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

February 16, 2007

Air Date: February 16, 2007



Climate Economics 101 / Jeff Young

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Congressional leaders want to know the dollars and sense of a climate change policy--what would it cost to cap global warming pollution, and what would it cost if we don't? Jeff Young follows the global warming money. (05:00)

Climate Contest / Emily Taylor

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British billionaire Richard Branson is offering a 25 million dollar prize to the scientist with the best plan to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Living on Earth’s Emily Taylor reports on three scientists who are already working on projects to reduce CO2, and about the Branson challenge. (05:00)

Emerging Science Note-Sea Sounds / Paige Doughty

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Living on Earth’s Paige Doughty reports that scientists have recorded the sounds of hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean. (01:30)

Dioxane on the Defensive / Ashley Ahearn

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A recent study finds levels of dioxane, a chemical that causes cancer in mice and rats, in several name brand soaps and shampoos for kids. Dioxane is banned from cosmetics in the European Union but the U.S. federal government has not set limits for dioxane in consumer products. Living on Earth’s Ashley Ahearn reports. (05:00)

Farewell to the Flock of 2006

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When a tornado hit Florida earlier this month seventeen endangered whooping cranes were killed. Joe Duff is the co-founder of Operation Migration, a non-profit that trains cranes to migrate and re-integrate into the wild. He’d flown 1200 miles with the young birds who were lost in the storm, and tells host Steve Curwood about his work with the birds. (07:30)

Listener Letters

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Living on Earth dips into the mailbag to hear from our listeners. (02:30)

Fish Kill / Lester Graham

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A disease is killing fish in the Great Lakes. Scientists believe the virus may have first come from Europe on the ballast of a ship and spread from there. As Lester Graham of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports, biologists and the federal government are trying to figure out how to prevent the spread of the virus, without causing harm to businesses that rely on fish shipments. (03:30)

Sounds of Silence / Bonnie Auslander

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Commentator Bonnie Auslander on the pros and cons of snowblowers. (03:30)

The Master Tree-Planter Speaks

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Some of the most creative ideas about how to reforest developing countries come from a Kenyan woman. Wangari Maathai is the leader of a tree-planting movement and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. In the first part of a two-part interview, host Steve Curwood catches up with Wangari Maathai about her most recent work and about some of the events that helped shape her vision. (13:30)

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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUEST: Joe Duff, Wangari Maathai,
REPORTER: Ashley Ahearn, Lester Graham, Emily Taylor, Jeff Young
SCIENCE NOTE: Paige Doughty
COMMENTATOR: Bonnie Auslander


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


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood.

For years Congress has moved slowly to fight climate change, claiming that action to limit global warming gases could hurt the US economy. Now some leading economists are telling Congress that the price of inaction could be far higher.

STERN: It is failing to act that will eventually damage growth. The message from the economics of climate change is clear we must act strongly and we must act now.

CURWOOD: Also, the ground-breaking campaigns of Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai on behalf of women and the environment have won her the Nobel Peace Prize, but not universal acclaim.

MAATHAI: Sometimes when you are breaking barriers some people will applaud you but some people want to discourage you, because they think you are breaking those barriers that should not be broken. Because people want to fix you in a box.

CURWOOD: A conversation with Wangari Maathai, and more, this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.


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

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Climate Economics 101

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

If you want to know what’s going on in politics, the saying goes, follow the money. And that’s now what’s happening to the Capitol Hill debate over how to respond to global warming. Democratic leaders in Congress say they want a strong bill on climate change this year, given some projections that inaction could lead to an economic meltdown. But any action on climate change is likely to result in some economic winners and losers, and business is now asking who would benefit and who would have to pay.

From Washington, Living on Earth’s Jeff Young has our report.

YOUNG: Call it the bucks and change of climate change: what’s the cost of capping greenhouse gas emissions—and what’s the cost if we don’t? Lawmakers dove into those complex questions in simultaneous hearings on Capitol Hill. Senate energy committee chairman Jeff Bingaman heard from former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern. Stern made waves last fall with a report estimating how global warming would affect the global economy, something Bingaman says has been missing from the talk in Washington.

BINGAMAN: Now with the release of the report by Sir Nicholas Stern we are beginning to understand and to focus not just on the costs of action, but the costs of inaction.

YOUNG: At the high end Stern predicts climate calamities and mass dislocations of people that could drain up to 20 percent of the worlds economic output. Critics question the unorthodox methods Stern used to put such uncertain events into dollars and pounds. But even at the low end of his predictions unchecked climate change steals five percent of the world’s wealth. Stern says cutting carbon emissions would cost just one percent.

STERN: That will not slow growth. It is failing to act that will eventually damage growth. The message from the economics of climate change is clear: we must act strongly and we must act now.

YOUNG: While Stern spoke, leaders from corporate giants DuPont, BP, and Pacific Gas and Electric told senators on the Environment Committee they would welcome regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. DuPont CEO Chad Holiday says a carbon cap would encourage more businesses to save energy—and money— the way his has.

HOLIDAY: We have saved a 72% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 3 billion dollars cumulatively since the early 90s in lower energy costs and that’s going on today.

YOUNG: The companies formed the US Climate Action Partnership last month with environmentalists. Those partners want a law to cap greenhouse gas emissions and let industry trade pollution permits. The effort impressed one senator who could be a crucial swing vote: Republican John Warner of Virginia.

WARNER: When I see such an extraordinary cross section of America’s free enterprise system come and form a group like this, you’ve got my attention.

