Air Date: November 6, 1998
Buenos Ares 1: Climate Change Talks Preview
There's a lot of hot air circulating about the current round of the Kyoto Protocol, or global climate change accord, now taking place among 166 nations in Buenos, Aires, Argentina. Steve Curwood has an overview of the U.S. response to reducing carbon emissions, and a preview of what is expected to evolve during the talks. (12:00)
Enviros Claim Victory In Mid-Term Elections
Laura Knoy talks with Living on Earth's Peter Thomson and Terry FitzPatrick to review the results of the mid-term election. Environmentalists are claiming the future is brighter now than it was just one week ago. Among the topics discussed are land use sprawl as a U.S. phenomena, ballot initiatives, Senate and Green Party races. (08:00)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about... New York's Central Park, the nation's first landscaped public park, was created 145 years ago. (01:30)
New Ruling in Flint, Michigan
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that a proposed steel mill could locate in the economically depressed City of Flint, Michigan, rejecting charges brought by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and residents of Flint who claimed pollution from the plant would primarily affect minority residents. Laura Knoy spoke with reporter Emilia Askari who covers the environment for the Detroit Free Press. Ms. Askari says the case marks a turning point for environmental justice. (04:00)
Getting Weatherized for Winter Bike Rides
Steve Curwood visits the Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, Massachusetts to get advice on what it takes to fully winterize oneself against the elements and sometimes hazardous roads for cold season bicycle commuting. Steve spoke with Milton Trimitsis, one of the co-owners of the school, and Lynne Wiesman, a Boston bike commuter. (05:00)
Redesigning Trash/ Sarah Chayes
Take a 12th century cathedral town, the newest technology in trash burning plants, combine them with the latest environmental standards plus the French aesthetic sensibility, and a unique incineration experiment is born. Sarah Chayes reports from Chartres. (06:00)
The Tigers of India, and the Man who's Filmed Them
A new six-part documentary series on the tigers of India will soon be broadcasting on PBS' program, 'Nature.' Laura Knoy spoke with filmmaker Valmick Thapar who is one of the world's leading authorities on tigers. He gained most of his knowledge first-hand, spending twenty years among these increasingly endangered striped felines. (09:00)
HOST: Steve Curwood and Laura Knoy
REPORTER: Sarah Chayes
GUESTS: Peter Thomson, Terry FitzPatrick, Emilia Askari, Milton Trimitsis, Lynne Wiesman, Valmick Thapar
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
KNOY: And I'm Laura Knoy. Talks are underway in Buenos Aires to combat global warming. Back in the USA, the political din is making a climate change treaty a hard sell on the home front.
TRISKO: About 1.3 million Americans stand to lose their jobs if this treaty is implemented.
PASACANTANDO: That's what's called hooey.
DINGELL: Now I keep hearing this wonderful word, "meaningful participation." Does it mean meaningful? Or does it mean meaningless?
CHAFFEE: 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: Round Two of the Kyoto Protocol is underway in Argentina.
KNOY: And an assessment of how environmental politics will fare after the midterm elections.
CURWOOD: That's this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.
(NPR News follows)
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
KNOY: And I'm Laura Knoy. Since 1991, diplomats have been holding a series of meetings on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that most scientists say are changing the planet's climate. So far most nations, including the United States, have ratified the framework convention on climate change. The treaty calls on industrialized nations to voluntarily cut emissions of carbon dioxide. But last year, when negotiators met in Kyoto, Japan, to set binding limits, the bargaining got sticky. The United States wanted to limit the emissions of developing as well as industrial nations, and set up an emissions trading scheme. But the details of trading were left up in the air, and developing nations refused to commit themselves.
CURWOOD: The Clinton Administration has promised to sign the Kyoto Accord, but so far most members of the US Senate say without what they call "meaningful participation" from developing nations, they won't ratify the treaty. And because the US emits so much carbon dioxide, the Kyoto Protocol would be meaningless without full US participation. Negotiators are now meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to try to work through their disagreements. But you can watch international deals run smack into domestic politics just by turning on your television set.
WOMAN: The credit card...
WOMAN 2: (Dramatic music) But a treaty being pushed by the United Nations (a gavel strikes) could change our lives forever. It will impose new costs that could limit how and when we use our cars (gavel strikes), heat our homes, and use electricity (gavel strikes), and would raise the price of food, clothes, and most things we buy (gavel strikes). The UN's treaty would dictate how we live our lives, while letting countries like India, China, and Mexico off the hook. It's not global. And it won't work.
CURWOOD: That ad was produced by a coalition of trade groups which would be affected by curbs on fossil fuel use. Groups including the American Automobile Manufacturers Association and the American Petroleum Institute. Big labor is leery of the treaty, too. Gene Trisko, an attorney who represents the United Mine Workers, says increased energy prices will push industry offshore.
TRISKO: About 1.3 million Americans stand to lose their jobs across all industries over the course of the next decade if this treaty is implemented.
PASACANTANDO: That's what's called hooey.
CURWOOD: John Pasacantando, director of the group Ozone Action, concedes that some coal miners will have to find new work. But he claims that few other jobs are at stake because energy is a small part of the overall cost of doing business. Europe and Japan, he adds, have much higher energy costs than the US, yet they compete handily. Labor and industry, he says, are crying wolf.
