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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

October 30, 1998

Air Date: October 30, 1998
(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

Makah Whaling: Rights and Fights

The native Makah tribe of Washington state has won the right to resume its traditional hunt of the gray whale. Living on Earth's northwest bureau reporter Terry FitzPatrick tells Steve Curwood that controversy continues to surround the tribe, and some activists say they will try to disrupt their efforts in order to discourage a new trend toward renewed whale slaughter in the name of cultural identity. (6:00)

Congress' Rushed Riders Wrap

On their way back home to campaign for re-election, Congress attached around a dozen environment related riders to the latest budget. Out of the fifty United States, most of these last minute provisions relate to just one; Alaska. Joel Southern, who covers Washington D.C. for the Alaska Public Radio Network spoke with Steve Curwood about Alaska's powerful lawmakers and some of their eleventh hour political maneuvers. (3:30)

Portland, Oregon + 25 years / Jacob Lewin

The City of Portland, Oregon seems to have a success story on its hands, twenty- five years in the making. In order to improve the quality of life in urban Portland, and limit growth of its farms and forests, back in 1973 citizens began implementing a zoning plan to limit sprawl whose outcome they are enjoying today. Jacob Lewin explains. (8:35)

Listener Letters

()

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... gigantic squid. (1:30)

Israeli River Pollution / Reese Erlich

While Israel has many sound environmental protection and water clean-up laws, Reese Erlich reports from Haifa that despite the arid country's precarious water supply, monitoring river pollution and enforcing cleanliness are seemingly low priorities for the Jewish State. (7:35)

LOE Bulbs Garden Spot

Steve Curwood visits with Living on Earth gardening expert and editor of Traditional Gardening magazine Michael Weishan. This time, Weishan helps listeners get ready for the winter, and the spring, with advice on flower bulb planting. Tips include information on planting at different soil levels for stagger timed blooms, and how to get tulips to live longer. (5:00)

Islands at Risk / Peter Kreysler

As part of our continuing coverage of the Kyoto Protocol, Elise Fried reports from the Marshall Islands on the potentially devastating effects of global climate change to islands and other low lying areas. Islanders on these South Pacific atolls say changing weather patterns are already endangering their way of life. This report on the effects of climate change in the South Pacific was produced with help from reporter Peter Kreysler. (8:00)

Green Coffins

Specially for Halloween, Steve Curwood talks with builder Will Maertens (MYRHH-tins) of Redding, California who builds biodegradable coffins and coffin kits out of rice straw pressed into plywood. Maertens' says his do-it-yourself CasKits are also less expensive to build and own than other coffins currently on the market. (3:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Jacob Lewin, Reese Erlich, Elise Fried
GUESTS: Terry FitzPatrick, Joel Southern, Michael Weishan, Will Maertens

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Native Americans in Washington State plan to resume hunting gray whales. Animal rights activists say no.

DAILEY: We're known as whale hunters and we didn't ever want it to die. We're going to be just like our ancestors.

WATSON: That will be a disaster for whales worldwide, because Russia, Japan, Iceland, and any other whaling nation will go to the IWC and say, "We kill whales for cultural necessity also."

CURWOOD: And 25 years after Portland decided to limit development with a greenbelt around the city, residents say they're enjoying the dividends.

SELTZER: It can be as subtle as being able to find fresh-grown produce within 20 minutes of your home. It can be as subtle as being able to see the stars at night. How do you quantify that?

CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth, but first news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Makah Whaling: Rights and Fights

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

(Water splashes and men chant. A foghorn in the distance.)

CURWOOD: In the Pacific Northwest a crew of Makah Indians has been preparing for something that hasn't been tried in generations: hunting a 40- ton whale from a canoe.

(Men continue to chant)

CURWOOD: The tribe plans to resume whaling this fall, and that has sparked a bitter dispute that pits Native American rights against animal rights. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick joins us now from our Northwest Bureau to explain.

FITZ PATRICK: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Hey, Terry, it's been 70 years since the Makah took their last whale. So why do they want to start again now?

FITZ PATRICK: Well, mostly because they can. The whaling culture of the Makah tribe dates back more than 15 centuries, and they stopped in the 1920s only because commercial fleets nearly wiped out the gray whales along the west coast of North America. The whales, now, because of international protection, have recovered. There's a robust population. And so, Makah elders have decided it's time to resume their tradition.

CURWOOD: Is this a matter of subsistence? Did they need the meat?

FITZ PATRICK: That's part of it. Their reservation is in a very remote location out at the very northwest tip of the continental United States. And it's an isolated location where people have a tough time earning a living. Half the tribe is unemployed. A third lives below the poverty line. And so, the meat from a whale will certainly be welcome there. Really, though, the Makah say that this is more a matter of reclaiming their identity. Now, here's how a member of the tribe's Whaling Commission, Denise Dailey, described it during a recent festival.

DAILEY: Do we just want it to be stuck in the museum in pictures and just be known as, you know, 200 years ago we used to do that? And we really felt that it is our culture. We're known as whale hunters, and we didn't ever want it to die. To me, that was what this is all about. We're going to be just like our ancestors.

FITZ PATRICK: Now, like their ancestors, the hunters this fall will use a dugout canoe and a harpoon thrown by hand. Although they have made 2 concessions to modern times. One is that they will finish off the wounded whale quickly with a high-powered rifle, actually an anti-tank gun. And they've agreed to follow rules that are set up by the US Government and the International Whaling Commission. And in fact they got permission from both those entities before going ahead with the hunt.

