Native American Ecological Wisdom: Part One of Two/ Richard Shiffman
In the first of a two-part series on indigenous environmental philosophy, producer Richard Schiffman speaks with American Indians from tribes located in the northeastern United States who believe that the spiritual values of their ancestors hold the key to the earth's survival, not only for the present, but for future generations. (12:35)
Stephen Duggan's Storm King Mountain Legacy
Steve Curwood talks with Robert Kennedy, Jr. about the legacy of his recently deceased friend Stephen Duggan, a pioneer in environmental law. For Duggan, a successful Wall Street lawyer, perhaps his most lasting legacy is a legal case he sparked that set the precedent for modern environmental lawsuits. The case involved scenic Storm King Mountain overlooking the Hudson River, versus the Consolidation Edison power company. Robert Kennedy Junior is an environmental lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a professor at the Pace University School of Law. (04:55)
Grandma's Autumn Colors/ Julia King
Commentator Julia King reflects on the passing of her grandmother in the autumn. The colors of fall provide an opportunity to explore the eternal link of nature's continuous life cycle. Ms. King is a writer who lives in Goshen, Indiana and comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium. (02:35)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about... This week at Living on Earth we mark our 400th program as National Public Radio’s weekly environmental news magazine! (01:30)
Steve Curwood speaks with Ray Anderson, author of a book called "Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise". It’s about his personal and professional march toward the next industrial revolution; one towards sustainable, even restorative business practices . Mr. Anderson is Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, and the founder and CEO of Interface, Incorporated, which had over a billion dollars in sales last year of carpets, flooring, and fabrics for commercial interiors. Mr. Anderson says industry must make several major shifts, exploring new frontiers such as solar energy, zero waste, and harmless emissions. (09:30)
Audience members weigh in on our recent coverage of land use practices in Central America. (02:40)
Garden Spot: Toiling the Soil
We check in with Living on Earth's traditional gardener Michael Weishan who says, since a gardeners work is never done, fall is the perfect time to work on chores such as improving garden soil. (03:10)
Preserving English Meadows/ Robin White
The fabled pastoral English countryside is coming under pressure from increasingly aggressive agribusiness. San Francisco-based producer Robin White found this out on a recent visit to his parents' village home in England. He tells us that some people, including his own mother, are trying to preserve the meadow landscape for the sake of biodiversity. He reports from the hamlet of Huish Champflower. (05:30)
Lush, Mysterious Bogs/ Sy Montgomery
Commentator Sy Montgomery likes to visit her favorite bog where life seems boundless, mysterious, and where time seems to stand still. Ms. Montgomery is the author of "Nature's Everyday Mysteries". She comes to us from New Hampshire Public Radio. (03:35)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Richard Schiffman, Robin White
GUESTS: Robert Kennedy Jr., Ray Anderson, Michael Weishan
COMMENTATORS: Julia King, Sy Montgomery
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Aboriginal cultures have a different take on ecology than modern societies. As one Native American puts it, nature is not separate from humanity.
PRITZKER: I hate the word "wildlife" or "wilderness." Native people do not consider our relatives as wild, or something to be afraid of or something to conquer or dominate. We consider the animal people, the planet people, as relatives, as our family.
CURWOOD: And remembering Stephen Duggan, a lawyer and an environmentalist who took the mountain to the courtroom.
KENNEDY: That Storm King doctrine was the first case in modern environmental law. In fact the phrase, "environmental law" was coined a few months after that case was passed.
CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more this 400th edition of Living on Earth. But first, the news.
(NPR News follows)
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. This year on November 26th, many of us observe Thanksgiving, a day of celebration and gratitude that is also tinged with a sense of loss. Our first Thanksgiving came amid the turmoil and tragedy that decimated the Puritan pioneers, and that foreshadowed the near-elimination of indigenous culture and homelands. We begin this week's program by examining some of the ancient religious practices and philosophies that have been passed down to surviving Native Americans. Producer Richard Schiffman spoke with some first Americans who believe that the spiritual values of their ancestors holds the key to our survival, not only for today but for generations to come. In the first of a 2- part series, he visits indigenous environmental activists from the eastern woodlands.
(A flute plays)
MAN: We recognize and offer our thanks to our elder brother, the Sun, who gives us warmth and who causes everything to grow. To our grandfathers, the winds of the 4 directions, who give us air to breathe.
SCHIFFMAN: New York City schoolchildren watch buckskin-clad actors and actresses enact a play about the first Thanksgiving.
MAN: We need all of the forces of nature.
ACTORS: All of us. Without them there is no life on this planet. We are all related.
CHILD: Mother Earth.
WOMAN: The grandmothers of the 4 directions.
WOMAN 2: Water.
MAN 2: The plants and animals.
SCHIFFMAN: The play's author says she wants her young audience to appreciate the deep gratitude that Native Americans felt and still feel for the elements of the natural world.
DE MONTAGNO: Native people have always given thanks. And it's not just at one time of the year but throughout the year.
