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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

October 22, 1999

Air Date: October 22, 1999

SEGMENTS

Rhode Island Sues Lead Paint Makers / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

Rhode Island has become the first state to sue the lead paint industry. Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse says paint manufacturers continued to sell and promote lead paint even though they knew it was toxic. He wants the companies to pay for treating lead-poisoned children and removing lead from homes. Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports. (05:15)

Trashing Recyclables

David Leonard, of West Sand Lake, New York, was sure he saw his garbageman throwing his recyclables into the garbage truck. So he caught it on tape and sent it to Dina Capiello, a local investigative reporter who broke the story. Host Steve Curwood talks with Mr. Leonard and Ms. Capiello about why private hauling companies often resort to trashing your recyclables. (06:40)

Mercury Amalgram Debate / Brenda Tremblay

Most people get mercury amalgam fillings when they get cavities filled by their dentist. The American Dental Association says mercury amalgam fillings are safe, but some folks, worried that the mercury may be affecting their health, are having them removed. Brenda Tremblay, of member station WXXI in Rochester, New York reports. (08:00)

Listener Letters

Our story on Carlos Manning, the heirloom apple cultivator, prompted another inquiry about an old-time apple and we were able to track down its availability. (01:00)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about...the Wall Street Action. The 1979 anti-nuclear protest attempted to shut down the New York Stock Exchange. (02:15)

Climate Change I: U.S. Dawdles

Host Steve Curwood talks with Alden Meyer, director of government affairs for the Union of Concerned Scientists, about next week’s climate change talks in Bonn, Germany. The current plan is to finalize the Kyoto Protocol by the end of 2000; but many countries are concerned that, by taking its time ratifying the protocol, the United States is putting the treaty in jeopardy. (03:45)

Climate Change II: Plea from the Pulpit / Emila Askari

Some religious leaders are beginning to speak out from their pulpits about the consequences of climate change. Emilia Askari reports from suburban Detroit on an interfaith initiative to address the issue. (09:15)

Reebok Owns up to Workplace Safety Violations

A recent audit of two Reebok manufacturing plants in Indonesia uncovered hazardous conditions for workers, and Reebok itself took the initiative to release the report. Steve Curwood speaks with Sharon Cohen, Reebok's V.P. of Public Affairs, about the company’s new code of conduct which prompted the report. (05:00)

Salmon Fishing Heritage / Liz Hamilton

In the northwest sport fishing is both big business and a family affair. We hear from Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association, about catching her first salmon and how it changed her life. (05:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Brenda Tremblay, Emilia Askari
GUESTS: David Leonard, Dina Capiello, Alden Meyer, Sharon Cohen
COMMENTATOR: Liz Hamilton

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Encouraged by the success of state tobacco liability suits, Rhode Island is taking the makers of lead paint to court for poisoning thousands of children.

WHITEHOUSE: The industry knew that lead paint was toxic. They promoted its use, and they profited from its use. And the lead is still out there now.

CURWOOD: Also, mercury makes up half of most dental fillings, and some people are having them out, fearing it’s making them sick.

GIZZI: Many of the patients have either Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or they may have beginning Alzheimer's, dementia, multiple chemical sensitivities. These are the people that are seeking to have the amalgam removed.

CURWOOD: And what goes around doesn't always come around. A recycling flim-flam exposed, this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.

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(NPR News follows)

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Rhode Island Sues Lead Paint Makers

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Suits against the tobacco and gun industries have become a trend in litigation, with governmental bodies suing private industries for the costs of damage to the public good. Now, Rhode Island has become the first state to launch such a battle with the makers of lead paint. Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse is suing paint manufacturers and the Lead Industries Association for marketing and promoting lead paint in the face of evidence that it was toxic. And Mr. Whitehouse says the industry should be held accountable. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum has our story.

(Music in the background)

COLOGNE: Help me give Nathan his medicine.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Elizabeth Cologne gets her two youngest sons ready for the day in their turn-of-the-century farm house on Providence's Smith Hill. With its flower boxes and Halloween decorations, the house looks perfectly safe. But when Elizabeth's son Sammy was 12 months old, a routine screening found he had lead in his blood—more than three times the level considered safe.

COLOGNE: When they first told us, it was like: Whoa, didn't they take lead out of gasoline a long time ago, and isn't there no more lead in paint?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: When his blood lead climbed even higher, Sammy was hospitalized, and an inspection confirmed that lead paint dust eroding from their windows and doors was to blame.

COLOGNE: You know, the floors look clean. We swept and mopped and did everything we had to do. But every time someone would either open a door or close a window, or you turn a ceiling fan on, all that dust was released back into the air. Sammy was breathing it in, and we had no idea.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The Colognes aren't alone. One in five children entering kindergarten in Rhode Island has high blood lead levels. One in four in urban areas. Most of Rhode Island's homes were built before lead paint was banned in the U.S. in 1978. So, many residents are still at risk. Rhode Island has had to pay for treatment and special education for children with lead poisoning. They've also provided lead screenings for kids, and subsidized loans to make homes lead-safe. Families like the Colognes have spent thousands of dollars each on renovations.