PASACANTANDO: Ninety-five percent of our core business in the United States has its input from energy as 4%, 4% of their total revenue. Meaning if you raise the cost of energy, lower the cost of energy, whatever you do to the cost of energy, it's just that one small piece. Their cost of labor, their cost of equipment, their cost of just about anything else, their health care costs, are higher than that.
CURWOOD: But in the US Senate, where the treaty must be ratified, there is strong sentiment that developing nations must be active participants in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This demand was nailed to the door of the Oval Office last year when the Senate passed a non-binding resolution cosponsored by the former Democratic Majority Leader Robert Byrd from the coal state of West Virginia, and the Nebraska Republican Chuck Hegal. The resolution passed 95 to nothing with little debate. Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut was one of those who voted for the measure, although now he has second thoughts.
LIEBERMAN: The so-called Byrd-Hegal Senate Resolution sets down a difficult standard, which is that the Senate should not ratify anything coming out of Kyoto regarding climate change unless the developing nations also accept commitments. I don't think that's a fair standard, but that's what a lot of members of the Senate voted for.
CURWOOD: There are some Senators who consider themselves environmental advocates who still support the resolution's goals. Among them is John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who's often mentioned as a Presidential candidate for the year 2000. He says that countries like India and China should be part of any agreement with binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
KERRY: If they're not, we could go 10 years down the road and find that China has eclipsed us in the level of emissions and everything that we've done has been for nought, together with the fact that we've hurt our economy and diminished, you know, made whatever sacrifices have been made while they've been soaring past us. And obviously that would be unacceptable politically.
CURWOOD: The Byrd-Hegal Resolution is a problem for the Administration because the US agreed during the negotiations leading up to Kyoto that industrialized nations would be the first to shoulder the burden of cutting greenhouse gases. Rafe Pomerance is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Environment and a member of the Climate Change Negotiating Team. He says to meet the concerns of both the US Senate and developing nations, the Administration is engaged in a series of bilateral talks with countries including Mexico, Korea, and China.
POMERANCE: The Administration has said, the President said we will not send the Kyoto Protocol up to the Senate for ratification until we have meaningful participation of developing countries.
CURWOOD: But the White House has left vague exactly what it means by "meaningful participation." At a recent Congressional hearing, Democrat John Dingell confronted the Acting Assistant Secretary of State Melissa Kimball. Mr. Dingell represents Michigan's blue-collar 16th Congressional District, dominated by auto and other heavy industries.
DINGELL: Now I keep hearing this wonderful word, "meaningful participation." Meaningful participation. Does it mean meaningful? Or does it mean meaningless? If it is not meaningful, it is to me meaningless.
KIMBALL: This -- this --
DINGELL: Now you tell me what it means.
KIMBALL: This is our way of trying to convey very clearly that developing countries must play in the protocol.
DINGELL: But tell me, what mechanism do we have to hold these countries to meaningful participation?
KIMBALL: Once again, I think it's very --
DINGELL: We have none.
KIMBALL: -- important to realize the treaty's obligation and coming into the United States --
DINGELL: Where is it? Where is it, Ms. Kimball, in this treaty? Where?
KIMBALL: -- United States has --
CURWOOD: This is just one in a series of grueling hearings that Congress has imposed on the Administration Climate Team. Indiana Republican David McIntosh, a protegee of former Vice President Dan Quayle, has been leading the attack. The White House claims it's had to spend 10,000 hours of staff time fishing out 400,000 pages of documents to comply with 22 separate requests from Mr. McIntosh's Government Reform Subcommittee alone. I caught up with Representative McIntosh outside the Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill.
CURWOOD: The Administration complains that you're giving them a hard time. They say they're seeing all these requests for documents. It's costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars. They say that you're trying to throw a monkey wrench in their works. How do you respond?
MCINTOSH: What is happening is, the Administration is telling Congress, "We're not implementing Kyoto until we send you the treaty." And yet the documents that they are hiding from us lay out plans to implement and have new regulations, impose the costs, including ideas about going forward with a carbon tax, if possible, restrictions on various industries. And people need to know about it. And so, what I'm telling them is, give us the documents, we'll look through them, then we'll make them part of our hearings so that everybody gets to see the documents, and the public will know what's really happening.
POMERANCE: I don't think there is such a thing as back-door implementation.
CURWOOD: The State Department's Rafe Pomerance says the Administration does not need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to begin taking action.
POMERANCE: What's really going on is that we have an obligation to continue to implement the framework convention signed in Rio. The United States was the fourth country in the world to ratify it. It was done without objection in the Senate. When Kyoto is ready, we'll send it up to the Senate, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing anything. We're obliged to do so.
CURWOOD: But the US is not curbing emissions. US carbon dioxide levels are up more than 10% since 1990. And, says Ozone Action's John Pasacantando, the problem is not just Congress.
PASACANTANDO: One of the major problems here is that despite very good rhetoric coming out of the Clinton Administration, in particular from a Vice President who knows the issue of global warming as well as any politician on the planet, the Administration has put forth little beyond its rhetoric. And actual measures that they could take, that the Administration could take, small changes, large changes, aren't being taken.
