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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

July 5, 1996

Air Date: July 5, 1996

SEGMENTS

Ralph Nader and Campaign '96 / Bill Drummond

Ralph Nader was up for the presidential candidacy for the Green Party in California. Bill Drummond reports on the party's recent convention and its results. Did Nader get the nod, and are other states driving ahead for the consumer advocate? (05:08)

Eduardo Galeano: Latin American Scholar / Bob Carty

On a recent trip to the South American country of Uruguay, producer Bob Carty had a conversation with writer and scholar Eduardo Galeano about Latin America's past and future handling of environmental issues. Galeano recently authored a three volume narrative titled Memory of Fire. (08:55)

The Trouble With Boa: A Look at Exotic Pets

Steve Curwood speaks with zoologist Donna Fernandes about the lucrative legal and illegal international pet trade. The illegal aspects of the trade is second only to drug smuggling into the United States. (06:48)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about . . . beach clean-ups and the sorts of trash they come up with. (01:15)

Air by Force / Jyl Hoyt

The U.S. Air Force wants to expand its testing range in southwestern Idaho, adding more jet flights and often their accompanying sonic booms. A coalition of ranchers, hunters and environmentalists is working against the expansion in areas they want to keep wild. Jyl Hoyt reports. (08:40)

Decontaminating Plants / Jeff Rice

Nature's own ancient cures are being put to the test for the clean-up of chemical contaminant waste. The process of sun and plants purifying soil is called Phytomediation, and it's being put to use from New Jersey to Chernobyl, Ukraine. Jeff Rice reports from Salt Lake City, Utah. (07:00)

Smile for the Sea Lions

There's a pier in San Diego where sea lions gathered which was thought a nuisance by the locals. But that attitude turned around when tourists also began to gather there to see the sea mammals up close. From San Diego, Jo Ann Mar visits southern California's latest tourist attraction. (04:48)

More and More Consuming

Buy something, you'll feel better. Commentator Sy Montgomery has a few words about purchase power. (02:45)

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: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Terry FitzPatrick, Craig Folly, Bill Drummond, Bob Carty,
Jyl Hoyt, Jeff Rice, Jo Ann Mar
GUESTS: Donna Fernandes
COMMENTATOR: Sy Montgomery

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

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

After months of debate the California Green Party has put Ralph Nader on the state's presidential ballot. Despite concern by some liberals that the move could throw California, and perhaps the entire election, to Bob Dole.

HAMBERG: I want to remind you of something that Ralph Nader said when they asked him how it felt to potentially be a spoiler. He said you can't spoil something that's already rotten to the core.

CURWOOD: Also, the smuggling of endangered animals is big business. And Americans are among the biggest consumers.

FERNANDES: One individual was caught with about 18 snakes in small nylon bags wrapped all over his, uh, body. When they opened his suitcase he had another 35 snakes, trying to get into Miami Airport.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more on Living on Earth. First the news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth I'm Jan Nunley. The first satellite specifically designed to study the Earth's ozone layer is now in orbit. The NASA probe will measure ozone in a column extending from the Earth's surface to the top of its atmosphere. The satellite records the frequency and intensity of reflected ultraviolet light, letting scientists estimate the amount of ozone in the atmosphere. The space agency expects the probe to spend at least 2 years in orbit studying ozone, a natural form of oxygen that shields Earth from the sun's cancer causing ultraviolet radiation.

Voters in several states could decide this fall whether to ban 2 popular techniques used to hunt bears, bobcats, and cougars. The use of bait stations and hunting dogs is under fire by animal rights organizations, which are waging petition drives to put the issue on the November ballot. Living on Earth's Terry Fitzpatrick reports from our northwest bureau at KPLU, Seattle.

FITZPATRICK: Proponents of a ban on the baiting or hounding of wildlife say it's unsportsman-like for hunters to lure animals to the kill with food. And inhumane to chase them through the woods with dogs. To prove their point they've produced a graphic television commercial showing footage of an actual hunt.

(Announcer back dropped by barking dogs: "Suddenly, a pack of trained hunting dogs attack the bear. The dogs wear radio collars transmitting their location to a waiting gang of trophy hunters. The tracers shoot the bear [sound of a gunshot] out of the tree [sound of bear dropping]. Still alive, the dogs tear her to pieces...")

FITZPATRICK: The use of bait or dogs has been outlawed in many states, and animal rights advocates are targeting the few places where the techniques are still allowed. They're pushing for ballot initiatives in Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Washington State. In Oregon, where voters approved a ban 2 years ago, the question will be back on the ballot after hunters waged their own petition drive. Hunting groups and the National Rifle Association oppose the initiatives, saying that baiting and hounding are the only practical way to hunt large predators, and that hunting is essential to keep predator populations in check. For Living on Earth this is Terry FitzPatrick in Seattle.

NUNLEY: Europe's climate zones may be shifting northward, making southern England's temperatures more like those in central France, and threatening to flood parts of the nation. A report by British scientists says such climate changes could be disastrous if governments don't act quickly to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The report warns that while Britons in the south might welcome a sunnier climate, a shift in temperatures would threaten wildlife, encourage the breeding of pests, and lead to droughts that would damage crops. In the northwest increases in rainfall could cause flooding and boost insurance claims.

