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

June 1, 2012

Air Date: June 1, 2012



Chemicals That Make You Fat

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Some researchers, including Bruce Blumberg of the University of California, Irvine, believe chemicals we’re unwittingly exposed to could be making us fat. Blumberg tells host Steve Curwood if the timing is right, chemicals may be instructing stem cells to become fat cells. (06:45)

Anticipating Rio +20

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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently vetoed portions of a controversial forest code and, in effect, postponed any final decisions until after Brazil hosts the Rio +20 environmental summit in June. Host Steve Curwood talks with Professor William Moomaw of The Fletcher School at Tufts University about how to make this conference more productive than previous environmental summits. (06:55)

DOE Looks for Orphan Wells / Kate Malongowski

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The federal government is pushing new efforts to deal with an old problem – abandoned oil and gas wells. In Pennsylvania, there may be as many as 100,000 orphan wells. If the wells were not sealed properly, they could explode. As The Allegheny Front’s Kate Malongowski reports, the government is using high-tech helicopters to find out where these wells are located. (06:45)

The Tale of the Missing Moose

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The rapid decline of the moose population in the northern Midwest has biologists worried. Host Steve Curwood talks to Seth Moore, the director of Biology and Environment for the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa. Moore says the warmer winters associated with our changing climate are probably related to moose survival rates. (06:55)

The Place Where You Live

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We continue the Living on Earth – Orion Magazine feature “The Place Where You Live” with an essay about the prairie. Linda Hasselstrom of Hermosa, South Dakota describes the wildlife that frequents her ranch pastures. (03:00)

Scientist Discovers New Stinky Flower Species / Ari Daniel Shapiro

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When it comes to the plant world, one person’s stinky, misshapen flower is another one’s charismatic bliss. Ari Daniel Shapiro reports on a botanist who went to Madagascar and returned with a new species of the smelly corpse flower. (06:10)

Mr. Hornaday's War

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William Temple Hornaday was an early environmental crusader. Biographer Stefen Bechtel tells host Steve Curwood how the 19th century taxidermist and hunter transitioned into an outspoken defender of the natural world. (09:30)

Earth Ear

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The Greater Anglewing is an insect that’s a master of disguise – it looks just like a leaf. (01:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Bruce Blumberg, William Moomaw, Seth Moore, Stefan Bechtel
REPORTERS: Kate Malongowski, Ari Daniel Shapiro
COMMENTATOR: Linda Hasselstrom


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


CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood - new research shows common man-made chemicals can make us fat.

BLUMBERG: Our research suggests that prenatal or early life exposure to such chemicals can reprogram the metabolism so that they use calories differently. Our prenatally exposed mice get fatter on an absolutely normal diet.

CURWOOD: But that early exposure may not equal destiny. Plus, the search for lost and forgotten oil wells that might still hold nasty surprises.

HAMMACK: An abandoned well, if it's not properly plugged, provides a conduit for gases to come to the surface. These gases could be, of course, methane, natural gas, or something like radon.

CURWOOD: And the gases can make you sick or blow up your house. We'll have those stories, plus another visit to The Place Where You Live - and more, this week on Living on Earth, stick around!

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


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Chemicals That Make You Fat

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

So, why are so many of us getting fat? A majority of Americans are overweight and a third of us are medically obese. Sedentary lifestyles, easy access to calories, inadequate sleep and our genes - they're all factors.

But Bruce Blumberg of the University of California, Irvine, is among a small group of researchers who have found prenatal exposures to common chemicals could be programming us to get fat. Professor Blumberg joins us today, and, Professor, you may have coined a new term. Where did you come up with the word “obesogen”?

BLUMBERG: Well, to be perfectly honest, when we were writing our story about the chemical that we worked on - tributyltin - it seemed absolutely obvious to us that a chemical that makes animals fat should be called an obesogen, and I didn't realize it wasn't a word.

CURWOOD: What is that chemical, by the way?

BLUMBERG: Tributyltin is a chemical that used to be used on ship hulls and it’s used as a fungicide in paints, and it keeps marine life and fungus from growing on various surfaces. We found, accidentally, that tributyltin makes animals fat.

CURWOOD: Now, this tributyltin, this fungicide, is not the only compound that we know can make animals fat, correct?

BLUMBERG: No, there is a variety of chemicals that can make animals fat.

CURWOOD: What might be familiar to us?

BLUMBERG: Well, one of the strongest lines of evidence that there are chemical obesogens is that there are pharmaceutical obseogens. There are drugs, which make people fat. For example, Actos and Avandia are diabetes drugs that improve your insulin sensitivity, but also make you fat. There’s another antipsychotic drug called olanzapine that makes people gain about 10 kilograms a year. Many kinds of antidepressants make people gain weight. And our premise is that if there are drugs that make people fat, why would you expect that a chemical that targets the same pathway in a cell, wouldn't have the same effect?

CURWOOD: So, what are the broader implications of your discoveries?

BLUMBERG: Well, the broader implications are that it isn’t strictly calories in, calories out that is causing people to become fat. We already know that there are a variety of factors. But what our research and the research in other laboratories suggests that prenatal and early life exposure to obesogens can reprogram the metabolism of the individual that’s exposed, so that they use calories differently. Our prenatally exposed mice get fatter on an absolutely normal diet.

CURWOOD: Professor Blumberg, you are finding that exposures to a pesticide are programming animals to be fat throughout their lives. What can you tell us about what’s happening in the body that’s causing this? I mean, do the animals become super hungry?

BLUMBERG: Okay, so as far as we know, there are no big changes in appetite. We’ve seen in our experiments more and larger fat cells. And we’ve seen a population of stem cells that is more predisposed to make more fat cells. That’s with tributyltin.

CURWOOD: And so, what’s happening is that these stem cells are getting instructions from these chemicals to become fat cells and don't become bone or muscle or the other thing.

