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

February 15, 2002

Air Date: February 15, 2002


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Bush on Climate Change

(stream / mp3)

President Bush has announced his plan to address climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Host Steve Curwood talks with Eileen Claussen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Eric Holdsworth of the Edison Electric Institute about this alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. (11:30)

Health Note / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a study about how mild depression among the elderly can affect their immune system. (01:15)

Almanac: Underwater Oasis

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This week, we have facts about an underwater oasis, discovered twenty-five years ago, that re-defined the origins of life. (01:30)

Killer Compost

(stream / mp3)

Gardeners in the Pacific Northwest are having a problem with contaminated compost. Some of the compost contains an herbicide that kills plants. Host Steve Curwood speaks about the problem with Seattle Times environmental reporter Lynda Mapes. (04:20)

Mammoth Ski / Robin White

(stream / mp3)

A ski developer brings a quiet California resort into the 21st century. Skiers now want modern airports, nice restaurants and lots of snow made with scarce valley water. Robin White reports fishers, hunters and other longtime residents of Mammoth feel the leather of their community stretch tight. (08:40)

News Follow-Up

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New developments in stories we’ve been following recently. (03:00)

Technology Note / Cynthia Graber

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a way to use electricity to put the brakes on at the ski slopes. (01:20)

Listener Letters

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This week we dip into the Living on Earth mailbag to hear what listeners have to say. (02:30)

Bird Books / Bruce Barcott

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These days, nature bookshelves are lined with birds guides of all shapes and sizes. Reviewer Bruce Barcott takes on three heavy hitters in the ever-burgeoning world of avian anthologies. (03:25)

Audio Walks / Alison Lirish Dean

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Canadian artist Janet Cardiff has created a number of "audio walks" in a few select places on the planet. The "walks" are intricate and intimate soundscapes of places and events through which Cardiff guides the listener by using pre-recorded messages and audio images. Alison Lirish Dean profiles Cardiff and her work. (09:00)

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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Robin White, Bruce Barcott, Allison Dean
GUESTS: Eileen Claussen, Eric Holdsworth, Lynda Mapes
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The long awaited U.S. response to the Kyoto climate treaty, rejected by the White House last year, was unveiled on the 14th. Its blend of voluntary measures and tax incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is drawing both praise and criticism.

HOLDSWORTH: We think the plan is a welcome change and in fact reflects a far more realistic way of addressing the climate issue.

CLAUSSEN: I think the energy intensity target the president talks about is really just business as usual.

CURWOOD: Also some museums are offering audio surrealism. Put on the headphones and let yourself be swept away.

CARDIFF: Sometimes I think there are so many choices in life, that sometimes it's nice to just give it up and say, "Okay, for 15 minutes now, I'm just going to listen to this woman's voice and follow her footsteps."

CURWOOD: Those stories and more this week, on Living on Earth, right after this.


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Bush on Climate Change

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. When the Bush administration rejected the Kyoto treaty on global climate change last year, it said it would offer an alternative. On February 14th, the president finally unveiled his plan to address greenhouse gas emissions. He said the problem with the agreement that almost every other nation has endorsed is the economy.

BUSH: The approach taken under the Kyoto protocol would have required the United States to make deep and immediate cuts in our economy to meet an arbitrary target. It would have cost our economy up to 400 billion dollars, and we would have lost 4.9 million jobs.

CURWOOD: The president said his plan will use a voluntary system of greenhouse gas reductions by industry and nearly five billion dollars in tax incentives for industry and consumers.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty ImagesGeorge W. Bush makes remarks on climate change
and clean air during his visit to the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration on February 14, 2002.
(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

BUSH: Our immediate goal is to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions relative to the size of our economy. My administration is committed to cutting our nation's greenhouse gas intensity - how much we emit per unit of economic activity - by 18 percent over the next ten years. This will set America on a path to slow the growth of our greenhouse gas emissions. And as science justifies, to stop and then reverse the growth of emissions.

CURWOOD: With me now to discuss President Bush's remarks are Eileen Claussen, the Executive Director of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the former assistant secretary of state for President Clinton. And Eric Holdsworth, who is Director of Climate Change with the Edison Electric Institute, an association of investor-owned companies that represents the majority of power generators in the US. Thank for joining me.

CLAUSSEN: It's a pleasure to be here.

HOLDSWORTH: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Now from your perspective, Ms. Claussen, what's the good news here in the president's announcement?

CLAUSSEN: Actually I think you have to look long and hard to find very much good news. I think the energy intensity target the president talks about is really just business as usual. Greenhouse gas emissions have been declining per unit of economic output for the last two decades, and his proposed objective would continue that same trend.

CURWOOD: Mr. Holdsworth?

HOLDSWORTH: Well, we think the plan is a welcome change and in fact reflects a far more realistic way of addressing the climate issue: allowing for flexibility and continued economic growth which will help spur and continue the flow of capital, which will lead to the investment and development of the next generation technologies, which are really in the long term perspective one of the most critical areas to address in looking at the issue of climate change.

CURWOOD: Ms. Claussen, tell me how does the president's proposal compare to the targets set by the Kyoto agreement, which would have meant cutting greenhouse gas emissions to seven percent less than what they were in 1990, over the next ten years?

