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

September 26, 2003

Air Date: September 26, 2003


(stream/download) as an MP3 file


Leavitt Hearings / Jeff Young

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President Bush's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, has hit a brick wall in the Senate. Democrats say they like Leavitt personally, but dislike the way the White House controls the EPA and so are vowing the block his nomination. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports. (06:40)

Smart Dust

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Doctor Michael Sailor talks with host Steve Curwood about his research on smart dust, tiny particles that can detect air and water pollution. (04:15)

Environmental Health Note/Household Endocrine Disruptors / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth's Diane Toomey Reports on the first comprehensive study of endocrine disrupters in the home. (01:20)

Almanac/Mother Avocado

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This week, we have facts about the first mother avocado tree. In 1926 a letter carrier from Los Angeles stumbled upon a new variety of California’s most popular fruit. (01:30)

Liquid Land

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Ã??g the Everglades to its natural health is the goal for hundreds of biologists and hydrologists in south Florida. For the people who live in the glades, working towards that goal is also their way of life. Host Steve Curwood talks with Ted Levin, who met some of the locals of the wetlands, and has a new book called "Liquid Land: A Journey through the Florida Everglades." (08:00)

Best in Show / Diane Toomey

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You’ve heard of dog shows where pampered pooches strut their stuff. But have you ever heard of a chicken show? Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey went to one and brought back this sound montage. (04:20)

Terminating Pollution / Ingrid Lobet

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For years, Arnold Schwarzengger has had a very public affair with his vehicle of choice, the gas-guzzling hummer. Now he’s taking the first step in his new environmental agenda, by promising to wean his hummer off gasoline. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports. (03:00)

Emerging Science Note/Infrasound / Cynthia Graber

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on research showing that extremely low sound vibrations called infrasound may lead to strange emotional and physical responses. (01:20)

A Bridge Too Far? / Alan Weisman

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Producer Alan Weisman leads us on a trip to an island off the coast of Chile that boasts a proud and distinct culture. The Chilean government wants to build a bridge there to boost the economy of the island and the nation. But islanders think that’s a big mistake. (15:00)

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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Michael Sailor, Ted LevinREPORTERS: Jeff Young, Ingrid Lobet, Alan WeismanNOTES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber


CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. Mike Leavitt gets a grilling on Capitol Hill as Democrats turn his nomination for the EPA into an indictment of the environmental policies of President Bush. Still, the Utah governor promises to be his own man.

LEAVITT: The president will always know where I stand. He will hear it many times publicly and sometimes privately.

CURWOOD: But with no less than four senators vowing to block his nomination, some have this question for the nominee.

REID: Why in the world would you want this job?”


CURWOOD: Also, where slow and uncertain are seen by some as good.

CÅRDENAS: [IN SPANISH] Arriving by ferry in Chiloé is like going though a magic door to an island like none that exists anywhere else in Chile or South America.

CURWOOD: The bridge to Chiloé, and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this.


ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from The National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

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Leavitt Hearings


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

The man chosen by President Bush to head the Environmental Protection Agency is taking the heat for the environmental record of the White House during his confirmation hearing. Utah Governor Mike Leavitt had hoped to focus on his collaborative approach to regulation and enforcement. Instead, he got an earful of complaints about the administration’s environmental policy. And some Democrats, including three presidential candidates, say they’ll block his nomination when it reaches the full Senate. As Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, much of that opposition has little to do with the governor’s own record.

YOUNG: Mike Leavitt can’t say he wasn’t warned. The last EPA administrator, Christie Whitman, walked away from the job after a volatile, two-year tenure. And Democratic frustration with the Bush environmental record puts the agency in the eye of a political storm. So, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid’s first question for Leavitt might prove the toughest to answer.

REID: Why in the world would you want this job?


YOUNG: Leavitt’s a three-term governor with a good personal reputation and a mixed record on the environment. Western leaders and industry groups praise his collaborative efforts to clean air and control sprawl. Utah activists and national environmental groups complain Leavitt failed to crack down on major polluters and protect sensitive lands from mining and oil and gas drilling. But the Senate’s environment and public works committee had more to say about the agency Leavitt’s heading toward than the state record he’s leaving behind. Ranking Minority member James Jeffords welcomed Leavitt with a list of complaints about an agency and administration at work behind closed doors.

JEFFORDS: They have been dismantling our environmental laws and the protections that our citizens have come to expect and, I believe, deserve from their government. Governor, many of these decisions have been made with little input from the people who will be most affected by them and must implement them, and this troubles me.

YOUNG: Jeffords says he anguished with Whitman as the administration reversed her statements on climate change and regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Democrats like Oregon’s Ron Wyden say White House politics, and not sound science, now guide the EPA.

WYDEN: I believe that it’s extraordinarily important that the country have an independent, tough voice to guide environmental policy at the Environmental Protection Agency. The reason I feel that way is that I believe that now too many of our country’s environmental policies are being cooked by political chefs in the White House kitchen.

YOUNG: When Wyden asked Leavitt if he would ramp up the agency’s enforcement, Leavitt told him enforcement alone is not the main goal.

LEAVITT: The goal is compliance – to find ways to move people to compliance. And there are times when strong enforcement is the only tool available to have that happen. If there are those who avoid or those who evade the law will face the full weight of the Environmental Protection Agency and the law will be brought to assure their compliance.

