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

October 8, 1999

Air Date: October 8, 1999


Six Billion Babies

On October twelfth, the world's population is projected to reach six billion. The marker is drawing lots of attention from the media and environmental groups. But Joni Seager, a member of the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment, says all the hype is focused in the wrong direction. (05:10)

Birthday Card for Baby Six Billion / Jim Dowd

Commentator Jim Dowd took a fresh tack on welcoming our six billionth human. He created a giant birthday card and took it to the streets for people to sign. He reports back on what some people have to say. (05:10)

Preserving Ancient Pakistan / Richard Galpin

A rising population and crushing migration into cities is changing the face of urban Pakistan. Historic structures are being bulldozed to make way for office towers and apartment buildings. BBC Correspondent Richard Galpin reports from a city famous for its ancient architecture, Lahore (la-HORE). (08:15)

Listener Letters

Our series on Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest continues to draw strong responses. We also received a lot of comments on last week's call from a Tennessee farmer who defended genetically-engineered food. (02:20)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about...Indian Summer -- the seasonal warming spell, albeit brief, before winter sets in for good. (01:30)

Clean Water Lawsuits

The Supreme Court is hearing a case this week which could have a profound impact on the ability of citizen groups to prosecute polluters. They are reviewing a decision by a South Carolina appeals court which overturned the liability of an incinerator operator to pay penalties -- and legal fees -- for illegal dumping once the operator ceased dumping. Patrick Parenteau (par-EN-toe), Vermont Law School professor and former head of the school’s environmental law center, discusses the case’s implications with host Steve Curwood. (05:20)

Lawn Mover Smog / Chuck Quirmbach

America's 50 million gasoline-powered lawn mowers cause a significant percentage of the nation's urban air pollution. Efforts are underway to design a cleaner mower. Wisconsin Public Radio Correspondent Chuck Quirmbach (QUIRM-bock) reports from Milwaukee. (07:35)

Greening the Boy Scout Handbook / Andy Wasowski

For the ecology-minded there are some handy tips on pesticide use and forestry practices in the revised Boy Scout Handbook. But, commentator Andy Wasowski (wah-SOW-skee) says there’s also a lot missing. (02:20)

Saving the Selva / Tatiana Schreiber

The rainforest in southern Mexico--known as the "selva"--is slowly being destroyed to make way for farms and ranches. One Indian community is trying to stop the destruction--with an innovative blend of ecotourism and sustainable agriculture. Correspondent Tatiana Schreiber reports from the village of Zapata (za-PA-tah), in the state of Chiapas (chee-AH-pas), Mexico. (09:20)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Richard Galpin, Chuck Quirmbach, Tatiana Schreiber
GUESTS: Joni Seager, Patrick Parenteau
COMMENTATORS: Jim Dowd, Andy Wasowski

(Theme music intro)

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

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

On October twelfth, the United Nations predicts the world will welcome its six billionth human inhabitant.

CHILD: Happy Birthday to the newest baby in the whole wide world.

CURWOOD: While some say there are too many people and overpopulation is getting worse, others say the scope of the problem goes beyond sheer numbers.

SEAGER: I think it's disingenuous to argue that there is a one-to-one correlation between environmental distress and population growth. One hundred lentil-eating, bicycle-riding, solar-powered people are going to put less pressure on the environment than one hundred beef-eating, car-driving, fossil fuel-using people.

CURWOOD: And population pressures in Pakistan put urban treasures at risk. That and more on Living on Earth. First, the news.

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(NPR News follows)

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Six Billion Babies

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In case you haven't noticed the media blitz, the Day of Six Billion is upon us. October twelfth is the day the United Nations Population Fund says the number of people on the planet will hit six billion. That's more than double what it was in 1960, and many groups are using the milestone as an urgent call to action. The world, they say, cannot sustain this rate of population growth. But others say focusing on numbers alone is alarmist, and ignores social and political factors in calculating the impact of overpopulation on the environment. Among them is Joni Seager, a professor of geography at the University of Vermont, and member of the Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment. She says population growth isn't as simple as the Day of Six Billion promoters make it sound.

SEAGER: I think it's disingenuous to argue that there is a one-to-one correlation between environmental distress and population growth. One hundred lentil-eating, bicycle-riding, solar-powered people are going to put less pressure on the environment than one hundred beef-eating, car-driving, fossil fuel-using people.

CURWOOD: So, do you think we even need to be concerned about population growth?

SEAGER: Well, you know, I think we do, but -- it would be on my agenda, but very low on my agenda. Well below, for example, militaries. Militaries are probably the most destructive cluster of institutions that wreak havoc, both at a local and global scale. The industrial fossil fuel-powered economy; poverty and the gap between rich and poor; the consumption habits of the affluent: all those things are on my list well ahead of population growth as environmental concerns.

CURWOOD: Well, let's say, and I think it really does look like it will be the case, that decreasing the birth rate remains a priority for the international community. How would you go about this?

SEAGER: We know that the only way to bring population growth rates down is to improve the status of women. That is, we need to focus on women's rights, reproductive rights, improving women's education, improving women's sexual rights, challenging norms of unhindered male sexual access to women, and the violence that often attends to that.

