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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

May 24, 1996

Air Date: May 24, 1996

SEGMENTS

Ralph Nader for President? - The Green Party Ponders / Bill Drummond

Driven by concern that the two major political parties are indebted to corporate money, Ralph Nader is running a "no-money" campaign for president on the Green Party ticket in California, endorsement pending. Bill Drummond reports on how a Nader green ticket in the Golden State could affect the outcome of the 1996 presidential campaign. (08:09)

Conservation Voters: Drastic Election Year Strategy

Jan Nunley speaks with League of Conservation Voters president Deborah Callahan about the group's recent shift in strategy of targeting politicians whose environmental voting records they cannot abide. (05:30)

Nassau Notice / Neal Rauch

Prompted both by pesticide spraying around children, and concern regarding an unusually high incidence of breast cancer in the area, Nassau County on Long Island in New York recently passed legislation requiring citizens to notify their neighbors before spraying pesticides. Neal Rauch has this report. (06:30)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about... buffaloes. (01:15)

Mega-Cities in the Year 2025

The United Nations predicts that around the world, 30 years from now 5 billion people will be living in cities. Jan Nunley speaks with Dr. Wally N'Dow of Gambia who is Secretary General of Habitat 2, a United Nations Conference about cities in the 21st Century which is being held in Istanbul, Turkey this coming June. (08:17)

Hotel from Mars / Sy Montgomery

Commentator Sy Montgomery tells of her experience on a recent trip to India where humble friends from the Indian countryside are overwhelmed by the bizarre trappings of modern city life. (03:12)

LOE Mail Bag

Recent correspondence from Living on Earth listeners. (01:55)

The Suicide of the Guarani Indians of Brazil / Bob Carty

The Guarani Indians of southwestern Brazil are killing themselves in staggering numbers. Reporter Bob Carty recently spent time with the tribe to discover the causes for their lethal anguish. It turns out that environmental degradation is a major factor in their demise. (11:23)

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: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Michael Lawton, William Drummond, Neal Rauch, Bob Carty
GUESTS: Deborah Callahan, Wally N'Dow
COMMENTATOR: Sy Montgomery

(Theme music intro)

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

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NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley. Bob Dole might not be all that stands between Bill Clinton and victory in the crucial state of California this fall. The President may face a challenge on his left from Ralph Nader, as the candidate of California's Green Party.

NADER: He has been indifferent in defending environmental issues. He hasn't advanced the fuel efficiency issue, he's done virtually nothing on lead contamination of inner city ghetto kids. He's a lot of rhetoric.

NUNLEY: Also, should residents be warned when pesticides will be sprayed in their neighborhood? One New York County says yes.

LOCASIO: So that's, you know, that's what got me crazy, because here he has a respirator and he doesn't even look over the fence, and he's spraying right there while Travis is standing there.

NUNLEY: This week on Living on Earth, first this news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: For Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. A newly discovered species of Australian fish may be suffering skin cancer from the thinning ozone layer. Scientists at the South Australian Research and Development Institute say the new fish, called murgundas, has lived in shallow oases in the middle of the sunbaked Outback for millions of years. When researchers confirmed their existence, they were astonished to find that more than 500 of the 8,000 mergundas in existence had melanomas: sun induced skin cancers. Scientists say they must now figure out whether the fish live in the normal high exposure area or are being affected by the ozone hole.

Japan has settled a landmark 40-year-old mercury poisoning lawsuit. Between 1953 and 1960, hundreds of people died and thousands were injured from eating mercury-poisoned seafood in the village of Minimata. The victims suffered crippling nerve disorders from organic mercury compounds dumped by the chemical firm Chisso. Under the settlement several thousand plaintiffs agreed to drop decades-old lawsuits against Chisso and state and local governments in exchange for a lump sum payment of $24,000 per victim and additional payments to 5 national victims' groups. The case was drawn out by the remarkably slow Japanese judicial process. Some victims say they agreed to the offer only because of their advancing age.

South Africa, a sanctuary for the southern right whale, is reconsidering its membership in the panel that administers a worldwide moratorium on whale hunting. A proposal leaked to the press calls for the nation to downgrade its status in the International Whaling Commission as a precursor to restarting commercial whaling. The Deputy Minister of Environment Affairs calls the idea a non-starter.

Meanwhile, Norway's government has nearly doubled the number of whales it allows to be caught despite a surplus of unsold meat. When Norway's commercial whaling season opened earlier this month, the government raised the number of minke whale takings from 232 to 425. Several Norwegian companies are no longer buying whale meat because of a glut on the market. Norway rejects a 1986 International Whaling Commission ban, saying minke whales are so plentiful that the populations must be controlled to protect fish stocks. It also says the hunt is essential to the economies of some coastal villages.

World emissions of carbon, the main cause of global warming, are expected to skyrocket in the next 20 years. According to a report by the US Energy Information Administration, carbon levels will increase by 54% over 1990 levels. This comes despite a pledge by industrialized nations at the 1992 UN Convention on Climate Change to stabilize the gases produced by burning fossil fuels. By 2015, only countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are expected to have emissions below 1990 levels, and that is because of their economic collapse in the early 1990s.

The German nuclear breeder reactor at Kalkar on the Rhine River is going to be turned into an amusement park. The reactor, which cost more than $4 billion, never produced electricity before it was closed in 1991. Now, as Michael Lawton reports, a Dutch businessman wants to open what he's calling a nuclear water wonderland.

