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

January 26, 2007

Air Date: January 26, 2007



Political Climate Change / Jeff Young

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President Bush mentioned climate change in his State of the Union address for the first time. But Congressional leaders and many corporate CEO's are way ahead of him. Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports on the warming political climate in Washington for those who want action on global warming. (12:30)

States Crack Down on CO2

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Host Steve Curwood talks with Terry Tamminen, California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s environmental advisor, and Franz Litz, Director of Climate Policy in New York, about state programs to limit greenhouse gases. States representing more than a quarter of the country’s economic activity aren’t waiting for the word from Washington. Instead, they have already begun implementing mandatory cap-and-trade programs on carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas. (06:00)

Climate Change Projections

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The most authoritative word on global warming comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the IPCC will release its new report on the subject on February 2nd. Host Steve Curwood talks with Robin McKie, the science editor of The Observer in London. about what’s in a draft of the report. McKie says the language used by the scientists this time around is much stronger than in the last edition. (06:15)

Emerging Science Note/The Tiniest Thinker / Paige Doughty

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Rodin probably wasn’t thinking on this scale when he created his famous sculpture “The Thinker.” Paige Doughty reports. (01:30)

World Changing / Bruce Barcott

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Outside magazine’s Bruce Barcott reviews the encyclopedic book “World Changing: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century.” He says the book is not only chock-full of useful environmental information, but it’s beautiful, as well. (03:00)

Tuna In Trouble

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Host Steve Curwood talks with Dr. Carl Safina, head of the Blue Ocean Institute, about the state of the bluefin tuna. Spawning stocks of bluefin are reportedly down 90 percent, and scientists say the bluefin may be heading toward commercial extinction. Fishing management groups from around the world recently met in Japan to come up with a plan to protect the fish. (06:00)

Listener Letters

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Living on Earth dips into the mailbag to hear from listeners. (02:00)

Coal Controversy Down Under / Mark Tamhane

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Exporting coal is big business in Australia. Mark Tamhane reports on the controversy surrounding a proposal to open a large open pit coal mine in the eastern part of the country. Opponents are seizing on a court ruling that says businesses must take into account the impact of their projects on climate change. This may not affect the plans for the pit mine but the coal industry is on edge about how the ruling will affect future coal projects. (07:40)

This week's EarthEar selection
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The snaps, crackles, and pops of shifting ice.

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Franz Litz, Robin McKie, Carl Safina, Terry Tamminen
REPORTERS: Mark Tamhane, Jeff Young,
SCIENCE NOTE: Paige Doughty
COMMENTATOR: Bruce Barcott


CURWOOD: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood

Climate change is suddenly the talk of the town in Washington. Bills, congressional committees and pronouncements to address global warming are popping up like spring flowers. And even long time skeptics, like the president, are saying it’s a serious problem.

LASH: The tide has turned, the time is now. There is building momentum for action. The question is no longer whether to take action but what kind of action to take.

CURWOOD: Also, an Australian court has ruled that exporters of coal must consider how those sales could affect global warming. Now other Aussies are worried what that might mean for them.

WILLIAMS: All of our activities, all of our business, produce greenhouse gases. So where do you draw the line? Is it just coal exports or are we going right down the chain to the building of your suburban home?

CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.

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

Political Climate Change

Big business teams up with environmental activists to take action on climate change. From left to right: Jeffrey Immelt (Chairman and C.E.O., General Electric), Jonathan Lash (President, World Resources Institute). (Photo: Reggie Lipscomb, NPS Photography)

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

Evidence is mounting that the climate is changing, and I’m not just talking about rising temperatures and melting ice. The heat is also on in American politics, with growing support for action to curb global warming gases. From corporate boardrooms to Capitol Hill there’s now a flurry of activity on global warming. Even President Bush, a long time skeptic of the dangers of climate change, this year mentioned it in his State of the Union address.

BUSH: America’s on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.

The President called for a 20 percent reduction in the country’s consumption of gasoline within ten years by using more alternative fuels and boosting the efficiency of cars. Some of Congress’s new Democratic leaders say that’s a good idea, but it doesn’t go far enough for them to address the problem. Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent Jeff Young explains for us. Jeff?

President Bush delivers the State of the Union Address. (Courtesy of The White House)

YOUNG: Steve, White House aides had hyped this State of the Union Address as having energy proposals that were gonna "knock your socks off." But when lawmakers filed out of the House of Representatives after the speech no one I spoke with seemed to be missing any footwear after the president’s brief mention of climate change.


MCCAIN: I wish it had been less brief and more detailed but I was glad to hear him talk about it.

YOUNG: Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, a likely presidential candidate in 08, has twice brought a bill to the floor to cap carbon dioxide emissions. He recently reintroduced the bill with a new co-sponsor, Illinois Democrat Barak Obama—another presidential contender. The President has rejected the kind of mandatory emissions limits their bill seeks, but McCain still sees progress in Bush’s speech.

MCCAIN: At least it’s the first time in 6 years he’s mentioned it, so that’s a step forward.

YOUNG: Others were less charitable. One typical comment from environmental groups compared Bush’s idea to fighting a forest fire with a garden hose. California Democrat Barbara Boxer took control of the Senate’s Environment Committee when Democrats took control of Congress. She has a climate bill that calls for aggressive carbon cuts. She shook her head in disbelief while leaving the president’s speech.

BOXER: He puts out absolutely no goals, objectives, timetables, or, ah, any kind of caps. It’s such a disappointment.

