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

June 7, 2002

Air Date: June 7, 2002



U.S. Climate Action / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey has details on the adaptive strategies included in the Bush administration’s recently released report on climate change. For the first time, the administration blames global warming on human actions, but falls short of calling for reduced emissions. (02:30)

News Analysis

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Host Steve Curwood speaks with Living On Earth's political observer, Mark Hertsgaard, about the timing of and the politics around the climate change report. (04:45)

Global Goals / Gernot Wagner

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Commentator Gernot Wagner looks at parallels between the world’s favorite environmental issue and the world’s favorite sports pastime. (03:30)

Animal Note/Frenzied Ants / Maggie Villiger

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Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on the chemical weapons a wasp uses to get into an ant nest to lay its eggs in a caterpillar hiding inside. (01:15)

Living on Earth Almanac/Firefly Festival

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This week, we have facts about a firefly festival in South Korea. Every year, people of Muju let lightning bugs light up their town. (01:30)

Estate Tax Battle / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

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The Senate will vote soon on a measure that would permanently repeal the estate tax. Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum explains how this could have consequences for the environment. (04:30)

Lessons in Survival / Verlyn Klinkenborg

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Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg found a fox hiding in his barn one morning. He tells the story and how it changed his ideas about the wild. (03:30)

Conservation Cows / Sandy Hausman

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California’s native grassland used to be wide and plentiful, but now only one percent of the land remains. Conservationists are trying to restore the grasslands and now have a bovine ally. Sandy Hausman reports. (04:40)

Gurkha Training

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To combat illegal theft of bird eggs in Great Britain, one conservation group has enlisted the assistance of a special British armed force. Host Steve Curwood talks with Graham Madge, spokesperson for the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. (03:00)

Health Note/TV & Body Image / Jennifer Chu

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Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a study that links television-viewing with adolescent eating disorders. (01:15)

Cyborg Society / Bob Carty

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Producer Bob Carty has the third part of his series, Generation Next: Remaking the Human Race. This segment examines the benefits and consequences of melding man with machine to create cyborgs - people with bodies aided or controlled by technical devices. For modern science, the cyborg is presenting some exciting, and also disturbing, possibilities. (16:00)

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Show Credits and Funders

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Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodREPORTERS: Diane Toomey, Gernot Wagner, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Verlyn Klinkenborg, Sandy Hausman, Bob CartyGUESTS: Mark Hertsgaard, Graham MadgeNOTES: Maggie Villiger, Jennifer Chu


CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. People with extra powers gained from intelligent machines first appeared on TV screens and in science fiction books. But now, science is making them real by connecting brains to computers; think, and the cursor moves. Some researchers say it’s all about helping paralyzed people to communicate. Others want to make a leap in the evolution of humans.

WARWICK: I’m embarrassed, as a human still to communicate like we’ve been communicating. Whereas we know machines can communicate in parallel all around the world in a very rich way. I would like to be able to do that. So, it’s looking to upgrade humans.

CURWOOD: Welcome to the Cyborg Society this week on Living on Earth. Also, why watching TV can lead to eating disorders. And, calling all Gurkhas. Those stories coming up right after this.


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U.S. Climate Action

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. The Bush administration has a new position on global warming. For the first time, the White House admits rising temperatures are largely the result of human activities. This news came in a report the State Department filed with the United Nations and was originally posted on the EPA’s website three links in. Still, it’s being viewed as a sea change, so much so that just days after its release, President Bush made remarks that appeared to distance himself from the document. We’ll have more on that in a moment.

First, Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey has some details on the report that lays out, in stark language, the possible impacts climate change will have on the U.S. and how the nation might adapt.

TOOMEY: To determine the degree of impact, the administration assumed midrange values for increases in temperatures and sea level. But it pointed out, because of uncertainties in the responsive society and the environment, these impacts were likely but not certain.

In any event, it went on to say, "The persistence of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere means the climate will continue to change in this century, resulting in impacts and the need to adapt to them." The Climate Change Assessment focuses on potential effects to land cover, agriculture, forest and water resources, as well as on coastal regions and human health.

For instance, the government says it’s especially urgent to consider sea level rise and its accompanying loss of coastal wetlands and beaches, as well as the storm surge risk it presents to coastal communities, especially in the Southeast. The administration advocates the use of so-called rolling easements, which give naturally migrating beaches and wetlands the right of way over private property owners wishing to hold back the ocean with sea walls. Although it might be decades away, rolling easements mean eventually these properties must be abandoned.

Another impact concerns water shortages. The anticipated reduction in snow pack is very likely to lead to water shortages in the West, an area of the country particularly dependent on snow pack as a water reservoir. Strategies put forth to mitigate this shortage include building new dams, although the government admits these structures are no longer viewed as environmentally acceptable.

The report also makes mention of using market forces to encourage conservation. In other words, raise the price of water. This might be especially difficult as the government tries to balance the interests of everyone from owners of suburban lawns, to consumers of hydroelectric power, to farmers, whose price of water has been kept relatively low through irrigation subsidies.

On both the issue of water shortages and coastal effects, the administration contends that the role of the federal government will be limited, since things like water rights and coastal planning are the responsibility of state and local governments. For Living on Earth, I’m Diane Toomey.