LAWTON: The Kalkar fast breeder has attracted crowds before, back in 1977 when 100,000 protesters took part in the area's biggest ever demonstration. That was a one-time occurrence, but Henne Vandermost hopes that around a million people a year will visit the nuclear water wonderland. To attract them he's planning a big dipper in the turbine hall, a disco in the generator house, and hotels in the evaporating plant. And there'll be body flying in the cooling tower, where horizontal fans will create the impression of weightlessness. When Kalkar was built, it was hoped that fast breeder technology would create almost free electricity using a kind of nuclear perpetual motion. But the local authorities were worried about safety, and the owners gave up in 1991. They've now sold the site to Henne Vandermost for such a low price that no one dares say what it is. But he knows what he's doing. This is the third time he's turned an industrial site into an amusement park. Once the locals were worried about the kind of radiant future Kalkar promised them; now it will be generating pleasure instead of power for the people. This is Michael Lawton in Cologne for Living on Earth.

MULLINS: The chemical that puts the snap in spearmint may also put a bite on billions of pounds of toxic PCBs. According to a paper presented to the American Society for Microbiology, the chemical, called Carvone, is the first non-toxic treatment for dealing with the PCBs, which are suspected of causing cancer and birth defects. Some bacteria can be induced to produce an enzyme that breaks down PCBs, but bi-phenyl, the chemical usually used in that process, is itself toxic.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Lisa Mullins.

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Ralph Nader for President? - The Green Party Ponders

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley, in this week for Steve Curwood. California is the key to President Clinton's hopes for re-election in November. The state has the most votes in the electoral college, and the President won big there in 1992. And the respected Field Poll now gives him a 16-point lead in a 2-way race against Senator Bob Dole.

But Clinton's Golden State backers may have more to worry about than just the GOP. Long time consumer activist Ralph Nader may be on the ballot as the candidate of California's tiny Green Party. The prospect of splitting the progressive vote has given the Republicans reason to hope, but it's also sparked a debate within the Green Party about how to handle Presidential politics. From San Francisco William Drummond reports.

DRUMMOND: Founded in 1991, the Green Party of California qualified for the statewide ballot for the first time the following year. In its brief existence the young party has begun slowly, fielding only 4 candidates for the 152 statewide races in the upcoming general election in November. Instead, the Greens have focused on local, nonpartisan contests such as mayoral races. The Greens also made no endorsement in the '92 race between George Bush and Bill Clinton, sticking to a tradition of deliberately shying away from partisan races. A tradition which was broken earlier this year.

Apparently, feeling their movement was in danger of becoming irrelevant unless it made a bigger splash, some prominent Green Party members approached nationally known consumer advocate Ralph Nader about accepting their party's nomination for President. Greg Jan is with the Draft Nader Committee.

JOHN: He's decided to do this to emphasize that government and politicians shouldn't be bought off and shouldn't be beholden to the wealthy interests, and no wonder, you know, the situation in our country and the planet and the environment has gotten so bad, because of the control of these wealthy interests as opposed to the population and the environment at large.

DRUMMOND: Nader agreed to the offer presented by the Greens, but with one condition:

NADER: My campaign's a no money campaign. I'm not raising or accepting any money. In contrast with the avaricious and indentured 2-party duopoly which is raising millions of dollars from corporate special interests and expect a quid pro quo in return.

DRUMMOND: In running for President, even under these self-imposed limits, Nader has an opportunity to attract media attention to his theme that both Democrats and Republicans are beholden to large corporate interests. He says Clinton specifically has not lived up to his promises.

NADER: He has been indifferent in defending environmental issues such as the environmental ravages of the motor vehicle industry, which he's kept very silent about. He hasn't advanced fuel efficiency issue, he's done virtually nothing on lead contamination of inner city ghetto kids. He's a lot of rhetoric, and it's up to President Clinton to broaden his base. If he becomes a real, authentic environmentalist, consumer advocate, democracy promoter here at home, then any modest competition to him from this side would be considerably diminished.

DRUMMOND: Hearing that kind of anti-Clinton rhetoric, Democratic party officials in California have been keeping tabs on the proposed Nader candidacy. Bob Mulholland, a campaign adviser to the California Democratic Party, says so far Nader is no cause for alarm.

MULHOLLAND: If you're not campaigning, it means you're not serious. And if you get serious, with money, then that's another factor. But looking at Nader and looking at Perot, maybe possibly someone else, as a factor but not in California and not for us as President Clinton, because of the job he's done for the people of California.

DRUMMOND: Nevertheless, some political observers think that the California electorate is volatile, and they say President Clinton's standing is not rock solid. The public opinion polls to date indicate that Nader could attract 6 to 10% of the popular vote. The question is whether most of those votes would come from Democrats or Republicans. Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, says, with some imagination, Nader can reach beyond the Greens and successfully woo a good many disillusioned Democrats.

CAIN: If he wants to make his candidacy target people that have environmental concerns or consumer concerns, then he's going to have to do one of two things. Either he's going to have to run a conventional candidacy, which I doubt that he ever would, because the whole point of his running is to really make a statement about that. Or he could do the Jerry Brown strategy, which is the free media attention, the travel around the state in a beat-up car, that kind of model of campaign where he's getting public attention and he's bringing his message to voters but he's not spending a lot of money.

(A woman's voice backdropped by music: "Live from Oakland, California, it's We The People, with Jerry Brown." Brown: "Welcome to another edition of We The People. This is the show that gets behind the news...")

DRUMMOND: Six days before the California primary election in March, Nader got a little bit of that free media attention from former California Governor Jerry Brown, who hosts a daily talk radio program broadcast over KPFA in Berkeley.

