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

November 5, 2004

Air Date: November 5, 2004



Tally on the Environment

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Part One: With President Bush reinstated for another four years and a wider Republican majority in both houses of Congress, what’s in store for the environment? Host Steve Curwood talks with Kim Strassel, a senior editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, and Bill McKibben, a visiting scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College and author of “The End of Nature.”
Part Two: The Vote and the Environment Environmental groups invested millions trying to make the environment a voting issue in this year's elections. Did it work? Our Washington correspondent Jeff Young and our Western Editor Ingrid Lobet talk with host Steve Curwood about some battleground states and Senate races where the environment showed up at the polls. (29:50)

Emerging Science Note/Brain Boost / Jennifer Chu

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Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports that a little shock to the brain could improve your verbal skills. (01:20)

Greening Kenya

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Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai talks about her work started in the late seventies encouraging African women to plant trees as a way to enrich their lives and help the environment. One of Kenya’s leading political dissidents, Maathai has overseen the planting of 30 million trees and has been a leading proponent of environmental change in Kenya. (15:30)

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Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Bill McKibben, Kim Strassel, Wangari MaathaiREPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet, Jeff YoungNOTE: Jennifer Chu


CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. As the Bush administration heads into its newly won second term, supporters say the bigger majority for Republicans means a new day for the environment.

STRASSEL: Republicans are actually becoming sort of optimists on the environment. They’re the ones saying let’s look at some approaches to some of these laws that have been around for 30 years and we know have some shortcomings. How can we do this in a more smart way that both allows us to both grow economically and helps our environment?

CURWOOD: But critics say with no need to worry about re-election, the White House will set back environmental protection for years.

MCKIBBEN: I think that there’s no question that this is the most un-environmentally-minded administration since the word “environment” was coined, and I think that it’ll be squared or cubed in the second term.

CURWOOD: The election and the environment - this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.


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

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Tally on the Environment


CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

(White House photo)

With George W. Bush elected to a second term as president of the United States, and with a bigger Republican majority in both houses of Congress, we thought we’d look at how the outcome of the election might affect the nation’s environmental agenda. With me now to discuss what lies ahead is Kim Strassel. She’s the senior editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal. Hello Kim.


CURWOOD: Bill McKibben also joins us. He’s a visiting scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College, and author of “The End of Nature.” Hi Bill.

MCKIBBEN: Hey, Steve.

CURWOOD: So let’s start with the running battle over the drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, also known as ANWR. The president has been a proponent of drilling in ANWR but has been met with opposition in the Senate. What do you see happening now? Kim, let’s start with you.

STRASSEL: I think what’s important to note – I mean, what goes hand in hand with Bush being reelected – is the victory that Republicans won in the Senate, too. Because most of the things that have been stymied in President Bush’s environmental agenda were stopped because they couldn’t overcome a filibuster in the Senate. There’s now 55 Republicans.

That’s certainly not enough to overcome a filibuster easily, but it’s gonna make it easier. And especially on things like ANWR, where they got very close in previous votes, they may actually be able to do it. And I would imagine that since a first-term priority of the president was passing an energy bill that included it, it will be among one of the things that comes up right away in the new Congress.


MCKIBBEN: Yeah, I think that all along that one of President Bush’s symbolic goals has been to put some oil wells into the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. I mean it clearly doesn’t, you know, really go to the point of any of our energy issues but it’s a symbolic victory for them to do that. And I would be very pleasantly surprised if they hadn’t done it by this time next year.

CURWOOD: What do you mean “symbolically” important?

MCKIBBEN: I think they want to stake the claim that there’s really not much importance to wilderness at all and that if there’s resources in a place, then the most important thing to do is for people to go and get them. I don’t think they’ve ever been comfortable with the wilderness idea that grew out of a very different political age, and I think we’ve seen a lot of that in the first term. Kim’s absolutely right. With the change in the Senate it’ll make it all the more easier for them to do that in ANWR and elsewhere.

CURWOOD: Kim, how fair is that analysis? It seems to me that President Bush has backed away from some drilling in sensitive areas. For example, he backed away from his proposal to lease lands for natural gas exploration on the Rocky Mountain Front there in Montana after receiving pressure from conservationists there. So what about Bill McKibben’s statement that the administration doesn’t really care much about wilderness?

STRASSEL: (LAUGHS) Oh, I think that’s just not the case. I mean, you know, a lot of people like to suggest that any Republican doesn’t have any sort of care for nature, but, you know, I’ve never met a Republican who wasn’t a strong environmentalist. You know, what always is overstated about ANWR is that we’re actually talking about a piece of land here that’s about the size of Dulles Airport.

And there’s a very strange notion out there – I mean, Bill was saying that he doesn’t think that Republicans are comfortable with the whole era where wilderness protection was out there. I, on the other hand, think there’s a generation of people who aren’t comfortable with the concept that we can progress, we can actually do things like resource management and getting resources out of ANWR without ruining our wilderness.