(Traffic)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Outside the Jenks Junior High School in Pawtucket, attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse told reporters it's time for the companies that made lead paint to pay for the damage.

WHITEHOUSE: When you make a mess, you have to clean it up. And this mess was no accident. The lead that is in our homes is there by design, the result of intentional, informed decisions by the lead pigment industry. The industry knew that lead paint was toxic. They promoted its use, and they profited from its use. And the lead is still out there now.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The federal government says about 64 million U.S. homes are contaminated with high lead paint, and that nearly 900,000 children under five have elevated blood lead. Lead poisoning can cause brain and nerve damage, hearing loss, and even comas, seizures, and death. But the former manufacturers of lead paint say they're not responsible for these problems. Tim Hardy is a lawyer for NL Industries, once known as the National Lead Company.

HARDY: We're talking about a product that has not been marketed for decades. We're talking about a product which poses a risk to children only if it's not maintained. There's no indication in the historical record that these companies ever hid any information from public health authorities.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: In fact, Mr. Hardy says, the lead paint manufacturers funded research on the hazards of lead.

HARDY: As new research revealed that other uses of lead might in fact be causing risk, these companies worked with public health authorities to adjust their use of lead, and to assure protection of their customers.

RYAN: To say that the lead industry helped document the dangers of lead poisoning is like giving the tobacco industry credit for linking lung cancer and cigarette smoking.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Don Ryan is the executive director of the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning in Washington, DC.

RYAN: The record is quite clear that over decade after decade, the purpose of the lead industry's research was to obscure the evidence and to confuse the debate.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: One thing the parties do agree on: it will take a long time to sort out the legal issues.

BOGUS: It's a big deal, because the lead paint problem is a huge public safety problem.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Carl Bogus is an expert on product liability at Roger Williams University Law School. He says he expects the companies to argue that what they may or may not have done years ago is no longer an issue, because too much time has passed since they stopped making lead paint. Whatever the merits of the lawsuit, Professor Bogus says other states are likely to follow Rhode Island's lead.

BOGUS: It may be the harbinger of 50 such lawsuits against lead paint manufacturers and lead paint associations.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Providence.

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Trashing Recyclables

CURWOOD: Each week, millions of Americans bundle the newspapers, magazines, and junk mail, wash out the cans, crush the plastic containers, and set it all out on the curb for recycling. Most of us assume the materials are trucked to some factory and reprocessed into useful products. And that's what David Leonard of West Sand Lake, New York, thought, until the day he saw his trash hauler dump the contents of his recycling bin straight into an ordinary garbage truck. Later he read stories in the Albany Times Union by Dina Capiello, who reported that other folks had seen their recyclables being thrown away, too. So, Mr. Leonard decided to do some sleuthing of his own.

LEONARD: So I got my video recorder, went out in the garage, got all my recyclables out, put them on the roadside where they were supposed to go, went back in the garage and I waited. And a truck pulled up. So I filmed them through the garage window. And the truck stops by, and the guy picks up the bucket of glass bottles and the tin cans and the plastic and the newspaper, and he throws them in the back of the truck, in the basic trash hopper.

CURWOOD: So how did you feel when you saw your recyclables getting thrown in the trash with the garbage?

LEONARD: Well, I wasn't sure what he was doing, and I said, Jeez, you know, what's this guy doing? Is he new, a rookie, or what's the deal? I said maybe he made a mistake, you know? I was kind of a little bit irritated, because I spend time cleaning bottles, wrapping up newspaper, separating everything, put it out there. I estimate we spend an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half a week doing this for the service of the community and the earth. So I made a copy of the tape and Dina came over. We looked at it together, and said, yeah, this is obvious that this guy is doing it every week and he doesn't care.

CURWOOD: Let me turn now to you, Dina Capiello. Are companies that trash recyclables breaking the law?

CAPIELLO: Yes. Companies that trash recyclables are breaking both state and local laws. On the state level, because they're taking what people have source separated and are mixing it back in with the trash. And on the local level because they're throwing away things that local governments have on the books as to be recycled.

CURWOOD: Well, what's the incentive for these private haulers to mix the stuff? It's against the law. Why do they want to get busted or run the risk of that?

CAPIELLO: Because it saves them money. That's the simple answer. You have to remember that these people are in the transport business, and to make a lot of money transporting, you've got to do two things. You've got to get a lot of quantity, a lot of tons of trash and tons of recyclables in the shortest amount of time. You know, this is all about the market. If the market's good for plastics and sorting facilities are getting paid top dollar for plastics, then they're going to be able to pay the haulers more to take the plastics to them. So I think, you know, the haulers are very much in tune to that market, and it goes from the market to the sorters to the haulers.

CURWOOD: So the law is kind of contradictory. It says on the one hand it's supposed to make financial sense, and yet the incentives for the trash haulers don't make financial sense.

CAPIELLO: Exactly. And in many cases, you know, there is this other issue of contamination in terms of dirty recyclables. People not doing it at the curb properly. And I actually went on the route with the owner of the largest independent hauler in the region and looked at recycling bins with him, and saw that, yeah, I would say two-thirds of the block, there was something wrong with the recyclables. Now, what's wrong ranges everywhere from having caps on your Snapple bottles to having, you know, your recyclables in plastic bags is also an issue.

