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

July 23, 1999

Air Date: July 23, 1999


Fuel Efficient SUVs

Congress is about to vote on a measure that could be a first step toward requiring better fuel efficiency for sports utility vehicles. Steve Curwood spoke with bill sponsor Republican Senator Slade Gorton of Washington, who says that fuel efficiency standards have been stagnant for too long. (05:30)

Keeping up with the Trees / Linda Tatelbaum

Commentator Linda Tatelbaum says that when you live in the middle of nowhere, neighborly competition takes a somewhat different form. (02:25)

Listener Letters

This week, listeners respond to recent stories on: ATVs in the wilderness, presidential enviro-politics, and icky bugs. (02:05)

Hot Springs Microphiles / Sam Hendren and Michael Ray Taylor

Producer Sam Hendren and science journalism professor Michael Ray Taylor go on an expedition to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. There they discover a frontier of unknown life forms. (10:20)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... asphalt. The first asphalt road was constructed in 1870 on William Street in Newark, New Jersey. Today, almost two million miles of roads in the U.S. are paved with asphalt. (01:30)

Urban Ore / Nathan Johnson

Nathan Johnson reports from Berkeley, California, on the uncertain fate of a store called Urban Ore, which two decades ago staked out a run-down corner of the city as a place to capture and resell stuff that would otherwise go to the dump. Now others have recognized the value of the neighborhood itself, and the store is being squeezed out. (05:40)

Green-Collar Jobs

Alan Durning, executive director of Northwest Environment Watch and author of the book Green-Collar Jobs: Working in the New Northwest, discusses the impact of this new economy with host Steve Curwood. The rise in green-color jobs has bolstered local economies which were threatened by the loss of traditional resource extraction jobs. But it has also brought new environmental threats. (05:05)

Wendell Berry Poem / Wendell Berry

Farmer and writer Wendell Berry reads his poem, "A Vision," from his most recent publication, The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. The last in a series of his poetry readings on Living On Earth, this poem offers a hopeful look at humanity's future. (02:15)

Borneo Dairy / Campbell Webb

Botanist Campbell Webb traveled deep into unexplored rain forest on the island of Borneo. His audio diary describes the great diversity of life found in this lush environment, but cautions that it's a habitat under assault. (10:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Sam Hendren, Michael Ray Taylor, Nathan Johnson, Robin Lubbock (reading Campbell Webb)
GUESTS: Slade Gorton, Alan Durning, Wendell Berry
COMMENTATOR: Linda Tatelbaum

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

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Some conservative and liberal members of Congress alike are calling for an end to the exemption of sport utility vehicles from the next round of gas mileage regulations.

GORTON: We ought to have a second round, and we particularly need the second round because more and more Americans are buying these rather heavily-polluting and not very fuel efficient SUVs.

CURWOOD: Senate debate begins soon. Also, we take you under the earth to places too hot for life as we know it, but not for tiny critters we are just beginning to discover.

TAYLOR: If you put your hand in that water, you'd have a third-degree burn in a very short period of time. But to the bacteria it's home. Nature has found a way to protect them, and that's what makes this world so alien and so interesting to explore.

CURWOOD: This week on Living on Earth; first news.

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(NPR News follows)

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Fuel Efficient SUVs

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. You may love SUVs or hate them. Or you may be part of the crowd that feels ever so slightly guilty about using several tons of steel to pick up a quarter of milk, but enjoys the security of driving a tank. Now Congress is getting into the act or at least part of it, with the Senate soon to take up the question of SUV fuel efficiency. Since 1995, Congress has prohibited the Federal government from making rules that could see more fuel-efficient SUVs, even though half of all new passenger vehicles sold in the US today are sport utility vehicles or other light trucks. Current fuel efficiency standards for them are less stringent than those for cars. Some liberals and conservatives alike, including Washington State's Republican Senator Slade Gorton, say it's time to strike a new balance.

GORTON: The CAFE standard legislation that was implemented in the 1970s, up until about 1980, was one of the great social and environmental success stories of the last generation. And the pause has been entirely too long. We ought to have a second round, and we particularly need the second round because more and more Americans are buying these rather heavily-polluting and not very fuel efficient SUVs.

CURWOOD: Well, what have been the main obstacles to making these changes? Why has the House insisted on this rider for the last four or five years to prevent any changes?

GORTON: Fundamentally, the manufacturers don't like it, and their unions don't like it, and the manufacturers usually get conservatives and Republicans to listen to them. The unions get Democrats to listen to them, and gets the administration to listen to what they have to say. The public interest is a very, very faint voice in this debate. Is there a huge public demand for it? No. The overall economy of the United States, of course, is very good at the present time. This is not an issue that moves the average citizen very much, but it is something classically on which there needs to be political leadership, even in the absence of a huge and widespread public opinion.

CURWOOD: Senator Gorton, your record is not one of a big environmental advocate in the Senate, folks like the League of Conservation Voters say. I mean they give you a very low score. And in this case, you're a leading champion now of something that the Sierra Club is pushing, that many of the environmental advocacy groups are pushing. They say this is an important step to deal with the problem of global climate change. What is it about this issue that's brought you into concert with many groups with whom, well, frankly, often you've been in opposition?