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News Analysis

CURWOOD: Here with us now to discuss the report is Living on Earth’s political commentator, Mark Hertsgaard. Mark, tell me, what’s your analysis here of why this report came out in such an unpublicized fashion?

HERTSGAARD: Well, because it flies in the face of most of what Mr. Bush has been saying about climate change for a while. And if you were paying attention, you saw that the president actively distanced himself from this report. It came out in The New York Times on Monday. By Tuesday, Mr. Bush was dismissing it, saying, Oh, yes, I read that report put out by "the bureaucracy," that bogeyman of so much republican ideology. So, clearly, he’s not on board with this. And one even has to wonder how well it was coordinated within the administration, because it was almost like he was blindsided.

CURWOOD: Well now, how does this report fit into the history of President Bush’s stance on global warming?

HERTSGAARD: Yes. It’s been quite an evolution, you might say, for the longest time. Before he was running for president, he said climate change is not real. There’s no proof of it. Then, when he had to run for president, his advisors convinced him that was not going to fly. So, he said that climate change was real, but there was no proof that humans were behind it. That’s what makes this new report so interesting, Steve, is that now his administration is officially on record as saying that climate change is not only real, but humans are causing it. That’s a big shift for him. But it is only catching up with where the rest of the world was seven years ago.

CURWOOD: Now, the president’s reluctance to embrace climate change has been an issue that environmental activists have dogged him with. What’s their response to this new report? He does say that humans are causing climate change.

HERTSGAARD: Yes. And they’re happy to hear that. They say, well, there’s nothing, you have to admit the problem before you can fix it. So there’s a certain sort of snickering, ‘I told you so’ aspect of it. But mainly, I have to say that they are dismayed by this. I talked to Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, a number of other organizations. And they say, look, how, on the one hand, can the United States say this global warming is a problem and on the other hand say we’re not going to change our energy policies. That is irresponsible. And they plan to hit him very hard on this, not just at the upcoming Earth Summit in South Africa later this year, but presumably in the fall elections as well, going after republican candidates about this issue.

CURWOOD: But on the other hand, Mark, you have to consider that some industry groups say that this report goes way too far. There’s criticism, really, from both sides, you might say. But, where, do you think, in this report might the administration be making a step forward?

HERTSGAARD: I think there’s one very important thing and you don’t hear the environmentalists admit this. But, perhaps unwittingly, the Bush administration has put its finger on one of the central facts about global climate change. And it is the most fiendish part of this problem, which is the lag effect, which is the fact that we as a civilization are now stuck with however much global warming the last hundred years of emissions is going to generate. And that is very, very true. And it is politically difficult. The environmentalists don’t want to admit it because it is almost a paralyzing political fact. Because it says, look, we’re stuck with whatever warming and whatever changes we make today won’t really have an effect on the situation, on the problem, for another 30 years. It’s very much like the ozone hole. Those chemicals are up in the air. And they are going to continue to destroy the ozone layer, even though we stopped producing them ten years ago. The same with global warming. We’ve got a certain amount of it up in the system and there’s nothing to be done about that. And that is why, I think, the Bush administration is trying to get some political cover by saying what we need to do here is focus on the adaptive strategies.

CURWOOD: That sounds awfully discouraging, the notion that we should just focus on adaptive techniques.

HERTSGAARD: Well, it would, Steve, except for the second half of the equation, which is that, if you’re halfway into a raging, flooding river, you don’t go deeper. You try to move back towards the shore. And a number of the environmentalists point out, had we gone solar, and had we gone green energy 30 years ago when a lot of people were first talking about it after the first Earth Day, and so forth, we wouldn’t be facing this kind of problem right now.

So, by no means is this an excuse not to do anything. In fact, it underlines the urgency of moving towards a green energy future. And that’s where, already, the Europeans and some industries are already moving in that direction. And that’s why it’s such a shame, in some ways, that the United States continues its foot-dragging on this vital issue.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth’s political commentator. Thanks, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

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Global Goals

CURWOOD: Most of the world’s nations are enthusiast about it, except the United States. Europeans support it, despite exorbitant costs to their economies. Some governments use it for political gain. And Japan seems to be signing on only for the prestige. We’re not talking about the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. No, it’s World Cup Soccer, underway in Japan and South Korea this month. As commentator Gernot Wagner explains, there are a few parallels between the world’s favorite environmental issue and its favorite pastime.

WAGNER: After last July’s decisive global warming summit in Bonn, The New York Times ran the following headline: "178 nations reach a climate accord; U.S. only looks on." And so goes it for soccer. Billions of people around the planet will tune in the World Cup on TV this month. Only a fraction of them will be in the U.S. Even though at the grassroots level, soccer is a popular sport here. More than seven million youngsters in the U.S. play on soccer teams. Only five million kids play organized baseball.

When you poll most Americans, they’ll tell you the climate change is a real and serious problem. But don’t mention giving up SUVs or paying higher gas prices. Sacrificing is out of the picture.

It’s okay to have kids play the game at the park down the street. But ask TV executives to do without the ads that constantly interrupt U.S. sporting events, and you might be asking too much. Soccer has only one break during its 90-minute run.

On the other hand, consider this parallel between soccer and Kyoto. The U.S. has a knack for developing niche markets that often make sense, but go largely ignored by the rest of the world. For example, the U.S. has long insisted on using market-based mechanisms like emissions trading to cut greenhouse gases. Despite problems with global equity considerations, these trading schemes are a powerful tool in the fight against climate change. In soccer, the U.S. niche is the women’s game. As reigning world champions, women’s soccer is extremely popular in the States, but is often ignored -- even laughed at -- overseas.