CURWOOD: So why can't the companies refuse to pick that stuff up? I mean, my hauler, if I don't sort it right (laughs) it's there the next time I go out.

CAPIELLO: A lot of the haulers will say hey, you know, it's not our job to enforce it. We're making money. People want their trash and their recyclables to miraculously disappear when they wake up in the morning. If we leave it there, we're going to lose customers. But I do think that on some occasions, contamination is an excuse.

CURWOOD: How widespread is this problem, Dina?

CAPIELLO: It's hard to quantify. I do know from my reporting that, you know, although no landfills really in the area spot check specifically for recyclables, they do see a small amount of recyclables in every load that goes to the landfill. Now, whether that's from contamination or from just, you know, cutting corners, I'm not really sure. Now, we did do, the Times Union did do a Web survey and received over thirty different e-mails from people who said they've seen this happen in their front yard. And those e-mails covered at least ten different hauling companies in the area.

CURWOOD: Now, do they suffer any kind of penalty for this? Or is it the sort of thing, it's, you know, 55 mile-an-hour speed limit, nobody pays any attention to it and nobody really winds up in court over it?

CAPIELLO: Local municipalities on the books, in the laws they have written, have penalties that they can assess to these haulers. They don't usually. Usually what happens is people like David Leonard call their hauler directly and say, Hey, knock it off. Or they call up their town clerk and say, Hey, this is happening. And then the town clerk either goes to the recycling coordinator if there is one, or the Department of General Services, and says, Call up the hauler and tell him to knock it off.

CURWOOD: Has the problem been fixed in your neighborhood, Mr. Leonard?

LEONARD: The following week I went out with my video camera, because I wanted to see what kind of reaction I would get. So I went out and I sat on the hood of the car with my video camera, and the same trash guy came down the street with the same truck, and he stopped. And he went over and he picked up the newspapers, and he put them up on a high bin. He went over and he took the trash out of the hopper, or out of my can, and he put it in the back hopper. And then he saw me filming, so he pushed my can over and knocked it on the ground. Then he went over and looked at the recyclables. He looked through them. He didn't touch them, he moved them out of the way, and then he went back to his truck, and then he took off. So I filmed all that, and I filmed him doing it to my neighbors. And so, the next week I watched and the same thing happened and the same thing happened. So, in my estimation, they cleaned up their act. And that kind of bummed me out a bit, because I wanted to get him really dirty on tape, and I was out there for ten minutes filming that in one week (laughs).

CURWOOD: (Laughs) David Leonard is a residential contractor who lives outside of Albany in West Sand Lake, New York, and Dina Capiello is an investigative environmental reporter for the Albany Times Union. Thank you both.

LEONARD: Thank you, Steve. You’re welcome.

CAPIELLO: Thank you, Steve.

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(Music up and under: theme from “Dragnet”)

CURWOOD: Just ahead: traditional dental fillings contain mercury, and it may be hazardous to your health. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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Mercury Amalgram Debate

CURWOOD: When you walk out of your dentist's office after having a cavity filled, chances are you're carrying around a small amount of mercury in your mouth. Mercury is what gives those fillings that silver tint, and makes it easier for the dentist to fill every little nook and cranny. Not every dentist will tell you about the mercury they put in your mouth, or about an ongoing debate among dentists, patients, and the American Dental Association about the possible health hazards of mercury amalgam fillings. From member station WXXI in Rochester, New York, Brenda Tremblay prepared our report.

(Happy music up and under)

TREMBLAY: Do you remember the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland? He was the manic, shaky little guy who wore an enormous hat, rattled his watch, and asked silly questions.

MAD HATTER: How is a raven like a writing desk?

(Mad Hatter music continues)

TREMBLAY: The Mad Hatter was mad. Scholars say he was based on real people who made hats in Victorian England. Back then, hat makers took felt and dipped it into vats of mercury solution to shape the material. Inhaling the mercury vapor drove many of them insane.

(Mad Hatter music continues)

MAD HATTER: Something, a thing to be troubling you. Won't you tell us all about it?

TREMBLAY: People don't inhale mercury making hats any more, but almost all of us are exposed to toxic mercury vapors in a very common way.

(Ambient voices)

TREMBLAY: It's a late afternoon at the dentist's office. Doreen Watson leans back in a chair and watches through her bifocals as Dr. Gerard Gizzi clips a small paper bib around her neck. The veins in her thin hands stand out as she clutches the arms of the chair.

GIZZI: Okay, Doreen. Now, we're going to begin the removal.

(Objects are moved around; hissing; clinking instruments)

TREMBLAY: Dr. Gizzi takes his forceps and begins to pull the silver fillings out of her teeth. One by one.

GIZZI: Okay, Doreen?

TREMBLAY: Doreen's husband Larry watches from the corner of the room, clasping and unclasping his hands.

L. WATSON: She had Alzheimer's, and they have found through different research that it's involved with this mercury that's in the fillings. When Dr. Gizzi took those fillings out, he showed them to me, and they were all just porous like sandstone, where the mercury had leached out.