CURWOOD: So what's the controversy about? Is it animal rights groups who are opposed to this?

FITZ PATRICK: Yes, primarily. The IWC, the International Whaling Commission, has allowed aboriginal peoples to hunt whales for a number of years for food. In Siberia, in Alaska, in Greenland, and a couple other places. They've allowed this even though there is a worldwide moratorium in place on commercial whaling. This, though, is the first time since the ban was enacted that someone is reviving a hunt primarily for cultural reasons. Now, animal rights activists are worried that nations who are defying the whaling moratorium will use this cultural rationale to justify their commercial whaling operations. The person who's complaining the most bitterly about this is a guy named Paul Watson, who runs a militant anti-whaling group called the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. And this is what he has to say about what's at stake with the Makah hunt.

WATSON: That will be a disaster for whales worldwide, because Russia, Japan, Iceland, and any other whaling nation will go to the IWC and say, "We kill whales for cultural necessity also." The Icelanders and the Norwegians both claim that they have a longer tradition of killing whales than the Makah do. So, this isn't just a question of 5 gray whales to be taken by the Makah. This is something that can affect thousands of whales that will be taken internationally as a result.

FITZPATRICK: Now, many people think Mr. Watson is wrong on this. The floodgates won't be opened, and some of the most vocal anti-whaling groups, like the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace, even, the original Save the Whales group, they do not oppose the Makah hunt.

CURWOOD: But the Sea Shepherd group isn't giving up, I gather. They're preparing for some kind of a showdown at sea?

FITZ PATRICK: Yeah, that's right. A blockade, possibly. They have an armada of protest ships anchored near the reservation. And the activists plan to either block the Makah canoe from reaching a whale, or somehow to scare the gray whales away from the region altogether. Now, to do that, Paul Watson has a mini-submarine that's painted like a predatory killer whale. When I was out on his boat, we climbed inside the sub and he explained how he'll use it to blast orca sounds into the water.

(Orca sounds with splashing water)

WATSON: What we're hoping to do is that it'll be able to operate in the guise of an orca. It'll approach migratory gray whales. And when they see this thing that looks like an orca, sounds like an orca, then it's our hope that they'll turn and run for the open sea.

FITZ PATRICK: Ironically, it's illegal to harass whales like this, even if you're trying to save them from being killed. The Coast Guard has ordered protesters to stay away from the Makah boat, Steve, but it's unclear if they'll obey that order.

CURWOOD: It sounds dangerous, Terry, and this showdown could happen any day now?

FITZ PATRICK: Yes. And it is hard to predict what'll happen out there in the ocean. To paraphrase a local marshall out here, you've got big guns, big ships, big whales, and big emotions all coming together. And that could be a recipe for a disaster.

CURWOOD: Well, thanks for filling us in.

FITZ PATRICK: My pleasure.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick is at our Northwest Bureau in Seattle.

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(Music up and under: drumming)

Congress' Rushed Riders Wrap

CURWOOD: In the last-minute scramble to get out of Washington before the elections, Congress attached dozens of unrelated riders to the final spending package. More than a dozen of these riders will have a big impact on the environment. Of course, there are 50 states, but many of these controversial provisions apply to just one: Alaska. Joel Southern covers the nation's Capitol for the Alaska Public Radio Network Joel, why did so much of the action keep pointing back to Alaska? Is it because its delegation is sitting in the catbird seat?

SOUTHERN: I guess you could sum it up in 2 words: Ted Stevens. Ted Stevens is a senior senator from Alaska. He's also Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. And when you look through this bill, this huge, humongous bill, this monstrosity, as some people have called it, the A-word, Alaska is in there a lot, and a lot of that has to do with Senator Stevens.

CURWOOD: Now, one of Senator Stevens' major accomplishments in these negotiations was the reorganization of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska fishing industry. What happened there?

SOUTHERN: Well, essentially, Senator Stevens a while back wanted to boot out about, I think it was about 15 factory trawlers from the North Pacific. He believes factory trawlers are responsible for a lot of the decline of certain fish stocks and fish habitat there. And after a lot of wrangling between the Alaska interests and the Seattle-based factory trawler interests, they reached this compromise, which will effectively buy out about 8 of the factory trawlers at a cost of around $95 million.

CURWOOD: Joel, what will this mean for conservation of fish stocks?

SOUTHERN: Well, there are some groups who look at this compromise and believe that it will allow for more fishing, excessive fishing, more bycatch of fish. And I think you'd even find the Alaska Congressional delegation and their folks who worked on this not really having a good feel for what the total impact of the compromise will be. And they may have to go back and tweak it in future years just to make sure that it's not having some unintended effects.

CURWOOD: So, it seems that Alaska's fishing industry could be getting more access to fish stocks, or also getting millions of dollars to buy off some trawler boats. It also seems that the logging interests in Alaska chalked up something of a win, this time in the Tongass National Forest. Joel, can you explain what the riders would do in the Tongass National Forest?