BROWN: Ralph, welcome to the show.

NADER: Thank you very much, Jerry.

BROWN: Okay, now just tell me. I guess today was a setback for you in the Senate?

NADER: Well, it was the vote on the bill which would strip workers and consumers who are injured by reckless corporations of their legal protections to go to court and hold these corporations accountable...

DRUMMOND: The sudden entry of the Green Party into presidential politics, with Ralph Nader as its standard-bearer, has not been welcomed by some long-time members. They call Nader's candidacy a distraction from the party's real mission: to build a grassroots, locally based, environmental movement. One of the critics is Joe Louis Hoffman, a county leader from Ukiah, north of San Francisco.

HOFFMAN: I'm concerned that there are people who are looking for some kind of magic lever that is going to make progressive politics bloom. Running somebody for president with a, who's a household name, is contrary to grassroots organizing. It feels a little bit like a lot of people in the Green Party are sort of falling for the hype of popular politics, and I don't think it's going to pay off the way people are really hoping.

DRUMMOND: That hope is that Nader's candidacy will give the Green Party something that it sorely needs: the appearance of doing things on a grand scale. Richard Winger, a San Franciscan who publishes a newsletter about third parties in the United States, says the Green Party's registration has fallen steadily over the last 4 years, from 89,000 to around 83,000. Winger says the Greens face extinction if they don't develop a higher profile.

WINGER: There's nothing worse for the welfare of the party than to be seen as doing nothing. And they didn't have a candidate for governor in '94, they didn't have a candidate for president in '92, and I think a lot of the registrants want them to and expect them to. And their registration has been declining, and I think that's partly why. I don't really see any negatives for them at all, by doing this presidential thing.

DRUMMOND: Five states besides California have Green Parties qualified for the ballot: Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, and Oregon. Nader backers hope to get his name on the ballot in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island as well. But the Nader candidacy in California is still anything but a done deal. For his name to get on the ballot in November, the Green Party at its convention in late June in Oakland must endorse him by an 80% majority. If only a small number of county leaders remain opposed to the plunge into presidential politics, Nader's candidacy could fizzle before it ever leaves the ground. For Living on Earth, I'm William Drummond in San Francisco.

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Conservation Voters: Drastic Election Year Strategy

NUNLEY: In 1994 conservative activists poured millions of dollars and thousands of hours of trench work into efforts to unseat Democratic legislators, and their efforts paid off. They played a large role in the election of the most conservative Congress in memory. Well, many more moderate and liberal activists feel they got caught flat-footed 2 years ago but say they won't let it happen again. And they're taking a page out of the Conservatives' own book. This year they plan not just to support some candidates but also to actively oppose others. To work to unseat legislators whose records they feel are particularly egregious.

Among the groups taking the lead in this change is the League of Conservation Voters. LCV has decided to go after 12 incumbents, "the Dirty Dozen," they call them, who by the League's reckoning have the worst environmental records and the worst chances of re-election. This marks a turning point for the group, which in the past has limited its campaign efforts to endorsing candidates and sending them checks. I asked the League's president, Deborah Callahan, to explain the change in their strategy.

CALLAHAN: After 1994, after we lost so many good environmentalists from Congress, and we've seen this absolute reactionary Right Wing set of members take over the leadership in the House and in the Senate, we realized that we have to get much more aggressive. And we've got to tell the public the story of what's going on right now in Washington, DC. Fundamentally, we have to build a new Congress. We have to build a pro-environmental Congress. And that requires us not just supporting our friends, because we've lost a lot of them. We've actually got to get out and unelect the anti-environmentalists from Congress.

NUNLEY: How do we know that the environment is a big issue for voters? If it wasn't an issue enough in 1994 to keep them from electing people who as it turned out were pretty much anti-green, how do we know it's going to be an issue for them now?

CALLAHAN: Historically this has not been a top-tier national election issue. This year both Republican and Democratic pollsters are telling us that this is one of the top issues that the public is thinking about and wants to talk about. We've also done some polling that has demonstrated to us that in fact this is an issue that has absolutely skyrocketed beyond anything we've ever seen historically.

NUNLEY: Top 10? Top 5?

CALLAHAN: Top 3. And things can certainly change. In American politics 5 months is an eternity, potentially. But there have been some very specific examples of how the public is responding to the environmental issue. There was a special election in Oregon in January that Sierra Club and LCV spent over $200,000 in. We bought media, we had volunteer operations, we ran radio, we had telephone calls being made on part of this campaign. We turned out 50,000 voters to the polls and Widen won by 17,000 votes. After that campaign, we did an exit poll because we wanted to find out: are voters going to vote environment this year? Was this a persuasive issue for them? Because we really ran our model. And what our exit poll showed in Oregon in the Senate special election was, two thirds of Oregon voters in January said that candidate stands on the environment were more important in that election than any other election they'd ever seen in Oregon. And there are a lot of other numbers coming out of that exit poll that demonstrated to us: when we tell the voters this year the story about good environmentalists and people who don't support these issues that we've really got some power.

NUNLEY: Now you've put together this list of incumbents that you want to defeat, the so-called "Dirty Dozen" list. Now, how have you decided who's going to be on the "Dirty Dozen" list?

