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

February 18, 2005

Air Date: February 18, 2005



Beyond Kyoto

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The Kyoto Protocol went into effect this week with great fanfare and Vijay Vaitheeswaran, energy and environment correspondent for the Economist magazine, talks to host Steve Curwood about how the signatory nations will meet their goals. (07:30)

Climate Action on the Hill

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Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports from Washington on some small but symbolically significant steps on climate change policy: a Senator who led the charge against Kyoto now wants the U.S. to take action; and President Bush hints at talking climate with European leaders. (05:00)

The Environmental Movement: Dead? Or Alive?

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Living on Earth host Steve Curwood talks with Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, the authors of the controversial essay "The Death of Environmentalism." Shellenberger and Nordhaus say the environmental movement is outmoded and ineffective and must make way for "new, bold visions". Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope also joins the conversation. Pope disagrees with the authors. He says the environmental movement is diverse and robust.and working hard to meet the challenges of these times. (16:30)

Emerging Science Note/Rested Minstrel

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Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports on songbirds that sing better with a little sleep. ()

Climate Change Lawsuit

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Despite the U.S.' lack of participation in the Kyoto treaty, individual states and municipalities are taking up the torch against climate change. One effort involves a lawsuit, filed by Oakland, California and Greenpeace, against the U.S. Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. The plaintiffs want the agencies to assess the environmental impacts of the carbon-emitting projects they support overseas. Host Steve Curwood talks with Vermont law professor Pat Parenteau about the implications of the case. (06:30)

Whither the Weather

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Producer Guy Hand says television and film depictions of storm, sleet and hail are careening into the ridiculous. He's advocating more appreciation for the discomforts of bad weather. (08:45)

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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood

GUESTS: Vijay Vaitheeswaran, Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus, Carl Pope, Pat Parenteau

REPORTER: Jeff Young
NOTE: Jennifer Chu


CURWOOD: From NPR - this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

It's official. The Kyoto Protocol to fight climate change is now in place. That means, it's time for most of the world's industrialized nations to honor their promises to reduce greenhouse gases. And, the business community gears up for what promises to be a huge new opportunity, trading pollution permits.

VAITHEESWARAN: The emergence of a carbon-trading market is potentially a trillion-dollar market that's in the making.

CURWOOD: The U.S. opted out of Kyoto after the Bush administration took office, but more and more Republicans are calling for action on climate change.

HAGEL: We have been out of the game for four years, that's dangerous, it's irresponsible and we need to address it.

CURWOOD: Also, a new twist on extreme weather.

WOMAN: There's a tornado right out my back door. Oh my god, ahh.

CURWOOD: Why storms are good for you and more. This week, on Living on Earth. Stick around.


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

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Beyond Kyoto

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

The Kyoto Protocol to limit the emissions of climate-changing gases from most industrialized nations is now international law. The treaty went into effect on Feb. 16, a major milestone in a process that began in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 with the creation of the UN framework convention on climate change. The United States and more than 150 other nations ratified the climate convention which called for voluntary reductions in carbon dioxide and other climate-changing gases but it quickly became clear that the voluntary approach wasn't working. So, in 1997 the convention met in Kyoto, Japan, and set mandatory limits, starting with industrial countries. But, it would take another eight years to ratify the treaty and put it into force and along the way, the U.S. pulled out of the deal. Still, aside from the U.S., Australia and Monaco, the world's more than 30 industrialized nations now have until 2012 to cut their climate-changing gases to levels below those since 1990.

With us now to explain just how they'll do that, is Vijay Vaitheeswaran, an environment and energy writer with The Economist magazine. He joins us from an energy conference in Houston. Welcome to Living on Earth, Vijay .


CURWOOD: What about the businesses in these industrialized countries bound by the Kyoto Protocol. How are they responding to the challenge of Kyoto?

VAITHEESWARAN: The companies in Europe are particularly energized to deal with climate change because now for them it's the law of the land. They don't have a choice. As of January 1st, every company in Europe has a specific number, a target that they've been given, broken down, sector by sector, company by company, power plant by power plant, for how much greenhouse gases they can emit. And that makes it very easy for a manager to focus on it and the old adage at Harvard Business School is, ‘What matters, gets measured.' And, once you begin to think about it, they often find there's a lot of low-hanging fruit. That is, there are a lot of easy cuts they can make just by changing a process here or doing something over there a little more efficiently. And a lot of companies are finding they save money. Companies like BP, the big oil company, found that it was able to make big cuts in emissions savings and they actually saved money that went straight to the bottom line.

CURWOOD: Now of the industrialized countries that are bound by Kyoto, which of them are going to have the hardest time meeting their commitments and why?

