• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

June 25, 1999

Air Date: June 25, 1999
(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

There's a Strong Wind A-Blowin' / Jesse Wegman

Living On Earth’s Jesse Wegman reports on the renaissance of wind power. In this past year alone U.S. wind farms have added a billion watts of generating capacity. And the Dept. of Energy recently pledged to increase the amount of electricity derived from wind by nearly fifty fold by the year 2020. (3:45)

Beach Sand Commentary / Sy Montgomery

Watch where you spread out your beach blanket this summer! Living On Earth commentator Sy Montgomery finds a complete cosmos of tiny life in that supposedly barren strip of sand. (2:25)

Climbing to the Canopy

Forest canopies are home to countless species of plants, insects, and animals, many of them as yet undiscovered by humans. Canopy botanist Margaret Lowman who calls herself an arbonaut," has spent twenty years climbing through the trees in forests across the planet. Dr. Lowman talks to host Steve Curwood about her experiences, which are documented in her new book called Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology. (5:10)

Cicada Wake-Up Call / Aileen LeBlanc

Aileen LeBlanc reports on the end of a cyclical 17-year deep sleep for cicadas in parts of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The insects have emerged from the soil by the hundreds of millions to sing and mate. The infestation has residents running for cover. (7:00)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about...the solar car SunRayce. This year's race started last week in Washington, D.C. and ends this week in Orlando. [The almanac concludes with a SunRayce-inspired song.] (2:25)

Everglades Restoration Roundtable

On July 1st, Congress will receive a proposal from the Army Corps of Engineers on 7.8 billion dollars worth of projects to restore the Florida Everglades. Steve Curwood discusses the controversial plan with Michael Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, in the Civil Works division, and Ron Tipton, Director of U.S. Ecoregion Conservation for the World Wildlife Fund. (8:20)

Letters

Listeners respond to recent stories ranging from the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline to John Elkington's book on an emerging environmental ethic in multinational corporations to our depiction of George Washington, the farmer. (1:30)

Hindus Reconsider Mother Earth / Richard Shiffman

Richard Shiffman reports on a green religious movement beginning to take root in India. Hindus are reviving traditional ideas about their relationship to the natural world. Religious activists are using ancient myths to help solve contemporary environmental problems. (10:35)

A Poetry Reading by Wendell Berry / Wendell Berry

Farmer and author Wendell Berry reads his poem, The Vacation. (2:10)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

FIRST HALF HOUR

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Jesse Wegman, Aileen LeBlanc, Richard Shiffman
GUESTS: Margaret Lowman, Michael Davis, Ron Tipton, Wendell Berry,
Dave Boyt
COMMENTATOR: Sy Montgomery

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Unlike Europe, the US hasn't relied much on windpower to supply its energy needs.

FLAVIN: That's the reason we have only one serious US manufacturer left, is because we've had virtually no wind market for about 10 years, up until the last 12 months.

CURWOOD: But now the Clinton Administration is pledging to increase windpower 50-fold in the next 2 decades.

Also, tales of adventures from high in the treetops.

LOWMAN: One day I was eating my lunch up in a canopy, and as I sat there a sapsucker came right next to me, about 2 feet away in a branch, with a whole mouthful of caterpillars, and proceeded to chew and digest and do his thing while I was eating my most delicious turkey sandwich.

CURWOOD: And the secret lives being led right under your toes on the beach. That and more this week on Living on Earth; first news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

There's a Strong Wind A-Blowin'

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Clinton Administration says it plans to increase the amount of electricity derived from wind nearly 50-fold by 2020. Called the Wind Powering America initiative, the move comes in the middle of a windpower renaissance. Wind farms in the US currently generate up to 3-1/2 billion kilowatt hours per year, enough to power about a half million homes. And windpower is expanding faster than ever before. Living on Earth's Jesse Wegman has more.

(Milling voices)

MAN: This particular turbine is a 750 kilowatt, so it'll produce 750 kilowatts per hour in a 27-mile-an-hour wind. The blades are 50-meter diameter, 164 feet, which is bigger than most commercial airline wingspans.

WEGMAN: Many people see wind turbines like this one in Vermont as an answer to the problems of air pollution and climate change. But wind-generated power has been slow to develop in the US. That is, until recently. Windpower is suddenly growing in this country. Tom Gray of the American Wind Energy Association says in the past year alone, wind farms have added a billion watts of generating capacity.

GRAY: I did some numbers and discovered that that's equivalent to taking more than 200,000 sport utility vehicles off the road, in terms of the CO2 emissions that we would prevent that otherwise would be emitted by fossil-fired power plants.

WEGMAN: Tom Gray and his organization recently hosted a conference on windpower. The centerpiece of the event was the announcement of a pledge from the Clinton Administration to push the Federal wind program out of the doldrums it's been in since the mid 1980s. Dan Reicher is Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. He says taking a long-term approach will help build a competitive wind industry.

REICHER: And that's what the research and development is all about: building more efficient turbines, bringing down manufacturing costs, increasing the power output, economies of scale that can come from greater production, a whole host of things that can be done to further bring down the price.

