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

April 25, 2008

Air Date: April 25, 2008



Fueling the Food Crisis / Jeff Young

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Some agriculture experts say demand for ethanol is to blame for the global crisis in food prices. They want Congress to back away from aggressive targets. But Living on Earth's Jeff Young finds little appetite for that on Capitol Hill. (04:00)

Charging for Carbon / Ingrid Lobet

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San Francisco Bay air officials are about to assess 1.2 million dollars in fees on businesses for emitting greenhouse gases. It's one of the first instances of a carbon tax in the United States, and the real motive may be to keep the idea of a carbon tax in play. (05:30)

Spending the Stimulus / Bobby Bascomb

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Congressman Brian Baird wants Americans to use their economic stimulus checks to benefit the environment. What will people do with the money? Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb hit the street to find out. (02:10)

Ice Lady Cometh / Bob Carty

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In honor of Earth Day, Living on Earth updates some favorite stories from the archive. This week host Bruce Gellerman talks to botanist Diana Beresfor-Kroeger. But first we hear her in the story of a horrendous Canadian ice storm that damaged billions of dollars of property and acres of forest. The story was produced in 1998 by reporter Bob Carty. (18:30)

News from the Trees

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This arbor day, Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Arbor Day Foundation spokesman Woody Nelson about putting the trees back in U.S. National Forests after years of destructive wildfires. The foundation made a hardiness zone map reflecting warmer temperatures but the USDA has yet to update its map from 1990. (08:00)

Music with a Message in Mozambique

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One of the winners of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize - considered the Green Nobel - is singer-activist Feliciano Dos Santos of Mozambique. Dos Santos founded the NGO Estamos to bring clean water and toilets to his war-torn nation, spreading the message of hygiene through the music of his band Massukos. (09:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Diana Beresford-Kroeger, Feliciano Dos Santos, Kim Kaplan, Woody Nelson
REPORTERS: Bobby Bascomb, Bob Carty, Ingrid Lobet, Jeff Young


GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International – this is Living on Earth.


GELLERMAN: I’m Bruce Gellerman. Critics of turning corn into fuel give ethanol advocates an earful.

BROWN: It’s reached the point where it’s driving up world food prices, creating instability all over the world. And the idea that we’re doing this just to get a very modest share of our automotive fuel – it’s not a solution!

GELLERMAN: Also, the spring planting season arrives earlier than it used to, but you wouldn’t know it from the USDA’s outdated maps.

NELSON: For whatever reason, they've not published an update to their map now for – well, it's been 18 years. And the data indicates that things are warmer today than they were in 1990.

And – the Goldman Environmental Prize goes to a rock star from Mozambique.

DOS SANTOS: And they called me, and they say, ‘you won a prize,’ and I was feeling it was a joke.

GELLERMAN: These stories 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.

Fueling the Food Crisis

Analysts say demand for biofuels is responsible for up to 30 percent of the recent rise in global food prices. (Photo: 3dphoto.net)


GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman, in for Steve Curwood. A United Nations food expert calls it a ‘silent tsunami.’ It’s a wave of rising food prices that’s triggered riots around the world, leaving hundreds of millions of poor people hungry. Devastating droughts and the escalating cost of fuel and fertilizers are certainly factors, but many experts say biofuels made from food crops are also to blame. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports critics want Congress to reconsider aggressive targets to boost ethanol production


YOUNG: McCarthur genius grant-winner Lester Brown is a prolific writer on agriculture and the environment. He was at this Washington café to sign copies of what might be his fiftieth book – he’s lost count. That same day the Washington Post ran Brown’s opinion piece challenging Congress to rethink what he calls a tragically flawed policy on ethanol.

Lester Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute, says U.S. biofuel policy is contributing to chaos around the world. (Courtesy of Earth Policy Institute)

BROWN: It’s reached the point where it’s driving up world food prices, creating instability all over the world. And the idea that we’re doing this just to get a very modest share of our automotive fuel – it’s not a solution!

YOUNG: The U.S. makes four times as much ethanol as it did just six years ago, and that has swallowed nearly all the new production of corn. Brown blames that for a good share of the spike in global food prices.

There’s a lot of argument about that, but several economic analysts back Brown up, saying anywhere from ten to 30 percent of the recent rise in global food prices is due to demand for biofuels. Brown sees much bigger problems ahead if that trend continues.

BROWN: One of the things that people expect of their governments is a certain measure of food security. There are scores of governments that can no longer provide that. And they’re gonna become desperate, and they’re gonna take to the streets. They’re gonna riot, the governments are gonna be overthrown. All these things will begin to express themselves and could create security problems unlike any we’ve ever seen before in the world. This is a serious matter and I don’t think official Washington has yet realized how serious the situation is.

Analysts say demand for biofuels is responsible for up to 30 percent of the recent rise in global food prices. (Photo: 3dphoto.net)

YOUNG: Brown’s not alone. Hunger experts at a recent United Nations gathering also called on the European Union to reconsider biofuels and Britain’s Prime Minister pledged to look into it. But on Capitol Hill few lawmakers seemed interested in the issue.

New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman chairs the Senate’s Energy Committee.

BINGAMAN: Well I think most of the food crisis around the world is not in any way related to ethanol.


YOUNG: Bingaman helped pass last year’s renewable fuels mandate that orders 36 billion gallons of biofuels by the year 2022. That’s about five times what’s used now. Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, who chairs the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, sees no interest in revising that.

HARKIN: Not right now, no I don’t. But just keep in mind: corn ethanol is sort of a – it’s sort of the basis of ethanol, but it’s gonna be a transition.

