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

February 9, 1996

Air Date: February 9, 1996


1996 Presidential Candidates Profiles Series: Steve Forbes / Linda Killian

So far, without a long political voting record to examine, not that much is known about Presidential election candidate Steve Forbes' views on environmental issues. In this profile of the 17% flat tax champion by reporter Linda Killian, we hear from Forbes on Arctic oil drilling, property takings, and acid rain. (06:33)

Green Focus Groups / David Hammond

In the past, media, politicians and advertisers were the only people using focus groups to refine their public messages. Increasingly, environmental organizations are using polls and small experimental research gatherings to examine their campaign strategies' effectiveness. David Hammond of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports on this recent trend. (05:54)

1,872 Miles for Minerals / Mary Boyle

Earlier this year, Mr. Larry Tuttle walked 1,872 miles around the Western United States to highlight and discuss the current U.S. law governing mining regulations. Penned in the year 1872, many citizens and activists feel the law is so antiquated, and mineral rights sold so cheaply, that it is in need of a major overhaul. Reform of the Act signed by President Ulysses S. Grant keeps getting discussed but stalled in Washington. Mary Boyle reports from Billings, Montana. (07:50)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about chocolate. (01:00)

Valentine's Day "Flours"

Wendy Gordon of the organization Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet chats with Steve Curwood about the group's Valentine's Day suggested gift alternative to typical long stem red rose "flowers", of organic "flour". The advocacy group hopes to draw attention to the idea of organic foods as loving items worthy of exchange. (03:08)

Destruction by Decree / Alexa Dvorson

Alexa Dvorson reports from the West African nation of Cameroon on the continued rapid rate of rainforest deforestation there. Promises have been made and broken by European loggers about building schools and roads for the local inhabitants, and some Camerounians have protested and been jailed for their actions. Meanwhile, Dvorson explains that the country's President has vowed to be the leader in African timber exports. (21:45)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1996 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: Eric Westervelt, Ruth Rowland, Linda Killian, David Hammond,
Mary Boyle, Alexa Dvorson
GUEST: Wendy Gordon

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Millionaire publisher turned presidential politician Steve Forbes rarely speaks about the environment, but when he does he gets some sharp criticism.

WEISS: Mr. Forbes' comments that nature causes acid rain makes him eligible to be a charter member of the Flat Earth Society.

CURWOOD: Also, some environmental groups are using fancy pollsters and marketing techniques to help them develop their message. In contrast, we meet a man who walked 1,872 miles to protest government mining giveaways. Larry Tuttle says you can't change people's minds without meeting them.

TUTTLE: We've relied so much on organizations that we've forgotten to do the basics, which is one-to-one community organizing.

CURWOOD: We'll have that and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. Unless consumption patterns change, the world's population growth will outpace fresh water supplies in the next 30 years. The study published in the journal Science says fresh water supplies are expected to increase by 10% in the next 3 decades, at the same time the human population is expected nearly to double. The report, whose authors include Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, says only about 2.5% of the earth's water is fresh. Two thirds of that is locked up in glaciers and ice caps.

Republican presidential hopeful Lamar Alexander is criticizing GOP leaders in Congress for failing to protect the environment. In a speech at a New Hampshire college, the former Tennessee governor said his party hadn't done such a good job on environmental issues. He called on the GOP to become protector of the great outdoors. Alexander's speech came a day after a group of Republican conservationists in the Granite State launched a TV ad challenging candidates to go on the record on environmental issues. Eric Westervelt of New Hampshire Public Radio reports.

WESTERVELT: New Hampshire Republicans for Responsible Conservation say environmental issues have been ignored by their party's presidential candidates, and the Coalition is taking their concerns to the airwaves with a TV ad. The group decided to launch the new ad after none of the major GOP candidates showed up to a recent 3-day conference on environmental protection. The Democrats sent Vice President Al Gore. Republican State Senator Rick Russman is co-founder of the group.

RUSSMAN: This is a major misstep for these candidates not to be seizing the day when it comes to the environment. It's never been a partisan issue. We would still love to at least have an opportunity to sit down with them and let them know what our views are on some of the issues that the Congress has chosen to relax and roll back.

WESTERVELT: Meanwhile, a survey by the New Hampshire-based group Energy America shows Republican White House hopefuls want to cut Federal energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. All of them support opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, and most support a controversial property rights bill. A prominent Republican pollster recently warned the GOP that the party was, quote, "our of the mainstream on conservation issues." For Living on Earth, this is Eric Westervelt.

NUNLEY: Two Englishmen may have found an environmentally friendly solution to the ancient problem of protecting ships from barnacles. Former tanker captain Bill McDonald and Dr. Jeremy Watson had developed a substance that makes ships' hulls too slippery for barnacles to grip. Barnacles attach themselves to the hulls of ships, slowing the vessels down and increasing fuel costs. Current substances used to fend off barnacles are highly toxic to many forms of sea life, as well as the offending barnacles. The 2 men say they found the answer to the problem by looking at substances used to make surgical appliances slippery enough to reduce pain when inserted in the body.

An Oregon ballot initiative that would keep livestock away from nearly 1,000 waterways in the state is going to court before petitions to get on the ballot have even been circulated. From KLCC in Oregon, Ruth Rowland reports.