YOUNG: For months Washington had been abuzz that Bush was working on a major announcement on climate change, perhaps even returning to his forgotten campaign pledge from 2000 to cap emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal global warming gas.
But that didn’t happen, leading the chair of the Senate Energy committee, Jeff Bingaman, to call Bush’s speech “a missed opportunity.” The New Mexico Democrat also has a climate bill, one of four major Senate proposals already pending in these early weeks of the new congress. And in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has created a new special committee on climate change.

PELOSI: I promise to do everything in my power to achieve energy independence and to do so within ten years and to stop global warming. It’s a very important issue. I’m very excited about it. It says to the American people that we are about the future, about addressing how we create jobs, how we care for our children, how we grow our economy, and how we preserve our planet.

YOUNG: That special committee is a signal of both Pelosi’s commitment to the issue and her willingness to confront powerful members of her own party who might not want action as swift or strong as she does. Pelosi won control of the speaker’s gavel in part by hammering Bush and congressional republicans on climate and energy. But she and Bush share one thing here—they both link climate change to the concept of energy independence.

PELOSI: For that reason I have asked the chairs of relevant committees to hold hearings, to pass legislation so that by the Fourth of July we can have a package of legislation to truly declare our energy independence.

YOUNG: The term is loosely defined but generally means greatly reducing energy imports and boosting homegrown sources like ethanol. It’s a winning theme with broad support, from farmers worried about crop prices to defense-minded hawks concerned about oil from volatile regions. And Bush’s ideas for energy independence got a better reception.

FRIEDMAN: I think this could be a breakthrough.

YOUNG: That’s David Friedman. He researches vehicles and fuels for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a conservation group. The current fuel standard is about 28 miles per gallon for cars and 21 for trucks. The president avoided a specific number. Instead he offered goals for reducing gas consumption. Friedman calculates that meeting the president’s goals would be the equivalent of a fuel economy standard of 34 mpg for all vehicles in ten years.

FRIEDMAN: That’s the same basic level that members of congress are targeting as well. So, at a minimum the breakthrough is members of congress and president agree now on how far we need to go but it will only be a breakthrough if it actually becomes law.

YOUNG: Friedman says the devil is in the details, which are not yet clear. The same is true of the president’s call to increase production of renewable fuels to 35 billion gallons a year, in a decade. That’s nearly five times the current standard, which is met almost completely with ethanol from corn. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is from Iowa, where they love corn. But Harkin says meeting that goal will mean promoting an emerging technology that gets ethanol from the cellulose in plants.

HARKIN: Well the only way we’re going to meet that is through cellulose conversion. We can’t meet that just with corn alone and so we’ve got to have a major thrust for the research and development of cellulosic materials we’ve got to have the loans in there to get the plants built and we have to have incentives to farmers to grow the energy crops that are needed.

YOUNG: So walking the walk, if he talks the talk.

HARKIN: That’s right, the rhetoric is nice but will the budget allow us to do that in the farm bill that we’re gonna pass this year? Well, that remains to be seen.

YOUNG: Harkin’s agriculture committee will take up a farm bill soon, and its call for biofuels will be a big part of any plan for energy independence. But energy independence does not necessarily address climate change. And major business leaders recently added their voices to those calling for a global warming policy that places a mandatory cap on carbon emissions. CEO’s from ten companies including GE, DuPont, Duke Energy, Alcoa Aluminum, and the Caterpillar equipment company made their announcement the day before Bush’s state of the union address. Jim Rogers leads Duke Energy.

Big business teams up with environmental activists to take action on climate change. From left to right: Jeffrey Immelt (Chairman and C.E.O., General Electric), Jonathan Lash (President, World Resources Institute). (Photo: Reggie Lipscomb, NPS Photography)

ROGERS: It is our hope that by joining together our diverse group sends a clear signal that it is time for the nation’s political leaders to come together and to act.

YOUNG: And talk about strange bedfellows—the group includes environmental groups which have at times sued some of the companies. Jonathan Lash of World Resources Institute says they’ve put aside such differences because the need for action is so great.

LASH: The tide has turned, the time is now. There is building momentum for action. The question is no longer whether to take action but what kind of action to take.

YOUNG: Many in Washington think that bold stand by business leaders says a lot more about the state of our union on climate change than the President did.

CURWOOD: Jeff Young reporting from Capitol Hill. Jeff please stick around I’ve got a couple of questions for you.

YOUNG: Mmm hmm.

CURWOOD: Now we’ve seen business asking for caps on carbon dioxide, more and more businesses. Um, and now we see even businesses like utilities that burn a lot of coal asking for this. Why the change?

YOUNG: Well companies like Duke Energy their CEO says the science compels them to act. And they also say they think they can still prosper in this environment even if they’re cutting carbon emissions. And another thing: you know they look around at all these states taking action, California the New England states moving ahead on this. The companies would rather deal with one federal law instead of a bunch of state laws.

CURWOOD: So, what kind of emissions cuts would they like to see?

YOUNG: Well, this particular group is calling for very meaningful reductions; something in the neighborhood of 80 percent below today's emissions within 50 years. And they want it to come from all across the economy: autos, manufacturers, power plants, the whole ball of wax. That’s big and that’s in keeping with what most scientists will tell you is needed if we want to avoid major climate disruption from green house gasses and it’s on par with what some of the more aggressive bills in Congress are calling for

CURWOOD: So in Washington there’s a thing known as conventional wisdom, which the way the wind is blowing. Is that what’s happening with climate change? Is there a tipping point now?