SCHIFFMAN: Marty De Montagno is descended on her mother's side from the prairie brand of the Potawatomy people. She is the manager of the resource center at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in lower Manhattan. De Montagno says the legendary feast in 1621 was not so much a ceremony of thanksgiving as a military parade organized to cement an alliance between the Wampanoag people and the Pilgrims. The first recorded Thanksgiving ceremony happened several years later. Ironically, English settlers called it to celebrate the massacre of hundreds of indigenous people in Groton, Connecticut. The early colonists were repulsed by the Native Americans, who they referred to as "savages," and they were equally uncomfortable with the trackless lands which they inhabited.
DE MONTAGNO: They called it a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men. (Laughs) That's right from their writings. And the wilderness was really a scary place to them.
SCHIFFMAN: Some Native American ecologists believe that the same attitudes toward untamed nature, which made the European colonists fear it, have caused later generations to dominate and exploit it. They trace our present- day environmental crisis to the philosophical belief that human beings are alien and apart from the natural world.
PRITZKER: Ha kwe, greetings. My name is Oness, translated as Wolf That Watches a Beaver, or commonly called Beaver Wolf.
SCHIFFMAN: Oness Pritzker is an ecologist and an environmental journalist of Wabanake heritage from Maine.
PRITZKER: I hate the word "wildlife" or "wilderness." Native people do not consider our relatives as wild, or something to be afraid of or something to conquer or dominate. We consider the animal people, the planet people, as relatives, as our family. That's why I even use the word "people" after the word "animal" or "plant."
(Bird calls and wind)
SCHIFFMAN: The sounds of the Maine woods, captured by nature recordist Peter Acker, make it appear pristine. That's the way Oness Pritzker remembers it when he was a child.
PRITZKER: Much of my family depended upon, we say, Nakamusanac, our grandmother, the moose. And of course, we fished and hunted and gathered plants. I was able to grow up in a time where a large part of our cultural life way, our survival, was still living off the land, or, we say, in the bush. But that quickly changed as a result of multinational, primarily forest industries came into the territories and decided to really destroy and desecrate our tree relatives.
(A tree falls with a crash)
SCHIFFMAN: Having watched the clear-cutting of much of his ancestral land as a young man, Oness Pritzker became a biologist in order to learn how to protect threatened woodlands. He spent 3 years as a forest ecologist in southeast Asia. Beaver Wolf says that despite his rigorous scientific training, and however far afield he travels, his mind always returns to the ecological wisdom of his own Wabanake people.
(A man sings, drumming, joined by others and rattling)
SCHIFFMAN: We have ceremonies and songs and teachings that specifically instruct us on how to take certain trees. As one example, when we would take trees for firewood for our lodges, we would look for the trees that have a porcupine nest in them, because if you know anything about porcupines, they love to have a tree that has some insects in it they can go after.
(Singing and drumming continue)
SCHIFFMAN: By cutting mainly diseased timber favored by nesting porcupines, and limiting themselves to taking no more than 1 in 10 trees of any particular stand, the people of the Maine woods helped to preserve the health of the forest. But unlike some modern-day environmentalists, the first Americans were not just concerned about maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem.
(Singing and drumming continue to closure)
SCHIFFMAN: For the native people, treating life with respect was a religious act, an acknowledgment that every bird and stone and tree arises out of the same spiritual source as ourselves.
PRITCHARD: Wherever I go, Algonquin elders tell me the most important thing is to love and honor the earth.
SCHIFFMAN: Evan Pritchard is of mixed Algonquin and European heritage.
PRITCHARD: Chief Seattle's speech still stands. Chief Seattle said that the Earth does not belong to us. We belong to the Earth. We are plants, we are like plants growing on the surface of our mother. Just like plants, we all have our different gifts and healing properties. "We are all medicine for each other," is an Algonquin saying.
SCHIFFMAN: According to indigenous philosophy, humans, as well as animals and plants, exist not for their own sake alone but in order to serve one another and to advance the sacred purposes of life itself. Scholars say that most Native American languages have no word to convey what we mean by the English term "rights," a concept which is central to our own modern, individualistic world-view. But these languages are rich in expressions which speak of the complex net of mutual responsibilities. Responsibilities which bind us to one another, and to the Earth itself.
SWAMP: Everything has its original instruction. Everything performs according to what they were given as a responsibility.
SCHIFFMAN: Jake Swamp's chiseled features and dignified manner suit his role as a chief of the Mohawk Nation.
SWAMP: Human beings were given a responsibility. That's to take care of the Earth. And many of the people have neglected their responsibility. Instead, they have gone the other way. But there's still time to turn around and bring them back.
SCHIFFMAN: Jake Swamp says that the first Americans were given a series of prophecies by the Creator, warning of the environmental crisis which now confronts us. The Algonquin prophecy has been preserved in pictographs, beaded onto belts of wampum, carved meticulously out of shell. His traditional elders asked Evan Pritchard to speak out about it.