YOUNG: Warner’s state digs and burns coal and he is highly respected in his party. If he warms to a climate bill it would gain major momentum. But other Republicans attacked the companies in the climate partnership. Missouri Senator Kit Bond says the CEO’s are more interested in the bottom line than any lofty environmental benefit.

BOND: I have some questions when I see members of industry and business pursuing goals that are very harmful to other industries but profitable for them. Let’s not get that competitive advantage by sticking it to some people who are the least able to handle those costs.

YOUNG: Peter Darbee of PG&E bristled at Bond’s accusation.

DARBEE: The suggestion that we’re doing this to realize some form of monopoly profits or corner a market is totally without merit.

YOUNG: Whatever motivates a business leader’s decisions on climate change, it’s clear a cap on carbon emissions could decide who wins and loses in the business world. And that explains why lobbying on global warming is red hot lately. Scott Segal lobbies for the firm Bracewell and Guiliani, which represents power companies that burn a lot of coal.

SEGAL: I don’t think anyone was here fully out of a sense of altruism. I’m not saying they don’t believe that what they’re doing is right; I’m just saying that, ah, there are many economic motives that lie just below the surface in the climate debate.

YOUNG: One of Segal’s clients, power company TXU, wants to exempt power plants like the dozen the company plans in Texas. Other companies focus on how a carbon cap and trade system is set up—the tiniest details could mean millions of dollars. In short, companies that once lobbied to simply stop a climate change bill must now consider what happens if such a bill actually becomes law. And there’s a saying in the world of K-street lobbyists—if you’re not at the table you might end up on the menu.

For Living on Earth I’m Jeff Young in Washington DC

Related links:
- The Stern Review
- U.S. Climate Action Partnership
- Senate Energy Committee hearing
- Senate Environment Committee hearing

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Climate Contest

CURWOOD: Trees and other plants take carbon dioxide out of the air every day, and thereby slow down the rate of global warming. So what if we could devise a technology to pull carbon out of the atmosphere fast enough to stop climate change in its tracks? Well, if you come up with the answer, billionaire businessman Richard Branson is prepared to hand you up to $25 million in prize money.

All you have to do is develop a proven and reliable technique to get a billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere in the course of a year. As of today, of course, that’s considered impossible. But then again for thousands of years we thought people couldn’t fly and certainly couldn’t go to the moon. So Living on Earth’s Emily Taylor asked some leading scientists what approaches might win this so-called Branson challenge.

TAYLOR: The official title is the Virgin Earth Challenge, it’s named after the many businesses in Richard Branson’s empire including Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways. The challenge is aimed at finding a way to capture the excess carbon dioxide that humans are putting into the atmosphere. Natural processes already capture billions of tons of atmospheric CO2. But things like gasoline powered cars, coal fired power plants, and Branson’s jets are producing far more CO2 than the natural carbon cycle can absorb; three and a half billion tons more every year. Branson is hoping his 25 million dollar prize will motivate scientists to find a way to capture about a third of that excess CO2. Of course some scientists have been thinking about this challenge for years. One of them is J. Craig Venter. He’s the geneticist who gained notoriety when he raced the federal government to map the human genome.

VENTE R: We’re trying to meet the challenge of removing CO2 by designing a new set of microbial cells using our synthetic genomic capabilities to do what we find in deep ocean organisms capture CO2 and convert that CO2 by fixing the carbon into sugars, proteins, ah, various kinds of lipids or biopolymers.

TAYLOR: Venter says that the carbon stored in his synthetic organisms could then be extracted and used in carbon heavy manufacturing processes. That would kill two birds with one stone since most industrial carbon now comes from petroleum.

VENTER: Clothing, carpets, pharmaceuticals, ah, plastics all come from the petrochemical industry so, ah, if all the carbon that goes into plastics comes from CO2 versus oil we don’t have to take the carbon out of the ground.

TAYLOR: Other scientists would also use the oceans to help reduce carbon levels. John Latham is at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He proposes increasing the number of droplets in the low-lying clouds that often form over the ocean. Latham says this would make the clouds reflect more sunlight, which would help to cool the planet.

LATHAM: If we can make those clouds reflect about an extra three percent or something like that then there will be a cooling because less sunlight is getting to earth. And because the solubility of carbon dioxide in water increases as the water gets cooler the more CO2 that’s in the air will get trapped in the oceans.

TAYLOR: Here’s how Latham’s plan would work.

LATHAM: We propose to spray from special, unmanned satellite guided vessels, sea water droplets, very small ones about one ten thousandth of a centimeter in size. Um, and they act as centers for production of additional droplets. So we’ll in that way increase the reflectivity of these clouds.

TAYLOR: Another big idea would mimic one of nature’s most effective means of regulating carbon dioxide. Klaus Lackner teaches at the school of engineering and applied sciences at Columbia University.

LACKNER: The way to get carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is akin to how a tree does it. It puts surfaces up, the leaves, over which the CO2 flows and as the air flows the CO2 is being absorbed. Once you have absorbed that on a surface which is let’s say wetted with a liquid you can collect that liquid and then remove the CO2 from that liquid.

TAYLOR: Lackner says the CO2 could then either be disposed of under ground or used in manufacturing processes like making cement. Lackner envisions putting up thousands of these collectors across the globe to suck up emissions from cars and industry.

LACKNER: I sort of sketched out some time ago a tower which is the size of a water tower for a small town. And such an object by itself could take care of about 15,000 cars, again like the size of that small town. And if you had 250,000 such towers world wide, which is not a terribly large number, you would take out as much carbon dioxide as the world is putting into the atmosphere right now.

