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

October 20, 1995

Air Date: October 20, 1995


The Problem of Anti-Androgens / David Baron

Science and medical reporter David Baron of member station WBUR examines the latest scientific findings on chemicals that disrupt human and animal hormone systems. Recent discoveries by government scientists point to a blocking of the bodies androgens; a key breakthrough in scientific understanding of this health puzzle. (07:07)

Four Ways To Avoid Endocrine Disruptors

Host Steve Curwood queries guest expert Lisa Lefferts, science editor of the publication The Green Guide in Washington, D.C.on practical ways consumers can avoid contact with chemical compounds suspected of disrupting the bodies hormone system. (04:18)

Airborne Pesticides / Robin Finesmith

Robin Finesmith of Living on Earth's Midwest bureau at WCPN in Cleveland reports on a recent study published in the journal Science about the appearance of banned pesticides on tree bark, even in remote regions. The study indicates the chemicals travel widely by air, and their persistence in the environment exceeds researchers expectations. (03:55)

Living on Earth Profile Series #16: Reverend James Parks Morton / Jan Nunley

As part of Living on Earth's continued series on 25 changemakers on the environment, Living on Earth's Jan Nunley examines the work of the Dean of the largest Episcopal cathedral in the country, St. John the Divine in New York City. Morton believes an environmental ethic is at the heart of Christian teachings. (05:25)

The Living on Earth Almanac


The US Green Party Thinks Locally / Richard Mahler

Richard Mahler reports on the Green Party in the United States and its grassroots strategy for the mid-term elections. Mahler looks at how current political trends favoring third parties may work in favor of the outsider Greens this time around. (06:42)

New York City's Farm Fresh Produce / Richard Schiffman

Farmers from surrounding areas bring a little bit of the country to the city each time they set up their stands at New York City's many outdoor green markets. Richard Schiffman recently visited one such market and spoke with consumers and providers about the fresh difference these old fashioned direct markets make in their lives. (07:40)

Make Way for Mountain Bikes / Dan Grossman

Park trails are filled with all kinds of trekkers — family walkers, serious hikers, and increasingly these days , mountain bikers. Dan Grossman reports on past conflicts between hikers and bikers and on current efforts to satisfy everyone's desires for public park enjoyment. There's a new truce, and some lands are now being managed for multiple uses by cooperative agreement. (06:47)

Listener Letters

Living on Earth listeners comment on recent segments including their thoughts on global warming and animals in captivity. (03:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1995 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: Stephanie O'Neill, Edie Rabinowitz, David Baron, Robin Finesmith, Jan Nunley, Richard Mahler, Richard Schiffman, Dan Grossman
GUEST: Lisa Lefferts

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Scientists who say some industrial chemicals and pesticides can disrupt our hormone systems have been puzzled about how they work. Now researchers think they have some answers.

GRAY: It's like sticking the wrong key in the lock and jamming the lock. So the lock and key mechanism is now occupied and stuck. But you can't get the door open.

CURWOOD: Also, critics of synthetic pesticides have long said these chemicals end up in the environment far from the farms where they were used. Now there's proof. Residues have been found in the polar regions.

HITES: In order to reduce the deposition of these compounds to arctic regions, one would really have to ban these compounds all over the world.

CURWOOD: And what you can do to protect yourself against hormone disrupters. That and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. Exxon Oil Company has received Federal permission to engage in incidental harassment of 9 species of whales in the search for oil off California's coast. From Los Angeles, Stephanie O'Neill reports.

O'NEILL: The Exxon survey will fire loud seismic gun blasts every few seconds nonstop for 45 days to search for oil off the coast of Santa Barbara, despite widespread concerns that the noise will harm whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service approved the plan and expects the survey to cause nearly 2,400 separate cases of whale harassment. The proposed survey will span through December, when gray whales are migrating along the California coast. That's concerned environmentalists, who cite studies that show whales exposed to loud sounds often change their course. Moreover, the studies indicate that loud noise can deafen whales and impair their ability to navigate and find food. At 240 decibels, the Exxon blast will be among the loudest noises made by humans, and are 32,000 times louder than the sound proposed last year for an underwater study of global warming. But Exxon officials are confident their plan provides adequate protections for marine mammals. Opponents say if a compromise survey isn't negotiated, they'll fight Exxon in court. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

NUNLEY: The United States, France and Britain have agreed in principle to ban nuclear tests in the South Pacific after France ends its current tests. The agreement would also ban nuclear arms stockpiles in the region, while still allowing nuclear armed and nuclear powered ships to travel through the area. The treaty is seen by some as an attempt to diffuse anger over France's resumption of underground nuclear tests. The United States and Britain have been muted in their criticism of France.

A bill to control fishing and fish populations has been approved in the House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 388 to 37. The revision of the Magnuson Fisheries Act included 3 amendments closing loopholes in the original bill. The legislation now requires fishery management councils to make clear rules on measuring and curbing overfishing, defining a central habitat, and rebuilding depleted fisheries. The Commerce Department estimates that restoring drained fisheries could create thousands of jobs and increase commercial fishing revenues by almost $3 billion a year. The bill next goes before the Senate.

The World Bank and Brazilian government and business leaders have unveiled a $30 million fund to support conservation and biodiversity in Brazil. Calling it a model for public-private partnerships, officials say they hope the fund will protect rainforests by promoting eco-tourism, the development of new rainforest products, and the establishment of private parks and preserves. More than 10% of the world's species are native to Brazil, but its diversity has been severely threatened by massive burning of rainforests, which reached its highest levels this year. According to the National Wildlife Foundation, Brazilian banks loan $22 billion for internal development.

Skyrocketing prices in recyclables have spurred the Chicago Board of Trade to open up the first computerized trading market for plastics, aluminum, and newsprint. From WBEZ in Chicago, Edie Rabinowitz reports.

