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

November 19, 1999

Air Date: November 19, 1999


World Trade Summit: Pearls of a Global Economy

Living On Earth’s political server Mark Hertsgaard joins host Steve Curwood to provide some background on the World Trade Organization and the free-trade agenda for its upcoming summit later this month. They discuss why environmentalists are concerned about trade agreements. (06:30)

World Trade Summit: Battle of Seattle / Sam Eaton

Labor and environmental protestors plan to flood Seattle with 50,000 demonstrators during the upcoming World Trade Organization summit. They’ve been preparing for a confrontation with a special boot-camp training program in the mountains outside Seattle. KUOW correspondent Sam Eaton reports. (06:15)

World Trade Summit: Consumer Power / John Ryan

Author and environmental policy analyst John Ryan of Northwest Environment Watch makes some observations about the power of consumers to shape the global economy with prudent buying decisions. (02:45)

Barefoot Hiking / Karen Kelly

Karen Kelly of the Great lakes Radio Consortium reports on a growing number of hikers who are re-discovering the pleasures of doing it barefoot. (05:00)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about...Charles Darwin’s book, On the Origin of the Species, published 140 years ago and the debates about the teaching of evolution that remain alive today. (01:50)

Saving Lake Victoria

With the help of some high-tech satellite imaging that color-codes soil types, scientists have recently discovered one source of some of the excess nutrients choking Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake. Pedro Sanchez, director-general of the Kenya-based International Center for Research in Agroforest, discusses this discovery with host Steve Curwood. (04:15)

Golden Moon Bear / Sy Montgomery

Commentator Sy Montgomery ventures to Cambodia in search of a magnificent bear with a golden coat sighted in the mountains. She hopes to learn if this is a new species, a mutant, or just a variation of a more common bear. (18:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Sam Eaton, Karen Kelly
GUESTS: Mark Hertsgaard, Pedro Sanchez
COMMENTATORS: John Ryan, Sy Montgomery

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

The world's trade ministers are headed for Seattle soon for a major meeting. There's an anti-corporate flavor to some large protests that are planned. But one critic says blaming big companies for the environmental woes of trade is too simplistic.

RYAN: I did a little self-exam this morning. My pants were made in Malaysia, my shirt in Hong Kong, and my shoes in Mexico. I feel like Free-Trade Barbie. Or maybe Global Sweatshop Ken.

CURWOOD: Also, you may like hiking, but one man says unless you've gone barefoot, you've missed some of the best parts.

FRAZEEN: It's a more intense experience of nature. We're looking for as close, as intimate, if you want to use that word, an experience of the outdoors as we can get.

CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this round-up of the news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

World Trade Summit: Pearls of a Global Economy

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

CROWD 1: (Shouting) End corporate greed!

CROWD 2: (Shouting) Take back the power!

CROWD 1: (Shouting) End corporate greed!

CROWD 2: (Shouting) Take back the power!

CURWOOD: Globalization. For some it can mean economic opportunity and almost instant access to markets, goods, and labor anywhere on the planet. For others, like these protesters, it can mean lower wages and environmental destruction. The World Trade Organization is at the heart of economic globalization, and as the WTO prepares to debate about the admission of China in Seattle later this month, public debate is becoming more strident on the broader issues. President Clinton will be there, along with scores of trade ministers from around the world, 5,000 journalists, and potentially thousands of demonstrators. We're taking a look this week at the debate over the environmental impact of globalization. In a few minutes, we'll have a report on preparations for protest, but first we welcome Living on Earth's political observer Mark Hertsgaard to walk us through some of the issues in this debate. Hi, Mark.


CURWOOD: Mark, this is a big meeting. And if the predictions hold, up, there will be an even more sizeable protest. Tell us why environmental activists are at a World Trade Organization meeting.

HERTSGAARD: The WTO, the World Trade Organization, has become really something of a bogeyman for the environmental movement in the past few years, and not just here in the United States, also overseas. This is something that began at the Earth Summit in '92. They are looking at the WTO and realizing, wait a minute, this is the organization that is writing the rules of the road for globalization. In other words, for the twenty-first century economy. And they look at it, and they say: We don't like this because it is, for one thing, very secret and very powerful. The WTO has something that no other international organization that I'm aware of has, which is the ability to override the sovereignty of individual nation states. WTO rules take precedence over national law, over national regulations. That's a major power. And the environmentalists point out that it's a power that is largely exercised in secret. The WTO, for example, meets in secret. Its disputes are decided by a three-member panel of lawyers, and these are corporate lawyers, and there is no appeal of their decisions. So that kind of enormous power in the hands of a corporate-oriented elite makes environmentalists very nervous.

CURWOOD: Okay, now, specifically what do environmentalists say is likely to happen as a result of this secret kind of star chamber international arbitration?

HERTSGAARD: They have two complaints. One is -- or fears, I guess -- is that the WTO is going to undercut all of the environmental regulations in place now. They point, for example, to this last summer, when the European Union tried to restrict imports of United States beef that had been treated with hormones. The Europeans have fears about the health risks of this. But the Clinton Administration appealed their decision to the WTO and said this is an unfair restriction on trade. The WTO took the side of the United States and ordered the Europeans to accept that beef. Now, ironically enough, the United States has also lost on this. In 1998, when the U.S. tried to keep out shrimp that had been caught by overseas nations in a way that killed sea turtles, the U.S. said no, Endangered Species Act doesn't allow it. Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, appealed that decision to the WTO and the WTO sided with them, and so much for the Endangered Species Act.

