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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

June 13, 1997

Air Date: June 13, 1997

SEGMENTS

RIO + 5: A PRIMER / John Rudolph

In June of 1992, leaders from most of the world's nations gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the largest environmental conference in history. By many measures the United Nations Earth Summit was a success, producing landmark treaties to reduce global warming, and to help preserve the diversity of plant and animal species. The Earth Summit was also seen as a powerful expression of a new environmental consciousness sweeping the globe. Later this month in New York, the UN will host another high profile gathering to assess progress since the 1992 summit. As John Rudolph reports, the euphoria that followed Rio has been overtaken by a sense of disappointment. (07:30)

CLEAR THE AIR / Julia King

Commentator Julia King has heard all the arguments pro and con on cutting ozone pollution, and says it's time to clear the air. Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana and comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium. (03:08)

LEAD SERIES; THE SILENT EPIDEMIC: - PART THREE IN THE WORKPLACE / Deirdre Kennedy

Most adults' exposure to lead isn't enough to endanger their health. But, thousands of people work in close contact with dangerous lead fumes and dust; sometimes without even knowing it. State and federal rules require employers to protect their workers from toxic materials, still, some industries continue to operate with little or no safety precautions against lead poisoning. In part three of our series, Deirdre Kennedy has the story of one man who fell victim to the Silent Epidemic. (09:02)

Letters

Audience response and turns of phrase. (01:40)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about... forest reserves. (01:15)

Live Animals / Fritz Faerber

The Spanish named the city of San Francisco after St. Francis of Assisi, the patron Saint of animals. But, today animal rights activists say San Francisco is the site of terrible cruelty to animals where Asian markets routinely torture, starve and abuse the frogs, turtles, fish and birds they sell for food. Now protesters are leading an effort to ban the sale of live animals in food markets. They are opposed by Chinatown merchants who say they are already feeling targeted by anti-immigrant state and federal legislation, and vow not to give up age old customs governing something as fundamental as the way they eat. Fritz Faerber has our story. (05:50)

GENTLER FARMING IN WINE COUNTRY / Peter Thomson

The heart of California's wine country is actually 75 miles southeast of the well known Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Down in the vast Central Valley they grow grapes, and lots of them. In fact the area around the town of Lodi (LOW-dye) produces the largest share of premium varieties in the entire state. It is here in these vineyards that growers are mounting one of the largest efforts in the nation to move beyond the age of intensive chemicals into an era of more natural farming combining old-time wisdom and the latest technology. Living on Earth's Peter Thomson and host Steve Curwood recently visited the valley and made this report. (18:40)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Miranda Daniloff
REPORTERS: James Jones, Jeff Rice, John Rudolph, Dierdre Kennedy,
Fritz Faerber, Steve Curwood
COMMENTATOR: Julia King

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
As World leaders prepare to gather at the UN in New York later this month for Earth Summit II, some say little ecological destruction has been halted since the first meeting in Brazil 5 years ago.

STRONG: The cancer is spreading, but hopefully it's not too late. But every day, every hour, and certainly every year in which we fail to move is going to make it much more difficult and reduce the chances that we will make that transition to a sustainable mode of life.

CURWOOD: Also, how weak enforcement of the lead poisoning prevention laws in the workplace is raising serious health concerns for adults and children.

POSADA: Most stops, if no one's knocking on their door bugging them, they'll play ignorant, and literally at the lives of their employees, so it's really sad.

CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and your letters this week on Living on Earth, but first this news.

Environmental News

DANILOFF: From Living on Earth, I'm Miranda Daniloff.
Environmental officials from Canada, Mexico, and the US are developing a plan to address pollution that passes across their borders. The officials just met in Pittsburgh for a meeting of the North American Free Trade Agreements Commission on Environmental Cooperation. James Jones reports.

JONES: The agreement being considered by officials from the 3 countries would require nations to notify their NAFTA neighbors when pollutants likely to move across borders in the air or water pose an environmental threat. While Commission officials say differences among the parties will prevent a final agreement in Pittsburgh, they maintain that an accord is almost certain to take place over the next few months. NAFTA Environment Commission members say such an agreement will encourage these nations to phase out the use of dangerous substances that could reach their neighbors. In a recent report to the Commission, scientists said many substances, including pesticides banned in the US but legal elsewhere, evaporate into the atmosphere, travel thousands of miles, cross borders, and then fall back to Earth. Dr. James Young of Canada is one of the report's authors. He says a framework for dealing with the problem is a good start, but adds scientists who wrote the report would go further.

YOUNG: There is a lot of information there that suggests that action needs to be taken now without delay. And the type of action that we're recommending is really focused on industry sectors. For example, the power generation sector and the automotive sector.

JONES: Representatives of the 3 countries are hopeful an agreement can be reached soon, as the US Congress is now examining how effective the environmental provisions of NAFTA have been. For Living on Earth, this is James Jones in Pittsburgh.

DANILOFF: A new study by government scientists has found that more babies die of respiratory failure and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in areas with high levels of particulate air pollution. Babies that live in the most polluted cities are 26% more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and 40% more likely to die from respiratory diseases, than babies living in the cleanest cities. This study of 4 million infants, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first to examine the relationship between infant mortality and air pollution in the United States.

The US Army has confirmed that leaks from the country's aging stockpile of chemical weapons are at their heaviest during the hottest months. Jeff Rice reports.