GORTON: Simply this: I disagree with many of these groups. Like almost every senator, I'm opposed to the Kyoto agreements. Nevertheless, the problem of pollution and even the potential of global warming is something with which we have to be concerned. And when we can take a major step that reduces our emissions to the atmosphere and actually benefits the economy of the United States, by saving us a significant portion of our dependency on foreign oil, and ultimately saves money for consumers because they get better gas mileage for their cars, that's a winner in every direction. There's no one, literally no one, who loses.

CURWOOD: What is your situation on the environment? These groups criticize your stand on the environment. Is it fair to characterize you as an anti- environmental senator, generally?

GORTON: No, of course it's not. But what I don't like, with respect to some of these organizations, is that they propose measures to which other people have to sacrifice. They are, you know, largely urban and comfortable in nature, and many of their policies impose huge burdens on relatively voiceless people from small towns and rural areas around the country. And the burdens that they impose are disproportional. Policies like this one, however, have exactly the same impact on everyone in our society, and everyone can end up being a winner. There's a tremendous distinction between those two sets of policies.

CURWOOD: Can you share with us the kind of timetable you're looking for in terms of seeing new CAFE standards go into effect?

GORTON: No. Because it will take some time. The problem is, for the last 10 years or more, we've had these annual prohibitions against the administration even making any moves in that direction. If we were to remove that impediment, that wouldn't even require the Clinton administration to go forward. If it did, and if it did so enthusiastically, we're still looking at a process that will take at least a decade.

CURWOOD: You expressed a desire for Vice President Al Gore, who is that one more vote in the Senate on the tie, to join with you in this effort. Looking back at the records, would you say that Vice President Al Gore has a strong record on the environment?

GORTON: The Vice President of the United States certainly wishes to be an environmental president, certainly makes many speeches on the environment. This is an opportunity for him actually to affect votes both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate of the United States on a major environmental issue, and I'd like to see him willing to speak up.

CURWOOD: Senator Slade Gorton, Republican of Washington. Thank you, sir, for joining us.

GORTON: It's been a pleasure to talk to you today.

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Keeping up with the Trees

CURWOOD: SUVs might be all the rage in cities and the 'burbs. It's not unusual in some neighborhoods to find at least one in every driveway. But deep in the woods of Maine, commentator Linda Tatelbaum says keeping up with the Joneses ain't what it used to be.

TATELBAUM: We Americans no longer much care what our neighbor has, since we probably already have a better one. Doesn't everybody drive a Lexus? Well, not everybody. Here in my rural neighborhood, we drive anything on wheels. With a quarter mile of trees between each dwelling, we don't worry about keeping up with Joneses we can't even see. Our only chance to peek is when we're out walking in the evening. They're home, I say to my husband, spotting a light through the trees. They're not home, he says at the next driveway, seeing no light. Instead, we listen, and fill in the story.

Distant hammering: now, that's entertainment. A light tap-tap-tap means shingles. The ascending 5-stroke melody means 2 by 4 framing. A wooden thunk suggests large-dimension beams. Chainsaw, gun fire, so it goes in these rural parts. Not much story, and nothing to keep up with.

This lack of neighborly competition leads to a reference group of a different order. I watch what I can see: a poplar, a cluster of plum trees, and a row of pines. Trees give you a lot to look up to, but don't strut their stuff. They live in dirt and own nothing new-fangled. They have bark but no dogs. It's hard not to want the wisdom they offer.

There's that old poplar standing alone. Poplar trees that grow close together usually bring each other down when they break. My poplar weathered the ice storm of '98. "Be an individual," it whispers. "Don't stand with the crowd."

Plum trees get rotten fissures in their trunks. They fall over, but not without scattering a new generation of seedlings. "Don't cling to all your ripe fruit if you want to leave a legacy," they advise.

Pines get big, too big for our yard where solar electric panels demand a long dose of daily sun. We made a hard decision about these neighbors. We had to cut them down. "Don't get so big that you overshadow your neighbor's power," they said in passing. I'll remember that.

CURWOOD: Commentator Linda Tatelbaum lives in Appleton, Maine. Her latest book is called Writer on the Rocks: Moving the Impossible.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And now, comments from you, our listeners.

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CURWOOD: Susannah Wright's commentary comparing the environmental damage caused by off-road vehicle drivers to the work of miners and loggers in the West raised the hackles of Ron Brabander from North Sioux City, South Dakota. An avid off-road vehicle enthusiast, Mr. Brabander calls the commentary "a self-righteous tirade filled with baseless claims about the damage caused by off-road vehicles. It is," he writes, "a Chicken Little sort of extremism that is the basis for attempts by environmental extremists to take public land away from the public. Off-road vehicle users could be environmental allies," he adds, "as soon as it is realized that they are not the enemy."