Meanwhile, Japan plays a role on the stage of apparent contradictions. Its upper house of parliament unanimously ratified the Kyoto Protocol a few days ago. But overall, the nation’s support for the treaty has been less than enthusiastic. You might say the same about soccer in Japan where baseball players and sumo wrestlers, rather than goalies and strikers, are the heroes. Still, Japan is pouring tons of money into the World Cup, nearly $5 billion alone on new stadiums, which will likely go belly-up when the game is over.

And finally, there are the Europeans. Many EU nations are blindly supporting the Kyoto Protocol, despite predictions of exorbitant costs to their economies. And today, they are paying for the World Cup, too. In Europe, the games air live in the morning through early afternoon. Not surprisingly, when labor statistics are tallied for June, sick days will be up and worker productivity down.

But for those seeking convergence of the parallel worlds of soccer and climate politics, there was encouraging news this week. First, the world was stunned when the White House admitted that global warming was real and humans were the cause of it. A few days later, the world was shocked again when the underdog U.S. soccer team beat fifth-ranked Portugal, sparking a wave of soccer fever here. So perhaps, in soccer and climate politics, parallel lines can one day meet.


CURWOOD: Commentator Gernot Wagner is Living on Earth’s occasional webmaster, a recent Harvard grad, and he’s pulling for Brazil to take the Cup.


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Animal Note/Frenzied Ants

CURWOOD: Coming up, inheritance taxes and the environment. First, this page from the Animal Notebook with Maggie Villiger.


VILLIGER: There’s more clandestine behavior inside the nest of Myrmica schencki red ants than at a spy convention. The first level of intrigue: Caterpillars of the Maculinea rubeli butterfly emit a pheromone that tricks ants into thinking they are ant larvae. The cuckolded ants cart the larvae home and adopt them as their own.

But the caterpillars aren’t home free. A particular parasitic wasp can only lay its eggs in the caterpillars’ bodies. And it knows how to make it past the ants’ line of defense. Its weapon of choice: chemical warfare. Scientists have discovered that the wasp is covered in a kind of oily wax made up of six chemicals that cause ant behavior to go haywire.

Photo: J. A. Thomas, Winfrith Technology Centre

The chemical cocktail attracts ants to investigate the intruder, then repels them and makes them start fighting with each other. The nest starts to look like a barroom, with brawling ants biting each other and pulling on legs. All this misdirected mayhem allows the wasp to move unnoticed through the nest ‘til she reaches her target, the caterpillar. The wasp lays her eggs, and then sneaks out again while the ants are still distracted.

The researchers suggest that these newly discovered wasp chemicals could eventually lead to a new kind of long-lasting pesticide. That’s this week’s Animal Note. I’m Maggie Villiger.

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


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Living on Earth Almanac/Firefly Festival

CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.


CURWOOD: It will be a little bit brighter in South Korea this week as the town of Muju celebrates the Annual Firefly Festival. Between the 10th and 14th of June, bright lights are banned throughout the small town near the southern tip of the Korean peninsula so the incandescent insects can have the spotlight.

Festival organizers set up platforms near lightening bug habitats for better viewing. But the main attraction is a huge tent filled with several thousands blinking fireflies. School kids do their homework by firefly light for an hour, then the critters are released back into the wild.

To keep this festival bright for the future, townsfolk hold a parade and prayer sessions to honor firefly breeding. Fireflies are among a handful of insects that can glow. They’re also being studied as a model for display screens that need little energy. Scientists also believe a protein derived from the bugs can be used to make blood samples light up and indicate immune system response to invaders such as HIV and anthrax.

But all this lab work is light years away from the folks in Muju who just sit back and bask in the glow of firefly light. And, for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.


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Estate Tax Battle

CURWOOD: Congress is now considering repealing the inheritance tax. The tax applies to about two percent of the population. And it kicks in when estates are worth at least $1 million. Supporters of the estate tax say it’s needed to redistribute the nation’s wealth. Critics, including the Bush administration, dub it the ‘death tax,’ and say people should be able to pass on what they’ve earned.

A temporary measure, adopted early in the Bush administration, gradually reduces and then eliminates the tax over a number of years. But it will come back if Congress fails to act. The House of Representatives has voted to repeal the tax. Soon the Senate will vote. And if you’re wondering what any of this has to do with the environment, Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum explains.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Almost three years ago, in the north woods of Maine, the Pingree family sold the development rights to three-quarters of a million acres of their timber-rich land. It was largest conservation easement in the history of the United States. Steve Schley, a member of the Pingree family, says the estate tax was a deciding factor.

SCHLEY: The estate tax was clearly one kicker that moved the family to say we need to ensure our future ability to protect this timberland ownership for future generations.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: By selling the development rights, the Pingrees lowered the value of their land and, consequently, the amount of estate tax they’ll have to pay on it each time a family member dies. Steve Schley admits without the estate tax, the historic land deal may not have happened. But he says the money and time spent avoiding the tax could have been better spent on the land.

