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

December 1, 2000

Air Date: December 1, 2000


Clinton Rules / Elizabeth Shogren

With President Clinton's term coming to an end, a number of rules and regulations are being brought forward for finalization. LA Times reporter Elizabeth Shogren talks with Steve Curwood about how they may effect the environment. (04:00)

GM Suit / Amy Jo Ehman

In the first lawsuit of its kind, the Monsanto Corporation is suing a Canadian farmer for patent infringement. Monsanto says the farmer planted its genetically modified (GM) seed without paying for it. The farmer says the seed must have blown in on the wind. Amy Jo Ehman reports from Saskatchewan. (07:55)

Business Update / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

China hopes Beijing will be the site of the 2008 summer Olympics. But as Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports, first, the city must clean up the air. (00:59)

International Environmental Issues

Host Steve Curwood talks with Living on Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard about global environmental developments. (05:50)

Hurry Up / Linda Tatelbaum

Commentator Linda Tatelbaum reflects on the state of a professor’s life. It’s getting more digital, more remote, and faster every day. (03:50)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about hydroponics. Sixty-five years ago this week, the first commercial hydroponicum opened, growing crops in water. (01:30)

Human Natures

Host Steve Curwood speaks with scientist and author Paul Ehrlich. Mr. Erlich acknowledges the importance of genetic evolution, but believes it is a concept called cultural evolution that truly determines who we are. (05:55)

Health Update / Diane Toomy

Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a California study in which scientists are exposing human volunteers to an industrial pollutant to determine its health effects. (00:59)


This week, we dip into our mailbag to hear from our listeners. (02:30)

Montana Mining / Jane Fritz

A look at life in remote northwest Montana mining country. Resident and producer Jane Fritz reports that lack of economic opportunities lead communities there to embrace the promise of new mines, even as they suffer from the failures of old ones. (14:40)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Amy Jo Ehman, Jane Fritz
UPDATES: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Diane Toomey
GUESTS: Elizabeth Shogren, Mark Hertsgaard, Paul Ehrlich
COMMENTATOR: Linda Tatelbaum

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Genetic engineering was supposed to be the big cash cow for agritech companies. Farmers would have to pay a fee every year to use patented seeds. But some growers are fighting back.

SCHMEISER: If the farmer always has to go back and buy seed and pay a license on every acre they use seeds, nothing is under their control. They can dictate who gets the seed, how much you get, how much you pay for it, what chemicals you use. That's giving up your fundamental, basic right as a farmer. You're a serf.

CURWOOD: And others complain of what they call a greater danger: the release of novel life forms out into the environment, where they could have unintended consequences.

WIEBE: This literally and genuinely is a genie out of the bottle, which they will not be able to put back in.

CURWOOD: Also, the environmental game plan for the final days of the Clinton administration on Living on Earth, but first news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Clinton Rules

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. One thing that seems for sure about the current questions about who will live in the White House: Bill Clinton will be moving out in several weeks. And while the clock runs down on the Clinton presidency, a flurry of last minute plays is being called using rules and regulations that could have lasting impact on the nation's environment. Joining me now to assess all this is Los Angeles Times' Washington Bureau reporter Elizabeth Shogren. Hi, there, Elizabeth.


CURWOOD: Tell me, which one of these rules would have the most impact, do you think?

SHOGREN: Well, I think the one that most people would feel is one that would restrict the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel.

CURWOOD: What's important about this?

SHOGREN: Well, what's important is these fumes are very toxic, and they've been linked to cancer and to asthma and to other problems for urban dwellers. And what this measure would do is, it would restrict by about 97 percent the sulfur in diesel fuel, which would then clean up these emissions from these trucks and buses that are in the urban areas and hopefully improve health. Both the EPA and environmental groups have marked it as one of the biggest and most important efforts to clean up air pollution.

CURWOOD: What else is high on the list here, do you think?

SHOGREN: Well, another one that's really important to environmentalists is called the Roadless Initiative for National Forests. And it would prevent the development of roads and commercial logging in the areas of national forests which do not currently have roads.

CURWOOD: I though the Clinton administration just about closed this one out. I guess I have that wrong.

SHOGREN: Well, it is expected to be done very soon. They had support for it from the President. They proposed this measure. But like the rest of the regulations coming down the pike, there is a long process that goes between them being proposed to them actually being finalized. And that's when the public and the interest groups can comment on the regulations before the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted.

CURWOOD: And, Elizabeth, I hear that there's talk about the President designating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a national monument. That he's under a lot of pressure from environmental activists to do that. What are the odds of that happening, and why would that be, from their perspective, a good thing?

SHOGREN: Well, even the Alaskan delegation in Congress, which opposes this move by President Clinton, thinks it's quite certain to happen. And what this would do is it would give additional protections to this swath of wildlife, making it much harder to drill oil there, which many people think a very big threat now that the Bush administration looks like it might be taking over, or at least there's a possibility of that. Bush and Cheney, his vice president designee, have indicated that they would like to have oil drilling in this region.

CURWOOD: Let me just ask you this: how difficult is it for another president to undo these sorts of things?

