Which Way the Wind Blows
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A last minute amendment to an appropriations bill in the U.S. House of Representatives could sink plans for the nation’s first offshore wind farm. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks with Bob Whitcomb, editorial page editor for the Providence Journal. (09:15)
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We share some of your responses to recent Living on Earth stories. (03:00)
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The fourth international World Water Forum just wrapped up in Mexico City. Elisabeth Malkin, who covered the forum for the New York Times, says that with representatives from NGO's, governments, the UN and the corporate world, it was hard to find common ground. She speaks with host Bruce Gellerman from Mexico City. (05:10)
Quenching Australia’s Thirst
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Brad Moggridge is a hydro-geologist with the New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation. He's found a way, through cultural research, to tap his aboriginal heritage for solutions to Australia's modern day water problems. (04:00)
Robins All Ears/ Jeff Rice
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You may have noticed the way robins jauntily cock their heads as they hop along the ground this time of year. Turns out they're listening, very carefully, for the movements of sleepy springtime worms. Jeff Rice reports. (03:00)
Warning About Warming
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The Ad Council, famous for bringing the American public socially conscious mascots like Smokey the Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog and Hoot the Owl, is now taking a stab at global warming. Bruce Gellerman talks with Ad Council president, Peggy Conlon, about the new campaign. (04:00)
Emerging Science Note/Northeast Forecast: Big Hurricanes/ Bobby Bascomb
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Meteorologists at the AccuWeather forecasting service say the 2006 hurricane season could bring a devastating storm to the Northeast. Bobby Bascomb reports. (01:30)
Early Signs: Reports From a Warming Planet/ Jori Lewis
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In the second of a series on climate change, Living on Earth travels to East Africa. The waters of Lake Tanganyika have warmed in recent years. Now some scientists are worried that that could be affecting a small fish that's a staple food for Tanzania. Jori Lewis reports. (14:50)
Have a chuckle with hippos by the River Mara in Kenya.
HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Bob Whitcomb, Elisabeth Malkin, Brad Moggridge, Peggy Conlon
REPORTERS: Jeff Rice, Jori Lewis
NOTE: Bobby Bascomb
GELLERMAN: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.
GELLERMAN: I’m Bruce Gellerman. Africa’s Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world. It’s also home to more than 350 species of fish which millions of people depend upon for lives and livelihoods. But recently, scientists have noted a troubling trend.
O’REILLY: All the data that we have available to us right now points towards decreased fish populations.
GELLERMAN: And the evidence suggests climate change could be the culprit.
O”REILLY: There’s really no question the lake has warmed up.
GELLERMAN: Our special series, “Early Signs: Reports from a Warming Planet,” continues this week on Living on Earth.
Also, why the red, red robin goes bob-bob bobbin’ along.
RICE: You see a robin hopping along and then it cocks its head, and lots of people, lots of naturalists, have written popular articles saying that they were listening for worms.
GELLERMAN: The early bird that gets the worm and more, so stick around.
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman, sitting in for Steve Curwood.
For supporters of offshore wind power, there’s an ill wind blowing out of Alaska. The state’s Congressman Don Young, the powerful Republican chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has tagged an amendment onto an appropriations bill for the Coast Guard. The last minute amendment – with no Congressional debate – could sink plans for Cape Wind, that’s the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm that developers want to put in the waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Cape Wind has been five years in the making, and it’s proposed 130 turbines could produce three quarters of the region’s electric power, without generating greenhouse gases. Joining me to talk about this latest chapter in the Cape Wind saga is Bob Whitcomb, he’s editor of the editorial page of Rhode Island’s Providence Journal. He’s also working on a book about the Cape controversy.
Bob, hi there!
WHITCOMB: Hello, Bruce, how are you?
GELLERMAN: I’m well, thank you. Let me ask you about this amendment to the Coast Guard bill. What specifically does this bill do?
WHITCOMB: Well, what this bill would do is bar these offshore windmill projects from within a mile and a half of shipping channels. At least the expressed fear is there might be collisions, but this is very odd because current Coast Guard rules allow shipping within 500 feet of oil and, I believe, gas drilling platforms. So it seems to be that this provision, this amendment, is specifically aimed at getting rid of Cape Wind, because if it were to be followed, the backers of Cape Wind say that the project would not be economically viable.
GELLERMAN: Well, what evidence does the congressman have to buttress his argument?
WHITCOMB: None that we really know of. There were some concerns expressed in England by the British Ministry of Defense, and I suppose you could argue that, perhaps, some boat’s radar might be affected by the wind turbines. That seems to have been overtaken by developments. Apparently you can adjust the software in such a way as to pretty much eliminate that problem. And there are wind turbines, big collections of them in, for example, Denmark, virtually on Copenhagen Harbor. There’s a big new wind farm off Ireland, many plan for other parts of northwest Europe. Nobody…it doesn’t seem to be a big concern over there.
GELLERMAN: You mention Denmark. Their limit is a quarter of a mile.
