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

May 28, 1999

Air Date: May 28, 1999


Atlanta Anti-Sprawl Measure / David Pollock

Traffic jams in this commercial hub of the New South are reaching monumental proportions. And, as David Pollock reports, they are not the only problem this city is facing as a result of its explosive growth and sprawling development. Some of the measures the State of Georgia is proposing to contain sprawl are meeting with mixed reaction. (06:15)

The Little Church that Could / Karen Kelly

Karen Kelly reports about a small Methodist congregation outside Albany, N.Y., which found it could do something about stopping development, and in the process change the way the entire town is dealing with suburban sprawl. (06:05)

Consumer Choices

Many of us worry about whether we should be using paper or plastic bags, cloth or disposable diapers. But a recent book by the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests that these sorts of consumer decisions are relatively insignificant, compared to other choices we make. Host Steve Curwood talk with Warren Leon, Deputy Director of Programs at UCS and co-author of the Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, about the purchasing decisions that have the greatest environmental impacts. (07:00)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... the largest member of the deer family, the moose. On Maine's Moosehead Lake their spring re-emergence is celebrated in a month-long festival, MoosMainea, which includes moose-watching safaris and demonstrations of moose-calling. (01:15)

Cayman Islands Tourism / Pippin Ross

The turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and pristine coral reefs of Grand Cayman Island bring more than a million tourists each year to this island in the Caribbean. But, as Pippin Ross reports, the pressure to develop more resorts for tourists threatens the very natural resources which brought tourists in the first place. (07:50)


Ecotourism is the fastest growing sector of the travel industry. Host Steve Curwood talks with author Martha Honey who finds that not all travel billed as ecotourism necessarily promotes the environment and welfare of indigenous peoples. There is a wide spectrum from resorts which change sheets every other day to others powered by wind and sun. (06:10)

When Native Cultures and Environmental Movements Clash / Ed Hunt

After the recent killing of a grey whale by the Makah Tribe in Washington state, commentator Ed Hunt wonders where the "Save the Whales" movement is leading us. The Makah say that reviving the whale hunt after three generations helped to restore their spiritual and cultural identity, but it also unleashed a torrent of condemnation and threats of violence against these native Americans. (02:55)

Slow Burn / Bill George

With its long-running drought, Florida leads the nation in prescribed fires, fires deliberately set to burn off low-lying brush in order to prevent wildfires raging out of control. Producer Bill George joined Florida Department of Environmental Protection biologist Parks Small and his crew in Wekiwa (weh-keye-wah) Springs State Park, near Orlando, where they planned to light a prescribed fire on 23 acres. (07:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: David Pollock, Karen Kelly, Pippin Ross, Bill George
GUESTS: Warren Leon, Martha Honey

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Almost every state has the problem, but in Atlanta, Georgia, it has taken on a life of its own. The problem: sprawling development.

BACILE: I can remember not so long ago, when Pleasant Hill Road was a truck stop. And now, it's one of the most congested areas in the state, probably in the country for that matter.

CURWOOD: And we'll meet the people of a church in upstate New York who seem to be winning a fight against a sprawling shopping center. Also, a check on your EQ, your Environmental Quotient. Try this question on the impact of eating meat and dairy.

LEON: For every household in America, livestock produce 1 ton of animal waste in a year, 10 tons of animal waste in a year, or 20 tons of animal waste in a year?

CURWOOD: The answer is coming up, this week on Living on Earth. But first, this news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Atlanta Anti-Sprawl Measure

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It used to be Atlanta, Georgia, was so hot during the summer you'd melt if you got stuck in your car for any time at rush hour. Atlanta still has hot summers, but since folks can now just roll up the windows, turn on the AC and stay cool, they can wait in traffic without running the risk of heat exhaustion. And wait they do. The traffic jams that step from Atlanta's rapidly sprawling development are just one of a set of problems related to explosive growth that beset the commercial hub of the new South. And now, the state of Georgia is moving in to try to contain the sprawl. >From Atlanta, David Pollack reports.

POLLACK: A small town newspaper reporter once wrote, "Atlanta is certainly a fast place in every sense of the word. They build fast houses, and burn them down fast. To a stranger the whole city seems to be running on wheels." The year was 1867, and if that writer thought Atlanta was fast then, today his head would be spinning.

(Speeding traffic)

POLLACK: Sprawling metropolitan Atlanta extends 100 miles north to south. It's a lot of territory to cover. And Atlantans spend more time in their cars getting from one place to another than residents of any other city in the nation.

(Radio traffic voice: It looks like highway congestion before and after...)

BACILE: No problems if you're on the top end [inaudible], 25 eastbound at Ashwood, Dunwoodie...

POLLACK: For decades, Atlanta traffic reporter Jim Bacile watched the city sprawl outward and grow congested.

BACILE: I can remember not so long ago, when Pleasant Hill Road was a truck stop. And now, it's one of the most congested areas in the state, probably in the country for that matter.

POLLACK: Jim Bacile says Atlanta built road after road to try to keep up with the traffic, only to have the highways fill up as soon as the next stretch of asphalt is laid.

BACILE: It's getting worse and worse and the commute is getting longer and longer, and people are getting more frustrated every day.

