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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

May 9, 1997

Air Date: May 9, 1997

SEGMENTS

Asphalt Nation

Jane Holtz Kay, author of "Asphalt Nation, How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back." met up with Steve Curwood at a busy intersection in downtown Boston to survey firsthand the ways in which dependency on cars has altered our lifestyles and the landscape. (09:00)

INTERPLANETARY ROCKS: FURTHER IMPLICATIONS

As evidence mounts that there may be life elsewhere in the solar system,the national space agency gears up to protect Earth from possible extraterrestrial contamination. For the first time, Apollo scientists are admitting publicly that efforts to protect Earth from extraterrestrial microbes were a failure. And they are warning that (the) NASA must do a better job with samples they plan to bring back from the planet Mars in the year 2003. Living on Earth's Daniel Grossman reports. (10:15)

The Living On Earth Almanac

Facts about... the perception in various cultures of the earth as Mother. (01:15)

Leaky Ships

Steve Curwood spoke with Mike Jordan of the Wilmington based Atlantic Foundation who says ships such as one called the Esso Nashville which was torpedoed by German U-boats during World War Two remain off our coasts leaking their crude oil and other contaminating contents. (05:00)

Untapped Energy Source / Neal Rauch

New thinking has emerged on using the earth’s own heat. Experts say geothermal systems can be installed just about anywhere since the earth is about 55 or so degrees near the top of its crust. Heat pumps run by electric motors can tap this non- polluting and virtually inexhaustible supply of energy and use it to heat and cool buildings just about anywhere, including the heart of Manhattan. Neal Rauch reports from the east side of Central Park. (06:00)

THE AMISH: FLOURISHING LAND OWNERS

Much of the country’s farmland is disappearing to development, and in Lancaster County in eastern Pennsylvania lies some of the country’s best growing and dairy farming land. While conservationists have been struggling to establish legal and bureaucratic ways of preserving the best of what farmland is left, old order Amish farmers in Lancaster County seem to have found an answer in their faith. For ten years a sociologist from Elizabethtown College, Conrad Kanagy, has been tracking farm sales in the county. We recently spoke about his findings. (07:00)

Prison Ponies

Wild horses were part of the romance of the Old American Wild West, but today the mustangs are often considered to be nuisances. Each year, the federal Bureau of Land Management rounds up mustangs from the ten western states in efforts to keep their population down . Many of these horses are eventually sold to the public. But few people want a wild bronco in their back yards, so first they must be trained, or as they say in the West, "broken." And increasingly, the BLM is turning to inmates in minimum security prisons to do he job. Andrea Dukakis reports. (06:25)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Daniel Grossman, Neal Rauch, Andrea Dukakis
GUEST: Jane Holtz Kay, Mike Jordan, Conrad Kanagy

(Theme music intro)

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

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. If you're riding in a car right now, you may think it's the only convenient way to get to where you want to go. But some folks say life would be even more convenient, if we relied far less on automobiles.

KAY: I'm saying that you can spend less money, have a better environment, have better cities to live in, and live better, by just getting a grip on this ton of wheel and steel that's rolling over our lives.

CURWOOD: Also, as evidence grows that there may be life elsewhere in the solar system, the National Space Agency gears up to protect us from possible extraterrestrial contamination.

NEALSON: In essence, we were doing what I would call an interplanetary environmental assessment. We tried and tried to dream up a worst-case scenario, and really couldn't come up with much.

CURWOOD: On Living On Earth, but first, news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. The Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to toughen air standards is facing growing opposition on Capitol Hill. One hundred fourteen House members sent a letter to President Clinton, urging him to defer implementation of the regulations. This follows a letter signed by 42 House Democrats expressing concern about the cost of the proposed standards. The EPA's expected to announce a final decision on the regulations in July. The agency says studies show current air standards lead to thousands of cases of lung disease each year.

Environmental groups are criticizing US Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines that exempt federal agencies from the Migratory Bird Treatment Act. The guidelines were issued in March with no announcement and no public comment. Fish and Wildlife says agencies, such as the Forest Service, are taking their own steps to protect the more than 800 species named under the act. But critics, including the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, say there is now no law preventing government actions that harm the birds.

In Seattle, Washington, scores of Canada geese are sitting on eggs that will never hatch. The eggs have been sprayed by the local parks department in an attempt to control the geese population, and officials are considering more drastic measures. From KPLU in Seattle, Keith Seinfeld reports.

SEINFELD: It's the third year that animal control agents are spraying mineral oil on Canada geese eggs. The oil suffocates the egg, but it often takes a month for a goose to realize the embryo's dead. By then, it's too late to lay another egg. The program has stabilized the local geese population at about 2,000 adult birds. But Donald Harris of the Seattle Parks Department says that's still too many.

HARRIS: You can have as many as several hundred geese in these small waterfront park areas that they eat the grass, first of all, and then they defecate. And it's difficult if not impossible to clean up after them.

SEINFELD: The problem's common across the country, because along most urban lakes, people have created an ideal environment for geese: grassy lawns, with a clear view of the water. Then people feed the birds, which allows them to stay year-round, instead of migrating. The Federal Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed issuing a nationwide permit allowing states to kill the birds to control populations. But that met opposition, and it's on hold until this fall. Cities can get individual permission to kill the birds, but they have to take the heat. Minneapolis tried to diffuse opposition by feeding goose meat to the homeless. In the Seattle area, officials are exploring possible health hazards caused by geese feces. If a link is established, they hope there'll be more public support for lethal methods. For Living on Earth, I'm Keith Seinfeld in Seattle.

MULLINS: In a compromise deal, the Clinton Administration says it will continue payments to winter grain farmers who've left their land fallow under the Conservation Reserve Program, even if they begin preparing the land for fall planting. Last year Congress revamped the Conservation Reserve Program, arguing that some of the country's most environmentally sensitive land was not being protected, while lower priority land was. The Agriculture Department plans to announce by the end of May which land it will pay to conserve. But winter farmers say that won't give them enough time if their land is not selected. Under the Administration's new plan, the farmers could begin clearing grass, and will be paid half the cost of replanting the cover, if their land is chosen.