SHOGREN: It's not something that they can do with a signature. It's something that they would have to work on for a long time. Each of these regulations has been developed through a long rulemaking process, which is specified and can't be avoided. And so, they would have to go through, again, the same kind of rulemaking process to cancel them out.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today. Elizabeth Shogren is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

SHOGREN: Thank you.

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GM Suit

CURWOOD: A dispute between a Canadian farmer and the Monsanto Corporation is making legal history. Monsanto sells a canola seed that's been genetically modified to make it resistant to its popular weed-killer called Round-Up. And they call the seed Round-Up Ready. The Saskatchewan farmer says he never purchased this Monsanto seed, but tests have shown Round-Up Ready canola has been growing on his land. Monsanto has sued the farmer for infringing its patent, but the farmer in turn is suing Monsanto for polluting his fields with genetically engineered seed. Amy Jo Ehman has our story.

(A door shuts, an engine revs up)

EHMAN: It's a winter morning, and the flat open fields of Saskatchewan are dusted with snow. Winter has driven farmers inside.

(A buzzer; the door shuts)

EHMAN: Percy Schmeiser steps into his machine shop, full of parts and tools. Today he's sharpening the kitchen knives.

(A sharpener runs)

EHMAN: Schmeiser farms 1,400 acres near the little town of Bruno in the heart of the Canadian prairie.

(Sharpening continues)

EHMAN: For 50 years Schmeiser hand-picked his best canola seeds and used traditional methods of breeding to produce a canola that was hardy and resistant to disease. The 69-year-old farmer believes it was better than any canola on the market.

SCHMEISER: Canola was my heart and soul. I always had good luck with canola. And you know, I had farmers as far away as Montana come and visit me, how to grow canola.

EHMAN: Two years ago his luck with the crop ran out. The agricultural giant Monsanto accused Schmeiser of illegally growing its genetically-modified canola. Farmers who grow Monsanto's canola must pay for it and sign an agreement promising not to save the seed for replanting in future years. Monsanto's agents collected samples from Schmeiser's fields and there was no denying it contained their gene. The company sued him for patent infringement and is demanding about $300,000 in lost profits, court costs, and penalties. Schmeiser was not apologetic. If Monsanto's gene was in his fields, he says it must have been an act of nature. It could have blown in on the wind. He says even bees could have cross-pollinated his fields. He offers this analogy.

SCHMEISER: If your neighbor has a purebred herd of cows and you've got a scrub bull, and through negligence your scrub bull gets in and impregnates or puts into calf your neighbor's purebred herd, you're responsible. What Monsanto is saying in my case, if their scrub bull gets into my herd of cows, they don't only want the offspring, they want the cows, too.

EHMAN: But knowing now his crop contained Monsanto's gene, on the advice of his lawyer, Schmeiser sold all his canola seed.

SCHMEISER: That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life, is to get rid of seed that you've really put your heart and soul into.

EHMAN: There is no sympathy for Percy Schmeiser at Monsanto. The company would not be interviewed for this story. But Craig Evans, a manager at Monsanto Canada, spoke with reporters outside court last June. He says the percentage of Monsanto's gene in Schmeiser's fields was too high to be chalked up to an act of nature.

EVANS: What's happened here wasn't an accident. That this didn't happen by wind, it didn't happen by bees, it didn't happen by seed spilling off trucks. And I really think what we have here is a Round-Up Ready canola grower who simply didn't pay.

EHMAN: Evans says Monsanto must be aggressive to protect its investment in this new seed and the investment of farmers who purchase it.

EVANS: Growers have told us that they want to be treated fairly. And if somebody is getting this seed for free and this technology for free, it's just not fair.

EHMAN: Monsanto has accused hundreds of farmers in Canada and the U.S. of violating patent laws by growing its genetically-modified seed. Most of those farmers paid Monsanto an out of court settlement. But not Percy Schmeiser. He's got a few other tough fights under his belt, including, he says, three attempts at Mt. Everest and one crossing of the Sahara Desert. He has filed a countersuit accusing Monsanto of polluting his land, and is demanding more than six million dollars in damages.

SCHMEISER: Because they put something into the environment that they knew they could not control. They had no intentions of controlling it; now it's out of control. So, who's responsible?

EHMAN: To police its patent, Monsanto hires private detectives and asks farmers to report anyone they suspect is growing this canola illegally. Monsanto says it received several calls about Schmeiser but he doesn't know who turned him in.

SCHMEISER: Like, farmers tell me that, you know, they're offering a leather jacket to squeal on his neighbor and all that kind of stuff, you know. So I don't think too many people are wearing Monsanto jackets. (Laughs)

WIEBE: This literally and genuinely is a genie out of the bottle, which they will not be able to put back in.

EHMAN: Nettie Wiebe is the former president of the National Farmer's Union in Canada. She has followed the Schmeiser case because, she says, it raises questions about the release of genetically-modified seed into the environment without the ability to control its spread.

WIEBE: These organisms replicate. It's not even like chemical pollution, where you can think about cleaning it up. So that's one of the things that we just haven't accounted for, is how intricate, how complex, how mobile natural organisms are.