SCHLEY: All of those resources could be much better allocated at improving our management or providing greater opportunity for public use, or any number of other things that would be productive as opposed to just simply destructive, rearguard kind of action.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Schley says he’d like to see the tax he calls an insidious thorn in his family’s side repealed. But not everyone in the conservation community agrees.

COLLINS: The estate tax is a very important incentive for people to give bequests of land and farmland and easements to conservancy organizations.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Chuck Collins is with United for a Fair Economy, a nonprofit group that’s fighting the repeal of the estate tax. Collins’ father started a land conservancy in northern Michigan many years ago. Collins asked his father what effect he thought repealing the estate tax would have on his work.

COLLINS: And he said, well, it would frankly be devastating because the estate tax gets people to plan, gets people to think about what their legacy is going to be. And it gives us a tool to approach a landowner and say, have you thought about making a bequest of this property when you die?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Staff at land conservancies say the estate tax makes it easier to broach that sensitive question. They admit many gifts of land, particularly the largest, are stimulated as much by estate tax worries as they are by donors’ good will. But not everyone thinks the estate tax benefits the environment. Sure, some families can afford to plan ahead and arrange conservation easements. But for many small landowners, that’s not practical or desirable.

ADLER: What happens, in a lot of cases, is that families are forced to sell off or develop portions of their land in order to pay off the estate tax burden.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Jonathan Adler is Assistant Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University. He says the estate tax leads to fragmented habitat, threatening species and ecosystems. There are loopholes in the tax for some landowners. And conservation easements are a good option for some.

ADLER: But a lot of those lands that are threatened by development wouldn’t have been threatened in the first place if the estate tax didn’t put a squeeze on families.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It’s not just land that’s affected by the estate tax. The tax generated about $30 million in revenue for the federal government last year. Over the years, the loss of that revenue could affect social and environmental programs of all kinds. Charitable giving overall could take a hit, too. Chuck Collins of United for a Fair Economy says estate money is especially important to foundations, which then pass it on to smaller organizations.

COLLINS: So there will sort of be an indirect whammy on the environmental movement if you pull out the estate tax and the six, seven billion dollars of giving that come from bequests every year.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Others argue repealing the estate tax will leave more money in the hands of the wealthy and allow them to give more freely. The debate isn’t likely to cool off in the next few weeks, as the estate tax heads to the Senate for a vote. For Living on Earth, I’m Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Washington.


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Lessons in Survival

CURWOOD: Every once in a while, something happens that turns all our assumptions upside down. Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg says these moments can challenge our most deeply rooted myths.

KLINKENBORG: The other morning, I lifted a bale of hay from a loose pile of bales on the barn floor and a fox jumped out from under it. The fox ran to the back of the barn and turned to watch me. It was a moment of pure transgression. All the old story lines broke apart, the ones about farmers and foxes and chickens, and just when the old story had been going so well.

The fox had stolen a couple of our chickens. I had chased it off several times. It would lope up the hill in the middle pasture and sit on the ridge looking back at me, waiting for my next move. We hated to lose the chickens and we hated the fox for taking them. But it was a conventional hatred, a part we knew we were supposed to play.

There are no stories where the fox sleeps overnight in the barn, on a bed of hay, only a few feet from three horses, and a big ambitious dog in his kennel. The fox always keeps its playful distance, respecting the invisible boundary between wildness and not wildness.

But the other morning, that fox ignored the boundary completely. The reason was obvious. It was dying from a terrible case of sarcoptic mange, an all too common disease caused by mites that infest the skin, and cause severe inflammation and hair loss. Foxes with mange die from malnutrition or else they freeze to death. The night had been frigid with a blowing, soaking rainfall. Even the driest den would have been insufferable. And so, the fox took refuge where I found it, in a burrow among hay bales in a dry barn.

Ever since we moved to this place, my wife and I have been seeing foxes. But because they always kept their distance, they were platonic foxes, storybook foxes with sharp muzzles and thick red fur and bushy tails and the gloss of wild health, the way you’d imagine a fox looks.

But seeing this nearly hairless fox shivering at the barn door, its tail a pitiful file of vertebrae under bare flesh, I couldn’t help thinking what a thin concept of wildness I had been living with. The wild was where the archetypes lived, negotiating their survival. Each animal embodied its species, which means that it lived up to its portrait in the Sibley Guide to Birds or Walker’s Mammals of the World.

And though I had a rough idea of how creatures died in the wild, I had never come across an animal driven out of the wild, across that taboo boundary, and into my barn by the extent of its suffering. The fox and I looked at each other, only a few feet apart. It paced a few steps, uncertain, and then scurried under the door and out into the cold rain. If had been a dog, I could have helped it. But even the pity in my eyes reminded it that it had come too close.


CURWOOD: Commentator, Verlyn Klinkenborg, writes about "The Rural Life" for The New York Times.


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Conservation Cows

CURWOOD: An usual experiment is underway just south of San Francisco. Conservationists and cows are teaming up to restore native California grassland, a once common ecosystem that is now found on only about one percent of the land there. Sandy Hausman reports.


HAUSMAN: Rudy Driscoll, Jr. is on the job, driving the steep, rutted roads of his family’s 4,000 acre ranch to check on nearly 600 cows and calves, identifying the animals by colorful tags in their ears.

DRISCOLL: The orange tags are all mothers. The yellow tag in the back is a bull. And the blue tags are steers.

