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

March 7, 1997

Air Date: March 7, 1997


Disappearing Coral Reefs / Bob Carty

One of the world's most important living systems lies just out of view, in the ocean. Every four years the world's leading coral reef experts gather to try to assess the present health of the world's reef ecosystems. Bob Carty reports from Panama, with snorkel in hand, on the latest findings. (14:05)

Judi Bari Obituary: An Earth First! Activist Remembered / Peter Thomson

Earlier this week, Earth First! organizer Judi Bari died from breast cancer. The victim of death threats and a car pipe bomb explosion earlier in the decade, northern California anti-logging activist Bari was arrested by the F.B.I. which accused her of blowing herself up. Producer Peter Thomson remembers Bari in this obituary profile. (06:17)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about... Yellowstone National Park's 125th anniversary. (01:15)

Energy Alternatives: A Frank Discussion with Hazel O'Leary

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary talks with Steve Curwood about wind and solar power that works, and policies that she believes should still be implemented to reduce the amount of the United States' greenhouse gas emissions. (05:52)

Train Whistles Blare / Patrick Cox

For people who live near train tracks, whistling trains are a jarring disruption, and some have put forward laws to minimize these sound alarms through federal legislation. Patrick Cox reports on the governments reaction to the pending noise reduction proposals. (06:55)

Getting the Termites Out

Steve Curwood talks with entymology professor Kenneth Grace from the University of Hawaii about how consumers can rid their houses of termites using high technology methods that don't require poisonous fumigation. (05:00)

My Father's Garden / Becky Rumsey

A new award-winning movie, "My Father's Garden", documents two different farmers relationships to the land. Becky Rumsey has a review of the film currently on view on the Sundance cable channel. (07:12)

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: Michael Lawton, Gwendolyn Glenn, James Jones, Bob Carty, Peter Thomson, Patrick Cox, Becky Rumsey
GUESTS: Hazel O'Leary, Kenneth Grace

(Theme music intro)

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

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

WOMAN: It has been said that the first generation to enjoy scuba may be the last to see our coral reefs.

CURWOOD: Undersea coral reefs are disappearing rapidly around the world. Off Panama, one scientist revisited a reef where he had found more than 20 different species of coral in years past.

PORTER: I've just begun my count here. I have 4 -- no, I've got 5 now. They're star coral, brain coral, some branching coral, lettuce coral. The commonest species are still here with the exception of the branching coral that's almost all gone. But the rare species don't seem to be here. I can't find them.

CURWOOD: The decline of coral reefs, and remembering redwood activist Judi Bari on Living on Earth, right after this news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: For Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. The German government says it plans to continue using a nuclear storage site in northern Germany despite massive protests that require tends of thousands of police to quell. Michael Lawton reports.

LAWTON: Protesters blocked and tunneled under roads and damaged railway tracks in their vain attempt to stop the 6 nuclear waste containers from reaching their destination at the medium-term storage depot at Gorleben. A total of 30,000 police forced the load through in the largest police operation since the war. It cost an estimated $60 million and left 100 demonstrators injured. Most of the protests were peaceful, although as always a group of anarchists, strongly criticized by the organizers, insisted on their ritual running battle with the police. But opposition to the nuclear waste seems almost universal, from the hardened activists huddled under plastic sheeting facing the police water cannon to farmers blocking the road with bales of hay and church groups making coffee. Police, too, asked whether you can go on forcing nuclear waste on people who clearly don't want it. This is only the second load of nuclear waste to make it to Gorleben. The first involved just one container, but the policing was so expensive that it was decided to try 6 at once. For Living on Earth, this is Michael Lawton in Cologne.

MULLINS: Atlanta has been ordered to stop using permits for sewer connections until it stops dumping so much phosphorous into the Chattahoochie River. Gwendolyn Glenn reports on the ban, which suspends all new construction in the city.

GLENN: Atlanta is under the 3-month moratorium because in February the water dumped into the Chattahoochie River from its wastewater treatment plants contained levels of phosphorus that exceeded state limits. Phosphorus is a byproduct of industrial and human waste that environmentalists blame for much of the pollution in the river. The moratorium was triggered in part by last month's heavy rains. The rainfall overwhelmed the city's old wastewater treatment plants, allowing excessive amounts of phosphorus into the Chattahoochie. In addition to the moratorium, Atlanta also faces fines of up to $750,000. The city is already paying $20,000 a day in fines for allowing bacteria-laden water from its sewage overflow plants to go into the river. In order to have the moratorium lifted, the city must be in compliance with state phosphorus regulations for 3 consecutive months, a requirement that has to be met each time the limit is violated. City officials say that this is a one-time occurrence and that the ban will be lifted in June. Critics warn that it will be several years before Atlanta's wastewater treatment plants are upgraded and able to consistently meet the phosphorus regulations. For Living on Earth, I'm Gwendolyn Glenn in Atlanta.

MULLINS: Scientists have figured out how to get human hemoglobin from genetically engineered tobacco plants. The plants contain human DNA that instructs them to produce human hemoglobin, the molecule that makes blood red. The scientists say their discovery, reported in the journal Nature, opens up new possibilities for creating artificial blood free of infection from HIV, hepatitis, or other viruses.

The Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn support for a plan that would have made it easier for states to get EPA approval to streamline the regulatory process. James Jones reports from Washington.