COWAN: Roads have always been sort of sacred in the state of Georgia as a part of its growth, where basically new roads beget growth.

POLLACK: Long-time Atlanta businessman Joel Cowan says growth has been a major theme of the city since the days following the Civil War.

COWAN: Everything that stood in the way of growth we stamped out, and everything that contributed to it we encouraged.

POLLACK: And so growth, and roads, and sprawl were widely encouraged, until last year, that is, when the Federal Government did the unthinkable. It banned new road construction in Atlanta until the state comes up with an acceptable plan for improving air quality. Atlanta's air quality has never been up to standard since the EPA began measuring it in 1970. And the city was recently named as 1 of only 2 in the Southeast designated as having serious ozone problems. The road-building ban prompted state leaders to create a new agency: the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, and its goal is to get people to drive less. With a $2 billion budget, the Authority can create its own mass transit system. But the agency also has the power to force local governments to consider the implications of their land use and road-building decisions. Again, businessman Joel Cowan.

COWAN: The carrot and the stick for this whole issue rests with the Regional Transportation Authority. It can disapprove, in effect, a new shopping center's location. It can disapprove connecting a certain set of streets to a state road system. It has enormous power to cause better behavior.

POLLACK: But in Atlanta's outlying districts, where development is driving the economy, the specter of a centralized state agency is causing some folks concern. Among them, Robert Leneut, a Republican State Senator from Cod County in the northwestern metro area. He says it's one thing to pass laws to control pollution, but let the local communities manage their own growth.

LENEUT: Sprawl per se is not something that we should mandate a fix to. We can't mandate and say you can't rezone this particular area because it may have a regional impact. What's that going to do to economic growth?

POLLACK: Other critics complain the agency will only be a showpiece designed to keep Federal road funds rolling in, while ignoring the root causes of sprawl. But proponents say the new state agency is at least a start.

FRANK: It provides a mechanism for smart growth.

POLLACK: Larry Frank teaches city planning at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. He says the beauty of the new agency is its broad powers over new development.

FRANK: If you go and try to build this development in that location and it's found to have adverse environmental impacts, the possibility for the first time ever is that it would not receive infrastructure from the public sector. What that allows us to do is to fold together the effects of the land use actions made at the local level with the implications of regional transportation and investment.

POLLACK: Such governmental control over development in this development- loving city raised eyebrows at first. But Frank says Atlantans realize some drastic measures are needed.

FRANK: To this point, we have been very comfortable thinking what we were doing is fine. And now, we're just waking up. Things need to change.

POLLACK: And change may already be underway. Tired of long commutes, Frank says, people are moving back to central Atlanta. And so are jobs. Recently, Bell South, a major area employer, announced plans to close more than 75 suburban offices, and consolidate services at 3 in-town centers adjacent to Atlanta's rapid transit system, called Marta.

(A phone rings)

BACILE: Seventy-five southbound at I-20 on the ramp, eastbound still we have an accident there...

POLLACK: Atlanta traffic reporter Jim Bacile says it's not impossible to ease congestion, even with continued growth. Part of the solution, getting people out of their cars and onto public transportation, he says, has already been proven during the Olympics.

BACILE: You remember, everybody thought, when no one had been through here, it was going to be the end of the world. Remember that? Oh, you're not going to move, you know, it's going to be bumper to bumper gridlock 24 hours a day. What happened? Everybody took Marta. For those 2 weeks, we had the best traffic ever.

POLLACK: For Living on Earth, I'm David Pollack in Atlanta.

BACILE: Yes, and the roadway still up there, 95 southbound after highway 20, and that's causing...

Back to top


The Little Church that Could

CURWOOD: Atlanta, of course, has no monopoly on sprawling development. Even the most remote states have plenty of strip malls, pit stops, and paved over places. Many people feel helpless to stop sprawl development once it gets started, but not everyone, as this story from upstate New York about a man and his church illustrates. Karen Kelly reports.

(Organ music and ambient conversation)

KELLY: The Sunday service is about to start at the Macounville United Methodist Church in Gilderland, New York, about 10 minutes outside of Albany. No one seems to be in a hurry. Friends are lingering in the back. Parents struggle to get coats off their children. Finally, everyone falls into place. A choir of various shapes and sizes heads down the aisle.

(Choir sings a hymn)

KELLY: Carl Letson has been coming here for 15 years. He says the congregation is like an extended family. So when a company called the Pyramid Corporation approached them last summer, he got concerned. The corporation owns the Crossgates Mall. It's a 1.5 million square foot complex, the size of 28 football fields, and it borders the church property.

LETSON: They sent in some young, well-dressed individuals, who obviously had been schooled in public relations and marketing techniques. And they basically came in and told the congregation that they were going to buy the church. Not they would like to buy the church, but they were going to buy the church. And when they bought the church, we could find another place to have our religious services, etc., and they were doing it with us. They were coming as good neighbors.

KELLY: The visitors told the congregation they wanted to expand the shopping center to make it the second largest mall in America. It already has more than 240 stores. The company's plan was to double that, add a hotel and parking garages. They said lots of neighbors had already agreed to sell their homes. All they needed was the church property. The church members thought the company's offer was too low. But Carl Letson says something else was holding them back.