CURWOOD: Let's say someone was skeptical of you, though, Joni Seager, and said, "Wait a second. What do you mean, women's rights to reduce population?"

SEAGER: Well, in fact it's not just Joni Seager who is saying this. It's not just me who is saying this. The Cairo Conference on Population in 1994 that brought together the world's governments and many NGOs in fact have now committed themselves to improving the status of women and women's rights, as a means of stabilizing population growth rates.

CURWOOD: Let's go back to the environment here. The link between population growth and environmental degradation is being thrown around a lot in this debate, usually as a sort of fundamental truth.

SEAGER: Mm hm.

CURWOOD: So, if environmental activists are calling for a reduction in population, and feminists are calling for an end to population control, do you feel a tension between feminism and environmentalism?

SEAGER: Well, of course, many feminists are environmentalists and vice-versa, and I would count myself among that group. But, I think there is a tension between a feminist analysis of environmental problems and a mainstream environmental analysis of environmental problems. On the population issue, yes, there has been a divide between the two communities. A feminist analysis is one that says: Let's re-frame the problem, and therefore the solutions. Let's look at some of the other issues that are putting pressures on the environment, and let's start working on those first, rather than thinking that the first and last resort is to manipulate women's bodies -- that is, after all, what population control does -- as a simple solution to environmental problems.

CURWOOD: What's the failure in the analysis that the environmental movement is using?

SEAGER: I think that environmental groups have done tremendous work in some areas, and yet have pulled their punches when it comes to the large institutional structures that really are causing significant global environmental deterioration.

CURWOOD: Do you think we can continue growing at our current rate and maintain a sustainable planet?

SEAGER: I think we can, only if we alter our, as it were, lifestyle. If we re-imagine and re-vision our communities, our economies, our political structure, and the levels of equality and inequality in a society. We cannot maintain the current population growth rate and environmental sustainability unless we re-imagine those things.

CURWOOD: Joni Seager is professor of geography at the University of Vermont and a member of the Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment. Thanks for taking the time with us today.

SEAGER: Hey, Steve, it's been my pleasure.

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Birthday Card for Baby Six Billion

DOWD: My first reaction, when I heard the world's population will reach six billion on October twelfth, was: Six billion?

CURWOOD: The news about the planet's six billionth inhabitant came as a bit of a shock to commentator Jim Dowd. But he recovered in time to find a way to mark the occasion.

DOWD: I have a hard time fathoming six billion anything, let alone six billion people. So, I called a mathematician friend and asked him to put it into terms that I could understand. He told me that all the people on Earth could fit comfortably into the Grand Canyon. "Comfortably?" I asked him. "Well," he confessed, "You'd have to stack them up."

With that image of this poor kid trying to find its footing in such a crowd, I designed a massive birthday card for baby six billion, took it to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and invited people to come, sign the card. The response, as you might expect, was varied.

(Ambient voices, traffic, music)

MAN 1: It's crowded out there, isn't it?

MAN 2: Six billion, huh?

INTERVIEWER: Is that a concern to you at all?

MAN 2: Not really.

DOWD: Only one passerby had heard about the six billionth baby, and he said his dad was a population specialist. Most folks wanted to know where this kid would be born, and into what kind of family. I told them, just sign the card. At first it wasn't quite turning out as I had hoped.

MAN 4: This is an awful mess we've gotten you into.

MAN 5: I hope you have better luck than I did.

MAN 6: Please find yourself a good family, because we sure can't help you.

MAN 7: Slow down. Too many people.

MAN 8: We need more money and less people.

DOWD: It seems not everyone was excited about making room for one more.

WOMAN 1: It's depressing. It's not a cause for celebration.

WOMAN 2: Yeah. Everybody is worried about terrorists and criminals. I think overpopulation is what will do us in. Well, it already has, I think.

DOWD: I even got a science lesson along the way.

MAN 9: We're working on the same population control principle as the woodchuck. You get too many people, and they use up too many resources, and they die off. And I like to think that people are smart enough so they could figure out some way around that cycle. But I've got a feeling people aren't going to be much different from the woodchucks, and we're probably going to end up sitting alongside the woodchucks at the end of the day.

DOWD: Okay. In the interest of accuracy in media, woodchucks, as far as I know, are not an endangered species. But I have to admit, I was somewhat shocked at people's bluntness. I felt bad for baby six billion.

WOMAN 3: But if the six billionth baby is being born in the United States of America, chances are it's going to have a really good life compared to the six billionth baby born in India or Mexico City.

DOWD: Some people noted that I would be postmarking this card from one of the richest countries in the world. Not only that, I'm sending it from affluent Harvard Square, surrounded by The Gap and Abercrombie and Fitch, and across the street from a university where the cost of a year's education is eight times what your average Mexican makes in a year.

WOMAN 4: I hope you're born into a nice place in a nice country, because unfortunately today, there are huge gaps between the countries that have and the countries that have not.

WOMAN 5: I think this is just sort of another reminder that the place is getting full and we have to learn to share.

DOWD: Learn to share: Now that's a nice thought. And lots of people did leave nice, encouraging messages, the kind you might see on any card that gets passed around.

WOMAN 6: Oh, what's one more? Happy birthday and welcome.

WOMAN 7: Happy birthday. May you have love, health, and happiness.

MAN 10: Bonne chance. Le monde vous observe.