This is one of the great things that America’s good at. I mean, we put people on the moon. We can certainly figure out a way to extract a little bit of oil from a very small piece of ground in Alaska without ruining American wilderness.

CURWOOD: So, the White House now has a bigger margin in the Senate to work with, a somewhat bigger margin in the House to work with. Wasn’t able to get a comprehensive energy bill passed through Congress in the first four years of the president’s administration. So what’s likely to happen now on the broader picture of getting an energy bill through? Kim?

STRASSEL: I don’t think they’re going to have a difficulty getting an energy bill through anymore. And, in fact, I think the worry should be – and this is probably something maybe Bill and I would agree on--I think the worry will be that it will be so easy to get it through that they will just stuff through a whole bunch of incentives for their various companies. And subsidies, that it may be very subsidy-laden bill rather than a smart energy bill that is about sort of smart production. That would be my worry.

I don’t think that they’ll have a difficulty getting it through. One of the reasons they didn’t before was because of ANWR I think it’s just going to be easier to break that hump this time. And ANWR aside, a vast number of Senators want an energy bill because an energy bill is one of those things that actually brings home benefits for just about everyone’s state.

CURWOOD: Yeah, I want to turn to Bill but, for a moment, Kim, explain to me – what do you mean by subsidies here?

STRASSEL: You know, the worry I think from some people, myself included, is that you throw a lot of perks in there for a whole bunch of different companies that really aren’t about letting the market decide what’s best for -- what is actually our smartest or best energy sources? Where best to get them? And, you know, what is most economical?

We need a more market-based energy policy. Rather than kind of going back to the 1970s, when it was all about saying, well, this type of oil drilling is good so we’re going to give a lot of companies a whole bunch of government money to do that kind of drilling. And sort of centrally directing where we get our resources from.

My own preference if we had an energy bill would be more about sort of going back through, looking at certain regulations that don’t make a lot of sense. And sort of making sure that we have as much of an open market as we could for letting the market decide which sort of resources were best for us to be using.

CURWOOD: And certainly subsidies cost money at a time when we’re facing a sizable federal deficit.

STRASSEL: Oh, absolutely. The bill they had last time around was billions and billions of dollars, and the editorial page here certainly was not a fan of it.

CURWOOD: Bill, she says that you are going to go along with her on this one.

STRASSEL: I don’t know! (LAUGHS)

MCKIBBEN: Well, the last energy bill that the president put forward was, she’s right, absolutely laden with special favors for every possible fossil fuel interest that there was. It will reappear probably in more egregious form this time and it’ll be passed. All of this comes from the fact that the U.S., under Vice President Cheney’s energy plan committee, has no real vision for the future of energy in this country other than, basically, more drilling, more production, more refining. They’re not grappling in a serious way with the necessary transition away from fossil fuel and towards renewable energy in the relatively near future. That leaves us alone among industrialized nations in that condition. And I don’t think that that’s likely to change much over the next four years. I think it’ll basically be a time-out for anything really innovative in energy policy.

CURWOOD: How do you see the Bush administration proceeding on climate change? Now, the president has taken some small steps in acknowledging that climate change is likely caused by human activity, yet our nation has decided to stand apart from much of the world. The Kyoto Protocol, that is, the international agreement to limit emissions, is going to go into effect with the ratification by the Russians shortly. So, what would the administration change, if anything, about its policies on climate change? Kim?

STRASSEL: I don’t think that the administration will change its policies. I think we’ll have another four years of George W. Bush continuing with his voluntary programs. The biggest threat that he had to those programs were from within, from in the Senate. And I think, again, since the Senate has changed its proportions, and that there are more, not just Republicans, but I think you’d call conservative Republicans that are taking office, that it’s going to be far more difficult to think of a Senate legislation that would ever set up, for instance, a mandatory program. And personally I think that’s a good idea. I think we have a lot more to learn about this, that having another four years to think about it is useful. While the earth is certainly getting warmer we have a lot of work to do yet deciding on what has caused it, what can be done, and whether or not it’s even a bad thing.

CURWOOD: So, the efforts by. the bipartisan effort by Senator John McCain and Senator Joe Lieberman to start to put some mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions here in the United States. You think that’s a bad idea?

STRASSEL: Yeah, I have not been a fan of that. Again, I think that we … the world has sort of rushed into this. It’s an enormous issue with science. And when you look at all the ins and outs of it, and how much we don’t know yet, it is actually quite mind-boggling to me that people have talked about such grand plans.

CURWOOD: Bill McKibben, let me turn to you. What do you think the Bush administration should be doing about climate change, in general, and the Kyoto Protocol, in particular?