CALLAHAN: Well, we actually haven't, yet. It's an ongoing work in progress. We're tracking about 28 races right now, where we see opportunities where there is a member who's got a very, very, you know, abysmal environmental voting record. Where they're also vulnerable to being knocked off. These aren't poster kids. These are people that we really think we can knock off. You look at a wide range of factors. You look at how expensive that district or that state is to run a campaign in; what is the cost of the media market? You look at who's running against that person. We want to elect good environmentalists. You look to see if the environmental issue can actually have an impact in that district. We will unveil the first about third of our Dirty Dozen at the end of June. We'll unveil some more in July, and then this fall, once we finish the primary season, we'll unveil the rest of the Dirty Dozen. So this is an ongoing process; I want to let members of Congress know: we're going to keep watching you all the way through this year.

NUNLEY: This kind of attempt to influence legislators is being looked at right now in the context of campaign finance reform as really something that's part of the problem. Pressure groups, interest groups, continually pushing and pulling on the legislative process. Are you part of the problem by doing this, or are you contributing to the solution?

CALLAHAN: I believe that one of the reasons that the public is so angry at politicians, at the Congress, who are infuriated about our electoral process, is because the voters believe that somebody out there is getting very wealthy, and very powerful, and serving their own interests through the electoral and the political process. We represent a broad public point of view. We are a political action committee as well as a nonprofit and an educational organization, and frankly the League of Conservation Voters will be very happy to stop operating it as a PAC and operate within whatever legal guidelines are in effect. However, at this point in time, that's how the game is played. We're using the system and we're using it appropriately, and once the rules of the road change we'll be happy to change along with them.

NUNLEY: Deborah Callahan is president of the League of Conservation Voters. Deborah, thanks for coming by.

CALLAHAN: I've enjoyed it. Thanks a lot.

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NUNLEY: On Long Island, residents and legislators try to deal with the fallout from pesticides. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Nassau Notice

NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. A New York judge has put a temporary stay on a new law in Long Island's Nassau County requiring lawn and tree care companies to give nearby residents 5 days notice before spraying pesticides or other potentially hazardous substances. A judge will hear arguments from supporters and opponents of the law in early June. The law was prompted by the reality that chemical pesticides sprayed in residential neighborhoods can land on a lot more than their intended targets. Neal Rauch has our story.

(Motorized lawn mowers running)

LACASIO: This tree right here is the tree that they were spraying when Travis was standing right here. It was last year when he was 5.

RAUCH: Joan Lacasio of Massapequa, Long Island, has a typical suburban back yard, with a barbecue, laundry hanging on the line, and lots of toys for her 2 children. She also has a fence separating her property from her neighbor's. The neighbor has a tree right up against that fence.

LACASIO: All the baby-sitter saw was the spray coming over, and so she screamed for Travis to come in. He came in and my other son was on the swing set. She brought them both in. When she screamed for Travis to come inside, the gentleman looked over the fence and he had a respirator on. So that's, you know, that's what got me crazy, because here he has a respirator and he doesn't even look over the fence, and he's spraying right there while Travis is standing there.

RAUCH: It's incidents like this that really upset Joan Locasio's brother, Neal Louis.

LOUIS: The vast majority of pesticide use is overkill, it's unnecessary, and it's potentially risky in terms of health consequences. No one should be exposed to a toxic, poisonous chemical against their own will without warning.

RAUCH: Neal Louis heads the Long Island Neighborhood Network, which was a major force behind a unique new law passed in Nassau County. The bill requires companies that spray substances into the air that may drift, such as pesticides, to notify a client's neighbors by postcard 5 business days in advance. The point is to allow residents a chance to plan ahead and close windows, take in laundry, toys, and most important, pets and children. It may sound simple and straightforward enough, but when talking to the 2 sides you get radically different scenarios on what this will all mean.

EISENBUD: There are a lot of examples and we cite just a few in the lawsuit, where that's going to be a disaster for people.

RAUCH: Lawyer Frederick Eisenbud, representing the Nassau/Suffolk Landscape Gardener's Association, has sued to stop the law from taking effect. He points out that the delay of a week can be crucial, especially in gypsy moth season, when a good deal of damage can be done in just a few days. Furthermore, he argues, in New York, municipalities and counties don't have the authority to regulate pesticides.

(A motor whirs)

RAUCH: A plume of water mixed with pesticides is thrown up to 80 feet in the air by this rig belonging to Tree Care, Inc. Manager Gary Carbocci says his workers always make sure no one is in an adjacent yard. Besides, he says, his workers are highly trained to avoid drift, which is already illegal anyway.

CARBOCCI: When you spray the properties, you cannot trespass with anything. You can't trespass with a chemical. And there's laws that protect people from trespassers.

RAUCH: Furthermore, Gary Carbocci says, the sprays are not harmful to most people.

CARBOCCI: All the sprays are mostly water. To kill a small cold-blooded animal requires very little material, at rates that are so low that they don't pose a threat to any larger, warm-blooded animals.

RAUCH: Mr. Carbocci also worries that the law might actually cause environmental harm, in part by discouraging the use of professionals and encouraging residents to apply their own pesticides. And do-it-yourselfers are not covered by the ordinance.

CARBOCCI: I think we're going to be eating more pesticides that way than having professionals take care of the job responsibly.

RAUCH: But the picture that supporters of the notification law paint is a very different one. Again, Neal Louis of the Long Island Neighborhood Network.

LOUIS: What many people don't realize is the person doing the spraying, they could be a 19-year-old who has no training whatsoever, that does not have a license, does not have insurance. And for that matter, does not have to be supervised on site.

RAUCH: As far as trying to apply current trespassing laws to chemical drift, Neal Louis says good luck.

