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

February 17, 1995

Air Date: February 17, 1995


Reward Offered: German Babies / Alexa Dvorson

While Germany contributes money for international population control, one German state, Brandenburg, is giving cash rewards to women who have more German babies. Alexa Dvorson reports on reaction to this incentive program. (07:05)

Post-Cairo Conference Progress

Host Steve Curwood speaks with Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth on what the U.S. has done since the United Nations Conference on Population last fall. (05:11)

Naturally Dyed-in-the-Wool Company / Kelly Griffin

The first company to produce all-natural fabric dyes that contain no heavy metals is operating in Colorado. Kelly Griffin from Colorado Public Radio has this profile. (05:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Mary Jo Draper, Alexa Dvorson, Kelly Griffin
GUEST: Tim Wirth

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Germany is spending millions to help other countries cut their birth rates, but its own falling population has led one district to offer a cash reward to German women who have more babies. Is this racism, or cultural survival?

MUNZ: We cannot say that we should cut out immigration as a solution, but I think we also need a certain, let's put it that way, stock of native population.

CURWOOD: Meanwhile, a booming US population has policy makers looking at ways to bring our growth rate down.

WIRTH: Three issues, of immigration, the education of girls, and children having children, I think are probably the three most important ones that we must focus on right here in the United States of America.

CURWOOD: Also, natural dyes for clothing, this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. A UN agency has found alarming thinning in the protective ozone layer over Siberia and Europe during the last 6 weeks. The World Meteorological Organization reports ozone levels have fallen 20 to 35% below normal in those areas. That surpasses 1993's record drop in ozone attributed to the Mt. Pinatubo explosion. Researchers say ozone losses are not currently harmful to plants and animals, but could become a health risk if they persist at this level or decrease further. Scientists say human-made ozone-depleting chemicals such as chlorine oxide are responsible for the decline. Although CFC production will be phased out by the end of the year, chlorine concentrations in the stratosphere will not decline until the beginning of the next century.

A New Jersey company says it's developed a new offshore energy source. Engineers at Ocean Power Technology say they have a way to translate the up and down motion of waves into electricity. The system is designed around piezoelectric plastics, which produce electricity when stretched. Company president George Taylor says a piezoelectric cable anchored to the ocean bottom and connected to a float on the surface would create a pulse of power every time a wave passes. He says an array of cables could produce electricity for as little as 1 to 3 cents a kilowatt hour.

TAYLOR: From an economy viewpoint, we see our system as being very advantageous, plus of course non-polluting, no CO2 emissions. And it's completely safe, unlike nuclear power.

NUNLEY: Taylor estimates a 1-megawatt power plant would cover 5 square kilometers of ocean 10 to 20 miles offshore. Taylor and a Japanese ocean construction firm plan to test a 1-kilowatt unit in the Gulf of Mexico by the end of the year. If corporate backing can be found, Taylor says a 1-megawatt prototype could be on-line by 1997.

The Department of Energy has been stymied in its bid to increase funding for a nuclear waste disposal site at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. DOE wanted a bigger share of a nuclear waste trust fund controlled by Congress. But the move was blocked by 2 senators: Alaska's Frank Murkowski and New Mexico's Pete Domenici, who cited DOE's failure over the years to solve the nuclear waste problem. Capitol Hill sources also told Living on Earth that many members of Congress simply don't want to give up control of the funds or direct oversight of the project. The move is more bad news for the nuclear industry, which is rapidly running out of room to store spent nuclear waste.

Huge stretches of natural habitat in the US have declined to the point of endangerment. The author of the National Biological Services' survey of ecosystems in the continental US warns that 30 of the ecosystems studied have declined by more than 98%. Dr. J. Michael Scott believes that protecting entire habitats also protect species not yet known to be at risk. Scott also says habitat protection allows for a more flexible response when preserving the environment.

New Zealand has lodged a formal protest with the Japanese government about whaling in the new Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The Sanctuary, which includes two thirds of New Zealand's territorial waters, was created last may when the International Whaling Commission approved it by a vote of 23 to 1; Japan's was the lone dissenting vote. Since then, the Japanese government has given the go-ahead to kill 330 minke whales for what it calls scientific purposes. New Zealand foreign minister Don McKinnon says that although scientific whaling is within the IWC's rules, the information gathered from it can just as well be obtained by nonlethal means.