CURWOOD: Well, what could the Administration do here?
PASACANTANDO: The Administration put together legislation on electric utility restructuring, okay, how to modernize our whole system of electric utilities. It didn't have any mention of it, any requirement in it, for caps on carbon dioxide emissions. I mean, that tells you right there they don't want to touch it.
CHAFFEE: 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.
CURWOOD: John Chafee, Republican Senator from Rhode Island.
CHAFEE: 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: On the eve of the current negotiations in Argentina, Senator Chafee and his Democratic colleague Joseph Lieberman jointly sponsored a bill to provide incentives to companies that take early steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It's a message to other nations that at least some members of the Senate want the US to begin taking action now to combat climate change. It's also a pat on the back to companies already moving to cut emissions.
CHAFEE: Let's have our nation and our domestic industries be there first with the new technologies and practices that will make reductions everywhere else in the world achievable.
CURWOOD: Senator Chafee's call resonates with many firms which are beginning to say industrialized nations must take steps now to halt climate change. And these are not just little alternative energy companies. This movement is being led by British Petroleum and includes some of the world's largest, most energy-intensive corporations. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing, car maker Toyota, and more than a dozen other Fortune 500 companies have joined the Pew Center on Global Climate Change to call for action. General Motors and Monsanto are making similar moves in concert with the World Resources Institute in Washington. Eileen Claussen, a former Assistant Secretary of State, is the director of the Pew Center.
CLAUSSEN: So, I think what's important is that companies who want to start reducing not be penalized but be credited for the reductions that they take. There are lots of companies, and of course, you know, we have 18 and there are, I'm sure, many others who really would like to start taking some action now. They just want to make sure that it counts. They don't lose because they took action early.
CURWOOD: While the talks this month in Argentina may move at a glacial pace, some say that's par for the course with an issue as contentious and as complex as global climate change. Some international agreements, like the one that created the World Trade Organization, have taken a decade or more to negotiate and ratify. Domestic politics are often behind these delays. For the Kyoto Accord, one Democratic party operative put it this way: the Administration will do what it needs to keep the international talks from completely grinding to a halt. But at this point, there is no way it'll send the Kyoto Protocol up for Senate ratification before Vice President Gore faces the electorate as a Presidential candidate. It appears there's just too much opposition in the industrial heartland of America, and Mr. Gore couldn't win the White House without those Midwestern electoral votes.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Coming up: a look ahead at how this year's election results will likely shape next year's environmental agenda in state and national politics. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
KNOY: And I'm Laura Knoy. The midterm elections have produced a new Congress that looks pretty much like the old one, although there could be some subtle changes. Joining us now to discuss the role of the environment in the midterm elections is Living on Earth's Senior Correspondent Peter Thomson, who's in San Francisco, and in Seattle our National Affairs Correspondent Terry FitzPatrick. So, Peter and Terry, did the environment make a difference in these elections? Did it play a role?
THOMSON: Yeah, I think it really did, especially on the Senate side. In the four marquee Senate races, the Republicans were portrayed as being weak on environmental issues, and in every one the Democrats one. In New York, in North Carolina, the Democrats took seats from the Republicans. In California and Washington they held what were supposed to be very hotly-contested seats. There's also a factor in at least 2 of the seats that the Democrats picked up in the House of Representatives. Of course, it wasn't the only issue in these races, but it was one of those key issues in which the Democrats and their allies painted the Republicans as out of touch with mainstream America. And I think, Laura, that that's one of the main messages the Republicans got this election, that support for strong environmental protections, sometimes even with the power of big government behind them, is a mainstream American political value. It's a message that a lot of moderate Republicans have tried to deliver to their party for years, and I think voters delivered it unequivocally across the country this year.
FITZ PATRICK: Yeah, the environmental groups do consider themselves to be clear winners, and their opponents are really licking their wounds right now. For example, the head of the Private Property Rights Coalition, which is trying to weaken the Endangered Species Act, says that he feels like he's been hit by a train by these results. Meantime, over at the League of Conservation Voters, the head is saying that she's walking on air because of the numbers. Now, the League was really one of the big factors in this election. They have a Dirty Dozen list of candidates that they consider to be the worst members of Congress on environmental issues. This year that grew up to 13; they call it a baker's dozen, and 9 of the 13 who were targeted for defeat did in fact lose. That's a big change from the past, and in part it represents a change in strategy. In the past the League just sort of picked the worst members on their scorecard, but this year they targeted who were the worst that were vulnerable, and then they put money into those districts to hammer home their point. The Sierra Club also had a change of tactics. They worked on behalf of 43 pro-environmental candidates and won 38 of those races. They gave money to some candidates directly, and they spent about $6 million in soft money TV advertisements. And that was a tactic that worked.
THOMSON: You have to remember, though, Terry and Laura, that despite the environmentalists doing much better than they expected, the makeup of Congress is still virtually unchanged. I mean, a month ago the best outcome that environmentalists hoped for was not to lose ground in Congress. That's exactly what happened. But a wash is still a wash, and you've still got a Congress that is relatively hostile to environmental issues as the last few have been.
KNOY: So, Peter, does that mean we won't see any movement on the major environmental issues before Congress, such as the Kyoto Treaty on Climate Change that's going to be an issue in the Senate? There's the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, Superfund. All of these major bills need to be renewed.