JONES: In a move widely viewed as a major turning point for EPA and state relations, EPA deputy administrator Fred Hansen flatly rejected the state regulatory innovation proposal. Echoing concerns raised by environmental activists, Hansen said the plan did not reflect the EPA's goals for encouraging state innovation because it failed to guarantee that environmental protection would be improved under the program. The Agency had been moving full speed ahead to give states more authority, despite reports that some states were doing a poor job of enforcing Federal environmental laws. The incident left state officials fuming. They charge that the EPA appears to be backing away from commitments to make them true partners in protecting the environment. Several state environmental commissioners said the move damaged their trust in the EPA, and many wondered what happened to Hansen's stated desire to create a Federal state framework to promote regulatory innovation. EPA officials say the states are overreacting to the move, and that the Agency still wants to strengthen its working relationship with the state governments. For Living on Earth, this is James Jones in Washington.

MULLINS: And finally in the news, Marin County, California, has banned pet cats -- big cats, that is. While Tabby and Fluffy are still welcome in San Francisco's swank northern suburbs, county supervisors have voted a 6-month ban on lions and tigers. The action comes after a tiger nearly scared the shorts off a jogger who was running with his golden retriever when he glanced over his shoulder and saw a Bengal tiger cub. The animal was giving him the eye from behind a fence. The jogger said he figures the cub just wanted to play, but says there are some animals that just don't belong in a residential neighborhood.

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

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Disappearing Coral Reefs

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Coral reefs are some of the most beautiful, diverse, valuable and endangered environments on Earth. Already, perhaps 10% of the world's reefs have suffered serious harm, and researchers predict that unless something can be done, most coral reefs will be lost during the next century. Every 4 years, the world's coral reef experts gather to take a snapshot of the global health of the world's most productive ecosystem save for tropical rainforests. Recently, the International Coral Symposium took place in Panama. Living on Earth contributor Bob Carty took along his mask and snorkeled to join them. He prepared this report.

(Waves and gulls)

PORTER: We're standing now on the Galeta Reef Flat in Panama. Galeta Reef is important because we have more records here of the population structure of plants and animals than on any other coral reef in the world. And coming back here after 25 years is really an emotional thing for me because it's changed.

CARTY: Jim Porter is an ecologist from the University of Georgia with a special attachment to Galeta Reef. Twenty-five years ago, Jim Porter did his PhD research here, counting corals day after day in the waters just a bit east from the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal and just a bit west of the rainforests of Panama's Darien Province. Twenty-five years later, Dr. Jim Porter is putting on his mask and snorkel with the eagerness of a schoolboy. He wades into the water and swims out to the reef to see if, like elsewhere around the globe, Galeta is in decline.

(Splashing in water, breathing through mask)

PORTER: There's a lot less coral here. There's definitely less coral. The big change to me (splash) is the loss of the alcord coral and its replacement by the stubby little fire coral. That would be like taking a forest of giant redwood trees and replacing it with a poison ivy patch.

CARTY: In the water around Jim Porter, a dozen other scientists are also floating over the Galeta Reef. This is excursion day, a chance for the participants of the Eighth International Coral Reef Symposium to trade their file folders for flippers. But all during the week, back in Panama City, they've been assessing the state of the world's coral reefs. The report card is not good.

(Ambient mulling conversation)

MAN 1: Well, this used to be a wonderful, joyous occasion of people coming together to talk bout what they love. I think we now all realize, those of us who have children, that our children may never see what we've spent our lives studying. It casts a pall.

WOMAN 1: We are loving our reefs to death. Six million divers a year visit the Florida Keys, but are unaware of the impacts that their very visitation is causing. Some scientists predict that our reefs will be gone within five years.

MAN 2: Seventy percent of the reefs are rather severely damaged, under immediate threat, or in a chronic state that if we don't do something about it in the next few generations we'll lose them as well, or they'll become so severely degraded that we won't be able to call them coral reefs as such.

WOMAN 2: It has been said that the first generation to enjoy scuba may be the last to see our coral reefs.

(Splashing, snorkeling)

PORTER: Well, beneath us, there are 4 common species. I'm expecting on a similar day under similar conditions in the past I would see 26 species. I've just begun my count here, I have 4 -- no, I've got 5 now. They're star coral, brain coral, some branching coral, lettuce coral. The commonest species are still here with the exception of the branching coral that's almost all gone. But the rare species don't seem to be here; I can't find them.


CARTY: Coral reefs cover less than one fifth of one percent of the ocean floor, but their contribution to ocean ecosystems is enormous. Reefs protect coastlines and help maintain the pH balance of the sea. They are nurseries and breeding grounds and feeding habitats for a quarter of all the ocean species. Corals are actually tiny animals smaller than a pencil eraser. They excrete limestone and slowly build structures that resemble bulbous brains or branching bushes. They also have live-in partners, a type of algae that gives the coral food and oxygen in return for shelter. But this mutually beneficial relationship is sensitive to numerous environmental stresses and diseases. Humans are the main culprit. Jeremy Jackson, a biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, says one of the major threats to coral reefs is overfishing.

JACKSON: Many of the fish that are taken are fish that consume the enemies of coral. Basically, seaweeds, which are normally cropped back by grazing fishes. When the fishes are removed, then there's nothing there to consume the seaweed and their naturally more rapid growth rate results in their very, very rapid overgrowth and killing of corals.

