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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

November 28, 1997

Air Date: November 28, 1997

SEGMENTS

Rocky Mountains Change / Steve Curwood

Steve Curwood made a recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park outside of Boulder, Colorado to talk with scientists and see first-hand what some researchers say is evidence of global climate change occuring there among the trees and snow fall. (11:55)

Tim Wirth Exits

As the final round of the current climate change negotiations get underway in Kyoto, signals from the Administration indicate that President Bill Clinton will not be attending, and that it remains unclear if Vice President Al Gore will be making the trip. At this point, the White House is being represented by Katie McGinty, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. Recently the man who's been the chief negotiator on the climate change treaty, Undersecretary of State Timothy Wirth, said he is resigning from the Administration to head up the billion dollar United Nations Foundation just endowed by Ted Turner. Steve Curwood asked Secretary Wirth how his departure might affect the negotiations. (06:00)

Not So Fast / John Shanahan

President Clinton says the climate change treaty that his administration expects to negotiate in Kyoto will prove to be pain-free for America's collective pocketbook. But, John Shanahan doesn't believe it. The numbers, he says, just don't add up. Commentator John Shanahan is director of legislation and policy for the American Legislative Exchange Council. (02:16)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... the deepest ever submersible dive. (01:15)

Sperm Re-count

Five years ago a Danish research team reported in the British Medical Journal that sperm counts world-wide had fallen sharply since 1938. The team could not say what caused the change, but their study suggested that synthetic chemicals could be disrupting the human endocrine system. Skeptics of that theory declared the research flawed. Now, a new study, in the current issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, takes a second look at the sperm count controversy. Doctor Shanna Swann, chief of reproductive Epidemiology at California’s Department of Health Services was skeptical of the earlier study, but was tapped to head the re-analysis. Steve Curwood reached her at her home in Berkeley, California. (05:30)

Green Mayor / Vicki Monks

Like other fast growing western cities Albuquerque has been slow to confront the thorny problems of urban sprawl. But, the city's newly-elected mayor Jim Baca says he's going to take this bull right by the horns. Mr. Baca made his name in politics 20 years ago, as New Mexico's liquor director. Since then he's engaged land-use and planning issues at the state and national levels. As Vicki Monks reports, wherever Jim Baca goes, controversy and critical thinking follow. (08:00)

Cleveland Cancer Cluster / Joe Smith

The rate of leukemia in a small, central Ohio town has hit nearly triple the expected rate. An ongoing investigation has yet to pinpoint a cause. But, health officials say the patients have one thing in common: they all attended the same school. Joe Smith reports. (04:30)

Blue Oceans

Overfishing now threatens one of the most popular items on U-S menus; swordfish. That's according to Carl Safina, a research ecologist and founder of the Living Oceans Program for Marine Conservation at the National Audubon Society. He's just written a book about fish and fishing called "Song For the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas" being published by Henry Holt and Company. Steve Curwood spoke with Dr. Safina who says part of the reason for the swordfish decline is the way the fish are caught. (03:45)

Presenting LOE's Contest Winner

Steve talks with the winner of the recent Living On Earth website contest polling listeners' environmental IQ. And the winner is... Ms. Goldie Freeman, a teacher in Dorchester, Massachusetts. (02:10)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Vicki Monks, Joe Smith
GUESTS: Tim Wirth, Shanna Swann, Goldie Freeman
COMMENTATOR: John Shanahan

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Rocky Mountain National Park boasts more than a dozen different climate zones. It's a perfect place for climate research. And a team of scientists says that global climate change is already having an effect on life.

STOHLGREN: What we're learning now about global climate change, it's not simply global warming, it's global change. And we're seeing changes in the variation. And that concerns us most, is that things are bouncing around from the average more. And that gives us a higher level of uncertainty and uneasiness about predicting what the future impacts will be for specific species, or specific landscapes.

CURWOOD: Also, an assessment of the climate treaty talks in Kyoto. We'll have those stories and more coming up this week on Living on Earth. First, news.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Rocky Mountains Change

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Traffic sounds)

CURWOOD: Each year more than 3 million people bring themselves, their cars, trucks, and recreational vehicles to the gates of Rocky Mountain National Park.

(A window opens)

MAN: How you doing?

WOMAN: Good. Ten dollars. You get a yellow receipt, it's good for 7 days.

MAN: Great.

WOMAN: Thank you.

MAN: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: This park is 4-wheel friendly. The popular and spectacular Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved 2-way traverse in the nation, and you can get right up to the tundra just by slipping your Winnebago into drive. The scenery is breathtaking and diverse. Going from the park's front gate to its highest peak is like traveling north from Colorado to beyond the Arctic Circle. And with 13 unique vegetation zones, Rocky Mountain National Park also attracts its share of scientists.

STOHLGREN: National parks provide us the greatest set of outdoor laboratories that we have to work with. It's a place where nature is still the predominant factor.

CURWOOD: Thomas Stohlgren leads a team of researchers based at Colorado State University working for the United States Geological Survey. They're here to study climate change.

STOHLGREN: If we learn what's going on in our natural systems, we'll develop a deeper understanding for how humans are tied to ecosystems and how humans can influence them, and perhaps how humans can protect them for future generations.