The nation's wildlife refuges could get some help from legislation now pending before the House of Representatives. The National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act will guide management of the refuges and as James Jones reports, the new bill has broad support.

JONES: The bill would, for the first time, mandate that wildlife preservation guide decisions about what kinds of recreational activities will be allowed in refuge areas. As the number of visitors to the 92,000,000-acre system has skyrocketed, Congress has tried to reconcile the system's basic mission, and the public's desire to engage in a wide range of outdoor pursuits in those areas. All of those efforts had failed amid battling between interest groups. But late last month, Interior Department-led talks involving members of Congress, hunting and fishing groups, and environmental activists, broke the deadlock. Rollins Sparrow, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, says he's relieved that the bickering is over.

SPARROW: If we can set that aside, with a basic, organic act for the refuge system, we have a base from which everyone can move forward now, and focus on the lack of money and staffing and ability of those refuges to do what they need to do for wildlife.

JONES: Sparrow expects the bill will pass this year, noting it has won the support of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and the conservative House Resources Committee, which passed it April 30th. For Living on Earth, this is James Jones in Washington.

MULLINS: Finally, our vote for Mother of the Year: a mallard from Ben Salem, Pennsylvania, whose chicks had fallen through a storm drain. The mother duck hailed down a policeman by jumping and quacking in front of his cruiser, and then led him to her trapped babies. The officer freed the unharmed ducklings, and then the reunited duck family waddled back to its pond.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

Asphalt Nation

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Many of us would find it hard to imagine life without a car. We drive to work. We drive to the store. We drive to pick the kids up from soccer practice, to just about everywhere. Driving is convenient, but there's a price to pay. Our roads have become increasingly clogged. Collectively, Americans spend 8,000,000,000 hours stalled in traffic each year. Eight billion hours! Now if our time is worth, on average, $12 an hour, that's over $100,000,000,000 worth of lost time, making traffic jams a bigger drain on society than the federal deficit. The environment has suffered as well. Cars contribute heavily to smog and greenhouse gas emissions, make sprawl possible, and our cities less livable, says Jane Holtz Kay. She's the author of "Asphalt Nation, How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back." We met up with Ms. Kay in downtown Boston at the busy intersection of Congress and State Streets, to survey the damage firsthand.

[Car passing, honking]

CURWOOD: We're standing now at one of the worst pedestrian intersections in the city, wouldn't you say?

KAY: Yes, one street width away from the site of the Boston Massacre.

CURWOOD: Are you ready to try crossing the street? Let's go!

KAY: Ok, this is a little tricky. I wouldn't normally start here.

CURWOOD: But everybody else is walking here.

KAY: Well, they're walking seven abreast here in true Boston style, but it's pretty lethal, because you see, we're not walking across a crosswalk, and you don't exactly know where the automobiles are going--

CURWOOD: Now, what is so bad about this intersection, why do you say this is one of the worst intersections? Whup, here we go!

[Engine sputtering]

KAY: What you have here is three lanes of traffic funneling into one on one side, three funneling into two on the other side, which means why should there be three lanes if they're only going to funnel down?

CURWOOD: So, how does a road like this get planned? I mean, don't traffic engineers realize that this is really, really dangerous for pedestrians?

KAY: No. I think their orientation is to make the traffic flow.

[Truck releasing air-brake pressure]

KAY: Even in this city, where about 3/4 of the people come here without a car, it is still planned to make the traffic flow from here to where you see, way down at the end, where it narrows. And yet for those brief instants, they want the cars go 50 miles an hour, exactly at the spot where the bulk of pedestrians in the city try to cross the street.

CURWOOD: Well, let's take a look down here at the Big Dig. We can see it from here.

[Footfalls on pavement]

CURWOOD: Ok, now we're down at Boston's Central Artery. This is a huge elevated highway that runs straight through the center of the city. It's pretty ugly, and it's congested--why was this road ever built?

KAY: To speed cars faster on their merry way. That was the period when that was being done.

CURWOOD: So look at it. I mean, how fast are they going now?

KAY: They're not going very fast, is the axiom and it's scientific and both a kind of cliche: 'If you build it, they will come.' And we're always a generation behind, not because it was slow, but because you build a new road, and it fills up and encourages more cars.

CURWOOD: So what's the impact this road has had on downtown Boston?

KAY: The Central Artery basically severed the city from its waterfront, its historic origins, and everything you see was a big scar.

CURWOOD: Now, Boston has decided, indeed the elevated highway here, the Central Artery, is a mistake, and so there's some $10,000,000,000 that's being put into a construction project, the most expensive highway project in the country's history, per mile. They're building a new highway underground, and they're going to knock down this elevated road, and build a surface level road, with a park running down the center. Now, don't you think the Central Artery will look a lot better then?

KAY: Yes, theoretically. But there'll still be a speedway, a highway, between the city and the waterfront, and it may make this noisy, disgusting place we're standing in--

[Loud truck passing]

KAY: --better. But what happens when you put a tunnel in, I liken it to a very long balloon, like a balloon at a kid's party. And you take that snake, and you squeeze its middle, that's the part underground, and that's better, but it has to come up, and when it comes up, all the other pieces of the road are going to be elevated and difficult and ugly.

CURWOOD: Ok, so where should we go next?

[Truck accelerating]

KAY: Well, we'll move away from that polluting truck and head down this way, and we can go to a more congenial environment altogether.

[Fades, and sound of walking]

CURWOOD: So Jane, we've walked over here, to this place you consider a good example of civic planning. What about the street that you like?

KAY: I'm not sure this street was planned, actually. I think it was planned in the way that old cities were planned. In Boston they say the cows did it. This street certainly looks that way. It's very erratic, it was certainly not laid out for the automobile. There must, at one time, have been a brook, or some rocky outcropping, or there was some reason that made somebody take an 'S,' and it still embodies that heritage, partly because nobody's paved it in 20 years. This is not glam Boston.