LETSON: Parents stood up and talked about how they had buried their grandparents there. Their children had been baptized there. They had been married there. And that was more than just dirt.

KELLY: The congregation told the developers they wouldn't sell. So the company made plans to build around them. In response, Letson and other church members formed a group called FORCE: Friends Organized for Responsible Community Expansion. Their mission: to stop the construction of the second largest mall in America.

MAN: I agree with you. I think the parking issue is the critical issue, other than the comprehensive planning process...

KELLY: A small group of FORCE members gathers in the church's meeting room. Letson presides in a baseball cap and a T-shirt fitted over thermal underwear. Tonight's topic is the upcoming town election. Letson and the 100 or so active members do everything they can to influence local politicians. They write letters to the editor in area newspapers. They activate a phone tree to get volunteers out for every town meeting. And they target people like Jerry Yerbery, the Gilderland town supervisor. He oversees the town board. It, along with the Zoning Board of Appeals, will make the final decision on whether to change the current zoning laws to allow the mall to expand. The vote is expected some time next year. But Yerbery says he won't be lobbied.

YERBERY: We don't listen just to the voice of development, and we don't listen just to the voice of the environmentalists. That organization specifically would only be one part of the community. So, I don't think I would give them any more or less weight than any other citizen coming in that wanted to express her views.

(Echoing voices)

KELLY: It's 5:30 on a Wednesday, and Crossgates Mall is pretty quiet. Groups of teenagers roam the hallways. Happy hour patrons start to file into a sports bar.

(Music and pool playing)

KELLY: Twenty-one-year-old Matt Sousa is shooting a game of pool with his brother. They both work here. Sousa says expansion in recent years has made the mall big enough. He points to 2 movie theaters, 3 upscale department stores, and 2 of just about everything else.

SOUSA: I don't think it's a good idea that they would double their size, because if you look at the revenue that the mall has had within the last couple of years, it really hasn't increased or decreased. It's pretty much stayed the same.

KELLY: The mall's owners said the expansion would bring in new jobs. They pay full-time employees about $12,000 a year. Meanwhile, the average family in Gilderland makes more than $40,000 a year. And residents also worry about the traffic jams a bigger mall would bring. They fear their sewer system can't handle the runoff from huge parking lots. And they point out that the volunteer fire department and rescue squad are already overwhelmed. FORCE members have protested for months. And at a recent town meeting, they achieved their first victory. Town leaders placed a temporary halt on all major construction at the mall and elsewhere. Town supervisor Jerry Yerbery says he realized many people shared the same concerns.

YERBERY: He heard loud and clear from many of the residents and property owners that the mall is big enough. And I think that's the stance that we took.

KELLY: Now, residents and local leaders are developing a 20-year master plan for future town development. They're looking at everything, from the width of the sidewalks to the number of businesses on each block. As a result, Carl Letson says the community finally gets a chance to plan its own future. But the town board has the final say. They would have to pass laws to put the master plan changes into effect. And the mall's owners have not given up. They filed paperwork in court to pave the way for a lawsuit.

(Organ music; the choir sings)

KELLY: But at the Macounville United Methodist Church, people feel a new sense of pride. They say they've not only saved their church, they caused their neighbors to stop and think about the town's future. As Carl Letson sees it, the balance of power has shifted.

LETSON: There was basically a defeatist attitude in our town that it was a done deal. And Pyramid was just going to steamroll over the town. And then this little congregation of Methodists stood up and said no. And ever since then, you know, our congregation walks around the community, if people recognize them as members of the Macounville United Methodist Church, they go out of their way to thank our congregation members for standing up.

(Choir and organ continue)

KELLY: For Living on Earth, I'm Karen Kelly in Gilderland, New York.

Back to top

(Choir and organ continue, up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: a scientific approach to lightening the environmental loads of consumers. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Consumer Choices

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Union of Concerned Scientists usually turns its intense scientific analyses on the weighty environmental and security issues of the day. Global climate change. Radioactive fallout and the like. So, it is a bit unusual when the liberal advocacy group turns its high-powered computers to such mundane matters as diapers and coffee cups. But that is exactly what they did when they set out on a project to identify the most important things consumers can do to protect the environment. In The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, co-author Warren Leon explains how consumer choices can make a difference.

LEON: You know, you've probably heard the phrase "Don't sweat the small stuff." What we're trying to do is to get people to sweat the big stuff.

CURWOOD: So what's the small stuff we shouldn't care about?

LEON: We shouldn't worry about when you go to the grocery store and somebody asks you paper versus plastic, which type of bag you want. If you can bring a bag from home, that's great. But if you can't on that day, take whichever's convenient. When you have a child and someone asks whether you want to have that child in cloth diapers or disposable, choose which is right for your child. Don't worry about the environmental implications of the 2 alternatives, because they both have some environmental impacts, and the impacts are relatively equal. On top of that, we certainly think people should recycle. We certainly think people should try to use less material. But don't get so compulsive about it that you lose sight of the big stuff.

CURWOOD: You mean, like getting in the car and driving a mile to pick up that plastic cup.