CURWOOD: It's one thing to be concerned about the environment, but you need trade rules if you're going to have international trade. And if you don't have a body that arbitrates this, it'll be chaos. And the argument is made that the more free trade you have, the more incomes rise, the better off a lot of people are in terms of rising incomes.

HERTSGAARD: I think that sensible environmentalists accept that, of course, there have to be some rules governing global trade. The real issue is what will those rules be? And who will make them? And will those rules take into account other values besides increased corporate sales? Will they also keep our environmental standards strong?

CURWOOD: So, what exactly do the protesters hope to accomplish in Seattle, do you think, Mark? The solution can't just be to shut down world trade, can it? Or is that what they want?

HERTSGAARD: Well, there's a difference between what you do out on the streets and what you do in the corridors of power, with the negotiations. And I think there, what the environmentalists and the labor unions and the human rights activists, all these representatives of civil society, they want two things. One is a seat at the table for civil society, a seat for other people than just the trade ministers and the multinational corporations. And they want it to be meaningful. And interestingly enough there, even Bill Clinton has accepted that, a big proponent of WTO. He said there has to be more transparency. There has already been a U.S. court decision that has ordered trade representative Charlene Barshefsky to bring environmentalists and other public interest representatives onto her panels. So, that is one thing they want, is a more open, transparent process. The other thing they want, I think, is to really raise questions about the environmental and labor effects of increased trade, and to say do we really want to be trading off our environmental standards at home, just to make more money for multinational corporations? That's the way they'd like to try and phrase that. They say we should not be having a race to the bottom to destroy all these standards. Rather, we should be lifting standards up around the world.

CURWOOD: Okay, Mark. So, your prediction of what will come out of this meeting?

HERTSGAARD: One thing to watch for, Steve, and this is not a prediction, but I think it's going to be interesting to see if some of the nation-states begin to edge a little closer to the environmentalist point of view. French president Chirac, for example, has promised to make a big fuss in Seattle over genetically-modified foods. The Europeans want to label those foods because of environmental concerns. The Clinton administration has condemned that and appealed it to the WTO. I think the Europeans there, and Chirac in particular, are recognizing that boy, this WTO really does override national sovereignty. Is that really what we want to do? And so, watch for some movement on that. There may be some coming together of governments and environmentalists and labor activists to shift these roles, because this is really the defining event in what globalization is going to mean.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's Political Observer. Thanks, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

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World Trade Summit: Battle of Seattle

CURWOOD: Seattle law-enforcement officials are gearing up for what could be one of the largest American protests in decades. With several heads of state and scores of trade delegates converging on the city, there's even talk of circling one key facility with a barricade of buses to keep protesters away. As Sam Eaton of member station KUOW reports, preparations for the showdown have been going on for months.

GROUP: (chanting, clapping hands) We are the cheerleaders of the revolution!

EATON: It's early morning on a rolling stretch of pasture in the Cascade foothills outside Seattle. Several young activists stand in a circle, practicing political cheers.

GROUP: Home and career...

EATON: This is boot camp for 150 elite political demonstrators. They're here to develop techniques to turn the anti-WTO demonstrations into what they hope will become the protest of the century.

KRETZMANN: Because of the size of the WTO meeting, the fact that this is being billed, I think quite accurately, as the largest corporate agenda-gathering in this millennium, it's attracting a lot of experienced people to come in and try to help out, to make sure that we get our message out. To make sure that we're able to stop this next round of WTO talks from going forward.

EATON: Steve Kretzmann is a trainer for the camp sponsor, the Berkeley-based Ruckus Society. He's teaching students here the nuances of nonviolent confrontation, along with the guerrilla tactics of hanging banners from skyscrapers and spray-painting local billboards.


MAN: ... The dark around the edge and then the light in the middle, so that when people look from a distance it looks like a three-dimensional dolphin ...

EATON: In one area of the camp, artists are building giant papier-mache figurines to be used in what Mr. Kretzmann calls "arrestable theater."

KRETZMANN: Arrestable theater is a concept where basically we're combining traditional political theater methods with traditional direct-action methods, so that you'll have people who are actually acting out some sort of dramatic conflict, say, between sea turtles and the WTO.

EATON: Activists plan to use this technique to turn downtown Seattle into a giant stage, a festival of resistance, transforming the streets into rivers and forests complete with schools of papier-mache dolphins. The goal is to present a vivid image, as demonstrators confront local police.

KRETZMANN: When you have a visual of Seattle police arresting people in sea turtle costumes at the request of WTO bureaucrats in suits, it's pretty clear what's going on.

EATON: The street protests will all be part of a coordinated campaign to get the world's news media to report the impacts of world trade on labor and the environment. It's expected more than 50,000 protesters will converge on downtown Seattle, outnumbering the trade delegates and the media by ten to one. To rally people in Seattle, one group is broadcasting commercials on the Internet.