Anne Oehlschlaeger, who lives in Laconia, New Hampshire and hears us on Maine Public Radio, was prompted to write in after hearing our political observer Mark Hertsgaard's thoughts on the role of the environment in the coming presidential election. Ms. Oehlschlaeger writes, "I would like to see the candidates actively competing for the environmental vote. Your piece gave me the idea, and thereby the hope, that for once such competition might eventually come about."

And our report on the return of the 17-year cicada in the Midwest drew a dismayed response from Susan Mills, a listener to KUMR in Rolla, Missouri. Ms. Mills thought our reporter was unnecessarily squeamish when it came to handling the insects. She writes that a show about ecology is hurt by those reporting about it not deigning the subject matter worthy of touch. To solve the problem, Ms. Mills has a suggestion. "Immerse your reporters on hands-on insect and reptile training," she writes. "Tarantulas are fun, and gopher snakes put on a tough face, but they are all hiss and no bite. And as for those squeamish types," Ms. Mills continues, "send them off to cover the fashion shows and Hollywood."

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CURWOOD: Have you heard something on Living on Earth you'd like to touch on? Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is loe@npr.org. Once again, loe@npr.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15, but you could also hear our program for free by visiting our Web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org.

Coming up: Life on the extreme edge. We explore the wonders beneath Hot Springs, Arkansas. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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Hot Springs Microphiles

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. During this summer season of travel and exploration, tourists flock to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas to enjoy the waters. They may not know it, but they're also coming to a frontier chock full of unknown life forms. Producer Sam Hendren went on an expedition there with the help of science journalism professor Michael Ray Taylor.

(Bird songs, voices calling)

HENDREN: It's 10:30 in the morning on a bright summer day in the resort city of Hot Springs. Tourists stroll along the historic Grand Promenade, cooled by breezes that carry the fragrance of magnolia blossoms. But we're about to leave all that behind for a trek into the dark, damp underground with veteran cave explorer Michael Ray Taylor. He's putting on a caving helmet knotted a head lamp at the opening to a tunnel.

(Flowing water)

TAYLOR: This is a man-made structure. It's not a cave, but as we go through you'll see it's very cave-like. Most of the tunnel was built of local rock in 1880.

HENDREN: That rock is smoothly cemented into place in the walls and ceiling. The floor is actually a fast-running rocky stream, which according to Taylor won't get much deeper than our knees. The magnolia fragrance is gone, replaced by a faint sewer odor. Taylor convinces me that any seismic activity along the New Madrid Fault 100 miles to the northeast couldn't possibly reach Hot Springs. But he isn't as reassuring about water moccasins and tarantulas.

TAYLOR: Oh yeah, we got them. But they won't bother you.

HENDREN: This tunnel was built to counter flash flooding and to channel the Hot Springs runoff, which was turning the lawns of the proliferating 19th century bath houses into swamps. A hundred years ago Hot Springs was America's health spa. People came from around the country to bathe in the thermal waters here, which they believed were therapeutic. Taylor and I are about to do another kind of bathing.

(Splashes through water)

TAYLOR: As we hike down and enter the part of the valley where the hot springs emerge, you'll notice a fog beginning to descend in the tunnel. It will start feeling steamy like a sauna, and that means we're getting close.

HENDREN: Close to the hot springs that gush from beneath the earth at 146 degrees Fahrenheit. Eight hundred fifty thousand gallons pour forth every day, more than was enough to meet the demands of the elegant bath houses even at the height of their popularity. Today, visitors are more interested in drinking the water. Many carry it away by the gallon. Rather than taking us to one of the many steaming public fountains, Taylor is taking us straight to the source.

(Echoing voices amidst steam)

HENDREN: You feel at home down here?

TAYLOR: Oh, yeah. Hey, while we're stopped here, look ahead. You can see a level in the air that there's steam down below about four feet or so, but it's clear at the top. And that steam should begin to rise as we walk further down toward the bath houses.


HENDREN: This mile-long trek might have been nothing more than a hike through a city sewer system if it weren't for the fact that Taylor is a rare participant in frontier science. In spite of his love for the occasional underground echo --

(Taylor's echoing maniacal laugh)

HENDREN: -- and an even more poorly-timed question --

TAYLOR: You don't suffer from claustrophobia, do you?

HENDREN: -- Taylor is working with NASA in an investigation of newly-discovered microscopic forms of life. His interest was sparked in 1996 when he accompanied a scientific team into the cave Lechugiuilla in New Mexico. That cave is tightly sealed from all familiar forms of life, without so much as a bat or a blind fish. But it was there, he explained, that he was awakened to another world.

TAYLOR: What I discovered on that trip was that I had been missing the fact that in Lechugiuilla and many other caves I had been going through an inhabited world. It turns out the cave's life is microbial. And there was a whole universe, a whole Amazon rain forest full of microbes that were existing off the chemicals in the rocks. And the more I looked into it, the more I realized that there was a major shift going on in biology.

HENDREN: A paradigm shift, according to Taylor, who says these newly-discovered microbes are completely independent from the food chain humans belong to. A chain sustained by sunlight and photosynthesis.