WEGMAN: The price per kilowatt hour has dropped substantially, from 40 cents in the 1970s to 5 cents today. But wind is still more expensive than coal and natural gas. Tax breaks to help make wind more competitive expire June 30th. But the Administration predicts the credits will be renewed by Congress this session. In wind's favor is the continuing deregulation of the electric utilities market. This trend gives consumers a choice of their power source. Leif Andersen is with the windpower manufacturer NEG Micon USA.

ANDERSEN: People want windpower. Every time you take a poll and ask people if they want windpower, they do, and you just have to find the right tool to go out and make it happen.

WEGMAN: But until recently, consumers haven't had a choice, says Chris Flavin of the World Watch Institute. And as a result, the US has lagged behind its European counterparts.

FLAVIN: It's difficult for the US to play too strong a role if we don't have a strong domestic market. That's I think the reason we have only one serious US manufacturer left, is because we've had virtually no wind market for about 10 years, up until the last 12 months.

WEGMAN: The industry remains fragile, and investors are nervous about what will be at best a lapse in the tax credit. But industry watchers say they expect growth to continue. Just this month, Green Mountain Energy of Vermont announced plans to build a 10-megawatt wind farm in western Pennsylvania, in the heart of coal country. For Living on Earth, I'm Jesse Wegman.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Beach Sand Commentary

CURWOOD: Ah, summer. And for those of us who like the sun and surf and some sand between our toes, the beach beckons. And while we relax, whole miniature worlds out of our view and under our towels will be teeming with divine and desperate struggles for life. Commentator Sy Montgomery explains.

MONTGOMERY: The world of beach sand is a place of astonishing wonders. Each grain can claim a rich history, and a stretch of supposedly barren beach can support millions of hidden lives. Beach sand is no desert. The creatures who live here are masters of camouflage and concealment. Tiger beetles, sand fleas, and mole crabs hide in sandy burrows. Moon snails hunt up to a foot beneath wet sand. Piping plovers' sand-colored eggs and plumage are so perfectly matched to their surroundings that most people never realize these birds nest on bare sand on some of our busiest beaches.

And then there is a whole specialized cosmos of creatures who've adapted to living and moving in the spaces between individual sand grains. In the wet sand beneath your feet, the miniature neighborhood of individual sand grains is populated by tiny creatures collectively known as "interstitial fauna." This diverse group includes the world's smallest mollusks, worms only 1/16 of an inch long, and tiny crustaceans. There are also weird creatures known as water bears, with 8 clawed legs but no heart or respiratory system.

To these animals, the sand grains are like giant stacked cannonballs on a New England town square. The spaces between them seem copious. To move between them, most of these creatures wiggle like snakes or propel themselves with beating hairs called cilia. Many interstitial animals also possess an array of sensors to tell them which way is up, a mini-version of our inner ear, and whether it's dark enough. Sunlight is usually bad news. And they also have special organs to attach themselves to individual grains, so they aren't washed away each time a wave comes by.

The sand on which we walk and lay our beach blankets is a world rich with beautiful and intricate lives we cannot even see, but which we nonetheless can care for and respect. Beach sand allows us, as William Blake wrote in his Auguries of Innocence,
"To See a World in a Grain of Sand
And Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand
And eternity in an Hour."

CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery is author of Nature's Everyday Mysteries.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: a bit of high adventure. Taking to the treetops. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Climbing to the Canopy

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Much of the life of forests resides tens or even hundreds of feet in the air. The canopy is host to countless species of plants, insects, and animals, many of them still undiscovered, especially in the tropics. Canopy botanist Margaret Lowman has spent 20 years climbing through the trees in forests all over the world. She recently wrote a book about her experiences: Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology. I asked Dr. Lowman, who calls herself an "arbornaut," what it feels like to be way up in tall trees.

LOWMAN: Being in the treetops is analogous, perhaps, to scuba-diving. It's a very magical situation. My first time there, I guess I was a little bit frightened because I had never climbed a rope before, but once I got over that fear, to look around and see and touch and feel all of the organisms up there is very, very exciting. It's just a whole above-ground ecosystem that very few people have been fortunate enough to see. And if you do ever get a chance to visit a walkway or an ecotourist operation with canopy access, I would definitely recommend it as a breathtaking opportunity.

CURWOOD: Now, since few people get to go there, this means that there's a high opportunity for making some kind of a discovery. And you had experiences along these lines, right?

LOWMAN: I did. Because it's only about 20 years old, the field of canopy biology, in terms of access, it means that so much up there has never been discovered. And a few chapters of my book highlight some discoveries that I made, such as the fact that most insects feed at night. These are things that we take for granted now as making a lot of sense, because the insect can avoid a bird, of course, if it feeds at night. But when I was a graduate student I spent a lot of futile hours and days and months looking in the canopy by day and discovering that no insects were up there.

CURWOOD: Just how high have you been in the treetops?