MAN 11: Happy birthday. Look, learn, and seek the truth. Good luck.

MAN 12: Welcome to this world. Hope humanity will be better with you involved.

WOMAN 8: Happy birthday, number six billion.

WOMAN 9: Happy birthday, number six billion.

DOWD: Actually, there were plenty of welcomes and good lucks, which is good because I personally don't want to be stuck on a planet of six billion frowning people. Some folks were outright jubilant about getting another neighbor.

WOMAN 10: The more people that are here, the more people that can make more food for the farmers and the more people that can, like, get rid of the trash, so --

WOMAN 11: More creative people to fix the ozone.

WOMAN 10: The more the merrier!

MAN 13: Good work, humankind. You really took that "Be fruitful and multiply" thing to heart. Congrats.

MAN 14: More baseball teams. More entertainment.

DOWD: And of course, there were a few skeptics who thought we were making a big deal out of nothing.

WOMAN 12: Doesn't seem overcrowded to me right now.

MAN 15: There are still plenty of high-rises to be built yet.

MAN 16: I don't know if it would affect me directly, because I don't, I couldn't count anyway.

MAN 17: I think McDonald's are over six billion right now, aren't they? But it's the same people that keep coming back.

DOWD: Really, who knows what to think? There isn't much we do know about baby six billion. I'm sure the numbers are carefully calculated, but when 148 people get born each minute, it must be hard to get the exact day right. Still, if baby six billion is born on October twelfth, we can be certain of one thing. The baby will be a Libra.

FORTUNE-TELLER: Plans you set in motion now can have far-reaching implications. The challenge, should you choose to accept it, may lie in your ability to adhere to a practical budget and not let costs get out of control.

(A trumpet plays "Happy Birthday.")

CHILD: Happy birthday to the newest baby in the whole wide world.

(Trumpet continues, backdropped by the background of Harvard Square)

MAN 18: Happy birthday, baby.

CURWOOD: Jim Dowd lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts. When he's not getting people to sign giant birthday cards, he builds ropes courses around the world.

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Coming up: We visit the ancient Pakistani city of Lahore, where population pressures are spurring development and threatening cultural and historic landmarks. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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Preserving Ancient Pakistan

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Thanks to poverty and degradation of the environment that supports rural subsistence, country folk throughout the developing world are on the run. And the place they are headed is town. As massive waves of migrants come in search of livelihoods, the very landscape of urban life is changing. One such place is an ancient city in Pakistan, Lahore. Lahore is one of Asia's most important cultural and historic centers, but much of its heritage is being destroyed by development. Correspondent Richard Galpin brings us this story from Lahore as, ironically, the city prepares for a festival marking its fifteen-hundredth anniversary.

(Sitar music up and under)

GALPIN: It was once the seat of Moghul emperors who conquered much of South Asia in the sixteenth century. It would later become a glittering city of the British Empire.

(Sitar music continues)

GALPIN: Each successive wave of conquerors and empire builders left its mark. Lahore is a city of exquisite architecture, peppered with historic buildings. But now, there is a new and destructive invasion underway.

(Several voices, speaking in Pakistani; sounds of scraping)

GALPIN: This invasion is being led by developers building roads, office buildings, and housing projects. Historic Lahore is disappearing beneath a wave of concrete.

(Motors running)

GALPIN: In part, it's the government which is behind this, as it forges ahead with plans to modernize the country. But modernization comes at a price: the loss of historic buildings, which for centuries have made Lahore a city of such cultural importance to the South Asia region. In one of the most controversial incidents so far, a seventeenth-century waterworks, built by the Moghul emperor Shah Jehan to supply the world-famous Shalimar Gardens, was reduced to a pile of rubble. Bulldozers knocked it down to widen a road. The site's caretaker, Bashir Ahmed, can scarcely believe it.

AHMED: [Speaks in Pakistani] TRANSLATOR: This is an antiquity, and to demolish it is against the Antiquity Act. It is on the World Heritage List, which also makes it illegal to destroy it.


GALPIN: Not far away is another important slice of history, Tollinton Market, built at the height of the British Raj in the 1860s as an exhibition hall. This classic piece of imperial architecture is being allowed to rot and crumble away. Developers know the land it stands on is worth millions of dollars, prime real estate where they plan to build a high-rise office block.

(Motors, background voices)

GALPIN: Most of the shopkeepers have already left the market, but one, Fazal Karim, is determined to stay. For five generations his family has sold fruit and vegetables here.

KARIM: [Speaks in Pakistani] TRANSLATOR: This building should be saved and preserved. This is our heritage, and the facilities that people use to enjoy in this place should be restored. It is not right to destroy our heritage with our own hands.


ANWAR: Older portion of this building was destroyed, and they put up this thing...

GALPIN: For Doctor Ajaz Anwar, a well-known artist and scholar in Lahore, preserving the city's heritage has become a personal crusade. He was the founding member of the Lahore Conservation Society.

ANWAR: ... and this is not in good taste ...

GALPIN: We drove together along Lahore's main street, the Mall. A hundred years ago it was a showcase of British colonial splendor. Today it's a symbol of decay and neglect. Doctor Anwar points out how many of the nineteenth-century imperial buildings have already been knocked down and replaced with shopping and office blocks. To him, the destruction of the cultural heritage is a crime, particularly because he believes many builders obtain contracts through corrupt means, and in violation of local laws.

