April 17, 1998
Air Date: April 17, 1998
Hog Regs/ Thomas Lalley
Air and water pollution from large, corporate-owned hog farms have prompted a new wave of regulation in some states. But, not in Colorado. Colorado’s hog industry has been growing fast ever since corporate hog farmers found out that it has some of the most lenient hog farming rules in the country. But that may soon change. State lawmakers and federal regulators are vowing to clean up the industry. From Colorado Public Radio, Thomas Lalley visits one county where pigs may soon outnumber people, twelve to one. (07:25)
Shepa Artic Ice Project
Seven months ago, a Canadian Coast Guard ship was deliberately frozen into the Arctic ice near the North Pole. The ship is serving as a hotel and command post for researchers on a year-long project of the National Science Foundation. Their mission is to gather data to help science better understand how Arctic ice may affect and be affected by climate change. Steve Curwood spoke with the project's coordinator Richard Moritz who is on board the ice-breaker DeGrossieller (de-GRO-zi-ay), about 300 miles north of Alaska's Prudhoe Bay. (04:45)
The Other Earth Day
On April 22nd, people around the world will mark the 28th Earth Day. But what folks probably don't know is that the Earth Day they'll be celebrating on April 22nd is not the only Earth Day, nor was it the first. On March 21, 1970, the spring equinox, Mr. John McConnell organized a celebration he called Earth Day. Occurring just one month before Senator Gaylord Nelson’s more widely- publicized Earth Day, Nelson's event led to the observance we now mark each year. Mr. McConnell's Earth Day also continues to be celebrated, but he is perhaps better-known for designing the Earth Flag. Steve Curwood caught up with Mr. McConnell, who is 83 and lives in New York City, and asked him how he celebrates his Earth Day. (03:30)
Reporter's Notebook: Falling in Love for the First Time/ Richard Schiffman
Producer Richard Schiffman remembers seeing the new NASA photos of earth from space when he was just ten years old back at the end of the 1960’s. As he tells us in this reporters' notebook, those images forever changed the way he views his world. (04:00)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about... worms. (01:30)
An Afternoon with Pete Seeger
Renowned for his combination of music and social activism, folk music legend Pete Seeger explains to Steve Curwood that it was Rachel Carson's book 'Silent Spring' that really got him thinking and active on environmental matters. In 1969, with the help of other musicians and activists, Pete Seeger built a sloop he christened the Clearwater, because that was his intention: to clear the waters of the Hudson River of pollution and garbage. Pete Seeger lives on the Hudson, in a small, quiet town called Beacon, about an hour north of New York City and just 30 miles from where he was born. For decades, he and his neighbors have met on the rivers' banks, at the Sloop Club to socialize and organize over potluck suppers. He asked Living on Earth to meet him there, where it’s his turn to set up for this month’s gathering. (25:00)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Thomas Lalley
GUESTS: Richard Moritz, John McConnell, Pete Seeger
COMMENTATOR: Richard Schiffman
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Git along little doggies! Hogs are becoming a big farm business out west. That's mostly because other states have had enough of the pollution that factory hog farming generates.
JOHNSON: What's happening with these large corporate operations, commercial operations, is they're moving into states that have little or no regulation because they're being driven out of other states that have finally discovered the kind of environmental damage that they leave.
CURWOOD: And, as we celebrate Earth Day for 1998, we meet the man who claims to have started the ball rolling. He says our sense of stewardship of the Earth got a boost from the space program of the 60s.
McCONNELL: You know, there's a wonderful quote from the space program: we set out to explore space and discovered Earth.
CURWOOD: That and more on Living on Earth this week, but first this news.
(NPR News follows)
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CURWOOD: This is the special Earth Day edition of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Contrary to folklore, pigs can be rather tidy and friendly creatures if they have a spot to bathe, plenty of pasture, and places to root in the soil. But if you bunch hogs in a tiny pen, you'll soon get a stinking soup of dirt and manure that can be smelled for miles. Do that with thousands of hogs on a farm where the operators are careless, and you also get a sickening runoff of waste into local streams and creeks. Air and water pollution from large commercial hog farms has prompted a new wave of regulation in some states, but not in Colorado. The industry there has been growing fast because Colorado has some of the most lenient hog farming rules in the nation. That may soon change. State lawmakers and Federal regulators are vowing to clean up the industry. From Colorado Public Radio, Thomas Lalley visits one county where pigs may soon outnumber people 12 to 1.
LALLEY: The wind is a constant companion on the plains of eastern Colorado. These days in Yuma County, it has an added punch: the smell of tens of thousands of pigs. This sparsely-populated area near the Nebraska border is becoming the pig capital of Colorado. A lot of residents here worry about what these farms are doing to their county. They worry most about waste from thousands of hogs contaminating their water supply in the huge Ogalalla aquifer.
ROBERTS: Once it gets to the aquifer there's no way to clean it up. I mean, it's just -- we're dead if it happens. The groundwater is our only source of water, period. I mean, if it's contaminated then we have no water.
