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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

December 5, 1997

Air Date: December 5, 1997

SEGMENTS

Curwood Reporting from Kyoto / Steve Curwood

Steve Curwood talks with Laura Knoy about what is happening at the climate negotiation treaty in Kyoto, Japan where some five thousand representatives from one-hundred-fifty nations are gathered to discuss global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. (05:48)

Ancient Ice Core / Bob Carty

Abrupt and dramatic climate change destroyed some ancient civilizations. And scientists warn that history could repeat itself. Reports about global warming often talk about temperatures rising gradually during the next century. The idea of slow change leads many people and politicians to assume there will be time to adapt to warmer and wilder weather, changes in farming and shoreline erosion. But, what if that assumption is false. What if climate change happens quickly? And unpredictably? That's what some scientists worry about. A recent collaboration between climatologists and archeologists shows that rapid climate change brought down earlier civilizations. And as Living On Earth contributor Bob Carty reports, those scientists wonder if today's global warming might do the same to us. (15:20)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... 1816, North America's year without a summer. (01:15)

Voluntary Chemical Testing

Many of the most widely used chemicals in the U-S haven’t been tested for possible health affects; or if they have, the manufacturers haven’t released the results. But that’s changing. Four months ago, the Environmental Defense Fund went directly to the heads of the top 100 U.S. chemical manufacturers, and asked them to commit to testing the safety of their best selling chemicals by the year 2000. Now the chemical companies are starting to respond according to David Roe, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund. The EDF review looked at chemicals that can be found in a wide range of consumer products, from cleaning solvents to liquid fabric softeners. (05:00)

The Miccosukee Challenge / Alexis Muellner

The billion dollar plan to restore the Everglades is about to meet a challenge. The 400-member Miccosukee Indian tribe, native to the region, is frustrated with the pace of the cleanup effort, and will soon insist that water entering its reservation be cleaner than the state now requires. The tribe's mandate is years ahead of the state's timetable and as Alexis Muellner reports, that's causing concern and conflict in southern Florida. (06:35)

Yellowstone to Yukkon Corridor / Jyl Hoyt

Conservationists and scientists have a new plan to sustain wildlife in the Rocky Mountains of North America. Advocates of the so-called "Yellowstone to Yukon" initiative hope to protect the corridors that animals use to travel from one habitat to another by changing land management policies at the local level. From member station K-B-S-U in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports. (06:13)

Hermit Nuns Talk!

Trees falling in the woods of Nova Scotia have a band of normally quiet hermits speaking out. The brothers and sisters of the Nova Nada Carmelite Hermitage in the Nova Scotia woods near Yarmouth live a very quiet life. They don’t speak from dusk till dawn, and they keep silent for at least one full day a week. They spend long periods in prayer and meditation. But lately, their solitude has been broken by the sounds of chain saws. Timber giant J.D. Irving has been clear cutting the woods around the hermitage, and the 12 monks say the noise is undermining their way of life. Laura Knoy reached Sister Sharon Doyle by phone. Sister Doyle is the spokeswoman for the Nova Nada Carmelite Hermitage, where silence is fundamental. (05:44)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Laura Knoy
REPORTERS: Steve Curwood, Bob Carty, Alexis Muellner, Jyl Hoyt
GUESTS: David Roe, Sister Sharon Doyle

(Theme music intro)

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

(Theme music up and under)

KNOY: I'm Laura Knoy.
The climate change talks are underway. We'll hear about the wheeling and dealing in Kyoto, to cut greenhouse gases. Also, using ancient ice core samples as crystal balls: they show that rapid changes in climate doomed past civilizations, and have scientists wondering what's in our future.

MAYEWSKI: What we now understand, is that changes in climate operate extremely fast. They may occur in less than 10 or 20 years. And these changes, once they occur, in some cases are 10 degrees centigrade, or more, shifts in temperature. If we experience something like that within 10 to 20 years, we would see major disruptions in the way we live.

KNOY: The ice men cometh, this week on Living on Earth. First, news.

Back to top

(Theme music up and under)

Curwood Reporting from Kyoto

KNOY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.
After 2 years of talks about a new version of the United Nations climate change treaty, diplomats are coming down to the final days of negotiation in Kyoto, Japan. But it's unclear if, in fact, a consensus can be reached. Greenhouse gas emissions around the world have continued to rise rapidly, despite a climate protection agreement signed in 1992, that set voluntary limits. But efforts by more than 160 nations to set binding limits on carbon dioxide, and other pollution linked to climate, have gotten bogged down in a complicated set of disputes. Living on Earth host Steve Curwood is at the talks, and joins me now on the line from Kyoto. Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Hey, Laura.

KNOY: Steve, what's going on? Why are these negotiations so sticky?

CURWOOD: Well, Laura, I think it's well to remember just how much money is involved in the activities that produce greenhouse gases. I mean, Americans alone, just on this one day, today, will spend almost a half a billion dollars on gas and oil. And transportation's only about a third of what we spend on energy. So that means that people in the energy and related businesses have large sums at stake, and they're here in force, especially those who feel they have something to lose.