YOUNG: You know, I think we have reached a kind of tipping point at least in general public opinion. There are so many things in recent years that have thrust this into public consciousness and public poling will tell you most people on the street do think we should act on climate change. And ah, you know, here in Washington just in the past couple of weeks we had those business leaders buddying up with environmentalists. We had Evangelical Christians hand in hand with scientists, they’re normally at each other’s throats. And here they were joining together saying we need to do something about climate change. That tells me there’s something going on here. We’ve reached some kind of a shift in public opinion.

CURWOOD: Now explain to me why the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has created a special committee on climate change. What does that mean?

YOUNG: Well, this is very interesting for the politics on the House side of the capitol here. John Dingell is the Congressman from Michigan. He’s the very powerful chair of the energy committee in the house. And ah, Congressman Dingell represents the Detroit area, the auto-makers. And he’s been good on a lot of environmental stuff but he’s not quite so sure that we need to race ahead with this climate change business. And Speaker Pelosi clearly, although she wouldn’t say it this way, is doing a sort of end run around Congressman Dingell and his energy committee by setting up this special committee that won’t be able to write bills but it sure as heck will be able to keep focus on this issue.

CURWOOD: Now, you mention that there are a number of climate change bills in the hopper now. What’s the chance of any of them passing?

YOUNG: There’s a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of new bills, but it’s still an uphill climb to get any one of those, even the weakest passed in this Congress. You know, in the Senate you have to have 60 votes to pass anything. I think an honest count at this point still favors those who would block a bill rather than pass it. Even if it did pass no one at the White House seems inclined to want to sign a bill like that. So, I’d say you’re going to hear a lot about climate change. I don’t expect anything to pass unless something changes. But you know the Democratic leadership they look at this and they say, “even if we loose we win because if we force a filibuster or if we force a veto by the Republican leadership we become the global warming party and we’re on the side of the public.”

CURWOOD: Thanks Jeff

YOUNG: You’re welcome.

CURWOOD: Jeff Young is Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent.

Related links:
- Business partnership for climate action
- Details of President Bush's energy proposal
- President Bush Delivers State of the Union Address

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[MUSIC: Roger O’Donnell “For The Truth in You” from ‘The Truth In Me’ (Great Society - 2006)]

CURWOOD: Coming up, while Capitol Hill is maneuvering to get going on climate change, many of the states have already been making big strides. The reasons why are just ahead on Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Ian Boddy “Never Forever” from ‘Elemental ‘ (DIN – 2006)]

States Crack Down on CO2

Terry Tamminen

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. The sudden hubbub about climate change in Washington comes long after a number of states have already moved to cut carbon emissions. To understand why and how the states have taken the lead, we turn now to two people who have played key roles in that process.

Terry Tamminen is an energy advisor to California’s Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The state recently enacted mandatory limits on global warming gases. And Franz Litz is the Director of Climate Policy for the State of New York and a leader of what’s known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or Reggie. Hello to both of you.



CURWOOD: So, uh, let me start with you Terry Tamminen. For the first time in a State of the Union Address President Bush spoke the words global climate change. How substantive do you think those remarks were?

TAMMINEN: I don’t think they were substantive at all because he, he didn’t really go on to say what it is that he felt we should do about it or how responsible we are. I certainly give him credit for finally admitting that it’s happening. He said I believe his words were, “the serious challenge of global climate change.” But he didn’t then go on to say here’s what we’re going to do about it. He nibbled around the edges. I mean, the house is burning and he’s mowing the lawn.

Terry Tamminen

CURWOOD: Franz Litz, um you’re director of climate policy for the State of New York and you’ve worked for a Republican governor, although now you work for a Democratic governor. What’s your take on the President’s language about climate change?

LITZ: The President, while it is encouraging that he is recognizing the significance of the problem, it is in my view the most significant environmental challenge that we face. He has, as yet, shied away from the full package of policies that will be needed to really tackle the problem and it is very disappointing.

CURWOOD: While we’re looking for federal action a number of States in the Northeast have adopted what you call a regional greenhouse gas initiative. Mr. Litz, what exactly is it and how does it come into play in terms of climate change?

LITZ: The regional greenhouse gas initiative is a group of nine states now in the Northeast that are in the final stages of implementing a program that will cap emissions from the power sector. Now the power sector, as you may know, is one of the largest sectors in the Northeast. It’s about 30 percent of our emissions; it’s a larger part of the national emissions. The governors from the Northeast came together in the summer of 2003 and said, “We are going to look to tackle this problem. But we’re going to do it in a way that’s flexible and market based. So what we’ll do is what is called a cap and trade approach. You cap the emissions from the power plants in the region. You then say that each plant has an obligation to hold permits that equal the total of their emissions. And those permits are tradable among all of the sources and that’s where the trade part of cap and trade comes in.

Franz Litz

CURWOOD: You have this economy-wide, that’s the plan right Terry Tamminen?

TAMMINEN: Yes it is. We ah, we certainly agree with what Franz just said but uh here in California our oil and gas refining business, our oil and gas exploration, our land fills and the cement industry are four other very large industries that emit significant amounts of CO2. And so we wanted this to be economy-wide. Those first five are perhaps the most important. But our trading program will be economy-wide.

CURWOOD: How much of a true solution is this state focused approach? Franz?

LITZ: Just to give you a sense of what this means in terms of numbers, if you take the Reggie states, plus California, we represent more than a quarter of the US population. If you added up our economies and treated us as a country we would be the third largest world economy. And so if it makes sense for Germany to do something, the UK to do something, it certainly makes sense for these states to move ahead.