A panel of Michigan scientists recommends repeal of restrictive state laws on disposing of low-level radioactive waste. Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Craig Folly reports.

FOLLY: The Michigan Environmental Science Board appointed by Republican Governor John Engler says a disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste can be safely built in Michigan. But to do so, the state must repeal a 1987 law that makes it nearly impossible to build such a facility. The science board study mirrors the recommendations of an earlier report from the Michigan Low-Level Radioactive Waste Authority. Dennis Shornak, chairman of the waste authority, says the new study is more proof that Michigan's laws are too stringent.

SHORNAK: The Federal standards for protecting public health, safety, and the environment, are completely adequate in that Michigan's overly-restrictive and unwarranted criteria should be repealed and that the risks to any given community from, posed by low-level radioactive waste are minimal.

FOLLY: Michigan's restrictive policies caused the state to be kicked out of the Midwest Compact, a partnership between Great Lakes states designed to share responsibility for disposing of radioactive waste. Since 1990, low-level waste producers have been forced to store the materials on-site. For Living on Earth this is Craig Folly in Lansing, Michigan.

NUNLEY: Scientists have found the culprit in the deaths of a record number of endangered manatees this year. It's a natural outbreak of red tide. The announcement is good news, since the more than 250 deaths weren't caused by an infectious disease that could have spread throughout the species. Red tide is a toxic microorganism that accumulates in shellfish. When the manatee deaths began in March, the red tide bloom was the worst it had been at that time of year since 1982, when a similar manatee die-off took place. Initially, scientists said red tide wasn't the cause because the pace of deaths was quicker than during previous outbreaks. But they now say a harsh winter forced manatees into warmer waters, exposing more of them to red tide.

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

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Ralph Nader and Campaign '96

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. There's an insurgent political movement afoot that could shake up this year's presidential race. And it doesn't involve Ross Perot or Colin Powell. The movement is the Green Party and the candidate is Ralph Nader. In late June Greens in California joined their fellows in Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, and Oregon, by putting Mr. Nader's name on the ballot, and the Greens hope to add at least 30 other states to the list. This could be bad news for Bill Clinton, especially in the nation's largest state. Polls suggest Mr. Nader could cut deeply into the President's support in California, and that would help Bob Dole. But the Greens are far from united, as reporter William Drummond observed during the recent California Nominating Convention.

(Synchronized clapping and shouting)

DRUMMOND: Despite the cheering inside the Berkeley Veteran's Hall this was hardly a coronation. Even as supporters concede that Mr. Nader's not the ideal candidate -- he's not a member of the Green Party, he has never endorsed the California Green Party's platform, he says he won't accept any campaign contributions, and he didn't even show up at the convention.

MAN: Ralph couldn't be here today but he has faxed us a statement. (Laughter in the background) I'll just read it. "Welcome to the most self-reliant political movement in California. Welcome to a progressive initiative that goes to the central contention of public politics, the concentration of power and wealth in a few hands and what should be done about what Thomas Jefferson called the excesses of the moneyed interests.

DRUMMOND: Last March, Ralph Nader ran unopposed as the Green Party's candidate for president in the primary election. But to get his name on the ballot in November, the nomination had to be endorsed by 80% of the delegates to the convention. Mr. Nader received an unexpected endorsement from a prominent disaffected Democrat, former Congressman Dan Hamberg of the timber-rich first district.

HAMBERG: I want to remind you of something that Ralph Nader said when they asked him how it felt to potentially be a spoiler in 1996. He said you can't spoil something that's already rotten to the core. And the governing institutions of this country are rotten to the core. (Applause and yells)

DRUMMOND: Internally the Green Party is itself divided. The Nader nomination runs up against a deep commitment on the part of many Greens to stay out of statewide and national politics and work instead on building a grassroots party at the county and municipal level. Nevertheless, the expressions of concern eventually gave way to calls for consensus. Delegate Scott Wiesenthal of Santa Cruz warned the convention of the consequences if it backed away from Ralph Nader.

WIESENTHAL: We are in this position now, and it seems like it would be far more damaging to the Green Party to not nominate Ralph Nader than it would be to go ahead and do so. So as someone who's -- who's already expressed concerns, I'd like to ask other people who share my concerns to go ahead and support this proposal for the sake of the Green Party, and for the sake of bringing us all together.

WOMAN: The vote was 72 against 3 for Nader.

MAN 1: That's 96% exactly.

MAN 2: Ralph Nader is again our official presidential nominee. Thank you very much. (Applause and yells)

DRUMMOND: The wide margin of victory for Mr. Nader obscures one important issue. Many Green members are haunted by the prospects of a Bob Dole presidency. The question remains unanswered as to how deep the Nader support will run if it appears that Bill Clifton is in real trouble when election time rolls around. When Scott Wiesenthal suggested that Mr. Nader bow out if President Clinton were in real danger, a rare and almost inaudible display of heckling wafted through the hall.

WIESENTHAL: I hope that if it comes down to November first or second, and the polls look like it's going to be very, very close, that Nader will be willing to step aside in order to not -- I really don't appreciate being hissed. I really don't appreciate that...

