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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

May 8, 1998

Air Date: May 8, 1998
(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

The Thirst for Safe Water Part #4: Mississippi Drinking Water: Epic Danger / Brenda Tremblay

It's part of Pittsburgh and Denver. It stretches from Alberta to New Orleans. It's the Mississippi watershed--one of the world's great river systems--that drains more than a million square miles of forests, farmland and cities in North America. The Mississippi watershed is home for a great variety of wildlife and a key waterway for shipping. But it also carries a heavy load of pesticides and other pollutants. And for the people who have to draw their drinking water from the river, the high concentrations of toxic chemicals are a cause for concern. As part of our series "The Thirst for Safe Water," Brenda Tremblay traveled down the Mississippi from St. Louis to New Orleans (15:30)

Seinfeld: The Ultimate Population Episode

TV's Jerry Seinfeld, and his neurotic, self-absorbed pals, Kramer, George and Elaine make their exit in an episode that's not about "nothing" but is about an important environmental issue. Here to explain the plot line to Steve Curwood is Kenny Byerly, a senior at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, California who won an essay contest of the group Zero Population Growth by writing this fictitious Seinfeld episode. (3:30)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... Mayflies. (1:30)

Carribean Nations Selling out Whales to Japan? / John Rudolph

Next week, in the middle eastern nation of Oman, the International Whaling Commission holds its fiftieth annual meeting. And like most gatherings of this organization this one is expected to be controversial. On the agenda: a showdown between countries that want to resume commercial whaling, and those that want to strengthen a world-wide ban on whale hunting that's been in force since 1982. At the heart of this deadlock is an alliance between the whaling nations of Japan and Norway, and a half dozen tiny island countries, most of them in the Caribbean. The glue for this compact may well be cash. There are allegations that in exchange for foreign aid, the island nations are supporting Japan's agenda at the International Whaling Commission. John Rudolph has our report. (11:40)

Green Refund / Alan Durning

This is the time of year that, if you're fortunate enough to get one, that tax refund from the federal government should be arriving. And the average income tax refund check is about fourteen-hundred dollars. Commentator Alan Durning has been pondering ways to put his refund to work for the environment. Alan Durning files his 1040 from Seattle, where he directs Northwest Environment Watch. His latest book is called: Tax Shift - How to Help the Economy, Improve the Environment and Get the Tax Man Off Our Backs. His commentaries are produced by Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick. (3:35)

Cheri Knight: Farmer-Musician of the Northeast Kingdom

It's spring planting time so consider this concoction for a productive and entertaining farming experience: take one part soil, add two parts artist and mix in more than a little rock’n’ roll. That’s the formula for Cheri Knight, a singer-songwriter who works the land on a 25-acre organic farm in Whately, Massachusetts. When she’s not out touring the country with her band, that is. Ms. Knight has just released a new CD recording she calls: “Northeast Kingdom." Recently, her tour passed through Boston, and we brought her into the studio to talk about the connection between her music and her farming. (8:45)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Brenda Tremblay, John Rudolph
GUESTS: Kenny Byerly, Cheri Knight
COMMENTATOR: Alan Durning

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. The Mississippi is the mightiest river in North America, and it can be one of the most dangerous to drink from. Millions of people have to, at tremendous risk to their health.

HASTEN: Now try drinking this water. See, look the particles comin' down? Ah, see the particles? Can't you smell it? This is what we have to do . . . it looks so pretty and nice but just look at the water. And that's a good day.

CURWOOD: And if you're a fan of television's Seinfeld, we'll give you an inside peek at how one writer wrestled to bring environmental substance to the show, starring Jerry and his self-centered friends.

BYERLY: You see people so self-absorbed, they're usually all caught up in their own trivial problems. But how can I make it so that overpopulation can become a part of their trivial problems without straying from the characters in the show?

CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and yadda yadda yadda this week on Living on Earth, but first this round-up of the news.

Back to top

(NPR Newscast follows)

(Music up and under)

The Thirst for Safe Water Part #4: Mississippi Drinking Water: Epic Danger

This is Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's part of Pittsburgh and Denver. It stretches from Alberta to New Orleans. It's the Mississippi watershed one of the world's great river systems that drains more than a million square miles of forests, farmland and cities in North America. The Mississippi watershed is home for a great variety of wildlife and a key waterway for shipping. But it also carries a heavy load of pesticides and other pollutants. And for the people who have to draw their drinking water from the river, the high concentrations of toxic chemicals are a daily cause for concern. As part of our series "The Thirst for Safe Water," Brenda Tremblay traveled down the Mississippi from St. Louis to New Orleans.

(River sounds)

TREMBLAY: It's easy to see why they call it the "Big Muddy." A few miles north of St. Louis, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers meet to form a wide and breathtaking expanse of water. The murky brown river churns and foams at the banks where large limbs tangle in the brush and bald eagles swoop down to pluck fish from its rapids.

(Churning, splashing)

Here at the place called The Chain of Rocks, two hundred thousand cubic feet of water rush by every second, carrying sediment that has washed off the farms, forests, and mining operations of eleven upstream states.