LOWMAN: My highest climb is 165 feet, and that was in the forest of Cameroon, Africa.

CURWOOD: Sixteen stories up.

LOWMAN: That's right. But you know what? You don't feel it when you're surrounded by foliage. It almost looks like it would be a cushion for a fall, and that's of course a dangerous illusion --

CURWOOD: (Laughing) I guess so!

LOWMAN: -- but if you go up through the understory in the mid-canopy, you almost feel that it would be absolutely soft and spongy if one were to descend at a very rapid rate.

CURWOOD: Just what kind of falls have you had?

LOWMAN: Fortunately, I've been pretty lucky. I do allude to one in my book. In Australia, at one point in time, I was racing against an oncoming thunderstorm, and forgot to hook on safely when I was about to descend. So I did make a fall of about 15 feet. It really didn't hurt me, but I think emotionally it did. It really made me question: should I pursue this life as a scientist, or should I retreat to the kitchen? Because those were 2 kinds of choices that I was facing at that point in my life at age 31. So, I guess that any sort of setback like that does make one stop and think about what's the best way to be a good mom and a good parent and a good scientist at the same time.

CURWOOD: You have a chapter, pretty much, on being a mom, about your pregnancy, pregnancies, and childbirth, and -- now, why did you include this chapter about your domestic life in this book about your scientific experience?

LOWMAN: That's a great question, because it was a little bit of the baring of the soul. But I recognized, as I give lectures to different student groups, oftentimes that many students come up to me and say, "By the way, in addition to telling me about your science, I would really love to know: how did you choose having a family and how did you balance getting married and then doing field work?" When I thought back to my own career, I realized that in graduate school nobody ever talked about those issues very much.

CURWOOD: What a fascinating career you've had. You've discovered new beetles, you've designed ways to get around on walkways among those trees. You've been up there in a balloon. But I'm wondering out of all of this, is there a story that you recall that you'd like to share with us now?

LOWMAN: One experience that I remember that I guess just illustrates that even those little small events are quite meaningful: One day I was eating my lunch up in a canopy of a red oak tree, which is probably something that is familiar to most of your listeners. And as I sat there a sapsucker came right next to me, about 2 feet away in a branch, with a whole mouthful of caterpillars, and proceeded to chew and digest and do his thing while I was eating my most delicious turkey sandwich. (Curwood laughs.) It kind of went full-circle to make me recognize, number one, being in the canopy is neat because the animals don't know you're an enemy; and number two, all of us are animals on this planet doing our thing to survive, and it really, I guess, makes me feel good to be a scientist and know that I'm trying to help conserve that system a little bit better.

CURWOOD: Margaret Lowman's new book is called Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology. Thank you for joining us.

LOWMAN: Thank you.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Cicada Wake-Up Call

(A door opens, shuts)

JIMMY: Look at this, mom!

MOM: Jimmy! Get that box of locust shells out of here.

JIMMY: Gee, Mom. They're not shells, they're exoskeletons. And they're not locusts, they're cicadas.

MOM: Whatever they are, they're in my kitchen!

(Horror music)

MOM: And that one's alive! It's two-and-a-half inches long, black, with wings and big orange eyes! Where's my --

JIMMY: Mom, no!

(Horror music continues amidst squirting sounds)

MOM: Drat! Air freshener.

(Door opens, shuts)

DAD: (coughs) Whoa, wha -- that's got to be the best-smelling box of cicada exoskeletons, ever! (Laughs)

JIMMY: Gee, Dad, you are hip!

DAD: Well, I've done my homework, that's all. Because out that door, hundreds, millions, billions of these insects are taking over. Like aliens. We're calling a town meeting. We're calling the Army.

JIMMY: No, Dad!

DAD: If it eats up all the trees we'll die!

MOM: Just keep them out of my kitchen!

DAD: My trees!

(Horror music up and under)

CURWOOD: Yes, it's that time. They've been waiting patiently underground for 17 years, burrowing tiny tunnels and feeding on the roots of trees. This year in parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, the wait is over, and the 17-year periodical cicadas have emerged just long enough to start the cycle all over again. Aileen LeBlanc of WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, reports.

LEBLANC: The last time the 17-year cicadas came out in the Dayton area, Bruce Bodo was working for a lawn care company. He and his buddy had finished mowing for the day and they got out their weed trimmers to take care of the details.

BODO: We fired up the weed eaters. My buddy started his trimming first, and I saw him about 2 seconds later running through the back yards waving his arms and the weed eater and -- what's up with him? I couldn't understand this. Fired up my weed eater, and I found out, like, 2 seconds flat, 'cause the sound of the string spinning sounds exactly like them, and they were attracted to it by the thousands. (Laughs)

(Cicadas humming)

LEBLANC: This year, half of Ohio is overrun with the 17-year cicadas. Here in the Scotia Trail State Park near Chillicothe, you can hear them long before you see them. At a distance, the hum is like a hovering spaceship. After 17 years the cicadas are interested only in singing and mating, and the song, which is a nonstop pervasive scream, is a come-hither call from the males to the females. Gene Kritski is an entomologist who has been studying the cicadas for 23 years. He says that in this forest, millions of male insects are singing for their first date.