HAUSMAN: The herd roams freely on these rocky green hills and they seem content here. And their owner couldn’t be happier.

DRISCOLL: I often brag that I have the best office in the country because, from the center of my office up here, it’s two and a half miles to the nearest neighbor.

HAUSMAN: Unfortunately, Driscoll says, that situation could change as people move south from San Francisco and north from San Jose. The ranch is midway between those cities, just a few miles from the coast. And the value of the property keeps rising. Rudy and his father wanted to preserve the land. But from a business standpoint, the temptation to sell was strong. Grazing cattle on this prime suburban real estate didn’t make financial sense.

So the two started talking with the Peninsula Open Space Trust, a local group committed to saving the natural beauty of the area. After Rudy Driscoll, Sr. died last year, Rudy, Jr. reached an agreement with the Trust.

DRISCOLL: I wanted to keep the cattle. They wanted to preserve the property. And we thought we had a way of being able to have both goals met.

HAUSMAN: Here’s how the deal will work. Driscoll will sell most of the ranch to the Trust, keeping 300 acres for his family and retaining the right to graze his cattle on the rest of the property. The Trust will then reestablish coastal grasslands, displaced by farming and by non-native plants that do a poor job of holding soil.

Paul Ringgold is Director of Stewardship for the Peninsula Open Space Trust.

RINGGOLD: What we’d like to do is return these to native grasslands that did exist in this area back when the areas were burned by the Native Americans and even prior to that time. Those kinds of grasses are perennial grasses, which exist year-round and form a much more dense root mat that is a soil stabilizer.

HAUSMAN: Restoration of this kind would typically involve burning the existing grass, and sewing the seeds of native plants. But Trust President Audrey Rust says that isn’t practical.

RUST: Today, we are so close to a developed area. And standing right here where we are on the middle of this property, I can see an elementary school. I could look across the valley at some houses. You really can’t use fire in quite the same way. It’s not as practical a tool here.

HAUSMAN: So they’ll put Driscoll’s cows to work, rotating them through a dozen fenced pastures where they’ll nibble the grass down to its roots. Paul Ringgold says that will make way for the seeds of native plants to sprout.

RINGGOLD: Once we have gone in and seeded these areas, the cattle can help, first of all, stamp the seed down into the soil so that it’s not picked off by birds. They can also then keep non-native grasses down long enough for the native grasses to come back in.

HAUSMAN: And finally, the cattle will provide natural fertilizer for the new plants that will, in turn, nourish the cattle. It’s an ironic role for the animals that are often blamed for environmental problems. Overgrazing has decimated land in many parts of the country, turning prairies into deserts, and causing erosion that has killed countless streams and rivers.

In spite of that, Rudy Driscoll feels cattle have gotten a bad rap. He hopes this experiment will show that, if properly managed, cattle ranches can help improve water quality and provide better habitat for native wildlife, something Driscoll has in abundance.

DRISCOLL: Obviously, today we’ve seen deer and the coyotes, rabbits, a lot of bobcats. I’ve seen a couple of eagles out here.

HAUSMAN: There are even some endangered species on the ranch, the San Francisco garter snake and the red-legged frog. Their odds for survival will improve once the native grasses begin to attract certain insects.

Conservationists concede this unusual collaboration with a rancher and his cows will have limited impact. But they hope their work on the Driscoll spread will become a model for other ranchers. For Living on Earth, I’m Sandy Hausman, in La Honda, California.


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Gurkha Training

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth. A peculiar British hobby is threatening dozens of species of birds. Hundreds of people, it seems, are stealing and collecting the eggs of endangered avians. In response, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, or the RSPB, has enlisted the help of the British Army’s famed Gurkhas in a covert mission to catch the nest robbers. Graham Madge is a spokesman for the Royal Society. Welcome.

MADGE: Hi, good day.

CURWOOD: Graham Madge, tell me, what is the problem of endangered bird egg theft in England?

MADGE: Well, this is a crime that we know of no comparison in other parts of the world. But here in the U.K., we have a very hard core of egg collectors. And their sole mission in life is to go around and collect the eggs of very, very rare birds.

CURWOOD: Now, what do these egg collectors do? I guess they’re probably not going to make omelets with these things.

MADGE: No, indeed. What they do is they actually raid the nests. Normally, they’ll take the whole clutch of eggs. They take them home. They actually drill two small holes, one in either end of the egg, and then blow the contents of the egg out, so that all they’re left with, then, is the calcium shell. It’s a real perverted hobby. Because we can’t understand what these guys -- and it generally is guys -- actually get out of it. All they can do is just keep these eggs in cases lined with cotton wool. They don’t show their collection to anybody else because it’s highly illegal and all the contents will be seized. So we don’t know what they get out of it other than causing the RSPB and the police a lot of annoyance.

CURWOOD: I understand now that you’ve teamed up with the British Army regiment the Gurkhas, from Asia, to help you train members of your organization. Some of our listeners here in the United States might not have a clue to what a Gurkha is. Can you tell us who are the Gurkhas?

MADGE: The Gurkhas are an infamous regiment. They’ve been in operation for many, many years. They fought heavily during the Second World War. They have their bases, really, in the Orient. But they do have a U.K. base and they are part of the British Army. And they were absolutely feared during the Second World War. They led many operations behind enemy lines.