WYDEN: Well, that’s not being done today. What can you tell us today about how you’d restore the independence and the credibility this agency that it’s enjoyed in the past?

LEAVITT: The president will always know where I stand. He will hear it many times publicly and sometimes privately. I recognize in the role that he has and in the role that I have what he needs from me is loyalty expressed in the context of he’ll know what I believe to be the facts and he’ll also know what the best science is and what the people of the Environmental Protection Agency believe.

YOUNG: A number of Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry, and Joseph Lieberman, say they will block Leavitt’s nomination in the Senate. Their objections range from changes in Superfund spending and clean air rules to the administration’s handling of the cleanup at Ground Zero. Leavitt avoided taking those issues head-on and used his responses to return to his main theme: a cleaner environment through collaboration and an approach to problem solving he calls “en libra.”

LEAVITT: It’s a Latin term – two syllables. “En” – to move toward and “libra” – balance. To move toward balance. And I have found with experience that the solutions to those problems are found in the productive middle. Rarely are they found at the extremes.

YOUNG: Leavitt’s use of that approach as governor won him measured support from moderate Democrats, like former Maryland Governor Paris Glendenning, and an enthusiastic endorsement from Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch.

HATCH : Utahns know that Governor Leavitt took a clean, beautiful, strong state and made it cleaner, more beautiful, and stronger. What more could we ask from a nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency?

YOUNG: Environmental activists in Utah disagree. They say Leavitt favors highway construction over wetlands protection and made the state among the nation’s worst in enforcing the Clean Water Act. They say Leavitt was quick to take campaign dollars from polluting industries and slow to reign in companies like the Kennecott copper mine, the nation’s top toxic polluter. Sixteen national environmental groups joined the Utah activists in opposition to Leavitt’s nomination. Among them is the Environmental Integrity Project, lead by the EPA’s former head of civil enforcement, Eric Schaeffer. Schaeffer says it was a chore to get Utah to enforce environmental laws.

SCHAEFER: Dealing with Utah was very painful. They were always interested in keeping the federal government out of the state and less interested in making sure big companies in state were complying with federal law. That created a lot of tension. And he does have code words like “collaboration” and “balance” and “sound science” memorized. What he doesn’t have is the record to back it up. That’s what we’re hoping people will take a look at.

YOUNG: Despite those objections, Republicans are confident Leavitt will win committee approval. But his fate is less clear in the full Senate where the threatened blocks could stall his nomination. History is on Leavitt’s side. The Senate has never rejected a nominee for the position. And the president holds a trump card if Democrats delay – he could put Leavitt in office during a Congressional recess, an appointment that would last through the end of next year before another round of Senatorial review. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

[MUSIC: Tom Waits “Strange Weather” BIG TIME (Island-1988)]

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Smart Dust

CURWOOD: Computers continue to shrink. So do cell phones and cameras. Now, scientists are trying to shrink pollution detectors down to the size of a grain of sand. These teeny-tiny devices will be able to recognize contamination in the air and water and alert humans to any dangers. Doctor Michael Sailor heads up a University of California at San Diego research team that’s working on these devices. Their latest success: an experiment using this so-called “smart dust’ to pinpoint a droplet of oil in water.

SAILOR: What we did is we took the particles and we placed some chemistry on them so they would target, specifically target, an interface. The interface was a drop of oil in water. And the idea is we could just sprinkle these little particles. They look like glitter – they’re a little bit more complicated than just the glitter you would buy at the cosmetic store. And we sprinkle them into water, and then they’ll fly around through the liquid, and if there’s a drop of oil in there then the chemistry on the surface is set up so that these little particles will go stick to that surface. These little particles look like little mirrors, and when they hit that oil drop it looks just like a little mini-disco ball. And those mirrors will reflect light back to an observer, and so we can read the mirrors. And unlike the mirrors on a disco ball, these little mirrors change color when they know they’ve seen the oil. And so they hit that interface, they stick to it and they coat it, and then they report back to us that they’ve found the oil.

CURWOOD: What’s the advantage of this process?

SAILOR: The oil droplet is just sort of a model for a cell. And we’re trying to get these things to target things like cells, like cancer cells in the body, or maybe an E.coli, a bacterium in drinking water. And so by targeting these cells they can go find them, and tell us that they’ve found them. And we’d have a way of monitoring, say in the case of a cancer cell, monitoring the health of a patient. In the case of E.coli or bacteria in water we have a way of monitoring the quality of the water.

CURWOOD: I understand that some of your work involves sending the smart dust, not only into liquids, but also, about using it in the air. How would it work in the air?

SAILOR: Really, we’re using the smart dust in three application areas. We’re thinking about putting it into the body for medical monitoring. We’re thinking about putting it into water for monitoring either drinking water, or the quality of seawater, for instance. And the last is to try to identify pollutants in air. And this could be pollutants in the environment, in the air outside, or it might just be used to monitor the quality of air in a building. And the real key is that we’re making these things so small that we can distribute them widely and make them very inexpensively. And the kinds of molecules that we’re trying to target with these little particles in air are things like pollutants, VOCs—so-called volatile organic compounds, things like gasoline or methyl, ethyl chetones is an industrial solvent that we can see with these particles. We also have a big effort looking at chemical warfare agents, and we’ve able to tune the chemistry of these particles so that they can respond very specifically to sarin gas. And so that’s another application.

CURWOOD: Give us a picture of how a detection system could operate in the real world sometime.

SAILOR: These little codes in these little particles will change, and our scanner can pick that up. And so you can imagine putting these things onto a wall in a building and having them, say, change color as maybe a chemical gets into a room that’s something you don’t want to be there. It might be a chemical warfare agent. It might be a toxic chemical, an industrial solvent. Maybe somebody down the hall spills a bucket of paint. Our little particles – if there were, say, vapors in the room – we’ve made some vapor sensors that could respond to a bucket of paint spilled in the room, or gasoline, or diesel fumes. These little particles would start out green and they would actually changes color to red. And you can see that with your eye even, if you want. We usually build systems, little spectrometer systems that can read them and give us s little more information – a level of concentration of the pollutant in the air.

CURWOOD: Michael Sailor is professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California at San Diego. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

SAILOR: Thank you.

[MUSIC: Talking Heads “Warning Sign” MORE SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND FOOD (Sire 1978)]

Related link:
University of California Smart Dust Page

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Environmental Health Note/Household Endocrine Disruptors

CURWOOD: Coming up: hunting frogs and capturing crocs – tales of the Everglades when we return. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: Little is known about indoor exposure to chemicals that can alter hormone levels. Now, for the first time, a comprehensive study has looked for a number of these so-called endocrine disruptors in homes.

Researchers sampled air and dust in 120 homes on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They tested for 89 chemicals and found 67, including many endocrine disruptors. The most abundant chemicals, in both air and dust, were phthalates. Phthalates are compounds used in plastics, food packaging and personal care products. Researchers also found flame-retardants and about two dozen pesticides.

The most common was permethrin, an ingredient in household insecticide sprays. A few banned chemicals were also detected, attesting to the slow breakdown rate of chemicals indoors. The pesticide DDT, for example, was banned three decades ago. But, it was still present in 65 percent of the homes.

Fifteen of the chemicals were detected at concentrations exceeded government guidelines. But for 28 of them, no exposure guidelines exist. What's more, the study’s authors who work at the Silent Spring Institute and Harvard’s School of Public Health say there are no exposure guidelines for any chemical that takes into account hormone disruption effects. They add the results of their study should be used as a tool to prioritize research on chemical exposure.

That’s this week’s Health Update, I’m Diane Toomey.


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

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Almanac/Mother Avocado

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

[MUSIC: Calexico “Sonic Wind (Instrumental Mix)” EVEN MY SURE THINGS FALL THROUGH (Quarterstick Records - 2001)]

CURWOOD: In 1926, a letter carrier from La Habra, California planted a seedling in his front yard that would become the mother of the nation’s most popular avocado, the Hass. Charles Hass, son of Rudolph Hass, explains that his father was trying to develop a new variety of the tropical fruit.

The original Hass mother tree. (Courtesy of California Avocado Commission)   

HASS: There was this one seedling though, that he grafted three different times and all three times the graft died. So he was going to get rid of the tree but my older brothers and sisters talked him out of it because they liked the fruit. That seedling became the first Hass avocado tree.

CURWOOD: At first, people were suspicious of the rubbery-skinned Hass, which was darker than its green brothers. But thanks to its durability and nutty taste, Hass avocados now make up more than eighty percent of all avocados grown in the U.S.

(Courtesy of California Avocado Commission)

The mother of all Hass avocado trees died last year at the age of 76. And The World Avocado Congress will decide next month in Spain what to do with the wood. Some of the descendants of Rudolph Hass have their own ideas.

HASS: My dad’s nephew – my cousin – gets good avocado wood, and he uses them for the back of ukeleles, guitars, puzzles, jewelry, and he’s chompin’ at the bit to get some.

CURWOOD: And for this week, Hass’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC: Calexico “Sonic Wind (Instrumental Mix)” EVEN MY SURE THINGS FALL THROUGH (Quarterstick Records - 2001)]

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Liquid Land

CURWOOD: The restoration of the Everglades has lost one of its biggest advocates. William Hoeveler, the U.S. District Judge who has overseen the cleanup for the past 15 years has been removed from the case for talking to reporters. Judge Hoeveler chastised Florida lawmakers for delaying a measure that would force the sugar industry to clean up pollution from its processing plants by 2006. The industry now has an additional 10 years to stop the run-off of phosphorus.

Critics say the delay could further harm wildlife and vegetation. And some folks who live in the Everglades and have their own way of monitoring the health of the wetlands might be the first to know. Author Ted Levin has met some of them and he joins me now to talk about his new book: “Liquid Land: A Journey through the Florida Everglades.” Welcome.

LEVIN: Hi Steve.

CURWOOD: You met a number of great characters in your travels through the marshes. I’m thinking of, one of these is a frog hunter named Russell Yates, who is one of the few, I guess literally, born into the culture of the old Everglades. Tell me about him and about this culture he was born into.

LEVIN: Well, Russell is probably in his early sixties now. Wouldn’t have a whole lot of teeth in his mouth – he only had about four or five seven years ago. He had a short haircut, square shoulders, stood about 5’9”, 5’10”. And he is what’s called a frogger. He is actually the only person in South Florida who makes his entire living travelling at night with a headlamp in his airboat, trying to stick frogs with a gig which is shaped like a little trident that Poseidon holds. And he sells these pig frogs to the seafood markets along the East Coast. He has a buyer that comes regularly to see him. He lives in a school bus and he’s as nomadic as a Navajo shepherd. And where the frogs are running, he moves and travels along with his wife. Some nights he might have 20 or 30 pounds of frogs, another night he might have 150 pounds of frogs.

CURWOOD: Now, tell me about the culture that I gather he grew up in, catching frogs.

LEVIN: Well, his family were living in tents along the side of the road, and almost all of their sustenance came out of the Everglades. And they were pretty itinerant, much like migrant workers. They had airboats and pole boats to move around in the glades. Some of them may have been adept at catching turtles, also for a seafood market. Others may have been trapping, and, certainly, gator hunting, up until the point where it was illegal to gator-hunt, in the late 1950s, early 1960s.

CURWOOD: Now, Russell seems like a pretty rare breed himself but in your book, you observe that he may also be something of a new endangered species. What do you mean by that?

LEVIN: Well, I mean, when I went out with him, we went out in what is now part of Everglades National Park. It’s called the East Everglades. It was bought during the George Bush Senior Administration. It’s 103,000 acres, which expands the park, and at that point, before the land was purchased, it was owned by hundreds, if not thousands of absentee landowners that had bought the land sight unseen. And Russell just went out in the property with his airboat – the land was flooded and they couldn’t imagine anyone building homes out there – and he plied his trade.

And then once the National Park acquired the land, which I’m very happy they did, of course, Russell becomes evicted because you cannot hunt or trap in a National Park. Russell made his living of the glades, and I spent a lot of time with biologists, and they’re all wonderful people, but they had a different view than Russell did. Russell had the view of somebody who depends on the glades for his livelihood. And he was pretty sensitive. That’s why he lived in a school bus and drifted around the glades, and didn’t concentrate too hard on one particular area.

CURWOOD: At one point in your book, Ted, you go crocodile hunting with Frank Mazotti, a University of Florida biologist who monitors population of the American crocodile. Could you read from your book about your time with him, please?

LEVIN: Sure. Colors faded from the western sky. Stars appear, twinkling brushstrokes across the night. Inside Davis Creek, we see that crocodile claw marks have gouged the marl bank – a basking site, but we do not see an animal. Back in Joe Bay, Frank’s spotlight runs the chop, scanning for the red glow of crocodile eyes. As we cruise the coastline, I strain not to miss a thing. Crocodile, Frank mutters. Frank cuts the engine, steps off the boat with alacrity, noose pole in hand and wades towards the reptile as though he were about to cast a plug for a tarpon. My senses gush. He slips the wire noose over the crocodile’s head. The crocodile surges. It leaps, twists, turns, and crashes back into the bay. It leaps again. Frank handles the wild exuberance with aplomb, and lets the reptile play itself out, as though he actually has a tarpon on the line. When the animal finally tires, Frank grabs it. He places one hand behind the head, the other behind the base of the tail, then calmly walks to the boat. “Here, take this.” I hold the crocodile, an unmarked female, six or seven years old, 36 pounds, four and a half feet long, and kitten-calm in my lap. Frank marks her, slicing off the appropriate tail scutes with a hefty knife – number 113. After several minutes, the raw ossified skin the color and texture of marshmallow, oozes tiny drops of blood. Frank releases his trophy. “Say goodbye, sweetheart.” The crocodile flicks her tail and vanishes into black water.

CURWOOD: Now, why was he looking for a crocodile? You know, we think of the Everglades, we think alligator.

LEVIN: Well, it’s the northern extension of the range of the American crocodile, and they are highly endangered. There is, at best, about 400 in south Florida, counting young that are hatching. And their wellbeing will be a testament to the success of Everglades restoration. If the crocodile population begins to improve in the mangroves at the southern end of the state, we will know that the proper amounts of freshwater have been moving through the Everglades into the bays at the proper time of the year.

CURWOOD: By the way, why did he need to take a slice out of that lady crocodile?

LEVIN: He makes a permanent scar on the back, and that way, if he recaptures her he will know that he caught her before, he’ll see how much she’s grown, and, more particularly, he’ll see how much she’s moved.

CURWOOD: What has Frank been able to tell from his studies of crocodile populations so far?

LEVIN: Well, he’s figured out pretty quickly that crocodiles do not do well in high salinity. And the salinity in Florida Bay has been extremely high as recently as the early 1990s. The middle 90s and late 90s were very wet years and that helped to soften the salinity. But the goal for Frank, and for restoration, is to move more fresh water through the Everglades, and be able to have the salinity of Florida Bay well below that of sea level, which is about 36 parts per thousand, salt to water.

CURWOOD: Now, towards the end of your book you have a conversation with a water management scientist who says that the solution for the Everglades is to “add water and stir.” What do you think of that? What do you see as the best solution for the Everglades?

LEVIN: The Everglades themselves have been partitioned into a National Park, a National Wildlife Refuge, an agricultural area, and two water conservation areas. And they have all been disconnected, and they should all be one large flowing system, to the best of the ability of hydrologists. So, I think the best solution for the Everglades would be to eliminate as many canals and levies as possible, without threatening current development. I certainly would put a brake on any more draining. And if that could be all reconnected, eliminating several hundred miles of canals and levies, that would be a huge plus.