KRITSKI: And what's going on is, the males, about 4 to 5 days after they've emerged, the males start singing to find a mate. And they gather in trees in what we call chorusing centers, so a whole bunch of males get together. They start singing, and it's that increase in sound that you hear. Females fly into the trees, apparently select the mate probably by sight. They copulate. Unsuccessful males, after a few sings, if you will, say this tree's not very good, let's go to the next one. It's almost like going to a singles bar: well, this place isn't very good, let's go to the next one down the street. And so, as the sound dies down, if you look at the top of the trees you'll see males flying from tree to tree to reestablish a new chorusing center.

LEBLANC: The cicadas are not only in the tops of trees. One bug lands on Gene Kritski, thank goodness. He picks it off his sleeve, and we get a close-up look and a close-up screech.

(Cicada screams)

LEBLANC: The bug is mostly black, about an inch long with transparent, orangey wings and little beady red eyes.

(To Kritski) Is that a male or a female?

KRITSKI: This is a male. Only the males make sound.

(Cicada humming)

KRITSKI: And if you peel back the wings, you can actually see their sound-making structure. It's right here. You see the timbal. It's located right there.

LEBLANC: Right behind the wing?

KRITSKI: Right behind the wing. These sort of ribs.

LEBLANC: And how does it make the sound?

KRITSKI: They actually inflate it with air and it vibrates back and forth. It's got little ribs in it. It's analogous to back in the '60s, when we needed to make thunder sounds at the high school plays, we used to take sheet metal and sort of wobble it back and forth. It's like a whole bunch of little rigid devices that they're just moving back and forth.

(Close-up cicada song)

LEBLANC: And the male, it's a mating call.

KRITSKI: It's a mating call. Well, there's 2 calls. Right now, because I'm handling this one, males make a sort of a squawk sound. And we think that's a warning to birds. If you look at the inside of this thing, you'll find that the abdomen is filled mostly with air for a male, so the abdomen serves as a sort of resonating chamber, resonating sounds, increasing the volume. The female, on the other hand, is filled with eggs. So birds know that if they grab a male and it squawks, they let it go.

LEBLANC: The reason the periodical cicadas have a 17-year, or 13 years in a few cases, life cycle, remains a mystery, says Kritski. Some think that it's a plot to avoid parasites. Some thing that the hardships of the Ice Age may have led to the long underground encampment. But the fact is that 17 years ago the eggs for these cicadas were laid in the new growth of these trees. And now they have emerged from their underground tunnels. When they seek their partners, the nymphs leave their tan skins behind, still clinging to the tree's trunks and leaves.

KRITSKI: This is one of the nymphal skins. It's the remains of the immature that crawl out of the ground. If you look all through the ground here, you'll see we're surrounded by little holes. Here's one here. Another one here, here. About the same diameters as the little fat pencils we used in first grade. Out of those, usually at the end of the day, or during the evening, the cicada nymph would crawl out of the hole, find an upright structure that's usually the closest tree, the tree where it grew up, climbs up the tree, braces itself like you see here with this one, and then splits the back and out of that comes the white adult cicada. Over about an hour and a half period, the cicada will slowly pull itself out, almost looks like it's doing a headstand, if you will, and then curves around, grabs the skin, pulls out its abdomen, sits there expanding the wings. It slowly darkens over another 45 minutes.

LEBLANC: Even though there are billions of cicadas in this part of Ohio, very little or no damage will be done to the local trees. The cicadas, too busy with singing and mating, eat hardly anything. They can do damage to young saplings because the females will make slits in tender twigs when depositing their eggs. But having experienced my first 17-year cicada emergence, I've learned a few lessons from this unique creature to the eastern US. Your ears can tend to ring after spending an afternoon at a cicada serenade. They will land on you, but they don't bite. They are not locusts. And save your weed eating task for a few more weeks.

(Close-up cicada song amidst background humming)

LEBLANC: For Living on Earth, I'm Aileen LeBlanc, Scotia Trail State Park, Ohio.

(Sitcom music up and under)

JIMMY: Mom, look at this!

MOM: Jimmy! Why, you've collected a box of periodic cicada exoskeletons!

JIMMY: Yeah!

MOM: Remember how people used to think they were locusts?

JIMMY: Mm hm.

DAD: (Laughs) And what's important, son, is to realize that this is not a
disaster. It's an event.

MOM: Besides, it's only one month in 17 years. It happens, and it goes
away.

DAD: (Laughs) Not like our little Jimmy.

JIMMY: What was that, Dad?

DAD: I said, that's just like our little Jimmy, looking through that alien appearance to see that wondrous insect inside. (Laughs)

JIMMY: Mulder's right, Dad. The truth is out there.

DAD: (Laughs) Ah, yes. Who's Mulder?

(Theme from X-Files up and under)

CURWOOD: And thanks to WKSU for our family skit.