CURWOOD: Now what have your staff members learned from the Gurkhas?

MADGE: Well, we’ve learned a whole raft of different skills, from things like night surveillance, how to remain concealed within the field, how to camouflage your observation points, a whole raft of different things, really, that will enable us to protect these very rare birds.

CURWOOD: By the way, how did you get in touch with the Gurkhas?

MADGE: It was actually one of our staff who had the idea, realized that the Gurkha regiment was based just down the road from where we were holding some of our own operations. And in a flash of brilliance, possibly in a pub over a pint, came up with the idea and it was one that was pursued. And of course, some of the best, perhaps wackiest, ideas are the ones that are the best.

CURWOOD: Graham Madge is a spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the United Kingdom. Thanks so much for speaking with me.

MADGE: Thank you, indeed.

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Health Note/TV & Body Image

CURWOOD: Just ahead, science fiction is becoming science fact. The melding of men and machines called cyborgs. First, the Environmental Health Note from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: Women on TV shows like "Friends," "Ally McBeal" and "Sex and the City," are young and glamorous. And for many female viewers, they set the bar for body image.

But they also may have created an unhealthy trend. A study just published in The British Journal of Psychiatry shows, for the first time, a possible link between television viewing and adolescent eating disorders. Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that after watching Western TV programs, women in Fiji started dieting and purging.

The researchers surveyed the teenagers first in 1995, just one month after the introduction of television to the island, and then again, three years later. They found that 11 percent of the women reported self-induced vomiting. Nearly 75 percent felt they were too big or fat. And 69 percent said they had started dieting to lose weight.

In one-on-one interviews, women said they had to lose weight in order to look and act like the women of TV. Dieting is a new trend in Fiji, which has traditionally embraced a healthy and generous appetite. 84 percent of women in the survey were overweight or obese. And none were able to lose any weight.

Researchers say the reason for this may be the Fijian society’s ingrained disdain and vigilance against small bodies and even smaller appetites. That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Jennifer Chu.


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


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Cyborg Society

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Today, we continue our series, Generation Next, with a look at the marriage of humans and machines. It’s what some call the cyborg society. Cyborgs are humans who are aided or controlled by technical devices. These bionic people have wandered the realm of science fiction for years. But now, more and more scientists are actually finding ways to meld the intelligence of computers with the human mind. And as producer Bob Carty explains, the cyborg is presenting some exciting and also disturbing possibilities.


CARTY: In Atlanta, Georgia, a man lies in a hospital bed, his head slightly elevated on a pillow. Around him are the many machines of modern medicine blinking and beeping. But this hospital room has more machines than normal: transformers and wires and cables and computers, all surrounding the motionless patient. His name is Johnny Ray.

KENNEDY: Johnny is a 54-year-old. He was a drywall contractor from Douglasville, Georgia, a great guitar player, actually. He used to play in a country rock band. And he apparently could hold any audience in the palm of his hand.

CARTY: Dr. Philip Kennedy is a neurologist who has come to be a very special friend to Johnny Ray. Johnny had high blood pressure. In 1997, he had a severe heart attack. That was bad enough. But then a blood clot went to his brain and caused bleeding into the brain stem. And that left Johnny completely paralyzed. He was taken to the Atlanta Hospital, put in a bed with a ventilator and left there. They thought he was in a coma, one that was likely permanent. They thought he’d never again communicate with the world. They were wrong.

KENNEDY: He was in ICU. And they realized that he was awake and listening, could understand. He could blink back at them. And eventually, they realized that he was awake, alert, intelligent, but couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. In that sense, he was locked in. The man is still there, but he just can’t move or do anything to communicate.

CARTY: That’s when the hospital got in touch with Dr. Kennedy. For two decades, he had been studying ways to tap into the brain waves of animals and humans. Johnny Ray’s family asked Dr. Kennedy to try a bold new experiment to rescue him from his prison of silence.

Dr. Kennedy drilled a hole in Johnny’s skull. He inserted some gold electrodes in the part of the brain that moves the hands. After a few months, new brain cells had grown around the electrodes and Dr. Kennedy could get a reading of Johnny’s brain waves.

The next step was to train Johnny Ray. Dr. Kennedy told Johnny to think about moving his paralyzed hand up. Just think about moving it up, then down. The brain signals that they produced were amplified, sent to a computer and correlated to computer instructions for the cursor. Slowly, just by thinking, Johnny began to move the cursor. He began to be able to select letters on the screen and then came the big breakthrough.

KENNEDY: It was, I think, August of ’98 or so when he had been spelling his name, and making errors. And he finally spelled his name and I think just maybe one error. And then we took a rest and we’d start over. And then, instead of spelling J-O-H-N, he spelled P-H-I-L. He started to spell my name. So he had a sense of humor. And that was the moment I felt a tremendous emotional rush. He went from being almost totally locked in, unable to communicate except with eye blinks, to being able to spell on this system and output what he wanted to say with a speech synthesizer. It sounds very simple. But it’s very profound.

CARTY: The simplicity is that Johnny Ray’s thoughts moved the cursor just like most of us do manually, with a computer mouse. What’s profound is that the cursor has become part of Johnny Ray in a very special way. People who are not paralyzed don’t say to their hands, hey, move hand. It’s just automatic. And the same goes for Johnny. The computer cursor is now a natural part of who he is, more a part than his own hands.