(More river sounds to a water treatment plant)

For people who live and work along its banks, like St. Louis water commissioner David Visintainer, the river is an irresistible force.

VISINTAINER: We look on it as almost a living entity. It's constantly changing. It can be very calm and peaceful at times. It can be rampaging and destructive at others.

TREMBLAY: The destruction is unleashed at times like the floods of 1993, when the Mississippi wreaked havoc on towns and cities along its banks. But even in calmer years, the river brings dangers that drinking water officials from Minneapolis to New Orleans must confront; dangers like partially-treated sewage and urban run-off, industrial waste and pesticides washing off thousands of farms.

(Sounds of water treatment plant motor humming)

David Visintainer deals with these problems every day here at the St. Louis water treatment plant. Huge pipelines pump the river water into treatment basins where chlorine is added for disinfection. Then the water runs through forty filters to remove mud and other solids. There's even a special system for dealing with one of the thorniest problems: pesticides. It mixes carbon with the river water in huge vats.

VISINTAINER: It's very fine, fine carbon particles it will then absorb organic type contaminants. It's a process that isn't 100 percent effective but is very effective in removal and we will use extensive amounts of that carbon during the spring runoff periods when for us agricultural run-off is the big issue.

TREMBLAY: Mr. Visintainer says he's frustrated. The carbon treatment equipment alone cost the city of St. Louis almost a million dollars to install, and every spring, during what's known as 'the spring flush' when high concentrations of pesticides wash off midwestern farmland, he spends seven thousand dollars a day on powdered carbon. St. Louis officials manage to meet federal drinking water standards most of the time, but only at a huge cost, and Mr. Visintainer wishes that he had less contaminated water to begin with.

(Sounds of rushing water)

Altogether, eighteen million people drink out of the Mississippi River system. And cities from Cincinnati to St. Paul to Omaha spend millions every year to make the water drinkable. But in a way, big cities are lucky. They can afford sophisticated treatment equipment to remove high concentrations of pesticides. Often smaller communities, where four million people live and drink out of the Mississippi, can't afford it. So anywhere people can avoid drawing their drinking water from the river, they do.

(Sounds of children playing and counting)

Two hundred miles south of St. Louis, Memphis, Tennessee sits on a bluff above the Mississippi. River commerce used to be Memphis' lifeblood. Here the Mississippi is even more vast than at St. Louis. It's been joined by the Ohio and the Tennessee. Twenty-four million gallons of water a minute flow past this city, but its inhabitants don't drink a drop of it. Memphis draws its drinking water from deep wells.

WEBB: I tell you, for Memphis, we're so thankful for the kind of water that we have.

TREMBLAY: James Webb works for the Memphis utility company. He says Memphis is lucky to be sitting at the center of the Mississippi Embayment, a vast, oblong trough that holds 150 billion gallons of water that's seeped down through thick layers of clay and sand. Mr. Webb says that this water is two thousand years old and it has no trace of any man made chemical in it. Unlike surface water drawn from the river, he says, water from the aquifer needs very little treatment.

WEBB: That's another advantage that we have over the surface water people. Most have crypto-spirillim. Most of them have high bacterial counts and uh they have algae blooms with which have taste and odor and we just don't have those problems in Memphis. We're really blessed.

TREMBLAY: Drawing water from the aquifer is expensive. Each new well in the fast-growing Memphis area costs a quarter of a million dollars. And there are concerns about over-pumping the aquifer. But the costs are far less than having to clean up the river water.

(Waves, barges)

On the riverfront in New Orleans, enormous, rusty barges slide up the river, belching acrid smoke and leaving the brown waves foaming in their wake. The swirling river is a mile wide here, and it carries three times as much water as in St. Louis. Every second, six-hundred thousand cubic feet of water flows south. On the final stretch of the river's journey to the Gulf of Mexico, eighty miles away. This is the end of the giant pipeline.

WILEY: What we're getting here is a gumbo of different kind of chemicals.

TREMBLAY: Darryl Malek-Wiley is the president of the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, which tries to raise awareness about river pollution. By the time the river reaches this point, it's laden with PCBs, pesticides, volatile organic compounds, oils, heavy metals, and dioxins. Between Baton Rogue and New Orleans alone, industries release half of all toxic discharges to surface water in the United States. Despite the pollution in the water, Mr. Malek-Wiley finds solace here at the riverfront. He comes to relax and watch the barges, ships, and tugboats chug by.

MALEK-WILEY: This is the river of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Mark Twain, Faulkner, uh, and we have allowed this river to become trashed.

TREMBLAY: Mr. Malek-Wiley says one of the main problems is the lack of accountability for the pollution. The watershed drains parts of thirty states and two Canadian provinces. But the main branches of the river only flow through a few states.

MALEK-WILEY: Every place else, it's the boundary, so Kentucky can say, it's not our problem, it's Missouri's problem or Iowa can say, it's not our problem it's Illinois' problem. We wanna have a voice for the river.

TREMBLAY: So Mr. Malek-Wiley talks about the river up and down the Basin, trying to infect other people with his enthusiasm for restoring the Big Muddy. He also worries about the people who drink out of the river. In New Orleans alone, that's a million and a half people.

MALEK-WILEY: The sewage and water board here in New Orleans does a great job of getting things out, making the water taste good, but I still have the concerns about the low levels of chemicals in there.

TREMBLAY: He's not alone. Although the federal government sets standards for drinking water, even some policymakers think those standards aren't good enough. Researchers are concerned about the effects of chronic exposure to low levels of chemicals. They are especially concerned about the possible effects of the combinations of different chemicals often found in rivers like the Mississippi. And even with extensive treatment, spikes of contaminants make it through people's tap water here in New Orleans. In 1995, drinking water violated federal standards for pesticides for an entire month. And then there's the occasional industrial spill.

STINGHAM: Phenyl spill, chemical spill up river.

(Footfalls)

TREMBLAY: Tom Stingham walks into his garage in a well-to-do suburb of New Orleans. When a Louisiana chemical company spilled toxic phenyl into the Mississippi a few years ago, the retired fireman headed for his local home water treatment center, bought a system and installed it in the corner of his garage.

STINGHAM: People were complaining about the taste. I had none with this. This took it all out.

TREMBLAY: How much did that cost?

STINGHAM: I guess about a thousand dollars when I bought it.

TREMBLAY: It's hot outside today, so Mr. Stingham is cooling off, watching TV, enjoying the comfort of his central air conditioning and sipping ice water.

(TV, faucet runs, sips)

STINGHAM: It's wet, it's cool, it's delightful.

TREMBLAY; But not everyone in southern Louisiana can afford to shell out big money for safe water.

HASTEN: I say can you smell the water?

TREMBLAY: Albertha Hasten tries to cool off by sitting in the breeze in front of the screen door in her small, cypress-sided house. She lives in the town of White Castle where the average household income is seventeen thousand dollars a year. In her kitchen, Mrs. Hasten draws a glass of water from the tap and holds it up to the light. It looks like weak tea, and it smells like rotten eggs.

HASTEN: Now try drinking this water. See, look the particles comin' down? Ah, see the particles? Can't you smell it? This is what people have to do . . . it looks so pretty and nice but just look at the water. And that's a good day.

TREMBLAY: She dumps the water down the drain in disgust.

HASTEN: That's a real good day. Some days it's blacker than me.

TREMBLAY: Mrs. Hasten says most of the people in White Castle are forced to buy bottled water because their tap water looks and smells so bad. She, too, is repulsed by the taste and smell of the water, but she's more worried about the health effects of chemicals in her water, especially on her kids.

HASTEN: C'mere, Wilbur!

TREMBLAY: Albertha Hasten's son, Wilbur, arrives home with his shoulders slumped. He got into trouble again, and picked a fight with his older sister.

HASTEN: How do you act at school?

WILBUR: Somebody make me mad I get uh, like, I'll come here to watch TV and my sister she got mad. Everytime she start running to my mama and I get mad.

TREMBLAY: Mrs. Hasten says Wilbur goes into these rages and gets into fights. His grades are too low, and she thinks he's being affected by herbicides in their drinking water.

HASTEN: In this community children have been known to be very hyperactive, having behavior problems, going into rages, fighting, not learning well, writing backwards, cannot comprehend, having low scores, and CAT testing, etc. So that was a concern as a parent. Hearing other parents and communicating with them and hearing what is going on with the water.

(Car bell, door slams)

HASTEN: A hundred and fifteen years old...

TREMBLAY: We get into the car and head west toward the middle of town.

HASTEN: I'm giving you a tour of White Castle town.

TREMBLAY: We drive past the river levy, by the basketball court, and past the public housing tract to main street.

HASTEN: Those boys be waiting on the people to bring them dope money.

TREMBLAY: You think so?

HASTEN: I know so. Every last one of them quit school when they was in the seventh grade. Hey Ruth!

RUTH: Hey.

TREMBLAY: Along the way Mrs. Hasten greets everyone we meet. Suddenly, she spots the mayor and orders me to stop the car so she can confront him on the street. As she approaches, mayor Maurice Brown throws up his arms and rolls his eyes toward the sky. He knows what he's going to hear about: pesticides in Mrs. Hasten's drinking water. He's heard it all before.

HASTEN: It's the aquifer because of the atrazine and the river is high now, I'm concerned because it seeps, it come through the levy and through the water and that's a concern that we have and we've been saying it for over, how many years now, mayor? Seven years?

MAYOR BROWN: Yeah. To be honest with you, I can't agree with that. I just totally can't agree with that. There might be behavioral problems, but I don't think it's associated with the water. You know, water supply having something to do with behavior problems? How is that associated?

TREMBLAY: The mayor thinks Albertha Hasten's theory is preposterous, but she may be onto something. Researchers have linked some pesticides and other manmade chemicals to hormonal, neuroological, and reproductive problems in animals. Researchers conducting studies in the Great Lakes and the Netherlands, have found that hormone disrupting chemicals seem to be causing learning and behavioral problems in children.

