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

December 6, 1996

Air Date: December 6, 1996


Right Whales in Trouble / Patrick Cox

The world's most endangered whale, the Northern Right Whale, spends much of its life off the coast of the eastern seaboard. Many scientists suspect the right whales' love of coastal waters has lead to a stagnation of its small population. Humans inhabit these coastal waters too, with their oil tankers, naval vessels and fishing boats. The human threat to right whales has become so severe that a federal judge has ordered the state of Massachusetts to prohibit certain types of fishing gear or face a total fishing ban. But, as Patrick Cox of member station WBUR in Boston reports, few people believe such a ban would actually improve the whale's plight. (09:35)

Ocean Canaries / Peter Montague

A commentary by Peter Montague, director of the Environmental Research Foundation on how there are signs about the future of the planet in the oceans. (02:25)

Making Wreaths

Living On Earth's Green Garden Spot correspondent Evelyn Tully Costa explains to listeners how they can make simple, attractive handcrafted holiday gift wreaths, straight from their gardens. (05:28)

Socially Responsible Shopping / Julia King

Commentator Julia King discusses why shopping from so-called globally socially responsible home catalogs appeals to her, right at home in Goshen, Indiana. (02:26)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about... environmental writer and humorist Will Cuppy. (01:15)

Natural Foods Gain Ground / Kim Motylewski

Natural foods supermarkets with huge aisles of organic produce and nutritional guarantees are sprouting up all over. Living On Earth producer Kim Motylewski went to the openings of two grand scale new markets to see who these new ventures will be benefiting. Chances are, competition will be driving some prices down, and consumers will be faring better along with farmers and merchandisers. (08:25)

Organic Grain

Not all organic products are in demand, according to Fred Kirschenmann, president of Farm Verified Organic, Inc. Mr. Kirshenmann, who serves on the National Organic Standards Board, says crop rotation for soil health is another important component in the organics movement. (05:25)

This Place on Earth

Steve Curwood speaks with Alan Durning, author of This Place On Earth: Home and the Practice of Permanence. Durning talks about his realized desire to have a place to call home, and the importance of a home in caring for the land, and a landscape. (08:30)

Mail Bag

Audience responses to the recent segment on architect William McDonough. (02:00)

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: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Constantine Von Hoffman, David Wright, Patrick Cox, Kim Motylewski
GUESTS: Evelyn Tully Costa, Fred Kirschenmann, Alan Durning
COMMENTATORS: Peter Montague, Julia King

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Despite hunting bans and the best efforts of scientists, the endangered northern right whale does not seem to be recovering. Some say this is a sign of deep trouble in the oceans.

MAYO: The collapse of so many things in the northeast, marine water quality and fisheries and the like, parallels the right whale, and my fear is that we may have missed the very subtle whisper of the habitat telling us that it is not well.

CURWOOD: And some holiday advice from our resident gardener. Don't buy those fancy wreaths you see in catalogues and stores. Go out and make your own.

TULLY COSTA: Last year, for instance, I went though some of those catalogues, kind of gasped at the prices, and decided: I can do this.

CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. More women than men are willing to protect the environment. According to a new poll, nearly a quarter of American men believe government regulation of the environment has gone too far, while only 14% of the women answered that way. On the other hand, more than half the women and a third of the men say government regulation of the environment hasn't gone far enough. Overall, most Americans say they're concerned about the environment and would pay more to conserve it. Among the poll's findings are that three quarters of Americans say they would pay for more expensive pollution reducing gasoline, and 63% say that when compromise is impossible the environment should be favored over development. The poll was conducted by Roper Starch and financed by a group of ski resorts, private foundations, and companies including Phillips Petroleum.

Massachusetts is asking a dozen other northeastern states to stop importing electricity from Midwest states without strict air pollution standards. From Boston, Constantine Von Hoffman reports.

VON HOFFMAN: As more states deregulate their electric utilities, coal fired Midwestern power plants are expected to sell a lot more electricity, and that could mean more smog for the Northeast. Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger says half of his state's smog comes from out of state sources, especially the 150 coal burning plants in the Midwest. Harshbarger says the Midwest's coal producing states don't impose as many pollution restrictions on their power plants as Northeastern states do. So he's asking the governors of states from Maine to Virginia to either charge extra for Midwest electricity or stop using it altogether. But Midwestern officials say the Bay State plan would set a bad, and possibly un-Constitutional precedent. Ohio officials say it would encourage regions to try and impose rules on other states across the nation. The plan would likely require Congressional approval. For Living on Earth, I'm Constantine Von Hoffman in Boston.

NUNLEY: The Earth's protective ozone layer is apparently more sensitive than previously thought and can be affected by tiny changes in atmospheric chemicals. Using a new computer model of the Earth's atmosphere, French researchers were able to recreate last winter's larger than predicted Arctic ozone hole. The new computer model is more responsive to minute changes in atmospheric chemicals. Ozone, a form of oxygen, filters out harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun, but it is chemically very reactive and substances such as chlorine can cause ozone to break down. The study was published in the journal Nature.

Two hundred tons of deadly chemical waste are threatening Paris's drinking water. According to a report in the newspaper Le Monde, cyanide, hydrochloric acid, and nitric acid in an empty factory 16 miles northwest of Paris are threatening the city's water table. Environmental activists say the site is just 30 yards above Paris's largest freshwater reservoir. Local officials have waged a 2-year legal struggle to have the Federal Government clean up the waste. So far only 7 tons have been removed from the abandoned detergent and solvents factory.

A sunken ship off the California coast has researchers at the nation's largest marine sanctuary worried. As David Wright of KQED in San Francisco reports, the vessel is believed to contain some 3 million gallons of oil.