VAITHEESWARAN: Of the industrialized countries that are inside Kyoto, what I call Kyoto land, we're really talking about Europe, Canada, Japan. The ones that are really going to have the hardest time, frankly, are the ones that are already very energy efficient. The best example is Japan. Japan has among the highest energy prices in the world. It's among the most energy-efficient economies in the world. It's going to be pretty hard for them to make more cuts and to meet their targets and that's why they are the keenest on flexibility mechanisms. That's the Kyoto buzzword for things like emissions trading and being able to plant a rain forest in Bolivia or trade for projects in Russia that reduce emissions over there and get credits back in Japan, where it might be more expensive to make those same reductions. All these kinds of flexibility mechanisms are, say, what the Scandinavian countries and what Japan will begin to rely on to meet their targets.

CURWOOD: Tell me about the ability to trade emissions so-called in the Kyoto Protocol. How exactly does that work and what kind of market; what kind of money are we talking about here?

VAITHEESWARAN: The emergence of a carbon-trading market is potentially a trillion-dollar market that's in the making. The closest analogy is probably America's acid rain trading market, what's called SO2 or sulfur dioxide. Listeners will remember, of course, when George Bush, the father, was president, the number one environmental issue wasn't global warming; it was acid rain. And, at the time, environmentalists really thought emissions trading, it's somehow immoral, it's trading the right to pollute because basically government tells companies, you can have the right to pollute up to a certain amount of SO2 in the case of acid rain or CO2 in the case of global warming. And, the companies that don't meet that target they either face a very heavy penalty or they can buy emissions credits from other companies who find it cheaper to make those cuts. History shows that actually works. Emissions markets work very well. We solved our acid rain problem, pretty much, at much lower cost, much greater efficiency than was previously thought. And, so, that's really what emissions-trading markets are. It's an American innovation that, frankly, America is now left out of in the case of global warming.

CURWOOD: Now, much has been made in the United States that developing countries aren't involved in the binding limits under the Kyoto Protocol. But, in the original United Nations framework convention, the original agreement that resulted in Kyoto, the U.S. agreed with the rest of the industrialized world that since developed nations had gained their wealth in part by using carbon-intensive techniques, that the developing world should get a break on the first round and that industrialized nations should reduce their emissions first. Now that the U.S. has changed its mind, how does the rest of the world feel about us reneging on this?

VAITHEESWARAN: The rest of the world is very unhappy about America's seeming demand that countries like China, India and other developing countries start making cuts now. The way they see it, and frankly I agree with them, is that there's a moral case for the rich countries to act first. We got rich while burning fossil fuels willy nilly and we enjoyed the benefits of prosperity of industrialization whereas there are still two billion people in the world living in absolute poverty without access to modern electricity or any of the conveniences that we take for granted. Nonetheless, if you're to look at it from the perspective of real politique. How do we actually break the impasse?

I think what's going to happen, for the next round of the Kyoto treaty, that is, after 2012 when the first commitment period ends, we're likely to see participation from some of the big developing countries and not the really poor sub-Saharan economies, but let's say the China, the Indias, the Brazils, the South Africas having some kind of token participation.

CURWOOD: Tell me, why do you think the United States isn't a part of the Kyoto Protocol at this point?

VAITHEESWARAN: I think, they were both, the Bush administration and the Clinton administration, misplayed their hand, in my view. Bush, of course, famously stomped out of the Kyoto treaty and the Europeans were very upset about this and the popular history says he's to blame; that's why we left Kyoto because he hates the environment. There may be truth in that, but, in fact, if you look at the history of the 1990s, even though Al Gore, our greenest vice-president ever, brought us into signing the Kyoto treaty, the Clinton administration didn't do anything to help us tackle greenhouse gases while they were in office.

So, by the end of the miracle economy of the ‘90s, when our economy was growing tremendously fast, what you found was by the time Bush came around, we would have had to have cut our emissions by a third. I mean, a whopping amount, a huge and painful amount, much more than Europe, if Bush had accepted the Kyoto treaty. So, in a sense, I think Bush was ideologically opposed to it, but there were some practical reasons relating to inaction from the Clinton team, as well.

CURWOOD: Vijay Vaitheeswaran is the energy and environment correspondent for The Economist. Thanks for taking this time with me today, Vijay.


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Climate Action on the Hill

CURWOOD: So, the United States is not a party to the Kyoto Accord, but as Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports, there are voices calling for action to reduce greenhouse gases echoing through the halls of Congress. And one of them belongs to the senator who was a leader in the first charge against Kyoto.

YOUNG: Seven years ago Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel co-sponsored a non-binding resolution that effectively killed Kyoto in the U.S. Senate. Hagel railed against the treaty's costs to the economy and its lack of any requirements for developing countries to cut emissions. His speeches to business groups were peppered with references to the leading climate change skeptics. Hagel is still talking about Kyoto and climate. But now the setting and tone are decidedly different.

HAGEL: Achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is one of the most important challenges of our time. It is a shared responsibility for all nations.

YOUNG: That's Senator Hagel speaking at the liberal Washington think-tank, the Brookings Institution.

Quotes from climate skeptics are gone and he now calls Kyoto a flawed, though "noble" effort. In recent weeks, Hagel's talked climate change with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He's even addressed a United Nations climate change panel - all in a push to get the U.S. back in the global warming discussion.