ROWLAND: Before supporters of the Oregon Clean Stream Initiative could print out petitions, they had to fend off a challenge from the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, which appealed the ballot title to the Oregon Supreme Court. At issue was the title's useof the word "polluted" to refer to streams which fall short of state water quality standards. Fred Ottley, president of the Cattlemen's Association, says the word may mislead voters about the initiative's intentions.

OTTLEY: There are many water quality limited streams that under the new standards that have nothing to do with land use, have nothing to do with recreation, have nothing to do with industry, and sure has nothing to do with livestock grazing. So it's really important that the ballot title clearly show what the initiative petition's about.

ROWLAND: Initiative supporters plan to put the measure on Oregon's November ballot. They say it's the first time the state has tried using the initiative process to set grazing policy. For Living on Earth, I'm Ruth Rowland in Eugene.

NUNLEY: Federal budget cuts have resulted in the premathieu release of 8 million baby salmon from Oregon hatcheries. The fish were released into the icy Columbia River, where hatchery officials say they face almost certain death. Millions more of the tiny fish are scheduled for early release, and some simply may be killed and buried. Congress recently cut $3.5 million for state and federal hatchery programs in the Northwest. The loss of the salmon comes as other branches of the government are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to restore depleted salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin.

The world's oldest whiskey distillery has put some salmon on the rocks. Bush Mills of Northern Ireland is being prosecuted by the British Department of the Environment for a chemical spill into the Bush River last year which decimated salmon stocks. Anglers say it will take decades for stocks to be replenished in the river, one of the province's best known fishing spots.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

1996 Presidential Candidates Profiles Series: Steve Forbes

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As New Hampshire prepares to hold the first in the nation presidential primary, the candidacy of millionaire publisher turned politician Steve Forbes continues to dominate much of the debate. In particular, people are talking about how that flat tax he's been thumping would affect us all. At times, Mr. Forbes has spent a million dollars a day to get his message across, and his media blitz has boosted him to the top of the polls. But he's had little to say about an issue that voters are more and more concerned about: care for our environment. We do know that in 1993, Steve Forbes successfully campaigned to stop a private airport from expanding near his estate in Somerset County, New Jersey. Concerns about noise, air pollution, and safety were more important than the right of a small businessman to expand, Mr. Forbes argued. But beyond his own neighborhood, how would Mr. Forbes balance the need for environmental protection with the needs of business? Linda Killian prepared our report.

(A gathering of people. Woman: "How much of the vote do you want out of Iowa?" Man: "As many as we can get.")

KILLIAN: Now that Steve Forbes is considered a serious candidate, he's being questioned on issues other than the flat tax. Issues like environmental protection.


KILLIAN: Take, for example, the debate over whether to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Most Americans polled think it's a bad idea. Here's what Steve Forbes said about drilling in the Alaskan preserve at a recent New Hampshire appearance.

FORBES: I believe that that can be explored in an environmentally safe fashion. So that I've probably lost 20 votes here, but so be it. I'm not going to duck the question. I've been supportive of opening up ANWAR.

(Cheers: "Forbes! Forbes! Forbes!")

KILLIAN: As Mr. Forbes hits the campaign trail, more details of his environmental views are emerging. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, he said he favors eliminating many environmental regulations and curbing the excesses of the Environmental Protection Agency by reducing its funding. And in a comment reminiscent of former President Ronald Reagan's suggestion that trees cause pollution, he told the Globe he believes acid rain is caused by nature, not power plant emissions.

WEISS: Mr. Forbes' comments that nature causes acid rain makes him eligible to be a charter member of the Flat Earth Society.

KILLIAN: Daniel Weiss is the legislative director of the Sierra Club.

WEISS: Every credible scientific institution in this country that's looked at the acid rain problem have all concluded that sulfur emissions from power plants in the Midwest are responsible for acid rain in the Northeast. Either he's appealing to the lunatic fringe of the anti-environmental movement, or a profound ignorance about science and public policy.

KILLIAN: Daniel Weiss says it's difficult to fully assess Mr. Forbes' positions on the environment because he has no political record to examine. But he says he is wary of Steve Forbes' talk of deregulation, the kind of approach the candidate discussed in a recent New Hampshire appearance where he laid out his basic environmental principles.

FORBES: First we must respect science and not get into emotionalism as we sometimes have done in the past on things like alar and the apples, which destroyed the livelihood of many innocent people and was based on bogus science. Second, there's nothing wrong with cost benefit analysis. Even America does not have infinite resources, so let's be sure we get something for those resources dedicated to cleaning up the environment that we get some good clean air in return. Third, you might call it do it right and make it effective, i.e., Superfund. On Superfund, too much of the money goes in courts and lawyers. If we have a health hazard, clean the darn thing up. And finally, allow a little bit of innovation and imagination. If we have a goal, there's no need for Washington or even the state to give you 10,000 pages of instructions on how to achieve it.

KILLIAN: Mr. Forbes has also expressed his views on the environment in his Forbes Magazine column. He criticizes groups like the Sierra Club as, quote, "aimless, bloated, self-perpetuating bureaucracies more interested in raking in contributions than in promoting a better environment." And he has railed against government taking of private property to preserve wetlands, endangered species, and recreation sites. Steve Forbes tends to favor something known as free market environmentalism, using financial incentives or approaches to solve ecological problems. For example, selling pollution credits, or encouraging people to purchase land to protect it from development. He generally believes economic approaches can solve most of the nation's problems. Like his ideological soul-mate, Jack Kemp, a former member of Congress and Bush Administration Housing Secretary, Mr. Forbes is a supply sider. Here's what Mr. Kemp thinks Steve Forbes adds to the race.