CARTY: Overfishing has been exacerbated by the use of some strange but efficient fishing techniques. In parts of Southeast Asia, fishermen make homemade explosives, a pop bottle with some commercial fertilizers and a fuse, to kill fish. But in the process reefs are blasted apart. In the Philippines, more than 300,000 pounds of cyanide is used each year to stun and catch tropical fish for aquariums. In the process, reefs are poisoned and coral habitats destroyed. In addition to overfishing, there is another major human made threat to coral reefs.

(Snorkeling sounds)

PORTER: It's hard to see very much through this water, and that was not the case before. This brown stuff that's here is sediment coming off from the land. I mean if I lift my head above the water here, I can see the Darien off in the distance, and it's mostly green, but then there are these fires. And there are places that people have cleared. That's the sediment that's moving down into the water. That's what's turning it brown.

CARTY: Runoff from the land threatens coral in several ways. On Galeta Reef, the sediment in places is 3 feet deep, entirely covering some corals. That's mostly because of deforestation. Other corals have been killed off by human pollution, such as a major oil spill that happened here 10 years ago. And some corals here are being smothered by algae. The runoff from the land has introduced nutrients like agricultural fertilizers, and the algae just love it. Biologist Jeremy Jackson.

JACKSON: All of these different processes work in the same direction. The increase in nutrients favors seaweeds against corals. The runoff of sediments favors seaweeds against corals. The removal of the fishes favors seaweeds against corals. And so there's this unfortunate dynamic where the principle insults to the environment all seem to be working in the same direction.

CARTY: Not all reefs are being threatened by overfishing and pollutants. In remote parts of the ocean far from human populations, reefs are doing just fine. But that may not be the case for long. There is now a new global threat to coral.

PORTER: There are some corals that are showing signs of distress. They've turned white. The whiteness is striking even through this turbid water. You can see the skeletons as they face upward and they look like white dinner plates dropped on the bottom. The white corals are called bleached corals.

CARTY: In the last 15 years, bleached corals have been showing up all around the world. Scientists fear it's a sign of global warming and the rise of ocean temperatures. It's a subject being studied now by Barbara Brown, a marine biologist at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

BROWN: Corals are normally brown or pink. The color is mainly derived from these plant cells which live inside the coral. But when they bleach they can turn completely white. Corals live close to their lethal temperatures. If the temperature exceeds seasonal maximum by one degree, then the corals lose their algae and bleach. And so our prediction for coral reefs is that they are going to bleach more and more regularly and perhaps with greater and greater intensity. And the real question is, can corals adapt to increased seawater temperatures?

CARTY: Dr. Barbara Brown believes that some corals may be able to respond to global warming by migrating to cooler waters. But that won't help the people who depend on reefs. As biologist Jeremy Jackson explains, in many countries coral reef survival is essential for the survival of people. For the health of their economies and for the stability of their societies.

JACKSON: Tourism represents really one of the greatest hopes for the economies of island nations and the decline of coral reefs represents the cutting off of the livelihood, of vast sectors of the populations of countries like Jamaica, Barbados or the Virgin Islands. They also provide an ever-diminishing but yet still important marginal source of nutrition. More than half of the protein to those peoples. The collapse of reefs and the associated fisheries is therefore a genuine calamity.

(Splashing water)

PORTER: Coral reefs are by far the most diverse environments on Earth. Even a tropical rainforest contains only 8 of the major divisions of animal life called phylum, but on this coral reef there are 33 phyla. Different ways in which animals have learned to survive on planet Earth.

CARTY: That means that each time a reef species dies, it's like destroying a unique library of genetic information and possible cure for a deadly disease. Drug companies and government agencies are now investigating the use of compounds that come from coral reefs, coral fish, and coral plants for treating cancer, arthritis, leukemia, and AIDS. Coral skeletons are even being tried in bone transplants. The pharmaceutical value of reefs may be as great as rainforests, which is one reason why Steve Hubble was invited to the reef symposium. Steve Hubble is a professor of ecology at Princeton and a specialist on rainforest conservation. He believes the techniques for saving jungles can be applied to corals.

HUBBLE: One of the things we've learned from rainforests is that you need a large area to preserve biodiversity, and the same thing is true for corals. They're much more dispersive as organisms than trees, so you have to worry about the meta-community, as it were, over a huge area like the Caribbean or the western Pacific. The whole system is interlinked. The advice to coral people is that -- and to policy makers, is that we have to think about very large reserves but also a regulatory commission on the conservation of coral reefs-- like the Whaling Commission.

CARTY: Large reserves and international regulatory commissions are only part of the answer. Two years ago 8 governments, including the United States, set up a partnership with international institutions and environmental groups. The International Coral Reef Initiative is trying to help national governments conserve their reefs and find ways to use them sustainably. Claude Wilkinson, an Australian scientist, says that means finding a way to assist the poor people who live near, and from, coral reefs.

WILKINSON: I think we need to get people involved. There's an interesting community-based project in the Philippines; it's been running for about 20 years now. A guy named Anga Alkala sat down and quietly and patiently talked to the local villages and convinced them that if they set aside 25% of their coral reefs as a reserve, they would catch more fish on the outside. Okay, at first they were skeptical. But then they came on board, they worked with the scientists and then they noticed themselves that the fish were getting bigger outside. Plus, they've got tourists coming to look at their marine reserve. So they're on a double win, they're win-win.


PORTER: The boat has just passed over 2 large coral heads almost 6 feet in diameter and both of them are dead. One of them is covered by a black sponge, which has replaced the living coral tissue.

CARTY: Jim Porter is finishing his swim over the Galeta Reef. It's been just a brief survey, 25 years since his earlier studies here. But he's seen enough to know that there are definitely less coral here and fewer varieties. It makes him somewhat sad.

PORTER: My memories of this place were sun-filled and now colors just aren't as bright.

CARTY: And the colors are not bright in 93 countries around the world, where human activity has damaged coral reefs. Understandably, the scientists who study corals are a somber lot these days. But they are not without hope. Corals, after all, have been around for millions of years. There's every reason to expect that they can make a comeback, if we stop harming them. For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty on Panama's Galeta Reef.

PORTER: Over here, one of the branching corals that we thought was going to be entirely gone is still here. There are little ones that have settled, juveniles, and they look like they -- they're growing. So maybe in 5 years we'll know whether this is a story of loss or hope.

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CURWOOD: Judi Bari, whose life was dedicated to saving California's redwoods, has died. Her story is just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Judi Bari Obituary: An Earth First! Activist Remembered

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. One woman's impassioned fight to protect northern California's redwoods is over. Judi Bari, a 47-year-old environmental activist from Endocino County, died of complications of breast cancer on March 2nd. Ms. Bari was instrumental in bringing national attention to the logging of ancient redwoods. She organized protest rallies and blockades under the banner of Earth First! In 1990 she made headline news after she was nearly killed by a car bomb. Judi Bari will be remembered by some for her efforts to forge common ground between conservationists and loggers against control of the forests by corporate interests. Living on Earth's Peter Thomson has this profile of a woman who was both loved and hated, but who most agree had immense courage.

(Traffic sounds)

THOMSON: On Highway 101 far north of San Francisco, gnarled live oak trees give way to stands of spiky fern and pine and finally to groves of massive redwoods so dark and deep that the road itself seems to disappear.


THOMSON: Judi Bari came up this road in the mid-1980s, another migrant from the urban east. She hadn't come to save the forest. In fact, she was a carpenter and was soon building homes out of redwoods. But it wasn't long before she grasped the connection between her work and the ancient forests that were rapidly falling around her. Soon Judi Bari was leading the charge against what she saw as the over-cutting of the forests under the banner of the radical group Earth First!

(People shouting)

BARI: I'm glad we have that in common! We have a lot more in common than you think. Charlie Hurwitz isn't here to help you!...

THOMSON: She was a top-notch organizer and brought to the forest battles a sharp tongue and a wicked wit. But she'd also been a labor activist back east and understood the link between the fate of the forests and the forests jobs. So he seized every chance to try to make common ground with timber workers against what she saw as profiteering by corporate landowners.

BARI: We're not here because of the loggers. We're here because of Charles Hurwitz, some slime dinner [word?] from Texas, who's never seen a redwood in his life, make $4 million a year. That is 10 times what the average mill worker will make in a lifetime...

THOMSON: Judi Bari also came to realize that she couldn't win over many of her neighbors if they saw her as a threat to their safety. Tree spiking had been an Earth First calling card, but in the late 80s, after a spiked log nearly killed a local worker, she publicly renounced tree spiking and all other forms of violence.

(Protesters shouting)

THOMSON: Judi Bari's efforts at a worker-environmentalist coalition met only modest success, and her in your face style actually made her a lot of enemies. But she did win the respect of many in the industry. Art Harwood runs a mill in the tiny town of Branscom.

HARWOOD: She had a lot of courage. I mean, she risked a lot to do what she did and she paid a heavy price. I mean, she got hurt real bad doing this.

(Ambient voices in a crowd)

NEWS ANNOUNCER: For the second night in a row environmentalists are camping at the Oakland Police Department in a show of support for Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, who yesterday were injured when a bomb exploded in the car they were driving and today were charged with possessing and transporting that bomb intentionally.

SPOKESMAN: The decision to arrest...

THOMSON: Fellow Earth Firster Darryl Cherney was only slightly injured in the bombing in May of 1990, but Judi Bari nearly died. The FBI and Oakland police initially branded the 2 as terrorists, but the charges were soon dropped for lack of evidence and Judi Bari initiated a false arrest lawsuit against the FBI. The bombing remains unsolved. Her injuries kept her on the sidelines throughout Redwood Summer, a series of mass demonstrations in 1990. But within weeks she was back stumping for the action from her hospital bed.

BARI: This is not a symbolic act. We hope to literally slow down the logging by using our bodies nonviolently this summer, and we hope to do that so that they'll be something left to save by the time any legislation can be passed to regulate them.

THOMSON: Mike Ginella, who covers timber for the local Santa Rosa Press Democrat, says Judi Bari ultimately turned the bombing tragedy into a triumph.

GINELLA: I think Judi ended up winning a lot of people over when she returned to Mendocino County after that, fought very hard with the FBI to clear her name, including filing a lawsuit, and I think she ended up showing people in this community, even her -- her harshest critics, that she was a real person who had strong beliefs. And I think by that fact she helped shape the future discussions and I think helped ease some of the tensions.

THOMSON: In the years since, Judi Bari precariously balanced her public and private roles. She raised her 2 daughters and focused more and more on Maxam Corporation, which had taken over the region's largest old growth redwood tracts in 1985 and immediately set out to more than double its cut. She also pursued her case against the FBI. It may have been overwork that kept her from noticing her illness. By the time her breast cancer was diagnosed last fall, it was inoperable. Still, she didn't let up. She scoffed at a recent deal to protect a small part of a contested Maxam land known as the Headwaters Grove and continued to push a more sweeping alternative. After several months of slow decline, the end came quickly at home with her parents and daughters nearby. No one things the fight over the last contested swatches of California redwood ecosystem will die with Judi Bari. But those involved, like Cecilia Landman of the Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville, say it might well have never gotten as far as it has without her.

LANDMAN: If some point in the future we get to stand somewhere and say we did it, you know, Headwaters is saved, now we can perhaps stand shoulder to shoulder and arm in arm with the working people of Humboldt County and put this place back together, you know, we'll be able to celebrate her life and her work at the time that we ultimately save Headwaters forest.

THOMSON: For Living on Earth, I'm Peter Thomson.

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

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for reporting on science and the environment; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation; and Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure, all-natural, organic yogurts and ice cream: 1-800-PRO-COWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: A former member of the Clinton cabinet says it's time for a new energy strategy. Hazel O'Leary is next on Living on Earth.

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

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: One hundred and twenty five years ago, President Ulysses S. Grant signed legislation creating the world's first national park, Yellowstone. The park area has been home to humans for thousands of years. Stone tools unearthed there indicate habitation by Native Americans since the last Ice Age. The first European explorer reported to lay eyes on this land was a fur trapper named John Coulter. He passed through around 1807. Six decades later a Federal survey of the area prompted Congress to set aside the more than 2 million acres as a national park. The park Congress created and named after the Yellowstone River is home to more geysers and hot springs than the rest of the world combined. It also has a greater variety and number of wild animals than anywhere else in the contiguous 48 states, including the recently reintroduced gray wolf. It is also one of the last remaining strongholds of the grizzly bear. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Energy Alternatives: A Frank Discussion with Hazel O'Leary

CURWOOD: The latest round of international talks designed to ward off climate change has ended in Bonn, Germany, with the European Union calling for a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The EU wants the release of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxides cut 15% of 1990 levels by the year 2010. This is less of a reduction than is being urged by the scientists of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, but it puts the EU far ahead of the United States, which has yet to make a firm commitment to reduce its domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The United States remains the biggest single human source of carbon dioxide. Former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary says part of the problem is Americans pay too little for energy. But the government shies away from boosting prices because Americans, she says, have come to view cheap power as their birthright.

O'LEARY: There are 2 ways to approach your energy policy. One is to wait for the next supply disruption, be it political or natural, and then our economy will have to react to price shocks as we did in the late 70s and 80s.

CURWOOD: I don't want to go through that again.

O'LEARY: Well, neither do I. I can remember as a relatively young person in a new marriage buying a home in Washington, DC, and the mortgage rate as 16%. That was the real economic consequence of the price shock. Much better to more orderly plan what we do next.

CURWOOD: So, should we phase out the use of fossil fuels in this country?

O'LEARY: Well, listen. I mean, I'm -- you know, the largest energy source in the world, not just in the United States, is coal. That is not going to change over the near term. And so what we have to get about is, to the maximum extent possible, continuing to deploy the technologies that move us to renewable. But we can't ignore the reality of coal, so we need to continue to invest in it, so that we can ensure that not only are we making the strides we have been making, but we get after removing the CO2 from coal as well.

CURWOOD: What do you think we should be doing here at home to reduce our own emissions?

O'LEARY: I believe that the government's enormous purchasing power can and should and has been used, or was used under our watch, to begin to create an open, a market for alternative energy. The test site for nuclear weapons in Nevada has now become the home of a photovoltaic system for providing electricity to Nevada. And guess who the taker will be for that power? Initially, it will be the Federal Government, through its public power marketing administrations. Now, I don't believe that we want to mandate a specific amount. I think we want to look for opportunities. But clearly, the government's purchasing power, and early on decisions made by the government to invest in this technology, create the marketplace. More importantly, in my view, is also the focus on the international marketplace. We just rolled out -- well, they did, because I'm no longer a part of the Administration -- but rolled out a project in South Africa at the last binational commission, using something called PV waterworks to sterilize laboratory and clinic equipment in villages and townships in South Africa where there is no electricity. So the more we can place this technology both in the United States -- using the Federal purchasing power -- and at the same time get into the commercial marketplace, the more we seed the opportunity for this industry.

CURWOOD: Now, when you were Secretary you made a number of trade missions overseas, and you often travel with executives from the coal and oil industries. Do you think the US should be promoting the use of fossil fuels in other countries?

O'LEARY: Oh, listen, let's tell it entirely. I often traveled with environmentalists, senior representatives from energy companies, including wind, biomass, coal photovoltaics, everybody. And having been in this business now for over 25 years, what I'm very clear about is that we've got to work on improving the environmental performance of generation from all energy sources. Because nations are going to make their own decisions based on the economics of the time, what is the apparent desire of the people living in those countries, and availability of fuel sources.

CURWOOD: You took a lot of heat for your trade missions: oh dear, Energy Secretary, I'm sorry for the pun --

O'LEARY: That's okay, that was lovely.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering if you feel you were treated fairly.

O'LEARY: Oh, God. You know, my sense of this is it doesn't really matter.

CURWOOD: I guess the answer is no.

O'LEARY: No, it doesn't matter. No, it doesn't matter. I mean, I'm not going to sit here and whine about the fact, but I believe -- well, now, I'll tell you this story -- that I believe a very narrow group of Republicans in the House, pretty much disenchanted with the Clinton Administration policies on recognizing, finally, that the Cold War was over and it was time to end nuclear testing, and I was more or less the instrument for that by taking on the status quo in the National Security Council, made me a very unpopular lady in the eyesight of many. Because all of those issues involving national security and nuclear testing have something to do with the economic consequence of reducing jobs in areas of the country that have been tied to the industrial, the military-industrial complex.

CURWOOD: How much of the trouble do you think you got from Congress had to do with your gender? How much do you think had to do with your color?

O'LEARY: Well, you know, I have a friend who says that my whole problem was I was an uppity black chick. (Laughs) You know, I like to think that this is about policy differences, and I will go to my grave being extremely proud of the fact that I was the Secretary of Energy who said why can't we end nuclear testing, and provided the technical analysis so that the President could make that decision.

CURWOOD: Hazel O'Leary was Secretary of Energy during President Clinton's first term. Thanks so much for joining us.

O'LEARY: Thank you very much.

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(Music up and under)

(Train bells ring)

Train Whistles Blare

CURWOOD: Trains and the sounds they make have long had a strong sentimental pull on America. Railroads, after all, were the arteries of industrial expansion in the east and the frontier in the west.

(A train whistles)

CURWOOD: For many, the sound of a train whistle conjures up image of risk and adventure and wide-open spaces. For others, though, train whistles are not a thing of the past. They are in the present day and night and they are very, very loud. Patrick Cox of member station WBUR in Boston reports on the struggle between some communities and the Federal Government over train whistles.

(A woman's voice over, with music: "Help your daughter become a scientist...")

COX: Alice Peterson lives in an elderly housing complex that abuts a major freight line in Ashland, Massachusetts. On this afternoon, Peterson is sitting in front of her TV when she hears a train approaching.

(Approaching train whistle)

COX: Even though all the windows in her apartment are closed, the whistle's screech --

(Loud train whistle)

COX: -- still causes Peterson to plug her ears with her fingers. It drowns out the TV and a couple of greeting cards perched on top of the TV set shake and fall to the floor. Peterson says it's been like this every day and night since she moved in last year.

PETERSON: First night I was here, I leaped out of bed: what is that?! I thought for sure they were bulldozing the building.

COX: Even now, Peterson says she can't adapt to the noise as much as she'd like.

PETERSON: I don't sleep through it, but I've learned to say to myself, this isn't happening to me.

COX: The problem is that Peterson's apartment sits right between 2 grade crossings about a quarter mile apart.

(Crossing bells)

COX: After the great crossing bells ring and lights flash, the gates come down, and then the train comes through.

(Loud train whistle)

COX: About 25 trains a day come through here, blasting their whistles several times as an extra safety measure.

(Very loud train whistle)

COX: The whistle registers more than 100 decibels if you're standing 100 feet away: as much noise as a loud rock band makes, and loud enough to make some people suffer temporary hearing loss.

(Very loud train whistle)

COX: Ashland officials have tried without success to force the train companies to silence their horns so the 50 people living in the elderly housing complex can get some sleep. Ashland Selectman Gary Gillani.

GILLANI: Sleep deprivation is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, and these people have to go through it in their golden years. You know, these people are supposed to be enjoying life at this point, and haven't had a night's sleep as long as they've lived here.

COX: There are 164,000 grade crossings like this in the nation, and trains sound their horns at most of them. But at 3,000 crossings, local authorities have passed ordinances outlawing whistles. Whistle bans are nothing new. The town of Concord, Massachusetts, prohibited train whistles more than 100 years ago. The whistle bans have sharply increased in the past 2 decades, though, as big cities have expanded commuter rail lines. But 2 years ago, Congress put its foot down and overturned the bans, citing safety reasons. Philip Alexic is with the Federal Railroad Administration.

ALEXIC: There's no question in our mind that the whistle will prevent a collision from occurring at a grade crossing. Even at crossings that have lights, gates, and bells, about 50% of the fatalities occur at those crossings. So even visual warnings sometimes don't protect drivers. We think that the additional audio warning is an additional factor that people may hear and prevent an accident.

COX: To prove its theory, the Railroad Administration points to a study it commissioned showing a 38% drop in accidents at crossings after whistle bans were suspended. Extrapolating those numbers, officials estimate that 9 or 10 lives could be saved every year if whistles are sounded at every crossing in the country. Alexic says safety must come ahead of peace and quiet.

ALEXIC: And I'm certainly sympathetic to people who are, have their sleep disrupted at night. But the purpose is to prevent fatalities from happening.

TAVANIER: It's absolute overkill, government overkill.

COX: That's Nancy Tavanier, who chairs the Acton, Massachusetts, Board of Selectmen. Acton has a whistle ban in place, but in order to keep the ban, the town will have to either close crossings or spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new crossing gates and barriers. Town officials reject these alternatives as impractical. After all, says Tavanier, Acton's safety record hasn't suffered for a lack of whistles.

TAVANIER: When you pull up to a crossing, what makes you stop? Is it the whistle in the distance, or is it the fact the gate is across the road, the lights are flashing, and the bell is ringing? Then, if there happens to be a whistle, that only reinforces it. But that's not what's making you stop. What the whistle is for is to keep you from running the gate, and that's against the law. So that it's forcing hundreds of people in our community, if the whistles came back, to suffer because of the few who choose to break the law.

COX: Many people believe the stringent Federal rules make more sense in the wide-open spaces in the west than they do in the urban northeast. What's more, there's less incentive to run the gates in the northeast because most trains are just a few cars long, so they pass by quickly.

(Crossing bells and the sound of a passing train)

COX: In Acton, Ann Cress and Jeff Barry have lived in a house within 100 feet of a grade crossing for the past 15 years. They've lived with, and now without whistles.

CRESS: When they first stopped blowing the whistle, it was truly amazing. We'd wake up and I could feel my heart starting to go faster, and I would get very tensed up, and it took a number of weeks to lose that reaction.

COX: Cress and Barry say they may move if the whistles come back. Barry for one says he just doesn't understand the Federal Government's reasoning.

BARRY: If this was such safety issue, if it really made a difference, why don't they require us as car drivers to blow our horns when we're going through a green light?

COX: Federal officials are now crafting new rules for grade crossing safety. Hearings will be held this summer, including stops in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. After the rules are written, cities and towns will have a year to rescind their whistle bans. For Living on Earth, I'm Patrick Cox.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Don't let them chew up your house. Ecologically sensitive ways to beat termites. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Getting the Termites Out

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Not too long ago, if you had termites you didn't have much of a choice. You could watch in horror as your house crumbled to the ground or you could fumigate with dangerous pesticides like methyl bromide or chlordane and wind up poisoning more than just your termites. But today there are many ecologically safer alternatives. And here to help us chew our way through them is Dr. Kenneth Grace, an entomologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Hi, there.

GRACE: Hello, Steve. Glad to be with you.

CURWOOD: Dr. Grace, how do I tell if I have termites in my house?

GRACE: Well, the first thing we need to understand, Steve, is that there are 2 types of termites that might be infesting your house. There are dry wood termites, and those are termites that live above ground, directly in the wood in the house. Really, the way you know you have them is you begin to see these little piles that look like sand around the house in the windowsills.


GRACE: Those are fecal pellets. Now, you're not going to see them for oh, maybe 4 or 5, even 6 years after a colony's founded.

CURWOOD: Oh, no.

GRACE: They're rather slow-acting. Now in your area, it's going to be what we call subterranean termites, or termites that live in the soil and come above ground into your house to feed. Your house is just another stump to a subterranean termite. And because they build little soil tubes up into the structure, one can look for those tubes. If you see those little soil constructions moving up the concrete into your home, that's direct evidence of subterranean termite infestation.

CURWOOD: So in the colder parts of this country, it's likely to be subterranean termites. So what do I do if I find that I have those in my house? How can I get rid of them?

GRACE: Well, nematodes are small round worms that attack insects, are being used in some parts of the country as an alternative to chemical insecticide treatment of the soil. They will kill termites that are at the point in the soil where the nematodes are injected. But the problem is that nematodes aren't very good at hunting down the termites, and they don't live very long. We've been looking at some other pathogens or biological control methods for termites. Fungal pathogens, athlete's foot for termites, essentially, seem to offer promise because they're slow-acting, which is good. You want termites to continue to come into the area and become in contact with the pathogen. But they also seem to be rather repellent, and the termites have a lot of defense mechanisms. They will wall off areas where there is a lot of disease occurring or infected individuals.

CURWOOD: Now, what if I have a house in Hawaii, where you live, or in the warmer parts of the lower 48, as we say, and I don't want to fumigate, and I have these dry wood termites? What could I do?

GRACE: Really, the most promising alternative out there right now to an insecticide is heat treatment. We pump hot air into the building, we elevate the temperature in the wood to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and that will kill the termites. Now, the other methods of termite control are what we call local treatments. The major local methods of treatment are, again, heat treatment of that area, or cold, using liquid nitrogen around the wood, to bring the temperature down to a point where the termites freeze and die. Other alternatives, electro-gun, it's a high-voltage electricity that is an effective method if one can get to the wood where the termites are. And the problem is there's a lot of metal in a wall. There's nails, there's pipes, there's screws. There are things that will divert the electricity. Microwaves are also being used commercially, in California at least, for termite, dry wood termite control. Basically, you have an open microwave oven placed in front of the wood. They don't go very far; it appears to be a rather safe method from a human standpoint. But it's again very labor-intensive. One has to move this comb [word?], and it's forcing microwaves at the wood from area to another quite frequently. And there's also some potential there for charring of wall covering or the wood if the operator's not careful.

CURWOOD: You wind up with your wall looking like overdone microwave popcorn, huh?

GRACE: Well, we would hope to avoid that.

CURWOOD: Well, fortunately, Dr. Grace, I don't think I have any termites. So what do you think I should do to keep it that way?

GRACE: Well, inspection is really your key. Make sure, in inspecting your home, that there's no wood in contact with the soil. It's a highway for termites if it is, and it's very hard to control without cutting it off and physically raising the wood above-ground, putting it on concrete. Now, assuming all the wood's above-ground, what you look for is tunnels, those dirt tunnels that I mentioned coming up from the soil and up into the structure. Now actually, we're talking about less toxic methods of pest control. One could control subterranean termites by removing those tunnels, knocking down their pathways into the building wherever you see them. But that assumes that you're going to be quite religious about it and get out there and inspect regularly and remove those tunnels. Inspection, I just can't overemphasize how important that is in keeping your house termite-free.