HAGEL: I would hope that the Bush administration would get engaged. And, I will make this a priority. I will continue to push on this. We have been out of the game for four years. That's dangerous, it's irresponsible, and we need to address it.

YOUNG: Hagel has introduced legislation that would foster new carbon-capturing technology in the U.S. and make that technology available to developing nations. But Hagel's proposal stops short of actually regulating any carbon emissions. That puts him at odds with the leading climate change bill in Congress, the Climate Stewardship Act, written by Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican John McCain. The senators say a modest cap on C02, with an emissions trading mechanism, is the best way to spur the development of new technology. Still, McCain says he's glad to have Hagel bring attention to the issue.

MCCAIN: We're always pleased to welcome those who have found themselves on the road to Damascus.

YOUNG: If you hear a touch of irony in McCain's voice it may be that he and Hagel are staking out ground on the global warming issue, positioning for possible runs for president. Yes, we did just finish an election. But here in Washington, eyes are already on 2008. McCain might also worry that Hagel's bill will sap votes from his own initiative. The last Congress defeated the McCain-Lieberman bill, but it won a respectable 43 votes, and the new version of the bill picked up more co-sponsors from both parties. Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is on board and says she also hears new support from some U.S. businesses. Snowe says the implementation of the Kyoto treaty changes the playing field in international markets.

SNOWE: Foreign companies and our allies participating in that process are gonna be developing cutting edge technology that could put our companies at a disadvantage. And I think companies in America are beginning to realize that and they're realizing the net positive effects.

YOUNG: There's certainly no rush by business to embrace carbon caps. The major lobbies for the electric power and manufacturing industries still oppose the McCain-Lieberman bill, calling it "energy rationing." But former Clinton administration official Frank Loy, a veteran of climate change talks, now with the non-profit, Resources for the Future, says business attitudes are slowly changing. Loy says some utility executives have quietly admitted that they think a carbon cap is inevitable and acceptable.

LOY: And, why are they not vocal? They're not vocal because they are somewhat afraid of crossing the administration on an important issue.

YOUNG: The Bush administration had been largely silent on climate change since withdrawing from Kyoto negotiations, until just the other day.

BUSH: This isn't the question on the environment, but I was hoping somebody would ask it. I asked myself, anyway, let me, hehe...
YOUNG: At a recent press conference, Bush turned a question about relations with Europe into a brief summary of the U.S. stance on climate. He restated his opposition to Kyoto, but opened the door a bit to the possibility of new international talks focusing on the role of technology.

BUSH: I spoke to my friend Tony Blair the other day and I reminded him that, here at home, we're spending billions on clean coal technology where we can have conceivable and hopeful, we'll have a zero emissions, coal plan. Which would be not only good for the United States, but it would be good for the world.

YOUNG: Bush and Blair will likely follow-up on that conversation at the G8 summit this summer where Blair has promised to make climate change a top priority. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young in Washington.

CURWOOD: Coming up, the environmental movement, dead or alive? We'll debate that question in just a minute. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Spencer Lewis "Symphony of the Arch" In the Bosom of the Green Mountains (Quartz Recordings, 1989)]

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The Environmental Movement: Dead? Or Alive?

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

"The environmental movement is outmoded and needs to be buried." So say the authors of a controversial essay called, "The Death of Environmentalism." Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus interviewed more than two dozen U.S. environmental leaders about the past thirty years of environmental politics.

Those interviews, along with polling data on how Americans view the environment, helped shape the ideas of Messrs. Shellenberger and Nordhaus, which they presented to a meeting of environmental funders. Their message has angered some environmentalists but is also gaining fans with its call for "a bold new politics" based on a new vision and a core set of values.

We invited Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus to discuss their ideas. Mr. Shellenberger is a political activist and strategist. Hello, sir.


CURWOOD: Ted Nordhaus is vice president of the opinion research firm Evans McDonough. Hello, Ted.

NORDHAUS: How's it going, Steve?

CURWOOD: We're also joined by Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club. Hello, Carl.

POPE: It's great to be with you again.

CURWOOD: I want to start with you, Michael. In your paper, you pay tribute to the environmental movement of the 1960's and 70's that helped pass laws such as the Clean Air and Clean Water acts and the Endangered Species Act. But, you say that the concepts and institutions that were effective then are no longer working. Why is that?

SHELLENBERGER: Well, environmentalism did a very good job of dealing with the environmental problems as they were defined, 30 and 40 years ago. Did a very good job at cleaning up the air. Our waterways are much cleaner today. We have a lot more wilderness protected and for that we can thank environmentalism and acknowledge the successes. What we're arguing now is that the ecological crises that we face, namely the big ones, global warming, global habitat destruction, the extinction of species, the destruction of the world's oceans, are significantly, are such different problems than the ones that we've dealt with in the past. They're global, they're more complex and global warming, for example, demands that we remake the global energy economy in a very fundamental way. And environmentalism as it's currently conceived, as it's currently being practiced, is not up to the job. Environmentalists continue to put forward the same proposals that they've been putting forward for the last 20 or 30 years - pollution control, higher fuel efficiency standards, caps on greenhouse gas emissions. They're failing to innovate because they're failing to recognize that what they've been doing for the last 30 years is no longer working.