TAYLOR: One of the most interesting things about this other food chain is you don't really need a nice, comfy, good-distance-from-the-sun planet like earth to support it. In fact, there are several planets in our solar system where this sort of chemical-based food chain could be quite happy, down in the caves of Mars, down below the icy moons of Jupiter.

HENDREN: Even in the perpetually steaming waters below Hot Springs Mountain, which is why these organisms are sometimes called extremophiles - because they live in extreme conditions. They sustain themselves, Taylor speculates, by ingesting minerals in the rock. But it wasn't until Taylor sent samples of the Hot Springs mineral travertine to the Johnson Space Center in Houston that the presence of microbes was confirmed.

TAYLOR: We got them down to NASA and put them on the very fine electron microscope that they have there. And sure enough, these mineral deposits were loaded with bugs, all kinds of bugs.

HENDREN: Previously unidentified microbes had been found in other hot springs, for instance, in Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. What surprised NASA was the seeming resemblance between the Arkansas microbes and those reportedly found in the famous Martian meteorite that made headlines around the world in 1996.

(Steaming water)

TAYLOR: We're getting closer! (Voice lost in echo)

HENDREN: After an hour maneuvering the slippery stream bed, we reach two hot springs that are side by side. The waters that pour forth have taken millennia to make the journey here, falling as rainwater 6,000 years ago, traveling a mile or so underground where it's heated, and then rising through the earth to arrive here in the tunnel. As the strong beams of our lamps cut through the steam, it's hard to believe that living things survive in these waters.

TAYLOR: Well, it's hot to us, but it's not hot to them. We're hot standing a few feet away from this. If you put your hand in that water, you'd have a third-degree burn in a very short period of time. But to the bacteria it's home. Nature has found a way to protect them, and that's what makes this world so alien and so interesting to explore.

HENDREN: Beneath the spray of the two springs are two beautiful travertine deposits. The one of the left is a deep bluish-black outlined in orange. The one on the right is a dull tan. Taylor says the differences are due to different mineral compositions, slightly different water temperatures, and, he believes, different organisms in the two springs. At the point where the deposits come together, there is a darkened band.

TAYLOR: To a microbiologist, what this darker band would represent is a war zone. And these Hot Spring bacteria are competing for that area where they come together, and in competition what microbes do is produce poisonous chemicals to throw at each other. And of course, drug researchers and others, industrial researchers, who use microbial products, would be very interested in this little war zone, because that's where you're likely to find unusual chemicals being produced, that, if you could figure out how to manufacture them, might represent a new class of antibiotics or might represent a new material to take the paint off of ships.

HENDREN: Because of that, Hot Springs, Arkansas might well be the next field of exploration for bio-prospectors. And because of Taylor's findings, the Park Service has had to delete its reference to the "sterile waters" from its visitor's guide.

TAYLOR: I can catch some in my hand. It's got a very sweet taste, like mountain spring water. You've just got to watch out not to burn your tongue as you drink it. Delicious.

HENDREN: Hot Springs water is extremely popular. In fact, some people drink nothing else. They drive hundreds of miles to collect hundreds of gallons in a single trip.

(Traffic; honking)

HENDREN: On a street corner above, not far from our position in the tunnel, Kathryn Purpur and her husband are filling gallon jug after gallon jug.

(Pouring water)

PURPUR: This is wonderful. Ever since we were coming here, we would gather the water because it tastes so good. Never heavy on your tummy. (Laughs)

HENDREN: Mike Taylor suggests the Hot Springs microbes might even be user-friendly. Kathryn Purpur didn't know about the microbes, but she says Hot Springs water has been helpful for her husband.

PURPUR: I think this is cleansing and of value. My husband has Parkinson's, and to look at him, he's had it for 26 years. And I think that it helps.

(Flowing water)

HENDREN: With the prospect of a grueling hike back through the pitch black tunnel, Taylor suggests using one of the emergency escape routes that have been added in recent years. Climbing up plastic rungs, we press through a manhole cover and emerge, once again, into bright sunlight.

(Manhole cover clangs)

TAYLOR: (Sighs) Daylight! Hoo! Boy, it's hot down there. Aah, fresh air.

HENDREN: The journey has been a brief one, but we've traversed an entire universe where these extremophiles are concerned. Michael Ray Taylor says those entities may lead to unimagined medical treatments in the future. They may even help unlock the mysteries of life on earth, and beyond. For Living on Earth, I'm Samuel Hendren in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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(Traffic and bird song; fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for 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.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: If you wonder if it's possible to be too successful, you might just ask the folks at Urban Ore, a private recycler in Berkeley, California, how they did. We did, and their rags to relocation story is just ahead. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Barrett Communications, integrating marketing and communications and design across all media: www.barrett.com.