PRITCHARD: The specifics of the prophecy were that there would be fish dying in the waters because they would be poisoned by the water, which is happening. And it's said that the sun will look different. And because of the ionosphere and changes in the ozone, the sun does look different. And it's said that the trees, the maple trees, will begin to die from the top down. Now, they couldn't have known about acid rain, but that's how acid rain affects maple trees.
NICHOLSON: Our trees are dying from the top down. Many, many, many trees are dying where I'm from.
SCHIFFMAN: Pat Nicholson, or Three Rivers, as she is called, is a sprightly grandmother from Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
NICHOLSON: I believe that our Earth is all we have. I believe that this is the Garden that's spoken of in the Biblical text. And I believe it is our responsibility to take care of it.
(A bubbling brook, bird calls)
SCHIFFMAN: Pat Nicholson's Cherokee ancestors called this southern hill country The Land of Many Waters because of the abundant streams which course through it. But those streams have been running muddy and polluted lately. Logging and open pit mining have wreaked havoc in many parts of the Appalachians, Pat Nicholson says. And she's observed a pall of smog from industrial sources in the Midwest hanging over the smoky mountains on many mornings. She believes it's led to the dying of trees from the top down, in fulfillment of the ancient prophecy.
(A man and a group sings to guitar accompaniment)
SCHIFFMAN: The Cherokee and other southern tribes were amongst the first converted to Christianity, as this Christian hymn in the Cherokee language bears witness. Pat Nicholson was brought up as a Christian in the hill country that she calls the buckle of the Bible Belt. But like many others of indigenous ancestry, she's been exploring her native roots in recent years.
NICHOLSON: I have many people that want to believe that I'm being sacrilegious to Christianity, but I try to share with them that I'm not worshiping the Earth as such. It's not about worshiping the Earth. It's about respecting and honoring the Earth. And learning to do that with each other.
SCHIFFMAN: For Three Rivers, following in the steps of her ancestors and being an environmentalist are 2 sides of the same coin. She leads a regular ecology tour of the logged ridges and polluted waterways around Hurricane Mills to educate residents about the destruction of their local ecosystem. As people delve into the traditions of the first Americans, Pat Nicholson says, they just naturally become more environmentally conscious.
NICHOLSON: You can't have one without the other. The next thing they're doing is they're putting their tobacco offering down, and they're learning to not put their garbage on the ground, and they're learning all of the things that it takes to protect the Earth. The environmentalists who have been out there in the forefront of trying to protect us from ourselves, and the Native Americans, coming together would be a mighty force. You bring together the head and the heart.
SCHIFFMAN: Some years back, Three Rivers spent the better part of a year in a walk across North America to pray for the healing of the Earth. The prayer walk was led by Grandfather William Camanda, a peace activist who's been called the Mahatma Gandhi of the 84 Algonquin Nations, ranging from the Carolinas all the way to central Quebec, where the revered elder lives. The spiritual leader's shocks of jet black hair amidst the gray belie his more than 80 years.
CAMANDA: I don't think Mother Earth will die. The people doing the pollution by chemicals, they will do away with themselves, but Mother Earth will be there. Once all people are gone, she will come back in full bloom again. But we would not be here. Time is running out.
(Flute music and drums)
SCHIFFMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Schiffman.
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CURWOOD: Coming up: the legacy of Stephen Duggan, a pioneer in environmental law. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. This month, friends and admirers have been giving thanks for the life of Stephen Duggan, who recently died at the age of 89. Mr. Duggan was a successful Wall Street lawyer who helped found the Natural Resources Defense Council. But perhaps Mr. Duggan's most lasting legacy is a legal case he sparked that set the precedent for modern environmental lawsuits. The case involved the beautiful and strategic headland over the Hudson River called Storm King Mountain. Consolidated Edison, the power company, wanted to chop off the top of the mountain to make a reservoir for electric power. This enraged Mr. Duggan, who used his wealth and influence to take on Con Ed. Here now to continue telling the story is Robert Kennedy, Jr., an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
KENNEDY: Storm King is one of the most spectacular geological sites east of the Mississippi. It's a sugarloaf mountain that rises, I think, 1,700 feet directly out of the banks of the Hudson River. And it's so spectacular that during the 19th century it became almost an obligatory subject for the Hudson River School of painters. And it was also an important historical site. During the Revolutionary War, Washington went and built West Point on the Hudson River, and the Patriot's stronghold was the Hudson Highlands, and the centerpiece of the Highlands was the natural fortress of Storm King Mountain.
CURWOOD: What happened? What did Consolidated Edison want to do to this place?
KENNEDY: Con Ed proposed to blast I think a 6 billion gallon reservoir out of the top of Storm King. It was going to essentially decapitate the mountain. And people like Stephen Duggan had problems with the idea that this national historical monument was going to be destroyed for economic gain of the utility. In 1965 they formed Scenic Hudson Preservation Committee, and they said we're going to stop this project.
CURWOOD: But they had a legal problem, though, didn't they?
