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

November 1, 1996

Air Date: November 1, 1996


And God Said It Was Good / Kelly Griffin

Kelly Griffin reports from Colorado on the recent increase in profile and dialogue among evangelical Christian environmentalists. They say the imperative for stewardship of the earth is all laid out in the Holy Scriptures. (06:55)

The Lost Gospel

Author Senator Tom Hayden talks with Jan Nunley about some of the fundamental beliefs behind his new book on the sacred ethics of preserving all life. The book's title is The Lost Gospel of the Earth published by Sierra Club Books. (06:56)

Nanny Goat Fire Control / Fritz Faerber

In the hills around Oakland, California some nanny goats are being herded to do their job: eat the scrub grass down to keep future fires from spreading. Fritz Faerber reports on the pros and cons of this technique which is not free from criticism. (05:40)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about. . . the origins of the stock market phrase "bull" and "bear" markets. (01:15)

Mother Ganges / Richard Schiffman

Richard Schiffman reports from Benares, India on the banks of the Ganges River on the essential role the river plays in people's daily lives which includes drinking, washing, bathing in Hindu religious rites, and even as a destination for cremated human ashes. Pollution is a problem along the river and a subtle campaign of clean-up awareness, stressing inhabitants' sacred relationship to their "River Mother, " is afoot. (13:05)

Cry Wolf / Bob Carty

Bob Carty visits Canada's Algonquin Park where thousands of visitors gather every summer as a ranger howls for the wolves that live there to reply and be heard. Tourists come from all over to hear this increasingly rare primitive call. (09:10)

Nature's Gazebos

Jan Nunley speaks with an Oregon listener who grows trees together in formations to create a sort of natural gazebo house. Patience is required to achieve one of these arbor houses. (03:00)

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: Jan Nunley
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Stephanie O'Neill, Jyl Hoyt, Kelly Griffin, Fritz Faerber, Richard Schiffman, Bob Carty
GUESTS: Tom Hayden, Howard Grund-Clampit

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley.

Conservative Christian groups once concentrated on saving souls and then societies. Now some are concerned with saving species, too.

CHISHOLM: We are a part of the Creation. We are not separate from the Creation and therefore we have to live in harmony with the Creation or else we live in disharmony with Creation at our own peril.

NUNLEY: Also, when clearing brush to prevent wildfires, some people aren't kidding when they say animals are better than machines.

HANNEKEN: I wore one machine out after another, and I got into goats and goats is a better way. Besides that, goats have babies and produce more and tractors don't.

NUNLEY: This week on Living on Earth. First this news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: For Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. Authorities in Oregon's Willamette National Forest are trying to determine if a rash of suspicious fires is the work of a little-known environmental group. The fires began October 28th when a truck was set on fire at a ranger station in Detroit, Oregon. Two days later, officials discovered what they're calling a potential incendiary device on the station's roof. That same morning a second ranger station was burned to the ground. The cause of the fires is under investigation, but officials say graffiti at the first incident bears the name of the Earth Liberation Front. The ELF doesn't maintain a headquarters and could not be reached for comment. The group has its roots in Europe, and a recent article in the magazine Earth First says it advocates annual Earth Nights of radical environmental action on Halloween.

There is no consistent evidence that electric and magnetic fields cause any human disease. That's the conclusion of a study by the National Research Council. Scientists evaluated nearly 500 studies conducted since 1979 on the health effects of high power lines. They found no link between electromagnetic fields and cancer rates, reproductive, and developmental abnormalities, or impairments of learning and behavior. Electromagnetic fields have been a health concern since 1979, when researchers first linked some childhood leukemias to the proximity of high-voltage power lines.

Southern California's air was cleaner this year than at any time in the last 4 decades. From Los Angeles, Stephanie O'Neill reports.

O'NEILL: This year's smog season, which runs from May to October, was cleaner than even last year's record-breaking levels. Officials say smog alerts were only issued on 7 days, a 50% decrease from the year before. Twenty years ago there were 102 smog alert days. Authorities say much of the credit for the decline should go to the new cleaner burning gasoline required by the state, which has had the same effect as eliminating three and a half million cars from the state's roads. And in another first the nation's worst smog day, a distinction long held by Los Angeles, this year went instead to Houston. Still, Southern California continues to face a serious air pollution problem. The area's air quality failed to meet national health standards on 87 days. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

MULLINS: A chemical used for mosquito control could be linked to deformities showing up in frogs across North America. A researcher at Ball State University in Indiana says that when the chemical methoprene breaks down it produces a substance resembling retinoic acid, which is important in a frog's physical development. Researcher Michael Lannu says in the laboratory retinoic acid can produce nearly all the limb deformities found in frogs in the US and Canada. Lannu says the source of the chemical, which is used for mosquito control, is still unknown, and that this is just one possible explanation for the misshapen legs, extra limbs, and missing or misplaced eyes found on the frogs.

Six California condors, rare birds with 9-foot wingspans, will soon take their place back in the wild. From KBSU in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports.

