SILER: This dedication to multiculturalism is what David Brower first noticed about Mr. Anthony. Brower, the Bay Area's grandfather of environmentalism, founded the Earth Island Institute and hand-picked Mr. Anthony to take his place as its president. Brower calls Mr. Anthony a godsend to the environmental movement.

BROWER: He's my Martin Luther King, and people are going to hear more about Carl before they're through.

SILER: This spring Carl Anthony will be at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, a place Mr. Anthony says jokingly is usually reserved for deposed heads of state. That's partly true, but it's also a place for people with bright futures. For Living on Earth, I'm Tara Siler in San Francisco.

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NUNLEY: Blues for Chesapeake Bay crabs. That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Blues

NUNLEY: If you've ever tasted the succulent meat of the Chesapeake blue crab, you know why it's considered a seafood delicacy. It's delicious, and today it's expensive. More than $20 a pound at some seafood markets. More than half of the total US catch of blue crabs comes from the Chesapeake Bay. The yearly harvest from the bay pumps nearly $200 million into the economies of Maryland and Virginia. But the Bay's blue crab population may be in trouble, and this winter Virginia followed Maryland's lead in restricting crab harvests. Producer Betty Rogers visited the crab fisheries around Norfolk, Virginia, and has this report.

ROGERS: Winter evenings at twilight. A dredge rig is usually pulled up with its motor running at the Herman Green and Sons stop downriver from Gloucester, Virginia. The captain and his mate spend the day raking the floor of the Lower Chesapeake Bay with metal dredges edged with steel claw teeth, digging out female blue crabs buried for the winter in the mud bottom.

(Machinery runs; men yell)

ROGERS: A heister winch lifts out 6 barrels of crabs one by one, a slim catch for the 12-hour day. Well below the 20 barrel limit. The winter dredge season is unique to Virginia. Further north, Maryland's crabbing is over by late fall, and pressure is mounting to restrict this harvest of hibernating females: the spawning stop for the whole Chesapeake Bay. Robert Jenkins started working on the water 25 years ago.

JENKINS: When I started with daddy we caught all we wanted. Nowadays it takes you all day to catch them. I've seen it where we worked 35 minutes and caught 35 barrels in 35 minutes, fast as we could get them up, that's how quick it was. But nowadays, I mean, 20 barrels is all day limit the situation.

ROGERS: In Virginia, 1995 was one of the worst blue crab harvests in decades. And a Maryland study last fall showed a drop of one third in the blue crab stock since 1990. Blue crab populations widely fluctuate and no one's certain whether the decline is natural or human made. Other factors such as shoreline development and chemical runoff also affect crab survival.

(Hammering sounds; ambient voices)

ROGERS: At the Graham and Rollins picking house in Hampton, Virginia, Vice President Johnny Graham says low crab stocks and skyrocketing prices are destabilizing the industry.

GRAHAM: I don't know of many items that you can go buy in a grocery store and pay up to $20, $25 a pound for. And that's why we're not knowing what our future holds. Twenty years ago there was as many as 15 picking houses in this Hampton area, and today we are the only one left. And that's not a very good sign.

ROGERS: Mary Crocker and her fellow pickers at Graham and Rollins see another cause for alarm. A change in the size of the crabs.

CROCKER: I'm one of the old pickers, and the crabs are not like they used to be. We had nice big jumbo crabs. We don't get no jumbo now.

WOMAN: They are very small. You don't get a lot of meat out of them.

CROCKER: We need some nice big sized crabs, not beeny beeny beeny. But I hope we don't all go out of work, though. I need this job.

DISTANT VOICE: I do too.

CROCKER: I need it all so hard.

ROGERS: Maryland first raised the alarm last summer when data showed the female harvest had jumped 47%. The state didn't want another crash like the shutdown of the rock fish harvest in the late 80s. Pete Jensen, Maryland's Director of Tidal Fisheries, sees this as the latest in a series of accumulating problems in the bay.

JENSEN: Striped bass declined to the point where we said stop fishing for striped bass, and a lot of them shifted over to crabs. We have a decline in oysters because of the parasites. People that were moved out of the oyster fishery went into crabs. And so, all of a sudden we found ourselves with the last major resource, the last major crop out there for the commercial water men, was blue crabs. Which says to us, we ought to be even more particular and more conservative.