KENNEDY: Well, the big legal problem at that time was the ancient doctrine of standing, which comes to us through common-law and from the United States Constitution. Now that doctrine had kept environmentalists out of court since the beginning of time because, for example, if somebody came up with a proposal, let's say, to fill the Grand Canyon with old automobile tires, and some environmentalists said well, we're going to sue them because we love the Grand Canyon, the first question the court would ask is, well, do you own the Grand Canyon? And the environmentalists would say of course not. And the courts would say well, then, you don't have standing to sue, because you can't show a concrete stake in the outcome. And what happened in this case, a 3-judge panel from the Court of Appeals in New York City, after only about 3 months of litigation, held that if you have an interest in a publicly-owned resource, like a river or a park, if you canoe on it, fish on it, hike on it, and somebody is going to do some injury to it that is going to injure those aesthetic values of yours or those recreational values, that you have standing to sue. And that Storm King doctrine was the first case in modern environmental law. In fact, the phrase "environmental law" was coined, came into use a few months after that case was passed.
CURWOOD: What was the particular genius of Mr. Duggan in this case? What is it that he thought of that nobody else had really thought of before?
KENNEDY: Well, people, you know, there had been environmental battles in this country, really, since the 1840s. Washington Irving led a battle to try to stop the railroad from constructing tracks along the banks of the Hudson River, for environmental reasons, for all the reasons that we give today. But, you know, Stephen Duggan came along at a time when America was ready. He realized very early in the fight because he, you know, they had gone out and they'd been very sophisticated. They got the best law firms. They got the best public relations firms. They did an environmental issue in a way that it's never been done before. And it got a huge following. Con Ed shareholders from all over the country began sending their dividend checks to Stephen Duggan to cash to support his fight against Con Ed. And, you know, Con Ed as a result became the company that Americans love to hate.
CURWOOD: Now, you're currently engaged in your own work for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and protecting habitats, rivers, and watersheds. How does your work benefit from Mr. Duggan's pioneering efforts?
KENNEDY: Well, I bring lawsuits against polluters. And I've brought over 150 successful legal actions with my partner, Carl Copeland, over the past decade. And we couldn't have brought any of those actions against Hudson River polluters or polluters anywhere else in the country if it hadn't been for the Storm King case. And that was Stephen Duggan's legacy.
CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking all this time with us today.
KENNEDY: Sure. Thanks for having me.
CURWOOD: Robert Kennedy, Jr., is an environmental lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council and a professor of law at the Pace University School of Law. Stephen Duggan helped found the NRDC. He died recently at the age of 89.
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CURWOOD: The passing of individuals is a somber time. For commentator Julia King, the passing of autumn is also a sad occasion. But it provides a chance to consider nature's cycle of life and death.
KING: Autumn is a good time to die. My friend speaks the words upon hearing that my 91-year-old grandmother got into bed one evening and simply failed to wake. I consider the red and golden leaves still clinging to the maples in my back yard. Is there a best time to die, I wonder? Winter, with its cold browns and grays is more analogous to death. And Spring with its leaves as fresh as lettuce is so full of consoling new life. But maybe my friend is right: autumn is special. Every year, 2 weeks after my daughter's birthday, the trees explode into glorious yellows and pinks. When she was born 5 years ago, I was sure the show was just for her; it seemed a good time to be born.
But as my family gathered to bury my grandmother under a blue sky and a rainbow of leaves, it did indeed seem a more apt time to die. At least for a 91-year-old. At least for a woman who had a lifetime of color behind her. There are pictures from the green of her youth: the carefree young flapper with a come-hither look. The laughing, splashing friends at a surreal black and white lake. They wear bathing caps and modest one-tone bathing suits. They lean on one another with casual intimacy, resting arms on shoulders and feet on legs. Later, the photos include children and dogs, sofas and family Christmas trees. Her mysterious youth turns into a more familiar middle age. And finally into the old woman who even after a major stroke never lost the light in her deep blue eyes.
When my grandmother was in her 80s, my sister once asked her if life had seemed long or short. Without hesitation, she gently snapped her fingers and said, "Definitely short." Like autumn, just as you fall madly in love with the bright new landscape, it's gone. Looking out a church window at an Indiana field of reds and rusty browns, my sisters and I laugh, remembering Grandmom's words from many autumns ago: "I have seen a lot of things in my life." My grandmother stood in the doorway wagging her finger at her 3 frolicsome granddaughters in the yard. "But I have never seen children playing in the leaves in their brand new coats." Goodbye, dear Grandmom. We will always remember your color.
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CURWOOD: Julia King is a writer who lives in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.