WRIGHT: Fifty-five years ago, less than a month after Pearl Harbor, a Japanese submarine sank the 440-foot tanker Montebello just off the coast of San Luis Obispo, California. Fortunately for the Montebello's 38 crewmembers, the torpedo attack occurred only about a mile offshore. They safely abandoned ship, and the Montebello has rested there quietly ever since. But recently researchers at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary grew concerned about the sunken ship 1 mile to its south. After all, the Montebello was carrying more than 75,000 barrels of crude oil when it went down. A research submarine paid for by a Federal grant recently confirmed that there's no evidence that the ship's hull breached 5 decades ago, and that means it's probably still full of oil. That leaves California officials with a vexing thought. If the ship is still mostly full, it poses a significant environmental hazard. Left in place it could be an ecological time bomb, but to try and raise it or pump out the oil risks a spill. And it's still not known who would be responsible for funding such efforts anyway. For Living on Earth, I'm David Wright reporting.

NUNLEY: Hundreds of penguins are being evicted from one of South Africa's most exclusive neighborhoods. Street cleaners pulled about 200 jackass penguins from hiding places along the edges of gardens, looking out over the Indian Ocean on South Africa's much sought after Cape Peninsula. The birds were placed behind a fence erected along the beach to keep them from encroaching into suburbia. The removals followed years of protest from some residents who complained the penguins were nesting under their Jacuzzi decks, spreading guano on their footpaths, and waking them with mating calls. Some residents don't agree with the removal and have already sabotaged the fence. Jackass penguins got their name from the distinctive braying sound they make.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

Right Whales in Trouble

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The world's most endangered whale, the northern right whale, got its name from its desirability to whalers. The right whale is so loaded with blubber that it floated when killed, and yielded a high amount of oil, so it was the right whale to hunt. The northern right whale was hunted to the brink of extinction and now there are fewer than 400 left. Today's threats come from collisions with ships, and entanglement with fishing nets. The problem has become so severe that a Federal judge has ordered the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to prohibit certain types of fishing gear or face a total fishing ban. But as Patrick Cox of member station WBUR in Boston reports, few people believe such a plan would actually improve the whale's plight.

(Water slapping on the side of a boat)

COX: The existence of the northern right whale is so fragile that the only people legally permitted within 500 yards of the animals are researchers, like this boatload from the Boston Aquarium.

HAMILTON: How far do you think it is, Liz?

LIZ: Half mile.

HAMILTON: Twenty minutes.

(A motor runs)

COX: Today the researchers get a surprise when they move in closer to the whale they've sighted, and it comes up for air.

(Blowhole spouts)

HAMILTON: Now that's our new mom! See that big accessory?

LIZ: Yes. Yes.

COX: This right whale is an average size, about 55 feet long and weighing 70 tons. It spouts air several feet from its blow ports in the V-shaped pattern distinctive to right whales. Whale specialist Philip Hamilton explains why his crew is so excited.

HAMILTON: This is a female that we saw in the southeast, and we've never seen her anyplace else. So it's a whale that reached sexual maturity without ever being seen in any of the 5 main habitats. Which is really unusual.

COX: The scientists on this boat can individually identify some 300 right whales. But they still have a hard time predicting the animals' behavior. Some whales, like this one, can drop out of sight for no apparent reason. Others show up in feeding or calving areas completely out of season. With so little basic understanding of right whales, scientists have been at a loss to explain why their numbers aren't increasing, like their cousins the humpback and the finback. The right whale population, believed to have been in the tens of thousands a few centuries ago, is down to about 350 today. While the scientists scratch their heads, one Massachusetts environmentalist is taking more direct action.

STRAHAN: The only issue in this litigation is to make people who are destroying the environment comply with reality and what science dictates, and that's what they simply don't want to do.

COX: Self-styled eco-warrior Max Strahan describes himself as the Prince of Whales. He says one reason for the right whale's decline is they're getting caught and dying in lobster nets and gill nets. So Strahan has filed suit in Federal court seeking an all-out ban of coastal fishing in Massachusetts.

STRAHAN: Outside of romantics, of Captain Courageous and all that stuff with fishermen, fishing is a very environmentally destructive practice. Nobody's asking fishermen to do anything more than what any landfill owner does, that any mall owner does, is obey the law and don't kill off endangered species.

COX: A Federal judge agreed with Strahan that when it comes to right whales, Massachusetts is violating the Endangered Species Act. The judge has given the state until December 16th to come up with a plan to keep whales from becoming entangled in lobster and fishing gear. That sent state officials, lobstermen and fishermen scrambling to figure out how to make their nets and traps less lethal.

(Gulls, boat on the water)

COX: A favorite feeding area for right whales is Cape Cod Bay. The Bay is also replete with dogfish, flounder, and lobster. At the height of the lobster season, as many as 69,000 traps may sit in the bay. Sandwich-based lobsterman Gary Ostrum is trying to figure out how he can adjust the maze of ropes he uses so whales won't get caught in them. Looking more like a magician than a man of the sea, Ostrum demonstrates how 2 fishing ropes stapled together snap apart under pressure.

OSTRUM: As you can see, there's plenty of strength there. But you put that in the hall and to haul your gear, but pulling sideways -- [pulls; rope separates] -- and that's apart.

COX: And if a person can pull the ropes apart, Ostrum assumes a whale could. But he hasn't been able to put his experimentation into practice yet, for one simple reason.

OSTRUM: In 17 years of fishing up there I've never seen a whale in my gear, so to try to take it, it's some understanding for me to -- what we're looking for to correct.

COX: Indeed, most of that correction work is taking place indoors.

MAN: Last meeting we talked about Cape Cod Bay, and...

COX: Here in a hotel conference room in Boston, a group of state officials, fishermen, environmentalists, and scientists, are trying to agree on how to make fishing gear more whale friendly. They're considering banning certain types of rope, as well as requiring fisherman to install sound alarms in their nets intended to scare whales off. But Dan McKinnon of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries doubts if much of this is necessary.