KEMP: Courage, integrity, indefatigable spirit, unambiguous belief in America's role in the world and the belief that entrepreneurial capitalism can be unleashed from the macro to the micro and from the micro to the, you know, to the world. I mean that is a powerful message that I think transcends the debate today. I think it needs to be heard.

KILLIAN: But what also needs to be heard, say environmental groups, is a lot more from Steve Forbes about where he stands on environmental issues. They want to know whether he supports Republican efforts in the 104th Congress to weaken environmental laws. A number of recent polls show Americans oppose such a move. That was well demonstrated in the recent US Senate race in Oregon. Ron Wyden, a liberal Democrat, defeated Republican Gordon Smith, a businessman, due in large part to the votes of people concerned about the environment. The Sierra Club's Daniel Weiss says Steve Forbes will have to address this issue or risk losing votes.

WEISS: Americans want and demand a clean and safe environment. Opinion poll after opinion poll shows that. He can reject that if he likes, in an effort to appeal to his corporate buddies, but it's at his own electoral peril.

KILLIAN: No stranger to poll watching, President Clinton is well aware that defending environmental protection plays well, and he's already said this will be an important issue in the '96 campaign. Should Steve Forbes be the Republican nominee, he will have to devise his own environmental agenda to offer to the voters. For Living on Earth, I'm Linda Killian.

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(Music up and under)

Green Focus Groups

CURWOOD: Two of the nation's largest environmental groups say they learned an important lesson in Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden's recent razor-thin Senatorial victory over Republican Gordon Smith. The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters spent nearly $300,000 buying up TV time to attack Mr. Smith's environmental record. The result: exit polls show that of the 130,000 or so people who said the environment was important to them, 3 out of 4 voted for Mr. Wyden. The two groups now say they will use more television ads in crucial campaigns this fall, and use polls and focus groups to help refine their messages. Once used exclusively by politicians and ad agencies, sophisticated polling techniques and focus groups are now being used by more and more environmental groups. But some say these focus groups are a waste of money. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's David Hammond explains.

(People in a focus group; several voices speaking)

HAMMOND: It's early on a Tuesday evening in Detroit, and there's nervous anticipation as 6 women and 4 men gather in a small conference room. They've come here to be part of what they think is a research experiment. In reality, it's a focus group convened by several US and Canadian environmental organizations to help refine their message on Great Lakes water quality. Nancy Belden, a partner in Belden and Associates, a public opinion research firm explains.

BELDEN: They're trying to use focus groups to identify what people already know or don't know about Great Lakes water quality issues, so that we can help the Great Lakes environmental organizations figure out ways to talk effectively to the public.

HAMMOND: One of those organizations is Toronto's Pollution Probe. Bruce Lourie is the group's project manager, and he says the usefulness of focus groups goes beyond simply testing a particular message. He calls them a learning experience for environmentalists.

LOURIE: It's a really significant reality check for people who spend a lot of their time buried deeply in these issues, you know, trying to work out minute details of where a toxic substance enters the water and how it enters the wildlife and humans and what the health effects are. And then you come to a focus group and you find out that people don't even know how many Great Lakes there are. You know, you really realize that we've got to step back, explain our messages more clearly, use the kind of language and terminology that the public understands.

HAMMOND: That's exactly what Chicago's Environmental Law and Policy Center is trying to accomplish in a recent Columbus focus group.

(Woman: I'm going to pass around some cards with some ideas or messages on them...")

HAMMOND: ELPC is developing a TV ad campaign touting the benefits of energy efficiency. The spot is a play on typical laundry detergent commercials, claiming that energy efficiency can bring bluer blues and whiter whites to the environment.

(Music with man's voice-over: "Doesn't the environment deserve the same treatment as your laundry?")

HAMMOND: ELPC's Peter Morman wants to learn 2 things. Will the audience think the ad is funny? And will the underlying message get through?

MORMAN: We're trying not to preach to people on this issue. We're just trying to draw their attention, maybe make them chuckle a little bit, and realize that there are very simple things they can do to help the environment and save themselves money.

(Music with man's voice-over: "Maybe someday we'll live in a world without ring around the city.")

HAMMOND: Around the Great Lakes the popularity of focus groups is rising among larger environmental organizations. During the last year, at least 5 groups spent about $200,000 on 20 sessions. But Pollution Probe's Bruce Lourie says not all environmental groups are embracing the technique.

LOURIE: Particularly, the real grassroots organizations that, you know, these are the tactics used by people marketing running shoes, not the tactics used by environmental organizations who, you know, should be I guess relying more on their instincts.

HAMMOND: Among the skeptics is Steve Blackledge, Field Director for Michigan's Public Interest Research Group, or PIRGM.

BLACKLEDGE: Groups like PIRGM and the PIRGs who are out, we are out canvassing every day, knocking on doors, talking to members, talking to potential members. We don't use them and I think we feel like we're very much in touch with people and don't need the focus groups.

HAMMOND: Of course, cost is also a factor for smaller organizations. A single focus group session usually runs around $4,000 to $5,000 and the average campaign usually convenes 3 to 4 sessions. Add in some quantitative survey work and the tally can run near $35,000. Blackledge says that's just too expensive.

BLACKLEDGE: We wouldn't choose to spend our money that way. We, the money that we're raising from our members, we want to use it for exactly what we're telling them to use it on. What we tell them we're going to use it on. And that is lobbying Congress or doing research or organizing other groups.

HAMMOND: Cost is an issue, admits Mark Van Putten, National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Field Director. But he says the price of not understanding one's audience is much greater.

VAN PUTTEN: What we've been able to do in the Great Lakes region is to share those costs and share the research among a number of the groups, because we are all working on different aspects of the same problem. So there's no reason for us to reinvent the wheel.

HAMMOND: To that end, National Wildlife and Pollution Probe have been sponsoring a number of workshops and conference calls to share their findings with other environmental groups both large and small. One discovery concerns public attitudes toward government and the environment. According to the research, both liberals and conservatives agree by a 2 to 1 margin that not only has government been responsible for improving the environment, but that a strong governmental role is needed now to protect those gains. The environmental groups say it's this kind of documented information which is invaluable in their efforts to counter Congressional calls for deregulation and budget cuts. For Living on Earth, I'm David Hammond in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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CURWOOD: Showing the courage of one's convictions one step at a time is just ahead on Living on Earth. Stick around.

(Music up and under)

1,872 Miles for Minerals

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Activists around the country are looking for ways to get back in touch with the grass roots, and find an effective way to get their message across. For Oregon activist Larry Tuttle, who's been working for reform of the country's 1872 Mining Act, that quest led him to take a good, long walk. Producer Mary Boyle prepared our report.

(Music up and under: "When I get off the train and start walking, oh, oh. That's when I feel the way that I was born to in my soul, when I'm walking all around, just walk in my shoes...")

BOYLE: Environmentalist Larry Tuttle isn't walking today. He's taking a well-deserved rest.

TUTTLE: I did mathematical calculations in my head when I was on the trip, and actually walked exact number of steps as you see there, 4,392,560. Zero blisters, about 500 peanut butter sandwiches, that's a conservative estimate I suspect.

BOYLE: The peanut butter sandwiches helped fuel Tuttle's 1,872-mile journey to draw attention to our nation's 1872 Hard Rock Mining Law.

TUTTLE: In May I decided to dramatize the need for mining law reform by walking 1,872 miles between Salem, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado. And I went through the state capitols of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming on that route.

(Music up and under)

BOYLE: To encourage settlement of the West, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the General Mining Law of 1872, legislation that remains unchanged today, 124 years later. This law allows individuals, or mining companies, to buy public land dirt cheap in order to extract hard rock minerals like gold and silver. The issue of reform has been fiercely debated over the past few years.

TUTTLE: The fact that land is transferred to private owners of mining claims for $5 an acre is simply unacceptable. In addition to that, mining companies, whether they're foreign or domestic, pay the Federal taxpayer nothing for the removal of minerals from public lands.

(Traffic sounds and bird calls, footfalls)

BOYLE: For 5 months the western back roads unfolded in front of Tuttle's eyes. The beauty of pronghorn antelope, sparkling streams and sunsets. The tragedy of aluminum cans and diapers strewn along the roads. But not only did Tuttle walk, he talked to anyone about updating the mining law. And he didn't shy away from any community, no matter what the townfolk thought about mining.

(Traffic sounds and footfalls)

TUTTLE: There are no places where I had any kind of a hostile reception. There are certainly places in the West that have more traditionally been connected with mining and sometimes they were a little cooler. There are some mining operations in northern Idaho that are being developed along the Salmon River, and being actively pushed by local Chambers of Commerce and others. And those communities probably were the coolest to me, Challis and Salmon, Idaho. But even there, I was able to talk to some of the citizens that have been active in these issues for a long time. Newspapers were willing to do the story. So I think it was important that we went to those places that are basically in the heart in the mining country as well as areas that would be automatically more friendly to our message.

(People gathered and talking)

BOYLE: No matter where Tuttle visited folks, whether it be in their local coffee shop, community hall, or homes, people always listened.

TUTTLE: So long as I kind of had 3 principles, how I approached them. One, I had to be direct and I had to be honest, and above all I also treat people in a very civil manner. And there is a possibility for dialogue if we approach it that way, something you forget if you're working on high profile issues and you could kind of, I don't know, hard edge I guess I would say.

BOYLE: And Tuttle says he had a hard edge, while working on salmon and old growth forest issues. A commercial banker by trade, Tuttle has served as a county commissioner in Oregon, spearheaded an unsuccessful state initiative tribe to limit mining with cyanide, and has worked for large and small environmental groups. But even with all these experiences, Tuttle says, he forgot what it meant to be an environmentalist.

TUTTLE: For whatever reason there's been a drifting away by the environmental organizations to work only as kind of lobby and litigating kinds of organizations. And what I think has happened is that we've gotten so relied -- we've relied so much on organizations that we've forgotten to do the basics, which is one to one, community organizing.

BOYLE: One on one. That was the intent of Tuttle's walk. He needed to reconnect with small community-based organizations, spend time with real people who live on the land.

TUTTLE: One story that stands out for me is a woman in North Fork, Idaho, who is organizing people in her community to oppose a cyanide heap leach mine proposed for their back yard. and this is someone who works in a hospital, works 12-hour shifts, gets up at 1:30 in the morning and works for 12 hours straight. But what impressed me is, in addition to all of that and all of the kinds of disagreeable things about being an activist in her community, she was still willing to put in 40 hours a week or so to get public information out about this mine. And one of the things I was able to do is hook up with people like that, and I really got a lot of inspiration from their stories.

(Music up and under: "The boss man was so mean, you know, I worked just like a slave Sixteen long hours that'd put anybody in the grave. That's why I'm walkin'. Walkin' my old blues away...")

BOYLE: With plenty of time to think, Tuttle says the walk mellowed him. He lost his hard edge, his anger that would build when people didn't view environmental issues with his degree of passion. He realized that anger only cut him off from the people he was trying to persuade.

TUTTLE: I'm going to have to do a better job as an environmentalist in making connections with these communities. But what we'll have not only is a change for the 1872 Mining Law, but an understanding that we can have a better West without driving people away, and we can protect ground water, we can protect surface water, we can protect traditional industries. That's really what's most important for the entire West. Cuts down not only on the hostility that seems to exist in the West, but really provides a new future for 21st century businesses as well as traditional businesses in communities.

BOYLE: After he finished his trek, Larry Tuttle drove his VW van 1,872 miles from Denver, Colorado, back home to Portland, Oregon. He continues to work fulltime on mining issues as the Director of the Center for Environmental Equity, and walks 7 miles a day. For Living on Earth I'm Mary Boyle in Billings, Montana.

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(Music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major support from the Ford Foundation for reporting on environmental and development issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; Jennifer and Ted Stanley, and the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up in the second half of Living on Earth, we'll be finding out how to give your Valentine gift an ecological spin. You'll love it. Stay tuned.

(Music up and under)

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Despite years of public concern and protests, the tropical rainforests keep disappearing, and while South America and Asia are still losing lots of forests, the fastest destruction is now taking place in Africa. The rapid death of the African rainforests 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: In the heart of the coldest month is one of our warmest days, a celebration of romance and love and devotion and a time to exchange gifts with the object of our affection. Valentine's Day. Now you may wonder why an environmental newsmagazine is concerned with Valentine's Day. But without love, of course, we wouldn't even have an ecosystem to talk about. There are other reasons for us to consider Valentine's Day, and we might as well get right down to it: chocolate. It's a perennial favorite on V-Day. In 1994, Americans consumed nearly 3 billion pounds of chocolate. That's about 11 pounds of the sweet stuff for each and every one of us. Chocolate, of course, comes from the cacao tree, which these days is usually found on large tropical plantations, often carved out of clear-cut rainforests. But this monoculture method reduces the productive lifespan of the trees from 60 years to about 20 years, and also erodes the trees' gene pool. Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides pollute water supplies, poison the local fauna, and compound the problem of habitat loss. But relax. This doesn't have to spoil your Valentine's Day. If you like, there's always organic chocolate. It's made chemically free from cacao grown on smaller, biologically diverse farms. And the rainforest doesn't have to come down, either. Instead, these trees grow as an understory crop beneath the forest canopy.

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(Music up and under)

Valentine's Day "Flours"

CURWOOD: Beyond chocolate, when most people think of Valentine's Day gifts, they think of candlelit dinners and long-stemmed red roses. But this year the New York City-based group Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet has a novel idea. Wendy Gordon is the group's executive director.

GORDON: We're offering flours as well, but our flowers come with a U not a W: F-L-O-U-R-S. These flours are all organic and that means the farmers that created the flour made it without pesticides.

CURWOOD: This is supposed to be romantic?

GORDON: (Laughs) Well, I think humor is really the basis of all romance and so we thought that people would find this a special treat.

CURWOOD: If I were to try to give this to my sweetheart, what could I tell her?

GORDON: Tell her you love her, and that with this gift it's packed with purpose. And you're sharing with her a message of love about her health, your health, and the environment. Because this flour has been grown in a more environmentally responsible way.

CURWOOD: Now what kind of flours are these? If they're not roses and peonies and such, what's the variety of flours that you're offering?

GORDON: Well, we provide 3 different flours. One's an oat flour, one's an amaranth, and one's a whole wheat. Delicious varieties, and they can be used in almost any kind of baking. The amaranth has a stronger flavor than the others do, and they might not be as familiar to people, but actually it's quite a lovely flavor.

CURWOOD: Tell me, does the amaranth have any sort of, you know, amorous effect at all?

GORDON: Oh, it might.

CURWOOD: Now, you'd like to see people buying organic flour all year round, of course, wouldn't you?

GORDON: Yeah. No, that's -- the hidden message here is that Mothers and Others is an advocacy and education organization, and the underlying purpose there is to really educate people about the availability of products that are grown organically. And to encourage them to buy these products and to encourage their stores to carry them. So that we can in a sense build the market and build the availability, the supply, and the demand really, for organic and sustainably grown foods.

CURWOOD: This is what's at the heart of it?

GORDON: That's at the heart of it.

CURWOOD: Now, what can people do if they can't find organic flour at their local store and they want it?

GORDON: First of all you can call Mothers and Others, and we can help you find organic foods wherever you live, at any time of day or night. But also, you can go to your supermarket and encourage them to carry these products. And what we can do for you is help your store find a distributor in their area. So we try to make it a little easier for everybody, the consumer as well as the supermarket.

CURWOOD: Our guest has been Wendy Gordon, Executive Director of Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet. The group promotes sustainability in the nation's food system. Have a good Valentine's Day.

GORDON: Well thank you, and you also.

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CURWOOD: Take the timber and run. West Africans charge that European logging companies are denuding the landscape and leaving them in poverty. That's just ahead on Living on Earth. Stay tuned.

(Music up and under)

Destruction by Decree

CURWOOD: Long after most of the former colonial powers departed from Africa 30 years ago, France, Great Britain, and other European Community members have stayed on to log in West Africa. Africa's forests are now disappearing at a faster rate than any in the world, yet they receive the least public attention. Every year in Africa, a forest area the size of Switzerland disappears. With 75% of West Africa virtually logged out, the Europeans are now heading into the heart of the continent: the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Zaire. One of the African nations that has been hit hardest by deforestation in recent years is Cameroon. Experts say at the current rate, a child born today might see all of Cameroon's remaining forests disappear in his or her lifetime. Alexa Dvorson recently traveled to Cameroon to investigate.

(People singing)

DVORSON: In the lush, muddy outskirts of town, women of the Bamileke tribe, one of over 200 ethnic groups of Cameroon, weep and sing at sunset to mark the end of a grieving period after a family member has died. The ceremony lasts for hours. By the time it's over, the crying gives way to dancing and laughter. But when it comes to the forest in Cameroon, the grieving is far from over.

WOMAN: [Speaks in native language]
TRANSLATOR: What bothers me is that every time you look at the road, you see another logging truck taking our trees away, at least 100 trucks a day. But we never see any of the money, and this country is so poor and underdeveloped. We are friendly with the French, but they are robbing the riches our grandparents should be leaving to us, the children. They are taking our rights away with our riches. They just take everything and run.

DVORSON: Yaya is only 12, but he's seen enough to understand what the European timber industry is doing to his country. Not only is the tropical forest here vanishing at an even faster rate than in Southeast Asia and the Amazon. The impoverished local residents get next to nothing in return. But Tobias Mbenkum, an official at the Environment Ministry, says Cameroon has no choice but to oblige the Europeans.

MBENKUM: The forests are being exploited in order to alleviate poverty, and we are simply saying that the country is pushed and forced to depend on these resources in order to have a source of revenue for our people.

DVORSON: But it's widely known, isn't it, that Cameroon is hardly benefiting at all from the exploitation. It's the European companies who are getting rich, not you.

MBENKUM: You know, as a Cameroonian I feel very cheated. I think that the government could be described as being victim of circumstances.

(People singing)

DVORSON: Circumstances is shorthand for Africa's post-colonial legacy. Thirty-five years after independence, the French still maintain a strong political and economic grip on their former colonies south of the Sahara. But if the Cameroonian government appears a victim of these circumstances, it is only adding to the misery with its laissez-faire approach to French logging. The World Bank fully supports the Europeans in their harvest of African timber, and the post-colonial relationship gives France the lion's share of logging rights in Cameroon; over 70% of the timber companies are French. The logging industry employs about 20,000 Cameroonians, but the country derives little other economic benefit. Most of the profits and revenues are shipped overseas along with the logs, and the forest suffers as well.

(People singing)

DVORSON: Officially, Cameroon has tight controls on logging practices. But even though clear cutting is banned, many studies conclude the current practice of skimming, or selective cutting, is not sustainable. Huge areas of forests are often destroyed to locate and cut a single centuries-old tree. A detailed report by a Dutch university claims that the timber companies are not motivated to apply environmentally friendly techniques if they cost more in the short term. Forest inventory, replanting, or improved road construction do not figure anywhere in the loggers' activities. Even Joseph Besong of the Forestry Department's Licensing Division acknowledges that when he evaluates the French timber companies.

BESONG: Dynamic as loggers they meet the terms of their contracts very well. As protectors of the environment, it's a different matter. I don't think that's their goal. Somebody else has to protect the environment.

DVORSON: Who's it going to be.

BESONG: You, for example. (Laughs) Or Friends of the Earth. Why is there so much worry about forests being destroyed? I wish you'd see for yourself what's happening. It will give you a better picture.

(People gathered on a moving train)

DVORSON: Cameroon straddles West and Central Africa, where the continent appears on the map to bend at the waist just above the Equator. On a train ride across the country, the contrast between east and west is striking. In the west, population density is high. Most of the land has been logged out and converted to farmland. What remains of the forest is now a free-for-all. The scenery looks lush but it's scarred by local hunting and unauthorized tree felling. According to a report by Friends of the Earth titled Forests Foregone, the ecological decline in the western part of Cameroon is, like the rest of West Africa, too severe to recover. As we make our way east, the hilly landscape gives way to a flat expanse of tropical terrain. The forests in Cameroon's remote east province, which border those in the Congo and Central African Republic, are still partly intact. But doesn't Cameroon risk repeating in the east the fate of West Africa's forests which have all but vanished? I think back to my conversation with Joseph Besong, the forestry official. He was confident the logged areas would regenerate by themselves, and new legislation would protect much of the rest. He insisted conversion of forest to farmland was a good idea. As for logging's threat to Cameroon's unique biodiversity, with a loss of 2% of species every year, he just smiled. What kind of sustainability is more important, he asked: having more variety of birds and monkeys in your back yard? Or enough mangoes and yams to sustain a local community? In the world's poorest continent, he had a point.

(People yelling, children.)

DVORSON: Despite the change in terrain from west to east, the human landscape of hardship is universal. Even without getting off the train, it's clearly visible how much survival hangs by a thread for much of the population. For the 2 or 3 minutes the train stops at each station, haggard children rush onto the platform, clamoring to shove through the windows whatever they can sell to the passengers. Mangoes, bananas, bottled water, spicy ground fish wrapped in leaves.

(Children yelling; people conversing)

DVORSON: Their livelihoods revolve around this brief frenzy, with only 1 or 2 trains a day. Then we're gone. It's another 2 days travel by collective bush taxi, sardine style, to the village of Mbang in the heart of the forest. Max Francis grew up nearby.

(Tree frogs, bird calls)

FRANCIS: [Speaks in French]
TRANSLATOR: The forest is a divine gift; it's the wealth of nature all around you. I always regarded the forest as a place of lushness and liberty. You feel happy, you blossom like the plants. Nothing can disturb you, you feel free. There are many resources that could help people: the trees, animals, the rivers, everything that's alive in the forest. It's very beautiful. It's another world, very different from the one we are in right now.

(A hacksaw starts up and runs)

DVORSON: Max Francis knows both worlds: the untold wealth of the standing forest, with its natural pharmaceuticals and the staple fruit and oil of the moabi tree, and the calculated wealth of logging. He's a witness to one world succumbing to the other.

(Hacksaw continues)

DVORSON: Because of tree felling, the soil is degraded, waterlogged and eroded. So many areas have been opened by logging roads that the poaching of wild game, especially chimpanzees, is unprecedented. Still, there are jobs here. The village of Mbang is the site of one of the biggest logging operations in the country, owned by the French company SFID. Manager Pascale Mathieu heads the sawmill, which runs day and night.

(Sawing sounds from a mill)

MATHIEU: Very often, peoples are coming here and saying stop working. I say stop working? No, I don't what to stop working. And here I have 600 persons who don't want to stop working, because we eat every day. We want to work for a long time. Stop working? Why?

(A door creaks)

DVORSON: This bush outpost oversees one of only 2 European sawmills in the entire country, where wood is processed locally. Most of the logs are shipped out raw. Every 10 minutes we pass convoys on the brick red dirt road, carrying logs like giant corpses to waiting ships in the Atlantic bound for Europe. Some of the convoys are from neighboring countries, but most are from Cameroon. Every truckload is said to be worth about $20,000. Cameroon earns only around a fourth of what the trees are actually worth. It's the old cash crop syndrome: Third World prices decided by First World customers. And life has become harder than ever since the French devaluation of the West and Central African currency by half, 2 years ago. While the cost of living effectively doubled overnight for millions of people, French timber operators here made handsome profits. But even if the profits leave with the logs, there should at least be enough money in taxes left over to fund some form of environmental safeguards.

MATHIEU: We pay tax to be allowed to go in the forest to see if there is wood. You pay tax to have a license of exploitation. Then you pay taxes on every cubic meter that you cut. Then you pay tax on every cubic meter...

DVORSON: So where's the money? That's anyone's guess. Sawmill manager Pascale Mathieu estimates 90% of the European companies operating in Cameroon pay their taxes. But much of that money doesn't seem to land in the treasury; otherwise, Immanuell Koumbio, a local forestry official, would be able to monitor the loggers' activities. But he can hardly do his job without a vehicle, and he says there are no funds to buy him one.

KOUMBIO: [Speaks in French]
TRANSLATOR: Maybe the money takes some detours. Even if the timber companies pay a lot of tax, who knows where it ends up? It's anarchy in the forest. This disorder comes from a lack of control; this state doesn't give us enough support to do our work sufficiently, to keep an eye on the Europeans. So they do whatever they want.

DVORSON: Not enough control, too much bureaucracy. That's how Koumbio sums up the government's role. Too much bribery as well. In a country wracked by bankruptcy and corruption, officials like Immanuel Koumbio are powerless to control the loggers when they break the rules, and few authorities can resist a tidy payoff in exchange for a few extra unaccounted trees. But Koumbio's written pleas for help in the capitol Yaounde fall on deaf ears.

KOUMBIO: [Speaks in French]
TRANSLATOR: Oh, it's so hard for us. Of course we write. But it's just a waste of your mind. Because it's not our place to advise our bosses of what to do and what's going on. It's their decision. If the boss agrees to something and you disagree, you could lose your job.

DVORSON: Research by the Dutch university shows a high incidence of government ordered transfers of officials who report loggers' irregularities. At the Environment Ministry, Tobias Mbekum makes no attempt to mask the corruption that is fueling the cycle of environmental degradation, poverty, and moral crisis.

MBEKUM: Corruption is now at all levels. People can no longer resist the temptation. When you find salaries reduced by about 60% and then the devaluation comes. They are living below the poverty line. They are living below subsistence. This is the way it all begins.