RABINOWITZ: Creators of the exchange compare this to the grain market back in the mid 1800s. They say the exchange will help legitimize recyclables as commodities, as something of worth. It will help standardize prices, the sizes of bundles, and will hook up buyers with sellers of more obscure recyclables. For the first time, recyclables will be part of a high-tech marketplace. Traders can close a deal through the keyboard, and the Chicago Board of Trade will record it and can settle any disputes. Dan Kemna is manager of recycling for Waste Management Incorporated, the country's leading waste hauler.

KEMNA: It's kind of the shift from recycling as a religion to recycling as a business. And I think we need elements of both, because it makes good environmental sense to recycle, but I think we have to make sure that it makes good economic sense to recycle certain things as well.

RABINOWITZ: Recycling has been a fast-growing business. The National Recycling Coalition projects US manufacturers will buy as much as $6 million in glass, paper, and plastic this year. For Living on Earth, I'm Edie Rabinowitz in Chicago.

NUNLEY: Baseball has clean-up hitters, and it's got clean-up critters. At the King Dome in Seattle, home of Baseball's Mariners and one of the sites of the American League championship series, 12 barrels and boxes of worms consume kitchen wastes such as lettuce and coffee grounds. The waste from the worms is used to fertilize plantings around the stadium. Still, there's more trash than even all those worms can handle. Each sold out game adds 11-and-a-half tons of garbage to local landfills. Some leftover food goes to the homeless; a mission recently received 150 pounds of hotdogs, a kind of take-out from the old ballgame.

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

Back to top

(Theme music up and under)

The Problem of Anti-Androgens

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For years, the big human health concern about such environmental toxins as pesticides, PCBs, and dioxins, has been their power to cause cancer. But increasingly, scientists are becoming worried that these chemicals, many of which contain chlorine, are disrupting animal and human hormone systems. This can lead to major problems in the areas of brain function, immune systems, and the ability to reproduce. The trouble is, science couldn't say exactly how they work in the body. For example, much evidence suggests that some of these chlorinated compounds can mimic the female hormone estrogen. Yet they don't look chemically much like estrogen. Now government scientists believe they have figured out how some of these chemicals interfere with reproductive function. David Baron of member station WBUR reports.

BARON: Scientists have compiled a long list of compounds that can disrupt the hormonal or endocrine systems of laboratory animals, and may be responsible for health effects in wildlife and even people. These chemicals, called endocrine disrupters, include components of plastic, industrial pollutants such as PCBs, dioxins and furans, and pesticides such as DDT, methoxychlor, and endosulfan. Researchers have been particularly concerned about chemicals that appear to interact with reproductive hormones. Even at low doses, some of these chemicals can trigger the development of feminine traits in male animal embryos in the laboratory. And these substances have been blamed for disrupting sexual development in wild populations of fish, birds, and other animals. Some scientists suspect the chemicals might also be responsible for human reproductive problems in the offspring of women exposed to the compounds, perhaps causing reported increases in the rate of undescended testes in baby boys and testicular cancer in men, as well as in apparent decline in sperm counts. Because some of these chemicals mimic the female hormone estrogen, they've been dubbed environmental estrogens. Research into these chemicals is at a very early stage, and there's a great deal of uncertainty over what impact they have on human health. There have also been big questions about exactly how they do their damage.

GRAY: It was clear that many of the chemicals that had endocrine-like effects were not estrogens, and so it's been sort of puzzling.

BARON: Toxicologist Earl Gray believes he and his colleagues have now solved part of that puzzle. Gray, who studies endocrine disrupters at the US Environmental Protection Agency's Health Effects Research Laboratory in North Carolina, has taken a new look at chemicals that seem to have feminizing effects.

GRAY: There's no question that focusing just on estrogens is too simplistic.

BARON: Hormones such as estrogen are chemical messengers that work by binding with receptors in cells, like a key fitting into a lock. If a hormone or a chemical that mimics a hormone successfully opens that lock, it can trigger a host of changes in the body. Estrogen, for instance, causes the development of breasts and controls menstrual periods. But Gray points out some chemicals can latch onto hormone receptors without triggering a response, but still causing problems in the cell.

GRAY: It's like sticking the wrong key in the lock and jamming the lock. So the lock and key mechanism is now occupied and stuck. But you can't get the door open.

BARON: So here's what Gray and his colleagues speculated. Perhaps some of the problems in humans and wildlife attributed to estrogen-like compounds in the environment are really due to chemicals blocking male hormones, such as testosterone. These chemicals are called anti-androgens.

GRAY: And no one was aware that environmental anti-androgens existed.

BARON: Gray and his colleagues have now shown conclusively that they do exist. They found 20 anti-androgens so far, and one of the most potent is a common pollutant. DDE is a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT. While DDT was banned in the United States more than 20 years ago, it continues to be used in many developing nations. DDE is found in the environment around the world and accumulates in the human body. The EPA scientists reported recently that DDE blocks the androgen receptor of both rats and humans . Male rats exposed to DDE as embryos developed nipples, which male rats normally don't have, as well as feminized genitals. This discovery has caused scientists to reexamine their old observations in a new light. University of Florida zoologist Lou Guillette has been studying deformed alligators in Lake Apopka, a large body of water in central Florida contaminated with DDE and other chemicals. Guillette had originally attributed the deformities in the animals to pollutants acting as estrogens.

GUILLETTE: But things bothered me, and that was is that one of the other things that we began to notice was that many of the males had abnormally small penises, and we know that penis development is testosterone dependent. That is, having elevated levels of estrogen probably wouldn't cause that effect. But they fit perfectly well under a scenario of depressed androgen because of an anti-androgen present.