MCKIBBEN: It was, I think, striking last month that the head of the British Conservative Party, the lead Tory Michael Howard, rose in Parliament to lambaste Tony Blair for not getting the United States to play a larger role on global warming. Blair said he would do his very best to bring his buddy George along in his second term. But I think the prospects for that are absolutely nil. What progress there is in this country is going to be on the state and local level. There are some encouraging signs there – for instance, the work that’s going on in California on automobile mileage. But I think that as far as any kind of real coordinated federal policy goes, this was a, you know, Americans decided that gay marriage was a bigger threat than global warming. And so, we’re not going to see a darn thing for four more years.

CURWOOD: So Bill, what’s your perspective on another thing that was left undone in President Bush’s first term, and that was what he called the Clear Skies Initiative-- plans designed to reduce power plant pollution. What do you think happens now to that proposal?

MCKIBBEN: Oh, I think it’ll muddle along in some form. I think most of the pressure’s off for any real progress; I think it was mostly cosmetic anyway and clearly not something that, you know, anyone’s heart was really behind. But there’ll be some kind of air pollution bill will emerge that will make some small strides in the very distant future, and none of it will be anywhere near as useful as simply enforcing the Clean Air Act as it’s written now. But, you know, that Clean Air Act came from a very different age. There was a very different kind of Republican in power 30 years ago in this country. The people who were absolutely instrumental to passing the Wilderness Act, to passing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act – they were Republicans, but they were a completely different kind of Republican than we see in power in Washington at the moment.

CURWOOD: Kim Strassel?

STRASSEL: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. I think that the Republicans we have in power these days are much more open-minded and smart about the way we can deal with energy policy and environmental policy. Clear Skies, to me, is so exciting because it’s about free market environmentalism. And yeah, 30 years ago we set up a lot of mandates that were about forcing people to do certain things that has led to a lot of lawsuits. It’s led to a lot of resentment about our environmental policy. It’s led to a lot of divisions where certain people feel they’re the ones who are always picked on, and that they’re not the ones who have a stake in positively changing the way our environment is improved. And that to me is what’s so exciting about Clear Skies, is that it is about using market-based incentives to give everyone a stake in this process. And what’s so great is that we know it worked.

[MUSIC: Eric Clapton “New Recruit” MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK RUSH (Reprise – 1992)]

CURWOOD: My guests are Kim Strassel, she’s a senior editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, and Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature” and a visiting scholar at Middlebury College. Our discussion continues just ahead. You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: “The Star Spangled Banner” DC HALL’S NEW CONCERT & QUADRILLE BAND: UNION AND LIBERTY (Dorian – 1994) ]

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. I’m speaking with Kim Strassel, senior editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, and Bill McKibben, a visiting scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College and author of “The End of Nature.”

And I’d like to ask you both, it seems like President Bush will have the opportunity to make a number of appointments to the Supreme Court. Some would predict that as many as three seats may open up on the high court over the next four years. The Supreme Court has weighed in on a number of environmental issues in recent years; how might a more conservative court affect environmental issues? Kim, I want to turn to you first.

STRASSEL: I think the most immediate effect they could have, and it has to do with some of the cases that they’ve heard in recent years, too, some of the more contentious cases will be on property rights. And that would be a welcome…I mean, especially, well, depending on who he appointed, that could be very useful. I think we’ve seen an erosion of property rights over the years and a lot of confusion in the area about what the law actually does.

On that point I would point out that there was actually a very interesting initiative on the ballot in Oregon, which passed, which will require the state to compensate property owners if their land is regulated in a such a way that it takes away value from them. And that is a first, and it’s a big step, and I would imagine you’d see that in some other states over time.

CURWOOD: Bill McKibben?

MCKIBBEN: I think Kim’s analysis is absolutely correct. I think it’ll be in the areas of takings and property rights that the court will work the most change in the years to come. I disagree with her outlook, I think that one of the most important things for any community is to be able to effectively figure out how to plan its common future, including its sort of common physical future, without having to pay a king’s ransom at all times. But I think that’s she’s right. I think this will change quickly with a new Supreme Court.

CURWOOD: I want to ask particularly about the future of the Endangered Species Act. Some have said that, hey, you know, if a certain bird shows up on my property, on my trees that I was going to sell I can’t cut them, I lose value there. The Endangered Species Act is in some cases an inappropriate taking of my private property, or reduces the value of my private property. There’s been some pressure to makes some changes there. What do you see coming for the Endangered Species Act? Kim?

STRASSEL: The problem with the Endangered Species Act at the moment, and you’ve probably heard this before, is that, you know, a lot of landowners’ attitude about the Endangered Species Act is shoot, shovel and shut up. Which is, if you find an Endangered Species Act species on your land, get rid of it before anyone knows because it’s only going to bring you headaches. That is the wrong kind of attitude and it’s what comes from having mandates like the Endangered Species Act that do not encourage people to take an active interest, where they have some sort of reason, some incentive, to want to improve the lot of species across the country. And I think that we should be looking at how we can reform the law in a way that is more positive.

CURWOOD: Bill McKibben?