(A door creaks open; voices)

EHMAN: Schmeiser is not waiting patiently at home for a verdict in this case.

(Several voices; creaking door)

EHMAN: He's been taking his message of farmer's rights around the world at the invitation of nonprofit groups who admire his stand against an agricultural giant.

SCHMEISER: I've been in India, in Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, England, Luxembourg. And now I'm going to Bangladesh. And when I get back, I'm going to New Zealand and then to Australia.

EHMAN: Schmeiser is a vocal opponent of the kinds of agreements that Monsanto demands of farmers. Agreements, he says, threaten the age-old tradition of saving seed from one year for planting the next.

SCHMEISER: If the farmer always has to go back and buy seed and pay a license on every acre that he seeds, well then, he's under their control. They can dictate who gets the seed, how much you get, how much you pay for it, what chemicals you use. That's giving up your fundamental, basic right as a farmer. You're a serf.

EHMAN: Schmeiser is funding his court fight with donations and his retirement money. If he loses this battle, he says he may have to sell the farm.

SCHMEISER: I probably maybe could have settled with $4,000 or $5,000. Now it's cost me $160,000 already in lawyers' fees, about $40,000 out of pocket...

EHMAN: As Schmeiser talks, he picks up a small golden statue from the table. It's an image of Mahatma Gandhi. It was presented to him in India in recognition of his fight for the rights of Third World farmers.

SCHMEISER: You know, I'm pretty proud of it. It's something that Monsanto can't take away from me. (Laughs)

EHMAN: He says Gandhi had a saying when people demanded change in the world.

SCHMEISER: And he answered that and said, "You are the change." So, I don't want to be a hero or a saint, but if I'm putting into this, and I put my heart and soul into it, you see.

EHMAN: A decision in this court case is expected soon. Whether the judge finds in favor of the corporate giant or the defiant farmer, it is likely to be appealed to a higher court. For Living on Earth, I'm Amy Jo Ehman in Saskatchewan, Canada.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: India's high court renders environmental decisions that have touched off riots and protests. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this environmental business update with Anna Solomon Greenbaum.

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Business Update

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The Chinese capital Beijing is on the short list of contenders to host the Olympic Games in 2008. But first, it needs to prove that its notoriously thick smog won't affect the athletes' performances. In July, the International Olympic Committee visits to check out the city, and Beijing officials are getting ready. They've ordered the Capital Iron and Steel Company, one of China's largest manufacturers, to cut production and shut down several coal-burning furnaces. On windy days there will be no major construction work, to prevent dust clouds from blowing in and around the city. And cars face new emissions standards. The Chinese are planning to spend up to $20 billion to get the city into sparkling shape. At least as sparkling as its contenders, which include Paris and Istanbul, two cities with their own share of pollution problems. That's this week's business update. I'm Anna Solomon- Greenbaum.

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

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International Environmental Issues

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Although at times it may be hard to remember, there is more to current events than the election wrangling in Florida. Joining me now to talk about recent developments on the environmental front is Mark Hertsgaard, Living on Earth's political observer. Hi, Mark.


CURWOOD: Mark, tell me about what's going on in India. I understand that workers there have taken to the streets in New Delhi to protest a Supreme Court ruling about pollution. What's the story?

HERTSGAARD: Tens of thousands of workers, Steve. And owners of the factories involved. The Supreme Court of India has ordered that thousands of small factories in New Delhi be shut down because they are polluting the air and the water. New Delhi, of course, is among the most smoggy cities in the world, and the Supreme Court has been trying to deal with this for years, trying to get these factories shut down. The local government has been resisting. It's a classic kind of dilemma, poverty versus the environment in the Third World. On the one hand, you've got terrible pollution coming from these factories. On the other, a lot of these workers say "hey, the $55 a month that I earn here is what keeps me and my two children alive. How dare you shut these factories?"

CURWOOD: What's the answer here?

HERTSGAARD: You've got to have a different approach to development. It's not necessary to put people to work with dirty industries, but you've got to get new capital in there to start investing in things like solar power and energy efficiency. And go in a new direction. And so far, that is not at all what we're seeing in India.

CURWOOD: Now, the Supreme Court in India has been busy with another environmental ruling as well. I understand that they decided that construction can continue on the controversial Narmada River Dam project. What's going on with that?

HERTSGAARD: Well, that, too, has brought thousands of people into the street. There's been a six-year hiatus on the construction of that dam because of legal challenges. The Supreme Court finally said you can go ahead, this is a matter for the local and state government. That government has been highly supportive of the project, and in fact, they declared a half a day holiday to celebrate the findings. But there's 320,000 people who live in that valley who will be flooded out when that dam goes through, and they're going to continue to fight this, without question.

CURWOOD: Now, Mark, the World Commission on Dams issued a major report about them. It's something that I guess came from the World Bank in fact. What does it have to say about big projects like the one on the Narmada?