LEON: Exactly. Or, going out and buying a new house that is 1,000 square feet bigger than you really need, so that you're using literally hundreds if not thousands of pounds of extra material in building that house, and you're going to, in every year you live in that house, use lots and lots of extra energy to heat and light the house.

CURWOOD: Okay, so if there was one area that people were going to change their behavior in, what would be the top priority?

LEON: Cars.

CURWOOD: Cars. Why? Why are cars so bad for the environment?

LEON: Well, cars cause considerable air pollution. They contribute heavily to global warming. They also contribute to water pollution. The manufacture of things like batteries for cars contributes to water pollution, runoff from roads contributes to water pollution. They also contribute to altering natural habitats, primarily through construction of new roads.

CURWOOD: So we should get rid of our cars, or drive less, or get environmentally-friendly cars? What should we do?

LEON: Well, the last 2 that you mentioned. We're not saying to people that they need to get out of their cars completely, never step into one. That's clearly unrealistic. What we're saying is, anybody can look at their own driving habits and find ways to cut their environmental impact 10%, 20%, even 50%, without too much trouble.

CURWOOD: So, what's the big deal about meat and fruits and vegetables?

LEON: Meat in particular has a really big impact on the environment. We were surprised when we did this study how significant it was. We compared eating beef to poultry to eating pasta. And we found that eating the beef produced about 17 times as much common water pollution as eating pasta. It also had a much greater impact on endangered species, because of the tremendous land use. And so, people switching from meat to vegetables and grains reduces their environmental impact significantly. But even if they want to switch from beef to poultry, that has a great impact.

CURWOOD: Really? What kind of impact does poultry have compared to beef?

LEON: If you switch from beef to poultry, you reduce your environmental impact in half or less. And so it's a good way to reduce one's impact even if you don't want to sort of go to a vegetarian diet.

CURWOOD: Vegetables are dangerous, too, it looks like. You have fruit and produce down here as something that has pretty high impact.

LEON: Primarily because people consume a lot of food. We're not telling people not to eat. We just need to acknowledge that farming and agriculture are resource-intensive activities. There are ways they could be made to be friendlier to the environment. A lot of those changes need to be made on a society level, through laws that will reduce the use of pesticides, for example. But consumers can help, too, by buying organic foods. When you go to the store and buy organic foods, you are not only reducing your environmental impact, but you're sending a powerful message to farmers, to grocery store owners, and to the government, that you're a person who cares about the safety and the environmental impacts of what you eat.

CURWOOD: You make the claim in your book that there are actually good types of consumptions. I'm wondering if you could give us a sense of some of those quote "good" unquote purchases.

LEON: A refrigerator is a good example.


LEON: New refrigerators use only about a third of the electricity of one from 25 years ago.

CURWOOD: But doesn't this add to the waste stream by getting new appliances and therefore you have to get rid of the old ones?

LEON: The average family uses the equivalent of more than 3,000 pounds of coal a year to provide the electricity it needs. You have to imagine that 3,000 pounds of coal are being dumped on your lawn each year. (Curwood laughs) If you could reduce that significantly, that's going to be a greater positive impact than --

CURWOOD: The dead refrigerator in the solid waste.

LEON: Yes.

CURWOOD: You have created some sort of a game on your Web site here.

LEON: The Great Green Web Game. In a fun way, it tries to get you to think about the choices you make in your own lives, and what you could do to reduce your environmental impact.

CURWOOD: So what kind of questions have you got for your trivia game?

LEON: Well, one example is: what do Americans spend the most money on, clothing, toys, or entertainment?

CURWOOD: Entertainment, I'll guess.

LEON: Clothing.

CURWOOD: Clothing.

LEON: (Imitating buzzer) Aaa

CURWOOD: All right; you'd better throw me another one.

LEON: For every household in America, livestock produce 1 ton of animal waste in a year, 10 tons of animal waste in a year, or 20 tons of animal waste in a year?

CURWOOD: So what's the poop for this answer, huh? Well, I think it's a lot, so I'm going to guess 20 tons.

LEON: Twenty tons, you're right. And if people just imagined all that --

CURWOOD: Twenty tons! You mean, from the animal meat that's consumed in this country, if all that manure that the animals generated for that meat to be grown was piled on their front lawn, there'd be 20 tons of it?

LEON: Twenty tons. It's actually not just animals for meat. It's also dairy cattle as well. But even then, that's a lot of animal waste. And it suggests why it causes such a significant water pollution problem.

CURWOOD: Huh. That's one way to fertilize your lawn, isn't it? Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

LEON: Oh, thanks for having me.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Warren Leon is Deputy Director of Programs at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He and Michael Brower co-wrote The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices. You can play the game based on their book at a link in our Web site: www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

Back to top

(Music 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 W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment: www.wajones.org; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio. CURWOOD: Just ahead: ecotourism. It's the new buzzword in the travel industry, but many question if the performance lives up to the promise. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Barrett Communications, delivering strategic marketing communications and design for business worldwide: www.barrett.com.