TREMBLAY: Larry hopes taking the mercury amalgam fillings out of his wife's teeth will make her better. The couple drove about a hundred miles to visit Dr. Gizzi. That's because he is one of only a few dentists in upstate New York who remove fillings for health reasons.

GIZZI: Many of the patients have either a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or they may have Alzheimer's, beginning Alzheimer's, dementia, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivities. These are the people that are seeking to have the amalgam removed.

TREMBLAY: Dr. Gizzi sees a dozen patients a day who think the mercury in their teeth is making them sick. And research suggests this idea isn't so far-fetched. Dentists once believed that if they filled a tooth with amalgam, the mercury in the amalgam would harden and become inert. Now they know that's not true.

CLARKSON: Mercury vapor is released from the amalgam. The amount of mercury vapor released is our major source of exposure to mercury vapor in the general population.

TREMBLAY: Tom Clarkson is a scientist in the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester in New York. He's been studying the health effects of mercury for more than 40 years.

CLARKSON: What we're concerned about is the vapor that comes off the amalgam as you are chewing, as you breathe through your mouth, and that's absorbed into the lung. And from there it gets into the rest of the body.

TREMBLAY: In large doses, mercury vapor can cause brain damage, kidney malfunction, memory loss, depression, and the kind of tremors that wracked the Mad Hatter. But Dr. Clarkson isn't sure what low-level exposure can do to people. That's why he's conducting a new study to measure the subtle effects of mercury vapor on brain development.

CLARKSON: The study involves children who have amalgam fillings in them, and another group that do not. And these children will be given very careful, very sophisticated developmental tests, performance tests, psychological tests, with the state of the art testing methods today, to see if we can see any difference whatsoever between those children that have amalgams and those that do not.

TREMBLAY: The American Dental Association insists the low levels of mercury people inhale off their fillings are perfectly safe. Dr. Terry Donovan chairs the Department of Restorative Dentistry at the University of Southern California and speaks for the ADA.

DONOVAN: If you accept the fact the dose makes the poison, the amount of mercury vapor coming off amalgam is so small it's not even of any consequence.

TREMBLAY: And, Dr. Donovan says, mercury amalgam has advantages. It bonds well with other metals. It's durable. And it's cheap, about $40 less per filling than non-mercury amalgam alternatives. Dr. Donovan says most dentists don't hesitate to fill their own children's teeth with mercury amalgam fillings. And he gets angry when he hears about people who have their fillings removed because they think the mercury is making them sick. He calls dentists who confirm those fears "quacks."

DONOVAN: I have no problem with the dentist that decides he or she doesn't want to use amalgam. That's their choice to do that or not to do that. But to tell people that they are having health problems related to silver fillings when there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support it is wrong.

TREMBLAY: But for some people, the anecdotal evidence is compelling enough.

GIZZI: Lingual recheck, please. That's a big piece in here, still. (Turns suction on.)

D. WATSON: Oh.

GIZZI: I know. (Suction continues)

TREMBLAY: Larry Watson has brought his wife Doreen to Dr. Gizzi again. During the last visit, he took out all of her fillings.

L. WATSON: But he found four spots that are black where that stuff is still in there. It's supposed to come out today.

TREMBLAY: It's been four months since Doreen had her fillings removed, and her husband Larry says her Alzheimer's symptoms have started to fade.

L. WATSON: She lost control of her bowel, and that is where they get pretty far down. Now she takes care of herself that way, and she takes her own oral medications that she needs to take. And she's beginning to joke like she used to.

TREMBLAY: There is no hard evidence to back up claims that removing mercury amalgam fillings will reverse the course of any disease. In fact, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society warns MS sufferers not to bother getting their fillings removed. They say it just won't help. And a Colorado dentist who convinced thousands of sick people to have their amalgams removed lost his license when his still-sick patients accused him of fraud. There are 53 dental schools in the U.S. All of them teach the use of mercury amalgam. But some dentists say it's only a matter of time before scientists discover a reason to ban it. That may happen in three years, when Dr. Tom Clarkson finishes his study on the low-level effects of mercury vapor on development.

CLARKSON: I'm in the middle of this investigation, and if I believed that there would be no effect, I probably wouldn't have participated. If I was darn sure that mercury vapor was dangerous, I wouldn't have participated, either. So this is really a question in our minds.

TREMBLAY: For Living on Earth, I'm Brenda Tremblay in Rochester, New York.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: Time for just one listener letter this week. It's from Randy Cregger, who listens to WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky, and heard our profile of Carlos Manning, the man who saves and cultivates heirloom apple trees. "I'm 74 years old," Mr. Cregger writes, "and when I lived in southwestern Virginia as a boy, we had a small apple orchard that had very big apples. Four to five inches in diameter, green in color. Very tasty and full of juice. My father called them Fallwater . I would always look on the ground for a big one to take to school. I just wondered what the real name was, and if they still exist."

We did a little digging, Mr. Cregger, and yes, those apples you remember do still exist. They're called Fallawater apples, and if you're interested in getting a hold of some, you can contact Carlos Manning at his nursery in Lester, West Virginia. The phone number there is 304-934-6558.