BARON: Scientists like Guillette now suspect many of the effects they had attributed to the feminizing influence of environmental estrogens might really be due to the demasculinizing influence of anti-androgens. This seemingly subtle distinction represents a major change in thinking, say scientists. Even skeptics of claims that endocrine disrupters pose a major threat to people, such as toxicologist Steven Safe of Texas A&M University, consider the new EPA findings important.

SAFE: This paper is significant in that it opens up a whole new area that people didn't know existed before.

BARON: Safe cautions it's still too soon to conclude that endocrine disrupters are harming people, but he encourages further study. University of Missouri biologist Fred Vom Saal adds that the discovery of anti-androgens suggests scientists should look more broadly at many hormone systems that might be disrupted by pollutants.

VOM SAAL: For instance, the hormone progesterone, the adrenal hormones. We don't know whether these chemicals can also interfere with other hormone systems because nobody was really looking at anything except for the possibility of them acting like estrogen.

BARON: Vom Saal argues many chemicals that had been ruled out as endocrine disrupters because they had no apparent estrogenic effect must now be reconsidered. The EPA is hoping to boost funding for research into endocrine disrupters with new grants slated to be given next year, but scientists aren't banking on that money. If Congressional Republicans succeed in their efforts to cut a billion dollars or more from the EPA's budget, researchers fear it could be a long time before they're able to determine if environmental estrogens, anti-androgens, and other endocrine disrupters are harming human health. For Living on Earth, I'm David Baron reporting.

Back to top


Four Ways To Avoid Endocrine Disruptors

CURWOOD: Every time we hear about another factor of modern life that could be a hazard to our health, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and confused. What action does it make sense to take? For example, ultraviolet radiation from sunlight can cause skin cancer, and yet we don't want to spend our whole lives indoors. The science about hormone disruption is still sketchy, yet the dangers seem considerable. So we decided to get some advice about what personal steps would be prudent and practical for us to take to reduce our risk. To get this help, we turn now to Lisa Lefferts, who was the science editor for the Green Guide in Washington, DC. Now, first, Lisa, I want to ask you: how much of a risk do you think hormone-altering chemicals pose to people?

LEFFERTS: Well we know that people are exposed to hormone-altering chemicals, but we don't yet know what the risk or what impact that exposure may be having. It's hypothesized that it may have something to do with the increased rates of breast cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, the decline in sperm counts, the increase in endometriosis, and a number of other diseases and conditions. But we really don't know for sure. We do know that children and the developing embryo and the fetus are at greatest risk from these exposures. But while we're waiting to figure out just what impact there may be from these exposures, I think it makes sense to try to cut back on our exposures where we can.

CURWOOD: If something is indeed terribly wrong with these chemicals, how can we reduce our risk to them?

LEFFERTS: Well, I'd have 4 main recommendations. First is to avoid your exposure to pesticides. Not a bad idea anyway, since a number of pesticides are on the list of hormone-altering chemicals. There's lots of alternatives you can use and also, by buying organically produced and locally-produced food that may help not only reduce your exposure, but the exposure of farm workers and farmers and wildlife to these substances.

CURWOOD: Okay, that's number one.

LEFFERTS: Number one; number two, again this makes sense anyway, is to eat fewer and smaller portions of fatty meat and dairy products, since a number of hormonal contaminants are stored in fat. Number three, and this is a tougher one to implement, a number of chemicals associated with plastic and other synthetic products are on the list. Chemicals that we in the past didn't really think were a problem. So we were exposed to them through a number of pathways, and we're not exactly sure what all those pathways are. But if you can look for alternatives to plastics where you can, one of the most important things you could do here would be to avoid allowing plastic to contact fatty food, especially hot fatty food. So for example, when you microwave food, if you could heat it up in glass or ceramic cookware rather than using an old yogurt tub or margarine tub, that would be a lot better.

CURWOOD: Okay, and the fourth bit of advice for us?

LEFFERTS: Well, I think this is the most important. Since many exposures are out of our control, I think it's important that we start asking questions from industry and government. For example, there was a recent study that found that about 7 or 8 out of every 10 cans tested leached a hormone-altering chemical into the food. Well, now that we know that, how about if industry starts using those cans that don't leach that chemical?

CURWOOD: Well, should we be alarmed?

LEFFERTS: It is alarming that we're being exposed to potentially hormone-altering chemicals. Does that mean that I am erasing every bit of plastic from my life? No, I can't. Maybe in 10 years we'll find out that these substances weren't as bad as we thought, and that would be great, but as least we would have saved ourselves from being guinea pigs for those 10 years if we can find ways to avoid those chemicals. So I think it's important to call Campbells or Progresso and ask them to start using the cans that don't leach bisphenal-a, which is this hormone-altering chemical. Or to contact the makers of toys and teething rings and ask them to test their products for these types of effects.

CURWOOD: Thank you very much. Lisa Lefferts is science editor for the Green Guide. She joined us from Washington. Thank you.

LEFFERTS: Thank you.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Just ahead on Living on Earth: new evidence that pesticides are contaminating wild places that have never been farmed.

(Music up and under)

Airborne Pesticides

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Pesticide residues have been found in many places in the world where they've never been used at all. That's according to a study recently published in Science magazine. It provides important new data on the environmental fate of organochlorine-based pesticides, many of which can cause cancer and hormone disruption. From Living on Earth's Midwest bureau at WCPN in Cleveland, Robin Finesmith reports.

FINESMITH: The study found that pesticides sprayed in one part of the world can travel long distances through the atmosphere and accumulate elsewhere. Ronald Hites and Stacy Simonich of Indiana University found 22 pesticides in samples of tree bark from around the world, including many chemicals that have been banned in the US and Europe for health reasons.