MCKIBBEN: In the first place, the Endangered Species Act is not being enforced rigorously at the moment and I think that enforcement will grow ever more lax. And then I think that the kind of basic structural change that you’re talking about is likely to happen, and I think it’s a good reflection of this sort of current conception of what value is in the country that we’re building now.

CURWOOD: What do you mean by what value is?

MCKIBBEN: Well, that we can measure value only in terms of, you know, trees not cut down – not in terms of things like pieces of creation going in and out of existence.

CURWOOD: So we’re looking, from your perspective, at pretty much another four years of pretty much the same environmental program?

MCKIBBEN: No, I think it’ll get…I think the ideological commitment to devalue environmental protection will get much stronger in the next four years. I think without the check of a reelection that things that were just a little too far beyond the pale, like gutting the Endangered Species Act, will come into the open. I think that there’s no question that this is the most un-environmentally-minded administration since the word environment was coined, and I think it’ll be squared or cubed in the second term.

CURWOOD: Kim Strassel?

STRASSEL: I find great cause for optimism. I mean, the extreme environmental community really likes to, you know, talk about the doom and gloom and how awful this has been. But the majority of Americans know that, or at least I hope they know, that the environment is getting cleaner, that things are getting better. And, you know, I think maybe this is the difference.

I would like to think the voters are beginning to see that Republicans are actually becoming the sort of optimists on the environment, which is interesting. They’re the ones that are saying, let’s try some new ways and see if we can do it even better. Let’s look at some new approaches to some of these laws that have been around for 30 years and we know have some shortcomings. How can we fix those shortcomings? How can we do this in a more sort of smart way that both allows us to grow economically and help our environment?

That’s a really positive message, and I think you saw it with George Bush’s message about Healthy Forests. And hopefully they’re going to get a chance to do that again over the next four years with some other pieces of legislation

CURWOOD: Kim Strassel is a senior editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, and Bill McKibben is a visiting scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and author of “The End of Nature.” Thank you both for taking this time with me today.

MCKIBBEN: Steve, thank you, what a pleasure.

STRASSEL: Yeah, thank you. And Bill, it was very nice talking to you.

MCKIBBEN: Indeed, indeed.

CURWOOD: Several national environmental groups waged an unprecedented, multi-million dollar campaign to bring attention to environmental issues in the contest for president and some key Senate and House races. Well, did it make any difference?

Our correspondents have been tracking these issues in battleground states, from Colorado’s public lands to West Virginia coal to Florida’s beaches and Nevada’s nuclear waste. And Living on Earth Washington correspondent Jeff Young joins me now. Hello, Jeff.

YOUNG: Hi Steve.

CURWOOD: Jeff, where do you see the environmental issues having an impact at the polls in the presidential race?

YOUNG: I think Nevada and West Virginia. In one of those, Nevada, I think the issue ended up helping Kerry, but in West Virginia I saw it cutting the other way. I think President Bush was helped by Kerry’s environmental record there.

CURWOOD: Kerry’s record helped Bush?

YOUNG: I think so. Kerry’s record in the Senate shows he’s strong on clean air, serious about climate change, took a stand against mountain top removal coal mining. Now, in a lot of places people might look at that pretty positively, but not in coal country. Jack Gerard is president of the National Mining Association. He says people tied to the coal industry saw Kerry’s environmental record as a direct threat.

GERARD: And when you add up that agenda it doesn’t support continued coal production in the states. They get it, they understand their jobs are on the line, and I think they voted for their jobs.

YOUNG: And the mining industry really went all out to support Bush. Gerard, for example, is a Bush pioneer, meaning he raised at least $100,000 for the Bush campaign. Kerry tried to hit back by including a lot of money for clean coal technology in his energy plan, but I don’t think it worked. Bush won West Virginia by about 12 percent of the vote – that’s twice the margin of his victory from four years ago. Of course it’s not all due to the coal issues, but I think a good chunk of it is.

CURWOOD: Now what about Nevada? Here you have another energy-related issue at play: the Yucca Mountain project, that proposed storage site for all the nation’s nuclear power plant waste. We know this got a lot of attention in the campaign, with Kerry even pledging to stop the Yucca Mountain project if elected. How did it play out?

YOUNG: Well, most people in Nevada oppose Yucca Mountain and a lot of voters there, like these folks, said Yucca was an important issue for them.

WOMAN: I have many fears – that it’s not done right, that there’ll be problems and it will affect our state. And our children and our health and welfare.

MAN: I don’t want nuclear waste in my backyard any more than anyone else around the country would.

YOUNG: An exit poll commissioned by the Associated Press found two-thirds of Nevada voters identified Yucca Mountain as important in their decision-making.

CURWOOD: But Jeff, the numbers I have show that Nevada still went for President Bush by about three percent. If so many people there cared about Yucca Mountain, why didn’t Kerry do any better?

YOUNG: Something I learned in Nevada is that while most people oppose Yucca Mountain, many also think that there’s little that can be done to stop it. So maybe they just didn’t think Kerry could follow through on his pledge.