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

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Going barefoot in the summer can be playful in the grass or splendid in the sand, but downright painful if that path is over sun-baked blacktop. Asphalt paving seems to be almost everywhere now, 129 years after the first asphalt road in the US was laid on William Street in Newark, New Jersey. But asphalt is far older than that. A road from King Nebuchadnezzar's palace to the north wall of the city of Babylon, built around 625 BC, was paved with, quote, "asphalt and burned brick," according to an ancient inscription. To date, nearly 2 million miles of road in the US is blacktop. The recipe is 95% stone, sand, or gravel, and 5% gooey petroleum that can be recycled if it cracks or weathers. Asphalt has its disadvantages, too. It makes cities hotter in the summer and keeps water from soaking into the soil. And if you're not content with simply driving on the stuff, you can always visit the Hot Mix Hall of Fame in Lanham, Maryland, which boasts 26 inductees. Their commemorative plaques are cast in bronze because, according to Hall of Fame officials, asphalt was not “structurally subtle enough.” And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Urban Ore

CURWOOD: In Berkeley, California, a store which pioneered the idea that there's a gold mine in the city's unwanted junk is suffering from its own success. Urban Ore staked out a run-down corner of the city two decades ago as a place to capture and resell stuff that would otherwise go to the dump. Now, as Nathan Johnson reports, the neighborhood redevelopment that the junk store helped to promote is putting the squeeze on Urban Ore itself.

(Disco music)

JOHNSON: Urban Ore feels like a thrift store version of Home Depot, Office Max, and Circuit City all in one, only funkier.

WOMAN: I like this one with this piece on it, though.


WOMAN: Yeah. And it's solid through there.

JOHNSON: It's a giant super-store where builders and artists, college students, and eccentric pack rats can buy and sell just about everything.

KNAPP: We have a large section of doors, with around 2000 doors, all organized by type of doors.

JOHNSON: Dan Knapp is Urban Ore's founder and president. He's a robust man, built like a blacksmith, with a PhD in sociology.

KNAPP: Then we have another big section of windows. There's probably 3 to 4000 windows in here. We have bathtubs, probably 50 at a time.

JOHNSON: This is just what's outside.

(Reggae music)

JOHNSON: Inside, there's furniture, hardware, pots and pans, computers and books. Mary Lou Van Deventer is Dan Knapp's wife and Urban Ore's administrative manager.

VAN DEVENTER: We salvage at the dump, so we recover things that people have already paid to waste, and we bring them back from the brink. But also, because of our location, we're able to divert things that are on their way to the dump, and we're sort of the last stop. We get from 10 to 40 vehicles a day of people bringing their things here, because people really would rather conserve than waste.

(Door shuts)

KNAPP: And you want to get rid of the tape players, too? What is that?

JOHNSON: Outside in the yard, Dan Knapp looks over a few boxes of stuff in the back of a pickup truck, including a tape player and an old lamp.

(Door shuts)

KNAPP: Okay, well, all together we're looking at (pause) $15.

MAN: Okay.

JOHNSON: Seventeen years ago Urban Ore set out to prove that a city can be a place where almost nothing is thrown away, a place where a landfill is a curious relic. And they've made their point. Urban Ore diverts 5000 tons of reusable goods from the city dump every year. Revenues are more than $1 million, and the business employs 23 people. The company has remained remarkably steady over the last 2 decades, but this isn't true for the old industrial neighborhood surrounding it.

KNAPP: When I first moved here, I used to have a 105-pound Malemut Shepard that stayed with me all the time. It was a real rough neighborhood. There were a lot of buildings around here that had For Sale and For Rent signs on them. The whole place was really quite run-down.

(Train whistle and bells)

JOHNSON: Today the trains that rumble through the neighborhood still pass a hodgepodge of small factories, warehouses, and drab, weather-beaten homes. But not far away a renaissance is blossoming.

(Guitar and flute music)

JOHNSON: Coffee shops, art galleries, live-work lofts, and a micro-brewery are signs of the neighborhood's new vigor.

KRAMER: The area's definitely been trending up. It's very hip, and there's a lot of cool stuff going on right now. It's fun.

JOHNSON: Morgan Kramer works at Salsa Trading Company, a dealer in custom handmade furniture.

KRAMER: It's a full-leather couch using only the top-grade, top skins.

JOHNSON: How much is this piece?

KRAMER: This one is $4,000, which is actually a lot less than a lot of people would expect to pay for a top-quality leather piece.

JOHNSON: Only a few blocks away, Urban Ore salesman Aris Vulkas works in what feels like an alternative universe.

(Swing music)

VULKAS: Telephones are generally really cheap, because we see a lot of them: $2 to $10 max.

JOHNSON: How about an answering machine?

VULKAS: Answering machine, I almost like to give them away (laughs) because we see too many answering machines. I sell them for a dollar to $4 (laughs).

JOHNSON: The problem for Urban Ore is that it only rents its building, and the owner has decided not to renew the lease. In this up-and-coming neighborhood they stand to make a lot more money developing the property. Urban Ore's Dan Knapp and Mary Lou Van Deventer say the people who came here first as pioneers, who established a presence and paved the way for others, are now being told, in effect, "Thanks for your help. Now it's time to go."

VAN DEVENTER: We made the neighborhood a little bit safer and a little bit more respectable place to be, compared to the way it was when we arrived. And now that raises the property values beyond what we can afford.

KNAPP: We're still in the phase where everybody sees lots of dollar signs here, and just wants to do the same thing. More coffee shops, more little places where you can buy the latest gadgets for your kitchen.