YOUNG: To cellulosic?

HARKIN: To cellulosic ethanol. We’ll be making cellulosic ethanol out of wood, wood waste, prairie grass, all kinds of different things that a lot of times will grow where you’re not growing food crops anyway.

YOUNG: The ethanol mandate pushes industry to find ways to use sources other than corn. Those so-called cellulosic ethanols are in their infancy now, but the law envisions they will provide more than half the ethanol by 2020. House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that should keep biofuel from competing with food.

Demand for corn as biofuel led to a spike in the price of tortillas in Mexico last year. (Photo: Alan Chao, acdesigns.biz.)

PELOSI: We’ve always talked about ethanol coming from cellulosics and other sources other than those sources that would be used for food or for feed. So no, I don’t think we would rethink ethanol but I think that the sources of that ethanol are something that have always been considered.

YOUNG: Members of Congress are fond of saying they’d rather fuel our cars with corn from the Midwest than oil from the Middle East. It doesn’t look like the food crisis is going to change that.

For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

Related links:
- Lester Brown’s Earth Policy Institute has more on food as fuels
- Renewable Fuels Association summarizes the new ethanol mandate
- International Food Policy Research Institute’s work on food prices

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Charging for Carbon

Power plants, like the Potrero Power Plant in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, could pay 4.2 cents for every metric ton of CO2 released from their smoke stacks. (Photo: Pete Geniella/petegeniella.com)

GELLERMAN: Call it a tax or call it a fee, the idea of putting a price on producing carbon dioxide is political poison in the nation’s capital, but one city’s poison may be another’s solution.

The air pollution agency in the San Francisco Bay Area is considering a carbon tax on thousands of businesses, and the idea is likely to catch on elsewhere. Living on Earth’s Western bureau chief Ingrid Lobet spoke with experts for and against a CO2 tax.

LOBET: Jack Broadbent is CEO of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and he joins us first. Hi Jack.

BROADBENT: Thanks for having me.

LOBET: Why is the Bay Area Air Agency considering charging businesses for carbon emissions?

BROADBENT: Well, Ingrid, the fee that we’re proposing is designed to be able to cover the costs of our programs to address climate change. We began our program actually before the state of California, and we’re just now at a point where we need to be able to recover the costs of our climate program.

LOBET: And who would pay the highest emissions fee if the agency does go ahead with this?

BROADBENT: The refineries would pay the highest. They would be paying – and I won’t name names, Ingrid (laughs) – but some of our refineries would be paying as much as a few hundred thousand dollars each for this fee.

LOBET: And what’s the total amount that would be collected?

BROADBENT: The total amount that we’re seeking to collect is about 1.1 million dollars.

LOBET: Now, California is actually doing what the United States hasn’t yet – it’s limiting the amount of climate changing gases allowed to be released in the state; they’re sorting all that out now as we speak. Why impose a separate local fee in just the Bay Area while officials are still working out the final shape of California’s statewide limits?

The Bay Area could become the second place in the U.S. where businesses can’t emit greenhouse gases for free. In 2006, voters in Boulder, Colorado passed the country's first carbon tax.
Credit: Photo: Barry Wright

BROADBENT: We believe the climate change issue, first of all, has to be tackled on a federal, state, and local level. This fee that we’re developing and proposing is to be able to cover the cost of the program we’re implementing locally. We have a variety of climate protection activities here. They include an inventory of greenhouse gases; we of course engage with cities and counties in terms of their local land use decisions; we work with representatives of the refineries and the power plants to be able to identify and mitigate the greenhouse gases. So Ingrid, you can start to see that there is a great deal of work already underway that has been underway for many years here. It’s a natural linkage to have the local air pollution control agency develop programs that can complement both the state and the federal greenhouse gas reduction programs.

LOBET: Is this also a way of trying to perhaps nudge the California process more toward a carbon tax or carbon fee system rather than a cap and trade system, which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and many Republicans prefer?

BROADBENT: Here in the Bay Area, while we want to be able to work very closely with the state and the federal government, we just hope that they take this time and opportunity to be able to, of course, take and look at, what is the best approach. Now, will they do anything other than a cap-and-trade, I would tell you, probably not, but (laughs) there is a lot of tools and instruments out there that could and should be examined.

LOBET: Jack Broadbent is chief executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in California. Thanks for being with us.

BROADBENT: Thank you, Ingrid.

LOBET: And as he mentioned power plants and refineries where we turn crude oil into gasoline would pay some of the highest fees under this plan, Cathy Reheis-Boyd is with the Western States Petroleum Association, a petroleum industry trade group. And I take it that you’re not thrilled with the idea of a carbon fee imposed by a local authority.

REHEIS-BOYD: That’s correct. Any taxes or fees that impact refineries, or any other providers of energy, increases the cost of providing energy or transportation fuels to California consumers. And as you can imagine right now, those consumers are already understandably concerned about rising energy costs.

LOBET: But as the San Francisco Bay Area officials say, it’s costing them money to start counting all the emissions in the Bay Area, and counting those of the refineries is one of the biggest headaches. Why shouldn’t they charge your members for that trouble?

Power plants, like the Potrero Power Plant in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, could pay 4.2 cents for every metric ton of CO2 released from their smoke stacks.

REHEIS-BOYD: We just spent the last year and a half providing all of that inventory information to the California Air Resources Board. It was a very deliberate, extensive process for anyone who has to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act. And, so we have already prepared and are going to be submitting all of the detailed information to the state with regards to what we call, ‘who emits what where.’ And so I find it interesting that the local districts would feel that they need to duplicate what has already spent a year and a half of everybody’s time doing in a very detailed manner.