RICE: When heat bears down on rocket storage units during a sweltering summer day, some of the deadly nerve agents inside turn to vapor. The chemicals sometimes leak out of tiny cracks in the old, decaying rockets. The Army says that the tiny releases of nerve agents pose no danger to the public, but acknowledges that leakage can increase the chance of a catastrophic explosion. Many of the rockets have been in storage for close to 30 years at 8 sites across the country. More than 2,500 of them have already been shown to leak, and the Army is gradually destroying this unstable stockpile by incineration. It is required by treaty to destroy all of its chemical weapons by the year 2004. According to military spokesmen, the Army has not formally quantified the relationship between warmer weather and leakage, but an Oregon newspaper did its own study. Of the 113 recorded leaks since 1984 at a northeast Oregon depot, only 20 occurred in cold weather months. That equals the total for July alone. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Rice in Portland, Oregon.

DANILOFF: A group of African countries is pushing to relax the 8-year-old worldwide ban on ivory trade. Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe told delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Zimbabwe that they have more elephants than they can handle, about 150,000 altogether, and they should be allowed to hunt the elephants for their valuable ivory tusks. Wildlife conservation groups oppose lifting the moratorium for fear that poaching will endanger elephants worldwide. A proposal from Norway and Japan to legalize the hunting of some protected whales also met with opposition.

Waste from corn and ethanol processing could be an economical way to clean up polluted wastewater. A team of US Department of Agriculture scientists found that the byproduct of the process that makes cornstarch, a chemical called phytic acid, absorbs lead, zinc, and other toxins. It also draws pesticides out of water. The researchers say the product could be used in water treatment systems. They're now looking for industry collaborators to set up a pilot study of the technology.

The nation's largest auto maker wants people to drive, but it's encouraging its own employees to take the bus. Under a new initiative, 96 General Motors employees are riding a shuttle bus to work each day. GM began the service to ease the commutes of workers transferred to the company's Detroit offices. A spokesman said it was important that employees be able to focus on their jobs and not be distracted by long commutes. With a yearly savings of $200 in parking costs for each bus rider, GM expects to break even on the program.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Miranda Daniloff.

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RIO + 5: A PRIMER

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Five Junes ago in 1992, leaders from most of the world's nations gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the largest environmental conclave in history. By many measures the United Nations Earth Summit was a success. It produced 2 treaties to protect the planet's ecosystems. Rio was also seen as a powerful expression of a new environmental consciousness sweeping the globe. Later this month in New York, the UN will host another major gathering to assess progress since the 1992 summit. And as John Rudolph reports, the euphoria that followed the Rio meeting has been overtaken by a sense of disappointment.

(Man: "Thank you all very much indeed." Someone in audience: "Thank you!"
Applause)

RUDOLPH: When the United Nations Earth Summit ended 5 years ago you could almost hear a huge collective sigh of relief. Two weeks of hard bargaining had produced groundbreaking treaties on reducing global warming, and preserving the diversity of plant and animal species. There was also broad agreement on a plan to encourage sustainable development around the world. Even so, lots of questions remained. As the 110 heads of state who attended the conference left for home, thousands of diplomats, political activists, and journalists were left to ponder the future of the global environment. The Secretary General of the Earth Summit, Maurice Strong of Canada, summed up many people's feelings: a combination of optimism and fear.

STRONG: Every bit of evidence I've seen persuades me -- I'm not a doomsdayer by nature -- just persuades me that we are on a course that is leading to tragedy. We've got the basis for change now. But we've got to push like hell to make sure it takes place.

RUDOLPH: Fast forward now to 1997. Today there's a feeling among many who attended the Earth Summit that efforts to solve the world's major environmental problems have stalled.

RUNNELS: If you trace the history of the environmental movement back to the 19th century, it goes in peaks and valleys, and we're clearly in a valley.

RUDOLPH: David Runnels was the editor of the Earth Summit Times, a newspaper that chronicled the events in Rio. He's now an environmental consultant based in Ottawa.

RUNNELS: There's been really no leadership in this issue since Rio in 1992. And the deal that was done in Rio, in very rough terms the deal being that we in the north would transfer more technology and more resources to the south to help them cope with these challenges, hasn't happened. And in fact, instead of having more technology and more financial resources, they got less.

RUDOLPH: According to a recently released UN document, since the Earth Summit the state of the global environment has continued to deteriorate, with rising levels of toxic pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and solid waste. The document goes on to say that renewable resources, particularly fresh water, forests, topsoil, and marine fish stocks, continue to be used at rates that are clearly unsustainable. Even Maurice Strong sounds less optimistic than he did 5 years ago.

STRONG: There's been something of an environmental recession in the United States, with the last Congress in particular, and in the developing countries we've seen a tremendous resurgence of economic growth. The developing countries, particularly the larger developing countries of Asia and South America, are now leading the world in a resurgence of global growth. But they're by and large following the same kind of pathway that we set in our example. And that does not bode well for the environment.

RUDOLPH: But other UN officials are less pessimistic. They say the 1992 Earth Summit kicked off a process that will eventually show results. Joke Waller Hunter of the Netherlands directs the UN's Division for Sustainable Development.

WALLER HUNTER: It takes time, definitely, to go from the stage of agreements, as were reached in Rio in 1992, and they were substantive, to the actual implementation. First you have to set up all the institutional arrangements for that, and then before results show at the ground it may take a while. And that's one of the reasons why we still see the trends, many of the trends, going in the wrong direction, while governments are taking action to curb them.

RUDOLPH: Waller Hunter points out that 150 nations have set up national
councils for sustainable development. These councils are supposed to make sure that environmental factors are taken into account when countries embark on projects like building new power plants or highways. Some of the councils have been effective. But many, including the one established by the US government, have seen most of their recommendations go unheeded. This is likely to be a major stumbling block when the bargaining begins in New York later this month. Industrial powers, including the US, Germany, and Japan, want developing nations like China, India, and Brazil, to adopt more stringent environmental policies, especially those aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. But developing nations resist this idea. They argue that the US and others need to take the first step by reducing their own emissions, and they're also seeking an increase in financial assistance from the industrialized world for sustainable development projects. Dr. Rama Krishna is a specialist in international law, with close ties to developing nations who will be represented at the upcoming UN meeting.

KRISHNA: If the mood is not changed, and if countries such as the United States and Japan and the United Kingdom and Germany and France don't come forward and say that this cannot continue, and if it does it is going to affect our interests vitally and advance a set of measures, I think there is every reason to be very unhappy and, more importantly, concerned.

RUDOLPH: No one is confident that the logjam over finances or global warming will be broken in New York. But there is hope for change around the margins. For example, the US now favors specific timetables and targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a position it rejected at the 1992 Earth Summit. Meanwhile, some countries with large tropical forests have dropped their opposition to an international agreement on forestry practices. There's also hope for progress on agreements to improve water quality and curtail over-fishing. But the question still remains: can the nations of the world act together to protect the Earth's environment? UN Undersecretary General Maurice Strong isn't sure.

STRONG: The cancer is spreading, but hopefully it's not too late. But every day, every hour, and certainly every year in which we fail to move is going to make it much more difficult and reduce the chances that we will make that transition to a sustainable mode of life.

RUDOLPH: For Living on Earth, this is John Rudolph.

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CLEAR THE AIR

CURWOOD: Last fall the Environmental Protection Agency made a dramatic proposal to cut ground level ozone, the major cause of smog, and to reduce airborne dust or particulate matter. A number of scientific studies show that these pollutants cause thousands of deaths each year. But implementing the EPA's proposed rules could cost a lot of money, and a powerful coalition of industries that would be hard-hit by tighter standards is waging an intense lobbying effort to stop the EPA. The campaign may be working. Members of both the US House and Senate have grilled Agency officials about their proposals. Dozens of Democrats have joined Republicans in letters challenging the EPA's plans. Even some Clinton Administration officials have questioned the rulemaking. Commentator Julia King has heard all the arguments pro and con, and says it's time to clear the air.

KING: I read recently that the new Clean Air Act might include draconian measures. A picture developed in my head of a squad of environment police hauling off my family's second car. I envisioned a dour, matronly enforcer prying from my fingers a bottle of styling spritz. But then I read further: no mention of commando raids. No talk of impounding the second, third, even fourth vehicles that some American families own. There wasn't one word about corporal punishment for driving half a block to a video store, even on fine spring days. At issue instead is carpooling and some restrictions on barbecuing, pleasure boating, or lawnmowing. A groan emanates from the masses: we're Americans. We cherish our polluting pleasures. Like the Alamo, we remember George Bush standing at the helm of his gas-guzzling watercraft. This, even as the country grappled with an uncertain oil future in the wake of the Gulf War. Ah, defiance. It's sweeter than baklava.

But as every 5-year-old knows, too much baklava will rot your teeth, and too much lawn mowing will fill your skies with smog, or more precisely, particulates and ozone. The EPA is considering tougher restrictions on the 2 pollutants because they've been linked to increased respiratory ailments, asthma attacks, allergies, and even premature death. But even industry leaders tell asthmatics to suck it up.

Everybody has a cross to bear, they seem to be saying. For some its' respiratory ailments; for others it's bad hair. Life doesn't come with a comfort guarantee. And industry might have a point, if the proposed regulations were enacted solely as a fight against allergies. But by squabbling about asthma and the diameter of particulate matter, we're missing the bigger picture. Americans have to change the way they live. We can do it now, while we have some space for trial and error, or we can do it when we've burned our last barrel of oil. But at the risk of sounding like Henny Penny, that proverbial sky will fall. According to the Department of Energy, the US will import 60% of its oil by the year 2010. But some experts think cheap oil will disappear before the year 2000. Carpooling won't seem nearly as draconian when it costs 100 bucks to fill a gas tank.

So the Clean Air Act is not about itchy eyes. It's about learning to walk to the video store on fine spring days. It's about pulling a paddle through the water instead of revving a motorboat engine. And it's about doing it now, before the environment police come knocking at our doors.

CURWOOD: Commentator Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

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CURWOOD: The often ignored dangers of lead in the workplace. That story is coming up on Living on Earth.

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LEAD SERIES; THE SILENT EPIDEMIC: - PART THREE IN THE WORKPLACE

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Even though lead is now illegal in house paint and gasoline, folks in the US still encounter the metal many places where they live, work, and play. Most adults don't get exposed to enough lead to have visible symptoms of lead poisoning, but even fairly small exposures can put their present and future children at risk. Thousands of people work in close contact with dangerous lead fumes and dust, sometimes without even knowing it. State and Federal rules are supposed to protect workers from toxic materials, but some employers continue to provide their workers little or no protections against lead poisoning. In Part 3 of our series, Deirdre Kennedy takes us where the silent epidemic of lead poisoning can be found in the workplace.

(Cooking utensils being brushed against each other)

KENNEDY: Luis Savalas spends his days cooking and doing chores at his home in San Jose, California. He quit his job as an automobile radiator repairman last year when he became too sick to work. Luis is a Nicaranguan immigrant who's lived in California for 11 years.

(Savalas converses with family)

KENNEDY: He now relies on his daughter Erica for everything, including driving him to the doctor's and translating.

L. ZAVALA: [Speaks in Spanish]
E. ZAVALA: He started feeling dizzy, and then his neck hurted, and now he forgets a lot of things. He has noticed, too, that you know, that he doesn't sleep. He only sleeps, like, 3 hours.

KENNEDY: At the age of 53, Luis may be permanently disabled from the effects of lead poisoning. Luis also has pains in his back and arms that make it hard for him to move. His symptoms are typical of long-term lead poisoning. At low levels, lead poisoning in adults can cause anemia, gastrointestinal problems, and loss of sexual function. At more advanced stages it can cause kidney failure, coma, and even death. But like many workers who suffer the gradual effects of lead poisoning, Luis didn't know it was lead until a Santa Clara County Health Worker came to his radiator shop and told him he should get a blood lead test. It turned out his blood lead levels were dangerously high, 58 micrograms per deciliter, just below the level of mandatory hospitalization. For 9 years Luis was the sole employee of a small auto shop. Every day he used a blowtorch to melt lead solder to patch holes in radiators. He says his workplace had no windows, no ventilation, and no protective equipment except for gloves.

L. ZAVALA: [Speaks in Spanish]
E. ZAVALA: He doesn't know, he was never told nothing before. He even told his employer, like a couple times, to buy a fan or something to suck up the air, because the air was so clogged up, like, you know, cloudy. But his employer, you know, ignored that.

KENNEDY: Under Federal law, workers who are diagnosed with lead poisoning must be moved to another job or receive full-paid leave until their lead levels go down. But Luis didn't know he was protected under the law, so he just quit. He's now living on disability, and even if his lead levels come down, he may never fully recover.

(Hissing sounds)

KENNEDY: At RadiatorLand in Santa Clara, workers flush out car radiators and vats of chemicals. This shop couldn't be more different than the one where Luis worked.

POSADA: And then over here is a carburetor ventilation system.

KENNEDY: The company's owner, Carlos Posada, says his shop meets all state and Federal standards and then some. He says he spent thousands of dollars making sure his employees have adequate ventilation, protective gear, and proper changing rooms. His workers get their blood lead levels tested regularly, and he monitors the air quality inside his shop. But, Posada says, many radiator shops don't bother coming up to code, betting that they'll never get caught.

POSADA: Most shops, if no one's knocking on their door bugging them, they'll play ignorant, and literally at the lives of their employees, so it's really sad.

KENNEDY: Posada says he has to charge his customers a few more dollars than other shops, but he says it's worth the extra cost.

POSADA: Economic times are really tight right now, and everybody wants to stretch that dollar. But you've got to ask yourself at what expense, and if your employees are in the community, it really doesn't make any sense. These people are in contact with you and also your children, so you want everybody to just live and work in a safe working environment.

(More hissing sounds)

KENNEDY: Adults who work around lead risk more than just their own health. Barbara Materna, an industrial hygienist with the State of California, says they can also take lead home to their children on their clothes, shoes, and hair. They even risk the health of their unborn children.

MATERNA: Lead has reproductive effects on both women and men, so it can affect sperm quality. If the mother is exposed, there are effects on the menstrual cycle and fertility and that sort of thing. Also, if the woman is exposed, her blood lead level is the same as any fetus that she's carrying.

KENNEDY: Federal health officials estimate that about 30% of lead-poisoned workers also have children who are lead poisoned. In 1996, 25 states reported nearly 27,000 adults with dangerous lead levels. Researchers believe most of them were exposed at work. Health experts say the real number of lead poisoned adults is probably much higher. As with Luis's case, the symptoms of lead poisoning can often look like other conditions, and doctors rarely think to ask if patients work around lead. Some other industries that involve lead exposure are battery manufacturing, gun firing ranges, and foundries.

(A paint brush sweeps)

KENNEDY: But the industry affecting the highest number of people by far is painting. Up until the 1950s, paint contained as much as 50% lead by weight. Painters used to actually grind the lead into the paint by hand, and that lead is still on millions of buildings across the United States. Frances Doherty owns a painting company in San Francisco.

DOHERTY: It gave good adherence, good color. It's great. Your paint jobs lasted a whole lot longer than they do now. I had a client tell me, "Oh gosh, I got my house painted 20 years ago and it lasted for, you know, 15, 20 years."

KENNEDY: Even once it's painted over, that lead hazard doesn't go away. Painters can disturb old lead paint when they sand, scrape, wash, or burn off layers of paint. Poor safety practices by painters can hurt not only the workers but also the building's occupants and even neighbors.

(Scraping sounds)

KENNEDY: On San Francisco's Nob Hill, Doherty's painters are prepping a Victorian building. They were called in after state inspectors pulled another team off the job and fined the homeowner thousands of dollars as part of a crackdown on illegal contractors. Frances Doherty says in a city like San Francisco, where 95% of the houses have lead paint, reputable contractors just can't afford to take chances.

DOHERTY: Any job we do, we presume it to be lead. Then, if it doesn't, then fine, you've just got a clean job.

KENNEDY: Frances Doherty switched to safe painting practices about 6 years ago, after her newborn son turned out to have elevated blood lead levels. She realized she was exposed to the lead paint while she was pregnant. Frances Doherty's painters no longer use high-power washers or torches to get old lead paint off buildings: two practices that can disperse lead paint into the air and soil. Now they use a special vacuum cleaner to suck up the lead dust.

(A vacuum cleaner sucks)

KENNEDY: Her workers wear respirators. She even makes them use hand wipes before they eat. Under a new Federal law, states must provide training and certification for such painting contractors. But there's still a big gap between the laws and the reality, since just about anyone with a paint brush can call herself a painter, even where state laws require a license.

L. ZAVALA: [Speaks in Spanish]
KENNEDY: Researchers at the Labor Department say there are fewer adults around like Luis Zavala. They'd like to think that's because more workers are being educated about lead poisoning. But they say it could just be that fewer people are being tested. Until more businesses comply with Federal laws and start to get their workers tested, unprotected workers like Luis will continue to suffer the debilitating effects of lead poisoning.

(Zavala and cooking implements)

KENNEDY: For Living on Earth, I'm Deirdre Kennedy in San Francisco.

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(Cooking sounds continue)

CURWOOD: Next week our series concludes with a look at how you can get your youngster screened for lead and hunt down the hidden lead hazards inside your home.