CURWOOD: Now what if, let’s say, I was in a business um, that uses a lot of energy such as making cement or smelting aluminum and um, my business right now is in one of these Northeastern states or California. What’s to prevent me from moving say to a state that doesn’t have this or maybe over the border to Mexico ah, or Canada to get away from these rules?

LITZ: Well, here in California one of the answers to that question is Schwarzenegger has made it a high priority to work with other states through the Western Governor’s Association, Board of Governor’s Association, um, and actually by sending me out; I just came back from Vancouver talking to British Columbia Premier Campbell, and talking to other leaders about doing the same things in their states and in the region so that this, this doesn’t happen. So, hopefully we’re signaling business that look to other states may not have the same rules and regulations and laws as California just yet but it’s coming. And so there’s no benefit to you to picking up and moving across a border.

CURWOOD: States are moving forward on this. Why, in your view, is the federal government so reluctant to move in this area? You have the White House and you have the Congress which have really not acted.

LITZ: States have long been laboratories of democracy in the area of environmental protection it was the states after all, that had the first agencies that looked after environmental protection well before the EPA on the federal level was established. And states and cities reached out to regulate the pollution that was affecting them on the ground. So what you’re seeing despite the fact that climate change is very much a global problem, you’re seeing that same dynamic play out here and it will eventually lead to congressional action. I’m convinced of that.

TAMMINEN: And I would just add to that. I think that one reason we’re not seeing better federal action is that there was a divide up until this recent change of Congress, last November, where it just was not an issue on the radar screen. And I think part of that is the fossil fuel industry has spent 186 million dollars in Congressional and Presidential campaign contributions. And for that they’ve gotten back 1000 dollars for every single dollar they’ve invested in campaign contributions in terms of subsidies or direct tax breaks or other benefits. Ah. and that corrupts the system. So I think that we in the states are the ones living with the impacts of this.

We’re already seeing a shrinking of the snow pack in the Sierra Nevadas that provides two thirds of the developed water to our state. We’re seeing coastal erosion. We’re seeing changes in the growing season in our important agricultural regions. We’re seeing greater levels of heat death and that sort of thing. So we see these impacts and I think it’s important for states to take action.

CURWOOD: Terry Tamminen is an energy advisor to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. And Franz Litz is the Director of Climate Policy for the State of New York. Gentlemen, thanks very much.

TAMMINEN: Thank you.

LITZ: My pleasure.

Related links:
- California Climate Action Registry
- Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative website
- Chicago Climate Exchange
- Terry Tamminen's website

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Climate Change Projections

The Observer's Science Editor, Robin McKie.

CURWOOD: The basic principles of global warming have been known for decades. But predicting exactly how humans are changing the climate has been one of the biggest scientific challenges of our times---and the source of much political debate.

Since 1988 a scientific arm of the U.N. known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been synthesizing the knowledge of thousands of climate scientists from over 130 countries. Every five years or so the panel issues a consensus forecast of climate change. The first part of their latest report is due out on February second. And a number of journalists have gotten a sneak preview of it. Among them is Robin McKie, the science editor of The Observer in the U.K. He’s on the line with us from London.
Robin, thanks for joining us.

McKIE: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Now, first tell me what is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? Tell us about how this body produces these reports.

McKIE: Well, it’s an enormously conservative body really. It gets a reputation among skeptics as die hard climate change fanatics. But really it’s very far from that. It’s in the end thousands of scientists involved in producing its various draft documents. And each point is argued very carefully and comes to conclusions that are careful in the extreme. They last pronounced in 2001 and it’s taken them since that time to reassess that data to see how carbon dioxide levels have gone up, temperatures have gone up etcetera.

CURWOOD: Now some people say that, in fact, the make up of this body is such that it is maybe too conservative. That because it is a consensus process people who are opposed to exploring this are really able to obstruct a lot of the work there.

McKIE: I think that’s a fair criticism of it. Many people do think that. On the other hand when it does make a pronouncement, I mean, we really listen.

The Observer's Science Editor, Robin McKie

CURWOOD: So what’s different about this projection from the one that was made in 2001?

McKIE: In a sense, the actual projections that they’re making, the temperature changes that we’re liable to see, they’re not that much different. It’s the language they use. It was the confidence with which they made pronouncements of alarming consequence. In the past they have tended to talk in terms of likely, and possibly very likely. They’re now in the virtually certain, extremely likely types of language. Now, if something is likely they say there’s a more than 66 percent chance of it happening. If something is very likely it’s more than 90 percent. Extremely likely, more than 95 percent. And anything more than 99 percent is considered to be virtually certain. So it’s the change in language, it’s the confidence with which these scientists are making their predictions of the future passage of climate change on this planet that is the real remarkable point.

CURWOOD: Now as I understand it the projections have actually narrowed in the range of what they’re talking about. They say that it’s ah, not as dire as it might have been predicted in the past but also we’re not as likely to get off as easily according to the wider range of earlier projections.

McKIE: They have the kind of slightly more alarming, perhaps fanciful depending on your language, predictions that have been sort of clipped off the top but at the same time a temperature rise around three degrees is looking, by the middle of the century, very much more confident for them.

CURWOOD: Three degrees Fahrenheit or three degrees Centigrade?

McKIE: Three degrees Centigrade.

CURWOOD: And what would that mean?