WHITCOMB: Yeah. Every country, of course, has slightly different regulations but they’re very close. But it’s actually much more difficult to do a lot of these things in the United States than it is in Europe. The central government by fiat can’t order these things built in the same way that, for example, Denmark they can be. Denmark made a determination thirty years ago not to have nuclear and to pursue other forms of alternate energy, and the central government, or a council thereof, pretty much orders where these things are gonna go. It’s much more difficult to do that in the U.S. We’ve got many more layers.
GELLERMAN: Why would a congressman from Alaska be interested in something that’s happening in Massachusetts?
WHITCOMB: Well,, there are many speculations about this. Perhaps it’s just a completely sincere concern about navigation safety…that’s one theory. Another theory is that Mr. Young is an old friend of a fellow called Guy Martin, who’s a well-known lobbyist in Washington. And many years ago, Guy Martin helped Mr. Young get the Alaska pipeline project going. A lot of money’s been spread around.
To be fair, the pro-windmill crowd has spent a lot of money, too. Not on lobbying but perhaps half as much as the anti- crowd. We may never know. It’s like many of the characters in this case; you don’t really know why they’re doing what they’re doing, even though there’s plenty of field for speculation.
GELLERMAN: Well, I tried to call Congressman Young’s office a number of times to speak with him and never got a return phone call.
WHITCOMB: Well, that follows this whole case where the people who’ve been most, I think, successful in blocking this project, whatever you think of it, have been the most secretive. Senator John Warner. Probably the most famous, famously, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who has a family compound at Hyannisport that would overlook the infamous wind farm. And he has been working assiduously for years to block this thing, but does not come out in the open and talk about it.
GELLERMAN: What about Senator Warner?
WHITCOMB: Senator Warner has two daughters in Osterville, or rather summer places in Osterville, which is sort of the ground zero of the opposition to this wind park. Very, very rich town. Many of the people there – not everybody, because there are supporters of the wind farm in Osterville and other rich areas on the south side of the Cape – many of the people there don’t like the wind farm idea. They don’t want to look at these windmills and they fear that their boating may be affected by it.
There are other people, such as in the marina business, real estate people and so on, they think it will hurt business, so they have more direct economic concerns. And I think at the beginning – not so much now – even some sincere environmentalists who thought that these turbines would throw off the ecology of Nantucket Sound. But most of those concerns have been pretty much eliminated by review.
GELLERMAN: When I think of Senator Kennedy I think of, you know, a senator who’s pretty green.
WHITCOMB: Yeah, you think so. I think he simply is like a lot of us – we love the idea, you know, alternate energy’s a great thing. All the people, virtually all the people opposing this wind farm, say that alternate energy in general, and wind farms in particular, are great things – just, you know, they just don’t want them near them.
GELLERMAN: I was reading that Senator Kerry, who’s from Massachusetts, of course –
WHITCOMB: Yes, that’s right, and who has – rather, his wife – has a big summer place in Nantucket…..
GELLERMAN: But he’s come out – at least if not against or for the wind turbines – has come out against the Young amendment pretty strongly.
WHITCOMB: Yes, very strongly. And, in fact, it’s interesting, a large number of people have, and if this thing does make it out of the House of Representatives – which is far from assured – it’s unlikely it would get through the Senate because there’s been a lot of outrage expressed. Not so much about whether windmills are good or bad, or whether this particular project is good or bad, but the way that this amendment was sort of snuck in at night. Which is very much reminiscent of the way Senator Warner tried to kill the project in late 2004 with a bunch of amendments. My hunch at this point is that this thing won’t go through because there’s been too much sunlight on it.
GELLERMAN: And that means that the Cape Wind plan can go ahead?
WHITCOMB: Well, no. This project has been kind of a Kafka-esque, Orwellian – I think there’s 17 agencies or something it had to go through. There’s over 4,000 pages of reports on this thing and it’s still not over. The most important thing is an obscure federal agency called the Minerals Management Service that oversees, among other things, oil and gas drilling; they have to clear it. And I think that’s expected by, oh, the end of this year, maybe the beginning of next. And that would probably be pretty much the final song.
GELLERMAN: How does this affect, or bode for, other offshore wind turbine farms?
WHITCOMB: Well, I think if they’re able to kill this obviously they’re going to have a great deal of difficulty getting financing, at least for a big project. I think we’ll see smaller projects around. The big problem is to get financing and to make putting these projects up attractive to developers. And if this thing gets shot down because it’s big and close to powerful, rich, influential people, it will certainly discourage a good number of people, I think, from entering the industry.
GELLERMAN: Now, Bob, you’re the editor of the editorial page of the ProJo. What’s the ProJo’s position on this?
WHITCOMB: Well, we favor this. We favored this project from close to the beginning. We realize that no project is perfect, and I think we’ve asked did it have to be this big? And now we think it probably does have to be this big to be financially viable. But we have run all sides. I think the thing that got us most intrigued in this was not so much the proposal itself as the various methods by which a comparatively small group of people tried to stop it. I think that probably drove us in more than the environmental or the energy issue itself.