Back to top

(Cicadas up and under; overlay with music up and under)

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

(Music up and under, with cicadas)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment: www.wajones.org; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.

(Music up and under, with cicadas)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Just ahead: debating the merits of an $8 billion plan to restore Florida's Everglades. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Barrett Communications, integrating marketing and communications and design across all media: www.barrett.com.

(Theme music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: At the summer solstice, 40 collegiate teams gathered in Washington, DC, for the start of SunRayce '99, the largest North American solar car race. For 9 days they headed south to the finish line in Orlando, balancing the need for speed with battery strength. The vehicles can now reach speeds of up to 90 miles per hour under peak sun and road conditions, but racers are advised not to exceed posted speed limits. The first SunRayce was held in 1990. Since then, there have been many improvements in photovoltaic technology. But the rules of SunRayce emphasize vehicle design over state-of-the-art materials. Only commercially available solar cells and lead-acid batteries may be used. There are no such restrictions at the more glamorous World Solar Challenge, to be held this October in Australia, where corporate teams will enter multi-million-dollar designs. Less than 20 years after the first solar car was built, there are not only several major solar car races held throughout the world, but solar glider and solar bike races. as well. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac. Now a word from Dave Boyt of Neosho, Missouri.

BOYT: (Playing guitar) About this time in 1997, I was an observer for the SunRayce. Now, some of the cars are faster than others, and when you're following a solar car across western Kansas at 35 miles an hour, you have time to do things like write a song about following a solar car going across western Kansas at 35 miles an hour. So I did. (Sings) "The cars roll out of impound at the first light of the day, testing their telemetry and tilting their arrays. Toppin' off the batteries with the early mornin' sun, makin' preparations for another long day's run. So listen to the whirrin' and the clickin' of the gears. Hear the wind a whisperin' as it whistles past your ears. Feel the gentle push of an engine powered by a nearby star, rollin' down the highway in a solar-powered car..."

CURWOOD: Dave Boyt of Neosho, Missouri, sent us that recording. He and Melinda Moellering wrote the words, sung to the tune of Wabash Cannonball.

Back to top

 

Everglades Restoration Roundtable

CURWOOD: On July 1st, Congress will receive a 4,000-page, $8-billion proposal from the Clinton Administration to restore Florida's Everglades. This Everglades restoration plan has been prepared by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department, and the South Florida Water Management District. The White House says the plan is designed to reverse much of the damage done to the natural waterflow in the Everglades. In the 1930s, the Army Corps began draining the region in response to hurricane flooding. It also created dry ground for lucrative real estate development and sugar cane. This has led to many problems, including water shortages and species decline. Joining me now to discuss the new Everglades plan are Michael Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, and Ron Tipton of the World Wildlife Fund. Ron Tipton says that despite the concerns of some critics, in principle, his organization supports the White House plan.

TIPTON: We think it goes in the right direction towards restoring needed water flows and cleaning up water that's needed in the Everglades system. Now, there are a few issues remaining and they're important issues, one of those being how many projects are on the so-called "A-list" that they send to Congress, that would get priority funding.

CURWOOD: Now, I've heard that you have concerns that the choices being made here are more political than based on ecology, and that a number of species aren't going to really be protected under what the Administration is looking at for its A-list.

TIPTON: I think some groups, the Sierra Club being one, has expressed a great deal of concern that the plan tips too far towards providing water for future growth in south Florida, as opposed to staying with restoration goals. I think that that is a danger. I think that we have to make sure that the Everglades is served first, that the interests of the Everglades system, Everglades Park, Florida Bay, the Florida Keys, the water conservation areas in central and southern Florida, get protected and restored and managed properly.

CURWOOD: Michael Davis, you're Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army. How are you now responding to the concerns about the present Everglades plan that you're putting forward?

DAVIS: Currently, about 70% of the water that's in this ecosystem right now goes for urban and agricultural uses. Only about 30% of the water that once naturally flowed into the Everglades, into Florida Bay, goes to the environment now. With this plan that we've put in place, we're going to recapture about 1.2 million acre feet of water, and 80% of that will go to the environment. And 20% of that will go to enhancing urban and agricultural water supplies.

CURWOOD: And what will the resulting balance then be? Now it's 30%? How much will go for the Everglades after the plan?

DAVIS: When you add it all up, at the end of the day, after the plan, it'll be about a 50-50 split.

CURWOOD: Is it possible to truly restore the Everglades to its natural state, given the existing development and the population pressures there in Florida?

DAVIS: It's not possible to get the Everglades back to a condition that they exhibited pre-European settlement. But what we can do is recapture the functions and the uniqueness that this ecosystem once exhibited in terms of the natural "river of grass," where you have this broad, wide river flowing from Lake Okeechobee down through the Everglades system through what is now Everglades National Park and out into Florida Bay. We can restore and recapture many of those functions that made the Everglades what it is.