HITES: We found small levels virtually everywhere we looked. Some of the more remote samples were in rainforests from South America, from various relatively pristine areas of Africa. Some of the lower levels were in some remote areas of Australia. Some very, very low levels in the western part of the United States.

FINESMITH: Hites says his findings prove that some common pesticides can vaporize into the atmosphere from warm regions where they're used and be carried to colder regions hundreds or thousands of miles away. In these colder areas the pesticides can accumulate on the ground and in plants and animals. This process, called the global distillation effect, has been suggested before, but hadn't been proven in a large-scale study until now. According to Hites, most of these pollutants are coming from Third World countries in warmer climates.

HITES: I think the major sources tend to be those developing countries, such as India, China, parts of the Middle East, parts of Central and South America, who still use some of these compounds in their agricultural practices. These countries are likely to be important sources to the colder regions of the globe.

FINESMITH: But Hites and Simonich found that some organochlorine pesticides don't evaporate easily and so those are not subject to the distillation effect. This group, which includes the notorious pesticide DDT and the commonly-used endosulfan, tend not to move as vapors very far from where they're used. But in another important result, the tree bark study showed that high concentrations of some of these chemicals can remain in the environment longer than had been thought, even in areas where they've been banned for years. In the United States, for example, breakdown products of DDT were found in agricultural areas of eastern states, the midwest, the southwest, and California.

HITES: We thought that we'd find some residuals in these tree bark samples, but not really as much as we did find. We were kind of surprised to find relatively high levels still in the developed countries. Even 15 to 20 years after the ban, in industrialized countries, these compounds are still around.

FINESMITH: Professor Hites says his and Simonich's findings on the movement of what he calls volatile and less volatile pesticides through the atmosphere can provide useful, long-term lessons to policymakers.

HITES: For the less volatile compounds, the higher molecular weight, chlorinated insecticides, movement through the atmosphere is not a particularly long range process. That was a surprise. Regulations for these non-volatile compounds on a country by country basis could be very effective, which is good news. That's not true for some of the more volatile compounds. In order to reduce the deposition of these compounds to arctic regions, one would really have to ban these compounds all over the world.

FINESMITH: No such ban is under consideration now, though the United Nations is laying the groundwork for international policy recommendations on these chemicals through an international assessment of pesticide use currently being designed. For Living on Earth, I'm Robin Finesmith in Cleveland.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Living on Earth Profile Series #16: Reverend James Parks Morton

CURWOOD: For more than 20 years, New York's giant cathedral of St. John the Divine has been a hotbed of environmental activism for people of all faiths. The man behind this green cathedral is its dean, James Parks Morton, and this week we meet him as part of our series on environmental pioneers. Living on Earth's Jan Nunley, who was recently ordained as an Episcopal priest, has our story.

(Traffic sounds)

NUNLEY: Outside the cathedral of St. John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue at West 112th, it's typically New York. Traffic, the sound of passing sirens, the sound of hammer on stone.

(More traffic and ambient noise, fading)

NUNLEY: But when these great doors open and you step inside, it's as if you've walked into a living thing. As if you've been swallowed, like Jonah, by a great creature, and you can feel its heart. The creators of the cathedral of St. John the Divine wanted it to be a house of prayer for all nations, in the words of the prophet Isaiah. But since 1972, the cathedral's dean, the Very Reverend James Parks Morton, has worked to imbue this house with a new spirit, to be a house of prayer for all creation.

MORTON: To be a house of prayer for all nations still is very important, and it's still true and it's something one still has to work at. But all of these still rest on air and on water and on the earth.

NUNLEY: Dean Morton's office is more like the wizard Merlin's workshop, filled with a jumble of paintings and blueprints and rocks and feathers and plants and books. The accumulation of two decades as the Episcopal church's environmental prophet. From preaching about global climate change and polluted water and air to envisioning a sustainable urban environment, Morton maintains his commitment to the Earth is a part of the cathedral's commitment to the community which surrounds it.

MORTON: These global issues and problems are very much New York's problems. And therefore, they're the problems that have got to be lifted up in this cathedral.

(Running water from a sink)

NUNLEY: Morton's vision of the cathedral has made its grounds a kind of inner city ark: a place of harbor and refuge for beings and ideas. Inside, there's a real live blue crab in a fish tank, and a statue of the wolf of Gubio, St. Francis's canine friend.

(Hammering sounds)

NUNLEY: Outside, master stone carver Simon Verite's hammer gently taps the faces of saints at the Portal of Paradise.

(Loud bird calls)

NUNLEY: Peacocks roam about and there's a Biblical garden with flowers and plants of the Holy Land just steps away from the cathedral's community recycling center, one of the first in New York. And the cathedral is an intellectual greenhouse for environmental thinking. It's helped germinate groups like the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, a coalition of Christians and Jews, and the Lindis Farm Association, linking theologians and scientists. Artists like Paul Winter and scientists like the inventor of the Gaia Hypothesis, James Lovelock, appear regularly at St. John's. Both the Winter Solstice and St. Francis Day are celebrated as environmental holy days.

(Footfalls echoing, voices)

NUNLEY: Morton started on his personal blueprint for this environmental ark in the 60s and early 70s. His ministry and civil rights and poverty work took an unexpected turn when he became deal of the cathedral.

MORTON: I met a whole slew of people who were environmentalists. John and Nancy Todd, and Rennie DeBose, and Father Tom Berry, Amory Lovins. And it was clear, instantly, that all of my seminary training and really all of my stuff in civil rights and community development simply didn't include the most fundamental thing, which was the priority of the earth. So, the notion of a green cathedral was very simply, I mean it couldn't be any other color.

NUNLEY: Green theology has spread through other mainline Christian groups. Still, Morton meets resistance to the Cathedral's environmental emphasis. He's even accused of opening the sanctuary door to paganism and Earth-worship.

