• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

September 18, 1998

Air Date: September 18, 1998

SEGMENTS

Logging Plan, Logging Halt

A group of 22 organizations is calling for a federal judge to halt all logging in national forests until the U.S. Forest Service completes a management plan that was due three years ago. A lawsuit filed in the US District Court in San Francisco alleges that the Forest Service is violating a law that requires it to write such a plan every five years. Forest Service officials cite a legal contradiction. They say a rider Congress tacked on to last year’s appropriations bill prohibits the service from spending any money to prepare such a plan. Steve Curwood asked Dan Rohlf, a law professor at Lewis and Clark University in Portland, Oregon, if this case could shut down logging on federal lands. (05:00)

The Coasts of a Maine Vacation / Andrea de Leon

Summer is over, and down Maine the foliage is starting to turn. Maine has been catering to "leaf-peepers," summer campers and summer colonists for generations now. Until recently, Maine's license plates even proclaimed the state as "Vacationland." There's no doubt all those visitors bring plenty of cash. But a new report raises questions about the environmental costs of hosting so many guests. Maine Public Radio's Andrea de Leon reports. (07:45)

Lobsters in the Pot

Perhaps the most famous of Maine's marine animals is threatened by overfishing, research shows. Lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine, as well as up and down the Northeast coast, are at risk of collapse, even though this year's catch is high, and prices are low. Steve Curwood asked Andrew Rosenberg, the Deputy Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, to explain. (04:00)

A Virginia Hollow / Virginia Shepherd

Southwest Virginia is a land of mountain hollows laced with purple ironweed and goldenrod. It's a place where well-kept secrets are revealed only with the passage of time, says commentator Virginia Shepherd.. Ms. Shepherd comes to us from member station W-M-R-A in Harrisonburg, Virginia. (03:05)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... CITES , the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the largest wildlife treaty in the world, enjoying its twenty-fifth anniversary this month. (01:30)

German Greens Going Mainstream / Alexa Dvorson

Twenty years in to making strides, the Green Party stands poised to enter the German government. On Sunday, September 27th, German voters go to the polls in what's expected to be a close election. If Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union does not win enough support, Mr. Kohl will step down, and The Greens could be asked to form a coalition government with the Social Democrats. That would mark the Greens passing from a fringe party with a few state office holders into a serious national political force. The Greens first entered Parliament 11 years ago in a Germany divided by cold war politics. Today, despite some in-fighting, they have a significant following. Alexa Dvorson reports during the closing days of the campaign. (09:10)

Enviro Lobby, Get Serious! / Michael Silverstein

Here in the United States we'll soon hold another Congressional election. And on its heels will come the beginnings of the next race for the White House. Commentator Michael Silverstein says it's time for US environmental activists to learn how to play political hardball. Mr. Silverstein is president of Environmental Economics in Philadelphia. (03:05)

Desertification: A Walk Through West Africa

Each year, the world loses more grasslands, croplands and even forests to encroaching deserts. Desertification threatens one-third of the earth's land area, and a billion people in the world's poorer, arid regions. Patrick Gonzalez had a first- hand look at desertification during a five year stay in West Africa. Currently he works for the U.S. Agency for International Development (US AID). Mr. Gonzalez was the first researcher to document a large-scale decline in species richness and tree densities in the West African Sahel in Senegal. To conduct his research he spent a year hiking more than 1,200 miles through west Africa. Steve Curwood talks with Patrick Gonzalez about his long walk. (07:00)

Autumn Insect Songs / Sy Montgomery

It's official on September 23. Autumn is here. Soon, many of us will revel in the beauty of changing leaves, the cool snap in the air, and the flights of migrating birds. But for commentator Sy Montgomery, the loveliness of the season is captured in the sweetness of the voices of insects. Commentator Sy Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire and comes to us from New Hampshire Public Radio. (03:40)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Andrea de Leon, Alexa Dvorson
GUESTS: Dan Rohlf, Andrew Rosenberg, Patrick Gonzalez
COMMENTATORS: Virginia Shepherd, Michael Silverstein, Sy Montgomery

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

A small group of conservationists is suing the federal government, demanding a moratorium on logging in national forests. However the case goes, big changes seem to be ahead for the Forest Service.

ROHLF: I would draw kind of an interesting parallel between this sort of action and the spotted owl controversy of a few years ago, which also has dramatically affected the Forest Service.

CURWOOD: Also, we tally the total cost of a vacation in Maine. Some say the environment is paying too high a price. And a Maine icon is in hot water.

ROSENBERG: Most of the lobsters are just at the minimum size, have only bred once, and that means that there could be a very rapid downturn in the whole population. And that's a frightening thing to happen.

CURWOOD: This week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Logging Plan, Logging Halt

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. A group of 22 organizations is calling for a federal judge to halt all logging in national forests until the US Forest Service completes a management plan due 3 years ago. A lawsuit filed in US District Court in San Francisco alleges that the Forest Service is violating a law that requires it to write such a plan every 5 years. Forest Service officials cite a legal contradiction. They say a rider Congress tacked onto last year's appropriations bill prohibits the Service from spending any money to prepare such a plan. I asked Dan Rohlf, a law professor at Lewis and Clark University in Portland, Oregon, to explain what's at stake in this case.