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CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W.A. 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.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio. CURWOOD: Just ahead: doing well by doing good. A billion-dollar industrialist sets out to help save the biosphere by doing his job. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
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CURWOOD: This week at Living on Earth, we mark our 400th program as National Public Radio's weekly environmental news magazine. We launched our programming on April 5, 1991, with one of the first stories on the environmental effects of the Gulf War. In the 399 shows since, we've traveled to all 7 continents and most of the water in-between. From Arkansas to Zambia we've gone under the ice, above the clouds, over the trees, and through the woods. We've spoken with heads of state and struggling farmers, policy wonks and garbage collectors. All this to bring you stories of the subtle and not so subtle changes afoot here on Planet Earth. Awareness of ecological issues has evolved since we began our show. In 1991 the phrase "environmental protection" was mentioned 12,000 times in the US media. This year it's already up to 18,000. Still, words of environmental warning haven't been matched with deeds, and global coverage of environmental affairs seems sorely lacking. And finally, over the years, we've valued your thoughts and suggestions and your loyal support. We offer our heartfelt thanks. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: A company called Interface is the world's largest producer of carpets and fabrics for commercial interiors. In 1994, over 20 years after founding Interface, CEO Ray Anderson embarked on what he's called an eco- odyssey. It has been a journey to make Interface the first truly sustainable industrial company in the world. And, he says, sustainable is not quite enough. He also hopes that his company will be restorative, by giving back more than it takes from the Earth. Ray Anderson has just written a book called Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise. It's about his personal and corporate journey toward the next industrial revolution. For this revolution to be truly revolutionary, Mr. Anderson says that industry will have to make several major shifts, like shifts to solar energy, zero waste, and harmless emissions. Ray Anderson joins me now in the studio. Glad you could come by today.
ANDERSON: Oh, thank you, Steve. Delighted to be here.
CURWOOD: I'd like to read a few lines out of your book okay?
CURWOOD: You say, "By our civilization's definition, I am a captain of industry. I am a kind of modern-day hero, an entrepreneur." But you say, "By my own definition I am a plunderer of the Earth and a thief." Could you explain those statements?
ANDERSON: When I first asked my technical people to analyze what we and our suppliers together had taken from the Earth to produce our sales in 1994, I learned that we had taken 1.224 billion pounds of earth, stored natural capital. And we're tiny, we're just tiny in the grand scheme of things. And I realized what a hellacious contribution our little company was making. And I convicted myself at that moment as a plunderer of the Earth.
CURWOOD: This is a crime against nature, huh?
ANDERSON: A crime against nature.
CURWOOD: What prompted you to do this inventory in 1994?
ANDERSON: Well, I had been asked to make a speech that I didn't really want to make. Our customers were asking our salespeople, "What's your company doing for the environment?" Our salespeople didn't have good answers, and they asked the manufacturing people who asked the research and development people, and none of us had good answers. And our R&D people decided to convene a task force and bring people together from all of our businesses around the world to assess the company's worldwide environmental position. And they asked me to give that group a kickoff speech, to give them an environmental vision. And I didn't have one. So I was sweating with what to say to that group, when I read Paul Hawken's book The Ecology of Commerce. And it was a convicting experience. I've described it as a spear in the chest. And from that reading flowed not only that speech, which stunned that little group of people and set us all on a course that has -- I've described it as a pebble in a pond, that's grown into a tsunami -- that led to analyzing what we were taking from the Earth.
CURWOOD: What was Paul Hawken's message? What did you hear from Paul Hawken?
ANDERSON: Well, that every life support system that comprised the biosphere is in decline. That's the first message. Second message is that business and industry is the biggest culprit in this. And the third message is that only business and industry is large enough, pervasive enough, wealthy enough to lead our civilization away from the abyss toward which we are hurtling.
CURWOOD: What would you say are the top goals of Interface?
ANDERSON: Well, we have an immediate purpose, which is of course to make a profit, to stay in business. But we have, beyond that immediate proximate purpose, an ultimate purpose. And that ultimate purpose might well be to invent the next industrial revolution. We want to move away from product dependence, more toward service. So we've created something called The Evergreen Program. Under an evergreen leafse, our customers don't have to buy the carpet. We retain ownership of the product. And we retain that liability for the product at the end of its useful life, intending to convert that liability to an asset by closing the loop and giving those products life after life.
CURWOOD: Well, perhaps some businesspeople listening to us, investors, would say, "Mr. Anderson has some nice, you know, sort of pie-in-the-sky ideas, but how do you pay for it?"
ANDERSON: We began this whole effort by concentrating on waste and driving waste out of our business. In the process, the 3-3/4 years we've been at it, we've saved $77 million. I mean real money, hard dollars, and that's paying, really, for the rest of this revolution that we're engineering. The share price has moved up as earnings have moved up, so our shareholders have fared well in all of this.
CURWOOD: How is Interface responding to the threat of climate change?
ANDERSON: Well, we recognize it to be real. So, we've undertaken to reduce emissions, to reduce the use of fossil fuels. In fact, in our waste elimination effort, we've declared all fossil fuel-derived energy to be waste. Consequently, we focused on energy efficiency to reduce that usage to its minimum. And then we've begun to invest in photovoltaics as a renewable source of energy, a very modest investment to this point. But we are about to produce the world's first solar-made carpet. And when I ask audiences with interior designers and architects, "Would you specify solar-made carpet?," every hand in the room goes up. So I know that this will sell. And nobody will really care that the electricity costs a little bit more.