TAYLOR: So, new microbes, sea water spraying vessels, or giant fake plastic trees. Whether any of these ideas or any others will do the trick remains to be seen. Richard Branson himself isn’t sure if his 25 million dollar prize will ever be awarded and he makes it clear that governments and private industry will have to invest much larger sums still, to find feasible solutions to the problem of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

For Living on Earth I’m Emily Taylor.

Related links:
- The Virgin Earth Challenge
- John Latham's webpage
- J. Craig Venter's webpage
- Klaus Lackner's webpage

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[MUSIC: Christopher O’Riley “Fake Plastic Trees” from ‘True Love Waits: Christopher O’Riley Plays Radiohead’ (Sony - 2003)]

CURWOOD: Just ahead: a number of baby shampoos are linked to toxic chemicals suspected of causing cancer. First this note on emerging science from Paige Doughty.

Emerging Science Note-Sea Sounds

"The recording device that captured the sounds of black smoker venting sits here between waters that are 660 F, hot enough to poach unsuspecting fish, and cooler places lush with tube worms." (Courtesy of the University of Washington)

DOUGHTY: In the deepest parts of the ocean no light reaches the sea floor. It’s pitch black and for the most part quiet. But not everywhere …


This is the sound of piping hot aquatic vents on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a mile and a half below the surface off the coast of Washington State. These vents, known as black smokers, spew superheated water laced with minerals.

The recording device that captured the sounds of black smoker venting sits here between waters that are 660 F, hot enough to poach unsuspecting fish, and cooler places lush with tube worms.
(Courtesy of the University of Washington)

For years most scientists believed these vents were silent. But now researchers at the University of Washington have proven that they’re not. The sound of the vents has been captured using a specially designed deep-sea digital recorder.

So why does this matter to anybody, other than the fish? Well, the chemicals dissolved in the piping hot water of hydrothermal vents provide important nutrients for the ocean’s food chain. There’s even speculation that life itself may have begun in the chemical cauldrons around such vents. And lead researcher Timothy Crone says that by analyzing the sound researchers can better understand the flow of material out of the vents and the cycling of chemicals from the earth’s crust into the ocean. And he hopes that this work may reveal important information about how life on earth began. So, maybe the sound of this smoker will help get us all out of the dark. That’s this week’s note on emerging science I’m Paige Doughty.

Related link:
The Sound Generated by Mid-Ocean Ridge Black Smoker Hydrothermal Vents

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

[MUSIC: Bill Frisell “Cold, Cold Ground” from ‘Good Dog, Happy Man’ (Nonesuch – 1999)]

Dioxane on the Defensive

Leila Love-Diggory enjoys a nighttime bath. (Photo: Victoria Love)

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Bath time is one of the nicest rituals in caring for an infant. But it now turns out it could have a toxic dark side. A new study has found that some of the most popular baby shampoos contain an industrial solvent that is suspected of causing cancer in humans, along with damaging the liver, kidneys, and nervous system.

It’s called 1, 4 Dioxane, and it’s used to make shampoos and body washes, soft and bubbly. Now in the wake of the study some brands of shampoos containing the chemical are being pulled from the market. Living on Earth’s Ashley Ahearn has our report.

LOVE: Nice warm water wooooohh! There you go.

AHEARN: It’s bath time in the Love-Diggory household in Boston, MA and two-year-old Leila is getting her hair rinsed.

LOVE: Leila, can you put this over your eyes?


Leila Love-Diggory enjoys a nighttime bath. (Photo: Victoria Love)

LOVE: Okay, I need you to sit down big girl ok, let me rinse out your hair.

AHEARN: Victoria Love is trying to get Leila to put a washcloth over her big brown eyes to keep out the shampoo.

And while she can protect Leila’s eyes from the suds, she can’t protect her daughter from potentially dangerous substances that might be in her shampoo and other baby care products.

One substance in particular Love worries about is 1,4 Dioxane and with good reason. A recent study has found trace amounts of Dioxane in a number of widely-used baby care products, including Johnson and Johnson’s Kid Shampoo Watermelon Explosion, and Hello Kitty bubble bath.

DAVIS: I was frankly shocked to learn that widely used baby shampoos and soaps could contain a carcinogen.

AHEARN: That’s Dr. Devra Davis. She’s the head of the Environmental Oncology Center at the University of Pittsburgh and a professor of epidemiology at their Graduate School of Public Health.

Dioxane forms in these products as a result of a chemical reaction between other ingredients. One of them is Sodium Laurel Sulphate, an ingredient you’ve probably seen on the label of your shampoo or body wash.

It’s a normal detergent used in many soaps. Problem is, Dr. Davis says it’s a little harsh on tender skin.

She gives a little chemistry lesson:

DAVIS: What happens is that ethylene-oxide is added to the Sodium Laurel Sulphate to create Sodium Laureth Sulfate and in the process you get Di-Ethylene Oxide, which is another name for 1,4 Dioxane. It can be completely removed by what’s called vacuum stripping. This is something that is completely avoidable.

AHEARN: And Dr. Davis says elsewhere, it’s completely avoided.

DAVIS: 1,4 Dioxane, has been banned from cosmetics in Europe and the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Toxicology Program consider it to be a probable human carcinogen, because it causes cancer in male and female mice and rats.

Dr. Devra Davis (Courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh)

AHEARN: In this country, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says Dioxane in cosmetics is an “incidental ingredient” so they don’t require companies to remove it, or to list it on the label.