What I would like to see, in a perfect world, is that we all use our collective talents and wisdom to develop an overall state program, and how we are going to meet these very aggressive climate change goals from an overall state perspective, and then talk about how some of the implementation may naturally fall within the local districts’ purview. But to develop local programs and charge fees on local programs when we don’t have an entire state program adopted to me appears quite premature and duplicative.

LOBET: Cathy Reheis-Boyd is chief operating officer of the Western States Petroleum Association. She joined us from San Rafael, California. Thanks for being with us.

REHEIS-BOYD: Thank you very much.

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth’s Western Bureau Chief, Ingrid Lobet.

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Spending the Stimulus

More than 130 million taxpayers will get an economic stimulus check beginning in May. (Photo: kittykatfish on flickr)

GELLERMAN: Meanwhile, another idea to help green America has been proposed on Capitol Hill, and Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb has been checking it out.

BASCOMB: Starting in May, Americans will be getting free money. The economic stimulus package will give most taxpayers about 600 dollars each, plus 300 dollars per child. Congressman Brian Baird, a Washington State Democrat, wants people to use that cash to buy green home technologies.

BAIRD: If you invest it wisely by purchasing energy efficient and conservation products you will be paying yourself for years to come and be part of helping reduce our nation’s carbon footprint and that I think is a very beneficial use of a stimulus package, which I think otherwise could go to waste.

BASCOMB: Home improvement stores are offering special rebates and sales on green products. Sierra Club President Carl Pope says things like energy efficient appliances and even old fashioned clothes lines could save more than 150 billion dollars a year in energy costs.

Congressman Brian Baird said spending the economic stimulus check on green products will pay dividends in the future. (Photo: U.S. House of Representatives)

POPE: And it would also make a significant impact in beginning to bring down the amount of energy we use, which contributes to global warming, to air pollution and to other problems.

BASCOMB: So, Congress wants to boost the economy and Home Depot wants to sell washing machines. But what about regular people? I hit the street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to find out.

MAN 1: So, what am I gonna to do with my economic stimulus return? I’m a father and I have six kids, one of who is headed off to college, so I’ll probably use that to help pay her college tuition.

WOMAN 1: I will take everybody’s tax return in the family and put it into more efficient appliances for a new kitchen.

MAN 2: I mean, honestly I would like a nice flat-screen TV a lot more than I’d want an energy-efficient dishwasher. I’m all for saving the environment, too, though, but TV’s are nice.

WOMAN 2: We’re putting in a vegetable garden this year to grow locally, right in our own yard. We’ve got a good patch going.

WOMAN 3: I’m planning on getting a tattoo with my money, but if I didn’t have a bike I’d probably get one.

WOMAN 4: Although I want to take a vacation, I have to pay bills with it.

(Photo: kittykatfish on flickr)

MAN 3: I plan to spend my money on regular things: clothes, music, cigarettes – that kind of stuff.

MAN 4: I’m either gonna do exactly what the government doesn’t want me to do and save every penny of it, or I might buy a new surfboard.

MAN 5: I am using my 600 dollars to buy a bike and throw my car away. Save Mother Nature.

GELLERMAN: Some voices from the street, gathered by Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb. Coming up – know that for destruction, ice will suffice, and then some. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

Related links:
- Sierra Club
- Homepage for Congressman Brian Baird

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[MUSIC: Brian Blade: “Return Of The Prodigal Son” from Season Of Changes (Verve Records 2008)]

Ice Lady Cometh

Diana Beresford Kroeger in her garden. (Courtesy of Diana Beresford Kroeger)

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. All this month, to commemorate Earth Day, Living on Earth is revisiting and updating some of our award-winning stories from years past.

Today we go back a decade to the Ice Storm of 1998. The storm swept across the northeast U.S. and southern Canada, battering homes, devastating the power grid and destroying wide swaths of forest. Reporter Bob Carty braved the ice storm and traveled deep into the woods of South Ontario to Merrickville, where he met a passionate gardener laboring to save hundreds of rare plants from the freezing disaster.


CARTY: It looks like something out of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and I feel a little bit like Ichabod Crane. The farm lane is darkened by a canopy of trees, and they are covered by a two-inch coat of ice. They creak inside their crystal chains. The wind howls, and the branches reach out toward you like tortured limbs.


CARTY: It took 16 men a full day to clear the broken trees from the farm road and the lane so that the owners of this farm could get out – if they wanted to. But at the end of the lane, where it opens up to a snow-covered garden by the farmhouse, the owners are surveying the damage.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Oh my goodness, look at this. It's just a devastation zone here with the trees. It's like they're like toothpicks. The elm, the ash, the hickories are probably the worst hit, I would think.


BERESFORD-KROEGER: Lift the weight of this ice. You can't lift it. The Manchurian apricots, they're absolutely down, down on the ground. It's just a disaster zone, look at it.

CARTY: The disaster is what Diana Beresford-Kroeger and her husband Chris call Carrigliath, Gaelic for Grey Stones Gardens. Diana Beresford Kroeger is no ordinary gardener. She's a classical botanist, with a Ph.D. in molecular biology, plus a background in heart research and some experience as the host of a radio gardening show. Nor is hers an ordinary garden. Every year, thousands of plant lovers and agriculture students come here to see one of the biggest organic gardens in Canada.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: What is special about this is the huge collection of endangered and rare and heritage species that I have here. Like, I’ve collections of old varieties of gooseberries, cherries from Siberia, the chocolate peony, chocolate-smelling black peonies.