GELLERMAN: Well, it’s certainly a great topic for an editorial page editor.
WHITCOMB: I guess so. I think the movie might be better.
GELLERMAN: What might you call it if it was a movie?
WHITCOMB: Oh, boy. Well certainly not “Gone with the Wind,” we’ve done all that. “The Winds of War,” maybe. That’s been done. Or “The War of Winds.”
GELLERMAN: Well, Bob, thank you very much.
WHITCOMB: I enjoyed it very much, thanks for having me.
GELLERMAN: Bob Whitcomb is the editor of the editorial page of the Providence Journal.
Cape Wind website
GELLERMAN: Coming up, water water everywhere, but to misquote Coleridge there are precious few drops to drink. But first, time now for your comments.
GELLERMAN: Many people wrote in about our stories on the booming baby business. For some listeners our conversation with author Deborah Spar about the hot market for adoption, in vitro fertilization, sperm donation and surrogates was a sign that the times are indeed a changin’.
“While listening to your articles I made some notes and realized that about 40 percent of the people I know cannot have children the traditional way,” writes Stephen Grabowski, a listener to Maine Public Broadcasting. “Just like adoption is no longer a hush-hush business, being infertile is no longer shameful.”
Amber, a listener to New Hampshire Public Radio, says what’s missing from the debate are the opinions of those conceived using these new technologies:
“We are now in our twenties,” she writes, “and it would be nice if the industry asked us for our thoughts on the issue, especially any of the long term affects on children and society that experts spend so much time debating.”
In her commentary about the baby business, contributor Bonnie Auslander grappled with the environmental consequences of having more than one child. Allison Eddyblouin, a listener to Maine Public Broadcasting writes:
“It sounds nice to say that having fewer children can save the world, but I can see problems with this assumption, both economically and environmentally. If you’re really concerned for the planet,” she writes, “live as if you’re in the developing world.”
Roberta Morris, a listener to WKAR in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was interested in our recent story about the Biosphere 2 experiment, but says we didn’t answer a crucial question:
“Surely, after 10 years, someone has determined WHY they had insufficient oxygen and too much CO2? Did they make a little mistake in arithmetic?” she wonders.
And finally, a correction to the Biosphere story. We said that Biosphere 2 was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Actually, it was the 15 year marker. September 26th, 1991, to be precise.
Don’t hold your breath….let us know what’s on your mind. Call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-99-88. Or write to 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts, 02144. Our e-mail address is letters at loe dot org. Once again, letters at loe dot org. And visit our web page at Living on Earth dot org. That's Living on Earth dot org.
[LETTERS THEME UP AND OUT]
GELLERMAN: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: 33.3 “The Odds” from ‘Plays Music’ (Aesthetics Records – 2000)]
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. If you could fit all of the Earth’s water into a gallon jug – the accessible fresh water, the stuff we actually can drink, would measure a little more than a teaspoon. Potable water is precious stuff. No water, no life. But planet Earth is in a precarious situation. Pollution, poverty, and the increasing demands of an expanding population are stressing the world’s water supply. These were some of the issues on the agenda at the Fourth World Water Forum just concluded in Mexico City. Elisabeth Malkin covered the meeting for The New York Times.
MALKIN: Thanks very much, I’m pleased to be here.
GELLERMAN: So, put a headline on this story for us, if you would.
MALKIN: Well, that’s a little difficult because I think the forum was a very diffuse event. It was enormous – it lasted six days – and there were apparently, according to the organizers, 11,000 people. There was no clear focus, but what continued to be stressed at the forum was the enormous number of people who don’t have access to running water, or an adequate water supply even, and sanitation. And so, if you had to put a headline the headline would be, you know, “Despite all efforts, more than a billion people don’t have access to a suitable water supply.” And a third of the world’s population, 2.6 billion, don’t have access to a proper toilet.
GELLERMAN: So, why have these types of summits – they seem to be very good at enumerating the problems, less good at actually coming up with some kind of methodology or way of solving it?
MALKIN: I think because you have so many interests involved. So you have industry, government, UN and other international organizations, the World Bank, and NGOs. Everybody has such a different agenda that in the end, it’s a lowest common denominator declaration which doesn’t come up with a very strong solution.
GELLERMAN: In one of your articles for The New York Times you wrote about this question of private water versus public water. Do you see that shift back to the public utilities providing water?
MALKIN: Yes. I think there is definitely a shift. And UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in 2003, he convened a special advisory board to come up with solutions for, you know, how to reach these millennium development goals. And their recommendation was, you know, these are the agencies that have always provided water and these agencies need to be strengthened, and the way to do that is just to help them provide more information to channel the funding to them, to require more accountability. So that is, I think, the interesting shift that came out of that.