HOYT: The vulture-like birds were flown in special cages from captive breeding sites in Idaho and California to the edge of the Vermillion Cliffs in the Grand Canyon. US Fish and Wildlife officials plan to release the condors next month, once the huge birds acclimate to their new surroundings. The release decision comes after a year of legal delays. Commissioners in Utah's San Juan County complained the condors might limit logging, mining, and other developments. Federal officials finally agreed to release the birds and designate them as experimental, which makes it harder to hold citizens liable for condor deaths. Wildlife officials who've done similar releases in California say they want to introduce condors into other areas to diversify and stabilize their populations. The birds, which can live to be 42 years old, were almost extinct before recovery efforts. Scientists say now there are 120 condors worldwide. For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.

MULLINS: Navy personnel involved in the 1940s nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll have died at a rate nearly 5% higher than other US sailors. But researchers at the National Academy of Sciences say radiation does not appear to be the cause of increased mortality. Some 40,000 military personnel, mostly from the Navy, participated in the nuclear tests 50 years ago. While these veterans' overall death rate was elevated, deaths from cancers and leukemia, expected to be higher if radiation was a cause, were not statistically significant. Even servicemen believed to have been exposed to the highest radiation doses did not die from an unusually high rate of cancer or leukemia. Researchers say the reasons for the higher death rate are unclear.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Lisa Mullins.

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And God Said It Was Good

NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. Conservative religious groups have gained political prominence in recent years with their support of family values and their opposition to abortion and homosexuality. Their concerns center on what they see as the pollution of our moral environment. But a growing number of evangelical Christians who call themselves conservative on most counts are equally concerned about the pollution of the natural world. They say the Bible directs Christians to take care of God's creation and they say strong environmental laws are the way to do it. Colorado Public Radio's Kelly Griffin prepared our report.

CHISHOLM: As usual, let's begin class with a word of prayer. Our dear heavenly Father, we thank you that you created a wonderful world for us to enjoy, and we pray that we may be good stewards of that Earth, and we pray that we may...

GRIFFIN: In this world history class at Colorado Christian University, Professor Dave Chisholm's prayer sets the tone for his lecture on the environmental movement. Mr. Chisholm, who by most measures is a conservative Republican, launches the discussion with this pronouncement.

CHISHOLM: Now, you know from past classes that I unhesitatingly call myself a Christian environmentalist. And I don't consider that an oxymoron. But many of our fellow believers imagine that the environmental movement poses some sort of threat to our faith. That's a very common idea. As a matter of fact...

GRIFFIN: It has never seemed like a threat to Mr. Chisholm. The son of a Methodist minister raised on a farm, the lanky 52-year old says he grew up with the notion that Christians should be stewards of the land. He believes God made humans superior to other forms of life.

CHISHOLM: But at the same time we are a part of the Creation. We are not separate from the Creation and therefore we have to live in harmony with the Creation or else we live in disharmony with Creation at our own peril.

GRIFFIN: Mr. Chisholm likes to point out the work begins at home. On his 5-acre property south of Denver he lets native prairie grasses and virgin timber grow instead of landscaping. But Mr. Chisholm hasn't found a lot of company among his Christian friends. Even at his own church, where Bible classes include topics like marriage and finances, they have never addressed environmental concerns. That's why he recently became part of a national evangelical group that says Christianity and environmentalism go hand in hand. The Evangelical Environmental Network was formed 4 years ago by Christian leaders who follow conservative orthodoxy on topics such as abortion and family issues. But they also believe churches shouldn't be silent on the Bible's call to preserve God's creation. The network has been quietly building support in churches nationwide. Now it is seeking a more public profile, getting involved in a political issue for the first time.

(Advertisement: man's voice-over above inspirational music: "In the book of Genesis, Noah builds an ark and saves all living species from destruction. It was God's command. Well, today, God's creatures are threatened by our own great flood: of pollution, of habitat destruction. And that's why America...")

GRIFFIN: The network this year launched a campaign including radio spots like this one to highlight Christian support for the Endangered Species Act. The network calls the act the modern-day Noah's ark for saving threatened species.

(Commercial continued: "But now the ark itself is threatened. Powerful special interests are pressing Congress to weaken and undermine the Endangered Species Act...")

GRIFFIN: Network director Stan Laquire says the group wants to help Christians understand the Biblical imperative for getting involved in environmental issues.

LAQUIRE: Although the Bible doesn't say thou shalt support the Endangered Species Act, it does say that God made all of these creatures and pronounced them good in Genesis 1. So if therefore the Creator's opinion of these is good, then that's an opinion that needs to be considered before we make them bad or even nonexistent.

GRIFFIN: The network is circulating petitions in support of the act in churches around the country. So far about 1500 churches have signed on. Mr. Laquire says the network has developed a video and other materials for churches that draw on Biblical references to protecting the planet. One source is a book called The Garden of God: Selections from the Bible's Teaching About the Creation. It's published by the International Bible Society in Colorado Springs. Glen Powell, who edited the scripture-laden book, says it often is an eye-opener for Christians.

POWELL: I think I've seen people grow in their understanding of the Bible and what it really teaches about the world and God's concern for it and what his ultimate plan for it is. And that's been encouraging.

