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

October 24, 1997

Air Date: October 24, 1997


Climate Change Update

Steve Curwood speaks with Bill Hare, Climate Change Coordinator for Greenpeace International, on President Clinton's recent announcement of the U.S. plan for curtailing its greenhouse gas emissions. (07:10)

Perennial Wheat / Becky Rumsey

Since the dawn of agriculture, some ten thousand years ago, human beings have relied on domesticated annual plants for food crops. Annuals like corn, soybeans and wheat tend to produce lots of seeds, the grains the we eat. But, a farmer has to plant an annual every year. That can be costly in terms of fuel, labor and equipment. And in some places repeated tilling of the earth causes serious soil erosion. Soil erosion is a constant concern on the dryland farms of eastern Washington state, one of the nation's leading wheat producing regions. Now researchers at Washington State University are working to develop a perennial wheat crop one that would come back year after year, and help hold the soil in place. Becky Rumsey reports. (08:15)

The Raven - A Halloween Fright!

Spoofing Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven", Living on Earth presents a scary tale of Halloween eco-horror lampooning some of humankind's worst fears. Included among the spine-chilling spectres is, what else, the political season. This encore segment ran last Halloween as well. (04:15)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... wind generated electricity. (01:15)

Shady Tree Garden Spot

Steve curwood talks with Living on Earth's gardening expert Michael Weishan about planting a bit of shelter for future generations. The importance of shade trees is the topic of this garden segment. (06:00)

Natural Ignorance / Andy Wasowski

When considering the world's environmental problems; it's easy to point a finger of blame at polluting industries, clearcutting corporations, or over-populated developing nations. But, commentator Andy Wasowski thinks the real problem may lie a bit closer to home. Commentator Andy Wasowski is author of "Native Gardens for Dry Climates". He comes to us via KERA in Dallas. (02:22)

Mideast Water Series: Nergev Ancient Spring / Sandy Tolan

In a tiny, moist pocket of Israel's Negev Desert, a few miles from the Sinai Peninsula, there's a spring that bubbles out above a cliff and trickles down into a deep green pool in the Valley of Zin. Israelis call it Ein Afdat (Ain-aff-DAHT), an ancient spring that provided respite to many Arab nomads may have even cooled Moses and the Israelites two thousand years ago. This spring is one of the only natural sources of fresh water in the Negev, which covers more than half of the state of Israel. Yet, today, the Negev Desert is dotted with green. Israel captures the water of the Jordan River, along with aquifers lying beneath Israel and the West Bank, and pipes them into the desert. Israel's control of these waters has long played a part in regional tensions. The founders of modern Israel believed it essential to harness Middle East waters to reconnect the Jewish immigrants with the land. And like the Arab farmers in old Palestine, Israelis now produce citrus and other crops for export. But 50 years later other demands especially from urban Israel may be carving into that Zionist vision. (16:25)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Becky Rumsey, Sandy Tolan
GUESTS: Bill Hare, Michael Weishan
COMMENTATOR: Andy Wasowski

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Bill Clinton brings his long-awaited plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions to the international bargaining table. On his plate, a binding pledge to fight global warming. But some say the President's proposal is too little and too late.

HARE: The actions proposed, in fact, if you wanted to be cynical about it, you could say they verge on being political window dressing. A political gloss on the fact that President Clinton is unable to bring himself to deal effectively with this issue.

CURWOOD: Also, the possibilities of perennial wheat, the grain that's easy on the Earth.

JONES: The main thrust of this program is to protect the soil, to reduce the soil erosion. And any way we can keep the soil covered will help stem erosion.

CURWOOD: This week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this summary of the news.

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(Music up and under)

Climate Change Update

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Time is running out for negotiators trying to draft a new treaty to combat global warming. In December, more than 150 nations will meet in Kyoto, Japan, to ratify binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. But the current round of preparatory talks, now underway in Bonn, Germany, is bogged down. Things are slow in part because President Bill Clinton waited until October 22nd to finally unveil the US negotiating position, a position deeply at odds with what most of the other nations proposed months ago. The US essentially wants an 8- to 12- year extension of the original voluntary targets set by the first climate change convention and signed by Mr. Clinton in 1993. It calls for emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels in 8 to 12 years. In contrast, more than 100 industrialized and developing nations, led by the European Union, want a 15% cut below the 1990 levels over the same period. Mr. Clinton has also said developing nations must meaningfully participate in any Kyoto agreement, but as given no specifics. So far, the Clinton offer has drawn praise from some environmental groups. They say the US has put something down on the negotiating table and promised to begin early action on climate change in the US. Other environmental groups say the Clinton plan doesn't go far enough to protect against climate change. And business worries that it would hurt the economy. Bill Hare has been following the climate change negotiations since before the 1992 Rio summit, first as a diplomat from Australia, and most recently for Greenpeace. Speaking from Bonn, Mr. Hare told me there's great concern that the Clinton plan has upset many of the negotiators.

HARE: I guess people are concerned for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it essentially is the most important environmental negotiation ever conducted and people know that. But it simply has to be a success, and it's quite clear that a zero percent target is not a reduction at all. It simply is exactly the same commitment that the US agreed to for the year 2000
5 years ago, and which President Clinton himself promised that his administration would meet, and which he now has abandoned.