KNOY: What are those businesspeople doing?

CURWOOD: Well, over 800 of them took over a major downtown hotel here, and held a paralleled 2-day conference, in which they spoke out against binding limits on greenhouse gases, and called for the present voluntary measures to continue. Now, some of the businesspeople here do represent innovative approaches, for energy conservation, and renewables that will combat global warming, but there's a strong presence here of the Global Climate Coalition, which is made up of many of the major oil and coal producers and US car makers. These folks say a new treaty would be bad for business, and they are determined to stop it in its tracks, and Laura, if the present mood continues, they may well get their way.

KNOY: What is the present mood, Steve?

CURWOOD: Well, it's pretty cranky. I mean, things are stuck. They haven't gone very well. Tensions are especially high over the US insistence that the developing countries make some sort of commitment now, to a schedule for binding limits. Now, that certainly makes sense, in the broader picture, if you think about it. I mean, every nation needs to help fight the threat of global warming. But the developing countries say they feel sandbagged on this, because back in 1995, when everyone agreed it was time to set binding limits, the industrialized nations said they would go first. So now, at the last minute, says the developing countries, the US is trying to change the rules of the game. They don't like it. But the US Senate, you remember, passed a resolution demanding this last summer. Some called it a poison pill back then, and it certainly is proving to be bitter for the developing world to swallow. And this might just be what ends up standing in the way of a deal.

KNOY: Is anyone else there--cranky, as you put it?

CURWOOD: Well, yeah, the Europeans aren't very happy either. They don't like it that the US waited so long to put a proposal on the table--it was just back in October--and from their perspective, the essence of the US proposal is a 10-year delay of implementing what was promised in 1992. And plus, the US has been putting the heat on the Europeans, to admit that their so-called bubble, that is, considering the European Union as one emitting unit, that would allow the emissions of some European countries to rise, as long as the overall average declined, that it gives the Europeans an unfair economic advantage, and the Europeans don't like being caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

KNOY: Steve, has there been any progress at all? Anything agreed to?

CURWOOD: Well, in fact, it does seem that the Europeans and the developing countries have agreed in principle, to the US proposal of having different targets for different countries, as long as things are balanced towards a net reduction in world emissions. But there's a problem in the details, here, and no one's quite sure exactly how it would work, because if everyone gets the choice, then no one will want to reduce any more than another country, and there could be--no reductions. It seems that what they'll do in the end, if they decide to incorporate this in the agreement, and they said they are going to try to do this, they'll kind of arbitrarily set what each country's limit is going to be. It'll be a political decision.

KNOY: So, where does it all go from here?

CURWOOD: Well, so far, it's been largely bureaucrats who've been haggling here. And shortly, the politicians will come, and the talks will move up to the ministerial level. Now, presumably, these ministers, and of course, the Vice President of the United States, will have more flexibility. And historically, these kinds of talks come right down to the last hours of the last day. So, quite a bit could happen. I mean, for example, the United States might agree to much sharper reductions in greenhouse gases, if we were allowed to, say, buy large amounts of emissions credits from someplace like, Russia, or the Ukraine. Now, you recall that the Germans have achieved remarkable cuts, in part because the Berlin Wall came down, and they closed a bunch of polluted plants in the former East Germany. The former Soviet Union emissions are now 30% below 1990 levels. What if they sell some of those credits to us? Perhaps we would find it in our interests to give them some badly needed aid, maybe some cash to help put a better lid on Chernobyl, or to dismantle some nuclear warheads?

KNOY: Steve, you talked about what the diplomats and the bureaucrats are doing in Kyoto. What are the scientists saying there?

CURWOOD: Well, they're saying a lot. Virtually every day there's a press conference here, about one study or another, that a scientist has, talking about a threat from climate change. A vanishing species; declines in human health; prospect of climate snaps in Europe, that could really reduce the habitability of northern Europe; and along with the science, almost all of these briefings include a plea to the negotiators, to try to find a solution, so that these threats from climate change can be averted before it's too late.

KNOY: Well, Steve, take care. Thanks for talking with us, and we'll hear from you next week.

CURWOOD: My pleasure, Laura.

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(Music up and under)

Ancient Ice Core

KNOY: Reports about global warming often talk about temperatures rising gradually during the next century. The idea of slow change leads many people and politicians to assume there'll be time to adapt to warmer and wilder weather, changes in farming, and shoreline erosion. But what if that assumption is false? What if climate change happens quickly, and unpredictably? That's what some scientists worry about. A recent collaboration between climatologists and archeologists shows that rapid climate change brought down earlier civilizations. And, as Living on Earth contributor Bob Carty reports, those scientists wonder if today's global warming might do the same to us.

[Car turns]

CARTY: If you want to look into the past, to predict the climate of the future, one of the best places to start is right here. In a parking lot.

[Car wheels to a stop]

CARTY: A parking lot at the University of New Hampshire, in the town of Durham. Here, beside the Earth Sciences Building, you can find a big white refrigerated van.

MAYEWSKI: It's a 12-by-40 freezer that contains about 600 meters of ice from different parts of the world--Antarctica, the Arctic, Asia. Some of the ice in here is 250,000 years old, and some of it goes right up to the present.