DRUMMOND: The Green Party is a tiny entity, with barely 80,000 members in California. Nevertheless, Mr. Nader's name recognition will perhaps win 8% of the total vote in November according to polling estimates. But most political observers say the Nader effect will still be marginal. Ray Wolfinger is a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

WOLFINGER: Unless it's a very narrowly balanced election, the Green label as such isn't going to make any difference. So we're -- especially since the difference between Clinton and Dole on environmental issues is so pronounced, it's not as if Clinton is the hero of the Sierra Club, but the Republican record on environmental issues of course is so bad.

DRUMMOND: The latest findings of the California poll also say that the Nader factor right now is small. The survey released on June 21st said that even with Nader in the race, Bill Clinton leads Bob Dole by 15 percentage points. For Living on Earth, I'm William Drummond in Berkeley.

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Eduardo Galeano: Latin American Scholar

CURWOOD: When economists and world leaders talk about global economics, they usually split the world into 2 groups: the developed countries and the developing countries. The assumption is that it's only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches up to the developed world, and gets what we've got. But of course not everyone agrees that our development path is the way to go. Bob Carty recently traveled to South America on a reporting trip for Living on Earth. Along the way he stopped in for a visit with one of Latin America's most influential writers, Eduardo Galeano.

CARTY: Eduardo Galeano lives in a quiet suburb of Montevideo, the capitol of Uruguay. The taxi driver stops in front of the only house on the street with a tropical jungle for a front garden. "Oh you've come to see the writer," he says. "Tell him my wife is in love with him." Galeano calls himself a collector of stories. Stories of love, of legends, of soccer, of history, and of ecology. For Eduardo Galeano, ecology is a matter of what humans do to nature, and to each other.

(Guitar music)

CARTY: In the Brazilian city of Goiania in 1987, a hospital discarded an old X-ray machine in a local dump.

GALEANO: Two paper pickers come across a metal tube in an empty lot. They hammer it open and find the glowing blue stone inside. A magic stone shines, turns the air blue, and makes everything it touches sparkle. The paper pickers give pieces to their neighbors. Whoever wraps it on his skin shines in the night. The entire barrio glows like a lamp. The poor, suddenly endowed with light, celebrate. The next day the paper pickers start to vomit. The entire neighborhood is swelling and burning up inside. The light devours and mutilates and kills.

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CARTY: After Chernobyl, it was the world's worst nuclear disaster. Dozens of people died from exposure to cesium-137. Like many of Eduardo Galeano's stories, this one evokes a variety of reflections. For some the shiny blue stone is a metaphor for our uncritical embrace of technology. How we welcome the magic of technology into our homes, unaware of the unseen harm it causes. For Galeano himself, the moral of the story of the blue stones is more direct. Those responsible for the Goiania deaths were never punished. It was yet another case of how people and the environment suffer because of the Latin American tradition of impunity.

GALEANO: Our air is poisoned. Our water is poisoned. Our earth is poisoned. And also, our souls are poisoned. And the impunity comes from this sort of absolution given by the sentence you are hearing coming from the media. We are all responsible. If we are all responsible then nobody is. Twenty percent of the population is responsible for 80% of the contamination of the world. And you can do anything you want to do if it's profitable. And so you have our Latin American countries becoming more and more open to foreign capital, just looking for dwarf salaries and freedom to contaminate.

CARTY: Eduardo Galeano, you've written a lot in a way that champions the cause of the poor, but you've also written that the poor can't become like we in the north.

GALEANO: First because it's not desirable. I don't think this is a model of happiness. And second because it's impossible. If the level of waste should be projected all over the world, then the planet will simply blow up. This model of development is in main responsible for the fact that our cities in Latin America are becoming gas chambers, and insane asylums.

(Construction vehicles)

CARTY: Eduardo Galeano calls Latin America's mega-cities the dictatorship of the automobile. Mr. Galeano knows his dictators. When the military took power in Uruguay in the early 70s, he fled to Buenos Aires. Then the military coup in Argentina forced him to Spain and 10 years of exile. Eduardo Galeano became a world traveler and an observer of the smog of the world's biggest cities. That made him question why some cities, like Singapore, subsidize public transport while Latin Americans insist on owning their own private cars and then warn residents to go outside as little as possible. He wonders why Singapore restricts private automobiles downtown while Mexico City and Santiago and Sao Paulo are a gray curtain of smog that poisons citizens with heavy metals.

(Music and syncopated footfalls)

CARTY: Eduardo Galeano says the problem is that Latin America doesn't copy Singapore but another model.

GALEANO: We Latin Americans have swallowed the pill that the hell of Los Angeles is the only possible model of modernization. A mad superhighway that scorns public transport. Practices velocity as a form of violence and drives people around. And we have been taught to drink this poison. And we'll pay any price as long as it comes in a shiny bottle.

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GALEANO: Spaces for human encounter; these were the original cities. How can you have the human encounters if cities are more and more owned by cars? Not only the public spaces, which are becoming more and more garages, but also the air, the air we are supposed to breathe, which is absolutely poisoned mainly by cars. Cars don't vote. They don't vote. But politicians are terrified of causing them the slightest displeasure. No Latin-American government, no one has dared to challenge the power of cars, the motorized power. The autocracy.

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CARTY: Eduardo Galeano is not optimistic about reversing the autocracy of the automobile. That would require abandoning Latin America's headlong rush into the consumer society. Still, the way forward, he believes, is in looking back. To a time when the first peoples of the Americas had a different relationship with nature. A time before the arrival of the Europeans.