CURWOOD: Kenneth Grace studies termites at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Thanks for the advice.

GRACE: You're very welcome, Steve.

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(Music up and under)

My Father's Garden

CURWOOD: One of the most acclaimed environmental films of last year was My Father's Garden. It's a documentary that weaves together the stories of 2 sharply different American farmers and their relationships with the land. As producer Becky Rumsey reports, the film takes a hard and personal look at the history of American agriculture.

RUMSEY: In one scene of My Father's Garden, a child stands in the produce section of a grocery store, trying to choose the best zucchini.

CHILD: Eenie meenie miney -- ketchup?

RUMSEY: The film makes the point that food and the way it's grown is everyone's concern. That in making decisions in the marketplace today, we are choosing between 2 very different agricultural futures. One that's increasingly technological, and another, which tries to be more in balance with nature.

(A woman sings: "On the edge of your cities, see me and then I come with the dust and I'm gone with the wind." Fade into an auctioneer calling out numbers.)

RUMSEY: One story line takes us to present day North Dakota, where more and more farmers are losing their farms. Here, we meet Fred Kirchenmann. Twenty years ago he gave up a career as a college professor and returned to his family's 3,000-acre farm near Medina. At the time, North Dakota farmers were lining up for food stamps. And as Kirchenmann explains in the film, there was also mounting evidence of topsoil erosion and environmental damage caused by farming with chemicals.

KIRCHENMANN: When I got back here I discovered that the problems that we were having on our farm are problems that agriculture is having throughout North America. And if we don't do something about those problems, we're simply not going to have enough food to eat.

RUMSEY: So Kirchenmann converted to organic methods. He recycled animal and plant nutrients on his farm and he planted a greater variety of crops and rotated them. Over the years, he's been able to produce higher yields and rebuild his soils at the same time.

KIRCHENMAN: Conventional agriculture is based on the belief that nature is flawed, and that we cannot rely on nature to produce the food that we need. Organic farming operates out of a belief that nature is our partner. That the farm is not a factory and that all that we need to do is to learn from nature and cooperate with nature. So instead of the farm being a factory, it's a garden.

(A film projector runs; piano music plays)

SMITH: I grew up on a farm in Florida. There were mosquitoes and snakes and alligators and poisonous spiders. And I loved it.

RUMSEY: The second story woven throughout My Father's Garden is told by filmmaker Miranda Smith.

SMITH: My dad had big dreams for this place. It took a lot of sweat and ingenuity to turn that jungle of scrub brush and palmettos into orange groves, but he didn't seem to mind. He was devoted to his work, and to our family.

RUMSEY: In 1960 Miranda's father, Herbert Smith, died mysteriously, possibly from chemical poisoning. He was 40 years old.

(Music continues)

SMITH: The farm still haunts me, and I had to make this film.

RUMSEY: Miranda was just one when her father died, but his loss inspired her to make this film. When she read about Fred Kirchenmann, she went to North Dakota to document his large-scale organic success. Around that same time, her sister found some old home movies in a closet and asked Miranda to transfer them to video.

SMITH: When we transferred them we saw all this footage that my father had taken of farming, planting, harvesting, spraying, all the different aspects of it. As well as images of our family and my sisters growing up.

RUMSEY: When the film's producer, Abigail Wright, saw the home movies, she urged Miranda to blend the 2 stories together.

WRIGHT: We were trying to deal with a massive amount of factual material about farming. Trying to convey to people in the least amount of words what it is, because most people grow up very far from the farm. And then when we saw the material from Miranda's family, you know, Miranda's dad was a very handsome man. You see him working in the field and there's all this wonderful, hopeful energy. This was shot in the 1950s; it's a very different era than our own. And it communicates, it just jumps across time.

RUMSEY: There's a strong dose of compassionate hindsight to My Father's Garden. The film uses historical footage to take us from the prairie sod busters to the dust bowl era and then onto the green revolution, when new chemicals turned our farms into the world's most efficient food factories.

(Swing music. Male announcer: "Meanwhile, the years following World War II brought great changes to the farm. Industry discovered that chemicals manufactured for battle could be converted for use in agriculture. Defoliants became weed killers." Music continues with the sounds of bombing and weapons.) "Chemical weapons became insecticides.")

RUMSEY: My Father's Garden has no villains. Its two narratives document both the promise and the tragedy of industrial farming. Ultimately, it's the odd interplay of the documentary scenes of Fred Kirchenmann in North Dakota and the very personal images of the Smith family in their Florida orange groves that makes the film so moving.

(Piano music; the sound of film running)

SMITH: Dad had a lot of faith in technology. Everybody did back then. Technology was going to turn the farm into paradise.

RUMSEY: For Living on Earth, I'm Becky Rumsey.

(Music and film continue)

SMITH: He was determined never to let those pests get a toehold again. Daddy was always thinking, always planning...

CURWOOD: My Father's Garden has won several awards, including the 1997 Earth Watch Film Award for outstanding documentary. The film is currently showing on the Sundance cable channel.

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(Music continues to end. The film roll finishes. New music up and under.)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Jennifer Schmidt edited this program. Our production team includes Liz Lempert, Julia Madeson, Peter Shaw, Constantine Von Hoffman, Kim Motylewski, George Homsy, and Susan Shepherd. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. We also had help from Kim Chainey and Colin Studds. Living on Earth 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. Join us again next week.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; the Great Lakes Protection Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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