CURWOOD: But what's different here is that the US has said that these will be binding limits. Before it was a voluntary deal. Now they're saying yes, we will commit to meet these and we will be held legally accountable. Isn't that a change? Isn't that a step forward?

HARE: That's true. And it's true, the problem that's really worrying us now is that there are so many loopholes being built into this agreement, many of which the US actually supports, which would actually, we calculate, allow emissions to increase by some 25 to 35% above 1990 levels by the year 2010. And secondarily, we do need a significant emission reduction starting earlier than 2010 in order to slow down the rate of global warming. Unless and until we get that reduction, we have not even started to deal with the problem. The actions proposed, in fact, if you wanted to be cynical about it, you could say they verge on being political window dressing. A political gloss on the fact that President Clinton is unable to bring himself to deal effectively with this issue.

CURWOOD: Now, this is a negotiating position by the United States. Do you think as a negotiating position it has effectively torpedoed these climate change talks? Or do you think an agreement is possible still?

HARE: That's a multi billion-dollar question here, is: is this the bottom line for the US or will the US move? I think the first thing you have to say is that this position has been put by the head of state, President Clinton. Therefore, we believe the only way it can be changed is by other heads of state convincing President Clinton that it's not enough, by people such as Chancellor Kohl of Germany, Prime Minister Blair from the UK, leaders from other countries who are desperate to see urgent action, particularly from developing countries. I believe that as countries reflect on this, as they reflect on the loopholes in the negotiations, which would allow emissions to increase, and I think by Kyoto we will see a hardening of attitudes, essentially in the direction of saying well, if this is all the US is putting forward, with all the loopholes, it might not be worth having at all. It might be worth continuing this negotiation for another year until the US comes back with a better position.

CURWOOD: The President and the President's people are saying that he must have done something right here. That environmentalists are criticizing him and that business is criticizing him. Environmentalists saying he's not going far enough, businesses saying he's gone too far. What's the mood there in Bonn?

HARE: Well, the mood here is interesting. I think if you look at these statements which US business interests are putting out in Washington, you would assume that they're entirely opposed to Mr. Clinton's position. But what happened in Bonn shortly after the President's announcement was that the Global Climate Coalition, the umbrella group for the oil, coal, and car companies that are supposed to action, actually held a party. They held a party to celebrate what they saw to be a victory on climate change. We knew about the party in advance, and a rather funny thing happened when the chairman of these negotiations happened to walk into the party by accident, and reported his experience, in fact his dismay, with that to a briefing to delegates and journalists here in Bonn the next day. I think that tells you exactly where US business is coming from. They are pleased with President Clinton's announcement. They know that they have succeeded. They know that the $50 million they spent over the last few years has paid off with a 10- year delay in action. And I think that's the bottom line.

CURWOOD: Bill, you've been following these negotiations for 8 years, both as a diplomat and now as an advocate with an environmental group. I want you to dust off the crystal ball, and I know that forecasting's a dangerous business. But what do you expect to happen at Kyoto?

HARE: This is a very difficult question. This is the first time in my career, and in this kind of work where I actually quite say. Quite frankly, I don't think anyone really knows, because this negotiation is going to go right down to the wire. It's going to go right down to the early hours of the 10th of December when the meeting is scheduled to conclude, before we know the outcome. I'm convinced of that. We just cannot say. Kyoto could completely fall apart. It could fall apart over the US target. It could fall apart over the US insistence of developing country action. On the other hand, we could see in the final hours of the meeting a grand deal emerge in which countries can agree that with the US moving on crucial issues, they can confidently sign a protocol that they believe will work. I think at this stage, it's just too early to say, unfortunately.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Bill Hare directs the climate change operation for Greenpeace International. Thank you, sir.

HARE: Thank you.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Nature's gift that keeps on giving. The promise of perennial grain is next, right here on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Perennial Wheat

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Since the dawn of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, human beings have relied heavily on domesticated annual plants. Corn, soybeans, and wheat tend to produce lots of food, but a farmer has to plant them every year. That costs time and money and often leads to soil erosion. Erosion is a constant concern on the dry land wheat farms in eastern Washington. Researchers at Washington State University are working to develop a perennial strain of wheat that would come back year after year and help hold the soil in place. Becky Rumsey reports.

(Sound of tractors, or threshers)

RUMSEY: Just outside of Pullman at Washington State University's Stillman Research Farm, plant breeders harvest seed from small plots. Here, Dr. Steven Jones is testing more than 1,000 types of wheat. They're the progeny of a perennial wheat grass and a commercial annual wheat.

JONES: This is one of the main perennial types that we're using as a parent. At this point it's somewhat adapted in terms that it can go through our winters well. You'll see that it's nearly 5 feet tall, though, and the straw strength is okay but not great. And you'll see that it's quite a bit later than the other types of wheats. So it has traits that we want to get rid of as well as traits that we want to capture.