CARTY: His students call him "Dr. Ice." He prefers, Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Research Center, at the University of New Hampshire. The van in the parking lot contains just a small sample of the ice Professor Mayewski has collected from around the world. It is his "Archive of the Earth's Past," and perhaps, its future.

MAYEWSKI: We're going to, just put on heavy winter gear, polar boots, and coveralls, and if we pull out one of the ice cores, we would need to put on plastic gloves and masks over our faces to keep from contaminating the cores.

[Zipping up coveralls]

CARTY: Inside the freezer, there are wooden racks, loaded with hundreds of silver tubes. The tubes contain ice cores that have been drilled out of glaciers and ice sheets. It's like drilling for oil. The ice comes out in long cylinders, 4 inches thick, like thin lamp poles. And then they're cut into manageable yard- long sections, wrapped in plastic, and stored in these silver tubes. Some of the ice here comes from Greenland, where Paul Mayewski's team drilled a core almost 2 miles deep, and a quarter of a million years back in time.

[Refrigerator running]

MAYEWSKI: An ice core is about as close as we think you can come, to a time machine. The snow does this because it actually captures the gases, and the dissolved chemistry, and the particles that are in the atmosphere. That snow layer gradually gets compressed under more snow layers, and the whole record is a series of pages, one plastered right on top of the other.

CARTY: And Paul Mayewski wants to turn a few pages for me. He first pulls out some "baby ice," ice formed in just the last few decades.

[Plastic gloves being put on]

CARTY: It looks like a tube of tightly packed snow. Conductor Mayewski points to the middle.

MAYEWSKI: Right about here we'd find the evidence of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. We've also found evidence of that same accident all the way down to the South Pole, demonstrating that what we put into the atmosphere can travel long, long distances. Further back down, we find a lot of the bomb layers, from the atomic bomb testing, from the 1950's.

[More crinkle of plastic ice-protecting gloves]

CARTY: The next piece of ice we look at comes from the South Pole. It's from a depth of 20 yards, and under a century of pressure, it has turned into a tube of hard, white, hockey rink ice. In this sample, Paul Mayewski and his colleagues found a layer of dust, from an event of natural origin.

MAYEWSKI: The Tambora volcanic eruption of 1815. In areas like eastern North America, there was no summer in 1815, because there was so much sulfuric acid in the atmosphere that it actually shielded incoming radiation. Interestingly enough, that's also the summer that Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein," and a lot of people believe that it was such a depressing summer in Europe when she was spending that summer with Keats and Byron, that she was prompted to write this terrifying novel.

CARTY: One of the discoveries from all of this ice, may itself be a bit terrifying. Until recently, scientists believed that the Earth's climate has been relatively stable since the last Ice Age, 11,000 years ago. Climate has changed, but not that often. Not too fast, and not too much. Mayewski's ice has sparked a little revolution in that thinking.

MAYEWSKI: What we now understand, is that changes in climate operate extremely fast. They may occur in less than 10 or 20 years. And these changes, once they occur, in some cases are 10 degrees centigrade, or more, shifts in temperature. If we experience something like that within 10 to 20 years, we would see major disruptions in the way we live.

CARTY: Paul Mayewski is worried about the future, because of what he sees in the past. Ice core research has led historians, and archeologists, to new insights about past civilizations. Professor Mayewski pulls out a core of beautifully clear ice from about 3,000 years ago.

CARTY: It's a piece of the puzzle of human history.

MAYEWSKI: This particular piece of ice comes from our program in central Greenland, and it happens to contain a very interesting section of history. It documents a 2200 BC collapse of the Mesopotamian Empire.

CARTY: To find out what some old, frozen water has to do with Mesopotamia, you have to shift from ice experts to archeologists.

WEISS: The world's first cities and states evolved in southern Mesopotamia, around 3,000 BC, what is today Iraq and northeastern Syria.

CARTY: Henry Weiss is a professor of Near-Eastern archeology at Yale University, and an expert on the rise and fall of what was humankind's first great civilization, the Mesopotamian Empire.

[Middle-Eastern music]

WEISS: Cities were characterized by monumental public works, such as the famous ziggurats, pyramids constructed of mud brick. As well as monumental public buildings, housing, administrators, kings, and their bureaucrats, with all sorts of craft specialists, such as scribes, potters, leather workers--this imperial realm suddenly collapsed, at 2,200 BC.

CARTY: The question for Professor Weiss is, how do you explain that? Historians usually explain the collapse of a civilization as the result of warfare, or class rebellion, religious crises, or unsustainable economies. But in the case of Mesopotamia, the truth appears to be closer to the words of the poets of the time, who wrote a lamentation called, "The Curse of Akkad ."

[Swelling Middle-Eastern music]

WEISS: "The large fields and acres produce no grain. The watered gardens produce no honey and wine. The heavy clouds do not rain. On its plains, where grew fine plants, only lamentation weeds now grew."