GELLERMAN: We tend to think of these water problems as being like “over there,” Africa or Southeast Asia. I was reading that Europe, 18 percent, or over 40 million people, live in countries without access to safe drinking water.
MALKIN: Yes, and I think that water…I mean, one of the things that struck me personally covering this is that water is really a low priority even in countries where it’s a big problem. And it does seem to be a low priority for national governments. It’s usually seen as a local problem, a municipal problem. And so I think that’s why you find even in developed countries that people don’t always have the access you would expect.
GELLERMAN: Mexico City was the site of this year’s summit, and I’m just wondering, it seems ironically appropriate as a place, considering that it has a drought, it floods often, and it sits on a dried lake bed.
MALKIN: Yes, that’s right. Perhaps one positive thing, speaking as someone who lives in Mexico City, is that there’s been a little bit more awareness of the problem of water for this city. This city is pumping water out of its aquifers twice as fast as they’re naturally replenished, and it also has to pump water uphill from a dam system about two hours away. So it’s fantastically expensive to get it here and it’s not being conserved properly. Nearly 40 percent is lost to leaks in the pipes. So it’s an ironic place, but perhaps there’ll be a good effect coming out of it at least in Mexico City.
GELLERMAN: Elisabeth Malkin covered the World Water Forum Summit for The New York Times. Elisabeth, thank you very much.
MALKIN: Thanks a lot. It’s been a pleasure.
Official Site of the World Water Forum
GELLERMAN: Brad Moggridge stands in two worlds. He’s an aboriginal Australian and a scientist. Specifically, a hydro-geologist with the New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation. And his latest research is a bridge of sorts linking a culture that has survived for centuries in one of the driest places on Earth with Australia’s growing need for water. Mr. Moggridge joins me on the phone from New South Wales. Thank you very much!
MOGGRIDGE: Thank you.
GELLERMAN: What tribe are you with?
MOGGRIDGE: It’s the Kamilaroi people. We’ve got probably the second-largest tribe in the state of New South Wales.
GELLERMAN: I was reading some research you did, and it seems that your tribe lived in a desert or semi-arid land for thousands and thousands of years. How did they do that?
GELLERMAN: So if I was to go out into the Outback and follow a dingo or these ants, chances are good I’d find water?
MOGGRIDGE: (Laughs) If you’re in the right country, yeah. Potentially they could lead you to your death! (Laughs)
GELLERMAN: (Laughs) I’ve got a feeling that’s exactly where I’d wind up.
MOGGRIDGE: (Laughs) Yeah, it took aboriginal people to know their environment a long time.
GELLERMAN: Now, you have based your work on oral histories and rock art and artifacts, and dream time stories. What are dream time stories?
MOGGRIDGE: Dream time stories in modern day terms we could say similar to the bible. So it talks about the creation, and those stories that relate to natural springs would be passed on from generation to generation by the elders, the old people in a tribe, to the next generation when they’re ready. So that was the way they passed that information on, and those people would know where those natural springs were.
MOGGRIDGE: Yeah, I did. A number of my...my grandmother used to talk of these stories. The down point, I suppose, is that authorities – water managers, governments – don’t seem to access aboriginal knowledge. It’s quite sad because they have so much knowledge and so much to offer to move this country forward in a way that they can sustainably manage the environment and water. But they don’t want to listen to them.
GELLERMAN: Australia’s having a tough time of water lately.
MOGGRIDGE: Certainly is, yeah. We’re in a water crisis, we’re in drought situation. Sydney hasn’t had much good rain – especially in the drinking water catchment – a decent rain for a number of years. And, you know, the authorities are looking at alternatives – and I think potentially talking to the aboriginal people is a start – but, you know, they’re looking to modern science, whether it’s desalination or drilling deep bores into aquifers. But if aboriginal people can survive for thousands of years I think authorities should be asking the question of how they did it and how they can help us, you know, as a modern society, survive in such a dry continent.
GELLERMAN: Mr. Moggridge, thank you very much.
MOGGRIDGE: No worries.
GELLERMAN: Brad Moggridge is currently principle policy officer in the New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation.
Australian National Parks/Aboriginal Heritage site
[MUSIC: David Hudson “Warrama” from ‘Didgeralia’ (Indigenous Australia – 1998)]
GELLERMAN: Nothing says 'spring is here' quite like...the sound of worms. You hadn't noticed? The robins have. As part of the Western Soundscape Project, Jeff Rice reports.
RICE: Take a listen to your lawn for a minute, just beneath the soil.
[SOUND OF WORMS]
RICE: Those are earthworms.
MONTGOMERIE: The worms are moving through the soil, and the little particles of sand are hitting against each other.
RICE: That's Dr. Bob Montgomerie of Queen's University in Canada. He made these recordings. Chances are you've never heard earthworms before.
[WORM SOUND CONTINUES]
MONTGOMERIE: No, they're extremely quiet. The only way we were able to record them was to put them in a chamber, called an anechoic chamber, and use a very high-sensitivity directional microphone – one that would pick up a human's voice at a couple of hundred meters –and pointing it right at the soil about centimeter away from the worm.
