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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Beyond the Headlines

Air Date: Week of

The Emerald Ash Borer is a threat to ash trees, which are used to make professional baseball bats. (Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation)

We take a peak beyond the news headlines of with Peter Dykstra, publisher of Environmental Health News. This week, he and host Steve Curwood discuss how art helps document air pollution and a threat to traditional baseball bats.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. Time now for our weekly foray beyond the headlines with Peter Dykstra, the publisher of DailyClimate.org and Environmental Health News - that's EHN.org. He's on the line from Conyers, Georgia. Hi, Peter.

DYKSTRA: Hi, Steve. I'm going to brag a little bit this week on the work of two colleagues of ours at The Daily Climate. Our reporter Lindsey Konkel did a story on a peer-reviewed effort to learn more about the climate record through artwork. It was just published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics and in the paper, researchers from Greece and Germany analyzed 124 sunsets painted by European artists recently and as far back as 500 years or so. The researchers noticed a consistent pattern that whenever paintings were made after a big volcanic eruption, the sunsets were painted redder and more intense.

CURWOOD: It’s not just those German romantics got more intense? It’s telling us that there really are scientific blanks we can fill in using art, huh?

DYKSTRA: No, it’s not the German romantics. What it is is more particulates in the air means brighter sunsets, but that same volcanic debris can also cool the planet and it can also make it harder to breathe. The researchers also saw a steady increase in redder sunsets since the Industrial Revolution began.

CURWOOD: So some evidence of both nature’s impact on the atmosphere and humanities. You said you have something else from a colleague at The Daily Climate?

DYKSTRA: Right, this week we started up Major League Baseball again, and our reporter Brian Bienkowski had an opening day unlikely environmental chat with the boss of the makers of Louisville Sluggers, the classic baseball bats. Ash wood is still the standard bearer for the wooden bats used in professional baseball, but a little invader species is eating the ash trees.

CURWOOD: Uh oh, another invasive insect?

DYKSTRA: Yes, the Emerald Ash Borer, first discovered in this country about a dozen years ago, is chomping its way northward thanks to warmer weather. They were probably slowed down a bit by this cold winter in the eastern US, but they’ve become a serious threat to the baseball bat forests in Pennsylvania.

CURWOOD: And what happens if the prime ash forests get eaten?

DYKSTRA: Well of course, amateur baseball has pretty much completely switched to aluminum bats, and some pros have their bats made from other woods, like birch or maple, but this really is a threat to an iconic part of the game.

CURWOOD: We pay $8 for a hot dog at the game, but Emerald Ash Borers eat for free on Big League Baseball.

DYKSTRA: Good point.

CURWOOD: And, Peter, you still have your Louisville Slugger, right?

DYKSTRA: Yes, but it’s mostly for home security and road rage now.

CURWOOD: [LAUGHS] Hey, before you go, what’s on the calendar this week?

DYKSTRA: I have some more stuff about eating. Ash Borers eat baseball bats, politicians often dine on their own words very frequently, and here are a couple of examples. Four years ago this past week, President Obama opened up huge areas for offshore drilling and after he did that, he famously explained that, “Oil rigs don’t usually cause spills.” And of course, you know what happened three weeks later.

CURWOOD: Oh yes, Deepwater Horizon disaster! It’s one of the worst spills in US history.

DYKSTRA: Exactly. And 31 years ago this week, the other example of politicians eating their words, the Interior Secretary James Watt announced the cancelation of the traditional Fourth of July concert on the Washington Mall. Why? Because he said the Beach Boys - the Beach Boys! - would attract what he called the wrong element.

CURWOOD: But weren’t Mr. Watt’s boss and the boss’s wife big fans of the Beach Boys?

DYKSTRA: Not only that, but the Beach Boys actually campaigned for Ronald Reagan, they were good pals with Nancy Reagan, the First Lady. By the following July 4 and following a few more gaffes by James Watt, he was gone as Interior Secretary, and the Beach Boys were back performing on the Fourth of July.

CURWOOD: Making a good vibration, huh?

DYKSTRA: Absolutely.

CURWOOD: Peter Dykstra is publisher of EnvironmentalHealthNews.org and DailyClimate.org. Thanks so much for taking the time today.

DYKSTRA: Thanks a lot, Steve, we'll talk to you soon.



Environmental Health News

The Daily Climate


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