ROHLF: I don't think that the plaintiffs in this lawsuit ultimately think that this particular legal action is going to be the silver bullet which puts an end to timber harvest on federal land. Even if a court were to go along with the group, and even if the court were to issue an injunction in this case, all the Forest Service would have to do is issue the plan, and then it could resume activities. But I think what this group is trying to do is advance the debate in Congress and in front of the American public as to what the future of our national forests is going to be. And I think, from the plaintiff's perspective in this particular action, they are confident that even the plan issued by the National Forest Service itself will indicate that non-commodity values on national forests are more valuable than the more traditional commodity production, and that therefore that suggests a policy direction of much less or even no commercial timber harvest on national forest lands.

CURWOOD: Now, when you say non-commodity uses, you mean recreation, hiking, the fact that trees keep things from eroding away, that they sequester carbon from the atmosphere; is that what you mean by non-commodity?

ROHLF: Right. There are a variety of those sorts of uses, many of which produce substantial direct or indirect economic revenue.

CURWOOD: Looking down the list of plaintiffs, I see the Native Forest Network, Wild Alabama, Missouri Heartwood, the Buckeye Forest Council. These aren't the big 5 or 8 environmental lobbies you see in Washington. Why are the little groups in the hinterlands doing this?

ROHLF: Yeah, very clearly the plaintiffs in this case are the smaller organizations, more grassroots types of groups characterized as being a little bit more aggressive than some of the larger national groups. I would draw kind of an interesting parallel between this sort of action and the spotted owl controversy of a few years ago, which also has dramatically affected the Forest Service. In that case, the more national groups clearly knew that spotted owls and ancient forests in the Northwest were in trouble, but they were debating politically whether or not it would make sense to try to take an aggressive legal strategy to protect spotted owls. When along came a small, almost tiny group based on the East Coast and filed an initial petition to list spotted owls under the Endangered Species Act, and that sort of galvanized the entire environmental community into action, because at that point the cat was sort of out of the bag. So, but this issue really isn't one that the larger, more national environmental groups have ignored. The Sierra Club, for example, has debated a so-called "zero cut option" for national forests.

CURWOOD: Well that's interesting. I mean, the Sierra Club has pushed a bill or tried to push a bill in Congress to halt logging in the national forests, and that bill has gotten, what, not even out of committee anywhere. Do you think this case will accomplish in court what the Sierra Club and the others have tried to do, lobbying on Capitol Hill?

ROHLF: I think this case is simply going to be an element in the larger debate. If you look across the country, and I've seen this many, many times, perhaps even the majority of the American public equates national forests and national parks, when in fact from a management perspective they're vastly different. I think it might come as a surprise to many people in the United States that commodity production such as timber harvest and grazing are actually a very prominent and important part of managing national forests. And I think part of the overall debate, and certainly part of what the plaintiffs in this case are trying to advance through this litigation, is to educate people about those issues. And I think that ultimately will allow us to have a better-informed debate about what the future of those resources should be.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today. Dan Rohlf is a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.

ROHLF: Thank you very much.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

The Coasts of a Maine Vacation

CURWOOD: Down Maine, the foliage is starting to turn. The state has been catering to leaf peepers for generations. They come on the heels of summer campers and summer colonists. Until recently, Maine's license plates even proclaimed the state "Vacationland." There's no doubt all those visitors bring plenty of cash. But a new report raises questions about the environmental costs of hosting so many guests. Maine Public Radio's Andrea de Leon reports.

(Engines running)

MAN: Number 39, can I get in?

WOMAN: Sorry.

DE LEON: Some of Maine's best-known outdoor destinations are getting crowded. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the state each year to hike in Baxter State Park, ski, snowmobile, raft, or otherwise take advantage of the state's outdoors, generating $5.4 billion in economic activity along the way.

VAIL: There's not any question that it is Maine's nature that is the prime attraction.

DE LEON: But economist David Vail says all those visitors may be loving some of Maine's most fragile attractions to death. Dr. Vail chairs the Environmental Studies Department at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. His research for the Maine Center for Economic Policy turned up a catalogue of environmental problems he says ought to make Maine people think twice about trying to lure more visitors to places like Acadia National Park, Mt. Katahdin, and other popular destinations. Take the cumulative impact of dozens of camp sites on a fragile island ecosystem.

VAIL: People hack down the limited tree cover for their campfires. We see it in the litter that accumulates when 1,000 or so canoes a day are going down the Saco River at the peak summer season in this sort of weekend-long beer party on the Saco River. We see it with trail deterioration in places like Tumble-Down Mountain. Travelers who are just here for a weekend want to get out backpacking. But when there are enough of them over a season, those trails get worn down and somebody's got to repair them or the erosion problem is fairly serious.