You can contact us any time. Call our listener line at 800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. It's 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 National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Coming up: Saving the planet from climate disruption while saving some souls. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Barrett Communications, delivering strategic marketing communications and design for business worldwide: www.barrett.com.

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

(Music up and under: “Money”)

(Chanting: “The people, united, will never be defeated!”)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: On October 29, 20 years ago, thousands of people converged on Wall Street to protest corporate investment in the nuclear power industry. The plan was to block entrances to the New York Stock Exchange and shut it down for the day. But organizers had so well-publicized their event that traders went to work early, and more than 800 police officers surrounded the Exchange long before the opening bell rang, to keep protesters away from the building. By day's end more than 1,000 people were hauled away, and 300 were detailed by police. For the most part, though, the so-called Wall Street Action was nonviolent, even a bit festive. Most protesters were content to sing anti-nuclear songs at the police barricades, or debate their cause with, for the most part, unsympathetic Wall Street employees.

MAN: Are they all going to go home and turn off their refrigerators? That's the way to protest. Turn off your refrigerators, your electric lights, all your electrical appliances if you don't want nuclear energy. Then you don't need nuclear energy.

CURWOOD: The protest got its share of media attention, but it didn't make much of a dent in market activity. While trading was slower than usual that day, the Dow was down less than a point at closing. Twenty years later it's a different story. Today the market is bearish on nuclear power and the industry is lobbying Congress for tax subsidies to help bail out unproductive reactors. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Climate Change I: U.S. Dawdles

CURWOOD: Representatives of the world's nations are gathering in Bonn, Germany, for more negotiations on a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, known as the Kyoto Protocol. No dramatic breakthroughs are predicted as preparations are underway for a final approval of the protocol in the Netherlands next year. But some observers say the United States is putting that deadline in jeopardy. As the world's biggest emitter of carbon gases, they complain, the U.S. is also the biggest procrastinator in implementing and ratifying the accord to combat climate change. Alden Meyer is director of government relations with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says frustration with the U.S. has been simmering since the negotiations in Kyoto two years ago.

MEYER: The U.S. got largely what it wanted out of Kyoto in terms of the so-called flexibility mechanisms, emissions trading, and other things, to allow us to do a lot of our emissions reductions overseas. The concern that the Europeans and a number of developing countries have is, they don't see signs of progress in the United States itself in terms of coming to grips with our emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases here. They don't see that we're doing the heavy lifting at home. And they're concerned in the wake of the rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty whether we are a reliable negotiating partner and actually will be able to deliver the goods if they give us what we want in these end-game negotiations.

CURWOOD: Are we dragging our feet here in the U.S.? Are we not doing what we should be doing?

MEYER: I think it's clear that we're not doing anywhere near what we need to do in terms of actions at home to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Things like increasing fuel economy standards for automobiles, encouraging a shift to renewable energy and energy efficiency in the power sector, etc. We've done very little since not only Kyoto, but the Rio Earth Summit back in 1992, where we signed the original treaty on climate change that obligates us to try to return our emissions to 1990 levels. We're currently at least ten or eleven percent above that.

CURWOOD: Is it possible that the rest of the world might get so frustrated with the U.S. they just go ahead and come up with a new Kyoto Protocol themselves, and not include us in it?

MEYER: Well, a number of countries are taking action on their own, even before Kyoto goes into effect. But it would be very difficult to politically or economically, I think, for most of these countries, to go ahead and ratify Kyoto and commit themselves to be bound by it, without knowing the U.S. was also going to be a partner in that enterprise. The issues of industrial competitiveness and trade are just too large, I think, for countries in Europe or Japan to make that kind of commitment.

CURWOOD: The Kyoto Protocol really calls for goals to be hit by about the year 2010 or so. So for it to work, it needs to go into effect in the next couple of years, let's say. Is it realistic to think that the protocol will be ratified by enough countries to go into effect on schedule for it to be meaningful?

MEYER: Well, I think clearly you can get an agreement on the details from Kyoto by this meeting the end of next year, if there is the political will there. The real question, I think, is, Can you build the political support in legislatures, particularly in the United States Senate, to allow ratification of the treaty within the next couple of years? It would take a lot of changes in the current position of a lot of senators to see that coming about. But there are indications the public is getting more concerned about this issue. Earth Day next year is going to be focusing on global warming and energy issues. It will be an issue in the presidential debates and campaigns. So, I think there is a chance that you could see a shift in domestic political pressures on the Senate on this. And combined with the successful completion of negotiations internationally, that could set the groundwork for ratification of the treaty here in the U.S.

CURWOOD: Alden Meyer is director of government relations at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, DC. Alden, thanks for joining us.

MEYER: Thanks, Steve. Good to be with you.

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Climate Change II: Plea from the Pulpit

CURWOOD: Warnings about climate change can be expected from scientists like Alden Meyer. But now, some religious leaders are also beginning to address the problem—from the pulpit. Detroit Free Press reporter Emilia Askari has this story from suburban Detroit, on one interfaith initiative that hopes to make climate change a moral issue.

MORRIS: Just put aside all the problems of the day, everything else. Put ourselves in the presence. That we are in the presence of the holy.