McKIE: Well, that is of course perhaps the part that is still mostly clouded is some kind of conjecture. But again the mist is clearing. It’s snow cover across the world disappearing. Sea ice shrinking in both the Antarctic and arctic. Very likely that hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events will continue. A couple of slightly good bits of good news. The Antarctic doesn’t melt with quite the ferocity that was predicted.

CURWOOD: So, how fast is the warming going to be happening according to this latest assessment and compared to the earlier one?

McKIE: There was a range in the previous ones of all between 0.05 degrees Centigrade and 0.3 degrees Centigrade per decade. It’s now settling down at the .2 degrees per decade. So, that’s slightly towards the upper level of that. That’s certainly what has been seen over the past decade and it looks as if that will continue for another, there’s nothing much we can do about it, for the next 50 years.

CURWOOD: How likely is this report to change the debate about climate change; what people, governments, businesses should do?

McKIE: I think it is another important incremental point. From my point of view I find it incredible that people haven’t listened to what has been said before. Um, so yes, I think it will play a small crucial part, another nail in the coffin as it were, of the skeptic’s case.

CURWOOD: How long have you been a science editor and a science reporter?

McKIE: I’ve been science editor of the Observer for almost 25 years.

CURWOOD: What stories rival this in importance?

McKIE: None. Not a single one. This is it. This is the biggest story I’ve ever known and I can’t really think of, I can’t even think of what would be a bigger one. I suppose some nuclear war or something, or an asteroid plunging toward earth. But this is telling us that our planet is going to changes. It’s irreversible and we don’t really know exactly how much it will change. And it will touch everyone’s lives. You don’t get stories bigger than that really.

CURWOOD: Robin McKie is science editor for the Observer in London. Thank you so much sir.

McKIE: Thank you.

CURWOOD: The first part of the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will be officially released on Feb second.

Related links:
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Working Group 1: The Physical Basis of Climate Change
- Robin McKie's "Global warming: the final verdict" in The Observer

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CURWOOD: Coming up, you might call it an environmentalist’s bible. A writer tries to draw together every known green tool and technology into a single book. First this Note on Emerging Science from Paige Doughty.

Emerging Science Note/The Tiniest Thinker


DOUGHTY: Picture this: You’re are at an art museum following signs to see the latest replica of Auguste Rodin’s famous statue, “The Thinker.” You know, the athletic male figure seated on a rock, his chin pressed into a clenched fist.

The sign says it’s here, can you see it? Look a little closer. Still nothing? Well, it’s not surprising. The latest replica of “The Thinker,” measures in at 20 millionths of a meter high or 2 times the size of a red blood cell.

Researchers at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, have crafted this microscopic version of Rodin’s sculpture with a new laser technique that has solved a decade old problem in creating elaborate three-dimensional models. Previously, scientists, employing single laser beams, tried to include fine details on the sensitive resin material used for the creations. But the technique caused the resin to fall apart. The Korean Researchers used multiple beams, focused on and below places on the surface of the resin. This method allowed them to include greater detail when micro-sculpting. Scientists say the new technique could be used to develop microscopic devices for a variety of fields.

Rodin, himself, was known for mechanically reproducing his sculptures in different scales; the original 1880 “Thinker” was 28 inches high. Almost a decade later it was reduced to 14 3/4 inches, and then enlarged to about six feet. The latest Korean replica is 93,000 times smaller than the six-foot version. Perhaps the artist would have liked to ponder that. That’s this week’s note on Emerging Science. I’m Paige Doughty

Related link:
"World's Tiniest Sculpture"

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World Changing

Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

CURWOOD: More than a generation ago, author Stewart Brand put together what some considered the bible of the ‘60s counterculture. It was called the Whole Earth Catalog. And it brought together hundreds of tools and ideas that were driving political and social change at the time into a single book. Now a new book attempts to do the same thing for today’s environmental movement. It’s called “Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century,” by Alex Steffen. Outside Magazine contributing editor Bruce Barcott has our review.

BARCOTT: Alex Steffan is a radical optimist. A few years ago, amid a deluge of grim environmental news, the Seattle-based activist created a website called Worldchanging.org. Steffan's idea was simple: The tools to "green up" the world already existed. The problem was, not enough people knew about them. So Worldchanging.org became a clearinghouse of green innovation. The site offered a library of brilliant sustainable solutions. Steffan was its head librarian, standing at the door yelling, "Here! Take this idea! It works!"

Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Those ideas have now been bound together in, World Changing: A User's Guide for the 21st Century. The book is a massive 600-page compendium of information about everything from seed banks to biodiesel to carbon offsets and car sharing. Topics move naturally from the personal to the planetary. Early chapters cover stuff we buy, like candles and t-shirts. Then Steffan’s team of contributing writers look at housing design, then city planning, and finally business and global politics.

And this is not only one of the New Year's most useful books, it's also one of the most beautiful. Housed in a slipcase that is its own work of art, World Changing’s designer, Stefan Sagmeister, uses typefaces, graphics, and color photos to create the printed-page version of a beautiful park on a sunny day. Your eye strikes the page and you feel like hanging out for a while.

The beauty of the book illustrates one of Alex Steffan's main points. Don't just live sensibly, he says. Live well. His vision of the future isn't granola and porridge. It's what he calls "bright green:” Creating and buying products and systems that are smart, sexy, sleek, and sustainable.

The author's other guiding principle is what might be called the Ripple Effect. "Planetary thinking is hard." he writes. So he offers some suggestions: take small steps that influence wider markets. Support your green power programs that build the market for wind energy. Buy locally grown produce to keep organic farmers in business. Choose bamboo flooring instead of virgin fir. Want more ideas? Alex Steffan's got thousands.

Near the end of the book, Steffan says that "things are bad. Problems are huge. But despair is a trap. None of the problems we face are insurmountable. The biggest barrier to a bright green future may be entirely in our heads-we simply can't imagine it." With World Changing, Alex Steffan not only helps us imagine it. He gives us the tools to make it happen.

CURWOOD: The book is “Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century,” by Alex Steffen. Our reviewer is Outside Magazine’s Bruce Barcott.

Related link:
"Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century"

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[MUSIC: Elvis Presley “A Little Less Conversation A Little More Action (JXL Remix)” from ‘30 #1 Hits’ (BMG – 2002)]

CURWOOD: Just ahead, the sushi menu says four bucks for that morsel of maguro. But what’s the true cost of all that tuna at your local sushi bar? The answer may surprise you. And it’s just ahead, right here on Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for the Environmental Health Desk at Living on Earth comes from the Cedar Tree Foundation. Support also comes from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for coverage of population and the environment, and from you our listeners, and from member stations. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.

[MUSIC: Hot Tuna “Water Song” from ‘Burgers’ (BMG- 1972)]

Tuna In Trouble

A large bluefin tuna gets caught up off the coast of Stintino, Sardinia, Italy. (Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. Not so long ago the giant bluefin tuna—the most desired fish for sushi and sashimi posted record prices. At one point in 2005 a single bluefin went for more than $170,000 at a Japanese market. Now it seems that these fish may soon not be available at any price.

Scientists say that at the present rate of decline the bluefin are headed for commercial extinction. But now, for the first time ever, the various regional bodies that regulate tuna fishing have come up with a worldwide plan to rebuild the bluefin and other tuna stocks to sustainable levels.

The plan, which was developed at a recent meeting in Japan, includes a crackdown on illegal fishing and gathering more data on fish stocks. But some conservationist say this plan doesn’t go far enough. Carl Safina is the president of the Blue Ocean Institute and the author of more than a 100 scientific and popular publications about ecology and the oceans. He’s on the line with us from New York. Carl, first of all, tell us about the bluefin tuna.

SAFINA: Ah, the blue fin is really just about the mightiest fish in the sea that exists at potentially high population levels in big big schools. There’s nothing on land that is a predator that could live at those kinds of numbers and densities as the original populations of tunas. So, they were like these big thundering herds of predators in the ocean. And they, they eat mostly smaller fish like anchovies and mackerel and they also eat squid, things like that. And they were thrilling to see, chasing fish at the surface at 50 miles per hour and shredding the surface white in big schools, vaulting into the air, crashing down with big explosions. They really were just one of the most thrilling sights in the entire ocean.

A large bluefin tuna gets caught up off the coast of Stintino, Sardinia, Italy. (Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

CURWOOD: And they’re crashing.

SAFINA: They have crashed. And they’re continuing to decline to very low levels. That is why in the 1990s, when they were declining, we were on a campaign to try to cut the fishing quota by half, because every year fisherman caught the entire quota. The population models said they would continue to decline unless the quota was cut in half. If the quota was cut in half they would start to level out and then slowly increase. Everybody said they couldn’t live with a quota that was cut in half. So what they have now is a quota that’s the same but their catches are only down to somewhere between 10 and 13 percent of the quota. So they resisted having the quota and recovering the fish and now what they have is a 90 percent reduction in catch.

CURWOOD: Now what does all this mean for us consumers? Um. the bluefin tuna are in dire trouble you say. But what about the other tunas, the skip jack and the albacore, the stuff that you more typically find in a can? Where’s that headed?

SAFINA: That’s headed to a very depleted place but right now it’s not there. The bluefin tuna is there. The bluefin tuna is very depleted. It’s extremely expensive. They’re very hard to find. Almost nobody can enjoy them on any level. They’re pretty much missing from their role as ocean predators. The other tuna have declined a lot in most places and if we leave this situation the way it is without fixing it we will start to really have shortages of these kinds of things and they will be missing from the choices that we have as far as what we can eat. And as the fish decline we’ll likely see the prices go up. Right now canned tuna is very affordable. That may become more of a luxury item or the supply may shift more into the luxury market and be less available and less affordable.

Dr. Carl Safina (Courtesy of Blue Ocean Institute)

CURWOOD: Yeah, I mean right now tuna is so cheap I can afford to feed it to my cat if I want to.

SAFINA: Yeah, don’t do that, ok?

CURWOOD: (laughing) Ok. Now among the fishing nations which are the worst offenders?

SAFINA: The worst offenders are Japan, and northern Europe are the worst. Northern Europe are exporting a lot of over-fishing to poor parts of the world like Africa and the Indian Ocean. And Japan has not only been a gigantic market that just sucks up fish from all the world’s oceans, but they’ve really bullied lots of countries and threatened them economically to keep fishing quotas high and to resist conservation initiatives.

CURWOOD: What’s the significance of this meeting of all the regional fisheries management agencies that are concerned with tuna coming together in Kobe, ah Japan to talk about this?

SAFINA: It could mean one of two things to me. It means either that they’re starting to get beyond denial and they’re starting to realize that the viability of the fisheries is really now in question. And they’re admitting that to themselves. Or they’re maneuvering to show that they’re doing something, that they’re talking about the problem and that therefore other ways of dealing with it, like listing the species on the endangered species list, or listing it internationally under the convention on international trade and endangered species, do not need to be invoked. It may be a way of just saying, “we’re handling it, stay away from us.” They’re staging theater and going through a charade.

CURWOOD: That’s a pretty cynical view.

SAFINA: I don’t think it’s cynical. I think it would be wishful thinking if I said that I think they are resolved to do the right thing because they never have done the right thing despite a lot of attention and a lot of criticism that has come their way.

CURWOOD: Carl Safina is the president of the Blue Ocean Institute and the author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Voyage of the Turtle. Thank you sir.

SAFINA: Thank you very much, always a pleasure.

Related links:
- WWF: Tuna stocks sink- manage it right or lose it!
- Blue Ocean Institute
- International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas

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CURWOOD: Just ahead, a court ruling on greenhouse gases has provoked sharp debate in Australia’s business community. But first…

Listener Letters


CURWOOD: It’s time to hear from you, our listeners. We got a lot of response to our recent story about Al Gore and the people who are volunteering to bring his power point presentation about global warming into their local communities. Several people wanted to know how they could become a volunteer. But Robin Leech who catches us on WAMC in Albany, New York is afraid that’s just preaching to the choir. “What’s been done to get Gore’s movie translated into Chinese,” Mr. Leech writes, “or into the hands of the industrial giants of China and India?”

A number of you got in touch about our interview with journalist Matthew Power about the massive Philippine garbage dump known as Payatas, and the people who make their living picking recyclables out of the trash. Tim Jacobson, who listens to us on KUNC in Greeley, Colorado used to live in Manila, and has been to the dump. And he took us to task for failing to discuss the cost to human life. Mortality among the children of Payatas is over 30%, Mr. Jacobson writes, and adults rarely live beyond 35. “It is a tragedy,” he says, “that trickle down economics leave the poorest of the people paying the greatest price for the waste of society.”

But KUOW listener Gerald Alexander from Seattle said he was inspired by the story and how the, “modest efforts of individual entrepreneurs can in their collective results have a significant effect on cleaning up their corner of the world.”

Well if we inspire you, or not, let us know about it. Call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-99-88. Or write to us at 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts, 02144. Our e-mail address is letters at loe dot org. Once again, letters at loe dot org. And you can visit our web page at Living on Earth dot org where you can hear us anytime. That's Living on Earth dot o-r-g.


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Coal Controversy Down Under

Anvil Hill (Courtesy of Anvil Hill Alliance)

CURWOOD: A landmark legal judgment in Australia has thrown the country’s huge coal industry and many other major projects into uncertainty, thanks to growing concerns about climate change. A court in New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia, has ruled that business and industry must consider the global warming impact of large developments.

The case involves a new open-pit coal mine. And it’s all the more significant, as Australia is one of only two industrial nations—the other being the United States—that’s refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty that imposes limits on greenhouse gases. Mark Tamhane reports from coal-rich Hunter Valley, north of Sydney.


TAMHANE: A huge bulk-carrier is escorted by three tugs into the port of Newcastle in eastern Australia. Within 36 hours the Panamanian registered ship will be putting out to sea again heading for the energy-hungry nations of Asia, loaded to the gunnels with Australian black coal.

WEBB: What we see to our right is the entrance to the port of Newcastle, that has been operating for over 200 years as a commercial port.

TAMHANE: Gary Webb is the Chief Executive of Newcastle Port Corporation – the largest coal gateway in the world.

WEBB: The first commercial export from this port was in 1797 --- it was fifty ton of coal to Bengal. Apparently it took about ten days to load. Times have changed enormously because directly upstream to our left we see, ah, major coal-loading facilities. Over 80 million ton of coal was exported from the port this year.

Anvil Hill (Courtesy of Anvil Hill Alliance)

TAMHANE: Newcastle lies at the mouth of the Hunter River--which meanders through a large fertile valley – it’s home to some of Australia’s top vineyards, as well as to rich deposits of thermal coal. And with the price of coal high because of insatiable demand from rapidly industrializing nations like China, the mining industry in the Hunter Valley is set for major expansion. But some Hunter residents say enough is enough. They’ve come together to try to stop the large open-pit Anvil Hill project. And they’re taking their message to the world by posting slick corporate-style videos on the popular internet site You Tube.

ANVIL HILL: Approval by federal and state governments for Anvil Hill would see Australia, already the world's largest coal exporter, open another massive coal mine and export even more climate-changing coal.

WOMAN: The mining industry has gone berserk, if they would want to even consider mining an area like this.

TAMHANE: Community groups say open-pit mining at Anvil Hill would wipe out the last significant area of bush land on the floor of the Hunter Valley. It’s an important habitat for a number of endangered species, including Australia’s iconic koala and 14 varieties of birds, like the grey-crowned babbler.

Such complaints are increasingly heard in mining country around the world. What sets this opposition apart is an extraordinary decision for a state court here, prompted by a university student, a classics major.

Mining production at Anvil Hill. (Courtesy of Centennial Coal)

GRAY: Well climate change is the most pressing problem facing the people of the earth today. So really my studies in classics weren't really up to the challenge of dealing with that issue uh, so I really had to put them aside to pursue the Anvil Hill legal challenge.

TAMHANE: 26-year old Peter Gray was half way through an Honors degree in Classics at Newcastle University when he decided to challenge the Environmental Impact Statement lodged by the developers of the Anvil Hill project. At first it seemed like the Barbarians taking on the power of Rome.

GRAY: A bit like that perhaps. Um, I hope the analogy holds good because they did end up sacking Rome...so. (laughs)

TAMHANE: Gray put forward what may be a first-of-its kind argument against a coal mine. He said the plans didn’t take into account the climate change effects when the coal from Anvil Hill would be burnt. Gray calculated the Environmental Impact Statement overlooked 25 million tons of future CO2 emissions each year. It didn’t matter that most of that coal would be burnt later or even overseas, because climate change, he argued, will hurt New South Wales. Justice Nicola Pain agreed well…sort of.

GRAY: It doesn’t mean a great deal for the Anvil Hill mine itself. Um, the judge declined to interfere with the approval process for the mine; however, what it does mean is that an assessment of the downstream impacts of the extraction of the coal and that is the combustion of the coal and the release of the CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, ah must be assessed in the environmental assessment process.

TAMHANE: Bob Cameron, the Chief Executive of Centennial Coal – the company that wants to mine Anvil Hill, claims the ruling will have little effect.

CAMERON: It’s a very neutral decision if anything it’s somewhat positive. Because the judge declined to send the process back to the starting point as the applicant had sought. She didn't impose any additional requirements -and in fact the Anvil Hill assessment process remains absolutely on track it has no practical implications for it whatsoever.

TAMHANE: But industry groups are quite worried by the precedent of calculating future greenhouse emissions. Nikki Williams, Chief Executive of the New South Wales Minerals Council.

WILLIAMS: There are three and a half million people employed in this state there are 300 thousand business owners and each one of those is going to be dramatically affected potentially, if this decision is taken to its logical conclusions because all of our activities, all of our business, produce greenhouse gases. So where do you draw the line? Is it just coal exports or are we going right down the chain to the building of your suburban home?

TAMHANE: Williams argues that blocking Anvil Hill will do nothing whatsoever to alleviate climate change. Energy-hungry countries like China will simply get their coal elsewhere.

WILLIAMS: Because of the availability of coal, in 100 countries around the world, whether or not China takes Anvil Hill coal or New South Wales coal is in fact completely irrelevant, because if they don't take our coal, they'll take somebody else's. So our challenge is to work with the governments in China and other developing countries to make sure that they adopt low emissions technologies. That means those technologies have to be demonstrated, they have to be proven, and that’s what’s the Australian Government and the Australian Coal Industry is involved in doing.

TAMHANE: In a political dynamic that mirrors that of the Unites States, Australia’s national government has also reacted angrily to the Anvil Hill decision saying it’s a disaster for the economy and jobs. But the New South Wales state government, which has the final word, refused to appeal the ruling, saying its effects are “manageable”.

Even if this precedent stops or slows down the project, the tide towards more coal seems unstoppable. There are 13 new coal mines on the drawing board in New South Wales and several existing mines are planning to expand. Down on the waterfront, the world’s largest coal export port is set to get even bigger, adding another large coal loading terminal. The Port’s Chief Executive Gary Webb makes it clear coal will continue to be king in Newcastle.

WEBB: The future for coal would appear to be strong, to be sustained and to be here for quite a long time.


TAMHANE: For Living on Earth, I’m Mark Tamhane in Newcastle, Australia.

Related links:
- Centennial Coal Company Limited- Anvil Hill
- Anvil Hill Alliance- Save Anvil Hill
- Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia
- Environment News Service: Australian Judge Blocks Coal Mine on Climate Grounds
- Save Anvil Hill on YouTube
- Newcastle Port Corporation

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[MUSIC: David Hyams & The Miles To Go Band “Flight of the Sea Slug/East of Cape Arid” from ‘Knowing The Place’ (Miles To go Music – 2005)]

CURWOOD: Next week on Living on Earth: he’s nuts about squirrels, gives a hoot about owls and recently wrote a mystery about disappearing animal poop. Author Tim Smith is dedicated to teaching kids about the world around them.

SMITH: It’s been found today that the average American spends less than ten minutes a day outside. They’re not outside appreciating and knowing what’s out there and how we’re connected to it. And part of my purpose of my books is to put that connection together.

CURWOOD: The message behind Buck Wilder’s Adventures, on the next Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: David Hyams & The Miles To Go Band “Flight of the Sea Slug/East of Cape Arid” from ‘Knowing The Place’ (Miles To go Music – 2005)]

CURWOOD: We leave you this week with some creaks from the cryosphere…

[UNDERWATER SEA ICE: “Arctic Sea Ice” recorded by George A. Hein for “Sounds of the Sea” (Silver Linings, Inc. – 1999)]

CURWOOD: No, it’s not your kid sister ruining your record collection. It’s the sound of sea ice, a diminishing phenomenon in this time of global warming. These sounds were recorded in the arctic by George Hein using an underwater hydrophone.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Eileen Bolinsky, Bruce Gellerman, Ian Gray, Ingrid Lobet, Emily Taylor, Peter Thomson, and Jeff Young - with help from Bobby Bascomb, Jennifer Percy and Kelley Cronin. Our interns are Paige Doughty and MegahnVigeant.
Dennis Foley is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us at Living on Earth dot org, or hear us anytime. I’m Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science and Stonyfield Farm organic yogurt and smoothies. Stonyfield pays its farmers not to use artificial growth hormones on their cows, details at Stonyfield dot com. Support also comes from you, our listeners, the Ford Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the Saunders Hotel Group of Boston’s Lennox and Copley Square Hotels. Serving you and the environment while helping preserve the past and protect future, 800- 225-7676.


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