CURWOOD: But people live here. I see there's some potted plants out there on the fire escape, and it's a quiet little place. It's hard to imagine that we're just really a few steps from the snarled expressway and all the noise of the city.

KAY: You can see, we've been standing here a while, there's no
cars.

CURWOOD: Oh, here comes one now.

KAY: If we get run over, we're going to mess up my nostalgia here.

CURWOOD: Oh, he's just turning around.

[Sound of car slowing, then accelerating]

CURWOOD: This is your quintessential Boston driver. Look at his tailpipe! Wow!

[Vroom, vroom]

KAY: He's going to poison us, here.

[Sound of Kay giggling]

KAY: Cough, cough, smoke that cigarette!

CURWOOD: Ok, this street was built 300 years ago, at a time when cars obviously weren't here in Boston. What can be done with today's streets, to make them more walkable? More friendly, less disruptive to the community?

KAY: Well, I think there's a good body of solutions to the problem of streets that are built as basically freeways and expressways in the city. There's a word called "traffic- conning," widening sidewalks, narrowing streets, putting in grassy medians, the speed humps.

CURWOOD: So one plan is to just slow cars down, but don't cars pollute more when they're idling than when they're driving right along?

KAY: Cars pollute when they drive more miles, and the reason that we have not lessened the pollution is that we have improved the automobile in a certain scientific fashion, but we drive more and more and more. And there is no way that we are going to improve our environment unless we eliminate some of the two or three cars in half our households, and cut down on the number of miles that they drive, and that's partly by making the walking environment more civilized, and it's partly by reversing the money that's spent, 7 times as much on the automobile.

CURWOOD: Now, you don't own a car, do you?

KAY: No. I sold my car when I began this book, actually. As soon as I sold my automobile, I had $6,500 a year in my pocket. That's the figure from the American Automobile Association, not for the car itself, but what you save in the registry, and the insurance, and the maintenance, and buying the car, spread over time. So, I had $20 a day, and I could do lot of alternatives. I could walk in the city, even though it's been a hairy trip--

[laughs]

KAY:--I could take mass transit, I could use messengers, I could use cabs, I could bum rides, share rides, and of course, it's made my life a lot pleasanter, read in the subway, walk more, actually healthy, not a car potato, so for me, it was a very good choice.

CURWOOD: Ok, Jane Holtz Kay. You got rid of your car, but you live in downtown Boston.

KAY: Right.

CURWOOD: You live, in fact, close enough to your office that you could walk, in 1/2 hour or 40 minutes, if you wanted to. You've got a streetcar that goes--What about those of us who live further out from town. How do we get rid of cars?

KAY: Well, I think one of the reasons people say they have automobiles is to get to work and to take trips. Well, getting to work is 22% of the miles, trips is 8% But the 2/3 of the miles, the 10 to 12,000 miles we average a year, is on what I call 'shop and drop.' They now feel they need a $6,500 car to go to the Home Depot and save $1 on a hammer. Or, to load up, when there are other expedients for grocery shopping once a week.

CURWOOD: Your book is called "Asphalt Nation, How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back." What's your prediction for the future, Jane Holtz Kay? Do you think we will take America back from the automobile?

KAY: Ah. I actually couldn't have written this book for five years if I didn't feel that there was every possibility. Cutting down on the car is a very, very positive approach to life. I'm saying that you can spend less money, have a better environment, have better cities to live in, and live better, by just getting a grip on this ton of wheel and steel that's rolling over our lives.

CURWOOD: Well, thank you, Jane Holtz Kay, for spending this time with us.

KAY: It's nice to be in this city with you.

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CURWOOD: Guarding against possible biological contamination from Mars. That story is next on Living on Earth.

INTERPLANETARY ROCKS: FURTHER IMPLICATIONS

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

[Children's yells, "You guys, there's dinosaur egg s over there!"]

CURWOOD: Tucked away in a corner of Boston's Museum of Science, is a glass cabinet containing three specks of black rock. They're samples, scooped up from the surface of the Moon, duringthe first human expedition by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969. Few visitors stop to view the lunar display. Glitzy exhibits like "Virtual Volleyball" and the indoor lightning show are the big attractions now. But the moon rocks are once again drawing a lot of attention from space researchers.

For the first time, Apollo scientists are admitting publicly that the systems to protect Earth from extraterrestrial microbes were inadequate, and they are warning that NASA must do a better job with samples they plan to bring back from the planet Mars in the year 2003. Living on Earth's Daniel Grossman reports.

(An audence applauds)

MCKAY: I'm going to talk about how Mars compares to Earth, how it represents a second example, possibly, of life, and our understanding of it as a planet, and how we might investigate that, in particular where we would go.

GROSSMAN: A crowd of scientists packed into a lecture hall listen intently to Chris McKay.

[Lecture ongoing]

GROSSMAN: He's a NASA researcher and champion of the idea that the planet Mars may have once harbored life, and possibly may still.

MCKAY: On Earth, life is essentially little bags of water. And so, seeing that on Mars, in its past, it had liquid water, is the fundamental motivation to consider the question of life there.

GROSSMAN: Mars has polar ice caps, but there's no liquid water there today. However, detailed photos taken by the Viking probe in 1976, show what appear to be ancient river beds. If life existed when Mars was wet, there may be fossil remains, or perhaps, tenacious microbes still inhabit underground rock deposits, or undiscovered hot springs.

MCKAY: Let me answer a related question, which is, Earth and Mars started off so similar, why did they take such different trajectories? Why did Mars go bad? Is it, bad schools, bad neighborhoods--

GROSSMAN: Chris McKay says finding conclusive evidence of life on Mars would turn biology upside down.