(Sounds of children playing outdoors)

TREMBLAY: Albertha Hasten wants answers about her own kids. She's written letters to state officials, urging them to conduct a health survey in her town. She goes to public meetings and challenges her local officials to spend more money on water treatment. For seven years she's been trying to get help for her community.

HASTEN: There are problems with people having allergies, having respiratory problems coming from the spraying of pesticides, coming through the water supplies. They're still problems out here with these children that need to be addressed and it has to start with the water supply.

TREMBLAY: A block from the river levy, Mrs. Hasten watches her son Wilbur playing with his friends. The levy separates White Castle from the Mississippi, and she says that no one is even allowed to walk on it anymore. Instead of enlivened by its water, she feels cut off from the river and threatened by its pollution. And she's finding out that scientists know more about the effects of river pollution on fish than they do about its effects on people. For Albertha Hasten and her son Wilbur, for Tom Stingham, Darryl Malek-Wiley, for James Webb and David Visinthainer, dealing with the water of their river, the nation's greatest river, is a daily challenge full of fear and uncertainty. Or at least expense, every time they turn on the tap. The "Big Muddy" of today is a long way from the river of Mark Twain. And even with better laws and stricter vigilance, it'll be along way back. For Living on Earth, I'm Brenda Tremblay in White Castle, Louisiana.

Back to top

(Harmonica and guitar blues music)

CURWOOD: Next month, our series, "The Thirst for Safe Water," looks at ways individuals and societies can use new and traditional technologies to assure clean water supplies.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Much ado about nothing. A preview of sorts of the final episode of the Jerry Seinfeld show. That's coming up right here on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Seinfeld: The Ultimate Population Episode

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's been hard to avoid hearing that the last episode of the hit comedy series Seinfeld airs May 14th on NBC. The producers and cast of the show have gone to great lengths to keep the finale story line a secret. But we here at Living on Earth have cracked the vault! And we were surprised by what we found. Jerry Seinfeld and his neurotic, self-absorbed pals Kramer, Elaine, and George make their exit in an episode not about nothing but about an important environmental issue. Here to explain the plot is Kenny Byerly, a senior at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, California.

BYERLY: It starts when Elaine meets an environmentally-conscious man who's worried about overpopulation on Earth. And Elaine starts going out with him. And when they get back to Jerry's apartment, they tell Kramer about overpopulation and that by the beginning of next year there will be 6 billion people on earth. And Kramer gets excited and he wants to be the father of the 6 billionth child.

CURWOOD: Kramer wants to be the father of the 6 billionth child? (Laughs)

BYERLY: Yeah, he thinks it would be really neat. So he runs off, he tries to find a way to do it, and then Jerry goes on a date with his new girlfriend and he finds out that she has a really big family. And since Jerry's just learned all this stuff about overpopulation, it's really bothering him. He's thinking how can they have such a big family? What's going on here? Then George has a lot of problems and they're all caused by the city being overpopulated. And George can't find parking, and when he rides the subway it's too crowded and he gets to work, there's not enough coffee at the meeting. And he's gradually growing more and more frustrated with it.

CURWOOD: Well, what about Kramer? I mean, he's still trying to make this 6th billion baby, huh?

BYERLY: Well Kramer first tries to do this by picking up women so that he can find a mother for the child. But Jerry eventually convinces him that that's not a good idea. So Kramer starts making heavy donations to a sperm bank. (Curwood laughs) Meanwhile, George has become so frustrated with overpopulation that he goes and has Elaine introduce him to her boyfriend, and her boyfriend runs an activist group that's trying to spread awareness about overpopulation. And so George goes with this group, and they go to demonstrate in front of the sperm bank to try to promote adoption as an alternative. And so they're in front of the sperm bank and Kramer tries to go in, (Curwood laughs) and then Elaine's boyfriend confronts him, and Kramer refuses to back down. And they get into a big fight and then all the protesters get arrested, including George. And then he's put into a crowded prison cell.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) The jail is crowded, too, huh?

BYERLY: Yeah.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) So, you've got to tell me, Kenny Byerly, this is, of course, the secret final Seinfeld episode that everyone's been waiting for, right?

BYERLY: Shhh, shhh, shhh!

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Now I suppose we should tell people who are listening that you wrote this treatment for this episode of Seinfeld as part of a contest that was sponsored by the environmental group -- let me guess here -- Zero Population Growth. And you're the big winner.

BYERLY: That's right.

CURWOOD: Well, congratulations.

BYERLY: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: You know, one of the things about Seinfeld, that strikes me, and I suspect everybody who watches it -- I mean, these people seem like completely into this narcissistic trip. I mean they just love themselves and they don't have a whole lot of room for anything else in the world. And they're neurotic in sort of that lovable New York way.

BYERLY: You're right. And that's one of the things that made it so interesting is, here are these people who are so self-absorbed, they're usually all caught up in their own trivial problems. But how can I make it so that overpopulation can become a part of their trivial problems and then make it something that they would worry about without straying from the characters in the show?