McKINNON: The majority of lobster traps are not fished during the winter months, and in the case of gill nets, our records show in the last 2 years and similar trends for the previous 2 years, there's almost no gill netting going on at all in the critical habitat during the months of January through April, which are the months that we believe right whales are most common in Cape Cod Bay.

COX: But gill net use in the bay is up by 18% in the past 2 years, and lobster pots by more than 50%. Despite more fishing gear in the waters, many environmentalists regard entanglement as a minor harassment of whales, not a big killer.

(A keyboard is punched)

COX: At the office of the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston, Eleanor Dorsey keeps track of right whale deaths. According to her statistics, 41 right whales are known to have died since 1970. Of those, 14 were struck by ships or boats. Only 2 died after getting caught up in fishing gear. Dorsey is worried about the lawsuit brought by fellow environmentalist Max Strahan. She says a ban on coastal fishing in Massachusetts would be counterproductive.

DORSEY: You don't get much benefit to right whales for an enormous economic loss, an enormous social disruption. And I'm afraid that in the long run the Endangered Species Act would suffer if it is pushed unreasonably.

COX: Dorsey and others believe that if you turn fishing communities against the Endangered Species Act, it won't be long before Congress tries to limit the Act's scope. Declining to invoke the Endangered Species Act has become a common strategy for many large environmental groups, something for which Max Strahan has nothing but contempt.

STRAHAN: The Endangered Species Act is like a muscle. And if you don't exercise it, there will be no protection for endangered species. If we don't do sensational battles, so the public has a choice to make, and you don't believe that the public will choose the wildlife over anything else.

COX: Although the court has ruled in Strahan's favor in the Massachusetts Right Whale case, the judge has termed Strahan an abrasive individual who is not capable of accommodating competing values. But according to Right Whale scientist Stormy Mayo, Strahand's absolutism may prove as valuable to the Right Whale as the compromises made by other environmental groups.

MAYO: The very intense activist environmentalists have a very important role to play, and so does the more mainstream conservation community, who certainly holds our feet to the fire. So I support the conflict that might exist.

COX: Mayo heads up a Cape Cod rapid response team that disentangles whales caught up in fishing gear. He's seen the effects of the nets and of ship strikes close up. But Mayo doesn't think they're the main reason Right Whales are faring so poorly. The main reason, he says, may be far more complex.

MAYO: The collapse of so many things in the northeast, marine water quality and fisheries and the like, parallels the Right Whale. And my fear is that we may have missed the very subtle whisper of the habitat telling us that it is not well. And that may be having ultimately a greater influence than all these other issues. We can't know, because we don't know the whale.

(Splashing water)

WOMAN: They've both got white spots on their bonnets.

MAN: Yeah. That's the calf.

COX: Scientists say they'll continue to study the Right Whale until they can figure out why the animal's population is not growing. In the meantime, they say, the whale's survival may depend on piecemeal solutions that few of them think will work in the long run. For Living on Earth, I'm Patrick Cox in Boston.

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(Splashing, whale blowing sound)

Ocean Canaries

CURWOOD: Trying to foretell the future is perhaps humanity's oldest hobby. Ancients used to study the entrails of sheep, tealeaves, and the positions of bones dropped on the ground for a key to tomorrow. But today, as commentator Peter Montague tells us, we need look no further than our own oceans.

MONTAGUE: The oceans of the world are vast, but residents of the global village, all of us, have been dumping our wastes into the oceans relentlessly. In Puget Sound in the far Northwest, the Pacific salmon and steelhead are gone. Last year for the first time, there was no Pacific salmon fishing. Off the coast of Massachusetts, in the oldest US fishing grounds, the 3 main commercial fish, cod, haddock, and flounder, have all but disappeared. In the Chesapeake Bay, where oysters were once abundant beyond imagining, they are now scarce and stunted by disease. Researchers at University of Maryland say the oysters' immune systems have been weakened by pollution. Worldwide 13 of 17 principal fishing zones are depleted or in steep decline. Experts agree that the causes are pollution and over-fishing.

If the fish are being harmed by contamination, what about other marine species? The sea turtles, the walruses, the sea lions, and the seals? Between 1986 and 1991, green sea turtles began appearing with massive tumors called fibro papillomas. Up to half of all turtles of this species now have these huge growths, which can kill them by impeding their ability to swim and eat. In 1987 seals in Siberia's Lake Baikal died in large numbers from a distemper virus, one later recognized as quite similar to the distemper that kills dogs. In recent years epidemics have killed dolphins off the coast of Maine, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Mediterranean sea.

Now researchers in the Netherlands have discovered a common thread among all these epidemics: industrial chemicals that harm the immune systems of ocean mammals.

Coal miners used to keep canaries in cages in the mines to warn of a buildup of toxic gases. When the canaries died, it served as a warning that conditions in the mine were deteriorating dangerously. Now our canaries are in the oceans.

CURWOOD: Peter Montague is director of the Environmental Research Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Deck the halls with boughs of nature. Make your own holiday wreath from the ground up. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Making Wreaths

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The holidays are upon us along with the frenzy of preparations. We all know shopping to buy mountains of presents can take the fun out of the season, not to mention a chunk out of our bank accounts. Many people are rethinking this commercialization and are seeking calmer, more intimate ways to celebrate the winter holidays. Setting limits on gift giving, and emphasizing time with family and friends. Part of this return to simplicity is the return of handcrafted gifts. And here today with gift ideas straight from the garden is our Green Garden correspondent Evelyn Tully Costa. Happy holidays, Evelyn.

TULLY COSTA: Happy holidays, Steve. Bet you thought you were going to get off the gardening hook this time of the year.

CURWOOD: You mean I'm not?

TULLY COSTA: No. I thought that we'd take you outside, bring you back in, and have you make some holiday wreaths.

