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

October 6, 2000

Air Date: October 6, 2000


Threatened Bird / Diane Toomey

The California gnatcatcher is a small bird but it’s had a big influence on development in southern California. That’s because it’s listed as a threatened species. The Fish and Wildlife Service is set to designate hundreds of thousands of acres of land as critical habitat for the bird. But new evidence shows that the bird is no different from its very common cousins found in Mexico. Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports. (05:30)

Suing Across Borders

Multinational companies sometimes take advantage of lax human rights and environmental laws overseas – but today, a few lawyers in the U.S. are trying to hold them legally accountable for their actions. Host Laura Knoy talks with David Hunter, executive director of the Center for International Environmental Law, about the growing trend of using American courts to try international crimes. (06:05)

Technology Update / Cynthia Graber

Living On Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a new holographic camera that can take shots of life under the sea. (00:59)

Manitoba Hydro Power / Mary Stucky

As the need for electricity continues to soar, some are looking to hydropower as a cheap and clean energy source. But plans to expand hydropower in Manitoba, Canada have divided a community of Cree Indians. Some say the fourteen dams used for hydro on Cree land have caused environmental damage, and no new deals should be made. But, as Mary Stucky of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports, others welcome the expansion and the potential for economic compensation. (08:25)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about apples. October is National Apple Month. The fruit has a long history of health benefits – some more mythical than others. (01:30)

Wilderness Volunteers / Jyl Hoyt

People who pay to go on a Wilderness Volunteers vacation do more than just enjoy the great outdoors. They help to rebuild and restore the trails. Jyl Hoyt, from member station KBSX, spent a week with a group in Idaho's Sawtooth Wilderness and has this story. (05:50)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a new study that shows that high levels of Vitamin C may protect against stroke. (00:59)


Living On Earth dips into our mailbag to hear what listeners have to say about recent stories. (01:15)

Ralph Nader

Host Laura Knoy talks with Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader about his campaign platform and why he is running as a third party candidate. (08:00)

It's Not Easy Being Green / Nathan Johnson

The Green Party has made significant headway in California. Thirty Greens currently hold elected office in the state, mostly at the local level. But as Nathan Johnson reports, Green Party candidates are finding it difficult to raise the money and build the organizations needed to win higher offices. (07:45)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Laura Knoy
REPORTERS: Diane Toomey, Mary Stucky, Jyl Hoyt, Nathan Johnson
UPDATES: Cynthia Graber, Diane Toomey
GUESTS: David Hunter, Ralph Nader


(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

KNOY: I'm Laura Knoy.

New researcher shows that a California bird on the Endangered Species List is genetically the same as a Mexican bird whose population numbers in the millions. But some say the bird should still be protected in the U.S.

WETZLER: We think that the only thing that should make a difference is if somebody can demonstrate that the gnatcatchers in Southern California are not threatened or endangered. And so far, nobody is making that claim.

KNOY: But others say the listing was based on bad science. Also, in Manitoba, Canada, bands of Cree Indians are working with the government to expand hydropower.

SPENCE: We are doing it in a different way, a little more diplomatic, negotiating instead of the ways of confrontation and conflict.

KNOY: The government promises economic compensation, but there are other Cree who refuse to make any deals. Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth. First, this news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Threatened Bird

KNOY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy, filling in for Steve Curwood. In a controversial move, the federal government later this month is set to designate almost 800,000 acres of land in Southern California as critical habitat for the California gnatcatcher. The songbird is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Now, new research has added to the controversy. There is genetic evidence that shows the California bird is the same subspecies as the common Mexican gnatcatcher. As Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports, environmentalists and land developers have, not surprisingly, different interests in the findings.

(Gnatcatcher call)

TOOMEY: The gnatcatcher is no bald eagle. It's a small bird, about four inches long, with unspectacular gray and white feathers. It makes its living in the sage scrub vegetation of coastal Southern California, where it nests and forages for bugs. But the presence of this little creature can strike fear into the hearts of the largest of developers. That's because one pair of threatened gnatcatchers may occupy a range of ten acres. And in the heady world of California real estate, that means development restrictions could be placed on $30 million worth of land.

(Gnatcatcher calls)

TOOMEY: Northern gnatcatchers, including those in California, are darker and have a different tail spot pattern than most of their Mexican brethren. So scientists, including those in the Fish and Wildlife Service, have believed they're separate subspecies. Think of the grizzly and the kodiak, different subspecies of brown bear. But in the new study, University of Minnesota ornithologist Robert Zink dug deeper, down into the level of DNA. Dr. Zink is the first researcher to apply a special type of genetic analysis to classify the California gnatcatcher. He used samples from about five dozen birds found from L.A. County to the tip of Baja.

ZINK: We have found throughout the entire range of the California gnatcatcher, from Palos Verdes to Cabo San Lucas, that there are no genetic divisions within this species. In fact, form a DNA sample I can't tell whether a California gnatcatcher is from Los Angeles or Cabo San Lucas, the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula.