CURWOOD: Ted Levin is author of “Liquid Land: A Journey Through the Florida Everglades.” Thanks for taking this time to speak with me today.

LEVIN: It was a pleasure, Steve. Thank you for having me as a guest.

[MUSIC: Various Artists “Django Reinhardt: Swingin With Django” THE GREAT ENTERTAINERS (Interscope)]

Related link:
“Liquid Land” by Ted Levin

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Best in Show

CURWOOD: September is National Chicken Month, according to the National Chicken Council. And while they regard chickens as food, others see pullets as pretty. Consider the Northeastern Poultry Congress, held in western Massachusetts. Now, a chicken show may not have the prestige of its canine cousin. But, as you'll hear in this sound montage from Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey, these birds can strut their stuff.


FEMALE 1: We’re showing White-bearded Silkies. The feathers actually look like a fluffy boa that a lady would wear around her neck. And they have a mulberry comb, and they have turquoise earlobes, and they’re the only poultry known to have five toes.


MALE 1: A few years ago, Martha Stewart’s job was to pick the prettiest chicken of the show, and she had chosen this bird here, which is called a White-crested Blue Polish. This does not have a comb, it has a round crest, and it’s full of feathers. And you want it as round as possible and thick and full. Tina Turner, if you can picture that.


MALE 2: I have here a cock bird. That means he’s more than a year old. He’s a Dorking breed, and he’s a silver-gray variety, that’s the color pattern. He’s a very gentle bird. Yup, he likes me and I like him.


FEMALE 2: They go in the bathroom sink. They get shampooed and conditioned, they get blown dry. I file their toenails and I oil their combs. And they love it. Actually, when I’m blow drying, everyone of my birds lean into it with their head.


MALE 3: Their feet get scrubbed. I scrub them with a toothbrush and hot soapy water. I take a toothpick and I clean under the scales, because they go out on the ground. This is a very hardy breed. These don’t stay inside. I don’t baby them.


MALE 4: I’m one of the five judges. Every breed, every variety has a standard of perfection for its size, weight, color. Chickens are like people – they have good days, they have bad days. Sometimes they don’t want to stand up and show to their best ability.


MALE 4: Sounds like I got a hold of something. I’m not letting go. These are standard old English game, which is related to most of the pit games that they use for cock fighting. These are bred more for show. And they will come after you. They can be extremely aggressive, so they can be quite a challenge to judge. They’re tough to get out of the cage. So far, I’ve been lucky, but we’re only about half done [LAUGHTER].


MALE 4: Oh yeah, you’d eat me if you had half the chance, wouldn’t you, buddy? You ain’t gonna get half the chance, I’ll tell you right now.

BARNAVA: Come on everybody, look this way. Come on big boy. Look right this way pretty girl. Come on! Good boy. My name is Sheryl Barnava, and I’m here today simply to take photographs of chickens. The pose is everything. Feathers must lay flat on top of each other, you can’t have any wrinkled feathers. And we definitely want to catch light in the eye, and the perfect pose that says I’m the best.


BARNAVA: All right now, we don’t need your tail. Come on, we need to see your face. No tail! [LAUGHTER]


CURWOOD: To see photos of Bearded Silkies, White-crested Polish and other fantastic fowl, go to our website, livingonearth.org.

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

For a slideshow of the competition, click here.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from The World Media Foundation. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation, for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, and the William and Flora Hewlett foundation, for coverage of western issues. Support also comes from NPR member stations and Bob Williams and Meg Caldwell, honoring NPR's coverage of environmental and natural resource issues, and in support of the NPR President's Council. And Paul and Marcia Ginsberg in support of excellence in public radio.

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Terminating Pollution

CURWOOD: It’s a challenge to be the environmental candidate when for years you’ve championed wheels that guzzle gas. But, Arnold Schwarzenegger claims he is the environmental choice in the California governor’s race, at least for Republicans. To prove it, he’s unveiled an environmental agenda that starts with weaning his famous Hummer off gasoline. And he says that’s just the beginning. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.


SCHWARZENEGGER: So, let me tell you about my plan for our environment.

LOBET: Arnold Schwarzenegger chose the beachside town of Carpinteria on a Sunday to roll out his environmental plan. But protesters managed to find the event and nearly drowned him out with slogans like “Hummers Aren’t Green” as he described the need for more reliance on solar and hydrogen power.

SCHWARZENEGGER (PROTESTORS YELLING BEHIND HIM): As governor, I will create a network of hydrogen highways throughout California with a clean hydrogen fuel stations every twenty miles to help clean our air.

LOBET: Schwarzenegger says Detroit needs this kind of push to produce more fuel cell vehicles. Then, several times, he repeated his concern about California’s air quality.


SCHWARZENEGGER: The smog has gotten worse in the last few years. We must reverse this to protect the health of our people. We must replace the dirtiest, and oldest trucks and buses with clean alternative fuel vehicles.

LOBET: He promised to follow through on stream and beach water cleanup measures the Bush administration opposes.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I will also take action to clean up our drinking water and our ocean. That means treating sewage, attacking storm water runoff and preventing pollution at the source.


LOBET: Though it may come as a surprise to Americans who know him through his action films, Schwarzenegger’s environmental plan is thorough enough that in some other parts of the country it might win him environmental endorsements. That is, if he could explain his longtime, and very public affair, with the fuel-hungry Hummer. It was Schwarzenegger himself who helped persuade General Motors eleven years ago to produce the military Humvee as a civilian vehicle. Now, the candidate seeks to morph that potential liability into an indication of his initiative, as mechanics convert his Hummer to alternative fuel.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I want to show them my car when it is done and inspire Detroit, let them know this is what you can do. I guarantee you that will send the message very loud and clear and they will start building Hummers that will have hydrogen fuel.

LOBET: Asked why he didn’t do this earlier, Schwarzenegger said he’d only recently learned it was possible.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Let me tell you something. The things that I have learned in the last months since I am running for office are spectacular.

LOBET: Schwarzenegger does not claim to understand the environmental details. Instead, he’s relying on expert counsel, including high profile environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – who’s also his wife’s cousin – and a team of less famous but longtime environmental Republicans.

For Living on Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet

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Emerging Science Note/Infrasound

CURWOOD: Just ahead: The irony in a bridge that may disconnect a people from their culture. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: An odd feeling in the pit of your stomach. A sense that someone is watching you. Chills down your spine. Scientists say these often-inexplicable emotions might that e explained by infrasound.

Infrasound is extreme low frequency sound played at levels most human can’t hear. To test the effects on infrasound on humans, a team of scientists in England used a pipe to create a twenty-hertz tone. Then, they reproduced the tone during a concert, mixing it in and out of the contemporary music being played on stage. Almost a quarter of the 750 people in the audience reported strange feelings during the pieces that included infrasound, such as a sensation of sorrow or fear, or getting chills.

Scientists don’t know exactly how infrasound causes these responses. The psychologist on the team says emotional responses might occur when the brain tries to interpret low frequency sounds. Volcanoes and earthquakes, for example, make infrasound when active. But to understand why some people have physical responses, such as feeling hot or cold sensations, the researchers have invited a physiologist to join the continuing study.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Cynthia Graber.


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

[MUSIC: Various Artists “Til’ The Morning Comes” PICKIN ON NEIL YOUNG – A TRIBUTE (No Label)]

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A Bridge Too Far?

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

At the northern end of the archipelago that stretches a thousand miles down Chile toward Cape Horn is an island the size of Puerto Rico, called Chiloé. Chiloé has developed its own mythology and culture, thanks to its isolation. Its folklore, quaint towns, succulent seafood and the picturesque ferry crossing have made it a tourism treasure.

But some fear the island's mystique may soon be lost. For its 2010 bicentennial, Chile wants to build the longest bridge in Latin America, to join Chiloé with the rest of the nation. The government promises faster access to hospitals and easier access for tourists. Yet many islanders claim this bridge isn't really for them, but for a fish – and a foreign fish at that. As part of “Worlds of Difference,” a series by Homelands Productions, Alan Weisman reports.


WEISMAN: A ghost is singing.


WEISMAN: His words tell how he drowned when a storm snatched the boat that was taking him to his wedding.


WEISMAN: The place where his bride waited in vain is a big green island that hangs like a teardrop off the south coast of Chile, called Chiloé.


WEISMAN: On Chiloé, hearing ghosts or seeing spirits is accepted, even expected. There’s La Pincoya, a long-haired nymph in a seaweed skirt whose dance lures the fish. Or El Trauco, the gnarly forest troll who’s to blame when single girls on Chiloé find themselves pregnant. And our unlucky groom is now surely aboard a schooner named El Caleuche .

CÅRDENAS: [IN SPANISH] the Caleuche is a phantom ship. Its crews are drowned sailors, lost at sea. Whenever the fog enshrouds the shore or moves up the rivers, that means El Caleuche is here.


WEISMAN: For centuries, the phantom ship Caleuche had no shortage of drowned seamen. Chiloé’s original natives, the Mapuche Indians, had only bark canoes to reach their cousins on the mainland, a mile-and-a-half across a windy channel. The sailboats used by settlers sent to this farthest outpost of the Spanish Empire weren’t much safer.

CÅRDENAS: [IN SPANISH] We’re in the Santa Maria de Loreto de Achao church, the oldest wooden church in Chile.


WEISMAN: Chiloé historian Renato Cårdenas is descended from a Spanish sea captain who ran aground here in 1613. Stroking his silky gray goatee, Renato explains that this island was so remote that missionaries couldn’t even get nails to build churches

CÅRDENAS: [IN SPANISH] This church was made with wooden pegs, no nails.

WEISMAN: Isolated together, Chiloé’s Spaniards and Mapuches intermingled blood lines and beliefs, and called themselves Chilotes.


WEISMAN: In 1958, regular ferry service finally began.

MALE ON FERRY: [IN SPANISH] Renato Cårdenas!

Palitos—houses built on stilts—on the island of Chiloé. (Photo: Alan Weisman)

WEISMAN: Soon, tourists arrived to try to glimpse El Trauco, and to see stilt houses, and wooden churches built from pegs and interlocking shingles, so charming that they’ve been recognized by UNESCO.


OYAZUN: [IN SPANISH] The churches are now official world heritage sites. Chiloé also has more than 30 folk festivals every summer.