GRIFFIN: But the network has a long way to go. Many evangelicals still don't see the environment as a Christian issue. In fact, some of Professor Chisholm's students are leery of environmentalists, who they say tend to worship the Earth, not God.

WOMAN: I don't really believe in all that New Age movement. So in a way what they say can hurt a Christian perspective.

MAN: If we get tied in with a group that we see as being heretical, if you get lumped in with that then they think you're just the same.

GRIFFIN: Ralph Reed, national director of the Christian Coalition, doesn't want to get lumped in with most environmentalists, either. Yet Mr. Reed insists the Christian Coalition is committed to conservation.

REED: It would be a mistake to equate liberal environmental policy with Christian environmental policy. I think Christians want to preserve the environment and want to preserve natural resources. But they also believe that God has given Earth to man so that he can use it to meet his needs as long as he doesn't abuse it.

GRIFFIN: But it's hard to find a commitment to conservation in the records of the Coalition's Congressional allies. Most of the members of Congress who get a top rating from the Christian Coalition score lowest on the environmental scorecard prepared by the League of Conservation Voters. That record doesn't surprise the Evangelical Environmental Network's Stan Laquire. What he's trying to do with the network is bring out other evangelical Christian viewpoints.

LAQUIRE: In a nation that has some 30 to 50 million evangelicals, I think this is just showing that evangelicals are a diverse group. Our research shows that over 50% of evangelicals do support strong environmental laws. Unfortunately, the media drifts to those evangelicals which are more controversial or extreme, and -- and they're leaving out the mainstream here. And I think what you're seeing is more evangelicals speaking up.

GRIFFIN: Mr. Laquire says if the network is successful, in years to come environmentalism will become common ground for Christians and non-Christians alike. For Living on Earth, I'm Kelly Griffin in Denver.

CHISHOLM:... Be good stewards of that Earth and we pray these things in the name of Jesus, our Savior, and the one who created all things. Amen.

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The Lost Gospel

NUNLEY: As religious communities work to retrieve the environmental roots of their faith, at least one politician is engaging the question as well. Tom Hayden, a California State Senator and long-time environmental advocate, has written The Lost Gospel of the Earth, published by Sierra Club Books. The book speaks to a mysticism about nature, which Mr. Hayden believes is at the core of all religions. He says we must reclaim a reverence for the Earth in order to cope with what he calls the planetary crises of population explosion and resource loss. Tom Hayden joined us recently to discuss his book, and I asked him how this gospel of respect for the earth was lost in the first place.

HAYDEN: In the original search in our western tradition for a single god, there was also a search to unify the state or the kingdom out of all the various tribal communities that worshipped many gods. And so as a consequence of that, there came to be an emphasis on an overarching god that was above the earth, that we said our prayers to pointing upwards. And anyone that dissented was seen as what we know today as a pagan and was persecuted for worshipping in sacred groves and so on, and so it became an almost extreme division between grace and nature. And as a senator in Sacramento, I chair the environmental committee, the natural resources committee. And I have noticed over the past decade that in all of our environmental debates there never has been a clergy voice. They may come to testify on homelessness issues, or abortion issues, or what have you. But for the most part, the environment is considered outside the scope of expertise of organized religion. Now that's changing, there is a national partnership on religion and the environment and I would hope that this book accelerates the change.

NUNLEY: Now, one of the things that you mentioned was a need to rethink various tenets of religions, and in western monotheism you talk about rethinking the idea of a creator who's external to the creation, the notion that humans are really the only beings who have moral agency and the idea of an afterlife. Is it really those ideas where the trouble lies, or is it with people who use those concepts to justify their own self-interested decisions?

HAYDEN: I think you could make the argument either way. It depends on your attachment to a tradition. If you're attached to a tradition, I would say recover the lost part of it. But I think one can believe in a single god, for example, or monotheism, and incorporate the Earth as also sacred. I'm not choosing, I'm not choosing from the menu of religious experience here. I think it's extremely important that this notion of reverence for the Earth as sacred be revived in whatever tradition we find ourselves.

NUNLEY: But there's a little bit of self-interest involved here, too. If we don't take care of the Earth, the Earth won't take care of us.

HAYDEN: Exactly. Although I don't know that the Golden Rule will get us through. I think you have to have some sense of reverence. And I know in a secular political realm, that's difficult to come by. What I mean by that is -- is that if we believe that the environment has a price tag, that it's subject to utilitarian ethics, it will always be traded away in the clutch. But if we believe that the environment has a sacred dimension that doesn't have a price tag to it, that there is a certain value in a salmon and in the mind of a salmon and in the heritage of a salmon that can't be calculated, and that the loss of a salmon is the loss of our own imagination, the diminishment of our own capacity to be creative, then I think the environment would be treated altogether differently than it is now.

NUNLEY: Now, let's talk about politics and some of the changes in policymaking you'd like to see. You've said that the nature of the state must be harmonized with the state of nature. Now what do you mean by that?

HAYDEN: Well, it's out of whack. If you take the west, where I'm from, you find that all the rivers have been dammed. It's costing billions, perhaps trillions of dollars over time. It's all kind of an engineered Leviathan state from Los Angeles to the Colorado River. And the premise there is that not only are we entitled to mastery but that we can achieve it. And this is the real problem with being a little lord of the universe: this belief that there is a scientific, technological fix for everything. In my view, the -- the nature of the state now has to be made more harmonious with the state of nature. What would that mean in a practical sense? In Los Angeles it would mean, instead of building higher and higher walls for $500 million in the old Los Angeles River and calling it a drainage project, which is what we're doing now with taxpayer dollars, which will only shoot the cascades and floods of water faster towards Long Beach, we ought to be recreating the Los Angeles River and building our society and our economy alongside of it.

NUNLEY: Do you have any churches that are involved in this issue? Synagogues, anybody?

HAYDEN: Yes. The -- one of my observations in the Senate has been that the clergy have been absent from the environment debate. So we organized in Los Angeles and around the state a network called Clergy for All Creation. And they've gotten involved in issues like the Los Angeles River. They've testified in Sacramento that on the basis of Genesis, on the basis of our western tradition, all of creation is meant to be sacred, and therefore the Endangered Species Act has an ethical and spiritual justification. That is a very powerful argument when you add to it the economic, the ecological and the legal arguments. I find that that's very -- that engages people.

NUNLEY: Does it surprise some legislators to see people showing up?

HAYDEN: It did. It did. One of my colleagues who previously thought that he had the lock on Christian discussion found himself in a very animated debate with these ministers and rabbis over the true meaning of Genesis. And I don't know that it changed his mind immediately. But it certainly engaged him in a way that's fruitful, and he continues to think about it and talk about it. And I think that's extremely healthy.

NUNLEY: My guest has been Tom Hayden, the author of The Lost Gospel of the Earth: A Call for Renewing Nature's Spirit in Politics. Thank you so much for being here.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

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NUNLEY: Getting out the goat to help fight fires in California. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Nanny Goat Fire Control

NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. As southern California recovers from its latest round of battles with wildfires, we note that this year marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating fires in the hills of Oakland. That blaze raged for 3 days, killing 25 people and destroying nearly 3,000 homes. Since then local government agencies have worked together to prevent a repeat of this disaster. One solution is to clear the excess vegetation that October's hot, dry winds turn into tinder. Workers are creating firebreaks in a variety of ways, including one that, as Fritz Faerber explains, is just a bit unorthodox.

(Bells. Hanneken: Nanny goat! Come on! Yeah, come on, big time!" A goat bleats. "Nanny, come on! Come on, come on! Come on!")

FAERBER: Bob Hanneken, a 57-year-old rancher. Tends his herd of 900 4-legged firefighters day and night in the Oakland hills. The goats are just finishing a city-owned parcel of hilly land.

HANNEKEN: Before wintertime, we'll probably have cleared a couple hundred acres out. I say cleared, I really say controlled because that's what we're trying to do. We're not trying to clear the land, we're trying to control the foliage.

FAERBER: After about 10 weeks of grazing the goats have devoured most everything on this 80-acre plot, leaving dried yellow grass covering much of the hillside. A nearby field is full of waist-high brush. In the midday heat, goats rest in a small,shady grove of trees where they've stripped the lower branches clean. This is Bob Hanneken's first year in business clearing brush. He started using goats 20 years ago to control vegetation on his own ranch in the Ozarks.

HANNEKEN: You know, you could go over the land with a tractor and trim it down or your brush and grass was about the right balance, and next year here it came back. And Ifound out that I wore one machine out after another and I got into goats and goats is a better way. Besides that, goats have babies and produce more; tractors don't.

FAERBER: Mr. Hanneken's biggest employer is the city of Oakland, which started using goats after the 1991 fire and now uses them on about one sixth of the 2,000 acres where the city creates firebreaks. The local parks district, University of California, Berkeley, and the utility district all use goats in their coordinated effort to prevent fires. Martin Matarasi, park land resources supervisor for the city, says goats often do a better job than their 2-legged coworkers.

MATARASI: It's a superior treatment than you can do with people. Because when you're weeding an area, you -- unless you rake up everything you still have -- the biomass is still there, whereas the goats sort of modify it as it passes through their digestive system and it comes out in a nice little round package, which isn't fuel any more.

FAERBER: Mr. Matarasi says goats are best on land too rocky for mowers, or areas where workers won't go for fear of thorns and poison oak. He adds that hand-clearing land can cost up to 5 times what it costs to use goats. But some local environmentalists argue grazing can have high ecological costs. Laurel Collins, a geomorphologist, studied the effects of fire and subsequent fuel control for the East Bay Regional Parks District.

(Footfalls through brush)

FAERBER: Walking through brush along the boundary of the '91 fire, Ms. Collins compares areas grazed by goats and those left alone.

COLLINS: Even as you look you can start seeing a lot of these thistle species in here that you don't see in the other section.

FAERBER: Laurel Collins says goats' hooves churn soil, causing erosion and attracting non-native weeds.

COLLINS: We're standing in the grazed section now, and you can see that there is a virtual forest of thistles here that are about 3 feet in height. And these species weren't here before the goats grazed in this section about two years ago or so.

FAERBER: Is there any chance the native plants can come back with this kind of established growth?

COLLINS: The native plants are coming back to some extent, but their growth has been slowed by the grazing of the goats.

FAERBER: She says hand crews and prescribed burns are less damaging and would be a better option, especially on steep slopes prone to erosion. Some environmentalists like Ms. Collins are critical of the fuel breaks in general, but with the memory of 1991's uncontrolled fire still fresh, fuel control takes precedence over the environment. Carol Rice, a fire consultant who helped plan the inter-agency fuel control program, acknowledges that vegetation control can be harmful. But she says careful use of goods can reduce environmental degradation.

RICE: Keep in mind first that a tool is like a hammer. You can break a window with it or you can build a building. And so with any of these tools there are ways to do it better than others. And one of the ways to minimize the environmental impacts of goats is to move them quickly through a site. You may put lots of numbers on them, but if they don't stay there that long, that tends to minimize the impact of it.

FAERBER: Officials in charge of maintaining the miles of firebreak that separate public and private property throughout the densely populated hills say they're careful to only use goats where appropriate and in a responsible manner. And while goats have shouldered a growing portion of fire prevention over the last few years, officials say they plan to vary the ways that they clear vegetation to better simulate natural processes. For Living on Earth, I'm Fritz Faerber.

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NUNLEY: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley.

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ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major funding provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt -- whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; and Patagonia: a clothing company committed to making quality outdoor clothing with the earth in mind. For a free catalogue call 1-800-336-9090.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

NUNLEY: Environmental science and spirituality mix in the waters of India's greatest river. Cleaning up the Ganges, just ahead on Living on Earth.

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NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley.

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The Living on Earth Almanac

NUNLEY: Are you feeling bearish or bullish? If you're a player in the financial market you're always being subjected to the whims of one or the other of the totem animals of capitalism. About 150 years ago bears and finance were linked in the term "bear skin jobber." The phrase referred to speculators who'd sell the promise of bear skins at a high price before they'd actually caught the animals. Later they would buy actual bear skins when the price dropped. But what of the bull? Well, round about the time the term bear was coined, bears and bulls were often pitted against each other in baiting rings. People bet on the outcome of a fight between the two huge creatures, so the word "bull" gained usage as the opposite of "bear." Today, although we're experiencing a prolonged bull market, there's one bear market that's growing fast. Teddy bears have become a hot collector's item. A 1904 Steif Teddy recently sold at an auction at Christie's in London for the record price of nearly $200,000. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Mother Ganges

NUNLEY: Cleaning up air and water ranks high on the list of things Americans want their government to do. But the priorities are often different in the developing world where unbridled industrialization and exploding populations contribute to ecological problems on a vast scale. One such country is India. There are few environmental activists on the Indian subcontinent today and no organized green movement, despite such environmental disasters as the Bhopal tragedy. But the people there are beginning to organize around issues of concern to their communities. Richard Schiffman reports on a campaign in northern India to clean up one of the Earth's great rivers. It's a campaign that takes its inspiration as much from spirituality as from environmental science.

(Singing and splashing in the water)

SCHIFFMAN: The dawning sun hasn't yet broken through the haze which cloaks the river, but already hundreds have gathered on the banks. These early risers are the first of an estimated 60,000 people who will take their ritual baths today at Benares, a city which some say is the oldest urban area on the planet. And for Hindus it's also the holiest. What makes Benares holy is the river which forms its eastern boundary, a river which Hindus affectionately call Gangama: Mother Ganges.

MISHRA: I have a very close relationship with the river. I consider the river as a goddess, mother. I can't stop taking holy dip in the river and bringing my prayers. That is how my day starts.

SCHIFFMAN: Vir Badra Mishra is something of an anomaly in a holy city where tradition and modern ways don't always mix. He's the mahant, or hereditary spiritual leader, of a major temple, who also happens to be a trained scientist and professor of civil engineering at Benares Hindu University. And he's an environmental activist as well. As a devout Hindu, it offended Mahant Mishra to see his beloved river fouled.

MISHRA: This tradition, faith on the one hand and science and technology on the other hand, both working in me, led to this campaign, Suchunganga campaign, clean Ganges campaign.

(Splashing in the water)

SCHIFFMAN: Out on the river it's not hard to see where the problem lies. The banks are teeming with activities. Cows and goats wander on the stone platforms fronting the shore. Scores of bathers are soaping up. Children are defecating. And human bodies are being cremated. And just upriver from the burning gas we pass a long line of men and women beating sudsy piles with wooden paddles.

(Sounds of laundry being beaten)

PANDE: They're washing clothes, so they collect all the clothes from the houses and they're washed in here.

(Beating/washing sounds continue)

SCHIFFMAN: There are also illegal housing developments and shantytowns coming up near the banks of the Ganges just south of Benares. But my companion, environmental student Ashug Pande, says the greatest offense to the Ganges by far are the streams of raw sewage that pour into the river at various points. One of the most blatant is this open cataract just below Mother Theresa's home for the dying.

(Running sewage)

SCHIFFMAN: In places, the Ganges contains 3,000 times the level of fecal coliform bacteria that the World Health Organization deems safe for bathing. And the people of Benares don't only bathe in the Ganges. A hundred yards upstream from the open sewer are the massive intake pumps for Benares's drinking water supply.

PANDE: These pumps and the water from Ungato, the central treatment plant, and from there they supply to the houses.

SCHIFFMAN: Ashug Pande adds that the river water is often inadequately treated. Not surprisingly, most Benares residents suffer from intestinal parasites.

PANDE: It mirrors in malnourishment, and malnourishment can result in weakening of immune system.

SCHIFFMAN: Dr. Vijay Anath Mishra is the son of Mahant Mishra.

V. MISHRA: And weakening of immune system can again result in severe reinfection, which will again result in all these steps, so the vicious circle goes on. And I think to break this vicious circle, the most important part is to provide a safe drinking water.

(Celebration music and ambient conversation)

SCHIFFMAN: A marriage party wends its way to the banks of the Ganges with its entourage of musicians sporting red and yellow silk turbans. The celebrants crowd into a wooden launch for a ceremonial cruise, and one is reminded yet again that for hundreds of millions of people this is more than just a river. It's a place where Indians come to celebrate the mileposts of their lives from birth till death, and to commune with the Ganges, their mother. And it's not just Indians who come here. Catherine Porter is a member of Friends of the Ganges USA.

PORTER: I work day to day in the environmental movement in the United States, and I deal with statistics and scientists and lobbyists and activists and politics. And it can be alienating from nature itself.


PORTER: When I go to India and when I sit by the Ganges and the sun comes up and thousands of people come down to do their morning worship, they chant, they sing. These beautiful dolphins rise in the water. It's such a whole experience of life, nature, community, religion. I just feel like I'm back in touch with why I'm part of the environmental movement.

(Singing continues)

SCHIFFMAN: The western and Indian environmentalists alike share an almost mystical relationship with Mother Ganges. And they've learned to speak with a special delicacy and tact about her problems.

MISHRA: If we just go and tell the people that Ganga is polluted, if you are going to use Ganga water you will fall sick, Ganga is no more a healthy river, if you just continue this type of talk for 1 or 2 minutes, people will say that we don't want to listen to this about Ganga is still our mother, our goddess, and Ganga can never be polluted. But if you say how do you feel if sewage is thrown on the body of your mother, people will immediately react, no that should not happen.

SCHIFFMAN: Professor Mishra's role as an environmentalist dates from the late 1970s when he wrote a series of popular, if disturbing, newspaper articles chronicling the deterioration of the Ganges. Shortly thereafter, he was invited to the US.

(Pete Seeger sings: "Five million gallons of waste a day...")

SCHIFFMAN: In New York, Professor Mishra met Hudson River activist Pete Seeger.

(Seeger: "Down the valley, one million toilet chains/Find my Hudson so convenient place to drain./And each little city says who me?/Do you think that sewage plants come free?")

SCHIFFMAN: It was a new concept for Mishra that people could band together to save a river. But when he returned to India he decided to try it in Benares, where he started the Clean Ganges Campaign. At first people didn't know what to make of the revered Mahant's environmental activism. But then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi responded in December 1984 with an address to the nation. He announced the creation of the Central Ganges Authority, which he charged with cleaning up the river.

MISHRA: The same day, people started congratulating me. People started talking so high of me and our organization. And it was a phenomenal change. And of course, when we started in 1982, we didn't think that the results, or such positive results will come in less than 2 years time.

SCHIFFMAN: But Mahant Mishra's exaltation was to be short-lived. Although the well-funded authority built sewage treatment plants at Benares and other major cities along the Ganges, the river remained fouled. The sewage treatment plant shuts down during the regular power cuts that plague Benares. And Professor Mishra says that the equipment is poorly used and indifferently maintained. Even when it's working, he says, the effluent which leaves the plant is often filthy, little better than raw sewage. Mahant Mishra and Catherine Porter envision a low-tech solution, one that doesn't depend on electricity or complex machinery.

PORTER: There are many communities in the United States that are using oxidation ponds to treat their sewage. This is what we'd like to see happen in Benares, and we're doing some experimental work to see if that would be appropriate for this community.

SCHIFFMAN: Last year, the environmentalists petitioned the Supreme Court of India. The Court ruled to freeze spending on the Ganges cleanup until the government comes up with the right technology for the job. Mahant Mishra says he isn't pinning all his hopes on the central government. Professor Mishra says that until those who live along the river develop the political will to clean it, the Ganges will likely remain polluted.

MISHRA: The bureaucracy, the government machinery which has implemented the Ganges action plan, they are not committed to the river. They are not committted to the job. The people who love the river, whose life depends on the river, who use the river, I think their work will be more positive to clean the river.

(Ceremonial music)

SCHIFFMAN: The state government of Udar Pradesh, where Benares is located, clearly agrees with Mahant Mishra that the people need to get involved. They've sponsored a play on the banks of the Ganges to encourage the residents of Benares to keep their river clean.

(Music and narration)

SCHIFFMAN: The play recounts the river's story. Long ago the goddess Ganga descended from heaven, through Siva's matted locks, to cool the rage of the god and to bless the Earth forever with goodness and fertility. But now demons attack the mother's flowing body. The demons of pollution.

(Music and narration continue)

SCHIFFMAN: India's river activists, like Mahant Mishra, envision a new type of environmentalism. They say that it's better to appeal to people's reverence for the natural world than to play to their fears.

(Music continues; applause)

MISHRA: The Clean Ganges Campaign is an example in India where the love and respect for the river is the motivating force, and it's not the fear of death and fear of extinction. And it would be much better if we start acting to save our morals. We say "genenee mon pormischal" that is our place of birth is genenee, is our mother. And the whole planet, this Earth, is mother. She is living.

(Music and singing continue)

SCHIFFMAN: From the banks of the River Ganges in north India, I am Richard Schiffman for Living on Earth.

Back to top

(Music and singing continue)

NUNLEY: The nation that cried wolf. That's coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Cry Wolf

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. The wolf is one of the most feared and most revered animals on this continent. Feared for the real threat wolves pose to livestock and the false belief that wolves kill people. Revered as a symbol of untamed wilderness, of the pristine plains and forests that existed before human settlers arrived. Hundreds of thousands of these carnivores once roamed North America in packs, their prey including deer, buffalo, and surprisingly even mice. Now fewer than 70,000 wolves are left, most of them in Canada. Each summer thousands of wolf fanciers gather in Canada's Algonquin Park, about 4 hours north of Toronto, to learn about these wild canines and to hear their legendary howling. Producer Bob Carty went to listen in and sent us this audio collage.

("Roll call. George." "Yep." "Jason." "Yep." "Vick." "Here." "Sandy." "Here.")

STRICKLAND: The wolf howl has been compared to a quasi-military operation. Every move has to be planned. We have special flashlights for directing traffic. We have 10 radio-equipped vehicles. And most of all, we have a very cooperative audience of about 2,000 people.

("This is the Rock Lake Road. This is Fisher Lake. The wolves are right at the sharp corner. Laura Nagle and I found them last night. It sounded like about 3 adults, although one of them...")

STRICKLAND: By definition we only hold a wolf howl if we ourselves have heard wolves the night before. My name is Dan Strickland and I'm the chief park naturalist of Algonquin Park.

("Fill the main lot. Approximately 400 cars. Drivers, do not forget your signs." Fade to many people gathering)

STRICKLAND: Before people actually go out on their wolf howling expedition they assemble at our outdoor theater. Ron Tozier, long-time park naturalist here, will give a highly entertaining talk.

TOZIER: Great to see so many people out here again tonight, many of you for the first time, to introduce you to this marvelous animal, the Algonquin Park timber wolf.

CHILD: I think it would be pretty neat to hear a wolf howling, because it's just neat. (Laughs)

MAN: And my son is dying to hear it as well. Aaaouuu! You see? (Child howls)

TOZIER: Most of today's North American wolves are in Canada. There are virtually nothing in the lower 48 states here. Why is this? Is it because Americans hate wolves a lot more than Canadians? Not really. It's because there are a lot more Americans than there are Canadians and there always have been. In Canada, we still have lots of wolves because there are relatively few of us, and as I always like to point out, we cluster along the American border for our living because the TV reception is better there. (Audience laughs)

STRICKLAND: The whole business of wolf howling as a research tool started here, right in Algonquin Park, between 1958 and 1965. This had been an animal that had been persecuted by man for centuries and the basic life history wasn't even understood.

TOZIER: When wolves have eaten and killed animals that we have thought of as exclusively ours, they have really got into trouble. This is a cow. And wolves who spend a great deal of time and effort chasing something like a deer must be amazed when they encounter these things that just stand there. (Audience laughs) Not for long. Bad PR. Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs, Peter and the Wolf. Is the wolf really a threat to us personally? In North America, there is no documented authentic case of a wild, healthy timber wolf ever giving serious injury or death to a human being.

STRICKLAND: The main part of our audience consists of campers who are already here. The audience is overwhelmingly urban, about 2,000 people, probably, this evening, who will be well-briefed before we actually set out.

TOZIER: You do need to pull up as close as you can to the car in front of you. And you get out of the car and you wait quietly. And then eventually you will hear it, the first human howl. And Ron will come out here and demonstrate that human howl because he will be the one who's giving it. (Ron howls, followed by audience applause)

STRICKLAND: My howl doesn't sound a lot like a wolf, and that's sort of important in this kind of a wolf howl, because people need to distinguish between my sound and the wolves' sound. And the longer you can hold it, the better.

(A motor starts up; a car drives over gravel)

STRICKLAND: And when we finished the talk, we all get in our cars and head out to the spot where we have found wolves the night before. When we're actually traveling it is just an amazing spectacle. Four or five hundred cars may not sound a lot, but it still stretches for over 20 kilometers. When we arrive at the wolf howling location, people turn their engines off, get out, and stand very quietly. And people always marvel at just how quiet 2,000 people can be. Just how great the longing of urban man for that firsthand contact with wolves and -- and wilderness really is.