TOOMEY: Normally this kind of genetic information would be of interest to at most a small circle of ornithologists. But since the subject of this study is listed as a threatened species, things are a bit more complicated. That's because while the gnatcatchers in California, thanks to habitat loss, number just a few thousand pairs, there are about a million pairs in Mexico. So if it's true that the California gnatcatcher is not a separate subspecies, then the birds on the whole aren't endangered at all. But Dr. Zink says when it comes to protecting the birds in the U.S., his research may not be important.

ZINK: One way of looking at our study is that it's moot. The bird is highly threatened and the populations are fragmented in Southern California. The only place where California gnatcatchers occur in the United States is in Southern California in the coastal sage scrub habitat.

TOOMEY: And that's the point, says Andrew Wetzler, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says the Endangered Species Act allow for protection of animals in the U.S., regardless of their numbers elsewhere.

WETZLER: Congress recognized that it was important to preserve wildlife in America. And Congress was concerned about the demise of species like the bald eagle, the grizzly bear, and the gray wolf, all of which had very healthy non-genetically distinct populations in Alaska and Canada, but which were going extinct in the lower 48.

TOOMEY: A few years ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did resist listing the Canada lynx, citing a healthy population in Canada. But the agency lost a court challenge on that position. Earlier this year the cat was listed as threatened in the U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service says it's still reviewing this new research, published in the journal Conservation Biology. But in a preliminary response, the agency said the gnatcatcher would more than likely remain protected. Attorney Andrew Wetzler says that's the correct position to take.

WETZLER: We think that the only thing that should make a difference is if somebody can demonstrate that the gnatcatchers in Southern California are not threatened or endangered. And so far, nobody is making that claim.

TOOMEY: Laer Pearce is the executive director of the Coalition for Habitat Conservation, an organization of large private developers and utility companies. He says no one wants to see the gnatcatcher go extinct in the U.S., but Pearce says his organization never believed the birds here were a true subspecies. This new evidence, he says, proves that the data the Fish and Wildlife Service relies on come from bad science.

PEARCE: They just got caught on one aspect. I mean, you know, the taxonomy and genetics of the gnatcatcher is only one of about seven or eight criteria that need to be met in the listing. And the science underpinning every one of those criteria is incorrect in the gnatcatcher listing.

TOOMEY: For instance, he disputes the amount of gnatcatcher habitat the Fish and Wildlife Service says has been lost over the years.

PEARCE: If they're not using the best scientific evidence available to them, they make erroneous decisions like, for example, declaring 800,000 acres of Southern California to be gnatcatcher habitat.

TOOMEY: Nevertheless, that designation is set to go into effect later this month. When that happens, any development within those 800,000 acres that requires a federal permit or receives federal funding must be scrutinized by the Fish and Wildlife Service for its impact on gnatcatcher habitat. For Living on Earth, I'm Diane Toomey.

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(Music up and under)

Suing Across Borders

KNOY: A lawsuit was recently filed in California by people who live nearly 6,000 miles away. The plaintiffs are residents of the South Pacific island of Papua New Guinea. They say that for 30 years the British copper mining company, Rio Tinto, has destroyed villages, razed the rainforest, and dumped toxic chemicals into the river, ultimately causing thousands of deaths. It may seem a bit unusual to file a lawsuit in the U.S. for damages overseas by a foreign company, but this isn't the first case of its kind. These suits are part of a small but growing trend, an attempt to hold multinational companies accountable for actions in other countries. David Hunter is executive director of the Center for International Environmental Law. He says that the legal basis for these cases actually goes back more than three centuries.

HUNTER: Basically, the grounds date back to a statute that the U.S. passed in the 1700s to combat piracy, of all things. And it allows foreign citizens to bring tort claims here or to bring civil actions for damages based on violations of international law. And it does not require that it be a U.S. company. It doesn't require that it be a U.S. plaintiff. It simply opens up our courts for violations of international law.

KNOY: It started with pirates hundreds of years ago.

HUNTER: It did, and it sat dormant for hundreds of years as well, until it was resurrected in the 1980s by a torture case out of Paraguay, where a Paraguayan was tortured by a local Paraguayan police officer who then moved to Brooklyn. The family tracked him down and brought the suit in New York, and lo and behold the U.S. court said we can take jurisdiction over this case and help these people find justice.

KNOY: Are there other cases where this law has been used?

HUNTER: Well, it's an emerging, and still a new, area. But there have been about a half a dozen cases now that have been filed with similar facts. There is a case pending regarding Texaco's activities in Ecuador, where they drilled for oil for many years and left the Ecuadorean Amazon region a mess. That case has been pending in New York court. More recently as well, you have a case against Unocal for its activities in Burma, and the allegations there were slavery, rape, torture.

KNOY: It sounds like none of them have been quite completely successful yet.

HUNTER: No, they haven't. There are a host of jurisdictional and legalistic ways to block these cases. It's tough to bring a case from a distant place. And the courts have created a common-law kind of discretionary rule that the courts can apply, called Forum Non-Convenience, and it's just what it sounds like. It says this is not a convenient forum, and we're going to defer to alternative jurisdictions in other countries out of a sense of respect and out of a sense of convenience. And that's a fairly formidable obstacle for some of the cases. And some of the cases have beat that initial defense, the Unical case, for example. Unical didn't even raise that defense, probably because nobody would say that the courts of Burma provide a reasonable alternative.

KNOY: Is it easier for a human rights case than it is for an environmental case?

HUNTER: It is easier for a human rights case, because the international law of human rights is clearer, at least with respect to things like murder and rape and loss of life and liberty. So, because the international standards are clearer, the U.S. courts have an easier time of looking at and determining whether a violation has occurred. International environmental law is even a newer field, and the norms and standards are still evolving. And as a result, it's harder to be able to pinpoint what standards have been broken.

KNOY: And how high do those standards have to be? How terrible does the devastation have to be?

HUNTER: Well, you would think that there should be some general standard that would have you take a look at a river that's been totally devastated or a fishery that's been totally destroyed, villages that have been moved, and be able to say that should violate some international law or norm. But international law is a slowly evolving process. It requires often the consent of states. It requires a lot of research. And it is changing, but the question is how quickly it's changing, and these cases are right at the cutting edge. So, it's hard to tell whether or not a court is going to look into and find the international environmental standards. Personally, I think the standards are out there, and I think that the facts of some of these cases are so egregious that sooner or later courts are going to be motivated as much by the facts and say there's got to be some standards and here they are.

KNOY: So you seem to feel that there is a change coming in the courts, or that there could be a change coming in the courts, in the way that they feel about these international environmental cases.

HUNTER: There's absolutely a change coming, and I think the change is inevitable. And it's inevitable because all this talk of globalization and the globalized economy and the fact that we are integrating our countries' economies in such ways. And the way that I view this is, if we are going to reduce the barriers to the flow of capital, we also have to reduce the barriers to the flow of justice. And that's what's going on in these cases. No longer can companies operate in hiding in remote places. Bougainville Island, the location of this Rio Tinto mine, is very remote, yet nowadays there are monitors going on in every corner of the Earth, and multinationals can't operate without people knowing what's happening. And as a result, these cases are coming more and more to the front, where people are looking at it, saying, "This just ain't right, and the U.S. courts should be able to address it." And I think from that sort of inevitability of the facts and the emerging trends in international environmental law, we're going to see these cases being victorious.

KNOY: David Hunter is executive director at the Center for International Environmental Law. Thanks, David.

HUNTER: Thank you.

Back to top

KNOY: Coming up: Hydropower is cheap, clean, and controversial. We'll find out why Indians in Manitoba, Canada, disagree about the future of this source of electricity. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

(Music up and under)

Technology Update

GRABER: Plankton, among the ocean's smallest creatures, play a crucial role in ocean ecosystems. But until now scientists have had a hard time understanding what makes plankton tick. Such basic things as where they are and what they're eating can be difficult to figure out. They can be seen under a microscope, but that's not the same as watching them in their home turf. Now, a group of international researchers have teamed up to develop the holocam, an underwater holographic camera that takes incredibly detailed three-dimensional photos of life under the waves. Still, once the photos are developed, the smallest plankton might look like nothing more than twinkles. So scientists use a TV camera to zoom in even closer. The detail and depth of the holographic picture is so exact, scientists say, that the image produced looks as if you could reach in and scoop out a handful of plankton. That's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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(Music up and under)

KNOY: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

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Manitoba Hydro Power

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. Hydropower is one of the cheapest and cleanest ways to generate electricity, but it does have a significant impact. In the Canadian province of Manitoba, dams built over the last three decades have damaged the land and destroyed the traditional lifestyle of Cree Indians there. Manitoba Hydro provides hydroelectric power for three provinces in Canada and parts of the United States. Now, with the demand for electricity increasing, the utility's biggest U.S. customer, Excel Energy, wants to buy additional power from the company. Some of the Cree people are against this and have enlisted activists from the U.S. to help. But as Mary Stucky of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports, other members of the tribe say the future lies in embracing new projects.

STUCKY: Every Thursday, protesters gather on the sidewalk outside the offices of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in St. Paul.

MAN: It's information about where Minnesota gets its energy from, some of it...

STUCKY: The protest is against hydroelectric dams in northern Manitoba, Canada. The province of Manitoba lies just north of Minnesota and North Dakota. This fall, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will decide whether to allow a new contract between Excel Energy, based in Minneapolis, and Manitoba Hydro. While dams are a relatively inexpensive source of electricity for consumers, according to the Sierra Club's Anne Ostberg they're a disaster for the environment and the Cree Indians who live nearby. The Sierra Club is against purchasing power from Manitoba Hydro.

OSTBERG: I've always been a supporter of renewable energy, and I used to think that hydropower was renewable energy. And then last fall I learned that it's not. Large hydropower projects do serious environmental damage.

STUCKY: About ten percent of Excel's electricity now comes from Manitoba Hydro. That serves one-and-a-half million U.S. customers. Those who want to see an end to hydropower say it could be replaced with conservation, and energy alternatives like solar and wind power. The feasibility of that is fiercely debated, but both sides agree: hydro development has damaged the environment.

(Flowing water)

STUCKY: One place where that damage has been severe is here, some one thousand miles north of Minneapolis and across Lake Manitoba. This is the largest drainage area in North America, a vast network of rivers and lakes and a tremendous source of hydroelectric power.

(Thundering water)

STUCKY: In 1992, a 500-megawatt sale to Excel triggered the construction of the last dam built by Hydro. The new deal would provide 1,200 megawatts of additional electricity to five states in the upper Midwest. There are now 14 dams on or near Cree land, all built without the full approval of the Cree people, who say more than three million acres of their land were affected. As the water rose, river courses changed. Lakes dried up. Banks eroded. Water turned muddy. Animals from moose to birds vanished. Sandy Beardy is an 80-year-old Cree who lives in Cross Lake, a community of 5,000, and one of the hardest-hit.

BEARDY: Ever since the dam was built, all of this disappeared. The game. The birds of the air just passed by. They used to stop and feed. But they don't any more. The environment is totally destroyed. The things that we used to enjoy.

STUCKY: In 1977 the Cree negotiated the Northern Flood Agreement, or NFA, which promises to compensate the Indians for economic and social damages, and to clean up the environment. But the NFA quickly mired in legal wrangling and was virtually ineffective. Meanwhile, Cross Lake Cree member David Muswagon says they lost a subsistence lifestyle that had met all their needs.

MUSWAGON: You lived with nature. You lived with harmony, you know. And it gave you life.

STUCKY: But gradually, that life disappeared. A traditional healthy diet, rich in wild game and fresh produce, became high in sugar and fat. Diabetes is epidemic. There's been a rash of suicides. Kathy Merrick grew up in Cross Lake and says 90 percent of its residents are unemployed.

MERRICK: Like my dad, for example. He was an avid trapper. You know, I remember growing up, and he'd go out for the winter, you know. And he, you know, he'd come back with stories, stories of how good it felt to be out there, to be able to provide for the family. And now, you know, he hasn't worked, he doesn't have a job, he doesn't do anything except, you know, drink whenever to, I think that it's just to kill the pain.

STUCKY: Three hundred miles south of Cross Lake, in downtown Winnipeg, Victor Schroeder, Chairman of the Board of Manitoba Hydro, acknowledges what the power company did to the Cree people.

SCHROEDER: Certainly, if we were to do it over again it would not be done in the way that it was done. The basics can't be undone. How do we now go forward?

STUCKY: Manitoba Hydro is owned by the Canadian government. Gary Doer, the Premier of the province of Manitoba, says with the new board of directors at Hydro and his liberal government, the Cree will be treated fairly.

DOER: Our cabinet has already decided that there will not be any dams built unless there is economic opportunity for aboriginal people. That's a difference. That's a change. And long overdue.

STUCKY: While the Cross Lake Cree are holding out against the government and Manitoba Hydro, there are other bands of Cree in Manitoba who support going along with hydropower expansion. Four other bands have signed new agreements and received millions of dollars in compensation. There are already new jobs, houses, and roads. And according to Victor Spence of the Split Lake Cree, his band is negotiating a stake in any new dams.

SPENCE: We are doing it in a different way, a little more diplomatic, negotiating instead of the ways of confrontation and conflict.

STUCKY: But that's a sell-out, according to the Cross Lake Cree, who refuse to go along with any new deals. Cross Lake Cree leader Tommy Monias.

MONIAS: We're not asking for dollars. All we're asking is implementation of that agreement. Clean the debris. Clean the standing dead trees. Stabilize the shorelines. Yes, it will cost money, because that's what they said they're going to do.

STUCKY: Tommy Monias sees this as a question of right and wrong, and he's delighted to have allies south of the border who agree. But according to other Cree in Manitoba, activists and environmentalists from the United States have their own narrow agenda in mind. Joe Keeper is a Cree from the Norway House Band, which is dealing with Hydro. He has little time for the Twin Cities protest.

KEEPER: If the United States, people from the United States are that interested in our plight, why the hell didn't they come up here 35 years ago to help us? Right now, the Split Lake Cree and others are trying to work out an arrangement with Hydro so that they can get some benefits from their own land. Now if suddenly this is stopped, the people that are going to be hurt, in the final analysis, are the Cree.

STUCKY: Joe Keeper is reluctant to criticize the Cross Lake Cree, but says their refusal to negotiate is risky. The best course, according to Keeper, is to negotiate a settlement and come away with at least something. The alternative: to be stuck eternally in court. But for the Cross Lake Cree, land cannot be negotiated. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is expected to decide soon on the pending contract between Excel Energy and Manitoba Hydro. With the high-tech economy booming, it's predicted, without significant new sources of energy the Midwest demand for electricity will outstrip supply within ten years. For Living on Earth, I'm Mary Stucky in Manitoba, Canada.

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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 David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supporting reporting on western issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; and the Ford Foundation, striving to preserve our ecological values.