LALLEY: Jim Roberts is a fourth-generation wheat farmer from Laird.
ROBERTS: You go to North Carolina or Iowa, Minnesota, then accidents have happened sort of regularly. And they have a lot more surface water than we have so that water is really easy to contaminate. Here the effects are going to be much more long-term to see and determine, because it has to travel through the soil to get to the aquifer.
LALLEY: In fact, parts of the aquifer are already contaminated by nitrates, at levels more than twice the allowable standard. That poses a health threat to humans and livestock and could severely impact the ecosystem. The water pollution is blamed on improper application of hog waste onto corn fields where it's used as fertilizer.
LALLEY: Here is the source of the controversy. In a single barn at Western Pork in Yuma, thousands of females, or sows, are lined up neatly in individual 8 by 2-1/2 foot crates. From the day they're born until they're sent out for slaughter, each pig is kept indoors and closely monitored for appetite, health, and production of offspring. This facility is more like an assembly line than a farm. The waste -- and there's lots of it -- is collected in a basin under each barn, and each week is piped to lagoons outside. Peter Gadkowski is the president of Western Pork. He says the hog farms in Colorado are well designed, and the public has nothing to worry about.
(Much grunting in background)
GADKOWSKI: When properly run and with a waste system that's properly designed and managed, that we have de minimus or in fact no environmental impact. All of our waste as you've seen here is collected. It is then contained in large treatment lagoons, which are lined to make sure that there's no seepage into the aquifer. They're designed so that a storm event won't cause them to overflow. And that material, when it's properly decomposed, is then spread on growing crops.
LALLEY: But similar assurances haven't held up in the past. While no problems have been documented at Western Pork, other hog farms in Colorado and across the country have polluted the water. In one of the worst incidents, three spills in two weeks in 1995 sent over 30 million gallons of animal waste into North Carolina waterways. Since then many states, including North Carolina, have passed laws to regulate hog farms. But no such laws exist in Colorado. Patty Shwayder, director of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, says state officials here wouldn't know if Western Pork or any other hog farm is doing a good job.
SHWAYDER: There's no requirement for these operations to report to us that (a) they even exist, much less (b) what type of an impact they're having. We do not have the money or the resources, or the authority to go after this in an aggressive way, and it's something I am not satisfied with. I don't think the legislature's satisfied with, I don't think the public is satisfied with.
LALLEY: Ms. Shwayder ways concerns over hog farms have risen, as hog production has soared in the state. In the past 10 years the state's pig production jumped from 331,000 to 1.4 million, and nearly all that growth has been on large corporate hog farms. In fact, while the number of hogs increased 4 times, the number of farms fell from 2,500 to just over 1,000. Colorado State Senator Joan Johnson worries that the boom in large hog farms is directly related to the state's weak regulations.
JOHNSON: What's happening with these large corporate operations, commercial operations, is they're moving into states that have little or no regulation, because they've being driven out of other states that have finally discovered the kind of environmental damage that they leave. And so they're moving west.
LALLEY: Senator Johnson has introduced a bill which would impose strict controls on odor and water pollution. Action is also pending on the Federal level. The US Environmental Protection Agency has recently announced a plan to hold large hog, cattle, poultry, and dairy farms to the same standards as factories. Dawn Martin is with the EPA Office of Water. She says as farms have become larger, waste has become more of a problem.
MARTIN: In this context of this kind of very intensive use and concentration of animals, there's a new understanding and a need to address the public health impacts on, to the community that lives around these facilities.
LALLEY: The industry doesn't cast the situation as darkly, but they do admit they have problems. Andy Baumert is with the National Pork Producers Council. He says public outrage over water contamination and odor from large hog farms has spurred the industry itself to act.
BAUMERT: We recognize that environmental management is the number one growth limiting factor in the pork industry today in the United States. Pork is the most popular meat in the world, and that demand is growing, and we understand that as an industry, if we hope to have any part of meeting that demand and capturing that additional market share, we've got to take care of the environmental issue.
LALLEY: The industry has imposed standards of its own to regulate the design and siting of new hog farms, and monitor fields where hog waste is applied as fertilizer. But those recommendations don't go as far as the measures now being considered by the EPA and the Colorado legislature. EPA says it will require wastewater discharge permits at thousands of unregulated farms and set levels for how much waste each farm can release. State Senator Johnson's bill goes even further. It would require hog farms to put up bonds to cover the cost of any environmental damage, and to cover waste lagoons to control odor. The bill is now working its way through the state legislature. For Living on Earth, I'm Thomas Lalley.
CURWOOD: Next week our story moves to North Carolina, where tough regulations on the hog industry are spurring alternatives to deal with the waste and new ways of thinking about production.
MAN: The silver bullet that's going to solve these environmental problems is to move pork production back to small, widely-dispersed operations with access to enough crop land to safely spread the manure. The real silver bullet is being overlooked.
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CURWOOD: Seven months ago a Canadian Coast Guard ship was deliberately frozen into the Arctic ice not far from the North Pole. The ship is serving as a hotel and command center for researchers on a year-long project of the National Science Foundation. Their mission is to gather data to help scientists better understand how Arctic ice may affect and be affected by climate change. Richard Moritz is the project's coordinator. We reached him on board the ice-breaker DeGrossieller about 300 miles north of Alaska's Prudhoe Bay.
MORITZ: We have a base here on the Canadian Coast Guard's ice-breaker, the DeGrossieller. This is a 300-foot long ship with a bright red hull and sitting out in the midst of all this snow and packed ice it's quite a sight.
CURWOOD: How much can you actually feel that you're not on land but floating on the ice?
MORITZ: It's a good question. It varies from time to time. When we first started out in October and put all the equipment out on the ice, things were very stable and so many of us got into the kind of mindset in our day to day work of being on a land surface with snow. That's quickly dispelled when these cracks form and we get the ridging events. To give you another example, just the other night we had some ice crack along the side of the ship, and some disturbing noises for the people who were sleeping on the lower decks. And we all got up at 2 in the morning and went out on the bridge to look and see what was happening. And turned out there was no problem, but it does make you aware.
CURWOOD: Dr. Moritz, why study Arctic ice?
MORITZ: This is really part of a study of the global climate system, and the little corner of the system, if you like, that has ocean covered with pack ice has a lot of very interesting processes going on associated with the annual cycle of melting and freezing of the ice. And it turns out that these processes introduce feedbacks into the system that can affect climate change. For those who don't know, I think it's worth saying that when we look at these global climate models and how they predict the evolution of the Arctic pack ice in response to, let's say, doubled carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere, some of these show very dramatic effects such as the complete disappearance of the pack ice over the Arctic during the summer in only 50 or 100 years' time from now. So, it really would be quite a different world up here if there were no ice at all during the summer.
CURWOOD: What would that mean for the rest of the world?
MORITZ: For the rest of the world, it's really the polar boundary, if you like, of the climate system. So, if you have a large warming in the Arctic, which goes with the disappearance of the pack ice, then you're going to have a change in the north to south temperature difference from low latitudes to high, and this is really what drives our westerly winds. So, the effect of the Arctic really manifests itself through a change in our weather. I think it's worth mentioning, too, that the Arctic Ocean is an interesting, fascinating ecosystem. Of course we have the seals, the walruses, the various fish in a complex, unique food web underneath the ice. All of this presumably would change in some profound way if the pack ice were to disappear during the summer.
CURWOOD: People have built a lot of computer models to predict the extent of global warming. What does your work do in terms of proving or disproving these computer models?
MORITZ: Well, with this experiment we're not particularly focused on gathering a data set that proves or disproves the models. But as a side benefit we have, of course, been measuring a lot of aspects of this system, so we do get some information on how the system has changed. I mentioned one earlier. We found much thinner ice here than many of us expected to find. We also found that the upper ocean was much fresher than earlier measurements in this area had shown it to be. These are both factors, thinner ice and fresher upper ocean, that are in fact simulated by these global models as a consequence of greenhouse warming. So, we've gathered another data point in that story to show that actually the system is behaving in a way consistent with some of the projections.
CURWOOD: Dr. Moritz, I want to thank you for taking all this time with us today.
MORITZ: My pleasure.
CURWOOD: Richard Moritz is with the National Science Foundation. He spoke with us from the Canadian Coast Guard vessel DeGrossieller. The ship and its crew return to warmer waters this fall.
(Music up and under: wind and flute)
CURWOOD: To reach our listener line, please call 800-218-9988. That's 800-218- 9988. Coming up, a chat with a man who says he started the first Earth Day. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. On April 22nd, people around the world mark the 28th Earth Day. What you probably don't know is that the Earth Day celebrated on April 22nd is not the only Earth Day, nor was it the first. On March 21st, 1970, the vernal equinox, John McConnell organized a celebration he called Earth Day, just one month before Senator Gaylord Nelson's more widely publicized Earth Day, which eventually led to the observance we now mark each year. Mr. McConnell's Earth Day continues to be celebrated, but he is perhaps better known for designing the Earth flag. Recently I caught up with Mr. McConnell, who is 83 and lives in New York City, and I asked him how he celebrates his Earth Day.
McCONNELL: We celebrate it every year at the United Nations on the original day, which is nature's day. The first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. And the way we celebrate it, we ring the peace bell at the United Nations at the very moment spring begins. And every year I invite people to join, each in their own way, in silent prayer, meditation, reflection.
CURWOOD: What do you think of the Earth Day that's celebrated on April 22nd? Is that okay with you or are they missing something?