THOMSON: Yeah, I think we're going to see more of the same. Gridlock. Certainly there was nothing in this election to, I think, sort of push the green agenda up to the top of the list in Congress or even any further up than it's been. And, you know, the Republicans might be quarreling among themselves, but they're still in control, and on balance they're still more conservative than the Democrats. I mean, it might be slightly easier for moderate Republicans and Democrats to forge a majority on some environmental issues, but they don't control the agenda so they're not going to get their way very much.
FITZ PATRICK: I should say, also, this -- I don't think this election result will discourage people who want to try to roll back environmental protection, but it will prevent them, I think, from doing it in a very public way. The stalemate means that environmental policy will be done as it has been in a last-minute backroom dealmaking in the form of riders that get attached to the budget. Very little about the environment seems to be going to the floor these days for straightforward debate or straightforward up or down roll call votes. It seems to be an issue that's used for horse trading.
KNOY: Besides the Congressional races, there were lots of governors up for reelection this time and a lot of state and local ballot initiatives that had to do with the environment. What happened there?
FITZ PATRICK: Yeah, there was a phenomenon that kind of exploded across the landscape, so to speak, which is land use management and sprawl and controlling some of the traffic and the gobbling up of open space and the air and water quality issues that are associated with unchecked urban development. There was a wide range of slow growth initiatives, and there were some really mixed results on this. I guess the biggest one was in New Jersey, where there was a billion dollar fund that was created by voters to preserve forests and farms from suburban growth. In Los Angeles, up near Ventura, anti-sprawl zoning was passed. In San Francisco, the idea of mass transit caught on very well. However, their voters didn't support the taxes needed to make a visionary rail transit program really happen. And in Arizona, there was a bit of a mixed result. There was a $200 million fund created to preserve open space, but also, as part of that provision, developers got in a clause that would prohibit communities from drawing urban growth boundary lines around them to protect the natural regions that surround the cities there. This was really just the first salvo, I think, in what's going to be a bigger and bigger hot button issue in the coming elections, because sprawl crosses all sorts of political and ideological boundaries and touches almost everyone. It's something that Al Gore is trying to build on for his presidential campaign in the year 2000. And in a couple of those governor's races, Paris Glendening in Maryland and John Kitsawber in Oregon, sprawl was a big issue and land use management -- some people thought they might lose their jobs because of what were viewed as progressive growth control measures, but in fact they did survive. And that might encourage other governors, particularly Gray Davis, the new governor in California, to embrace this so-called smart growth strategy.
KNOY: What happened in Green Party races in these elections?
THOMSON: Well, they actually picked up a number of offices at the local level, but in terms of statewide and national elections the deck is still really stacked against small parties. And they haven't really been able make much headway. The one significant exception to that is in New Mexico, where the Green Party has really made its presence felt in the last few elections, and they played a role in 2 of the state's 3 Congressional elections this year. In the first district, the Green candidate took 11% of the vote. The Republican won with only 46% of the vote, so I think a lot of Democrats in New Mexico are probably blaming the Greens for their loss there. Meanwhile, in the district around Santa Fe, the Green candidate only got about 5% of the vote, didn't make a difference in this particular race. But she ran very strongly in a previous race for the same office the Democrats lost, and a lot of people are saying that that loss forced the Democrats to run a more progressive candidate this time. That was the state's Attorney General Tom Udall. He picked up the Green mantle and ran with it and he took the seat back for the Democrats.
KNOY: What about Al Lewis of New York? We spoke with him just a few weeks ago.
FITZ PATRICK: Yeah. Yeah. And he seems to have done it for the Greens in New York. He was on the ballot for Governor to get 50,000 votes that the party needed to ensure ballot positions for the Greens up and down the ticket next election. Now he's just below that threshold, but New York counts its absentee ballots very late, so I think he's going to make it. Now, Lewis is most famous, of course, for playing Grandpa on the TV show The Munsters back in the 1960s, and his candidacy was criticized by many as a gimmick, but as a party building tactic for the Greens it seems to be a gimmick that worked.
KNOY: All right. Thanks both of you, very much.
THOMSON: Thanks, Laura.
FITZ PATRICK: My pleasure.
KNOY: Living on Earth's Peter Thomson in San Francisco and Terry FitzPatrick in Seattle.
(Music up and under)
KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.
CURWOOD: And 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 Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; 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)
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. And you can find our Web page at www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org.
(Music up and under)
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
KNOY: Just ahead, certified crazy or just plain clever? The folks who ride their bikes to work all winter long. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
SECOND HALF HOUR
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm Yogurt. If the planet's health isn't our business, whose is it?