MORTON: The short answer, is those people are wrong. And they're not preaching the Gospel; they're preaching some other truncated version of it. The Sermon on the Mount is about the most environmental thing in the whole world, because all of the images that Jesus himself used were based, were kind of land images. I mean, creation theology is Biblical theology. I mean you're not having to jump out of your skin.

NUNLEY: Dean Morton doesn't take credit for the green cathedral, and he doesn't think of it as unusual, either. To him, a church that reminds its people that we're all connected " to God, to one another, and to all creation " is just a church that's doing its job. For Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley.

Back to top

(Organ music echoing in the cathedral)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University.

(Organ music continues)

ANNOUNCER: Major contributors to Living on Earth include all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt " whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the Great Lakes Protection Fund; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Coming up in the second half of Living on Earth a look at the small, but growing presence of the Green Party in the United States. Their strategy is to start out local.

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth; I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's been the bikers versus the hikers out on the trail, but now some mountain bikers and foot travelers are working out ways to share the great outdoors. Also, a green market brings a bit of the country to Manhattan, and we hear your comments in this half hour of NPR's Living on Earth. First, this week's almanac.

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Humorist Will Cuppy wrote, "The dodo never had a chance. He seems to have been invented for the sole purposes of becoming extinct." The last dodo was killed 315 years ago. It had lived enemy-free on the island of Mauritius until the European colonists wiped it out. But more then just a species of bird was lost. The dodo had a symbiotic relationship with a type of tree on the island, eating the fruit and then spreading the seeds in its droppings. When the dodo bird disappeared, the ability of the dodo tree to reproduce went with it.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which is meant to prevent extinctions. The Wildlife Protection Society of India says unless the trade in tiger parts is stopped, the Indian tiger will be wiped out within the decade. The Siberian tiger faces the same fate. Tiger penis soup, used as an aphrodisiac, sells for up to $320 a bowl.

Back to top

(Music up and under; voices: "Subsequently!")

The US Green Party Thinks Locally

CURWOOD: As the presidential election season heats up, many are talking about a third party alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, and billionaire and past presidential candidate Ross Perot is in fact trying to build one. There have always been small alternative political parties in the US, and in recent years the Green Party has joined the list. But unlike the other marginal parties, the Greens have been steadily growing in recent years. And instead of trying to start at the top with national candidates, the Greens are getting folks elected to local offices. Richard Mahler has our report from Santa Fe.

(Green Party member Chris Moore, speaking before a group: "I think that's a good point the city manager's made and I would like to open up a discussion by moving that we indicate in our transmittal letter to the charter commission that we would like them to maintain...")

MAHLER: The City Council of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is in most respects like any other. Its members spend much of their time in a mundane workaday world of public meetings, like this session on redistricting. One thing that makes Santa Fe's City Council different is the presence of Chris Moore, a member of the Green Party.

(Moore: "... Civil Rights movement in situations where you have an area which is...")

MAHLER: Moore was elected in 1993 as part of a Green Party campaign to focus on local, rather than national, politics.

MOORE: The Greens, I think, have deliberately run in a few elections that were well-chosen, where we would at least make a good showing, and in some cases like myself here and like a lot of other elected officials on the local level actually win.

(Moore: "... or any Hispanics at all ... ")

MAHLER: Moore is one of 40-some Greens holding elected positions in 12 states. In addition to more than a dozen city councils, Greens now serve on school boards, county commissions, and in at least one mayor's office. While still a small party in terms of registration, the Green vote last fall was substantial in some key races. In New Mexico, for example, the Green candidate for governor won 10% of the vote, and 2 other statewide candidates received between 30 and 40%.

WOOD: I sense a lot of energy. There are a lot of people interested in the electoral politics.

MAHLER: Betty Wood is coordinator of the Green's national clearing house and helped organize a recent Green Party convention in Albuquerque.

WOOD: Our membership has grown about 15, at least 15% in the last 3 or 4 months; I believe it's more than that. There are many other people back in the localities who aren't a part of the national organization, who are doing a lot of good local and state work.

MAHLER: Greens like Wood say the party is benefiting from the surge of voter interest in independent political figures, such as Ross Perot and Colin Powell, as well as disenchantment with legislative gridlock and bickering among Democrats and Republicans. Many voters are also discouraged by what they see as a retreat from strong environmental protection by Washington. David Helvarg, an investigative journalist who's closely followed the Greens, says the party is tapping a rich vein in current politics.

HELVARG: Recent polls put out by ABC, by Newsweek, even a poll done for the Republican leadership, shows an overwhelming majority of the public, anywhere from 60 to 80%, saying they believe that we need stronger environmental protection and environmental legislation. That they support a cutback in government, unless it means restrictions on these kinds of environmental laws. In addition, the Clinton Administration has really not come through for the environmentalists.

MAHLER: Some other observers, including University of Michigan political science professor Steven Rosenstone, say that while the big environmental debates are being carried out in Washington, the Green strategy of concentrating on local issues is a good one.

ROSENSTONE: You can target the parts of the country where you're likely to have a real constituency, and so you're spending your effort very prudently, with great savvy. I think the other part of that strategy that I think makes good sense is that to the extent that you can participate in nonpartisan election the rules of the game with respect to ballot access, as well as the spin that comes with being an independent as opposed to being a member of a party is quite different, and it can actually work to their advantage.

MAHLER: Rosenstone believes powerful institutional barriers, such as ballot access rules and campaign financing, still stack the deck against third parties in state and national elections. He says Greens should not underestimate the power of the 2-party system, or overestimate the impact of changes in the public mood.

ROSENSTONE: I think where people have misinterpreted the 1992 election is that they've attributed the tremendous support that Ross Perot received as a sign of growing disaffection with the political system. That somehow we've transformed the system from one of a 2-party system to a system of 3 or 4 or 5 or more parties. And I think that's a great mistake.