(People singing)

DVORSON: This cycle of poverty and corruption is the story of resource exploitation all over Africa. But the legacy here is unique because this is the first African country to stage any local resistance to European logging. That's a risky business in a nation most consider repressive and authoritarian. President Paul Biya, who is backed by the French government, has vowed to make Cameroon Africa's biggest timber exporter. He does not like opposition. Even people staging peaceful protests, whether political or environmental, have been jailed or beaten. The recent execution of the environmental activist Ken Saro-wiwa in neighboring Nigeria might serve as a warning to Cameroonians not to stage too many eco-battles in their own country.

YOUMBI: When you are weak you have to accept that you are weak. With the political condition in Cameroon, what is the position of the Cameroonian? It is to sit down and wait. We are waiting for whom to change our situation?

DVORSON: A local affiliate of Friends of the Earth in Cameroon is fighting a losing battle led by Augustine Youmbi. His is a 3-way struggle to reach the government, the loggers, and the villagers on the edge of survival.

YOUMBI: I can only do a little I can. First help people and secondly you can talk about the ecology.

DVORSON: Is it hard to bring across an environmental message to them? To people who think that the notion of ecology is a northern idea from the developed countries that doesn't have anything to do with the reality here? People have lived with the force all their lives, so they think that it will never go away?

YOUMBI: It is very hard to communicate to them, because their poverty is not the same like in Europe. Now, what people need is to survive. When someone doesn't have money to buy something to eat, don't talk to him about ecology; he would say you are stupid, and in this context the ecological message is very, very hard to transmit.

DVORSON: But what about transmitting it to the Europeans?

YOUMBI: Oh! People in Europe are more interested by the profit they take from the wood exploitation in Africa, than the protection of forests. That is the problem.

(People singing)

DVORSON: Originally, a limited timber harvest seemed like a good idea to the villagers. They could benefit from a few more roads to ease the transport of badly needed goods, like clothing, soap, and fuel. But nowadays, conflicts between loggers and local communities seem as common as the logging itself. Companies like SFID refuse to initiate or pay for any reforestation programs. They say it shouldn't be their responsibility. In exchange for permission to enter the forest, logging companies originally offered to repair roads, build schools, and set up health clinics. But after years of broken promises and mistreatment, a few villages took to sabotaging the French operations, blocking roads and setting fire to logging trucks. Attoka Matton, an elder resident of Mbang, has never taken part in such actions. But he's given up even trying to reason peacefully with the Europeans.

MATTON: [Speaks in French]
TRANSLATOR: What could I say to them that would make any difference? I'm no more important than a splinter of wood. A little mosquito out here. We don't want anything for free, just to see our children trained so they could work for a living. I am saying this because we villagers are the most miserable of everyone now. Those people exploiting our forests, couldn't they at least maintain the roads and bridges for us, build a few small schools for our children? That would help. But they've simply forgotten us.

(Radio music)

DVORSON: But as he drives back to his plush, air-conditioned quarters in Mbang, sawmill manager Pascale Mathieu says it's not his job to help the local people. He's a logger, he explains with an apologetic grin, not a charity mission. Above his dining room table with a buzzer to summon his housekeeper, he has a wall-sized map of Africa, with tiny tacks indicating the areas his company has already logged and where he might go next. He's weary of reporters and environmentalists asking him the impossible: to stop logging. And he dismisses the complaints of villagers like Attoka Matton as irrelevant.

MATHIEU: The person saying this is not a person you can easily speak with, because it's not a person that knows exactly the situation. When he can see big trucks with logs and the sawmill and lots of money. It's something very spectacular. He has never seen so much money in his village, and he says I must have my part. This is his problem.

DVORSON: But they're still a human being, and they still have a right --

MATHIEU: Yes of course it's a human being, but living in another civilization completely. How can you speak of economic problem, world market of the wood, of environment? What do they know of environment?


DVORSON: Perhaps more than Pascale Mathieu supposes. Max Francis, who worked for Mathieu's company for a while, soon became disillusioned and quit. He says he's seen enough of the French and the marginal salaries they pay the local workers. His own uncle was imprisoned for months after staging nonviolent resistance to the logging in his own village. Max Francis asked me to take this message back to Europe.

FRANCIS: [Speaks in French]
TRANSLATION: It's not I who created these trees; it's God. So the forest belongs to everyone. In the strictest sense, the wood in this local area should be ours, and if we can't consume it all, it's perfectly all right if you want to come and take some. But please do it rationally and not savagely. Don't take everything. You say you are only taking a little, but I see stacks of it rotting and burning. If you could log in another way, we would say nothing, but this is awful. Because these are the only riches we have left. What will happen tomorrow if you take everything today? That's my message to my European brothers.

(Frogs croaking; other animals)

DVORSON: Cameroon's nickname is Africa in Miniature because its diverse landscapes contain something of every natural feature in this continent. But if the European loggers continue their African timber harvest with the same profit motive as before, a forest in miniature may be all that eventually remains. For Living on Earth, this is Alexa Dvorson in Mbang, East Cameroon.

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(Drum beats; music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. If you have a comment on our program, call us at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try our e-mail address, that's LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $12.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Senior producer for Living on Earth is Chris Ballman. Our editor is Peter Thomson and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson.
We also had help from Christopher Knorr, Mark Borrelli, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, Michael Argue, and Kathryn Bennett. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Karen Given and Laurie Forest. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthellier and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics; the Joyce Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the Ford Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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