HERTSGAARD: It's highly critical, surprisingly critical, I must say, Steve. This is a major report, the World Commission on Dams, that was initiated by The World Bank under pressure from activists around the world saying, "Why are you funding these big dams? You have to at least do an independent review of whether they're working." That review took two years. It drew on people from the industry, from activists, including the local activists fighting Narmada. And they came out and said it's true that big dams have given us benefits like electricity and irrigation. However, most of these benefits have been overstated. Most of them have gone to the already privileged parts of the society. And above all, these benefits have come with far too many damages, depriving people of their livelihoods, depriving them of their homes, and enormous damage to the natural environment in terms of loss of species, loss of forest and agricultural land. That's a rather extraordinary finding from a group that was, as you say, impaneled by The World Bank, which has funded so many of these big dams around the world.

CURWOOD: What are some of the specific recommendations that they're making here?

HERTSGAARD: The World Commission on Dams is recommending that, in the future, you have to secure public acceptance of a dam before you build it. That means you have to go to the people who are going to be affected and get them to agree. You have to also assess the real needs and explore alternatives to big dams, in particular increasing the efficiency of existing projects. One of the groups who's been very much out front on this, the International Rivers Network, said that if these criteria had been in place through the last 50 years, we wouldn't have any of the big dams that are out there now. And the U.S. Export-Import Bank has informally said that they will be adopting the Commission's guidelines and pushing the European development banks to do the same. If that happens, it's inconceivable that you will continue to see international capital flowing into all of these controversial projects. So I think that if that happens, this is going to be the end of big dam projects throughout the world.

CURWOOD: And speaking of The World Bank and the other international financial agencies, it was a year ago that all the demonstrations were against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. How has that movement aged?

HERTSGAARD: I think that movement is now trying to find its feet. After making a very big splash a year ago in Seattle, it has not been able to really get people out into the streets. Nor has it been able to articulate a coherent critique of what they want to do instead. Seattle was very successful in putting WTO on the agenda. But what you've got to do now if you're that movement is to say, here's what we want to do instead. And that, I think, will be the test of their progress in the future, whether they can come up with a compelling alternative to the current dynamic of globalization.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. Always a pleasure, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

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Hurry Up

CURWOOD: Commentator Linda Tatelbaum is a little busier than usual these days. She teaches English at Colby College, and she says that high-speed, high-tech everything is finding its way even into the once sedate soul of academia.

TATELBAUM: I was the last one to give up purple ditto masters at the college where I teach. I still prefer climbing into the library stacks. I demand hardcopy from students. I don't do attachments, or surf the Web. My problems began with the friendly info-tech guys, who are always trying to make me catch up. They haven't a clue they're dealing with an old hippie who doesn't know an ATM from a hole in the wall. They're fooled by the briefcase.

They were assisted by the librarians, who scorned me for my aversion to information. But it was our secretary who shamed me into it. She'd send out attachments to the whole department, even though we're all on the same corridor. Sitting in my office I'd watch helplessly as my sluggish computer downloaded the unreadable document, then crashed. She cajoled me into a newer word processing program.

This meant, number one, that I don't know what I'm doing any more, and spend my once-productive workday calling for help. It also required giving up the old computer that sat quietly in one corner of the desk. Now I'm dwarfed by a monitor that hums and blinks. I can't see out the window any more. It's not just the old computer but my vintage 1950s plastic desk chair that had to go, lest the ergonomic police convict me of a workplace hazard. They've got me bolted into a padded, rocking, rolling armchair that's hard to get out of, but why would I want to when I can click my way through a workday without ever leaving my chair?

This upgrade frenzy is intended to make us more productive. Instead of wasting hours advising students in person, I can now clear them to sign up for courses online. With the time saved I could correct papers, but there's no longer any space on my desk. I could read, but I have e-mail to answer. That's all right; I'm used to taking papers home. It's quiet at home. Or, used to be. I do have a solar-powered computer and Internet access, but we're selective about our technology. Twenty-five years using hand tools makes us wary of one thing leading to the next. Like how getting electric lights makes dirt show up better, necessitating a vacuum cleaner instead of a broom.

It comes as no surprise that the work upgrade has outmoded the home system. The home computer can't read documents created on the work computer. And the work computer won't accept disks from home. The old modem chugs and sputters when I check e-mail, which I have to because students expect an immediate reply. And goodness knows they're paying for it. Even a junior living in Nepal, who rides a bike to the one computer in her village, demands a timely answer to frantic questions about next year's courses.

So I ante up for a faster home computer. Spending less time waiting for the download gives me time to load the wood stove or stir a pot of beans, or take out the compost. But guess what? I'm behind again. The info-tech guys are plotting another upgrade. They're putting more of our professorial functions online. Soon, perhaps, I'll be teaching extra courses from home, by posting lessons on the Web and holding e-conferences in the middle of the night. After all, the Internet never sleeps. So why should I?

(Music up and under: graduation music)

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Indeed. Linda Tatelbaum lives in Appleton, Maine, and is the author of "Writer on the Rocks: Moving the Impossible".

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(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for reporting on science in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, for reporting on western issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; and the Ford Foundation, striving to preserve our ecological values.