(Music up and under)

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: hauling logs and hacking weeds. Wilderness Volunteers in Idaho help preserve the environment. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


The Living on Earth Almanac

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy

(Music up and under: "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree")

KNOY: Around this time of year, people start looking forward to Halloween and all that candy. Fortunately for our teeth, October is also National Apple Month. Since their first harvest in ancient Asia, apples have been linked to health and well-being. In fact, wise King Solomon once dubbed the apple "the fruit of healing." Ancient Romans spoke of apples that guaranteed eternal life. And magical golden apples in Britain banish pain and injury. Such myths spawn superstitious healing practices like this cure for warts: Rub a sliced apple on the afflicted area, tie the fruit back together, bury it, and goodbye warts. One fourteenth century clergyman prescribed a diet of apples and milk for every ailment. It's no surprise that the phrase, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" was first uttered in England. These days the sentiment is still considered sound advice. Research shows apples are loaded with anti-oxidants, which help prevent heart disease, cancer, and strokes. Apples also rid your mouth of 95 percent of the bacteria that cause tooth decay. So, if King Solomon were still around, he would likely leave us with this piece of Halloween advice: Polish up a Macintosh after you've polished off your trick-or-treats. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Wilderness Volunteers

KNOY: In a new report, the U.S. Forest Service is calling for changes in how people use national forests. The plan calls for limiting the use of trails when they become damaged by over-use. The Forest Service report suggests that recreation sites in need of repair be identified and funding sought for restoration. Maintaining our public recreation areas is already the goal of one organization. Wilderness Volunteers is a national service group dedicated to taking care of America's wild lands. Jyl Hoyt from member station KBSX spent a week with some of these volunteers in Idaho's Sawtooth Wilderness. She has this report.


HOYT: Former college football star John Sherman strides up the trail to Sawtooth Lake in south central Idaho. The 57-year-old president of Wilderness Volunteers is worried about what he sees.

SHERMAN: One of the major causes of habitat destruction or ecological destruction in wilderness areas are actually recreationists. Strangely enough, it's people who in some ways love an area to death.

HOYT: In their rush to enjoy nature, people trample down stream sides, spread invasive weeds, and take shortcuts off the trail.

SHERMAN: And what really needs to be done is, these shortcuts have to be made impassable so that folks stay off them and grasses and shrubs and things start coming back. And the erosion is controlled.

MAN: This back end is heavy.

HOYT: Twelve wilderness volunteers aged 20 to 66 are repairing the damage.

(Equipment clinks)

HOYT: They drag old, fallen trees and dead branches to the side of a steep zigzag trail, creating barriers that prevent hikers from shortcutting the path. Some of the logs the volunteers gather weigh 600 pounds and take four people to move.

MAN: Ready? One, two three.


MAN: Okay, we're not too bad.

MAN 2: This isn't too bad.

MAN: Okay, watch, the stump. We've got to have the stump clear this thing here. You guys got it?

HOYT: Because access is easy and the mountains are spectacular, hordes of hikers march through here from spring to late fall.

MAN: David, are you okay, there?

DAVID: Yeah, I'm doing great.

MAN: Okay.

HOYT: The trail weaves through grassy meadows interlaced with fast, icy streams. Beaver ponds reflect the 11,000-foot razor-edge peaks that give the Sawtooth Wilderness its name. But land managers say the entire hillside here could wear away if the erosion is not controlled.

VOLUNTEERS: (Singing) Take to captain. (Grunts) Take this log dog (Grunts) Take to captain. (Grunts) Take him I'm gone, gone, tell him I'm gone.

HOYT: The volunteers adapt an old work song to praise a Depression-era tool nicknamed the log dog. Since no chainsaws or motors are allowed in wilderness areas, the log dog is an asset.

MAN: Got it!

HOYT: It's a contoured wooden pole with a clamp that makes logs easier to lift.

MAN: Watch yourself.

MAN 2: Watch your head, make sure you have it.

MAN 3: I'm going to come over on the back side.

MAN 2: Make sure that dog is on.

HOYT: David Brooks, a manager at Microsoft in Seattle, says Wilderness Volunteers offers him an escape from his highly technological life.

BROOKS: You get caught up in office politics and beating the competition and making some deadline, and you lose track of the natural environment and how important it is to our daily life. Even to those of us who live in the city.

LANG: It's kind of like you're getting a guided tour for a lot less money. You know, you have to do some work, but it's still a guided tour, in essence, that people pay thousands of dollars for.

MAN: Swing.

HOYT: Michelle Lang waits tables in New York. She, like the other volunteers, paid $198 for the week. That includes food. It's a lot cheaper than most other service groups, plus she gains something invaluable.

LANG: It's amazing, the strength that you have within yourself, that you never realized that you had before. You know, to be able to carry a whole tree by yourself is pretty incredible.

HOYT: This Idaho trip is one of 30 that Wilderness Volunteers is sponsoring this year. There are expeditions to Oregon, New Mexico, Utah, Hawaii, and six other states. There, they'll restore habitat, fix trails, and pull invasive weeds, jobs that federal workers used to do before Congress cut back budgets in recent years.

MAN: Okay, last log.

(Various voices, humming)

HOYT: In three-and-a-half days of work, volunteers hauled more than 100,000 pounds of logs, shrubs, and branches along two miles of steep trail. They call over a Forest Service employee to give a final okay for their work.

MAN: What do you think, Chris?

CHRIS: I think, officially, that looks wonderful.

MAN: Okay, you guys. Awesome. Whoo!

(Clapping; singing: "Hallelujah!")

HOYT: Now comes the fun.

MAN: Okay, where is the deepest spot? I think this is it right here. Okay.

(Shouting and splashing)

HOYT: A quick dip in an icy stream before a dinner of curried rice. A long night's sleep. Then the volunteers prepare to backpack six miles up to Alice Lake for three days of play.