MAHLER: Much of the Green's impact is still occurring within the context of a 2-party system, echoes journalist David Helvarg, who sees the Greens functioning more as a special interest group than a political party. Helvarg doesn't see them gathering a lot of votes, but rather influencing the direction of races where the environment is a salient issue.

HELVARG: Certain in areas like Montana and Northern California, the Greens have intervened in Congressional campaigns against the Republicans and Democrats they saw as weak on the environment and in fact influence the campaigns, either for some Democrats and even some Republicans, to begin addressing the environment more sympathetically rather than lose disenfranchised voters to the Greens.

MAHLER: Both Helvarg and Rosenstone are convinced that the Greens' national impact will be limited unless they can extend their perceived focus beyond the environment. The key to expanded influence, they say, is becoming a well-rounded party.

(Moore: " ... on the city council. I enjoy working in fact for the City Council, which is over half Hispanic...")

MAHLER: Santa Fe City Councilor Chris Moore agrees that his party suffers from a one-issue image, and concedes that the Greens need to reach beyond the white, well-educated middle class that makes up most of its membership. Moore says his party is starting to do this through grass roots organizing.

MOORE: By being involved in community movements, we show that we're not just politicians, and we don't just make promises during election season. In Ohio, the Greens are fighting nuclear waste; in New Jersey the Greens are organizing a credit union. Here in New Mexico we're involved in co-ops. In California they fought Proposition 187, the anti-immigrant law. So, you know, we're there all the time, even on the off-years, and that's another thing that big parties don't do. That shows people we're in it for the long haul.

MAHLER: The Green Party's leadership predicts a record 100 or more Greens will campaign for office next year, compared to 62 3 years ago. Despite their grass roots, local focus, the Greens are still thinking about running a candidate for president in 1996. For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Mahler in Santa Fe.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

New York City's Farm Fresh Produce

CURWOOD: When New Yorkers want to see fall colors, they can head upstate on the Thruway or catch the subway to Union Square, where the colors are as bright as the fall foliage, only tastier. There are deep, red, organic tomatoes. The russet tones of squashes. And the soothing greens of fennel and bok choy and sweet basil. Richard Schiffman has our story on open-air markets, which are a feast for the senses and soul. Refuges where the pavement-weary can renew their contact with nature's seasonal bounty.

SCHIFFMAN: At 5:30 on Saturday morning, the crisp autumn air is still and the moonlit streets are strangely deserted. But in a cafe across from Union Square, farmers gather to greet the urban dawn with a breakfast of eggs and hash browns.

HODLING: I try to go to bed when it's about 9:30, but the phone kept ringing.

WOMAN: I get there at 11 and get up at 3:30

SCHIFFMAN: When did you leave upstate?

HODLING: We were up about 20 minutes of 2 this morning.

SCHIFFMAN: That's early even for a farmer.

HODLING: Well, I've been doing it all summer, so. All I can say is thank God for New York, man. If it weren't for New York and these markets we'd starve to death.

SCHIFFMAN: For farmers like Pete Hodling of Hudson, New York, the trip down to one of the city's 22 green markets is an economic necessity. With increasing competition from large corporate farming and rising land prices throughout the Northeast Corridor, the small family farm is becoming a relic of the past in many areas. But thanks to the nation's largest network of street markets, many small farmers in the New York area and beyond have been granted a new lease on life.

(Man calling out at market: "Here, have this one, too...")

SCHIFFMAN: As the first gray light of morning illuminates the square, trucks are unloading their crates overflowing with peppers and squashes, potted plants and fragrant herbs. Scores of white canvas tents are being assembled on the sidewalk.

(Traffic sounds and a man calling)

SCHIFFMAN: Some 70,000 people are expected to pass through the market on this fall Saturday. Gray Kunz, the renowned chef of Lespinasse restaurant, is one of the first shoppers to arrive. He's picking over some miniature pumpkins.

KUHNS: Last Thanksgiving, we cut these up and we served a small portion of soup, took the cover off, and poached them actually in sauterne and sweet wine cinnamon and then put the soup back in here. It was really a great ornament, also, on the plate.

SCHIFFMAN: It isn't long before the sidewalk is choked with people. Mothers with baby strollers, senior citizens with shopping carts and roller-blading teens. But nobody seems to be in much of a hurry. Some are sorting through the piles of yellow tomatoes and the sweet corn picked just hours before. Others are gazing wide-eyed at the mysterious root vegetables which are shaped like the convolutions of a human brain. New Yorkers are taking a short vacation from their world of concrete and glass.

(Traffic noises, sounds of unloading, voices)

WOMAN: New York is not only the Plaza Hotel or Fifth Avenue or Lafayette. It is also here. I feel I am living in the village, now. It's better than you go to supermarket. I like to come here not only for the cheaper, just for touch the real life of the people.

WOMAN: I like coming here because it's so wonderful to interact with the people from the farms and shop outside. And just the whole atmosphere and a little something civilized in the middle of all the insanity. It's like escaping from the city for a little while. It's wonderful.

WOMAN: It's nice being in a place where you actually see things not in plastic packages and the food is really fresh, the broccoli's on the stem. The squash looks great, the pumpkins are wonderful. And you just get a sense of the seasons that you lose when you're in the city.

PATRAKER: It's easy to forget that before the onset of modern transportation and preservation techniques, people ate only what was in season and locally available.

SCHIFFMAN: Joel Patraker is the coordinator of the Union Square market. He says that the market puts people back in touch with natural cycles.