(Footfalls)

CURWOOD: So Tom, where are we?

(Music up and under)

STOHLGREN: We're in the Upper Beaver Meadows area of Rocky Mountain National Park.

CURWOOD: Upper Beaver Meadows, huh? What are we stepping on here?

STOHLGREN: We're stepping on actually some remnants. You can see some cactus if you're fairly careful here. Ah! Look at that.

CURWOOD: Cactus in the midst of tall, lush grasses is a reminder that climate is ever-changing. A few thousand years ago, Dr. Stohlgren says, this part of the Rockies was much cooler and drier than it is today.

STOHLGREN: The thing about climate change is, sometimes the vegetation can hang around a lot longer after the climate changes.

CURWOOD: So this tiny little cactus -- it's no bigger, really, than what -- an inch or so across. This dates from 3,000, 5,000 years ago?

STOHLGREN: Right, that vegetation type on this spot. And it just hasn't left.

CURWOOD: The ancient record is fascinating. It shows how climate change can effect an ecosystem over time, usually a long time. But what's driving Dr. Stohlgren's research now is much faster climate change. Today's cars, factories, power plants, and heating systems are releasing so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists predict the average temperature of the Earth could change as much as 4 or 5 degrees in a matter of decades, instead of millennia. Dr. Stohlgren wants to know how life in the park would respond. To find out, his team has carefully mapped and catalogued 18 plots around the park.

STOHLGREN: We go out with our global positioning devices, you know, now that are hand-held units. You can tell exactly where you are, and we have trees measured and mapped to the nearest 10 centimeters.

CURWOOD: Ho! Ten centimeters.

STOHLGREN: Ten centimeters, 5 inches. They're a legacy for future ecologists, really. They can come back, measure the exact same trees we measured, and assess the growth rates of the different species and see who's gaining the competitive advantage. Who are going to be the winners in the next climate scenario.

CURWOOD: Dr. Stohlgren says they've already noticed changes that may be due to recent accelerated global climate change.

(A door shuts; a car engine starts up)

CURWOOD: He points up to a spot along Trail Ridge Road, 9,000 feet above sea level.

STOLGREN: That's where we're going, that curve right up there.

CURWOOD: The drive only takes a few minutes, but the change in vegetation is dramatic. We leave the pine forest and grassy meadows below, and enter a sub-Alpine tundra. This climate zone covers a third of the park. It boasts winds of more than 170 miles an hour at times, and a very short growing season, about 40 frost-free days a year. Anything that survives in the stony pockets of soil has to hug the earth.

(Footfalls)

CURWOOD: Dr. Stohlgren hops down through a steep boulder field and stops in front of a bush.

STOHLGREN: Yeah, this is a Krumholtz-Ingleman spruce.

CURWOOD: It's about the shortest and fattest Christmas tree I've ever seen. It's as wide as -- it's like 8 feet wide and maybe 3 feet tall.

STOHLGREN: At these elevations, with really cold climates, the trees really take on more of a shrub-like form. But look at this leader right here; it shows that in fairly recent times, times have been very good for this tree. And it will take over more tree-like form from a shrub-like form, given some warming in the climate and then some additions of nitrogen.

CURWOOD: So this is evidence of climate change here?

STOHLGREN: It's evidence of a combination of probably increased CO2, which has a fertilizing effect; slightly warmer temperatures, which are great for tree growth; and then increased nitrogen from air pollution.

CURWOOD: So, how old is this tree? A hundred years?

STOLGREN: Oh, this could be many more than 100 years old. This could be 200 or 300 years old. But this tree line that we see here was 100 meters, you know, the length of a football field, downslope in the Little Ice Age around 1500. So the trees have moved upslope, and then this is an indication that they're not only moving upslope but they're growing really well very recently. These are the rapid changes that we see throughout the treeline here, that you see here.

CURWOOD: A number of changes in the plant life of the park, Dr. Stohlgren says, are due to warmer winters, most likely linked to global warming, and to cooler summers linked to regional effects. Land use has shifted along the plains of the Rocky Mountain front, with farms and subdivisions that use a lot of water during the growing season. This serves to cool the park in the summer. But this localized cooling will not offset the effects of global warming in Rocky Mountain National Park, says Dr. Stohlgren. Indeed, it may make things worse.

STOHLGREN: What we're learning now about global climate change, it's not simply global warming; it's global change. And we're seeing changes in the variation, and that concerns us most, is that things are bouncing around from the average more. And that gives us a higher level of uncertainty and uneasiness about predicting what the future impacts will be for specific species or specific landscapes.

(A bell tower rings)

CURWOOD: Down the mountain to the east, in the laboratory of the University of Colorado in Boulder, another member of the team, Professor Thomas Veblen, is studying one of the most potent impacts of the climate bouncing around.

VEBLEN: One of the most important findings of our study is that increased climate variability is highly conducive to increased fire occurrence.

(Sanding sounds)

CURWOOD: By carefully sanding down tree samples and then studying the rings that date back more than 500 years, Professor Veblen can divine the history of the climate and its relationship to forest fires in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. One of his findings links the incidence of El Nino weather systems to forest fires.

