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

January 17, 1997

Air Date: January 17, 1997


Saving Salamanders / Janet Heimlich

In Texas, a rare salamander is threatened with extinction but is caught between federal and state regulations for protection. Janet Heimlich reports from Barton Springs in Austin, Texas. (07:58)

Wes Jackson: Prairie Revolutionary

Steve Curwood talks with prairie and agriculture expert Wes Jackson about his recent book Becoming Native to This Place published by Counterpoint Press. Nature doesn't grow her plants in rows, and this leading agricultural thinker says that to get better long-term results, farmers shouldn't plant them that way either. Jackson is the founder of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. (08:52)

Death of the Family Farm / Victor Davis Hansen

Author Victor Davis Hansen comments on the decline of the family farm. Hansen hails from his family farm in Selma, California, and his most recent book is Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea. (02:30)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about... Thomas Alva Edison. (01:15)

Antarctica Series: Part 4 - An Ice Journal / Terry FitzPatrick

In his final installment, reporter Terry FitzPatrick shares a personal audio journal of his experiences and impressions while traveling to Antarctica for Living on Earth on a National Science Foundation grant. Encore broadcast. (11:05)

Cleaning Europe's East / Mark Huntley

New businesses are booming in the Czech Republic; consisting of technology to clean up the legacy of the Cold War's Soviet military pollution. Mark Huntley reports from Prague where the clean-up work has been progressing. (05:57)

Organic Garden Spot

In this final annual installment of the Green Garden Spot with Evelyn Tully Costa, Evelyn provides a winter reading list on gardening. (06:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1997 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
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Joel Southern, Michael Lawton, Janet Heimlich,
Terry FitzPatrick, Mark Huntley
GUESTS: Wes Jackson, Evelyn Tully Costa
COMMENTATOR: Victor Davis Hansen

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

A rare salamander is threatened with extinction in Austin, Texas. Some want it on the Endangered Species List but the Clinton Administration says no.

ASHE: The bottom line is not putting a species on a list. The bottom line is conserving the species. And sometimes states are better able to do that than we are.

CURWOOD: Also, visionary Wes Jackson says it's time to grow crops the way nature does, without rows, plows, or chemicals.

JACKSON: If we can begin to farm like the forest or farm like the prairie, then we might be able to move away from an extractive economy and agriculture to a renewable one.

CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more coming up this week on Living on Earth, but after this.

Environmental News

MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. A new Energy Department study says that maintenance problems at sites where the government stores enriched uranium could result in the exposure of workers and the public to radiation. The Energy Department has 250 metric tons of enriched uranium at 22 sites around the country. Among the shortcomings: uranium kept in decaying containers, deteriorating storage buildings, and inadequate ventilation. The study was released 2 days after Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary approved a proposal to burn plutonium in civilian nuclear reactors. O'Leary says the plan will protect against nuclear proliferation and other safety risks in disposing of the plutonium. Opponents say the plan will encourage nations to pursue nuclear fuel reprocessing and make plutonium an energy source instead of a waste to be disposed of.

Previously classified documents from both sides of the Cold War may shed light on global climate change. Joel Southern has more from Washington.

SOUTHERN: Nearly 50 years worth of Arctic Ocean scientific data kept secret because of the Cold War has been made public. It's now available because Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernemyrdin reached agreement to release information no longer sensitive to the security of both countries. Gore says the information is a time machine record of the Arctic Ocean environment.

GORE: And with this new material, at long last, scientists around the world working as partners can begin the important work of understanding the true character of the Arctic depths.

SOUTHERN: Gore and top climate scientists say the information is vital to understanding long-term global climate change and improving northern hemisphere weather predictions. It could also help determine whether old Soviet nuclear wastes dumped in Russian waters threatens other regions of the Arctic. The data is available on CD-ROM and the World Wide Web. Joel Southern, Washington.

MULLINS: Native Alaskans have filed suit to stop the Exxon Valdez from returning to Alaskan waters. They say Exxon's plan to return the Valdez is offensive to residents and could imperil wildlife still recovering from the spill 8 years ago. Attorneys for Exxon have asked a Federal judge to strike down legislation barring the vessel from Prince William Sound. Exxon is challenging the ban, arguing that Congress improperly punished the ship's owners. In 1989 the Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil in the Sound. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, passed in response to the Valdez spill, prohibits tankers that have spilled more than 1 million gallons from operating in the Sound.

Mountain gorillas and other rare animals in an eastern Zaire park are making a comeback after the departure of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees. A spokesman for the International Gorilla Conservation Program says prospects for the Virunga National Park look better than they have in a long time. During the 2-and-a-half years the refugees lived near the camp they destroyed 17 square miles of forest, encroaching on the home of an estimated 350 mountain gorillas.

The German state of Hamburg is pushing a new law that would require most buildings to be built to high energy-saving standards. Michael Lawton reports.

LAWTON: Among the new laws' provisions are a ban on electric heating, a ban on air conditioning except in special cases, and requirements of better insulation. The authorities will also be able to require that buildings be heated by combined heated power systems. The Environment Minister of the state, Fritz Farnhultz, says the law might add to the costs of construction but it will make builders build in a way which will save money for future users. For example, a 2% increase in insulation costs will bring a 20% decrease in heat loss. And with all the provisions in force a typical winter heating bill could go down by 66%. The new law is designed to fulfill Hamburg's commitment to the targets of the Rio Earth Summit and help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25%. For Living on Earth this is Michael Lawton in Cologne.