McCONNELL: The strange thing is that the other date has gotten far more attention. And I think one of the reasons for that was the other celebration was more protest in the beginning. They got lots of publicity because they were burying cars and dumping garbage in corporate carports and things of that kind. And the media is so geared to violence that --
CURWOOD: I'm not sure they would agree that they were violent that first Earth Day.
McCONNELL: No, well I hear again words mean different things to different people. I think it's wonderful what has been done on April 22 for planet Earth. Through the years they've gotten attention. There's been recycling and planting trees, all the things that we talked about in the beginning. So, but I do say that the initial publicity of the 1970 Earth Day on April 22, if you just go back and look at the stories, you will find it was the protests that got publicity, not celebration.
CURWOOD: How did you come up with the idea of the Earth flag?
McCONNELL: When they took the first photos of Earth, they published them in Life magazine. When I saw that I was so excited about it: here's something that could bring the whole human family together. You know, there's a wonderful quote from the space program: we set out to explore space and discovered earth. And here suddenly we were thinking holistically of our whole planet. And so I called up NASA and got a copy of the photo and put it on a dark blue field and made it a flag which is a symbol of responsibility. And when we welcomed the landing of the astronauts on the moon in Central Park, why we had a great big Earth flag and we had thousands of people there, and we had about 500 Earth flags that were distributed. And in fact I have a few of them which are real relics right now.
CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us. John McConnell first cast Earth Day on March 21st, 1970, and joined us from New York. Thank you, sir.
McCONNELL: Thank you. It's been a pleasure talking to you.
(Music up and under: David Bowie's "Space Oddity" fading to countdown to liftoff)
CURWOOD: Producer Richard Schiffman remembers seeing those early NASA photos from space when he was just 10 years old. As he tells us in his reporter's notebook, those images forever changed the way he views his world.
(Spacecraft communications: "Cabin pressure is holding at 5.5. Cabin pressure is holding at 5.5...")
SCHIFFMAN: I'll never forget the thrill of it. The Mercury rocket ship teetering on a swelling ball of smoke and flame for a tense moment, then soaring in a bright arc over the Atlantic. It wasn't really the technological feat of leaving Earth that impressed me back then, but what the astronauts saw when they looked back.
ASTRONAUT [GLENN?]: What a beautiful view. Cloud cover over Florida, 3 to 4 tenths near the eastern coast...
SCHIFFMAN: The spacecraft beamed down pictures: the coast of Baja California glistening in the morning sun. The dunes of the Sahara undulating, rose- colored waves a thousand miles long. The Yangtze delta fat, green, and laced with clouds. Nothing strange. Just the well-known features of a planet: deserts, mountains, whirlpools of storm blossoming like white flowers. But it wasn't what I saw in those first photographs of Earth from space that impressed me the most. It's what I felt.
ASTRONAUT: I still have some clouds visible below me. The sunset was beautiful; it went down very rapidly. I still have a brilliant blue band clear across the horizon, almost covering my whole window...
SCHIFFMAN: When I looked at those first images of the Earth from space, I fell in love for the first time. At the age of 10 I fell in love with the planet which lay so beautiful and so touchingly alone against the blackness of space. And not just beautiful, but palpably alive, fresh in every moment behind the shifting veil of clouds and seasons.
ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
SCHIFFMAN: Since those first manned orbital flights in the 60s, we've traveled even further afield to the moon, and with unmanned probes to the outer planets and beyond. But however far we go, we found nothing quite so lovely as our Earth. When astronaut Neil Armstrong said that stepping onto the lunar surface was a great leap for mankind, he may have been right. But it wasn't the high-tech leap that dazzled me. It was the long view back home.
ASTRONAUT: The surface is fine and powdery. I can -- I can pick it up loosely with my [pail?]...
SCHIFFMAN: Another moon walker, Jim Irwin, carries to this day a marble in his pocket which he rolls occasionally between his fingers, to remind himself, he says, how small and fragile the Earth appeared from its closest neighbor. Now, like Jim Irwin, we all hold the fate of life between our fingers. The scientists and the politicians will doubtless continue to argue the merits of this or that environmental policy. But as Earth Day comes, I prefer to remember the larger picture: the view of Earth from space. So lovely. So vulnerable. And in our hands, even as we nestle in her broad hands called continents. Afloat on turquoise seas.
MAN: ... main chutes comes through loud and clear on the television display here...
SCHIFFMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Schiffman.
MAN: ... splashdown at this time.
MAN 2: ... another chair in the control room as we head to splashdown.
MAN: ... recognize what I have in my hand is the handle for the contingency sample return...
(Music up and under: "Spirit in the Sky")
CURWOOD: Thanks to NASA for use of their archive recordings from the early space flights. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
("Spirit in the Sky" with astronaut voice in background continuing up and under)
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; and Church and White, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: On this Earth Day edition of our program, a special visit with folk singer Pete Seeger. That's coming up in just a minute right here on Living on Earth.
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SECOND HALF HOUR
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund, and Stonyfield Farm Yogurt's profits for the planet, supporting initiatives that protect the Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
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CURWOOD: As spring kicks in, those voracious critters, Lumbricus terrestris, are back in force in your lawn, or after a shower on the sidewalk. Worms may not be much to look at, but throughout history they have dug up their share of compliments. Aristotle called them the intestines of the soil. Cleopatra declared them sacred. And Charles Darwin wondered whether any other single creature played so important a role in life on Earth. The kudos are well-earned for worms, as they are some of the most efficient animals around. Each day they reprocess their own body weight in soil and organic matter. And they're hermaphroditic, so they all have male and female sex organs and can give birth. Still unimpressed? Well, consider the Ecuadorian earthworm, then, which can grow to be 8 feet and weigh more than a pound. Today worms are behind the boom in verma-composting. In just one week a thousand tiny worms can churn as much as 5 pounds of kitchen scraps into a rich mulch. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
(Music up and under)
(Audience clapping, a banjo in the background)
SEEGER: (Singing) I've lived all my life in this country. I love every flower and tree. I expect to live here till I'm 90. It's the nukes that must go and not me.
EVERYONE: (Singing) It's the nukes that must go and not me. The nukes that must go and not me. I expect to live here till I'm 90. It's the nukes that must go and not me.
CURWOOD: That's Pete Seeger leading a crowd in an anti-nuclear song at a Harvard University gathering back in 1980. For some in the audience this may be the apex of their protest days. For Pete Seeger, it's another night on the town as the nation's troubador of conscience. America's tuning fork, some call him. For more than half a century, Pete Seeger has been leading people throughout the world in song, and in the process he's become a walking history of folk music and social activism. In the 1930s and 40s, you'd find him and his famous banjo on a union picket line.
SEEGER: (Strumming banjo and singing) Now you want higher wages, let me tell you what to do. Got to talk to the workers in the shop with you. You got to build you a union, got to make it strong. But if you all stick together, boys, don't be long. You get shorter hours. Better working conditions. Vacations with pay, take the kids to the seashore...
CURWOOD: Singing songs with outspoken political views led Pete Seeger in 1955 to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Congress wanted him to testify about alleged Communist affiliations. Name names, it was called. Mr. Seeger refused, was ordered to jail, and blacklisted. An appeals court blocked his prison term, and Pete Seeger kept on singing. In the 1960s it was songs for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam.
SEEGER: (Singing) The sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure this is the best way back to the base?" "Sergeant go on, I fought at this river about a mile above this place. It'll be a little soggy but just keep sloggin', we'll soon be on dry ground. We were waste deep in the big muddy, the big fool says to push on...
CURWOOD: And ever since then it's been the environment. In 1969, with the help of other musicians and activists, Pete Seeger built a sloop he christened the Clearwater, because that was his intention: to clear the waters of the Hudson River of pollution and garbage. Pete Seeger lives on the Hudson, in a small quiet town called Beacon, about an hour north of New York City, and just 30 miles from where he was born. For decades, he and his neighbors have met on the river's banks at the Sloop Club to socialize and organize over potluck suppers. He's asked us to meet him there, where it's his turn to set up for this month's gathering.
A bright red pickup truck loaded with logs and plywood pulls up. A tall, wiry man with a white beard and glasses jumps out.
SEEGER: Hope you haven't been waiting too long.
CURWOOD: Nope, how are you?
Pete Seeger has lived 8 decades, but he moves with the ease and energy of someone who still has a lot to do.
(To Seeger) Mr. Seeger, you got here a Ford Ranger, except it didn't make much noise when you pulled up.
SEEGER: I bought it for $8,000. A schoolteacher who teaches electricity wanted to learn more about electric cars, so he made his own electric car. And he put into it a 28-horsepower electric motor, and 20 6-volt batteries.
CURWOOD: Can I see under the hood?
SEEGER: Not much here.
CURWOOD: No, except a sign that says, "Caution, wear rubber gloves. You could be electrocuted."
SEEGER: Right. There's like 400 amps. For me it's perfect. I live on a very steep mountainside and I'm always carrying rocks and logs, and with a low range and 4-wheel drive I can inch up the steepest kind of slope with a ton of logs. It can go a foot a minute if I want to go that slowly, because I just feed in more or less power with the accelerator. I'd be burning out the clutch if I was using a regular gasoline car.
CURWOOD: Let's go over here by the your docks here out of the water and we can chat a bit. What a place for a sunset, huh?
(Water lapping on shore; sounds of a train in the background)
SEEGER: This waterfront was a tangle of weeds, and the river was like an open sewer 30 years ago when the Clearwater started. And little by little it's gotten better. That park over there was our big victory. We petitioned and petitioned and people laughed at us, but by gosh the petitions finally had an effect. And a little city money and a lot of Federal and state money, a million dollars to make a park out of 7 and a half acres of garbage.
CURWOOD: Ah hah. Pete Seeger, how'd you get involved in environmental concerns?