CURWOOD: And so you grabbed the issue of conceit of childhood, you know, well I'll just have the 6th billionth baby, that's how I'll deal with it.

BYERLY: That was a stroke of genius. I don't know how I thought of that.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Now, how did you get into this contest? I mean, were you worried about population before you heard about the contest?

BYERLY: No. In fact, population, it's a problem that hasn't gotten a lot of publicity lately. Like, back in the 60s and 70s everybody was worried about the population explosion and such. But nowadays you don't really hear much about it at all. And so I didn't really know anything about it. But my friend came to me and she said, "Oh, I saw this contest on the drama teacher's desk. It's about writing a TV show. You could write a Seinfeld." Because she knows that I like Seinfeld a lot. So I went to the teacher and I asked her about it, and she gave me the information.

CURWOOD: If you can think of a good comedy sketch for an environmental radio show give us a call.

BYERLY: Okay.

CURWOOD: The number's 800-218-9988. Kenny Byerly is winner of an essay contest sponsored by Zero Population Growth and a senior at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, California. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

BYERLY: Thank you.

Back to top

(Music up and under: the theme from Seinfeld)

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

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; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; The Bullitt Foundation; and Church and White, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Allegations of vote buying and selling in the international body that governs whaling are coming up. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm Yogurt's profits for the planet, supporting initiatives that protect the Earth.

(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: May, of course, is the appropriate month to talk about mayflies. The oldest order of winged insects in existence, mayflies are born with gills and live underwater in streams and lakes for about two years as larvae, before emerging as a swarm in the spring. Mayflies that make it past hungry fish to the surface spend much of their one day of free-flying adulthood buzzing near lights and lampposts. Then by the billions they fall to Earth, and can make a slimy mush on roads and windshields. Around Lake Erie, most people consider them a nuisance, but the fact that mayflies do swarm there is a testament to the improving health of the lake. Mayflies have a low tolerance for pollution, so their presence is a good indicator of water quality. And along the shores of Lake Erie, some communities are trying to make the best of the billions of dead insects. They're looking into ways to compost the massive mounds of carcasses into a mayfly mulch. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Carribean Nations Selling out Whales to Japan?

CURWOOD: Next week, in the Middle Eastern nation of Oman, the International Whaling Commission holds its 50th annual meeting. And like most gatherings of this organization, this one is expected to be controversial. On the agenda: a showdown between countries that want to resume commercial whaling and those who want to strengthen a worldwide ban on whale hunting that's been enforced since 1982. At the heart of this deadlock is an unusual alliance between the whaling nations of Japan and Norway and a half dozen tiny island countries, most of them in the Caribbean. The glue for this compact may well be cash. There are allegations that in exchange for foreign aid, the island nations are supporting Japan's agenda at the International Whaling Commission. John Rudolph has our report.

(Boat horns, a diesel engine runs)

RUDOLPH: Sunday afternoon off the tip of Cape Code, Massachusetts. Calm seas, a light wind, and a slate gray sky make this a perfect day for whale watching.

WOMAN: (on speaker) I want you to look at the right side of that finback; I want you to keep an eye on him. If you can see the white patch on the right jaw while we're down there, you can't see that on the left jaw.

RUDOLPH: Soon after the boat eases into whale feeding grounds, passengers catch sight of huge tails, fins, and spouts breaking the emerald green water.

(People whooping)

WOMAN: Oh! Fantastic! Wow! One o'clock, a humpback came right out.

RUDOLPH: Among the passengers is Daniel Morast. He heads the International Wildlife Coalition, a group that promotes whale watching as an alternative to whale hunting. In 1980, when Mr. Morast first began attending meetings of the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, boats from more than a dozen nations were killing thousands of whales each year. Many scientists warned that without a moratorium on commercial whaling, some whale species would soon be extinct. The warning sparked a campaign by the US government and conservation groups to bring new members into the IWC. Among the nations recruited in the early 1980s were several from the Caribbean: St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Antigua, and others. Their votes helped the moratorium squeak through in 1982. But then a few years later, Daniel Morast says, he began to notice a change.

MORAST: It was some time around 1985 that I noticed the two active members from the Caribbean in the International Whaling Commission, St. Vincent and St. Lucia, suddenly switched and started voting for and arguing for Japanese whaling quotas, etc.

RUDOLPH: Over the next few years, Mr. Morast says, other small island nations began siding with Japan and Norway, two nations with active whaling industries vigorously opposed to the moratorium.

MORAST: And this was particularly important, because Japan and Norway had been isolated in this 35-member nation country of the Whaling Commission. So, if you would suddenly have five or six member countries arguing your positions or voting to defeat resolutions against Japan and Norway, well, it made quite a difference.

RUDOLPH: Of the half-dozen or so island nations that joined the International Whaling Commission in the late 80s and early 90s, only one, St. Vincent, has its own tiny whaling industry. So why do these countries regularly attend IWC meetings and advocate pro-whaling positions? Many people suspect a deal with Japan.

TILLMAN: These countries are recipients of various kinds of aid from Japan, port facilities, fishing assistance, missions in regards fishing; so it's from that sector of the Japanese government.