RUMSEY: Perennial wheat isn't new. Many wild varieties of wheat grasses are plants that produce some seed, but also regrow year after year from long- lived root structures. As far back as the 1930s plant breeders recognized that a perennial crop could save farmers time and money. But efforts to develop perennial wheats were always shelved because they produced only a fraction of the edible seeds annuals did. But these days high yields aren't the only priority.

JONES: The main thrust of this program is to protect the soil, to reduce the soil erosion. And any way that we can keep the soil covered will help stem erosion.

(Wind through the wheat)

RUMSEY: Here on the arid Columbia Plateau, 50,000 square miles that stretch east from the Columbia River into Idaho, wind erosion is a fact of life. Just walk through any fallow field and you can see why. Despite some wheat stubble, fluffs of dirt rise up around your legs like clouds of brown talcum powder.

MOORE: This country was formed with volcanic ash and it's a very light silt loam type soil. And so, if it's exposed to the wind, it's going to move. When we get high enough winds it's going to move and there's nothing you can do about it.

RUMSEY: Jim Moore raises wheat on land his great-grandfather homesteaded near Kahlotus. On dust storm days winds of 40 to 60 miles per hour sweep dirt from farms and carry it miles away to cities like Spokane, where it contributes to air quality problems. But like other dry land farmers, Mr. Moore has to leave some of his land bare to make the most of the 7 to 9 inches of rainfall he gets in a year.

MOORE: The farming operation is what is known around here as a summer fallow rotation. Half of the farm each year is left idle and kept bare of weeds, so that we can pick up enough rainfall. The following year we can raise a crop.

(A vehicle motor. Man: "When's seeding time?" Man 2: "I don't know. Pretty soon, isn't it?" Man 3: "We're going to start the first, I think. Monday." Man 2: "Are you?")

RUMSEY: Jim Moore visits with a neighbor who's greasing up his rod weeder. The 80-foot-wide contraption drags a rotating metal rod through fallow ground, tearing thirsty weeds out by the roots. But every time a farmer turns the earth, it's more vulnerable to water loss and wind erosion.

MOORE: And if we had the perennial wheat, this would be completely eliminated. We wouldn't use this piece of equipment, maybe once every 7 or 8 years, 4 or 5 years, depending on how long the perennial wheat would last. So we might use the rod weeder and we may never use a rod weeder ever again. And it wouldn't hurt my feelings if we didn't.

KRONSTAD: If they can achieve a perennial wheat plant that will be economical for the growers to produce, then I think that's fantastic. And I would certainly welcome that breakthrough. But we have to be realistic.

RUMSEY: Dr. Warren Kronstad is a wheat breeder and professor at Oregon State University. He supports perennial research. But he says developing a perennial wheat crop for the Pacific Northwest is a long shot.

KRONSTAD: The genes for the perennial habit may be linked to some undesirable genes. And in doing so, it's going to be very difficult to break up those linkages and develop perennial wheat, then, which are free from the defects and only have the good genetic factor, such as the perennial genes.

RUMSEY: In Pullman, Dr. Jones agrees it will be a challenge to cross distant cousins and come up with a wheat that's as good as the soft white wheat Washington's Asian markets demand for noodles and cakes. As crops, perennials can have undesirable characteristics, like seed heads that shatter or hulls that are hard to remove. But the Washington State University researchers are confident they can get just a few key perennial genes to combine with wheat chromosomes.


RUMSEY: It's unlikely that a perennial will ever match the quantity and quality of annual wheat that thousands of combines gather and pour into trucks each summer. Next to Kansas, eastern Washington is the second largest wheat producing area in the nation. In late August, trucks dump hundreds of bushels into grain elevators and railroads move tons of wheat to the coast.

(Railroad trains on tracks)

RUMSEY: But perennial wheat may not have to compete with established annuals right away. One of its most promising applications may turn out to be the 600,000 acres of Washington's most erodible land that's coming out of the Federal Conservation Reserve Program. In the so-called CRP, farmers receive government payments for taking erosion-prone land out of cultivation. Instead, they are encouraged to grow plants like grasses for ground cover and wildlife habitat.

(Footfalls through dry grass)

MOORE: This is tall wheat grass, encrusted wheat grass is what the CRP was, and you can see the matting of the dead grass and the live grasses.

RUMSEY: Jim Moore had 400 acres in the CRP, but none of them were re-enrolled this year. In fact, 80% of the acres Washington State submitted were rejected because of a recent overhaul of the program. Without CRP payments, farmers like Jim Moore are under more pressure to plow up their most erodible land to generate income.

MOORE: That's why I'm so excited about a perennial wheat that we can seed all of our erosion areas to. And you know, if I got half a crop, would I be happy? Certainly, because then, when I only take a crop every 2 years so that comes back to a normal crop. And I don't have to rod weed, I don't have to plow, I don't have to seed. So maybe I can even afford a third of a crop, if it was every year.

(Traffic sounds; fade to crickets)

RUMSEY: From horizon to horizon, much of eastern Washington today is like a giant rolling quilt, with alternating swaths of golden grain and the dark bare dirt of fallow fields. In the distance, dust plumes rise like whale blows in an ocean, indicating where a combine or rod weeder is at work. Driving through this landscape, one wonders how it might look if growers were using perennial wheat.