CLAUSSEN: Well, when we calculated what it might mean in terms of actual emissions, we believe that by 2012, which is the end of the first budget period in Kyoto, rather than being seven percent below 1990 levels, which I agree was probably not achievable, we would be about 30 percent above 1990 levels. Which, as I said, is really just business as usual.

CURWOOD: By the way, the president said Kyoto would have cost America nearly five million jobs and 400 billion dollars. How accurate is that, Ms. Claussen?

CLAUSSEN: Actually, that's totally off the charts, in my view. And I say that because he really used the economic models with the assumptions and policies modeled that were totally unrealistic and not reflective of Kyoto at all. That said, I think that the economic analyses that said implementing Kyoto would be free or would even be a profit are equally off the mark.

HOLDSWORTH: While I would agree on the analyses that say Kyoto would be free are off the mark, I think there's a wide range of economic analysis that would back up the president's assertion. Certainly that's been our view of this issue for quite a long time, particularly since the protocol was negotiated, that it would have these massive economic impacts. Which is one reason why we have been so resistant to that type of approach and find the president's approach a refreshing change of pace and perhaps a way that we can get at the issue and start reducing greenhouse gases.

CURWOOD: Now, Mr. Holdsworth, ten year's ago President Bush's father initiated a program that was voluntary, like the one that he's talking about now, that asks companies to monitor their greenhouse gas emissions and think about ways to reduce them, what's different in this plan?

HOLDSWORTH: First of all, the numbers that will be reported will be tighter, there'll be stricter methodology applied, which I think will make those numbers more credible to many people. There's a few other important differences. This voluntary program now actually has a goal attached to it. The earlier one was really a way of encouraging companies to go about reporting emissions reductions, here we have a goal of this 18 percent reduction in emissions intensity over the next ten years, that's a different step. And this voluntary program, the reporting program the president has talked about, will also include baseline protection and what's called credit for early action. In other words, making sure that companies that take action now won't be penalized if there is some other type of regime down the road, perhaps a regulatory approach or even a more aggressive voluntary approach. You'd hate to be penalized for taking actions now and perhaps lowering what your emissions base is down the road. You're being a good actor; you should get credit for that. What the president is talking about would do that, we think that's going to really help encourage and spur action.

CURWOOD: Ms. Claussen, I'll come back to you in just a moment, but let me follow up on Mr. Holdsworth here. Eric, I'm a little puzzled here about the signal that the White House is sending to domestic industry by acknowledging the possibility of mandatory emissions cuts in the future. Why not just face this issue right now?

HOLDSWORTH: Well, I don't think they're acknowledging that mandatory approaches are forthcoming. They've indicated future, perhaps reviewing in 2012 where the situation stands and perhaps taking on additional voluntary measures, additional programs. We certainly would never advocate a mandatory approach as is enshrined in the Kyoto protocol. We don't think that's the right way. We feel this is the right approach and the president's sending a clear signal that voluntary initiatives can work and here's a chance for industry to go and show what it can do.

CURWOOD: Ms. Claussen?

CLAUSSEN: Well, I actually think you need to put some of this in perspective. My colleague here from Edison Electric said that the president's program is different because there is a goal. Perhaps he's forgotten that the 1992 Rio Convention, which was negotiated by the first President Bush, actually had a non-binding goal in it as well, which was to reduce emissions in the year 2000 to 1990 levels. And the bottom line of that with all of the voluntary programs that were initiated over the last decade was that our emissions grew by roughly 15 percent over 1990 levels. So we didn't do a very good job of reducing our emissions or meeting our non-binding goal.

HOLDSWORTH: That is correct that the framework connection contains that aim. That wasn't of course linked to the voluntary program here in the US, the way the president has made this link. But it was a goal, but unfortunately it was again looking at an absolute sort of reduction, returning to a certain year by a certain level. This is an approach that looks at the intensity of the emissions, or your amount of carbon per unit of output, which we think is a better metric, and will allow for continued growth while also helping to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

CURWOOD: Ms. Claussen, you work with a number of Fortune 500 companies at the Pew Center, you might mention a couple of those for us, and my understanding is that some companies are already significantly reducing emissions on their own initiative. What are they saying about the White House policy now, and how do they think this will affect their business over seas?

CLAUSSEN: Well, we work with 37 major companies, they range from Alcoa and Boeing and Weyerhaeuser on the one hand to United Technologies to American Electric Power, and we cover almost all sectors, mostly big multinational companies. All of them are engaged in some forms of emission reductions. Twenty of them have real targets and programs in place to meet those targets and some of those targets are really ambitious. I mean much more ambitious than the Kyoto targets. I mean you could look at a company like DuPont who's going to be reducing their emissions 60 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2010 and is well on its way to achieving that goal. Alcoa which is going to reduce its emissions by a minimum of 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. So there are companies that are doing really serious things to reduce emissions. I think the problem is having 27 or 37 or 50 companies that are reducing emissions is just not enough. And I think that's why we look to some kind of a mandatory program as a way to level the playing field and to actually get all of the actors doing what needs to be done if we are actually going to change the trajectory of emissions.

CURWOOD: How does this effect your multinational members of your association as they operate elsewhere around the world which will be under the Kyoto accord if things go as people say?