A small Missouri town nearly destroyed by the Midwest floods of 1993 now has the chance to become one of the most environmentally perfect places in the US. The entire town is relocating out of the flood plain, and as Mary Jo Draper reports, a team of architects, planners and energy experts will make Pattonsburg a model of how to benefit from ecological consciousness.

DRAPER: The Federal Government has committed $12 million to help Pattonsburg residents move their homes and businesses to a flood-proof location. Working together, the residents and designers have put together a plan to make the town more economically viable while cleaning up the air, the land, and the water. Mayor David Waffer says Pattonsburg residents see an opportunity to try some novel solutions.

WAFFER: A very simple one is the stormwater drainage system that we hope to put in. This uses the natural lay of the land, the natural streams, the natural tree lines. The lakes to filter your stormwater drain-off.

DRAPER: Planners also want to try using manure from the area's half million pigs to provide electricity the town can use and sell. They'll also design an energy efficient city hall and use a model zoning ordinance to integrate business and residential interests. The actual moving of the town could begin this summer. For Living on Earth, I'm Mary Jo Draper in Kansas City.

NUNLEY: That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

Reward Offered: German Babies

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Germany will spend more than $300 million this year on international family planning programs. The money is part of commitments made last fall at the World Summit on Population and Development in Cairo, at which Germany took a leading role in offering to help developing countries reduce their birth rates. But at home, some German authorities are offering money to residents who want to have more children. In the eastern state of Brandenburg, every woman who gives birth automatically gets a government check for 1,000 Deutschmarks, about $650. Supporters say it only makes sense in a region where population is going down, but some say the payments smack of racism. Alexa Dvorson reports from Potsdam.

(Guitar music; women singing in German)

DVORSON: In this sarcastic rendition of Mack the Knife, a women's cabaret mocks the PR on childbearing with the words, "Have more children so they'll be German." It's nothing new that more Germans are dying than are being born. But in eastern Germany, the drop in the birth rate since the Berlin Wall fell has been dramatic: nearly 70% in states like Brandenburg, which surrounds but excludes Berlin. The $650 handout for newborns was started by 2 small communities where no children were being born at all. Then the regional government decided to take up the welcoming money measure statewide. Eva Kunz at Brandenburg's Social Ministry admits the birth allowance won't make a big difference, but she says it's an attempt to support those who make the difficult decision to have a child right now.

KUNZ: People are not silly enough for 1,000 marks, nobody would have a child. I think it's more a symbolic gesture that means you are welcomed. We have a small number of children, and we should give them a very good start in this world.

DVORSON: The reasons for the steep drop in eastern Germany's birth rate lie in both the favorable and miserable results of unification with the west. On one hand, women have more options than they did in the past. Instead of bearing children in their early 20s, as most did in former East Germany, many are postponing motherhood to travel, study abroad, or pursue a career. On the other hand, it is the women of eastern Germany who have been hardest hit by high unemployment. And many who would like to have children say they can hardly afford their rent let alone a family or day care. Other would be mothers have simply left the east and gone west. The welcoming money has been criticized by some west German politicians as a wasted handout. But Eva Kunz warns no one should condemn it without considering the regional factors contributing to such instability in the east since unification.

KUNZ: I think you should look very, very clear what happens in this small and extremely scarcely-populated part of Germany. We don't have foreigners, we don't have children, and we have a large state. It is a problem for the society.

(Traffic; children yelling and laughing in the street)

DVORSON: So far, the state of Brandenburg has paid out roughly 2 million Deutschmarks, about $1.3 million, in welcoming money for the roughly 2,000 babies born in the state since last October. No other states are offering such payments, but that doesn't mean they aren't concerned about Germany's low birth rate. In neighboring Berlin, Bettina Martin of the Senate Administration for Women's Employment, is familiar with the obstacles discouraging women from having more children. Now pregnant herself, she can better appreciate why the declining birth rate in this country is so unsettling.

MARTIN: In Germany our whole social welfare system is built up on the generation contract, we call it, that people who are young pay for the ones who are old. We do rely on this, and a society that doesn't have young people, that doesn't have people with new ideas, where the older people are in the majority, is not a society I would like to live in. And I don't think it has really a future. We need new generations, you know.