JONES: We see it in very specific, highly-erodible areas, within fields and between fields. Maybe ridge tops. Real waterways, things like this. Eventually we do see large fields or large acreages of solid perennial wheat. We'll start out small in the most extreme areas first.

RUMSEY: Dr. Jones knows his work is at odds with thousands of years of agriculture. But he's confident he can get the genetics to work, and he plans to have perennial varieties for farmers like Jim Moore to try out within a few years. For Living on Earth, I'm Becky Rumsey.

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(Crickets; fade to music up and under; fade to theme from The Twilight Zone)

The Raven - A Halloween Fright!

VON HOFFMAN: We interrupt this show for some unscheduled satire.
Remember: Martians are not invading the earth.

(Twilight Zone continues, and fades to slowed-down theme music)

CURWOOD: Are you alone? Alone at home? In your car? At your office? Wherever you are, you're sitting in the middle of an ecological disaster area! I'm Sludge Curwood, and this is Dying on Earth! (Laughs demonically) This week on Dying on Earth, you'll learn to recognize all of your surroundings as the eco terror zone they really are! You'll see that we live in a sinister hostile land, filled with pathetic people-induced pollution problems! A place where no one will ever want to raise their child! A place where each step takes you closer to annihilation by avaricious, earth-eating antagonists! (Oooooohhhs in the background) But first, the news.

NUNLEY: For Dying on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. The Ozone Hole will now be called the Ozone Patch. At a conference in Oslo, researchers had decided that the hole had grown so big and ubiquitous that it would be more accurate to talk about what little of the stratospheric chemical remains. Sven Svensdotter is a spokesman for the World Health Organization.

SVENSDOTTER: I'm looking for a good skin care lotion, something with an SPF of 500 or more.

NUNLEY: Every fur-bearing animal in the nation has been placed on the Endangered Species List. The Environmental Protection Agency says the change in regulations is a cost-saving move because every animals is about to go extinct anyway. While denying the change is an election year gimmick the EPA points out that it will protect kittens, puppies, bear cubs, and anything else even vaguely adorable.

This just in : We're all going to die! That's this week's Dying on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.

VON HOFFMAN: And now, this insult to the memory of Edgar Allen Poe.

(Organ music backdropped by thunder and rain)

CURWOOD: Once upon a midnight dreary, when spotted owls looked weak and weary (an owl hoots), I pondered a dull volume of regulatory lore. (Pages being turned) While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping (someone knocks). "Tis some enviro," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door. Only this and nothing more." Distinctly I remember, it was in a bleak November when oil spills blighted every shore, as the ozone hole grew wider, Congress had okayed a salvage logging rider (engines running), and every disaster clamored for the Army's Engineering Corps. Then came this enviro to my door. (Door creaks open in basso profundo) Presently my soul grew stronger. Hesitating no longer, "Sir," I said, "your forgiveness I implore. But the radon was seeping and the acid rain was leaking, with my endocrines disrupted I didn't know what you were here for." But all my pleas the enviro chose to ignore. (Door shuts) From out of the darkness peering, where a Superfund site wasn't clearing, a man in Birkinstocks trod onto my floor. (Footfalls) An Earth Day lapel pin he was wearing and about every dolphin he was carrying. He spoke of the fisheries that had failed and of animals that would run or soar, alleged the enviro: "Nevermore." (Gasping sounds) He stood there stiffer than an oak, no humor possessed him as he spoke unbothered by the hair shirt that he wore. An endless stream of policies he spouted, always mumbled, never shouted. But I knew I had been deceived when he muttered, "Four more." I started screaming, "Oh, no, it's Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, (a woman screams hysterically over and over) Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore.... (screaming continues; organ music up and under).

CURWOOD: Happy Halloween. You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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(Music up and under: Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes reporting; and the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Planting a bit of shelter for future generations. The importance of shade trees is just ahead 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: That wind howling past your windows on Halloween may sound eerie, but it may also be keeping your lights on. Fifty-six years ago this month, wind-generated electricity was first used on a large scale in this country. The community of Grandpa's Knob, Vermont that's right, Grandpa's Knob, Vermont, tapped into a wind turbine run by Palmer Putnam, a man who had grown tired of high electricity bills. Mr. Putnam's turbine functioned for more than a year, but then along came World War II, and interest in wind power faded. But concerns over global warming and diminishing fossil fuels have renewed interest in alternative energy. Today, nearly 30,000 wind turbines operate around the world. Wind is the world's fastest growing energy source and it's clean. A good-sized turbine produces enough electricity to power 100 homes. To do the same job a coal or gas powered plant would release a lot of carbon dioxide. Palmer Putnam wasn't the first to capture the wind for electricity. During the 1920s people in rural America set up wind- powered generators to charge the batteries of an amazing new contraption: the radio. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under; fade to wind in the trees and bird song)

Shady Tree Garden Spot

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And right now I'm standing under a beautiful large ash tree in the back yard of Michael Weishan. He's editor in chief of Traditional Gardening as well as Living on Earth's gardening expert. Hi, Michael.

WEISHAN: Hello there, Steve.

CURWOOD: This is a magnificent tree. I mean, how old is this, would you say?