ANWAR: The threat is immense: every day we see new office blocks are built. They think, by building new buildings, they will be improving the city. But due to their ignorance, they are destroying all the once-beautiful buildings. The whole character of the city is being changed.

GALPIN: But to others, the transformation of Lahore is a necessary change. The city's population is rapidly expanding. Demand for housing and office space is intense. Architects and urban planners, such as Nayeem Pasha, argue that cities like Lahore must modernize if Pakistan is to become a developed nation.

PASHA: I think you have to be selective as to what is heritage, what isn't heritage. And in those cases, the debate can get very lengthy, but I think that for the sake of development, getting into the next millennium, maybe, getting into another development stage, you need to do some of the work that is necessary to widen the roads, and cleaning a lot of encroachments, and all that.

GALPIN: But even Nayeem Pasha concedes that corruption in the building and planning agencies is leading to wanton destruction of important historic landmarks. Doctor Ajaz Anwar of the Lahore Conservation Society says immediate action is essential.


ANWAR: It is really a race against time. I think if things go like that, I don't see much of Lahore ten years from hence. But still, if we try, we can at least slow down this process of destruction.

(Ambient voices, bells ring, music)

GALPIN: At the moment, little is being done to reverse the decline of this beautiful and historic city. And for this, Dr. Ajaz Anwar says the government must, in part, take responsibility.

ANWAR: They don't have a legislation strong enough, and that legislation, too, is not enforced fully. There are just a line of buildings to be pulled down, unchecked. Second is, I must blame this on the ignorance of the people who are just selling these buildings, beautiful ones, and also those ignorant people who are buying these buildings at very high prices and knocking down these buildings.

GALPIN: But the government says both the Ministry of Culture and the local authorities are working hard to preserve Lahore's heritage. And it's certainly true that some old public buildings have been restored to their former glory. But the Culture Minister, Mushahid Hussein, does admit there's still much to be done.

HUSSEIN: It's true, some of the buildings are in disrepair. They are in bad shape. We are seeking to repair them. You can see the example of two major buildings. The Lahore Fort, for example, and also the Batchai [ph] mosque. And these are in better shape, and we are trying to refurbish the Lahore Fort, and restore its old glory, so that it is a monument to our rich heritage and history, and also it is a tourist attraction.

GALPIN: But conservationists say this is nowhere near enough to save the city from ruin. At the moment, they say, it's the building contractors who are winning the battle for the soul of Lahore. And, according to the conservationists, the current festival marking the fifteen-hundredth anniversary of the city's founding may be the last ever held here. They claim that within a few years, there may be nothing of historical importance left to celebrate. For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Galpin in Lahore, Pakistan.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: Time again for listener comments.

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CURWOOD: Responses to our series on Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest continued to dominate our mailbag.

Bruce Lovelin of the Columbia River Alliance writes, "Your story on efforts to recover salmon is one of those worn-out, dams-versus-salmon stories that does little to inform listeners of anything new. There already exists considerable support for saving salmon in all quarters of the Pacific Northwest, including industry. Hundreds of millions are being spent on efforts to improve the dams for successful juvenile and adult salmon passage. And it is an effort we in industry financially support. Where's that message?"

Meanwhile, our report on salmon runs in urban areas drew this response from Brian Buchbinder, who hears us on WBGO in Newark. "Your reference to one hundred years of settlement in describing the Pacific Northwest was simply not correct. Could you have forgotten,” he wrote, “that coast has been settled by Native Americans for thousands of years? And the salmon did just fine. It was only after 150 years of, quote, "settlement" by other Americans -- us, that is -- that the natural resources of the area were degraded."

One comment in last week's listener segment drew a lot of strong reactions. A Tennessee farmer compared genetically-engineered food to specially-bred racehorses, and argued that Europe's refusal to import these foods is nothing but a trade barrier set up against American farm products. But as James Hildreth, who listens to us on New Hampshire Public Radio, pointed out:

HILDRETH: There is a great difference between selective breeding and genetically engineering. The ongoing attempts to merge a flounder gene with a tomato is a far cry from selectively breeding tomatoes for size, color, or flavor.

CURWOOD: Eric Rector, who hears us on Maine Public Broadcasting, wrote, "I believe that rather than being a trade barrier, this case sounds like an attempt by the U.S. government to open markets for campaign contributors and large corporations, despite popular sentiment against genetically-engineered food. After all, shouldn't every society, every person, choose what we put into our mouths?"

That sentiment was echoed by KROU listener and Norman, Oklahoma, resident, John Frazier.

FRAZIER: I don't mind riding a genetically-engineered horse, but I sure don't want to put him inside my system.

CURWOOD: Your questions and comments are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG.

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

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Coming up: The right of citizens to sue for clean water and clean air hangs in the balance in an upcoming Supreme Court case. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Summer may be officially gone, but it may have a reprise. Any time now, Indian Summer could set in. The seasonal occurrence of unseasonably warm, dry, and calm weather in mid- to late-autumn is much cherished in northern climes. It happens after the first frost of the year, so technically Indian Summers apply only to cold-weather regions. Lasting from a few days to a couple of weeks, they can occur more than once during the season or not at all. Historians believe the phrase Indian Summer was coined in New England in the 1700s. Other theories on the term's origin have been bandied about, but none substantiated. One legend is that this warm autumnal respite was the time when early Native Americans gathered food stocks for the winter. While Indian Summers can occur as late as December, they often fall in October, one of the least cloudy months of the year, according to the Farmer's Almanac -- and a fact not lost on Helen Hunt Jackson, who penned this ode to the month: "Oh suns and skies and flowers of June, count all your boasts together. Love loveth best of all the year October's bright blue weather." And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Clean Water Lawsuits

CURWOOD: The U.S. Supreme Court is taking up a case that could have far-reaching consequences. At stake, the ability of citizens to enforce anti-pollution laws. The arguments stem from a South Carolina case in which citizens sued Laidlaw, an incinerator operator that illegally discharged chemicals into a river. But their suit dragged on for years, and by the time it reached the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals the firm had stopped polluting. The appeals court ruled the citizens no longer had an issue, and dismissed the case. I asked Patrick Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School, what it would mean if the Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling.

PARENTEAU: If the message from the United States Supreme Court to those citizens is: Don't bother, because if you do that and the violator is smart enough to outfox you and wait until you bring the case, and then wait until the case has progressed for some period of time until it suits them to come into compliance, and at that point cuts you off at the knees, then I think the rational response of the citizens is: Why should I put myself through that? I guess I'll have to leave it to the government.

CURWOOD: Professor Parenteau, tell me. The United States has a very powerful citizen's lawsuit provision in the Clean Water Act. Just about anybody can walk in and sue if they see that some company is polluting the water. Is this what is under attack here, this right for citizens to bring lawsuit?

PARENTEAU: It is, and oddly enough, the Congress of the United States, in over a dozen federal statutes, has strongly endorsed the concept of citizens serving as what is called "private attorneys general," to bring these actions where the governmental agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency or the state counterpart environmental agency, have failed to bring the actions. And yet, the Supreme Court, in the face of all of this body of federal law, has recently been tightening the grounds upon which citizens can bring these enforcement actions. So you have a contest underway here between the Supreme Court trying to rein in, in effect, citizen suits, while the Congress continues to authorize and encourage them.

CURWOOD: Why is the Supreme Court so cranky about these kind of cases?

PARENTEAU: It may be because the Supreme Court believes that some of these enforcement actions are not as meritorious as they would like them to be, although I would certainly take issue with that. I think the track record of the citizen suits is quite remarkable. They've been very successful in cleaning up major contamination: Boston Harbor, the Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, many cases around the country where citizen action has really made the difference. But in some instances, it seems as if members of the Supreme Court believe that it's not a proper function for citizens to be enforcing the law. That that either ought to be done by the government, or, if the government chooses not to, then they must have had good reason not to.

CURWOOD: Let's talk about these citizen suits some more. In addition to the Clean Water Act, it also applies to the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. How important has this right of citizens to sue been?

PARENTEAU: In many cases, if it weren't for the citizens enforcing these laws, they wouldn't be enforced at all. Under the Endangered Species Act that you mentioned, for example, there is a prohibition on the taking or killing of endangered species, as well as the destruction of their habitat. And the government, the federal government, which is in charge of enforcing and implementing the Endangered Species Act, has never once brought a case against an individual for destroying the habitat of an endangered species under this particular provision. All of the enforcement under that statute has been done by citizens. When you talk about the Clean Water Act, for example, there are now more citizen suits pending in federal district courts across the country than there are government enforcement actions under the Clean Water Act. So, the citizen suit has become, actually, the primary tool of enforcement in some of these cases, as opposed to government enforcement.

CURWOOD: Now, all this information on polluters and their violation is public information. It's reported to government agencies, which is how the citizens group gets this information. Why don't the executive agencies do anything about it?

PARENTEAU: Well, in some cases it is because they don't have the enforcement resources to investigate all of the violations and bring lawsuits or other forms of administrative enforcement, so resources may be one reason. Oftentimes, it's political. Politics, as always, plays a role in whether an enforcement action is going to be brought. If you have a favored industry in a state that's concerned about the economic condition of that industry, that could influence the state not to bring an action. Citizens, of course, are saying: We're the ones that are suffering from the pollution and the violation, and we want it cured. We want it cleaned up.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

PARENTEAU: Okay. Thank you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Patrick Parenteau is a professor of law at the Vermont Law School.

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Lawn Mover Smog

CURWOOD: For years, some ecologists have complained about the modern lawn. They have told us to grow wildflowers instead of grass. Anything to avoid those water-hungry, fertilizer-dependent, monocultured fields of green. Now, air pollution officials are zeroing in on the lawn's evil twin, the gas-powered lawnmower. The Environmental Protection Agency says gas mowers are making it hard for people to breathe. So, the EPA and small-engine manufacturers are working to trim mower emissions. But tinkering with a product that has become an icon for so many isn't so easy, as Chuck Quirmbach of Wisconsin Public Radio recently discovered in Milwaukee.

BAKEMEYER: The lawnmower is cast aluminum deck, and of course the lawnmower is basically all aluminum parts, too.

QUIRMBACH: Henry Bakemeyer feels his green and yellow mulching mower is a simple device, more of a Chevy than a Cadillac.

BAKEMEYER: You know, I don't have a Cadillac lawn, so I don't need a Cadillac mower.

(Mower is rolled out)

QUIRMBACH: But as Mr. Bakemeyer rolls his mower out of the garage, there is a special bond forming between man and machine. The mower is a perfect getaway vehicle for a weekly escape from the stresses of a business career. Like millions of red-blooded American homeowners, this 50-something suburbanite enjoys mowing the lawn.

BAKEMEYER: Early in my youth, it was a chore. Dad would say, "Oh, Henry, go out and mow the lawn," and I'd rather be playing baseball. And so, that was the alternative, so then it wasn't fun. Today, I think I'd rather mow the lawn than play baseball. (Mower starts up)

QUIRMBACH: One reason that mowing is fun is the four-and-a-half horsepower gasoline engine that spins the blades. The motor makes grass-cutting light exercise instead of hard work. The sound blasts away heavy thoughts. The problem, of course, is this isn't the only lawnmower on Henry Bakemeyer's block.

(Another motor starts up)

QUIRMBACH: A few doors down there's this three-horsepower model.

(Another motor starts up)

QUIRMBACH: And nearby, there's a 12-horsepower riding rig. The sound of the suburbs on a weekend afternoon. Nationwide, there are 50 million gas-powered lawnmowers.


QUIRMBACH: If the roar doesn't get you, the air pollution might. The Environmental Protection Agency figures that mowers generate five percent of the smog-producing hydrocarbons in American cities. EPA official Don Zinger says reducing mower emissions is one way to improve urban air quality.

ZINGER: Many of our cities -- New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles -- are looking for every possible reduction in air pollution they can get. And so, they're looking at the smaller sources like lawnmowers, and as long as we can do that in a cost-effective way, then that's an effort we're going to have to make.

QUIRMBACH: The focus on lawnmowers began nine years ago, when politicians working near the well-trimmed lawns of Capitol Hill updated the Clean Air Act. Manufacturers have already met one goal. By 1997, new mowers were required to reduce hydrocarbon emissions by 30 percent. But now the industry is being pushed further, toward another 40 percent cut in pollution by the year 2003.

(Mower motors)

QUIRMBACH: The current air war is being fought in places like this: the research center of America's largest maker of small four-cycle engines, Briggs and Stratton. Behind locked doors in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, engineers like Pete Hotz are trying to build a cleaner lawnmower.

HOTZ: We have probably no less than 20 to 25 engineers working, engineers, designers and technicians, working on emission-related issues. I mean, it could be anywhere from carburetor to improvements in our manufacturing process to keep tolerances tighter, to redesign of engines, and to new, lower-emission design. So, I mean, Briggs and Stratton is making a huge commitment.

(Mower motors)

QUIRMBACH: This facility looks like a cross between a science lab and a corner garage. At workbenches, technicians are carefully examining prototype parts. In a cluster of sound-insulated rooms, engines on metal stands are being tested at various speeds and loads.

(Motors continue)

QUIRMBACH: Engineer Marv Klowak looks at one of the larger motors and explains there is a wide range of pollution-fighting changes.

KLOWAK: In particular, we've done a lot of work on the head itself, the valves, the combustion chamber. We've done a lot of work on the piston, the piston rings, the cylinder structure, all targeted at keeping it more stable as the engine runs, burning cleaner.

(Motors continue; fade to fans)

QUIRMBACH: Above the test engines, small fans suck exhaust into a six-foot-tall computer. Pete Hotz says it analyzes everything: hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide. Just like an automobile's smog check.

HOTZ: At the end of the test, then you have a number that it all washes out to, and that number is whether we pass or fail the test.

QUIRMBACH: A lot is riding on the work performed here. Not every emissions problem has been solved yet, especially on cheaper mowers that cost $100 or so. And other companies are competing with Briggs and Stratton to build a cleaner, inexpensive engine. The entire industry is focused on preserving its share of the market. Firms know consumers might switch to electric or battery-powered mowers if the smog-fighting improvements to gasoline models push up the price.

(A phone rings)

QUIRMBACH: For now, though, it seems the gasoline mower is still king. It certainly is at Esch Economy Lawn and Garden Center, southeastern Wisconsin's largest lawnmower showroom. Two hundred shiny machines are lined up here, available in seductive reds, greens, silvers, and black. All but two of the models are powered by gas. In the world of landscaping equipment, just like the world of automobiles, you are what you drive. Salesman Joe Pope is a master of the smooth pitch.

POPE: It does have the hydrostatic drive, which is, in layman's terms, an automatic transmission.

MAAS: Right. That's what I was looking for.

POPE: The lever here, if you're going to use it, the wife is going to use it, makes life real easy. All you have is a lever. The further you push this, the faster you go...

QUIRMBACH: One customer here, Bob Maas, says he might pay more for a lawnmower that pollutes less.

MAAS; People are out there and they're smelling this stuff, and you don't want nothing to be -- I want to live as long as I can, you know.

QUIRMBACH: But the lure of lawnmowers is about power and performance, and other customers are more guarded. David Graff wants clean air, too, but suspects a cleaner-burning mower might be less durable.

GRAFF: Because if I have to make the assumption that I'm going to have to turn this motor over five years from now or ten years from now, and I wouldn't get fifteen years -- and I take care of my things, so I'd like to believe I can get a good, long life for it -- then I'm going to ask why I'm going to be spending so much more money for it. Even if it's only $20 or if it's $50.

QUIRMBACH: Industry officials say cleaner mowers will last just as long as today's models, and for now they're confident they will be able to meet the next round of emissions regulations. Of course, there are alternatives to power mowers. There is natural landscaping instead of grass. And, you can still find a hand-pushed manual cutter if you try. But engine companies are betting for the foreseeable future, most homeowners will want a lush, green lawn --

(Motor starts up)

QUIRMBACH: -- and a gasoline-fueled motor to help mow it. For Living on Earth, this is Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

Back to top

(Mower motor continues, up and under)

Greening the Boy Scout Handbook

CURWOOD: Think Boy Scouts and you think camping, hiking in the great outdoors. Think environmental education, and again you might think Scouting, but commentator Andy Wasowski says think once more.

WASOWSKI: The Boy Scouts of America has recently added a new merit badge to its roster of awards: Environmental Science. And it's a good program. But from an environmentalist’s point of view, some of their other merit badge manuals are a little questionable, not only for what they say, but often for what they don't say.

Take the manual for the Forestry merit badge. Now, I was surprised to read in there that clear-cutting, a practice virtually all environmentalists decry, is treated in a very, shall we say, tolerant manner. In fact, according to the BSA, clear-cutting can be beneficial. In the manual, it says, "Clear-cutting actually creates habitat for many wildlife species that get part or all of their food, water, and shelter from low vegetation."

Well, yeah, but the manual does not say what happened to the displaced wildlife that was there in the first place. Nor does it mention that clear-cutting's impact extends well beyond the area affected: polluting streams, destroying valuable fisheries, robbing the soil of nutrients, creating erosion problems, lowering groundwater tables, and worsening global warming by decreasing the green biomass on the planet. This manual also fails to mention that clear-cutting is just plain ugly. Not unlike what strip mining does to the landscape.

In another manual, the one for the Gardening merit badge, the scout is warned that pesticides can be quite harmful to people and animals, and he's given a list of precautions. That's good. But he is not told a few facts that might dissuade him from resorting to chemical warfare in the first place. For instance, the scout is not told of the many scientific studies that link pesticides to a variety of maladies, from skin rash to birth defects to cancer. The scout isn't told that on average, a mere one percent of the insects in a typical garden are classified as pests. The rest are benign or even beneficial. Or that pesticides kill off a vital protein source for nesting songbirds. What the scout is told is that to combat plant mildew, he should use fungicides such as Benomyl, which the EPA classifies as a possible human carcinogen, and Actidione, which the EPA puts in its highest acute toxicity category.

Look, I'm not anti-Boy Scouts. I was a scout myself 100 years ago. My dad was an Eagle Scout, and my father-in-law was a scoutmaster. But I would suggest that the Boy Scouts of America revise these manuals so that they don't sound like they've been written by the public relations people for the logging and chemical industries.

CURWOOD: Commentator Andy Wasowski lives in northern New Mexico, and is author of “Native Gardens for Dry Climates.”

Back to top

Coming up: If you're looking for a different travel destination, consider meeting some howler monkeys. It can't be worse than the office. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Saving the Selva

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The rainforest of southern Mexico was once so mysterious and unpopulated, it was known as the Desert of Solitude. But like most rainforests these days, the selva, as the jungle is called in Mexico, is disappearing. Bit by bit, people are clearing land for farms and ranches. In the southern state of Chiapas, a small Indian community is trying to halt the destruction. They are experimenting instead with a creative blend of sustainable agriculture and eco-tourism. Reporter Tatiana Schreiber went to see how well the project is working. Her journey begins in the remote village of Zapata.

(Footfalls; birds call)

SCHREIBER: The village of Zapata, named after Mexico's revered revolutionary hero, sits at the junction of two wide, unspoiled rivers. Crossing a wooden suspension bridge, I see children swimming below in clear, emerald water. A sharp contrast to many Mexican rivers, which are often gray and smell of sewage.

WOMAN: Buenos dias.

SCHREIBER: Buenos dias.

Here, even in the dry season, the rainforest is lush. The air holds the scent of flowering fruit trees.

(Ambient voices speaking in Spanish)

SCHREIBER: Early each morning, the men and boys of Zapata walk to their fields, each swinging his machete. Many are participating in a new project to see if they can improve their incomes while also protecting the environment.

GOMEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

SCHREIBER: Farmer Manuel Lopez Gomez shows me his cafetal, or coffee field. It looks a lot like the jungle itself. Don Manuel grows coffee in the traditional way, beneath the shade of other trees like banana and mango. But the highest quality coffee can't be grown in these jungle lowlands. So, now he's mixed in another crop, which sprouts greenish, melon-like pods from its trunk.

GOMEZ: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: This is a cacao tree. It's already given a lot of fruit. I've planted them in almost the whole coffee field. This is the fruit that I harvest, this cacao.

SCHREIBER: Cacao, for chocolate, was grown by Mayan Indians in this area for hundreds of years. It's well-adapted to the jungle. Don Manuel cuts open a fresh pod for me and my translator to taste.



TRANSLATOR: It has a tart taste to it.


TRANSLATOR: Very delicious.

SCHREIBER: By growing several crops side by side, Don Manuel hopes to weather the ups and downs of world commodity markets. He'll concentrate on coffee when the price is good, and on cacao when demand for chocolate is strong. This may bring him a welcome measure of independence.

GOMEZ: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: If the price goes down on one product, I'll leave that aside and work on another product. If I don't do this, no one is going to do it for me. If I don't plant these different plants here, no one is going to plant them for me. If I don't look for my own way for the future, well, no one is going to come here and give me anything for free.

SCHREIBER: As it turns out, multi-cropping is also good for the rainforest.


SCHREIBER: As Don Manuel prunes his trees, he leaves the ground littered with a thick layer of limbs and leaves, an excellent natural compost. The shade trees also create valuable habitat for birds.

(Bird song)

SCHREIBER: Perhaps most important, says Don Manuel, multi-cropping makes the most of every acre, relaxing the pressure to clear more land to earn a living.

GOMEZ: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: For example, we could try raising cattle, but it's a problem. You have to expand every year cutting down forest for grazing and corrals. You need a lot of land for cattle. But with cacao and coffee, you can keep growing it in the same place. You don't have to keep cutting more land. No, you just take care of it. That's it.

(Music; a dog barks)

SCHREIBER: Back in the village, Don Manuel's yard is alive with chicks, puppies, and children.

(Beans spill)

SCHREIBER: Women are raking freshly-washed cacao beans on the patio to dry in the sun. The beans are light pink, the size of big peanuts.

(More raking; cock crows)

SCHREIBER: For 30 years, like a promised land, the selva has drawn people from several indigenous groups. They now live and work together, sharing each other's languages and cultures. Compared to many parts of Mexico, where communities tend to be of one ethnic group, the cultural diversity here is striking.

(More crowing, raking; fade to flowing water)

SCHREIBER: The second part of my journey takes me to Laguna Miramar, a lake of fluorescent turquoise water ringed by forested mountains. My guide, Adolfo Mendoza, tells me that to support eco-tourism, the communities bordering the lake created a buffer zone around the shore, allowing no cutting or cultivation.

MENDOZA: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: The jungle, the truth is, it's our life. We have calmness here, tranquility to live with our families. Because the air is not contaminated, there is pure air to live. That is to say, it is healthy the way we live in the jungle. It is what the family, or any human being, should have, you know?

(Evening sounds)

SCHREIBER: Lying beside the lake in my hammock at night, nature provides the evening's entertainment. First comes a chorus of frogs.


SCHREIBER: Then, in the middle of the night, strange, distant growls.

(Howler monkeys)

SCHREIBER: It's the saraguatos: howler monkeys, calling to each other across the glassy water.

(Howling continues, up and under; fade to voices speaking in Spanish, splashes of water)

SCHREIBER: The next day, we paddle to historic Lacam-Tum Island. Here the trees are draped in Spanish moss, with roots stretching into the clear lake. The original Lacandon Indians on the island held off the Spanish Conquistadors for more than a century.

MENDOZA: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: This is the area where the ancients once lived, and we'd like our children to see it. We are happy to have people come with a guide, so we can show them how magnificent their work was, how the ancient ones lived and worked. We would like people to keep coming, so we can show them how they worked or how these ruins were made long ago.

SCHREIBER: As we explore the ruin, someone spots a saraguato. It looks like a small black gorilla hanging by its tail, nibbling leaves.

(Ambient voices in Spanish. A man imitates a monkey.)

SCHREIBER: At first I'm thrilled, but then something unsettling begins to happen.

(Clapping; the monkey barks)

SCHREIBER: The monkey retreats, hiding its head in its hands. Don Adolfo is hitting and shaking the tree to get the animal upset so I can record some sound.

(The monkey howls, barks)

SCHREIBER: Everyone laughs when I protest that we should leave the creature in peace. The idea that wild animals should be left unmolested may take a while to catch on here.

(Howling continues; footfalls)

SCHREIBER: As we head back to camp, I wonder whether all this beauty and wildness can survive. So far, few tourists have ventured here, and the project hasn't made much money. In its ongoing effort to battle the Zapatista rebels, the Mexican army wants to build a road to Laguna Miramar. A road would help bring tourists in, and agricultural products out. But so far, local communities have said no. For now, you can still walk to a lake surrounded by rainforest and imagine it might last forever. And for now, you can still listen in the middle of the night to the saraguatos sing. For Living on Earth, I'm Tatiana Schreiber at Laguna Miramar, in Chiapas, Mexico.

Back to top

(Howler monkeys call; fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert is our western editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Terry FitzPatrick is the acting senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Our production team includes Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, and Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Brent Runyon, Russell Wiedemann, and Hannah Day-Woodruff. Michael Aharon composed the theme. And finally, the Living on Earth family has its own bid for the six billionth baby. Heartfelt congratulations to Laura Knoy and her husband Steve on the arrival of their son Isaiah Jamal. Mom, dad, and baby are doing fine. 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 and 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 Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the Surdna Foundation; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity: www.wajones.org.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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