CURWOOD: So, what is a solar carpet? Is it something that you make with machines powered only by solar electricity?
ANDERSON: Yeah, we're harnessing that fusion reactor, that marvelous fusion reactor that's just 8 minutes away at the speed of light. Harnessing that current solar income.
CURWOOD: But you say it'll cost you more to do this than if you were to just buy it from the local power company.
ANDERSON: In the beginning it will. But in time, as the usage of photovoltaics increases, the cost will continue to come down. They've come down orders of magnitude from the inception of solar voltaics years and year ago. One of these days they will be competitive with fossil fuels. That day will come sooner if our Congress could just adopt an enlightened tax policy and begin to get the prices right on that barrel of oil. When the price of a barrel of oil reflects its true cost, I mean, for example, the cost of military power projected into the Middle East to protect the oil at its source, it's not reflected in the price of a barrel of oil any more than cancer is reflected in the price of a pack of cigarettes. The market is good at establishing price but seems to have no notion of cost. So the market needs to be constantly redressed to keep it honest. That honest marketplace will facilitate this whole move toward sustainability.
CURWOOD: In America there is this tendency for companies to want to get bigger and bigger and bigger. Do you have any desire or interest in doing that yourself?
ANDERSON: We've grown by acquisition over the years. And we intend to continue to grow. And I think that even in a no growth world it's possible for the resource-efficient company to grow. It will grow at the expense of the resource-inefficient competitor. I mean, that's Nature's way, is it not?
CURWOOD: In this process of converting to a more sustainable company, what was the moment where you had the biggest doubts? When did you wonder if you were maybe nuts?
ANDERSON: After that kick-off speech. I talked for a year to our people every chance I got. And there was a lot of skepticism. Was this the program of the week, the program of the month? Was Ray convinced about this? Was this for real? Had he gone 'round the bend? And I said well, yeah, you know I've gone 'round the bend to see what's there. Come on, this is what's 'round on the other side. And gradually people began to come aboard, one by one. And then after about a year, we began to gain traction.
CURWOOD: So how far have you been able to go toward your big goals of, what, you want zero waste, you want closed-loop production?
ANDERSON: Well, we've taken a macro view of that and gone back to that original calculation. And we've seen that number decline in 3 years, from 1.55 pounds of stuff, natural capital, per dollar of revenue, to 1.20 pounds of stuff per dollar of revenue. That's a 22-1/2% improvement in resource efficiency. So if you begin with the presumption that we were 100% unsustainable in 1994, which is a base year for us in this whole effort, we would say that we're now 22-1/2% of the way. That's just the foothills, though, of the mountain. And the real part of the mountain looms ahead. But when you get all faces of that mountain climbed, we'll be at that summit, from which the view, I think, will be wonderful. That's the view I want to live to see.
CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.
ANDERSON: Oh, I've enjoyed the conversation. Thank you.
CURWOOD: Ray Anderson's recent book is called Mid-Course Correction. He's co-chair of the President's Council on Sustainable Development and founder and CEO of Interface, Inc., which had over a billion dollars in sales last year.
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CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners.
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CURWOOD: Our discussion about how land use practices worsened the impact of Hurricane Mitch prompted a call from Mary Robinson, who hears us on KUOW in Seattle. She thought we neglected an important element in the story.
ROBINSON: Peasants are forced up the hillsides because the better, flatter land is occupied by agribusiness. Bananas in Central America are grown unsustainably with herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, and a labor force paid dollars a day. Please show us the whole picture. Your story left an impression that the people brought this on themselves and that returning bananas will save them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
CURWOOD: And a listener to KSMF in Ashland, Oregon, who asked us not to use his name, says it may be an unpopular time to look at the historical actors responsible for the devastation in Central America. But with the disaster still in the news, he says, it is in fact the most critical time.
CALLER: There is nary a mention made of the fact that for 100 years the United States has been pushing the people of that area to this situation and condition. Why do you think they're called "banana republics"? These people are not farming vertical hillsides for the fun of it or for their health or because they're too ignorant to know the difference. We have insisted that these countries exist to farm bananas and coffee for us.
CURWOOD: We welcome your comments on our program. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or send us an e-mail at LOE@NPR.ORG. Once again that's LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can find our Web page at www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org.
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CURWOOD: Coming up: bringing back the beauty and biodiversity of traditional meadows. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
WEISHAN: I made a big mistake.
CURWOOD: That repentant fellow is none other than Living on Earth's traditional gardener Michael Weishan. We joined Michael on a recent chilly day to find out that even well into autumn with the growing season past, a gardener's work is never done. He says fall is the perfect time to take care of chores such as improving garden soil.
WEISHAN: As you can see the stuff (shovel against hard ground) -- it's like hard pan. It's almost impossible to dig. And the garden productivity was pretty poor this year, and it had mostly to do with the fact that the soil wasn't very good. So we just have cleared the area out so that we can get better access to it. And what I've been actually doing is digging out this commercial, very expensive soil that I very foolishly purchased, and replacing it with compost-manure mix.
CURWOOD: Now, getting the soil ready, I understand. What other parts of the garden, what do we need to worry about this time of year?
WEISHAN: What we want to do is start to clean off the garden, because in this debris hides a lot of pests and problems for next year. So not only do we want to clean out the garden to improve the soil and to get the soil ready, but we also want to take away all this debris and throw it on the compost pile.
CURWOOD: A lot of people leave this stuff in the garden. They think you're not supposed to take it down.
WEISHAN: Well, there's actually 2 schools of thought on this. In the vegetable garden everyone's pretty much united because this is where disease and pests will be harboring, and if you've had any disease problem you remove the stuff rigorously. In the perennial garden, though, it's an entirely different story, because you have sometimes very beautiful summer silhouettes in the flowers. You have things that catch the snow, the stalks are very interesting. So half the time I will clean out the perennial garden fairly rigorously. But a lot of times I'll leave it and clean it out in the early spring.
CURWOOD: I put in some raspberries this year and you've got a beautiful raspberry patch. What should I do with mine?
WEISHAN: Well, once again, I would wait till these things go dormant, but then they can be pruned back. They can also be pruned back in the springtime and will probably require it. Pruning in the garden is not as complicated as pruning trees and shrubs. Each tree and shrub has a very specific time that it needs to be pruned. In the garden you're pretty safe pruning things pretty much as you want them to be. For instance, here we have these raspberries and they're all over the pathway and they're spiked, of course, you know they have thorns, so you really want to get them out of the way. The ones that can't be easily shoved out the way I'm going to cut back now, so that we don't get caught on them.
CURWOOD: Ah, so it's a good time to get that muscular workout, huh?
WEISHAN: Yeah, I'll tell you, it's a great time for a workout in the garden. As a matter of fact, generally at this time of the year I skip the health club a couple times a week and actually do the things that need to be done in the garden. Next week it's this compost thing, getting the garden soil all going together and building a stone wall in front. Perfect weather for all that type of stuff.
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. 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: The story books that show a rural English landscape usually picture lush green fields bordered by winding hedgerows, flocks of sheep scattered on a hillside, and rabbits bounding across rolling meadow lands. From The Wind in The Willows to Watership Down, the English countryside is a familiar icon. San Francisco-based producer Robin White visited his parents' home in England recently and found the face of the landscape changing under pressure from commercial farming. And he tells us that some people, including his own mother, are trying to buck the tide.
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WHITE: The big excitement in Huish Champflower, the village where my folks live, is bell-ringing practice at the local church on Friday nights. The bells have been ringing here for almost 600 years, and the village itself has been in existence since the first millennium. Everything is old; even the landscape looks like it does because it's been farmed continuously for thousands of years. It's a patchwork of odd-shaped fields of grass bordered by hedges and trees.
(Bird song and footfalls)
WHITE: My mum owns one of those fields and she's showing me around.
MUM: This is really a very marshy bit, with water dropwork and a lot of angelica and iris. We've got all sorts of different habitats in this little field.
WHITE: My mum has been nurturing the habitats back after previous owners damaged the field by over-fertilizing. In the last 50 years, farmers using massive amounts of fertilizer have wreaked havoc across the English countryside, destroying the natural diversity of plant species that built up over centuries. In the past, each hayfield used to have its own character and even its own name. But now, farm owner Ian Davis says the fields are becoming more uniform with just 3 species of grass and maybe some clover.
DAVIS: All of the wildflowers are regarded as noxious weeds and got to be exterminated. So the field may look beautiful in the spring with its bright green color and what have you. But from the point of view of wildlife it's becoming a desert.
WHITE: Davis says birds which used to be common in English fields, like song thrushes and skylarks, are declining in numbers. The birds can no longer find the insects and seeds they need to live on, and ground-nesting birds have nowhere safe to build their homes. Out of concern with the destruction of hayfields, Ian Davis set up a network of small agricultural landowners pledged to using farming techniques which benefit wildlife. He's enlisted the aid of David Westbrook, a naturalist with the Somerset Wildlife Trust. Westbrook advises the nature reserve owners on how to use old-fashioned farming techniques.
WESTBROOK: Past farming techniques which use less chemicals, were less demanding of the land, enabled certain types of wildlife communities to develop. Old haymeadows, for example, which are full of wildflowers and depend on butterflies and so on, they're reliant on these traditional haycutting methods, and they've been lost.
WHITE: In commercial fields, farmers use fertilizer to grow more hay, which they then cut several times a season. This feeds more cattle. But each cut takes away flower seeds and insects. The nature reserve owners don't fertilize and let the fields grow so the wildflowers can bloom and go to seed. To prevent their fields from getting overgrown, they take only one late hay crop. When the grass grows up again, they bring in the grazing specialists.
(A woman shouts: "Come on! Come on!" Sheep bleat.)
WHITE: The sheep keep down tough grasses, which would out-compete the spring wildflowers. And they act as seed spreaders. Any seeds they eat pass right through and get deposited in a different place. With each passing year the range of plants growing in a restored meadow increases, although it can take up to 8 years to bring back a field that has been heavily fertilized.
WHITE: Long before barbed wires was invented, thick mixed hedges were used to divide the fields. The hedges also protected wildlife. Farmers now cut hedges small and tight by machine, making them less hospitable to birds and animals. And some farmers remove them to make way for farm machinery.
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WHITE: The nature reserve owners try to leave hedges bigger and manage them by hand. Some critics say the preservationists are holding back agricultural progress. Farmers say they need larger tracts of land and fertilizers and farm machinery to compete in the global marketplace. Standing on the edge of a field, Mike James, a doctor and nature reserve owner, says the landscape is one of the things that makes England special.
JAMES: All the fields, there's little odd shapes and they're all little funny bits tucked in here and tucked in there, not great big square fields like you tend to see in Europe. You know, this is the result of a tradition, an unbroken tradition of a thousand years of farming. And it's going now, because it's not economic.
WHITE: But the economics are changing. Thirty-eight percent of English farms are now sold to non-farmers. And some realtors are starting to specialize in private nature reserves.
WHITE: Back in Huish Champflower, which incidentally means "the house of the man named Flowery Field," my mum looks for the devil's bit scabious. It's the food plant of an endangered butterfly, the marsh fertillery, which breeds at a publicly-owned nature reserve a mile from my folks' cottage.
MUM: There's the devil's bit scabious. Now that's, that is a little patch which has seeded since we've been here, and it looks as if it is now more than 1 plant.
WHITE: So is that the only place that you have the devil's --
MUM: No, here we are, look. There's some -- ooh, what a lot! Well, this is great, this is spread all along here.
WHITE: It's lovely, isn't it?
MUM: Such a gorgeous color, isn't it?
WHITE: Mum hopes, if she can encourage the devil's bit scabious, eventually her meadow might become part of the breeding range of the endangered butterfly. For Living on Earth, I'm Robin White.
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CURWOOD: English author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle called them "dark, quivering mires." But our commentator Sy Montgomery says not so of her bogs. As autumn races toward winter in the high latitudes, she likes to visit her favorite bog, a place where time seems to stand still.
MONTGOMERY: The path leads through what at first looks like any wetland forest. Red maple, royal fern, thickets of blueberry and huckleberry. But as you continue along, the trees get shorter and smaller. Until, at a bend, a vista opens that takes your breath away. A meadow of garnet red sphagnum moss, teal-colored bog rosemary, round white tufts of cotton grass, and the occasional struggling bonsai-like black spruce. The needles of the tamarack tree are yellow, the mossy meadow haloed in gold.
North America hosts many tens of thousands of bogs, and each is different. Some have open water. Some are jammed with orchids in spring. Some are used to grow Thanksgiving cranberries. But all have fibrous peaty soil made of barely decomposed dead plants and animals, and all have standing acidic water. A floating mat of sedges, mosses, and shrubs congeals across the water, and as the mat thickens it may even, incredibly, support trees.
It's a strange sort of netherworld. The plants seem to move visibly, like animals. Craggy branches seem poised like dancers. Mosses creep across the water like snakes. Plants even take up meat-eating here. At least 2 carnivorous plants thrive in bogs: the pitcher plant, which drowns its victims, and the tiny sundew, which snares them with droplets of sticky glue.
But perhaps the most defining characteristic of a bog is one you can't see. All bogs have a strange, magical feeling, for here, it seems, time doesn't fly. Instead, like the bog's peaty soil, time accumulates. Peat, you see, forms very slowly. The top 20 inches in the hollows of certain bogs take more than 2,000 years to build up. Because the waters are acidic, what accumulates stays. In that way, the peats archive history. In the pollen and leaves, sedges and moss preserved in each bog, scientists with microscopes can read its entire life story.
Northern Europe's ancient people must have known this. Scientists have recently retrieved from certain bogs the bodies of Iron and Bronze Age people who lived between 1500 and 500 BC. They may have been sacrificed to the Earth goddess Nerthus. The bog's acidic waters have preserved these human offerings, giving them a sort of immortality, and reminding us, in our frenzied, forgetful age, of the true weight and the richness and the slowness of time.
CURWOOD: Commentator Sy Montgomery is author of Nature's Everyday Mysteries. She comes to us with thanks to New Hampshire Public Radio.
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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our production staff includes Jesse Wegman, George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman, and Miriam Landman, along with Roberta de Avila, Peter Show, Leah Brown, and Julia Madeson. And they had help this week from David Winickoff, Alexander Davidson, and Laura Colbert. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Sounds of the Maine woods were from Thoreau's World, an audio series by nature recordist Peter Acker, available on the Rico Disk label. Thanks also to the Smithsonian Institution. 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.
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