MAN: It's been a great trip, so --

MAN 2: We had a great trail boss.

HOYT: For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Idaho's Sawtooth Wilderness.

MAN: One more morning. One more thirty minutes.

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(The groups applauds)

KNOY: Just ahead: Ralph Nader talks green. We'll hear the Green Party presidential candidate's opinions on the election and the environment when we return to Living on Earth.

Now, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

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Health Update

TOOMEY: Here's yet another reason to eat your fruits and vegetables. A recent Japanese study looked at the relationship between levels of Vitamin C in the bloodstream and risk of stroke. Researchers followed the health of more than 1,100 participants over a 20-year period. They found that those with the lowest levels of Vitamin C had a 70 percent greater risk of stroke compared to people with the highest levels of the vitamin. A high concentration of Vitamin C was beneficial even if a person had high blood pressure, a smoking habit, or engaged in very little exercise. However, those risk factors for stroke did diminish the overall benefit of the vitamin. Vitamin C levels can be increased by taking supplements, but researchers said that was a rare practice in this Japanese community. So, the benefits found in the study came almost exclusively from eating fruits and vegetables. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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KNOY: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

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KNOY: You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.

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KNOY: Now, time to hear from you, our listeners.

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KNOY: Clive Rowe listens to us on WNYC in New York City, where he heard our story on location-efficient mortgages. Mr. Rowe says our reporter's claim that housing and transportation are the top two expenses in America is just plain wrong. "The number one expense," writes Mr. Rowe, "is taxation. If we want to help young families own a home, we would do better to cut this huge tax burden and not force them into cities, where taxes tend to be even higher. America is a big country. We do not need to control sprawl. We need to control government."

John Borowski heard our interview with reporter Tom Reed about the reasons behind Japanese whale hunting. Mr. Borowski, who listens to KLCC in Philometh, Oregon, says there's no excuse for killing whales. "Maybe," he writes, "the Japanese are trying to catch up to the American track record of abusing native populations of wildlife."

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We welcome all your comments. Our listener line is 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

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Ralph Nader

KNOY: Ralph Nader, the Green Party presidential candidate, is running hard in this year's race and is attracting record numbers to his political rallies. Mr. Nader aims to visit all 50 states on his campaign trail and invigorate progressive voters. But despite his efforts, the anti-corporate candidate's poll numbers are low, and he was iced out of the televised presidential debates. Ralph Nader spoke with me from his campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C. I asked him why he's running for president.

NADER: Because the two parties have basically allowed our government to be hijacked by big money interests and big business. And that means our democracy's been weakened. And that means we're not solving problems and preventing injustice that we're fully capable of addressing and resolving.

KNOY: Mr. Nader, how do you feel you've been treated by the media?

NADER: The local media's pretty good, but the national media is still in a winner-take-all, two-party duopoly mindset. And they get third parties of significance in a Catch-22. If you don't go up in the polls, you don't get mass national media. You don't get national media, you don't go up in the polls. If I got on the presidential debates, all bets are off in terms of who would win this election. But it's really tough to fight entrenched two parties who command the money, command most of the media, and command the statutory barriers that they erect to try to keep third party candidates off the ballot in state after state.

KNOY: You've said, Mr. Nader, that there's not a shred of difference between Republicans and Democrats. I think you've called them Republicats or Demapubs or something. Give us some examples of how there isn't any difference between the two on certain issues.

NADER: Well, I'll give you a whole list of examples. They don't have different interests on cracking down on corporate crime and consumer protection. In the area of corporate welfare, they're all on the same page. They're all pushing these subsidies, giveaways, handouts, bailouts to big businesses. Their agricultural proposals for distressed rural life and farmers who can't make a living because the price of wheat, corn, and soybean are so low, they don't have anything different on that. They're arguing over how much more military expenditure ten years after the demise of the Soviet Union, instead of reducing military expenditures. And they don't have a really coordinated policy to abolish poverty, especially child poverty. And in the civil rights, civil liberties area, it's really hard to tell them apart, believe it or not.

KNOY: What about the environment, Mr. Nader? As you know, Al Gore is making himself out to be the environmental candidate.

NADER: There are a few differences there. I think in the public lands, the Democrats are better than the Republicans. However, I think that, you know, both of them are content to go along with subsidies for nuclear power and oil, gas, and coal industries. Both of them are not making a major foray for solar energy. Both of them are soft on pesticide regulation. And both of them are for the anti-environmental WTO, NAFTA, and letting the auto companies have a holiday from improving their fuel efficiency standards. Now, there may be marginal differences in some of these areas, but they don't amount to the enormous number of issues of concentration of power and wealth, where the Republicans, Democrats, are just the same.

KNOY: And in terms of your own environmental platform, sir, what specifically would you do?

NADER: I would announce a major mission to expand solar energy, which in so many ways is ready to go and actually going in certain places in our country. Like wind power, like solar thermal, like biomass, and the photovoltaic prices, which are dropping, are becoming more competitive. I would expand organic agriculture to reduce the devastating pollution on the farms, and try to curb all these factory farms that are concentrating so much waste, the hog farms and the cattle farms. I would also allow the growing of industrial hemp, a great textile food, fiber, fuel plant. I would put a regulatory framework around biotechnology, which is now rushing forward without answering the key questions in bioscience itself. And of course, I would change the international trade agreements so that they leave the environment alone and don't subjugate it to the dictates of international commerce. Make the auto companies catch up all these years of neglect and move toward much higher fuel efficiency standards, not only for pollution control but to help family budgets. Those are some of the starters for a real environmental platform, which emphasizes that environmental advance is another word for efficiency in the use of natural resources. It's another word for making our economy more productive and less causative of cancer, respiratory ailments, other diseases, and property damage.

KNOY: Mr. Gore has gotten the endorsement of groups like Friends of the Earth, organizations that would seem to agree with you. How do you feel about that?

NADER: That's true, and I've, you know, worked with Friends of the Earth. And you know, I've heard an earful over the last eight years of how distressed they are about the betrayals and broken promises and weakness of the Clinton-Gore environmental programs. But again, they're going for the least worst. If you have a least worst mentality, if you settle for the bad because the other party is worse, then you'll just legitimize both parties getting worse every four years. And there comes a time when they both flunk. One party, the Democrats, may get a D plus. The Republican Party may get a D minus. They both flunk. We can do better. We deserve better.

KNOY: Why did you decide to run with the Greens instead of running within the Democratic Party itself? The concept of reforming the party from within?

NADER: Well you know, Bill Bradley tried to do that. And I don't think this party is internally capable of reform. I think it has to be provoked and challenged from outside. And I wanted a political campaign that went all the way to November, because after November we will have millions of voters for the Green Party ready to build an even stronger party, and ready to be a watchdog on the two parties in Washington.

KNOY: Is that a goal of your campaign? To boost the Green Party to the point where they can fulfill that role as watchdog?

NADER: Yes, definitely. Because that's a win-win, you see? Unlike running in the primary, if you lose you go home and prepare your endorsement speech for the person who you deplored for weeks on the campaign trail. We are going to win in a whole variety of ways. We'll win a significant third party, and we will win the biggest political rallies of the election year by far. And we'll win with tens of thousands of people, many of them young people, going into progressive politics. And they're going to be the leaders of the next generation.

KNOY: I have to ask you the spoiler question. And I'll ask it this way: what would you say to a liberal voter who likes your positions on the issues but is afraid that the vote for you essentially amounts to a vote for Republican George Bush?

NADER: Well, I would say wait until the day before the election. If you live in states where Bush or Gore are going to landslide one another, Texas--Bush, New York State--Gore, then you can safely watch the least worst win and vote for the Greens in terms of a watchdog function, and to send a message to the least worst that they should really try to be better. That is about 40 states where either Bush or Gore are going to win big. In the close states, you can ask yourself, do you want your Senators and Representatives to vote their conscience in Washington? If your answer is yes, ask yourself why you don't vote your conscience? Do you want to waste your vote on two parties that have been wasting our democracy? Or do you want to vote your hopes, your dreams, not your fears? Do you want to vote for a better America, a new progressive politics? Like so many of our forebears did when they broke through the routine of the least worst mentality.

KNOY: Ralph Nader is the Green Party's presidential candidate. Mr. Nader, thanks a lot.

NADER: Thank you very much.

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It's Not Easy Being Green

KNOY: The Green Party hopes Ralph Nader's candidacy can boost its overall political clout this November. Already, the Greens hold political office in 18 states. In California, 30 Greens now hold elected office, including a smattering of mayors, city council members, and planning commissioners. Still, as Living on Earth's Nathan Johnson reports, Green Party candidates are finding that breaking the two-party hold on higher office is a daunting task.

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JOHNSON: At the opening of their new campaign headquarters near downtown San Francisco, hundreds of Green Party members are celebrating, listening to live music and snacking on the vegetarian buffet. A T-shirt for sale sums up the crowd's mood. It reads, "Bush and Gore make me wanna Ralph." Ralph Nader state campaign director Ross Mirkarimi is reserving most of his irritation for Democrats. He says the progressive left wing just can't rely on them any more.

MIRKARIMI: You know, we cannot suffer every four years by hoping that they're going to rise to the occasion and then they don't. The time has got to the point where we'll swing that green hammer, you know, non-violently, but we'll swing that green hammer to the point where our impact is felt.

JOHNSON: Mr. Mirkarimi says people are wrong if they think the Green Party is only about delivering Ralph Nader to the White House.

MIRKARIMI: It's not just about Nader and winning in the election in November, but it's about the impact we will make on municipalities around the country so that where Green Parties exist now they will be strengthened. And where they don't exist, they shall be created.

(Audience applause)

BENJAMIN: So we call for an end to all commercial logging in the national forest. That's the Green Party platform. It should be the platform of any politician who loves this earth.

(Whoops and applause)

JOHNSON: Medea Benjamin is a Green Party candidate running for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Dianne Feinstein. She's one of the nine Green Party candidates who will be on the ballot in California this November. At a campaign stop in Nevada City, she's addressing a crowd of about 100 people, speaking over a solar powered PA system.

BENJAMIN: There are many ways that we can stop the cutting down of our forests...

JOHNSON: Medea Benjamin should do well among forest activists like these, but she's moving beyond the traditional core of the Green Party, making inroads with groups like the United Farm Workers of America. Groups that cling very closely to the Democratic Party.

BENJAMIN: The first time I went to the central valley, the United Farm Workers didn't want anything to do with me. Second time, they were a little nicer. The third time they put me on their radio show, Radio Campesino.

JOHNSON: The problem is that groups that are the natural constituency of the Greens, like minorities and organized labor are skittish about voting for someone with little chance of winning. Plus the Greens just don't have the organization or, quite frankly, the money to be very competitive yet. Audie Bock knows all about being and underdog. She shocked almost everyone last year, beating a former Democratic mayor of Oakland for a seat in the state assembly. Being the first Green ever elected to state political office led to some awkward moments, like when she pointed out to her colleagues that she deserved to be on the rules committee.

BOCK: Well, you know, it says here that so many members of the minority party will serve on this rules committee. Well, I am the member of my minority party, so I should be on this committee, shouldn't I? And they just laughed, because this was impossible for them to conceive of. That they actually had to deal seriously with a third party.

JOHNSON: Ms. Bock actually left the Green Party earlier this year to become an Independent. She says she didn't leave over political philosophy. Her positions on the issues haven't changed. She left for financial reasons.

BOCK: Let's say you want to send out three different kinds of messages by mail to your constituents. That right there is going to cost you $100,000. (Laughs)

JOHNSON: By dropping her Green Party affiliation, she could get on the ballot through a signature drive. She wouldn't have to run in a costly open primary, and can save her limited funds for November's general election. When it comes to fundraising, candidates like Audie Bock have a tremendous disadvantage. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than 99 percent of all political donations in California went to Democrats and Republicans. In the most recent election cycle, that was about $109 million. Third party candidates combined collected only $450,000. It's a system the Green Party tried to expose in Ralph Nader's famous MasterCard spoof.

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ANNOUNCER: Grilled tenderloin for fundraiser: $1,000 a plate. Campaign ads filled with half-truths: $10 million. Promises to special interest groups: over $10 billion. Finding out the truth: priceless. There are some things money can't buy...

JOHNSON: Most Green Party candidates can't afford ads like this. And even if they could, some like Senate candidate Medea Benjamin prefer a more robust debate.

BENJAMIN: I just talked to a consultant. He was one of the guys who helped get Jesse Ventura elected. And he said to me, "Are you running TV ads?" And I said, "No, I don't have the kind of money to run TV ads. And plus, I don't like TV ads. You know, those 15-second spots? We're trying to do something different. We're running a grassroots campaign. We have many, many volunteers." He stopped me and he said, "You're not doing TV ads? You don't have a campaign." And I said you know, this is what's so wrong with the system.

JOHNSON: With so many obstacles in the way of the Greens, it's fair to ask if they even make a difference. Professor Jack Citrin teaches American politics at the University of California at Berkeley.

CITRIN: Yes. I mean, in a certain sense, these parties are not electoral parties. They don't succeed as electoral parties. But to the extent that they do succeed, they succeed in changing the political agenda out of fear that if these ideas are not absorbed that there might be some factional splits within the party.

JOHNSON: But some Greens are not content to simply have their ideas absorbed.

HAMBURG: I think there are people out there who think that we can use the Green Party to nudge the Democratic Party. I am not of that ilk. What I'm interested in is being part of a new political start.

JOHNSON: Dan Hamburg, a former United States Congressman, quit the Democratic Party in 1996 to become a Green. Two years later he ran for governor and lost. But he says in local races, where it's easier to reach the voters, Green candidates are winning with ideas. He says labor rights, environmental protection, and campaign finance are popular across the political spectrum.

HAMBURG: The Green Party positions are very appealing, not particularly radical. If you really got down to what the majority of people in the state of California want, it's pretty darn close to the Green Party platform. It really is.

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JOHNSON: On college campuses like here at the University of California at Berkeley, the Greens are proving they can attract young voters. And this could bode well for their future. But in the meantime, the Greens will have to be content with small victories in city and county elections, where money is not a decisive factor. And of course, what everyone in the party is hoping for is that Ralph Nader pulls in five percent of the popular vote in the presidential election. If he does, the Green Party will be eligible for about $13 million in federal matching funds. And this could keep the party's momentum going for at least another four years.

MAN: Ralph Nader in San Francisco tomorrow. Thursday, last chance to hear Nader speak for weeks.

JOHNSON: For Living on Earth, I'm Nathan Johnson in Berkeley.

MAN: You've always wanted to hear Ralph speak in person. Why get him in the debates when you can hear him in person? San Francisco state...

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KNOY: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: Survivor, Maine style. Researchers live on an isolated island to study marine wildlife.

WOMAN: Out here, it's kind of like you're living in your own world. And you're somewhat connected, but you're not. And you're just so immersed in your work that going back is kind of like wow, I really don't like being here one bit.

KNOY: Life on Mount Desert Rock, next time on Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, and Bree Horwitz. We had help this week from Carly Ferguson. Alison Dean composed our themes. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is our science editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. Steve Curwood returns next week. I'm Laura Knoy. 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 W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

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