CARTY: (Laughing) Sounds delicious!

BERESFORD-KROEGER: (Laughing) They are! They're wonderful, wonderful species.

CARTY: Diana Beresford- Kroeger has been building her garden for 20 years. She scouts the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes forests looking for rare tree or plant species long thought lost to deforestation. She's been breeding them here and giving out the seeds to try to rebuild natural populations. But then, the ice storm of '98 hit.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: When it first started freezing rain I thought well, this is all. Heck, this is going to be one horrible day; it's going to be very difficult to get out of here. But when it kept going for about ten hours, no this was not normal freezing rain. The partridge were trying to walk up the walls of the house, and they don't do this. There was an ocean of wildlife, of birds, in front of the house, and they were behaving in a very extraordinary way. They had lost their territoriality towards one another. They were all coming together in a great group of flying creatures, and I saw this phenomenon, and I have only seen it personally once before when we had a small tornado coming through here.


C. KROEGER: See the cedars in through the forest. You see how the tops have broken and split right down, and this stand of cedars in behind here are in excess of 125 to 150 years old, and it seems 90 percent of the cedars the tops are broken out. And unfortunately it’ll take another 150 years to grow them again.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Course, the wind catches them, swings them, and off they go. They're snapped.


CARTY: It's cold that wind!

BERESFORD-KROEGER: It is freezing cold.

C. KROEGER: Let's get you back inside.


CARTY: Botanists say the forest is where we will see the long-term consequences of the ice storm. Damage to the crowns of trees could mean that traditional varieties will not be the ones to reproduce. It may take 100 years before the forest looks like it did before. There's little Diana Beresford-Kroeger can do right now about the damage outside. The reason she has stayed here without electricity is the plants and seeds inside the house.


BERESFORD-KROEGER: A nice big old clock, no, that's a bit of maple. All right, that’ll burn well, got to keep that fire going. (Laughs)

CARTY: Inside, it's only 43 degrees. You can see your breath. We take off just one layer of clothing, and then Diana reaches into the oven and pulls out a towel.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: There now, you see, look now here.

CARTY: What are you doing? Oh!

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Onto your carotids.

CARTY: That's lovely! What did you just do?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: I put a warm towel around your neck and I held it tight so that your carotid arteries would be warmed.

CARTY: That feels wonderful.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Aha! And I'm going to do it to myself.

CARTY: It's just like a wave of warmth.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Yes, ten percent of the flow in your body is going up there.

CARTY: The view from the woodstove is a traffic jam of chairs and a row of large buckets of melting snow and water. Over in the adjoining room, the floor is covered by potato sacks and plants: hundreds of plants. When the ice storm hit, Diana could only sit by her window and watch her precious trees fall to the ground. But inside, she and Chris divided their farmhouse in half, sealing off the bedrooms to keep all the heat in the 2 rooms near the fire. Then they marshaled all the plants and seeds from storerooms, porch, and bedrooms into the area that gets some glow from the stove. Diana takes me on the tour.

Flowers from the Ptelia trifoliata. (Photo: Josh McDill)

BERESFORD-KROEGER: And now we're going into the, into my garden room. It's totally packed. In fact, you probably can't walk around here. In fact, it's been an awful lot of work looking after all of these and getting them in and making sure that they're in the right position so they don't freeze. So the species that I know that I can hang about plus five, plus four, plus five degrees are in a four or five degree area. That's the area right in front of you. Those that are nearer the windows can take a degree of frost, like the cacti can take a few degrees of frost.

CARTY: And you have some very rare plants here.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Yes. I've got some geraniums, which are 150 years old. These are very, very old geraniums. And next to this, then, we have the gladiolas that I have bred. They are insect-resistant gladiolas; they are resistant to thrips. Those beautiful white daisies, that's from South Africa and it is also a medicinal plant. In fact, coming to think of it, everything in here is medicinal.

CARTY: And this is the main reason Diana has been putting up with the cold and the lack of electricity. As a botanist she loves her plants. But it’s her medical background that makes her passionate about preserving and propagating rare and old species. There are potato sacks and plastic bags on the floor. Diana opens one up to show me the nuts of a black walnut tree.


BERESFORD-KROEGER: Black hennae, hen's eggs. Now, what –

CARTY: They're enormous!

BERESFORD-KROEGER: They're enormous, yeah, they’re like, they're bigger than an egg, actually, they're about a three-ounce nut. And the oils in this nut are very, very good for heart metabolism. Very, very good for young children. Very, very good for brain development in children and in older people.


CARTY: Why are you keeping them going?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Because I think it's important that we have genetic material. We keep genetic diversity going for year to year. We may not need them from a health point of view this year or next year, but your child and my child might need these in the times to come. 50 percent of all of the medicines in the multinationals come from vascular trees and plants, and that's why I am keeping these.

CARTY: And there's one more reason Diana is putting up with the heated towels and lack of a good shower. She's put a lot of effort into finding and breeding species that are disease-resistant, like the damaged elm tree in the front yard that is impervious to Dutch Elm Disease. She believes her collection could help Mother Nature through another ice storm. Ice storms are natural. But the forest they affect is not. In this part of the country a lot of tree cover has been cut. Almost none of what remains is virgin. And everywhere, species diversity has been highly reduced. That lack of biological diversity should be a concern Diana Beresford Kroeger contends. Because global warming could dish out weather like we've never seen before.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: What I worry about is the unpredictability of the climatic changes. Today may very well be the ice storm. Maybe in a week's time we'll have the grid down again. So consequently, what we have to have, is we have to have an eye to this variability. So you cannot plant, for instance, trees in this area which will not take frost. We have to put in disease-resistant and frost-resistant species back into the forests. Because if we don't do that, everything will go.

CARTY: Shall we get warm?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Yes, let's go and get warm. Go by the fire again.


CARTY: Are you getting tired?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Yes. I have battle fatigue. I think my brain cells aren't working very well, such as they are. Right now my feet are like lumps of ice, and I'm going to have to make another hot water bottle to warm them up. And my kidneys are getting cold, so I'm going to have to wrap myself again.


CARTY: Diana and Chris accompany me back outside to the wind and the ice. I apologize that I'll be getting into a warm car while they go back to a 43-degree home. They are tired, but their spirits are still high. They invite me back in the summer. And as we walk down the lane, Diana notices that not all is lost.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: These are all walnuts called the Gananoque walnuts.

C. KROEGER: A few branches off.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: A few branches down, but I'm very pleased with how the walnuts have stood. So you know, I'm -- there are disasters, there are things that warm your heart. And all and all you just have to take the good with the bad.

CARTY: Will the garden survive?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Nature has a second hand, and the second hand of Nature is greening. The first hand is destruction, and the greening of spring is really my one hope.


CARTY: For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty in eastern Ontario.

GELLERMAN: For his story ‘The Ice Lady Cometh’ Reporter Bob Carty won The 1999 Gracie Allen Award from the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television.

Now ten years later we revisit the ice lady, Diana Beresford-Kroeger, to learn how her rare plants and trees have fared since the storm.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: The forest really has been devastated. And it will be a good 100 years, if not a little more, to have the forest back to where it was.

GELLERMAN: What about the cedar?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: The cedars have not recovered. Now, my observation of the cedars has been kind of an interesting one in that all of those with a pyramidal form, with the shape of a pyramid in growth, all of those have survived, and in fact those have had very little damage. So within the forest, in the past ten years since the ice storm, there has been a natural selection for the pyramidal form of these trees.

GELLERMAN: How about all those plants you brought into your home – the black walnuts, and the geraniums that are 150 years old?

Diana Beresford Kroeger in her garden. (Courtesy of Diana Beresford Kroeger)

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Ah, yes. Yes, well I had a huge amount of nuts. I had resistant nuts, and the butternuts, too, which are disappearing off the continent at a frightening rate. And I was not prepared to have those die from frost. I had huge amounts, and that was the basis for my enormous millennium project, which went across this North American continent. It was the biggest millennium project of trees, and I gave out from my garden three-quarters of a million, both trees and nuts and small seedlings. And these were to start epicenter forests across the country, and they have done that.

GELLERMAN: Epicenter forests. What are they?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: What that is is that you plant a tree – one tree, two, three, four trees – you protect them from all kinds of predation, and the trees within ten years will start producing seedlings, and the seedlings will make the forest.

GELLERMAN: In our story you were worried about the effects of climate change ten years ago. What changes have you noticed since then?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: You know, as a gardener, as somebody who spends time with a shovel and an acorn, I’ve noticed the quality of the sunlight is stinging; the ultraviolet radiation is stinging on the skin. It has a detrimental effect on the Earth. The soil has got microrhiza in it, and the microrhiza are being damaged. That’s just – it’s just that simple.

GELLERMAN: Are there any species that are doing better than they were before?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah (chuckles). All of the people who were drinking wine are drinking a whole lot more wine and better wine. Another set of species, a subset of species, are doing extremely well too – these are all the nuts. All of the nut trees – these are the shagbark hickories, these are the black walnuts – the, all of the nuts are doing extremely well.

GELLERMAN: It’s interesting. When people think about a hotspot for biodiversity and native species, they, you know, Canada doesn’t come to mind immediately. Why do you do this type of work there, and not, say, South America?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Alright, okay. If you decide down in the United States that you have got to replant the forests, you cannot go south to bring your species north. The nuts from my garden and the seeds from my garden can go south, but the southern ones will not succeed up north.

GELLERMAN: And why is that?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Because the trees are clocked into the sun, and it’s called a Circadian rhythm – that clocking thing is Circadian rhythm, and it is equivalent to one’s brain. Let’s say, the serotonin type compounds – these are compounds that actually regulate your life on a 24-hour basis – also regulate the trees’ life on a seasonal basis.

GELLERMAN: Diana, what are you working on right now? What’s your most exciting project?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Oh, good heavens. I have an extraordinary tree in the garden, and it is called the sacred tree of the first nations. And this tree is a lost tree. I have one of the very few species of Petalia trifoliata. It has got a compound in it that we never, never, never knew existed. It is a synergistic compound, and it is like ginseng. And that synergist actually acts to multiply the action of the brain, the heart, the kidneys. And, for instance, Bruce, if I – if you had a headache today, right now, and you said, oh Diana give me an aspirin, and I give you an aspirin and a little piece of Petalia trifoliata, you would have been taking a hundred aspirins. That is the synergistic effect of it. And the oncologists are getting terribly excited about this tree. We did not know there was a piggyback material like this in the world.

GELLERMAN: And you’ve got one in your front yard.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: I have got one, and I am looking for its first cousin. It is called Petalia trifoliata crysidefolia. That one will be better than the one I have. And really if my other book “Arboretum Borealis” does very well – and I’m keeping my fingers crossed – I will take some money from my royalties, and I am going to go searching for the crysidefolia. And when I do, I’ll tell you, people like you and people like me will have that medicine. I am sorry, you multinationals, you’re going to not get this stuff from me. Ordinary people are going to get the health from me and the medicines from me.

GELLERMAN: You know, Diana, what type of advice would you give to people who want to do something like you’re doing, but don’t have the time, the energy, the inclination to do it?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: I have the answer for you, folks out there, absolutely. You can put something into a little flowerpot. You can have something on a balcony. You can help somebody who is a gardener. So, let’s look at the vision this way. All of the people on the continent who have gardens and who have public spaces: put in our native species of flowers and trees. Look after them. Don’t put pesticides on these things. Keep them growing, and by having them grow, we will hold hands across this continent, and the songbirds and the butterflies can migrate up, and they’ll have lots of nectar and lots of things to eat, and we will sequester carbon dioxide just by doing that.

GELLERMAN: Diana, you’re fluent in Gaelic, right?



GELLERMAN: Do you talk to your plants in Gaelic?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Yes I do. I even talk to my fish in Gaelic in the water garden.

GELLERMAN: Well, how do I say Gaelic for good-bye?


GELLERMAN: Slàn leat. Is that right?

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Yes. That’s right, you’ve got it.

GELLERMAN: Well, Diana. Slàn leat.

BERESFORD-KROEGER: Slàn leat, Bruce.


BERESFORD-KROEGER: And may you be well, and may you have bounty in your life.

GELLERMAN: Diana Beresford-Kroeger is the author of “Arboretum America”. You’ll find more details at our website: L-O-E dot org.

[MUSIC: Vashti Bunyan & Rodge Glass “The Fire” from Ballads Of The Book (Chemikal Underground Records – 2007)]

GELLERMAN: Coming up – I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I'll never see a tree at all.

Don’t Leaf! Arbor Day 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. This is Living on Earth, on PRI: Public Radio International.

Related links:
- Diana Beresford Kroeger is featured in the television series “Recreating Eden”
- Find out more about Diana Beresford Kroeger’s book “Arboretum America”
- Click here for more information on Ptelea trifoliata

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News from the Trees

Record wildfires have helped create a backlog of more than a million acres of national forest that need to be replanted. (Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. So, have you hugged a tree today? Better yet, have you planted one? We are, after all, celebrating Arbor Day.

Trees give us fruit, shade, wood, and fight global warming by taking carbon dioxide out of the air. And they're not bad to look at. We’re talking trees with Woody Nelson, spokesman for the Arbor Day Foundation. Hi Woody.

NELSON: Hello Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Or should I say, Happy Arbor Day!

NELSON: Well, Arbor Day certainly is a happy time. It’s a great time to celebrate the tree planter’s holiday.

GELLERMAN: Well it was started where you are, in Nebraska, way back when.

NELSON: 1872 to be exact. On that very first Arbor Day, a million trees were planted on the Nebraska prairie.

GELLERMAN: So what is the Arbor Day Foundation doing this year to commemorate that special day?

NELSON: The Arbor Day Foundation celebrates tree-planting every day of the year. This year we have a campaign where we’re helping the U.S. Forest Service plants trees in our National Forests. We also have a program called ‘Nature Explore’ to inspire the next generation of tree planters: young children, getting them connected with nature at a very early age.

Trees in Payette National Forest in the wake of a 2007 wildfire. (Photo: Dan Lubman)

GELLERMAN: Now, Mr. Nelson, why would the U.S. Forest Service need help planting trees?

NELSON: The U.S. Forest Service is charged of course with taking care of our National Forests. They are today a rather threatened legacy, in that we’ve had three years in a row of record wildfires. Unfortunately so much of their budget is being allocated toward putting out these massive fires, and, they have very little resources left for replanting where they deem replanting is necessary.

GELLERMAN: I thought fire was a natural part of the forest ecology?

NELSON: Fire is definitely an important part of natural forest ecology, you’re right. Today’s fires, however, are raging and immense and burning very, very hot. There are many, many more manmade fires than ever before. If you just look at history, we’ve had eight or nine million acres of fires burning each of the last three years. And that’s really unprecedented.

Woody Nelson is spokesman for Arbor Day Foundation. (Courtesy of Arbor Day Foundation)

Of course we like Mother Nature to take care of things. The Forest Service, by all means, does not plant in designated wilderness areas. They do not plant where they think there’s a good chance that nature will regenerate the forest on its own. But yet, after several years it becomes very clear that nature is not going to regenerate a particular forest area, and when that happens, you know, the invasive scrub grows prolifically and doesn’t give trees a chance to grow, and that’s where they need to go in and do managed planting.

GELLERMAN: I was reading that fire isn’t the only threat to our National Forests – that there’s actually this beetle in Colorado. What’s that about?

NELSON: Yeah, the mountain pine beetle, which is a pine bark beetle species. It’s really playing a heavy toll in the Rocky Mountain West. It really is prolific these days, the past few seasons, and it’s just destroying thousands of trees.

GELLERMAN: Why now? What’s changed?

NELSON: You know, one way that nature can control the pest is sustained cold temperature – say, minus 30 degrees for five days in a row – that larva’s going to not survive the winter. I would say this year’s probably going to be another epidemic. You know, I think the Forest Service is, you know, concerned about how this pine bark beetle is infesting our National Forests.

GELLERMAN: So in order to kill this pine bark beetle, you have to have sustained cold – you’re suggesting that it’s getting warmer there.

NELSON: That’s right. The data indicates that much of Colorado, much of the Rocky Mountain states have warmed a full hardiness zone, which – a hardiness zone is measured in ten -degree increments.

GELLERMAN: A hardiness zone is that thing we see on the back of seed boxes where you can – where to plant seeds, when, that kind of thing?

NELSON: That’s right. It’s a guide – it’s one tool for a tree-planter or for a gardener to use in trying to make the best decision on what species will be hardy where he or she lives.

GELLERMAN: ’Cause you have a hardiness zone map that’s interactive on the Arbor Day Foundation’s website.

NELSON: That’s right – the arborday dot org hardiness zone map lets you enter your zip code and find out exactly what hardiness zone you live in.

GELLERMAN: Now, when I click on this button here, it shows the whole map going north – everything’s moving up, everything’s getting warmer.

NELSON: People can start to experiment with perhaps a flowering species where they, you know, fifteen, twenty years ago that would have been unheard of. The data shows that between 1990 and the 2006 arborday dot org hardiness zone map, there has been a shift where hardiness zones are migrating northward, and of course that means that the data shows that our climate has warmed.

Record wildfire seasons have helped create a backlog of more than a million acres of national forest that need to be replanted.
(Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)

GELLERMAN: And the USDA also has hardiness zone maps, but yours is different from theirs.

NELSON: We have the most up-to-date information available in building our map. We used 15 years’ worth of data from 1991 to 2006. The USDA last updated their hardiness zone map in 1990. I understand that the USDA is working on it – they have been working on it for some time. For whatever reason, they’ve not published an update to their map now for – well it’s been 18 years, and the data indicates that things are warmer today than they were in 1990.

GELLERMAN: Mr. Nelson, you’re nickname is Woody. That’s kind of interesting – you’re a spokesperson for the Arbor Day Foundation named Woody. What’s your real name?

NELSON: My real name’s Woodrow, so it’s, it’s not a coincidence, I guess, it’s just – it’s a real name for a real purpose.

GELLERMAN: Well Mr. Nelson, thank you very much. It was a real pleasure.

NELSON: Oh, thank you for having me. It was my pleasure.

GELLERMAN: So why hasn’t the United States Department of Agriculture released a new hardiness zone map in almost 20 years? I put the question to the USDA’s Kim Kaplan.

KAPLAN: Well there’s actually been no set interval between any two editions of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. One of the things that drove this one, frankly, is that the government printing office called and told us they were out of the old one, and should they print the same one again or were we going to do a new one. Because the old one was done in 1990 and predates the internet, it was not digital, and we knew we wanted to go to something that was state-of-the-art – something GPS, GIS compatible, much more detailed and much more sophisticated and most importantly web-friendly.

GELLERMAN: But that’s 18 years ago. You said you were coming out with one, what, two years ago.

KAPLAN: Right, and one of the things we’ve discovered is that it’s very difficult to do some of the state-of-the-art things that we’re trying to do. We want to get it right rather than fast.

GELLERMAN: So when can I expect the United States Department of Agriculture to come up with its next Hardiness Zone Map for planting?

KAPLAN: Well, the best I can say is soon, and maybe define that as months rather than weeks or years.

GELLERMAN: So as I say in Boston, when your new map comes out, aloha? (laughs)

KAPLAN: (laughs) I don’t think you’ll find it will be that warm.

GELLERMAN: Kim Kaplan is a spokesperson for the United States Department of Agriculture.

Related links:
- Arbor Day Foundation's website
- To download the Arbor Day Foundation's hardiness zone map, click here
- To learn more about the USDA hardiness zone map, click here

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Music with a Message in Mozambique

Feliciano dos Santos, winner of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize, uses music to promote ecological sanitation in Mozambique.

GELLERMAN: Feliciano Dos Santos is known as the Elton John of Mozambique…


GELLERMAN: And music critics hail Dos Santos’ Band, Massukos, as the next Buena Vista Social Club. Their new CD is called ‘Bumping.’


GELLERMAN: Feliciano Dos Santos comes from Niassa Province in Northern Mozambique. There are few places on the planet so impoverished.

Feliciano dos Santos in the field. (Photo: John Antonelli, Courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize)


GELLERMAN: The province is about the size of New England, yet it has only 100 miles of paved roads.


DOS SANTOS: Yeah it’s big, but it’s poor.


DOS SANTOS: Five or seven years ago Mozambique was considered the poorest country in the world, so you have to imagine what kind of life we had. But with the hope; we survive with the hope. So for this reason I’m here today.

GELLERMAN: The day we spoke with Dos Santos he was in Washington D.C. to pick up his Goldman Environmental Prize. It’s considered the Green Nobel. The Prize is awarded annually to seven winners. Each receives 150 thousand dollars for grass roots environmental work. Dos Santos won for improving hygiene and sanitation in Mozambique.

Feliciano dos Santos speaking to a community about sanitation. (Photo: John Antonelli, Courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize)

GELLERMAN: Do remember where you were when you heard that you won the Goldman Environmental Prize?

DOS SANTOS: Yes I remember I was in my house with a friend of mine and my wife, and they call me and they say, ‘Are you Feliciano,’ I say yes and they say ‘Yes, you won a prize, Goldman Environmental Prize,’ and I was feeling it was a joke and someone I knew called me and they say ‘wow, yes it’s true, congratulations.’ And I just cried and, yeah it was, you know, it was…yeah definitely is something come from the gods, you know?

GELLERMAN: The gods have not always been so good to Dos Santos or Mozambique. The African nation was devastated by 19 years of civil war, and sanitary facilities and clean water were almost non-existent. As a boy Dos Santos got polio because of the poor conditions. It left him with a limp. But despite his handicap he went on to start his band, and create Estamos, a public health organization dedicated to bringing clean water to remote villages in Mozambique, and building what he calls Eco-San Latrines.

GELLERMAN: So you build this very shallow latrine, or actually two holes –

DOS SANTOS: Mmhm. Mmhm.

GELLERAMAN: And then as I understand you fill it up with ash and then you wait –

DOS SANTOS: Yes, yes.

GELLERMAN: And it turns into fertilizer, and then you use that on the crops.

DOS SANTOS: Yeah, and they use it on the crops, and you know there is a lot of advantage in that. You know, when you wash your hands, every time you wash your hands after you use latrine, so you avoid 40 percent of disease related to water.

GELLERMAN: Ah, I see. So, do you have a song that is about toilets?

DOS SANTOS: Yes, I have it.


GELLERMAN: So what’s the name and what’s the music about?

DOS SANTOS: Music say that mothers listen to me, community listen to me – improve the latrine, huh? It’s so beautiful. It’s easy to clean and easy to build, so use it; it’s good.

[MUSIC: Massukos “Bumping” from Bumping (Poo Music – 2008)]

GELLERMAN: Mozambique was a Portuguese colony, but you’re not singing in Portuguese are you?

DOS SANTOS: No, you know what happened was when we decided to have a band, we decided to preserve our culture, because during the civil war we lost so much because many people went to Malawi, went to Zambia, Tanzania. And we decide to, you know, to recover our culture and we say, ‘well, there is no music singing in our local language, so why not produce songs with our local language and with traditional rhythms.’ So we decide not to sing a lot in Portuguese. We just have one song in Portuguese; the rest is in traditional – in local language, because, you know, we need to, you know, to value our culture, to value our language.

Feliciano dos Santos performing with Massukos. (Photo: Jon Lea, Courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize)

[MUSIC: Massukos “Pangira (Acoustic)” from Bumping (Poo Music – 2008)]

GELLERMAN: Let’s listen to one of my favorite songs – actually there’s two versions of this song on the CD – Pangira? Did I pronounce that right?

DOS SANTOS: Pangira, yes, pangira.

GELLERMAN: What does pangira mean?

DOS SANTOS: Pangira means in the road.


DOS SANTOS: On the road, yes.

GELLERMAN: It sounds like a love song.

DOS SANTOS: No it’s sad song; so sad.

[MUSIC: Massukos “Pangira (Acoustic)” from Bumping (Poo Music – 2008)]

DOS SANTOS: You know, some couples, they abandon their children in the road, but the children will grow and someone take him and give his name.

[MUSIC: Massukos “Pangira (Acoustic)” from Bumping (Poo Music – 2008)]

DOS SANTOS: So it’s so sad, because when he grow, people just tell him that, you know, this name is not yours, because your father abandoned you in the road. And he was crying to claim that I need to know who was my father.

[MUSIC: Massukos “Pangira (Acoustic)” from Bumping (Poo Music – 2008)]

DOS SANTOS: I’m physically, you know, challenged as a man, and you know, people – when you have polio some people think that you also have a mental challenge because they think that you know, you are crazy guy. But with the music – music can give you a power to believe yourselves, and also music have power to join people, to spread messages, to awareness people, to raise awareness people.

Feliciano dos Santos accepts the Ouroboros from Richard Goldman at the 2008 Prize ceremony in San Francisco. (Photo: Courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize)

GELLERMAN: You know, Feliciano, you grew up in a country where you had to worry about your next meal. What made you pick up the guitar, and sing and start writing songs?

DOS SANTOS: Well, I just – something come from my heart and I say, ‘well I have to write songs because I want to share with the people.’ But first of all I have to say that when I write songs, I write first of all for me, for myself. Because if the songs touch me, it means that it can touch someone. You know, there is a lot of musician produce music and people don’t like it, but themselves like it. So the first thing I do is produce a song for me – can I fly, you know. Because when I listen, when I sing my songs I can fly in the sky.

GELLERMAN: Well let’s go out on a tune from you latest CD ‘Bumping.’ Pick one – which one would you like to do?

DOS SANTOS: Niassa. Niassa is the province where I’m come from, where I’m living. And the lyrics say that I’m not ashamed to born in poor place, and that I’m proud to born in that place, and I will sing loud about my country about the place where born.

GELLERMAN: Well Feliciano, thank you very much, I really enjoyed our conversation.

DOS SANTOS: You’re welcome, thanks so much for inviting me.

GELLERMAN: Feliciano Dos Santos of Mozambique – one of this year’s winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, and founder and lead singer of the band Massukos. Their new CD is called ‘Bumping.’

[MUSIC: Massukos “Niassa” from Bumping (Poo Music – 2008)]

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer, Mitra Taj and Jeff Young, with help from Jennifer Baessler, and Sarah Calkins.

Our interns are Annie Jia and Margaret Rossano. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us at LOE dot org. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER1: 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.com. Support also comes from you our listeners, the Ford Foundation, the Town Creek Foundation, the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of climate change and marine issues and Pax World Mutual Funds: socially and environmentally sustainable investing. Pax World: for tomorrow. On the web at paxworld.com.

ANNOUNCER2: PRI, Public Radio International.

Related links:
- To hear and watch Massukos, check out the band’s website
- To learn more about Feliciano dos Santos and the Goldman Environmental Prize, click here

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