(Letters music up and under)

Letters

CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners. Our use of the phrase "ecoterrorism gone wrong" to describe a recent mink release in Oregon prompted a note from Neil Murray, a listener to Vermont Public Radio. He vehemently objected to the use of the prefix "eco." "The animals were probably released by vandals or animal rights activists," he writes. "To smear environmentalists wholesale with a term designed to create a violent backlash against conscientious individuals is a tactic anti-environmentalists have used with some success. For Living on Earth to repeat this smear is inexcusably poor journalism."

On the other hand, Bob English, a listener to KALW in San Francisco, objected to the terrorism part. He writes, "Who exactly is terrorized by the release of minks? I see no good reason to connect environmentally motivated acts of sabotage to bombings and shootings. It demonizes those involved."

The final analysis goes to Professor Emil Posovac of Loyola University, who listens to us on Chicago's WBEZ. He says, "The phrase 'eco-terrorism gone wrong' begs the question: what kind of terrorism is justified? Terrorism itself is wrong," he writes. "It cannot go wrong unless one believes that terrorism is okay."

We always appreciate your comments, questions, and story ideas. Give our listener line a call. The number is 800-218-9988. If you'd rather write, send e-mail to LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is Living on Earth, 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And check out the Living on Earth web site at www.loe.org. Transcripts and tapes are $12.

It'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 Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes reporting; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental ethics.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Cultural differences or cruelty? The battle over the sale of live animals for food in San Francisco. That story is next on Living on Earth.

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SECOND HALF HOUR

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

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Back in 1891 President Benjamin Harrison set aside about a million acres of land as the nation's first forest reserve. The move was prompted by concerns over diminishing natural resources. But no one could decide how to manage all that space, so it was left untouched. By 1897, the reserve had grown to nearly 40 million acres, and furious farmers and miners wanted the land reopened to resource extraction. They pushed through Congress what was called The Organic Act, which for the first time allowed logging in US forests. A New York Times editorial called for a Presidential veto, and naturalist John Muir wrote of "Goths of the wilderness." But the Act survived, and by the mid-1960s logging reached a peak of about 12 billion board feet harvested per year. That's enough wood to build one million single family homes. Environmental regulations enacted during the 1980s reduced timber harvests on public lands down to 3 billion board feet a year. But some say that the Organic Act should be repealed and that no logging should be permitted on public lands. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Live Animals

CURWOOD: The Spanish may have named the city of San Francisco after St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. But today, animal rights activists say San Francisco is the site of terrible cruelty to animals. Asian markets, they say, routinely torture, starve, and abuse the frogs, turtles, fishes, and birds they sell for food. So the protesters are leading an effort to ban these sales. They are opposed by Chinatown merchants who say they are already feeling targeted by anti-immigrant state and Federal legislation, and vow not to give up age-old customs governing something as fundamental as the way they eat. Fritz Faerber has our story.

(Packaging sounds; voices; squawking)

FAERBER: At Ming Kee Gamebirds an employee pulls a squawking squab out of a cage, sticks it in a paper bag with air holes, staples it shut, and hands it to a customer. The small, cramped store in the middle of San Francisco's bustling Chinatown sells several hundred birds a day to shoppers like Mike Higashi, who has bought live birds for food since his childhood in Japan. A couple times a week he picks up a bird, takes it home, shoots it, and eats it.

HIGASHI: I mean I think of this one as, like, a vegetable. Like a lettuce, a tomato. You took the knife or a scissor out and you cut them up, and then you bring the table. I mean, I consider it food.

FAERBER: This is nothing like your typical supermarket. The faint sounds and pungent sounds of the animals fill the air. On one side of a glass wall, chickens, partridges, squabs, and other birds fill a row of cages stacked several feet high. On the other side, shoppers line up to pick out dinner. Mitalla Kung, daughter of the shop's owner, says it's customary for her mostly Chinese clientele to buy the freshest meat. She's a bit puzzled by the fact that stores like this could bother some of her San Francisco neighbors.

KUNG: I think that they object so strongly is because they've never seen live animals or actually live poultry sold. So for them to come in here and see it for the first time, it's new to them, and they don't take the time to try and understand it. So they just think it's wrong.

FAERBER: But innocence can be in the eyes of the beholder. Selling live animals for food has long seemed a barbaric practice to many here. And last fall, San Francisco's Animal Control Commission responded to these concerns by recommending that the city's Board of Supervisors ban all sales of live poultry, mammals, and amphibians. Animal rights activists like Eric Mills of the local organization Action for Animals say live animal sales can often be a nasty business.

MILLS: You see, on a routine basis, turtles with their shells being hacked off while they're fully conscious; frogs, 6 and 8 at a time, put in a bag while the butcher blindly clubs them with a meat cleaver. Then, those who are not killed are skinned alive. Turtles and frogs with no water whatsoever piled 5 and 6 deep, the ones on the bottom suffocating to death. I've seen fish cut in half and sold a fillet at a time.

FAERBER: Mr. Mills says a society has a right to decide that some activities just aren't acceptable, even if they're considered ordinary elsewhere.

MILLS: These things may be cultural in other parts of the world, but there are certain things you give up when you come to this country to gain a lot. Certain cultural practices which are traditional throughout the world, like dog fighting, cock fighting, female genital mutilation, all illegal here. This is not China. This is the United States, and these are US citizens now.

FAERBER: But in a city that prides itself on multiculturalism and tolerance, politicians are skittish about being caught between animal rights activists, and the economically powerful Asian community, that makes up nearly a fifth of the voters. The Board has taken no action on the recommendation by the Animal Welfare Commission, which is chaired by Richard Schulke.

SCHULKE: It's an issue they just don't want to deal with. It's funny because I work here in City Hall. Quite often I'll see one of the local politicians and they will practically run from me.

FAERBER: Mr. Schulke says he supports a ban because he believes that animals sold as food are often mistreated. He also cites deplorable sanitary and health conditions and worries about endangered or protected species being sold. Supporters of the market say they're more humane than factory farms. But Mr. Schulke says there's an important difference.

SCHULKE: The larger poultry and the factory farming is at least overseen pretty stringently by Federal regulators or USDA, things like that, which is not done at all in the local live animal markets.

FAERBER: But Chinese merchants say their practices are only seen as offensive because most Americans are accustomed to buying their meat butchered, skinned, and shrink-wrapped, without ever seeing the animal it came from. And they accuse the Commission of hypocrisy for not targeting fish markets and restaurants, where other ethnic groups buy live crab, lobster, and fish.

(Metal cLangeing)

FAERBER: Back at Ming Kee Gamebirds, a worker cleans the cages and makes sure the birds have food and water. Mitella Kung points out that supermarket poultry is often pumped full of steroids and other chemicals, has been frozen, or has been sitting on the shelf for days. Her customers slaughter their own birds and know the meat is fresh. She says this is part of Chinese culture, and suggests that people who oppose it are being ethno-centric.

KUNG: Who are they to say that we cannot do it because we feel that it's right? This is America. America is not only one culture. It's based on, you know, every single culture put together. That's what makes America beautiful, because we can act upon our culture. And it's for other people from other cultures to come and learn.

FAERBER: Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors are urging the Asian merchants and animal rights activists to sit down and reach some accommodation. But neither side seems interested. The animal rights activists are taking 12 Chinatown markets to court, seeking an injunction to stop selling live food. They are also considering introducing a city-wide ballot initiative banning the practice. For Living on Earth, I'm Fritz Faerber in San Francisco.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Making better tasting wine by working more closely with Mother Nature in the vineyards. That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

GENTLER FARMING IN WINE COUNTRY

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

MAN: There are many differences in the wine, and within that sort of red, white categories, there's a big range of flavors and styles.

(Children shouting)

CURWOOD: Fine wine. It speaks of elegance, gentle fields, and ancestry. And it draws tourists by the thousands to the intimate vineyards of California's Napa and Sonoma valleys just north of San Francisco. To many people, these narrow valleys of brilliant green leaves, rich brown soil, and pure blue sky, are wine country.

MAN: Spring time you get bud bursts. Eight of these shoots will get 2 potential punches going.

(Traffic sounds)

CURWOOD: But the heart of California's wine country is an hour or 2 by car southeast from Napa and Sonoma, down in the vast central valley. It's grittier territory, with more truck stops than genteel inns. But they grow good grapes here, and a lot of them. In fact, the area around the town of Lodi produces the largest share of premium varieties in the entire state. And here in these vineyards, growers are mounting one of the largest efforts in the nation to move beyond the age of intensive chemicals into an era of more natural farming, combining old time wisdom and the latest technology.

(A radio bleeps)

LANGE: Okay, hey Jose, are you out there. (Jose answers)

CURWOOD: Brad Lange needs a high-tech digital pocket radio to keep in touch with workers spread out over 4,000 acres of vineyards that his family owns and manages in Lodi. He's standing in a flat grid of vine rows that stretches out in every direction to the horizon.

WORKER: ... inside the Cabernet by the north...

CURWOOD: Brad Lange's family business, Lange Twins Farms, is a big modern operation that grosses somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million a year. But instead of relying heavily on chemicals and machines to manage the health of their vineyards, the Lange Twins are relying more and more on what's called IPM: Integrated Pest Management, using other plants, animals, and insects. They're leapfrogging backwards.

LANGE: If we're looking at how our fathers farmed and then go back one more generation, our grandfathers really farmed in a more natural way. Because they simply didn't have the chemical inputs that go into their vineyards. In many ways we're going back to our roots.

(Leaves shushing)

CURWOOD: Brad pulls back a few broad spiky leaves to reveal tiny green Cabernet Sauvignon grapes just starting to emerge. The vines march in lockstep across the gently rolling ground. This is one of the Lange Twins' premiere tracks. But instead of bare open soil between the rows, Brad is up to his shins in silver-green grass.

LANGE: This is not the traditional vineyard that would be grown here in the Lodi area. As we're walking through this, we have grasses from vine to vine.

(Footfalls)

CURWOOD: Many farmers would call these grasses weeds. But for Brad and his brother Randy, these are cover crops, which help with the work of caring for the vines.

LANGE: We actually encourage these types of grasses. This is a California native mix that we're walking through. These grasses are very non-competitive with the vine for soil nutrients and soil moisture.

CURWOOD: Why have grass in your vineyard?

LANGE: Well, it gives us many advantages really. One and foremost is the root system of the grasses that are established keep the soil open, and so we get better water penetration. The other advantages to us is that it does provide a host for the spiders and for predators that will feed on our pests that we have in vineyards, namely mites and grape leaf hoppers.

CURWOOD: I'm looking at what I would call a ladybug, being an easterner.

LANGE: Oh yeah.

CURWOOD: Is that good news for you or bad news?

LANGE: That's good news.

CURWOOD: Yeah.

LANGE: Yeah. They are predators and they will eat other eggs and insects that will feed on our leaves. In fact, there are companies that will sell ladybugs. But they're very expensive to introduce. What we're trying to do is not have to introduce them artificially. We're going to grow them on our own.

CURWOOD: The Langes have also planted French prune trees to provide a home for a tiny wasp which preys on the grape leaf hopper. But none of these changes would make any difference on the Lange's farm if they didn't do every day what Brad is doing now: walking the fields, checking the vines, watching for what pests are out there and at what levels. Experts say monitoring your fields is the key to integrated pest management, and deciding if and when to resort to chemical controls.

LANGE: I think what's different between us today and like my father, is that we're more reluctant to pull the trigger. We will stand more economic loss -- there's a snake, right there, going across.

CURWOOD: What kind of snake?