ROGERS: In September Maryland banned commercial harvest one day a week, limited the hours, shortened the season, and cut back recreational crabbing through the end of 1995. And the state is now debating restrictions for the '96 opening in April. Pressure mounted for Virginia to act. Earlier this winter the Virginia Marine Commission held a decisive public hearing that drew the largest attendance in its history. Jack Travelstead, Virginia's Chief of Fisheries, testified the industry is troubled but not in crisis.

TRAVELSTEAD: This is not an emergency. We have some time. Things are not going to collapse overnight. There are still crabs out there.

ROGERS: A new Federal study contradicted reports of a sharp decline, and researchers told the commission the adult stock was healthy and the juvenile crabs were on the increase. But Ron Lipsis of the Virginia Institute for Marine Science said the Federal report was at odds with his data.

LIPSIS: We haven't seen the same increase in the number of juveniles and the stock. And that concerns us because we would expect to see that. Otherwise, we would presume that either they're suffering much higher mortality or that the fishery is harvesting those and therefore utilizing the juveniles.

ROGERS: Numerous water men left their boats tied at the dock on a good fishing day to testify before the unfamiliar microphones and cameras. Water men in both states strongly oppose stricter regulations, and many still protest the rule made 2 years ago in Virginia that put rings in their pots to let the smaller crabs escape. Many water men believe the rings intended to release immature crabs are just encouraging a smaller crab stock to breed.

RIGGINS: My name's James Riggins; I started with my daddy when I was 9. Back in those days, if you asked anybody how many jimmies would fill a bushel they'd tell you 40. Now I'm 52; it takes well over 100 to fill a bushel. I've seen the decline in the size of crabs. Making laws when you don't know all the answers is like shooting at a bull with a shotgun when he's running at you. If you don't take a pee, it ain't likely he'll change his mind, and you gonna get run over. Just loading the gun up and shooting won't do a bit of good and that's what you've been doing all these years; you're just loading the gun up and shooting and hoping it'll do a little bit of good.

ROGERS: Finally the Commission voted regulations that both water men and environmentalists agree will have almost no impact on day to day fishing operations. They held the number of commercial crab licenses at recent levels, and limited the number of pots that crabbers can use, but set that figure so high it affects less than 1% of the 2,000 licensed Virginia water men. Jack Travelstead, Virginia's Chief of Fisheries, says the regulations accomplished the Commission's objectives.

TRAVELSTEAD: They were designed to stabilize the fishery by capping things where they were in '95, not allow people to significantly increase the size of their rigs, not allow large numbers of new people into the fishery. Hold things where they were. Most people will not feel an effect from these regulations.

ROGERS: The Commission also set the first ever size limit on softshell crabs and banned the harvest of females with dark egg sacs on their underbellies: a color cue that the she crab is just about to spawn. Parks Roundtree of the Coastal Conservation Association says the measure's effectiveness is neutralized by an exemption of 10 dark sponge crabs per bushel.

ROUNDTREE: Which as I understand it is about as many dark sponge crabs as you would ever find in a bushel of crabs. And we have a Commission which is a politically appointed body confronted with a room full of water men who want to be left alone to go harvest all that they can catch. And the political process ends up stacking the deck in favor of the water men, but in the long term probably undermining the resource and cheating the public and the water men from the potential that could be there.

ROGERS: Other questions remain as well. The new regulations have no new funds for law enforcement, and both states lack data on how the rapidly expanding softshell industry impacts the total stock. Also, Virginia failed to follow Maryland's lead in reducing recreational crabbing. Pete Jensen, Director of Maryland's Tidal Fisheries, says that could be a serious omission.

JENSEN: People have more leisure time, more money, more boats. We really don't know what the recreational harvest is. We've done a number of surveys over the years and the estimate of the total harvest has ranged anywhere from 11 million pounds a year to 40 million, and the average commercial harvest is 40 million pounds a year. It's a serious data blackhole for us, where we don't really know what's happening, and we believe it's something we really ought to have a better handle on.