ASKARI: At St. Elizabeth's Catholic church in the working class Detroit suburb of Wyandotte, Father Charles Morris opens an unusual meeting in the church school.

MORRIS: I'm here because, looking down the road, this may be the greatest challenge, the greatest moral issue that we face as a community.

PALAZOLO: I'm Joe Palazolo. I'm also here to learn about global warming and any environmental issues.

NESTER: I'm Vernon Esther, and I'm concerned for my children, my grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to come.

ASKARI: The topic of discussion today is climate change and the concern that pollution from power plants and vehicles, like the ones made right here in Michigan, is causing the atmosphere to heat up and may be disrupting weather patterns.

MORRIS: What can you gather about God's intentions for the balance of nature?

WOMAN: He had a plan and he planned it all out. And he's taking care of it and keeping it in balance, just for what everything needs.

MORRIS: Mm hm. What we're essentially doing is, we're breaking it down rather than helping him.

ASKARI: St. Elizabeth's is one of dozens of congregations in Michigan where religious leaders have begun raising the issue of climate change. The meetings are part of a campaign that aims to educate people of faith in four key states about climate issues. Steven Johns-Berma heads up the Michigan effort. He's the director of the Michigan Interfaith Global Warming Campaign, and a minister of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ.

JOHNS-BERMA: The first environmental movement was really the commandment that was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, is to tend the Garden. We in the religious community have a call to tend, to care for the Garden, to care for the Earth. And therefore, global warming, climate change, is at its fundament a religious issue.

ASKARI: With a $23,000 grant from the W. Alton Jones Foundation, Reverend Johns-Berma and the Interfaith Campaign hope to spread this doctrine and educate people about climate change science in 100 Michigan religious communities within a year. Eighty-three of the state's Christian and Jewish leaders attended a three-day workshop on the issue earlier this year, and Reverend Johns-Berma says he hopes to get members of the Detroit area's sizeable Islamic community involved as well.

JOHNS-BERMA: What this campaign seeks to do is to bring a moral consensus to an already scientific consensus that indeed the earth is warming. And that indeed it is likely that it is warming from the actions of humans. It will happen not only in this community of faith, but also we intend to really have delegations visit the auto industries.

ASKARI: Through its member congregations, the Interfaith Campaign hopes to push Michigan's auto companies to move faster toward production of cars that will burn less or even no gasoline. It also hopes churchgoers will contact local reporters and politicians, like Congressman John Dingell, the powerful Michigan Democrat who has helped block efforts to combat climate change. Reverend Johns-Berma says whether it's through political action or just changing the way they use energy at home and at work, Michiganders of faith can make a big difference.

JOHNS-BERMA: The faith community made a significant impact in terms of the civil rights struggle. And one could almost look at this as a civil rights struggle for the earth.

(Crickets)

ASKARI: It's not just the presence of the auto industry that makes this issue hit home in Michigan. Over the last hundred years there's been a subtle shift of animal and plant species northward in Michigan. Southern hardwood forests are moving into the territory once dominated by northern pine and spruce forests. Some scientists think these are the first visible impacts of climate change here. There are still climate change skeptics, though, including a number of religious conservatives. Among them is Father John Sirico, a Catholic priest and president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He says religious leaders have no business bringing the debate over climate change into places of worship.

SIRICO: I think the majority of the religious activists involved in this do not have any more scientific background than I do on the question, and therefore would be prudent to keep their mouths shut about it.

ASKARI: Father Sirico travels around the country making speeches about the folly of linking religion and the environment. He believes that God intended for people to revere the earth, but also to use it. And he thinks the global warming effort may be a well-intentioned but dangerously misinformed campaign which could needlessly cost jobs and drive people away from religion.

SIRICO: What this represents is a national and to some extent international movement of eco-spirituality, eco-theology, which in some instances borders on neo-Paganism. I think this will not have an appeal in the minds and hearts of the average Michigan churchgoer.

ASKARI: But dozens of Michiganders are not only convinced that the Interfaith Campaign is the right thing to do. They think it's going to work.

(A door opens; voices)

GREENER: A lot of people think more like me than don't. But they don't know what to do. Because it's hard. It's hard—when you're working 50 hours a week and keeping a home and running the errands and putting the groceries and making the meals and all the other things that we have to do in a day-to-day world—to be an environmentalist. So what do you do? Well, what if there's a discussion group in your church or your synagogue, or if there's a way to be active, even a little bit, through religious organization? I say that's a role for other interfaith environmental movements, is to make it a little bit easier on a day-to-day basis to be an environmentalist.

ASKARI: Katherine Greener is an executive with an auto supply firm. She's invited several of her friends over for dinner in the artsy Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, to organize a chapter of the Committee on Environment and Jewish Life.

GREENER: That's in the Midrash: See to it that you do not destroy my world, for there is no one after you to repair it.

(To a guest) Did you get from this?

MAN: I did.

GREENER: Okay. This is yogurt.

WOMAN: This is yummy.

ASKARI: Ms. Greener and her friends say they will approach the auto industry as people of faith. And they expect auto executives to respond. Mike Sklar is an engineer.

SKLAR: There is nothing in the automobile that is inherently bad for global warming. It's how we've chosen to power those cars. If you look at the work that the auto industry is doing, looking at fuel cells, looking at hybrid vehicles that can get much higher fuel efficiencies, there are enormous opportunities to make a positive contribution here in Michigan.

(St. Elizabeth's church; applause)

MORRIS: Three, two, one.

CONGREGATION: Whoo-whee!

ASKARI: At St. Elizabeth's Catholic church, Father Morris greets his flock in a flowing, rainbow-colored robe after delivering a message about climate change at his Sunday service. Some parishioners are convinced they need to take action. Others aren't. But most at least seem comfortable talking about it in church.

(Ambient conversation in the background)

WOMAN: My husband's a construction pipe-fitter, but right now he is working at Ford’s. But I think that we don't need to produce so many cars. Everything that we produce in our country seems to be an overproduction. Cutting back, I think, would be a start. For us to start using the legs God gave us and walk, use our bikes. That will cut back, I think, on some of this bad effect we're getting. But it's not just, one person can’t do it. We all have to do it.

MAN: I'm one of the really evil people in the world. I design cars for a living. (Laughs) According to the environmental movement, the automobile is the worst thing that could have possibly happened to the planet. I don't see it that way. It pays my bills and it puts food on my table.

ASKARI: So what do you think of Father Charles's, your church's involvement in this issue?

MAN: I don't totally agree with it, as you can tell. (Laughs) But I'm glad they're looking at it.

ASKARI: Are you going to the meeting on Thursday?

MAN: I'm going to try. Since he said that even the dissenters were welcome. (Laughs)

WOMAN 2: I've been around a long time. So, I've seen the world so much different. I've seen winters were winters, summers were summers. We had four definite seasons. And I believe a lot of pollution is causing this global warming. It's all the emissions from the cars and from the steel mill, we have a steel mill close by. So I'm really concerned about the environment, and I'm glad that people are taking a stand on it. I think that we can do a lot, because Father Charles is very dedicated.

(A car engine starts up; children in the background)

ASKARI: The leaders of the Michigan Interfaith Global Warming Campaign hope that if their effort makes an impact in this politically important state, they'll have a good chance of succeeding elsewhere and perhaps affecting the debate over climate change in the presidential election. Religious leaders are already launching similar climate campaigns in Iowa, home of the first presidential caucus; West Virginia, a major producer of coal; and Pennsylvania, an industrial state that's also key in presidential politics. For Living on Earth, this is Emilia Askari in Detroit.

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CURWOOD: Coming up: a shoemaker does a human rights audit of its overseas factories and finds out it's coming up short. The Reebok report is next on Living on Earth.

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Reebok Owns up to Workplace Safety Violations

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. If you worked for Reebok at two of its footwear factories in Indonesia in recent years, you risk the health consequences of inadequate ventilation, exposure to hazardous substances, and increased chances of suffering from rashes, headaches, and nausea. In addition, according to a recent audit, workers didn't know safety precautions for some of the chemicals they were handling. And waste was burned without being treated or the emissions cleaned. The complaints may not surprise you, following similar stories of worker abuse leveled against footwear maker Nike. What's a bit unusual is that the Reebok report was released not by some group trying to raise awareness about substandard working conditions, but by Reebok itself. Sharon Cohen, vice president of public affairs for Reebok, says it's the result of a new code of conduct adopted by the company.

COHEN: We went in to dig deep and find things, and I think that although there are certainly many, many things that need to be improved have been improved since the report, it's very exciting and very hopeful. Because I think this is an instance where instead of just seeing sensationalism, you see: Here are things that aren't the way they should be. Here's what happened to date, or as we noted in May of 1999 in the independent assessment. And we're going to continue. And I think the other exciting thing is, all the things that are noted that are quite systemic, that the independent research company says this is common in Indonesia. This is common in Indonesia; so what that says to other factories in our industries and in other industries is, learn from this. You know, these are things that you can do as well.

CURWOOD: How do you get changes, then, and how do you enforce changes, if this is the standard operating procedure in a country?

COHEN: Well, I think the way you need to understand about enforcing changes, is that good workplace conditions are good for your product. They're good for your brand. They're good for maintaining a stable workforce. I mean, I think this is not just human rights talk. I think this is basic good business. And let me also say that the factory owners are very engaged in this. We're very engaged in it. And the exciting thing in the report is that the workers are engaged in it. The workers have been testing chairs to see what's ergonomically comfortable. They've been testing the gloves. They've been -- and this is one of the exciting things -- there are more worker interviews, more in-depth worker interviews. So you really have all the key stakeholders. The factory owners and senior management, the workers, and the multinational company, very engaged, as well as the non-government organizations.

CURWOOD: How much did this study of this Indonesian factory cost?

COHEN: The study itself, if you're just looking at dollars and cents, was $35,000. But obviously, the person hours are also an additional expense. And the factories themselves, to date, have spent about a half a million dollars on actual factory improvements.

CURWOOD: So, to review each factory, you would spend, this way, you might spend $35,000, $50,000, $100,000. Can you afford to do that?

COHEN: I think that so many of the things that we found out are broadly applied. So for example, one of the things we did when we were in the middle of the study, when we had some of the initial results, is we sent a summary to all of our other factory owners and senior managers to begin working on it. And a couple of weeks ago, at a formal presentation of all of them, we presented the findings, so that we could, you know, bring it about in many, many more places. Because certainly, if you look at the study, you can see that so many of the issues are indeed very broad.

CURWOOD: Reebok embarrassed by any of this?

COHEN: I think when you take a risk like this of exposing yourself, there's always the risk of being -- you're the first to do it. It's always uncharted territory. And so, I think it does feel a little risky at times.

CURWOOD: I have to ask you this. Nike's been in a lot of trouble around human rights. Now, if I were cynical, I might say, Hey, Reebok is grabbing this as a marketing device, that you can show yourselves to be thinking about values that perhaps your biggest competitor isn't, and thereby grab some market share. True, or not true?

COHEN: Competition is not in human rights or labor practices. Competition is in advertising, and it's in product design. It's in marketing. But never for workers. And if there is anything that we could do to share with anybody else something that could make things better for their workers, we would like to do that. And we'd like this not to be something that would be the exception and be a stand-alone or a standout. And that's always been our position. And if Phil Knight called me, I'll tell you what I think you can do if you want. And this is not competitive.

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

COHEN: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Sharon Cohen is vice president of public affairs for the Reebok Corporation.

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Salmon Fishing Heritage

CURWOOD: Each year the Pacific Northwest reels in more than $2 billion from sport fishing. In Oregon alone, if you count up all the hours folks spend casting hook, line, and sinker in pursuit of fish, you'd be counting until you reach 200 million. And if you grow up in the Northwest, your first catch doesn't come long after your first step.

HAMILTON: The earliest memory I have of my father is fishing with him.

CURWOOD: Liz Hamilton was three years old when she caught her first fish. Now, she's executive director of the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association. She lives and fishes in Oregon City. And once or twice a year, she still spends a few days on the river with dad.

(Flowing water; a reel is cast)

HAMILTON: I'd grown up fishing for trout, mostly. And as an adult, I decided to strike out on my own and try to catch salmon. And I fished and I fished and I fished almost six weeks solid. And could never manage to land one. I had several on but they always escaped. I had four or five Spring Chinook on, and they always escaped.

(Splashing; voices; a reel is cast)

HAMILTON: When they're biting, you have to be patient, and you have to let them take the bait. And you have a hold on your rod, and it's only eight-and-a-half feet long and it's very limber. And you're holding it, and you know that salmon is there, and you have to be patient. And you wait. And they take it a little more, and you're holding tight onto that rod. And they take it a little more. And they take it a little more. And finally, you can't be patient any longer, and you set the hook. And the fish will take off.

(Splashing; gulls)

HAMILTON: It's excitement. It's adrenaline. Your spool heats up from the speed of the fish pulling that line out. And your drag is set such that you can barely pull it with your hand. But that fish is peeling it off so fast, that if you put your thumb on your spool, it will burn a blister. That's how powerful they are. So there's this power and grace. And then they jump up into the air, and it's the most magnificent thing to see a 25-pound fish leap up into the air. And it's a magnificent struggle. And when they get away, you cheer. It's not a sad thing. You know, your opponent has won the day, and off they go.

(Splashing)

HAMILTON: And finally, I was fishing with one of my girlfriends, and I hooked into a fish and fought it, and landed it. And it was a 25-pound Spring Chinook. Which is almost twice their average size. And so, that was the change of my life. Catching that very first Spring Chinook changed me so profoundly I changed careers. I changed interest. I started fishing regularly after that. I'd put my children on the bus, wave goodbye, grab the rod, and off I'd go. (Laughs)

(Casts a reel; voices in the background)

HAMILTON: And I have wonderful memories. Maybe my favorite is Mother's Day about ten years ago. I went out with both my daughters and my best girlfriend. And my five-year-old daughter caught her first Spring Chinook. And it was the only fish caught all day, with a boat of about six others. And we get on shore and it's time to take pictures. And she's five. And she's holding up a 17-pound salmon, all by herself. Smiling ear to ear, and won't let anyone else help her. And it’s, that's probably the memory that sticks the most for me, is sharing that experience with my daughter.

(Splashing)

CURWOOD: Liz Hamilton and her family live in Oregon City, Oregon, where she is executive director of the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association. Next week, Living on Earth resumes a special series we've been running on salmon in the Pacific Northwest. We'll look at commercial fishing and its impact on endangered salmon species. Some people want to ban commercial boats, but others say even taking that drastic step won't help.

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MAN: You can't fix this issue on the back of the victims, the fishermen who have seen lives, jobs, and dollars destroyed because of the salmon decline, much of it that you can lay at the feet of ag and timber and other development practices. Commercial fishing is not the biggest threat, and not all commercial fishing is bad.

CURWOOD: Fish wars in the next part of our series The Point of No Return: Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time: 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 visit our Web page at www.loe.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, and Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Brent Runyon. Russell Wiedemann, and Hanna Day-Woodruff. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert is our western editor. And Peter Thomson is the special projects editor. Terry FitzPatrick is the acting senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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