CARTY: Drought. The Mesopotamian Empire collapsed because of a drought, that came upon them quickly, and lasted for hundreds of years. Scientists have now found evidence of that drought not only in ice cores, but also in lake and ocean sediments. What caused the drought is not known, but its impact was sweeping.

WEISS: Agriculture, essentially, collapsed. Populations were forced to abandon the region. Societies from Greece to Pakistan all found it impossible to sustain their previous forms of social and political organization. This suggests this 2,200 BC event is not only hemispheric, but is in fact, global. Which, of course, then brings us to a rather startling observation, that in fact, there has been a series of abrupt climate events, which have had rather considerable impacts upon human civilizations.

[Whirr of an ice core saw]

CARTY: Back in the freezer in New Hampshire, Paul Mayewski is cutting through a piece of ice from a glacier on Mt. Everest, to take to his lab for further study.

MAYEWSKI: We measure, literally, every different part of this core. The ice, which we melt down to water, we measure the air content, which is largely within the bubbles. We can measure up to 50 different environmental parameters. These range from greenhouse gases, CO2 and methane, to the dissolved chemistry in the atmosphere, which tells us about volcanoes, forest fires, intensity of storms on land and over the ocean. It tells us a tremendous amount.

CARTY: One thing it can tell us it the climate report for about 1,000 years ago. It was warm enough then for vineyards in Britain, and sheep herds in Greenland. And in what is now Guatemala and Mexico, there was a protracted drought. There is growing evidence that that drought was responsible for the much- debated collapse of the Maya Empire. And in South America, one of the greatest civilizations, came to a sudden end.

[Pan-pipe music]
KOLATA: The people of Tiwanaku, in the period from about AD 400 to 1,000 AD, really controlled huge area of the Lake Titticaca basin, down to the coasts of Peru and Chile, down south to northwest Argentina, an area that's somewhat larger than the state of California.

CARTY: Alan Kolata is a professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, and one of the world's leading experts on the Tiwanaku Empire. The Tiwnaku lived on the high plateaus of what is now Bolivia and Peru, and some of their achievements surpassed those of the Aztecs, the Mayas, and the Incas.

KOLATA: You look at the remnants, the temples and so forth, you find extraordinary feats of labor in which some of these stones, individual stones, weigh as much as 160 tons. And again, recall that this is up at 14,000 feet.

[More pan-piping]

CARTY: At 14,000 feet, the Tiwanaku developed productive irrigated agriculture. Canals for water and sewage. Their roofs were adorned with gold. Then, around 1,100 AD, they abandoned their cities, and descended to the jungles of the Amazon. Professor Kolata explains it with evidence from an ice core taken from an Andean glacier. The Tiwanaku collapse was due to a dramatic climate change.

KOLATA: Within a relatively short period of time, perhaps as short as 50 years, Lake Titticaca dropped anywhere between 15 to 18 meters. Now, this is an enormous lake, sort of almost equivalent to one of our own North American Great Lakes, so you can imagine what it would be like if 45 feet of the lake essentially drops. And that's directly related to this drought, the proportions of which are unprecedented.

CARTY: And it now appears that drought also caused the decline of the Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest, and the abandonment of the villages of the Great Plains Indians, from Iowa to Colorado. All of which leads archeologist Alan Kolata to reflect on parallels for today. Kolata notes that climate change surpassed the Tiwanaku's ability to adapt within their existing political and social structures.

KOLATA: People did adapt, they did not disappear, but they did have to change how they lived. They no longer lived in splendid cities, so there is a morality tale here, in that sense, that we can't be so presumptuous that technology, any technology that we can invent will somehow automatically save us. It's not as if this is something that happened in the past, and may never occur again. The assumption here is that it will occur again.

[Ice saw whirring, slicing more ice]

CARTY: Back at the University of New Hampshire, Paul Mayewski agrees. Based on his study of climate changes of the past, he's certain there will be abrupt and dramatic natural changes in the future. But he's also worried that greenhouse gases, produced by humans, may be the trigger for equally perilous changes. That fear is founded in what scientists understand, and don't understand, about feedback loops in climate systems: how one change can set off another, and the whole climate system snowballs.

KOLATA: At different times, different things trigger changes in climate. Is it possible that these tremendously increased rates of greenhouse gases in these very high magnitudes are a new kind of trigger to climate change? I think the answer is yes. There's a very strong possibility.

CARTY: Still, some will argue that the past is not prologue, that our technologies are far more sophisticated today, that surely, we can adapt. Maybe, but only maybe, says James McCarthy. McCarthy is the co-chair of the group studying the impact of global warming for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

MCCARTHY: Some of the changes occurred in the past, we might be able to minimize the effects of. Although if it happens suddenly, as we saw in Chicago a couple of summers ago, vulnerable segments of society, namely the elderly, the ill, the very young, will suffer, with massive mortality. If you look at the situation in a nation like North Korea, 3 years ago they had a century-scale drought. Two years ago, a century-scale drought. This past year, a century-scale flood. Today, there is massive loss of life from famine.

[Door shuts. Man's voice: "A little nicer out here."]