CURWOOD: Ooh, that sounds great. But you mean those really fancy holiday wreaths you see in the stores for a lot of money, or catalogues?

TULLY COSTA: Well, yeah, but I'm not talking about buying them. I'm talking about making them.


TULLY COSTA: Last year, for instance, I went through some of those catalogues, kind of gasped as the prices and decided, I can do this. I copied the wreaths. I made my own. It was incredibly inexpensive and it was fun and they were gorgeous.

CURWOOD: Hey, by the way, why are wreathes like something we do this time of year?

TULLY COSTA: Oh. Well actually, we humans do it all times of the year. Circle symbolism is incredibly important to all cultures that bother to watch the sun and the moon.

CURWOOD: Uh huh.

TULLY COSTA: Which is how a lot of us mark the seasons. So you think about birth, regeneration, the cycles of life, death, mourning, and you think about circles.

CURWOOD: Ah, so it's the circle of the seasons. It's really the circle of life.

TULLY COSTA: Yeah, it's the circle of life. And also, I mean, just think of the ancient Greeks who bestowed laurel wreaths on their best athletes, or the Roman emperors who wore wreaths and also gave them to the pure Christians that they tortured and then threw to the lions. Everybody had 'em.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Wait a second, that's not exactly appetizing. How about, you know, something that's a little closer to home?

TULLY COSTA: Well, something a little nicer might be, of course, the Hawaiian leis, which are bestowed upon people to signify welcome. And Native American dream catchers and medicine wheels.

CURWOOD: But now, in our culture here, we seem to be stuck on evergreen. I mean, we use the pine boughs. But there's other things that we can use, right?

TULLY COSTA: Well, yeah. And if you live in other parts of the country where you don't have evergreens, you know, you can use a lot of different things that bramble up and go into nice circles. But really the point here about wreaths is we're talking about a circle, and we're talking about putting things on it.

CURWOOD: All right. Now, I notice you brought some things here today. Let's bring them up here on the table. What are these things here?

TULLY COSTA: Okay. The first and the basic thing is the frame that we're going to use to put the things onto, and this is a honeysuckle bare branch wreath. it's very thick and it's got plenty of brambles that we can stick other things into it. The other items are, very simply, ferns that we're going to use to build up a little base around the circle, and some very beautiful bittersweet, a shrubs that bears very bright, beautiful berries with yellow hoods on them.

CURWOOD: So this is a red and green, the Christmas colors, but really different, huh?

TULLY COSTA: Yeah. And it's natural, and it's really simple, and you literally just insert the materials right into the brambles. So the more bramble you have, the easier it is to make these wreaths. I would also say get the kids involved in this, because they'll run around outside and find all sorts of things that you can insert into these wreaths.

CURWOOD: Well you see all kinds of things at my house that would be useful. I do have grape vines out in the yard.

TULLY COSTA: Perfect. Perfect.

CURWOOD: And we have milkweed. And we have some corn husks. And there are lots of dried flowers.

TULLY COSTA: Well there's dried herbs you can use. Even dried fruits, gourds. You can make bells. Use old ribbons from last year when you unwrap packages from birthdays across the year. Just keep the ribbons.

CURWOOD: Uh huh. You mean there's a use for all this junk?

TULLY COSTA: Yeah. Don't throw it out. Use it during the holidays. And also you can keep these wreaths. If they're really beautiful and you had fun putting them together with your kids, why not just put them in a box and bring them out next year?

CURWOOD: Ah. Okay. One thing, though. You know, a lot of folks live in the city, and it's a little hard to find bittersweet down at the park, or nearby, so what should they do?

TULLY COSTA: Well, probably what we did. And that's go right down to the corner florist and get what I think is a very beautiful honeysuckle vine that was only about $7, and we bought some ferns for about $3, and the bittersweet for about $4. So we're talking about something that was about $16.

CURWOOD: Wow. But in the store, or he catalogue, we would pay --

TULLY COSTA: Oh, you'd probably pay about $50 or $60, $70 for something like this. Especially if you're New York.

CURWOOD: So it's a way to save money, get connected with family and friends.

TULLY COSTA: And nature.

CURWOOD: Of course. And speaking of nature, of course it's your nature to bring us some more information on this.


CURWOOD: You must have a book that you could tell us about.

TULLY COSTA: I have a wonderful book that I found, and it's called The Natural Christmas by Tom Pritchard and Billy Jarecki, and it's published by Clarkson Potter. And it has a lot of holiday ideas, including recycling. Bring the outside in, and take some old things you have around the house and turn them into wreaths. And not spend so much money.

CURWOOD: Thanks, Ev.

TULLY COSTA: Yeah, so happy holidays and good luck, Steve.

CURWOOD: Tips on going lightly on your pocketbooks and the planet from our Green Garden Spot correspondent, Evelyn Tully Costa.

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CURWOOD: Now, if you want to contact us for our resource list, which has the details of what we just talked about, try us on the Internet, the World Wide Web. That's www.loe.org. Or send us a self-addressed stamped envelope to Living on Earth, Green Garden Spot, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238.

(Music up and under: "Jingle Bells")

Socially Responsible Shopping

CURWOOD: Commentator Julia King is hooked on the new brand of socially responsible holiday shopping. Companies such as Real Goods, Seventh Generation, and nonprofits like Gifts of the World, offer products which they say are fair to workers and kind to the Earth. She hopes her purchases help make life better for far away impoverished artisans. But Ms. King's motives also lie a bit closer to home.

KING: Deep in the heart of a South American rainforest an artisan lovingly collects ivory nuts. He then hand-carves them into beautiful dolphin-shaped pendants that he sells to support his family. And all the while he's treading lightly on the delicate land. The image drips with humble sincerity and grace. I circle the catalogue entry and turn the page. A selection of stationery catches my eye. The thick brown-green paper is made by destitute women in a faraway village. But that's not all. To make this paper, these women gather fast-growing indigenous weeds that are clogging navigable waterways in their community. (Sighs) A tear drops from my cheek as my pen makes its mark.