CURWOOD: Ted Nordhaus, clarify for me, in your article you say that the environmental movement has become a special interest. What do you mean by that?

NORDHAUS: Well, what we mean is that the environmental movement has so narrowly defined its scope and so narrowly defined the category of what's considered an environmental problem and what's not considered an environmental problem. And then on top of that, you know, continues to, what we call, ‘thingafy the environment' so that the environmental movement purports to literally speak for a thing called the environment. And so the environmental movement largely has created a special interest ghetto for itself that never breaks through and becomes a top concern for most Americans and never animates political debate at the national level in a particularly significant way. And we're left sort of lobbying for small, narrowly defined technical policy solutions to big, challenging problems that require a much more expansive vision and a much more expansive politics to address.

CURWOOD: Where has the environmental movement failed in addressing global warming and what do you think can be done differently? Ted?

NORDHAUS: Well, I think we've defined this problem as this narrow, relatively narrowly defined environmental problem. So, we say climate change is an environmental problem, we tell sort of an apocalyptic story about what's wrong, about what's going to go wrong, about all of the horrors that are going to descend on the American public if we fail to do something. We have largely failed to articulate any kind of clear vision in terms of a post global warming world that Americans actually might want to be a part of. So we tell an apocalyptic narrative and then we start talking about compact fluorescent light bulbs and hybrid vehicles as the solution. And we've really sort of failed to articulate a solution that is either on a scale of the problem we're trying to address, or that can effectively inspire the American people affirmatively to want to take action.

CURWOOD: Alright, I want to turn to you Carl Pope. You wrote a response to Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus' essay, "The Death of Environmentalism," and you also, of course, are executive director of the Sierra Club. What do you think of their argument that the environmental movement is simply failing here in the area of global warming and that the movement itself is dying, if not dead?

POPE: Well, to misquote Mark Twain, "rumors of our impending demise are greatly exaggerated." If you were to go around the United States this evening you would find thousands of environmentalists working in a whole host of ways, only a tiny number of which Ted and Michael seem to be aware of, to solve problems at every scale from the very small – people out there protecting a wetland in their neighborhood – to the very large – environmentalists working with union guys in California to make sure that we accelerate the solar transition in this state, which is going to be a big part of the solution to the challenge of global warming. Environmentalism is broad, it's diverse, it's vibrant, it's growing. Environmentalism is not a category - it's people. And to suggest that the solution to the problems of global warming and the impending collapse of a lot of our marine fisheries, the over-exploitation of the oceans, the fragmentation of global habitat, to suggest that the solution to those problems is to kill a movement of millions of people who are pouring their hearts out and working in a whole host of creative ways to solve it, strikes me as clinically insane.

Now, this is a very tough time. This is a very dark time. It's not just a dark time environmentally; it's a dark time in American public life. No progressive social movement has managed to handle the challenges thrown by the hard right and the radical right as effectively as we needed to. There's a lot of new thinking and a lot of new learning we all need to do, but the idea that the problem is a category and that the solution is to kill one of America's most vibrant social movements just doesn't make any sense.

CURWOOD: What about the statement that the environmental movement has particularly failed to get action on climate change, global warming, which is arguably, perhaps, the greatest environmental threat out there right now?

POPE: Global warming is a very tough challenge particularly here in the United States. The interesting thing is the solution to global warming is things like compact fluorescent light bulbs and hybrid cars only it's lots and lots and lots of them very fast. And we clearly have failed to get speed and scale. If you look, though, at our dilemma, the United States is unique. It's the only industrial nation that still has a large, domestic carbon industry; we have a lot of oil companies, we have a lot of coal companies, we have a lot of natural gas companies. And it is more difficult when you have a huge domestic carbon lobby to oppose you to deal with the fact that you need to reduce the carbon intensivity of the global economy, which I agree with Michael and Ted totally; we need to completely rethink energy. We need to completely rethink energy. But that's an old environmental idea. That's an idea that Amory Lovins first piloted in an article on foreign policy in 1974. That's not an idea that's too big for the environmental movement; that's an idea the environmental movement invented.

Yes, we have not yet put it into place and this country is lagging and we face some very tough challenges. I like to think of this a little bit like the winter of 1776 during the American Revolution. After a couple of years in which the Americans did pretty well against the British at places like Bunker Hill, Washington took a series of bad defeats and he had to retreat across the Delaware. We've taken a series of bad defeats in the last couple of years and we need to regroup. We need to train ourselves to fight more effectively and we need to get back on the offensive. But, the solution to the winter of 1776 was not to disband the colonial army and send Washington back to Mount Vernon. It was to learn and to struggle and to do better and I think that's the right solution to the environmental movement, not to talk about it as a category which ought to die.

CURWOOD: Let's get some definitions straight here. Michael Shellenberger, tell me, how do you define environmentalist?