DE LEON: But the report looks at the complex impact of one of the fastest-growing tourist draws that's brought economic vitality to a part of Maine where jobs and opportunities have always been in short supply.

(Torrents of water)

DE LEON: On Labor Day weekend, the Kennebec River flowed strong and clear and apparently deserted through the near-wilderness of rural western Maine. But an armada of aging school buses gathered in a rocky clearing to await the human onslaught that was to come. The Kennebec's waters are controlled by a series of hydro-dams, and when the power company releases a large supply of water each morning, it pumps up the volume on a series of rapids that draw thrill-seekers from all over the Northeast. On Labor Day Weekend, one of the biggest of the year for the whitewater companies, well over 1,000 rafters and kayakers ran the stretch in just over 4 hours.

(Milling sounds, equipment being moved)

WOMAN: That was fun.

WOMAN2: Yeah, if you're ready, come on down.

MAN: Slow down, slow down, we've got a boat ahead of us.

DE LEON: Rafts nearly collided as they reached the take-out point, and no sooner did the paddlers hop out of the rafts than their guides gave the signal to hoist the rafts and carry them to the awaiting assembly of trucks and trailers, to make room for the next wave of people coming down from near the dam.

(Air hissing)

DE LEON: Within minutes, the rafts were deflated and the rafters loaded onto the buses, which carried many of them back to one of the new whitewater centers spawned to cater to the growing demand. These day-trippers carry almost nothing that could be left behind as trash, and as one rafting company official points out, they saw the wilderness without setting so much as a toe on it. Bill Hanson is a biologist with Central Maine Power, the utility that regulates the hydro-dam.

HANSON: For the number of people that utilize this resource, it's probably one of the lowest-impact uses of anything I can think of up here. There have been tens of thousands of people go down just this river here on the Kennebec every year, and you have a real captive audience. The people are in a raft floating down the river. They're not littering or damaging the landscape.

DE LEON: The state recently expanded the number of rafters traveling with whitewater companies from 800 to 1,000 on peak days, and economist Dr. Vail praises the state and the industry for having the foresight to determine the river's carrying capacity and prevent it from being overrun. And some whitewater enthusiasts say the limits are too high, and that the amount of traffic on the state's best whitewater runs detracts from the experience. And there are no limits on the increasing number of private rafters and kayakers. It's a sentiment the industry disputes, but one heard frequently from Maine backwoods enthusiasts, who increasingly find their middle-of-nowhere destinations too crowded to feel like real wilderness. Rafter Mary Thompson recently spent a disappointing day hiking the Appalachian Trail.

(Sounds of people milling around)

THOMPSON: We just saw tons of people coming down from Pleasant Pond, and it was just -- it really detracted from that.

DE LEON: Economist David Vail mentions backpacker traffic jams. It's not uncommon to reach the remote northern end of the Appalachian Trail, the challenging hike to the peak of Maine's Mt. Katahdin, and come upon a couple hundred people at the summit. If a place develops a reputation for overcrowding, Dr. Vail says some people will leave it off their itinerary--not a happy scenario for people who rely on the money tourists spend. He says states like Maine should build their tourism promotions around less well known attractions, and he likes the user fees now in place at national parks and some national forests.

VAIL: It seems to me that when people are taking advantage of our natural attractions, they shouldn't have free access to those, because there are maintenance and restoration costs associated with that.

DE LEON: But user fees are often unpopular with taxpayers, who may feel they're being charged twice to use a public resource. And David Vail admits that in a relatively poor, rural state like Maine, such fees could leave some residents unable to afford a wilderness experience. When Mary Thompson made her way down the Kennebec on Labor Day weekend, she was accompanied by her sister Kate, an employee of the Appalachian Mountain Club in neighboring New Hampshire. The AMC both educates people about protecting the fragile mountain environment and runs a system of huts that enables hundreds of people to visit and potentially degrade the area. Kate Thompson sees the contradiction of promoting outdoor recreation and environmental protection to the public.

K. THOMPSON: You have to get them out there and realize that it's out there, and it's something that they would want to protect. And I guess it's better to have a lot of people walking around in the woods than it is to clear-cut the area or, you know, develop it. At least it's there, I guess. People can use it.

DE LEON: And economist David Vail says research demonstrates that people who take part in outdoor recreation, whether it's a quiet paddle downriver, a whitewater trip, a hike up Mt. Katahdin, or a day at the beach, are very likely to support environmental protection initiatives when they vote, when they consider their tax bills, and when they stop to consider their own personal impact on the environment. For Living on Earth, I'm Andrea de Leon in Portland, Maine.

Back to top

(Paddles through water)

Lobsters in the Pot

CURWOOD: Off the cost of Maine, there are other resources under stress, among them cod. A panel of scientists recommended this summer that emergency measures be taken to halt or sharply reduce cod fishing. But the New England Fisheries Management Council, the body responsible for preventing over-fishing, voted to take no immediate action. Andrew Rosenberg, the Deputy Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, says that even though emergency measures will not be taken, there will be new restrictions in place by early next year.