SOUTHERN: Senator Frank Murkowski, the junior Senator from Alaska, was pushing a provision originally that would have made the Forest Service put up 90% of the 267 million board foot allowable sales quantity in the Tongass. They would have to do that or dig into their own pockets to pay local communities the money that they wouldn't otherwise be getting from the timber sales. And that, of course, proved to be controversial for a number of conservation groups. The compromise was something like this: Senator Murkowski didn't get what he wanted in terms of the timber harvest, but he did get a pledge from the Clinton Administration for about $12-1/2 million to make sure there was adequate timber supply offered to the Southeast Alaska industry, and a pledge from Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to work with that industry to foster value-added production in the Tongass, such as a veneer plant or other types of processing.

CURWOOD: One of the highest-profile riders was an effort to build a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, that is, to set a precedent by putting a road through a wilderness area. I guess this hasn't happened before. Both the White House and the Alaska Republicans said hey, they were going to the mats on this one, that they weren't going to give in. Why did Senator Stevens agree to back down on this road proposal?

SOUTHERN: Well, try $37.75 million (laughs). That's primarily the reason.

CURWOOD: Okay.

SOUTHERN: They did fight over this a good bit, and it would have been unprecedented had they cut this road through this very important area in the middle of the Izembek Wildlife Refuge. It's a place where waterfowl rest as they fly South in the Pacific Flyway. Senator Stevens ultimately saw that they could not prevail, and was offered several options. He had a meeting directly with the White House Chief of Staff, Erskine Bowles. Bowles lay down a list and said, "Well, Senator, here's our options, choose one." He said, "I'll take 3." And the 3 options ended up being $37.75 million.

CURWOOD: So what's the lesson here, Joel? All politics is local?

SOUTHERN: Well, a lot of people would say all politics is Alaska, as long as Senator Stevens is Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It's just really amazing how he's used that leverage to get a lot of money and a lot of consideration steered Alaska's way.

CURWOOD: Joel Southern is the Chief of Alaska Public Radio's Bureau in Washington, DC. Thank you, sir.

SOUTHERN: Thank you, Steve.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: Harvesting the fruits of 25 years of controlled growth. Portland, Oregon, celebrates its livability. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Portland, Oregon + 25 years

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

One of the nation's most important projects to contain suburban sprawl is marking its 25th anniversary this year in Portland, Oregon. In 1973, Oregon residents decided to draw a line around the Portland metropolitan area, beyond which development would be tightly restricted. The goal was to protect farm land and wild areas outside the city, while improving the quality of life in the urban center. A generation later, the Portland area is widely considered one of the most livable cities in the country. Jacob Lewin reports.

(Footfalls, bird calls)

LEWIN: At the edge of a road 10 miles outside of downtown Portland, the suburbs suddenly stop and you can see the farms and forest land of Washington County stretch for miles to the west. This is Portland's invisible line, its urban growth boundary. On one side almost all non-farm development is banned; on the other, it's encouraged. Urban growth boundaries are the cornerstone of Oregon's landmark land use law, created 25 years ago to protect the state's valuable farm land from suburban sprawl. Dave Vanasche works right up to the line.

(A motor starts up)

LEWIN: Vanasche is a grass seed farmer and a strong supporter of the urban growth boundary.

VANASCHE : Being a farmer, full-time for the last 20 years, and being born and raised on this same farm, I saw what was happening before our state land use planning system went into effect, and I've seen what's happened afterwards.

LEWIN: Do you think if we didn't have this sort of thing, you would still be farming here?

VANASCHE: I don't believe I would be farming in Washington County today.

LEWIN: Without the boundary, Mr. Vanasche believes many Portland area farmers would have sold out to developers, and rural lands would have been chopped up. A subdivision here, a farm there. Even farmers who did not want to sell to developers might not be able to farm.

VANASCHE: We have to have enough farm land in one area to create the need for chemical fertilizer dealerships, for machinery dealerships, for seed processing. And once you lose a certain amount of farm land, you lose that agricultural infrastructure.

LEWIN: The growth boundary idea has worked as planned. Compared to neighboring Washington, California, or Idaho, Oregon has lost very little of its farm land in the last 25 years. That has allowed a $3-1/2 billion industry to flourish. It's also allowed Oregon to retain more of its beauty and rural flavor. The area outside Portland's urban growth boundary is still mostly the green, slow-paced, and pleasantly sleepy place it was 25 years ago. But inside the boundary, things have changed a lot.

(Salsa music plays)

LEWIN: The group Conjunta Allegre plays at a festival in downtown Portland's mile-long Waterfront Park. This park didn't exist 25 years ago. Neither did downtown's marina, vibrant retail district, new arts center, open-air markets, strong nightlife scene, or light rail system.

K. MACCOLL: It was dead, very dead downtown. The Oregon Journal had an article called "Sad Sack City."

LEWIN: Portland historian Kim Maccoll says the city has been transformed since the 60s and early 70s. Mr. Maccoll says mostly for the better. Fifty percent of the region's office space is downtown, and its residential neighborhoods are thriving. The revitalization of downtown is the flip side of Oregon's effort to preserve farm land outside the city. Kim Maccoll says it all began with a visionary governor who was the law's chief promoter.

K. MACCOLL: Tom McCall, our governor from 1967 to '75, was the great outdoorsman. He loved the environment. And one of the first things he did when he came into office was to decide to make a study of all of our land use in Oregon at that time. And it was pretty devastating.

(Archive Tape:) T. MCCALL: There is a shameless threat in our environment. And in the whole quality of our life. And that is the unfettered despoiling of our land. Sagebrush subdivisions. Coastal condo-mania. And the ravenous rampage of suburbia here in the Willamette Valley. All threaten to mark Oregon's status as the environmental model of this nation.

LEWIN: With development restricted outside of Portland for a generation since Governor McCall's speech, the region has had to make more creative use of the land that does exist inside the ring. Instead of sprawl, developers have turned to infill, the building of houses, townhouses, and apartments on vacant inner-city land. Lot sizes have shrunk, and abandoned industrial properties redeveloped. Ethan Seltzer, who heads the Institute for Metropolitan Studies at Portland State University, says Portland has reversed the country's dominant development pattern of the last few decades.

SELTZER: When you look at similar figures in other metropolitan areas, they're consuming land at far greater rates than they are growing in population. Our rate of population growth is greater than our rate of land consumption.

LEWIN: But critics say this apparent success is merely a failure in disguise.

BUCKSTEIN: Basically, what we're doing is trying to contain a growing population in a very small space.

LEWIN: Steve Buckstein is president of the Cascade Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. Mr. Buckstein contends that when Oregonians voted to protect their farm land, they weren't expecting to get more crowded cities in return.

BUCKSTEIN: Most people had no idea that we would mandate, the governments would mandate high densities inside the urban growth boundary, destroying open space, putting houses closer together, increasing traffic congestion, and raising housing costs.

LEWIN: Supporters acknowledge that by limiting the supply of developable land, the urban growth boundary has helped push up housing costs. But prices have also risen in other fast-growing western cities that don't have urban growth boundaries. And Ethan Seltzer of the Institute for Metropolitan Studies dismisses the concerns about over-crowding.

SELTZER: This is still a relatively low-density region. What we're talking about is not Singapore. We're talking about maybe a second floor in some cases on structures which are now single-story.

LEWIN: Traffic congestion has increased inside the city, but the average commute time in the metro area is still only 14 minutes. And the metro area is trying to relieve congestion with more mass transit.

METRO ANNOUNCER: The doors are closing.

LEWIN: New light rail lines have contributed to a 17% increase in ridership over the last 5 years, growing twice as fast as population. Hop on a rush hour train and you'll find few empty seats, as commuters head home to places like Orenco Station in the high-tech corridor of Washington County.

(Train riding over tracks)

METRO ANNOUNCER: Orenco, Northwest 231st Avenue. Doors to my left. Orenco...

LEWIN: Government has zoned new transit villages built at places like Orenco Station. They include small but attractive homes built on relatively small lots, many with apartments over the garage to increase density. The streets are designed for walking and stores are being built nearby. And resident Joyce Miller says you'll find something else: a sense of community.

MILLER: I love knowing my neighbors, and I like the idea that we're all together here. We can walk with each other. I've already made contact with women here. And I think it's just a great, great place for people.

LEWIN: The fact is, most Oregon residents are happy with the results of their growth management laws. Voters have rejected 3 efforts to repeal the state's land use laws, and several court challenges have failed as well. But the challenges continue to come. On election day, voters face a ballot measure that would make it easier to chip away at land use laws, and will choose between a candidate for governor who wants to roll the laws back, and an incumbent who supports them. There are also population pressures on the urban growth boundary. Metropolitan Portland's unique regional government will soon vote on whether to expand the ring for the first time ever, by about 2%. Ethan Seltzer of the Institute for Metropolitan Studies says whichever way the decisions go, it's important for residents to remember that Portland has turned out far differently than it would have without its land use system.

SELTZER: It can be as subtle as being able to find fresh-grown produce within 20 minutes of your home. It can be as subtle as being able to see the stars at night. How do you quantify that?

LEWIN: For Living on Earth, I'm Jacob Lewin in Portland, Oregon.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Jim Peugh, who hears us on KPBS in San Diego, noted that 2 recent stories on politics in the environment cited the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates, or CREA. A Republican for almost 40 years, Mr. Peugh says he considers CREA to be, quote, "a pseudo-green organization formed to deceive voters about the actions of the Republican leadership." He continues, "I personally am very ashamed of the leadership's lack of responsibility on environmental issues and hope for a change." Mr. Peugh suggests Republicans for Environmental Protection America as a more responsible reflection of the environmental Republicans' point of view.

Our story on US military waste cleanup in Panama got Gretchen Youngblood thinking about possible alternative solutions. Ms. Youngblood, who hears up on WVTF in Roanoke, Virginia, noted that Panama's international debt is owed to the United States, and she wondered whether it would be simpler for the US to forgive the debt in return for being excused from the cleanup. And then go one better. "The US," she writes, "should pay the Central American nation when it leaves, a kind of tip to the Hotel Panama."

If you'd like to tell us something, call our listener line any time at 800-218- 9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. And check out our Web page at www.livingonearth.org.

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It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for reporting on science in the environment; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Just ahead: If you live where frost arrives, it's time to think about spring, by getting some flower bulbs into the ground. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, makers of pure, all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream: 800-PROCOWS.

(Theme music up and under)

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

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: One hundred and twenty years ago this week, the largest squid ever recorded by science washed up on Canada's Atlantic shore. Its arms were nearly 40 feet long, and its estimated weight? Two tons. These huge cephalopods dwell deep in the ocean, possibly as far down as 3,000 feet. Not much more is known about them, as no one has ever caught a glimpse of a giant squid alive. They've even escaped the gaze of submersible cameras, attached to sperm whales, who love to dine on squid. The giant squid is not only the largest invertebrate and the largest mollusk, it also has enormous eyes. A giant squid eye is about the same size as a human head. The most intact and well-preserved giant squid specimen resides at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Found by fishing boats off the coast of New Zealand, this squid has all 8 arms still attached. And though it's a mere 25 feet long, museum staffers have affectionately dubbed it, "Squidzilla." And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Israeli River Pollution

CURWOOD: The latest Mideast peace summit in Maryland may have broken a 19- month deadlock between Palestinians and Israelis. But its lasting impact for the troubled land and its people remains unclear. Much is at stake in the proposed settlement, including the future of natural resources. The region's ecology, in particular its water supply, is under heavy pressure. The severity of water pollution hit home for Israelis last July as athletes marched during opening ceremonies for Israel's version of the Olympics. A bridge spanning the Haifa River collapsed. Four Australian athletes who fell into the river died, but not from drowning. Israelis were shocked to learn the athletes perished after inhaling a fungus living in the river's mud, a fungus that fed on toxic pollution. Reese Erlich reports from Haifa.

(Sandblasting)

ERLICH: Workers sandblast a ship here in a Haifa harbor dry dock. Decades ago this port had clean, blue water. Now it's muckish and brown, and produces a putrid odor.

BEN DOV: The sign is warning Danger, Polluted Water, and it's standing just by the Kishon port. And it was posted all along the Kishon River itself after the accident that happened last year in the Maccabiah Games in the Yarkon River.

ERLICH: Ofer Ben Dov, an environmental activist and head of Greenpeace in Israel, stands on the shore of the Haifa Harbor. He says in the year and a half since the Maccabiah Games accident, government authorities have done little to clean up the Yarkon River, nor the Kishon River here in Haifa.

BEN DOV: They were very quick in posting the signs, but they're not that quick in cleaning the water.

(Liquid spew)

ERLICH: A few miles away, pipes from petrochemical plants spew oil byproducts into Israel's most polluted river, the Kishon. For 30 years these companies have dumped oil, solvents, and other toxic waste into the river. It combines with barely-treated sewage from Haifa City. The stagnant river is a sickly green color, with a moldy consistency of liquefied jello. Ofer Ben Dov says nothing can live in the river any more.

BEN DOV: The main problem of this river is it's got no oxygen. Even the biological system cannot try to help and digest or break down the pollution itself, because nothing lives here. It's the Dead River, it's must deader than the Dead Sea. Even in the Dead Sea they found that some bacteria are living. Here it is nothing.

ERLICH: Major industries such as shipyards, petrochemical plants, and refineries, have all contributed to pollution of the Kishon and many other Israeli rivers. Dr. Noam Gressel, director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in southern Israel, says government action has not kept pace with industrial development.

GRESSEL: All the rivers running into the Mediterranean Sea along the Israeli coast are polluted at some point and to some degree. Israel is a developed country with a developed industry, so there's certainly a lot of hazardous waste, including liquid waste, being generated. On the other hand, the environmental awareness is not high enough to the degree that environmental laws would be enforced. Israeli water law is extremely good, if it was followed up and enforced by the government.

ERLICH: Israel does indeed have some of the toughest environmental laws in the world. Aron Wolf is a geography professor at Oregon State University who frequently travels to Israel. He says Israel's Parliament passed the strict laws in the 1950s and 60s because the Zionist movement long advocated protection of the land. Today, even the Israeli Army pays homage to safeguarding natural resources.

WOLF: Army recruits actually go through a course in their basic training called Yidia Ha'aretz, which is Knowledge of the Land, where they're taken around and shown the different features of the country. And great emphasis is placed on protecting the features and the resources.

ERLICH: Unfortunately, according to Israeli environmentalists, the military doesn't always practice what it preaches. Military industries and army bases are responsible for large amounts of water pollution, including groundwater contamination from leaking gasoline tanks, and wastewater dumped into the Mediterranean. Professor Wolf says years of military exercises in the occupied Golan Heights have added to the water problems.

WOLF: The Golan Heights is where a lot of the Jordan River originates, and there have been studies done on lead and copper from, just from the shell casings and bullets that are used in military exercises. Some of that is leaking into the water supply.

ERLICH: Officials from the Ministry of the Environment concede that Israel's emphasis on national security has left few resources available for cleaning up pollution. Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Environment, Ron Komar, says his ministry gets shortchanged monetarily and politically.

KOMAR: You have to remember that the Israel is a state in a war. The war situation affects everything. Everybody was concentrating and I can say even still concentrating, because our budget now is even not 1% of the total budget of the country. And I think we are in the smallest ministry in Israel.

ERLICH: Analysts say ecological problems go beyond the ministry's low budget, however. The Minister of Environment, Rafael Eitan, has no background in environmental affairs, according to activist Ofer Ben Dov.

BEN DOV: He's a former general in the Army. In terms of environment, he doesn't do enough. He threatened to resign over the issue of talks with the Palestinians, giving land or not giving land or how much to give, but he never threatened to resign over environmental issues.

ERLICH: Environment Ministry official Ron Komar disagrees. He says the environment ministry in the last 2 years has been cracking down on water polluters, finding some and requiring them to treat their waste. He says the national government is working with municipal officials to clean up the Kishon River, and argues that Haifa's sewage plant and local industries will be required to treat their wastes.

KOMAR: It has to be treated very carefully, and with very strict limits of toxics, and just afterwards will be going first of all to the river, and in the long-term it will be by a pipe directly to the Haifa Harbor. In the year 2004, we are hoping that nothing will be into the river and all the sewage will be treated.

ERLICH: Environmentalists say they have heard such promises before. They say serious efforts to combat pollution will not proceed until Israel makes peace with the Palestinians and Arab neighbors. Israel's entire water supply originates in Arab countries and in the occupied West Bank. Professor Wolf says Israelis and Palestinians have on occasion realized their common ecological goals.

WOLF: I think when things are good politically, that lots of cooperation gets achieved on environmental issues, on water resource projects. Which in turn helps generate goodwill and confidence building between the parties.

ERLICH: The Maccabiah Games disaster in Tel Aviv last year sparked public outrage over the deterioration of Israel's water quality. While the immediate outcry has subsided, environmental activists say the next step is to channel the dissatisfaction into stronger enforcement of Israeli laws on natural resources and take full advantage of peace, if and when it comes. For Living on Earth, I'm Reese Erlich in Haifa, Israel.

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

(Bulbs spilling)

LOE Bulbs Garden Spot

CURWOOD: Michael, this is quite a pile of bulbs you've got here. What kind of flower sare you going to get out of these?

WEISHAN: These are tulips. And we have some of my favorite, little miniature narcissus. And we have some snowdrops, Galanthas novalis, which in this part of the world actually do appear often with snow.

CURWOOD: Gardeners, listen up. It's that time of year again. That's right. Autumn is quickly passing into winter, so you have to make sure that you've got your flower bulbs planted. To figure out just what to do, we're out at the home of Michael Weishan, Living on Earth's traditional gardener. What's your favorite here in this group?

WEISHAN: I don't really have a favorite per se, because each one follows in succession. And that's one of the keys, I think, to planting bulbs, is to choose things that are going to extend the season. If you do it right, you can have flowers for almost 3 months.

CURWOOD: Michael, my wife is pretty good at this but I'm not so good. Which one of these bulbs is, like, well, let's face it -- idiot-proof?

WEISHAN: Actually, most bulbs are pretty idiot-proof, at least for the first year. The trick is to getting them to come back. There's been a tendency in some of the modern introductions, like some of the modern tulips, that they're not perennial. They're annual. Which is kind of a pain.

CURWOOD: Why go to annual tulips, if they don't come back and it's such work to put them in the ground?

WEISHAN: Well, it wasn't the intention of the breeders, I don't think. They were breeding for flower color, size of stem. But that means that something has to go along the way, because you can't have everything. And they weren't paying much attention to the perennial qualities of tulips. So the old- fashioned varieties will come back year after year after year. A lot of the newer ones are good for a year or 2 and then they sort of peter out. The bulb splits into little tiny bulblets and then they don't flower for many years. Many bulbs like daffodils are good for 20, 30, 40 years. These anemones, for instance, will, if they're planted in the right spot, will naturalize and go longer than you and I will be on this earth.

CURWOOD: Okay. Well, show me how to do this right. Let's go outside.

WEISHAN: Okay.

(A door opens)

CURWOOD: It's a beautiful fall day, Michael. It's going to be pretty cold tonight, though. How long do you think we'll be able to keep planting in this part of the country?

WEISHAN: Well, the general rule is, you can plant bulbs whenever you can get into the ground in the fall. And here, our season generally lasts from October all the way through to December.

CURWOOD: So if you can get a shovel in the ground, you can put them in.

WEISHAN: Pretty much.

CURWOOD: Okay. Let's get to it.

WEISHAN: Okay.

(Sounds of digging)

WEISHAN: There's no great trick to this. You want the hole to have sort of a flat bottom to it. It makes life easier. I think the question most people have is how deeply do you plant them? (A rooster crows) And the general rule is, you plant a bulb 4 times deeper than its widest dimension, I should say.

CURWOOD: That's 2 inches, maybe.

WEISHAN: Yeah, 2 inches. So 8 inches is about how deeply you would plant these. The one exception is tulips. The way to get tulips to come back year after year is to plant them very, very deeply: 10, 12 inches. They seem to like a very long period of dormancy, and they like to be down below the level that water gets to them often in the summer. So if you plant them deep down, they have a very long time to rest, and then they'll come back.

CURWOOD: Okay, Michael, now which way up or which way down, whichever way you figure it, to put these things in?

WEISHAN: Well, it's not too difficult normally. With tulips and most bulbs, the pointy end is the side that goes up, and the basal plate here, it's sort of the flat end where the roots will appear, you can often see little roots, is the side that goes down.

(Digging)

WEISHAN: What do you want to plant here? I think, we're right at the edge of the border. Generally, the tallest things should be toward the center, if it's something you can walk all the way around. Or toward the back, if the bed is one-sided.

CURWOOD: Well, it's an easy one for me to answer. Those things that come up in the snow. Anything to encourage me to think that winter could be over.

WEISHAN: That's a great choice, because we're right here in front of the windows of the office. So we'll see this first thing in the spring.

(Digging)

WEISHAN: Here's another trick for planting bulbs, especially for gardeners who have a very limited amount of space. You can kind of get 2 for 1 in the same hole, and we're going to plant the daffodils on the bottom, and then the snowdrops on the top, in the same space. And because they bloom at different times, they won't interfere with each other.

CURWOOD: Very clever.

WEISHAN: One of my favorite combinations is to do grape hyacinths. You know, those little tiny little hyacinths?

CURWOOD: Oh yeah.

WEISHAN: And then plant daffodils, and then the grape hyacinths. They often bloom together, so you'll have this sort of sea of blue on the bottom and the yellow or white on the top. Very pretty.

CURWOOD: Yeah.

WEISHAN: Yeah. Very neat. Okay, so we're just putting our last of our snowdrops in the ground.

(Digging)

WEISHAN: Now just fill it up.

CURWOOD: All right. We'll just cover it over here, huh?

WEISHAN: Yeah.

CURWOOD: Well, thanks for taking this time with us today.

WEISHAN: Oh, my pleasure. Any time, Steve.

CURWOOD: Michael Weishan is Living on Earth's traditional gardener, and publisher of Traditional Gardening. (Honking geese in the background) You can reach him via our Web site with your questions. The address is www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org. Click on the picture of the watering can.

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CURWOOD: Coming up: Living right at the edge of the projected effects of climate change, on tiny islands in the South Pacific. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Islands at Risk

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

In the warm blue waters of the South Pacific, a spattering of small islands stretch for thousands of miles along either side of the International Date Line. Some of these island nations are the first places on Earth to experience tomorrow. In more ways than one. Residents of fragile atolls are noticing subtle and not so subtle changes in their climate. International policy makers are now gathering thousands of miles away in Argentina to work on details of the Kyoto Protocol to address global warming. But South Pacific Islanders say changing weather patterns are already endangering their way of life. Elise Fried prepared our report.

(A plane's exhaust)

FRIED: Picture 33 grains of sand floating in a bathtub, and you have a pretty good image of the South Pacific atoll group of Kiribas, at least from above. The capitol island Tarawa appears as a long sand-colored ribbon of land only as wide as a city block, stretching in a semi-circle for 12 miles. In its center is a light green protected lagoon, and, on the outside, a shallow coral shelf where women gather crustaceans in the ankle-deep water.

(Voices shouting, clanking shells)

FRIED: It's difficult to appreciate how small and fragile these atolls are until you walk across the width of an island in less than a minute. Like most South Pacific atoll groups, the islands of Tuvalu are experiencing a marked increase in hurricanes, also known in this part of the world as tropical cyclones. The cyclones are now appearing with such frequency that on some of the islands the ecosystems have little time to repair before they're torn down again. These wild storms rip up the local breadfruit and coconut trees, staples of the island diet. The former Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Mr. Toepi Lauti, describes the damage he saw after a hurricane.

LAUTI: There was no house left on this island. In fact, it was just completely wiped out. The coconut trees, I'd say 75% were all on the ground; breadfruit trees were all broken off. I mean, our people had never seen anything like that on this island.

FRIED: Patrick Nunn is a professor of oceanic geoscience and heads the geography department at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. He links the increase in cyclones to global temperature rise and says the region must brace for more.

NUNN: We've only had about half a degree Celsius of temperature rise over the last 100 years in the Pacific Islands. But that has been enough to affect the frequency of tropical cyclones, what you call hurricanes in many places. And also, of course, to cause sea level to rise by about 15 centimeters over that time period. If we go back to the 1930s and the 1940s, we can see that tropical cyclones entered Fiji waters about 3 times every decade. For the decade 1980 to 1989, there were 12 tropical cyclones. And the decade that we're in at the moment, it's probably going to be even higher.

(Bird calls, surf)

FRIED: In addition to the devastating cyclones, a slow rise in sea level, also linked to global warming, threatens the islands. The region is especially vulnerable, since none of the atoll groups is higher than 6 feet above sea level. The islanders depend on fresh water wells for their water. But as the sea level has risen, some of the fresh water supplies are slowly turning saline, or brackish, and are now unfit to drink.

(Surf continues)

FRIED: The Marshall Islands are already seeing pieces of their land disappear as higher storm surges accelerate erosion. On Majuro, the capitol island, the population density is as high as in Hong Kong. Every inch of land is used. The local cemetery is squeezed behind houses on the windward side of the island, where recent erosion is taking a toll. Riad Mystery is the officer in charge of coastal erosion for the Marshall Islands.

MYSTERY: Right where we're standing, there's a cemetery on the shore. And you can see that some of the graves, which look fairly recent, fairly new, have actually slid off the shoreline and are sitting at an angle on the sandy beach itself. Now, this is the result of the retreat of shoreline erosion caused by strong wind and waves.

(Splashing water)

FRIED: On Funafuti in Tuvalu, sea water seeping up from below ground is already harming crops. Traditional food supplies, like a root crop known as palaca, is grown in pits 3 feet below ground level. These plants can't tolerate any excess salinity in the water or soil. President Teotoro Sito of Kiribas says the breadfruit, poipoi, and banana trees, vital for his people's survival, are endangered.

SITO: When that balance is upset, just a slight amount of sea water, that is enough to destroy all these trees overnight. It has been happening many times here in Kiribas.

FRIED: Just as a small amount of sea water can destroy most of the food supplies on land, a small rise in the temperature of water causes coral to spit out its living algae, turn white, and die. This is known as coral bleaching, and it occurs when the waters warm to around 89 degrees Fahrenheit. When this happens, the fish lose their food supply and swim away. Tuvalu has some of the warmest waters on Earth, and scientists say it has already lost half its coral due to human impact and hurricanes. Hilia Vavai runs the weather station on Funafuti, the capitol island of Tuvalu.

VAVAI: We depend 100% or even if there's a figure above 100%, we depend mainly on fish. If the coral is damaged, then we wouldn't be able to have enough food for our people.

FRIED: These island nations are among the smallest countries on Earth, with little political clout. Still, local politicians, like former Prime Minister Tuarepi Lauti of Tuvalu traveled to Kyoto, Japan, for the discussions on global warming last year. He and other leaders of South Pacific islands backed a global 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. He says the international response to the islanders' dilemma has been too little, too late.

LAUTI: Some of them wouldn't understand the real position that we are in. They think that we enlarge these things, talking about these things. But actually, we were stating what has happened.

FRIED: Regional leaders like President Sito of Kiribas say that long before these islands are underwater, they may become uninhabitable due to these precursor effects of global warming. He urged international action.

SITO: People must start readjusting their behaviors and attitudes. They've got to think about us in the process of economic development. They must always think of these people here in the islands. That their survival is now at stake.

(Splashing water and bird calls)

FRIED: President Sito likened the plight of his people to small ants on a leaf in a pond who depend on its calm for survival, and find themselves at the mercy of those who share the same waters. For Living on Earth, I'm Elise Fried.

(Splashing water and bird calls continue)

CURWOOD: Our report on the effects of climate change in the South Pacific was produced with help from reporter Peter Kreysler. Next week, we'll look at how politics here at home in the US is affecting international talks to combat climate change.

MAN: Quite simply, the problem is this: The United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and we're not assuming a position of leadership on the climate change issue. On the contrary, the tenor of our domestic political debate makes it clear to other nations that the United States is unable to conduct a rational dialogue on the subject.

CURWOOD: Our coverage of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations continues next week here on Living on Earth.

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(Music up and under)

Green Coffins

CURWOOD: For the person who tries to live every moment in harmony with the Earth, there's a way to assure that you can die that way, too. Green coffins. Will Maertens, a builder in Redding, California, saw the abundant rice straw in the Sacramento Valley being burned off, sending up clouds of black soot. He decided to make the rice straw into plywood and then use the plywood to make coffins. Mr. Maertens' alternative casket is meant to go easy on the Earth, or perhaps we should say into the Earth. Rice straw is a renewable resources and even cremation requires more energy than the manufacture of his coffins. They're relatively cheap, $375, and they can be put together at home. Mr. Maertens, thanks for joining us today.

MAERTENS: Hi, how are you today?

CURWOOD: Well, good enough not to need your product today. But you know, you have a great name for this thing. You call it the CasKit. Let's say I want to build one of these. Does it come with instructions?

MAERTENS: Yes sir. It comes with instructions. It's pretty simple. We would supply it in different ways. Some people might wish to glue the boards together. We suggest they use recycled wood pegs that can come out of palettes. But the neat thing, the handles and the hinges that are on the coffin can be removed after the funeral, and so the coffin is not buried with anything in it that won't biodegrade.

CURWOOD: How quickly do these things break down?

MAERTENS: Well, it's really according to how much moisture there is. If you're in a dry climate, like over in the high desert, that coffin would last forever. But if water gets into the ground and gets onto the straw, then it may biodegrade in a year.

CURWOOD: Well, now, how about the person inside?

MAERTENS: Well, they're going to start decomposing immediately. And then as that process goes, the 2 of them sort of degrade together.

CURWOOD: Tell me, how do you ever succeed in a business like this, and you know, you get one customer, that's it, you get them just once?

MAERTENS: Well, the way you look at it business-wise is 20,000 people expire per day approximately in the United States. So we do have a customer base to go from. People that don't wish to be cremated want to use these units because they can decorate it themselves and everybody can be involved with it. And they don't really take any more with them than they have to.

CURWOOD: How about yourself? What are the arrangements you've made for yourself?

MAERTENS: Well, I have (laughs) -- it's funny you would ask. I have a coffin in my garage, and that's mine, and I use it for demonstrations and something. It's quite interesting to get in it. It fits me perfectly. And you close the lid and it's awfully quiet in there.

CURWOOD: Are you married, Will?

MAERTENS: Yes, I am.

CURWOOD: What did your wife say when you came home and said, "Honey, you know what? I think we can make money in coffins. Biodegradable coffins."

MAERTENS: She was very into it, for the reason that they burn rice straw here and pollute our air, and we're always trying to find other uses for it. And when we did that, we did that, it was really great. My biggest thing is to keep the kids from playing in it.

CURWOOD: (laughs) What did they think of the coffin?

MAERTENS: Well, it's just a box that they put people in when they die. Like I say, it's in the garage, and they played around as we were trying to photograph it. But daddy's a designer, not a mortician.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us today. Will Maertens runs BioFab in Redding, California.

MAERTENS: Thank you for having me so much.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our production team includes Jesse Wegman, George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman, and Miriam Landman, along with Roberta de Avila, Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, and Julia Madeson. We had help this week from David Winickoff, Anne Parry, Laura Colbert, Keith Seinfeld, and KPLU in Seattle. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Peter Thomson heads the Western Bureau. Our senior editor is Joyce Hackel, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. 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 W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to eliminate environmental threats to children's health: www.wajones.org; the Surdna Foundation; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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