CLAUSSEN: All of them will have to comply with whatever domestic programs are implemented in countries in Europe or in Asia to reduce emissions. What it really means I think in a negative way is we're not a party to Kyoto and we're not playing in the same game. They won't be able to look company-wide and decide where the efficiencies could be greatest for emissions reductions. They'll have to look only at plants in countries with hard and fast regulations. So for them, it's an inefficiency and like in many other kinds of cases beyond environment, they are going to have one set of rules in one place and a different set of rules in another place. I think from their perspective they'd much rather have a uniform set of rules.

CURWOOD: Ms. Claussen, you're a former Assistant Secretary of State. Japan and the E.U. have been waiting more than a year to hear a concrete climate policy from the Bush administration. How are they responding to this plan?

CLAUSSEN: I think everyone was slightly confused when it was first announced, because they couldn't understand what a greenhouse gas intensity target meant or what an 18 percent reduction in greenhouse gas intensity actually meant. The reports that I've seen and the conversations I've had suggest that not only is this not a substitute for Kyoto, but it's not an ambitious program and it's barely a program at all. I think that's the reaction abroad.

HOLDSWORTH: I wouldn't think that's going to be the case. I think a number of companies are going to welcome this initiative. The president is obviously on his way to Asia to talk to various Asian nations about it. They've already signed some bilateral cooperation agreements with both the Japanese and the Italians, the Central Americans. In fact, I think that as this moves forward he may find a number of companies getting very interested in this kind of approach. A number of the developed countries I think are very fearful of the Kyoto targets and what's that going to mean to their economy and are frankly looking for an approach that perhaps makes more sense in the face of economic growth.

CURWOOD: Eric Holdsworth is director of climate programs with the Edison Electric Institute and Eileen Claussen is the executive director of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Thank you both for joining me today.

HOLDSWORTH: Thank you.

CLAUSSEN: Thank you.


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Health Note

CURWOOD: Coming up, how an herbicide in compost is killing garden plants in the Pacific Northwest. First, this environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: Even mild depression can affect the immune systems of the elderly. That's according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who administered a standard questionnaire to a group of healthy older adults to determine who was suffering from depression. Then they used a mitogen to test the immune system function both at the beginning and end of the year-and-a-half-long study. A mitogen is a plant-derived substance that stimulates T-cell production in the body in the way bacteria or viruses would. Researchers found that those with mild but chronic depression had a 15 percent weaker immune system response compared to those who were not depressed. What's more, the older a depressed person was, the poorer the immune system response. Researchers say that mild depression often goes undetected or untreated in the elderly. But that's a mistake, they add, since chronic mild depression can exacerbate, and even accelerate, the immune system decline that typically accompanies aging. That's this week's Health Note. I'm Diane Toomey.

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

[MUSIC: Eberhard Weber, "Concerto for Bass", ENDLESS DAYS (ECM - 2001)]

Related link:
Center for the Advancement of Health">

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Almanac: Underwater Oasis

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

[MUSIC: Trisome 21, "Magnified Section of Dreams", A MILLION LIGHTS (Play It Again Sam - 1987)]

CURWOOD: Twenty-five years ago a group of deep-sea researchers stumbled on life in an unexpected place. They took a submarine named Alvin on a dive 200 miles northeast of the Galapagos Islands and went so deep into the ocean all natural light disappeared. A mile and a half below the surface they turned the submarine's lights on, and they saw what they expected - a virtual moonscape, devoid of life. At the time, you see, everyone thought photosynthesis was the source of energy for all organisms and where there was no light, there was no life. But as Alvin crept along, a small crab suddenly skittered across the sea floor. The astonished crew followed, the temperature started to rise, and the water turned cloudy. Giant white clams appeared, as well as three-foot long tubeworms and six-inch yellow mussels. It was a huge community, built around a deep-sea hot springs, and the first ever ecosystem discovered to be independent of solar radiation. Instead of photosynthesis, chemosynthesis is the key to life in these hydrothermal areas, and bacteria break down sulphur compounds to serve as food for deep-sea critters. The discovery bent all previous rules for life, and revealed a thriving underworld that was anything but green. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.


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Killer Compost

CURWOOD: With spring approaching, it's time to start thinking about growing vegetables again, but for some folks in the Pacific Northwest there's an unexpected hazard to avoid. Instead of helping plants, some lawn compost is killing them. The culprit turns out to be an herbicide called clopyralid, which is applied to hay and grass that's later turned into compost. Clopyralid has been used since the late 1980s, but mandatory composting programs, in its popularity among growers, make it a pesky problem in Washington State. Lynda Mapes covers natural resources and the environment for the Seattle Times. Welcome, Lynda.

MAPES: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Now, I understand that this contaminated compost has killed garden favorites like tomatoes and beans. Can you tell us about the herbicide that is apparently causing the problem? How is it normally used?

Photo courtesy of Seattle Public Utilities(Photo courtesy of Seattle Public Utilities)

MAPES: It's made by Dow AgroSciences and it is typically purchased by professional lawn care services or by farmers. The point is, this stuff kills weeds very, very effectively and very selectively, in very, very small concentrations. And the problem is, the chemical persists on the clippings, and when they are collected and taken to a composting facility, the chemical persists more than a year and therefore winds up in compost.

CURWOOD: Now, how is it that people find out they have this problem?

MAPES: Well, their plants die. It could be confused with other sorts of problems, such as salinization, but, if you know what to look for, it's unmistakable. The plants twist, and the stems are misshapen. The plant is badly stunted. It won't set a flower. It usually won't make a crop.

CURWOOD: It sounds like what happens to me when I set my plants out.