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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: you can't change human nature, the saying goes. But, Paul Ehrlich says, human nature does change. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Ready to plant those vegetables? Here's a checklist: seeds (Ding), plenty of light (Ding), soil (Buzzer).

(Whispered echoing voice: "What is life?")

CURWOOD: Dirt, sun, even the great outdoors are not needed if you grow plants indoors with a sun lamp and immerse their roots in nutrient-laden water. It's called hydroponics, and 65 years ago this week the first commercial hydroponicum got going in California, where else? And the technique is still an economical way to garden. Plants grown indoors need fewer or no pesticides. And weeds? Forget about it. Hydroponics also require less water than traditional growing. The water and fertilizer can be carefully controlled and recirculated. And since plants don't need to work so hard searching out nutrients with their roots, they devote more energy to growing foliage and fruit. But soilless gardening is not modern scientific magic. The hanging gardens of Babylon were likely a hydroponic showplace. And the ancient Aztecs cultivated floating gardens on lakes. Nowadays, home gardeners can grow just about anything hydroponically: the indoor solution for a green thumb stymied by winter. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Human Natures

CURWOOD: The recent mapping of the human genome will go a long way in telling us who we are and who we may become, both as individuals and as a species. Scientist and author Paul Ehrlich acknowledges the importance of this event and the genetic evolution of the population. But he also believes that the key to unlocking our future may lie within a concept he calls cultural evolution. In his new book, 'Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect,' Paul Ehrlich explains that to understand how society works, we must first understand the difference between cultural and genetic evolution.

EHRLICH: Cultural evolution is change in the vast body of non-genetic information that human beings possess, and that can go on extremely rapidly. Cultural evolution is going on while I'm talking to you, because the wiring in your brain is changing if you're remembering what I'm saying. Not only that, besides being able to pass information on to my children, my grandchildren can pass information on to me. Plato can pass information on to me. Cultural evolution can go on essentially instantaneously and in many directions and across wide distances. So it's very different from genetic evolution.

CURWOOD: Why is it so important, then, for us to have a fundamental understanding of both genetic evolutionary history and cultural evolutionary history, if I can use that term?

EHRLICH: Yeah, sure. I think that it's extraordinarily important at this time, because, as you know, I and the rest of the scientific community are very much concerned with the so-called human predicament which generally is environmental. That is, we are wrecking our life support systems at a very rapid rate. But which includes things that some people don't think of as environmental as very unfortunate changes in our epidemiological environment, that is our ability to deal with novel diseases, for instance. And also, with the nuclear war situation, which is not as peaceful as many people would assume. So, the scientific community is very much concerned and understands a lot about negative trends in our general environment. But what we don't understand is how we get into it, why we persist into it, and how we can change. And that shifts the focus right back to cultural evolution, because the only way we can change in a reasonable time is by changing our cultural evolution.

CURWOOD: What role does cultural evolution play in determining who we are?

EHRLICH: I think cultural evolution is the main determinant of who we are, if we're asking who we are relative to other individuals in our society. That is, there is very little actual genetic variation between groups. There is genetic variation between individuals, but most of the variation we see from individual to individual is the result of their experiences in a cultural environment. And so, cultural evolution is absolutely critical to understanding our individual natures.

CURWOOD: Can you give me an example of trouble we've gotten into ignoring the phenomenon of cultural evolution?

EHRLICH: One of the problems we've gotten into ignoring cultural evolution is the population explosion, because people should have realized, and we should have studied more thoroughly, the fact that if we were going to intervene to lower death rates around the world by using such things as pesticides and antibiotics, that if we did not change our cultures, we were going to have many, many more people surviving. And that would lead to a population explosion. We ignored that. Gradually, we have corrected it because people have looked over the last 30 or so years into the kinds of factors that will bring down birth rates, and we've actually seen a positive cultural evolutionary trend, which has worked toward seeing to it that more women are literate, making sure that contraceptives are available, giving job opportunities to women. But if we had been thinking about cultural evolution, we wouldn't have had this enormous increase in numbers of people, which has put us in such a bind today.

CURWOOD: Now, how has the lack of evolutionary knowledge gotten us to where we are today in terms of the environment?

EHRLICH: Well, lack of evolutionary knowledge, for example, has pushed us to the point now where we have strains of tuberculosis we cannot fight with antibiotics, because they're resistant to all known antibiotics. That didn't have to happen. We could have made our epidemiological environment much more satisfactory if all MD's and all people were thoroughly familiar with evolutionary theory. Because the results we've had, the problems we're having, both with bacteria and with insect pests, were very largely avoidable if people had understood how resistance to our weapons evolves.

CURWOOD: In your book on page 329, you have almost an "I Have A Dream" speech about this notion that we could save ourselves. And what we need now to get us out of the human predicament is conscious evolution. What do you mean by that?

EHRLICH: I think we need conscious cultural evolution because when we just let it go in all different directions with our very diverse societies and all the factors operating on them, with for example globalization of the economy but ethnic fragmentation at a different level in our society, we need to face our cultural evolutionary problems more systematically. Because our ability to do culturally, that is our technologies, are evolving so much more rapidly than our ability to understand and our ability to make the many ethical decisions that we're going to have to make.