CURWOOD: Jeff, let’s turn now to Florida. In the 2000 election, Gore lost 90,000 votes to Ralph Nader and many of those votes were voted for environmental reasons. So this time, as I understand it, the environmental activists went down to Florida in great numbers to try to influence the race there. What happened?

YOUNG: Well they really did put a lot of effort into Florida, especially those hotly contested counties in between Tampa Bay and Orlando. Environmental groups put a lot of information out there about mercury coming from coal-fired power plants, they had TV ads about offshore oil drilling and Florida’s beaches. They put up billboards along the highway linking global warming and hurricanes. And some people, like this voter from Tampa, acted on that

MAN: Well, we just need a better, cleaner environment for our children, for the future. So the man who give me the best vision on who’s going to lead the direction for that, that’s who I’m casting a vote for.

YOUNG: But it wasn’t nearly enough to win Kerry those counties. In fact, Bush appears to have done better this year than he did in 2000 in some of those very counties where the environmental groups focused their efforts. So clearly, I think other issues just trumped the environmental concerns.

CURWOOD: Now, a big story this election, of course, is the Senate and the defeat of minority leader Tom Daschle there. Jeff, you saw an environmental issue playing a big role in that race, right?

YOUNG: I did. The defeat of the energy bill in a filibuster last fall arguably became the biggest issue in that South Dakota Senate race. South Dakota corn farmers benefit from ethanol – that’s the gasoline additive made from corn. The energy bill would have boosted the use of ethanol, but the energy bill also had a lot of other pork in it and it ended up failing in a filibuster. Daschle’s opponent, John Thune, argued that Daschle should have done more to pass the energy bill, and he really hammered him in ads like this one:

MAN: (IN OLD-TIMEY VOICE) Tom the Blocking Machine Daschle! His record for blocking unmatched in league history. An energy bill that would help South Dakota farmers, blocked! A permanent tax cut…

YOUNG: Daschle of course contested this version of things, but Thune pretty effectively painted this as an example of Daschle’s role as Democratic leader conflicting with the best interests of folks back home in South Dakota.

CURWOOD: And so Thune won that race narrowly, and Republicans took just about every other competitive race in the Senate. Jeff, you’re there in the Senate, tell me, what might these new arrivals mean for the environmental legislation that’s coming up?

YOUNG: The League of Conservation Voters, which ranks lawmakers on environmental issues, they put three of these – John Burr, of North Carolina, Mel Martinez of Florida, and Thune from South Dakota – on what they call the “dirty dozen” list, people with the worst environmental records. And those three replace Senators Edwards, Graham and Daschle—fairly strong environmental voices.

CURWOOD; Now there are also some new Democratic arrivals there in the Senate. I’d like to turn now to Ingrid Lobet, our Western correspondent. Hi Ingrid.

LOBET: Hi Steve.

CURWOOD: Now, you went to Colorado, where the race to fill the seat of Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell ended counter to the national trend and went to Attorney General Ken Salazar. I guess Mr. Salazar beat Pete Coors, chief of the Coors Brewing Company. What happened there?

LOBET: Well yeah, that was interesting because he won despite the fact that Colorado went for the president by seven percentage points. And in this Senate race, the environment really played a relatively prominent role. The League of Conservation Voters spent more here than in any other Senate race, about $750,000. When you would click on the Denver Post website the first thing you would see was an ad that was an apparent reference to Coors Brewery water violations; it was in the form of a “web wanted” poster.

[BANJO MUSIC AND VOICEOVER: Polluter Pete Coors is his name, help me catch him. If you find him, tell him that his polluting ways have got to stop.]

CURWOOD: So, what kind of Senator do you think Ken Salazar will be on the environment, or energy-related questions?

LOBET: Well, he’ll be Colorado’s junior Senator and people think that Salazar is likely to be measured on environmental questions. They expect him to be pro renewable energy, and to advocate a somewhat more restrictive approach to gas drilling in Colorado compared to his predecessor, and he’s against drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

One interesting thing to note is that on the west side of Colorado, where there’s a lot of oil and gas activity that Living on Earth has actually recently been reporting on, voters sent the brother of the Senator-elect, John Salazar, to Congress. And his opponent was more closely associated with energy exploration.

CURWOOD: Now Ingrid, I saw that one pollster, Floyd Ciruli, called election night an incredibly good night for the environment in Colorado. Was there something else he was talking about?

LOBET: He may have also been referring to the fact that voters in Colorado decided to force their larger utility companies to buy or produce ten percent of their electricity from clean sources – wind, solar, farm waste, etc. – by the year 2015. And other states have more dramatic requirements than that, but usually it’s state legislatures that pass these measures. This is the first time that the people spoke directly on the matter.

CURWOOD: Let’s here what some of them said.

MAN: In Colorado we have a lot to protect. I think alternative energy needs to be supported and I’m willing to pay more for it.