MAPES: (laughs) You know, it's interesting you say that. One of the reasons folks perhaps haven't seen this problem come to the fore until now is that a lot of gardeners, if things don't go well, they figure, Well, it's just me. And it really could be that more people are actually having trouble with this than is known at this time, because they're not recognizing the problem for what it is - herbicide contamination.

CURWOOD: Now, what does Dow say about this problem? Do they know how long it will persist and what might be done about it?

MAPES: Dow is saying, "We label our product and say clearly on that label that material that's been treated with clopyralid should not be used for compost within one year of application." So basically what they say is, "People are having this trouble because they're not using this chemical in the way that we say it should be used."

CURWOOD: What about the longevity? What evidence is there that, in fact, it goes away after a year?

MAPES: Well, this is the thing. Dow is, I think, as puzzled about this as everyone else, or so they say. The chemical is thought to degrade, if sprayed on soil, within a couple of weeks' time on average. However, in compost, they at this time say they do not know, just flat have no idea, how long it takes for the material to degrade.

CURWOOD: Now, what is all this doing to the composting industry in Washington?

MAPES: It's a mess. There is a lot of concern on the part of the composters because they sell this material to the public and the public, at this point, is wary of a material that's always been regarded as the mother's milk of soil. There's a lot of irony here. Composting has come to the fore as the heart and soul of sustainable agriculture and more progressive sort of lawn management. It's just a big surprise to people that something they've always thought of as being beneficial could potentially be killing their plants.

CURWOOD: Now, what is the State Department of Agriculture in Washington doing about this? I gather that given the level of concern out there that some action is imminent.

MAPES: It's true. The goal is to set new regulations governing the use of clopyralid just in Washington state by April 1, the beginning of the growing season. A draft regulation has come out and it could still change before that date. The chemical is registered by the EPA and it's no easy matter at all to either curtail or in fact ban the use of a chemical once it's registered. But the draft, at this time, as it's currently envisioned, would ban the use of clopyralid on residential lawns. You could still use it in the agricultural applications, where growers say that they really want to continue to have access to this chemical.

CURWOOD: Lynda Mapes is a reporter with the Seattle Times. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

MAPES: You're welcome.

[MUSIC: Ofaria, "Big Bang"]

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Mammoth Ski

CURWOOD: As people have sprawled out from the cities of the mountainous western states, the rural flavor of the region has begun to decline. Ranches and wild land have given way to ranchettes, too small to provide a livelihood. One place that's escaped so far is a little known part of mountainous California where you find old growth trees with trunks eight feet around. Robin White reports that, even there, the pressure is on, as a ski resort reinvents itself to compete with Vail and Aspen.

WHITE: There's a little piece of California that people say shouldn't be in California at all, because it's more like Nevada. To get there from the coast you have to drive hundreds of miles, around to the eastern side of the Sierra Mountains, and in winter, when snow is lying thick in the passes, it can take six to ten hours to get there. When you arrive, there's not much there -- it's a high desert. But one place that people go is the ski resort of Mammoth.


Up in a ski lift, in sideways-driving snow, with snowboarders down below on the slopes, Rusty Gregory, the CEO of Mammoth Mountain, is showing off some of the improvements at the resort.


GREGORY: This is McCoy Station, used to be mid-Chalet, and we put $5 million into it this year and completely refurbished it, and it's about 100,000 square feet here, up on the mountain. Weather's very severe here, as you can see, so we built it in a way that sheltered people from the elements.

Photo: Brad Peatross, MMSA(Photo: Brad Peatross, MMSA)

WHITE: He's pointing to a chalet, which is named for his boss, Dave McCoy. McCoy started the ski resort in 1937. He was a ranger, and he began pulling skiers up the hill using the winch on his forest service pick-up truck. These days Mammoth is trying to lose an image as a down-home destination with shag carpets and rotting A-frames. It's spending millions to create an upscale ski village and this high-class mountain restaurant we're looking at.

GREGORY: It's not as hearty as back in the days when Dave McCoy was starting up. He'd have a campfire and cook during their day of skiing. So, nowadays, the quality of the food and the ambiance is very important, you know?

WHITE: Back in his office, Gregory says developing Mammoth is all about stabilizing the local economy. The mountain town is surrounded by public land and it doesn't have the opportunity to grow. And it's trying to increase income in other ways. A few years ago the ski resort took the plunge and they bought snowmaking machines.


GREGORY: Snowmaking has been a real godsend in terms of the feast and famine nature of the town. Back in 1990-91, Mammoth came very close to being taken over by our banks because we had the third or fourth year in a row of very limited snow and, that year, no snow for Christmas. And when we don't have snow on Christmas, it's a very, very difficult time.

WHITE: But, to make snow, you need water, and here, to get water, you need to pump. A plan for new wells close to the Owens River, north of Mammoth, has made environmentalists and local people angry. Some of them depend on a different kind of tourist economy. Within sight of the ski slopes but 2,000 feet below, the land flattens out and the desert takes over. And out there is an arid meadow and in the meadow a series of ponds, and the ponds seem to boil with a kind of barracuda-like frenzy.


ALPERS: Aren't they beautiful?

WHITE: Tim Alpers is hurling pellets to feed the trophy trout he raises.

ALPERS: These fish range anywhere from two to ten pounds in here, and these are the Alpers trout.