JOHNSON: The city of Berkeley has promised to help the store try to stay in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the problem Urban Ore faces is apparently not confined to Berkeley. Dan Knapp and Mary Lou Van Deventer say there are thousands of recycling or reuse companies around the country facing the same situation. They say it's critical that cities make room for their kind of business.

VAN DEVENTER: It's like building a house without a bathroom. The bathroom may not be your favorite room in the house, but you can't not have it. No matter what your policy goals may say about oh yes, we love recycling, oh yes, we prefer recycling, you can do it in the town next door - that's no way to design a city.

KNAPP?: Urban Ore, it's a media [phrase?].

JOHNSON: Urban Ore has its sights on a new location in Berkeley, but they'd still be renting, so there's no guarantee they wouldn't be kicked out again if that neighborhood improves, too. For Living on Earth, this is Nathan Johnson in Berkeley.

KNAPP: A 10-year-old Apple Mac Plus. We do accept Pluses. Bring it on down and I will take it from you. The Image Writer printer, I'm not too juiced about...

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Green-Collar Jobs

CURWOOD: The Pacific Northwest is a region in transition. In the 1990s, a growing focus on environmental protection forced many communities to start depending less on industries like logging, mining, and fishing for their survival, and more on what writer Alan Durning calls "green-collar jobs." That's also the title of his new book. The director of Northwest Environment Watch studied five communities that are making the transition from resource extraction-related industries, but the changes come with their own set of environmental price tags. The reason is one of three trends that Alan Durning says are now underway in the Pacific Northwest.

DURNING: The first is what I call the greening of work. Our jobs are getting gentler to the environment as we move out of resource extraction and other high-impact industries like petroleum refining, and into service industries, tourism, recreation, software, healthcare. Secondly, we have seen, with the greening of our jobs, a browning of our lifestyles. An explosion of consumption by individuals, often by the very green-collar workers who at work are doing things that cause less harm to the environment. The third trend that is a concern is that the gaps between the winners and losers in the new economy are wider than were the gaps in the old economy.

CURWOOD: The decrease in resource extraction activities up in the Northwest - - I'm thinking of mining, logging, the fishing industry -- the decline of these industries was expected to bring economic disaster to local communities. But in your book you say this didn't happen. Why not?

DURNING: It sure hasn't happened. In fact, almost the opposite has happened. In the early 1990s, when the spotted owl was listed as an endangered species and old-growth logging was stopped in national forests in the Pacific Northwest, the predictions were that we would have Appalachia in the rural Northwest. We'd have extremely high poverty rates, mass unemployment. What has actually happened is that rural economies have performed virtually as well as urban economies. In fact, in Washington State, their economies have done better than urban economies. This isn't to say that every community has done well. Some have suffered and some have boomed. But what's happened is that the economy has diversified out of resources and into other things.

CURWOOD: So, how would you say most local communities are dealing with this switch away from resource extraction?

DURNING: I visited five towns and spent time there, and then studied the statistical trends for the entire Northwest including three states and the province of British Columbia in Canada. In Hayfork, California, a small town tucked away close to the Oregon border, a couple of hundred former timber workers have gone through training to become watershed stewards. They learned skills in stream restoration and wildlife monitoring and in global positioning systems and other technical skills that can be used for ecological monitoring and improvement. The workers are ready to go and they've found some amount of work, but what they're waiting for is Congress and the Forest Service to start putting their money where their mouth is and begin to repair the damage that has been done over a century of clear-cutting and road-building.

CURWOOD: Now, let's talk about the new threats, then, to the environment in the Northwest and elsewhere that's nice to live. More people coming, driving bigger SUVs, having second homes, maybe even third homes.

DURNING: The new generation of environmental problems facing the Northwest, as in most parts of this continent, are problems of consumption, of high- income. So it's building big homes further and further from other homes. It's buying bigger and bigger vehicles and driving them more and more. And it's the global consequences of manufacturing all the goods that we consume in our big homes and big cars. Associated with that is building all the driveways and roads that take people to and from those places, which fragments ecosystems and introduces exotic species and generally degrades the quality of intact, pristine landscapes.

CURWOOD: So this is applicable to the whole United States, though, isn't it really?

DURNING: It absolutely is. We started out to do a regional study, but the trends we find, I think, apply all across North America. Usually the dialogue has been about jobs. It's been about, if we do what's right for the environment, then what are we all going to do for a living? This book, Green-Collar Jobs, says we don't have to worry so much about what we're all going to do for a living, because protecting the environment turns out to be good economic policy. There are some problems that turn out to be much more difficult than we expect. The jobs one turns out to be easier than we expect. But rising consumption turns out to be the devil who's waiting in the wings.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today. Alan Durning's new book is called Green-Collar Jobs: Working in the New Northwest. Thanks so much.

DURNING: Thanks for having me.

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CURWOOD: This fall, Living on Earth travels to the Pacific Northwest for a special series on endangered salmon. Salmon have been a vital part of life there for millennia, but today the runs in many areas are on the brink of extinction. Almost everyone says they want to save the salmon, but it's unclear whether the sweeping changes needed can or will be made. Join us for our journey into the soul of the Northwest, starting in September on Living on Earth.