(A toddler babbles)

DVORSON: Two-year-old Manisha, who is half German and already bilingual, is well-versed in this German nursery rhyme. Her Indian mother, Shalini Randeria, is well-versed in population policy. Growing up in Delhi, she saw billboards urging women to postpone motherhood and have smaller families. When she arrived in Germany and began teaching anthropology at Berlin's Free University, she found the opposite propaganda here. Shalini Randeria rejects both attempts to manipulate reproduction if the motivation stems from national interest and not women's free choice. She finds it ironic that Europeans are trying to encourage reproduction when environmental degradation stems more from overconsumption in the First World than overpopulation in the Third World. It's not Germany's welcoming money that's racist, says Randeria, but the policy surrounding it.

RANDERIA: Here is a country which advocates for the Third World that they should reduce their population size, and advocates Germans that they should increase their birth rates, with the argument: otherwise the Germans will die out. That's, I think, where the racism comes in. That the Germans are worried about dying out. This worry is being expressed in England and in France exactly the same. So this seems to be really European fear being swamped out by the immigrants.

(West African drumming and singing; church bells ringing)

DVORSON: As these newly-arrived West African drummers play for a curious crowd in the center of Bonn, the mingling of Gothic church bells and Senegalese singing is a fitting snapshot of Germany's emerging multi-ethnic society. The laws haven't caught up yet. With few exceptions, they still define citizenship by blood. Critics say the fear of being swamped by immigrants is part of the real driving force behind measures such as the welcoming money, which the federal government would like to introduce across the country. But the Family Ministry's Head of Demographic Studies, Elizabeth Haines, emphasizes it's not meant to exclude non-Germans. She insists the welcoming money is only meant to ease parents' financial burdens. And in a country still haunted by its past, she dismisses charges that the birth allowance has a racist or nationalist agenda.

HAINES: We are very much concerned not to become a racist society again. We think a foreign child's as welcome as the German child. So I don't see any contradiction. We want to help the people here to have the amount of children they want to have.

DVORSON: No matter what race they are.


DVORSON: In fact, to qualify for the welcoming money you don't need German citizenship, only legal residence in the state of Brandenburg. But unlike the US or Canada, Germany has never defined itself as a country of immigration. And with its newly-restricted asylum laws, it's never been more difficult to get legal residence here. The spokeswoman on population policy for the Association of Action and World Solidarity is Ingrid Spiller.

SPILLER: If you see who can legally migrate to Germany, then you see these are really very, very few people. And okay, maybe the color of their skin is not that important, but at least it's important the social background that they are coming from, and we have a really restrictive immigration policy. And it seems to matter who is born. The question is why don't you do a proper kind of immigration policy, which means that you really allow people from other countries to migrate into Germany and to find their place into the society?

DVORSON: But according to demography professor Rainer Munz, immigration can't solve everything. Professor Munz sees nothing racist in helping developing countries reduce their birth rate if that's what local communities want. Likewise, he sees no contradiction in helping subsidize eligible families in this country when studies indicate people still want children but can't afford them. The sticky part is where a society like Germany's draws the line on its own evolution.

MUNZ: Society as a whole has a certain interest: that people should reproduce themselves. I think it's the other side of the coin of immigration. We cannot say that we should cut out immigration as a solution, but I think we also need a certain, let's put it that way, stock of native population.

DVORSON: What would be the worst scenario if white Europeans started to die out, really?

MUNZ: In the very long run it makes no difference. But if you want to have a country keep going, you need a certain amount of people who grew up in the country and who are familiar with the society and part of the society, active part of the society.

(Women singing Mack the Knife parody to a laughing crowd)

DVORSON: The state demands more offspring registered in the books, the sassy women sing. That's our duty. But who wants to do that? No matter what reasons women in eastern Germany aren't having more children, Germany's society is clearly at a crossroads. Until leaders redefine who is German, measures such as welcoming money for newborn babies in Brandenburg may still appear weighted with racist connotations, even if that's not the intent. For Living on Earth, this is Alexa Dvorson in Potsdam, Germany.