RUDOLPH: Dr. Michael Tillman of the National Marine Fisheries Service represents the United States at the International Whaling Commission.

TILLMAN: It's fairly evident in the voting records of these countries that in issue after issue, that they are voting with their Japanese counterparts. And also, one sees other behaviors where well-known Japanese lobbyists who have been to the IWC for many, many years are now seen with these delegations and, well, if not instructing them, then at least influencing how they view issues.

RUDOLPH: But Japan is not alone. Nor was it the first to try to make friends and influence votes on the IWC. Dr. Tillman and others claim that in the years just before the vote on the worldwide moratorium, conservation groups paid some small island nations to join the Commission.

TILLMAN: There was what we called "common knowledge," quote unquote, that a number of countries joined and that their dues and the travel support was reportedly due to conservation groups providing it. So that, in a sense, one could say that the conservation groups set out a strategy that the Japanese copied.

RUDOLPH: Conservation groups including the World Wildlife Fund, the Humane Society of the US, and Greenpeace, admit that they actively encouraged many countries, including the island nations, to join the IWC. But these groups emphatically denied that money was involved. Anti-whaling advocates also point out that even if some countries did receive funds from conservation groups, it was a minuscule amount compared with the millions of dollars in foreign aid Japan has poured into the Caribbean.

Documenting these widely-suspected relationships is difficult. But Living on Earth recently spoke with someone who claims to have firsthand knowledge of Japan's attempt to strike a deal with the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. The year was 1994. At the time, Sean White was the head of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a British environmental group. Mr. White was on a trip to Antigua, an old ally in the fight against commercial whaling. During his brief visit, he got an unexpected invitation. Antigua's commissioner to the IWC, John Fuller, was going to meet with representatives of Japan. Mr. Fuller asked Sean White to come along.

WHITE: The meeting took place in the office of Mr. Fuller there in Antigua, and there was himself, two Japanese gentlemen, and myself. And I was introduced as an advisor. During the course of the meeting, there was an exchange of pleasantries. But my best recollection was that the Japanese gentlemen were really inquiring as to what they could offer the government of Antigua in order to secure a favorable vote, i.e., supporting them at the International Whaling Commission. And I certainly recall Mr. Fuller directly asking that question: were they hoping to get in exchange for whatever aid they provided, were they hoping to get this vote? And they certainly indicated yes, that that was it. That really was what the meeting was all about.

RUDOLPH: A former official of the Antiguan government, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed Sean White's story. The 1994 meeting on Antigua came at a critical time for Japan. Later that same year, the International Whaling Commission was scheduled to vote on a plan directly aimed at curbing whaling in the seas around Antarctica, one of Japan's primary whaling grounds. The measure was ultimately approved over Japan's strenuous objections. Antigua was among those voting for the plan, apparently having turned down the Japanese offer. But a year later, Antigua's IWC commissioner, John Fuller, was fired. His successor, Davon Joseph, strongly supports Japanese proposals to expand whaling. And this month Antigua will break ground on a new, $12- million fisheries and transportation complex, paid for with funds from Japan. Mr. Joseph denies any link between his country's change in policy and Japanese foreign aid.

JOSEPH: My government has never been given conditions that our assistance from Japan is tied on the question of we supporting them at the IWC. And I want to make it clear that our position in the IWC is an independent position that can stand on its own, whether or not we are getting assistance from Japan. Those two issues must be separated.

RUDOLPH: Mr. Joseph says Antigua changed its position because scientific evidence presented to the IWC showed that certain whale species have rebounded during the moratorium. He argues that with proper management, these whales can now be hunted without the threat of extinction. Mr. Joseph also notes another significant change. The US, once a major source of aid to the Caribbean, has sharply cut assistance to the region. Aid from Japan has increased.

JOSEPH: And we are now getting the type of assistance for infrastructure that we think is important to enhance our fisheries industry, and it is only fair that we continue to strengthen our relationship with Japan, and for that matter other countries, that are interested in working in partnership with us to develop our marine resources.

RUDOLPH: US officials acknowledge that a sharp drop in US foreign aid has made it easier for Japan to cultivate allies in the Caribbean. But a spokesman for the Japanese government denies Japan uses foreign aid to buy influence on the International Whaling Commission. Shingo Ota is in charge of fisheries and whaling issues at the Japanese Embassy in Washington.

OTA: I, let's say there is no direct linkage between our assistance and whaling policy, and we provide assistance to those countries because there is a need for those assistances.

RUDOLPH: Still, the fragile balance of power on the International Whaling Commission worries those who would like to see additional restrictions placed on Japanese whaling. Currently, Japan catches more than 500 minke whales each year for scientific purposes. Michael Tillman of the US National Marine Fisheries Service says scientific whaling on this scale is really commercial whaling in disguise. But he says the US can't stop the hunts because of Japan's alliance with Norway and several small island nations.

TILLMAN: We can complain. We can do so through what we call resolutions, which take issue with anything like that. But to muster a three-quarters majority vote to change this provision, or amend it in some way, just isn't there.

(A boat cutting through water; a crowd)

WOMAN: Look, there's [inaudible]. There's some way out there, too.

RUDOLPH: Most people on whale-watching trips are unaware of the ongoing deadlock at the International Whaling Commission. But the stalemate could be broken if Japan succeeds in changing the rules that govern the Commission. Right now, IWC voting is conducted in public. But Japan and its Caribbean allies want the Commission to adopt the secret ballot. Japan says voting in secret will protect small island states from undue pressure by conservation groups. But US officials and other critics of Japan suspect a different motive. They say the secret ballot is really about Japan's desire to conceal its alliances in the Caribbean and other parts of the world. For Living on Earth, this is John Rudolph.

WOMAN: (on speaker) And I believe that's a mother and calf out there, further at 1 o'clock, and a finback whale at 11 o'clock. Third species of the day here.

WOMAN 2: It's right there!

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(Several voices at once; fade to music up and under)

Green Refund

CURWOOD: This is the time of year that if you're fortunate enough to get one, that tax refund from the Federal Government should be arriving in the mail. Now, it may surprise you to know that the average income tax refund check is about $1,400. And commentator Alan Durning has been pondering ways to put his refund to work for the environment.

DURNING: I haven't decided the best way to invest my tax refund this year, but I've got it down to five options.

(A shovel digging in the dirt)

DURNING: Number one: I might bury it. Sometimes I fear that cranking even one more dollar through the economy will be the straw that breaks the environment's back. You know, global warming, mass extinctions, plummeting sperm counts. I don't want all that on my conscience.

(Digging continues)

DURNING: Maybe I'll just bury my refund in the compost heap. It can't grow the GNP if it's feeding my worms.

(A factory whistle)

DURNING: Option 2: buy some pollution.

(Whistle continues)

DURNING: Through a government program of trading pollution permits, I can keep one ton of smokestack emissions out of the atmosphere for about 100 bucks. I could call a broker at the Chicago Board of Trade, buy some permits, and feed those to my worms.

(Trickling water)

DURNING: Option 3: buy clean water instead. Farmers are sucking many rivers dry with wasteful and inefficient irrigation systems. It's pushing vulnerable species like salmon to the brink. Conservation groups are buying water rights from farmers and leaving the water where nature intended. For $100 I can buy a quarter million gallons, as much as my family uses in our home in 2 years, and give it to the fish.

(Modem sounds)

DURNING: Option 4: a faster computer modem.

ELECTRONIC VOICE: Welcome.

DURNING: With a better modem I could cancel my daily newspaper.

ELECTRONIC VOICE: You've got mail.

DURNING: Reading the news online would eliminate more than 90% of the energy and toxic chemicals used to make and deliver a printed paper to my door. It would also slash 400 pounds from my annual paper consumption, reducing the need to clearcut Canada's native forests.

Finally, Option 5: use my refund to create a new political fund.

(Music up and under: the Beatles' song "The Tax Man": "Let me tell you how it will be...")

DURNING: We wouldn't give the money to politicians. Instead, we'd pay card-carrying environmentalists to move.

(Beatles continued: "'Cause I'm the tax man. Yeah, I'm the tax man...")

DURNING: For example, by relocating from California to sparsely-inhabited Wyoming, you increase your leverage in the US Senate 60-fold. A few thousand strategically-placed voters in key western states could create an environmental majority in the US Senate.

(Beatles continued: 'Cause I'm the tax man. Yeah, I'm the tax man...")

DURNING: Oh, our political fund would be nonprofit of course. That way, donations would be tax deductible.

(Beatles continued: "...I'll tax your seat. If you get too cold I'll tax the heat. If you take a walk I'll tax your feet. Tax Man!")

CURWOOD: Alan Durning files his 1040 from Seattle, where he directs Northwest Environment Watch. His latest book is called Tax Shift: How to Help the Economy, Improve the Environment, and Get the Tax Man Off Our Backs.

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(Beatles continued: "'Cause I'm the tax man. Yeah, I'm the tax man...")

CURWOOD: You can tell us what you would do for the environment with your tax refund. Or make any other comment you like. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write us at 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. That's 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. The e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. Once again, LOE@NPR.ORG. And check out our Web page at www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth -- all one word -- .org. Transcripts and tapes are $15.

(Beatles continued: "'Cause I'm the tax man. Yeah, I'm the tax man. And you're working for no one but me. Tax man!")

CURWOOD: Just ahead: a singer-songwriter applies a gentle dose of rock and roll to help make her garden grow. Stay with us here on Living of Earth.

(Music up and under)

Cheri Knight: Farmer-Musician of the Northeast Kingdom

CURWOOD: It's spring planting time, so consider this concoction for a productive and entertaining farming experience: take one part soil, add two parts artist, and mix in more than a little rock and roll.

(Rock and roll plays)

CURWOOD: That's the formula for Cheri Knight, a singer-songwriter who works the land on a 25-acre organic farm in Whately, Massachusetts. When she's not out touring the country with her band, that is. Ms. Knight has just released a new recording she calls Northeast Kingdom. Recently, her tour passed through Boston, and we brought her into the studio to talk about the connection between her farming and her music.