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Wendell Berry Poem

CURWOOD: Poet and writer Wendell Berry considers humanity's future in his poem called "A Vision." It's from his most recent publication, The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.

BERRY: If we will have the wisdom to survive, To stand like slow-growing trees on a ruined place, Renewing, enriching it, If we will make our seasons welcome here, Asking not too much of earth or heaven, Then a long time after we are dead, The lives our lives prepare will live here, Their houses strongly placed upon the valley's sides, Fields and gardens rich in the windows. The river will run clear, as we will never know it, And over it, bird song like a canopy. On the levels of the hills will be green meadows, Stalk bells in noon shade. On the steeps where greed and ignorance Cut down the old forest An old forest will stand, Its rich leaf fall drifting on its roots. The veins of forgotten springs will have opened. Families will be singing in the fields. In their voices they will hear a music Risen out of the ground. They will take nothing from the ground they will not return, Whatever the grief at parting. Memory native to this valley Will spread over it like a grove, And memory will grow into legend, Legend into song, Song into sacrament. The abundance of this place, The songs of its people and its birds Will be health and wisdom and in-dwelling light. This is no paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.

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CURWOOD: That was Wendell Berry. "A Vision" was part of an occasional series of poems on Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is loe@npr.org. Once again, loe@npr.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15.

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CURWOOD: Just ahead: a journey into a South Pacific Garden of Eden. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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Borneo Dairy

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. If you're searching for the world's oldest and lushest rain forest, you'd likely head to the South Pacific island of Borneo, which is governed by Indonesia and Malaysia. And you might want to hurry. Widespread fires last year and the year before devastated about 12 million acres of forest and bush on Borneo, and continued logging endangers the habitat that remains. Campbell Webb is a botanist from Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, who recently traveled deep into the Indonesian side of Borneo, through territory that is largely unexplored. He found a rainforest still teeming with biodiversity and a way of life under assault. His audio diary is read by Robin Lubbock.

(Bird and gibbon calls)

LUBBOCK: The Bornean gibbons announce another dawn in the rain forest. The smell of wood smoke and coffee curls up to the sleeping platform of our crude shelter. I'm shivering in the cool of the morning, in a remote part of the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan. I'm out here to analyze the species composition of the trees, to try to understand how the rain forest works, before it's gone.


LUBBOCK: Borneo is in the midst of immense change. Logging, slash and burn agriculture and industrial plantations are destroying the forests. With the severe monetary crisis, everyone here is scrambling for any income they can find. And often they find it in the forest.

(Voices in traffic)

LUBBOCK: My trip to Bukit Lumut had taken five days from the provincial capital. The first leg of the journey featured a 12-hour bus ride along potholed roads. We arrived late at night in the town of Nanga Pinoh to find that the river Melawi had flooded and the streets were waist-deep in water. I had to hire a dugout canoe to reach the guest house.


LUBBOCK: Next morning before dawn I washed in the river, ladling the cold water over me. The rivers here are the source of drinking water and food, the primary routes for travel, as well as being the bathroom and garbage disposal.

(Motorboat engine)

LUBBOCK: From Nanga Pinoh, I hired a speed boat, and for two days we motored upriver.


LUBBOCK: At the village of Ganjang, the boatman took me to the head man and we discussed, in a roundabout fashion, how many guides I needed and what I'd have to pay them. We sat on the floor of his house eating rice and boiled fish that his son had just caught.

(Splashing and motorboat engine)

LUBBOCK: Next morning I set off upriver with the four men who would be my guides, coworkers, and companions in the forest. Arun, Atai, Freddy, and Kuhin. We crept upriver against the swift current, alternately motoring with an old 2-horsepower outboard and pulling along when the river became too shallow or too fast. Eventually, we left the last huts and rice fields and entered undisturbed forest, which arched over the river high above us. After two days we arrived at a fork in the river. My guides told me that the boat would go no further. I checked the trees, the geology, and the topography of the land. It was perfect.

(Voices and cracking sounds)

LUBBOCK: The guides set to work immediately, building our sleeping hut, or pondok. They combed the nearby forest for stout saplings, which they lashed together with rattan vines to form a high platform. They stretched a large blue tarpaulin I'd brought over a roof frame and wove a floor out of small sapling stems, snapping the stems and binding them with rattan.

(Buzzing insects, thunder)

LUBBOCK: They finished as an evening thunderstorm drew close. We huddled up, high over the dark forest floor, and enjoyed bowls of rice and dried fish.

(Bird and gibbon calls)

LUBBOCK: Now it's morning, and the real work begins. We hike up into the hills surrounding our camp and set up a survey plot. Freddy and Kuhin lay out the plot boundaries and measure the trees inside.


LUBBOCK: Freddy calls out the diameter of each tree, then nails an aluminum tag to the trunk so that I can find the trees again and re-measure them if I ever return. They finish in a few hours and leave me alone to get on with the job of identifying the trees.