LOUIS: Unless you can prove an actual injury caused to an individual from a spraying, and it's very difficult to prove cause and effect in such a situation, and even in that scenario you have to be prepared to hire a lawyer because the state will not take your case, and you're basically left on your own to bring your own legal action and going up against some well-paid high-priced lawyers working for the chemical industry.

RAUCH: The notification bill was passed by an 18-0 vote in the Republican dominated Nassau County legislature with one abstention. The bill's sponsor, Republican Peter Schmitt, says residents of Long Island have good reason to be concerned about toxins in their environment.

SCHMITT: We have a high rate, unusually high rate of breast cancer incidents on Long Island, and we do know that pesticides are toxic chemicals and what they're designed to do is to kill. You can wait until scientific proof is established. If it is, you can wait until concern turns into hysteria, or you can deal with it.

RAUCH: Applicators of pesticides would prefer a system like the one in Connecticut, where people who specifically want to be notified when a neighbor's property is being sprayed register with the state. But Peter Schmitt rejects that as a solution.

SCHMITT: My property stands to be adversely affected by something that my neighbor is contracting to do. Now I have to try and locate a bureaucracy someplace and put myself on a list to be notified and then it's dependent on the businesses notifying the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy notifying me. I don't think it works very well.

RAUCH: It didn't work very well for Joan Lacasio when her kids got sprayed by her neighbor's contractors. She tried registering directly with that company.

LACASIO: They said we'd be put on a watch list. That means that they would call us every time they sprayed. They did once. They sprayed another month; they called that time. They sprayed 3 times after that; they never called.

RAUCH: Even if the Nassau County law is ultimately thrown out by the courts, supporters say it will have been worthwhile. A lot of public awareness has been generated and a similar bill has been introduced at the state level. For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch in New York.

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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 contributors to Living on Earth include all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt -- whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; and Jennifer and Ted Stanley.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

NUNLEY: In Brazil a people traditionally linked to their land are uprooted, and the suicide rate soars; even children are killing themselves. The death of a culture; that's coming up in the second half of Living on Earth.

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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: Nineteen-ninety-six marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Frederick Cody. Cody was born in Iowa, rode for the Pony Express, worked as an Army scout and, for a brief period, hunted buffalo for the Kansas Pacific Railroad. That's where he earned his nickname Buffalo Bill. After establishing a successful Wild West show, Cody stopped shooting buffalo and started working to save them from extinction. It's estimated that during their heyday anywhere from 30 to 75 million American buffalo roamed the plains, but by the turn of the century there were only about 700 left. That slaughter was largely an effort by the US Government to destroy one of the key resources of Native Americans. In 1894 Congress banned hunting of buffalo in Yellowstone National Park. Today the Yellowstone herd numbers more than 4,000 animals, and nationwide the population has rebounded to about 200,000. But few of these buffalo roam free, and they may never again darken the whole plain as the explorers Lewis and Clark witnessed in South Dakota in 1806. Many of today's buffalo are being raised for their low cholesterol and high protein meat, which is popular among some health-conscious consumers. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Mega-Cities in the Year 2025

NUNLEY: According to the United Nations, the world's cities will be home to 5 billion people by the year 2025. That's double the number of city dwellers in 1990. Almost all of this growth, a staggering 90%, will occur in the developing world where local governments already face huge difficulties, providing the most basic of needs: clean drinking water, sewage treatment and garbage collection. The future of our cities is the focus of a UN Conference being held in June in Istanbul, Turkey, and for the next few weeks it will also be the focus of a special series on Living on Earth. The Istanbul conference is officially called the Second UN Conference on Human Settlements, or Habitat II. Informally it's just being called The City Summit. Conference Secretary General Dr. Wally N' Dow of Gambia says that cities are home to some of today's most pressing environmental problems, and that to confront them world leaders must move from a green agenda to a brown one.

N'DOW: The green agenda for excellence has meant, in the recent decade at least, our concern on the green environment: the seas, the global commons, the oceans, the atmosphere. The brown agenda is the human habitat; this is what Istanbul is about. The cities and the towns and the hamlets and the villages and the townships of our world. How are we going to make them more livable? By what concepts must we be guided in the 21st century, which will be the century of the city.

NUNLEY: Having a conference on cities implies that there is a crisis, somehow, that there is a problem, that we should be alarmed by the huge numbers of people who are cramming into urban areas. But the fact is that people living in cities really have higher life expectancy rates, do they not? Lower absolute poverty than people in rural areas, and they provide essential services more cheaply. So what are we to make of this population explosion? Is it really a crisis?

N'DOW: It is a crisis depending on the region. There are pockets of great difficulty in towns of constricted human existence. It has pockets of great sadness; there's pockets of declining expectations. Even in developed societies, there are pockets of the south, if I may use that phrase. There are conditions akin to developing country or undeveloped country environments in some of the cities of the developed world. So for those people, cities are really not the places and the habitats that they would have wished.

NUNLEY: So how does this differ from the great urban migrations of the past? Is it simply a matter of scale, or is there a qualitative difference?

N'DOW: It's both. There's really never been a golden age in times of urban strife and the struggles of the poor in the city. Just reflect a little bit on Dickensian London and you'll see what I'm saying. But today the numbers are bigger. The social catastrophes are more challenging; witness crime, drugs. Witness the violence that we live today, given the complexities in the world, the negative impacts of this migration are far more serious. Just basically for sustainable human development.

NUNLEY: And since we're all so much more interconnected, the ramifications extend to us in a way that they didn't before, perhaps.