BLUMBERG: That’s the way it looks. So you’re getting the direct instruction to become a fat cell, but you’re also getting the different kind of instruction that says: this group of you are gonna be more likely to form a fat cell than a bone cell. That doesn’t mean that I can’t override it but in the absence of extra instructions, you’re going to go down the fat pathway.

CURWOOD: So, there’s a two-tiered process here. One is sort of a pre-selection process, sort of nominating cells…chemicals nominate a cell to become a fat cell, and then the chemicals can also then promote that pre-fat cell into a true fat cell.

BLUMBERG: That’s correct.

CURWOOD: I guess one of the most vexing aspects of this is that you’re seeing these effects at levels that are below what the government considers the ‘no effects’ level at the nano-scale. I mean, you really have to listen at a whisper to what’s going on.

BLUMBERG: Yes. So we see effects at very low levels, but as endocrinologists that’s not surprising at all. So, the endocrine hormone systems in your body already work at very, very low levels. So the testosterone receptor and the estrogen receptor and the thyroid hormone receptor work at parts per billion levels of the hormone.

So, it isn’t a big surprise that chemicals have an effect at the same level. That to an endocrinologist is just absolutely expected. To an industry toxicologist who’s used to working at astronomical doses of a chemical, they can’t wrap their minds around the facts that we’re seeing effects at parts per billion. And it’s a difference in training and in world view.

CURWOOD: So, how reversible are these results? Once the animals have had the exposure and developed the fat cells, how can they get rid of them?

BLUMBERG: So, we don’t know of any way to eliminate the number of fat cells. And, in fact, in humans the number of fat cells that you have as an adult is programmed pretty much by the end of puberty. So your body knows how many fat cells it’s supposed to have based on your early life experiences. And your body will defend that number. And when fat cells die, it will replenish just the right number. So, if you have liposuction and remove some of those adult fat cells, they’ll come back. They might not come back in the same place, but your body will replenish that number of cells.

CURWOOD: Does your research mean that if we are being exposed to obesogens and if they are having an effect in humans that, in essence, these effects are irreversible? That no matter how much somebody exercises or eats right, that they’ll never get to lower body weights?

BLUMBERG: No, it doesn’t mean that at all. What it means is that the person who’s been exposed is going to have to work harder. But, I would never, ever say that obesogen exposure dooms you to be fat. What it does is it dooms you to be predisposed. So it dooms you to have a metabolism that tends to store calories more effectively then to burn them. That means that you have to watch what you eat more, you have to exercise more, you have to try harder than someone who has not been exposed.

CURWOOD: Bruce Blumberg is professor in the School of Developmental and Cell Biology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of California at Irvine. Thank you so much, sir.

BLUMBERG: You’re welcome.

Related links:
- Blumberg Lab at UC Irvine
- EHP Article on Obesogens
- New Study in EHP on Chemicals BPA and BADGE, Fat Cell Differentiation
- Michael Skinner Lab at WSU – Effects That Last Generations

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[MUSIC: Various Artists/No Noise “Karma Shabda” from Chakra Lounge (Twilight Music 2001).]

Anticipating Rio +20

CURWOOD: The Brazilian Congress recently passed a bill that would reduce protection of forests in the Amazon. So activists appealed to President Dilma Rousseff.

Brazil’s most popular cartoon characters were enrolled to call for a forest code veto. (Photo: Divulgação)

SCHWARTZMAN: Now, you had everybody from the Brazilian Academy of Sciences to, literally, the Brazilian equivalent of Bugs Bunny saying ‘veto this bill. We are against more deforestation in the Amazon and this bill is going to cause that. ‘

CURWOOD: Steve Schwartzman is director of Tropical Forest Policy for the Environmental Defense Fund. Environmental groups, scientists, and a groundswell of the Brazilian public all called for the president to veto the entire bill. In the end, she struck down 12 individual clauses of the new code with a line item veto. The most controversial clause would have given amnesty to all landowners that illegally deforested before 2008.

President Dilma modified the bill to only give only that amnesty to small landowners. But Steve Schwartzman says if any illegally deforested areas are still being used for agriculture, they wouldn’t have to be reforested.

SCHWARTZMAN: The best analyses that I’ve seen are suggesting that upwards of 90 percent of those illegally deforested lands from before 2008 are really not going to be required to do anything.

CURWOOD: Also at issue: the green corridors along the many rivers of the Amazon Basin that are crucial for species to travel between pockets of rainforest surrounded by soy and cattle. Congress called for just 30 feet of forestland near rivers, but President Dilma increased that to more than 300 feet.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently vetoed 12 clauses of the forest code passed by congress. (Wikimedia Common)

Now, all of the president’s changes will go back to Brazil’s Congress, giving the legislators the chance to accept or override the line item vetoes. Observers say not much is likely to happen with the Forest Code legislation until after the more than 50,000 representatives of government, non-governmental organizations, and others gather in Brazil late in June for the Rio +20 Earth Summit.

[MUSIC: Various Artists/Bossacucanova “Eu Quiero Um Samba” from Traveler 06 (Six Degrees Records 2006) .]

CURWOOD: Well, in advance of the upcoming Rio +20 Conference, William Moomaw has published an article in the journal Climate Policy that outlines a different approach to the challenge of climate change.

William Moomaw (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

He's a professor of environmental international relations at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, and a lead author of several climate science chapters for reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He says an alternative approach is necessary in a world that has plenty of economic problems and different national interests. Professor Moomaw, thanks for coming in to the studio.

MOOMAW: Thank you.

CURWOOD: It's been 20 years since people gathered in Rio, said we should have a climate change treaty, we got a treaty, the U.S. ratified it, and nothing has really happened since Rio. What went wrong? What should we have been doing all this time in terms of negotiating a climate treaty?

MOOMAW: Well, the treaty, as it’s designed, is really a pollution control treaty, and that leads negotiators to talk about burden sharing. Now, think about this for a moment: if I’m a negotiator and I go to a meeting on doing something about climate change and I come home and say to my government and my people, ‘I have brought a burden to share with you.’ That is not exactly a formula for success.