In order for the F.D.A. to ban Dioxane from cosmetics, there would have to be demonstrated human harm.

Manufacturers complete internal testing for safety before putting products on the market, but the F.D.A. doesn’t do pre-market testing.

The F.D.A. press office declined requests for an interview with Living on Earth.

However, an Industry spokesman said he believes there’s no cause for alarm.

Dr. John Bailey is the executive vice president of science at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.

BAILEY: Virtually everything we’re surrounded by carries a hazard of some sort. I think that at the end of the day the levels of Dioxane in these products do not present a risk by any scientific measure.


LOVE: Time to get out!

AHEARN: But when it comes to bathtime, Victoria Love would like to judge the safety of the products herself. At the very least she says she’d like ingredients such as 1,4 Dioxane to be listed on the bottle.

LOVE: But I really can’t believe that as a parent I’m in a position to you know, suddenly become a chemist in my free time to investigate, you know, every little product and you know, how it might have some adverse health effect and I’m hoping that the more people understand and realize, you know, what they’re actually being sold, people will start demanding change.

AHEARN: Some change is already in the works. Hello Kitty Bubble Bath had the highest Dioxane levels of the children’s bath products the study tested. And when contacted for this report, the distributor said they would initiate a recall process.

For Living on Earth, I’m Ashley Ahearn.

Related links:
- FDA Cosmetic Regulatory Page
- EU Risk Assessment of Dioxane
- To find out what’s in the products you use every day click here
- To view the lab results from the independent study on dioxane, click here

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[MUSIC: Efterklang “Monopolist” from ‘Tripper’ (The Leaf Label – 2004)]

CURWOOD: For more information about dioxane in personal care products, go to our website, loe.org

Farewell to the Flock of 2006

Juvenile whooping cranes follow an ultralight to learn the migration route to Florida.((c) Operationmigration.org)

CURWOOD: They call it a whooping crane because it has more than an eight-foot trachea, and can be heard for up to three miles away. But this voice almost fell silent.In 1941 whooping cranes were just 15 birds away from extinction. Today the numbers are back up to nearly 500 hundred, but these magnificent wading birds still hover on the edge of survival.

And they recently took another serious blow. Earlier this month a tornado ripped through the Gulf coast of Florida. It killed twenty people and seventeen whooping cranes in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Tampa. The story of what happened to the birds and how a flock of whooping cranes got to Florida in the first place is rather remarkable, and perhaps best told by Joe Duff the co-founder of Operation Migration.

He joins us on the phone from Port Perry, Ontario, and Joe, perhaps you should start by telling us what you do for a living.

DUFF: (laughs) You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.

CURWOOD: Go ahead.

DUFF: Actually I run an organization that teaches whooping cranes, young whooping cranes, to follow ultra light air craft. And then we use that technique to lead them on a migration from Wisconsin to Florida. And ah, thereby we substitute for the parent and establish a new flock.

Juvenile whooping cranes follow an ultralight to learn the migration route to Florida. ((c) Operationmigration.org

CURWOOD: This is the University of Migration?

DUFF: Yes it is actually, flight school.

CURWOOD: So, how far did you fly with the flock that was killed in this month’s storm?

DUFF: Every year, every fall, we start the migration that goes through seven states from Wisconsin to Florida and it’s about 1235 miles.

CURWOOD: Ok, how do you train a bird to migrate?

DUFF: (laughs) Well the whooping crane, like a lot of species, learns to migrate by following their parent. These are precocial birds so when they hatch they imprint on the first thing that really pays attention to them. And that’s normally of course the parent. So we substitute parent for pilot and we imprint the birds on our handlers. And then of course we condition them to follow the aircraft. It’s a process that starts in April and May when they hatch and is carried on right through the summer to their migration time which is in early October.

CURWOOD: So can you tell me about some of the birds that flew down to the wildlife refuge with you this past fall?

DUFF: Well I’ll give you a little background first. This whole process takes place in what we call isolation rearing. Every person that goes near the birds, and there are very few of them, wears a big baggy white costume head to toe. We also carry a digital recorder of an adult bird call and a puppet that looks like a whooping crane. The idea is not to look like a crane it’s to disguise the human form so that when these birds are released and they encounter their first normally dressed human they’ll be wild. So on their level you actually become a bird.

CURWOOD: How did you fit into the pecking order of this particular flock of birds?

DUFF: (laughs) Well, I’m not by myself. There’s several handlers, each one has a personality and each one has a relationship with the birds. I’ll give you an example um. Last year I wanted to get some photographs. So I put my costume on and I walked out. And as I approached one of our birds from a previous generation one of our older birds came in and of course wanted to get near the chicks and wanted some of the food and wanted some of that activity. And they can be pretty aggressive so I stood between them and I challenged that adult bird, you see. And of course the first challenge is he raises his head and I raise my head and we have this little altitude battle until I win of course because I’m six feet tall.

A baby whooping crane. ((c) Operationmigration.org)

Then the next thing they do is they stamp their feet a little bit so I stamp my feet. And they have this incredible challenge. It’s called a stick toss challenge. It’s kind of like in high school you know. And the bird is kind of saying to himself, you know, “You’re so insignificant, you’re so unimportant that I can actually turn my back and play with this stick on the ground and not even pay attention to you.” And of course the whole time this eye is right on you, you know and staring right at you. So there’s the bird playing with one stick and I’m back to back with him playing with another, you know, challenging him and he’s challenging me and he finally got fed up and walked around to the other side of the little pond and I walked over and cut him off again and we had a few more challenges.

Then finally after about an hour he just left on his own. It was just amazing interaction with a bird. It was such an incredible thing to do.

CURWOOD: Tell me about some of the birds that flew down to Florida with you this past fall.

DUFF: Well, as I said each one has an individual personality. But we don’t name the birds we number them. We number them. We’re trying to convey the idea to the public that these are not pets. But you certainly become attached to them. There’s one particular bird that I like, was number ten. I could recognize that bird in the air because his primaries were a little damaged there was a little gap in one of his feathers and I could see it in the air.

And every time I’d look out to my wing tip that bird’d be lead you know. And he always would be doing something stupid. He’d be in front of the wing or challenging me. He’d cut behind the air craft or over top of it or underneath it. Number ten was always somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be. He was always leading the flock off somewhere. So, you know, I kind of got to like him. He was a bit of a maverick.

CURWOOD: (laughs) And uh and then you get the news that this tornado has killed this entire flock. What happened when the storm hit the wildlife refuge where the young birds were staying?

DUFF: Well, of course we don’t know because it was way out there. But um, um once the birds arrive in Florida we have a release pen which is about four acres and it has eight-foot-high walls and it’s protected by an electric fence. But it’s not top netted. They fly in and out during the day and they learn to forage on natural food. And at night time they come back because that’s where they roost and that’s where the food is. And they’re inadvertently protected from predators.

Well, we now have four, five generations of birds that have all wintered in that pen. So that’s their destination when they come back once they’re released. So if they arrive at that pen and there’s a bunch of chicks handy that means there’s free food for them as well and they become aggressive. They can chase the chicks out of the pen. So the only management technique we have is to move the chicks into a top netted pen. Ah, once we do that the food of course is gone. The target of their aggression is gone and they just move on. And the chicks are allowed to go free and we were just about to do this when this unforecast and unforeseen storm hit. Nobody knew it was going to be as intense as it was. We had, ah, handlers out there checking the birds at four in the afternoon. Everything was fine, the birds were happy and there was just a light breeze and it was overcast. Then that storm turned deadly at three in the morning and, ah, the birds were discovered the next day.

CURWOOD: How big of an impact will the loss of the hatchlings of 2006 have on the overall population of whooping cranes here in North America?

DUFF: Well, as you mentioned earlier back in the forties there were only 15 birds and this population was growing nicely. That was our sixth year and we had 81 birds out there. We had an 80 percent survival rate. So it was ah, we were doing really well. Whooping cranes breed when they’re three to five years old, most successfully at five years of age. So five years from now, or actually four years from now ‘cause they were yearlings we’re going to have a downturn in the number of nests we have and the number of breeding pairs coming on line.

CURWOOD: As I understand there is a bit of a story of hope here. You had a survivor?

DUFF: Yes, we don’t know how but one bird managed to escape that terrible storm. You know that storm was considered, you know, a fifty year storm. There were also 20 people killed in that same episode so it was a pretty devastating event. We really don’t know how but the next day number 15 couldn’t be found. And each bird has a tracking device on it. So the next day we put an aircraft up with a tracking device and it was found about ten miles inland with a bunch of other sandhills. So that’s one bird at least.

CURWOOD: Joe Duff is cofounder of Operation Migration and trainer of cranes. Thank you so much.

DUFF: Thank you.

Related links:
- The International Crane Foundation
- Operation Migration Website

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: It’s time now to hear from you, our listeners.

John Meadows, who listens to us on WHYY in Philadelphia was disappointed to hear little but criticism of President Bush’s comments on climate change in his recent State of the Union address. “I am not a registered Republican or Democrat and generally not an admirer of the Bush administration,” Mr. Meadows writes. But statements like that of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s environmental advisor Terry Tamminen that the house is burning and the president is mowing the lawn, “continue to fan the fires of this debate. Even if we're just mowing the lawn,” Mr. Meadows continues, “it may help stop the spread of the blaze. Blame and shame have largely been exhausted as means of achieving an end.”

We recently interviewed Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman about allegations that the Bush administration tried to suppress scientific data about climate change. That prompted this comment from Grant Garber of Henderson, North Carolina:

GARBER: Ten or twenty years from now when New York City, Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles and San Francisco go under water ex-President Bush probably would have said, “Mistakes were made” to hide this obfuscation of the truth as he did the procurement of false intelligence on Iraq. But with Waxman on his case he’ll have to say it a bit sooner.

CURWOOD: Several of you wrote in about our recent interview with Tim Smith, the author of the Buck Wilder outdoor stories for children. Mr. Smith’s comment that the average American spends as little as ten minutes a day outside really hit home with KCFR listener Robert Stencel. Mr. Stencel works at a public observatory in Colorado and he says that he’s watched “the annual attendance figures dwindle year after year” over the last 15 years. He laments that young people seem to have stopped looking at the night sky altogether. And he puts the blame on light pollution.

You can illuminate us with your comments. Send them to comments@loe.org. Once again that's comments at L-O-E dot O-R-G. Or drop us a line at 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts, 02144. And you can call our listener line at 800-218-9-9-8-8.
That's 800-218-99-88.

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Fish Kill

CURWOOD: A fifth of the fresh water of the world is found in the Great Lakes along the US- Canadian border, and more and more it seems these lakes are in trouble. Changing rain patterns have kept the lakes lower than usual over the past few years, and they’ve also been laced with pollutants and invasive species. Now the lakes are facing a microscopic threat in the form of a virus that can make fish bleed to death. Lester Graham of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium has more.

GRAHAM: The disease that’s killing fish is called Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia - or VHS. Jim Diana is a fish biologist at the University of Michigan who’s been looking into what it does to fish.

DIANA: The virus causes really kind of a general systemic deterioration. Ah, most noticeable, sometimes they’ll develop sores or lesions on the outside of the body, but they often will die without really external evidence at all.

GRAHAM: Basically, the fish die from internal bleeding. For several years there have been die-offs in the St. Lawrence River, which connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. But researchers weren’t able to confirm the cause was VHS. Then last summer in Lake Saint Claire - the lake near Detroit that lies between Lake Huron and Lake Erie - Jim Diana says fish die-offs were confirmed to be caused by VHS.

DIANA: And since then, they’ve found it in quite a few other species, something like 20 other species, so it’s quite widespread.

GRAHAM: Since then, the virus has been detected in Lake Huron. It’s not clear how the virus got here. But the first strains of VHS were discovered in Europe about 50 years ago. Researchers guess that infected fish hitchhiked in the ballast tanks of ships or a live fish shipment escaped into the St. Lawrence River and it’s spread from there.

Biologists say the spread of VHS is NOT expected to wipe out fish in the Great Lakes. It is causing some real concern.

GADEN: We’re not talking about a couple of fish here, we’re talking about large fish kills. And VHS is present in those and implicated in the deaths of those fish.

GRAHAM: Marc Gaden is with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Gaden says because stocking fish is a big industry, there’s a lot of fish shipped between the U.S. and Canada and between one state and another.

GADEN: There is a movement of fish, fish eggs and other fishery related things like, um water that’s used in the fish stocking trucks, things like that. There’s aquaculture that occurs, fish farms in the Great Lakes basin. The Departments of Natural Resources harvest fish eggs to use in their stocking programs and the fish themselves are stocked.

GRAHAM: So the chance that the virus can be spread by all those fish moving around is significant. The federal government thought it was such a risk that it banned all live fish shipments. Most of the Great Lakes states and commercial fishers quickly appealed that ruling. They said it was overkill. They persuaded the feds that state testing would reduce chances that VHS would be spread by transport.

So, the federal government backed off a bit. But restrictions are still causing some problems. For example live fish that are not going to be put back into the lakes, live fish that are headed for dinner plates at restaurants still have to be tested. And VHS poses no risk to human health.

The Great Lakes states, the U.S. and Canadian governments, are still trying to figure out how best to prevent the spread of VHS without hurting the businesses that rely on live fish shipments any more than necessary. Meanwhile, some scientists say the virus will simply have to run its course. Those fish that survive will build up a natural immunity to VHS.

For Living on Earth, this is Lester Graham.

Related link:
Great Lakes Fishery Commission

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[MUSIC: Matt Harding “Close” from ‘Music For Robots (Volume 2)’ (Music For Robots – 2007)]

CURWOOD: You can hear our program any time on our website or get a download for your MP3 player. The address is L-O-E dot O-R-G, that’s Loe dot org. You can reach us at comments at loe dot org. Once again, comments @ L-O-E dot O-R-G. Our postal address is 20 Holland Street, Somerville Massachusetts 02144. And you can call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9-9-8- 8. That’s 800-99-88.

CURWOOD: Faith, hope, and the love of trees, a conversation with Kenya’s Wangari Maathai is just ahead 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: Roger O’Donnell “For The Truth In You” from ‘The Truth In Me’ (Great Society Recordings – 2006)]

Sounds of Silence

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. There’s nothing like the quiet in the city in a big snowstorm. The passing of an occasional car is muffled by all the white padding, and when the flakes stop falling, all seems to be calm. And that’s when commentator Bonnie Auslander likes to head outside with her shovel.

AUSLANDER: It felt good to have the winter sun warm my neck and to hear the sound of my shovel scraping along the concrete, but after 15 straight minutes of lifting heavy, snow, I had to take a break. Besides, I had errands to run, and I figured I'd do the rest when I came back.

When I got home, though, the entire sidewalk was bare, surrounded by angled walls. It looked like someone had helped himself to a long strip of white sheet cake. It didn't take long to figure out who: my neighbor Jim had been by with his snow blower. "I can do the whole sidewalk in just 10 minutes with one of these babies," he boasted when he appeared a few minutes later, patting the top of the contraption like it was a snow pile-eating puppy.

I thanked him, of course, but inside I felt disappointed. And amused. Here was my neighbor, fondling a machine that filled our yards with a nerve-grating roar and the stench of gasoline. Yet this is the same sweet elderly man who always makes his dog – the real one, I mean – sit still so my toddler can pat him, and who in the summer brings over cherry tomatoes from his garden.

I was caught in a paradox. I knew I should be happy that Jim wouldn't be dropping dead from a heart attack after shoveling, and I recognized it was easy for me to romanticize snow removal because I didn't have to do it very often. And yet I mourned the older, quieter days, apparently more than he did. All of which led me to ponder the flavors of silence.

On an unmechanized Amish farm, it's the first thing that captures your attention, much like the saying that silence is the sound after the baby stops crying. Or is silence really just as simple as no noise? Once, I heard a film editor explain that in the movies a subtle sound conveys the feeling of silence so much better than the total absence of noise.

For example, want to get across surreal stillness after an explosion? You need to pump up the sound of tiny pebbles as they hit the ground.
So maybe we need a small noise campaign so that we can all appreciate the quiet better, especially that muffled silence after a snowfall. I'll start. I'll wait till Jim goes inside, then sneak to my back-yard walkway, still untouched by his machine. And I'm going to listen very, very carefully to the sound of silence. To the sound of wind moving across the snow. To the sound of one woman, shoveling. She sounds happy.

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[MUSIC: Lisa Germano “Crash” from ‘Slide’ (4AD – 1998)]

CURWOOD: Commentator Bonnie Auslander shovels to the sounds of silence at her home in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Master Tree-Planter Speaks

Wangari Maathai addressing the American Association of Publishers Paper Issue Working Group at Random House, New York. (Photo: Martin Rowe)

CURWOOD: The new book “Unbowed” tells the story of a child from a village in Kenya who became the first girl in her family to go to school, and then the first woman of color in her part of the world to earn a doctorate.

The story continues with her founding a global peace and development movement based on planting trees and then waking up one morning to a phone call telling her she'd won the Nobel Peace Prize. And no, the story isn't fiction.

It's the memoir of Wangari Maathai, one of the most accomplished environmental and human rights leaders of our time. “Professor” as she's known in Kenya, is visiting the United States this month. She's speaking about her efforts to preserve the rainforest of Central Africa and her other work on behalf of the environment and democracy that was recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. And she joins us now from a studio in Buffalo. Professor, welcome back to Living on Earth.

(Courtesy of Knopf Publishers). (Photo: Mia MacDonald)

MAATHAI: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Now for those who are unaware I want to mention that you, Wangari Maathai, are the founder of just this extraordinary effort to mobilize Kenyans and people all over the world now to plant trees in deforested land. You founded programs to teach children about river ecology. You led tree planting campaigns for soldiers. Your leadership and that of the green belt movement that you founded in Kenya has, has moved Kenyans to plant what, some thirty million trees?

MAATHAI: And counting.

CURWOOD: And counting.

MAATHAI: (laughs) We are still planting. It is very important for people to understand that we are dealing with a region and a continent that is greatly deforested. Ah, and it needs literally millions and millions of trees and mobilization of as many hands as can possibly be found.

CURWOOD: And even more so as we think that the tree you plant in Kenya helps the whole world with the global warming problem.

MAATHAI: Yes, especially now that the scientists are telling us with more certainty that the climate change is indeed happening. It’s very very important for us to plant the trees as well as protect the trees that are standing because these are our friends, they help us fix the carbon that is now in the atmosphere.

Members of Green Belt Movement plant trees on an eroding hillside. (Photo: Mia MacDonald)

CURWOOD: When you received the Nobel Peace Prize you got one of those very famous phone calls, ah, from Norway. What was just about the first thing you did after you got that phone call?

MAATHAI: I was so overwhelmed. I was literally out of myself, tears rolling down my cheeks, unbelieving. And I happened to be at this site facing Mount Kenya and for generations of past for my people this mountain was a holy mountain. And it was one of the mountains that we had been trying to save from deforestation. So I was extremely overwhelmed and I immediately dug a hole and planted a Nandi Flame.

CURWOOD: The Nandi Flame Tree, this is the bright orange flowering tree?

MAATHAI: Yeah, it’s a tree that, ah, grows quite tall. And at the top when it has flowers they are red hot. So from a distance the tree looks like it is aflame. That’s why I guess the English, when they first saw the tree they called it Nandi Flame.

CURWOOD: Now being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along the way you wound up in jail, not once not twice, but several times. All because, what, you were planting trees. Why were you jailed for planting trees?

MAATHAI: Well, the jailing was not because of planting trees per say. It was because in the course of planting trees, in the course of mobilizing, in the course of creating networks of women to plant the trees it had become necessary to also give them information on how the environment is destroyed sometimes by the state. And it became necessary for us to raise our voices and tell the government that it was not managing those resources responsibly. Ah, and it was while we were doing this that we got arrested. The actual planting of trees would have been alright. But it would have been completely nonsensical for us to be planting trees on one side and other people are cutting them on the other. So we decided to protect the standing trees and especially forests, which also serve as the water catchment areas for millions of people who live around the mountains.

CURWOOD: Now it’s not easy for women anywhere on the planet but I don’t know if people understand how difficult it is to be an outspoken woman in East Africa, or was. You, ah, were the first woman of color to have a PhD in Central and East Africa as I understand it.

MAATHAI: Yes indeed. It’s always very difficult to be a pioneer. And women, I guess, have been pioneering for a long time trying to break the barriers of discrimination and denial of capacity to exploit our potential. And going to school for me was breaking one of those barriers. Getting to high school, coming to America and attending college, going home and registering for a PhD; all these were breaking barriers. And sometimes when you are breaking barriers some people will applaud you but some people want to discourage you because they think you are breaking those barriers that should not be broken because people want to fix you in a box.

Wangari Maathai overlooking areas reforested by GBM in 2004." (Photo: Mia MacDonald)

CURWOOD: Now despite your fame and success the Green Belt movement has subsisted on, well, you don’t have a whole lot of money. There are times when, what, you don’t have enough money to buy the plastic tubes that your volunteers use for stuffing in soil and seedlings. You don’t have that basic item to accommodate everyone who wants to plant trees.

MAATHAI: Yes. That has always been our challenge, from the very beginning. And we hope that, at least now, that our work has been validated that we would receive the support we need. Right now, as I speak, our biggest challenge is office space so that we can expand, because there is so much demand for us, both locally and globally.

CURWOOD: At one point there was talk of spreading the Green Belt Movement’s tree planting mobilization to Haiti, ah, you were in touch with former Vice President Al Gore, in fact, about those efforts. Haiti, of course, is one of the most deforested and frankly God-forsaken spots on this planet. Um, what’s going on now in that regard?

MAATHAI: It has been very very, difficult, ah doing things in Haiti, because to succeed you need people on the ground who are committed to it, and that has been missing. Somebody cannot come from outside and plant trees in Haiti, rehabilitate the environment in Haiti. It must be done by the Haitians, we can share our experience with them, but it is they who must do it. The government, as you know there, has been in trouble for many years. We even brought some Haitians all the way to Kenya with the assistance of some women friends, who were helping us. But when they went back they didn’t do anything. They kind of fizzled away. It’s not easy. It’s not a matter of talking. It’s a matter of going down on your knees, digging holes, putting those seedlings, and first and foremost you have to start with the seeds. So you look for seeds, you put them in, they germinate, you nurture them. When they are about two feet high, you put them in the ground and you water them and you protect them. We are still in touch with them. And, ah we are now trying another organization, which I hope will help us to make a break through. But my appeal is that Haitians join us, so that we can share our experience. They can get down on their knees and rehabilitate their country, one tree at a time.

CURWOOD: Wangari Maathai, ah, from your own perspective what about your life is, perhaps in any woman’s life, what’s extraordinary about what’s happened to you and the changes that you’ve been able to help make possible?

MAATHAI: I think that what has happened that is extraordinary, ah was sometimes completely unexpected. Going to school, was in itself an extraordinary event because I was going to school at a time when very few girls were going to school. And then in the 1960’s I had another great opportunity when I found myself coming to America, along with over 300 students, in an event that was organized by Senator John Kennedy, who was at that time campaigning to become the next President of the United States of America and then I came to this country at a very interesting time, during the times when Martin Luther King and his colleagues were having the demonstrations and calling for changes in the law to give all Americans, and especially black Americans, all full rights and that had a great influence on me so that when I went back home, and eventually encountered human rights violations and tortures of people who were seeking greater political space, I did not hesitate to advocate for their release, and to advocate for respect for human rights and women’s rights. And in my own way, my own life was demonstrating that if you give a woman her rights, if you give her an opportunity, she can indeed make a great contribution, she can, she has great potential. But it’s not as if I chose it now. I didn’t choose these obstacles, they were just being put, ah before me, partly by culture, partly by tradition, partly by the way the society was structured.

CURWOOD: And that’s why you call the next to last chapter of your book: Rise Up and Walk.

Wangari Maathai addressing the American Association of Publishers Paper Issue Working Group at Random House, New York. (Photo: Martin Rowe)

MAATHAI: That’s right. I think one of the, the great messages that I try to share is that it is very important for all of us to know that we are human. We are not divine. So we make mistakes, we fall. And that is not a crime. What we need to do every time is gather enough courage to rise up and walk. But in the process we may need people to give us, the, a helping hand to help us become whole. Because I borrowed that from the story of Peter and John in the Bible.

I think it is in the chapter of the Acts, those of you who read the Bible, you remember the story of the man who was disabled from birth. He was sitting at the entrance to the Synagogue and people would come and give him alms. But when Peter and John came Peter said, “Silver and gold I have none. But what I have I’ll give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk.” And the book says he rose up, he felt his limbs become whole. And he rose up and he was very happy. I love that story because I think that is what we should do with people who are poor, people who are marginalized, people who are not given opportunities. We don’t need to give them alms. We don’t need to give them aid. We need to empower them. We need to help them become whole. Give them a hand and help them rise up and walk.

Related links:
- The Green Belt Movement
- Green Belt Movement blog
- Wangari Maathai's "Unbowed"
- UNEP's "Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign"

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[MUSIC: Kronos Quartet “Wawshishijay (Our Beginning)” from ‘Pieces of Africa’ (Elektra – 1992)]

CURWOOD: Wangari Maathai is the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. She's the founder of Africa's Green Belt Movement and she also serves as Kenya's Deputy Minister of the Environment. Her new memoir is called “Unbowed.” We'll continue our conversation with Professor Maathai in next week's program. You can also hear an hour-long documentary about her life and work anytime at our website: www.loe.org.

Next week on Living on Earth: pine trees are moving north, fires are sparking more easily, and it seems to be raining less than ever. In Northern Arizona, scientists say they’re seeing the predicted effects of climate change coming to pass right before their eyes.

COBB: As an ecologist, it’s exciting to see change like this. It’s very humbling to see something so drastically happen over a very short period of time.

CURWOOD: On the trail of climate change in Arizona. That’s next week on Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: We leave you this week in the homeland of Wangari Maathai.

The nighttime world along the forested River Mara is wide-awake with giant flying insects, chirping bats, chiming frogs and the occasional hungry hippo.

A hippopotamus in the River Mara in Kenya.
(Courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory)


[“River Mara At Night” recorded by Chris Watson in the Maasai Mara, Kenya for ‘The Dreams of Gaia’ (Earth Ear – 1996)]

Chris Watson recorded this jungle chorus at river’s edge in the Maasai Mara a wildlife preserve in southern Kenya.

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, and Kelley Cronin. Our interns are Paige Doughty and Meghan Vigeant. Dennis Foley is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us anytime at LOE dot org. I’m Steve Curwood. 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, smoothies and milk. Ten percent of profits are donated to efforts that help protect and restore the earth. Details at Stonyfield dot com.

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