N'DOW: Oh yes, indeed. Given global migration, given global disease, given global economies and global commerce. Problems of regions far away rise up like a tidal wave and hit us in many parts of the developed world. Witness the debate that's going on in this very country about immigration.

NUNLEY: Now we've got 27 million people who live in Tokyo. Sao Paulo, Brazil, has 16 million people and so does New York City. What do you think the limit is as to how many people a large urban area can support? Is there are carrying capacity for cities?

N'DOW: It all depends on how you measure the footprint of that city. By footprint I mean its impact on the ecology, on the food base that it needs to continue functioning. On the resources that a city like Tokyo and a city like New York needs. How do you measure how you can sustain New York? Are you measuring it only in terms of what New York needs from America, or are you measuring it in terms of what New York may need from the rest of the world? The studies that we have been engaged in are not confined to the functioning of any one given city where it is situated. The studies must address, importantly, how these huge entities impact the rest of the world and whether that is sustainable. In Istanbul, the process is encouraging a much more comprehensive approach to theses analyses.

NUNLEY: In advance of this UN conference, your organizing committee has solicited success stories, that is, best practices, which are innovative programs that have been developed by governments and activists, which could be adapted and implemented elsewhere. Now, what are some of these best practices that you'll be highlighting and sharing at this meeting?

N'DOW: We have just finished an inventory of over 600 of these best practices. It is the first time this inventory process is taking place across regions in all parts of the world. And it's the first time that we're going not only to government. We're going to local authorities; mayors are providing us with information and what is being tried. We're going to the NGO community, civil society. We're going to youth groups. We're going to foundations that are involved in this. We're going to churches and religious institutions that are active in the fields of shelter and the urban challenge. In the US, one of the winners of this contest is the city of Chattanooga which, as you know, some couple of decades ago was one of the worst places, perhaps in this country, on pollution. Chattanooga, Tennessee. Today that place is cleaned up and there's very good examples of civic action going on. It is one of the winners of this contest. There are 12 of them, places in Africa, projects in Asia, 2 from the US. These are going to be showcased in Istanbul.

NUNLEY: You had a very impressive list there of NGOs, churches and religious organizations and governments and so on. But one organization or group of organizations that I didn't hear mentioned was multinational corporations. These are the folks who own the land, they own the means of production. And to a certain extent they're fueling this massive urbanization. Are they going to be at the conference? And what sort of role should they be playing?

N'DOW: Any debate about the urban future that does not include them would perhaps not be meaningful, so one of the most important things we have done is to say to them, you are critical to finding solutions and bringing about a livable future. So contribute not only materially. Come now into this effort and contribute intellectually in terms of ideas to how we can solve the problems of the 21st century. And they are they and they are participating in the best practices as well as other effort that the conference is making possible.

NUNLEY: Now, to match, it seems, the world's population explosion, there's been an explosion of UN conferences. In the past 4 years we've had the Earth Summit, the Population Summit, the Women's Conference, now Habitat. Some people have been critical in saying there are too many meetings and not enough action. Why do we need another conference, and what do you hope to accomplish?

N'DOW: These are no mere meetings of people coming in just to talk and go home. Debating the fortunes of the human society, on its survival, basically, talking about the environment, the carrying capacity of the earth, talking about the impacts of our lives and livelihoods, on environmental features of nations and peoples, talking about population, those are no mere discussions. These are consultations on our own survival.

NUNLEY: Dr. Wally N'Dow is Secretary General of Habitat II, the UN Conference on human settlements. He spoke with us from the UN offices in New York City.

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Hotel from Mars

NUNLEY: The lure of a better life in the city is drawing millions to the urban option, but as commentator Sy Montgomery points out, not everyone who visits wants to stay.

MONTGOMERY: My friends Namita and Girindra live in a village on the Bay of Bengal. When I visit, I stay in the beautiful, smooth mud house Girindra built by hand. I bathe as they and their 8 children do, with water gathered with a bucket from the pond. They light their nights with a lantern, cook their meals on a stove fashioned from mud. Their toilet is a hole that leads to a trench. There are no roads, no cars.

Recently I came back to visit them thanks to a TV film crew from National Geographic. The day we left, Girindra and Namita wanted to see us off, wanted to accompany us back to Calcutta, in order to say a proper good-bye. So the National Geographic crew generously offered to put them up with us at the hotel in Calcutta.

It was a 5-star hotel. Even I need to get used to the enormity of the rooms, the uncountable number of fluffy towels, and the odd idea of having a telephone, of all things, in the bathroom. But for my friends, this wasn't opulence. This was another planet. As we bounced over potholed roads into a city that to Americans is the very embodiment of poverty and filth, Namita was wide-eyed and gaping. The buildings, so big! Glass windows. Cars racing so fast you could hardly see them.

But our hotel, the Taj Bengal, was the most colossal building she had ever seen, larger than she could have imagined. Six stories. We rented a room on the fourth floor. To get there you had to use the elevator. I pushed the up button. That wall, I explained, is going to open up. You walk inside the hole. The walls then close in front of you and you are shot upward through space till the walls open again. Then you get out, and you're in an entirely new place without ever having taken a step.

I carefully explain the bathroom, demonstrating how you turned a dial and hot water rushed out from the tap. How you pushed a lever and water spun down the toilet. I operated the bathtub drain and the shower massage. I explained what the toilet paper was for. I even demonstrated the telephone in the bathroom. But I neglected one thing. Girindra told me later, when I'd gone out of the room for a moment, that Namita had called to him from within the bathroom. She was trapped. I'd forgotten to show her how to use the doorknob.

Girindra and Namita enjoyed their stay, I think, but they were happy to be going home the following day. It's tiring to live in a science fiction film even for just one night. I could feel their relief at leaving the glare of this dazzling Westernized world behind. Hungry for a homecoming to a world in many ways far more human and handmade and sane.

NUNLEY: Sy Montgomery is author of The Spell of The Tiger. She comes to us from member station WEVO in Concord, New Hampshire.

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LOE Mail Bag

NUNLEY: And now a quick look into this week's mailbag.

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NUNLEY: "I am upset," writes Mary DeCoster about our recent story weighing the benefits of breastfeeding against the risks of toxic chemicals which concentrate in breast milk. Ms. DeCoster is a certified lactation consultant from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She says she'll now have to deal with lots of panicked, breastfeeding mothers calling for reassurance that it's okay to feed their babies. Ms. DeCoster continues, "the show could have discussed these issues in a much more reassuring manner, yet encouraged people to take action to personally and publicly reduce risks of environmental contaminants. Surely you realize how much mothers worry already."

Catherine Didgood, a listener to WMFE in Orlando, Florida, says we also should have been more careful in a recent news item. It reported on the relative ease with which terrorists could build disease-spreading bombs.

DIDGOOD: Someone has just been talking about how easy it would be to start biological warfare by just dumping out anthrax spores. There's too many kooks in the word; stuff like this ought to be kept quiet.

NUNLEY: And our report on efforts to build an 1,800-mile long seaway through Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, hit home for Ron Newall, who listens to us on KIOS in Omaha, Nebraska.

NEWALL: Just finished listening to your Living on Earth program about the Paraguay River, I believe it is, in South America, and they were talking about straightening it and dredging it out in order to make the river navigable. We live out here on the Missouri River and we know what kind of ruin's been done by that sort of thing.

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NUNLEY: Comments, questions, complaints? Send them all our way. Our listener line is 1-800-218-9988. The e-mail address isLOE@NPR.ORG. And our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639,Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. Please remember to include a daytime telephone number.

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NUNLEY: A dying culture cries out for help, coming up on Living on Earth.

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The Suicide of the Guarani Indians of Brazil

NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. It's being called a silent revolution, but it's a protest of despair rather than hope. In Brazil, members of a native group are committing suicide in record numbers. The Guarani Indians live in the southwest part of Brazil near the border with Paraguay. In the last 5 years more than 150 of them have taken their own lives, and each year the numbers seem to be rising and the age of the victims falling. The suicides are the result of a complex mix of historical, social, and political factors. But as Bob Carty reports, to a great extent the cause and the solution to the suicides lies in the Guarani's environment.

(Children playing and shouting, laughing)

CARTY: It looks like cricket, except the playing field is a rutted strip of red earth in front of a thatched roof hut, and the bats are tree branches swatting at an old tennis ball, and the wickets are a couple of tin cans. But it looks like cricket.

(Children shout and laugh more)

CARTY: The cricket players are Guarani children, not much older than 6 or 7. Not quite as old as the last casualty, an 8-year-old boy who took his life a few days ago by swallowing poison. Before him, a teenage suicide. Valmira Guarani watches her children play and talks about her neighbor.

GUARANI: [Speaks in native language]
TRANSLATOR: Roberto should be 17 years old. Twenty days ago at night, he took some rope and hanged himself on one of those trees. He left a baby and a pregnant wife. We Guarani are destroyed by this. People are ending their lives.

CARTY: And they are ending their lives in record numbers. In the past year 62 Guarani killed themselves, the highest number of suicides in the Americas, sixty times the normal rate in Brazil. Half of the victims were under 16 years of age, and most of them were girls. Children, really. Those who ought to have the greatest enthusiasm for life. Children who are found in the early morning hanging lifeless from trees as other children go to skill. Children who kill themselves purposely, painfully, with rope from a low-hanging branch, with slow-acting poison, with a decided intent to end life. It is a tragedy which gnaws at Guarani village leader, Amilton Lopez.

LOPEZ: [Speaks in native tongue]
TRANSLATOR: It happens more with the young because they are at the end of the branch. Like new sprouts, they are more delicate than the trunk, which is stronger. I talked to 3 young people who tried to kill themselves, and they said almost the same thing. There is no more life for them. There's too much unhappiness. They want to live like the people did before. In the past we were happy.

(A recording plays of a native dance)

ANTON: The Guarani, they were a very happy and healthy people. Before the Europeans arrived we are talking about a big nation, probably the largest in the continent, the whole American continent.

CARTY: Danilo Anton works for the International Development Research Centre, a Canadian-funded organization which supports development projects with the Guarani. Mr. Anton also writes history books about the Guarani nation.

ANTON: They were a very strong civilization, and their knowledge was very impressive. They domesticated hundreds of species of plants, extremely high biodiversity of the farming system is extremely impressive. Highly sustainable, too. The arrival of the Spanish and the Portuguese for them was a disaster.

(Recorded songs)

CARTY: That disaster was chronicled in the film The Mission, a story of massacres, enslavement, and the near annihilation of a people by European diseases. The Guarani may once have numbered more than a million; now they are 25,000. The suicides of today are in part a legacy of this history. When Europeans first met the Guarani, they described them as lazy and immoral because they spent so much time singing and dancing. For the Guarani, however, dancing is not pleasure but prayer. The Conquistadors failed to recognize the Guarani's spiritual relationship with nature. Danilo Anton.