WHITE: The Alpers family's been here since the days when the only skiers were mailmen, crossing the mountains on wooden skis to deliver letters. And Tim's been fish farming here for 31 years.

ALPERS: These are the trout that I stock from this natural wilderness hatchery here, out into all the lakes and a good number of streams in Inyo and Mono Counties. This is what propels the summer fishing economy up here.

WHITE: Tim Alpers is worried that if Mammoth pumps water out of the ground to make snow, it could affect the flow in the Owens River. And that might disturb the trout that come upstream to spawn in the shallow gravels near his land.

ALPERS: All trout need clean, clear cold water for them to survive and reproduce. So we think it's a very delicate system up here, and losing a substantial percentage of that water, we think, could just be devastating to the fishery there.


WHITE: This is more than just a conflict about water; it's a battle over the soul of this place. For a century and a half this has been a kind of rustic old west backwater, full of rodeos and hiking, fishing, and old men who will sit you down and tell you their hunting stories. At home, in a place called Round Valley, a few miles from Mammoth, resident Bruce Klein remembers the deer herd that used to roam here.

KLEIN: When I was a kid and we'd visit here with my grandfather, in the fifties, the Round Valley deer herd, he said, was the equivalent of an event on the Serengeti. This was the winter range for a huge section of deer that came out of the Sierra and would winter here. And perhaps as many as 10,000, perhaps more. Ten thousand deer. That's a staggering number of deer.

WHITE: The deer herd numbers dropped to as low as 800 in the 1980's, because of drought, and now they've come back to about 2,000. But Mammoth's plans call for an expansion of the local airport. At the moment, the airport's just a gravel strip with some sheds and a windsock. The deer pass right through here on their 100-mile migration. But soon, the airport might be handling jets with up to 7,000 flights a year. To make it safe for jets the plans call for fencing the runway, and that might force the deer onto the nearby Highway 395. The airport could change, once and for all, the rural feel of the place, and Tim Alpers says the people who come are just different.

ALPERS: We're seeing a tremendous movement, in the development of Mammoth, a lot of irrigation for golf courses, a lot of projects that have landscaping, a lot of snowmaking. The public that comes up to use these recreation areas now are basically very high-maintenance and they have a high expectation level. And to satisfy high expectations it takes a lot of resource usage.

WHITE: And, in this particular corner of the west, where resources are limited, that means that somebody else has to do without. Not everyone agrees that that's a bad thing. In the nearby town of Bishop, on one side of the street you have Uncle Bill's barbershop, where you can get the fishing report along with your haircut; and across the way, it's the dark and funky Kava Cafe, full of a new generation of skiers and rock climbers and people huddled over laptops. Greg Positery is helping out behind the counter.


POSITERY: I think growth is wonderful for the area. It's been a secret for many years. If people want to come out and enjoy it, they can. And it's going to cost, but it's worth it.

WHITE: And, for some people, it's very worth it. Positery made $100,000 profit recently, when he sold his house in Mammouth. Investment by the ski resort has helped Mammoth house prices almost quadruple in two years.

POSITERY: People just have trouble changing, and that's all it is, it's an area that's going through a change. And people become complacent with the normalcy of what is now and can't project to what could be, as far as progress or future.

WHITE: But a lot of people moved here to the eastern Sierra to get away, perhaps even from change itself. And that's leading local residents to join with environmentalists in a push to designate a section of land right next to Mammouth as federal wilderness. This would protect the area from ever having expanded ski runs. Bruce Klein doesn't like the push to make the land wilderness but he does agree that natural values should come before everything else.

KLEIN: Isn't it up to us, as a community, as caring human beings, to, whatever we're doing, so what. Let's set it aside and take care of the wildlife. I mean, isn't that why we're here? Isn't that part of our identity as people with a connection to the environment?

WHITE: Just to show, though, how interwoven the community is, Klein's wife works as a nurse in Mammoth, and Klein himself wants to be a consultant in the adaptive ski school at the resort. In a poor rural economy like this there are not many choices about how to make a living and the possibility of doing well working for an international ski destination is a lure hard to resist. For Living on Earth, I'm Robin White, in Mammoth Lakes, California.

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

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News Follow-Up

CURWOOD: Time now to follow up on some of the news stories we've been tracking lately. Well, the grades are in for the first nationwide report on school bus pollution. The Union of Concerned Scientists says diesel buses in every state are exposing children to toxic air pollutants. Each state was graded on a curve, and Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia were at the head of the class for their high turnover of old buses. But, according to senior analyst Patricia Monahan, California and Washington state flunked every test.

MONAHAN: These states have a lot of older school buses on the road. These school buses are both major polluters and potential safety hazards.

CURWOOD: The Union of Concerned Scientists is now pushing for federal funding for newer, cleaner fuel technologies in school buses.

A new University of California at Davis study calls the air at Ground Zero the worst the world has ever seen. The study measured very fine particles that would most likely lodge deep in the lungs and cause respiratory illness. The greatest concentration of fine particles occurred in sharp spikes in the plume of smoldering fires at the site. Thomas Cahill, professor emeritus at U.C. Davis, headed the study.

CAHILL: It's worse than downtown Beijing in the winter, when they're burning soft coal for heating. It's three times worse than in the middle of the Kuwaiti oil fields during the Gulf War fires.

CURWOOD: Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency came under attack recently, at a Senate subcommittee hearing, for misleading the public when it announced, a week after September 11th, that the air was safe to breathe.