Back to top


Post-Cairo Conference Progress

CURWOOD: It's not just Germany where population issues touch race and nationalism. Many poor nations have long argued that population control programs are really efforts by the rich countries to keep the rest of the world in check. But at the recent global conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the focus of population policy shifted away from trying directly to stop women from having more babies towards finding ways of giving them the power to choose. Former US Senator Tim Wirth led the US delegation to the conference and was instrumental in helping forge the new consensus. He's now Undersecretary of State and head of the Population and Consumption Task Force of President Clinton's Sustainable Development Council. The Secretary recently joined us in our Boston studios. I asked what he sees as the biggest obstacles to achieving the goals of the conference.

WIRTH: I think our greatest challenge is maintaining the visibility of the population programs and commitment in a political environment that might be very unfriendly. Population has never been a partisan program. The first president who set up a population office was Richard Nixon, and our support has come very strongly from both sides of the aisle. We hope that that continues.

CURWOOD: Now, the UN Cairo Conference on Population and Development is 5 months behind us at this point. One of the things that was really important about Cairo was the notion of advancing women's empowerment, and how can the US State Department facilitate improvement in the status of women worldwide? I mean this is a development that really requires massive social change, though, don't you think?

WIRTH: Well that's exactly right, it does. I mean any time you're dealing with power, and this is power over reproduction, this is power over economics, it is a major social change. It's a transfer of the means of production in many ways, and that means a transfer to women. And so our primary responsibility is to be the world's leader in this way, to continue to emphasize these programs and that we help to make sure that other nations pay their fair share.

CURWOOD: How do you measure success for something like this?

WIRTH: Well, it's a long-term measurement that's a very good question. I think you measure success by the growth of programs at the grass roots. You can't deliver these programs from the top down; they're really bottom up. And as you see these programs develop all over the world, then you can see you're beginning to have some success. When you see countries make commitments in their own budgets for having a success, the population's still growing but the rate of growth is slowing down and that's a success.

CURWOOD: You mentioned that a number of United States allies are being very helpful. For example, after Cairo the Germans committed millions of dollars. But you know, one of their eastern states, Brandenburg, is offering women citizens cash incentives to have children. I'm wondering if this concerns you at all.

WIRTH: Well, that's a decision to be made by the German government. In some places in Europe, they're below the replacement rate, and they're below keeping their population even. We in the United States are well above that. These are decisions that every sovereign nation makes, and part of the Cairo declaration was that within the norms of that country, they make decisions for themselves.

CURWOOD: It seems to me, though, that the countries are still thinking about population, then, in local terms rather than global terms. Clearly, the message from Cairo is to sound the alarm that we as a world have to do something to reduce our population.

WIRTH: I think the world understands that there is an urgency of population. Let's remember that as population grows very rapidly, 95% of that population growth is occurring in countries that can least afford to carry that growth. If we can help also to raise the development of the poorer countries, they will have fewer kids and give them the choices to do so. So, you think about the overall level of global population growth, but then you have to clearly focus on how you get at it and you can only do that on a very much of a local basis.

CURWOOD: I wanted to ask you how you intend to bring Cairo home. What are your priorities on the domestic front in the wake of Cairo?

WIRTH: Well, it's very important that we focus on at least three issues. One of those is understanding the implications of immigration, and immigration accounts for more than a third of the population growth in the United States. We in the United States are growing by about 3 million a year. We can't welcome everybody who wants to come to the United States; we never have and never will. A second issue relates to the education of girls; we know that as girls receive more education they have more life opportunities. They tend to have smaller families. And third, there is a terrific problem that we face of adolescent pregnancy, children having children. And if we can provide the kinds of education to make sure that young girls do not feel the need, the compulsion of having a child and can defer those decisions until later, you know, we're going to be, I think, overall better off as a society in bringing kids into families that can handle them. So those three issues of immigration, the education of girls, and children having children, I think are probably the three most important ones that we must focus on right here in the United States of America.

CURWOOD: Tim Worth is Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs and Chair of the Task Force on Population and Consumption for the President's Council on Sustainable Development.

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(Music up and under)

Naturally Dyed-in-the-Wool Company

CURWOOD: We hardly every think about it, but the clothes we wear are often the cause of some toxic waste. The dyes that give us the bright and consistent designer colors that we enjoy are often synthesized from some pretty harsh chemicals, and those chemicals can be tough on the environment. Conventional wisdom holds that natural dyes used by our ancestors, extracted from things like the indigo plant, can't produce consistent and lasting colors. But a small Colorado company is challenging that notion. Kelly Griffin of Colorado Public Radio has this report.