MULLINS: The sun is entering a quiet period that could mean slightly cooler temperatures here on earth. Scientists from Yale University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration predict the least violent solar cycle in more than 400 years. NASA says analysis of magnetic field measurements showed that the solar violence of the last 50 years is decreasing, prompting a cooler, more smoothly shining sun. Solar cycles, which last about 11 years, are marked by violent eruptions or sunspots on the sun's surface. Variations in the solar cycle are thought to be a factor in major climate changes in the past.

The theft of 2 plastic flamingos has prompted the town of Northfield, New Hampshire to create an artificial wildlife preserve. Town officials were so upset about the purloined pink birds, selectmen passed a resolution creating a preserve and prohibiting the capture of artificial wildlife. The police chief says he'll be looking for the missing plastic birds in their favorite nesting area: people's front lawns.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

Saving Salamanders

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Austin, Texas, is one of the fastest-growing cities in America. Deep in the heart of the Texas hill country, it's a university town known for great music, good cuisine, and some of the nation's best swimming holes. One of them is Barton Springs, not far from downtown, and a favorite gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. But Barton Springs is now at the center of a raging debate over the survival of a tiny salamander and a controversial effort by the Clinton Administration to give states more control over endangered species protection. From Austin, Janet Heimlich has our report.

(Splashing water. Woman: "No place like it in the world. It's great. You can't beat it." Man: "Yeah. I got time when I get out.")

HEIMLICH: Even in chilling 35-degree weather, Austin residents strip down to swim laps in Barton Springs pool. The pool, which is fed by underground springs, maintains a constant temperature of 68 degrees. On this winter afternoon, David Norrin pulls himself from the steaming water, quickly grabs for a towel, and then explains why he's been swimming here for over 10 years.

NORRIN: I like the fact the water's not chlorinated and there's stuff growing in it. You know, you can watch the fish and you can watch the plants and the turtles and it's just beautiful.

HEIMLICH: Burton Pool is special for another reason: it's home to the Eurycea sosorum, a salamander which exists nowhere else in the world. The tiny amphibian, known as the Barton Spring salamander, is about 2 inches long with bright red gills and delicate spiny legs.

(Air through a tube)

HEIMLICH: Downstream from the swimmers, biologist Robert Hansen pulls on a wetsuit and straps on a tank. He's getting ready for his monthly dive to count the salamanders: part of the city's conservation program.

(A large splash)

HANSEN: Well, to find these guys, usually you have to pick up rocks, and you have spaces in between the rocks, and they hunker down and crawl around in there. Occasionally you see them laying out on the surface, and occasionally you find them swimming through the surface. But they're usually underneath the cobble and the gravel.

HEIMLICH: By the end of the 4-hour dive, Hansen has uncovered only 14 salamanders. The low count isn't surprising. While it's not known how many salamanders now live in Barton Springs, surveys over the last couple of years have reported no more than 45. Given the low numbers, the Clinton Administration proposed to list the salamander as an endangered species. But when the time to act, interior secretary Bruce Babbitt unexpectedly withdrew the proposal. Instead, he decided to let the state of Texas take on the responsibilities. US Fish and Wildlife spokesman Dan Ashe.

ASHE: The bottom line is not putting a species on a list. The bottom line is conserving the species. And sometimes states are better able to do that than we are.

HEIMLICH: The Barton Springs salamander, he says, is a case in point.

ASHE: Looking at the state of Texas by way of example, they regulate water quality in the state of Texas. We don't. And so if we can sign an agreement with the state of Texas whereby they're agreeing to use their tools, there is a great amount of efficiency in that process.

HEIMLICH: The conservation agreement establishes a captive breeding program and enacts tighter water policy rules. But local environmentalists say the Federal-state deal has more to do with politics than protecting the salamander. They point out that the Clinton Administration's decision came during an election year with Texas up for grabs. They're critical of the plan for failing to broadly enforce water regulations, and allowing development to continue in sensitive areas.

KIRKPATRICK: This flies in the face of a mountain of scientific evidence showing that the salamander is in fact endangered...

HEIMLICH: University of Texas zoologist Mark Kirkpatrick, who first petitioned to list the salamander, says the Administration chose to ignore the plan's obvious flaws.

KIRKPATRICK: ... and there were no new additional protections required by the conservation plan to protect water quality and quantity of Barton Springs or to protect the salamander.

(Construction trucks)

HEIMLICH: One of the biggest threats to water quality is rainwater runoff from construction sites. A few miles upstream of the springs, work is underway to build highways, housing subdivisions, and shopping centers. Developers, backed by Governor George Bush, lobbied hard to prevent the listing, fearing that it would tighten restrictions on land use. Developers we contacted were reluctant to comment, but Alan Glen, an Austin lawyer for many of the commercial land owners, says it's in the developer's interest to protect the environment.

GLEN: Austin is known for its natural resources and that's part of the attraction to people who live here, who move here, and to people who my clients sell homes to. So there's a motivation there to maintain these resources.

HEIMLICH: Glen emphasizes that developers routinely put in retention ponds and other safeguards to control runoff. He accuses some environmentalists of using the Endangered Species Act as a tool to stop all development. But environmentalists say it's their only recourse to protect the springs, which provide drinking water to 40,000 people. Bill Bunch, a lawyer for Austin's Save Our Springs Alliance, says the state's record on environmental protection isn't good. The state legislature recently passed a law to allow some large developers to avoid strict local water ordinances.