CARTY: As we leave the sub-zero temperatures of the ice freezer, the relatively warmer environment outside is a relief. The possible climate changes of our future are not so comfortable. Like many societies before ours, we may soon have to modify our social and economic and political systems in the face of uncertain climate challenges. The difference this time, is that the challenge is of our own making. In Durham, New Hampshire, I'm Bob Carty, for Living on Earth.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

KNOY: We're always interested in what you think about our program. To let us know, call our listener line any time, at 800-218-9988. The e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.

(Music up and 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, for reporting on Western issues; Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure, all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream, 1-800-PRO-COWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter; and Jennifer and Ted Stanley.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

KNOY: In Florida's Everglades, a Native American tribe says "enough" to polluted water entering its reservation. The last stand of the Miccosukee is coming up. Stay tuned, to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

(Theme music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.
Winter is coming, and for some folks, the next three months will seem like a year. Be thankful you weren't around in 1816. That year, winter actually did last a year. It was called "the year without a summer," and when it was over, tens of thousands of people and animals across the Northern Hemisphere had perished. It started in April, 1815, when the volcanic Mt. Tambora in Indonesia erupted, spewing a cloud of dust world-wide. When the plume reached North America, it knocked average temperatures down several degrees, from spring through fall. In the northeastern US, heavy snow fell in June, and there were killing frosts until August. Farmers built bonfires around fields, but, most crops were lost. But not everyone was caught off-guard. When the 1816 edition of the Old Farmer's Almanac first went to press, it predicted rain, hail, and snow for July. The mistake was caught, and subsequent copies of the Almanac forecast more summery weather. But when those predictions fell flat, no one could find a copy of the original edition. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Theme music up and under)

Voluntary Chemical Testing

KNOY: Many of the most widely-used chemicals in the US haven't been tested for possible health effects, or, if they have, the manufacturers haven't released the results. But, that's changing. Four months ago, the Environmental Defense Fund went directly to the heads of the top 100 US chemical manufacturers, and asked them to commit to testing the safety of their best- selling chemicals by the year 2000. Now the chemical companies are starting to respond, according to David Roe, senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund. The EDF review looked at chemicals that can be found in a wide range of consumer products, from cleaning solvents to liquid fabric softeners.

ROE: There are 3,000 of these high-production-volume chemicals. Now, there are lots of other chemicals, too: we're focusing on the ones that are out there in the biggest amounts. But it's the ones that you're not likely to have thought about or heard of. It's not the lead, or the methylene chloride, or the dioxin that we've all heard a great deal about in the press. It's the ones that haven't been tested and therefore we simply don't know, whether they're seriously toxic or not. We certainly can't say that they're toxic without looking, but the flip side is the important side: no one can say that they're safe, until they've been tested.

KNOY: Can you give us some names?

ROE: Well, I don't want to give you a name brand, because of course, what we're talking about is things that haven't been tested, so we don't know, whether they're safe or not. But these are products that would be under the sink, in the medicine cabinet, all over the house, and of course, in the environment once you step out the front door. And the point is to get all of those high-volume chemicals at least preliminarily tested so we've got some idea where to go, which ones are likely to be safe, which ones are not.

KNOY: What exactly did you ask the companies to do?

ROE: Well, we released a study that pointed out that, of the 3,000 top-selling chemicals in the United States, we were missing basic health data on more than two-thirds of them. We went directly to the top of the top 100 chemical companies and said, "This isn't good enough. Will you step in and take direct responsibility for your own chemicals? And get the testing done before the year 2000.

KNOY: What reporting requirements are there already, David? Do companies have to conduct any testing and provide the government with the information?

ROE: Well, Laura, the laws and regulations are trapped in a kind of Catch-22. They need facts in order to go out and dig up more facts. So if there's no preliminary testing, if there's no red lights or yellow lights flashing from the early tests, then the agency cannot go any further.

KNOY: When you say "the agency," do you mean the Environmental Protection Agency?

ROE: The Environmental Protection Agency is the primary agency here, yes.

KNOY: Which companies promise to conduct the studies and release the results?

ROE: Well, among the companies that came right back and said, "Yes, we will take direct responsibility. We'll get this testing done before the year 2000," were Alcoa; BP Chemicals, which is a division of British Petroleum; Georgia-Pacific Resins, which is Georgia-Pacific's chemical company; Olin Corporation; and Solutia, which is what Monsanto Corporation turned into when they split their operations. That's not the whole list; there are 11 of them, and most of the companies are still trying to make up their minds.

KNOY: What were some of the big names that said, "No, we will not do this."

ROE: Sonoco, the oil company; Fena; Asarco, the mining company; and a couple of others. There were 6 in all. That's a surprisingly small number, when you consider that this is an issue that was on nobody's radar screen, as recently as this past summer. Nobody seemed to realize that there were these huge gaps in the safety data that we all rely on.

KNOY: David, why did the Environmental Defense Fund decide to go directly to the chemical makers, instead of doing what normally is done, and that would be lobbying Congress for some sort of a new reporting requirement.

ROE: Well, the reporting requirements are already there, it's just that they haven't worked. But it seemed very clear to us, that after 25 years under reporting requirements that were supposed to work, it wasn't good enough to start again from ground zero and go back to Congress or go back to the agencies. We thought the public had a right to look directly to the big manufacturers for the safety of those companies' own chemicals.

KNOY: How do you think this effort will affect the average consumer?

ROE: Ideally, the average consumer will be living in a safer chemical world without seeing anything different. We hope that everyone can rest easier, knowing that the basic screening has been done. And of course, if it turns up a problem, then the machinery of law and regulation can move into place. What this whole project is about, is getting that first information on the table, so we can see where to go from there.

KNOY: David Roe is a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund. Thanks for joining us.

ROE: Thank you.

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(Music up and under)

The Miccosukee Challenge

KNOY: The billion-dollar plan to restore the Everglades is about to meet a challenge. The 400-member Miccosukee Indian tribe, native to the region, is frustrated with the pace of the cleanup effort, and will soon insist that water entering its reservation be cleaner than the state now requires. The tribe's mandate is years ahead of the state's timetable, and, as Alexis Muellner reports, that's causing concern, and conflict, in southern Florida.

JONES: It takes a while to get used to how to maneuver it. The worst thing to get used to is no brakes. (Laughs)

MUELLNER: It's midmorning on Tamiami Trail, a highway that runs along the northern edge of Everglades National Park. F.K. Jones, Fish and Wildlife Director for the Miccosukee Indian tribe, maneuvers his air boat into a canal and cranks up the engine.

JONES: You ready? Contact.

(An engine starts up, noisily)

MUELLNER: Within minutes we're cutting through tall saw grass, chasing coots and snail kites from their roosts. Then Jones cuts the power to the giant propeller and stops on Big Hammock Island, a sacred tribal ground that sits smack in the middle of the Everglades.

(Footfalls through tall grass)

JONES: This is one of my favorite spots. Very quiet.

MUELLNER: Once a homicide detective in nearby Monroe County, these days Jones draws attention to what some people call the murder of the Everglades. He speaks with urgency about the tribe's effort to set higher water quality standards here.

JONES: It's got to be done now. The sooner the better. Because it's going to take a long time for the Everglades to heal itself, shall we say, from the input of all the nutrients that's come down, and the pollution.

MUELLNER: The main problem, Jones says, is phosphorus, a fertilizer that runs off the vast sugar and tomato farms up north. When it enters the Everglades, phosphorus stimulates the growth of certain aquatic plants. Soon, smelly, thick stands of cattails replace native grasses. They rob the water of oxygen, threaten fish populations, and disrupt the food chain.

JONES: Cattails are expanding yearly. You can definitely see the expansion of them. They're getting bigger, healthier looking, and more. And once you get a dense stand of cattails you can't get anything else growing in there.

MUELLNER: It's been 3 years since Florida passed the Everglades Forever Act, which sets timetables and costs for the massive restoration project. The blueprint calls for a reduction of phosphorus to 50 parts per billion, but that's 5 times the level the tribe wants to see in the water. So, exercising their right as a sovereign nation, the Miccosukees plan to restrict the level of phosphorus entering their reservation to 10 parts per billion. Gene Duncan, the tribe's water resources director, says the action is needed because of vague and unenforced state standards.

DUNCAN: What we're attempting to do is set a standard at our northern boundary, which will protect against that type of nutrient encroachment and that destruction of the environment. The laws are on the books today. They can be enforced today. Since the state has failed to do that, we're going to set standards we will do that.

MUELLNER: And if the tribe sets standards more stringent than the state's, Florida may be forced to rewrite its entire Everglades cleanup plan. That could further delay the project already hobbled by cost overruns and litigation.

(A gathering of voices echoing)

MUELLNER: Beth Ross, an attorney for the South Florida Water Management District, tried to impress that point upon tribal leaders while defending the state's Everglades restoration plan at a recent public meeting.

ROSS: And sure, I understand it's slower than the tribe would want. And you question, I think, the state's commitment to Everglades. But we have to counter all of the desires for restoration with the realities of an extremely complex world that we live in now. It's not a simple place. To get a project of this magnitude up and running is extraordinary.

MUELLNER: But the state's cleanup process has long been criticized by environmentalists and others who call it a sellout to polluters and a violation of the Federal Clean Water Act. And they worry that even the stricter standards the Miccosukees plan to impose may be too little, too late. Ron Jones is a water quality expert at Florida International University, who's been watching the build up of phosphorus in the Everglades.

JONES: We're going to have that damage for hundreds if not a thousand years or more. You know, I mean, this is going to be out there. Phosphorus, once it gets in the system it just stays. So, the only thing that we can do by adapting sort of a non- degradation standard and say no further degradation, but it's not necessarily going to it will start the reversal process, but the reversal process is going to take many lifetimes to see it unfold. This is the kind of standard that's necessary.

MUELLNER: This isn't the first time the tribe has attempted to speed up the cleanup process. It is still litigating a 1988 lawsuit filed against the state for not enforcing its own water quality standards. The tribe has another half dozen unsettled legal actions related to the Everglades restoration. Again, Gene Duncan, Water Resources Director for the Miccosukee tribe.

DUNCAN: Maybe, it was an honest mistake on their part when they passed the Everglades Forever Act, that they didn't realize they were not enforcing their own water quality standards. I find that hard to believe, since we told them that they weren't. But maybe they will change the Everglades Forever Act. Maybe they will back out of the deal they have with powerful political entities that control agriculture. We'll see.

(Footfalls)

MUELLNER: Back on Big Hammock Island, wildlife officer F.K. Jones continues his pollution inspection and notes an irony. Early in the 19th century, during the Seminole Indian wars, the Miccosukees found refuge in these thickets while eluding Andrew Jackson and the US Army. Today, pollution from the north and the invasive plants it spawns are the enemies the tribe hopes to escape.

(Footfalls through tall grasses)

JONES: A year ago there was no cattails growing here. And that's how quick they can come in.

MUELLNER: The Miccosukee tribe is expected to start enforcing the new water quality standards in its Everglades reservation within weeks. For Living on Earth, I'm Alexis Muellner in Miami.

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KNOY: Trees falling in the woods of Nova Scotia have a band of normally quiet hermits speaking out. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Yellowstone to Yukkon Corridor

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.
Conservationists and scientists have a new plan to sustain wildlife in the Rocky Mountains of North America. Advocates of the so-called Yellowstone to Yukon initiative hope to protect the corridors that animals use to travel from one habitat to another by changing land management policies at the local level. From member station KBSU in Boise, Jyl Hoyt reports.

(Engines labor; crashing sounds)

HOYT: On the outskirts of Bozeman, Montana, a backhoe scrapes gravel onto a new road. Wildlife biologist turned economist Ray Rasker used to bring his kids here to watch elk.

RASKER: You could hear them bugling and you could hear them competing for harems. And it was really a beautiful sight. That doesn't happen any more.

HOYT: That's because people who need only fax machines and UPS service to do business are moving to places like Bozeman and building big new houses in the river valleys: prime wildlife habitat.

(Sound of a map being unfolded)

HOYT: The Rocky Mountains from northern Canada down to Yellowstone National Park used to be a fairly coherent ecosystem. Not any more, says Michael Scott of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

SCOTT: I brought this map in. It's a map that shows landscape disturbance of the Yellowstone to Yukon area, from Yellowstone Park...

HOYT: Huge swaths of green on the map represent millions of acres of undeveloped land in the Yukon and northern Canada, where thousands of grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou, elk, and black bear still thrive. Red and yellow show development areas.

SCOTT: As you move south, you start to see more fragmentation occurring. The green starts to shrink and yellow and red start to predominate. And by the time you get all the way into the United States, what you've got is 3 islands left of green.

HOYT: The islands of green are Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and the wilderness areas of central Idaho. With so much new development, large animals are having trouble traveling between isolated protected islands. That makes it difficult to mate and maintain a strong genetic pool, says Michael Scott.

SCOTT: What we hope to do is to re-establish some of those connections. It's a process of talking to people to assure that as wildlife does move, that it's accommodated.

HOYT: The process is called The Yellowstone to Yukon, or Y to Y, Initiative. About 100 environmental groups in Canada and the US have worked on Y to Y the past 4 years. What's unique about the Y to Y initiative is that instead of pushing through national laws, environmentalists are working mostly at the local level.

RASKER: It has to be organic from the bottom up, citizen driven, or it's not going to work.

HOYT: Ray Rasker, an economist with the Sonoran Institute, serves on an open space committee in Bozeman that includes environmentalists, ranchers, and home builders. They're focusing on protecting wildlife corridors and river valleys, which tend to be both more populated and under the control of city and county governments.

RASKER: One idea that I've been promoting is something called an Open Space Depletion Tax, where you tax homes that are built outside of city limits, and you earmark that tax back into a variety of different things.

HOYT: Communities could use the tax revenue to buy critical wetlands for flood control, purchase development rights from ranchers, even reward those developers who cluster their homes together and thus leave more open space undisturbed.

(Footfalls)

HOYT: Rich Walker looks for animal tracks as he makes his way through berry bushes in a steep ravine near Bozeman Pass. Mr. Walker is a biogeographer for American Wild Lands, a private environmental group trying to identify important corridors like this one for the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, then develop plans to protect them.

WALKER: It's important that we have intact corridors that bears are able to move fairly freely along. (Highway sounds) We use the bear as the umbrella species for a lot of other wildlife in the region. And if we can solve for the needs of the grizzly bears, a lot of other needs will be met in the process.

(Highway sounds continue)

HOYT: While this ravine is a safe haven for wildlife, interstate highways, like the one that passes over this canyon, are a major problem for wildlife. Canadians have taken the concept of highway overpasses, which cross natural barriers, and given it a new twist. Near Banff National Park, they're completing several overpasses which will allow wildlife to pass over highways. The overpasses are 50 yards wide and are covered with natural vegetation. There is opposition to the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative. Property rights advocates say it will infringe on rights to develop their own land, and some environmentalists say the initiative is not comprehensive enough. But supporter Michael Scott says Y to Y is realistic, because in this day and age big plans often don't happen.

SCOTT: There's no silver bullet that's going to create Y to Y. What will happen over a number of years, it will be the inaction of individuals, and of towns and forests that piece by piece will put this together in a way that will protect this region.

HOYT: Mr. Scott says for the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative to succeed, people must change the way they think. That may be happening already. Open space committees, once thought of as socialism in many western communities, are now working in many of the rapidly growing towns in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.

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Hermit Nuns Talk!

KNOY: The brothers and sisters of the Nova Nada Carmelite Hermitage in the Nova Scotia woods near Yarmouth live a quiet life. A very quiet life. They don't speak from dusk till dawn, and they keep silent for at least one full day a week. They spend long periods in prayer and meditation. But lately, their solitude has been broken by the sounds of chainsaws. Timber giant J.D. Irving has been clear-cutting the woods around the hermitage and the 12 monks say the noise is undermining their way of life. I reached Sister Sharon Doyle by phone. She is the spokeswoman for the Nova Nada Carmelite Hermitage, where silence is fundamental.

DOYLE: It's essential for a monastic community, especially an eremitical community such as ours, but it's also essential for every human being. It's our birthright. Out of silence great ideas erupt. Out of silence, relationships flourish. Ask any mother who longs for 10 minutes of silence a day, and it seems to be rather important for all of us.

KNOY: You've mentioned the word hermetical, or eremitical, if I'm pronouncing it right. What does that mean?

DOYLE: Well, eremitical means living alone. Each one of us monks has a separate hermitage, and we meet together at the focal point of our lives, which is the chapel. It happens to be right at the center of the property, at the top of the lake, so you imagine hermits coming out of the door at quarter of 6 in the morning and coming from various areas on a 65-acre piece of property, and heading to the chapel. We eat together twice a week. So that makes us different from another kind of order, where they would see, talk to one another daily and eat together at some point, perhaps every day.

KNOY: Sister Doyle, when did the logging start?

DOYLE: With this particular company, in 1995, although there has been logging around us for the 25 years we have been in the area.

KNOY: How has it affected your life, your daily routine?

DOYLE: For a long time our daily routine was seriously disrupted. But apart even from the noise of the logging, it's the fight against the noise and how we have had to leave our daily routine and start dealing with interviews and press and taking care of all the myriad things that come up when you start a struggle like this, that has disrupted us.

KNOY: Are you against clear-cutting in general, or just because it's disrupted your way of life?

DOYLE: In the beginning it was about having disrupted our particular way of life. But as we get more educated, as we meet environmental groups, as we read more about forests, we are starting to have some pretty serious concerns about clear- cutting. We've always, as contemplative, as mystics, had a sense, Laura, of the interconnectedness of being. ThichNat Than, who's a Buddhist monk, says we inter-are. So, my thoughts, whether someone knows them or not, have an effect on the universe. If we clear-cut in northern Maine and in the Maritimes, that can change climate levels to such an extent that someday it will change the level of the ocean, which could effect some island in the South Pacific. It's all connected, and every decision we make, we have to think in terms of the others, not just economics, productivity, more profit.

KNOY: The monastery is asking J.D. Irving to create a 2-mile no- logging buffer zone around the hermitage.

DOYLE: Yes.

KNOY: The company has counter-offered with a 1-mile no-logging zone and limited logging within 2 miles. You've said no deal. Why not?

DOYLE: That does sound like a very significant offer, and for this company it is. We were pleased. We said no for 2 reasons. First one was that it was a unilateral publication. We had no chance to respond to it personally, to the company, before it was published. Secondly, based on our experience, Laura, of how noise travels in the woods and over a lake, and how we have been disrupted by noise further than 2 miles away, we have had to draw a line, be adamant, and say that a 2-mile limit with no activity is the bare minimum for us not to be ruined. We will still be spoiled, but anything less would ruin us.

KNOY: How do you think this will end, Sister Doyle?

DOYLE: I don't know if it will end soon. I think it's going to go on a long time, because because both sides are being adamant. I think if I know if they don't give us the land the final visual will be Nova Nada packing up, putting the land up for sale, and leaving. If we get the 2 miles, we will be grateful and sit back and see what happens in terms of how our lifestyle can go on the way it will never be the way it was, but whether or not we can survive.

KNOY: Sister Sharon Doyle is the spokeswoman for the Nova Nada Carmelite Hermitage in Nova Scotia. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

DOYLE: Thank you, Laura, it's been a pleasure.

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KNOY: And for this week that's Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production team includes Liz Lempert, Jesse Wegman, Daniel Grossman, and George Homsy, Peter Christianson, Roberta de Avila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson. We had help from Dana Campbell. Special thanks this week to New Hampshire Public Radio and the NPR Science Unit in Kyoto. Jeff Martini engineers the program, and our technical director is Eileen Bolinsky. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Kim Motylewski is our associate editor, Peter Thomson heads our Western bureau, Chris Ballman is our senior producer, and the executive producer of Living on Earth is Steve Curwood. I'm Laura Knoy. 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.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the David and Lucille Packard Foundation; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity: www.wajones.org.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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