MOOMAW: And, in fact, the emissions are the result of the choices that we’ve made to build our economies by burning fossil fuels. So, what we really have is a development problem, and what we need is a development treaty to address it.

CURWOOD: So, what should we do instead in terms of developing a development treaty, as you say?

MOOMAW: Well, I think we really need to do is shift the focus away from where the commas go and who should do what and blaming other countries for the emissions, and realize that we are arguing a false dichotomy. We are saying that somehow more carbon dioxide emissions from burning more fossil fuels equals more economic wellbeing. In this paper we quote five world leaders and they all say things like, ‘We can’t do more because it would cut development potential. It would cost our jobs and damage our industry.’

Now, those comments come from people from developed countries and developing countries. Our own George Bush the first, who was at Rio 20 years ago basically said, ‘Our lifestyle is not up for negotiation.’ So, basically, everybody is seeing more emissions as tied to more economic growth and that’s not really true. Most of Western Europe produces as much GDP per person as we do. They do it with half the emissions that we do.

CURWOOD: How would you frame this as an opportunity for all countries instead of a burden to be avoided? How would it be an opportunity?

MOOMAW: The opportunity to make something new, to develop whole new industries, would transform the economies of the world into something that is far more productive. And if we actually set as a goal, as this paper suggests, the provision of clean energy services for all- that’s a huge market. It’s an enormous market that would probably keep our economies running for the next 50 years. That would get us over the climate problem, and I think that it would also get us over our economic problem.

CURWOOD: What’s the role of big international agreements in dealing with climate change, in your view?

MOOMAW: Well, if we look at what the current treaty did was it got us on track. It basically said the governments of the world agree this is a huge problem and that we should address it. So, it’s motivational, it’s inspirational, perhaps, but it’s not going to get the job done. The job is going to be done at a much more local and regional level; it’s not going to be done by dictates from on top.

CURWOOD: So, things like the REDD, which is Reducing Emissions of Degradation and Deforestation – finding a way to get money in the hands of people to keep them from chopping down the tropics, those kinds of elements are what you are talking about?

MOOMAW: Yes. Those and those may come in a treaty, but they don’t need to be coming in a treaty. If you look at it right now, there’s a huge amount of money coming from the Prince of Wales and his foundation, money coming from Norway, not through the treaty, but separate from the treaty. And each of those is in the billions of dollars range. You know, it’s big!

Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood with Tufts University professor William Moomaw. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

We have the World Bank putting seven or eight billion dollars a year into various kinds of climate-focused development agreements. This system did not exist until fairly recently. And so we keep thinking in terms of this kind of traditional diplomacy, when in fact we’re into this new diplomacy which goes beyond just the role of national governments.

CURWOOD: The Rio +20 Summit…


CURWOOD:… at the end of June, what’s your best hope for what might happen there?

MOOMAW: I guess my best hope actually rests with the side events and not with the governmental portion of the meeting. That is, there will be a lot of really good ideas that will come out of that. The governments will meet for their three days; they will try to paper over the failure to get a climate treaty, among other things, and they will try to talk about some new way of looking at things that will make what we haven’t accomplished not look so bad.

There will be some governments that will be out there pushing hard. At the Durban climate meeting, for the first time, African countries lined up with small island states and basically said, ‘We’re not buying this argument that we have to wait around until the big polluters go first. We really need to see action soon.’ And so, I expect that the blocking countries – the United States, China, India – that are trying to undermine progress on this, some of the oil producing countries, will find themselves in a minority there.

CURWOOD: William Moomaw is professor of International Environmental Policy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Thank you so much for coming in, Professor.

MOOMAW: Thank you very much for having me.

Related links:
- Click Here for Our Recent Coverage of Changes to Brazil’s Forest Code
- Rio +20 Website

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[MUSIC: MUSIC: Various Artists/Bossacucanova “Eu Quiero Um Samba” from Traveler 06 (Six Degrees Records 2006).]

CURWOOD: Just ahead: searching for lost wells - and lost moose. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Doc Watson: “Stone’s Rag” from Foundation: The Doc Watson Instrumental Collection 1964 – 1998 (Sugar Hill Records 2000) R.I.P. Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson 3/3/1923 – 5/29/2012]

DOE Looks for Orphan Wells

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. For more than 150 years prospectors in the United States have drilled countless holes in the ground in search of oil and gas. Most of the resulting wells were sealed once they became unprofitable. But improperly sealed ones can lead to explosions and other hazards.

With the gas rush now underway in the Marcellus Shale in the Eastern U.S., the federal Department of Energy has made the search for so-called “orphan wells” a high priority. From the radio show The Allegheny Front, Kate Malongowski has our story.


MALONGOWSKI: At the Washington County Airport, a peculiar-looking helicopter is landing. It has two long poles branching out beneath each side, kind of like wings. After the propellers stop, Shane Seddon hops out of the helicopter and removes his helmet. As an operator, it’s his job to make sure the data is being taken in properly as he checks a screen from the cockpit.

SEDDON: It went good, no wind, smooth, no birds, no other planes.

MALONGOWSKI: Seddon is with Fugro Airborne Surveys, an international surveying group hired by the Department of Energy to look for abandoned wells in this part of Pennsylvania. The team will survey a portion of Washington County, where Marcellus shale drilling is expected to surge. He says the survey area is not very big.

SEDDON: It's 290 kilometers in total lines, like lengths, so, I think it’s maybe three or four square miles... it’s a lot of you just go in and tight turns and then fly right back and another tight turn and fly back.

MALONGOWSKI: The helicopter has special equipment mounted on long, white poles on either side. At the end of each pole is a white cylinder pointed at the ground. Inside, these canisters are essentially advanced metal detectors. They can pick up cars, natural metals like gold, or the metal casings found in abandoned oil and gas wells. Whenever the detector senses something magnetic, the data will be shown on a screen that Seddon is checking on during the flight.

SEDDON: I’m just looking at the raw data of what I see and if there’s an anomaly down there it’ll spike.

Kristin Carter of Pennsylvania’s Geological Survey tracks where oil and gas wells were developed. (Photo: Kate Malongowski)

MALONGOWSKI: The Department of Energy has used this type of technology out west and is now piloting the flyovers in Pennsylvania. Rick Hammack is a scientist with the National Energy Technology Lab and he’s in charge of the flyover project. 

HAMMACK: An abandoned well, if it’s not properly plugged, it provides a conduit for gases to come to the surface. These gases could be, of course, methane, natural gas, or something like radon. If wells aren’t known, if you build a house over the top of a well that’s not sealed, the well itself can provide a conduit for radon to come up and invade the basement or natural gas.

MALONGOWSKI: The first natural gas well in Pennsylvania was drilled in 1859. But the industry wasn’t regulated until 1956. That left almost a century’s worth of wells drilled, with little or no records of where they were located. It’s estimated there are more than 100,000 of these so-called “orphan wells” sitting in Pennsylvania. Left untreated, Hammack says houses built on top of these wells can become explosive.

Rick Hammack of the National Energy Technology Lab with an orphan well-detecting helicopter. (Photo: Kate Malongowski)

HAMMACK: Certainly, Pennsylvania has a long experience with houses that have exploded because of gases that have accumulated in peoples’ basements and have ignited.

[WTAE VIDEO FOOTAGE: We're also learning brand new information this morning as crews work to find out what caused an explosion at this house in West Mifflin. The explosion happened in the basement of this home around Blueberry Drive. It caused the ceiling to collapse...]

MALONGOWSKI: This explosion, as reported WTAE TV last year was actually caused by methane from an abandoned well. Fortunately, no one was home during this event, but others haven’t been so lucky. Fred Baldassare is a former DEP geologist who specialized in abandoned wells. He’s now a consultant who works on stray methane issues. On his laptop he carries a Powerpoint about some of the most serious abandoned well events he’s worked on. 

BALDASSARE: That used to be a two-story house and it go in through the water well, got into the house and it accumulated. The resulting explosion was three fatalities. Everybody in the home was killed.

MALONGOWSKI: Baldasarre says that with the Marcellus boom, drillers are more vigilant than ever about finding out where these wells are. 

BALDASSARE: It’s in their best interest and, oftentimes, they have farm-line maps, which are old maps which are handed down through the different oil and gas companies, that are maybe a little better than what the state has.

This geological survey map of Washington County, PA shows the sites of some wells. (Photo: Kate Malongowski)

MALONGOWSKI: But the state is keeping tabs on abandoned wells. Among those doing this is Kristin Carter of the Pennsylvania Geological Survey. At her Pittsburgh office, she leans over a table and points at a map. 

CARTER: This is the heart of what is the Washington-Taylorstown field. It’s a historic, large producing oilfield that was developed in the early to mid-20th century. There are a lot of well permits here that start with the number nine. 

MALONGOWSKI: Meaning, any well on the map that begins with nine are orphan wells. There are dozens of dots like this on the map, One problem with looking for wells, Carter says, is a lot of the metal casings used to detect these wells are gone. 

CARTER: Anecdotally we know that people removed as much steel as they could from the ground because they were using it for other things… the war effort and whatnot.

MALONGOWSKI: With the influx of drillers in the Marcellus Shale, there is even more of a need to locate these wells, hence, the helicopter. Again, Rick Hammack of the National Energy Technology Lab.

HAMMACK: Chances are in years to come that there will be Marcellus development in these areas, but we will already have flown, and we will know where the wells are by the time development reaches these areas.

MALONGOWSKI: Once they’re finished surveying, the data will be synced with video recordings taken from the helicopter, and results of this testing will be available after a three-month analysis. Meanwhile, back at the Washington County airport, Seddon returns to the helicopter for another flight.


MALONGOWSKI: It’s time to zig-zag across the county again, looking for more orphan wells. I’m Kate Malongowski.

CURWOOD: Our story on orphaned wells comes to us from the radio show The Allegheny Front.

Related links:
- PA Dept. of Environmental Protection’s Abandoned & Orphaned Well Program
- PA Geological Survey website
- PA’s Orphan Well Project
- The Allegheny Front, environmental radio for western Pennsylvania

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[Tom Verlaine “Eighty-Eights” from Around (Thrill Records 2006).]

The Tale of the Missing Moose

CURWOOD: An average moose stands five to seven feet high and weighs almost a ton. Moose have a very large presence in some of the northern reaches of the United States, and populations are increasing in parts of the Northeast. But recently, wildlife biologists in the Upper Midwest have noticed a severe drop in that region’s moose population.

Joining me from Grand Portage, Minnesota, is Seth Moore. He's the director of Biology and Environment for the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa in Minnesota.

MOORE: We've been seeing a longterm population decline since 1990. We’re seeing lower number of bulls compared to cows, we’re seeing fewer calves on the landscape. So, we’re trying to determine what the causes are for the population decline. We’re concerned that moose are going in the same direction as the polar bear populations in the arctic, and we hope that we can be effective before the population decline has gone too far.

CURWOOD: So, what kind of decline are we talking here? What kind of numbers?

Moose habitat; Grand Portage, Minnesota. (Photo: Flickr CC/eekim)

MOORE: It’s pretty significant. It’s over the longterm trend from 1990 to present it looks like about 65 percent of the population has declined. But the scariest thing is that in the most recent survey, one from this year, we showed surveys numbers down from 50 percent. So as a biologist, I have two independent pieces of information to indicate a significant drop in our local moose herd, and I so I need to really take this seriously.

CURWOOD: Now, you work for the Grand Portage band of Chippewa… why is the moose population so important to where you are?

MOORE: Moose are the primary subsistence species to the Grand Portage band. And so, as such, they really define the culture of the band. If we lose the moose population here, we’re losing part of the identity of the Grand Portage band of Chippewa. And so, for this reason, we’re working as hard as we can on this moose population issue, and it’s one of the highest priorities of the Grand Portage Fish and Wildlife Biology Department.

CURWOOD: So, let’s talk about weather and climate. The U.S. had a very mild winter overall. Here in the East, we barely had to lift a snow shovel. What was it like in the far northern Midwest?

(Photo: Flickr CC/Joe Knickmeyer)

MOORE: This last winter, we actually call this a non-winter. We had the lowest snow that we’ve seen in a long time. We didn't really have any cold temperatures, and one of the things about moose is that they’re adapted to a cold climate. So, in winter, moose tend to exhibit heat stress at 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Well, most of our winter was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, so these animals are stressed out for the entire winter.

We’ve also found here in Grand Portage that our moose populations are correlated with deeper late-winter snow depth. So, deeper late-winter snows means more moose on the landscape, and our Grand Portage weather data has indicated that since 1950, February and March average snow depth has declined by more than 50 percent. In addition to that, our August maximum temperature has increased by about five degrees Fahrenheit over that same time span.

CURWOOD: So, let’s talk about the different hypotheses that you have for what’s happening to the moose population. Heat is obviously one – or rather the lack of cold ¬– and how would that upset those animals?

MOORE: When moose exhibit heat stress, they actually start panting and bed down and really don’t feed at the rate that they need to, to produce calories or make their calves or make milk or even to sustain their own bodies during the winter months. So, heat stress itself is one issue.

Moose habitat. Lake Superior—Grand Portage, MN (Photo: Flickr CC/Doug Wallick)

There are three separate parasite issues that also affect moose that are related to climate change. One of which is when the snow melts early in the winter, ticks tend to survive. Whereas when we have deeper snow late in the winter, ticks tend not to survive. Winter ticks parasitize moose and cause moose to scrape their hair off during the winter. Sometimes tick loads can exceed 70,000 ticks on a given animal. And when this occurs, the moose is basically replacing its full blood volume in a matter of a couple of months.

The other two parasites that affect moose significantly are brain worms and liver flukes. Both of these are passed by deer, and our deer numbers are high because our winters are less severe. Winter is the population control for deer numbers in this area.

CURWOOD: In nature, and I think Isle Royale which is just offshore of where you are is a classic case of this…moose are held in check or held in balance with wolves.


CURWOOD: What’s happening there in Grand Portage with this with these wild fluctuations in the weather?

MOORE: The thing with wolf populations on the mainland versus Isle Royale is that our wolf populations are correlated significantly with our deer numbers. So when deer numbers are high, wolf numbers are also high. And so, even if wolves are mostly eating deer during their diet, when wolf numbers are high, they’re encountering moose more often, and so we’re also probably getting a little bit of increased predation by wolves, as well, just because deer numbers are high.

CURWOOD: What’s happening with the habitat there that might be affecting the moose?

MOORE: The habitat is changing. And I think that the habitat is changing partly because of the historic wildlife regime has changed and some of the historic logging practices have changed. Both wildfire and logging create new forage for moose that they need. Wildfire was the historic ecological mechanism that this has happened. Logging has replaced that. When wildfire sweeps through an area, it creates new forest. And in addition to that, it also reduces the tick numbers that affect the moose, as well, during the late winter.

CURWOOD: What interventions are you considering that could be implemented?

MOORE: We’re doing a couple of different things. We can reduce some of our wildfire suppression- and this will help control tick numbers and also help to produce young forest. And, the other thing that we can do as natural resource managers, is we can aggressively manage our deer herd to stabilize their population growth.

CURWOOD: Seth Moore is director of Biology and Management for the Grand Portage Band of the Chippewa in Minnesota. Thank you, sir.

MOORE: Thank you. It was great to be here.

Related links:
- Learn more about the moose population in Minnesota
- Listen to Dr. Seth Moore talk about all things Minnesota wildlife related on his regular radio spot for WTIP's A.M. Community program.

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[MUSIC: Various Artists/Charlie Parker “Moose The Mooche (Quantic Remix)” from Re-bop: The Savoy Remixes (Savoy Jazz 2010).]

The Place Where You Live

CURWOOD: This week, we have another installment of the Living on Earth – Orion Magazine occasional series “The Place Where You Live.”
[MUSIC: Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes “Home” from Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes (Rough Trade Records 2009).]
CURWOOD: Home, home on the range. As the song says, it’s where the deer and the antelope play. And while most of us don’t live on the prairie, it holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Americans.

Writer Linda Hasselstrom on the hillside near her ranch. (Photo: Jerry Ellerman)

HASSELSTROM: My name is Linda Hasselstrom, and I’m from Hermosa, South Dakota. Home to me is the prairie. I’ve lived a number of other places, and I'm really grateful for having lived in town because it gives me a better perspective on what I value and on why people in town don’t necessarily understand why the prairie is worthwhile.

But the prairie is home to me because of the wildlife, because there’s always something new to see. There’s always a sunrise, there’s always a sunset, there’s always weather, there’s always animals doing things that give me hope, particularly if I’m fool enough to read the newspaper headlines.

[MUSIC: Junior Mance: “Home On The Range” from Letter From Home (JunGlo Music 2011).]


This is where Linda saw the antelope playing. (Photo: Linda Hasselstrom)

On a late afternoon we sit on the deck looking over one of our ranch pastures. With a flash of white, a pronghorn doe unfolds from the grass and stands, her creamy belly contrasting her black chest chevrons.

Cows on the ranch. (Photo: Linda Hasselstrom)

Then an antelope calf leaps up. Another! A third! One begins to nurse while two hurtle around the hill, butting, kicking. Their legs are so long beneath their tiny bodies they look like daddy longlegs. Eventually all three nurse the doe, jostling.

As dusk falls, the doe and her babies slowly fade from sight. We know the calves lie hidden under grass clumps.

The view from Linda Hasselstrom’s deck. (Photo: Linda Hasselstrom)

Only after a mild winter will a pronghorn doe have three calves – a reminder that everything I’ve observed in sixty years of living on this short grass prairie is a tiny fragment of all there is to see and know. How can I explain my love of the prairie? How can I pass my knowledge on? This love arises from the taut line of a running antelope’s back, from the lush promise of the redtop grass that sustains her. She perpetuates the prairie by living here. So do I.

A few days later, a hailstorm with icy stones as large as hens’ eggs pounds the garden and hayfields into coleslaw. Two flocks of ducklings on the pond below the house vanish completely. At dusk on the hillside, we see one antelope doe, one calf. Did the others die in the storm? We never see them again.

CURWOOD: Author Linda Hasselstrom lives in Hermosa, South Dakota. She writes about ranching and the environment and hosts writing retreats. Tell us about “The Place Where You Live.” To find out about the Living on Earth – Orion Magazine series and how to post your essay, go to our website LOE dot org.

Related links:
- Tell us about The Place Where You Live. Directions for posting are on the Orion Magazine website. Some of the essays will be chosen for broadcast on Living on Earth.
- Information on Linda Hasselstrom’s Windbreak House Writing Retreats
- Listen to other Place Where You Live essays

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[MUSIC: Junior Mance: “Home On The Range” from Letter From Home (JunGlo Music 2011).]

CURWOOD: Be sure to check out our website for a new feature we call “Living on Earth Now” with regular updates, and new stories. We've just posted the tale of the 18th century observers who trekked to the four corners of the world to watch Venus pass between the sun and the Earth. One intrepid French astronomer who went to India was particularly unlucky.

SHULMAN: The night before 1769 transit - beautiful sky - the morning - the entire sky was covered with clouds and he missed it again!

CURWOOD: There's another rare transit of Venus on June 5th. Hear all about it at LOE dot ORG. Coming up – remembering an overlooked environmental leader of a century ago. Stay tuned to Living on Earth!

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Doc Watson: “Victory Rag” from Foundation: The Doc Watson Instrumental Collection 1964 – 1998 (Sugar Hill Records 2000) R.I.P. Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson 3/3/1923 – 5/29/2012.]
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Grantham Foundation for the protection of the environment, supporting strategic communications and collaboration in solving the world’s most pressing environmental problems; 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.

Scientist Discovers New Stinky Flower Species

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. The natural world is woven together like a beautiful tapestry. But the beauty of the individual threads can be debatable and is very much in the eye of the beholder. Reporter Ari Daniel Shapiro has a story about a plant that would certainly catch your eye, and probably your nose, as well.


SHAPIRO: Just inside this tropical greenhouse at the University of Utah is a potted plant.

WAHLERT: This is it.

Botanist Gregory Wahlert in the field. (Photo: Ken Wahlert)

SHAPIRO: Gregory Wahlert traveled over 10,000 miles to bring it back from Madagascar. He really wanted that thing, but you’d never suspect it was worth all the trouble he had to go through. It looks kinda ordinary. Two dull brown buds snake upwards out of the dry, rocky soil in the pot.

But Wahlert had his reasons. To understand his thinking, we have to rewind the clock. Wahlert’s a botanist, and in 2006 he was collecting tree violets in Madagascar. A few miles off the northwest coast sits a tiny island called Nosy Ankarea.

WAHLERT: This small island is a block of basalt lava that has just risen up out of the Indian Ocean.

SHAPIRO: Wahlert wanted to look for violets there, but he couldn’t just show up with his shovel and a plant press. The island is sacred.

WAHLERT: For maybe centuries, the Sakalav ethnic group had buried their rulers – their kings, if you like – on this island. And so before we could go collecting, we had to ask permission from the village elders.

A group of corpse flowers. (Photo: Gregory Wahlert)

SHAPIRO: Ultimately, he got it. Wahlert packed up his supplies and camping gear, and hired a local boat to take him over.

WAHLERT: Up on top, the soil is extremely rocky, and it’s very hot – bone dry.

SHAPIRO: And yet, he found his tree violets. But not that’s all.

WAHLERT: But I also found this other plant in full bloom growing all over the place. Spectacular, charismatic plants.

SHAPIRO: And what makes a plant charismatic?

WAHLERT: A beautiful flower, uh, maybe some sort of scent.

SHAPIRO: And this plant had both. Sitting atop each plant’s four-foot tall tan and purple stalk was a short stack of dozens of tiny black and yellow flowers, which were tucked inside a purple polka-dotted leafy sheath. And then bursting out of those flower stacks – a pale green, foot-long, suggestive-looking – well, maybe it’s best to trot out the genus name here. Amorphophallus.

WAHLERT: Kind of an X-rated botanical name. It means misshapen phallus.

SHAPIRO: And that’s exactly what it looks like. The very top of this phallic part of the plant looks as if it started to melt, and then re-solidified. And it reeks.

WAHLERT: Kinda smells like cheesy – rotting cheese, but when you get your nose down in there, it smells like a, a cross between feces and carrion. It’s really an awful smell.

SHAPIRO: So, in this case, the smell may not be exactly charismatic to us, but to insects – it’s pure bliss.

WAHLERT: They trick the insects into thinking they’re landing on a dead carcass. So the insects crawl around on the flowers, and then they’re tricked again to another flower. And in this way, these plants can cross-pollinate.

SHAPIRO: So, anyway, back to the sacred island . Wahlert saw numerous patches of these plants in full bloom. And then, his first night on the island, he fell ill with malaria that he’d gotten earlier in his trip.

WAHLERT: I had spent so much money and so much effort to get to these islands, I was gonna at least do something. And so I staggered around and did a little bit of collecting.

Amorphophallus is stinky and phallic-shaped. (Photo: Gregory Wahlert)

SHAPIRO: Finally, he had to get off the island to receive treatment. But he brought one sample with him. After returning to the United States, he showed it to the world’s expert on this genus of plants.

WAHLERT: And he instantly recognized it as a new species.

SHAPIRO: That fired Wahlert up to go back the next year to collect more samples to describe this new species for science. He cut and dried several of the flowering stalks. Those stalks grow out of large, 40-50 pound underground tubers, so he dug up about a dozen of those as well to distribute to various greenhouses and herbaria, including the one at the University of Utah. It was at a different phase of its life cycle when I was there, so I didn’t see the plant in all its smelly and lurid glory.

What have you decided to name this one?

WAHLERT: We are going to name it after a famous French botanist, and his name was Perrier. So… Amorphophallus perrieri.

SHAPIRO: It turned out that Perrier had already brought a specimen of this plant back to Paris in the 1930s. He just never got around to naming it. Wahlert found the plant when he visited the herbarium in Paris – that’s why he decided to name it after Perrier.

The fact that it took almost 80 years for someone to discover that someone had already discovered this plant shows just how much inventory there is in the tropics to classify and how few people there are who are actually doing the classifying. It should be noted that the main reason this plant was still discoverable in this millennium was that the island of Nosy Ankarea is sacred and undisturbed. But, with cattle grazing and other development, that’s not the case for most of this region.

WAHLERT: The surrounding islands are almost completely cut down, burned down. What little left is going fast. There’s huge places in the tropics that are being destroyed quicker than the plants and animals can be described.

SHAPIRO: And so Gregory Wahlert is on an urgent mission – to find as many plants as he can, and to document, collect, classify…and protect them.

For Living on Earth, I’m Ari Daniel Shapiro.

CURWOOD: Ari's story on Amorphophallus perrieri is part of the series, One Species at a Time, produced by Atlantic Public Media, with support from the Encyclopedia of Life. To see photos of the smelly plants, check out our website LOE dot org.

Related links:
- University of Utah article on Greg Wahler’s discovery
- One Species At a Time Podcast info

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[MUSIC: Doc Watson “Windy And Warm” from Foundation: The Doc Watson Instrumental Collection 1964 – 1998 (Sugar Hill Records 2000)]

Mr. Hornaday's War

CURWOOD: John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt usually get much of the credit for launching the American conservation movement. But one important early champion has been largely forgotten - and that's William Temple Hornaday. It may be because he wasn’t all that likeable.

Some say William Hornaday could be a stubborn, difficult and callous man. But he did become one of America’s most important and unlikely environmental leaders. He established the National Zoo in Washington, was director of the Bronx Zoo in New York City, and almost singlehandedly saved the American Bison from extinction. Journalist Stefan Bechtel tells the story in a new book, “Mr. Hornaday's War: How a Peculiar Victorian Zookeeper Waged a Lonely Crusade for Wildlife That Changed the World.”

Welcome to Living on Earth, Stefan Bechtel.

BECHTEL: Thanks for having me.

CURWOOD: So, William Temple Hornaday changed the world? How?

BECHTEL: Well, he was probably one of the first people to be an eco-activist, long before there was such a term. He was a lover of wild places and wild things who recognized the terribly dire straits that the natural world was in, in the late 19th century- long before anyone else did.

CURWOOD: But where did he come from?

BECHTEL: He was born on a farm in the Midwest. Everybody was born on a farm in those days. And became chief taxidermist at the U.S. National Museum, then he became a rifleman and specimen hunter for a place called Ward’s Natural Science Establishment, which is sort of a Sears Roebuck catalog of natural history specimens for museums. He traveled the world to some of the world’s most remote places – Borneo, the Malay Peninsula… and began to realize, although he loved to hunt, that in places that were near human habitation, even in places as wild as Borneo, they were beginning to be shot out.

CURWOOD: What is it, Stefan Bechtel, that brought you to this story of William Temple Hornaday?

BECHTEL: I had written a couple of books for National Geographic and I was researching a book about the National Zoo, and I pretty quickly came across this fabulous, fascinating character who reminded me of my own grandfather. My granddad was also a 19th century man, born in 1889, was somebody who just came alive in the woods…loved to hunt.

And, one day, we happened to spot a big owl up in a tree, I think it was a great horned owl. And, he took a shot at it. I couldn't for the life of me understand why you would see something beautiful and then shoot it. Well, this is part of this 19th century attitudes toward the natural world that William Temple Hornaday had to contend with. People grew up closer to nature, but they also had this idea that varmints, hawks, owls, crows, snapping turtles, woodchucks should be killed. And, you know, going back and looking at this historical research it wasn’t so much dusty piles of paper; I remembered this. I had some avenue to understanding this.

CURWOOD: Here’s a guy who was a taxidermist – he stuffs animals – and then he goes out and shoots them for his collection. What is it that causes him to take this turn, to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to lose all of this if we keep killing them.’?

BECHTEL: It’s a great question and at the center of his life are all of these grinding contradictions. You know, he was a hunter, a rifleman, and the last half of his life, he become the noisiest and the most relentless conservationist in the country. And, kind of the turning point was this trip to the West in 1886 when he witnessed for the first time this fantastic massacre of buffalo that was taking place in the West. It was like the second Civil War out there…you know, as far as the eye could see, these buffalo carcasses.

Map of the extermination of the American Bison to 1889. Dark numbers indicate number of bison as of January 1st 1889 in remaining areas. Light numbers give date of local extermination. Adapted from a drawing of William Temple Hornaday in "Geographisches Handbuch zu Andrees Handatlas, vierte Auflage, Bielefeld und Leipzig, Velhagen und Klasing, 1902.”

And he conducted a census to see how many of these animals were remaining alive on the planet and came up with a number somewhere on the order of a thousand. When 20 years earlier there were thought to have been 15 million. So, he came back from the West and he was absolutely galvanized and wrote this angry book called “The Extermination of the American Bison,” started this organization called The American Bison Society with himself as president, and Teddy Roosevelt, who seems to have been everywhere, was the honorary president.

CURWOOD: And, back in those days, Teddy Roosevelt would have been what? An up-and-coming pol in New York City.

BECHTEL: He was, and they first met, actually, when Hornaday was preparing this six figure bison group for the National Museum and one day this pale young man just comes walking into the exhibit that was incomplete and off-limits to the public and this young man just immediately was very knowledgeable about the bison, wanted to know where he had been to get them, what weapons he’d used, and finally Hornaday said to him, ‘By the way, who are you?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Theodore, Theodore Roosevelt.’ And Roosevelt was 28 years old at the time and had just run for office, run for the mayor of New York City and had been defeated. But they immediately had this bond and talked for an hour and I just think it was a meeting of kindred spirits. And these two men recognized that the natural world in the North American continent was in deadly peril, and that it was going to take a huge war and a fight to make any progress on it. And the two of them both devoted much of the rest of their lives to preserving what we have.

CURWOOD: And, oh, by the way, Teddy Roosevelt had issues about ethnic diversity, should we say?


CURWOOD: Famously in his book “The Winning of the West” he says it won’t be won until we’re rid of the red, yellow, black and brown man. To what extent did his buddy William Temple Hornaday share those views, do you think?

BECHTEL: Well, there was one unfortunate incident that stained William Temple Hornaday’s reputation for his life, and that was the display of a Congolese pygmy in a cage at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. And, I’ve been interested in writing this book and talking to people about it that almost nobody has heard of Hornaday, but a lot of people have heard about the black man in the cage at the Bronx Zoo.

Stefan Bechtel

CURWOOD: Indeed.

BECHTEL: And, long story short, there was a Congolese pygmy who had been brought to the United States for the 1904 World’s Fair and eventually wound up at the Bronx Zoo and Dr. Hornaday allowed him to kind of wander the grounds in kind of a bark loin cloth, and sometimes accompanied by this orangutan called Dohong, the presiding genius of the monkey house.

Then, step by step there was a cage that was open, and they hung a hammock in there and sometimes he slept there, and then one day the door was closed and there was the sign up- about Ota Benga, Congolese pygmy. He’s such and such a height and weight and captured in the Congo Free State. And so on and so forth. Huge, huge outcry and the exhibit was shut down in 18 days.

But Hornaday himself never apologized, never recognized how offensive this was and wrote at one time ‘when the history of the zoo is written, this will be considered one of it’s most amusing moments.’ This is a very imperfect man, but if you go back in our history, there’s plenty of our forefathers who were imperfect.

CURWOOD: Now, if we were to quickly line up a list of William Temple Hornaday’s accomplishments, what would they be?

BECHTEL: You’d have to say that he was probably the key person involved in saving the bison from extinction, that’s pretty good…


BECHTEL: He’s also often credited with saving the Alaskan fur seal from extinction. He was the director of the Bronx zoo for 30 years and built it into one of the great institutions in the world. He was the founder and first director of the National Zoo in Washington; author of about 20 books about wildlife conservation and his great adventures; and he was a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker of legislation about preserving wild things. And, you could say he really was the godfather of the endangered species act, which didn’t pass until 1973, but that whole movement really began with William Temple Hornaday’s horror at seeing what was happening in the West in 1886.

CURWOOD: Since he was so seminal to the conservation movement and everything, it’s a bit puzzling as to why he’s so little discussed. I mean, I’d never heard of the dude until I came across your book…

BECHTEL: I know. I know. That’s the most remarkable thing. It’s possible that the Ota Benga incident was repellent enough that that expunged him from history.

CURWOOD: Putting a pygmy in a cage for public display….

BECHTEL: You know, it’s pretty hard to get around that. But, also, it’s been argued by other historians of conservation that he made so many enemies, including among his friends, that when he passed along, the people that should have carried along his legacy declined to do so. Nevertheless, looking back at his life through the lens of all this time that has gone by, he was an enormous environmental hero, as you say.

CURWOOD: Stefan Bechtel’s book is entitled “Mr. Hornaday’s War: How A Peculiar Victorian Zookeeper Waged A Lonely Crusade for Wildlife that Changed the World.” Thank you so much, Stefan.

BECHTEL: Thanks Steve.

Related links:
- Click here for the Radio Diaries story about a pygmy displayed in a zoo
- Hornaday's War

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[MUSIC: Larry Goldings “A Rose For Emily” from In My Room (BFM Jazz 2011).]

Earth Ear

Related link:
The Songs of Insects by Lang Eliott and Wil Hershberger

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CURWOOD: On the next Living on Earth, the invasive oriental bittersweet vine is choking trees and native plants - so one forester decided to get competitive about killing it.

FISH: This one guy who's an arborist, emailed me and said "I've been training my entire life for this competition." [LAUGHS] And another sent me an email that said "I'm quitting my job and going vine hunting."

CURWOOD: The bittersweet challenge, next time on Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: We leave you this week with an insect that’s a great copy cat.


CURWOOD: The Greater Anglewing looks just like a leaf. It’s not only green but also has an intricate pattern of veins on its wings. And it perches atop trees and tall bushes.
Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger recorded the sounds of these two male Anglewings.
It’s on their CD “The Songs of Insects.”


[CD: Lang Elliot.Wil Hershberger “Great Anglewing” from The Songs Of Insects (Nature Sound Studio 2007).]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Bruce Gellerman, Jessican Ilyse Kurn, Ingrid Lobet, and Helen Palmer, with help from Meghan Miner, Gabriela Romanow, and Sammy Sousa. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes.
You can find us anytime at LOE dot org, and don’t forget our Facebook page - It’s PRI’s Living on Earth. And you can follow us on Twitter - @livingonearth, that’s just one word. I'm Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening!

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living On Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science. And Stonyfield Farm, organic yogurt and smoothies. Stonyfield invites you to just eat organic for a day. Details at justeatorganic 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.

ANNOUNCER 2: PRI - Public Radio International.


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