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
KNOY: And I'm Laura Knoy.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: New York's Central Park, the nation's first landscaped public park, was born 145 years ago. Its designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, wanted the grounds to reflect the pastoral style of British country estates. And what a large estate it became. Central Park now covers 843 acres, or 150 city blocks. Over the years a number of famous attractions have bloomed around the park, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Children's Zoo, and the Shalespeare Garden, which is planted exclusively with flowers and other plants mentioned in the Bard's plays. There's Strawberry Fields, of course, and the Sheep Meadow. And an overgrown area called The Ramble, a popular hangout for both birdwatchers and muggers. Despite its natural appearance, Central Park is as much a part of a constructed environment as the city that surrounds it. It took 20,000 workers 5 years to reshape the topography. They moved about 3 million cubic yards of soil and created new hills, valleys, and lakes. It wasn't easy on the ears. In blasting out the rocks workers used more gunpowder than was fired at the Battle of Gettysburg. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
(Music up and under)
KNOY: Five years ago the Clinton Administration vowed to address the impact of pollution on minorities. Now, for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a final decision in an environmental justice case. The Agency ruled that a proposed steel mill could locate in Flint, Michigan. It rejected charges brought by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and residents of Flint. They claimed pollution from the plant would disproportionately affect minority residents. Michigan's Governor and the Mayor of nearby Detroit welcomed the decision, saying the plant will provide 200 badly-needed jobs for the local economy. Emilia Askari, who covers the environment for the Detroit Free Press, says the case marks a turning point for environmental justice.
ASKARI: I think it's really probably a bellwether decision for the Environmental Protection Agency. I think that the Agency has been talking about environmental justice for half a dozen years and trying to move in the direction of correcting these perceived injustices, but in this case, as in several other ones recently, the Agency has backed off. And so I think that we're seeing the Agency basically putting environmental justice on the shelf.
KNOY: The EPA says this decision is based on scientific issues only. What about politics?
ASKARI: Well, certainly that played a large role in the context of this decision. What's happened here in Michigan is that our Governor, John Engler, and the Mayor of the City of Detroit, who is an African-American, Dennis Archer, have taken a very strong leadership role nationwide in opposing environmental justice. Basically, they see it as something that would really stymie development of new businesses in places like Detroit, which they fear would become a sort of city-wide environmental justice zone. Detroit is a city that's over 80% African-American, and by definition could be seen as a place where EPA would be looking at every new plant very closely as a potential environmental justice violation.
KNOY: Well, is that a legitimate concern?
ASKARI: Well, whether or not it's legitimate is sort of beside the point. It gathered great political momentum. We found the Governor of the State of Michigan holding a big news conference in Flint just eviscerating the EPA, and we saw the Democratic Mayor of the City of Detroit pretty much doing the same thing. And he is very active in the Conference of Mayors nationwide, which has taken a strong stance against environmental justice.
KNOY: Is this a backlash, Emilia?
ASKARI: Well, I would say the Agency never really did take a lot of action on environmental justice. It did a lot of talk about it. So, I would say backlash against what? Just against talk about the idea? It really never did regulate.
KNOY: Why not?
ASKARI: It's very difficult for them to prove that people of color are going to be disproportionately affected by a particular plant. You need to use census figures. You need to take circles of population within a mile, or within a few miles of the plant, and that's just not the way census figures are set up. In addition, this executive order that created the concept of environmental justice really has no strong basis in law; it's just an executive order. And so I think that regulators are finding that it's just very difficult to move forward with these cases.
KNOY: Does that give you a sense of what might be next for other environmental justice cases in the future?
ASKARI: Yes. I think that if the Agency, EPA, is really going to do any sort of enforcement on environmental justice, it'll move toward a more economic class-based look at pollution and away from looking only or primarily at race as a determination.
KNOY: Emilia Askari covers the environment for the Detroit Free Press. Thanks, Emilia.
ASKARI: You're welcome.
(Music up and under)
WOMAN: Here's where you can just -- you can just pull this cage out of the way. Just literally, just pull it back. The chains you're going to drape on this first cog. There you go. Excellent.
CURWOOD: A seasonal ritual is underway at the Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The annual preparation of man, woman, and machine for the coming ice patches, snow banks, and other road hazards of winter. There are a fair number of people who ride to work year-round, and even some who take to the road on days when most cars wouldn't. Among them, Milton Trimitsis, one of the co-owners of the school. He says if you plan to brave the elements, there's one essential piece of equipment.
TRIMITSIS: The most important thing is getting fenders, getting mud guards. Because in most places there's a lot more wet weather than icy weather. It's amazing how much of the water on you when you're riding in a rain storm comes from the wheels of the bike rather than from the sky. You find that you can ride and your shoes stay dry.
(Bike cogs turning)
CURWOOD: Now, the tires on this bike are really skinny. I mean, they look like they'd be kind of dangerous in the winter time, don't you think?
TRIMITSIS: This is another one of those Catholic/Protestant things. There are those who believe in the depths in their heart that it's better to ride skinny tires because they act like knife blades. They cut down to whatever solid pavement there is under the muck.
CURWOOD: Uh huh.
TRIMITSIS: And there are those who won't go out with anything narrower than a snowshoe.
CURWOOD: Big, wide mountain bike tires.
TRIMITSIS: Big, wide mountain bike tires, exactly. And there are situations in which both are better. If you're riding through deep, fresh snow, a skinny tire doesn't present nearly as much resistance, so you get more traction because you don't have to push as hard. On rutted, older snow, a wider tire can often give you a more stable platform.
CURWOOD: What about snow tires? Can you put snow tires on a bike?
TRIMITSIS: Absolutely. There's a wonderful company in Finland that makes studded tires for bicycles.