Three years ago we reported that Rhode Island was the first state to bring a suit against lead paint manufacturers. The state sought to hold manufacturers responsible for lead poisoning in children and was the first to seek reimbursement for lead paint removal in buildings and homes. This week, the state of Rhode Island cleared another hurdle when a Superior Court judge ruled the attorney general could continue with the case to try to prove the lead constitutes a public nuisance. Co-counsel Linn Freedman says children's lead levels are the proof.

FREEDMAN: And we have about 1750 kids to 2000 kids a year showing up with elevated lead levels in their blood.

Photo: Patrick Barth/University of Greenwich(Photo: Patrick Barth/University of Greenwich)

CURWOOD: And finally, from the paleontology front, scientists at the University of Greenwich have unearthed the world's oldest fossilized vomit. It appears that sometime during the Jurassic period, 160 million years ago, a fish-like Ichthyosaur ate too much squid. Scientists found the lost dinner in a clay quarry in England. The clues: a pattern of splatter and etchings of stomach acid in the prehistoric puke. And that's this week's follow-up on the news from Living on Earth.

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Technology Note

CURWOOD: Just ahead, browsing for a better bird book. First, this environmental Technology Note from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: Those who enjoy the rush of skiing down the slopes but worry about uncontrollable speed, may soon be able to get a little help slowing down from electricity. Victor Petrenko, an engineer at the Dartmouth College Ice Research Lab, has developed brakes for skis and snowboards. He's placed two wires under the length of the ski or board. The main wires have branches off them, so the ski or snowboard is covered with a grid of positive and negative charges. These wires are connected to a small battery embedded in the ski and activated by a computer chip. The system works because ice has an unusual property. It forms the opposite charge of the surface it comes in contact with. So, when a wire has a negative charge, the ice forms a positive charge. When the wire is positive, the ice becomes negative. And, since opposite charges attract and stick together, friction increases and the board or ski slows down.

There's another way these wires help control speed. There are tiny ridges on the surface of ice. Applying electrical current melts these ridges, but as soon as contact is broken the ice freezes again. This melting and freezing adds additional friction to slow skis down. Victor Petrenko hopes to have electrically braking skis on the market by 2003. That's this week's Technology Note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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

[MUSIC: Trans Am, "Cologne", ENJOY THE NIGHT (Thrill Jockey - 1997)]

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood, and if you have a pair of headphones nearby you might want to put them on to fully appreciate our upcoming audio walk with artist Janet Cardiff. But first...


CURWOOD: ...time for comments from you, our listeners.

Terry Link's commentary suggesting that newscasts contain updates on ecological, as well as, economic indicators, struck a chord with some listeners. "It always bothers me when I hear the Dow Jones reported as though it were the only thing in the world that merited a daily update," wrote KSMF listener Dave Levine, from Williams, Oregon. "How about a report on topsoil loss on the Great Plains, or a feature on the breeding numbers of Kirtlands' warblers, Blackfooted Ferrets, and California condors?"

KERA listener Kim Smith, from Fort Worth Texas, had a visceral reaction to our EarthEar soundscape last week, of vultures picking away at a zebra carcass on the African plains. "I about shed my skin listening today," she writes. "I screamed at you guys. Then I laughed, jumped up from my desk, stuck my fingers into my ears, started for the stereo, and turned you down for three minutes. Some things, you should warn us about. Y'all, that was just really too much. Good job. Now, quit it."

And finally, our recent Technology Note about pumping nitrogen into bilge water, to prevent rust and kill invasive tagalongs, sounded very familiar to Jim Takos. He hears us on WVPM in Morgantown, West Virginia, and wrote: "I want your assurances that the lead scientist who came up with this idea does not have a patch over one eye, hasn't recently been jilted by his fiancée, and does not know an American reporter who looks like Raymond Burr. Your story sounds a lot like the original Godzilla! They got him with the oxygen destroyer too. Just wanted to check."

[MUSIC: Akira Ifukube, "Suite from Godzilla", THE BEST OF GODZILLA (Crescendo - 1998)]

We welcome all your comments. Call our listener line anytime, at 800.218.9988. Or write to 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. Tapes, CDs and transcripts are $15.00.


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Bird Books

CURWOOD: Whether you're a diehard birder or just enjoy the chickadees outside your window, you may have noticed the large number of bird anthologies at the bookstores lately. There are new field guides on North American birds, South American birds, bird feeders and bird songs. Birds of Texas and birds of China and everything in between. Bruce Barcott took on the task of reading through several of these bird bibles and has this review.

BARCOTT: David Allen Sibley isn't merely a rock star in the birding world, he's the rock star of the birding world. In October of 2000, the publication of his "Sibley Guide to Birds" turned the 39-year-old naturalist into a literary sensation. Starry-eyed fans packed his readings. The national press hailed him as the new Roger Tory Peterson. Bookstores sold nearly 600,000 copies of a book whose characters had fantastic names like Dark-eyed Junco and Western Wood Pewee, but didn't speak a lick of dialogue. What made Sibley's guide so good were his illustrations. More than 6,000 intricately detailed full-color paintings captured birds perched, in flight, and dressed in seasonal plumage.