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GALEANO: People and nature were the same thing. Afterwards, during the process of conquest and the so-called progress, the big motto was we must dominate nature. Now the motto is let's protect nature. In both cases, domination or protection, nature and people are two different things, and I think we should recover this certitude of communion that the Indians had and still have between we and nature. We are part of nature, and so we are brothers and sisters of everything that have legs or roots or wings.

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CARTY: For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty in Montevideo, Uruguay.

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CURWOOD: Eduardo Galeano is author of Memory of Fire, and most recently, Walking Words.

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CURWOOD: Exotic pets. If no one else on your block has one, there's a pretty good reason why. Find out next on Living on Earth.

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The Trouble With Boa: A Look at Exotic Pets

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. International wildlife trafficking is big business. According to the World Wildlife Fund, smuggling of endangered animals and animal parts generates more than $5 billion a year worldwide. That's more than illegal weapons and gemstones, and second only to drugs. And as with illegal drugs, the United States is a leading consumer. One of the problems for both consumers and law enforcement agencies is that the illegal wildlife market is intermingled with a legal trade in exotic pets. I recently visited a legitimate pet emporium to talk about the exotic pet trade with our favorite zoologist, Donna Fernandes.

(Bird calls)

FERNANDES: Probably the biggest illegal trade is in birds, lizards, some primates. But I think the biggest market currently is birds as they become more and more popular.

CURWOOD: So how do people smuggle these in?

FERNANDES: Well, there's a variety of ways that have recently been detected by wildlife officials and smuggling experts at airports. In some cases they can bring in wild caught eggs in specially designed vests to keep the eggs warm against their body, walk through onto an airplane, get off, and then they'll transport those eggs to pet dealers. And when the eggs hatch out they are sold as captive-reared. Because consumers are aware that they -- they do want to buy captive-reared birds, and yet this is one way to get around that.

CURWOOD: Birds, is that the biggest part of this trade?

FERNANDES: Well certainly the last few years the biggest reports from Miami and New York, where most of the smuggling operations seem to come through, are macaws stuffed in plastic tubes trying to be smuggled in. Snakes are another big thing. A lot of boa constrictors are caught when they're very young. One individual was caught with snakes, about 18 snakes in small nylon bags wrapped all over his, uh, body. They caught him 'cause he sort of bulged funny and then when they opened his suitcase he had another 35 snakes trying to get into Miami Airport.

(A bird screeches)

CURWOOD: Oh -- excuse me! We're in a pet store if you can't tell from what's going on. How important is the cash raised by this exotic animal trade to the countries that export them?

FERNANDES: Well, it depends. Usually the individuals who collect the animals only get, you know, probably ten cents on the dollar if that. So in terms of local economies, it really is not making a lot of money. It's a lot of money relative to them. But unfortunately it's the middle men and the pet store owners who are making the huge profits. And there can be really long-term negative consequences of getting rid of your wildlife. For example, frogs are being collected all the time for food in French restaurants, everyone eats frogs' legs. Well, there's been such a collection, a massive collection of frogs in -- in Asia, that they're now having problems with mosquitoes because the frogs used to eat all the mosquitoes. So now they're having to spend a lot of pesticides, and they're spending more money on pesticides to correct the mosquito problem than revenues generated from the collection of frogs. So it can have the same thing -- snakes, if you remove snakes you can get rodent problems. So countries who think that they can market their wildlife find out that they're disturbing whole ecosystems and the long-term costs outweigh any short-term benefits.

CURWOOD: Let's talk a bit about some of the laws regarding these exotic species. Certain places you can own things, other places you can't. It's -- it's kind of a mish-mash right now.

FERNANDES: Right. The import of all animals into this country is governed by what's called CITES, the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species. And that regulates import of any kind of endangered or threatened animals. But once they're into the United States, individual states differ tremendously in laws regarding having exotic pets. And some states allow you to have just about anything; they have no laws whatsoever regarding. And others have very strict laws. Massachusetts is one of -- do have certain animals you're not allowed to have as pets.

CURWOOD: Um, if about a third of the exotic pet trade is illegal, smuggled, how can consumers be sure that they're getting a legal animal when they go to the pet store?

FERNANDES: Well, it's -- it's very important that you go to reputable dealers, and it's nice if you can actually see baby animals to be sure that they are being bred rather than just claimed to be bred. And there are some things that you really don't know. Even zoos can fall victim to dealing with animal traders who purport that they're captive-bred, and then later when we further research into it, it will actually be not the truth. In fact, recently, one of the biggest smuggling operations that was blown open was an individual who was very highly regarded in avaculture, bird breeding communities. He had written several books on parrots and numerous articles. It turns out he was the leader of the largest bird smuggling ring in the country, and was in fact turned into authorities by a drug smuggler who sidelined in illegal wildlife trade. And that's not uncommon to find the same individuals involved in both drug smuggling and animal smuggling. Because the source of origin is very often South America, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil. And they're coming into Miami for distribution to pet stores, or if drugs, of course, distribution across the country. There's even been such cases as wildlife officials noticed an illegal shipment of boa constrictors, and one of them had this odd bulge in the side. The x-rayed the boa constrictor and found that it had forced down into it several condoms filled with cocaine.