SHELLENBERGER: Well, I think the really important question is how does the American people define environmentalism and on that account we're losing ground and I'll give you one indicator of that. That's that in 1996, just 17 percent of Americans believed, agreed with the statement that to preserve people's jobs in this country, we must accept higher levels of pollution in the future. In 2004, 29 percent of the public agreed with that; so that number has been going up. You also have increasing numbers of Americans who believe that people involved in environmental groups are extremists and not reasonable people. So this is, you know the Bush presidency, the loss of all three branches of government, anti-environmental extremists who weave their fundamentalist, apocalyptic worldview into their politics. That's not a temporary setback; that's a major shift at the core level of how people perceive and understand their world at a values level.
And so trends are going in the opposite direction where we want them to go culturally and that's reflected politically.

And I'll give you an example about why we keep raising concerns around environmentalism as a category. And that's that if you ask people in an open-ended question as we did in Pennsylvania which is a key battle ground state, a state that the Sierra Club cares very much about, we asked an open-ended question, ‘what is the biggest issue facing your community?' We found only two percent of respondents saying the environment, but we found 68 percent saying either jobs or the economy. The other ten or more issues after that were all non-environmental issues. So the question is, can you get to where you want to get, can we achieve what we need to achieve, in terms of the changes we need to make politically and in the economy, by inspiring people about a new vision for the economy, for the society, for their country? And what's so frustrating around environmentalism and environmentalists is that they keep insisting that the American people support the kind of changes that we need to make for environmentalist reasons. We think that we can actually make them excited about this new country and this new world for reasons more related to their community, their economy, their job, their livelihood. And, yet, the environmental community keeps insisting that the American people support what they support for their reasons.

CURWOOD: Carl Pope?

POPE: We do have a major challenge which is American social attitudes have been moving in a direction that makes any kind of social progressive policy more difficult. They haven't been moving in that direction because the environmental movement defined the environment as a thing or because environmentalists over relied on technical policy expertise. The reasons why Americans are moving in a rightward direction are complex. I don't pretend to understand them fully, but they certainly have a great deal to do with the fact that the radical right has spent 30 years trying to move things in that direction. They've been well funded, they've been well organized and they've been smart about some of the things they've done.

The fact is that the public will always, any public, will always be more concerned about immediate, local and intense problems as opposed to distant, non-immediate and diffuse problems. We're not going to get people to clean up the sewers in Columbus, Ohio, by talking about the environment. We're going to get them to clean up the sewers in Columbus, Ohio, by talking about the fact that it's not fair for people to have sewage in their basements; it's not smart and it's not necessary. And global warming, while it's more challenging, is the same kind of problem. We need to sell people on the solutions; we need to say to people, by having a new energy economy, we can do a whole lot of things at the same time. We can reduce the chances of sending our young men and women to the oil fields in the Middle East, we can reduce our trade deficit, we can generate jobs, we can clean-up air pollution in your community and we can deal with our international obligations to do something about global warming. We're not going to get people to adopt these solutions just by talking about the environment. The environment is part of a broad range of human concerns. I completely agree with Ted and Michael about that, but that doesn't mean the environmental movement needs to die.

CURWOOD: Michael or Ted, how to move forward from here? Are you saying environmental groups really need to start from scratch? Are you essentially calling for the demise of existing groups or what are you saying is necessary to move forward from here?

NORDHAUS: Well, I think the first thing we need to do is to come to terms with the desperate straits we've arrived at. I am much less sanguine than is Carl that this is just a temporary retreat and that the forces of environmental good are about to steal a new march on the British here. When we look at both the culture, the values environment, and the politics of this country, we are convinced that we need to take a step back and take a hard look at what we're doing. And whether you get tied up in a debate about "is the environmental movement dead or not," well, look, no one is going to come out and take its pulse and render a judgement. But what we do need to recognize is that the strategies that we've been pursuing at the national level, the institutions we've built and our concepts about what counts as an environmental problem and what doesn't, are all getting in the way of doing the work that we need to do.

And in terms of moving forward, I'm not here to offer a laundry list of prescriptions; we were very, very careful not to do so in our paper. The intent of the paper was to begin a discussion, a discourse, a debate, and to begin it publicly. But I think that we do need to take a hard look at those institutions. We need to take a hard look at where the hundreds of millions of dollars annually that the movement is spending, are being spent, how they're being spent, where those resources are going. And I think we need to devise a clear sense of how we get from here to a politics that can make the kind of changes that we need to make.

CURWOOD: Ted Nordhaus is a pollster and vice president of Evans McDonough, an opinion research firm. He's the co-author along with Michael Shellenberger of the "Death of Environmentalism." Thanks for joining us, Ted.

NORDHAUS: Thanks Steve.

CURWOOD: And, Michael Shellenberger is a political strategist and executive director of the Breakthrough Institute. Thanks, Michael.

NORDHAUS: Thanks for having me, Steve.

CURWOOD: And we were also joined by Carl Pope, who is the executive director of the Sierra Club. Thanks, Carl.

POPE: Good to be with you, Steve.

CURWOOD: To read the "Death of Environmentalism" essay and Carl Pope's response, go to our Web site at www dot living on earth dot o-r-g. That's www dot living on earth dot org.

[MUSIC: Spcncer Lewis "Symphony of the Arch" In the Bosom of the Green Mountains (Quartz Recordings, 1989)]

Related links:
- "Death of Environmentalism"
- Carl Pope Response
- "The Death of Environmentalism"
- Apollo Alliance

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Emerging Science Note/Rested Minstrel

CURWOOD: Just ahead: A lawsuit to force the Bush administration to consider the effects of climate change when it hands out foreign aid comes closer to its day in court. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.

CHU: You've heard the saying: "practice makes perfect." But a lesson from the animal kingdom suggests sleep could be the real secret to success.

A team of behavioral neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island looked at how sleep affects song learning in zebra finches. Twelve young male finches learned to imitate recorded adult bird songs over several months. Then, researchers compared the birds' song-learning ability after various cycles of sleep – a regular 12 hours of night sleep, versus two to three hours of induced afternoon naps.

Scientists found that in both cases, birds displayed similar learning curves. That is, each time the finches woke up, they were dramatically worse singers than before they fell asleep. But after an intense round of rehearsals, the birds showed marked improvement from the day before. One explanation could be that finches use the time right after waking to experiment with different vocal patterns. A little shut-eye ultimately helps them retrieve what they learned the day before.

Scientists hypothesize that sleep is more than just a dormant phase – and that bird brains may display similar nerve patterns while asleep, as they do when awake – sort of an extension of learning. In the future, researchers plan to look at these same sleep effects in human infants.

That's this week's Note on Emerging Science, I'm Jennifer Chu.

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

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations and: The Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund, supporting the creation, performance and recording of new music; The Kresge Foundation, building the capacity of nonprofit organizations through challenge grants since 1924. On the web at k-r-e-s-g-e dot org; The Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; and, The W-K Kellogg Foundation. ‘From Vision to Innovative Impact: 75 Years of Philanthropy'; This is NPR--National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: Either/Orchestra "Pas de trois" the brunt (Accurate Records, 1994)]

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Climate Change Lawsuit

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, and coming up: the good side of bad weather.

But first, the federal government may have taken itself out of the Kyoto climate change treaty, but that's not stopping states, municipalities and citizens groups from addressing the effects of climate change. California, for example, is pushing a statewide standard to reduce greenhouse gases from automobiles. And Connecticut, along with a number of other states, is suing the Bush administration to compel it to recognize the dangers of greenhouse gases. The states have also sued electric power companies to try to force them to cap climate-changing emissions.

While some legal experts say these lawsuits have little chance of succeeding, Connecticut's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who's spearheading one of the suits, says he wouldn't write off the cases just yet.

BLUMENTHAL: Think tobacco without the money. At the beginning of the tobacco fight, nobody gave us a chance, not a prayer of winning. But legal long shots succeed where they have merit. It may strike the critics as novel or unprecedented, but that should not be regarded as a reason to be unsuccessful.

CURWOOD: Meanwhile, cities including Arcata, Oakland, and Santa Monica, California, along with Boulder, Colorado, are joining the advocacy group, Friends of the Earth and Private Citizens, to take two federal agencies to court for financing as much as eight percent of the world's global warming emissions.

The U.S. Export Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation provide financial aid and insurance to energy projects abroad, including many that emit greenhouse gases. The plaintiffs want the foreign-aid agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of any future projects.

With us now to talk about the case is Pat Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School.
Hello, sir.

PARENTEAU: Hello, how are you, Steve?

CURWOOD: Good, thanks for taking this time. Now, Professor Parenteau, the plaintiffs in this case were trying to prove in court that there's a link between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. What evidence are they presenting and how strong is their argument?

PARENTEAU: They're presenting a variety of evidence. They, they're claiming that the projects that these two agencies fund are responsible of course, for greenhouse gas emissions which are causing a variety of impacts on the various plaintiffs that have been named. They're different types of parties that are named as plaintiffs. Some of them are sugar producers right here in Vermont and New England and those plaintiffs are claiming that the effects of global warming which are just beginning to be felt are going to lower maple production and impact their livelihood. We also have cities in the west in California, particularly, alleging that global warming is already causing a reduction in snow pack in the mountains, which is reducing the amount of water in reservoirs for water supply systems.

CURWOOD: Now what are they asking the agencies to do?

PARENTEAU: In this case, they're not asking for damages or anything like that. They're asking that these federal agencies comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. Of course, our basic environmental charter, what some people call the Magna Carta of environmental policy in the United States, and they're asking that these agencies be required to produce environmental impact statements which disclose the fact that they're supporting and enabling these projects to go forward and causing these emissions.

And then they're also going to argue that the environmental impact statement, of course, has to evaluate all alternatives. Steve, I think that's what this case, when you boil it all down, that's what the fight's about. Should the United States use whatever financial resources it has in foreign assistance to promote renewable energy, energy conservation as opposed to fossil fuel projects.