CURWOOD: Look at that. Whoa. You're not kidding. These are studs just like a regular car would have studs, huh? Bet this makes a racket when you put it on the pavement, huh?
TRIMITSIS: It just makes a tickety tickety tickety. It's not terribly loud.
(A cog turns)
CURWOOD: And then if I wanted to do this, what should I wear?
TRIMITSIS: The biggest mistake people tend to make when they're riding through their first winter is wearing too much, and they get sweaty and then they get chilled.
TRIMITSIS: Probably the single most important garment is some kind of waterproof shell, some kind of a rain jacket.
CURWOOD: Okay, let's suppose I wanted to try this winter bike riding (laughs). Any tips for me about riding my bike?
TRIMITSIS: You need to be a little more confident in taking your place on the road. In the summer time you can sort of hug the edge and hug the shoulder (a loud bus passes outside) and get away with it. In winter that place isn't there any more sometimes. And bicyclists often think, if I get out into the middle of the lane I'm just going to get run over from behind. The reality is, there are very few motorists who are willing to commit cold-blooded murder.
CURWOOD: If suddenly I encounter some ice, what do I do?
TRIMITSIS: Stay calm. The bike isn't going to suddenly fall out from under you. If you just continue ahead as you are without accelerating or decelerating or turning, you'll be just fine. The other beauty of a bicycle is that you have a vehicle that you can pick up and put on your shoulder. So if you see a stretch in the road that you don't want to deal with at all, you don't have to. You can walk through it. A car driver doesn't have that option.
CURWOOD: You have one of your commuters here.
CURWOOD: Can I ask your name?
WEISSMAN: Lynne Weisman.
CURWOOD: And where do you live?
WEISSMAN: I live in Somerville.
CURWOOD: And you commute to?
WEISSMAN: I commute to Dorchester. I work at the Codman Square Health Center.
CURWOOD: Okay. So why? Why do this? Convince me. I, you know, the notion of even, like, 3 raindrops coming on my bike commute is enough to send me fleeing to the car or the bus or whatever. So why should I do this?
WEISMAN: Well, as far as the weather goes, there's a saying, I think among bicyclists, that there's no bad weather. There's only bad clothing. (Laughter in the distance.)
WEISMAN: So, it's kind of like you go somewhere and it's cold out, and maybe it's wet out, and you get somewhere and you're warm, your cheeks are rosy, everyone else is cold by the time they get there. You've had a workout. It's fun, it's cheap, it's just so much nicer to bicycle. And it's such a, it's much less isolating. Like, you see other bikers and you smile at them. Rather than when you're in a car, you see other drivers and people curse at you and they make all kinds of motions. And it's just so much nicer way to live.
CURWOOD: Lynne Weissman is a Boston bike commuter. We also spoke with Milton Trimitsis, co-owner of the Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Coming up: the French find beauty in all sorts of things, including the burning of trash. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Imagine a garbage incinerator. Yuck, right? Well now think again. Think of an airy, modern building planted in a wooded park with a view across wheat fields to a 12th-century cathedral. No chimney, no noise, no smell. In France, where almost a third of all household waste is burned, a new generation of incineration plants combines the latest technology and environmental standards with a touch of beauty. Sarah Chayes reports.
(Machinery, a man speaking)
CHAYES: On the upstairs floor of a rusty building made of blue corrugated metal, there's a control room. Old knobs and dials with thick glass faces cover a wall. A workman sits at a swivel chair looking out an inclined window at a pile of garbage.
(A man speaks in French)
CHAYES: I'm mixing my trash, he explains, as he maneuvers a huge metal claw using a joystick on his chair. To hold down the temperature in the incinerator oven, he has to put older, fermented garbage together with the cardboard boxes that just arrived.
(Trash being moved)
CHAYES: This is the older incineration plant for the town of Chartres. As you pass through its entrails, acrid dust in the air burns your eyes. But not 100 yards away is its replacement. Workers are just putting on the finishing touches.
CHAYES: It's a sleek white building with a curved facade and an airy portico, a piece of architecture. Plant director Jean-Francois Nottin takes visitors on an enthusiastic trip, scampering up and down the metal staircases inside. He explains he went beyond what the district of Chartres asked for to win the contract.
NOTTIN: [Speaks in French]
TRANSLATOR: Bidding for contracts like this turns on 2 points. The environmental quality of the garbage treatment, no pollution, no smell, no noise, and the aesthetic quality of the building. We don't make piles of junk like next door any more.
CHAYES: Elegant incineration plants like his are springing up across Europe. In France, it's partly due to a government policy aimed at reducing garbage dumps and landfills. This plant, called Orizane, filters and scrubs its smoke to capture 98% of its pollutants. Air inside is at a lower pressure than outside, so smells don't get out. It recycles its dirty water and even generates electricity. Nottin explains how the heat from the garbage furnace boils water and the steam turns a turbine.
NOTTIN: [Speaks in French]
CHAYES: The plant powers itself and will sell its excess electricity, about 80% of what it generates, to the French power company. But for Nottin, it's not enough to just avoid being a nuisance. He wants to be a positive feature in the Chartres landscape.
NOTTIN: [Speaks in French]
TRANSLATOR: Incineration plants shouldn't be hidden any more, like something we are ashamed of. We live in an industrial world, and the treatment of our waste should be integrated into the life of the community.
CHAYES: Orizane includes a conference room for town functions. It's meant to be seen from the nearby Cathedral of Chartres, a breathtaking masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
(Papers being ruffled)
CHAYES: In his bright Paris office decorated with multicolored collages, architect Jean-Marie Schimpff flips through his drawings for the Orizane plant.
CHAYES: Schimpff admits it was a challenge to design an incinerator in the shadow of the cathedral. He applied discoveries in optical science often used for military camouflage to help the plant blend into the landscape. And beyond such visual effects, he also designed the incinerator to be an opera house.
SCHIMPFF: The Mayor of Chartres, during a town meeting, has been asking whether it could be possible to convert the installation when the furnace would be obsolete in, say, 25 years, into an opera. I first thought it was a joke, so I came to him later on and asked was it actually serious this question. I said well, we shall invest in a building which we want to be designed with some particular cares to respond to the landscape.
CHAYES: So, an opera house it's to be, with a seating capacity of 2,000. The garbage pit is designed to become a perfect orchestra pit. Daniel Blervaques is the Mayor of Carriere, a village just west of Paris, host to another new generation waste plant. He also thinks incinerators should be lovely.
BLERVAQUES: [Speaks in French]
CHAYES: He says environmental policy has to take into account the setting, too, so the architecture of these buildings is just as vital as the technical side.
CHAYES: Inside the factory with its brightly-painted metal pipes overhead, much of the technical innovation is devoted to smoke treatment. Plant manager Serge Yvain points to where the smoke is raised in temperature and ammonia is injected to neutralize a toxic compound called dioxin.
(A man shouts)
CHAYES: Of course, all this care costs money. Blervaques says his constituents accept that.
BLERVAQUES: [Speaks in French] TRANSLATOR: We were ready to pay and we are going to pay. We followed our thinking to its logical conclusion. Since for most people a smoking chimney is bad, we were even willing to pay toward the steam recondense.
CHAYES: It costs an extra $4 per ton of garbage to eliminate the steam. The total price paid by the 14 towns that use this plant is $100 per ton of trash. As classy as these incinerators are, this attitude is causing some concern in the French Environment Ministry. Patrick Fragman is in charge of pollution issues.
FRAGMAN: Many local communities tried to design big, very big centers for incinerating waste, since the service providers were saying we just build a big factory and you will get rid of your waste, make it go away.
CHAYES: The Ministry is glad these new incinerators are replacing the old, smoky ones, and there's a schedule to phase out substandard plants by the year 2000. But Fragman says incineration should not be seen as a cure-all. The Ministry thinks many projects are oversized. Recent measures, including fiscal incentives, are designed to reinforce slightly different priorities. First, reducing waste production.
FRAGMAN: And secondly, to set up recycling operations before trying to set the size of incineration or dumping. To have a real and fair balance between all those options, which are recycling, incineration, dumping.
CHAYES: At the huge Chartres plant, Jean-Francois Nottin looks lovingly at the still-empty garbage pit. Two thousand six or seven hundred tons of trash it'll hold.
NOTTIN: [Speaks in French, laughs]
CHAYES: I want to see it full up to there, he says. People have to make trash, lots and lots of trash. Not exactly what the Environment Ministry has in mind, even if an orchestra could fit nicely in that same pit. For Living on Earth, I'm Sarah Chayes in Chartres.
(Music up and under)
THAPAR, narrating to music: These are the moments I live for, when time stands still. For over 20 years, the sheer beauty and power of this magnificent creature has completely mesmerized me.
KNOY: Valmick Thapar loves tigers. And by the time his series India: Land of the Tiger has its run on public television, he hopes you'll love this majestic beast as well.
THAPAR: Our great journey is about to begin.
KNOY: In a 6-part documentary that kicks off this month, Thapar takes us to India, home to nearly a billion people and half the world's tigers. The elegant cats live among some of the richest wildlife on Earth, but loss of forest habitat threatens the animal along with poaching and poisoning. Valmick Thapar is one of the world's leading authorities on tigers, and he gained most of his knowledge firsthand.
THAPAR: I think one of my rarest moments with tigers was actually one morning sitting in a little forest rest house in the middle of a forest, and having scrambled eggs for breakfast, believe it or not. And a big, huge noise, which is a big bellow of a sambir deer. You know, every deer has an alarm call, and the sambur have a very deep alarm call. The spotted deer shriek. And so, these alarm calls started and I dropped everything, picked up the nearest camera, rushed into a little jeep, and dashed off into the forest. And I discovered a tigress leading her 3 small cubs at 11 in the morning in the middle of the day to a day shelter, a thick, cool bush to shelter in. And I said wow, wonderful site. And I was turning around to come back when suddenly, from the green bush that she was going into, a huge sambir deer raced out. And something you never see with tigers is what I saw. I saw the tigress chase the sambir deer for 100 feet. I ended up 10 feet away from them. She had locked her teeth around his shoulders, but not in a killing grip. So the sambir was standing eye to eye with the tigress with a distance of 6 inches between their eyes, and I was around 10 feet, and they stood for 5 minutes paralyzed like this, and she tried to do everything to bring down this deer because her cubs were desperate to eat. But it survived, and it ran away, and it taught me a huge amount about tiger predation, how difficult it is, how complicated it is for a mother to hunt, how difficult it must be for a cub to learn the art of hunting to survive.