CURWOOD: It's not a nice business.

FERNANDES: No, it's not a nice business. And I think we have to recognize that in the United States we are the largest consumers of illegal wildlife. And just as we complain about South American countries not doing their bit to stop the drug trade, we are the biggest consumers of drugs. Likewise, it's not only up to the countries who are illegal exporting their endangered wildlife. We as Americans have to stop it and not at all support illegal pets in this country.

CURWOOD: So tell me, Donna Fernandes -- I get the impression that maybe you think we shouldn't have exotic pets at home.

FERNANDES: Um -- I don't recommend it. I think there are plenty of opportunities like zoological parks and aquariums to see exotic animals. If you really want to have an exotic pet, please do read all about it. Understand before you buy anything. Its longevity, its dietary requirements, its space requirements, social needs. So that you can be fully educated and decide are you willing to make that long-term commitment to really care for that animal properly?

CURWOOD: Okay then, thank you. Dr. Donna Fernandes is associate curator at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City, and the former vice president for programs at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo. Thanks for joining us, Donna.

FERNANDES: Thank you very much.

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(Bird calls continue. Fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston and Harvard University. Special thanks this week to KUER, Salt Lake City. I'm Steve Curwood.

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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 and the environment.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: The best way to clean up some toxic contamination may well be Nature's way, with plants. The new science of Phytoremediation coming up in the second half of Living on earth.

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

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: The Fourth of July holiday signals the start of serious summer. But if you're a serious beach-goer, you'll probably find more than sand, sun, and surf there. The Center for Marine Conservation has just released the results of last summer's national seashore cleanup. Volunteers collected two and a half million pounds of trash, and you can't blame industry for most of what they found. Sixty-four percent of the beach haul was cast off by consumers. The list includes 800,000 cigarette butts, 28,000 milk jugs, 6,000 light bulbs, 5,000 egg cartons, 80 chairs, 27 televisions, 20 mattresses, and 14 refrigerators. The Center for Marine Conservation volunteers also found nearly 160 creatures entangled in those plastic 6-pack rings. Only 14 of those animals survived. This year's beach cleanup takes place in September. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Air by Force

CURWOOD: One of the most barren and roadless places in the United States can be found where Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho meet. The region is called the Owyhee Badlands, and its vast emptiness makes it a favorite refuge for backcountry enthusiasts, and for Air Force pilots. For years the United States Air Force has flown practice bombing runs over the area, and now it wants to expand its existing combat range and increase the number of flights and sonic booms. As Jyl Hoyt as member station KBSU in Boise reports, the plan has united ranchers, environmentalists, and hunters in opposition.

(Flowing water, a splash)

HOYT: A group of canoeists make their way through a river carved deep into the Owyhee canyon lands located in the remote corners of Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. This high desert volcanic plateau is crisscrossed with rivers and trails, some of which are part of the Federal Wild and Scenic River System. The government estimates 41,000 people hike, hunt, kayak, and canoe here each year. People like Idaho photographer Steve Bly.

BLY: The canyon is just so colorful and so beautiful, and so much light and the lichen and the greens and the yellows and the oranges, where we camped out last night it was just one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

(Sounds underwater)

HOYT: But the area is also part of 6,800 square miles of air space the military uses to train fighter jet pilots. As a low-flying jet comes swooping down the canyon, canoeist Phil Lansing shakes an angry fist.

LANSING: The sound of freedom, my flat foot. It's the sound of boondoggle. For them to say that they need this additional training space is just absolutely comes right off the stable floor.

HOYT: For the fourth time in 7 years the Air Force is asking for more air space here. The Air Force hopes to turn 12,000 acres of Federally owned desert into targets for dummy bombs. They also hope to install 30 more radar stations that mimic enemy activity. All this overland that includes 22 wilderness study areas and nominations for 2 more wild and scenic rivers.

(Water sounds. Woman: "There's a camp!")

HOYT: River runners and others are attracted to the desert by its rich archaeological sites, some almost 12,000 years old. There are herds of pronghorn antelope and numerous sage grass, a species that is declining in Idaho and much of the American west. As she rounds a bend, canoeist Wendy Wilson of Idaho Rivers United grabs her binoculars and scans a 6-foot-high cliff.

WILSON: There's three, uh, female bighorn sheep and two lambs getting to the top. Oh, now they're looking at us. Look! She's looking right down at us. What we're concerned about is low-level supersonic flights because the sonic booms are so startling we think we --we could lose some sheep off of the cliffs.

HOYT: That's already happening according to Robert DiGrazzia of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep. This national hunting group says California bighorn populations near Deep Creek have declined recently. Mr. DiGrazzia blames the Air Force composite wing that recently moved to Idaho.

DiGRAZZIA: The population dropped from 700 down to 350. And the reason why is that the Air Force fingerprint for supersonic is right over the top of that.

HOYT: Biologists say sonic booms and increased over flights may be the problem, but suggest other reasons for the bighorn decline. There was a drought, lots of human activity, and scientists transplanted female bighorns to other areas hoping to expand herds.

(A water sprinkler)

HOYT: Cindy Bachman's ranch is in the middle of the latest Air Force proposal. As she moves irrigation pipes across hay fields and rounds up cattle on Federal lands she leases, Ms. Bachman is sometimes startled by sonic booms. She dreads the thought of having her solitude disturbed even more.