(Various animal calls)

LUBBOCK: Those are giant hornbills, and those are red-leaf monkeys. Nearly every tree I turn to is a different type. A single acre of forest here might contain over 100 different tree species, compared to 10 in New England. I strain to peer through my binoculars into the canopy 120 feet above. Here, biodiversity isn't just an abstract concept. It's all around you.

(More and different calls)

LUBBOCK: It's almost twilight when I get back to our camp. I take a swim in the cold, clear water and climb up to the sleeping platform. Freddy offers me a bowl of rice and fish stew seasoned with leaves he collected from a manggis bush on the riverbank.

(Rain pattering)

LUBBOCK: It starts raining again. After dinner, the guides tell stories late into the evening by the sooty light of a kerosene flame. Sometimes they go hunting at night with their homemade muskets loaded with hand-mixed gunpowder.

(A shot)

LUBBOCK: They come back at three or four in the morning with a deer, or a porcupine. But they say hunting these days is much harder.


TRANSLATOR: If this was the old days, we'd be coming back with many more animals. They used to get deer just with a spear. But we have to use guns, now. The animals were tame, then. They'd never met people before.

Now we have to go far up into the hills to get them. There aren't any close to the village. You could say they have almost disappeared.

LUBBOCK: The traditional knowledge fundamental to living well in the forest is also slipping away. I couldn't find anyone who still knew how to hunt with a blowgun, and even the vital skills of choosing the right location for a rice field are being lost. Atai says chainsaws have made people more wasteful.

ATAI: [Speaks in Indonesian] TRANSLATOR: Long ago, before there were chainsaws, our grandparents would make plans by hand, chopping down a tree and then splitting the logs with a baji. Like this, they didn't need to cut too many trees. They didn't waste wood, like a chainsaw.

LUBBOCK: After three weeks I finally completed my survey of two hectares of forest and collected many specimens. It's time to leave. Unfortunately, the boat that was meant to come to collect us has not arrived. Not to worry, says Arun; we'll build a raft.


LUBBOCK: I watch as they fell 10 large trees, strip them of their bark, and drag the trunks to the river. Using thick rattan vines, they lash them together into two rafts and construct raised platforms to keep our baggage dry. Finally, they cut long steering poles. Arun says he can make almost anything out of the forest.

ARUN: [Speaks in Indonesian] TRANSLATOR: For example, we make small boats out of ponga wood. Lots of things in the forest are useful. We make roof tiles out of ironwood, or bulu, or resak. We can even make them out of tengkawang. Rattan is also important.

LUBBOCK: We pack up and set off downriver.


LUBBOCK: At first the rafts float gently down, banging softly on shallow boulders. But the rapids aren't far ahead. I hear the roar in the distance. Coming around a bend in the river we see the granite boulders at the head of the rapids. My guides are silent, except for the sharp shouts as they line up the long rafts with the flow.


LUBBOCK: In a second we're surrounded by frothing watery noise. Our raft is fully submerged and I'm up to my chest, holding on for dear life as the gray rocks rush by on either side.

(Rapids continue)

LUBBOCK: And then we're out, and calm returns. We go through four more sets of rapids, and each time I'm astounded at my guides' skill, and our luck. Eventually, the river widens to a slow meander, and we leave the primary forest, entering a hot landscape of scrubby, tangled trees and abandoned rice fields. We move slowly, poling along the sandy river bottom. Sadly, it's soon time for our farewells. Arun and Atai offer me pantuns, short proverbs.

ARUN: [Speaks in Indonesian] TRANSLATOR: Today we'll eat illipe nut. Tomorrow we’ll just eat grass. Today we're all still together. Tomorrow we'll be gone our own ways.

ATAI: [Speaks in Indonesian] TRANSLATOR: If there is a spring in a rice field, may I use it to take a wash. If I live to be an old man, I hope we all meet again.

LUBBOCK: The trip has been a great success. I found an unexpectedly large area of pristine forest, a boon for conservation and perfect to help answer scientific questions. But I wonder: how much will that help Arun, Atai, Freddy, and Kuhin? I fear for their future. Their forest is disappearing all around them.

(Animal calls)

CURWOOD: Our Borneo audio diary was written and produced by Campbell Webb and read by Robin Lubbock.

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(Gamelan music and animal calls up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, Gloucester, Massachusetts, thinks it's payday when a Russian trawler pulls into harbor with millions of pounds of fish for Gloucester workers to turn into breaded fillets for McDonald's. But jaws drop when a US Customs official deems the fish illegal and orders it out of port.

MAN: He said you have a choice: export it out of the country or take it all to the dump and dump it. They literally said take almost eight million pounds of fish to the dump and dump it. Now, this is ridiculous.

CURWOOD: It's the case of the precariously perched pollack, as our series Gloucester at the Crossroads continues, next week on Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our staff includes George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, and Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, James Curwood, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Allison Dean, Maggie Villiger, Chris Berdik, and Mahri Lowinger. Travel for our report on the Borneo rain forest was made possible with the help of the National Geographic Society. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. Our senior editor is Joyce Hackel, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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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.


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