This is all part of a fast-growing market of environmentally and socially responsible products. It's put an entirely new spin on the holidays for me. Once I, too, eyed food processors and big fluffy slippers in department stores. I was one of the masses putting money in the pockets of CEOs living in high-rise penthouses. Now, I'm saving the world. And when you've had a taste of that, it's hard to go back to synthetic slippers from the mall.

The best part is that it doesn't matter what I buy for people any more. I can get my mother in law a shoehorn if I want to. If it's made by orphaned children in Bosnia, she'll be forced to thank me graciously. Gone are the high-pressure last minute shopping trips where I wrack my brain for appropriate gifts. Now, anything goes. Candlesticks made by displaced Third World factory workers. Paperweights created from melted down bottles that once cluttered the shores of Poland's Baltic Sea. When you've captured the moral high ground, the rest falls into place.

But don't overlook the importance of the presentation. As the recipient wrestles with the plain brown non-dyed recycled gift wrap, hold your head high. Cock it slightly to the side. Smile like Mother Theresa or Tammy Faye Baker. Then tell them, "I thought of you the moment I saw this. I knew you'd want to support those struggling shrimp trappers in Thailand." And you know what? They'll believe you. You'll both feel wonderful. And isn't that what the holidays are all about?

CURWOOD: Commentator Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

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(Music up and under)

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

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.

CURWOOD: Attention shoppers: a sharp rise in the number of natural foods supermarkets could mean lower prices for healthy foods. A trip down the aisles is coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

(Theme music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: The words funny and environmental seldom see each other's company. It's almost as though they're ashamed of each other. With that in mind, we take note of that rare bird, the funny nature writer. Sixty-five years ago, Will Cuppy published How to Tell Your Friends From the Apes, the first book of his humorous trilogy on natural history. In the second book of the series, How to Become Extinct, Mr. Cuppy wrote, "The dodo never had a chance. He seems to have been invented for the sole purpose of becoming extinct." The success of the third book in the trilogy, How to Attract the Wombat, earned him a short-lived show on NBC radio. Will Cuppy was born in Indiana in 1884. He lived much of his life as a hermit on the then undeveloped Jones Beach of New York. He died in 1949, a suicide. Ironically, the following year his most successful book was published, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. In it, Will Cuppy tells you all the stuff that didn't get included in most history books, including the fact that every time Hannibal used his elephants in battle, he lost. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Natural Foods Gain Ground

CURWOOD: Organic produce, juice-sweetened sodas, and free-range chickens. Once found only in small health food stores and coops, these items are getting easier to find all the time. The reason: natural foods supermarkets are sprouting up across the country at an unprecedented rate. Two of them just opened in the Boston area. We sent Living on Earth's Kim Motylewski to visit the new stores, and find out what the trend means for shoppers and grocers.

MAN 1: Need to sign off on hatch, need to get name badges and aprons if you're on the counter. If you're in the kitchen, you're all set.

MAN 2: Tomorrow's the day.

MOTYLEWSKI: It's the eve of the grand opening at Nature's Heartland, a natural food supermarket in the affluent Boston suburb of Bedford, Massachusetts. Workers are busy building colorful pyramids of produce and stocking shelves with jars of vitamins.

(Sound of bottles being placed on shelves)

MOTYLEWSKI: The smell of baking bread wafts across the big stylish store, and carpenters are making some last-minute changes.

(A drill runs)

MOTYLEWSKI: Nature's Heartland looks like a typical full-service supermarket, but what sets it apart is a strict set of standards for the food it sells. No artificial additives, preservatives, or sweeteners. No bleached flour, no MSG, no hydrogenated oils. The list goes on. Nature's Heartland is riding the crest of a new wave in the retail grocery industry, one that could change the inventories of most supermarkets.

EISOLD: This is the most exciting thing that I've seen in a long time...

MOTYLEWSKI: Brad Eisold is the main grocery buyer for Nature's Heartland. He's been in the natural foods business for 25 years. Eisold says the growing popularity of natural foods isn't just a fad. He says it's a consumer rejection of the chemical-intensive approach to food that developed after World War II.

EISOLD: So this is a natural evolution, coming back, eating clean, pure, wholesome food. Being concerned with the nutritional value and the flavor value as opposed to how long they can keep it sitting on the shelves. We're not hoping to have food on our shelves very long.

MOTYLEWSKI: Market analysts say consumer demands for freshness, convenience, and quality are helping move that food off the shelves. They also note that about 52% of the population wants to buy products that go easy on the Earth. Meanwhile, a growing number of shoppers are concerned about environmental health hazards.

WOMAN: We're sick of eating chemicals everywhere you go. Breathing them, eating them, living them. And I look for things that are organically grown. So I'm pregnant with twins, and so I'm also wanting to take good care of myself and my toddler.

MOTYLEWSKI: What's brought you in?

MAN: Because they grind up my cheese for me.

MOTYLEWSKI: It looks delicious.

MAN: It's not pre-ground. I bought the cheese and then I watched it being ground.

MOTYLEWSKI: And what do you like about that?

MAN: Fresher. I know it's fresh.

MOTYLEWSKI: And it tastes better.

MAN: Well, it's all in your mind but so much is. You know, it's like romance is in your mind, too, isn't it? Don't you find that true?

MOTYLEWSKI: The romance of natural foods and supplements has driven up sales nationally, more than 20% for the second year in a row. That's enormous growth given the conventional grocery business is inching up at about 3% a year. Toss in the higher profit margins on natural foods and you begin to understand why big health food stores are popping up left and right. It's where the money is. National grocery chains like Stop and Shop and Safeway are committing more and more shelf space to natural foods. Some estimates show 60 to 80% of them tapping into the market. In New England, the grocery giant Star Market has launched a whole new chain of natural food stores. Star Market Chairman Henry Nasella says the time is ripe.

NASELLA: Given all the resources that we can put behind it as a big company, we can be very successful and also at the same time do the right thing in expanding, if you will, this whole natural food industry to more and more people that otherwise wouldn't have been exposed to it.

MOTYLEWSKI: Mr. Nasella has added a new twist to the natural foods concept. He's created a hybrid store called Wild Harvest.

(Music on a PA system)

MOTYLEWSKI: Wild Harvest is less flashy than competitors like Nature's Heartland, or the natural foods leader, Whole Foods. Mr. Nasella has located his flagship store in the working class community of Medford. While most of the store's floor space is devoted to natural foods, Wild Harvest also stocks some conventional groceries in a separate section of the store. So under one roof you can pick up your sugar frosted flakes and the organic soy milk to pour over them. The reason, says Henry Nasella, is convenience. This is what he's heard from customers.

NASELLA: I like the quality, I like the ambiance of some of those stores, but I really have to shop more than one place and it's not convenient. You know, I like a Diet Coke or I want a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream or I want whatever. But if in fact they were going to go to a second store anyway and going to buy those products, why not save them time? I mean, time is the currency of the year 2000.

MOTYLEWSKI: Mr. Nasella says he's planning to open 6 more Wild Harvest stores in the next year, and hopes to have 30 stores all over New England within 5 years. As it passes the $9 billion a year sales mark and successful little companies become big public ones, natural foods is becoming big business. Investment analysts say the changes we're seeing in the industry mirror those that transformed the conventional grocery business over the last 50 years. Matthew Patsky is with Adams, Harkness, and Hill.

PATSKY: You know, on the retail side we're seeing tremendous consolidation. We've seen consolidation going on among distributors. We're starting to see the beginnings of it in among manufacturers, and ultimately lower price points. So the consumer ultimately will benefit from the efficiencies.

MOTYLEWSKI: Mr. Patsky predicts that over the next 20 years, prices for natural foods will come down closer to prices of conventional groceries. And in the long run, he says most independent retailers and small food coops will disappear. It's a trade-off. A national market and more healthy food for more people, but at the price of the pioneers.

(A scoop gathers food)

HIGGINS: Well of course, there was always this kind of joke, you know, in the coop milieu in the, you know, in the 70s, that what are we going to do with ourselves if this mission is accomplished?

MOTYLEWSKI: John Higgins is general manager of Harvest Coop Supermarket in Cambridge. He admits that some consolidation is inevitable. But he argues there will always be a place for the well-run small natural foods business.

HIGGINS: The bigger the big boys are, the more incompetent they become at certain things that happen on a more local, more human level. Because there can be a level of service and a level of sort of comfort in the store. You don't have to be overwhelmed by a 40,000 square foot store. And there's more of a personal touch.

MOTYLEWSKI: Mr. Higgins says he doesn't want to overstate this local advantage, but at least one shopper I spoke to noticed the corporate atmosphere at one of these new natural foods superstores. She called to tell me about it.

POWERS: Hello, Kim, this is Pamela Bailey Powers. You interviewed me this morning at Nature's Heartland. I actually am a poet, and I had sat (laughs) watching the opening of Nature's Heartland, and I penned a quick poem, and I thought maybe you'd be interested. It's called Media Event. Free range chickens at grand opening of Nature's Heartland. The photographer in rain covers her Nikon with a plastic grocery bag. Managers strut in red blazers. A suede-heeled PR lady hangs a wreath mid-ribbon between hitching posts. Everyone grins. Off comes plastic. Flash, flash. A mother in white hugs her baby in white. A father lifts his child upon shoulders. Ribbon cut. Electric doors like slaughterhouse blade are timed perfectly as into the heartland they go.

MOTYLEWSKI: Pamela Bailey Powers lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, and shops at Nature's Heartland. For Living on Earth, I'm Kim Motylewski.

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Organic Grain

CURWOOD: If demand for organic foods is up, this should be good news for organic farming, right? It's not necessarily so, says Fred Kirschenmann, president of Farm Verified Organic. Mr. Kirschenmann, who serves on the National Organic Standards Board, runs a 3,100 acre farm in North Dakota. He says increased profits for organic farmers only tell part of the story.

KIRSCHENMANN: Some of us worry there's a down side to this as well.

CURWOOD: What do you mean, a down side?

KIRSCHENMANN: Well, it seems that as the industry begins to take organic seriously and to include more organic products in their line, what they want to do is put a certified organic product alongside every conventional product. And if they do that, then it means that they're going to create a demand for the same narrow band of crops that are currently used in the conventional market, which is primarily corn, wheat, soybeans, and rice. So if you're going to create a demand for that very narrow band of crops, it's going to make it very difficult for organic farmers to maintain the kind of diversity of crops that they need in order to make that system work on their farms.

CURWOOD: Now, to your average consumer, looks like we have a fairly diverse food supply. I mean, you walk into the supermarket any day of the week, any time of the year, and you can get all kinds of produce.

KIRSCHENMANN: Sure. You know, we visit, consumers have come to believe that what variety and food means is being able to buy kiwi fruit from New Zealand in North Dakota in January. But that's only one way of thinking about variety. You know, if you really look at the major foods which are made available in the average supermarket today, there's actually very little choice. You know, you've got 3 different brands of labels or names for the same product. About the only place you have real choice is in the fresh produce area, and there again, the choice is based upon foods that's traveled thousands of miles, rather than looking at it in terms of variety, in terms of different kinds of foods which could be grown on a seasonal basis within that community. You know, that's another way to think about variety. But that doesn't make profit for the large food industries, and so consumers haven't had an opportunity to look at variety in terms of what they can produce locally.

CURWOOD: What's the danger that you're concerned about here?

KIRSCHENMANN: We have been in the last 50 years dramatically specializing agriculture all over the world. Agriculture traditionally used to rely on 80,000 different plants. Today we're relying on 15 to 20 plants for all of the calories of the food that's grown on this planet. That makes the system very vulnerable. It makes it vulnerable to pests, it makes it vulnerable to diseases. Now, at the same time that we're doing that, we're now dramatically increasing our global trade. And the global trade is going to inevitably bring alien pests into environments that are very specialized and very vulnerable, and it's a prescription for disaster.

CURWOOD: So, what do you propose we do?

KIRSCHENMANN: Well, it's really very difficult. You know, in the ideal world, what we would like to see is for the manufacturers and processors of organic foods to recognize this problem and to begin to diversify their food lines. When you have a diversified system, you rely upon the system itself. On our farm, for example, we have 8 different crops which we grow in various rotations. We grow a legume, which fixes the nitrogen. We grow a cool season cereal grain which is shallow rooted, which takes nutrients primarily from the top portions of the soil. We grow warm season broad-leaf crops, which are deep-rooted, which take fertility from deeper in the soil profile. And so it's those kinds of diverse elements that you have to fit together into a growing system to make it work without fertilizers and pesticides.

CURWOOD: What are your 8 crops?

KIRSCHENMANN: The 8 crops which we grow are wheat, sunflowers, buckwheat, millet, rye, barley, lentils, and flax.

CURWOOD: There's a problem, though. I mean, the market isn't asking for these products. I mean, how can you get this to be economically viable.

KIRSCHENMANN: Yeah, that's exactly the dilemma. And unless we all work at this together, you know, in my view, nutritionists need to get into the act, and help consumers understand that there are some really good, healthy food that can be produced from things like millet. And to begin to create a demand for that kind of food. But that's a long-term process and I realize it's a big problem.

CURWOOD: I know you think that this system of agriculture really can't be market-driven. But as consumers, what can we do to encourage farmers to rotate and diversify their crops?

KIRSCHENMANN: One of the really hopeful aspects of the food industry today is what's happening in many communities now, where farmers and consumers are actually sitting down together and saying okay, you know, let's, we'd like to have you, Mr. Farmer, produce our vegetables and our chickens and our eggs for us. And they actually contract with the farmer. So they learn what the farmer can do and can't do within that local community, and the farmer learns what the consumers would really like to have on their tables and makes every effort to try and produce that. That's still a very, very small part of the food system in this country, but it's growing very rapidly. Ten years ago there were only 2 of those kinds of arrangements in North America; today there are over 500. I think consumers do want this kind of food, and increasingly as the word gets out that's possible to do, that will increase.

CURWOOD: Fred Kirschenmann is president of Farm Verified Organic, Incorporated. Thanks for joining us.

KIRSCHENMANN: It's my pleasure.

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CURWOOD: For years, people concerned about the planet have been urged to think globally and act locally. But one writer says we have to think locally before we can act at all. A conversation with author Alan Durning is next on Living on Earth.

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This Place on Earth

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Think globally and act locally; it's practically a mantra in environmental circles. You see the slogan on buttons, bumper stickers, and T-shirts. But to think really locally, you have to identify with a particular locale. You have to have a sense that you belong somewhere, that you are part of one distinct set of surroundings. In short, you have to have a home. But home is an increasingly transient idea to most of us. Where is your home? I mean more than just your house or apartment; where is your community? Is it where you were born? Where you grew up? Where you live now? Alan Durning is a writer and a regular commentator on Living on Earth. In his new book, This Place on Earth: Home and the Practice of Permanence, he explores his own community, Seattle, and the surrounding bio-region. He's rediscovering the land and the people after years away from it. Alan, at the beginning of this book, you wrote that as a child you always wanted to be a traveler, but then something happened to you that made you change your mind.

DURNING: Yeah, you know, I spent most of a decade traveling the world for the World Watch Institute as a senior researcher writing about environmental and social problems all over the place. And then I was in the Philippines interviewing members of remote hill tribes about their land and livelihood, the struggles that they are engaged in to defend their homelands against loggers and miners and other resource developers. And towards the end of a sweltering hot day in the homeland of the Banwalen people in the far south of the country, I was sitting under this tree with this old woman who was revered by the others as a sort of traditional priestess. All of a sudden she turned the tables on me, and she asked me a question. She said, "Tell me about your place." And I didn't know what to say. Well, I mean, I had an apartment at that time on the edge of Washington, DC. But it wasn't really my place. I mean, it was an address, but it was more of a base camp than anything else. And in the end, I just sort of admitted to her, I said, "In America we have careers, not places." And the look of pity that she gave me burned me so deeply that ultimately it drove me away from Washington, DC, and led me to quit my job and come back to the place where I was born and grew up to try to re-establish connections to my place.

CURWOOD: What was it that going home -- and Seattle is the place that you call home -- what was it, what did this mean to you emotionally? And what were you looking for?

DURNING: I was looking for a sense of physical and emotional peace, I guess. And I got it, and I got back into Seattle, and I just felt my body sort of relaxing almost. Like I had traveled enough and it was time to put down some roots.

CURWOOD: Being home means what to you, do you think?

DURNING: It means being in a place that you know personally, both through a lifetime of experiences, memories, stories, associations. Also that you consciously know a whole lot about the place, about its history, about its ecology, about the different species that you share that habitat with. It means knowing neighbors and friends all around the region. It means being settled. It's a question that folks outside of North America wouldn't have to ask, but in North America we're such a mobile population that this concept of homeland is kind of foreign to us.

CURWOOD: And yeah, you may be an extreme example, but we do seem to be in love with going places in the United States. Why do you think we move so much?

DURNING: I think partly it's because of our history. We're still driven by a kind of frontier mentality that's outlived the frontier by 100 years. There was always the idea that you could, you were so much of a discrete individual that you could go somewhere else and reinvent yourself. Americans move on average every 6 years to another county or province. And that rate of mobility has been high through most of our history, though interestingly, in the last 10 years, it's begun to decline. I'm not saying that people should just completely stay put, you know? Some amount of moving around is probably good, and a bit of travel to widen our life experience is good as well. But I think we ought to ask ourselves the question, I think it ought to be an issue.

CURWOOD: You say that the willingness or the propensity to move is going down slightly. Why do you suppose that is?

DURNING: People are recognizing that in the rush for personal advancement and for material affluence we've sacrificed some important things, and we've sacrificed most notably the connections to each other. That is, there's a searching for community. I think maybe that the decline in mobility is in some ways a reflection of that quest for community, rather than simply more consumer goods.

CURWOOD: I mean, mobility is pretty expensive, isn't it? I mean, of course there are obvious expenses in terms of roads, highways, picking up, packing up, moving on, spending for all of that. But there are some hidden costs of mobility as well, right?

DURNING: Big hidden cost is that we have neighborhoods full of people who don't know each other, who don't have any shared experience, who know very little about the landscape they inhabit. And therefore don't have the emotional stake to protect those landscapes. To me, when I see the advancing sprawl on the peripheries of my home town of Seattle, it comes as a personal insult because those are places that I grew up playing in. It was countryside. It was farms that I went to and valleys and salmon streams, and now it's turning into subdivisions. The folks who are moving into those subdivisions overall have no idea what it used to be. If there is an escape hatch for our increasingly global consumer society, which is on all sides degrading its natural environment, the reattachment to home, to places, may be that escape hatch. It might be the way that we can tap into a set of emotions and passions that are more powerful than the short-sightedness and greed that propel us toward the brink.

CURWOOD: What do we lose in terms of relationships with each other when we move so much?

DURNING: Americans have spent, in the last 20 years, we're spending less and less time in conversation with neighbors. That's maybe one of the most interesting bits of statistical evidence that I've ever happened upon.

CURWOOD: Really? Less time talking to neighbors?

DURNING: Less time talking to neighbors. Less time in idle sidewalk chat. We're spending more time watching television and driving and shopping and working. Less time in conversation.


DURNING: I think we are losing some of the skills of neighborliness.

CURWOOD: So how did you get connected to your neighbors?

DURNING: What happened was, my eldest son got interested in basketball, and so one Saturday we went out and bought a used basketball hoop and put it up on our driveway. To do it I had to get some tools I didn't have. I needed a ladder, for example, and that sent me up and down the street knocking on some doors, even to some houses that I'd been kind of leery of visiting, because I didn't know whether I could trust the folks inside. But it gave me the excuse to meet all those folks, and as it turned out they were enthusiastic that I was going to do something, put up a basketball hoop, that would be a place for their kids to play. After it was up, it created a gathering place, a natural center for community building on our street. I call it a loom of community in the book, because the kids would be playing and adults would wander by and watch, make conversation. Watching the game was a natural thing to converse about, because the folks on my street don't share too many things. We come from all different races and economic and ethnic backgrounds, but basketball is a common ground.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this much time with us. Alan Durning lives with his family in Seattle. He's founder and executive director of Northwest Environment Watch, and a regular commentator on Living on Earth. His latest book is called This Place on Earth: Home and the Practice of Permanence. Thanks, Alan.

DURNING: Thank you, Steve.

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(Music up and under)

Mail Bag

CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners. Recently, we profiled Bill McDonough, an architect who does more than design buildings. He's working with companies and communities to help them plan with natural principles in mind. Many listeners called to praise the work of this green designer. A man from San Rafael, California, writes to say he was thoroughly delighted at Bill McDonough's fresh approach to dealing with such industry giants as Monsanto. But Hal Levin, a listener to KUSP in Santa Cruz, California, says Bill McDonough's vision, while on the right track, is short-sighted.

LEVIN: Their goals are not explicit enough, nor have they aimed high enough. Sustainability is so far from the kinds of minimal changes that people have made, that I think we need a serious dialogue about what sustainability might be and how far we have to go to achieve it.

CURWOOD: Schlimo Pero, a Montreal resident who listens to us on Vermont Public Radio, believes Mr. McDonough's claim that companies can be enlightened enough to save the natural world is naive. "There has been too much death and destruction in the name of profit," he writes, "and what's needed is another motivation besides money."

Finally, in response to our interview with Michael Schnayerson about the electric car industry, a listener to WVIK in Rock Island, Illinois, says we were not looking at the whole picture. Jeffrey Strasser writes, "Electricity is not cheap. Most of our electrical power is derived from coal-burning facilities, which pollute the air and rely on strip mining. An increased dependency on such power only displaces the environmental impacts from the internal combustion engines in our cars to large power generating plants. Until inexpensive and clean electrical power is available," Mr. Strasser writes, "electrically powered automobiles are not an ideal solution to air pollution."

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CURWOOD: If you have questions, comments, or suggestions about Living on Earth, call our listener line. The number is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. And don't forget to check out our web page at www.loe.org.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Chris Ballman is our senior producer, and Dan Grossman edited this week's program as he has this fall. He'll now put his reporter's hat back on. Thanks, Dan. Our production team includes Kim Motylewski, George Homsy, Liz Lempert, Jan Nunley, Susan Shepherd, Julia Madeson, Peter Shaw, and Constantine Von Hoffman. We also had help from Michael Giamusso, Kim Chainey, and Jason Kral. Our engineers are Frank DeAngelis at WBUR, Jane Pipik at WGBH, and Jeff Martini at Harvard University. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes reporting; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and in part by 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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