This is just one frontier in the melding of human beings and machines. Across the Atlantic Ocean is another frontier, with even bolder aspirations.

WARWICK: I don’t want to be a human anymore. I would like to be a cyborg. I would like to have extra capabilities. And the research we’re doing is pushing in that direction, upgrading humanity.

CARTY: Kevin Warwick is the head of the Cybernetics Department at Reading University, about 50 miles west of London, England. Warwick is the author of a book called In the Mind of the Machine. And two years ago, he conducted a sort of mind and machine experiment on himself. He had a silicon chip locator device surgically implanted in his arm. That device has since been taken out. But standing today at the entrance of his university, Kevin Warwick explains how the chip works.

WARWICK: The implant was actually in position in my arm for nine days. What it did was send out an identifying signal, by radio, to the computer in the building. For example, when I came in, in the morning, coming through the front door--

COMPUTERIZED VOICE: Hello, Professor Warwick.

WARWICK: Hello, Professor Warwick. So it was quite a formal computer. But hopefully, it will liven up a little bit as time goes by. Also, coming in the front door, as we can see, the light comes on. As it picks me up here, monitors that it’s me, as we can see. There we go. The door opens automatically. And we can see, at different points around the building, the various pickup nodes where, with the implant, as I moved around, it could track me, monitor me.

CARTY: There goes your privacy, though.

WARWICK: Very much so. It’s a two-way process. You’re giving up privacy. The computer knows a lot more about you. But you gain the fact that the computer can do things for you.

CARTY: Now, the lights go on, the doors open, security, the computer says – all these things, I imagine, could be done with just a security card worn around your neck.

WARWICK: Just a smart card can do everything, yeah.

CARTY: So why implant something?

WARWICK: Right. Well I guess the implant is looking to the future. Firstly, it gave me a feeling. Very quickly, I got this strange mental link, as though the computer was associated with me. And somehow, inside my body, as it were, when the implant was taken out, I got to quite miss it.

CARTY: Kevin Warwick’s first experiment gave him some insights into how these kind of implants might be used for things like monitoring prisoners or pedophiles. It also opened up some possibilities for how intelligent buildings might work.

But the real purpose was to pave the way for the second phase of Warwick’s experiment, one that he was planning as we spoke. The idea this time is to implant a device that will read the electronic signals of his nervous system. Those signals, the signals that convey thought, emotion, and muscle movements will be sent to a computer. And then the computer will be able to send the signals back to Kevin Warwick.

If it works, the experiment could help people who are paralyzed to use their thoughts, connected to a computer, to direct their own wheelchairs or to stimulate their own muscle movements electronically. In effect, maybe the lame could walk one day.

WARWICK: It’s the whole concept of remote control. So, the computer then would be controlling movement to some extent, which opens up positives and negatives. The remote control of an individual. Do we want it? Is this ethically correct? Could be good, could be bad. But also, there’s the case of, say, Christopher Reeve’s situation. He’s paralyzed from about, the worst case, the neck down. Can we, in the future, get people like that moving around again? Can we send electronic signals into the body that cheer you up, for example?

CARTY: These kinds of experiments in human/machine marriages are creating tremendous excitement in the field of neurological medicine. Back in Atlanta, Dr. Philip Kennedy has received more than a million dollars from the federal government to work with eight more stroke victims like Johnny Ray. Kennedy says this technology offers hope, not only to quadriplegics like Christopher Reeve, but also to the estimated 25,000 adults in the U.S. who are in a persistent vegetative state. It could also help the 30,000 people with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, who now slowly lose their ability to communicate. And these developments are not so far away.

KENNEDY: Five years down the road, I hope that no locked-in patient will remain locked in, that they’ll be able to communicate. Five years down the road, hopefully we’ll be on our way to demonstrating that we can use signals from the brain to restore movement to paralyzed muscles. And 10, 15 years out, I think those systems, of one kind or another, will be in place, some type of hybrid system that will help patients who are now paralyzed to actually move.

CARTY: These are the positive potentials of cyborg technology. But it is technology that also has a dark side. For example, U.S. military leaders predict that, in 20 years, American soldiers and policemen could be implanted with mechanical or computer devices to increase their strength, endurance, memory and vision. Kevin Warwick’s experiment might help an army commander remote control the emotions of his soldiers on the battlefield. Enter the cyborg soldier. And then there are the consumer possibilities. If the melding of machines and human flesh can help people with paralysis, it could also be used on healthy people, not to compensate for disabilities, but to enhance abilities, giving some people superhero strength or intelligence. Enter the bionic person. It’s a prospect that, frankly, excites Kevin Warwick.

WARWICK: Well, I look at the capabilities of machines, of robots, and say, well, this is fantastic. And how I communicate by speech is so outdated. I’m embarrassed, as a human, still to communicate like we’ve been communicating. Whereas we know machines can communicate in parallel all around the world in a very rich way, I would like to be able to do that. So it’s looking to upgrade humans.

CARTY: Upgrading humans. It sounds like something out of a Schwarzenegger movie. But, Kevin Warwick is serious. He thinks cyborg technology is actually essential to human survival, to prevent intelligent machines from taking over from humans. This is an idea that has been popularized by Bill Joy, one of the pioneers of the computer revolution and the cofounder of Sun Microsystems. Bill Joy contends that society is becoming more and more dependent on machine-made decision. He says those decisions will soon become so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. And at that stage, machines will be in control. And he says people won’t be able to turn them off because turning them off would amount to suicide. Kevin Warwick agrees.