RICE: So, you might think that such a very, very quiet sound would be pretty insignificant. Hardly a sound at all, really. But consider this. Next time you see a robin on your lawn...
[QUICK ROBIN CHIRPS]
MONTGOMERIE: Well, way back into the 1800s, people writing about robins have thought that they were listening when they were foraging on lawns. You see a robin hopping along, and then it cocks its head. And lots of people, lots of naturalists, have written popular articles saying that they were listening for worms.
RICE: Nothing was scientifically proven until several years ago when Dr. Montgomerie and a colleague were taking a break from their usual fieldwork – Dr. Montgomerie studies, among other things, reproductive behavior in birds – and they noticed robins cocking their heads toward the ground.
MONTGOMERIE: You know, it really looks like they're cocking their head and listening.
RICE: They decided to answer the question once and for all, and devised a series of experiments.
MONTGOMERIE: Well, we caught a few robins. We were working on them anyway. We were studying the way that they look after their babies and choose mates. And so we grabbed a couple and put them in an outdoor aviary that we had at our field station. And then we designed a careful experimental protocol to try to eliminate each of the sensory modes in order.
RICE: They tested everything short of robin ESP. They hid worms behind barriers. Eliminated the possibilities of smell and touch. But just based on hearing, robins:
MONTGOMERIE: Found the worms with no problem.
RICE: The two scientists published their findings in the journal Animal Behaviour. Just how a robin is able to hear something as quiet as an earthworm is still unknown, but they are not the only birds that can locate food this way. Magpies are also known to locate scarab beetle grubs in the ground through hearing. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Rice.
[MUSIC: Tony Burrello “There’s A New Sound” from ‘Only In America’ (Arf! Arf! - 1996)]
GELLERMAN: Hey, remember this guy?
SMOKEY: Hello there folks. This is Smokey, the forest fire preventing bear. Those singing friends of mine...
GELLERMAN: Smokey Bear was one of the first public service advertisements created by the Ad Council. Since 1942, the volunteer Ad Council has devised some of the most venerable and memorable advertisement campaigns. It gave us Rosie the Riveter, the slogan “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” McGruff the crime-fighting dog, and the “Just Say No” anti-drug message.
Now the Ad Council wants us to cool it, and has launched a series of commercials designed to convince us to do our part to prevent global warming. Joining me from New York City to discuss the new Ad Council's new climate change campaign is Peggy Conlon, president of the organization.
Ms. Conlon, thanks for your time.
CONLON: My pleasure.
GELLERMAN: So, tell me about this ad campaign.
CONLON: The Ad Council is really delighted to be partnering with Environmental Defense – a longtime partner with the Ad Council – to inform the American people about the urgency about global warming and to give them a personal role in helping to reduce greenhouse gases and to stop global warming.
GELLERMAN: Was there any question about this being an issue that was too hot to handle?
CONLON: Well, there are no issues that are too hot to handle. I mean, we took on AIDS early. We took on recycling. We’ve taken on a lot of different issues that, at the time, there may have been some controversy around. Our real litmus test for taking on an issue is, of course, it has to be of significant importance to the country. But the second is that there is a personal action that individuals can take that will really make a difference.
GELLERMAN: Ms. Conlon, let’s play a couple of your ads and pick them apart, how’s that?
GELLERMAN: Okay, let’s listen.
BOY1: I’m getting a catcher’s mitt.
GIRL1: I’m getting ice skates.
GIRL2: I’m getting a devastating flood.
MAN: Adults are generous. We’re even giving kids global warming. But we can still reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Go to fightglobalwarming.com.
GELLERMAN: Yeah, that gets parents right where it hurts – right in the kids.
CONLON: Well, that was a creative insight that came out of all of the research the agency did. What they found was, although people don’t think that the effects of global warming are going to happen to them in their lifetimes, what did resonate was we don’t want to hurt the things we love. And so using children as a creative device to really frame this in terms of future impact I think was real genius.
GELLERMAN: In the past, some of the Ad Council’s ads have really become part of the cultural fabric. And I’m listening to this ad and they don’t seem to have that same, I don’t know, Smokey the Bear-ish kind of feeling to it.
CONLON: Well, you know, not every campaign has an icon, an animated character, or a catchy tag line, but these campaigns do begin to build and resonate with the American people. And if you look at things like seatbelts, we started that campaign over 20 years ago. Seatbelt usage has gone from maybe 21 percent up to over 80 percent.
“Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” is really a great example of a message that has become a social norm. You know, 20 years ago you probably would have heard people say “let’s have one for the road,” and now you wouldn’t think of not picking a designated driver.
GELLERMAN: Any plans to retire Smokey Bear?
CONLON: No (laughs). No, we’d never do that.
GELLERMAN: And McGruff?
CONLON: No. McGruff’s going strong at 25, and that’s not even counting dog years.