SEEGER: It was Rachel Carson's famous book 'Silent Spring'. I read it in the New Yorker, in installments. Up to then I'd thought the main job to do is help the meek inherit the Earth. And I still, that's a job that's got to be done. But I realized if we didn't do something soon, what the meek would inherit would be a pretty poisonous place to live. And so I made almost 180- degree turn, started reading books like 'The Population Bomb' by Paul Ehrlich, or 'The Povery of Power' by Barry Commoner. I'm a readaholic. And I was reading a book about the sailboats that sailed here, oh, all during the 19th century. Alexander Hamilton wrote one of the Federalist papers on his way to Poughkeepsie in a sloop, where they were arguing whether or not to sign the Constitution out here and agree to it. Well, I write a letter to my friend: wouldn't it be great to build a replica of one of these? Probably cost $100,000. Nobody we know has that money, but if we got 1,000 people together we could all chip in and maybe we could hire a skilled captain to see it's run safely and the rest of us could volunteer. And 3 years later the sloop Clearwater was built up in Maine, and I helped sail it down with Don McLean and a batch of other singers. And now it takes school kids out. It's not a rich man's cruise boat. Two or 3 times a day it takes groups of 50 school kids out, teaches them what makes rivers dirty and what's got to be done to clean them up. Of course, people say what can a sailboat do? It can't do much except bring people together. But when people come together, that's when miracles happen, right?
CURWOOD: What do you think it's done for the river?
SEEGER: It drew attention to it in such a friendly way that people couldn't help getting attracted. In the little town of Cold Spring south of here, there were some very conservative people who thought it was a Communist, treasonous project, because I was involved in it.
CURWOOD: (Laughs) Aren't you a Communist, Pete Seeger? (Laughs)
SEEGER: I tell people at age 7 I became a Communist when I read about American Indians. And anthropologists, that's the term they use for the way our ancestors lived anywhere in the world. The men hunted, the women gathered berries and dug for roots and carried babies on their back. And somebody killed something to eat, the meat was shared. That's communism. I admit, it seems romantic to want to go back to that, but I really do believe that if there is a world here, if there's a human race here in 100 years, we will have learned how to share again.
SEEGER: Well, down in this little town, a man came down to see the Clearwater, and he beckoned to me. He said, "Seeger, can I talk to you a minute?" I said, "Sure." He said, "I don't want you to think I agree with you, not one tenth of one percent, but that sure is a beautiful boat." He couldn't take his eyes off it. (Curwood laughs) Hundred-and-six foot tall the mast goes up. I call it a symphony of curves. There are hardly any straight lines on a sailboat and very few right angles. Curves, curves.
(Singing while playing guitar) Sailing down my golden river. Sun and water all my own. Yet I was never alone. Sun and water are all life givers. I'll have them where e'er I roam. And I was not far from home.
SEEGER (Speaking): That was the first Hudson River song I wrote. The Clearwater had not been built. I hadn't even thought of the idea. I was sailing a little plastic boat and there I looked at the water beneath me. There was lumps of this and that floating by with the toilet paper. And the phrase of John Kenneth Galbraith came to mind: Private affluence, public squalor. I had money to buy this little plastic boat. We had money to go to the moon but didn't have money to keep the rivers clean. And later on, I was sailing by myself and I saw the sun go down. The sky turned from yellow to pink to purple to midnight blue. And I had "Sailing down my golden river, sun and water all my own. But I was never alone..." (Fade to singing and guitar)
CURWOOD: Let's talk about some other songs: Garbage.
SEEGER: This was written by a young fellow named Bill Steele, who has for years been the head of the folk song club up in Ithaca, New York. But he wrote it in San Francisco when he was visiting there, and it became an underground hit. There must be thousands of people all around the country who know this song and sing it. I added a verse. A friend of mine had written the first part of the verse: (Sings) In Mr. Thompson's factory they're making plastic Christmas trees. Complete with silver tinsel and a geodesic stand. The plastic's mixed in giant vats from some conglomeration that's been piped from deep within the earth or strip-mined from the land.
Well then he went on to say and so the water gets dirty in Long Island Sound, but I changed the words: (Sings) And if you question anything they say why don't you see? It's absolutely needed for the economy. Garbage, garbage, garbage, their stocks and their bonds, all garbage. What will they do when their system goes to smash? There's no value to their cash. There's no money to be made but there's a world to be repaid. Their kids will read in history books about financiers and other crooks, and feudalism and slavery and nukes and all their knavery. To history's dustbin they're consigned along with many other kinds of garbage, garbage, garbage...
You know, I drew blood with that verse? I sang it on the Today Show once, and Fortunate magazine says, "Esso was sponsoring that program. Do they know what songs are being sung with their money?" (Curwood laughs) And they quoted the verse I'd sung. I don't necessarily like to draw blood. I'd rather persuade people to laugh and eventually agree that maybe I've got a little right on this side. Incidentally, the only way I got it on the Today Show was by, I have to confess, a little bit of devious preparation. I knew that NBC wouldn't be happy about me singing it. I come in at 6:30 in the morning; they say, "Pete, what are you going to sing?" I said, "Well, I've got a cheerful little banjo tune; I've got something else a little more serious." "Well, let's hear them." Played the banjo tune. "Fine, what's the other?" I sang Garbage. They said, "Well, Pete, it's a little early in the morning. You got something else?" I was prepared. I sang (Sings): Walking down death row...
They say, "Pete, you got something else?"
(Sings) If a revolution comes to my country...
Well, Pete, I guess we better stick with Garbage. (Curwood laughs) The whole studio broke up: the cameraman, the prop men: yes, we'll stick with Garbage.
(Sings): Mr. Thompson starts his Cadillac, winds it down the freeway track, leaving friends and neighbors in a hydrocarbon haze. He's joined by lots of smaller cars all sending gases to the stars, there they form a seething cloud that hangs for 30 days. And the sun blinks down into it with an ultraviolet tongue, turns it into smog, then it settles in our lungs. Oh! Garbage, garbage garbage... We're filling up the sky with garbage. What will we do when there's nothing left to breath but garbage?...
CURWOOD: You've spent a lot of time with Woody Guthrie. I'm thinking of Woody Guthrie's song Roll On Columbia, in which he speaks in such glowing terms of the dams that are there.
SEEGER: Yeah. I think if Woody was around now, he would find some funny song. He was wonderful at combining tragedy and humor, all in one song. He did have a funny verse: Them salmon fish are pretty shrewd. They've got politicians, too. Run every 4 years. (Curwood laughs)
CURWOOD: What's the most important thing when it comes to the environment?
SEEGER: I tell people, work in your local community. The world's going to be saved by people who fight for their homes. Now, there may be glamorous places to go to, far across the oceans on, but really the world's going to be saved by people who fight for their homes.
CURWOOD: Is there a song that you'd like to talk about in connection with, you know, working in your own community, working in your town, to make the environment better?
SEEGER: Well, a lot of songs are about it. (Sings) Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow. It's the garden song, written by a fellow up in the state of Maine. Arlo Guthrie and I and lots of others have recorded it. I've also written a little song I sing on the general subject of praying, because I think church people and non-church people should find ways to get together. It was just about a year ago, a little over a year ago, I was out getting wood to start the morning fire. We heat our house with wood. And I look up and see the sun poking itself up over the mountain. (Sings) Early in the morning, I first see the sun, I'll say a little prayer for the world. Hope all the little children live a long, long time. Every little boy and little girl. Hope they'll learn to laugh at the way some precious old words seem to change, cause that's what life is all about to arrange and rearrange and rearrange. And I have a little chorus: (sings) Oh, whee, oh why, to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange. Oh whee, oh why, to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange. You get the audience singing it.
CURWOOD: Come on, you guys. (Laughs)
SEEGER: You'll have to help me out, next time. It's like a zipper song; anything nice that happens you can have a new verse. For me, it was ten and a half years ago, one A.M. our son in law Shabazz knocks on the door: "The baby's coming!" I said have you called the midwife? "Yes, yes, she's bringing two friends." Well, so we called up a couple friends. It was a party for three and a half hours; our daughter beamed like she was in heaven, and then occasionally she'd let out a shriek and then beam some more. And after three and a half hours her firstborn, who was six years old at the time, says, "I see the head! I see the head!" Heard the verse, (sings) "Yowl of a brand new baby, and I said a little prayer for the world. Hope all the little children live a long, long time, yes every little boy and little girl. (claps) Hope they learn to laugh at the way some precious old words do seem to change. Cause that's what life is all about: to arrange and rearrange and rearrange." Sing it with me.
BOTH: (Singing) Oh whee, oh why, to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange. Oh whee, oh why, to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange.
SEEGER: (Sings) Well, sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and rub my achin' old eyes. Is that a voice from inside my head, or does it come down from the skies? There's a time to laugh but there's a time to weep, a time to make a big change: wake up ya bum! The time has come to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange. Sing it again!
BOTH: (Singing) Oh whee, oh why, to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange. Oh whee, oh why, to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange.
SEEGER: I've tried to write lots of songs, but I have to admit that it's one thing to try and write a song and another thing to write one good enough for people to want to remember and sing. Woody Guthrie wrote 1,000 songs and there's maybe a dozen which will be widely sung. And a friend of mine had started a small record company, and he says, "Pete, would you be able to put out a record of some of your own songs?" I said, "My voice is gone, it's too wobbly, too raggedy. When I stand on a stage mainly what I do is get the audience singing; I accompany them. I line out the hymn, as they say in church." But he says, "What if I get other people to sing them?" I said, "Fine, if you can find them." Well by gosh, he got some awful well-known singers: Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt and Billy Bragg and Judy Collins and a whole lot of others, put out 2 CDs, mainly of songs that I wrote. And other songs like We Shall Overcome. All I did was make an arrangement of them.