WARWICK: The cyborg is really a case of saying, well if you can’t beat intelligent robots, let’s join them, almost become the same. So the concept of humanity staying in the driving seat, I think, that’s out of it, really, just like humans and chimpanzees split millions of years ago. So we’ve got here the possibility of cyborgs and humans splitting. And staying as a human, really, I think you’d be so inferior in comparison. Yeah, it is losing control. But it’s a case of do we lose control to intelligent machines, as humans? Or do humans lose control to cyborgs?

CARTY: Some of Kevin Warwick’s ideas have been greeted with a measure of skepticism in England. Some British papers have called him a ‘media tart.’ But he is a well-published scientist. And he is not alone in his thinking. Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist and science writer, has also recently warned we have to have direct links between human brains and computers to stop intelligent machines from taking over the world.

WOLBRING: I’m technologically challenged.

CARTY: Gregor Wolbring is someone you might think would embrace cyborg technology. He’s a thalidomide child, born with no legs. He has to set himself up in front of his computer by crawling. But Wolbring never grew up with a sense of inferiority. He became a professor of biochemistry and of bioethics at the University of Calgary. And he runs an internet network of disabled activists. Gregor does have a pair of artificial legs, but they’re stored in the corner, with a teddy bear stuffed in them. Gregor Wolbring prefers to crawl around his house on his arms. It’s his choice.

WOLBRING: I mean, that’s my personal exercise. I don’t have to pay for that. Some people have to get a personal trainer. I use my stairs.

CARTY: And that more or less sums up Gregor Wolbring’s attitude toward cyborg technology. He’s not against it. If disabled people choose to use it, and as long as it’s available to all and not just the rich, he thinks it’s just fine as a prosthetic. But he is terrified by Kevin Warwick’s scenario, a scenario of a future where there’s a class divide between cyborgs and so-called "normal people." That would be a bad move, according to Gregor Wolbring, and it would make life even more difficult for the disabled.

WOLBRING: This technology will be able so much to redefine what a human body is supposed to be, that it becomes really problematic. It’s like if Chrysler would sell their cars by saying, you people, you are so deficient. You can’t walk 50 miles an hour. So, you have to buy my car so that you are up to speed in becoming the norm. So if you sell me the artificial legs by saying, you are deficient, and you’re a horrific sight to look at, and that’s why you have to use artificial legs. So, you are, again, as we expect you to be. That’s limiting more and more what is a human being. It has to be top notch, top gun. That’s not what a human being is all about.

CARTY: Other scientists, though, are eager to change what being human is all about. Researchers in Rhode Island have taught monkeys to play a computer pinball game with their thoughts, not their hands. In Australia, scientists have made a wearable device that lets you turn on lights and radios just by thinking. And Kevin Warwick has started his second implant experiment to link his nervous system with computers.

Cyborg technologies do have a strong attraction for people seeking medical therapies. But they are also an irresistible temptation to the military and a lure to affluent people who want to make themselves much better than others.

But so far, there has been very little social or ethical or legal debate about the uses and abuses of such technology. And there should be, according to Dr. Philip Kennedy. Dr. Kennedy is committed to this technology, but only for medical uses. He’s worried about how far others might go.

KENNEDY: There is a possibility that people will sort of get carried away with it. And we get to the point of wondering if it’s all justifiable. I think it certainly is for therapeutic purposes. But for going to war and that, I don’t know. I’m certainly not going in that direction. Yeah, I would draw the line there. But, it’s probably inevitable. It’s probably going to happen no matter what we do or say.


CARTY: For Living on Earth, I’m Bob Carty.


CURWOOD: Our series continues next month with the debate over genetic therapy. Proponents say it can improve human health by removing genes that can lead to disease, or add a gene and make a better baby. But critics say genetic manipulation raises the specter of a superhuman race.

MALE: The individual who wants to make a species-altering change in a human being, or wants to change what it means to be human, can act like a moral terrorist. It is, if you will, a modern-day Frankenstein.

CURWOOD: The debate over designer genes, when our series, Generation Next: Remaking the Human Race, continues in July.


Related link:
Kevin Warwick’s home page

Bill Joy's article on machines taking over (also cyborg)

Dr Philip Kennedy's company">

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CURWOOD: We leave you with a composition fashioned entirely of sounds recorded in an old growth forest in Garmanah, British Columbia and then electronically manipulated. The result: bird cries that sound like drum beats and insect chatter that resembles flutes. It’s called Beneath the Forest Floor from Hildegard Westerkamp’s CD, "Transformations."


Living on Earth is produced by The World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. You can find us at www.loe.org. Our staff includes Cynthia Graber, Jessica Penney and Al Avery, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson and Milisa Muniz.

Special thanks to Ernie Silver. And we wish our departing intern, Rachel Girshick, the best of luck. Thanks, Rachel. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.

Our Technical Director is Dennis Foley. Ingrid Lobet heads our Western Bureau. 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.

FEMALE: Funding for Living on Earth comes from The World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include The Educational Foundation of America for reporting on energy and climate change; The Ford Foundation for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues; and The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change.

MALE: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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