GELLERMAN: (Laughs). Well, Ms. Conlon, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
CONLON: Thanks for your interest, Bruce.
GELLERMAN: Peggy Conlon is president of the Ad Council.
[SMOKEY THE BEAR SONG]
Fight Global Warming Campaign
GELLERMAN: The waters of Lake Tanganyika are warming, putting in peril a little fish that means big money for one African nation’s economy. “Early Signs: Reports from a Warming Planet” is coming up – right after this Note on Emerging Science from Bobby Bascomb.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]
BASCOMB: Meteorologists at the private forecasting service AccuWeather are predicting the 2006 hurricane season will be more active than normal and could result in a devastating storm in the densely populated northeastern United States. The northeast United States is long overdue for a major hurricane, they say.
Super-sized hurricanes in the northeast are not unheard of. One in 1938 hit southern New England in Providence, Rhode Island; up to 600 people were killed. Experts say the above-normal water temperatures that accompanied that storm are very similar to what they’re seeing this year.
Increased severity of hurricanes is linked to global warming. That’s because as air temperature rises, so does water temperature. Hurricanes feed on heat energy from the Atlantic Ocean which is why they occur in late summer and early fall when the ocean’s temperature is at it’s yearly high. Scientists believe an increase in ocean temperature could cause an increase in the number and severity of hurricanes as a result.
Weather patterns observed in the Atlantic Ocean this year have forced experts to conclude that a major hurricane making landfall in the northeast is not a matter of if, but when. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Bobby Bascomb.
GELLERMAN: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.
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[MUSIC The American Analog Set “We’re Computerizing And We Just Don’t Need You Anymore” from ‘Know By Heart’ (Tiger Style - 2001)]
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. The first European explorers of Africa were obsessed with finding the source of the Nile River, and, for a while, they believed they’d found it in Lake Tanganyika. They were wrong, but it was an honest mistake – the lake seems to go on forever. It’s 420 miles long. It’s the longest fresh water lake in the world, and the second deepest.
Lake Tanganyika is also home more than 350 species of fish. Many are endemic to the lake, which has another remarkable property: the water temperature is almost uniformly consistent even in the deepest part, 4,700 feet down. The difference from the surface temperature is only about 3 degrees centigrade.
But recent research suggests that global warming may be affecting this incredible body of water and the fish which millions of people in this poorest of regions depend upon for sustenance and survival. Today we continue our special series “Early Signs from a Warming Planet.” The series is a collaboration of the UC Berkley Graduate School of Journalism, salon.com and Living on Earth to document places around the world where concerns about climate change are already having an impact. Places like Lake Tanganyika where producer Jori Lewis begins her story.
LEWIS: You can get just about anything at Kigoma’s market. Its maze-like warren of shops holds spices from Zanzibar, replacement batteries for broken cell phones, neon colored candies made from baobab seeds, and music from India and the Congo. They are small shops. Two steps take you from one to the next. And the market is covered by a tin roof that makes the whole place feel subterranean. As people pass by, sellers call out.
MAN: Habari. Jambo.
LEWIS: Their calls compete with the tinny sounds of nearby bootleg music and movie stands and the rhythmic chopping of knife on fish.
LEWIS: Kigoma is on Tanzania’s far western border. It’s a place so far from the rest of the country that most Tanzanians don’t know anyone from there, have never visited, and never wanted to. If you ask people in Tanzania’s biggest city, Dar es Salaam, what they know about Kigoma, chances are they’ll only say one thing: dagaa.
Dagaa is a tiny sardine. They have it in other lakes, too, but Kigoma dagaa from Lake Tanganyika is widely acknowledged to be one of the best.
KANYOE: I’ve been selling fish here since 1956.
KANYOE: Today there wasn’t a lot of dagaa.
LEWIS: He’ll try to make up for his losses by changing the size of the piles of dagaa he always sells for 100 shillings, or about 10 cents.
KANYOE: If there’s more fish, we make the pile higher. If there’s less, we make it smaller.
LEWIS: It’s just a basic function of supply. Sometimes the catch is good, and sometimes it isn’t. Fishermen say the catch depends on many things: the water’s temperature, the moon, the winds, good luck and magic. Kanyoe says maybe there is less dagaa today because fewer fishermen went out into lake. It could be. But fishermen and fish sellers aren’t the only ones observing the lake’s patterns. Scientists are watching the lake, too. In fact, some scientists are saying that maybe there’s just less dagaa in the lake altogether.
LEWIS: Bard College biologist Catherine O’Reilly has been studying the lake’s ecosystem for over a decade. In 2003, her article in the scientific journal Nature showed that a warming trend in the region is affecting algae in the lake. This development may be putting the dagaa population at risk in a place where this little fish is the biggest thing going.
O’REILLY: There’s really no question the lake has warmed up. Point eight degrees C over the past 80 years.