BACHMAN: Two times I've been horseback when a sonic boom went off and both times my horse tried to jump out from underneath me. And in the Bruno Valley our dishes rattle, our windows rattle. So it's just not acceptable at this point.

(People milling. Man: "Oh -- basically what we are proposing to do is take the current airspace, fill in the gaps...")

HOYT: The Air Force is mounting a sophisticated public relations campaign to persuade people that its latest proposal is acceptable. In school auditoriums and libraries, dozens of officers stand by crisp, colored maps. They wear unusually big smiles as they greet sportsmen, river runners, ranchers, and business people. At this meeting in Mountain Home, air space manager Ken Apple takes apart a 3-dimensional model to explain how pilots need more air space so they can better learn how to dodge enemy radar.

APPLE: As you can see it's fairly complicated and fairly difficult for a pilot who's flying 480 knots, that's 4 miles a minute, to keep track of exactly where he is in there. And that's why we want to fill all that in and make it just one piece of air space.

HOYT: The Air Force plan would add 500 flights to the 12,000 flown last year. A thousand of them, about 8%, would be supersonic. But Colonel Bill Richie says noise would actually be diluted because the air space will increase.

RICHIE: With the increase in more usable air space, the -- the ability to see an airplane or hear an airplane should be less for any one particular area.

HOYT: Opponents want the Air Force to use existing training ranges in Utah and Nevada. Colonel Richie says these ranges are adequate for jet pilots, but they're just too far away.

RICHIE: Any time we have to fly further than we are going to train, and spend more time flying to get there than we do to training, it's not economically feasible.

HOYT: The first 2 plans were beaten back by citizen opposition. The third was rejected by the courts. The Air Force says this fourth plan is more acceptable because it's asking for less additional land. Opponents say this proposal is part of a military land grab. They point to 3 Air Force basis in Utah and Nevada also trying to expand. They say population pressures in the east and increased use of Federal lands for recreation in the west are making the military nervous and eager to secure land for the future. Robert DiGrazzia of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep.

DiGRAZZIA: What we see on a national basis is a lot of little actions that are being pieced together that are causing a lot of Americans their freedoms to use public lands. The Air Force is doing these, these issues in little parcels, because they're trying to hide the total impact.

HOYT: The Air Force says that's simply not true, and that they're considering doing a study to evaluate their need for air space. In a state where the military is the second largest source of employment, there is a lot of support for the plan.

(People milling.)

HOYT: At the Air Force public meeting in Mountain Home, a town just 10 miles from the air base, most people like contractor and Air Force veteran John Gross say the military can easily balance the needs of the environment with the pilot's need for realistic combat training.

GROSS: I'm in favor of that range based on the fact that we need to give our military the proper training and the tools to do it with. And that range out there is just another tool that we need to give them.

HOYT: The Air Force plans to present its environmental impact statement for citizen comment in 1997. Ultimately, Congress has to rule on the plan. Idaho's Congressional delegation has given its tacit support. For Living on Earth I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.

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(Music up and under)

Decontaminating Plants

CURWOOD: It's the fastest growing technology for the cleanup of chemical waste and contamination. It runs on little more than water and sun, and it's so advanced that it took billions of years to develop. The technology is nature's own plants. It's still in the experimental stage, but there are high hopes that in some cases the deliberate use of plants to remove contaminants from polluted soil and ground water will be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than present methods. From Salt Lake City, Jeff Rice reports.

(Highway sounds)

RICE: Just off the freeway in Ogden, Utah, a small fuel transfer station run by Chevron has been contaminating the soil with oil and diesel fuel since the 1950s. Two years ago, not even weeds would grow on this 5-acre lot.

(A sprinkler system)

RICE: Today, neat rows of green alfalfa are lined by barriers of poplar trees. Specially planted grass grows in abundance and birds can be seen skimming the fields for insects.

RICE: Doesn't look like an industrial waste site at all.

FERRO: Yeah. It looks a lot better. It was a real moonscape when we started.

RICE: But the landscaping isn't just an attempt to cover up the contamination problems, says Dr. Ari Ferro, President of the Utah-based clean-up company Phytokinetics. The extensive root systems are causing a massive chemical reaction in the soil that Dr. Ferro hopes will eventually turn the polluting petroleum into harmless organic elements.

FERRO: You have a root zone where you have a very -- a huge population of metabolically active microbes, and so they -- it's not so much that they're sucking up contaminants, but it's the fact that they stimulate soil microbes and that in turn stimulates biodegradation of the contaminants that -- the contaminated soil that the plants are growing on.

RICE: Normally, contaminated soil would be trucked away, an expensive proposition that simply moves the problem from one place to another. By using plants, Dr. Ferro was hoping to solve the disposal problem altogether.

RICE: So it just breaks it down.

FERRO: It just breaks 'em down, right, uh huh. Breaks 'em down in some cases all the way to carbon dioxide and water.

RICE: It's called Phytoremediation, and no, these aren't genetically altered super plants. Dr. Ferro uses commonly grown native plants chosen for thick or deep root systems to catalyze the microbes. He helps them out with a lot of fertilizer and intensive irrigation. It's a relatively low-tech system, but the potentials for this technology are vast. Companies like Phytokinetics are starting to spring up like wildflowers. Currently, plants are being used in experimental cases to treat contaminants ranging from petroleum spills to decaying TNT, nitrates, pesticides, heavy metals, and even radioactive waste. And if that weren't enough, Dr. Ferro and others say their methods are substantially cheaper. That's what led Chevron to take a chance on what might at first glance seem like just so much flower power. So far, says spokesman Walter Maguire, Chevron is happy with the results.

MAGUIRE: We were looking at anywhere from $800,000 to a million dollars to do this. But in this -- in this particular situation, I think to date we've spent about $70,000.

RICE: But does it work?

FERRO: We're kind of at an awkward position right now.

RICE: Dr. Farrell.

FERRO: We're right in the -- right between having evidence in the laboratory and having some solid evidence outdoors and we -- we don't have solid evidence outdoors yet. But --but every indication is that it'll -- it'll be effective.

RICE: The EPA is helping to sponsor a number of field studies, including the Chevron site, with an eye toward obtaining some solid objective data. Steve Rock is with the EPA's office in Ohio and has worked extensively in this area.

ROCK: There is still skepticism. That's why we're evaluating the field demonstrations. This is no -- not an accepted technology by any means, but there are some very interesting projects going on, and the results are very, real promising.

RICE: But Mr. Rock points out that in any case Phytoremediation is not a magic bullet. The contamination can't be too deep outside the range of the plant's roots. You also can't be in a hurry. Treatment necessarily takes a number of growing seasons. But for certain situations where low-level contamination is not an immediate hazard, it may be ideal. One of the main things, says Mr. Rock, is to ensure that at the very least the process doesn't do any harm. For example...

ROCK: And what happens if birds or grasshoppers come and eat the plants and then spread the contamination across the neighborhood? That's -- that's not what you want to do. We're trying to get the contamination away from the neighborhood, not spread it.

RICE: Early studies suggest that at sites with organic waste and contamination, such as petroleum spills for example, bugs and animals probably can eat to their heart's content. Plants don't seem to absorb the contaminants. It's a different story, however, when cleaning up another class of pollutants: heavy metals. In this case, plants do absorb the pollution. In fact, that's the whole point.

RASKIN: It's very important to understand that plants grow -- grow because they have this innate ability to accumulate the elements from the environment. They can't run around hunting for food. They have to sit there, and the only way they can grow is they accumulate elements from the environment.

RICE: Ilya Raskin is a Rutgers University biochemist and one of the founders of the New Jersey-based company Phytotech. His company deals primarily in cleaning up poisonous heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, and zinc. He was one of the first to study plants for clean-up 10 years ago.

RASKIN: Most of the things that accumulate are the essential elements for their growth minerals. Metals like iron, which they need for their own growth; copper; what they also need is manganese, magnesium. And now we won't have to trick most of the plants into accumulating things like lead and cadmium. In some cases over their naturally required minerals.

RICE: The plants are then disposed of in landfills, and in some cases the metals are actually removed and recycled. While the plants are growing they may be covered to keep them from entering the food chain. Phytotech is already working to clean up heavy metal sitesacross the East Coast and in Europe, including some of the nastiest stuff of all.

(Big Ben chimes. BBC announcer: "The Russians have revealed little during the day of the extent of the accident at a nuclear power station in the Ukraine, but it is clear that this is a major disaster. It's known that the Soviet Union...")

RICE: Ten years after the Chernobyl disaster, sunflowers planted at a pond just a mile away from the reactor are removing radioactive strontium and cesium from the water. Phytotech began experimenting with the possibilities of radioactive cleanup in the lab several years ago, and obtained startling results. Plants were able to remove 95% of radioactive elements under controlled conditions in just 24 hours. If Phytoremediation works at Chernobyl, Raskin's company hopes to gain a chunk of the $200 billion job of cleaning up low-level radioactive sites back in the US. Experts say cleaning up wastes with flowers may be a long shot, but the payoffs may be huge, both economically and environmentally. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Rice in Salt Lake City.

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(Music up and under: "I Only Wanna Be With You")

CURWOOD: The invasion of the sea lions just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Smile for the Sea Lions

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. When hundreds of sea lions invaded a San Francisco pier a few years ago, local business people thought they were a nuisance, possibly even a menace. Today the sea lions are still there and the business people are hardly complaining. The animals have become one of the city's biggest tourist attractions and business is booming. Jo Ann Mar has our story.

(Music and people celebrating and clapping)

MAR: Pier 39 is a typical tourist spot near San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. There are dozens of souvenir shops, hot dog and pretzel stands, and a carousel for children. All this hubbub of activity has been joined recently by hundreds of noisy and playful California sea lions sunning themselves and wrestling for position on the docks.

(Sea lions bark)

WIEZBOWSKI: It was a miracle. You know, we were all a little bit confused on what to do when they first started to arrive.

MAR: Restaurant manager Steve Wiezbowski recalls that this mostly male herd of sea lions took over Pier 39 soon after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

WIEZBOWSKI: The spirits were down, business was down significantly. As the sea lions appeared, they just -- the numbers grew and grew. We didn't know exactly why they came, but they started out as very few and ended up multiplying to up over three, four, five of them. They basically took the docks over out there.