WOMAN: I voted for requiring alternative energy. I was in the Baltic this summer where there’s a lot of wind power-generated energy, and it was so exciting to see it that I wanted to see it back home.

CURWOOD: Ingrid, tell me, what was the base of support for this renewable energy measure?

LOBET: Well that was one of the interesting things: there were both Republicans and Democrats. And I think we might be seeing something of a shift here – the Colorado Farm Bureau supported it too, and as you know, Steve, farm bureaus are usually quite conservative and often find themselves at odds with environmentalists. But wind power is beginning to bring real money into some rural communities. In some places local schools and hospitals are feeling new rural income from the jobs and the increased tax base.

CURWOOD: And finally, I want to come back to you, Jeff Young, in Washington, to talk about the man that the environmental activists are saying is really the bright spot out of what they saw as a pretty bad day for their brand of politics. That’s the arrival in Washington of Barak Obama, the new Senator from Illinois.

YOUNG: Barak Obama calls himself the skinny guy with the funny name from the South Side of Chicago. He really came out of nowhere in the Democratic primary in Illinois. Next thing you know he’s giving the keynote address at the Democratic convention and he cruises to victory

He credits part of his success in the primary to early endorsements by environmental groups. They backed him because of his strong environmental record when he served in the state senate. He backed things like open space preservation and alternative energy. And he also draws links between urban air pollution and childhood asthma. His six-year-old daughter suffers asthma.

Another striking thing is that as a minority, Obama could make green issues matter to a broader audience. And I think you get a hint of that from this speech that he gave over the summer.

OBAMA: Environmentalism is not an upper income issue. It’s not a white issue. It’s not a black issue. It’s not a south or a north or east or west issue. It’s an issue that all of us have a stake in. And if I can do anything to make sure that not just my daughter, but every child in America has green pastures to run in and clean air to breathe and clean water to swim in, then that is something I’m going to work my hardest to make happen.

YOUNG: And he’s probably going to have to work hard, as a freshman Senator in a party that just lost a considerable amount of power.

CURWOOD: Jeff Young is Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent. Thanks Jeff for taking this time.

YOUNG: Thank you.

CURWOOD: And Ingrid Lobet is Living on Earth’s Western correspondent. Thank you Ingrid.

LOBET: Thanks Steve.

CURWOOD: To hear other views on what President Bush’s environmental agenda might be over the next four years, including a conversation with two environmental officials from previous administrations, Republican William Reilly and Democratic Katy McGinty, log onto our website, Living on Earth dot org. That’s Living on Earth dot o-r-g.

[MUSIC: Eric Clapton "Realization" MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK RUSH (Reprise – 1992)]

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Emerging Science Note/Brain Boost

CURWOOD: Just ahead: how one woman changed the face of Africa, starting with a few seedlings. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: Think fast - talk faster.

A recent experiment shows that applying a small electrical current to the front of your head for 20 minutes can give your brain the jolt it needs to juice up your verbal skills.

This may be especially good news for people who suffer from frontal temporal dementia, a brain condition that affects speech.

In the experiment conducted by researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Heath, volunteers were hooked up to a set of scalp electrodes. Researchers administered an imperceptible dose of electricity to some, while the control group received none. The volunteers were then asked to list as many words as they could which began with a particular letter.

The results: those who had received a current performed significantly better on the verbal test—naming nearly 20 percent more words—than the control group.

While researchers can’t fully explain the effect, they speculate that electrical current stimulates cells in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for generating words.

After the current passes through this region, brain cells are able to fire off signals more rapidly, thus increasing verbal ability. Scientists hope they’ll eventually be able to use electrode therapy—which they say is harmless—in combination with drugs as a treatment for dementia. So far, the only side effect appears to be an itchy scalp. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Jennifer Chu.

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

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Greening Kenya

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. In 1977, Wangari Maathai was watching the soil blow away on the deforested earth of her native country, Kenya. So, she planted a small nursery of trees in her backyard, and then convinced other African women to do the same. Now, 30 million trees later, this founder of the Greenbelt movement has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – the first environmentalist, and first African woman, to be so recognized. Wangari Maathai, welcome to Living on Earth.

MAATHAI: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: You’re now Deputy Minister of the Environment, and also member of Kenya’s Parliament, but you weren’t always a political insider. In fact, as one of Kenya’s leading political dissidents, you’ve been what – harassed by the government, arrested, beaten unconscious – things that would make someone else give up. But you didn’t.

I’m going to read something that you once wrote: “Courage, I guess the nearest it means is not having fear. Fear is the biggest enemy you have.” Why did you write that?

(Photo courtesy of The Goldman Foundation)

MAATHAI: I said that because sometimes people tell me that I’m very brave, and they ask me why I was not afraid, why I did what I was doing—sometimes doing things that were quite dangerous to my life. And the best way I can explain is that I did not project fear. And I think that quite often we feel when we project the consequences of our actions, then of course we can fear. If you project that you might die, you might lose the privileges of the position that you hold, you might be fired—for example, those of us who hold positions in the government—then you fear, because you are processing the consequences.