WEISMAN: Felix Oyazún heads a local development council. He says tourists come for Chilote folklore and music, and a cuisine of 200 native potatoes and huge mussels and oysters. But the enchantment, he says, starts with the crossing.

OYAZUN: [IN SPANISH] Arriving by ferry is like going through a magic door to an island, like none that exists anywhere else in Chile or South America.


WEISMAN: Which is why he was stunned to hear about Chile’s plan to turn his island into a peninsula. For its bicentennial in 2010, the government wants to build Latin America’s longest suspension bridge, at a cost of a third of a billion dollars. That would turn a 20 minute ferry passage into a three minute car trip.

OYAZUN: [IN SPANISH] It will be a real shock for the tourists. Chiloé needs an airport, a hospital, roads. It would be contradiction to have a gorgeous luxury of a bridge to such a deficient place. The government has to come to its senses.


WEISMAN: Nine ferry boats, with four diesels apiece, run constantly between the mainland and the island.

VILLALOBOS: [IN SPANISH]: The ferries serve their function, but they just aren’t enough.

WEISMAN: Businessman Sergio Villalobos leads support for the bridge from the town of Ancud. He thinks the sheer volume of traffic a bridge carries would more than make up for the loss of some romantic tourists.

VILLALOBOS: [IN SPANISH] When the Golden Gate was built, they went from 10 thousand trips a month to 140 thousand vehicles every day.

WEISMAN: And all those customers, he adds, will fortify culture, not harm it.

VILLALOBOS: [IN SPANIH] We’ll train more people to form folklore groups for the tourist flow, like hula professionals in Hawaii, or Mariachis in Mexico. That used to be just for fun, now there are Mariachi schools. We need to do that here. Bridges bring progress, and new industry.

WEISMAN: Ancud could use new industry. This town of 30 thousand used to be Chiloé’s fishing capital, but cod and sea bass are now so depleted that it’s down to one processing plant. Yet, when you mention the jobs the bridge might bring to local fishermen, you don’t get the expected reply.

MALE: [IN SPANISH] It would be worse for us, because traditions would be lost. The magic of the island would be lost. Our mythology would lost.


WEISMAN: Bridges form connections, unite communities. Yet all over this island, emotions run high against one that would link Chiloé to the modern world. One reason, say these fishermen, is the belief that it’s not really for Chiloé at all.

MALE: [IN SPANISH] It’s just to benefit the salmon industry...

WEISMAN: In Chile, fishing is fishing, but salmon is an industry. Today, half the salmon U.S. consumers eat comes from here. But 25 years back, there were no salmon in this country.

CÁRDENAS: [IN SPANISH] We are in Curaco de Vélez, an historic place, this is where salmon farming began, not just in Chiloé, but in all Chile.


WEISMAN: A lot of us are grateful for farmed salmon. In an age of collapsing sea harvests, groceries and sushi bars everywhere abound with thick orange salmon filets. Maybe you’ve heard that Chile is the world’s second biggest salmon exporter, after Norway. But in these globalized times, that’s a little confusing because half the Chilean companies are owned by Norwegians themselves or their European neighbors. In the 1970s, tests showed that isolated Chiloé had some of the clearest water left on the planet. Soon, European salmon growers were floating giant cages of Atlantic salmon transplanted from Norway in lakes and inlets all around this Pacific island.


WEISMAN: Renato Cårdenas talks to a fisheries technician at a new installation on a bay near Castro, the city where he teaches.

MALE: [IN SPANISH] We have 280,000 fish, around 40,000 fish per cage. In two months, we’ll double.


WEISMAN: All those fish, yet only two men are working here. Automated feeders deliver pellets made of ground-up sardines, anchovies and jack mackerel. To keep the salmon coming, Chile has become the world’s second biggest producer of fishmeal.

MALE: [IN SPANISH] A motor pushes food to the cages, so fewer workers are needed and the salmon grow more uniformly. We monitor by camera to make sure they eat everything, so less food is lost.

Algae pollution and salmon platforms (Photo: Alan Weisman)

WEISMAN: Yet many pellets pass right through the cages. Combined with salmon feces on lake bottoms and sea floors, they create enormous algae blooms in Chiloé’s once crystalline waters. The same thing happened in Norway - one reason why the Norwegians came here. Chiloé fishermen claim this pollution, and aggressive escaped salmon, are ruining natural fishing grounds.


INFANTE: The total sales for the year 2002 were $973 million worth of exports.

WEISMAN: Rodrigo Infante, general manager of the National Salmon Growers’ Trade Association, says Chile is on its way to becoming the world’s number one salmon producer.

INFANTE: We feel the bridge itself will be a positive thing for the island and its people.

WEISMAN: The bridge, he explains, is actually key to a grand plan that goes far beyond Chiloé.

INFANTE: Well, Chile has 55,000 kilometers of coastline and 95 percent of that to the south – plenty, plenty, plenty of areas to develop.

WEISMAN: That southern coastline is a pristine puzzle of islands, fjords, and volcanoes. No road can traverse it. But a bridge to Chiloé would extend the Pan American highway 100 miles farther, creating a gateway to those untapped regions. Chile’s grand vision is fish farms clear down to Tierra del Fuego, to triple salmon production.

Mussel Cleaning, salmon cages, Calen, Chiloé (Photo: Alan Weisman)


WEISMAN: On the eastern shore of Chiloé, Renato Cárdenas and his cousin Pancho gather mussels.

CÅRDENAS: [IN SPANISH] I was born here on the shore. I grew up like algae, like a mollusc. This beach was my playground.

WEISMAN: Behind them rises their hamlet’s wooden church steeple, and hills where teams of oxen plow. In front lie many green islands. And beyond on the mainland, the snowy peaks of the Chilean Andes, golden in the afternoon light.


WEISMAN: Just offshore bobs a huge raft of the omnipresent aluminum cages, near a line of abandoned styrofoam floats.

CÅRDENAS: [IN SPANISH] That’s a salmon farm, and that’s the remains of one. They contaminated the bottom so badly, they had to move it.


WEISMAN: Where they moved it was right atop rich shellfish beds where Renato’s relatives collect. So they’ve had to work a little harder to fill their 30-kilo sacks with two local mussel varieties: small, sweet choros and big, meaty cholgas.

CÅRDENAS: Adelante. Pase. Hola!

Renato Cårdenas, Curanto bread (Photo: Alan Weisman)   

WEISMAN: Inside, three women at a wood stove are grating a heap of yellow and purple potatoes, mixing them with lard and flour, then patting them into rolls.


WEISMAN: In truth, there have always been bridges to Chiloé, like the satellite dish that brings the Simpsons in Spanish to the TV the kids watch while their mothers cook. Another leads back to a heritage shared across time and ocean with other Pacific isles, from Easter Island to Polynesia. What they are preparing here would be called luau on Hawaii. On Chiloé, it is curanto.


Cárdenas gathers pangue leaves.jpg Caption: Renato Cárdenas gathers pangue leaves. (Photo: Alan Weisman)

WEISMAN: On the hillside above the house, Renato and the men, cousins and neighbors, cut three-foot wide pangue leaves.


WEISMAN: They’ll cover the loaves of potato bread and the mounds of mussels, to seal in the steam from the fire-heated rocks. The cooking hole is the same one they’ve been using for generations.


WEISMAN: It took only an hour for the curanto to cook, but the eating lasts twice as long. Silence descends except for the clatter of mussel shells and the passing of wine bottles. Until Pancho’s accordion and the guitars come out.


WEISMAN: Sometime past midnight, the music ends. Renato Cårdenas sits with his cousins on the wooden steps of the house his grandfather built. Directly above hang the Milky Way and southern cross, but they shine fainter than they used to.

CARDENA: [IN SPANISH] There is no night here anymore.

WEISMAN: Offshore, the huge platform of floating salmon cages glares under floodlights. About a year ago, someone reasoned that since salmon feed by sight, by adding lights you could grow them to size in eight months instead of twelve.

CARDENA: [IN SPANISH] The world becomes tangled in sound.

WEISMAN: Along with the night, tranquility has also vanished. Since little electricity reaches Chiloé’s tiny coastal hamlets, each salmon raft has a droning diesel generator to power its lights.


WEISMAN: Chilote legends say that Chiloé was formed when an angered sea serpent, Quaiquai, made the waters rise, flooding the land. Taking pity, the land serpent Tenten lifted the mountains and the islands, so people could seek refuge.

CÅRDENAS: [IN SPANISH] About a decade ago, a big storm here, destroyed half the salmon cages. Masses of free salmon, swimming in the open. The people’s explanation was that Quaiquaí was responding to what they are doing to the sea. This was Quaiquaí’s revenge.

WEISMAN: It’s well-known on Chiloe that the center column of the new bridge will rest on a rock that used to be an island, until an earthquake in 1960 submerged it. Or maybe that was Quaiquaí, too.


WEISMAN: The spirits won’t let the bridge happen either, says one of Renato’s cousins.


WEISMAN: Renato smiles. Maybe not, he replies.


WEISMAN: For Living on Earth, on the island of Chiloé, I’m Alan Weisman reporting.


CURWOOD: Our story on Chiloé is part of “Worlds of Difference,” a Homelands Productions series funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. For pictures and more information on Chiloé, visit our website, livingonearth.org.


Related link:
For bonus audio tracks and photos, go to the “Worlds of Differences” website

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week - some European nations are moving to ban the ritual slaughter required for kosher foods. They say it’s cruel to animals. But Jewish leaders say anti-semitism is at play.

MALE: I don’t think there has ever been a time since the war that the Jewish communities in Europe felt itself to be under pressure and this pressure comes from the sorts of arguments that are motivated by other agendas rather than the pure agenda of cruelty towards animals.

CURWOOD: The kosher controversy - next time on the next Living on Earth. And between now and then you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to our website, livingonearth.org.


CURWOOD: We leave you this week riding the trams of Lisbon. Michael Rusenberg and Hans Ulrich Werner made this composition from sounds recorded along the city’s many streetcar routes.

[EE. Michael Rusenberg, Hans Ulrich Werner “Trams / Soundmarks and Signals)” LISBOA! A SOUNDSCAPE PORTRAIT (WDR)]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. You can find us at Living on Earth dot org. Our staff includes: Carly Ferguson, Elizabeth Kline, Liz Lempert, Nathan Marcy, Susan Shepherd, James Curwood and Tom Simon. Al Avery runs our website. Our interns are Rebecca Griffin, Kathy Lutz and Wynne Parry. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

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