B. SPRINGSTEEN: (Sings to musical accompaniment) Hey, we shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome some day. Darlin', here in my heart, yeah I do believe we shall overcome some day. Well, we'll walk hand in hand. We'll walk hand in hand...
SEEGER: That's an interesting story. Did you know that there's an old Gospel song, quite well known, (sings and claps) "I'll overcome. I'll overcome. I'll overcome some day..." Well, 300 women were on strike in 1946. It was in winter and I guess on the picket line they probably had a barrel with a little fire in it, and people were warming their hands and singing old Gospel songs to keep their courage up. And one woman, Lucille Simmons by name, loved this song, but she sang it, what they call long meter style. And she changed one word. "I'll" became now "we." And she sang, (Sings slowly) "We will overcome." Now church people know how to harmonize, and the basses get the low notes and the sopranos get the high notes, and you weave in and out. And a group of people can make beautiful music just improvising with each other. It became one of their favorite strike songs: we will overcome some day. Well, a white woman, a union organizer, Zilphia Horton by name, she learned it from the strikers, it became her favorite song. Anyway, I spread the song around the country, but I didn't have a good voice like that, those 2 women, so I gave it a banjo accompaniment oomm, chinka ooom, chinka ooom chinka oomm, chinka oom, chinka oom... I got audiences in town hall and others singing it, but it didn't really spread. Until 1960, a young friend of mine, Guy Carrowan by name, had a workshop called Singing in the Movement. And some 70 young people from Texas to Florida to Virginia gathered at that little highlander school and swapped songs for a weekend and made up new verses and so on. And when Guy taught them this song, they said, "Oh, Guy, you got a song here!" And Guy had started giving it a kind of rhythm, which now everybody knows. It's musicians call it 12/8 time, that is 4 beats, but each 4 beat is divided up in 3 little beats one two three, one two three, one two three, one, two, three, four.
(Clapping and singing before and with an audience): We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome some day. Oh, deep in my heart, I know that I do believe, oh we shall overcome, some we shall live in peace! We shall live in peace. We shall live in peace. We shall live in peace some day ohhh, deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome some the whole wide world around!...
(To Curwood) Saving the world is not going to be easy. It's going to require huge arguments. People who call themselves environmentalists don't always agree. One says, "Don't have any dams," but along comes a man and says, "If you have a lot of small dams they won't do any damage, or not enough, and saves burning fossil fuels." Who knows what's going to happen? All I know is I wish I could live another 30 or 40 years, because some of the most exciting things are going to happen. When I meet people who say, "Oh, there's no hope, Peter, look at the things that are going wrong, and those stupid people in Bosnia, there are going to be things like that all around the world, power- hungry people says I know how to handle this, just give me the bomb. There's no hope." But I say to them, I said, "Did you ever think that our great Watergate president would leave office the way he did?" "No, I guess I didn't think that." I said, "Did you think that the Berlin Wall would come down so peacefully?" "No, I didn't think that would happen, yeah." I said, "Did you think Mandela would be president of South Africa?" "No, I didn't predict that." "Well, if you couldn't predict those three things, then don't be so confident that there's no hope." And I give them a bumper sticker. It says, "There's No Hope, But I May Be Wrong." (Curwood laughs)
(Seeger strums banjo)
CURWOOD: Pete Seeger, thanks so much for taking this time with us on Living on Earth today.
SEEGER: Thank you for inviting me.
CURWOOD: What's it say on your banjo here? It says
SEEGER:"This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender, I hope."
(Strums guitar and sings): Well may the world go, the world go, the world go. Well may the world go when I'm far away. Well may the scales turn, the swimmers turn, the lovers burn. Peace may the generals learn when I'm far away. (Sings with others) Well may the world go, the world go, the world go. Well may the world go when I'm far away.
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our story on Pete Seeger was produced by Jesse Wegman and Eileen Bolinsky. Our production team includes George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Daniel Grossman, and Liz Lempert, along with Peter Christianson, Roberta deAvila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. We had help from Jeremy Jurgens, Vanessa Melendez, and Miriam Landman. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. And thanks for listening.
(Music up and under: Seeger singing: "Sweet may the fiddles sound, the banjo play, the old hoedown dancers swing round and round when I'm far away. (Singing with others) Well may the world go, the world go, the world go. Well may the world go, when I'm far away. Well may the world go, the world go, the world go. Well may the world go, when I'm far away." Banjo up and under)
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W.A. Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to eliminate environmental threats to children's health: www.wajones.org; the Surdna Foundation; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
(Music up and under, Seeger singing: "Fresh may the breezes blow, clear may the streams flow, blue above, green below, when I'm far away. (Sings with others) Well may the world go, the world go, the world go. Well may the world go when I'm far away. "Well may the world go, the world go, the world go. Well may the world go when I'm far away.")
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