GRIFFIN: When Sally Gurley learned that a fellow rug weaver was suffering dizzy spells and muscle spasms, she was convinced it stemmed from working with synthetic dyes, which she knew contained harsh chemicals. Gurley, who dyed wool for her own rugs, decided to switch to natural dyes. She thought it would be easy to make them.

S. GURLEY: I thought you went out and found this wonderful book like a great cookbook of recipes of natural dyes. Well, when I started looking through the books for natural dyes, they use copper, tin, chrome, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, iron. They use them like salt and pepper. So I threw away the books and started just with raw materials.

GRIFFIN: What began as tinkering turned into Allegro Natural Dyes, the first company to offer a non-toxic process for commercial dyeing. Gurley runs Allegro with her husband Kent.

K. GURLEY: This is a drum of cochineal. They're little, we get them in a dehydrated state. And if we take a couple of these, just 2 little bitty insects, and crush them up and put them in a cup of warm water, and you will rather immediately see them giving off their red color. And if you let that sit there and soak for 15, 20 minutes, it'll turn the color of cranberry juice.

GRIFFIN: The cochineal is a bug that lives on cactuses in Peru. Other natural sources of color include matterroot for oranges, osage for yellows and the indigo plant for blues and purples.

(A shredder motor runs)

GRIFFIN: This old document shredder is used to grind the bugs and plants to a find dust, which is the base for concentrated extracts that can be combined to create 100 colors on cotton, linen, and silk, and more than 200 colors on wool. The dyeing room looks like a makeshift laundromat: front-loading washing machines swirling T-shirts in a vivid, deep pink dye along side a vat where the concentrated materials are mixed with water.

K. GURLEY: This is a 250-gallon steam jacketed kettle, and basically it's just a big old beanpot.

GRIFFIN: There's a fair amount of duct tape holding equipment together at Allegro, but this shoestring operation has attracted serious attention. For example, a major linen company will introduce a line of towels this spring colored with Allegro's dyes. And 2 west coast companies are on track to dye 1.5 million pounds of T-shirts this year. But many in the textile industry say the promise of natural dyes is overstated. Sue Wagner is Research Director at Ciba Textile Products, which produces synthetic dyes in North Carolina,

WAGNER: They can be relatively devastating to the environment if you don't know what you're doing. Just because it's natural doesn't necessarily mean it's good. The business of all of the waste that you have left over with the cochineal bug as a for instance, only 1.8% of the solid matter is a dye, so 98.2% is going into the waste stream somewhere.

GRIFFIN: But the Gurleys say their process has a mild impact compared to synthetic dyes. An industry report says textile companies spent more than $1 billion over the past decade treating wastewater and disposing of the toxic sludge left over from their dyeing processes. At Allegro, the wastewater is clean enough to drain right into the city's sewer system. And the leftover bug and plant pulp is turned into compost. Skeptics also say there's simply not enough land to raise all the natural materials it would take to supply the textile industry. The Gurleys counter there's plenty of room to expand.

S. GURLEY: We have started organic growing projects, basically worldwide. We're trying a lot of them here in the United States; American farmers need them just as bad as rainforests in the Third World.

GRIFFIN: The Gurleys have paired up with Wright Industries in North Carolina, the nation's largest distributor of dyes. Wright Industries' Rita Parham says she was skeptical about the Allegro process at first.

PARHAM: I kept reading about how natural dyes were not feasible, that there was no possibility that they could be used in any viable sense, or any kind of mass scale. Every estimate I read was, just made it sound impossible.

GRIFFIN: But a visit to the Allegro facility convinced her the process will work. Now, Wright Industries is gearing up to manufacture and distribute Allegro dyes under the name E-Color. Kent Gurley says dozens of companies have expressed interest in the dyes. While he pitches the E-Color process and develops new sources for raw materials, Sally Gurley continues to work on the colors themselves.

S. GURLEY: Yellow, which we get from the osages, is the weakest color. But we've had some great advances this year in the fastness of yellow, so that was also real exciting. We don't have black on cotton yet without using anything toxic; we don't have it. But we, this dark charcoal is pretty close. We're getting closer and closer all the time.

GRIFFIN: For Living on Earth, I'm Kelly Griffin in Denver.

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(Music up and under)

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Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded at WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

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