(Dramatic music. Voice-over: "At this month's World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, are the world's biggest economic problems really on the agenda? Overproduction. Overconsumption. A growing underclass. A world awash in chemicals. Is economic progress killing the planet? Let's go to Seattle and put those questions on the WTO agenda.")


EATON: The prospect of mass demonstrations has created a sense of trepidation among many in downtown Seattle. Police are advising merchants to have fire extinguishers on hand in case any of the protests get out of hand, along with plywood to board up any broken windows. Which brings up a certain irony about the timing and location of the summit. I'm standing here about a block away from where the trade delegates will meet, in the heart of Seattle revitalized shopping district. In front of me are the very products the WTO countries represent: three stories of Nike tennis shoes, for example, or FAO Schwartz with aisle after aisle of imported toys. But these same streets, now filled with shoppers and tourists, will be swollen with activists during the trade talks, which occur in the first week of the holiday shopping season. In essence, the WTO summit is shutting down the very trade the organization promotes.


EATON: Supporters of global free trade are openly critical of the protesters. Patricia Davis, president of the Washington State Council on International Trade, dismisses the activists as extremists.

DAVIS: Unfortunately, there are groups who are anti-trade. I think they're a small minority, but they're anti-trade, anti-capitalist, anti-globalization, stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off, who have co-opted the environmental and labor arguments to scare people with.

EATON: Ms. Davis is confident the world will focus on what happens inside the summit, not on the street.

DAVIS: We're going to go on the map for having the Seattle round that sets the trade agenda for the next four or five years in this world. And it happened here, the spotlight is on us, we'll forget about the protesters. And what's really going to be meaningful is the agenda that is set and the progress that is made in helping settle some of these very serious and contentious issues.

EATON: Already, though, activists have begun to show a knack for stealing the spotlight.

CROWD 1: (Shouting) End corporate greed!

CROWD 2: (Shouting) Take back the power!

CROWD 1: (Shouting) End corporate greed!

CROWD 2: (Shouting) Take back the power!

EATON: They staged a noisy demonstration when WTO head Michael Moore arrived in Seattle on a recent planning visit.

CROWD 1: (Shouting) End corporate greed!

CROWD 2: (Shouting) Take back the power!

EATON: The White House has been dispatching top Cabinet officials to Seattle to try to defuse the situation. Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner told a town hall meeting that the administration would never roll back American environmental laws to support global trade.

BROWNER: I would never, ever agree to change an air pollution standard which I set...

EATON: But activists at this meeting weren't convinced.

BROWNER: Excuse me. If you want me to answer it...

EATON: The session broke down into a series of catcalls from the audience, forcing Ms. Browner to leave.

(Shouting in the audience)

EATON: It's unclear if protesters will be able to actually disrupt the WTO summit itself. A large security zone will be established around the conference site and the talks are closed to the public. Still, activists vow to be a major presence. For Living on Earth, I'm Sam Eaton in Seattle.

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World Trade Summit: Consumer Power

CURWOOD: With all the debate surrounding the World Trade Organization, commentator John Ryan says there's been very little talk about some of the most powerful players in the global economy.

RYAN: Sometimes I wonder if the hubbub over the WTO isn't a bit off-base, with protesters storming the stage at a recent forum, changing, "Stop corporate greed!" Jeez, you might as well protest continental drift. (Claps and chants) Earthquakes are really chronic. We've got to stop plate tectonics. I mean, hello. Corporations exist to make money, and I doubt that is going to change in the new millennium.

But we can define where and how greed can operate. To be sure, in this global era, governments are losing their sway over corporate behavior. Multinationals can outrun the law in one place by seeking browner pastures elsewhere. And the frighteningly powerful WTO is definitely helping them.

But no company can run from its customers. You see, the secretly powerful player here is you and me. Consumer demand fuels the global economy, and consumers' tremendous powers can be used to reshape it. For example, by buying organic coffee instead of the regular stuff, you've just stopped pesticides from being sprayed thousands of miles away. And you've told farmers in agribusiness that it pays to protect the land. By buying an energy-efficient appliance or vehicle, you voted for high environmental standards instead of a race to the bottom. By shopping for local or low-impact or, best of all, second-hand goods, you're helping build an economy that respects the earth.

Now, I'm no angel in all this. I did a little self-exam this morning. My pants were made in Malaysia, my shirt in Hong Kong, and my shoes in Mexico. I feel like Free-Trade Barbie. Or maybe Global Sweatshop Ken. Sometimes it's hard even for a do-gooder like me to find products made with human rights or the planet in mind.

And the WTO wants to make it even harder for us to choose wisely. It's declared things like eco-labels to be unfair restrictions on trade. But even if the WTO succeeds in restricting our right to know, consumers still have tremendous influence. You don't need an eco-label to know that the best kind of gasoline or beef or electricity to buy is less of it. We all know that riding a bike on a short trip instead of driving an oil-guzzler designed for elephant hunting is a coup for local self-reliance, and for our planet's climate.

Yeah, it's critical that activists rein in the WTO's arbitrary powers. But don't let the Battle of Seattle mislead you. When it comes to globalization, some of the most important choices are made as close as the check-out line of your local store.

CURWOOD: John Ryan is with Northwest Environment Watch in Seattle. His new book is called Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planet.

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CURWOOD: Just ahead: staying in touch with the earth, literally, while hiking. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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Barefoot Hiking

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Most of us can remember going barefoot as a kid. The feel of warm sand, ouch-y pebbles, hot pavement, and the early morning dew on our feet. But as we get older, we start to worry about stepping on or in something. So, we keep our feet covered up, or at least most of us do. As Karen Kelly of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports, a growing number of grown-up hikers are giving their boots the boot. She caught up with one of the new breed of bare-footers in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

KELLY: I hate bare feet. Whether they're mine or someone else's, I really don't want to look at them. Yet, here I am going hiking with a guy who doesn't wear shoes.


ADAMS: You just have to watch your footing.

KELLY: I meet Elliott Adams at the foot of Baldface Mountain in the central Adirondacks. He's dressed like a school custodian, except he has bare feet, which poke out from under his blue chinos. I have to admit, Adams’ feet do look good. There aren't any blisters on them, and his toes aren't all scrunched up. Soon, I realize they also give him better footing. He scrambles over rocks, and plows without hesitation through muddy streams.

(Footfalls, splashes)

KELLY: The last thing you want when you're hiking is wet feet. Elliott Adams' solution is to take his boots off.

ADAMS: We were walking on the northward Lake Placid Trail on the typical rainy vacation, and suddenly I thought: Gee, you know, my feet would be drying out between these puddles, but my boots have gotten wet and are just staying wet. So, I took my boots off, and my feet were drying out between the puddles instead of being soaking wet the whole time.


KELLY: That was 20 years ago. Adams hasn't worn hiking boots since. He escaped relatively unnoticed until he climbed the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondacks. Then local newspapers began featuring him and large pictures of his bare feet. But he's not in it for the notoriety. As logger and mayor of the town of Sharon Springs, New York, Mr. Adams wears shoes on the job. But he has developed a reputation as the barefoot mayor.

ADAMS: Everybody knows I go barefoot. People say, well, go look for the guy who doesn't have any shoes on. But that's different than being the mayor. In a small town, people have to know you both as the office and as an individual.

KELLY: Elliott Adams goes barefoot at home, in town, even in businesses if they'll let him. He says it's the only way he can toughen up his feet. He encounters people who are friendly and curious. And then there are the folks who just get upset.

ADAMS: Dangerous. That's what I hear all the time, it's really dangerous. Oh, really? I don't know what the big danger is. I mean, some guy accosted me one time and said, "Well, I saw a program about all the evil things that you can get through your feet." I thought: Let's see, what's the calculated risk of that, and you're going to hop in your car and drive home, which is infinitely more risky.

KELLY: Elliott Adams is one of a growing number of shoeless hikers. About 20 barefoot hiking groups now operate nationwide. Richard Frazeen founded the first group in Thomaston , Connecticut, and is the author of The Barefoot Hiker. He says the experience opens a whole new world.

FRAZEEN: It's a more intense experience of nature. We're looking for as close, as intimate, if you want to use that word, an experience of the outdoors as we can get. And those of us who do this all the time would no more want to be shod in the woods than we would want to be blindfolded or earmuffed or wear a clothespin on our nose.


KELLY: Elliott Adams and I have reached the top of Baldface Mountain. And as I look at Adams' bare feet sunning themselves on a big rock, mine start to itch. So I reach down and slowly unlace my boots.

(To Adams) You know, I feel embarrassed taking my shoes off in front of you.

ADAMS: Isn't that fascinating. (Both laugh) How obscene.

KELLY: (Laughs) I know, I do. It makes me feel undressed.
Adams leads me to a rock covered with different types of moss. Under my bare feet, some feel wet and squishy. Others are like dry corn flakes.

(To Adams) Ooh. Ooh, wow. Ugh. Oh gosh, I don't know.

ADAMS: This looks stiff and dry.

KELLY: Ooh. Yeah, I like this one. This feels like a velvet pillow. You know, I have to say, I kind of like this. (Laughs)

Before long it's time to head back down the mountain. Reluctantly I put my boots back on. My toes feel cramped, and with every step I stub them on the inside of the boots. Suddenly, I understand why some hikers become barefooters. I watch Elliott Adams with envy as he pads along the soft dirt trail. He doesn't preach at others to join him, but his movements send a message that treading lightly, and shoeless on the earth, can be a fun way to go.


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

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(Footfalls; fade to music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; 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: An answer to an ecological mystery of Africa's giant Lake Victoria. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


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

The Living on Earth Almanac

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

(Music up and under)

TRACY: Darwin took us forward to a hilltop, from where we could look back and see the way from which we came. But for this insight and for this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis.

MARCH: We must not abandon faith!

CURWOOD: That's Spencer Tracy, along with Fredric March in the film, "Inherit the Wind," the Hollywood retelling of the infamous Monkey Trial of the 1920s. The trial, the movie, and debates still raging today, were all inspired by a book that was published 140 years ago this week: Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species. The book laid out the revolutionary theory that animals and plants evolve from one kind to another over time, by a process of natural selection. And although it contained only the slightest reference to human origins, it was condemned by many at the time as an assault on religious faith. Darwin was undaunted, though. In his later work, The Descent of Man, he stoked the debate still further by exploring the evolutionary links between humans and apes. In the real-life Monkey Trial, high school teacher John Scopes was convicted of violating Tennessee law by teaching evolution, with prosecutor William Jennings Bryan prevailing over defense attorney Clarence Darrow. The decision was reversed, though, on a technicality a year later. And it wasn't until 1967 that Tennessee repealed the law. In some schools, the teaching of evolution still comes under fire to this day. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Saving Lake Victoria

CURWOOD: From space, Lake Victoria appears to be a giant jewel of Africa, a glittering sapphire the size of Ireland set in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The lake is an important trade route and source of food and livelihood. And like so many other bodies of water today, Lake Victoria is in trouble. Excess nutrients are feeding toxic algae blooms. Fish are dying off. And a carpet of water hyacinths is spreading across the lake, blocking boat traffic. Small farms around the lake have often been cited as the source for the nutrient pollution, but now new research shows that farmers might be taking too much of the blame. The scientists studying soil erosion at Kenya's International Center for Research and Agroforestry were reviewing satellite photos that color-code soil types. Dr. Pedro Sanchez, the center's Director General, says they were startled by what they saw in the water.

SANCHEZ: What I saw, and I'm looking at the picture right now, it's a green shadow against a black background of a lake satellite. And it's quite remarkable; it's very, very clear.

CURWOOD: So, where is that sediment coming from, and what does that mean?

SANCHEZ: We have found out that sediment comes from rivers and two watersheds as far away as about 150 miles from Lake Victoria. And that most of that sediment does not come from farms, but it comes from open land or common property. In other words, areas that are grazed by the village cattle or roadsides and gullies and so on.

CURWOOD: What is the activity, exactly, that leads to all these nutrients going into the water, you say, from common areas? What happens there?

SANCHEZ: Any time a soil is left uncovered, it doesn't have vegetation on top of it. And if you are on any kind of a slope at all, which is the case here, when the rains come there is runoff, and that water literally runs off into the lake carrying the sediments. Normally, it would be stopped by what we call the riparian areas, or the areas around the lake shore or near a river, where there usually are a lot of trees that physically stop the movement of those sediments into the water, and also take advantage of those nutrients and grow very happily.

CURWOOD: What happened to the trees around Lake Victoria?

SANCHEZ: The trees around Lake Victoria are being cut off mainly by small-holder farmers and people who live in the villages, for firewood.

CURWOOD: Well, what's the follow-up here? What's to be done?

SANCHEZ: Okay. What's to be done, now, is to plant trees or grass barriers to stop the sediments from flowing into the rivers, and into Lake Victoria. And the soil and water conservation branch of Kenya is a very active institution that works together with farming communities, and they have told us now that we know where the problem is. We're going to start working with these farmer communities to start growing trees around these common areas, and begin to plant trees close to these riparian areas or these river shore or lake shore areas as well.

CURWOOD: What about the other countries that border on Lake Victoria? I'm thinking of Uganda and Tanzania -- and my geography is weak from there.

SANCHEZ: No, no, you're correct. Actually, most of Lake Victoria belongs to Tanzania and Uganda. Kenya has only about ten percent of it. The problem is the same.

CURWOOD: How applicable is this to other lakes suffering from similar problems?

SANCHEZ: It would be very applicable. This is sort of a generic situation. Our contribution is a small contribution to identifying what the problem is. But our contribution, in terms of having the techniques that identify where sediments come from, through satellites, and in an exact way, is something that is applicable all over the world.

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

SANCHEZ: Thank you, sir. It's a pleasure to be with you.

CURWOOD: Pedro Sanchez is Director General of the Kenya-based International Center for Research in Agroforestry.

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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 to 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. And visit our web page at www.loe.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15.
Just ahead: Sy Montgomery takes us in search of the Golden Moon bear. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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Golden Moon Bear

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. A group of astronomers reported this month that for the first time, they have found direct evidence of a planet orbiting another star. The discovery is a remarkable moment in our exploration of the universe and the possibility of life on other worlds. But as we approach the new millennium, we're finding that there is an awful lot we still don't know about our own little planet. Scientists have been surprised, for instance, at the recent discoveries of large mammals never before known to western science in the isolated jungles of Southeast Asia. Sy Montgomery recently joined an expedition to Cambodia to document one such animal: a bear with a coat of gold.


MONTGOMERY: I'm doing something my mother told me never to do. I'm sticking my hands inside a cage with a bear in it. And I'm trying to pluck out some of its hair with eyebrow tweezers.

SUN HEAN: Uh uh.


SUN HEAN: Uh uh.

MONTGOMERY: I didn't get follicle.

SUN HEAN: Uh uh. He's angry now.

MONTGOMERY: Unfortunately bears don't always cooperate.

SUN HEAN: Wait, wait.


MONTGOMERY: Here comes another hand.

SUN HEAN: Be careful.

(The bear growls)

MONTGOMERY: Still, it's a small risk to take for what could be a huge payoff. The DNA in the hairs my partners and I are collecting may help document the existence of a creature that, until now, has remained hidden in the forested mountains of southeast Asia. A Golden Moon bear.

SUN HEAN: I saw that bear in 1997.

MONTGOMERY: That's Sun Hean , the energetic deputy director of wildlife protection for the nation of Cambodia. I met Sun Hean while he was in the U.S. on a Fulbright Scholarship, and he told me he had seen a bear unlike any other in Southeast Asia. It was on a palm plantation in southwestern Cambodia, he says. A shaggy bear, with prominent ears, dark eye rings, and an astonishing golden coat.

SUN HEAN: I had never seen the bear that has such kind of color. I also have a question mark in myself about, you know, is that a new species or what?

MONTGOMERY: Meanwhile, a biology professor I knew from Northwestern University had the same question about an extraordinary bear he'd seen years before in Yunnan, China. Gary Galbreath told me the only big bears thought to live in tropical China are jet black, with a white crescent moon on the chest. But the one he saw had a coat of gold.

GALBREATH: If it had only been the one bear in Yunnan , it could always just be written off as an abnormal bear.

MONTGOMERY: Gary Galbreath's green eyes lit up when I told him about Sun Hean's bear. He had to go to Cambodia to see for himself, and I was to go along.

GALBREATH: Oh, I was very excited. Now that we know that such bears can be found and over a very substantial area of land in Southeast Asia, this means that either we're looking at a color phase, or something of the sort, which is important to document, or we are looking at a new species of bear, which would be a major biological discovery.

MONTGOMERY: No fewer than five new mammals have been discovered in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. After three decades of war, scientists are only now beginning to explore Cambodia for new species. It's easy to see why. Not only do its jungles harbor malarial mosquitos, poisonous snakes, and dangerous tigers, but some eight million unexploded land mines dot the landscape. And bandits, we're told, can also make travel risky.

(Traffic; a car door opens, closes)

MONTGOMERY: Gary and I meet Sun Hean in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. We carefully map our routes, prepare our gear, and within days we're on the road.

SUN HEAN: Ready to go?

(Another door closes)

MONTGOMERY: We have tweezers, we have gloves, we have everything.


(Several voices speak at once)

MONTGOMERY: We're on the move.

(Cambodian music plays on a radio)

MONTGOMERY: With Sun Hean at the wheel, the crumbling streets and bustling traffic of Phnom Penh soon give way to lush rice fields, where water buffalo pull plows and bicycle-drawn carts carry pigs and chickens to market. We're heading to Kompong Som , a coastal town about 120 kilometers southwest of the capital, to see the bear Sun Hean has spotted at the palm plantation. A soldier caught this bear and, because of its unusual color, presented it to the plantation owner as a gift.

(A door shuts)

MONTGOMERY: We find it in a spacious fenced area full of shady plants just inside the compound.


MONTGOMERY: Is this the cage?

SUN HEAN: Yes. Right there.

MONTGOMERY: Oh my gosh!

GALBREATH: It appears, although there are some black hairs here and there, it appears to be basically blond, but with a black mane.

MONTGOMERY: We have a number of errands to accomplish here. We need to take photos and video of the Golden Moon bear, and we have to pull out some of its hair. The live cells at the base of the hair can be chemically tested to determine if this bear is genetically different from the common Black Moon bear species. But our bear, a young female, is sound asleep in the 95-degree heat. Luckily, I lugged from the States two surefire bear lures: a bag of marshmallows and a can of condensed milk.

(Makes smacking sounds)

MONTGOMERY: Here she comes, Gary.

GALBREATH: Yeah, I see.

MONTGOMERY: Here she comes. Hi, pretty.

(Lapping sounds)

MONTGOMERY: The bear likes the sweet milk so much that Sun Hean decides to enlarge the opening of the can so she can lick it faster. But the bear thinks the service is too slow. Her blond head lunges between the bars.

SUN HEAN: Oh! Come...

GALBREATH: Did you get cut?

MONTGOMERY: Are you bleeding?

SUN HEAN: I don't know. Nope.

MONTGOMERY: No. No cut, just a little anxious nip. Hey, Gar, if you come over here,I'm going to pull another hair out.

(Lapping sounds; a clanging on the bar)

MONTGOMERY: Got it. Excellent. Great. Hold it, you hold it. Hold it. Oh God, that's like the most gorgeous follicle in the world. Fantastic.
Our scientific haul for the day: dozens of photos, streams of video, copious notes, and eight precious bear hairs.

(A car engine starts up; beeps; music)

GALBREATH: That was very successful. A wonderful visit. I couldn't be more pleased.

MONTGOMERY: Still, it's just a start. Now we need to find a common Black Moon bear, collect some of its hairs, and compare the DNA with our Golden Moon bear.

GALBREATH: If we have here from a black-colored Moon Bear, from reasonably close geographically, so it can be assumed to be from the same population, then we can ask the question: Is the amount of difference we see in the mitochondrial DNA compatible with these two bears being from the same breeding population or not? If the answer is no, then we may well be looking at two species. If the answer is yes, then it's somewhat ambiguous, but at least it's easier to support the idea that they're from the same population.

MONTGOMERY: Black Moon bears are fairly common in this region. In fact, many are kept as pets at hotels to entertain tourists.

(Sun Hean speaks in Cambodian)

MONTGOMERY: At a local market we hear that a Black Moon bear was just caught by a hunter in the nearby Elephant Mountain range.

SUN HEAN: He said the bear was caught in there, and they got back.


SUN HEAN: Yes, just now. Yesterday.

MONTGOMERY: Yesterday!



SUN HEAN: So now he's going to see the trap, maybe get the bear.

MONTGOMERY: The only way to find out is to go see. The bear is being held at a campin the Elephant Mountains, one of the largest stretches of jungle remaining in Southeast Asia. We have hired a guide, as travel in this region is strongly discouraged without one, due to land mines and bandits. But for now, the monsoon rains are our main concern. The daily downpours have turned the dirt paths muddy and treacherous.

(Walking through water)

GALBREATH: There's a piece of log in the middle. Be sure you don't slip on it.

MONTGOMERY: These mountains are named for the elephants, which abound in its jungles. Tigers, Moon and Sun bears, barking deer, and a host of other exotic creatures also live here. As it turns out, though, our first wildlife encounter is with a creature a bit further down the food chain.


MONTGOMERY: Oh, man! Wait till you see this, Gary! (Laughs)


MONTGOMERY: Can you describe this specimen?

GALBREATH: It's a leech about the length of my index finger.

MONTGOMERY: Oh my God, it's a foot long. (Laughs) It's thicker than a man's thumb. It's green on the bottom. And it's brown on the top with a black stripe down the middle. But the thing that strikes you the most is the great vigor with which it moves toward Gary's foot.


GALBREATH: Boy, I can feel the suction. Very intriguing.

MONTGOMERY: We resume our hike into the Elephant ranges and leeches become the least of our worries.

(Guide speaks in Cambodian)

MONTGOMERY: Our guide shares with us something he failed to mention earlier. A month ago he was kidnapped near here, beaten, and held for ransom. Now, he tells us he's spotted three men he doesn't recognize, and that has him and his helper concerned about our safety.

SUN HEAN: They're worried about us.

MONTGOMERY: They're worried about us, because we are targets.


GALBREATH: I wish we had a gun. Well, anyway --

SUN HEAN: If you have gun, they also have gun.


SUN HEAN: Long gun. Strong gun.

GALBREATH: I still wish, anyway.

(Animal calls)

MONTGOMERY: Our guide loses sight of the strangers, and after some discussion we decide to push ahead, cautiously.


MONTGOMERY: After an hour's hike, we reach the camp where the Black Moon bear is supposed to be. But it's difficult to find it among the menagerie.

(Bird calls)

MONTGOMERY: So the bear is here, Sun.

SUN HEAN: I think two animals. The barking --

MONTGOMERY: Oh my gosh! It's a muntjac in there.


SUN HEAN: Oh yes. It is a black bear.

MONTGOMERY: Look, it is a black bear! Baby.

GALBREATH: It's a lovely bear.

(More animal calls)

GALBREATH: The only question is whether we can get a few hairs from this guy.

MONTGOMERY: We're pros at this now, and have no trouble from the shy little black bear cub in her tiny cage.

(To Galbreath) Do you want to hold onto this, and I'll tweeze. You've got it.

GALBREATH: Very nice.



MONTGOMERY: Our errand complete, we head deeper into the jungle. So far we've only seen Moon bears in cages. We long to explore the rainforest habitat, where these spectacular animals roam free.


MONTGOMERY: But it's raining now so hard that spotting the tracks of wild animals on these trails is near impossible.

(To Sun Hean) So, do you think we should turn back?

SUN HEAN: I think we should turn back, and we try our trip tomorrow to Koh Kong.

MONTGOMERY: Sun Hean plans an expedition into the rainforest of the Cardamom Mountains that lie to the north. A day's travel by ferry across the Gulf of Siam. We overnight at Koh Kong , and when we meet Sun Hean for breakfast the next morning, he tells us that our entourage now includes five soldiers armed with AK-47s, and an officer from the Forestry Department.


SUN HEAN: So we don't worry about kidnap, you know, or something like that.

MONTGOMERY: No kidnappers today.


MONTGOMERY: Okay, great. Fearless leader, are we off?

(An engine starts up)

MONTGOMERY: Our motorcycles roar off into the rain. Soon the smooth town road gives way to a red, rutted, slippery gash bulldozed into the mountain. This logging road is new, and Sun Hean tells me and Gary that we are the second group of foreigners ever to enter this rainforest. On either side of us, a seemingly impenetrable wall of bamboo, snaking vines, and ancient trees.

GALBREATH: Absolutely magnificent rainforest that we're driving through. The downside is that this road is cutting through the heart of Cambodia's last great wilderness. It's a logging concession road. It opens the forest to logging and hunting all along the way, right through the middle of this huge block of primeval forest. Of course, it's allowing us to travel, so perhaps I'm being a hypocrite.

MONTGOMERY: We spend the rest of the day exploring the forest, and soon discover we're far from alone in this once-remote land. Logging has brought people here, and while civilian guns are outlawed almost everyone we see has one. The guns, and the ubiquitous leg traps, make efficient hunting tools. At one camp we find a stack of seven dead barking deer, the pelt of a rare Asian wild dog, the skull of a turtle, and the drying gallbladders of wild pigs and possibly bears. As we're soon to find, hunters can make a small fortune at the burgeoning market for body parts of these wild animals in Cambodia's capital.

(Milling voices; traffic)

MONTGOMERY: We're back in Phnom Penh, on Rue 166, an ordinary looking market on an ordinary street. Sun Hean takes us to number 47. It's an open storefront where fluorescent light bounces off a tiled floor to illuminate the merchandise.
SUN HEAN: Two dyed tiger skin, and one elephant penis, six elephant tails, four sand deer skull, and two pair of tiger fang, and a lot of -- the fang, I don't know. May be bear or leopard or the cat species.

MONTGOMERY: Can you tell us a little bit about what these things are all for?

SUN HEAN: They go in to trade that to Vietnam, to Thailand, for much money.

MONTGOMERY: Is any of this legal?

SUN HEAN: All illegal.

MONTGOMERY: Cambodia's wildlife protection office is trying to introduce new laws to stop this activity. It's only part of the huge challenge Sun Hean and his colleagues face, as Cambodia emerges from decades of foreign invasion and civil war with the Khmer Rouge.

SUN HEAN: Before we had Khmer Rouge, we can say an expression that Khmer Rouge help us to safeguard the animal. Because when we had Khmer Rouge in the forest, then the local people, the hunter, cannot go to hunt the animal. The positive thing that we had war. But now, war is finished, so the people have a lot of freedom to come into the forest. And they can do anything like hunting, trapping, any job they can do in the forest they do.

MONTGOMERY: War, it appears, may have inadvertently preserved a hidden Eden of East Asia's wildlife, including species that Gary tells us are only now being discovered.

GALBREATH: The best example is this primitive ox, called a kiting vor. There's anecdotal evidence that it may exist in many parts of the rainforested hills of Cambodia. And yet with hunting pressures being what they are, it may be wiped out in many of those areas before it is viewed, before it is even found, before anyone can conserve it. As we are discovering new species, they are new species that are essentially heavily threatened or endangered at the moment they are found.

(Cambodian music plays)

MONTGOMERY: Our last night in Cambodia, Sun Hean takes Gary and me to a karaoke bar. We won't see Sun Hean again for months, and as a farewell he sings for us a traditional Cambodian love song.

(Sun Hean sings)

SUN HEAN: I had a great time with you both here, you know, for these few weeks' work. And I'm really happy, and I hope that in the future we can work more, basically on bear conservation programs here. So to you all the best, welcome.

(Singing continues)

MONTGOMERY: Gary and I leave for Thailand the next morning. Since we began planning our southeast Asian trip, we've heard that more light-colored bears have been seen there. If those reports are true, it could mean that Golden Moon bears can be found in a broad swath stretching thousands of miles from southwestern Cambodia into tropical China. We'll soon find out. But for now, it's time to relax, celebrate the success of our current expedition, and toast the promise the future may hold.

MONTGOMERY AND GALBREATH: (Singing) In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the Moon Bear sleeps tonight. In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the Moon Bear sleeps tonight.

MONTGOMERY: For Living on Earth, I'm Sy Montgomery in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

(Montgomery and Galbreath continue singing)

CURWOOD: Later this winter, we'll find out the results of the DNA testing. And whether Sy Montgomery and her colleagues have in fact identified a new species of bear.

MONTGOMERY AND GALBREATH: (Singing) Near the village, the quiet village, the moon bear sleeps tonight. Whee-oo-whee-oo, whee-um-um-a-way.

Back to top


CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, storyteller Jay O’Callahan weaves the tale of one man's journey at sea.

CALLAHAN: (Singing) Paddle on the left side, paddle on the right. Paddle up a wave and down the other side. (Speaking) I'm going to him right here, look at that fisherman. Chin looks like a doorknob, looks like he's waiting for us.

"Hey, boy, you're the one that come in from the Funks, boy."

"How'd you know that?"

"Everyone in Newfoundland knows about you, boy. We heard about you on the fishing radio. You come all the way from the Funks in that thing! I wouldn't go across the harbor in that thing, boy. How about some tea? Tea!"

"When you're 60 and someone calls you boy, makes you feel good."

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Dick Wheeler was 60 years old when he set out in a kayak to create the migratory path of a now-extinct bird known as the Great Auk. He paddled 1,500 miles from northern Newfoundland to Buzzard's Bay in Massachusetts. Mr. Wheeler hoped his Great Auk journey would awaken new interest in the stories of living sea birds. But he found another story.

WHEELER: It changed me. It changed me forever. I really did have the feeling that the ocean was trying to give me a message.

CURWOOD: Dick Wheeler asks storyteller Jay O’Callahan to help him tell his tale. And together they created the spirit of the Great Auk. That's coming up next week on Living on Earth.

We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University.Our production staff 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, Hanna Day-Woodruff , Keneed Leger and member station KPLU in Seattle. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Our engineer this week is George Homsy. 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 of Living on Earth. 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 Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; the Surdna Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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