But if you are focused on what you want to attain, if you are focused on the goal, then you actually go right in there where many people would not dare. It’s like you almost become like the devil; you dare where angels dare not, because you are not projecting that. At least that’s the way I see myself, because it’s not that I am brave, or that I see the consequences and I stand there and say “shoot me,” as if I think that if the soldier shoots me the bullet is not going to go through my heart. But by not projecting, then I do not embrace that fear that then so often stops us from pursuing our goals.

CURWOOD: You were the first woman in East Africa to receive a doctorate degree; you have one in Biology. Tell me how you managed that.

MAATHAI: Well I think that I was very lucky. I had parents who appreciated education, so they sent me to school at a time when girls were not expected to go to school. And I did very well in school and was encouraged by my teachers and my parents, and especially my eldest brother. In 1960 I want to say that I was very lucky. I had just finished high school, and it was a time when this country was going through anticipated changes for independence. But it was also the time that Kennedy was planning to become the president of the United States. So between the politicians on both sides of the ocean, they organized a lift of some 300 Kenyan students to go to America. And I just happened to be there, and found myself in Kansas.

CURWOOD: Can you explain your tree planting project and how you got started? Where did the idea come from?

MAATHAI: Because I had joined the National Council of Women of Kenya. And in that forum, women would talk about the problems that they faced. And it was during that time that I kept hearing women say that they needed firewood, that children were suffering from malnutrition. They were also complaining about that they needed clean drinking water. And these were issues that I did not know as a child, because I lived in the same environment, and it was very endowed. And the more I listened to the women, and the more I observed their environment, the more I realized that what was happening was that the environment was becoming degraded.

And so I responded. I responded by asking women to do something. I said, let us plant trees, because I thought if we planted trees we would protect the soils, we will give women firewood; if they plant fruit trees they would improve their diet. And I do believe that I am not persuaded by the symptoms of problems. I like to ask myself where does that come from, so that I can get to the root.

CURWOOD: Tell me what day-to-day life is like for a woman who is working in one of your tree planting programs, and what would motivate her to participate in the effort?

MAATHAI: An ordinary woman in the rural areas who would hear the message that she should plant trees will first be motivated by the fact that, especially if she lives in the highlands, she needs firewood. If she lives in very highly populated areas, she needs fencing material. As you know, many of our rural populations still build their houses within short periods – say ten years – you have to build another house, because these are not permanent houses. They’re mud houses, and the wood is degraded very quickly. So these are very good reasons to build…to plant trees. Also we need shade because of the sun; we need to break the wind. So, for an ordinary woman in the rural areas there are many good reasons to plant trees.

But we also injected into the campaign something that motivated them, and that was for every seedling that these women developed, if they planted it on their own farms, or if they gave it to their neighbors and the neighbor planted, it was important for that tree to survive. And that was the key to the success of the campaign: that those who planted were also charged with the responsibility of making sure that they survived. And if they survived, then the Greenbelt movement would compensate them with very little money, but for poor people it was good money in their hands, and they could do something like pay school fees, buy food, buy clothes. So it was a good income, a welcome incentive, and it actually made the difference. Because otherwise you can do a lot of planting, but if you don’t have a follow-up mechanism, all those trees die in time.

CURWOOD: By the way, just exactly how much, if I were a village woman, how much would I get for taking care of a tree?

MAATHAI: You’d get about four U.S. cents for every tree that survives. And that sounds like a very small amount of money, but if you multiply that several thousand times you get yourself a few dollars that you can use. And remember, the trees are also planted on their farms, so in another ten, 20 years they can now harvest. And the good thing about the tree, which became the symbol of our campaign, is that the symbol is something that starts from a small seed and then it grows, it becomes a big tree. It becomes an ecosystem itself. It becomes a home for birds, for small animals, for insects. So really, as the tree grows it changes you. It changes and it changes you along. And you form kind of a friendship with it, and you take care of it, it also eventually gives you wood, if it is a fruit tree it gives you fruit. So you develop a relationship that is very sustainable because, you know, you depend on each other, you become symbiotic friends.

CURWOOD: You’ve said that ordinary women have changed the minds of intractable governments. How have you seen that happen?

MAATHAI: Well, one thing that we discovered from the very beginning is that a lot of people did not make the connection between the problems that they were experiencing and environmental degradation. And we needed to give them what we called environmental education, so that they could make those linkages and address the causes of environmental degradation rather than be overwhelmed by the symptoms. But in the course of doing that we had to organize women. We had to bring them together in groups. They had to register so that we knew where they were. They had to meet at certain times in the course of the week.