CURWOOD: Paul Ehrlich, your book is called "Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect." What is the human prospect as far as you're concerned? Are you an optimist? Are you a pessimist here?

EHRLICH: I am very optimistic about what we can do. We have wonderful brains. We have extraordinary cultures. There is nothing standing between us and a reasonably sustainable society. Not a utopia, but something much better than we're heading for now. I tend to be rather pessimistic, though, about whether we'll get our act together and do it.

CURWOOD: Paul Ehrlich's new book is called "Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect". Thanks for taking this time with us today.

EHRLICH: It's been my great pleasure.

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CURWOOD: Just ahead, your letters and comments. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

CURWOOD: Now, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey

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Health Update

TOOMEY: At Loma Linda Medical Center in California, people are popping pollution pills. It's part of a study involving the chemical perchlorate, a substance found in rocket fuel that's turned up in some drinking water supplies. The EPA is considering setting limits on the amount of perchlorate allowed in drinking water. Exposure to the chemical can affect the thyroid gland, but not a lot is known about its low-level effects. Paid volunteers in the study get a daily dose of perchlorate that's 83 times greater than the amount allowed in drinking water by the state of California. Critics of the study say exposing people to industrial chemicals is unethical. Researchers counter that perchlorate can be considered a drug because in rare cases it's used to treat thyroid conditions. The study has also drawn fire, since it's funded by Lockheed-Martin, which makes rocket fuel containing perchlorate. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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

You can hear our program any time on our Web site. The address is www.loe.org That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us as letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And just ahead, a look at the life and near-death of a town and its links to mining and logging. But first...

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CURWOOD: It's time for your comments.

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CURWOOD: Listener Aimar Damon heard our interview with Vicki Spruill about the ecology of dining on fish. Mr. Damon didn't expect to find out that wild Pacific salmon are a better choice than their farm-raised counterparts. He writes, "I was surprised to learn that the salmon I eat twice a week is not healthy. I stopped eating most bovine products five years ago and have been buying farm-raised salmon from my local supermarket, thinking I was doing the right thing, both for the endangered salmon and for me."

We reported last week on the political consequences of Al Gore's silence in the debate over Florida's Homestead Airport. The airport has garnered a lot of opposition from environmentalists. But Peter Munsing, who listens to WHYY in Philadelphia writes, "It's sad to hear the environmentalists in Florida be so parochial and narrow-minded that they would allow a Bush victory because Gore didn't meet a test of political perfection. When "President Bush" has the jets flying into Homestead and increases offshore drilling, logging roads in the forest, kills any attempt at getting anywhere near the Kyoto goals, and weakens the Clean Air Act, environmentalists who voted for Nader or who didn't vote can say, "Boy, we sure showed him."

Finally, when Waterloo, Iowa resident and KUNI listener Debbie Kyler heard the National Geographic Expedition we aired last week, she picked up a pen and wrote, "Now that we know that it's our behavior that's causing global warming and the destruction of the Earth's ecosystem, I didn't understand the point of the journey of Mike Fay into the unexplored territory of the Republic of the Congo. Why can't we just leave unexplored ecosystems alone?"

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

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Montana Mining

CURWOOD: In many rural communities in the west, traditional natural resource economies like logging and mining are giving way to service industries that cater to tourists, retirees, and entrepreneurs. And in some places, change hasn't come easy. When a big timber company moves on or a mine closes, there's often little for unemployed workers to do. Producer Jane Fritz spent the last two winters living near the small towns of Troy and Libby in northwestern Montana. Her neighbors, mostly loggers and miners, shared their personal stories of hard luck and health in the boom and bust western economy.

DON DAVIS: Dee killed this one. This was her first buck. Her first, and it's a four-point mulie. And it's a dandy buck. It's bigger than any mulie buck I've ever gotten. It was her first deer.

DEE DAVIS: We had all of our kids with us...

FRITZ: Don Davis and his wife Dee live at the foot of the Cabinet Mountain Range in a comfortable house purchased when times were good. Hunting trophies of deer and elk hang on one living room wall, and dozens of family photos on another. Dee is a stay-at-home mom. Don is looking for work. Like many men born and raised here in Lincoln County, his first job was as a logger. He became a hard rock miner when the multinational mining company ASARCO opened their silver and copper mine in Troy in 1980. Don was one of hundreds of local laborers who took the job hoping for better wages and job security.

DON DAVIS: When the mine started it looked like it was a chance to go to work and work for 15, 20 years, without any problems of shutdowns. And a lot of us had never mined before. The whole romance of mining, it's somewhere in a man's soul, we weren't going to hit it rich but we was making it good.

FRITZ: But the good times didn't last. Rich mineral veins thinned out to a lower quality of ore, and then metal prices plummeted. ASARCO shut down production years earlier than projected. Over 300 miners lost their jobs.