CURWOOD: In one of their briefs, the government's lawyers assert, "The basic connection between human induced greenhouse gas emissions and observed climate change has not been established." But at the same time, a report put out by the overseas private investment corporation in October 2000, that agency itself makes a strong connection between what it calls, "heat absorbing greenhouse gases and an increase in global temperatures. Professor Parenteau, how can government lawyers reconcile their position about global warming when one of their own clients acknowledges a human connection?

PARENTEAU: Well, in fact, the quote you just mentioned reveals the schizophrenia of this administration. This case is being handled by the Department of Justice and the Department of Justice is basically taking the same position that the White House has been taking on global warming; namely, that there is no established connection between human caused sources of greenhouse gas emission and climate change. And yet, the Environmental Protection Agency has put out a report that says precisely the opposite; that the connection has been established. When the President, several years ago, requested an opinion of the National Academy of Sciences, the Academy came back with an opinion saying, ‘We believe that there is a connection between human-caused gases and climate change.' So, this administration has got, they're speaking out of both sides of their mouth on the question of climate change. On the one hand they try to say there's no connection, but all these other agencies of the government are saying, yes there is.

CURWOOD: Now the government has some of its best attorneys working on this case. Why is it so important for them? What do they see that's at stake here?

PARENTEAU: That's a really good observation. They are feeling I think that any chink in their armor on global warming at this point could open up still more criticisms. The administration I think is pouring a lot of effort into trying to get this case dismissed without any discussion of the merits of the case because they really don't want to see any official pronouncement from a court that this is a problem that demands attention.

CURWOOD: In your view, how significant is this case? Are we looking at something akin to the Scopes Monkey trial for climate change science here, or is it something less than that?

PARENTEAU: Well, that's an interesting way to put it. I think it's significant in this sense. No court has yet issued any ruling that climate change is a problem that government must address in any way, shape or form. So if the plaintiffs in this case get past these arguments that the case ought to be thrown out, and if they can get the court to rule that the plaintiffs have raised enough serious questions about the potential impacts of climate change to require that the court take the next step and actually examine whether these agencies actually have a duty under NEPA to do a full evaluation, I think that could be at least a bell weather decision by the courts. It may not be quite the same precedent as the Scopes trial, but we are certainly at a point in time, for global warming, where a judicial decision that this is a problem that demands attention, I think would be a very significant milestone.

CURWOOD: Pat Parenteau is a professor of law at Vermont Law School. Thanks so much for taking this time with me today.

PARENTEAU: My pleasure, Steve.

[MUSIC: Tony Furtado & Dirk Powell "Boneyard" (Rounder Records, 1999)]

Related link:
Climate change lawsuit website

Back to top


Whither the Weather

CURWOOD: The changing climate has been the topic of serious conversation and comment in our program this week. Climate – or what we commonly call "the weather" - is a big part of our daily discourse. When's the last time you had a conversation with someone – even a stranger – and the topic of weather didn't come up?

The weather; People love it, complain about it, and sometimes - fear it.

Producer and media maven Guy Hand has been musing about a torrent of unwarranted attacks on the weather. And he's had enough.

ANNOUNCER: We interrupt this program for a storm warning...

HAND: It's been a big winter for bad weather.

ANNOUNCER: City officials have declared a snow emergency in New York City. More dramatic video out of Utah where more homes have collapsed in the floodwaters. Take a look at this, a rare thunderstorm rocks Hollywood as it passed over the LA basin.

HAND: It's another season of media induced meteorological mayhem. TV news loves bad weather nearly as much as it loves a new Michael Jackson trial. And that can give the rest of us the feeling that we're at war with weather – and losing.

ANNOUNCER: What you see is happening now.

HAND: That we're on the verge of being flushed, freeze-dried, or fried at any moment. But that's not fair. Bad weather isn't all bad. I learned that from doing time in paradise.


HAND: I moved to Santa Barbara, California, in the early '90s, near the beginning of a very long drought, an endless summer that lasted seven years.

MAN: Shall we head back to the hotel and get our bathing suits on and go to the beach?

HAND: At first, I couldn't get enough of blue skies and warm breezes. It was, after all, the reason so many of us had deserted the bad weather fronts of Buffalo, Chicago and Boise, in the first place. But after a few years, all that storm-less perfection began to drive me a little crazy.

ANNOUNCER: And now the weather report: Sunny, 72.

HAND: This scene from LA Story felt less like comedy than depressing documentary.

ANNOUNCER: Our next weather report will be in four days.

HAND: This paradise was a climate on Prozac.

[Rain intro to the Doors' ‘Riders on the Storm']

HAND: It was enough to make you ache for clouds, for the smell of rain and the crack of thunder; for something, anything in the sky.

[MUSIC: Rain and thunder from ‘Riders on the Storm']

HAND: As the sun vaporized reservoirs, roasted lawns and wrinkled faces, I started searching for real weather. But the only place I could find it was TV.

ANNOUNCER: The Ultimate Guide to Extreme Weather . . . on the Discovery Channel.

HAND: It may have been sunny in southern California, but all over the airwaves the skies were falling.