LEWIS: Lakes depend on mixing to create algae. Mixing combines the nutrients on the bottom with the water on top. Tropical lakes like Tanganyika, though, have a hard time of it. Tanganyika’s waters separate into layers according to temperature and density, and most of the nutrients stay in the lake’s cold depths.
O’REILLY: The temperate lakes we’re all used to seeing, there’s a winter, and winter means that the water temperature will always cool down and mix completely. And in Lake Tanganyika that will never happen.
LEWIS: Tanganyika depends on dry season winds to stir things up. But as the water on top gets warmer, it makes it harder for that mixing to occur.
O’REILLY: Because of that we don’t have as many nutrients coming up from the deep water, and that appears to be having an impact on primary productivity of the lake. So we see fewer algae, and the algae are growing slower than they used to, so that suggests that there’s not as strong a base for the fish food web as there used to be.
LEWIS: And less algae means less zooplankton, the main food of dagaa, which itself is the main food of other fish in the lake. O’Reilly is not the only scientist concerned about Lake Tanganyika.
NKOTAGU: The lake is heavily threatened.
LEWIS: Hudson Nkotagu is a geologist at the University of Dar es Salaam and has spent a lifetime studying the lake. He says Tanganyika is threatened by several factors.
NKOTAGU: Pollution is coming from various sources. For example, in Tanzania, domestic waste. Excessive fishing and also use of inappropriate use of fishing gear. Another threat that is coming up recently is the climate change.
LEWIS: There’s no disagreement about temperature rise in the lake. Other published studies have also shown temperature increases, slowed wind speeds, and decreased algae growth in Tanganyika and other lakes in the area. Where there is some disagreement is whether we can already see a decline in the catch. But it’s a hard connection to track.
SEEMOO: We don’t know if the numbers are increasing or the numbers are dropping down. This gives a picture, the frame of the picture.
LEWIS: From his cluttered office across from the droning generator that provides intermittent electricity to the area, government statistician Alfon Seemoo has been tracking Kigoma region’s dagaa catch for nearly thirty years.
SEEMOO: ...the metric tons 50,002...
LEWIS: The numbers tell a story of boom and bust. You might expect for the catch to go up when there are more fishermen on the lake, and for them to go down when the numbers of fishermen decline. Sometimes that has happened, but in many years in Kigoma it has been just the opposite.
SEEMOO: You see, there is up and down due to the different factors.
LEWIS: Sometimes it just seems like luck. But one thing seems clear: a decline in dagaa would be a serious situation. Dagaa feeds the nation, and the nation is growing. In Kigoma, the poorest region of one of the poorest countries in Africa, dagaa is essential.
LEWIS: Although there are over 300 species of fish in the lake, only dagaa shows up on the tables of even the poorest people. Only dagaa directly provides jobs to at least a million people in a place where there isn’t much work. And only dagaa swims in the lake in such abundance.
Despite such certainty, some fishermen are saying that over time their dagaa catches have gone down. Up the shore a couple of miles at the village of Kalalangabo, retired dagaa fisherman Myonge Seph fixes the cracks in his sons’ boats by patiently pounding in bits of cotton dipped in bright yellow palm oil.
LEWIS: He says dagaa fishing is certainly not as good as it was 30 years ago when he was first starting out.
LEWIS: Seph, a wiry man of 46, knows the moods of Lake Tanganyika. He knows, for instance, that there are at least four different types of winds that blow on the lake, and that the big ones come when the corn has babies. That wind starts the time of scarce dagaa. Seph knows the routine well after a lifetime on the lake. It has its ups and downs.
SEPH: We fish because we have no other job. Our grandfathers fished here. Our fathers fished here. We’ll fish here and pass it on to our children who will fish and pass it on again. It’s our legacy.
LEWIS: He also knows that dagaa are scarce when the moon is full, waning or waxing, which it is tonight. After all, fishing in these parts follows the path of the moon. When the moon is not full they go out into the open waters in search of a good place to catch dagaa, the silvery wonder the length of an index finger. The fishermen use kerosene lamps to attract zooplankton, dagaa’s main food. It’s a classic mouse trap. Lure the zooplankton and the dagaa will follow. And the darker the night, the more they are all seduced by the lights above. So, dagaa fishermen float on the waters of Africa’s deepest lake all night, waiting. Fishing dagaa is a ritual that has gone on for generations on the lake’s shores. And even though their methods of fishing differ, the spectacle remains the same. At night they light up the water.
Geologist Hudson Nkotagu grew up in the area around the lake and never gets tired of the sight.
NKOTAGU: You see in the night when the fishing is taking place. You see a big city. Maybe a big city with a lot of lights. Like maybe New York. It’s a comparison. But it’s actually fishermen who are actually fishing.
LEWIS: But when the moon is full or waxing or waning, there is too much light for their lamps to make a difference. Many fishermen take a few days off. Others just bring more lamps and go out further into the lake.
That’s not an option for the Kalalangabo fishermen who still use paddle boats and can’t go very far. Seph works underneath a shady tree on the beach where he and a few other men while away the day. And they will while away the night, too, since there won’t be any fishing for them on this bright night.