KNOY: How hard is it for a tiger watcher like yourself to track a tiger down?
THAPAR: It depends where you are. If it's Ranthambore where, which is like home to me, and I know pretty much every track and every nuance of the language, it's about how you interpret the language of a forest. And Ranthambore has been phenomenal in that way. I could find tigers in 24 hours to see them. And this you do by interpreting the sounds of animals, like the spotted deer will go boo! in terms of an alarm call. Monkeys make a kind of bark which is [barks], and you interpret all these sounds and bring them together and understand the language. Once you do that, if a tiger's moving, whether it's an animal or a bird, they're all giving their alarm calls and pinpointing the direction of movement.
KNOY: Can you do some tiger sounds for us?
THAPAR: Well, I'll do a sound which is something very few people have heard with wild tigers, and it's like the conversation that takes place between a tigress and her cubs, the communication that takes place. And it's like a bird sound, so that she uses this so it doesn't disturb all the animals. They don't think there's a tiger around. And it's like "ow...ow...ow" These are the cubs and she may go [lower] "ow..." rather than "Aum," which is the much deeper rolling sound that tigers make. And it's these sounds which are very rare to hear. But I think the most unbelievable sound which I could not mimic was 4 14-month-old cubs purring after seeing their mother after a gap of 10 hours. I've never seen such purring, it's like a domestic cat intensified 200 times, and it was like an orchestra of purring. And it will always remain in my mind as being surrounded by 5 tigers who were all purring around me. And I didn't have either a sound recorder or anything to really mimic that. But that's another memorable experience which you've reminded me of.
KNOY: Tell us more about the filming process. What do you do while you're near the wildlife, filming them? Do the animals walk away? Do they get angry or scared?
THAPAR: I think it's a really tough one. I think the camera man and the unit that is in a forest, first of all, treads very slowly and very softly. It respects everything around them. And then gradually you adjust. I know that there was an American camera man called Kenneth Housman, a rather remarkable character, who spent 2 years in one of our finest tiger areas, and he's got some unique footage, like, you know, in the first film that you've seen there's a sequence of a tiger racing after a monkey and killing it. Now this has never been recorded by any natural history film ever, to see tigers killing is the rarest thing.
KNOY: You must have to be awfully patient to get a shot like that of the tiger killing the monkey. You must have to wait sometimes for days to see something like that.
THAPAR: I think he had to wait nearly for a year. It's not really days. I don't think, you know, there are lots of people who go to Indian forests to look at tigers and you're lucky if you get a glimpse of the face of a tiger. But to actually see the tiger in action at that kind of speed that is shown in the film was luck, persistence, patience, and following one tigress for many months, and then she just exploded into action, and the camera man could record this action. So in each film there is something absolutely unique which the world has not seen.
KNOY: Mr. Thapar, is there an environmental political movement in India, such as we have in the United States?
THAPAR: I think over the last 10 years I've had occasion to work very closely with my government, and I dealt with one of the places where I grew up and learned everything about tigers. This is Ranthambore National Park. And in 1992 I realized that things had taken a turn for the worst when suddenly I found tigers missing. And late that year I realized that half the tigers I'd worked with had been slaughtered by a bunch of poachers for their skin, for their bone, for the cash that they provide. And it's been an unbelievably enormous battle to try and preserve and protect.
KNOY: What do you hope your film will accomplish, both here in the US and in India?
THAPAR: You know, when this film was starting, I was very reluctant to be the presenter. I thought to myself that I couldn't deal with a film of such extraordinary beauty when there were so many problems facing the natural world, when tigers were dying at the rate of 1 a day. But somewhere along the line the producer-director of the film, Michael Burkett, pushed and persuaded me to present the series. I'm not a presenter. I write books on tigers, I follow tigers, I deal with government committees, I deal with the bureaucracies of the world that talk more and do very little. But I decided to take on this challenge, and I spent a year and a half, two years of my life with it. If I look at it today, I can't believe the response. I can't believe that some way it struck a pulse. That people reacted to it. They couldn't believe that the Indian subcontinent had such treasures. They couldn't believe, somewhere along the line, that this is what exists and it exists all across our planet. So I hope that the film is a meeting point for different people. That it provides a path to conservation. That it makes certain that some of the treasures we see survive into another century.
KNOY: India: Land of the Tiger airs next week on PBS's Nature. Mr. Thapar is Executive Director of the Ranthambore Foundation and the author of several books on the tiger. Mr. Thapar, thanks a lot for joining us.
THAPAR: You're very welcome.
(Music up and under)
KNOY: And for this week that's Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: Our production team includes Jesse Wegman, George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman, and Miriam Landman, along with Roberta de Avila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson
KNOY: We had help from David Winickoff, Ann Parry, Laura Kolbert, KPLU Seattle, and New Hampshire Public Radio.
CURWOOD: Michael Aharon composed the theme.
KNOY: 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.
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University.
KNOY: I'm Laura Knoy.
CURWOOD: 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.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity: www.wajones.org.
(Music up and under)
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
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.
Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.
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.