VEBLEN: We expect that there's going to be increased variability in El Nino's southern oscillation effects to the extent that we have global climate change. And when we look at the record of El Ninos that dates back to the 1520s, there is a strong statistical relationship of fire occurrence in Colorado with that El Nino record. We find that about 3 years following El Nino events, we get an increase in fire in Colorado.

CURWOOD: Dr. Veblen says El Nino typically brings greater precipitation to the region. The rain allows grasses and shrubs to flourish. When the dry weather returns, usually 2 or 3 years later, that new growth turns to tinder that fuels forest fires.

VEBLEN: El Nino is a big deal this year.

CURWOOD: That's right.

VEBLEN: So if we trust the long-term record, you could make a prediction, then, that 3 years in the future we would expect to have a higher fire hazard as a result of the increased precipitation that should follow this El Nino event.

CURWOOD: And today the danger is multiplied, because over the past 100 years natural forest fires have been suppressed by people. As a result, a huge store of fuel has built up. Should a fire get out of control, the park could be devastated. Climate also affects another natural resource found at Rocky Mountain National Park.

(Trickling water)

CURWOOD: Water. Much of the water for the western and southwestern United States comes from the Rockies. Four major rivers start in Colorado. The research team's hydrologist, Jill Baron, says huge effects could be felt if the climate warms just a little bit.

BARON: If you warm it up 4 degrees, you start the snow melt as much as a month earlier. So instead of it beginning in mid-April to mid-May, it'll begin some time early, late March.

CURWOOD: Dr. Baron says that change in timing may mean a drenching for the ecosystem in the spring, followed by a drought later in the summer.

BARON: The water supply community can probably adjust to that. These are the people that collect the water and then redistribute it for urban and agricultural needs. But to these uphill mountain ecosystems, they won't have any kind of storage like that to be able to compensate for changes in temperature.

CURWOOD: Moving tree lines, fires, floods, drought. If they all come to pass, it could be a scenario out of the Apocalypse. But on this day, as sunset approaches, Rocky Mountain National Park seems indestructible. We turn our greenhouse gas-emitting car around and head down Trail Ridge Road.

(Traffic sounds)

CURWOOD: Back near the entrance gate, we join tourists and rangers gathered to hear a sound that's been echoing in these mountains for perhaps thousands of years: the mating cry of elk.

(Elks call)

CHILDERS: The deeper the bugle, the bigger the bull.

CURWOOD: Park ranger and naturalist Joan Childers.

CHILDERS: So he's out there trying to look as big as he can, have a very, very deep bugle, very rich bugle. And send out this message that I'm the biggest, I'm the best, come on, join me.

CURWOOD: So you mean this is like the guys on the beach and their cars rumbling up and down and the girls looking and saying Well, I like the one in the red convertible?

CHILDERS: That's a good analogy, I like that. Exactly, yeah. Yeah.

CURWOOD: Now, you've been doing this 6 years or so. Have you noticed any changes in the pattern of when this bugling, when the rutting season begins at all?

CHILDERS: This year it seems to be a little bit later than usual, and we're not seeing quite as much activity as I've seen in years past this early. But why, I don't know.

CURWOOD: We asked one of the team's elk experts what he makes of the bulls' late arrival. He says it could be because the snows that drive the animals down the mountains are behind schedule. But right now there's no research underway to see if this, too, is related to climate change. That's another study for another day.

(Elk bugling)

CURWOOD: Our report on Rocky Mountain National Park was produced by Living on Earth's George Homsy, with assistance from Emma Hayes.

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(Bugling continues; fade to Paul Winter Consort horn solo)

CURWOOD: The US and the international climate treaty talks in Kyoto. That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Tim Wirth Exits

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
As the final round of the current climate change negotiations get underway in Kyoto, signals from the Administration indicate that President Bill Clinton will not be attending, and that it remains unclear if Vice President Al Gore will be making the trip. At this point the White House is being represented by Katie McGinty, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. Recently, the man who has been the chief negotiator on the climate change treaty, Undersecretary of State Timothy Wirth, said he is resigning from the Administration to head up the billion- dollar United Nations Foundation just endowed by Ted Turner. I asked Secretary Wirth how his departure might affect the negotiations.

WIRTH: I'm going to be with the Administration through the of the year, and so that shouldn't affect the negotiations in Kyoto in any way, shape, or form. Stuart Eisenstadt, our very talented Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, has been my close partner. We've co-chaired the effort for the State Department and he will co-chair the delegation in Kyoto. And so the US will be very, very well-led in the Kyoto discussions.

CURWOOD: Some folks, though, might interpret your departure as a sign of dissatisfaction with what the White House has decided to put on the negotiating table for Kyoto. Is that fair to say?

WIRTH: No, it's not. It doesn't -- the timing, you know, it's just a matter of it coming out publicly that I was negotiating with Ted Turner, that has to be done under the law. I'm an unabashed supporter of the President's program. I think it's a very ambitious and good program for Kyoto, and I will do everything I can to help that become a reality.

CURWOOD: Will you attend the talks in Kyoto?

WIRTH: Well, I expect to, absolutely.