MCKAY: All of life on Earth is a single phenomenon, is a single related system. It's all the same DNA, the same protein structure. The question is, is that unique? Is that a freak? Or is life wide-spread in the universe? Going to Mars and searching for even fossil evidence of life, will be, I think, a concrete way where we can actually get data to address the question.

GROSSMAN: And plans for going to Mars got a boost last summer, when researcher discovered what they believe are fossils of Martian microbes in a meteorite that fell from the red planet. President Clinton used the event to affirm US commitment to studying Earth's celestial neighbor.

CLINTON: The American space program will put its full intellectual power and technological prowess behind the search for further evidence of life on Mars.

GROSSMAN: The space agency is planning no fewer than 10 missions to Mars in the coming decade.

[Clinton speaking]

GROSSMAN: The first conclusive proof of extraterrestrial life could come as early as 2003, with a probe designed to bring Martian soil back to Earth. But what if live or dormant organisms live on the planet's surface and hitch a ride with the sample? Could they pose an ecological threat? Or even infect humans with a deadly disease, like in the science fiction thriller, "The Andromeda Strain?"

[Weird space music]

"ANDROMEDA STRAIN" ACTOR 1: No proteins, no enzymes, no nucleic acid? Impossible! No organism can maintain life without them!

"ANDROMEDA STRAIN" ACTOR 2: You mean no Earth organism. It must
have evolved in a totally different way.

"ANDROMEDA STRAIN" ACTOR 3: You got it. It doesn't come from
here.

GROSSMAN: Researchers say such threats are highly unlikely. The Martian surface is probably too inhospitable to harbor life today. It's drier than Earth's most barren desert, fried by intense ultraviolet radiation, and possibly coated with toxic soil. But no one is willing to say that life there is impossible, which raises the question, is NASA up to the challenge of keeping an extraterrestrial sample isolated? A chapter in the agency's past raises troubling concerns.

KENNEDY: I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.

GROSSMAN: The year was 1961, the height of the cold war.

[Kennedy's announcement continues]

GROSSMAN: President Kennedy, eager to prove American superiority, unveiled the Apollo Project. The goal was ambitious, but NASA accomplished the feat in July, 1969.

ARMSTRONG: Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.

NASA (HOUSTON): Roger.

GROSSMAN: To the public, the mission appeared flawless.

ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

GROSSMAN: But the agency stumbled when it came to isolating the lunar samples from the Earth's biosphere.

NEALSON: We heard an array of stories that would have boggled your mind.

GROSSMAN: Biologist Ken Nealson heads a National Academy of Sciences panel that was recently briefed by Apollo scientists about the moon mission.

KLEIN: A huge amount of safeguard and other things were mostly just a facade.

GROSSMAN: Among the old-timers who spoke to the panel was Harold Klien. He was part of a group overseeing NASA's plans to avoid contaminating Earth in the unlikely event microorganisms were ferried home from the Moon.

KLIEN: We had recommended that the Apollo capsule land near an aircraft carrier, that the aircraft carrier would have a crane, which would then lift the entire spacecraft out of the water onto the deck.

GROSSMAN: The group told NASA to keep the astronauts and their cargo isolated until tests proved there was no hazard. But that's not what happened.

SHIP: Don't want to affect your splashdown area, over.
ASTRONAUT: I'll turn around, I'll splashdown here...

KLIEN: When the spacecraft landed in the water, the hatch was opened, it went right out to the open, and we know that the inside of the Apollo spacecraft had a lot of lunar dust kicking around in it. And that's what we were trying to avoid, any of that dust getting out into the atmosphere. That was a clear breach.

GROSSMAN: There were other breaches, as well. When the capsule entered the Earth's atmosphere, a vent was opened to cool the interior. That released lunar dust. And at the Houston lab where moon rocks were studied and astronauts quarantined, rubber seals broke. The rocks turned out to be sterile, but that wasn't proven until months of exhaustive studies were completed. Harold Klien resigned from the committee in disgust. In a scathing postmortem of the lunar program in 1975, the group's co-chair, John Bagby, denounced what he called NASA's outright resistance to his committee's quarantining recommendations. "Many top managers considered the precautions unnecessary, and worried they would cause unacceptable delays," he wrote. NASA officials have pledged to do a better job when they bring a sample from Mars back to Earth. And they're already sketching out how the extraterrestrial payload will be tested.

WAINWRIGHT: This is a horseshoe crab. It's a primitive marine invertebrate, and the part of the organism we're very interested in is its immune system, its defense mechanisms.

GROSSMAN: At the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Norman Wainwright pulls a fist-sized horseshoe crab from a shallow tank. For about 200,000,000 years, this creature has remained almost unchanged, a fact Dr. Wainwright says is due in part to the animal's striking ability to detect and contain microbial intruders. Dr. Wainwright is harnessing the animal's talents to make one of the most sensitive tests known for the presence of microbes.

WAINWRIGHT: Would you like to see what the actual test looks like? It's very simple.

GROSSMAN: Norman Wainwright strides to a black laboratory bench, where a rack of test tubes contain varying mixtures of horseshoe crab blood and fungal cells. Each tube is hooked to a detector. Even a tiny portion of a fungal cell is enough to cause the blood to clot and turn cloudy, a change the researcher monitors on a computer. Dr. Wainwright is exploring how sensitive the test is, and how many kinds of microbes he can detect.

WAINWRIGHT: This screen will show the information being collected from one tube, and will graph how turbid a sample is becoming over time. As you see, the graph just updated itself to show an increase. So this would, in fact, be a point which this sample has shown to be positive.

GROSSMAN: A test like this could sound the first warning that a sample brought from Mars bears interplanetary stowaways. Last month, the National Academy of Science's panel, chaired by Ken Nealson, issued a report recommending how NASA should prepare for this eventuality.

NAILSON: In essence, we were doing what I would call an interplanetary environmental assessment.

GROSSMAN: Ken Nealson says the panel concluded that the risk to Earth from a Mars sample is exceedingly small.

NEILSON: We tried and tried to dream up a worst-case scenario, and really couldn't come up with much.

GROSSMAN: Couldn't come up with much, because they said anything that tolerates the harsh conditions of Mars would most likely find Earth unsuitable. Too warm, too wet, and so on, but just in case, they did recommend that any payload should be carried back in a sealed container and examined on Earth in a secure laboratory, the kind the Centers for Disease Control uses to contain Earth's most deadly microbes. Ken Neilson says, if these precautions are taken, there should be no threat.

NEALSON: We bring Ebola virus into this country to study, and we know that's dangerous. You know, so there shouldn't be any big qualm about bringing a Martian rock, which we suspect is not dangerous.

GROSSMAN: And since the Apollo project, laws have been passed, like the requirement for environmental impact statements. They make it more likely that when NASA brings Mars rocks home, the precautions will be handled better.

NEALSON: One should expect they'll be done better this time, because if you don't insure that they're going to be done better, I don't think the mission will fly. I think there'll be a lawsuit filed, and one well-placed lawsuit will delay this entire enterprise for two years at a time.

GROSSMAN: And if there's one thing NASA fears more than alien microbes, it's a lawsuit. For Living on Earth, I'm Daniel Grossman.

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CURWOOD: We're always interested in what you have to say about our program. Call our listener line any time, at 1-800-218-9988.

That's 1-800-218-9988. Or write to us at 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. And check out our web page at www.loe.org. Transcripts and tapes are available for $12 each. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include The Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure, all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream, 1-800-PRO-COWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter; and Jennifer and Ted Stanley.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: How would you like to heat and cool a big office building in the middle of Manhattan without furnaces or air conditioners, and do it more cheaply than using solar power? That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.

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SECOND HALF HOUR

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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. Steve Curwood.

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The Living On Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: It's the time of year to wish a happy Mother's Day to that most famous mother of all, Mother Earth. Our use of that term is hardly new. Most cultures have long conceived of an earth mother, an all-powerful, inexhaustible source of vitality and life. It's reflected in folk tales, mythology, and language across the globe. The Aztecs had Coatlique, with two fanged serpents on her face, and a necklace made of hands, hearts, and a skull. The serpents represented fertility. We're not so sure about the skulls. The Babylonians had Mu-Mu-Tiamat, which, roughly translated, means "The Goddess of Earth, from Whom all things come." In Hindu mythology, Mother Earth rests on the head of a cobra. Pious Hindus offer her a prayer before taking their first steps each morning. Our own Mother Earth has roots with the ancient Greeks. They worshiped Demeter, the goddess of fruitful soil of the Earth. The word 'Demeter' is made up of variants of the Greek words for 'earth' and 'mother.' So, happy Mother's Day. This week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Leaky Ships

CURWOOD: On the rainy night of March 21, 1942, the oil tanker Esso Nashville was making its way up the North Carolina coast, its cargo, 1,000,000 gallons of crude oil destined for the defense of the British Isles. The ship was blacked out to avoid detection by German submarines operating in the area. But just past midnight, the captain of U-boat 124 found his prey. He fired two torpedoes. One struck the Esso Nashville amidships, with a dull thud, but did not explode. The next torpedo did. The vessel caught fire, broke in two, and the part carrying the oil sank to the bottom, 45 miles northeast of Wilmington, North Carolina. And it still sits there today, decaying in 110 feet of cold Atlantic water, crude oil slowly seeping out, each hurricane bringing the chance that a massive spill could occur. Mike Jordan of the Wilmington-based Atlantic Foundation says the Esso Nashville is not the only vessel with a hazardous cargo that lies off the East Coast.

JORDAN: We have over 500 ships, Steve, between the tip of Florida and Maine, World War II vessels that were sank by the Germans. The Germans were tremendously active during the early part of the war, and particularly in the early part of 1942.

CURWOOD: What was in the boats? What kind of cargo do these ships have?

JORDAN: Yeah, the tankers, of course, were carrying liquid cargoes, so they would be carrying oil, but all the way from oil to highly refined hydrocarbons like aviation fuels. Other tankers would have been carrying liquids like toluene and benzene, and these cargoes, if they stayed intact, would also be dangerous, because these are carcinogens, of course. The other half of the ships, about half of them were freighters. Some of those carrying cargoes, when you look at the manifests, they are a little bit disturbing, because it's things like chromium ore and beryl, which is where beryllium comes from, asbestos, and mercury compounds, so all of these are chemicals, and materials that are at least of interest.

CURWOOD: So these ships, and there are 500 of them or so, some with oil and other chemicals, pose a present environmental danger.

JORDAN: Certainly the fact that we have oil events washing up on North Carolina beaches indicates that there is a danger, and we are virtually certain that that's one of the tankers. So the answer to your question at that end of the scale is, yes.

CURWOOD: I wonder if you could tell us in some detail, what happened to the Carolina coast in May, in June of 1995, with regard to oil from the boat offshore.

JORDAN: Yeah. Beginning in the early spring of the year, we began to experience tar balls washing up on the beaches. Now, the tar balls take a few days in the sea to consolidate and to become hardened, so the Coast Guard laboratories could tell just by looking at those, one, that all of the tar balls that washed up along about 200 miles of beaches, all came from the same source of oil, and secondly, that they had been in the sea approximately 2 to 3 weeks when they washed up. So, having that data tells us pretty clearly that they're coming from a stationary source that's remaining in place out there, and we do think it was one of the tankers, Steve.

CURWOOD: Now, to avoid further contamination of the coastline, what do you think we should do with these ships and what they have in them?

JORDAN: Well, probably what we should do will have to remain to be determined after we see how much is in them and what circumstances, but the thinking of the Coast Guard at this time, and the thinking of the Atlantic Foundation, is that any ships that present an immanent danger, that have large amounts of hydrocarbons in them, will probably have to be remediated, which means that either a private or a government organization will need to go out, will essentially punch a hole in the side of these ships. They tell me that it would probably require pumping live steam through the hydrocarbons to loosen them up and reduce the viscosity, and then water would be injected into either the base of the tankers or the base of however they're oriented, and the oil pumped out the top.

CURWOOD: But what about a salvage operation going wrong? If you go down there and you punch a hole in one of these boats and start pumping the oil, you could set off something that could erupt into a massive spill.

JORDAN: That's the danger, but just the fact that this many hydrocarbons are out there, the fact that we know what massive oil spill do, not only to the environment, but to the tourist industry, that's so important in North Carolina, they really can't be ignored environmentally.

CURWOOD: So here we are, 52 years after World War II is over, and we're still dealing with the consequences of that war in a very tangible way.

JORDAN: We are dealing with it, and there's probably some sort of a philosophical lesson there, and maybe it's even clearer than that, we don't have to strain for it, I mean, the massive violence that humankind is capable of, the degree to which we we're capable of extending it, it isn't just over. I mean, it does have consequences. It's like leaving a bruise, and all of these haven't healed up yet.

CURWOOD: Mike Jordan is head of the Atlantic Foundation, which is based in Wilmington, North Carolina. Thanks, Mike, for taking this time with us.

JORDAN: Thanks for having us on, Steve.

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(Music up and under)

Untapped Energy Source

CURWOOD: Most of us associate geothermal energy with those places where heat from underground swells into hot springs. Old Faithful, the geyser in Yellowstone National Park, is probably the best example, but unless you live next door to a geyser, or you've visited Iceland, with its many geothermal plants, you probably haven't thought about using the Earth's latent heat as an energy source. Think again. Experts say, geothermal systems can be installed just about anywhere, since the Earth's heat lies not far from the surface. Heat pumps can tap this non-polluting and virtually inexhaustible supply of energy and use it to heat and cool buildings even in the heart of Manhattan. Neal Rauch reports from the east side of Central Park.

RAUCH: East 64th Street, off Central Park, is an elite block, to say the least. The inhabitants of its marble-and-limestone mansions include fashion designer Gianni Versace, the Wildenstein Art Gallery, Seagram's CEO Edgar Bromfman, and Ivana Trump. They will all soon get a new neighbor, a five-story building, where environmental and other foundations will be housed. Its owner, labor lawyer and mediator Theodore Kheel, says it'll be the first building in Manhattan to be heated and cooled by geothermal energy.

KHEEL; Our aim is to provide the foundations in Foundation House with an atmosphere that is environmentally up-to-date, with the latest technologies, to make it environmentally correct.

[Construction sounds]

RAUCH: A few workers are preparing the site for construction of the new building. At opposite ends of the lot are a couple of rust-colored pipes sticking up about 2 feet from the ground, with pink tops on them. They don't look like much, but well-digger John Barnes, of Geothermal and Water Resources, Incorporated, says they cap the deepest holes in Manhattan.

BARNES: These holes are drilled to over the depth, in relationship to the height, of the World Trade Center. So when you ride over a bridge and you see the Empire State Building, we're down further than that.

RAUCH: Water circulating in these 1500-foot wells will be bringing heat to and from Foundation House. The bedrock under Manhattan stores heat from the sun absorbed at the surface. The rock maintains a steady temperature of about 56 degrees. When water in the wells passes through the rock, it brings some of that heat with it. Once in the building, a heat pump uses this energy to warm the building and make hot tap water. By reversing the process, the building can be cooled during the summer, by removing heat and sending it into the ground. It's much like your refrigerator.

BARNES; What it's doing, it's taking that heat out of the box, of the refrigerator, and blowing it out into your room. Well, this is much the same thing.

RAUCH: The Foundation House unit was designed by Carl Orio, a leading designer in the field, and president of Water and Energy Systems Corporation in New Hampshire.

ORIO: I'm taking a lot of low-temperature energy, and I'm squeezing it and I'm making a smaller amount of high-temperature, same amount of energy. So, one of the reasons...

RAUCH: In a recent workshop, Carl Orio brought together the various building trades.

ORIO: Over the years geothermal heat pumps have always been perceived, the big advantage is their low operating costs, and certainly they are. I don't think there's anything on the market that's lower cost in heating, air conditioning, and making domestic hot water. Now today...

RAUCH: Carl Orio admits that it costs more to install a geothermal system. The Foundation House wells cost $100,000. But when all is said and done, it is still far more economical than conventional heating and air conditioning models.

ORIO: For example, not in the building, there's a smoke stack, not in the building is something burning fuels. There's not a boiler, not in the building or on its rooftop are cooling powers, or outdoor condensers. The building's become aesthetically very clean. All of those are savings.

RAUCH: But it's in operational costs where the real savings come in. There are no fuel bills and less maintenance. Foundation House expects to break even in just 3 years. Standing above his recently dug wells, John Barnes says this could mean windfalls, here, and at many other sites around the country.

BARNES: One of the biggest Army forts, down in Louisiana, has just done this, installed, and they're expected to save $25,000,000 in heating costs for the United States government.

RAUCH: And since nothing is burned, this renewable energy source causes no pollution, except from the electricity required to operate the pumps. Geothermal energy is not new. The basic technology goes back to the 1920's, though modern equipment is much smaller and more efficient, making it more economical. Today, thousands of homes and businesses across North America use geothermal systems. Although geothermal energy is new to Manhattan, designer Carl Oreo says the technology doesn't have to be limited to new, modest-size buildings like Foundation House.

ORIO: Could we do the World Trade Center? The answer is, yes.

RAUCH: There are currently no plans to retrofit the Twin Towers, but publicity from his work on Foundation House has led to several other possible projects in Manhattan. Owner Theodore Kheel says that was exactly what he was hoping for.

KHEEL: It is a demonstration of a commitment to sustainable development, and so we said, let's give it a try.

RAUCH: Foundation House is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 1998. For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch, in New York.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: The family farm is rapidly disappearing across America except in the communities of the traditional Amish. That story is coming up on Living on Earth.

(Amish music up and under)

THE AMISH: FLOURISHING LAND OWNERS

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Farmland in America is rapidly vanishing under pavement and housing tracts. The American Farmland Trust says nearly 40% of our best vegetable-producing land and almost 30% of the best dairy land is located in areas of the country that are developing quickly. While conservationists have been struggling to establish legal and bureaucratic ways of preserving the best of what farmland is left, traditional Amish farmers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, seem to have found an answer in their faith. For 10 years, a sociologist from Elizabethtown College, Conrad Kanagy, has been tracking farm sales in the county. He recently spoke about his findings.

KANAGY: What I found was, that the Amish were gaining a phenomenal number of farms, and that's a net gain. They gained 137 farms from 1984 to 1995. Everyone else is losing farms. Mainstream Mennonites are losing farms, the Church of the Brethren, another Anabaptist, kind of mainstream group, are losing farms. So, the Amish are really the only Anabaptist group that's gaining farmland.

CURWOOD: The most conservative--

KANAGY: The most conservative. The horse and buggy Amish.

CURWOOD: Right. And the others that are gaining, in Lancaster County are what, developers?

KANAGY: The others that are gaining are developers. And they've been gaining, on average, 3 or 4 farms a year.

CURWOOD: Just how much land has the old-order Amish in Lancaster County amassed in this past decade?

KANAGY: Over the past decade, they've gained about 11,500 acres.
And again that's--

CURWOOD: That's a lot of land!

KANAGY: That's a net gain. It is a lot of land. It's about 950 acres annually.

CURWOOD: Or, on the scale of several square miles.

KANAGY: That's right.

CURWOOD: Tell us, what's the secret of the Amish success?

KANAGY: I think the secret to their success is a religious and cultural identity, ethnic identity, that attaches them to the land, that keeps them attached to the land, that has kept them attached for several centuries. And I think that secret of success would be hard to replicate anywhere else, because for those of us in the modern world, our religion, our community, our family, all of these social institutions, have in some ways become disconnected. We go to church or synagogue on Sunday morning, but that's not particularly related to our occupation. We go to our occupation, but that's not necessarily related to our family.

CURWOOD: Tell me about the cultural attachment to the land. I mean, what's it all about?

KANAGY: I think that, for them, the land has become a place where they are able to develop a self-sufficient life-style, a place where family can be raised with marginal interference from the larger society. I talk about the Amish as forming what sociologists call a 'sacred canopy.' And farming is really a part of that; it's where they find protection, it's where they find comfort, it's where they find their sense of identity and community. It's a way of life for them that, I think, continues to be important, in large part because they have not, they don't go on for higher education.

CURWOOD: Hm. So Amish only go to 8th grade.

KANAGY: They only go to 8th grade. They take one year of 9th grade that's a kind of vocational training, but that occurs on the farms and in the homes.

CURWOOD: So education, maybe, pushes people off the land?

KANAGY: I would argue that it does. Among the Mennonites and Brethren, for example, these folks were traditionally farmers as well, and yet, my studies showed that, for every 10 Mennonite farms that sold in Lancaster county, only 2 or 3 end up staying Menonite. The rest go to, some to the Amish and some to non- Anabaptist. Among the Amish, for the last 3 years, only 1 farm has been sold outside of the community. And I think that part of it has to do with higher education. As Mennonite youth left the farm, and as college became acceptable, in fact Mennonite colleges developed, you see very few youth with higher education that ever come back to the farm. And when they do come back, farming represents an economic opportunity. It's no longer, to them, nearly as much a way of life.

CURWOOD: The Amish in Lancaster farm some pretty expensive farmland. It's worth, what, $4, $5, $6,000 an acre?

KANAGY: Right now, farms are selling for about $6,500 an acre. That's if it's sold to a non-family individual.

CURWOOD: So 100 acre farm is 2/3 of a million dollars. It's not cheap.

KANAGY: It isn't cheap, and you'll find a lot of these farms that the Amish are buying are going in between $5 and $750,000.

CURWOOD: How is it that the Amish are able to be buying this land at pretty fancy prices?

KANAGY: The growth in small businesses that has been taking place in Lancaster County over the past 15 years or so, which a former colleague of mine, Donald Craybill tracked, that it's really these small business owners who are able to purchase this farmland. And it's a kind of ironic twist of capitalism, because of the Amish restrictions on size, on the size that a business can become, I think many of these business owners are taking their profits and putting them into the land, which is not something you would find Mennonites, Brethren, or any other non-Anabaptist groups doing.

CURWOOD: What kind of businesses, what kind of businesses do they find consonant with their principles?

KANAGY: Lancaster County has become the hub and the center for the manufacture of Amish farm implements. So a lot of the machine-manufacturing is going on, that is directed towards the Amish community. The other kinds of things they're doing, some of them are doing quilting, of course, and crafts. Seven percent of the entrepreneurs are grossing more than $1,000,000 a year, so, we talk about small businesses, but in many ways, these are some very sizable businesses. Some of them are mobile construction crews that go out of state, into Philadelphia; Baltimore; Washington, DC; to build homes; to put cabinets in; a lot of it is fine cabinetry that they're building, all of those kinds of things.

CURWOOD: What challenges do the Amish still face, do you think?

KANAGY: The creation of a kind of capitalist elite that didn't exist before. You've got these capitalists, these business owners, who are making quite a bit of money, some putting it back into the land, but in many ways represent the development of a new class in Lancaster County among the Amish, that you didn't have before. There's also the development of the day-laborers, many of whom are Amish. Most of the laborers in these shops are Amish, and so you have a day labor class that's developing, and then, of course, the third group would be the traditional farmers. I think that's going to represent a challenge for the Amish community, to make sure that inequality doesn't increase among these three classes, because typically, everything was pretty equal.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Conrad Kanagy is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Thank you, sir.

KANAGY: Thanks, Steve.

Back to top

[Banjo picking and harmonica playing]

Prison Ponies

CURWOOD: Wild horses were once part of the romance of the old American Wild West, but today the mustangs, as the wild ponies are called, are often considered to be nuisances. Each year, the federal Bureau of Land Management rounds up mustangs from the 10 western states in efforts to keep their population down. Many of these horses are eventually sold to the public. But few people want a wild bronco in their back yards, so first the horses must be trained, or as they say in the West, "broken." And increasingly, the BLM is turning to inmates in minimum security prisons to do the job. Andrea Dukakis has our report.

DUKAKIS: When you enter the East Canyon Correctional Complex, near Pueblo, Colorado, it's hard to imagine that it's also home to several hundred wild mustangs. You first pass the guard gate, then several austere-looking prison buildings, all surrounded by barbed wire fences. But slowly, the barbed wire begins to fall away, opening up onto a large field, and you realize there's plenty of room for the horses. It may seem odd to outsiders, a horse training facility on prison grounds, but inside, it makes perfect sense. The inmates say they feel a certain kinship with the horses. Inmate Colby Blades:

BLADES: There's a comparison there, kind of a give and take. I mean, you've got to change, and teach yourself different ways to do things, just like you do the horses. So, I guess that's the biggest way that it's kind of affected me, made me realize that I was pretty wild.

DUKAKIS: The prisoners come from all over the country, but the mustangs here are born wild, mostly in Nevada and Colorado. In the early 1970's the Bureau of Land Management began rounding up hundreds of mustangs which were overpopulating the western states. At first, the Agency put them all up for adoption without any training. But there were few buyers, and thousands of horses remained in holding pens. Then in 1986, the Colorado Department of Correction and the BLM joined forces and began the Wild Horse/Inmate Program. The idea was that people would be more interested in adopting horses that were already trained, and that prisoners would benefit from the experience of training them. Now, anyone in the minimum-restricted prison is eligible to work with the mustangs; there's competition for the 24 spaces, but not everyone wants the job. Tony Bainbridge is a horse trainer who supervises the inmates in the program.

BAINBRIDGE: Well, we've got a saying around here, it's not if you get hurt, it's when.

[Laughs]

BAINBRIDGE: So, you're going to get banged up, you're going to get the blisters, you're going to get the kicks, stepped on, bit, bucked off--

[Horse bucking against stall, man exclaiming]

DUKAKIS: The mustangs arrive at the prison frightened and unapproachable. The one in the ring today can't be saddled or ridden. The inmates' first job is helping the horses get used to being near people.

[Shouts of 'Walk, walk!']

DUKAKIS: Four men lead a horse by a rope. One holds a blanket and lightly swings it against the horse's body. The men struggle to keep control of the horse. At first, the sandy-colored mustang jumps and bays. After several days of repeated efforts,
the horse will become more accepting.

BAINBRIDGE: You know, I used to say that bronc riders are born and not made, and it really comes to show up out here.

DUKAKIS: Tony Bainbridge says Colby Blades is one of the star inmates in the program. Blades was driving drunk nearly 10 years ago when he killed a young woman. Working with the horses, he says, has given him a reason to get up every morning.

BLADES: As far as being locked up, and coming down here and working, it's just a--you get a sense of responsibility, which is real important. It's easy to just sit back in there and not do anything--and a big sense of accomplishment. Taking the wild horses and training them and getting them where people can trust that they won't hurt anybody.

DUKAKIS: Blades says he plans to continue training horses when he leaves prison.

MAN 1: Hey Richard, how'd he look?

MAN 2: He looks ok. You can bring him out and load him up.

MAN 1: Ok! He looks good, dunn't he?

MAN 2: Yeah.

DUKAKIS: Every few weeks, buyers come to pick up newly trained horses. Months earlier, they chose their horse from an unruly lot of new arrivals.

[Laughter, comments]

DUKAKIS: People pay about $740 dollars for a mustang, and that money pays for the program. Those who buy the mustangs swear by them.

ANDERSON: I've become a mustang snob.

DUKAKIS: Tina Anderson began adopting wild mustangs in 1993, and has made a hobby out of raising them. She says not only are they the most loyal horses, they're also the hardiest.

ANDERSON: Most of the nasty, inclement things that happen with the domesticated horse, and by that I mean the leg problems, heart problems, anything else that may occur, is bred out of them. I mean, if they've got that kind of a problem, they don't survive out in the wild.

DUKAKIS: Anderson says at first she was nervous about taking her family to the prison for the adoptions.

[Shouts about horses]

DUKAKIS: But slowly, she got to know the inmates. She says one older inmate, who broke several of her horses, taught her much of what she knows about wild mustangs.

ANDERSON: He was in trouble from the day he was born. But he found something in horses that, I guess, spoke to him. And he spoke to the horses! I mean, one of the horses that I had, is so calm, that I put babies on him. He'd fall asleep with them.

DUKAKIS: Since it first began in 1986, Colorado's Wild Horse/Inmate Program has trained more than 3500 mustangs, and it seems to have reined in some of the men, as well. Prison records show the recidivism rate for inmates in the program is 25%, compared to 43% for the general prison population. Several inmate trainers have gone on to jobs working with the horses. One former inmate assists the prison's veterinarian with horse shoeing and other work; another ex-convict works as a trouble- shooter, visiting adopters who need help with their horses. The idea, wild men training wild horses, has been catching on. Along with Colorado, 3 other states have similar programs: California, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. For Living on Earth, I'm Andrea Dukakis.

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(The Magnificent Seven western music up and under)

CURWOOD: Whoa, steady there, fella! And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our program is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. Our production team includes Dan Grossman, Liz Lempert, Peter Shaw, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Julia Madeson, Peter Christianson, Jesse Wegman, and Susan Shepherd. Peter Thompson heads our Western bureau. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. Our engineers are Bob Connolly at WBUR, and Jeff Martini at Harvard. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Triumphant Western music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on Western issues; the W. K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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