DON DAVIS: It was quite a shocker because we'd had a meeting prior to the shutdown, and they said we're not going to have a shutdown but don't go buy any new homes. And two weeks later the shutdown was announced. It was devastating, too. You think you've got the world by the tail and you come home and you're out of work, it's -- you know, where do I go next? What do I do next?

FRITZ: This wasn't the community's first experience of dashed hopes. During the early 1990's, 700 workers lost their jobs when the Champion sawmill closed. And 150 when W.R. Grace abandoned its vermiculite mine. A few lucky people found other jobs. But most of the displaced workers and their families relocated to other western states, drew unemployment, or went on welfare. These closures take their toll, Dee Davis says, especially on family life.

DEE DAVIS: There's a lot of husbands leaving their wives and their kids here while they'll go and work, and on their days off drive 300, 400 miles to come back home, stay a day or two, then turn around and go back. Because this is a great place to raise your family.

FRITZ: But a lot of families don't survive the busts. Lincoln County has some of the highest alcoholism, domestic violence, and divorce rates in the state. Lately there's been talk of reopening the Troy mine, and ASARCO has proposed a controversial new silver and copper mine in the Rock Creek drainage of the Cabinet Mountain wilderness. Don and Dee Davis would like the Rock Creek mine built.

DON DAVIS: It was so much more beneficial to Troy than any harm that it caused. When the mine was going, and you could go down to the school and look at the type of kids that were going to school, and they were all miners' kids, they were dressed nice. They were well-behaved. Folks were making enough money; everyone was planning on kids going to college. And you can go down there today and see a whole bunch of ragamuffins.

FRITZ: But the Davises also worry about the impacts of another premature mine closure.

DON DAVIS: They start the Rock Creek mine. Everybody gets going wide open and everybody's bought new homes and they're all doing super and the kids are in college, and the price of silver drops to three dollars. And they say, "Sorry, boys, we've got to shut it down." That always hangs there. The bigger corporations any more, all they have to answer to is their stockholders and the bottom line. And that is upsetting.

FRITZ: The allure of extractive industry is that it brings good-paying jobs, boosted tax revenues, and better schools. But after several cycles of boom and bust, people have learned not to expect much.

CARR: If you want to live here, you're going to have to lower your standards as far as what the company once paid you to get by.

FRITZ: Like Don Davis, Dallas Carr worked at the Troy mine and was one of the last to be let go.

CARR: You can eat that when you get home. No, you are before dinner and everything. You can eat your Snickers and your Fruit Roll-ups and your chips. Then you eat your sandwich last; I'm not unpacking, buddy.

FRITZ: Now his wife works and he runs the household. He's in the kitchen finishing lunch with his sons Dane and Dylan.

CARR: I don't want to see the environment go to hell, but we definitely have to have something happen here, or this town is on the downswing.

FRITZ: Without big industry, Dallas might have to settle for a low paying job at the local grocery store.

CARR: I might have to work at Rosauer's as a box boy. I don't know. (Laughs) What do you think of that?

CHILD: I don't really like it.

CARR: Well, if I keep you home and the rest of the kids around here, it's something I've got to do.

FRITZ: Working in a mine is hard on the body. Dallas is recovering from a neck injury he got at the Troy mine. But few people in Lincoln County were prepared for the human health tragedy resulting from the defunct W.R. Grace vermiculite mine. Recent investigations link the mining operation to more than 100 deaths from asbestosis. Hundreds of former employees and their families have the debilitating respiratory disease, as well as some who use the asbestos- contaminated vermiculite in their gardens, or as insulation in their homes.


THOM: That's for Lareks [phonetic spelling]. All right, 120 bucks. All right, thanks a lot.

MAN: You betcha.

FRITZ: Leroy Thom worked 17 years for the Grace mine. He now owns a machine and fabrication shop in Libby. So far, Leroy has been luckier than many of his friends.

THOM: Some of these other people that have it, you know, they have 40, 50 percent of their lung capacity now. In their late 40s and early 50s. I've got one friend that bought a motor home to travel with, and now he can't even travel. People ask, well, go, why don't you go and file a claim against Grace or sue Grace, you know. He says, "I don't need the money. I need the time." He isn't going to have it. He's going to die.

FRITZ: Leroy Thom was the last president of the labor union at the Grace mine. He says he feels betrayed by the company.

THOM: As more and more stuff comes out, it indicates that Grace knew a lot more about the asbestos than they ever let anybody know. It's a shame that it was done for money. There is no amount of money that covers a lie. It's pathetic is what it is, you know?

FRITZ: Has that changed your feelings at all towards mining?

THOM: No, I don't think that it actually has. There's a vigilance now that watches these, because they've done this in the past. They've done it and they got away with it. That will never happen again, because there's too much of society that looks on this stuff. There's too many watchdogs that's constantly going to be there to make sure that they do things right.

FRITZ: His trust in government regulatory agencies, most corporations, and environmental groups give Leroy Thom enough confidence to want the Troy mine reopened, and the bigger Rock Creek mine built.

THOM: From a business standpoint I am very much in favor of it. They're not going to come in just to be a nice guy. They're coming in to make a dollar. You know, it's not a matter of humanity, it's a matter of dollars and cents.