KNIGHT (singing): Under the ice, and under the snow, in these fields where you used to grow. Over yonder, something's calling my name. In a straight line, a rake, a rose, and then way over and I dug your holes. Now I hardly remember the cold in my fingers.

CURWOOD: Cheri Knight, so you sing about plants, and passion, huh?

KNIGHT: Yes, I do. And I often do in the same song. Love and murder and flower images and garden images and it's all wrapped up into one little package.

CURWOOD: Murder, huh? You must have been out weeding, huh?

KNIGHT: Oh, yes, (laughs) I always think about murder when I'm weeding. (Curwood laughs) Actually, that's not far from the truth.

CURWOOD: What came first, the music or the farming?

KNIGHT: I would say probably music. Because I've been doing that for so long, probably since I was 4 or 5. And I can't imagine myself farming at that age, but I did start with animals, raising animals when I was in my teens.

CURWOOD: You used to raise dairy goats, right?

KNIGHT: I did. I raised Sonnen dairy goats. When you go to a fair or a goat show and you see the pens with the white goats in it, they're called Sonnens, and I raised them for about 10 years.

CURWOOD: The first song on your new album, Dara Glasgow, is about goats, huh?

KNIGHT: It is. It's basically really a portrait of how married you actually are to that lifestyle, and I actually, my friend, who the song is written after, Dara Glasgow, is actually a real person. She lives in Walla Walla, Washington. And she was my I call her my goat guru, as she was the person who when I was about 16 or 17, she had goats and she lived down the road and I came over and I worked for her. And it was fabulous and it got me interested in it.

(Singing) Good morning, fine ladies. Good morning again. Let me warm my cold hands. Gather around, let your milk down, fill my silver bucket again. For all life's riches, feeding and gone, I had a silent yearning so strong. The wail of a nightjar is a sad reverie. But their beating heart's music to me...

CURWOOD: Tell me about the farm that you work on now today. What do you grow?

KNIGHT: Well, I'm the flower person. And Farmer Day, who owns the farm grows organic vegetables, and his girlfriend Emily grows herbs. And I actually work for her as well, and I have worked for him, but now I'm pretty much just doing the flowers fulltime. And I grow annual cut flowers, and I cut them, bunch them, and then I come to Boston twice a week, sometimes three times a week, and sell them at the farmers' markets.

CURWOOD: Now, you've got to do a farm every day, requires daily attention.

KNIGHT: Mm hm.

CURWOOD: How do you go on the road as a musician and do that?

KNIGHT: The schedule actually went something like this. I put the flowers in the ground in May, and the very next day I was on a plane to Nashville to go record the record. So in June when the flowers were growing I was recording, and by the time I got back home a month later, they were ready to cut. And so that worked out well, and then I cut all summer, and we got everything ready. We did the cover art while I was doing that. And then the record came out in February, and my last working days at the farm were right around Christmas. So it worked out well.

CURWOOD: Your music makes it sound like farming is an art.

KNIGHT: I truly believe that it is. I think if you start actually hybridizing plants, and I have some friends who do that, that's very much an art. It's something that you're dealing with two different plants, or if you're in the case of animals, if you're dealing with two different animals and you want to breed them together, there's a lot of very impressionistic work that you have to do, and it's very much a leap of faith the same way making anything else is. And it's very connected, I think.

(Singing) Love is a rose just lying tangled in a vine. Silent and forgotten as the world passed me by. You've been down and you held me then. Every time I see you I remember when...

CURWOOD: I notice that you have on your CD a St. Verbena medicinal for heartache.

KNIGHT: Yes. That's actually a flower that I grew a couple years ago, and it didn't work out as a cut flower. It's called Verbena Bernariensis. It just has a little too short of a stem for cutting, but I fell in love with it. And I realized that summer that my plants were actually taking care of me. And so when I wrote that song, I just canonized the flower for some reason, because I loved it so much. And I grow it every year even though I have no financial reason for doing it. Because I just like to look at it out in the field. And they make you feel better.

(Singing) There's a flower in the yard almost like a purple star. Purple deep as Jesus' silk, with an eyes [word?] white as milk. I have picked you and I have left you untouched. I would make you my own, St. Verbena. Medicinal for heartache.

CURWOOD: It's really fun for you to come by today. Thank you so much.

KNIGHT: Yes. Thank you. I've really enjoyed it.

CURWOOD: Cheri Knight's new album is called Northeast album, that's out of time, one of us, excusez moi! This is 1998. It's a CD. We don't have albums any more.

KNIGHT: I still say that.

CURWOOD: Well, Cheri Knight's latest CD is called Northeast Kingdom.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our staff includes George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Jesse Wegman, Daniel Grossman, Liz Lempert, and Miriam Landman, along with Peter Christianson, Roberta de Avila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson. Our technical director is Eileen Bolinsky. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer. We had help from Jeremy Jurgens and Vanessa Melendez. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. And thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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