PATRAKER: Since the season comes back, when you live in a big city, especially like New York City, 3 in the morning tonight if we want to go buy a pineapple I bet you someone will sell it to us. So you lose that whole sense of seasonality. When you come to a farmer's market and you ask for the corn in May, somebody explains to you that there is no corn in May, you know, and you tell them why. And the same thing with when do the first beets show up and when does the first pumpkin show up? And you can even learn the season of a dairy cow if you want to know why is there less milk on the market today than there's not?

(Sound of food being weighed on a scale. Man: "That's not quite 4 pounds, it'll be $3.75." Woman: "That's fine, thanks." Man: "What other apple would you recommend? I'm looking for something that's really tart, but bursting with juice, you know?" Man: "Actually the Macintosh right off the tree is extremely crisp, tart, you have one right there. Then the Cortlandt I highly recommend. It's not just a baking apple, but...")

SCHIFFMAN: Apples are a big item at this time of the year. At the height of the season there are over 50 types sold at the Union Square green market. Some of the more unusual varieties might vanish from commercial cultivation if it were not for New York's network of farmer's markets. Organic grower John Gryzhinski says that agribusiness in America today is geared toward producing a few standard varieties in large volumes. And that makes it hard for small growers like him to market their crops.

GRYZHINSKI: Most of the big markets only want a pallet-load of the same product, the same size, the same grade, and that's 40 boxes. And a lot of my product, I don't even produce 40 boxes of for the whole season.

SCHIFFMAN: John Gryzhinski takes pride in the diversity of his produce. He doesn't grow a lot of anything, but what he does grow is free of synthetic chemicals and picked at the height of ripeness. The green market allows him to farm as he likes to farm, and to turn a reasonable profit at the same time.

GRYZHINSKI: In a wholesale market, the farmer retains less than 28% of the value of the product, okay? With direct sales like this, we're getting it all.

SCHIFFMAN: Green market farmers come to get a fair price for their crops, but the rewards which they reap at the market are not just financial. Most American growers sell to a middleman. They never hear from the people who actually eat their food. But green market farmers talk to their consumers every week. Time and again they hear what few American farmers ever hear: the words "thank you." Eileen Farnan is an organic grape grower from the Finger Lakes region of western New York State.

FARNAN: The second year we came, and the people started saying, "Oh it's so good to have you back," you have no idea how great that felt. Many years of dealing with corporate America and the wine industry made you feel like they were doing you a favor by taking your grapes. And down here the people really appreciate us coming and look forward to us every year.

SCHIFFMAN: For market coordinator Joel Patraker, this sense of connection between farmer and consumer is what the green market is all about.

PATRAKER: I want to always be able to say to someone, do you know who grew the food you ate today? I want to be able to say, you know, you're eating Ken's eggs, you're eating Elvina's beans, and this is Morris's lemon grass. And that's a special thing to be able to say that.

SCHIFFMAN: Plans are now being laid for a national center for farmers markets training and development in Washington, DC. Joel Patraker says that he looks forward to the day when city dwellers throughout America will enjoy fresh foods sold by the people who produce them. For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Schiffman at the Union Square green market in New York City.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Just ahead on Living on Earth: making peace out on the trail between hikers and mountain bikers.

(Music up and under)

Make Way for Mountain Bikes

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth; I'm Steve Curwood. Has this happened to you? You're out hiking on a crisp fall morning, the chill in the air seems less as your body warms on the climb, when suddenly from around the corner comes a flash of chrome and spinning rubber that sends you diving off the trail. Or maybe you've been out mountain biking, soaring and sliding and pumping up and down hills when suddenly around the corner you encounter a hiker standing immobilized in the middle of the trail like a beached whale. You swerve, only narrowly averting disaster. Is there room on the trails for bikers and hikers? Dan Grossman reports that increasingly, there is.

GROSSMAN: Just north of Boston, Bob Hicks, wearing faded cutoffs and a T-shirt, is about to indulge in his favorite sport.

HICKS: We're going in here, we're going to go up over a little rise of land and down to the edge of the pond. Then we're going to ride along the side of the pond for about a mile.

GROSSMAN: Hicks hops onto a red bike and in seconds he leaves his battered pickup and the asphalt road behind. Small branches reaching across the narrow trail brush his body. His tires sink deeply into a bed of decayed leaves. Hicks says he rides whenever he can. A little way down the trail, he stops for a breather.

HICKS: I can go out for a ride for 15 or 20 or 25 miles in several hours, enjoy the exercise of the bicycle, some of the challenges of climbing the hills, and the rush that comes from going downhill. But I also see the countryside in a little larger scale than the walker or the hiker does.

GROSSMAN: Hicks began pedaling trails 5 years ago at the start of an explosion in rough riding. The number of Americans owning bikes with sturdy frames, knobby tires, and upright handlebars, known as mountain bikes, grew from 200,000 in 1983 to over 30 million today.

(Sound of moving gravel. Man: "Here's a little spot I planted out from the other side.")

GROSSMAN: But in the minds of many hikers and horseback riders, that was a problem. Old carriage roads and trails were suddenly rolling with high-tech pedalers, startling horses and foot travelers. The cyclists widen trails at tight curves and hasten erosion. So in the late 80s, backed by conservation groups like the Sierra Club, land managers began applying the brakes. Some parks closed their trails to riders completely. The restrictions spawned a bitter backlash to fight the closings. But recently, longtime enemies like the Sierra Club and the International Mountain Bicycling Association began making up. The Sierra Club's Mark Bettinger says his group has realized the problem isn't bikes but bad bikers.

BETTINGER: The Sierra Club in general has recognized the fact that not all mountain bikers are the wild-eyed radical thrashers that come crashing through the woods, cutting corners and, you know, destroying trails. That there are people that like to take a ride out to a beautiful place and have a picnic and enjoy nature just like a hiker does.