ROSENBERG: I think they will be quite severe. I think they will be survivable. We're not talking about completely closing the fishery, although if we don't take action in the coming months that probably will have to occur if we delay any longer. But the restrictions will be severe. People will be looking for other things to do. And in fact, what we've been trying to do over the last couple of years is move people off of fishing on the cod stock and fish on other species to the extent that's possible.

CURWOOD: Closer into shore, perhaps the most famous of Maine's marine animals is also threatened by over-fishing, research shows. Lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine, as well as up and down the Northeast coast, are at risk of collapse, even though this year's catch is high and prices are low. I asked Dr. Rosenberg to explain.

ROSENBERG: Most of the lobsters are just at the minimum size, have only bred once, and that means that there could be a very rapid downturn in the whole population. And that's a frightening thing to happen. Ground fishing is, you know, occurs all up and down the East Coast, but lobstering still employs more people in more locations than any other fishery, and is more value to those communities. You're talking at least 20,000 people on the Northeast coast that are involved directly in some way in the lobster business. Frankly, it's been a frustrating process for me. I've been trying to move forward with a management plan for some time. I think we're getting there, but I'm worried that we're still going too slow and the lobsters won't wait.

CURWOOD: So the market is sending the wrong signal. I mean, I walk into the market today, lobster is cheap these days compared historically. There seems to be plenty of it around.

ROSENBERG: Catches are not necessarily a good indicator of the health of the resource. In fact, they may be a very bad indicator of the health of the resource. You have to look at what is the actual population level, or what is the harvest rate. How much are we removing of the stock each year? And in fact, we're removing a very high fraction of the lobster stock each year, of the order of 60% or more. And of the older animals, I mean 90% of the catch are these small animals that have just reached the minimum size. So that means that very few animals grow to an old age. Well, it's not because they're doing something else like partying late at night. It's because they're actually getting caught and sold, of course. So you have very few big lobsters. That's indicative of a stock under very heavy pressure.

CURWOOD: So the fact that I can't find a 3-pound lobster for a major celebration is a sign that the stock is on the way out.

ROSENBERG: You should worry. That doesn't mean there aren't any big lobsters. It means there's far fewer than you would expect in a healthy population. And the reason is simple. You know, if animals can only spawn once, but in nature they're adapted to spawn many times, and lobsters can live to be very, very old in fact, then you're saying the possibility that a pair of lobsters, male and female, will replace themselves over their entire life span by having one surviving offspring that will get to breeding age, you're now going to say you have one breeding chance to do that instead of 20 breeding chances to do that.

CURWOOD: Lobsters get to be 20, 30 years old?

ROSENBERG: Oh, they get to be older than that. They don't even reproduce until they're 7. They probably get to be 50 years old. I mean, lobsters live a long time. The average breeding age or generation time is, you know, is somewhat less than that. It's probably somewhere between 10 and 20 in a healthy population. But that would mean that any lobster would expect, on average, to spawn several times over its life span in order to replace itself. Now we're saying okay, populations stay very productive but you only get to each spawn once, you know, and replace yourselves that way. And that's, you know, a difficult thing to expect. And that's a signal that a population is under too much stress.

CURWOOD: Dr. Andrew Rosenberg is Deputy Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Thank you, sir.

ROSENBERG: Thank you very much.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

A Virginia Hollow

CURWOOD: Southwest Virginia is a land of mountains that can swallow you up in a single hollow laced with purple ironweed and goldenrod. It's a place where sons are still named after Confederate generals and unkind acts are remembered for generations. It's a place, says commentator Virginia Shepherd, where well-kept secrets are revealed only with the passage of time.

SHEPHERD: A smallish stream, called Copper Creek, winds through this land on its way to meet the Clinch River. The locals fish it for smallmouth bass, kids swim in it, and farmers water their cattle in it. But it's a rare person who speaks of its treasures as precious.

Seventy-one species of fish and 19 species of freshwater mussels live in the bubbly waters of Copper Creek. In fact, the rivers of this region support over 20% of all mussel species in North America, with 45 species living nowhere else on earth. And mostly, they're in trouble.

Twenty years ago you could find over 100 mussels in Copper Creek in an hour and a half. Today, you're lucky to find 6. Mussels, however, are not a family secret much remembered by the folks of Copper Creek. Like arteries and veins coursing through their bodies, the rivers are a cherished essential of their lives, but they think themselves and their lands strong enough to survive any hardship. Experts believe that nearly half of all the mussels in North America are endangered. In some places, the problems are easily defined, but in Copper Creek they are not.

Some say cows wallow too much in the waters, or that pesticides or fertilizers are at fault. Others cling to words like "cumulative impacts," which is a nice way of saying the creek has finally succumbed to the small abuses committed to it over the years. We are dealing, it seems, with the sins of time.

Twenty-nine-year-old Turner Ashby Gilmer III's family has farmed over 700 acres on Copper Creek for 6 generations. He is university-trained and wants to do good by the land and its waters. But he is the first to tell you that no law coming down from Washington will save their rare river creatures. This is a place where moonshine was once a thriving business, and federal agents steer clear of hollows they suspect are full of marijuana. You do not tell these people what to do.

There really is only one way to save the creatures of these rivers. We must keep them attached to their mountain kin. Both the people and the watery creatures of this place are rare finds on this earth. They need one another to survive. They just haven't realized it yet.

CURWOOD: Commentator Virginia Shepherd comes to us from member-station WMRA in Harrisonburg, Virginia. You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment: www.wajones.org; and Church and Dwight, 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: The Green Party in Germany may be in line to share power in the next government. A look at their elections is just ahead. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Stonyfield Farm and Living on Earth are partners in the 1998 Planet Protector Contest, and we want to hear from kids 8 to 14 about what they're doing to protect the planet. To enter, kids can send a 1-page essay about their efforts to build a healthy planet. Look for contest details on our website. That's www.livingonearth.org. Or, on Stonyfield Farm Planet Protector quart containers.

(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: The straw-headed bulbul, the beluga sturgeon, and the hairy armadillo have one thing in common. All are species recently protected under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The CITES agreement is enjoying its 25th anniversary this month. It's the largest wildlife treaty in the world, and the only one regulating the trade in rhino horns, song birds, medicinal plants, and the like. So far, 143 nations have signed onto it. CITES has had mixed success in protecting the world's most vulnerable species. Take the Asian tiger. In parts of Asia, tiger bones and other tiger parts are still used in traditional medicines and ceremonies. And in the United States, the use of natural medicines containing tiger bones has quintupled in the last 5 years. But to its credit, CITES has brought global political pressure to bear on the international ivory trade, helping to replenish populations of the African elephant. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

German Greens Going Mainstream

CURWOOD: For more than 20 years they're been shouting from the shores at Germany's rigid political mainstream. Now the Green Party stands poised to enter the government. On Sunday, September 27th, German voters go to the polls in what's expected to be a close election. If Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union and his governing partners do not win enough electoral support, Mr. Kohl will step down. The Greens, then, could be asked to form a coalition government with the present opposition, the Social Democrats. That would mark the Greens' passing from a fringe party with a few state office holders into a serious national political force. The Greens first entered Parliament 11 years ago in a Germany divided by Cold War politics. Today, they remain notorious for infighting and occasional foot-in-mouth mishaps, but still maintain a significant following. Alexa Dvorson reports during the closing days of the campaign.

(Blues music plays)

DVORSON: The music at a Green Party rally seems oddly fitting in this blustery day in the suburb of Hamburg. The band is playing the blues.

(Man, singing: "Well I woke up this morning and everything looked so sad. Looked so sad...")

DVORSON: Just after the Green's party convention this spring, when they announced a proposal to raise the price of gasoline to the equivalent of nearly $12 a gallon, one of Germany's popular weeklies, Stern, ran a cover depicting party leader Joschka Fischer pointing a fuel dispenser nozzle at his head with his finger on the trigger. The doctored image spoke for itself, but a caption might have read, "The Greens Commit Eco-Suicide." Now, in the midst of a 7- week tour of the country in his eco-friendly campaign bus, Joschka Fischer takes it all in stride.

FISCHER: I think I was the only politician in Germany which was within 4 weeks twice on the cover of the Stern. So, well, that was a great honor (laughs).

DVORSON: Then there was the plan to set a national speed limit of 60 miles per hour on the Autobahn and raising jet fuel tax so high that most Germans would only be able to afford overseas flights once every 5 years. In this vacation-loving, car-crazy country, the only one in the European Union without a speed limit, the party's ratings took a free-fall. Since withdrawing all 3 proposals, Fischer now freely admits they'd made a mistake.

FISCHER: It was a great, great disaster, this party convention. Now, we are able to come back. We'll get a much better response than most of the polls estimate now.

DVORSON: Polls now estimate that 7% of the vote will go to the Greens, which would guarantee their presence in the lower house of Parliament and could win them a few government ministries. That all depends on how well their potential coalition partners, the Social Democrats, or SPD, fare on election day. The Greens and the Social Democrats have engaged in an uneasy courtship in a bid to oust Chancellor Helmut Kohl after 16 years in power. The SPD's assistant energy spokesman, Wolfgang Dirschauer, calls the partnership pragmatic, if provocative.

DIRSCHAUER: If we feel sometimes that the Greens are a bit a pain in the rear, it's a necessary pain and a necessary push, because the SPD has traditionally been compared with a tank or a tank ship, which is huge and impressive and steady-going. But it's terribly slow to change course. And it's taken us about 20 years to accept that environmental policy is not a fringe topic but a major issue. There will be crisis, but if you look at any government in the world there's crisis, there's problems. This is what government is about. And we're asking, is Mr. Fischer acceptable? Well, look at other countries. Is Mr. Clinton acceptable?

(Fischer speaks in German on mike to a crowd's applause)

DVORSON: Joschka Fischer has come far since the long-haired jeans and T-shirt days of the Green Party's origins in the 70s. But his style remains brash, sometimes abrasive. He's not afraid to tell Germans they'll inevitably need an energy tax, and a national speed limit. But the Greens are not a one-issue party anymore. To paraphrase a campaign slogan from abroad, "It's not just the ecology, stupid." Recognizing Germans' reluctance to embrace change and adapt to globalization, he takes pains to show them the link between job security at home, human rights abroad, and global accountability.

(Sounds of engines running)

FISCHER: We need investments, private investments, in emerging markets. We support that very strongly. But these cannot be investments under the condition of a dictatorship, under the condition of suppression of human rights. So globalism means global responsibility for one world. And this is not only a question for human rights groups or for environmentalists. This is a question for business, too. And more and more people, even in southern Europe, see that it's a good business.

DVORSON: Germans have good reason to be preoccupied with the business of job creation. With 11% of the workforce unemployed, it's Topic A on the national agenda. The task for the Greens is to convince voters that environmental reforms could mean more, not less, jobs. But that will require a long investment in training and education. It's likely that if the Social Democrats invite them to join a coalition government, the Environment Ministry will go to the Greens. But Matthias von Hein, an editor at the Voice of Germany International radio, doubts whether the Greens will be able to call the shots on all environmental issues.

VON HEIN: Definitely not. The environmental policy must always be balanced against all the other interests. Even up to now, the Environmental Ministry never had a very, very strong standing. Germany can be happy that they do have an environmental minister at all, but whenever it comes to matters of real significance, the Environmental Ministry has always been overridden by other interests.

(Engines running)

DVORSON: At this Cologne gas station, nobody enjoys paying the equivalent of $3.50 a gallon for regular unleaded. But these German motorists say they would support a greener environmental policy, including an energy tax.

WOMAN [Speaks in German] TRANSLATOR: I think the Greens can accomplish more in a coalition with the Social Democrats, and that's why I'm voting for them, for the first time. I want a change in government. I don't think economic and environmental interests have to contradict each other. That's old hat.

WOMAN [Speaks in German] TRANSLATOR: It won't change much if they win. I am less worried about the price of gas than bad auto policies. You can't park anywhere, it's so expensive. And on the other hand, the auto industry is getting a big boost because of the economic crisis. That's a contradiction. Gas is already taxed so much. How much more will we have to pay?

MAN [Speaks in German] TRANSLATOR: Anything's better than what we've got now. I can't identify with the present government at all, and that's why any other environmental policy will be better, too. I'm not sure how the Greens and Social Democrats will do, but something has to beat this.

(Fischer speaks in German on a mike at a rally)

DVORSON: To make credible coalition partners, the Greens must overcome the division between their more pragmatic wing, known as the "realos," and their fundamentalist hard core, the "fundies." Historically, the party is not known for its internal harmony, but munching on fresh fruit in his eco-tour bus, Joschka Fischer says while drawing from American inspiration, the party's evolution reflects Germany's own environmental consciousness, which has now become a fact of life.

FISCHER: It's a problem of our country. I don't know how many square miles we have but I think we are a little bit smaller than Texas, with 80 million people. Eighty million people. That's a very high crowded area, so environmentalism here is not an ideological question; it's a question of everyday living. So I think the Green Party has a very good perspective here. The Greens are, well, much more an American party than a German party, because we are a grassroot party. We are grown up, decentralized, from the bottom.

(Blues music again)

DVORSON: American environmentalists might be green with envy that Germany has a Green Party at all. So-called Red-Green coalitions between Greens and Social Democrats are already in place in 4 state governments. Whether a greening of Germany's federal government begins after September 27th is now in voters' hands. One things is clear. With its sunflower logo and in-your-face politics, in the government or in opposition, the German Green Party is here to stay.

(Blues music continues)

DVORSON: For Living on Earth, this is Alexa Dvorson in Hamburg.

Back to top

(Blues music continues)

Enviro Lobby, Get Serious!

CURWOOD: Here in the United States, we'll soon hold another Congressional election, and on its heels will come the beginnings of the next race for the White House. Commentator Michael Silverstein says it's time for US environmental activists to learn how to play political hardball.

SILVERSTEIN: On a recent Sunday the New York Times ran an article that neatly, if painfully, summed up the present state of American environmentalism. This story featured an industry observer commenting on the precipitous decline on the demand for environmental improvement in recent years. It also noted that one quarter of environmental enterprises operating in 1994 are no longer in business. A later issue of the Times carried 2 other stories that help explain environmentalism's current doldrums. One described the Sierra Club's curious debate about the merits of immigration. The other reported that some members of New York's Green Party were considering placing Mumia Abu- Jamal, a convicted murderer, on the ballot as their party's nominee for the US Senate.