FRITZ: Some loggers and miners are finding other ways to make a living. Ross Stapley of Troy is 42 and has five kids and a grandson to support. He used to work for ASARCO. But now that jobs are scarce, he's been working the land, hunting game, selling firewood, and picking huckleberries. Doctors tell him a congenital spinal disease will land him in a wheelchair if he continues doing any more manual labor.

STAPLEY: I ain't giving up. I'm going to continue to beat myself to death if I have to, because I've got people that need to be taken care of. It's going to cost me in the long run. I mean, I hurt for it. I hurt continuously for it. But it ain't like the pain I've got inside from not being able to give my children what I want to give them.

FRITZ: After some job training, Ross Stapley has started a mobile knife and tool sharpening business. He'd like to see the mines open up.

STAPLEY: It would give me an opportunity to sharpen tools for them. I could take my business and put it to work for ASARCO or for Rock Creek, either one. My business ain't nothing spectacular, but I'd be able to do something for them and still make a halfway decent living, maybe.

FRITZ: Like his father before him, Ross is teaching his young son, Rock, how to live off the land. But he's also encouraging him to learn computers in order to survive the modern world.

STAPLEY: My son told me here the other day when he was driving down the road that he wanted to make a living the way his dad did. And I told him no. Get into computers where you got something you can count on and look forward to in the future. Because it is one hard, hard chunk of life to live.

(Falling rock)

MARTIN: This is rivette formation quartzite. And this is the very rock that the copper and silver ore accrues in.

FRITZ: Like Ross Stapley, Bill Martin of Troy has adapted creatively to Lincoln County's changing economy. For almost 20 years he worked in the timber industry as a tree planter. Now he's a stonemason. He also founded a local conservation group.

MARTIN: As I heard someone say recently, "Well, if you're busted, boom and bust might not be so bad. At least you've got a boom in there." It's sad, and people are scared, they're frightened. You know, it's like an addict coming off of whatever their drug is.

FRITZ: Bill Martin thinks maybe the only way people here will end their dependency on mining and logging is to hit bottom. He says this is what happened in the Butte-Anaconda mining district. Its economy was in decline until it collapsed. But today the area lures tourists off the interstate to its world class golf course built over reclaimed mine tailings.

MARTIN: And that's what needs to happen here. And I don't have an answer, I can't say what's happening. But I can just look at Butte, at least, and a few other places, and say well, they're hardy people. They're going to do something. And it'll be better, if it's not dependent on something that's in decline.

FRITZ: Attracting tourists to isolated Troy and Libby will be more difficult, says fellow conservationist Bob Zimmerman, a third-generation Lincoln County native. He says nearly all the elected officials here are strong supporters of the mining industry, and haven't done much to encourage other types of businesses.

ZIMMERMAN: Without really strong leadership, I don't see things being much different. Maybe a generation will have to pass before, as a community, we can sit down and really work together.

(Man on mike introduces a musical group; the group plays)

FRITZ: Despite the stresses of an unknown future, people here still know how to have fun. At the Troy Hot Club, an old-fashioned family gathering place that serves up trendy espressos and good local music, the young mix with the old and talk about the future.

(Ambient conversation and music)

VOLKEMAN: Mining, be good if a mine came in. If we could take advantage of it and get, like, a new gym and stuff for the school.

FRITZ: Barrett Volkeman is a junior at the Troy High School. He wants the community to create better-paying jobs, as long as environmental quality isn't compromised.

VOLKEMAN: Oh, when ASARCO came in, they gave the school money because they're taking something out that can't be returned. It's gone forever. We have some of the best computers in the area because of it.

(Music performers finish up to applause)

FRITZ: Also enjoying the music and his latte is one of the town's highly-esteemed old-timers, 85-year-old Ford Cripes. Over the years his small wood products ventures employed a lot of locals. He survived the town's rough and rowdy beginnings through to its industrial peaks and sharp declines. I ask him about the belief of the Kootenai Indians, the first peoples here, to plan for seven generations into the future.

CRIPES: Suppose I didn't look as far down the road because I was absorbed with what I can do now, knowing that I had to get it done and that life is going to change. The change is really spectacular. I would say we have no idea what people seven generations down there will want. I don't think we should be speculating on it.

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FRITZ: But conservationists worry that without planning for the future-- at least a dozen other mining claims are pending in the Cabinet wilderness -- Lincoln County is doomed to repeat the bruising cycle of boom and bust. Still, people here live in one of the most beautiful river valleys in the west, rimmed by mountains that seem to hold them here, beyond the precious metals they contain.

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FRITZ: For Living on Earth, I'm Jane Fritz.

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: as many as 300 million computers are headed for the landfill in the next few years. But one software company is taking those old computers, giving them an upgrade, and sending them off to school.

MAN: Every time you trash a computer, you trash someone's chance at computer literacy. And that's literally the case.

CURWOOD: Recycling computers to bridge the digital divide, 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, Carly Ferguson, and Milisa Muniz. We had help this week from Stephen Belter. Alison Dean composed our themes. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. And Diane Toomey is our science editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our 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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