(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: If you happen to be looking for a moose, now is a good time to spot one. That's because in the spring, moose come out of the woods to lick salt that's accumulated along roadsides all winter. Late spring is also the time of year that Maine's Moosehead Lake region holds its month-long Moose Mania. The annual festival is now in its 8th year. Events got underway in mid-May, and include moose-watching safaris and demonstrations of moose calling. Moose are found in Canada, the northern US, and northern Eurasia. Their name is an Algonquian description of their eating habits. It translates to: "He strips or eats off trees and shrubs." Moose are the largest members of the deer family, and the largest species of moose can be found in Alaska. A bull moose can grow to be 10 feet long and 7 feet tall, antlers included. Those antlers, by the way, can weigh as much as 75 pounds, bringing a good- sized moose's total weight up to 1,600 pounds. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Cayman Islands Tourism

CURWOOD: Each year, more than a million tourists visit Grand Cayman to vacation. The 22-mile-long island just south of Cuba has turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and some of the world's most pristine coral reefs. But like so many islands in the Caribbean, pressure to build more resorts and attract even more tourists is threatening the natural resources that bring tourists in the first place. Pippin Ross recently visited Grand Cayman Island and brought back this report.


ROSS: Seven-Mile Beach on the west side of Grand Cayman is where most tourists who come to the island spend their time. The alluring crescent is lined with dozens of resorts. Tourists swim in the pale blue water, sunbathe, and stroll along the soft white sand.

(Whistling, voices, announcements)

ROSS: About every 50 yards is a dive shop, where visitors can sign up for scuba lessons and diving excursions. Early on this morning, about 20 tourists gather around a flat-decked motorboat to travel out to sea and dive Grand Cayman's North Wall. A couple from New Jersey have been scuba diving elsewhere, but this, they say, is the best.

WOMAN: It's definitely amazing. It's very exciting, and it's a lot of fun.

MAN: It's 100 feet, so we're used to doing about 50, 60. So, we've got to get over the hump here, but we're looking forward to it.

ROSS: What's down there?

MAN: Wall, fish. Shark. Possible death. That's what makes it exciting.

ROSS: Most tourists who come to the arid and flat island are divers and snorkelers drawn by the underwater beauty of coral reefs that ring the island and drop deep into the sea, attracting an incredible array of marine life.

(A motor)

ROSS: The rest of Cayman's 1.2 million annual visitors arrive on massive cruise ships that drop anchor in the harbor of Georgetown, the island's congested capitol. For decades Grand Cayman has been renowned as a tax haven for the world's wealthy. But when King George III granted the island permanent tax exempt status 200 years ago, he had no idea of the conundrum he'd create. Without tax revenue, the island relies heavily on tourists. Although much of the profits end up in foreign bank accounts. Reliance on outside labor and tourists has brought rampant development, traffic, and overcrowding. Even a visitor such as cruise ship passenger Brian McGowan can see it's taking a toll on the island's natural beauty.

McGOWAN: One of the things that is noticeable, now, after coming from Cozumel, is the total difference between the development that's here and there, where it's still pretty primitive and untouched.

ROSS: Air, water, and noise pollution are the obvious symptoms of the island's growing popularity, but there are other consequences as well. Such as what happens when 5 different cruise ships a day drop anchor atop delicate coral reefs.

(Anchor being lowered)

AUSTIN: This is a large chunk of reef. You can hear it creaking, and then all of a sudden it's just beginning to break...

ROSS: Tim Austin is the acting director of Grand Cayman's Department of the Environment. He watches an underwater video of an ancient coral reef being pulverized by a cruise ship's 10-ton anchor.

AUSTIN: And we have for a long time been pressing for moorings, permanent moorings, so the ships wouldn't necessarily have to anchor.

ROSS: Alternatives to anchors are just one of dozens of environmental initiatives Austin and his crew of marine biologists are working on.


ROSS: Inside laboratories and offices, scientists are, among other things, working on a 3-year study of the health of the coral reefs, and programs to restore overfished sea turtle and the lobster and conk so much in demand by tourists. But most of what the department does is outdoors.


ROSS: Austin maneuvers his boat into a lush mangrove that has been put into preserve. But it's only safe for as long as its owner decides not to sell the land. Austin says development, cutting down mangrove and putting up houses and hotels, is the biggest environmental threat facing the island.


ROSS: Along 7-Mile Beach, bulldozers are clearing a lot for a new Ritz-Carlton. Although the hotel will sit on environmentally sensitive beachfront property, this project, like every other resort along the beach, hasn't had to meet any environmental standards. That means it will, at the very least, cause beach erosion and some water pollution. The Caymanian government has vowed that the Ritz will be the last unregulated development. The Minister of Environment declined to be interviewed for this story. The island's Director of Planning and Development John Corcoran, says the government is putting the final touches on a 10-year strategic plan to limit development and protect the environment. But, he adds, our priority is to hotels that bring both revenue and aesthetics to the island. That position does not sit well with many Caymanians. Lendo McGowan has fished Cayman waters all of his life. He says there aren't nearly the fish there used to be.


ROSS: While chopping off the heads of his daily catch, McGowan says islanders have seen enough change.

McGOWAN: We've gotten to the point now that there's going overboard with everything. So I can't tell you which way they're going to rebel, but I know one of these days they're going to rebel bad. There are going to be serious consequences in this seemingly little island here. If the government don't straighten up.