WEISHAN: My guess is that it's probably better than 100 years old. From its girth, maybe 100, 125 years old.

CURWOOD: So 100, 150 years ago, someone decided to plant these trees here. Is it important to plant these large trees today?

WEISHAN: Well, it's very important, for a number of reasons. Take this tree, for instance. The size of this tree is such that it allows the whole back of the house to be shaded in the middle of summer, and it has a terrific cooling effect. It provides this pleasant place on a hot, sunny day to sit under, and shades the terrace, and on a day like today provides shelter from the raindrops falling.

CURWOOD: These trees offer, you know, the mechanical services of shade and the visual pleasure, but do they do something else for us humans as well?

WEISHAN: They've done studies that have shown that there's some connection between the amount of urban violence and the fact that areas have no trees. I think on a purely psychological level, trees, large trees just make us happy.

CURWOOD: So what are the best trees to plant for the long-term, then?

WEISHAN: Well, there's a large number of trees, actually, one can plant. Zelcovia, for instance, which is a great tree. It's a replacement for the American elm tree, has a similar sort of vase shape, which is very pretty, grows to 60 or 70 feet. Trees like beech, lindens, magnolias, oaks. All these trees form very large, wonderful shapes in the garden and are really quite an advantage to the landscape. And very valuable, too, by the way.

CURWOOD: Really?

WEISHAN: Well, from a home appraiser's perspective, large shade trees add between $10,000 and $20,000 to the value of your house. Which is one of the reasons I'm unhappy of its current state of health.

CURWOOD: Is this tree on the way out?

WEISHAN: I'm afraid this tree is on its way out. It's suffering from what's called ash tree decline, and they tell me 10 years is the most that this tree will continue onwards.

CURWOOD: Otherwise, this ash tree would be good for what? Two hundred years?

WEISHAN: Probably not that long, but certainly another hundred.

CURWOOD: Now, I'm wondering, these trees planted some 200 years ago or 100 years ago were planted under totally different conditions. I'm thinking of pollution. If we plant a tree like this today, does it have the same kind of chance that its grandfather had a century ago?

WEISHAN: Well, it is an act of faith. But then, tree planting or gardening in general has always been an act of faith. Yes, it is true that there were considerably fewer stresses on trees. But what really has contributed to the decline of trees in this country is the sort of globalization of pest transport. In the South, for instance, the Formosan termites have been imported, which are chewing up the live oaks in Louisiana at a terrific rate, and there's no cure. Dutch Elm Disease was another example of that; so was gypsy moth.

CURWOOD: Is it hard to plant a tree?

WEISHAN: No, actually, we're going to do a little demonstration today to show you how easy it is.

CURWOOD: Okay, let's go.


(Footfalls on gravel)

WEISHAN: All right. Of course, we're in rocky New England here, so you know, you hear the rocks. But it's not particularly difficult. Essentially, what we're doing is just digging a hole that is about twice the size of the pot.

(Digging sounds)

WEISHAN: You want to lend a hand here, Steve?

CURWOOD: Sure. Let me try this here.

(Digging continues)

CURWOOD: I have to say, I don't recognize this tree.

WEISHAN: No, I bet you won't, because it's fairly rare, actually. And it's a good example of some of the more interesting trees that are fairly resistant to problems that you can plant these days. This is Davidia Enruvolia Crada. It was brought back by Ernest Wilson in 1904 from western China. It blooms in June with large, 7-inch-long white blossoms, which are very similar to wisteria blossoms. So it's quite a spectacular tree, and it'll grow 40 or 50 feet high and about as wide. I've only seen it once, at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, where they have a specimen, and actually where this tree comes from, it's actually a seedling of that very tree that Ernest Wilson brought back to the United States.

(Digging continues)

CURWOOD: What do you think? Is this deep enough?

WEISHAN: Yeah, I think that's about right. Let me just take the shovel from you for a minute. I'm going to just scoop out some of this loose soil. Now, I've already added some super phosphate to this soil this morning. Super phosphate helps the root grow. If we were planting this in the spring we would have added some type of either organic fertilizer like well-rotted manure or compost, or a simple garden fertilizer like 10-10-10 very lightly. Very lightly. But at this season at the year, just super phosphate.


WEISHAN: So that's already in. Now we're just going to --

CURWOOD: Tip this thing a little bit?

WEISHAN: Yeah, just tip it over, now let's see if it's going to come out of its pot there. Easily.

CURWOOD: [Voice straining] Down she goes!

WEISHAN: Down she goes oh, Steve, you're an expert digger.

CURWOOD: That's it there.

WEISHAN: Yeah. Perfectly, perfectly done. And I say perfectly, because the level of the tree was that originally in the pot, and the current soil level are exactly the same. And you want to be real careful not to bury the tree any deeper than it was in the pot, because that's a sure way to kill a good tree.

CURWOOD: Uh huh. Okay.

WEISHAN: So now all we do is, I'm just going to fill in here.

(Shovel scraping sounds)

WEISHAN: I'm going to get the hose out and water this down very carefully, because what you want to do is settle the soil around the root ball so there's no air pockets. That's the other most important thing. And that's it. It's planted. It's our gift for the future.