GROSSMAN: Mountain biker Bob Hicks agrees. As vice president of the New England Mountain Bike Association, he distributes brochures on riding etiquette. Hicks opposes outright closures. But he agrees that controls to manage trail use are sometimes needed.

HICKS: Where the use is too concentrated and there's too many other user groups, then trail use management is going to have to take place. The sport is no longer an infant; it's maybe adolescent now. Mountain biking. And it's beginning to realize like an adolescent that it has some responsibilities.

GROSSMAN: Hicks says one of the best examples of trail management that has reduced trail damage and friction between users is practiced at the Noannat Woods Park west of Boston.

(Footfalls on gravel)

MORGAN: You can see that before they worked on it, you could guess if there were grooves showing. It was beginning to get scooped out...

GROSSMAN: Park ranger Rich Morgan points out a trail recently repaired by a Scout troop. Not long ago, up to 70 riders congregated here some days to climb this reserve's gentle hills and to coast through shady beech and oak groves. Soon the speeding cyclists began converting torturous trails into broad byways. So last year, the local conservation group which owns the reserve created pools for the riders.

MAN: Mountain biking, is that after 11 o'clock in the morning?

RANGER: Yes, sir. Weekends and holidays only, after 11. Rest of the time sunrise to sunset. And we ask you to pay for a permit to do it.

GROSSMAN: Now bikers aren't allowed until 11 o'clock on weekends. They're prohibited from narrow trails and ridged trails where erosion is worst. And they're charged an annual $15 fee.

MORGAN: Use has been cut down during the weekends and holidays by one to two thirds at least. Thus, the deterioration of the trails due to the number of mountain bikers has stopped. For the moment, we're in good balance now and there is healing going on and we seem to have worked out an equitable compromise between all users.

GROSSMAN: Managers of private land like Noannan have an easier time making new rules to control cyclers than government officials do. But public parks are doing it, too, often without opposition. All this backpedaling of hikers and bikers began last year at a summit meeting between the Sierra Club and the International Mountain Bicycling Association. The bikers agreed that wilderness areas should remain free of riders. And the Sierra Club agreed that bikes do have a place in parks. This cautious truce went into high gear when Republicans won the Congress last fall. Both groups now say the greatest threat to outdoor recreation comes not from each other, but from budget cuts and attacks on environmental laws. The Sierra Club's Mark Bettinger.

BETTINGER: There's still hostilities that exist, and they're going to exist because it's been going on for a long time, you know, it's not perfect for either side. But you know, we see this as a way to, you know, to get over some differences and focus on the real issue, which is preserving and protecting open space in wild land areas.

(Footfalls through brush.)

HICKS: The left turn up here goes over to the college campus...

GROSSMAN: After a pleasant tour of 4 or 5 miles, cyclist Bob Hicks is ready to call it a day. He says conflicts over park use are bound to flare up now and again. But by and large, back country riders and other park lovers are learning to share the trails in peace. For Living on Earth, this is Daniel Grossman.

Back to top

(Tires on gravel, followed by music up and under)

Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And now, let's hear from you, our listeners.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Many of you responded to our recent story about more scientific certainty that we are now seeing early signs of global warming. Dennis Henise, a meteorologist who listens to WLRN in Miami, wrote via the Internet that global warming is very, very likely manmade. "I have for years quite seriously advised people here in the Florida keys not to invest in real estate they plan to pass on to future generations. But nobody takes the advice seriously."

Many of you suggested things that we should do to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

CALLER: Hello, my name is Rebecca Bell, and I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. I think that the price of gasoline in the United States should probably be triple what it is today. I think it's going to be a long time before the political system and the people of the United States will be ready for that, but we don't have a long time. So I hope it happens sooner than later.

CURWOOD: But there were still a number of people, including this listener to WVXU in Cincinnati, who urge caution.

CALLER: I'm not fully convinced yet that global warming is a real problem. I want to see if it's cyclical or not, and I haven't seen enough to tell me that it really is a problem. Thank you.

CURWOOD: A recent story described how a fleet of supersonic airplanes could speed travel around the world, but could also speed the destruction of the ozone layer. "That report misses a major point," writes Robert Nielson. "The Concorde supersonic, which was used in the study, is outdated," he said. "A study predicated on a future fleet of Concordes with no acknowledgment of considerably advanced engine technology is not much news at all."

Our story about calls to release Lolita, the orca whale, who lives in a Florida aquarium, sparked a number of calls. Ralph Carson listens to Living on Earth on KNOW in St. Paul, Minnesota.

CARSON: I've always been opposed to the keeping of any of the cetacean species in captivity at all. I've always been very convinced since childhood that they were at least as smart as we are, and we absolutely have no right to have any jurisdiction over them whatsoever.

CURWOOD: A listener from Wichita, Kansas, sees it another way.

CALLER: I don't like the idea of wild animals being in captivity. But on the other hand, no one ever seems to offer a solution to how we educate our children and introduce them to the dolphins and the whales without having theme parks and zoos and so forth.

CURWOOD: Esther Peters listens to Living on Earth on both WEVO in Concord, New Hampshire, and WMEA in Portland, Maine. She, too, dislikes the idea of marine mammals living in captivity, but she says putting Lolita back in the ocean would be a mistake.

PETERS: Let the poor lady live her life out in peace where she is. She's used to it. Thank you.

Back to top


CURWOOD: Your comments are always welcome here at Living on Earth. Our listener line number is 1-800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. And if you're putting pen to paper, send it to Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $12.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. Our director is Deborah Stavro. Our coordinating producer is George Homsy. Our associate producer is Kim Motylewski, and our news editor is Constantine Von Hoffman. Our production team includes Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, and Eric Losick. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Karen Given and Rory Forest. Our Harvard engineers are Jeff Martini and Larry Bouthelliere. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Great Lakes Protection Fund; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; and all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt " whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth