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

June 3, 2011

Air Date: June 3, 2011



Germany Says No to Nuclear Power

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Germany plans to be free of nuclear power by the end of the decade. This would make them the biggest world power to do so. The country hopes to make up the energy-gap through efficiency and renewables but it also could make them more dependent on fossil fuels. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks with the nuclear analyst Chris Gadomski of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. (06:05)

Will Jerry Brown Shift California Cap and Trade? / Ingrid Lobet

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The market-based centerpiece of California's climate law could change if Governor Jerry Brown wills it so or if an environmental justice lawsuit prevails. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports on the hopes of some environmentalists to change the cap and trade climate scheme before it becomes final. (06:30)

Environmental Activists Murdered in the Amazon

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In the space of four days, four environmental activists were assassinated in the Brazilian Amazon. Christian Poirier is the Brazil program coordinator for Amazon Watch. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that the recent violence in the Amazon is related to proposed changes in Brazil’s forest code, which will increase deforestation (06:10)

Wet Fields Prevent Corn Planting

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Drenching rains left many farmers in the eastern cornbelt with ground too wet for planting corn. Farmers must now decide what to do. As Professor Chad Hart of Iowa State University explains, some will switch to soybeans and others will forgo planting this year and cash in on their crop insurance. (05:35)

Charting the Health of Coral in the Persian Gulf / Ken Shulman

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Corals in the Persian Gulf are adapting to harsh conditions and scientists are trying to learn why. They’re taking samples from uncharted waters in hopes of unlocking information they hope could save coral reefs around the world. Reporter Ken Shulman went on a boat with a team of scientists as they journeyed to the bottom of the sea. (07:45)

“Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next”

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In an age defined more than ever by air travel and global commerce, cities have taken flight – turning the metropolis into the aerotropolis. Greg Lindsay, co-author of “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next,” tells the story of our lives in the sky. (07:55)

Living, Breathing Earth / Aileen LeBlanc

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The call of cicadas, butterflies winging, and a nighttime canoe ride on a hushed lake in Peru inspired composer Meira Warshauer to write the symphony “Living, Breathing Earth.” The piece is now featured on CD. Aileen LeBlanc spoke with Warshauer and produced this sound portrait. (07:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Chris Gadomski, Bill Magavern, Angela Johnson-Meszaros, Stanley Young, Jon Costantino, Christian Poirier, Chad Hart, Greg Lindsay, Meira Warshauer
REPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet, Ken Shulman, Aileen LeBlanc


GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Germany says 'nein danke' to the nation’s nine nuclear power plants still in operation…but no nukes will generate consequences:

GODAMSKI: There'll be a lot of people who will become unemployed by closing down those nuclear power plants and they are also going to be creating environmental issues, possibly increase in CO2 emissions.

GELLERMAN: Coming up: the cost benefits of Germany sinking its fleet of nuclear power plants. Also - environmentalists challenge California's ambitious carbon targets. And the lessons scientists hope to learn from corals that can thrive in hot water.

BURT: When you’re talking about 38 degrees Celsius and corals are living through it, it’s a remarkable story in terms of the story it could tell us about climate change and its potential impacts, or non-impacts on reef systems.

GELLERMAN: What it takes to survive if you’re a coral reef in the Persian Gulf - we’ll have these stories and more this week, on Living on Earth. Stick around!


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Germany Says No to Nuclear Power

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville Mass, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Germany has had a love-hate relationship with nuclear power. Reactors provide nearly a quarter of the industrial nation’s needs, and last fall Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she was extending the life of nuclear power plants till 2035.
But now, in the shadow of the Fukushima disaster and under intense political pressure, Merkel has reversed that decision, and is ending the relationship, promising that Germany will pull the plug on all its nuclear plants by 2022. For reaction we turn to Chris Gadomski--lead nuclear analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

GADOMSKI: Quite frankly I'm not surprised at the decision to go ahead and do this, given the environmental interests and concerns of the German population. They have decided this is the way they want to go forward. It’s a very exciting time for the German people.

All nuclear power plants, like this one in Grafenrheinfeld, are scheduled to be shut down by 2022. (Wikimedia Commons)

GELLERMAN: Yeah, I guess the Green Movement is very strong there. Right after the Fukushima disaster, there were a quarter of a million people marching to demand that nuclear power be shut down.

GADOMSKI: Absolutely right. This is not surprising that when you have such a dramatic and terrible event as happened in Fukushima, that those people became increasingly concerned and have tried to go ahead and develop a strategy that would allow them to go forward without nuclear power. And it relies very heavily on development of renewable energy and a large deployment and commitment to solar power.

GELLERMAN: Germany has a huge amount of offshore wind and wind on land, and they’re planning a lot more solar, actually.

GADOMSKI: It’s very interesting that Germans really are responsible for the tremendous global surge in solar power installations by introducing a feed-in tariff which provided those individuals and those corporations in Germany with very attractive tariffs for selling the solar to the government.

GELLERMAN: They have 17 nuclear power plants in Germany. I guess they shut down seven after Fukushima. That leaves 10 nuclear power plants. Can they make that type of energy up using renewable energy resources?

Germany is already one of the world’s top users of solar energy, and fields like the Erlasee Solar Park will become more common sights. (Wikimedia Commons)

GADOMSKI: Well, in addition to their emphasis on developing renewable energy technologies, the country is advocating a significant decrease in energy consumption- by 28 percent. They’re also going to have to go ahead and additionally import electricity from surrounding countries. Ironically, the electricity that would come from surrounding countries would be dirty coal from Poland, nuclear power from France, and perhaps nuclear power from the Czech Republic.

GELLERMAN: So does that mean that inevitably there’s going to be more CO2 and greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere?

GADOMSKI: I think that that’s a fair assumption that if you’re going to eliminate 20 gigawatts of nuclear power, which produces electricity without any carbon, and you replace them with a percentage of fossil fuels, that it’s going to be a net increase in CO2 emissions.

GELLERMAN: Greenpeace says that Germany can actually shut down all its nukes within four years and have no brown outs, no black outs, and no increase in the long run in the amount of CO2 going into the air.

GADOMSKI: Well, that must be Greenpeace’s opinion. I’ve talked to other people who sort of dispute that and anticipate that there’ll be problems in the near-term keeping the country cool this summer. Germany’s a big industrial economy and so it’s going to require a lot of very dense energy capacity to go ahead and power that and keep it going. So I hope that Greenpeace is right. I’m a little bit skeptical that it will actually accomplish that, but it’s part of my job as an analyst to look carefully at the numbers and see what I think.

GELLERMAN: It’s hard to believe that Germany would make this kind of decision thinking it was going to jeopardize their industrial society.

GADOMSKI: When you look at something like this, you need to sort of examine the decision through what I call a steep analysis. And the steep analysis, it means look at the social, technological, economic, environmental and political components of the decision. In making those decisions, however, they’re creating some additional environmental and economic problems.
The price of electricity is one of the highest it is in Europe and we had forecast that it would increase it by six percent just as a result of closing down the seven nuclear power plants, and that further closure of nuclear power plants would add to the cost of electricity. There’ll be a lot of people who will be come unemployed by closing down those nuclear power plants and there are also going to be creating some environmental issues, possibly an increase CO2 emissions.

GELLERMAN: Are the German people going to - you know - ante up?

Frankfurt by night. Electricity in Germany is twice as expensive as in France, which depends largely on nuclear energy, and closing reactors will further raise prices. (Wikimedia Commons)

GADOMSKI: Well, apparently, it’s again, where do the priorities of the German people lie? Do the German priorities lie in spending less money for electricity, or in going green and doing away with nuclear? Apparently public support is very favorable in Germany for the decision, so apparently we can conclude then that they are more concerned with going forward in a green, non-nuclear way, than with spending less money for electricity.

We did a survey of those countries which had nuclear power, and were planning nuclear power, in the immediate week following Fukushima disaster and we saw, by and large, most of the countries were going to maintain and stay the course. However, as this situation in Fukushima continues to be more messy and continues to drag on, we’re seeing support for nuclear power starting to erode.

GELLERMAN: What about the United States?

GADOMSKI: Well the United States is a very, very surprising case. Most people don’t realize that there are five nuclear power plants under construction in the United States and we had forecast in the immediate wake of Fukushima that five of those nuclear power plants will be completed by 2020. How successful those plants are completed, i.e. on budget, on schedule, will sort of suggest whether or not there will be an additional second wave of nuclear power plants under construction in the United States.

GELLERMAN: Well Chris, thank you very much, I really appreciate it.

GADOMSKI: It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to chat and I wish the Germans the best of luck going forward and I hope that they are very successful going forward with their renewable energy future.

GELLERMAN: Chris Gadomski is lead nuclear analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

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Will Jerry Brown Shift California Cap and Trade?

GELLERMAN: Well, to address the threat of climate change, California has adopted the toughest laws in the nation. Most of the carbon emission reductions come from rules requiring more renewable energy, more fuel-efficient cars and cleaner gas.
But the centerpiece of California’s carbon clean up effort is supposed to come from the marketplace - a carbon cap and trade mechanism - so companies can buy and sell emission credits. But that centerpiece is under threat -- and not just from the folks you might expect. Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports.

LOBET: Since California adopted the cap and trade portion of its climate law, there's a new Governor in town, Jerry Brown. Five months into his term Brown is still tied up with nightmare budget scenarios. But when he does turn his attention to climate, he'll have influence: the rule isn't final yet, and the Air Resources Board that is writing the rules serves at his will. Bill Magavern, director of Sierra Club California, hopes the Governor will use his broad discretion.

MAGAVERN: There is no reason why the past hand of Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to continue to guide California's global warming policy.

California Governor Jerry Brown could still influence the state’s cap and trade regulation. But he may wait till the state's budget woes are alleviated. (Office of the Governor)

LOBET: The Sierra Club has two main gripes with cap and trade the way it's written. In the early years of the market, supposed to begin next January, most of the allowances are to be given away to businesses – not sold. The Sierra Club says Brown could recast the model by charging for these permits.

MAGAVERN: You have a windfall for big oil companies who are already making billions and billions of dollars in profits. So at a time when the state is broke, why would be we giving money away to oil companies?

LOBET: The second issue concerns what happens when a business decides it cannot afford, in a given year, to make improvements that lower emissions. The business can, of course, purchase allowances from other companies. But they have another option Magavern considers a major loophole. They can also purchase allowances from timber firms who grow trees, sequestering carbon in forests.

MAGAVERN: Logging companies could clearcut forest in California and then replant them and say that they were offsetting carbon pollution, which would be the wrong thing for the climate and definitely the wrong thing for California’s forests and streams and habitat.

Bill Magavern directs Sierra Club California (Sierra Club)

LOBET: The group that wrote the rules sees it differently: it's maximizing carbon in the forest, not conservation, that's the goal. And the chief of the California Air Resources Board says there won't be any reward for clear-cutting.
There are other critiques that come from grassroots environmental groups. They’ve long worked to restrict cap and trade. Angela Johnson Meszaros represents several mostly small groups of residents who live close to heavy industry. At first they saw the law as a once in a lifetime opportunity to improve conditions for communities who already have high aggregate exposure to pollutants.

JOHNSON-MESZAROS: It is the place where the interests that I care about are overlapping with what the mainstream environmental community cares about. The impacts of fossil fuel from extraction, to refining, to use, to disposal, are a key part of the negative impacts in a lot of the communities I care about. And if people want to address fossil fuel usage because they are concerned about carbon, I’m all for it.

LOBET: Thirty-three million Californians live with unhealthy air. In most places the air is improving. But pollution is still severe in the Los Angeles basin and other places. Large plants, like power plants and refineries, are responsible for 40% of the pollution. Since things you do to reduce carbon dioxide emissions tend to reduce the dangerous pollutants as well, Johnson was hopeful that the climate law would mean no new plants in poor neighborhoods and maybe that existing plants would have cleaner smokestacks.

JOHNSON-MESZAROS: The way it actually rolled out was, we’re not going to actually change the way we make and use energy in dealing with the climate crisis. We're not going to deal with how do we change our energy mix; we're just going to keep siting fossil fuel energy plants.

LOBET: So the residents sued the State of California saying it hadn't followed its own environmental impact law. A Superior Court judge agreed and ordered the State to stop work on cap and trade while it shows how it arrived at its decisions. But it’s unclear what effect the court order has. The Air Board says it hasn't stopped working on anything and is appealing. Stanley Young at the Air Resources Board defends the agency and says the lawsuit leaves the wrong impression.

YOUNG: We have worked hard to clean up the major sources of pollution in those communities. Many of which are down in the ports, we have cleaned up the diesel engines, we're cleaning up diesel trucks, we're cleaning up railroads and rail yards, so we are working hard to address the concerns of low-income communities.

LOBET: Firms that represent industry are closely watching these challenges. Jon Costantino now works for Manatt, one of those firms. But four years ago, he found himself in a key place at a key moment. California had passed its climate change law. Part of his job was to staff up the new climate division at the Air Resources board.

Jon Costantino, now of Manatt, shepherded climate change planning for the Air Resources Board early in the process. (Photo: Manatt)

COSTANTINO: I was one of the first three hires and I had the title of Manager of Climate Change Planning.

LOBET: He also had to oversee the creation of the gigantic plan that spelled out how the eighth largest economy in the world would ratchet down on carbon. Costantino says capping carbon and allowing the largest emitters to trade, really is the best plan.

COSTANTINO: Without cap and trade, AB 32 is what California has been doing for 30 years: energy efficiency, cleaner cars, more efficient houses. And so the reason cap and trade is important is it was going to be the first time an economy-wide market-based program was put into place. It brings in banks; it brings in the offset providers, there’s a lot more investment and interest. It really widens the field of people who care about this program.

LOBET: If Costantino sounds like he's talking about a program that's dead, he doesn't mean to. He believes it is very much alive.

COSTANTINO: It is strictly a timing issue, and, as long as ARB can get the work done this summer to finalize the regulation by fall, then the program will start up maybe by January, maybe be slightly delayed.

LOBET: And if it's only a delay, heavy industry can continue to plan for the carbon constrained California they'd begun to expect. For Living on Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.

Related links:
- California Air Resources Board cap and trade page
- 2011 Calendar for climate change regulation in California
- California climate law-related articles by Jon Costantino
- Angela Johnson Meszaros blog
- Superior Court Judge Goldsmith May 2011 order enjoining ARB

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[MUSIC: George Benson “California Dreaming” from CTI: The Master Collection (CTI Records/Sony Music 2003).]
GELLERMAN: Just ahead -– the dangers of trying to defend the Amazon forest. Keep listening to Living on Earth!
[CUT AWAY MUSIC: Gil Scott Heron: “Rivers Of My Fathers” from Winter In America (TVT Records 1974). R.I.P. Gil Scott Heron (4/1/49 – 5/27/11).]

Environmental Activists Murdered in the Amazon

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria supported their family by tapping rubber trees in Brazil’s vast Amazon forest. They were modest peasants, but giants among environmentalists- working to preserve the vital ecosystem.

The couple knew their forest activism put their lives in danger. Six months ago Jose Claudio, or Ze Claudio as he’s known, gave this Ted Talk in Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon:

CLAUDIO (Speaking in Portuguese): I live from the forest and I will protect her by any means. For this I may have a bullet in my head at any time. I stand up, I denounce the loggers, and for this they think that I cannot exist. I can be here today talking with you and a month from now you know what could happen to me - disappeared.

Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva speaks at a Ted Talk in Manaus, Brazil.

GELLERMAN: On May 24th, Ze Claudio and his wife Maria were murdered. Christian Poirier is Brazil Program Coordinator for Amazon Watch.

POIRIER: Ze Claudio was gunned down in the Eastern Amazonian state of Para. He was gunned down because of his work to protect the forest, the forest he depends on for his survival.

GELLERMAN: Do they know who did it?

POIRIER: They believe it was two assassins who came up alongside he and his wife. They found 15 shell casings on the area where he was murdered. They were on their motorcycles at the time and the assassins actually cut off the ear of both he and his wife to take these items back to the people who hired them.

GELLERMAN: So it was a contract killing.

POIRIER: Definitely.

GELLERMAN: Just a few days after they were murdered, another environmental activist was murdered in the western state of Rondonia in Brazil.

POIRIER: There was…there were two murders, actually. There was one high-profile murder of the leader of the Corumbiara Farmer’s Movement in Rondonia, Adelino Ramos, and another farmer who was allied with Ze Claudio and his wife, Eremilton Pereira all in the space of four days. They were all environmental activists.

Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria were rubber tappers and depended on a healthy standing forest for their livelihoods.

GELLERMAN: The government, the federal government has announced a special investigation, but it has an awful track record, both in preventing assassinations in this part of the Amazon, and finding out who did it.

POIRIER: Indeed. Of the 1,150 activists like Ze Claudio and Chico Mendez before him who have been killed in the Amazon since 1988, fewer than 100 of these cases have gone to court. Of these 100 cases, about 80 of the hired gunmen have been convicted, and 15 of the men who hired them have been found guilty. But of those 15, only one is serving a sentence today. And this is the man who is responsible for ordering the slaying of Dorothy Stang, the American nun who fought to protect the forests in the state of Para.

GELLERMAN: I’ve been to this area, it’s a vast frontier, and it’s kind of like the wild west.

POIRIER: In fact, yes, there’s even a word in Portuguese faroeste the use that same sort of terminology to talk about this lawless region. I would say we could consider this a full-fledged assault on the Amazon and its protectors.

GELLERMAN: I understand that the murder of Ze Claudio and his wife Maria took place just a few hours before the lower house of Brazil’s congress passed a very controversial change to Brazil’s forest code.

POIRIER: I would definitely say that this was not a coincidence - that the murder of these activists, these forest guardians, coming on the same day as a massive weakening to Brazil’s forestry code, sends a signal to all those who are trying to protect the forest, that they will be met with the same level of violence and impunity. The change to the forestry code is quite significant.

What was once a protection of Amazonian agricultural parcels, that mandated 80 percent of the forest remains standing, brings that particular protection down to 20 percent, and not only that it opens up very sensitive environments like hillsides and riverbeds that allows the planning of exotic plant species, often GMO crops like eucalyptus on what was once native forest land. And it also potentially opens up an amnesty for those who forested illegally previously. When this change was introduced in the Congress, we have witnessed a spike of over 400 percent in deforestation in the Amazon.

Valuable Amazon trees are cut and sold for timber. The rest are burned to clear the land for cattle and soy. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

GELLERMAN: You know deforestation was way down last year.

POIRIER: Brazilian government has done a very effective job of implementing - fairly good reforms in terms of their monitoring of deforestation. But I would also say that the lessening of deforestation, in large part because of the world economic crisis, where you saw the reduction in the cost of commodities that have driven deforestation all along- as you see the rise in commodity prices, you’re going to see the rise in deforestation.

Beef and soy and timber are probably the three top commodities that are coming out of the Amazon and driving the process for deforestation.

GELLERMAN: Before you go, I want to play a piece of tape from Ze Claudios appearance at the Ted Conference in Manaus, Brazil, and, it’s quite inspirational.

CLAUDIOS (Speaking in Portuguese): I am afraid, but my fear won’t make me quit. As long as I have the power to walk, I will denounce all those who are harming the forest. These trees that we have in the Amazon are my sisters. When I see one of these trees on a truck going to a sawmill, it gives me pain. It is as if you were watching the funeral procession, carrying the most cherished friend you have, because it is life.

Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva

POIRIER: Well we can see that Ze Claudio, his allies and people who came before him like Chico Mendez and Dorothy Stang are all we have left between the forest and those who wish to destroy it. We have seen that they can be cut down like the very trees that they stand to protect. And, they can be cut down in a land of lawlessness and impunity, in a land without any government protection. The government turns a blind eye on these crimes, again and again.

GELLERMAN: Well, Christian Poirier, thank you so very much.

POIRIER: Thank you, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Christian Poirier is the Brazil Campaigner at Amazon Watch.

Related links:
- Amazon Watch
- Article on murder in the Amazon

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Wet Fields Prevent Corn Planting

GELLERMAN: Midwest farmers have a saying - their corn should be knee high by the fourth of July to ensure a good crop come harvest time. Well, farmers in Ohio and Indiana will have to be very short for that old saying to come true this year. Drenching rains in May left fields too soggy to plant corn seed in those states, and the fallout could be worldwide. Joining me from Ames, Iowa is Chad Hart. He’s a professor of Agricultural Economics at Iowa State University. Professor, welcome to Living on Earth.

HART: My pleasure to be here.

GELLERMAN: So, the saying about corn being knee high, is that true?

HART: Sort of true, now they’d like it to be even taller.

GELLERMAN: They want it to be even taller - how high is it in Ohio and Indiana right now?

HART: Well, in Ohio and Indiana right now, the problem is actually getting the seed in the ground. We’ve had a significant weather problems, delays, and when the fields are too soggy, you can’t get the tractors out there to plant the crops. They are well behind what they’d normally like to see planted.

GELLERMAN: And we’re talking about field corn here, this is not sweet corn-on-the-cob.

HART: That’s correct. In this case, this is field corn, so this is used for mainly either livestock feed or for ethanol production.

GELLERMAN: So in Ohio and Indiana, at what point is it too late to plant corn for the season?

HART: Well, it depends. Agronomically, by the plant itself, they could still be planting into June. The issue though is that a plant will yield less corn the later it is planted. What farmers are looking at right now is, they could still plant the corn and get a reduced yield, they could shift to another crop, potentially soybean, or they could take their ‘prevented planting payment’ if they’ve purchased crop insurance. So, in this case, the crop insurance that producers can buy, has coverage in cases like this, when it’s too wet to plant in a timely manner, and you can receive an insurance payment.

GELLERMAN: So what is the price of corn going for right about now?

HART: For the crop that is being planted right now, it’s being priced in the $6.50-$7.50 per bushel range. The record is almost $8.00, and so we’re about a dollar off that. But historically, we’re more used to $2.50-$3.00 per bushel.

GELLERMAN: Whoa! So producers of this corn can really make a killing in this market!

HART: This year it looks very good. In this case, their costs of production per bushel is probably four to four and a half dollars per bushel.

GELLERMAN: Well, what’s good for the producers is not necessarily what’s good for the buyers.

HART: No, in fact that’s the deal. As you look at these prices, it makes the usage of that corn that much more expensive.

GELLERMAN: How fierce is the competition between ethanol producers and livestock feeders?

HART: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily fierce, it’s just the idea that when each individual is looking to make that purchase - they all have to figure out, at what price level are they willing to chase this corn at? So far, we’re seeing that they’re willing to pay significantly high prices to obtain that corn.

GELLERMAN: How does that translate to food prices for, well, for me?

HART: For food prices for us, it does have an impact. Arguably with corn, it does take some time to occur, since it is a feed for our cattle, our hogs, our chickens. Eventually these higher corn prices are higher feed costs, which show up as higher livestock prices, which eventually show up as higher meat prices. But, when we look at the overall cost of the farm products going into our food - it’s actually still relatively small. About for every dollar that you spend at the grocery store, 15-16 cents is what’s going back to pay for the farm product in that food.

GELLERMAN: The United States is the world’s number one producer of corn?

HART: Yes we are, we produce about 40 percent of all of the corn worldwide.

GELLERMAN: So what happens here, really does make a difference in the rest of the world.

Corn in Illinois. (Photo: Brandi Korte, Flickr Creative Commons)

HART: It does. When you look at corn trade throughout the world, as I say we’re 40 percent of the production, but we’re roughly two thirds of all of the corn that’s traded between countries throughout the world.

GELLERMAN: So we’ve got these soggy fields in Ohio and in China and Europe they have droughts, and since this is an international market for corn, how is this going to play out worldwide?

HART: This is where, when we’re looking at food costs, they vary tremendously worldwide. Here in the United States, our food costs are much less tied to the cost of the commodities going into it. Our food costs are much more impacted by energy costs, by transportation costs, by labor and wage rates. In Africa, there’s a much more direct relationship between commodity prices and food prices.

GELLERMAN: It’s kind of amazing. You have a simple crop, corn, and it gets very complicated very fast.

HART: Well it’s an amazingly, what we call, versatile crop. It can be used in food, in our feed, in fuel, in fibers that means it has variety in values, and that typically means increased price.

GELLERMAN: So, in Ames, where you are right now, I don’t know how tall you are, but is the corn near your knee?

HART: Oh no! Most of the corn out here in central Iowa, I would say is probably three to four inches tall, but it will grow quite quickly over the next month.

GELLERMAN: I heard that corn can grow so quickly you can actually hear it.

HART: That’s what someone said. (Laughs.) I cannot say I’ve actually heard it but it does grow tremendously fast.

GELLERMAN: Well, Professor Hart, thank you so much.

HART: Thank you, sir.

GELLERMAN: Chad Hart is an Ag. Economist at Iowa State University.

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[MUSIC: Bob Dylan “Idiot Wind” from Blood On The Tracks (Sony Music 1974)].

Charting the Health of Coral in the Persian Gulf

GELLERMAN: If you were a coral reef you couldn’t find a harsher environment than the Persian Gulf. Surface water temperatures can reach near 90 degrees - and there's the world’s saltiest seawater- and intense coastal construction. No wonder an estimated 70 percent of all reefs in the Persian Gulf have died, and the remaining 30 percent are on the brink. But scientists believe those tenacious reefs that do remain may hold a valuable secret. Reporter Ken Shulman traveled to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, to learn more.


SHULMAN: A sixteen foot whaler carrying a team of divers plows through the choppy water off Saadiyat Island—a sandy landmass just north of Abu Dhabi city.


SHULMAN: The skipper counts down in Arabic and eyes his GPS as the boat nears its target: a coral reef some 30 feet below.

BURT: (On boat)… I’m going to get you to work on the tiles and I’m going to get some tissue samples for corals - it is cold…

SHULMAN: John Burt is a marine biologist at New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi. He and his team from the Environmental Agency-Abu Dhabi make quarterly visits to 10 reefs off the emirate. They want to chart the health of the corals here. But unlike reefs in other parts of the world, these corals have never had a checkup.

BURT: They were never properly documented, so part of what we’re going is setting a baseline, figuring out what the conditions of the reef are here now, so we can go back and look every three - five - ten years, and see are they improving, are they in decline. And then find what are the potential causes of those changes.

Charting the Health of Coral in the Persian Gulf
Photos by Reporter Ken Shulman and the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi.

SHULMAN: If you dive, or snorkel, or just watch animal planet, you know how vital coral reefs are. They cover less than one tenth of one percent of the ocean floor, but they host more than 25 percent of all marine species. In a healthy reef, the bright blue, green, and red hues come from a type of algae called zoxanthelle. These algae live in symbiosis with the coral. Through photosynthesis, they transform carbon into tasty sugars for their host. The corals get fed. The algae get a place to live. And everybody’s happy. Until they start feeling stressed.

AL HARTHI: What happens under stress is that due to different events, and in some cases temperature, the corals actually lose their zooxanthelle, or their algae. This causes coral bleaching in which you notice whitening of the coral.

SHULMAN: Suaad al Harthi is a scientist with the Environmental Agency-Abu Dhabi or EAD. She explains that coral bleaching occurs when sudden drops or spikes in temperature cause the zooxanthelle to produce toxins instead of glucose.

Sensing danger, the coral sheds the algae to save its skin. But it’s the skin that’s the problem. Bleaching leaves corals hungry. It also leaves them white, and dangerously exposed to sunlight. If the event is short lived, the coral can recover.

AL HARTHI: If the conditions of stress remain for long period it might then lead to their death and then they won’t actually be able to recover and they end up being overgrown by other things.

SHULMAN: Corals are under stress in every ocean on the planet. But the Gulf reefs have it tougher. In the tropics, water temperatures may drift a degree or two between winter and summer. Here they careen from the low fifties to the high nineties. Intense evaporation leaves these waters incredibly saline—so salty that most species don’t survive.


SHULMAN: One by one, four divers plunge into the wind wrinkled water. Half a mile away, on the shore of Saadiyat Island, battalions of construction cranes and earth movers shape the skeleton of what will become Abu Dhabi’s cultural center—a cluster of world class museums, resorts, and universities.


SHULMAN: After twenty minutes, the first diver returns. Ibrahim Abdullah is a former Army officer. He says human activity has also impacted the reefs here.

ABDULLAH: When they do the dredging, you know, the current this carries sediment and lands on top of the corals and sometimes they suffocate. Just like any other living creature, you cover them with sand, sediment, plastic, anything, they get suffocated.


SHULMAN: A second diver returns with a stack of ceramic tiles used to attract juvenile corals. Soon a third comes aboard with a monitor containing three months worth of temperature readings.


SHULMAN: Already reeling from a one - two El Nino punch in the late 90s, gulf corals took another a body blow last summer when water temperatures soared above 100 degrees and stayed there. The heat bleached much of the dominant species, a branched coral known as acropora. Yet the news today from the bottom is encouraging. According to EAD scientist Edwin Grancourt, the acropera here off Saadiyat are coming back.

GRANCOURT: The same species in other locations would die at these temperatures, so the coral reefs we have here in the Arabian Gulf are adapted to this extreme environment. So by the book coral reefs shouldn’t be here, for sure. But they are and they’ve adapted.

SHULMAN: Abu Dhabi may seem an unlikely environmental laboratory. The oil rich flamboyant emirate is barely as old as the global environmental movement. But Abu Dhabi is catching up. The Environmental Agency has a voice in most significant development decisions. Private corporations are also getting into the act.

Adil Albuainain is general manager of Dolphin Energy, a natural gas supplier which sponsored a comprehensive mapping project in the Gulf between 2004-2007. Dolphin Energy changed the course of its 200-mile gas pipeline from Qatar to help preserve reefs.

The branching acropora coral is the dominant species in the Arabian Gulf. (Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi)

ALBUAINAIN: During the project execution itself, during even the detail engineering of the pipeline, there were a number of revisions, a number of changes because the route the original route was going through a coral reef, and that has to be redirected and change the route just to make sure there is no damage to them.


SHULMAN: The EAD laboratory is sandwiched between a fish market and a jet-ski rental store on the Abu Dhabi waterfront. Inside, NYU’s John Burt places coral tissue samples from today’s dives in plastic jars. Later he’ll inspect each one for size, color, and texture. As corals normally spawn on the full moon, and with the full moon just three days away, he’ll also be on the lookout for eggs and sperm. The Canadian born scientist finds the corals in this Gulf astonishing.

BURT: A hot bath in your home is 40 deg Celsius. So when you’re talking about 38c and corals are living though it it’s a remarkable story in terms of the story it could tell us about climate change and its potential impacts, or non impacts on reef systems.

SHULMAN: The Environmental Agency researchers know that gulf corals are surviving in conditions that should kill them. But they don’t know how or why. The secret might lie in the proteins corals secrete to protect themselves during bleaching—an organic sunscreen in a new, long-lasting formula. It might be a new chapter in the relationship between corals and their zooxanthelle partners.

Whatever the elements, Burt and his colleagues believe the story, when written, could help reefs everywhere survive and prosper.


SHULMAN For Living On Earth, I’m Ken Shulman, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Related links:
- NYU Abu Dhabi Blog on the plight of the Coral Reefs
- Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi

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[MUSIC: Gil Scott Heron “Save The Children” from Pieces Of A Man (BMG Records 1971).]

GELLERMAN: Coming up – highways become skyways in the not too distant future. Stay tuned - it's Living on Earth!

ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Gilman Ordway - for coverage of conservation and environmental change. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Bela Fleck: “Sweet Pomegranates” from Rocket Science (e one Music 2011).]

“Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next”

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. 2000 years ago - all roads led to Rome. And while Rome wasn’t built in a day - today, it might not get built at all, because roads and riverways no longer dictate where cities are sited. It’s the highways in the sky that'll count, according to the authors of a new book "Aerotropolis: the Way We'll Live Next." It’s by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay. Greg Lindsay recently talked with Living on Earth's Steve Curwood.

CURWOOD: So what is the Aerotropolis?

LINDSAY: You know the idea of an aerotropolis is and you know it can mean either a city built from scratch if you’re China or India, or it can apply to the cities we already have, cities that are more connected globally to the other side of the world than they are to their own hinterlands. And, so you know, an aerotropolis can be, Dubai is an interesting example of a place that didn’t exist 20 years ago and only exists by the grace of air travel. Or it could mean a city like - in some ways - I think Dallas-Fort Worth is an example. There is a place - the notion of Dallas-Fort Worth didn’t exist until 1973 when the airport opened.

Air travel has changed the literal scope of our universe as it has made it possible for us to do things that were never possible even a generation or two ago. And I think in Europe that’s particularly more recognized.

There are some estimates that there’s a phantom suburb of a million people of London that basically commute from Spain and the Mediterranean on a weekly or daily basis. And that’s good for both the people who do it because they’re able to command those wages in London, and it’s an amazing thing for London, it makes London even more of a talent-bag, it makes that city even more vibrant and rich.

A plane lifts off from Ludhiana Airport in India. (Photo: Construction Week India)

CURWOOD: I gather this is a concept that was developed by you and Dr. John Kasarda, he teaches entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina. I think Dr. Kasarda sees this more as an airport that revolves around an urban layout, whereas you, Greg Lindsay, see this in broader terms, as a closer relationship with the air - something I think you’ve dubbed: ‘the instant age.’

LINDSAY: Yeah, I mean, one of the ideas that I wanted to sketch out in the book and sort of take Dr. Kasarda’s views a little more broadly, was really to sketch out how air travel underlies our daily lives more than we know.

I think most people tend to think of air travel as, you know, your annual holiday to Florida or California, when really you know that air travel has grown in the last 30 or 40 years into the mechanism that is globalization. I mean, it’s what delivers your iPad to your doorstep from China, it is what delivers increasing amounts of food from the other side of the world. It is this sort of whole system that has sprung up invisibly in the form of FedEx and UPS and others that support what we kind of think of as contemporary life.

Kasarda’s vision of the aerotropolis, so he imagines cities where the airport is the terminals are at the heart of the city and you can basically draw rings around it as functions that need to be close like cargo hangars are in the inner rings and then office parks and then so-on and so-on. That’s exactly what they’re sort of building in the middle of China right now. It’s fascinating.

CURWOOD: Now Greg, of all the cities that you’ve visited and studied in your research for this book, which one strikes you as the most compelling, or perhaps the most meaningful?

International planes parked at Dubai International Airport. (Dubai International Airport Media Center)

LINDSAY: I would say the most compelling to me was Dubai. And I don’t say this in a sort of sense that I enjoyed or I endorse it in some ways, but Dubai strikes me in many ways as the city of the future for good and for bad. And I think Americans should pay very close attention to it. Dubai basically remade itself as the crossroads of what’s being called the new Silk Roads - the trade routes that go from China to the Middle East, India and into Africa. This is sort of the navel of the world on the other side.
And I think it has repercussions for all of us because Dubai is a city that would not exist without America. Either because we kept them out, and also because our driving habit, our gasoline, basically paid for those towers to build. And so by our refusal to engage with those people on the opposite side of the world following 9-11, we basically left them to forge new connections between each other.

And as I touch upon in the book, you can trace those connections by their air routes. You can see how the Middle East has become a giant global air hub. You can see how these traders are moving back and forth through the region and I think it’s something we’ve missed. Too busy being focused on our McMansions and our wars.

CURWOOD: So Greg, what do these cities mean for the environment? You know, what about climate, what about peak oil? I know at this point, air travel is only about 2 percent of global CO2 emissions. On the other hand, it is two percent of global CO2 emissions.

LINDSAY: Well, you know, that’s an interesting thing. With cities, it really coming back to cities. That strikes me as the biggest challenge facing the world is, you know, cities are half of all people but they’re 70 percent of all electricity consumption. The built environment is the largest single source of CO2 emissions. I mean, it’s interesting.

You could look at the notion at the wave of city building, particularly around air travel and look at it as an ultimate negative, the thing that will finally push us over the edge, or, as a number of people have done, you can look at this opportunity to build it right this time. But, really, it comes back to the fact that we are going to double the urban footprint of the earth in the next 20 years and to me the larger question is, when it comes to peak oil and when it comes to climate change, is really the notion of globalism itself.

I just read a report by Greenpeace that the data centers, you know the kind used by Google and Facebook and everything else, is another two percent of all electricity consumption. And that doesn’t count the devices that we actually use. So whenever I read about or talk to people about that we need to cut back on travel, that we need to cut back on flying, the statistics show, you know, historically, that the more we communicate, the more we’re likely to fly.

Massimiliano Fuksas Architetto (New terminal at Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport in China.)

They’re not substitutes, they’re compliments. I do hope that in the case of aviation, that the next generation of biofuels can provide an answer, that we can basically scale this up because if we don’t, you know, I think we’re just going to see people fly regardless and pump increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

CURWOOD: So, how do you get people to go along with your view that the aerotropolis is the way that we’ll live next in a positive sense. I mean, my perspective of an airport and airplanes is that - what - on the airplane there is no leg room, there’s bad food, most people give out a groan when they think about going to the airport and dealing with the airport.

LINDSAY: Well I think the comedian Louis C.K. put it best when he did his classic sketch - you know - everything is amazing and nobody is happy. You know, you’re in a chair in the sky traveling at 600mph at 35,000 feet, I mean, you know, you can cross the country in six hours. Your scope of movement around the world is amazing, and we’re able to keep in touch with friends and family that we never had.

And we’re also able to do business on a scale - it allows people to really sort of market their skills and really engage with the world. I do a lot of flying and I still think that air travel is, at its core, something wondrous, something that is never achieved. It goes back to Icarus, it goes back to myth.

CURWOOD: How inevitable is the aerotropolis.

LINDSAY: Well, it depends on how you look at it. There’s a report that came out by McKinsey that I was just reading. It was called, sort of, ‘mapping the future of cities.’ McKinsey basically predicted that 100 cities by 2050, by 2025 actually, would have a third of all global growth. And the next five hundred would have the next third. So basically 600 cities would have two thirds of all growth going forward, and the rest sort of didn’t matter much, they were in the long tail.

And so you have leaders all over the globe right now, basically trying to figure out how to get their cities into the top 600, because otherwise, they see it as they don’t count. And those are the places that are sort of rushing to build these connections through the air. There will be these cities that are trying to force their way into the global trade route, force their way into becoming a world power, like a Dubai, which basically tried to present itself as an equivalent to London or New York in the span of 10 years. Those are the places that are sort of going to pursue this.

And I think it's easy for us in the United States to dismiss it and I think we fail to recognize to what lengths those aspiring to be, to live as comfortably as we do, will go to in an attempt to build themselves into world powers overnight.

CURWOOD: Greg Lindsay is co-author of “Aerotopolis, The Way We'll Live Next”. Thank you so much!

LINDSAY: Thank you for having me!

GELLERMAN: Greg Lindsay talking with Living on Earth's Steve Curwood.

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[MUSIC: Sushi Bar “Aeroplane” from Lounge (H Street Records 2008) .]

Living, Breathing Earth


GELLERMAN: The sounds of insects on a warm spring evening is music to the ear of composer Meira Warshauer. Warshauer's first symphony was inspired by insects and other sounds she heard in the rainforest of Peru, and her own backyard in South Carolina. The symphony has just been released on CD. Producer Aileen LeBlanc has this profile of the composer and her composition called "Living Breathing Earth."


WARSHAUER: I had been recording the cicadas and the backyard sounds and was listening really carefully to them I wanted to see what were the natural rhythms – what were the sounds that were around us. I was playing those over and over again - the recordings of the cicadas and the birds and the water and the rhythms of the cicadas really caught my ear. They have like a 21 second or so span of phrase – on the shaker it goes like….


WARSHAUER: Or with my mouth it goes


WARSHAUER: I was interested in the shape of that phrase - how it starts slowly and gets faster and then builds to the crescendo and then it has this glissando at the end. So I took that length and that energy rising and diminuendoing getting softer and let that be the arch of the phrasing of the first movement which is called Call of the Cicadas.

[MUSIC: Living Breathing Earth was performed by the South Carolina Philharmonic, conducted by Nicholas Smith, recorded live by Jeff Francis.]

WARSHAUER: Actually I asked myself – “what would Mr. Cicada do? What would he sound like if he had a whole orchestra to play like I have to play?” It wouldn’t just be high pitches and it wouldn’t just be those rhythms. What would it be? It certainly would be a broader pitch range from low to high and so I was able to bring in the basses and the low brass and… But I also wanted to give a sense of the summer air and the humidity and the thickness of that summer heat and so I had the oboes and bassoons…


WARSHAUER: Maybe it’s a mosquito, I don’t know but it's one of those insects that comes out when it’s really hot in the south and I associate it with this really thick wonderful hot air which I love - I’m from North Carolina and I love the summer heat.


WARSHAUER: The recordings in Peru were not as dramatic as the ones I had in my backyard. But what those recordings have is a richness of layers - so many different animals making their quiet contributions to an incredibly rich soundscape:


WARSHAUER: My family and I, when we went to Peru we stayed at a lodge right on the Tahuayo River and one night we went on a canoe ride down this the Tahuayo River. And it was a night with no moon – so all the stars were really bright –and not only the stars were twinkling in their dark background but along the sides were the fireflies.

So we had the stars twinkling and then the fireflies connecting the heavens really to the earth and then since we were on the river it didn’t stop at the earth because it was all reflected in the dark water below and it was so peaceful.


WARSHAUER: The third movement captures the energy of the butterflies as they are swirling around. By the side of the river there were these yellow butterflies that were in a pattern and of course the sun was shining on them and lighting up the water glistening there and it was really kind of sparkly sounding but I put it in the strings and just had them move really fast and very lightly.


WARSHAUER: I mean I hate to proselytize but, in this time, I feel it is so important for us to reconnect with how much we love this earth. I know everyone loves the earth. Who’s ever seen a child that doesn’t love to play outside?

Meira Warshauer’s cd is “Living Breathing Earth” on Navona Records.


WARSHAUER: We all come into life loving the earth and we need to wake up. So I hope this wakes us up. I hope it gives us comfort. I hope it gives us joy. I hope it lulls us to sleep in the second movement. I hope it wakes us up with wings in the third movement. I hope the first movement just makes us want to go outside and listen to all the weird and great stuff that there is and I hope that the last movement just inspires us and carries us forward.

GELLERMAN: Meira Warshauer’s symphony “Living Breathing Earth” was performed in this piece by the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Smith, and recorded by engineer Jeff Francis. Warshauer’s new CD is on Navona Records. Our sound portrait was produced by Aileen LeBlanc.

Related links:
- Slideshow: Living Breathing Earth Slideshow produced by Aileen LeBlanc
- For more information on the “Living Breathing Earth” CD, including how to order, go to Meira Warshauer’s website

Back to top

GELLERMAN: For more information and a slideshow, go to our website LOE dot org. And while you're online, check out our sister program, Planet Harmony. Planet Harmony welcomes all and pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at my planet harmony dot com.


GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation.Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Helen Palmer, Jessica Ilyse Smith, Ike Sriskanderajah, Mitra Taj and Jeff Young, with help from Sarah Calkins, Gabriela Romanow and Sammy Sousa. And we welcome a new intern this week - Anne-Marie Singh. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us anytime at L-O-E dot org - or on our facebook page, PRI's Living on Earth - and you can tweet us…on twitter - at livingonearth - that’s one word. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening!

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science. And Stonyfield Farm, organic yogurt and smoothies. Stonyfield invites you to just eat organic for a day. Details at just eat organic dot com. Support also comes from you, our listeners. The go forward fund. And Pax World Mutual and Exchange Traded Funds - integrating environmental, social, and governance factors into investment analysis and decision making. On the web at pax world dot com. Pax World, for tomorrow.

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