BUNCH: The state of Texas has been going backwards on protecting the environment. There's simply no law other than the Endangered Species Act that will provide the protection that is needed to protect the salamander and the water quality of the springs.

HEIMLICH: But as the battle ensues, salamanders are dying. On recent surveys, biologists discovered a total of 28 dead salamanders. It turned out the city's maintenance crews were to blame. They'd been lowering the water level in Barton Pool to clean it, killing salamanders left stranded in a nearby spring. Now environmentalists are pushing even harder for Federal protections. Scott Royder with the Sierra Club says while he's open to the idea of state agreements, it's too early to abandon the Endangered Species Act entirely.

ROYDER: The Sierra Club Lone Star chapter has encouraged the cooperation between state and Federal agencies and ensuring that endangered species or endangered resources are protected and preserved and recovered. But we don't believe it should be done in lieu of listing as an endangered species, especially if that species is in trouble.

HEIMLICH: But the Clinton Administration doesn't see it that way. In fact, it wants to move away from listing species whenever possible. Dan Ashe of Fish and Wildlife says in cases like the salamander, a Federal listing is a last resort.

ASHE: More and more lately, we've been willing to sit down with states and say, you know, in some cases if we can have a frank discussion about what the threats are to the species and we can figure out ways to address the threats and conserve the species and not have to list them under the Endangered Species Act.

HEIMLICH: Environmentalists in Austin, however, are determined to get Federal protection for the Barton Springs salamander. They've filed suit in Federal court asking a judge to order the government to add it to the Endangered Species List. Meanwhile, the Clinton Administration is moving forward on its efforts to give states more control. It's already withdrawn endangered species listing proposals in Utah and Arizona, and is currently drawing up new conservation agreements in other states. For Living on Earth, I'm Janet Heimlich in Austin.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Nature doesn't grow her plants in rows, and a leading agricultural thinker says we shouldn't, either. A call for a revolution in farming is coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Wes Jackson: Prairie Revolutionary

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For years many researchers have challenged chemically intensive farming, seeking instead to modernize the organic methods of earlier generations. But one group of investigators has gone beyond the organic approach to what they say is truly sustainable agriculture. For 20 years the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, has wrestled with the main paradox of growing food: the plowing and planting, even if no chemicals are used, deplete the ecological capital on which harvests depend: the soil. Instead, these researchers are trying to develop cultivation practices based on natural systems that conserve soil as they produce food, recycle their own nutrients, and use only the sun for power. Sound like a dream? Nature does this every day, from tall grass prairies to tropical rainforests, and we can do it, too, says Wes Jackson. Mr. Jackson is the founder of the Land Institute and the author of a new book of essays from Counterpoint Press called Becoming Native To This Place. He joins us now to tell us about the revolution in agronomy research he thinks is in order. Mr. Jackson, welcome.

JACKSON: Well, I'm happy to be here.

CURWOOD: I understand that you want to raise $750 million from private foundations, the government, and get land grant colleges to work on a brand new way to grow food. That's a lot of money, isn't it?

JACKSON: Well, it's not much money, when one considers that soil erosion, according to Dave Pimentel and his group at Cornell University, costs about $44 billion a year.

CURWOOD: Forty-four billion a year.

JACKSON: Yeah, that's right.

CURWOOD: And you would spend $750 million over how many years?

JACKSON: Twenty-five years.

CURWOOD: Okay. But why should we do this? I mean, why should we change the course of research on sustainable agriculture? I mean, it seems that there are some pretty good ideas out there right now for growing food without chemicals, controlling pests with beneficial bugs and the like. And research is going forward in these areas an the ideas are catching on. Why not work within this view of sustainable agriculture?

JACKSON: Well, essentially all of our high-yielding crops are annuals, or treated as such. Which means that you have to tear the ground up every year. And if you tear up the ground on sloping hillsides you're going to have soil erosion. And the United States, it's been variously estimated, has lost about half of its topsoil already. And so we're going to have to think of better ways to keep the soil intact.

CURWOOD: Okay. Now, you want to change the system to protect our soil. Anything else you want to change by changing the system in such a fundamental way?

JACKSON: Well, if we look at the way Nature's ecosystems work, what we see is they feature material recycling and they run on sunlight. And if you look at the structure of those systems, they feature diversity of vegetative structure. So if you look at, say, a never-plowed native prairie, you don't find just one species out there. What you find is warm season grasses, cool season grasses, legumes, members of the sunflower family, as sort of the 4 principal groups. And so, what we're promoting is an agriculture which would mimic that vegetative structure to some degree.

CURWOOD: You're talking about having a polyculture. You're talking about having different plants growing at the same time instead of having a monoculture, just one crop growing.

JACKSON: That's right. But it's not a mere polyculture. We want to come as close as is practical to imitating the vegetative structure of a natural ecosystem, so that we can take advantage of the natural integrities inherent within such a system.

CURWOOD: And what are those advantages?

JACKSON: Well, because of species diversity, you have chemical diversity. So it would take a tremendous enzyme system on the part of an insect or a pathogen to give you the epidemic. That system also sponsors its own nitrogen fertility. Whereas in America's fields it takes about 1.8 times as many fossil calories to sponsor nitrogen fertility as for traction, to run the tractors and the combines, because natural gas is the feedstock for nitrogen fertilizer. Also, there is a tendency for what we might call genetic truncation of our major crops, whereas a native prairie features species diversity. So what we're saying is that if we can begin to farm like the forest or farm like the prairie, then we might be able to move away from an extractive economy in agriculture to a renewable one.

CURWOOD: So you're saying we should grow the way that nature grows.

JACKSON: That's right.

CURWOOD: But wait a second here. How are we going to eat this way? Isn't it true that over the millennia, humans have learned to farm in a way that gets us food? This polyculture approach, these perennial plants you're talking about, they don't have a whole lot of food value for the human community.

JACKSON: Well, that's not true. What has been demonstrated through research now, that a plant can have an increase in seed yield at no tradeoff cost to the plant.

CURWOOD: By high seed yield you mean food value.

JACKSON: Well, but well having nutritional profile equivalent to the major crops. Now, what that means is that a central tenet of life's history theory, an evolutionary consideration, has been overturned, and allows us then to move forward and think about wild species that are perennial becoming domesticated, and the perennialization through breeding, and maybe even some gee whiz genetic bioengineering. I tend to be somewhat skeptical about that, but I will hold still for those possibilities. The development of perennialization in our major crops, which would then be put in combinations that are somewhat parallel to the kinds of combinations we see in a never-plowed native prairie.

CURWOOD: So in other words, in 25 years, Wes Jackson's dream might be a field that is filled with all kinds of things that grow that we could eat or maybe not eat. We might find the perennialized version of corn growing with rye, growing with --

JACKSON: Soybeans --

CURWOOD: Soybeans.

JACKSON: Or growing where some wild legume that has been domesticated and is found to be edible, have a nutritional profile similar to that of soybean. What we have done is we've announced a Kitty Hawk.

CURWOOD: Kitty Hawk?

JACKSON: A Kitty Hawk. We're saying we're where the Wright Brothers were on December 17th, 1903. We don't have anything that will carry 250 people across the Atlantic, but we've demonstrated the equivalent of lift and drag, you might say. So what we're now calling for is what we might call the wind tunnel phase. And it would have been silly to send the Wright Brothers back to their Dayton bicycle shop and tell them to build a 747 or an SST or whatever. This next round is going to take a lot of people and really not very much money, but certainly more money than the Land Institute has been spending in its research efforts.

CURWOOD: Some $750 million, you said.

JACKSON: Well, now, I'm willing to back off of that considerably. That was what I called my wildest fantasy, where we would have 10 major research centers around the country. If we could have just one and a cost of $5 million a year, in the 15 to 25 year time frame, we could have a fundamentally different agriculture appearing on the American landscape early next century.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Wes Jackson is founder of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. Thank you so much, sir.

JACKSON: Well, thank you.

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Death of the Family Farm

HANSEN: Family farming was the ideal that a sizable number of people could draw their sole support from working the soil. By being attached to the land, those people lended stability to their local communities. That idea is now about dead.

CURWOOD: Commentator Victor Davis Hansen.

HANSEN: Less than one percent of America's population is farmers. Of that number, even fewer live where they work or rely on the ground solely for their family's welfare. While few deny that the family farmer is disappearing, many dispute the significance of his passing. We will exhaust the soil and soon starve under the corporations who exploit the land solely for profit, the more ecologically-minded warn us. Don't worry, counters the more concerned agribusinessmen. Like the disappearance of small car makers in the 1930s, the demise of the small yeoman has bought us efficiency, as corporations strive for economies of scale and invest in new technology.

Either bewildered by or unaware of the end of family farming, the public ignores this transformation as long as their food continues to be plentiful, attractive, and cheap. I'm not sure whether our soil will be exhausted or our food scarce when the family farm's gone. But its end means more than changes in how we eat. We are losing a distinct voice in America, a person who views the world quite differently from the rest of us. Someone who welcomes physical work. Farmers know that more often we succeed or fail by our own merits, not those of others. Alone on the farm they're suspicious of fad, and they believe that the individual and the local community, not the bureaucracy, not the large city, grow the first good citizen.

Such yeomen are rare. History teaches us that the land is more often worked by serfs and peasants and slaves and owned by the king, the elite, or the collective. But when family farmers appear, whether in Greece, Republican Rome, 18th century Europe and America, or now in China, a different cycle of human experience begins. One marked by democracy, free speech, and consensual government. One that so reflects the stubbornness and autonomy of the free citizen landowner, free citizen soldier, and free citizen voter. So when these agrarians are all gone from America, I worry as much about us as about our food. The family farmer's the break on the rest of us, a voice that says no, a direct link with our democratic past that has vanished as well. We need that now more than ever, as our cities grow, our society unravels, and our culture itself is in jeopardy. But I don't know where, other than with families on the land, that steady voice of caution will ever be found.

CURWOOD: Victor Davis Hansen lives in Selma, California. His most recent book is Field Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: We're always interested in hearing what you have to say about our program. You can call our listener line any time at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can write us. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. And check out our web page at www.loe.org. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

ANNOUNCER: Major support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation for reporting on science and the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation; 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 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.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Hot times on a cold continent. How researchers on the ice of Antarctica fight cabin fever. That's story's next 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: This year marks the 150th birthday of the man who seems to have single-handedly invented the 20th century. It's darned near impossible to overstate the importance Thomas Alva Edison has had on our lives. There are of course the inventions. The electric light, alkaline batteries, the phonograph, motion picture cameras and projectors, the mimeograph machine, and a thousand more. Edison was also responsible for the generators and wiring that brought electricity into our homes and workplaces. It was 105 years ago that the Pearl Street central power station in Lower Manhattan went on line, initiating the electrical illumination of the world. The environmental impact of these products has been incalculable. For example, without Edison's inventions, there would be no need for power plants. The ones run by coal, gas, or oil foul our air. Electricity from nuclear power comes with troublesome waste and the threat of contamination. Even the large dams used in hydropower have devastated ecosystems. But without electric light human activity would be largely limited by the setting and rising of the sun. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Antarctica Series: Part 4 - An Ice Journal

The South Pole. The bottom of the earth is marked by flags of the 12 nations that signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959. The treaty suspends all claims of sovereignty, declaring the continent as international territory that is to be used only for peaceful scientific purposes.

CURWOOD: For the past few weeks Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick has been telling us about the glaciers and wildlife of Antarctica. But some of the most fascinating stories from his month-long journey to the continent involve the wild lives led by people who venture into one of the world's most challenging environments to conduct scientific research. Today we conclude our encore presentation of Terry's Antarctica series with his observations about what life is like for people who work at the bottom of the world.

FITZ PATRICK: Despite its romantic appeal, Antarctica can be an exhausting place. People here work flat out, cramming as much research as possible into the short polar summer. So it's little wonder that at the end of the season, folks let loose.

(People going, "Whoo!" Music in the background)

FITZ PATRICK: These researchers have used their engineering expertise to convert an ice drilling rig into a hot tub.

(People: "Whoo! It's hot!")

FITZ PATRICK: The wind chill is 15 degrees below zero. But that's nothing a warm soak and a little vodka can't conquer. People invited me to strip and join them.

(Voices: "Yeah!" "Are you serious about the Antarctic experience?" "You've got to live it." "Hey, take it off, Terry, take it off!" Laughter. "Terry. Terry...")

FITZ PATRICK: I wanted to hop in, but I was sick. And I was about to catch a plane to begin my trip back home. I tried to explain but folks didn't buy it.

(Voices: "Terry, you wimp! It's because you're a radio reporter; if you did television you'd have been in here!")

FITZ PATRICK: And so there I stood with bronchitis, bundled in my fur-trimmed parka, recording the revelry of a dozen nude Antarctic explorers.

(Voices: "Waterloo!" Singing along with a radio.)

FITZ PATRICK: I thought I'd seen everything but the best was yet to come.

(A motor runs)

FITZ PATRICK: As my plane arrived 2 plumes of steam came racing my way from the vicinity of the hot tub. A woman, naked, on a snowmobile, towing a man, naked, on skis. They circled the plane, hugged the pilot, and headed back to the party.

(The motor continues to run)

FITZ PATRICK: The hot tub drove home the work hard, play hard atmosphere in Antarctica. Research on the stability of the ice cap or the effects of the ozone hole can be stressful, involving difficult journeys to remote field locations. Wildly unpredictable weather can also make this a dangerous place. Fifty-six people have died on American expeditions since World War II. The dangers are emphasized the moment you arrive. Everyone who goes into the field must attend 2 days of survival training.

(Chains clank)

McCARTHY: All right! So everyone's got a harness, okay. Now the first thing you need, you're going to do, is...

FITZ PATRICK: Our teacher is back country guide Forrest McCarthy. He demonstrates the use of climbing harnesses and ropes, essential equipment for travel on the ice cap where crevasses can open up and swallow a person without warning.

McCARTHY: You've got to double back your harness. Now, see how I take this strap, and I double back through that buckle. Now people have died because they didn't do that.

(Chains clanking, footfalls on ice)

FITZ PATRICK: Roped up and underway on our first Antarctic day hike, we skirt the lip of an impressive crevasse.

(More footfalls)

McCARTHY: How are you doing?

FITZ PATRICK: All right.


(Wind whips)

FITZ PATRICK: Then we're lowered into the crevasse one by one, as fellow students practice the teamwork required for a rescue.

McCORMICK: The trick to surviving down here has a lot to do with attitude.

FITZ PATRICK: Instructor Bill McCormick says survival school is designed to instill a healthy regard for the elements.

McCORMICK: There is a lot of specific things to this environment. You have to start developing an eye for and a respect for -- the weather is, you know, maybe the major feature and most people don't have a sense of how ferocious it can be and how rapidly it can change.

(Metal against ice)

FITZ PATRICK: Sometimes the only way to escape life-threatening winds is to build an igloo, or dig an emergency trench. So Mr. McCormick shows us how.

McCORMICK: Basically it's like digging a grave for yourself, but this is the grave that saves; I just made that up right now. Never used that line before.

FITZ PATRICK: Is that true?

McCORMICK: It's true. (Laughs)

(Sawing continues)

FITZ PATRICK: After a difficult day of training, I slept 4 miles from base camp in a shelter made of snow. Because nature can be so ferocious, people are required to stick close to camp when they're not conducting research. As a result there's always a touch of cabin fever in the air.

(People milling)

FITZ PATRICK: That's especially true at America's main research complex, McMurdo Station, where 1,200 people crowd into the cafeteria every day.

(More milling)

FITZ PATRICK: McMurdo is more like a town than a camp, and its personality is shaped by a curious blend of 3 distinct cultures. Scientists make it feel like a college campus. Pilots make it feel like a Navy base. Cooks, mechanics, and other support personnel make it feel like a frontier town.

(More milling)

FITZ PATRICK: The 3 groups rarely mix and sit apart during meals. About the only time they do sit together is in church. That's where assistant chaplain Simon Eckleton conducts Catholic mass beneath a stained glass image of a penguin. Father Eckleton says the peculiar conditions make McMurdo a difficult place to live.

ECKLETON: People have to have outlets, and there aren't the normal outlets that there would be back home. And the family from which so much stability grows is entirely lacking. There are no children here. There are no elderly people here. There are no sick people here. So we may call ourselves a community and a town, McMurdo, but the fact is it's a very strange environment, and the harshness of the climate really is reflected in the harshness of life within the community.

FITZ PATRICK: You can see this harshness in McMurdo's 2 taverns. Especially for the support personnel, this is a hard drinking town. The most popular entertainment is karaoke night in a dimly lit bar called The Southern Exposure.

(A man sings Johnny Cash: "I hear the train a'comin. It's rollin' round the bend. And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when. I'm stuck in Folsom Prison, and time keeps draggin' on...")

FITZ PATRICK: The National Science Foundation, which runs the US Antarctic Program, is trying to curb the use of alcohol. Eric Chang, the senior US official here, has closed a number of bars in town.

CHANG: Not only were there 5 formal bars or clubs, you could find bars in all of the work centers. You know, under the excuse that you needed, that you might get trapped in a facility during a major storm. Alcohol was the recreational outlet, you know, years past.

FITZ PATRICK: Officials now promote other forms of recreation, including cross-country skiing, aerobics, even bowling.

(A bowling ball careens down a lane and hits pins. People go, "Oh!" and cheer.)

FITZ PATRICK: McMurdo is home to the world's southernmost bowling alley. Two lanes, with a manual pin setting. The bowling alley is where I met Shana Muldoon, a heavy equipment driver. Ms. Muldoon commends officials for trying to make McMurdo more livable.

MULDOON: When I first came down 3 years ago I thought about the basics. I was thinking, we're going to have only the basics and that's going to be it. I was shocked when we had VCRs and televisions and stuff like that. I was like, wow, I mean I was pleasantly surprised.

FITZ PATRICK: However, Ms. Muldoon did point out a different problem: the lack of women. There are 3 men here for every woman, which Ms. Muldoon told me can result in unwelcome come-ons.

MULDOON: Well, you just go into the bar and you're surrounded. Which like I said, it can be flattering, but then at other times it can be -- you don't trust them any more. You know that you're one of the few women so of course they're going to flatter you whether it's true or not.

FITZ PATRICK: Officials are trying to recruit more women, and in general are striving to transform McMurdo's social environment. With weekly movies, a coffee house, and satellite telephone service back to the States. Officials say healthy morale improves productivity and makes the base attractive enough for experienced personnel to want to return.

(Fans run)

FITZ PATRICK: The improvements go beyond creature comforts. The laboratories here are as good as you'd find at many American universities. Marine biologist Donald Mannahan from the University of Southern California appreciates how the infrastructure allows him to focus on his work.

MANNAHAN: It's one of the few towns on the planet Earth where science comes first. Not only that, it's multi-disciplinary. When you sit down at dinner here, one day you're sitting beside a biologist, the next day you're sitting by somebody studying the ozone hole, the next day it's a geologist. So this is a very interesting area for collaborative interdisciplinary science, which is really an important thing for future environmental studies is to put together the different disciplines.

FITZ PATRICK: These different kinds of scientists come to Antarctica because it's the most isolated and least studied continent on Earth. And despite efforts to make this place a bit more like home, the rugged conditions give it a special appeal for a certain type of individual. It instills a frontier spirit that's difficult to shake. That's evident in the saying support personnel have about Antarctica: the first year you come for the adventure; the second year you come for the money, and the third year you come because you don't fit in anyplace else. For Living on Earth, this is Terry FitzPatrick reporting.

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(Winds whip; fade to music up and under: "The wild night is calling. The wild night is calling. Come on out and dance. Come on out and make romance. Come on out and dance. Come on out and make romance...")

CURWOOD: The garden may be fallow, but that doesn't mean your mind has to be devoid of fertile thoughts. Books that celebrate the passion of gardening are coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Cleaning Europe's East

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. When the Soviet army pulled out of Central Europe in the early 1990s, it left behind hundreds of military bases loaded with pollution. But they are only part of a Cold War legacy for new republics. Industrial waste sites, poorly monitored and maintained under Communist rule, are also a blight on the region. Now, all this pollution is spawning a thriving new business sector devoted to its cleanup, especially in the Czech Republic, but not everyone thinks enough is being done. Mark Huntley reports from Prague, where clean-up work has proceeded the furthest.

HUNTLEY: The former Soviet air base at Radchani in the north of the Czech Republic once housed Mig jet fighters ready to do battle with NATO aircraft in a Cold War confrontation. The Migs and the Soviet soldiers who man them left Radchani in mid-1992, following an agreement between the former Soviet Union and the former Czechoslovakia. The Soviets agreed to leave and the Czechs agreed to take back the bases as is. As is meant bases stripped of useful material but chock full of military waste. The culprits include oils, degreasers, acids, paints, and PCBs.

At Radchani and across the Republic, the biggest problem is jet fuel. Dubumir Sokup is a hydrogeologist with KAP or "Kap," an environmental consulting firm based in Prague.

SOKUP: (Speaks in Czech)
TRANSLATOR: In this area there is about 90 cubic feet of jet fuel. The Soviets fueled their jets here and they had problems with leakage and contamination of the soil. The groundwater supplies many local sources of drinking water, so we've dug 2 wells which are about 600 feet deep. We pump about 7 gallons of contaminated water per second to the surface, filtrate it, and send it out as high-quality drinking water.

(Beeps and a woman's voice)

HUNTLEY: KAP is conducting environmental audits at over 100 sites and is currently cleaning 5 former military bases, and dozens of factories across the Czech Republic. In a country where most offices still echo the drab Communist past, KAP's bright offices and modern equipment reflect its success over the past few years. In one room, a mapping computer sits next to laser printers, spitting out multicolored maps of various KAP projects. The Czech government estimates that $900 million are spent each year on environmental cleanup and protection. Alistair Miller, KAP's head of business development, says his company claims a good piece of that action.

MILLER: It's very much a growing business. We have worked on sites as diverse as used car salesrooms all the way up to former Soviet air bases. Our turnover last year was 196 million crowns or 7 and a half million dollars, and that makes us a market leader in this country.

HUNTLEY: But in a country just emerging from the economic doldrums, who's paying for the clean-up? That depends. For former military sites like Radchani, the Ministry of Environment is the client. But at state-owned industrial sites where Communist-era environmental protection measures were equally lax, the situation is different. KAP's Alistair Miller.

MILLER: Since the beginning of the second wave of privatization, companies are required as part of their purchase of properties to arrange for their clean-up, but the state accepts its responsibility as the original polluter and refunds the cost of those clean-ups.

HUNTLEY: The Swedish engineering giant Azia Brown Bovary, or ABB, has bought several factories from the state, and is currently subcontracting with various firms to clean them up. Frantichek Dobesh is in charge of environmental issues with ABB in Prague. He says that foreign buyers who see foreign Communist plants as lucrative investments play an important part in the process.

DOBESH: When foreign companies come here they are quite concerned about the environment and therefore they are interested to know how much is still polluted. And therefore they do environmental audits and then they push the process.

HUNTLEY: Waste remediation companies, foreign buyers, and the Czech government all boast of how much privatization-driven clean-up is accomplishing. Carl Jech, a campaigner with Greenpeace Czech Republic, isn't so sure.

JECH: (Speaks in Czech)
TRANSLATOR: The National Property Fund, which is the government body selling off state property, can only reimburse the buyer up to the purchase price paid for the property. The price is usually not enough to truly decontaminate a factory or building which has been polluted over a period of 40 or 45 years.

HUNTLEY: Observers from groups like Greenpeace or the Czech Green Cross and the Prague Institute for Environmental Policy believe that Czech clean-up standards are lax. Greenpeace's Carl Jech.

JECH: (Speaks in Czech)
TRANSLATOR: Unfortunately, the present standards are too weak. Just now, there is a new toxic waste bill being debated in Parliament, but it is very soft. I hope that after a few more months of debate and lobbying by non-governmental agencies like ours, changes will be made to bring in standards that are more in line with Western Europe.

HUNTLEY: Jech and others worry that in this post-Communist era leaders are more concerned about their economic future than in cleaning up their contaminated past. With its environmental policies and booming clean-up business, the Czech Republic is far ahead of other ex-Soviet satellites. But these critics say that until standards are strengthened, Czech clean-up efforts will remain less than complete. For Living on Earth, this is Mark Huntley in Prague.

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(Music up and under)

Organic Garden Spot

CURWOOD: "Summer fading. Winter comes. Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs. Window robins. Winter rooks. And the picture storybooks." That from the beginning of Robert Lewis Stevenson's children's poem, "Picture Books in Winter," that bodes a time for all of us living in colder climates. A time when spending time indoors is an opportunity to reflect on the summer's past and the garden's future. To think, to really imagine greener, warmer days, is what many gardeners do when the ground is frozen over and sunlight is scarce. And here with a winter reading list is our green garden correspondent Evelyn Tully Costa. Hi, Evelyn, so nice of you to visit.

TULLY COSTA: Oh, the better to see you with, Steve.

CURWOOD: So, you're not only digging all spring, summer, and fall, but reading about gardens all winter?

TULLY COSTA: Yeah, well, what could be nicer than getting a pile of books, curling up in a comfy chair and actually absorbing some material? I can only fantasize about during the crazy growing season.

CURWOOD: So, what kind of books do you read?

TULLY COSTA: Mm, mostly during the growing season I read how-to books. But the best thing for me is to read about garden literature. I mean it's romantic, it's passionate, and I can sort of get into the heads of other people who share my own passion.

CURWOOD: So, Evelyn, what's on your list for listeners this winter?

TULLY COSTA: Well, I have 3 books. And the first book on my wish list is called Some Flowers by the novelist, poet, and plants woman Vita Sackville-West. She was one of the most controversial and talented gardeners of our century. She was famous, not only for gardens that she created in Sissinghurst Castle in England, but her connections with the Bloomsbury literary crowd. She had a rather well-known affair within certain circles with Virginia Woolf, and this inspired Virginia Woolf to model her character Orlando on Vita Sackville-West.