LANGE: It's just a common king snake type.

CURWOOD: It's got a big yellow stripe down it...

LANGE: Yeah. Everything comes full circle. If you have a healthier soil, you have organisms and insects and snakes and so on and so forth living in that environment. And that's what we're really trying to encourage.

(Footfalls. Fade to a motor turning over)

CURWOOD: Brad's gleaming new pickup sounds and feels more like a luxury car. He and his brother have clearly done well with the land handed down to them by their father and grandfather. Other farmers might be content to leave well enough alone, but the Lange twins grew up here. And they know that well enough really isn't well enough.

LANGE: We live in and amongst our vineyards. And most farmers do, particularly in this district. And we are also consumers. So we're very concerned about what we're doing to our environment. Not only to the air, to the land and to the water, but also what we're imparting onto the product itself. So that's been really the thrust. We consider ourselves natural farmers as opposed to organic. We like to view ourselves having all the tool box full of tools.

CURWOOD: The integrated pest management toolbox does include chemicals. Brad doesn't like to spray, but sometimes a certain bug gets out of hand or a fungus can't be controlled any other way. And when they have to go the chemical route, they use a lot less than they used to, and choose softer, more targeted compounds. In fact, reducing chemicals is so important to them that they've invented their own high-tech spraying system. It's so stingy that Brad says it's helped the vineyard cut its spray applications by more than half. He's eager to show it off.

LANGE: Okay, we're here, we'll go take a look.

(Door shuts, a rat-tat-tat sound. Hammering)

LANGE: This is Acampo Machine Works, and he's a local blacksmith basically. The new blacksmith type.

CURWOOD: Funny looking horse.

LANGE: (Laughs) Yeah, right. And we got together, my brother and Craig got together, and actually figured out how they were going to engineer this and build this sprayer.

EDWARDS: We were sulfuring this morning. (Laughs) You know how that goes!

(Sounds of machinery)

CURWOOD: Craig Edwards built the one-of-a-kind rig, which Brad calls an electrostatic sprayer. It cost the Langes $75,000.

(Motor revs up)

CURWOOD: The electrostatic sprayer is hitched up to a massive yellow French tractor, almost 10 feet high. It looks like something out of a science fiction movie. It can straddle 3 vine rows at a time. The rig has special nozzles, which give whatever's being sprayed -- insecticides, fungicides, sulfur -- a small negative charge of static electricity that's the opposite of the natural charge on vegetation. So, instead of most of the spray just wafting off into the atmosphere and onto the ground, Craig says the spray from this rig is drawn to the vines, almost like a magnet.

EDWARDS: It's kind of like when you used to rub a balloon on your head and stick it to the TV and everybody went "wow!". It's the same kind of effect, that spray is attracted to the vine.

LANGE: The advantage to this machine is that instead of spraying 60 to 100 gallons of water with material mixed in it to the acre, we are going around 20 gallons of water. These chemicals are extremely expensive --

CURWOOD: How expensive are these chemicals?

LANGE: We buy them by the ounce, and some are very expensive, $20 to $40 an ounce on down.

CURWOOD: That's the price of perfume.

LANGE: Yeah. And that's kind of how we look at it, too, is that when we're putting it into a tank we're putting material by the ounce into the tank. With this sprayer, we're reducing the amount of chemical that we typically put out there. And by practicing some of our other IPM methods, we've actually gotten fields where we're not spraying them at all.

CURWOOD: There are obvious immediate benefits to the environment, and for the health and safety of Brad Lange's workers from this. Brad is also convinced that in time it will save money as well. The world is changing, he says, and farmers have to respond.

LANGE: But to change a practice, to make a radical change, even if it is 2 generations removed, it's really not unlike going to an edge of a cliff and taking a look out and taking a jump off that thing. And hope that you're going to land okay. Because every year you get one shot a year on raising good quality wine grapes. So we take a long view, and if we have to jump off that cliff we will.

CURWOOD: But they won't be jumping alone Brad Lange and his brother are sharing what they're learning about natural farming with any other growers who want to hear it. The lessons learned about cover crops and beneficial insects, about using compost instead of chemical fertilizer. They even want others to copy their electrostatic sprayer technology. In many ways, theirs is an experimental farm. There are no subsidies, but then they don't need them.

LANGE: We're not the largest grower, but we're one of the larger growers in this district. And because of that, we have the resources available to us to be able to take some of these chances. We try to take as much of a leadership role as we can, along with a whole lot of other folks in this area, to give us a network of growers that are willing to help each other.

(Traffic sounds)

OHMART: The purpose of this meeting literally is to get comfortable with the concept of IPM.

CURWOOD: In the shade of a mulberry tree, entymologist Cliff Ohmart leads a discussion of integrated pest management over a lunch of pizza and wine. The meeting is sponsored by the Lodi Woodbridge Wine Grape Commission, the organization through which Brad Lange and other local growers share information on integrated pest management. We're in the back yard of the old white farm house of the Pierano Estate Vineyards. Beyond the house, trucks speed along Highway 99. To the other side, the thick gnarled stalks of 100-year-old zinfandel vines.

OHMART: Any questions, any comments? It doesn't have to be a question.

FARMER: Did you say earlier that you consider vertebrate control in an IPM program, too?

OHMART: Yes.

FARMER: I never thought of it until I sat here as IPM. But one morning in our vineyard, which is up in the lower foothills, I drove up there early and counted 14 deer nipping, you know, on a recently new planted vineyard. And the first, you know, your first thought is get a depredation permit. Then you've got to explain to your wife who's going to divorce you...

(laughter from the others)

FARMER: And fortunately before we could do that, a lion moved into the area and the problem was solved.

CURWOOD: More than 400 growers have come to meetings like this. Some have a lot of experience with integrated pest management. Others, like Nancy Frank, are just starting out. She's planted 5 acres of zinfandel vines and is worried that if she doesn't spray when she sees pests, things will get out of hand.

FRANK: If the original aspects that you try to alleviate a problem don't work,what's the next step to go to, and how far do you let it go? And how do you make that distinction that's not going to take a toll on your vineyard? We're small time and we don't have a lot of money to lose. And so the less we lose the better off we're going to be.

CURWOOD: Nancy Frank and the other growers at the meeting go home with thick booklets on grapevine pests and natural controls. And an invitation to call any time for advice. The Wine Grape Commission is a state-sanctioned nonprofit group funded through mandatory assessments on the region's more than 600 growers. Director Mark Chandler says within a year after it began in 1991, it started an aggressive program to move its members toward more natural farming.

CHANDLER: We knew that regulations regarding agricultural chemicals were only going to get more burdensome, so we felt that it would serve the interests of our growers to prepare them for changes in ag chem use on a transitional basis, rather than just being surprised that the EPA took some certain chemical away. We believe firmly that this is the responsible way to farm. We are concerned that at some point in the future it may be the only way to farm.

CURWOOD: Mark Chandler says there's more demand for help in converting to integrated pest management than the Commission can meet. Still, the pace of change is slower than some here would like. Entymologist Cliff Ohmart says integrated pest management faces some strong institutional barriers.

OHMART: A very large portion of the growers get their pest management advice from people who sell chemicals. And that fact alone creates problems. If you sell a certain chemical, it might be easy to recommend that chemical. It's a system that definitely is part of the problem.

CURWOOD: But there's strong pressure the other way, too.

(Clanking bottles)

CURWOOD: At the Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Winery just outside of Lodi, thousands of pale green bottles clank onto a conveyor belt. Out the other end flow case after case of chardonnay. There are acres of wine in this bottling plant stacked to the ceiling. Mondavi's a big player in the US wine industry, accounting for 10% of the total business. And Woodbridge produces most of the company's wine. Like some other California wineries, Robert Mondavi has been working with its growers here to reduce chemical inputs. Marilyn Wolf is Woodbridge's manager of grower relations.

WOLF: The Mondavis were willing to take a risk. They were willing to go out and say let's wait a little bit longer, let's watch this and see what happens. We'll work with you. If this vineyard gets into trouble we'll pick it early or we'll find some way of working around it, so that, you know, your crop is not totally at risk out there.

CURWOOD: It can cost more to farm with integrated pest management, at least at the start. And Mondavi doesn't pay more for grapes grown this way. But Marilyn Wolf says that because using fewer chemicals also means producing better grapes, it's in the interests of their growers to do it.

WOLF: One way of looking at it is that we keep every vineyard lot separate through the wine making process and taste it every year. And then we rank all the wines. So I think that's the incentive for a grower to keep improving his quality. He'll have a home.

(Clanking sounds)

LANGE: Hello, Felipe

FELIPE: Hello, Salvador.

LANGE: Are you glad to get off the sulfur rig?

FELIPE: It's better.

LANGE: Yeah, a lot better.

FELIPE: Yeah.

CURWOOD: These grapes are cabernet sauvignon?

LANGE: Yes.

CURWOOD: And you sell these to?

LANGE: Robert Mondavi.

CURWOOD: So if I go to the store and buy it, it would be called?

LANGE: Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon.

CURWOOD: Okay, what's the best year? You can tell us.

LANGE: Every year.

(They both laugh)

CURWOOD: Brad Lange says he's growing better grapes since he and his brother have cut back on chemicals. He says he's also seen his vineyards spring to life with crickets, birds, spiders, and deer.

(A motor turns over)

CURWOOD: As we drive back to the Lange Twins office, Brad points out owl boxes they've put up. Their cover crops attract gophers, so they use owls and hawks to keep them in check. We pass vineyards dotted by oak trees, unlike the treeless terrain of many other nearby vineyards.

LANGE: In the overall scheme of things of how we would like to live here, it's just not a monoculture, it's many things. It's the cows and the cattle to the right of us, the vineyard to the left of us, and the trees that are scattered throughout. And that is a decision really more of a quality of life decision as opposed to hard economics. And we feel that the indigenous oak trees and this, the valley oaks in this valley, some of these trees are 150 to 300 years old. That they need to be here, because they truly are a part of our heritage.

(A car door opens)

CURWOOD: Back at the Lange Twins office, the thermometers are already pushing 90. It's Saturday morning and Brad's still got most of the day in the fields ahead of him. When you live on your farm, it's hard to get away from work, and moving from chemical-intensive farming to integrated pest management means even more work for his family. In a business that's always demanding, Brad says not everyone is ready for this kind of challenge.

LANGE: We have growers that may always calendar spray. They may never plant a cover crop or a French prune tree, or actually more closely monitor their vineyards to establish a higher economic threshold to spray. What we think we're doing here, and what all agriculture is evolving to, is to raise the curve. We'll always have the ones that won't, and we'll always have the ones that are going to be at the leading edge.

CURWOOD: Brad Lange is comfortable at that leading edge. He's got the temperament, the imagination, and the capital to be an innovator. But here in Lodi, in the conservative central valley, he's also got support. An enlightened growers association. Strong backing from the wineries that buy his crops. And a similar commitment from a lot of his fellow farmers. It's easier to stand out from the crowd, when a lot of the crowd is coming right behind you.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our report on integrated pest management was produced by Living on Earth's Peter Thomson.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: 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 Peter Shaw, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Julia Madeson, Peter Christenson, Jesse Wegman, Susan Shepherd, Daniel Grossman, and Liz Lempert. We also had help from Jill Hecht and Tom Kuo. Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Our engineers are John Marston at WBUR and Jeff Martini at Harvard. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening, and see you next week.

(Music up an under)

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-PROCOWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture.

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