CURWOOD: Well, Michael, thanks for letting us get our hands dirty in your garden.

WEISHAN: Well, it's been a real pleasure. Any time I can get free labor I'm very happy.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Michael Weishan is editor in chief for Traditional Gardening. And if you have any questions for him, you can reach him via the Living on Earth web site. Go to www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And click on the picture of the watering can.

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(Music up and under)

Natural Ignorance

CURWOOD: When considering the world's environmental problems it's easy to point a finger of blame at pollution, sprawling development, or runaway population growth. But commentator Andy Wasowski thinks the real problem may lie a bit closer to home.

WASOWSKI: Face it. We're all ignorant. But there's a big difference between not knowing anything about, say, astrophysics, and not knowing anything about the natural world we inhabit. The sad fact is, when it comes to nature, the average American is clueless about some very basic stuff.

For example, a recent poll taken at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, revealed that over 75% of their visitors did not know the purpose of pollination. Then there was the company that went to great pains to preserve the natural landscape around their new corporate headquarters in North Texas, which included a profusion of indigenous wildflowers. But because of ignorance of how things grow, they made 2 fatal mistakes. First they installed a sprinkler system. The second mistake: they used it. The wildflowers drowned and have never come back.

Ignorance breeds misunderstandings, discomfort, even fear. My own sweet Aunt Enka, who lives in New York, won't come to visit us here in northern New Mexico because, in her words, "when I see two bushes together, I get nervous." She also informed me that she'd feel safer walking in Times Square at midnight than in the woods at noon.

She is not unique. When an elementary school in Wisconsin wanted to put in a natural landscape around the building, the parents strongly objected because they were afraid rabbits would jump out and scare the kids. And if you think that kids are more savvy about nature than their parents, think again. During a school field trip through a demonstration vegetable garden in Dallas, at least half the fourth graders expressed amazement that carrots grew in the ground. And when a university tested youngsters to see how well they could identify various botanical smells, most of the kids identified grated lemon peel as dishwashing detergent.

Where have we gone wrong? And what are we teaching our kids? Did you know a Boy Scout can get a merit badge in forestry without learning about a single native tree? If we have any hope of pulling our environmental chestnuts out of the fire, we'd better take a hard look at what we're teaching our youngsters about nature. After all, they're the generation that's going to have to fix the mess we've made of this planet. And the biggest lesson they need to know is that we do not live apart from nature. We are a part of nature.

CURWOOD: Commentator Andy Wasowski is author of Native Gardens for Dry Climates. He comes to us courtesy of KERA in Dallas.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Picking fresh cucumbers straight out of the sand. The story behind Israel's dream to make the desert bloom is coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Mideast Water Series: Nergev Ancient Spring

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

(Trickling water. Voices in the background)

CURWOOD: In a tiny moist pocket of Israel's Negev Desert, a few miles from the Sinai Peninsula, there's a spring that bubbles out above a cliff and trickles down into a deep green pool in the valley of Zin. Israelis call it Ein Afdat, an ancient spring that provided respite to many an Arab nomad long before the creation of modern Israel, and may have even cooled Moses and the Israelites 2000 years ago.

(Trickling continues)

CURWOOD: This spring is one of the only natural sources of fresh water in the Negev, which covers more than half of the state of Israel. Yet today the Negev desert is dotted with green. Israel pumps water in from the Jordan river and from aquifers lying beneath Israel and the West Bank. The founders of modern Israel believed it essential to harness Middle East waters to reconnect the Jewish immigrants with the land. But 50 years later, other demands, especially from urban Israel, may be carving into that Zionist vision. Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan examines the limit of this green expansion as our series Troubled Waters continues.

DE MALACH: Yes, I remember. We arrived in 1943. Forty-three was a crucial year for the Jewish people because to Israel arrived the first knowledge of what was going on in Europe.

TOLAN: He fled Mussolini in the middle of World War II and landed in the desert. But Youal de Malach and a few other Negev pioneers had a vision.

DE MALACH: In those days, with after the war, many survivors will arrive. And it was a must to find a place for them. We were very young and green and enthusiastic, and we thought in a few years all the desert will be green.

(A water sprinkler system)

TOLAN: They didn't turn everything green. But 54 years later Mr. de Malach and his wife live in a lush manmade oasis in Kibbutz Revevim. Walking through the kibbutz at night it feels like you're in a European village. Quiet paths, lush lawns, domed street lights, a way of life imported, not including the towering palms. The amount of water at their disposal is high by anyone's standards: nearly 700 liters per day per person, or about 180 gallons just for household use. The kibbutz's fields consume 7 times that amount, nearly half of it fresh water.

DE MALACH: We have to use our water for decoration and for gardening and for, to have we want them to live in parks. If this is not a park, people will not continue to live here. Because it's not easy to live in a desert.

(Sprinklers continue)

TOLAN: Greening the Negev is an important symbol of the Zionist quest to claim the land. David Ben Gurion, the founder of modern Israel, said the Negev will be the test of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. This effort will determine the fate of the state and the place of our people in the history of mankind. Israeli agriculture both in the Negev and elsewhere in Israel became a symbol of a new sovereign nation.

(Engines revving up)

TOLAN: But modern Israel is increasingly urban, and now many Israelis say Zionist dream or not, agriculture can't continue using 80% of the country's fresh water supply, especially when it represents only 3% of its economy.

BEN SHAUL: I think that the time is going to come, and Israel is going to understand that we cannot afford to grow cotton or any other such sort of garbage. These are water eating crops.

TOLAN: Devora Ben Shaul, born in Waxahatchee, Texas, has lived in Israel since 1959. She's an environmentalist and a writer living in the Galilee.

BEN SHAUL: Yeah, sure, we're attached to them, because these are dollar crops. But in the long run, they're not productive for us. We can't afford to grow oranges when oranges are so cheap from Spain or other Middle Eastern areas. We have to concentrate on using water for the things that it's worth using water for. There is this whole thing about making the desert bloom. Deserts are not support to be green, I'm sorry. Deserts are deserts. I know it's heretical to say it. But there is nowhere in the world where you have a dictum that says you've got to turn arid desert into green pastures.

BASKIN: It may be blasphemy but it's the truth. I lived on a kibbutz in the desert for a while picking cucumbers out of the sand. You'd think to yourself, this is amazing, how did they do it? But when you look behind the whole picture and you see it's no magic, you have to question whether or not this is what we should be doing.

TOLAN: Gershon Baskin is co-director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.

BASKIN: I have a little garden to myself and right here in our office we have a little organic garden where we're growing cauliflower and parsley and some other things. I'm sentimental about the land but I'm realistic about what Israel is and what Israel, what places we should have in the world economy. I want us to build supercomputers and communication technology and lead the world in medical technology. And not be known for our sweet oranges.

TOLAN: Mr. Baskin represents a younger generation of Israelis who are no longer so captured by the Zionist vision of greening the desert.

BASKIN: There's no mysticism to make the desert bloom. All you need is water and chemicals, and anyone can do it.

TOLAN: Israelis have justified using all that fresh water because they've been isolated politically and economically from the Arab world. For food security they've wanted to grow all their own produce. But the days of agricultural self-sufficiency are gone, Mr. Baskin says, and the priority now should be in supplying water to a growing population, Israeli and Palestinian. In another generation, perhaps 15 million people will inhabit this land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, nearly twice the population today. And even the generation that grew up with the Zionist dream is beginning to see the implications of that growth. Meir ben Meir is Israel's water commissioner.

BEN MEIR: We in Israel already know that somewhere between the first and the second decade of the coming century, fresh water will not be enough in order to be used on agriculture. Meaning that fresh water will be consumed for one purpose only: for domestic purposes. Agriculture will have to be dependent almost thoroughly on treated sewage.

(Flowing sewage)

TOLAN: Sewage like this, which starts out raw, coming by pipe from the biggest town in the Negev.

ARON: The sewage from the city of Beersheba is come to this sewage treatment plant. Here we have the distribution pit. The raw sewage, raw raw sewage, is entering here, and then it is distributed into 2 settling ponds. We have another...

TOLAN: Gidon Aron wrote his doctoral dissertation on the bird habitat of natural sewage plants like this one, where human wastewater is pumped through a series of earthen ponds. Through natural filtration and photosynthesis it's converted to water for the fields. Israel already uses a lot of wastewater on its crops. A treated wastewater pipeline comes into the Negev from Tel Aviv. And Professor Aron says this kind of Israeli ingenuity can save agriculture.

ARON: And here we come with another solution by which we can solve the problem of efficient reuse of the effluent. A big problem to my opinion will be managing to convince all of them that this is the solution and we have to go in this direction.

(Traffic sounds; fade to flowing sewage)

TOLAN: Israelis have sharply increased their agricultural production over the years through these wastewater pipelines and through drip irrigation. Now, Dr. Aron and his colleagues have developed subsurface drip irrigation. It isn't healthy to use wastewater on crops like tomatoes or cucumbers, but now farmers with enough money can lay in the drip hoses and apply the recycled water directly to the roots. But farms are still heavily dependent on sweet water in Israel. They still suck up four fifths of the country's fresh water supply. That's because water is still cheap, subsidized by the government. And so farmers still produce cotton, citrus, and other water-guzzling crops for export. Some critics say Israel's biggest export is water. All this indicates that despite the changes forecast for the farm, the agricultural lobby in Israel remains strong.

ZAZLAVSKY: They kicked me out from the position of water commissioner, how do you call, the small time politicians did it.

TOLAN: Former water commissioner Dan Zazlavsky says he ran head-on into the agricultural lobby when he tried to introduce conservation measures back in 1991.

ZESLOVSKY: In one year, despite the fact that the population increased tremendously, that this was the first big wave of Russian immigration, there was a considerable reduction in water use. We showed in several towns that we could reduce the water use by 20%. There was a national feeling: let's save it. Let's not waste it. And it worked.

TOLAN: But Zazlavvsky says an emerging ethic of conservation was a threat to the farm lobby. Signs of shortage, he says, would have meant that agriculture might have had to cut back.