CURWOOD: Boy, what a fascinating character.

TULLY COSTA: Right. And guess what? The book is gorgeous, too.

CURWOOD: Oh yeah, I see.

TULLY COSTA: It's a reprint, and it was written, first written in 1937, and it's called Some Flowers. It features the watercolors of Graham Rust, and the beauty of this book is its simplicity. What she did was she chose 25 of her favorite flowers. She described their appearance, where they're from and their characteristics. She then gave instructions on their care in a really elegant and readable fashion, and there's nothing outdated about this book. It's really a perfect marriage between words and images.

CURWOOD: So it's a beautiful how-to from a pretty spicy gardener, huh?


CURWOOD: What other gardening books you got with you?

TULLY COSTA: Okay. Well, the next book that attracted my attention was because of its cover. It was this luminescent picture depicting a sort of a lush forest in silhouette against the dusk.

CURWOOD: Ooh, yeah, look at this.

TULLY COSTA: And the title, yeah, the title is Heaven's Embroidered Cloth. And it's a really wonderful blend of poems and paintings by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. And a few landscape artists, including his own brother Jack Butler Yeats. And here's one I thought you might find interesting. It's called The Wheel. "Through winter time we call on spring and though the spring and summer call, and when abounding hedges ring declare that winter's best of all. And after that there's nothing good because the spring time has not come, nor know that what disturbs our blood is but its longing for the tomb."

CURWOOD: Oh, dear, it's kind of depressing. I guess it's in keeping with winter, but --

TULLY COSTA: Yeah, well, okay. But (laughs) Yeats might be a little depressing, but he's very heartfelt and connected to the landscape, you know, like a lot of gardeners.

CURWOOD: Um, let's see, what else is in this book? There's a wonderful painting of The Heath by Charles Thomas Burt walking up, and then this Intimate Garden Path by Mildred Ann Butler. A bypass, she calls it.

TULLY COSTA: Right. And it's got daffodils in it. It's obviously spring time, and very evocative. I mean, the paintings and the poems really do go very beautifully together.

CURWOOD: And where do I get this book?

TULLY COSTA: Well, both the Vita Sackville-West book and the Yeats books are distributed by Trafalgar Publishing, and they can be obtained at your local bookstore. Even at your library.

CURWOOD: So we've got poets, we've got Orlando's inspiration. What about, you know, the nitty gritty of gardening?

TULLY COSTA: Well, I also have a very beautiful reference book.


TULLY COSTA: A just gorgeously illustrated and written primer on native plants, Carol Oddison's Native Plant Primer, which is put out by Harmony Books. And what makes this book so readable and such a pleasure to look at is that it's color-coded and it's broken down by region. Anybody living in the southwest, the northeast, the Pacific northwest, the mountain regions, have plants that are very special to that region that have been there for thousands of years. What Carol Oddison has done has broken down in very clear and easy and beautifully photographed ways these regions and what grows in them.

CURWOOD: So it's regionally divided. What if I just want to look up an annual?

TULLY COSTA: Well, after the regional divisions, then she breaks the book down into chapters on perennials, annuals, grasses, ferns, water plants, vines, shrubs, and trees. I mean, all reference books should be this easy and exciting to get through.

CURWOOD: Ooh, this is really beautiful.

TULLY COSTA: Right? And I don't want people to forget the index, which has fantastic resources of nurseries, gardens, and botanical institutions, all of which deal with native plants. And I think we should all find space in our gardens for these plants and bring the wild back into our gardens.

CURWOOD: So this would help people distinguish between what is and what isn't an indigenous plant?

TULLY COSTA: Yeah. And it also gets us to focus on what might actually do better in our gardens. And it also encourages our friends, the birds and the insects, to come back into our gardens. And I just found the gardens in this book so beautifully presented that it actually changed my mind about what I use in my own designs, and so far none of my clients have complained about this. So I hope that these 3 books can get you started, Steve.

CURWOOD: Thanks again, Ev. Our Green Garden Spot correspondent, Evelyn Tully Costa.

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CURWOOD: If you want to contact us for our resource list and how to get the books we talked about today, try us on the Internet at www.loe.org. Or send us a self-addressed stamped envelope to Living on Earth, Green Garden Spot, Post Office Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: On the next Living on Earth we travel to the Mississippi Delta, birthplace of the blues, and home to a community of black farmers who are struggling against the odds to make their homestead sustainable.

MAN: In 1910 there was left some 15 million acres of land owned by African American promise, you know, in the United States. They've declined to roughly some 4 million acres or less than that now. And predictions are that by the year 2000, or by the year 2005, that there will be a total disappearance of black farmers, you know, in the country.

CURWOOD: Join us next week for a look at the future of African-American family farmers.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our production team includes Susan Shepherd, Julia Madeson, Peter Shaw, Constantine Von Hoffman, Kim Motylewski, George Homsy, and Liz Lempert. Peter Thomson heads our western bureau. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. Jennifer Schmidt edited this week's program. We also had help from Michael Giammusso, Kim Chainey, Jason Kral, and KPLU in Seattle. Travel for our reports on Antarctica was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Our program is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. Our engineers are Mark Navin at WBUR and Jeff Martini at Harvard. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation; 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; National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the Great Lakes Protection Fund; 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.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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