ROSS: Unlike McGowan, most lifelong residents are middle class and earn their living in the banking industry. So they can afford to be critical of tourism. To bring pressure, citizens, mostly expatriates, have begun to take advantage of the few restrictions that do exist to stop or impede individual developers. The National Trust, a nonprofit membership-driven organization, is busy buying up tracts of land to put into preserve and designating other sites as historic and therefore untouchable. The Trust is also trying to bring back the Island's giant blue iguanas. National Trust Environmental Director Fred Burton scratches the head of a 5-foot, sleepy-eyed iguana named Bernard.

BURTON: There's only about probably 150 of them left in the wild. And they're being slowly driven to extinction by habitat destruction, by dogs and cats, which eat them, and by roadkills and all of the plagues that civilization bring to wildlife.

ROSS: Burton is encouraged that the government is considering several proposals to control development, but he's worried restrictions won't go far enough.

BURTON: If we wait until the limitations of the island force development to stop, then it'll be an unpleasant stop. It'll be an abrupt stop. It'll be an economic crash. It'll be the classic situation, where the tourism industry collapses because the place isn't attractive any more. The financial woes that follow cause political unrest, and the political unrest causes the collapse of the financial industry. And the whole thing is just shot to hell, as they say.

ROSS: Burton points to the current unrest in nearby Jamaica as a case in point. His hope is that Grand Cayman can demonstrate to other Caribbean islands that there is a relationship between profit and preservation, instead of becoming an example of too little conservation, too late. For Living on Earth, I'm Pippin Ross.

Back to top

(Bird calls and surf)


CURWOOD: Ecotourism was born of a need to travel to far-away places without degrading the local flora and fauna. And over the years it's developed into the fastest-growing sector of the tourism industry. This means large amounts of money. Worldwide, only oil is a bigger business than tourism. Martha Honey traveled the world to research her new book, Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise? She told me she found the ecotourism industry is going in 2 different directions.

HONEY: Basically, what I think I found was sort of 2 trends. One trend is toward what I call real ecotourism. Unfortunately, this is the weaker trend within the industry, and the much stronger trend is what I labeled ecotourism lite, which is basically an attempt by the industry and some of the big players involved, including at times some of the international agencies and some of the large environmental groups, to basically make some minor changes in conventional or mass tourism, and to market it to the hilt as green tourism. And so, you see things like some of the hotel chains now are not changing the sheets or the towels every day, and calling themselves environmentally responsible.

CURWOOD: Ecotourism, what is it? Can you give me a simple definition?

HONEY: Basically, it is a multi-faceted definition that means that it should be as low-impact as possible, respect for the land on which we're traveling, that it is travel usually to national parks or areas that are under some kind of conservation. And the 2 most important parts of it are that it provide some of the resources that are raised from the tourism for conservation efforts and for local communities, the communities living near these protected areas.

CURWOOD: So, what you're saying is, if someone goes on a nice natural history sort of tour in a way out of the way place and doesn't leave any money behind for the locals who support this, that's not ecotourism, no matter how, you know, how infrequently they change the sheets or how much granola is served.

HONEY: (Laughs) I would say not. And in fact, you've really put your finger on what I think is the most difficult part of eco-tourism, and that is the relations with the local community. Conventional tourism, mass tourism, tourism as we've known it in the past, has this horrible tendency, which is that the resources that are spent, the dollars that are spent, leak out of the country. For instance, people traveling, say, to Tanzania, and 90% of the money that is spent there actually, about 90%, leaves Tanzania, does not stay there under conventional tourism. Even if it's nature tourism, even if it's to, you know, beautiful game parks and so on. Because the companies involved are foreign-owned. Because the government has cut deals with those foreign companies to give them tax breaks, etc. etc. So that basically, all that stays in the country is money paid in salaries to hire local people.

CURWOOD: Martha Honey, what's been the impact of ecotourism directly on people like the Masai in East Africa?

HONEY: What I found in East Africa and in southern Africa, and there are places in Latin America that the same thing is going on, is that some of the most vibrant and in some cases violent real struggles these days are around issues of ecotourism. That local people are not satisfied with what they're getting from even what is called ecotourism. And so they are fighting, they're organizing and they're fighting for a bigger slice of the pie.

CURWOOD: Well, how would you solve this problem with the Masai. You don't feel that they're getting a fair shake. It's a major tourist destination. What should be done differently, in your view?

HONEY: I think one of the lessons is you just can't have good, well-run ecotourism on a broad scale, if you don't have a well-run government. You also need to have, I believe, a real support from the international community for developing local projects and local institutions. Unfortunately, much of what the World Bank and other big institutions, AID, that are putting money into ecotourism projects do, is that they foster foreign investment. And this is absolutely anathema to the concept of ecotourism.

CURWOOD: Is there a certain standard that travel agencies or companies are held to for ecotourism? Is there a label that someone can look for?