ANNOUNCER: And now the conclusion of Nor'easters, killer storms, here on the History Channel.

HAND: Until then, I'd never noticed how TV, especially cable TV, demonizes weather.

ANNOUNCER: There's a tornado right out my back door!

HAND: But you can see why.

ANNOUNCER: Oh my god, ooh!

HAND: Weather provides a flood of sensational footage often shot by amateurs for free. And weather comes with no legal representation or political affiliation. And that makes it an easy target, free of the risks that temper reporting on more controversial environmental issues. Program sponsors may pull funding from a story about a pollution problem at a local pulp mill, but nobody is going to protest a negative take on tornadoes.

ANNOUNCER: It is your ultimate nightmare - the world's strongest tornado on your doorstep.

HAND: We often demonize what we can't control. Weather is an unruly wilderness floating right over our heads. And unlike some wilderness we find under foot, the wilderness in weather is really wild.


ACTOR: Look, look at this. You got Hurricane Grace moving north off the Atlantic seaboard. Huge ...getting massive. . .

HAND: Bad weather is a magnet for melodrama, like this scene from The Perfect Storm. And it gathers up all the insecurities we have about being small creatures in a very big universe and it pushes that frailty right in our faces.

ACTOR: You could be a meteorologist all your life and never see something like this. It would be a disaster of epic proportions. It would be . . . the perfect storm.


HAND: We can move mountains. We can dam rivers. We can even clone sheep.

ACTOR: Let's get down below.

HAND: But we can't alter the genetic code of lightning. We can't pass a speed limit on hurricanes.

METEOROLOGIST: Oh my god. It's happening.


HAND: And with every wild storm, we wonder if this one, if this one is payback time, God's wrath fueled by global warming. Big storms, after all, are a Biblical tradition, a favored tool for retribution.

ACTOR: Make a big wave. Send it crashing down on us. Destroy us all if need be.

HAND: But scientists, when they can be heard over this stormy pandemonium, try to remind us that most storms do little lasting damage and the death and destruction they do cause is often heightened by our habit of building homes in the wrong places. Scientists say that weather has always been weird and that even the worst of it comes with big ecological benefits.


ACTOR: Look at that. What? I've never seen the air so clear . . .

HAND: Weather reports along with the occasional big screen, bad weather films like Twister, The Day After Tomorrow and The Perfect Storm, seldom mention that storms do all kinds of ecological good, stirring up nutrients, recharging aquifers, cleansing the air, keeping the whole planet in atmospheric balance. TV news tightly focuses on the mudslides and floods, but runs off to some new disaster long before the wildflowers begin to bloom.

BACALL: Storm's passing.

BOGART: A torn shutter or two, some trash on the beach. In a few hours there will be little to remind you of what happened tonight.


HAND: So, a few years ago I moved back to bad weather country, with a new found respect for dark clouds, hard wind and rain, especially rain.


SINGER: Open the floodgates of heaven, let it rain . . .

HAND: After suffering nearly a decade of blue skies and seeing what a natural disaster that can be, I think it's time to come to the defense of bad weather. It's time we accept bad weather as a vital natural resource, one we as a nation should be proud of.

SINGER: Let it rain . . .

HAND: We brag about the height of Denali and the depth of the Grand Canyon; why not the world's highest recorded winds and deepest snow? America holds those records and the planet's biggest one-minute rain, the most tornadoes and nearly its hottest temperatures. If we're going to take pride in America's wild landscapes, shouldn't we include the one above our heads?

SINGER: Let it rain . . .

HAND: And where would music be without all those meteorological metaphors?


HAND: For Living On Earth, I'm Guy Hand


HAND: Have a nice day.

CHORUS: Let it rain . . .


Back to top


CURWOOD: Next week on Living on Earth - one cause of serious respiratory problems is pollution from the nation's huge fleet of diesel-burning trucks, especially when the big rigs are idling. So, when a Tennessee tankerer took on a challenge to keep truckers happy, he wound up helping to keep the public healthy as well.

MAN: And I made it down in my motor home and I was laying there and I thought, ‘why can I not do this for a trucker?' because I have all the Cablevision. I've got heat and air on my rig but I've got to come up with a way to put heat and air conditioning into a parked truck.

CURWOOD: And he did. Find out how on the next Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: We leave you this week in the Japanese city where the treaty to combat global warming was negotiated in 1997. Sarah Peebles recorded the subtle ambience of an outdoor temple in Japan's ancient capitol, Kyoto.


CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Eileen Bolinsky, Steve Gregory and Susan Shepherd - with help from Christopher Bolick and Kelly Cronin. Our interns are Katie Oliveri and Katie Zemtseff. Our technical director is Paul Wabrek. Alison Dean composed our themes You can find us at Living on Earth dot org. I'm Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

FUNDERS: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; and Stonyfield Farm, organic yogurt, smoothies and cultured-soy – ten percent of profits are donated to efforts that help protect and restore the earth. 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 Oak Foundation, for coverage of marine issues.

ANNOUNCER: This is N-P-R. National Public Radio.


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