Now this, the government did not want. And this is because we were, at that time, in a very oppressive dictatorial government that did not want ordinary people, especially in the rural areas, to be organized. So it became necessary for us to introduce in our education civic education, so that people could understand how we are governed, why we are governed, the way we are governed, and how the government and leaders play a role either in the protection or in the destruction of the environment. So that they could see, for example, that if you have a very dictatorial, irresponsible government – that government can privatize your forests, it can privatize your open green spaces, it can destroy your environment. It can misappropriate the tax money that people pay, and it can ignore the responsibilities that it is supposed to have.

So we introduced a very strong component called “civic and environmental education.” And eventually it was that that created a pro-democracy movement within the Greenbelt movement so that people did not only see the need to plant trees, but also the need to change the government and to hold the government accountable for the way it managed their natural resources.

CURWOOD: Any advice for women around the world? I mean, here in the United States, as in many places, there are still barriers. We’ve yet to see a woman as president, for example, here, or in a number of positions. We don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment that some people feel would be important for women. Out of your experience, any advice for women around the world?

MAATHAI: Well, what I would like to tell the women around the world, for me to get the prize, it’s a symbol for all of us women all over the world. Our work, our persistence, our commitment, our struggles. Our low positions have been elevated, and today we can walk tall and know that we can represent the best. And I want to say, indeed, that I know that as the Nobel committee was making this decision – which is a landmark decision because, as you know, it is the first time that the Nobel committee decided to award the prize to an area that is not directly connected with a conflict, or resolving conflict. This is an area for environmental democracy, and it was linked to peace.

And what the committee was thinking is that here is an approach to development that is preempting potential conflict. And for me, as I try to understand what the committee was doing, I thought, yes. Here in Africa we cook on three stones still in most of our rural areas, and we know that you cannot cook on two stones. So democracy and good management of the environment are two stones, and the third is peace. The three are inseparable.

CURWOOD: I want you to look ahead now and tell me, what do you see as the future for the lives of people in Africa? To what extent do you see things improving over this next century, or perhaps not? And can you give me your biggest reasons for the trends that you see?

MAATHAI: Those of us who live on this continent have of course gone through the process of colonialism. And the process of colonialism often is very destructive because it encourages you to doubt yourself, it encourages you to forget who you are so that you are – colonialism gives you a new image of yourself. And when you begin to understand what that process has done to you, and has done to your fellow countrymen, then you realize that you are trapped, you are not free. But you need to rehabilitate yourself, but you need to accept who you are.

One of the best things that has happened with this prize is the fact that I also see that the Nobel committee sent us in Africa – as Kenyans, as Africans, as women in Africa – a message: that the solution to our problems lies within us, that we can come up with the solutions. Because what we have been doing here is not something that was imported from abroad; this is something that we generated right here within our own limitations. And we are being encouraged to promote better management of our enormous resources.

But we are being told that if we can manage them properly, if we can manage them within the environment of a democratic governance, that we have leaders who govern the countries and govern their people for the people, not for themselves, not to enrich themselves. And if we avoided conflict that are based on our short-term gains for individual people within the communities; that if we did that, if we took these three pillars and whirled them together, that we can actually find peace and development and happiness in this region. Which for many years, as you know, has not found happiness, has not found peace and has not found good governance.

CURWOOD: Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year for her work in sustainable development, democracy and peace. Thank you so much for taking this time with me today.

MAATHAI: Thank you very much, it was my pleasure.


Related links:
- The Green Belt Movement
- The Nobel Peace Prize 2004

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CURWOOD: Next week on Living on Earth - a case of contamination that set precedent for environmental law, though the consequences destroyed the man at the center of it all.

HILLENDORFER: There were a number of holes in the basal ganglia portion of his brain, which is a specific injury for cyanide poisoning. Inside there is someone trapped, and that’s probably the worst thing. He knows what happened to him, and what was taken away from him.

CURWOOD: It’s the Cyanide Canary – next time on Living on Earth. And remember you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to Living on Earth dot org. That’s Living on Earth dot o-r-g.


CURWOOD: We take you now to the River Mara in Wangari Maathai’s native Kenya.


CURWOOD: Chris Watson recorded this dawn setting along the river’s tree-lined banks.

[EARTH EAR: “River Mara at Dawn” STEPPING INTO THE DARK (Touch – 1996)]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced for the World Media Foundation by Chris Ballman, Christopher Bolick, Eileen Bolinsky, Jennifer Chu, and Susan Shepherd - with help from Carl Lindemann, and Kelley Cronin.

Our interns are Jennie Cecil Moore, Jenn Goodman and Steve Gregory. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. Our technical director is Paul Wabrek. Alison Dean composed our themes.

Al Avery runs our website. You can find is at Living on Earth dot org. Environmental sound art courtesy of Earthear. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes form Ford, maker of the Escape Hybrid S-U-V, uniting S-U-V versatility with environmental responsibility. Details at Ford vehicles dot com; the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; and Stonyfield Farm. Organic yogurt and more. Women of inspiration speak at the Stonyfield Strong Women programs taking place in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Details at Stonyfield dot com. Support also comes from NPR member stations, and the Ford Foundation, for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

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