I read about the Sierra Club's immigration dalliance and about the Green Party's politically-correct idiocy, in light of the sad decline in the recent fortunes of environmentalism, and I thought: What kind of people are fronting my beliefs? What kind of people are piddling away our movement's enormous popularity, its great material and intellectual resources on such diversions? If Israel had backers like this, the Holy Land today would be governed by Bedouins. If the AARP lobbied this way, Social Security would have been abolished in 1965.

In today's Beltway jungle, where you feed or get eaten, environmentalism has become everybody's Bambi. Environmental groups are the least feared, most copiously patronized players on the American political scene. It's time for this to change, truly. It's time to stop being nice guys and heroic losers and to play the political game to win. With this in mind, here are some specific suggestions that might give environmentalists like myself some greater rewards in coming years than a show of flannel shirts on Earth Day.

First, let's not dilute our credibility by sharing it. Environmentalism isn't about racial, gender, or social justice, and it's not a branch of consumerism. It's about ecosystems and pollution. Other causes have grown fat buddying up with environmentalists while we've been sucked dry.

Next, let's never accept anything but the top spot on any legislative or administrative agenda, and never forgive or forget pols who don't give us that kind of priority. Also, let's never accept symbols in lieu of concrete achievements. Talk's cheap. We should reward it accordingly.

And finally, let's never assume that a candidate, any candidate, is really on our side because of past statements, books, or sincere-sounding emotings. We should lay out an agenda and the dates by which specific actions are to be accomplished. We should then demand a candidate sign the pledge, commit in writing to taking these actions by these dates. Tax protestors and groups on both sides of the abortion issue have used this technique successfully for years. They get things done. They get respect. They win. It would be nice if some time soon, we did, too.

CURWOOD: Commentator Michael Silverstein is President of Environmental Economics in Philadelphia.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: We welcome your comments on our program. Call our listener line any time at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or send us an e-mail at LOE@NPR.ORG. Once again, LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can find our web page at www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org. Coming up: marching through the Sahel of West Africa on the trail of its disappearing trees. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Desertification: A Walk Through West Africa

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Each year, the world loses more grasslands, croplands, and even forests to encroaching deserts. Desertification threatens one third of the Earth's land area and threatens a billion people in the world's poorer arid regions. Patrick Gonzalez had a first-hand look at desertification during a 5-year stay in West Africa. Currently, he works for the US Agency for International Development. Mr. Gonzalez was the first researcher to document a large-scale decline in tree diversity and density in the West African Sahel. To conduct his research, he spent a year hiking more than 1,200 miles through Senegal.

GONZALEZ: It's the equivalent of the distance from San Francisco to Dodge City, Kansas. But hiking a long way and looking at the landscape and speaking with local people can tell you a lot about the environmental change.

CURWOOD: So what did your research show? How bad is desertification there in Senegal?

GONZALEZ: My results showed that species richness has declined by one third in the past half of a century. Analysis of aerial photos showed that densities of trees have fallen by one quarter since 1954. Generally, arid Sahel species have moved in from the north as moister species have retracted to the south. The zones have shifted a total of 25 kilometers in just 50 years.

CURWOOD: And with this loss of species, is there a real loss in quality of life?

GONZALEZ: Every species has its own particular uses. Women, for example, depend on 2 particular shrub species for firewood, and these have declined dramatically. There are few fallback species. Twenty-five traditional medicine species have declined dramatically. Eight species that have provided fruits and leaves and gum in times of drought have almost disappeared, so that if a grave famine hit the area in its current condition, the land may not be able to provide the emergency foods that helped people survive in past episodes.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering, what's gone wrong with our aid efforts there? Because we've known about the problems in Senegal, in the Sahel, in West Africa. There have been these series of droughts. The West has poured money in. What's happened?

GONZALEZ: In this area alone, in the past 2 decades, aid agencies have spent $200 million on 47 different projects. Now, the general model has been to use potentially fast-growing species and to raise big nurseries and to plant massive plantations. Unfortunately, these species are fast-growing in their place of origin, in Australia or Latin America, but they're not really adapted to the harsh conditions of the Sahel--so that in my evacuation of the results of all these projects, I found survival rates of less than 18%, and found that they had spent $25 to $50 per surviving tree.

CURWOOD: So they would have been better off doing what, then?

GONZALEZ: Farmers traditionally protect seedlings in their fields. The most valuable seedlings. They prune them, straighten them, raise them to maturity in a practice called "natural regeneration." Natural regeneration requires no special inputs, and it promotes the propagation of well-known, multiple-use species.

CURWOOD: Local species.

GONZALEZ: Local species.

CURWOOD: These plantation plants don't survive in the harsh conditions. Just how harsh is it? How hot does it get there in the Sahel?

GONZALEZ: The sun gets so hot that it'll bleach the back of your shirt white in just a few months. In the village of Injoba Nombatar, where I lived for 2 years, the highest temperature I recorded was 51 Celsius, which is 128 Fahrenheit. That's Death Valley temperatures.

CURWOOD: So, what's the link between desertification and global climate change, do you think?

GONZALEZ: The mechanism is complicated, but the bottom line is that desertification and global warming are locked in a positive feedback cycle. The worse global warming gets, the worse desertification gets. The worse desertification gets, the more vegetation dies, releases carbon dioxide, and exacerbates global warming.

CURWOOD: Now, what does it mean for the people of Senegal and the land's carrying capacity?

GONZALEZ: My research showed that the current population density is 3 times the capacity of the land to sustainably support people.

CURWOOD: Three times the capacity?

GONZALEZ: Three times. The carrying capacity that I calculated was 13 people per square kilometer, but the actual density was 45 people per square kilometer. Now, to give you an idea of what that means, the United States population density is 28 people per square kilometer. So, the population density there is twice that in the United States, so things are starting to get fairly crowded.

CURWOOD: Briefly, what seems to be the impact of that kind of population stress on the land?

GONZALEZ: People are cutting into their capital. The vegetative cover produces a certain amount of usable material every year. That's renewable; it's like the interest of a bank account. If you just take the interest and leave the capital there, then things are fine, things are sustainable. But people are starting to cut into their capital. They're cutting large trees, so that the next year they can't go to that same tree and cut one or two branches that would have re-sprouted. They're also uprooting root crowns of shrubs, so that they cannot go back in the next year and collect firewood from those root crowns.

CURWOOD: Now, you've been working for the US AID. Let's say the phone rings and it is the Minister of the Environment for Senegal. Calls you up, says, "Mr., Dr. Gonzalez, I've read your paper. I want you to solve the problems of desertification in Senegal." What would you tell him?

GONZALEZ: The key is the natural regeneration of local species, not the plantation of exotics. So, I would recommend to him that the government place all of its efforts on the natural regeneration of the vegetation that's already there, and in a broader sense to value local knowledge, and local resources.

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

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Patrick Gonzalez is currently an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow with the US Agency for International Development in Washington.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Autumn Insect Songs

CURWOOD: It's official. On September 23rd, autumn is here. Soon, many of us will revel in the beauty of changing leaves, the cool snap in the air, and the flights of migrating birds. But for commentator Sy Montgomery, the loveliness of the season is captured in the sweetness of the voices of...insects.

(Many crickets)

MONTGOMERY: As summer ripens into autumn, bird song gives way to bug song, especially the virtuosos: crickets, katydids, and grasshoppers. Their songs aren't mere background music. They're conversations, and we can listen in. The songs tell of longing and pursuit, rivalry and battle. Listen. If the song of the autumn field cricket suddenly becomes louder, more rapid, and higher-pitched, it means he's located a lady and is calling to her. If his calls then soften, she's come to him, and given her consent to mate. But if the chirps get louder, longer, and less rhythmic, he's encountered instead a rival, and a viscious battle may ensue. So viscious are cricket fights that they were the entertainment extravaganzas of the Sung Dynasty of China in 900 AD. The conquering crickets were so revered that when they died they were buried in little silver caskets.

Some songs convey information we can use. Because an insect's metabolism speeds up with the heat, the hotter the weather, the faster the chirping. The male snowy tree cricket, who sings from September till the first killing frost, tracks temperatures almost as accurately as a thermometer. Count the chirps in 15 seconds and add 39, and you have the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

It takes some effort to listen for insect song. Before he died, Vincent Dethier, who wrote a wonderful book, "Crickets and Katydids' Concerts and Solos," told me, "Listen for silence. Then you'll hear them." We must learn to savor the full range of Nature's world of sound. Of course, the songs are not meant for our ears. They're meant to be listened to with small disks near one of the front leg joints, which is where members of the grasshopper family keep their ears. For communicating with such creatures, these songs are perfect. For these animals know what some people never learn: looks are nothing. Performance is all.

Over the relatively long distances these little insects must travel to find one another, songs call out the identity of the musician. In fact, entomologists can sometimes better classify species by song than by appearance. The songs are actually not sung, but fiddled, produced with wings that work like a violinist playing pizzicato. The sound-producing structure is a big wing-vane that bears dozens, sometimes hundreds, of tiny ridges, like a file. The file moves against a scraper, a hardened portion of the inner edge of the wing.

The fall songs of crickets, katydids, and grasshoppers are among the most lovely and lyrical sounds of the natural world. In Africa, the songs of crickets are said to have magical powers. Henry David Thoreau described the song of one species as "a slumberous breathing," an "intenser dream." And when Nathaniel Hawthorne described the autumn music of the snowy tree cricket, he wrote, "If moonlight could be heard, it would sound like that."

(Cricket song; fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: Commentator Sy Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire, and comes to us courtesy of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Back to top

(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 Jesse Wegman, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman, and Miriam Landman, along with Roberta de Avila, Peter Shaw, Julia Madeson, and George Homsy. Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Peter Thomson heads the western bureau. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. And Joyce Hackel is our senior editor. Michael Aharon composed the theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. 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 Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Surdna Foundation; the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.