(People milling)

MAR: No one knows why these reclusive wild animals settled in a busy urban area. One theory is that the docks at Pier 39 provide refuge from predators like sharks and killer whales. Another is that they were drawn by abundant quantities of herring that come to the bay to spawn every winter. Whatever the reason, when they first arrived, the sea lions were viewed as a nuisance according to Ann Bauer. She's the director of education with the Marine Mammal Center.

BAUER: There were thoughts of what could we do. There were suggestions by peoplewriting in of all sorts of things from mechanical sharks to shark sounds to killer whale sounds. But the pier chose to see if they could work with these new inhabitants of their dock and leave it for them, also thinking maybe it was a fluke and next year they'd be gone.

(Sea lions bark)

MAR: Instead the sea lions returned year after year and quickly went from being seen as a nuisance to being a boon. Business and tourist trade had dropped off dramatically following the Loma Prieta earthquake. Pam Lundquist, who owns 3 stores at the pier, says the sea lions soon brought tourists back.

LUNDQUIST: We joke around about it. Basically it was Mother Nature saying to us, I've given you a jolt and I shook things up for you but now I've brought you the sea lions and I'm balancing things out. They single-handedly brought so many people back to the city.

(Children gathered. Woman: "Okay, boys and girls. Does that look like a seal Children: "Yeah." Woman: "Well a lot of us think so, but I'm gonna teach you that this is a sea lion." Child: "A lion?" Woman: "A sea lion. Let me hear you say that." Children, shouting: "Sea lion!" Woman: "Oh! You guys are so good.")

MAR: The Marine Mammal Center has used the sea lions at Pier 39 as an opportunity to educate school children, tourists, and store owners. Restaurant owner Steve Wiezbowski says the sea lions took some getting used to, but Pier 39 merchants adjusted.

WIEZBOWSKI: My office is right out perched over the sea lions, and during the peak of their season in the winter time on a warm and sunny day, it's certainly a bit hard to do business with them barking out the windows.

MAR: But striking a balance that works for both people and the animals has also been a challenge. Ann Bauer with the Marine Mammal Center says her group is working with the pier to make sure the sea lions are not disturbed. Feeding the sea lions is strictly forbidden, and people are not allowed onto the docks to touch them.

BAUER: The problems haven't been the sea lions, they've been people trying to interact with the sea lions. People, oh, trying to jump over the pier railing to go visit them, or throwing things like bread and other things that could be harmful, and it's mostly human behaviors that have been a problem.

(Sea lions barking)

MAR: Sea lions are creatures of habit. In July most of the Pier 39 sea lions will depart for the Channel Islands in Southern California to mate. As far as anyone knows, if they remain undisturbed by humans, the sea lions plan to come back to the pier by early fall. I'm Jo Ann Mar in San Francisco.

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(Sea lions barking. Music up and under)

More and More Consuming

CURWOOD: A comedian once said that dogs must think humans are fantastic hunters. We disappear from our homes for hours at a time and return laden with shopping bags full of stuff, which of course our dogs assume we've brought home from a hard day's hunt. Dogs are fine observers of humankind. We are, like them, hunters. Humans after all evolved as hunter-gatherers. But today we are thwarted by the consumer age. We are now shopper-gatherers. For commentator Sy Montgomery, the numbers add up.

MONTGOMERY: Americans shop on average for 6 hours a week. Six hours a week! As compared to an average of 40 minutes a week playing with children or animals. What could account for such an obsession? Do we really need so much stuff it should take us 6 hours a week to buy it all? No. We don't need the stuff we buy. We need to buy the stuff. Shopping, albeit temporarily, makes us feel good. When we feel low, the self-help columns tell us to go out and buy something: a new car, a new dress, a lush dessert. A piece of jewelry. But why should this help? Because we are shopper-gatherers.

For many Americans today, shopping offers the closest approximation we can think of to doing something fully human. For almost 2 million years we and our pre-hominid ancestors spent most of our days essentially shopping. Except everything was free. The land itself held everything we needed; our job was to pay attention to the land.

You needed to remember where the good berries grew. You needed to read the tracks of the prey animals. You had to know the changes in the land that might tell you just where to dig for a succulent root. It was challenging, sometimes dangerous, but always fulfilling. This was work. You felt good at the end of the day if you came home with food. Success meant you ate.

Perhaps if our jobs don't always seem so fulfilling, it's because they have so little to do with the work the human race concerned itself with for 99% of our existence on Earth. And perhaps that's why, even if shopping does make us feel good sometimes, the feeling doesn't last. Two million years of evolution tells us: go outside, look around. But a consumer society tells us: go to the mall. There, frantic and sad, we go through the motions like a zoo animal pacing its cage. We hunt sales and bargains. We gather no nourishment. We just pile up stuff.

CURWOOD: Commentator Sy Montgomery lives and writes in Hancock, New Hampshire. She comes to us from member station WEVO in Concord.

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Your comments are always welcome. You can dial up our listener comment line at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Our electronic address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. And you can always reach us through the mail; the address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes of the program are $12.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's senior producer is Chris Ballman. Our senior editor is Peter Thomson and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, Julia Madeson, and Peter Shaw. We also had help from Jennifer Senkler, Heather Kaplan, and Paul Masari. Special thanks this week to KUER in Salt Lake City. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Karen Given and Mark Navin. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthellier and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

(Music up and under)

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.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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