ANTON: The whole culture is based on nature. You have the spirit of the tree, the spirit of the wind, the spirit of the rain, the spirit of the land. They need the forest, they don't exist without the forest, the culture depends on the forest. I think that if the forest is destroyed or if they are expelled from the forest, they become desperate because the whole religion doesn't make any more sense.

(Singing continues. Fade to children playing)

CARTY: Which is exactly what has happened here on the Bororo Reserve in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. There is no forest left here. Six thousand Guarani are surrounded by a sea of soya bean plantations, what was once their land. Now they have barely one acre per person. It is the same in almost all of the Guarani's 22 reservations.

ANTON: I would say something, people doesn't, don't they have to say, that they are political refugees. Really political ideologies, it's a nation, they took their land, they kept them in refugee camps, concentration camps, where they are starving to death. That moment when they realize there is no hope, then they commit suicide. But they kill themselves not because they are a weak people, but because they are a strong people. Before becoming Brazilians, they prefer to kill themselves because they are not Brazilians. They are Guarani. They have even a legend, there is always a land of no evil beyond. This is why, when the forest goes, they try to move. But sometimes they don't have a place to go, so they decide to go back to the land of no evil and they kill themselves.

CARTY: There are of course other factors behind the suicides. There's alcohol and the breakdown of traditional culture by the mass media, by the presence of a dozen evangelical sects. And there's the suffocation of hope by a government that doesn't seem to care.

(A man speaks in a native tongue)

CARTY: Behind the thatched hut where Guarani children play cricket games, Learte Tetila shows visitors his favorite example of government neglect. Learte Tetila is a university professor and a local politician. He points to an open field to a water tank and a well. It sits idle and unused. Mr. Tetila explains the Guarani are waiting for the government to hook up the pump to a local hydropol. It would take just 30 yards of wire. The Guarani have been waiting for 2 years.

TETILA: [Speaks in native tongue]
TRANSLATOR: Meanwhile, children are drinking dirty water and many children here die because of worms from the water. But they'll keep drinking this dirty water because there are no authorities who care about Indians. A good Indian in Brazil is a dead Indian.

(Native music plays)

CARTY: It's a group of very live Indians, however, with seashells jangling around their ankles, who dance in front of a well-dressed politician from Brazilia. The event is a meeting between 6 Indian groups and Marcio Santilli, the man in charge of Brazil's Indian policy. Guarani leaders are here to take Mr. Santilli aside, to urge him to do something to end the suicides.

SANTILLI: [Speaks in native tongue]
TRANSLATOR: It is perhaps the greatest problem we have to face in '96. What we have before us is a heavy legacy of the Colonial past. These Indians were penned together in very small reserves so that their lands could be taken by non-Indians, cattle ranches and plantations. Now, we believe that by improving their living conditions we can at least reduce the number of suicides.

CARTY: The problem with such promises is that Brazil doesn't have a good track record in its treatment of the country's 180 indigenous nations. Indian policy has mostly been about getting the Indians out of the way of development plans. Earlier this year, a new law gave ranchers and lumber and mining companies the right to challenge the borders of Indian lands. That could reduce what little land the Guarani have left.

(Native music continues)

CARTY: Shortly after my interview with Marcio Santilli, he resigned from government, in disagreement over the new Indian land law and frustrated in his attempts to end corruption in the Indian Agency. None of this really surprises Danilo Anton. He's heard people call the Guarani suicides a sign of government failure. He disagrees.

ANTON: I would say it's a symbol of success of the Indian policy because this is what they wanted and they succeeded. They killed them all. This is what they all wanted in the first place and they are still doing it. Who believes that the policy is to protect the Indians? Shouldn't it be to be knifed? In fact, policies are to get rid of the Indians. The whole system is conceived to take this Indian land.

(Bird calls)

CARTY: Despite the suicides, the poverty, the government in action, Danilo Anton believes things can be done to improve the Guarani situation. People with hope do not end their lives, he contends. So his development agency is supporting projects which expand the Guarani forest lands. Mr. Anton also points out that the majority of Guarani teenagers are not killing themselves. They're studying their own traditions and spirituality. New leaders are coming forward. And in the international arena, the Brazilian government is under severe criticism for its new Indian land law. The suicides are a tragic but effective protest. Danilo Anton.

ANTON: I am hopeful. Things are changing. People are changing. People are understanding that it's better to have the Guarani in the forest than to have a soya bean farm. After a few years erosion takes over and the whole thing is destroyed. The same thing with cattle raising; you have the same type of problems. Instead, if you have the Guarani you keep a high biodiversity environment. Everybody's talking about biodiversity now. And the Latin American governments guilty of all these genocides for a long time, they are feeling the pressure, there is a pressure on them. So we are living in a moment of change.

(Children playing and shouting)

CARTY: On the Bororo Reserve, Guarani children giggle as they scamper after a ball. Guarani leaders say they are not worried about the future of their indigenous nation. They have survived 500 years of colonization. They will persevere, until the Brazilian government and the international community respond to their plight. They have to persevere, they say. After all, they have a special relationship with God. As one of their sayings go, if the Guarani come to an end, who will pray so that the world will not end? For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty on the Bororo Reserve in Mato Groso do Sul, Brazil.

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(Children continue to play; music up and under)

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 Liz Lempert. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Julia Madeson, Susan Shepherd, and Deborah Stavro. We also had help from Emily Atkinson, Justin Kim, and Paul Massari. 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. Executive producer Steve Curwood will return next week. I'm Jan Nunley.

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ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes reporting; the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; and the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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