ZAZLAVSKY: There will be no lack of drinking water or industrial water. But agriculture is very questionable. Maybe I was a good technician but politically I was not very smart, and I was eventually kicked out. As soon as I [got] kicked out the main line was there's no lack of water, you can use as much as you need. Relax, there's no problem.

TOLAN: This short-term political victory, Zazlavsky charges, is already doing damage. Most of all to Israel's underground water reserves.

ZAZLAVSKY: We have been pumping about 150 million cubic meters more than the average annual recharge. This means that there's no way but to start desalinating right away. Or doing something. The alternative is terrible. Unless the policy with water changes, the farming is doomed.

TOLAN: The lack of a conservation ethic can be seen now all over Israel. Greenery lines the boulevards in many Israeli towns. Gardens abound, evoking not only the Zionist dream but European roots. My hotel in Haifa featured 2 high-powered shower heads. Across the country, it's hard to detect an urgency to conserve.

(Traffic sounds; milling people, honking horns)

MAN: I say that there is enough water in Tel Aviv. Everywhere there is enough water. For agriculture, to drink, to wash.

TOLAN: Salt floats on the wind at the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. It's a warm night on the Mediterranean. Old men play dominoes, hustlers deal a game of 3-card Monty. Families push babies in strollers.

WOMAN: They have too much water, for the car and for the house and for the garden (laughs). They use too much water. They don't save.

MAN: No, they don't try to save. Everybody don't care about it. They know but they don't care.

MAN 2: We are not limited with water, but if you use a lot of water you're throwing away a lot of money.

(Milling voices continue)

TOLAN: In Jordan water conservation is the top priority of the US aid program, because water supplies there are so tight. In Israel there are no such programs. The US simply writes a check to Israel each year. Feeling little pressure on this issue, the Israelis have pursued a hard line in regional water negotiations. They're holding firm against Palestinian claims for water lying beneath the West Bank. They've been forced into only modest concessions with Jordan. And Minister of Infrastructure Ariel Sharon recently announced Israel's intention to build a dam on the Golan Heights captured from Syria in 1967. Israel's strategy appears to be to hold on to what it has, use wastewater on the farms, shift fresh water to the cities, and augment supplies through new dams and eventually desalinization. Serious conservation is not on the agenda. Under this strategy, household use would remain the same, now about 3 times more per capita than the Palestinians. And agriculture, says former Israeli water negotiator Uri Shamir, would remain an important part of the Zionist dream.

SHAMIR: Agriculture is not strictly an economic activity. It's a way of life, it's a way of populating the land, of settling it. And furthermore, our society has essentially a pact with the agricultural community, which was the first to settle the land. And it is not possible nor desirable for us to say well, thank you very much, you have done your job, you can now move on.

(A car door slams. Footfalls.)

TOLAN: Yet there are changes coming to the kibbutz, the heart of Zionist agriculture.

DINSEN: This lock is about as old as I am.

TOLAN: Seymour Dinsen, farm manager for Kibbutz Revivim, opens a gate and walks to the pipeline that brings fresh water all the way to this place a few miles from the Egyptian border.

DINSEN: You could have snow falling in the Golan Heights on the Syrian border. It melts, flows into the Knerrret, the Sea of Galilee, and eventually is pumped here to Rivavim, which is in the middle of the desert, the middle of the Negev Desert 270 miles away.

TOLAN: The fresh water that arrives in Kibbutz Revivim is still used to water crops. Seymour knows that may change. Already the kibbutz is using brackish groundwater for its strawberries and tomatoes.

DINSEN: And water, like everything else, is very, very political. There's less and less public support for farmers, things, water is becoming more and more expensive, and there are crops that are that just aren't worth growing any more.

TOLAN: Farming will become more focused here, emphasizing research to grow crops like melons, strawberries, and grapes in salty water. But agriculture's economic importance in the kibbutz is in decline. The biggest money maker in Revivim is a factory that produces molded plastic parts for GM cars. That doesn't mean the dream of greening the desert is dead. Kibbutz Rivavim will continue to grow crops and soon they'll have new neighbors. Today Israeli planners, confident in their water future, are letting ambitious new plans in the desert. The Negev will be the source of Israel's next big wave of growth. Small factories, fish ponds, citrus groves, and whole new communities will sprout up, relying heavily on recycled water. All this will help realize David Ben Gurion's vision: to bloom the desolate land and convert the spacious Negev into a source of force and power. A blessing to the state of Israel. For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan reporting.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Next week, Troubled Waters concludes with a journey to the banks of the Jordan River and Jordan's quest for a stable water supply to avert a social disaster.

MAN: We really, sometimes we feel shame, when we ask them to conserve water. They assure us that they have not the minimum of the water which they should have to live in dignity.

CURWOOD: For a tape or transcript of this program, call 800-218-9988.
That's 800-218-9988.

And for this week that's Living on Earth. Kim Motylewski is our associate editor. Peter Thomson heads our western bureau. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Our production team includes, Daniel Grossman, George Homsy, Liz Lempert, and Jesse Wegman, Julia Madeson, Peter Christianson, Robert de Avila, and Peter Shaw. We had help from Dana Campbell and Carolyn Martin. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Jeff Martini engineers the program, which is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream. 1- 800-PROCOWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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