(Boat motors)

ROGERS: Ultimately, successful management of the blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay goes beyond just regulating fishing pressure.

LIPSIS: We're approaching the mouth of the York River in Lobjack Bay, and this is one of the primary nursery grounds for juvenile blue crabs. Obviously one of the things that should be focused on is not only regulation of the fishery but protection of habitat.

ROGERS: Ron Lipsis of the Virginia Institute for Marine Scientists says the region's exceptional crab abundance is due to its unique combination of sea grasses and shallow waters. Female blue crabs hatch their young in the lower regions and these shrimp like larvae then travel outside the bay, to the continental shelf, for about a month. Propelled by wind and water currents, the creatures reinvade the bay and settle in sea grass nursery grounds. Blue crabs utilize all habitats in the bay from the deepest channels to shallow shore lines, from the most saline to fresh water.

LIPSIS: After mating, then the fertilized females have to make it back down to the lower bay, basically moving through a gauntlet of pots and other harvesting gears in order to make it to the lower bay spawning sanctuary and the spawning grounds. So you can't simply focus on an egg bearing female; you can't just focus on the lower bay spawning grounds. You have to focus throughout the bay. So that's what's essential for the long-term sustainability of the resource.

ROGERS: Sustainability is the crucial issue as the spring harvest approaches and the first real test of the regulations begins. Legislatures in both Virginia and Maryland are weighing even tougher preservation efforts. The blue crab has a short life span of 3 to 4 years and could recover quickly if conditions are favorable, but the shortages and these unprecedented restrictions are making the people who earn their living from the blue crab concerned about their futures. Sammy Coates is out clamming on the York River on a morning when high winds have grounded all crab dredge boats. His 16 year old son is the latest in a long line of water men.

COATES When I first got this boat about 6, 7 years ago, I said well, my son get big enough, we'll put a double rig on, you know. Rig on that side for him. But I'm not putting him on the water. I told him he can have the boat and go fishing when he wants to, but he's not coming on the water to work it, you know, because it's not here for him.

ROGERS: For Living on Earth, this is Betty Rogers near Norfolk, Virginia.

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Listener Segment

NUNLEY: And now it's time to hear from you.

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NUNLEY: Chemistry professor Conrad Stanitski sent us an e-mail from Little Rock, Arkansas. Dr. Stanitski says our report about hydrogen powered cars should have stressed that they aren't necessarily zero-emission vehicles. Like electric cars they must recharge their batteries on electricity from power plants still mainly generated from burning fossil fuel, Dr. Stanitski explains. Unless solar powered fuel cells are used to generate that hydrogen.

CARTER: Hi, I'm Terry Carter. I'm from Brattleboro, Vermont. I listen to Vermont Public Radio. I just listened to your program about the Federal lands in Utah, which I thought was an excellent program, except I was very disappointed that you failed to mention any Native American perspective on the issue, as I'm sure there are Native Americans out there that have a philosophy and a feeling about the land that goes way beyond any of the cattle people or the Mormons or any of us white people.

NUNLEY: Finally, our story about deforestation in Cameroon prompted Paul Lakosky, a listener to WNYC in New York, to write us about the 30 months he spent in that Central African country. "I lived, worked, and was witness to many things in Cameroon, few of which disgusted me as much as the impunity with which the French lumber and oil concerns operated," writes Mr. Lakosky. "Many Cameroonians depend on the forest for their livelihood. They live in symbiosis with the plants and animals, as did their ancestors for thousands of years before them. Destruction of the forest would end this self-sufficient lifestyle and cause more people to depend on the largess of an already overburdened government."

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NUNLEY: The toll-free number for your comments is 1-800-218-9988. You can write to us at Living on Earth, P.O. Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238-0639. Or zap us a line at LOE@NPR.ORG. Transcripts and tapes are $12.

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NUNLEY: And for this week that's Living on Earth. 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, and Julia Madeson. We also had help from Mark Borrelli, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, Michael Argue, Emily Atkinson, and Catherine Bennett. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Frank DeAngelis and Mark Navin. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthellier and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Steve Curwood is our executive producer; he'll be back next week. I'm Jan Nunley.

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

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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