LEWIS: But there are fishermen who are better off and can go out deeper into the lake. Many of those fishermen fish from Katonga beach, just south of Kigoma.
[JAFARI SPEAKING IN LOCAL DIALECT]
JAFARI: The water was a little warm today and there were few waves. It was very good.
LEWIS: He’s a small man, just over five feet tall, and at 50 years old has a gruff voice from long nights on the water.
JAFARI: My father was a fisherman and I inherited the trade from him. And my grandfather was also a fisherman.
LEWIS: Jafari says that the catch now is much better than in the old days. But for him the catch may be better than ever for a reason. Unlike Myonge Seph’s family at Kalalangabo, Jafari has gotten to fish with better lights, and uses a boat with an outboard motor. The engine lets him go out much further than his father was able to go three decades ago when they were fishing closer to the shore.
LEWIS: It starts to rain and people unfold their umbrellas. Jafari pulls a threadbare overcoat closer over his wet clothing. He likes fishing, and says it gives him enough money to live. Most fishermen make more money than farmers. But they find it difficult to save any money when the catch varies season-to-season, and even day-to-day. Despite the good catch these days, Jafari is not happy his adult son has followed him into the water.
JAFARI: This life is too tough. He can’t do it. I’ve decided to send him to school so he can get an education. I got stuck in this job and I missed a chance to go to school.
LEWIS: It’s a common refrain. Everyone fishes, but no one wants his sons to have to.
[ELIAS RAP SONG]
LEWIS: It stops raining and, just twenty paces away from Jafari’s boat, a kid begins making turntable noises. His audience is a group of women and children who have started to spread dagaa on the sand to dry.
LEWIS: People stop their work to cheer him on.
LEWIS: It’s a song about living and getting money and not getting HIV.
LEWIS: He’s 17 but looks 12, and is going back to school after break. He’s lucky, though. High school in Tanzania is not free, and most people can’t afford it. After all, the area around Tanganyika is like a one-factory town. Except, there’s no factory. There is only the lake: 420 miles long, nearly a mile deep, and with seemingly enough fish in its depths to support the over ten million people living on its shores.
LEWIS: Most fishermen say it’s impossible for the dagaa to ever permanently go away. They know there are periods of plenty and periods of scarcity. During periods of scarcity, the lake’s lights darken. Some fishermen go out anyway to look for dagaa during those times. They go out again and again, waiting and watching.
LEWIS: The fishermen say the dagaa always come back. They always have before, and most people can’t imagine that this cycle could ever break down. But this deep and ancient lake is changing, and not everyone will be able to change with it.
[CALL TO PRAYER]
LEWIS: Many fishermen aren’t going out tonight at Katonga. With the moon gathering strength, even with their big motors and plentiful lights they know they might not have good luck. But one group of intrepid fishermen is leaving early.
Mlema Musa and his crew are loading in several lights and canisters of gasoline. He connects the fuel pump to his 40 horsepower Yamaha motor. Musa bums a few cigarettes. Ignoring the gasoline, he lights one before casting off. Smoking helps pass the time, he says, and keeps him warm. They are going a little over a mile out tonight to a place where another fisherman got lots of dagaa the night before. How much they’ll get, no one can say.
MUSA: I can’t really predict how it’s going to be. We’ll know when we get there.
[MOTORBOAT SOUND AGAINST LAPPING WATER AND CALL TO PRAYER UP]
LEWIS: For Living on Earth, I’m Jori Lewis.
[CALL TO PRAYER]
GELLERMAN: Next week, “Early Signs: Reports from a Warming Planet” travels to New Zealand. It’s where residents of the South Pacific nation of Tuvalu have been moving, afraid their islands may disappear under a rising tide.
WOMAN: We love our islands. I'm sad, that's the word, sad, to leave Tuvalu and come here. But we have to do it for our own safety and that of our kids.
GELLERMA: “Early Signs” is a collaboration of the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Salon dot com and Living on Earth. To see photos and read a print version of the Lake Tanganyika story visit our website, Living on Earth dot org. That’s Living on Earth dot O-R-G.
[CALL TO PRAYER, ANIMAL SOUNDS]
GELLERMAN: We leave you this week on the African continent along the River Mara in Kenya where it’s said the hippos spend their day in the water telling jokes – then surface at dusk for a good laugh.
GELLERMAN: Chris Watson was there to catch the routine.
[EARTH EAR: “Hippopotami” recorded by Chris Watson from “Outside The Circle of Fire” (Touch Music – 1998)]
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Jennifer Chu, Rachel Gotbaum, Ingrid Lobet and Jeff Young - with help from Christopher Bolick, Kelley Cronin, James Curwood and Michelle Kweder. Our interns are Bobby Bascomb and Emily Taylor. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Alison Dean composed our themes. You can find us at LOE dot org. Steve Curwood will be back next week. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening.
[GELLERMAN] Sounds like me!
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