TIPTON: We have to remember, the original Everglades extended over 100 miles from north to south and as much as 60 miles from east to west, covered more than 6 million acres. We only have a little more than half of that, but what we have, I think we have the potential to restore to a nearly natural state. Those places can have a rebirth. The endangered species, of which there are 68 federally-listed species in the Everglades, we think most of those can be restored to healthy, viable populations.

CURWOOD: If we were to fast-forward now, 10 years, 20 years, what would we see and hear if we were to go there?

TIPTON: I think you'd hear and see a lot more wading birds. In the 1920s and 1930s, there were literally clouds of herons and egrets and storks covering the skies of south Florida at certain times of the year, certain times of the day. More than 90% of many of those species are now gone. They no longer nest, they no longer feed in the Everglades.

CURWOOD: Michael Davis?

DAVIS: You'll see cleaner water. Coral reefs perhaps will be healthier in the bay. We'll have less damaging discharges to the estuaries, where we have fish kills now because of excess water running out to the estuaries. Less water shortages for urban and agricultural water users as well.

CURWOOD: Can this plan work if the sugar industry continues doing what it's been doing in Florida now for these last few decades? Ron Tipton?

TIPTON: I think the simple answer to that is no. I think sugar is both part of the problem and it's part of the solution. The number one sugar producing state in the country is Florida. Almost a quarter of all the sugar that's produced in the United States is produced in one area that is Everglades, was Everglades, that's south of Lake Okeechobee. This has caused extensive pollution and, probably equally importantly, has resulted in a major diversion of water. Sugar's got to clean up that water. The phosphorus levels are very, very high, and they result in major ecosystem degradation. And also, we need to take back some of that land, a good chunk of it. Not all of it. Sugar can coexist with Everglades restoration.

CURWOOD: Mr. Secretary?

DAVIS: I agree with Mr. Tipton's answer here. I think that sugar, like other components of the humans that now inhabit south Florida, have contributed substantially to the declining health of the Everglades. And they must play a role in helping us restore this ecosystem. And part of that will include allowing us to store water on the land that once naturally flowed through the Everglades agricultural area. We have in the plan now proposed at least 60,000 acres of water storage in sugar land.

TIPTON: Just two points on that. It is important to note that it took a major federal lawsuit to drag the sugar cane growers into being part of the solution. And I don't think we're there yet. I think they still are resisting paying their full share of the cost of cleanup and of restoration. I also think that, we believe that more land than the Army Corps plan calls for ultimately needs to be set aside for storage in the Everglades agricultural area.

CURWOOD: So at the beginning of July, Michael Davis, your administration is going to put this bill forward at the Congress. How do you think the politics are going to play here? What kind of support do you have?

DAVIS: I think we have tremendous support in the Congress from the bipartisan Florida delegation. Senators Gramm and Mack have been leaders in this area, and I think they will continue to help push this through the Congress. I do think that there will be some challenges. It's an expensive project and we'll have to convince members of Congress and the public at large that this is a national priority.

CURWOOD: Ron Tipton?

TIPTON: We've had strong bipartisan support for the Everglades. Not only has the Clinton-Gore team made this a priority, but former Speaker Gingrich and Majority Leader Dole were strongly supportive of funding for Everglades restoration. We think it's to our advantage to be considering this as we move into the 2000 presidential year. We think candidates of both parties, as they go to Florida to stump for votes and as they appear on the national stage, will want to be for restoring the Everglades. This is seen as one of the places in the United States, indeed around the globe, that needs priority protection. No nation has ever tried to restore an ecosystem at the level we're talking about for the south Florida Everglades.

CURWOOD: Well, gentlemen, I want to thank you. Michael Davis is Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army in the Civil Works division. Thank you for joining me.

DAVIS: Thank you.

CURWOOD: And Ron Tipton is Director of the US Eco-region Conservation for the World Wildlife Fund. Thank you.

TIPTON: My pleasure.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And now, time for a dip into the mailbag.

(Music up and under)

Letters

CURWOOD: Peter Behr, who listens to Living on Earth on Vermont Public Radio, felt our story on the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline seemed bent on creating an impression of impending disaster and failed to note that pipelines are safer than other methods of transportation. He writes, "Think of pollution and vulnerability to accidents and spills, which rail and truck transport have, compared to pipelines. There is no valid alternative mode of transport."

Lail Easton, who hears us on KOPB in Portland, Oregon, was skeptical of the assessment made by John Elkington. Mr. Elkington's book, Cannibals With Forks, claims to see an emerging environmental ethic in multinational corporations, including Nike and Shell Oil. But Ms. Easton is not convinced.

EASTON: I think that what these corporations have done in response to their problems and their bad publicity is to hire PR firms and have some token committees and things that make it look like they might be doing something. But I haven't seen any results.

CURWOOD: And finally, our story on George Washington's sustainable farming practices raised the eyebrows of Mark McNamara, a listener to KWMU in St. Louis. Mr. McNamara pointed out that we neglected to mention one of the first President's bigger crops: hemp. While he can understand why Mt. Vernon would avoid the topic, Mr. McNamara writes, "For a radio show that reports on environmental issues to ignore Washington's use of such an environmentally-friendly crop begs the question of how much research went into the story, and how much of it was a Mt. Vernon press release."

We'd like your opinion of our program. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. Once again, LOE@NPR.ORG. And check out our Web page at www.loe.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: Wendell Berry and some poetic insight on the ways some of us vacation. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Hindus Reconsider Mother Earth

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For millennia, residents of India lived in something akin to harmony with nature, in one of the most fertile lands on Earth. This balance has been shattered by a booming population and massive industrialization. Richard Shiffman reports that in the face of these challenges, Hindu environmental activists are returning to earlier religious values, which encourage followers to revere nature and protect it.

(Traffic)

SHIFFMAN: I'm standing at a railway crossing on the outskirts of the south Indian city of Bangalore. When I first visited this spot nearly 25 years ago, it was a sleepy village where you were more likely to hear the lowing of a cow than the roar of traffic.

(Traffic)

SHIFFMAN: Today, it's been swallowed up by one of India's fastest-growing cities, a center for high-tech industries like computers and aeronautics. The pollution belching from motor bikes, trucks, and buses like these has created a public health crisis: soaring lead levels in the blood of children, and epidemics of respiratory disease. Since I first came to this spot, India's population has nearly doubled, and rising consumer demands have led to the fouling of its air, water, and soil. But while the rush to consumerism is accelerating, University of San Diego professor Lance Nelson says that traditional religious values could slow it down.

NELSON: The Hindu tradition has a long-standing emphasis on the idea that in order to attain a higher level of spirituality, one had to have an interior focus in one's life. And in order to do that, one had to reduce one's outer wants and to simplify one's life.

SHIFFMAN: Professor Nelson says these ideas were central to the founder of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi believed that India's villages should be economically self-reliant, independent of urban industries. He was arguably the first advocate for what environmentalists now call sustainable development. But Gandhi's doctrine has fallen out of favor in a modern India intent on maximizing economic growth. Still, his legacy remains very much alive for India's environmental activists. They call for appropriate technology drawing on available natural resources to raise living standards. These ideals have spawned thousands of small-scale local crusades, Nelson says.

NELSON: On a grassroots level, probably India has the largest environmental movement in the world.

(Splashing water, voices)

SHIFFMAN: One place where religious beliefs have inspired environmental activism is on the banks of the Ganges in the holy city of Benares.

MISHRA: For us, this geography is not just a mere land mass and, say, hills and plains and water flowing. For us, there are places which are very sacred, and there are objects and places whom we consider as gods and goddesses.

SHIFFMAN: Mahant Mishra is a professor of hydraulic engineering and also the hereditary leader of a major temple in Benares. For Mishra and other Hindus, the Ganges is a flowing expression of the mother of all life.

MISHRA: The disrespect which we are doing by dumping garbage and sewage into the river is disrespecting of our mother. And we need to be with the mother in this hour of her problem.

SHIFFMAN: Mishra's efforts prodded India's central government to establish an authority to clean up the river. More than a decade and tens of millions of dollars later, the Ganges is still fouled with raw sewage. Mahant Mishra says that, rather than throwing money and advanced technology at the problem, environmentally-friendly low-tech solutions, like sewage settling ponds, are the answer. He's hopeful, he says, because public awareness of the problem is growing.

(Music and applause)

SHIFFMAN: This play on the steps leading down to the Ganges is being staged to encourage residents of Benares to keep their river clean.

(Music, speaking voices)

SHIFFMAN: The assembled deities implore Mother Ganges to come down from Heaven to Earth. She objects that the weight of her descent will shatter the ground. Lord Shiva pledges to break the force of her fall with his own hair. This timeless myth has been inspiring residents of the Himalayas to save their forests, according to Edwin Bernbaum, an authority on sacred mountains.

BERNBAUM: Indian environmentalists have pointed out that the texts say that the forests in the Himalayas are Shiva's hair. So, in the summer, this corresponds to what actually happens. The Ganges does fall from heaven in the form of monsoon rains, and if Shiva's hair is no longer there, if the forests have been cut down, the Earth does shatter, you know, these incredible landslides and floods.

SHIFFMAN: The head priest of the Badrinath Temple in the Himalayas is using the ecological version of the story to encourage pilgrims to plant trees in this badly deforested region. As a result, the once-barren mountain slopes above the temple are now carpeted with a sacred forest.

BERNBAUM: Instead of coming in with the government and saying let's establish a biodiversity conservation area, which is the usual ecological way to do it, doesn't mean a damn thing to people there. However, if you use these sacred forests as cores around which you establish a protected sanctuary, then it means something. And you'll basically get the biodiversity conservation zones. But they'll come out of what's already a practice there, and they'll be rooted in the culture and respected.

SHIFFMAN: Another pilgrimage center has become the focal point for environmental action. The sacred Arunachala Mountain in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

(Animals call)

JAYRAMAN: This hill is known to be an attracter of spiritual seekers.

SHIFFMAN: Seekers like Jayraman, one of the founders of the Anamalai Reforestation Society.

JAYRAMAN: There's a long tradition of many things having come here and songs in praise of the hill.

(Singing)

JAYRAMAN: In their songs they talk of various types of animal. They talk of many waterfalls and streams, and hordes of elephants making their ways to the hill.

(Singing)

SHIFFMAN: The streams have dried up and the elephants have long since disappeared from this agricultural region. But trees and wildlife like this troupe of white-tufted langur monkeys are beginning to return to the southern slope of the hill.

(Monkeys call)

SHIFFMAN: This modest forest has been planted and maintained by the Anamalai Reforestation Society, but not without resistance from the surrounding villagers.

(A woman sings)

SHIFFMAN: The song of a grass cutter seems to waft in out of a simpler age in tune with nature. But grass cutters scorch saplings by setting fires, and they cut down trees for firewood. These forested slopes are patrolled by 2 full-time guards. Local environmentalists now realize, however, that it will take more than guards to protect their ecosystem.

(Women speak)

SHIFFMAN: It's lunch time at an experimental farm a few miles from Arunachala Hill. This 7-acre facility was set up by the Anamalai Reforestation Society as a place to hold classes for local villagers on environmental protection, and to demonstrate techniques for growing trees and food crops without the use of agricultural chemicals.

(Crickets)

SHIFFMAN: Organic farming is new to India, and the formulas for home-brewed pesticides and fertilizers are just now being developed at places like this. Already, several local farmers are making a pesticide out of cow's urine and wild herbs for their own use. Other innovations, however, like the farm's cow dung bio-gas plant and solar powered pumps are too costly for small farmers to afford on their own. My guide, Kanikeshwaran, is a retired railway official turned organic farmer. Kanikeshwaran says that in earlier times villagers maintained common lands to grow trees and produce fodder for their livestock. That spirit of cooperation needs to return, he says.

KANIKESHWARAN: Materialism is ruling. That is bad. The man with the highest standard of life is living a poor quality of life.

SHIFFMAN: Kanikeshwaran believes that the solution to India's environmental ills is not just a technical one. People have to recover the ethic of selfless service, or karma yoga. They should also pool their resources and take advantage of appropriate technologies which depend on locally-available inputs. Most important, he says, they need to revere God's gift of plants and animals, even common creatures like the crow.

(Crows caw)

KANIKESHWARAN: Before one takes the food, first one handful of rice is offered to the crow.

SHIFFMAN: So it's an offering to the crow...

KANIKESHWARAN: Yes, yes.

SHIFFMAN: ...so that he will continue to clean -- he's the cleaner of the village.

KANIKESHWARAN: Yes. He's called the scavenger in the sky.

(Crows caw)

SHIFFMAN: Westerners often criticize Hindus for worshipping cows, trees, and even crows. But according to Kanikeshwaran, they don't worship animals and plants. They express their gratitude to all creatures whose life supports our own. When that sacred attitude becomes more commonplace, he says, we won't be so likely to despoil the Earth. For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Shiffman.

Back to top

(Crows cawing, fade to Indian music up and under)

A Poetry Reading by Wendell Berry

CURWOOD: After studying, teaching, and traveling, Wendell Berry returned to his homeland of Kentucky more than 30 years ago, and has been living on a farm there ever since. In addition to farming, he writes poetry, fiction, and essays, which often convey his respect for the land and rural communities. He's the author of more than 30 books, including The Gift of Good Land, A Place on Earth, and The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. His most recent publication, The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, contains 100 poems written over the last 40 years. Today he reads his poem The Vacation. He says he wrote it after observing one man's way of experiencing the natural world.

BERRY: He was enjoying using his camera, and in that way is a rather typical modern person--in love with gadgets, loving to use them, missing the main show while it was going by.

CURWOOD: Here's Wendell Berry, reading his poem, The Vacation.

BERRY: The Vacation.

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.

CURWOOD: That was Wendell Berry. His reading today was a first in an occasional series of poems on Living on Earth.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, striking gold in California. The gold rush of 1849 brought a booming economy to the west, but mining practices scarred mountains and polluted streams: effects that linger today.

WOMAN: There was this spirit of an extractive nature. You could come and you could rip the land apart. You could tear out whatever was valuable there, whether you found it in the metal gold, or whether you found it in some commercial venture, or whether you found it in cutting down all the trees. And I think that's an attitude that continues to color our attitude toward the environment today.

CURWOOD: The promised land confronts centuries-old pollution, next time on Living on Earth. Our staff includes George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, Stephanie Pindyck, and Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, James Curwood, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Allison Dean, Cynthia Graber, and Maggie Villiger, and special thanks to Brendan Walsh from Vermont Public Radio. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Peter Thomson heads our 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. Join us again next week.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Surdna Foundation; the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; and the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-587-2660
E-mail: comments@loe.org

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

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

Experimental
We have a new community section. Tell us what you think!

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

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

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 autographed copy of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.