In the wake of Sibley's success a number of publishers have come out with their own birding books, all trying to out-Sibley Sibley. The most serious challenge comes from Kenn Kaufman, a renowned 46-year-old birder, who dropped out of school at 16 to pursue, and eventually break, the record for sighting the most species of bird in a single year.

The strength of his new book, "Lives of North American Birds," lies not in the illustrations, which consist of digitally-enhanced photographs, but in Kaufman's vivid writing. For example, he writes that Northern Goshawks "take their prey by putting on short bursts of amazingly fast flight, often twisting among branches and crashing through thickets in the intensity of pursuit." Kaufman loves the drama of birding, and it shows.

The new heavyweight champion of bird guides, emphasis on heavy, is the Smithsonian's "Birds of North America." The author is Fred Alsop III, a biology professor at East Tennessee State University, and he packs his guide with more than 930 species, topping both Sibley and Kaufman. It's a well-designed package, but anyone taking the Smithsonian guide along on a weekend outing had better hire a Sherpa to schlep the load.

Not to be outdone, David Allen Sibley has come out with his own follow-up: "The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior." If his first book was a birders' dictionary, this is more of an encyclopedia. His new volume is a collaboration with 44 birders and ornithologists and this authorship by committee gives the writing a clinical, passionless quality. Where Kaufman portrayed the Goshawk as a fiery, relentless hunter, Sibley and company depict the same bird as cool and methodical. "During a kill," they write, "an accipiter grabs the prey with its feet, extends its long legs away from the body to protect its head and eyes, and repeatedly punctures the victim with its long penetrating claws until the prey stops struggling." More than year after the publication of his breakout book, Sibley still rules the birding world.

But if I could take only one guide into the field, I think I'd bring along Kaufman. Sibley could bury me in facts about the subspecies related to the Swainson's Thrush, but only Kaufman could capture the stirring experience of hearing the Thrush's trills curl through the early evening dew.

[MUSIC: Tarika]

CURWOOD: Bruce Barcott writes about the environment for Outside magazine.


Related link:
The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior" by David Allen Sibley

"The Sibley Guide to Birds" by David Allen Sibley

"Birds of North America" by Fredrick Joseph Alsop

"Lives of North American Birds" by Kenn Kaufman">

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Audio Walks

CURWOOD: Taking a walk with someone can be an intimate and personal experience. At least it is if you're walking with Janet Cardiff, and she's not even there, really. Ms. Cardiff is the Canadian artist who about a decade ago began creating a new kind of art installation she calls the "audio walk." You walk with Janet Cardiff by picking up headphones and a diskman at one of the museums sponsoring her work, then follow Ms. Cardiff's recorded directions through streets, parks, wherever she takes you. And, she will take you. Alison Lirish Dean explains.

CARDIFF: Hello. Do you hear me? I want you to walk with me to the garden. Let's go outside.


CARDIFF: Let's walk down the stairs. Try to walk to the sound of my footsteps so that we can stay together.

DEAN: Taking one of Janet Cardiff's audio walks is a bit like being hypnotized.

CARDIFF: It's beautiful here

DEAN: The feeling is at once soothing and disconcerting, as if Cardiff is placing her thoughts in your head.

CARDIFF: Do you see the tree roots?

DEAN: Put on the head phones, hit the play button, put one foot in front of the other, and step into a world that is only partially yours.


DEAN: At first, you might think that the sound of your real footsteps are merging with the recording of Cardiff's walking, as she guides you down into the underground tunnels of a Roman villa, or through a beautifully landscaped park. You have to look up to see if that helicopter is passing overhead...


DEAN: ...or is the sky empty? And those birds, are they real or just in your head, or both?

Cardiff chooses the places she wants to take you for the texture of their environment. "Louisiana Walk #14," for example, leads you through the lush museum grounds of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which, oddly enough, isn't in Louisiana at all, but in Denmark.

CARDIFF: I want to bring you here because I think that something strange has happened to me walking along this path. I've seen and heard things that I don't understand.


DEAN: There's a reason Janet Cardiff's audio walks feel like they're produced inside your head. She uses a special technique, called binaural recording, to play with sound spatially.


Cardiff records with microphones that imitate the way the human ear processes sound. When you listen back through a pair of headphones, the effect is intense and intimate. Cardiff wants to alter and destabilize your everyday perceptions. The result can be disorienting, even frightening.


CARDIFF: Like, perhaps, if someone's looking at a river, what I'll do is I'll take the sound of the water...


CARDIFF: ...that I've recorded, physically recorded, let's say a foot away from the water, and I'll mix it in so that it comes up and it envelopes you when you're listening to it, so it's like you're right beside the water. And it does this kind of disconcerting thing with you see the water and you understand conceptually how far away that water is and how far away the sound effects should be. But, all of a sudden, the sound is right around you.


CARDIFF: Let's go on. Keeping walking along the path.

DEAN: Cardiff's walks are so powerful partly because people don't listen to recorded sound the same way they listen to the sound that is naturally around them. Everything becomes magnified and enhanced. Recorded sounds mix, compete, and coexist with whatever sound is happening in real time, jolting you into a hypersensitive world in which the ordinary becomes the fantastic.

CARDIFF: When we're listening to the environment we filter out probably 90 percent so that we don't hear the car passing, or we don't even hear the birds. But when you record sound, it accentuates everything. In ways, I think it's like having an earphone for deaf people, in that I think everything gets accentuated. You can't just choose what you want to accentuate. And so that, I think in my recordings, when you're in a natural setting and the birds are lower and my footsteps in the leaves are louder, you hear everything, and it heightens your senses.


DEAN: When Cardiff designs a walk, she starts by researching the history of the location. The recordings often contain references to the past. For example, during "Walk Münster", which guides you along streets in Münster, Germany, you hear an old man's voice describe underground tunnels, built to hide books.

OLD MAN: Books and books, art in wooden boxes, eaten by worms.

CARDIFF: Is that in the future or in the past?


DEAN: It's a glimpse of Münster's history: 15th century religious zealots, as well as Nazis, held book burnings in the town. For a walk in East London, called "The Missing Voice," you hear the sound of a bomb, and people running and screaming. It could be a scene from World War II or an account of an IRA attack. It makes you realize how many layers of history any one place can hold.


MAN: The building's crumbling, fire coming out of the windows, the tall pines look like giant torches in the night.


CARDIFF: When you're talking about something that happened in this street, you can embellish it in such a way as to make it seem more potent -- you can add a bit of music in the background -- and all of a sudden this street that seemed like a normal street has a sense of history, has a sense of memory, but also a sense, perhaps, of danger.

DEAN: Danger in that this particular piece of sound has an uncanny ability to transport the listener in space and time. Hearing it on a walk in East London, it would be hard not to think of the events in New York on September 11th.


MAN: The building is crumbling, fire coming out of the windows, the tall pines look like giant torches in the night-


CARDIFF: The whole concept of walking is so much about the future and the past and how, like, every step you take, one step behind you is in the past, and then the step you're leaning towards is in the future. I really like how that relates to how, when you walk over a street or walk over a situation, you can say a few words about perhaps what passed there.


CARDIFF: (whispers) Just a kiss. I didn't realize that the feel of your lips on mine would transfer years when I kissed you. A thin layer of deception between us.

DEAN: Cardiff's walks can evoke memories that sometimes seem too personal. She'll whisper in your ear her most private, intimate secrets:

CARDIFF: (whispering) .On and ever on she danced.


DEAN: Then, fragments of a conversation between anonymous voices leave you imagining who these people might be and what their relationship is to each other.

MAN: A man is walking along the beach, going to the stairs at the right. Call out to him.

CARDIFF: I don't see him.

MAN: He's there.


DEAN: Cardiff is deliberately vague about these details. She says she wants to leave room for people to bring their own experience and memories to the walks.

CARDIFF: It works in a way that is like stream-of-consciousness thinking. But it's very sort of open-ended, too. I try to use ideas of memories that could relate to someone else's memories, or could relate to a film that they've seen, or could relate to something that they can really identify with.

CARDIFF [on tape:] Sometimes you fall into a story, but sometimes you have to take steps to unravel it. It's night. I'm standing in the Domplatz, where you are now.

DEAN: To appreciate one of Cardiff's walks, you must surrender. Let yourself be drawn in by the dead, flat tone of her voice, and the regular rhythm of her footsteps through the amplified headphone speakers. Today, that's not such a difficult thing to do. Part of the reason we're so willing to submit to such an experience is because technology and media are mostly invisible to us now. We're used to the anonymous intimacy of the Internet, or to losing ourselves in the throes of a video game. If we don't have a cell phone to our ear as we go about our business, headphones connected to some listening device are there to whisk us away from where we are. We're eager to let technology take over.

CARDIFF: I see it as almost kind of a cyborg relationship, in that the voice and the CD player are this added technology that sort of extends the listener's whole persona. You feel safe walking along, and you feel guided. It's like a game. And you've given up your power, in ways. And sometimes, I think there's so many choices in life that sometimes it's nice just to give it up and say, okay, for fifteen minutes now I'm just going to listen to this woman's voice and follow her footsteps.


CARDIFF [on tape:] We're connected now, my breath a part of yours, my thoughts transferred to your mind.


CURWOOD: You can take Janet Cardiff's walk, "The Missing Voice", at the White Chapel Library, in London. A new audio walk will open May 12th, in Warth, Switzerland. And a major retrospective of Cardiff's work will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal where it will open on May 23rd. For Living on Earth, I'm Alison Dean.

CARDIFF: [on tape:] Please return the headset to the building. Press stop, now.

[MUSIC: Boards of Canada, "Amo Bishop Roden", BEAUTIFUL (Warp - 2000)]

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week: Goat and soymilk are substitutes for milk from cows. Now, from Israel, comes yet another option.


MAN: Well, they said, even if you could keep a camel in one place, you won't get more than one liter of milk. Even if you can make ice cream from the camel milk, nobody will ever eat it.

CURWOOD: Proving the skeptics wrong. Camel's milk ice cream, next time on Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: We leave you this week with another audio walk. This one: a stroll down the Santa Monica pier. David Dunn made this recording at the arcade, where voices human and mechanical share the night air.

[SOUNDSCAPE: David Dunn, "Santa Monica Pier, California", WHY DO WHALES AND CHILDREN SING? (EarthEar - 2002)]

CURWOOD: Living On Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Jennifer Chu, Jessica Penny, and Gernot Wagner, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Bree Horwitz and Milisa Muniz. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. We had help this week from Rachel Girshick and Jessie Fenn. Allison Lirish Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Ingrid Lobet 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. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change; the National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education; and The Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change.

ANNOUNCER 2: This is NPR. National Public Radio.


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