(Woman on radio: "Two seventy, this is portable Melinda." Man: "Go ahead, Melinda." Melinda: "Just reached the end and everybody stopped." Sound of crickets and nothing else.)

STRICKLAND: Down through the forest here there's quite a boggy area with a creek running through it, and that's probably where the wolves are. Several hundred meters. We're hopeful there will still be adults here, perhaps, on a kill which they're not ready to leave yet.

(Man: "Rental four, two seven three." Man 2: "Yeah, Dan we're fine here, we're quiet and ready to go." Man 3: "Wolf howling portable, go ahead, first howling sequence.)

STRICKLAND: Okay, Dan, we'll go ahead with the howling. (Howls, followed by a large wave of howls) Two seven three, howling mobile.

HOWLING MOBILE: Go ahead, Ron.

STRICKLAND: Yeah, perfect pack howl, adults and pups.


(People laughing and talking)

WOMAN: It was quite a fabulous night.

WOMAN 2: Oh, that was great. We didn't expect to hear it so close.

WOMAN 3: Oh, I thought it was marvelous! A little scary.

MAN: We're from England. I felt cold in the legs, it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. The sense of fear, of primitive, primitive animals, which is in all men, that's what it is. Yeah. Yes. Yes, the sense of the primeval. (Laughs)

WOMAN 4: You really fear you're hearing an animals that's extinct in most of the world, and they're still here in Algonquin Park, wild, and it's just one of the most fantastic feelings you can have.

WOMAN 5: We couldn't have gotten a more perfect night for it either.

(Cars rolling over gravel; fade to crickets, then to a large pack howl)

NUNLEY: Producer Bob Carty tells us that after almost 5 hours of preparation, travel time, and waiting, the wolf howls lasted barely one and a half minutes. Yet he reports the crowd of nearly 2,000 people showed no signs of disappointment.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Nature's Gazebos

NUNLEY: Last year an average of about 3,000 single-family homes were built every single day, and each one of them used about 8,000 board feet of wood. That's a lot of trees that every year go into building shelters. Well, every once in a while we hear from listeners who have a different way of doing things. My next guest says he has a way to build houses without cutting down trees. Howard Grund-Clampit hails from Oregon's Willamette Valley and he lives there on his family's farm, and he's trying to grow a house. Mr. Grund-Clampit, explain to us, how are you growing a house?

GRUND-CLAMPIT: Well, the technique is actually pretty simple. I plant a lot of very small trees close together in the pattern that I want them to grow up in, and then as they grow I kind of weave them together and they will eventually merge into one another and grow a wall for me.

NUNLEY: Now, what kind of architecture, if you will, is this going to look like?

GRUND-CLAMPIT: Well, the first structure that I've grown is a circle. It's about 20 feet in diameter, and it's made of weeping willow trees. I have a full-scale house that I started growing last winter, and I'll be adding more pieces to that this winter. It's a 5-room house, it's just out in the field here.

NUNLEY: Are you planning to finish out the interior?

GRUND-CLAMPIT: Yes. In fact, before I planted those trees I put in pipes in the ground so that I can put water and electricity into there. I'll put a deck floor in. That structure has an opening for a doorway and two windows, which we can put in once the trunks have gotten fat enough to support those frames.

NUNLEY: Gee, I want one of these houses.


NUNLEY: (Laughs)

GRUND-CLAMPIT: You wouldn't believe how easy it is.

NUNLEY: It's amazing.

GRUND-CLAMPIT: It's been really slow to figure out how to make things work, because what I do this year I don't see the results of until next year.

NUNLEY: But you've also got to have such an eye for things, how they sort of move and how trees sort of decide to go. So it's almost, it's a mutual relationship, one the tree and you are working on this together.

GRUND-CLAMPIT: Exactly, yeah.

NUNLEY: Yeah, 20 years ago people thought earth homes, earth-banked homes and that sort of thing, was unusual. So do you think this will catch on in a similar way?

GRUND-CLAMPIT: (Laughs) Well, I think that what I'm doing will probably become pretty accepted in the field of landscape design, because it's real simple to do and you can get some really attractive and unusual things from it.

NUNLEY: Sort of a natural gazebo.

GRUND-CLAMPIT: Yeah, a natural gazebo. You can do chairs, tables, footbridges, lampposts, and those kinds of things real easily.

NUNLEY: Mr. Grund-Clampit, thanks for joining us.

GRUND-CLAMPIT: Well, it's been my pleasure.

NUNLEY: Howard Grund-Clampit lives in Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Back to top

NUNLEY: We'd like to hear what other listeners are up to, big or small. Let us know how you're changing your corner of the planet. Our listener line number is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG.

(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: And for this week that's Living on Earth. But before we go, a correction. Last week in an introduction to our story about a prairie restoration program in Minnesota, we reported that today less than one tenth of North America's original prairie land remains intact. That should have been less than one tenth of one percent: just one thousandth of the millions of acres of original prairie remain today. We regret the error. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston and Harvard University. I'm Jan Nunley. Thanks for listening.

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 Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and Patagonia: a clothing company committed to making quality outdoor clothing with the earth in mind. For a free catalogue call 1-800-336-9090.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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