CURWOOD: The Vice President and the President are both taking a lot of heat on the US's climate change negotiating position. For example, in the Boston Globe recently, an editorial appeared really castigating Gore for his position. The editorial says that Mr. Gore should re-read his own book, which compared the fight to save the global environment to World War II and blasted equivocators as the Neville Chamberlains of the 90s. And quoting from Gore's book, the Globe editorial says, "Minor shifts in policy, marginal adjustments in ongoing policy, moderate improvements in laws and regulations, these are all forms of appeasement," wrote Gore. And yet the Clinton-Gore proposal right now is less, less than what they supported for the Rio summit in 1992 and below the European and Japanese goals. Do you think that the United States is going backwards here on the climate change issue?

WIRTH: I think there are a number of -- the answer is no. I think that there are a number of things that have to be, you know, related to your good question, Steve. First, nobody's ever attempted to do anything like this before. This is an enormously complex undertaking relating not only the most important environmental issue in the world, which is climate change, with energy policy, essentially climate change as a function of the amount of so-called greenhouse-forcing gases, mostly carbon dioxide, which comes from the burning of fossil fuels. We're putting that up into the atmosphere. So you have an environmental policy very closely tied to an energy policy. Third, this whole issue is surrounded by very, very intense industry politics in the United States. And there's a tremendous amount of pressure to do nothing from affected industries, who don't want to see something happen or feel threatened by it or whatever.

CURWOOD: This is the concern of appeasement that the Boston Globe raises. That under all this industrial pressure the White House is simply buckling and not going forward --

WIRTH: Well, I don't think that that -- first of all, I mean one has to understand how incredibly complicated and difficult this is. It's not been done before. This is not something you sort of snap your fingers and make changes in this huge and complex US economy.

CURWOOD: You served in the Congress for 12 years and then went on to the Senate for another 6. You've been on Capitol Hill a long time. Do you think that the ratification of almost any treaty the Administration brings back from Kyoto will be able to get through?

WIRTH: I think it's going to be -- it's a very much of an uphill pull. I think that there are some members of the Senate who are just in total denial about the greenhouse-forcing gases and the climate issue and don't want to see anything happen. There are individuals like Senator Byrd from West Virginia, a very experienced and very powerful member of the United States Senate, who is viewing this issue, in my opinion, in a very, very constructive way. He says, you know, I've been on this Earth for almost 80 years and I've seen it change. Something's wrong, and we are -- we have to change our institutions and change the way we're doing business. But he says we can't do this alone, every country in the world has to participate in this effort, and it's very important that while, that everybody's in the same boat together, we only have one Earth. The US has to start with a much bigger oar, but China has to have an oar and India has to have an oar, and eventually we'll all be pulling together in this effort. Well, I think that's about right. The test of Kyoto will be if it meets the criteria that I think Senator Byrd very firmly set out.

CURWOOD: Shortly, you'll take over the United Nations Foundation, the $1 billion fund from Ted Turner, to assist UN programs on the environment, population, sustainable development, and so forth. In what ways can you use your new position and the Fund to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

WIRTH: I think there are some great opportunities to help tell the story, the urgency of this issue, to focus on some of the new research and technology areas. This problem's not going to be solved unless we have a major new technological commitment over the next 40 to 50 years, and this is going to demand new and exciting partnerships between the public and the private sector. And I think the Turner Foundation gift and working with the United Nations gives us new opportunities to forge some of these new relationships that are going to be absolutely imperative if we're going to solve the greenhouse problem.

CURWOOD: Thanks for taking this time with us. Timothy Wirth is Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs and soon to be President of the United Nations Foundation. Thank you, sir.

WIRTH: Thank you.

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Not So Fast

CURWOOD: President Clinton says the climate change treaty his administration expects to negotiate in Kyoto will prove to be pain-free for America's collective pocketbook. But commentator John Shanahan doesn't believe it. The numbers, he says, just don't add up.

SHANAHAN: In his major global warming address in October, the President said that, quote, "protecting the climate will yield not costs, but profits," unquote. But if cutting carbon emissions would boost world economies, why is a binding treaty necessary? Countries would leap at the chance to reduce greenhouse gases on their own and make a buck, mark, or yen in the process. Of course they won't, because as a number of studies demonstrate, this treaty will not be the economic boon the President hopes it will be. In fact, they anticipate the job losses in this country would be significant. One study commissioned by the government's own Department of Energy predicts that half of all steel workers will lose their jobs.

Another study by the economic modeling firm WEFA examines the plan President Clinton now endorses, but comes to a radically different conclusion. It foresees economic losses in every state, with energy-intensive states like Texas and Louisiana suffering the most. The same study also found gasoline prices rising nearly 50 cents a gallon, and electricity rates hiked by as much as 55%. In all, the WEFA study predicts the climate change treaty will cost the average American household up to $2,000 a year.

If the science supported theories of certain catastrophe, I would quickly reverse my position and embrace carbon emission controls. A ruined world economy is better than a ruined world. But that isn't the situation. There is no consensus over whether we're causing warming. The science is so unsettled that nearly 100 climate scientists last year signed a statement known as the Leipzig Declaration, urging a go slow approach in making commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That's the intelligent course to follow. If the danger is real, delaying the treaty a few years may mean we must tighten our belts more quickly down the road. But if the danger is not real, we will save our children from the economic damage we would inflict upon them by signing the treaty in Kyoto.

CURWOOD: Commentator John Shanahan is Director of Legislation and Policy for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream. 1-800-PROCOWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: More evidence that US and European human sperm is going down in the count. That story is just ahead; stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

(Theme music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: It's not 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it's as far as divers are likely to go. In 1960, Swiss scientist Jacques Picard and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh plunged deeper into the ocean than anyone before or since. The 2 men descended nearly 7 miles to the bottom of the South Pacific, the Marianas Trench, then the deepest known spot in the ocean. Messrs. Picard and Walsh made their historic trip in a bathyscaphe, a vessel which consists of a small spherical chamber attached beneath a 28,000-gallon tank of gasoline. Iron weights sank the vessel. To resurface, it dropped the weights, and the gasoline, which is more buoyant than water, floated the ship back up. It took the explorers 5 hours to reach the bottom, 2.3 leagues under the sea. They collected mud samples with mechanical arms and started back up to the surface after just 20 minutes. And who could blame them? At that depth, water pressure is over 8 tons per square inch. That's like having 48 jumbo jets on your shoulders. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Sperm Re-count

CURWOOD: Five years ago a Danish research team, including Neils Skakkabaek and Elizabeth Carlsen, reported in a British medical journal that sperm counts worldwide had fallen sharply since 1938. The team could not say what caused the change, but their study suggested that synthetic chemicals could be disrupting the human endocrine system. Skeptics of that theory declared the research flawed. Now a new study in the current issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives takes a second look at the sperm count controversy. Dr. Shanna Swann, Chief of Reproductive Epidemiology at California's Department of Health Services, was skeptical of the earlier study, but was tapped to head the reanalysis. I reached her at her home in Berkeley, California.

SWANN: Well, we found that when we reanalyzed the data, which Carlsen had originally used, but using more sophisticated methods this time, that in fact we found a stronger decline in Europe and the US than they had reported, and little or no decline and possibly an increase in the few non-Western countries for which data were available.

CURWOOD: Why should we be concerned about decreased sperm counts?

SWANN: Well, many people ask that question and it's not for the reason that you might think. You know, it just takes one sperm to make a baby, so the correlation with fertility is not strong. But we believe that sperm decline is in fact a marker for decreased testicular function. And in countries where sperm counts have gone down, testicular cancer rates have gone up. And conversely, for example in Finland where the sperm counts are high, the testicular cancer rate is low and not increasing greatly.

CURWOOD: Your study is what sometimes is called a meta-analysis, meaning that you looked at a whole bunch of papers, I think it was what, 61 different scientific papers about sperm count, published between 1938 and 1990, right?

SWANN: That's correct.

CURWOOD: And then you extracted the data that chart how the concentration of sperm in semen has changed. I'm wondering how this differs from what Dr. Carlsen and Skakkabaek and their colleagues did.

SWANN: Well, what Carlsen and Skakkabaek did was simply to look at the year the study was published and the sperm count, and draw a straight line between the sperm counts as the publication year increased. We looked at a lot more variables. We looked at the age of the men, the mean age; the abstinence time, that is the interval before sample collection; the method of analysis, the way the sperm was counted. And we put these all in a statistical model in what's called a multiple regression model, which basically accounts for differences between populations, to make them comparable. Kind of sets them at a baseline and makes them comparable. And when we did that, we were very surprised to see that the model fit was very good, and the decline was stronger in Western countries than Carlsen had originally claimed.

CURWOOD: There was a lot of criticism of the last study, saying that there just were too many confounding variables in it. For example, while older men may have lower sperm counts, they tend to have longer periods of abstinence, so that a particular sample might show more sperm from an older man. Which really isn't true. And that overall, the study was just too crude an instrument. Are you saying that your reanalysis of the data shows that in fact Carlsen and Skakkabaek had it just about right?

SWANN: Yes. The interesting thing is that when you actually account for those variables that people were suggesting were making the study too crude, such as exactly the ones you explained, age and abstinence time and also changes in the way sperm were counted, when you actually account for those statistically, we found that the model fit very, very well. And I was surprised by this.

CURWOOD: What could be causing this drop in sperm concentration?

SWANN: Well, in my opinion that is the next important question. And I don't have the answer to that question. However, we have some clues from laboratory studies in which sperm counts can be reduced by prenatal exposure of laboratory animals to very small amounts of chemicals which have been referred to recently as endocrine disrupting chemicals.

CURWOOD: Why are you looking at chemicals rather than other factors, say, radiation or there might be some other reason that sperm counts might decline.

SWANN: Yes. That's certainly possible and radiation is, you know, certainly a possible candidate. But you would want to look for things that would differ across countries, to explain regional differences which we now see exist. And also things that have changed over time. For example, the use of DDT, PCB and other of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, has changed quite dramatically from the beginning in the 30's to an increase up to 1970 and then a decline after that.

CURWOOD: Thanks so much for taking this time with us today.

SWANN: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Shanna Swann is the Chief of Reproductive Epidemiology at California's Department of Health Services.

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(Music up and under)

Green Mayor

CURWOOD: Like other fast-growing western cities, Albuquerque has been slow to confront the thorny problems of urban sprawl. But the city's newly- elected mayor, Jim Baca, says he's going to take this bull right by the horns. Mr. Baca made his name in politics 20 years ago as New Mexico's Liquor Director. Since then he's engaged land use and planning issues at the state and national levels. As Vicki Monks reports, wherever Jim Baca goes, controversy and critical thinking follow.

(A door closes)

BACA: Jim Baca.

SENA: John Sena.

BACA: John, how are you doing? Hey, Connie, how are you doing? Good to see you.

MONKS: Even before Jim Baca takes the oath of office as Albuquerque's new mayor, he's been attending neighborhood meetings and getting an earful of complaints and requests. This group doesn't like the name the city council chose for a new community center.

BACA: Well, I'll look into it, but I'm not going to spend a whole lot of energy on it. I mean I just, we have some really big issues that I've got to get through with the council and I don't want to ...

MONKS: No, Jim Baca says he will not pick a fight with the city council on this one. It's classic Baca: blunt, to the point, some say abrasive. Though most people agree he's mellowed a bit in recent years.

SANDEROFF: Jim Baca has never been afraid to take stands on issues.

MONKS: Political analyst Brian Sanderoff, a pollster for the Albuquerque Journal, has known Mr. Baca since early in his political career.

SANDEROFF: Jim Baca, once he believes in something, takes a stand and makes lots of friends and lots of enemies.

MONKS: During 2 terms as New Mexico Land Commissioner in 1982 and 1990, Jim Baca raised grazing fees on state trust land, setting off a battle with ranchers. Next, he served a brief turbulent stint as Director of the Bureau of Land Management under President Clinton. The BLM manages 300 million acres of public land, and Mr. Baca wanted to raise fees for mining, oil drilling, and cattle grazing. He took to calling miners, ranchers, and loggers "the lords of yesterday," and he pushed for better protection of wildlife and sensitive habitat. Less than a year into the job, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt asked Mr. Baca to resign, saying he rubbed too many people the wrong way.

BACA: I was served up as a sacrifice to the western public land users. Bruce Babbitt was getting a lot of heat for the reforms we were trying to do.

MONKS: But now Mr. Babbitt and Mr. Baca find they are political allies on one of the most contentious issues the new mayor will face: the extension of Paseo Del Norte, a planned 6-lane highway that would cut through the Petroglyph National Monument, destroying ancient rock carvings on an escarpment sacred to Pueblo Indians. Developers who plan tens of thousands of new homes west of Petroglyph Monument insist the road is essential, and they've contributed generously to candidates who support pushing the highway through. In the mayor's race, only Jim Baca opposed the Paseo del Norte extension.

BACA: Maybe it helped me, maybe it didn't. It's hard to tell. But I think this road has become a symbol in many ways. Yeah, it's more than a road through a park. It's really about how we're going to grow in the future, who has the right to force a road through a park.

MONKS: A near-unanimous majority of the Albuquerque city council disagrees. They support the road, and they've been reluctant to put the brakes on Albuquerque's explosive growth. Now, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici is sponsoring a bill in Congress to change the national monument boundaries so the highway can go through. Jim Baca.

BACA: Well, they won't do it during my term in office, let's put it that way. You know, the city council can try and override me, I'm sure we'll have a fight about it. But I think it's a moot point, because I don't think this thing's going to get out of Congress.

ROGERS: Jim Baca has a national reputation as an environmental advocate, and there's great concern about just how the Baca administration will treat planned development.

MONKS: Attorney Pat Rogers represents the Chamber of Commerce. Developers aren't happy about Mr. Baca. He's proposing growth boundaries. But the developers know they've got to deal with the new mayor somehow, and for now they're trying to minimize their differences.

ROGERS: I don't think that at any time ever did Jim Baca advertise himself as anti-growth, nor has the responsible development community ever suggested that they do not want to develop in a very environmentally sound way.

(Traffic sounds, yelling, horns)

MONKS: As in other western cities, Albuquerque's neighborhoods sprawl far across the desert floor. A few years ago, people here weren't much concerned about traffic, water shortages, or other urban headaches. But now, according to a city poll, a sizeable majority believes Albuquerque is growing too fast, and nearly half say quality of life is getting worse.

BACA: We have to do something to change the way we're doing, the way we're growing and how we're treating our natural resources. It's almost as if we're going to live up to our very limits of resources and then worry about it. Well, that's stupid. That's not doing our future generations any favors.

MONKS: What Jim Baca has in mind is the kind of development that's planned for Mesa del Sol, a 12,000-acre parcel of state land on Albuquerque's south side.

(Winds)

MONKS: Mr. Baca launched the Mesa del Sol project during his years as State Land Commissioner, a job that now belongs to Ray Powell.

POWELL: W'e're standing out on the top of the plateau of Mesa del Sol, surrounded by yuccas and pinon and juniper and native grasses, and looking to our east is Sandia Mountains, which in Spanish means The Watermelon Mountains. At sunset they're a bright pink oftentimes, just beautiful.

MONKS: We're pretty close to downtown here.

POWELL: You wouldn't believe it unless you turned your head and looked at the skyscrapers. We're about 3 miles from downtown.

MONKS: At Mesa del Sol, every home will be partly solar powered and heated. The whole project will be designed to conserve water, cutting individual water use by over 50%. Homes will be clustered in small villages with broad open spaces for wildlife corridors in between. Jobs and shopping will be centrally located to encourage walking and biking. Both Mr. Powell and Jim Baca are convinced Mesa del Sol will become the model for development in the arid west.

BACA: The stars have aligned, so we've really got a friend and someone that understands what we can do out here, and the real need to do it because, you know, water is our limiting factor for life in New Mexico.

MONKS: In the meantime, Jim Baca will have other, more routine challenges to meet.

MAN: I think that violence is one of the biggest issues, and what's bringing us all here tonight...

MONKS: At a recent forum on gang activity, Mr. Baca sat down to discuss crime prevention with residents of Paradise Hills, one of the neighborhoods that's pushed hardest for the Paseo del Norte road. They don't like Mr. Baca much up here because of his opposition to that road. Neighborhood activist Larry Weaver.

WEAVER: I'm sure there are places where we can find common ground, but right now, until he's willing to show that he's willing to sit down and see our side of this issue, we're going to, you know, battle over it.

MONKS: And so begins the term of Mayor Jim Baca, with the goal of reshaping Albuquerque's future and the certainty of conflict in getting there. For Living on Earth, I'm Vicki Monks in Albuquerque.

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CURWOOD: A small town in Ohio confronts the big problem of a cancer cluster in its community. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Cleveland Cancer Cluster

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
The rate of leukemia in a small central Ohio town has hit alarming proportions. Seven people in the city of Marion have been diagnosed with the disease: nearly triple the expected rate. An ongoing investigation has yet to pinpoint a cause. But health officials say the patients have one thing in common: they all attended the same school. Joe Smith reports.

(Bus engines running)

SMITH: The 900 students at Marion's River Valley High School and Middle School board buses for home. They maneuver around tiny pink and green flags that divide the school grounds in a grid. State investigators searched the checkerboard layout above and below ground for clues to the leukemia outbreak. River Valley Superintendent Dr. David Kirkton has a personal stake in this search: his 2 sons recently graduated from the school.

KIRKTON: Of course, the Ohio Department of Health has been with us, the Ohio EPA has been testing here, the Corps of Army Engineers has been testing here. So far, they have found nothing.

SMITH: The school buildings sit on land once used as a German prisoner of war camp and an Army depot during World War II. The military brought trucks and other equipment to be repaired and repainted at the depot, and officials suspect that solvents, paints, and gases were dumped at the site. Marion's mayor, Jack Kellogg.

KELLOGG: There are a lot of people who live here that worked out here during World War II. They say yeah, we dumped stuff here, we buried it here. But nobody will tell us where these burial spots are, and by the information the government has, they do not have any locations where things were dumped. I'm not saying it wasn't dumped, but so far we have not found those spots yet.

SMITH: Two radioactive objects, a small reflector and a rock, have been found and removed from the site. But everyone agrees they weren't potent enough to cause the problem. Some residents say investigators are searching in the wrong place for the culprit.

(Water flowing)

SMITH: Marion's water flows from the Little Scioto River and a number of municipal wells near the city's industrial area. A quarter mile downstream from the water intake, signs warn not to drink, swim, or take fish from the water. The river bottom is coated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. An abandoned creosote plant is the suspected source, as well as seepage from the city's old garbage dump. The Little Scioto is considered one of the most polluted rivers in Ohio.

KREWMUHAKER: I spent the biggest share of my summer driving and looking, and I can tell you just from observations, I believe there is a serious problem.

SMITH: Kent Krewmuhaker and his wife Roxanne organized Concerned Parents of River Valley after their daughter Kim came down with leukemia in 1993. The group is pushing to find the cause of the leukemia outbreak. Mrs. Krewmuhaker says she's heard officials say the drinking water is fine because it's drawn upstream from the contaminated area.

R. KREWMUHAKER: Baloney. We've seen signs of pollution there, too. Not corridors and things like that, just bubbles that surface to the water, and then there'll be like, it looks like an oil spill. And it's polluted as that land has to be around there. Nobody'll convince me it can't get back to the drinking.

SMITH: Earlier this month, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials declared Marion's drinking water safe. The Ohio Department of Health, the lead agency in the investigation, however, has not issued its opinion about the water. Robert Indian, Chief of Chronic and Environmental Disease Surveillance for the Health Department, takes offense when he hears accusations that investigators are moving too slowly.

INDIAN: To have conducted a 30-year analysis, to have reviewed medical records, to have put together a report, to have made recommendations, to actually hammer out an environmental sampling scheme to assess the current risk, in my opinion is quite admirable. I think we've moved very fast.

SMITH: Little is known about leukemia, which attacks the T-cells in bone marrow. Michael Kaluhjury, a research director at the Arthur James Cancer Center at Ohio State University, says in 95% of leukemia cases the cause is unknown.

KALUHJURY: I think we have to consider exposure to radiation has clearly been shown through the tragedies of Hiroshima and other nuclear accidents to be a causative agent. And likewise exposures to certain solvents, particularly benzene, is associated with a much higher incidence of acute myeloid leukemia. Having said that, everything else becomes very, neither black nor white but very gray.

SMITH: As for the Krewmuhakers, they say they won't rest until they get answers. They never want another family to go through what they have, since their daughter's leukemia diagnosis 4 years ago. For Living on Earth, I'm Joe Smith in Columbus.

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Blue Oceans

CURWOOD: We've heard the warnings. In oceans around the world, fish species are declining. Now, overfishing threatens one of the most popular items on US menus: swordfish. That's according to Carl Safina, a research ecologist and founder of the Living Oceans Program for Marine Conservation at the National Audubon Society. He's just written a book about fish and fishing called Song For the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas. Mr. Safina says part of the reason for the swordfish decline is the way the fish are caught.

SAFINA: The way that they are caught now, with long lines, which is a fishing line that's 40 to 80 miles long with thousands of hooks on it, that type of gear is an indiscriminate kind of gear and 80% of the female swordfish that are caught are juveniles. They've never spawned. They're babies. The hooks also catch other kinds of fish; they sometimes catch sea birds, they sometimes catch sea turtles, they sometimes entangle mammals.

CURWOOD: Should fisher folk stop fishing for swordfish?

SAFINA: Well, no. There are ways to do all these things that are not damaging. We had up until about 25 years ago the ideal way of catching swordfish. That was the whole commercial swordfishery. People went out with a harpoon, they looked for a big swordfish at the surface, because only the big ones would come up to the surface to bask in the sun. The boat would approach them with a person out on the bowsprit or what's called the harpoon pulpit. And in fact, they caught as many pounds of swordfish then as they do now. The difference between then and now is that when long lines came in, they started catching all the juveniles and they took the whole population way down. So now we have a very much depleted population that instead of living off the interest has depleted all the biological capital, and is on its last legs. At the rate we're going, the Federal Government's Fishery Service says that swordfishing will be commercially nonviable in 10 years.

CURWOOD: When you say this to people who fish, what do they say?

SAFINA: Depends who you say it to. The people who are long lining will give you a big harangue about how they never cause any of these problems, that they are being unfairly blamed. If you talk to the people who were put out of business who used to be harpooners, you get a very different story. Everybody except the people who are still making money out of it will tell you that a lot of damage has been done and that there are much better ways of doing it.

CURWOOD: Should we stop eating swordfish?

SAFINA: Well, I won't buy swordfish because the thought of what goes into it doesn't sit well with me. But I also think it's a mistake for people to think that if they simply don't buy swordfish that they've done the best that they can do. We've heard of the big problems that we had with yellowfin tuna where they catch them by encircling schools of porpoises. Now, because of consumer pressure on the tuna companies, they have changed the way that they set those nets so that the kill of porpoises has declined over 99%. And that's because people were concerned about it and they said I don't want to eat fish that's caught in this way. They didn't just quietly decide to stop buying it; they vocally said that you know, we will buy it, but we don't want to buy it if it's destroying other things. We don't want to buy it if it's depleting the fish themselves. And that's real consumer power. With that kind of involvement, a person can be much more influential as an individual than simply if they don't eat swordfish the once or twice a year than they might otherwise eat it.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

SAFINA: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Carl Safina's new book, Song for the Blue Ocean, is being published by Henry Holt and Company.

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Presenting LOE's Contest Winner

CURWOOD: Recently we aired an interview with the president of the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation. The Foundation had just released the results of its nationwide quiz on the Environment. The surprising news was that two thirds of the people who took the quiz flunked, and less than 1 in 10 got a perfect score. So, we challenged you Living on Earth listeners to take our version of this quiz. It was harder: open-ended questions instead of multiple choice, and we required a perfect score. Well, the results are in, and almost a quarter of you got all 9 questions right. And for those who didn't, a high percentage missed just 1 or 2. And out of all these hundreds of entries, we have a winner Her name is Goldie Freeman of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and her entry was the first one we received with all the correct answers to 9 questions. Ms. Freeman, welcome to the program and congratulations on a perfect score.

FREEMAN: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: What do you do?

FREEMAN: I'm a teacher in a Montessori school in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

CURWOOD: You can tell us. How come you know so much about the environment?

FREEMAN: Well, when I lived in Canada, I was an aquatic biologist, and then I did a stint as a national parks interpreter and then I went into education. So I sort of felt like I had to know something.

CURWOOD: Now, you heard the statistics. What question did you find the hardest?

FREEMAN: Well, it was the salt marsh one, the wetland areas. Because the wetlands are so important and they're, they do a number of really important things. I decided, I differ from my husband who chose one thing, and I went with filtering.

CURWOOD: And that was the toughest question, by far.

FREEMAN: Yeah, it really was.

CURWOOD: If people missed one question, that was usually the one that they missed. Well, we'll be sending you a copy of Henry David Thoreau's Faith in a Sea, published by Island Press, and the correct answers to our environmental quiz are posted on our web site at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And thanks for playing.

FREEMAN: Thank you.

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: Our production team includes George Homsy, Liz Lempert, Jesse Wegman, and Daniel Grossman, Julia Madeson, Peter Christianson, Roberta de Avila, and Peter Shaw. We had help from Dana Campbell, and bid farewell to Carolyn Martin, who's headed back to graduate school. Jeff Martini engineers the program, and our technical director is Eileen Bolinsky.Michael Aharon composed the theme. Peter Thomson heads our Western bureau. Kim Motylewski is our associate editor, and the senior producer is Chris Ballman. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. And thanks for listening.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to eliminate environmental threats to children's health, www.wajones.org; the Surdna Foundation; the David and Lucille Packard Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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