HONEY: Well, there is. There's been an attempt by something called The World Travel and Tourism Council, which is a European-based organization to develop what they call the Green Globe Program. Now, I'm extremely skeptical of this program. I actually was in Montreal a couple of years ago when it was unveiled, and interviewed the chief guy behind it. And frankly, what this amounted to was an attempt by the industry to say on the one hand, we can monitor ourselves. Basically, we don't need government regulation; we don't need outside monitoring. And what they did was they made this logo of a green globe, and will let companies use it if they pay as little as $200. It kind of depends on the size of the company. And sort of give a pledge that the company intends to undertake environmental reforms.

CURWOOD: Well, what can people who are conscientious travelers do to be sure that they do travel as ecotourists?

HONEY: I think the most important thing is to pick the tour operator in this country who you hook up with very carefully, or to find a locally-owned tour operator in the country you're going to visit, that has a good reputation. Look at who else is using them. Is the Smithsonian using it? Is the Nature Conservancy? What other organizations are using these tour operators? And then look at what they say about themselves? Who are these people? Many of them have lived in these countries for a long time. They specialize in just a handful of countries. They visit them often. They make a point of using local operators and local lodges, locally-owned lodges. And they also have set up funds to make contributions to local conservation efforts, to local communities. So, I think that these are the ingredients you need to look at.

CURWOOD: Martha Honey's new book is called Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise? Thanks so much for joining us.

HONEY: Thanks, Steve. It's been a pleasure to be with you.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

When Native Cultures and Environmental Movements Clash

CURWOOD: In the middle of May, hunters from the Makah tribe in Washington State killed a gray whale, their first in 3 generations. The Makah say the whale hunt helped reawaken the core of their spiritual and cultural identity. But it also unleashed an emotional torrent of accusation, condemnation, and threats of violence against the natives. That's led commentator Ed Hunt to wonder where the Save the Whales movement is leading us.

HUNT: When the Makah killed their first whale in 70 years, TV helicopters beamed images of the hunt to northwest living rooms, and the pictures set off a stream of anti-Indian fury. Since then the Makah have been inundated with death threats. They've been called bloody savages, drunkards, lazy, and stupid. People have even called for the Makahs to be harpooned and killed to save whales. They were criticized for using a gun to finish off the whale, even though the modern weapon was only intended to shorten the whale's suffering. And then they were still accused of letting the whale suffer for too long.

Other opponents have been less inflammatory. Why not leave this foolish and savage practice behind, they ask, and celebrate your cultural identity in a way more acceptable to the white people? Why not take city folks on whale watching tours? Beneath this emotionally-charged opposition, there seems a unifying conviction: anyone who kills whales is either an immoral savage or a misguided fool.

Of course, this belief isn't held by all cultures of the world. Like the Makah, some think whales worthy of great respect, and without contradiction, see them as a source of spiritual and earthly nourishment. The Makah's spiritual connection to whales predates recorded history. They didn't push whales to the brink of extinction, and they quit whaling when we did. Our spiritual connection to the whales is much more recent. In just the last few decades we've come to see them as majestic beings that should never be killed by anybody.

This belief grew out of a crisis caused by industrial whaling, and it helped save the whales from extinction. But now, what do we do when some species have recovered? How do we conduct long-term environmentalism on a global scale, while respecting the cultures, religions, and sovereignty of other peoples, as well as the dependence of all of us on the natural world? Can we hunt and fish sustainably?

Often in the process of performing ecological triage, we elevate some animals above all others. Yet, creatures do not live in isolation. They are part of a great machinery, an ecosystem, a sort of natural economy that requires their life and death in delicate balance. Humans are part of that great machinery as well. The only difference is that too many of us live disconnected in a world that hides our participation in the ecosystem. Many of us no longer hunt or fish for our own food, and so we pretend that this is somehow better. But things still die so that we might live.

To people close to the land the idea of a sustainable harvest, of plants and animals and, yes, even some species we revere, has always made sense. To some of us who have been watching the world on our TV, it's something we still have to learn.

CURWOOD: Commentator Ed Hunt lives in southwest Washington and edits tidepool.org, a daily Internet news service covering the Pacific Northwest. Coming up: Wanted, a good fire. When the prescription for a healthy forest is controlled burning. That's next, here on Living on Earth.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Slow Burn

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

(Voice on radio: "Seventy-five degrees. Relative humidity 56%. Wind southwest at 4 miles an hour.")

CURWOOD: The winds are low, the temperature is holding steady near 75%. There's moisture in the soil. Conditions are just right for a controlled burn. These fires happen on purpose. They're set to burn off low-lying brush that could fuel dangerous wildfires. Almost 275,000 acres this year have been devastated this year by wildfires in Florida alone. The long-running drought and below-normal rainfall are to blame. Florida leads the nation in controlled burns. Producer Bill George recently joined state biologist Parks Small and his crew in Wekiwa Springs State Park near Orlando. The plan: a burn on 23 acres.

(A car door slams; a motor starts)

SMALL: The majority of what'll be burning today is the understory plants: wire grass, small turkey oaks, other herbaceous plants and flowers that will burn. It will be a very fast-moving fire. Very low-intensity fire.

(Drums clank)

SMALL: These guys are prepping the equipment. And the tray up here is called a drip torch. It's a combination of diesel and gasoline. And that's what we use to ignite the fire. As they go along, they'll take a match. The tip of the drip torch has a cotton wick in it that soaks up the fuel, and that'll be kind of lit like a candle. And as you tip the drip torch over fuel will stream through the flame, hit the ground, catch the ground on fire.


SMALL: You talk about prescribed burners in 2 categories. Those that have lost fires and those that are about to lose them. It's really hard to control. You've really got to have a top-notch crew with top-notch training. You've got to have equipment that works on you. Talk about Murphy's Law. I tell you, Murphy was a prescribe burner. If it can go wrong on a fire, it will.


EMANUEL: My name is Brian Emanuel. I'm one of the biologists here at the park. I'm the incident commander of the burn bath. Right now we just lit a test fire, which is just to get an idea of what the wind's doing and how the fuels are burning. And if it looks good, then we'll proceed, turning this test fire into the controlled burn.


MAN: It's almost due south right now. A little southwest. You can see that one side of the fire is very low, and that's actually backing into the wind. The other side has picked up a little more intensity, and the wind is actually pushing it. We have a backing fire and a heading fire. And you see the wind shifted again, and we're (coughs) -- we're sucking some smoke. But using the heading fire technique, we can burn something much quicker. And you'll see fire, fire attracts itself. As this side's sucking oxygen and this side's sucking oxygen, they pull themselves together real quick. If you ever watched 2 boat waves coming together, if you ever water-skied, when the waves hit each other they get bigger. And that's what the fire's going to do, too, temporarily. And then it'll have burned all its fuel out.

(First voice on radio: "Andy Watkin" [name?] Second voice: "[inaudible], I can see it hitting the shrubs out there." First voice: "Look at it, it's coming toward you." Second voice: "I can see it forward; we're dropping back." First voice: "A little south, [inaudible] lighting any more." Sound of flames. Third voice: "Forty-three, we're getting spots ahead of the fire in the zone."

SMALL: And since the wind shifted...

(Second voice, on radio: "Now we're looking toward trying to get out of the zone there...")

SMALL: We're making sure that it's not going to get ahead of us. It's sort of in here that we can utilize for a black line if we have to. A black line is an area that has been burned out, so there's no more fuel to burn.


SMALL: Just basically burning all the fuel that's there, so once a fire gets there it's just going to stop.

(Sound of flames, helicopter rotors? Voices on radio: "The fire truck is behind it but the fire's flanking 'round on us fast. We're getting [inaudible]" Voices speak of the fire getting ahead.)

SMALL: We're on Plan B, which is not uncommon to go to. We're going to take our fire now, go down this road lighting a fire. We're going to put out the fire moving that way with water, and let this fire, we'll cut it off right here, because it's behaving a little squirrely on us. It's not what we anticipated. It's not what we want. We've got a campground right here, and if it was to do that at the campground, it could present some problems for us. So we'd rather put it out, pick a better day.


SMALL: We'll have to pick the pace up a little bit to stay ahead of this, okay? [Sounds like, "Lighten your strip, halfway the truck."] Watch this line of fire, as the air it's trying to breathe on is being eaten by this fire. You'll see the intensity pick up. Feel the wind behind you pick up? The wind was blowing this way. It's now, because this fire is actually sucking air into it, the wind direction's changed on us. That fire devil lifted that ember across the line. Here comes another one.

(Motors and fire, water)

SMALL: (Calling) Bill, give me another 100 feet of hose

!(Water shooting from hose)

SMALL: Take a drink of water, let's give it about 15 more minutes. Let some of this small stuff burn out, then we'll mop her up.


SMALL: This is one of the hardest parts of the job, but it's one of the most important, too, because if you don't do a proper mop-up, then there's a tendency to, if you get really slack, that there's the chance of the wind changes and blowing the embers into another section that hasn't been burned.

(Smaller motors)

SMALL: Look over here. So there's your -- does wildlife survive a fire? Yeah, the little bitty lizard right there in the black, found himself a little safe spot to ride it out. Tonight it'll be a feasting time for the deer. The deer come up and lick the ashes, full of minerals and stuff. There'll be tons of deer out here tonight. The warblers will be in here tomorrow eating the insects that are popping out of the trees because they got heated up.

(Water shooting from hose)

SMALL: It's always an adventure. You know, it's always something different. There's always something that can go wrong. I mean, there's just 5 seconds between a prescribed fire and a wildfire.

(Water shooting from hose)

CURWOOD: The sounds for our portrait of a controlled burn were collected by producer Bill George.

Back to top

(Water shooting from hose; fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: road rage is often blamed for the more than 20,000 deaths each year caused by reckless drivers. But a new study says it's not so much aggressive driving as a lack of alternatives to driving that's the cause.

MAN: You have to drive 45 minutes every morning. The traffic is terrible. They're trying to get to home on time. And they just cut corners. That's really the type of thing that unfortunately leads to a lot of this.

CURWOOD: That's next time on Living on Earth. Our staff includes George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, and Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horowitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Alison Dean, Cynthia Graeber, Maggie Villeger, Chris Burnick, Paul On, and Maury Lowenger. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Peter Thomson heads the Western Bureau. Our senior editor is Joyce Hackel, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Living on Earth 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 the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Surdna Foundation; the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; and the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid transmission and distribution deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth