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

December 10, 1999

Air Date: December 10, 1999


WTO Aftermath Roundtable

As the dust settles in Seattle, host Steve Curwood talks with Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, and Jonathan Adler, with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, about the significance of the protests and the future of world trade. (07:10)

Alaska Oil Merger / Katie Bausler

In Alaska the two biggest oil producers, British Petroleum and ARCO, are trying to merge. Environmentalists are worried that the deal could harm the state’s fragile ecosystems. But state officials have insisted on environmental concessions in return for approving the deal. Katie Bausler (BAUW-sler) reports from Juneau. (07:05)

Listener Letters

Listeners responded this week to our coverage of the World Trade Organization summit and to the issue of logging in national forests. (01:45)

Space Poem

NASA’s Mars lander may have failed; but as poet Christine Hemp explains, there are other, more literary, ways to get our message into space. (04:00)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about the boll (bole) weevil. Eighty years ago a monument to the insect was erected in Enterprise, Alabama, but most folks still regard it as a pest. (02:00)

Lead and Crime: Profile of Roger Masters

Living On Earth travels to rural Vermont to meet a retired professor of government with some unorthodox ideas about crime. For the past six years, Roger Masters has been researching the link between heavy metal poisoning and violent crime. He is convinced he’s made important findings, but most scientists are skeptical. (08:43)

Black Bears / Steve Tripoli

People who live in rural communities get used to living with wild animals like cougars, moose and bears. But folks in suburban Boston aren’t as used to having black bears for neighbors, and their numbers are becoming more numerous because of habitat restoration and restrictions on hunting. Steve Tripoli of member station WBUR in Boston reports. (09:00)

What's in a Tale?

Host Steve Curwood and author Tom Barron discuss his new book, The mirror of Merlin. They talk about storytelling as an effective way to deliver an environmental message. (05:50)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Katie Bausler, Steve Tripoli
GUESTS: Carl Pope, Jonathan Adler, Tom Barron
PROFILE: Roger Masters
COMMENTATOR: Christine Hemp

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
As the Seattle battle over the World Trade Organization heads for the history books, some say it's only the first of many chapters to come.

POPE: I think a lot more Americans now think that what happens at the WTO is something they need to get involved in. I think that's healthy for democracy, and I think it's a permanent change.

CURWOOD: Also, a proposal from British Petroleum to buy ARCO has some Alaskans sounding the alarm.


MAN: The British are coming! The British are coming!

CURWOOD: Some say BP has a better environmental record than ARCO, but others worry that the lack of competition will hurt the public interest.

MAN 2: These multinationals have a sole motive, one that comes ahead of people's lives, of the environment, of communities. That motive is profit.

CURWOOD: Those stories, and some way out poetry, way out in outer space, this week on Living on Earth. First the news.

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(NPR News follows)

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WTO Aftermath Roundtable

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The recent collapse of the World Trade Organization negotiations in Seattle, and the accompanying violent and nonviolent protests, mark a historic turning point in the annals of global politics. Joining me to assess the aftermath of the WTO summit are Carl Pope and Jonathan Adler. Mr. Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, went to Seattle to protest. Mr. Adler is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and a supporter of free trade. Jonathan Adler, let's start with you. What do you think? Did these trade talks collapse of their own weight, as some have suggested?

ADLER: It collapsed because the various sides on the various issues were unwilling to give ground. The developing countries, both their governments and their NGO community, said that they did not believe that they needed to mortgage their economic future by creating new opportunities for protectionism through environmental regulation.

CURWOOD: So is this just another bump in the road for the World Trade Organization? Or is this a defining moment, perhaps, in the body's history? Carl Pope?

POPE: I think this is a defining moment. We like to call the WTO the Wrong Trade Organization, because it's not just about trade. Jonathan's right about that. If it limited itself to tariffs and quotas, it probably could function more or less as it had, and it could open up a lot of economic opportunity. But it's been trying to write the rules of the game for the world's economies. And as the president realized when he came to Seattle, that process isn't acceptable to people any more, unless they're involved in it, and the WTO doesn't involve people in it.

CURWOOD: Did we witness in Seattle the birth of a whole shift in international politics in terms of what some folks call a "third force," that is, non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, participating really in government issues and being part of the discussion? Is civil society becoming a third force in world politics, along with government and business?

POPE: I think civil society has been emerging steadily more strongly for the last 15 years. I think this conference marked the arrival of that force as a very, very strong voice in trade issues, where it has previously not been as loud or as clear. So I think you're seeing a gradual increase globally in the influence of civil society, and actually, I think Jonathan and I both think that's a good thing. That's something I think we agree about.

CURWOOD: Do you? Jonathan?

ADLER: I'm glad to see that more individuals and groups are expressing their views on issues. I think some of the aspects of this increase could be unfortunate. I think some of the calls to put NGOs, which are essentially self-appointed representatives, that are unelected, that usually have some particular interest they want to bring to the table, I think that giving some kind of special status to NGOs would be very unfortunate.

CURWOOD: Why would that be different from business, which is not elected?

ADLER: Business NGOs don't have any greater rights in the negotiating sessions than environmental NGOs. And I think that's a good thing. I think that non-elected representatives of various interests should be welcome and encouraged to express their opinions, to protest, to raise their concerns publicly and in the media and the like. I don't think they should be given any special status in negotiating sessions.

POPE: I agree with you completely on that, Jonathan, but I would add to that that I think that the current practice of the WTO, in which many of their rulemaking and conflict panels are full of representatives of individual corporations, are equally inappropriate. But I agree with you. I don't think we should have a seat at the table. We should merely have the ability to see what's going on at the table.

CURWOOD: Carl Pope, the demonstrations in Seattle have to have been the biggest and noisiest demonstrations that the Sierra Club has participated in since you've been director, I would guess. How important do you think the protests were?

POPE: I think the protests were a critical ingredient in encouraging others who oppose the millennial round to say no to it. But I think the real importance of the demonstrations was not their impact on the delegations, but the fact that they opened the eyes of a great many Americans, who didn't really understand what the WTO was up to. It began a national dialogue; it certainly didn't complete that dialogue. You can't learn a whole lot by watching tear gas. But I think we have an opportunity now to have a much more in-depth and national conversation about what kind of a trade organization is the right trade organization for the United States to belong to. I think a lot more Americans now think that what happens at the WTO, or these other international institutions, is something they need to get involved in. I think that's healthy for democracy, and I think it's a permanent change.

CURWOOD: Jonathan Adler, what do you say?

ADLER: I don't believe the protesters had much effect. The United States staked out its position, the European Union staked out its position. The developing countries staked out their position. And there wasn't much give.

CURWOOD: One of the interesting features of these protests was that groups that you don't usually see together -- I'm thinking particularly labor and environmental activists -- walking side by side in Seattle. They didn't certainly agree on all the tactics. But what sort of significance do you see that this coalition has for the future of what people are calling, I guess, civil society?

POPE: I think the coalition you saw come of age in Seattle had been building for a number of years. And it has been building much more strongly around these global issues than it has been around domestic issues. You had not only labor and environmentalists; you also had human rights advocates. You had family farm organizations. You had a number of student groups. You had churches. People who believe that the global society which is emerging needs to be accountable to some god other than Mammon. And it needs to be driven by some goals and values other than just money. And it needs to be open and democratic and to respect democratic decision making, and to have some values.

CURWOOD: Jonathan, where do you think this movement is going? Is it a flash in the pan or is it around for a while?

ADLER: I think it's inherently unstable, and I think one of the best issues to see that on is climate change, where the AFL-CIO is fundamentally against the Kyoto Protocol, and the environmental community is very strongly in favor of it. I think that the WTO is one set of issues where, for now, they agree. But it's not a sign of greater cooperation and agreement on other issues, because there are still very fundamental differences.

CURWOOD: Carl Pope is the executive director of the Sierra Club, and Jonathan Adler is a senior fellow in environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Gentlemen, thank you both for talking with us today.

POPE: Thank you very much.

ADLER: Thank you.

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CURWOOD: Big oil may get even bigger in Alaska if the proposed merger of British Petroleum and ARCO is approved. We'll look at the environmental impact in just a moment. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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Alaska Oil Merger

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Mega-mergers are sweeping the petroleum industry. Last month federal officials approved the amalgamation of Exxon and Mobil, and now they're reviewing the proposed merger of British Petroleum and ARCO. The two companies are the largest oil producers in Alaska, and some residents worry the merger will affect the state's fragile ecosystems, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. From Juneau, Katie Bausler reports.

BAUSLER: Ever since the merger was proposed this spring, many Alaskans have been in a state of shock. British Petroleum's buy-out of ARCO could consolidate most of Alaska's oil in the hands of a single foreign company. Environmentalists have sounded the alarm with provocative ads on the radio.


MAN: The British are coming! The British are coming!

(Fife and drums)

VOICE-OVER: In 1776, British soldiers fought us to take control of the American colonies. We stopped them cold.

(Cannon shot)

VOICE-OVER: But now they're back.

(Suspenseful music)

VOICE-OVER: British Petroleum is trying to take control of Alaska's economy. And if they take over ARCO without a fight, the stranglehold on our economy could cost jobs and hurt small businesses and our environment....

BAUSLER: The oil industry has a troubled history in Alaska, including the illegal dumping of toxic waste, inadequate maintenance of the aging Trans-Alaska pipeline, poor spill response preparedness, and harassment of workers who point out safety problems. For years, environmentalists have been pushing for improvements, and see the marriage of the state's biggest oil companies as an historic opportunity. Deborah Williams heads the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

WILLIAMS: There are many environmental issues at stake associated with this merger. The primary concern is when you put so much power into one company. That company then has unacceptable leverage in the environmental arena.

BAUSLER: Environmental issues have been a key component of secret negotiations between Alaska officials and BP, British Petroleum. In a charter agreement recently released to the public, BP has agreed to several concessions in return for state approval of the merger with ARCO. BP attorney Bill Noble, who wrote the draft, says the pact is unprecedented in even mentioning the environment.

NOBLE: If you take a look at the number of words, if you take a look at the number of commitments in this charter, there are more provisions devoted to the environmental terms than any other type of term in there. There was a great deal of attention given to the environmental provisions in drafting and putting the charter together, and I believe the fact that they're there and the nature of them is very, very significant.

BAUSLER: Some aspects of the pact have pleased both environmental officials and activists. For example, British Petroleum will spend millions to remove toxic waste from the oil fields, even waste left behind by other companies. BP will also inspect thousands of miles of corroded feeder lines that connect the Trans-Alaska pipeline. Larry Dietrick is the chief spill prevention and response officer for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

DIETRICK: The merger has created the circumstances whereby we can ask for things that we otherwise couldn't ask for. And indeed, there is a suite of things that are in that agreement now, that actually bolster what we can do from a regulatory standpoint.

BAUSLER: British Petroleum will still control the lion's share of Alaska oil. But in response to fears that it will become an oil monopoly, BP has agreed to sell off a number of exploration leases to another company, along with some of its North Slope oil reserves. Ms. Williams of the Alaska Conservation Foundation has been lobbying for economic competition like this, saying it can minimize the oil industry's impact on the environment.

WILLIAMS: What we've seen in the past several years is oftentimes, when BP said they couldn't do something, ARCO or Conoco or someone else said we can. We can meet that environmental requirement. We can come up with the best available technology to improve the environmental conditions associated with this particular activity. If you don't have good competition, then you lose that ability to look at other companies and what they are able to do for the environment in similar circumstances.

BAUSLER: Despite British Petroleum's environmental concessions, some Alaskans oppose the merger. During a recent series of public hearings, some speakers blasted any deal with big oil.

MAN: I urge you to block this deal. I believe that the creation of a monopoly in this industry is not in the best interest of the state.

MAN 2: These multinationals have a sole motive. One that comes ahead of people's lives, of the environment, of communities. That motive is profit.

BAUSLER: Other critics have pointed out that many of BP's commitments to the state, such as a promise to replace older supertankers with newer, double-hulled ships, are things the company is already required to do by law. Still others are upset the state never even asked British Petroleum to give up hopes of drilling in the coastal plain on ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. One caller grilled Alaska Governor Tony Knowles about this during a recent radio talk show.

CALLER: Are you going to allow them to drill on that plain?

KNOWLES: As far as I am concerned, as your governor, I think that there should be development, oil development and exploration on the study area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That was the reason it was put aside as a study area there, on the coastal plain, when the refuge was created. So I don't think there's any disagreement between that oil company's interest, indeed industry's interest, in taking a look at the coastal plain to see if there isn't the potential to develop.

CALLER: Well, what about the citizens of Alaska's interest? What about the caribou's interest?

KNOWLES: I think, like any issue, there are differing opinions on that, but I believe the majority of Alaskans do believe it can be done responsibly.

BAUSLER: The majority of public testimony is in favor of the merger. Still, the company has saturated Alaska media with an advertising campaign to ensure continued support.

(Upbeat music)

VOICE-OVER: We're bringing together the strengths of BP and ARCO, building a stronger company that will capture the promise of more production, more investment, more jobs, and more opportunities for Alaskans today and tomorrow.
MAN: You know, I -- I feel real good about where things are headed.

(Music with chorus: "It's a new day.")

VOICE-OVER: BP and ARCO. Shared energy for a brighter future.

(Music and chorus continue up and under)

BAUSLER: The debate is now moving from the state level to Washington. Six senators and 50 House members have already signed a letter asking British Petroleum to put the Arctic Wildlife refuge off-limits. But Congress may have little say over the deal, and in fact the environment might not be a big consideration at the federal level. The merger is being reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission, which is focusing instead on antitrust issues and how the merger might affect the retail price of gasoline. For Living on Earth, I'm Katie Bausler in Juneau, Alaska.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: Time for comments from our listeners.

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CURWOOD: Our preview of the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle drew varied responses. From Billings, Montana, KEMC listener Averill Heath wrote, "I was glad to finally hear something of substance on NPR concerning the WTO. We need a seat at the table when such far-reaching decisions are being made that will affect all of us. I do not want these trade rules to be constructed only in service of the corporate bottom line."
On the other hand, Bob Kirby who hears us on KUOW in Seattle, found our coverage disappointing. Particularly John Ryan's commentary on the consumer impact on the global economy. "His notion about saving the world by buying recycled is just another excuse for not acting and still feeling good about yourself," writes Mr. Kirby. "No one says you can end corporate greed. Just stop the activities by law that are endangering the planet. That's how the Clean Air Act got passed."

Finally, our report on the debate over building more logging roads in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska drew this response from Huntsville, Alabama, and WLRH listener Dan Hale.

HALE: I'm very much against clear-cutting in the national forest, the people's forest. I've never seen cedar trees three feet thick. You probably haven't, either. But the few we have left, let's save them!

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.

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Space Poem

CURWOOD: The repeated failures of NASA's Mars probes have prompted some grumblings from those who say outer space explorations waste time and money. But others insist contact with extraterrestrial life is possible, perhaps through something as simple as a poem. As Christine Hemp explains, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to send a poem into space. But it doesn't hurt to know one, especially one who's building NASA's sub-millimeter wave astronomy satellite.

HEMP: When my friend Gary Melnick, who is an astronomer at Harvard's Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, casually said he'd received a grant from NASA, I said, "Great! How much?" remembering the thousand dollar poetry grant I'd received that year. He replied, "Thirty-three million dollars."

Gary was building a satellite to monitor the prenatal activity of stars. The Hubble telescope has given us pictures of stars long past puberty, but Gary's instrument is to tell us what happens before they're twinkling. A kind of stellar ultrasound.

Given that metaphorical mission, Gary suggested that a poem of mine should be part of the project. It took six years to build the satellite; then, scheduling problems at NASA delayed things another four. I'd virtually forgotten about it until last year, when Gary called and said, "The launch is next month."

So I wrote the poem, and sent it to Gary, who took it to Goddard Space Flight Center near DC, where it was transferred to foil to protect it from heat, then stowed deep inside the satellite's observatory.

On December second, 1998, at Vandenburg Air Force Base in southern California, we watched a Lockheed jet carry our Pegasus rocket, which contained the satellite, into the sky to be dropped and ignited in mid-air. I sat at the control center, among astronomers, scientists, and engineers, tracking the satellite's progress via remote camera.

At five minutes before the drop, we heard a scratchy voice through the headphones. "Abort! Abort!" I looked at Gary's stricken face. For a moment, I imagined something was wrong with the poem. NASA officials saying, "This line doesn't scan. Bring her back." But the glitch turned out to be a software problem, and the satellite was forced to come down.

Over the next couple days, the launch was attempted twice more, until finally we heard the voice say, "Drop," and the rocket ignited, filling the control screens with white light. I raced downstairs and outside. Sure enough, streaking across the shimmery sky, the satellite glinted pink in the setting sun, its contrails sweeping behind it. Booster rockets exploding.

We screamed and waved our arms, following the vessel with our eyes. Up, up, up. And then, it was gone, leaving a squiggly white line in its wake. Its own poem in the sky. Now, a year later, I get e-mails from Gary, telling me how many million miles the satellite has traveled. In the last one, he wrote, "The observatory with the poem for its heart is starting to teach us how stars are born."

This is how my poem, entitled "Connecting Cord," begins:

(Music up and under)

HEMP: When a child is waiting to be born,
Light shines inside.
No one but the mother knows what trembles there.
She's the blanket, the safe cloud,
Hiding her pinpoint of glittery possibility.

CURWOOD: Christine Hemp lives in Port Townsend, Washington. You can hear her poem, "Connecting Cord," on our website at www.loe.org. Her commentary comes to us from producer Jay Allison's ongoing series, "Life Stories."

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

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: Just ahead: the man who's out to prove that exposures to toxic substances are linked to crime. The work of Roger Masters is next. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Barrett Communications, 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: "Dixie Land")

CURWOOD: Eighty years ago this week, in Enterprise, Alabama, folks dedicated a monument to an insect. That's right. About 5,000 people were on hand for the unveiling of the twelve-foot statue which features a woman in a flowing gown proudly displaying, in her uplifted hands, a beetle with a long snout, otherwise known as the boll weevil. The monument's inscription reads, "In profound appreciation of the boll weevil, and what it has done as the herald of prosperity." The prosperity was the result of the weevil's work, after the critters destroyed almost 40 percent of cotton crops across the South. Farmers in Enterprise reacted by planting other crops, like peanuts, and raising cattle. The diversification led to an agricultural boom. But not many folks outside Enterprise, Alabama, see the bright side of boll weevils, and the war against the arthropod is still being waged. In a recent publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a section on eradicating the pest is called, "Deliver Us From Weevil." And with help from Carl Sandburg, that's this week's Living on Earth Almanac.

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

(Music up and under: "Dixie Land")

CURWOOD: Eighty years ago this week, in Enterprise, Alabama, folks dedicated a monument to an insect. That's right. About 5,000 people were on hand for the unveiling of the twelve-foot statue which features a woman in a flowing gown proudly displaying, in her uplifted hands, a beetle with a long snout, otherwise known as the boll weevil. The monument's inscription reads, "In profound appreciation of the boll weevil, and what it has done as the herald of prosperity." The prosperity was the result of the weevil's work, after the critters destroyed almost 40 percent of cotton crops across the South. Farmers in Enterprise reacted by planting other crops, like peanuts, and raising cattle. The diversification led to an agricultural boom. But not many folks outside Enterprise, Alabama, see the bright side of boll weevils, and the war against the arthropod is still being waged. In a recent publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a section on eradicating the pest is called, "Deliver Us From Weevil." And with help from Carl Sandburg, that's this week's Living on Earth Almanac.

SANDBURG: (Plays guitar and sings) The boll weevil say to the farmer, you better leave me alone. I done eat all your cotton; now I'm gonna start on your corn. I'll have a home. I'll have a home. The merchant got half the cotton, the boll weevil got the rest. Didn't leave the farmer's wife, but went on a cotton dress, and it's full of holes. It's full of holes...

Lead and Crime: Profile of Roger Masters

CURWOOD: In a little farm house, near the Vermont-New Hampshire border, there is a man doing research that could forever change the way we look at crime. His name is Roger Masters. He is a retired professor of government at Dartmouth College, and he thinks crime rates are determined, at least in part, by toxic chemicals taken into the human nervous system. It's a controversial theory, one that is scoffed at by many scientists. But if Dr. Masters is right, it could have enormous implications for social policy, and suggest potential ways to reduce crime. So, we traveled up to Vermont to meet Professor Masters at his home.

(Door opens)


MASTERS: You can come in. Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Hi, how are you? Good to see you.

MASTERS: Hi, welcome. Good to see you again.

CURWOOD: The walls of Roger Master's office are filled with books on every conceivable subject: Shakespeare, Marx, deTocqueville. He's written on everything from neurotransmitters to the nonverbal behavior of politicians. But what brings us here is Professor Masters' pioneering work in the area of heavy metals and crime. It started around 1993, when Vermont's Commissioner of Corrections asked Professor Masters to look into the possible biological factors leading to crime. This led him to the work of a California businessman named Everett Red Hodges. Mr. Hodges had a theory that exposure to manganese, sometimes used to boost the octane of gasoline, also boosted the incidence of antisocial behavior. At first, Roger Masters had his doubts.

MASTERS: I was skeptical, because it seemed very, very far out. So I said, "Red, if you're right, where there's environmental pollution with manganese, there should be more crime." He said, "That's right." I said, "Well, I'll check that."

CURWOOD: Comparing data from the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory with national violent crime statistics, Professor Masters made a discovery. In communities polluted by manganese and lead from industrial sources, the crime rate was more than twice as high as in areas where neither toxin was emitted by industry. The difference held even after Professor Masters controlled for factors normally associated with crime, such as race, income, population density, and unemployment. Professor Masters was convinced he was onto something.

MASTERS: Usually in crime, we hear that, well, so and so did a good job as the commissioner of police in New York, or Toledo, Ohio, or so forth. But if you have a national trend in crime, it can't be just one chief of police. If you have national trend on three or four things, and they are all connected with controlling impulses, then there must be something at the level of the chemistry of the brain.

CURWOOD: Specifically, the parts of the brain that regulate impulses. Here's how it works. When heavy metals like lead and manganese get into the bloodstream, they reduce levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps people inhibit their impulses. So he says, you'd expect people with higher lead levels to have a harder time controlling their impulses. Dr. Masters also found that in communities already exposed to lead and manganese, crime rates were even higher, when you factored in that well-known disinhibitor, alcohol.

MASTERS: If you take the counties where there are all three of those risk factors, the crime rates are tripled. Over 900 per 100,000; the national average is a little under 300. And this always controlling for 24 other factors that are conventionally connected with crime.

CURWOOD: Nationwide, more than 50 counties fit this description. There are the usual suspects, like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, but also plenty of smaller counties you might not immediately think of as high crime areas: places like Chesterfield, South Carolina; Neosho, Kansas; and Davis, Iowa.

MASTERS: The factors that we traditionally associate with crime are probably clearly associated with crime. Not every poor individual goes out and kills someone. Not everyone from a broken home kills someone. What we have to understand is that human behavior is usually the result of many factors, and that most of the competing explanations are probably all correct. My concern is that we need to look at why it is that within some poor families that are broken, where people are unemployed and living in poor environments, there are criminals, and in others there are not criminals.

CURWOOD: Then Professor Masters shows me a graph that at first would seem to contradict his theory. The drop in crime during the past decade, which he attributes to the banning of lead from gasoline in 1977. Professor Masters says it's no coincidence that the drop in crime followed the lead ban.

MASTERS: When you look at the curves, the decline is just plain extraordinary. It's a 15-year lag. That is, you have to take 15 years after the gas has no longer got lead in it, and look at those kids. It takes 15 years to grow a criminal.

CURWOOD: So far, Professor Masters' work has been largely ignored by the established scientific community. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published an issue devoted entirely to new research on violence, but you won't find Roger Masters' work in there. And in the spring of 1999, many prominent scientists and researchers were invited to New York City to participate in a landmark conference on environmental influences on child development. The scientists sat on the stage and presented their latest research. When Roger Masters spoke, it was from an audience microphone on the floor.

WOMAN: Do we have a question? Over here.

MASTERS: (Speaking in microphone) My name is Roger Masters from Dartmouth College. I thought one thing was missing this morning, which was very dangerous to miss, which is the court's reversal of the EPA's air quality rules. We find that lead pollution is highly correlated with declines in -- or the rate of violent crime. I've just seen some numbers that some students...

CURWOOD: One researcher with concerns about Roger Masters' conclusions is Dr. Herbert Needleman, considered by many to be the father of lead research in this country. Dr. Needleman, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, has done some of his own work in this area. In 1996 he published a study showing a correlation between the level of lead in bones and juvenile delinquency. But Dr. Needleman's work looked at the effect of lead on individuals, while Dr. Masters' work compares large groups. And Dr. Needleman says that approach is the fundamental problem with Professor Masters' work.

NEEDLEMAN: In order to prove causality, you have to measure the toxic agent in an individual and measure the behavior of that individual. Short of that, you can't say that there's a cause-association, and even if you have those two measurements you have to be very modest in saying that one causes the other.

CURWOOD: Roger Masters says he's not claiming that exposure to heavy metals alone causes crime, only that it may be one factor. And he isn't the only researcher saying so. Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University in New York, has also researched the link between lead and crime, and has come to many of the same conclusions as Professor Masters. She says research like this that cuts across disciplines will always run into resistance from scientists who are protective of their fields.

DENNO: What do I know about lead? I'm a sociologist. I didn't take these data; I didn't take these measurements. They're absolutely right about that. I'm not a medical doctor. And, you know, my response is that's not the role I'm trying to take here. I'm a sociologist looking at correlation among variables.

CURWOOD: Professor Denno says any lack of attention or slighting of Professor Masters' work is mainly a case of professional territoriality. But she has strong praise.

DENNO: Well, I think very highly of him. I think he is innovative and creative and deserves a lot of credit for looking at this relationship, because I think he's gotten a bit of a hard time about it.

CURWOOD: Innovative, creative. Words often used to describe Roger Masters' work. But he'll be as quick to tell you, courage and creativity don't get you published in the major journals. It's a frustrating reality for him, but not defeating.

MASTERS: If I have to choose, in other words, between making the most decent effort I can to getting an answer to the question of environmental factors associated with crime or drug use, on the one hand, or getting into a prestigious journal on the other, I don't balance the second. I want to get it right. And, you know, that's what counts, and usually the prestige comes when it comes.

CURWOOD: A little of that prestige may have come last year, when the Environmental Protection Agency gave Roger Masters $50,000 to continue his research. But the grant is only a fraction of what would be needed to conduct the kind of detailed, controlled research that could rigorously test Dr. Masters' ideas, and prove or disprove that toxic substances contribute to crime.

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CURWOOD: Coming up: The magic of the myth of Merlin goes environmental. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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Black Bears

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As wildlife populations rebound throughout the nation and cities sprawl into previously wild country, people are running into wild animals more and more often. And few seem to attract more attention or anxiety than bears. In New England, for example, black bears are back in bigger and bigger numbers, and some wonder just how big a bear population people can tolerate. As Steve Tripoli of member station WBUR discovered on a recent trip to bear country in Massachusetts, there are no easy answers.


TRIPOLI: It's pouring in the woods of western Massachusetts. We are far from any paved road, or even what most folks would consider a road. We're standing around a radio receiver that's shielded under the camouflage rain jacket of State Fisheries and Wildlife Officer Dave Fuller, and listening for a chirping sound.


TRIPOLI: The sound is broadcast by a second radio, attached to a leather collar somewhere in these woods. Fuller hopes the collar is attached to a female black bear named Sharon, as it has been for three years. Officials have been collaring Massachusetts black bears for almost a decade to get a fix on how many are here and where they live. Fuller homes in on the strongest signal, turning a hand-held antenna first this way, then that.

FULLER: I keep getting the best signal off in this direction. Seems to be the strongest. That's probably northeast. This is about a medium, medium sound signal. So if we're in line of sight, it might be a couple miles away. But if she's in a valley, she may be a lot closer. She may be only a half-mile away.

TRIPOLI: Fuller and his companions are out in this downpour because they're concerned about Sharon's collar. It needs replacing. Batteries die. The collars themselves wear out. Then it's easier for bears to slip them off. Easier yet when it's wet outside, so the rain is all the more reason to find Sharon today. Our caravan of off-road vehicles makes two more stops. Fuller listens through his headset. Then he orders us back to the middle stop, listens again, and gives the signal. We'll go in here.


TRIPOLI: Four hunting hounds bound out of their cages in the back of one truck, bells ringing on their collars as they shake off the rain. In another truck, tranquilizer darts are prepared. The plan is to use the radio to get close, let the dogs chase Sharon up a tree, then knock her out with tranquilizer, change her collar, and stay with her until she's on her feet again.

(Footfalls through puddles and mud)

TRIPOLI: We slog through sodden woods and swollen streams for half an hour, closing in. The radio tells us we're near. The dogs smell bear, too. We're warned to look down as we walk so we don't trip right over Sharon. Then, disappointment.

FULLER: We got it. There it is.

MAN: It fell off, Dave.

FULLER: Well, it's off, however it came off.

MAN: And it didn't break off.


TRIPOLI: Sharon's collar is on the ground, but Sharon's not in it. She slipped out, probably quite recently, and now she's lost to research. Just a few feet from the collar, the dogs come up with something else.

FULLER: Look at that, Mike. Mike, right there.

MIKE: Oh, yeah. It's a skull. See it right at your feet?

TRIPOLI: It's a bear skull. The wildlife team quickly determines it's not Sharon's, but it lends credence to something they already know. These western counties are the bear capital of Massachusetts. After almost ten years tracking bears this way, researchers think there are between 1,800 and 2,000 bears in Massachusetts. That's up from just a couple of dozen 50 years ago, before New England states began to restrict bear hunting. But this wildlife success story also brings thorny problems. Bears cause property damage, mostly on farms. And though they generally fear humans, there's worry someone will get hurt as contact between people and bears increases. Bears have been spotted several times in the Boston suburbs. And wildlife officers had to tranquilize one near downtown in the small city of Northampton. That causes people to worry, some about the bears and some about what is or isn't being done about them. Stephanie Hagopian of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says state wildlife agents aren't very creative when it comes to dealing with bears and other encroaching animals.

HAGOPIAN: Oftentimes I meet with people who have already met with our state agency, and people are not getting informed. What they get is, "Invite a trapper on your property. You've got to kill these animals." That's what they get when they call their state wildlife biologist.

TRIPOLI: Hagopian says non-lethal methods, like electric fences, guard dogs, pellet rifles, and pepper spray should be part of the anti-bear arsenal. Wildlife officials say they know and talk about these options all the time. State wildlife biologist Mike Ciborowski deals with bear complaints in western Massachusetts, where bears are an increasing problem on farms.

CIBOROWSKI: You talk to the farmers, and see if we haven't made every effort.

TRIPOLI: To do what? What do you tell them?

CIBOROWSKI: To inform them of all the possible options. We even have model electric fencing that we can set up for them. We have information we give out to them.

TRIPOLI: But many farmers will tell you that having options and being able to use them can be two different things.

(Footfalls through grasses)

SCRANTON: You see all this flattened down like this, up and down through here? This is bear damage.

TRIPOLI: On Mark Scranton's farm in the rural town of Colrain, in the heart of what looks like an undamaged corn field, you can see what bears can do. A visit just before harvest shows room-sized sections of tall corn flattened. Cobs are strewn about, picked clean or half-clean. Bear droppings are evident. Mark Scranton says the scene is not uncommon.

SCRANTON: Well, I've seen bigger spots than this, and we'll see more spots. This is what he does. He comes in here, he lays down, he reaches out with his paw, you know, he's been eating berries. He'll come in here, roll in here, wipe his butt in here. You know, they like corn.

TRIPOLI: No one knows how much damage bears are doing. Farmers often don't report. But wildlife officials say many farms have been hit. Mark Scranton farms with his father and brother, growing corn for their dairy herd. They've spoken with wildlife officials and the family knows their options.

SCRANTON: We've got eleven corn fields, okay? By the time you ever fenced them all, the fencing operation, I would say, would be more costly than your loss of your corn.

TRIPOLI: In Massachusetts, farmers can shoot a bear in their fields any time, not just in the short hunting season. But Scranton says that won't work for a dairy farmer, either.

SCRANTON: Well, the best time to bear hunt is early morning, late afternoon, and I milk twice a day. So, I don't take the time to go looking for them. I'd shoot him if he'd come across me.

TRIPOLI: It goes back and forth like this between farmers and animal activists, and not just about bears. In Massachusetts and many states, populations of deer, coyotes, beavers, moose, geese, and other animals are also on the rise. Wildlife officials here mostly agree with farmers that solutions aren't as easy as they might seem. But activists like Stephanie Hagopian say everyone from farmers to officials to suburban families can do more to deter wild animals. Hagopian says urban and suburban families especially can be taught a calmer approach when big animals visit.

HAGOPIAN: We feel strongly about education and, well, people will call. I've had people say they are feeling afraid. And so, once you first of all deal with their feelings and try to calm the person down and give them good information about what's happening, oftentimes, 99 percent of the time, people calm down and feel, in many cases, a lot more tolerance for the animal that's in their back yard.

TRIPOLI: Hagopian says public sentiment has been shifting toward non-lethal animal management. Massachusetts voters banned many traps and most hunting with dogs three years ago, but there was a divide. Rural areas oppose the ban. Now, with bear populations rebounding, there's been a compromise. Starting next year, the September bear hunting season will expand from six to eighteen days. The expanded hunt raises the question of what the state's ideal bear population should be. Wildlife officials believe the roughly 2,000 bears out there now are the maximum that people will tolerate. Biologist Mike Ciborowski says the environment can support more, but that's not the only consideration.

CIBOROWSKI: There are two populations. There's the biological population that the habitat can support. And there's the population that society can live with, without finding it terribly expensive or terribly, you know, inconvenient.


CIBOROWSKI: See, the dogs even smell a fresher bear scent in here...

TRIPOLI: As research finds bears ever-closer to humans, a new compromise may be in the making. Some activists wouldn't mind if dogs are reintroduced, but only to scare bears away. Many activists also accept the farmers' calls for compensation. The hope is that if no one has to suffer disproportionately, people can learn to live with bears, and maybe other growing animal populations, too. For Living on Earth, I'm Steve Tripoli.

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What's in a Tale?

CURWOOD: Albert Camus once suggested that philosophers write novels. And that is a message T.A. Barron takes to heart for his environmental philosophies. He works with the ancient lore of the wizard called Merlin. It's a pleasant literary task. Children and adults alike are captivated by tales of the sword and the stone in King Arthur's court. Yet, little has been written about the early years of Merlin's life, the time when he was a boy just discovering his powers. T.A. Barron calls these the lost years of Merlin, and has written a series of books devoted to the young wizard. In the latest, The Mirror of Merlin, T.A. Barron weaves an environmental message through a tale of spells and adventures.

BARRON: Stories somehow get into our consciousness in a very powerful way. I don't think there is any more effective means of getting a point across. You think of all the great storytellers who have made important points in their day, whether it's Rachel Carson or John Muir or Chief Seattle, for that matter. They knew the power of a good story.

CURWOOD: Now, you choose to write stories. I'm wondering why you choose to focus on an ancient mythological, magical figure, Merlin.

BARRON: He's got a great amount of interest to me for several reasons. One of them is that he learns all of his greatest lessons from nature. One of the things about Merlin that's very striking is that as a Druid, he learns about the basic concepts of, like, humility or compassion or his connectedness to the wide universe, really from the natural world. That's why in my stories, to rediscover his lost youth, I have him have experiences, like getting trapped up in a tree during a wild storm and having a sense that, as the storm evaporates and suddenly the forest around him feels newly-born, that's the moment where he discovers that he has the chance to remake his own life, too.

CURWOOD: Why do you have such a strong environmental thread running through each of your books? They're -- they're strong, although they're subtle. You don't hit people over the head. But do you think that young adults respond more favorably to this type of approach? Why not be more forward about this?

BARRON: Since half of my readers are young adults and half are adults, I really am very aware that I really want these images to last and come through to people. And when I was growing up, the most important things that happened to me were not lectures. They were experiences. They were stories, perhaps, and experiences therefore that I lived through my imagination. Or they were real-life experiences. Let me give you one example that led to a book. And I hope that conveys a really important point about the world we live in.

CURWOOD: All right. Go ahead.

BARRON: When I was a kid on a ranch in Colorado, there was a single Ponderosa pine tree, very old, whose roots were being undercut by the creek that ran through the ranch. And I used to sit under it a lot, sometimes to just simply get away from my brothers and sisters, and sometimes just to daydream. And I remember when I was, oh, 11 or 12 years old, sitting there once, and wondering what it might be like not to be a boy, not to be a human being at all, but maybe even just simply to be a tree. And what would it be like, what would it mean in terms of patience and wisdom and foregoing all that wanderlust and all the angst that it meant to be human.

And I know that it's a very difficult thing to trace the root, but I'm positive that 25 years later, when I was writing a novel called The Ancient One, which features a girl, a brave teenage girl named Kate Gordon, who finds out that her town in Oregon, which is a logging town and at the edge of collapse, it turns out that the only possible way she can save her town and the people she loves is by enlisting the help of the one living creature that's old enough that its life stretches between all of those centuries and connects those two times. And that turns out to be a single tree, a redwood tree. A tree that was so old that even back in the days of the Indians they called that tree The Ancient One.
So, the climax of this book is when Kate somehow does the most difficult thing she has ever done, which is to become a tree. And in that moment when she comes through the centuries and actually arrives in the ancient time, and then moves backward and comes up into the twentieth century and hears the whining sound of chainsaws, if I did my job right as a writer, that moment, when the saws are biting into the tree's side, that is her side, it's also biting into the reader's side. And I'm hopeful that that scene of The Ancient One under the saw is more powerful than any lecture that I might have written about why we ought to preserve our redwood trees.

CURWOOD: So, this is a logging lesson, The Ancient One.

BARRON: Well, it's really bigger than that. It's a lesson about our connectedness to everything. The Ancient One is really a novel, like all the novels that feature this Kate Gordon character, and probably I guess you could say it about the lost years of Merlin novels, too, it really is about the question of how and what ways our life is connected to the lives of others. That means others of different times and others of different cultures, but also others of different species, too.

CURWOOD: Well, Tom, thanks so much for talking to us today.

BARRON: Oh, it's a real pleasure, Steve. And thank you for the thoughtful questions. It's been a great chance to be here.

CURWOOD: T.A. Barron's new book is entitled The Mirror of Merlin, and he joined us from his home town of Boulder, Colorado.

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week we begin our profiles of the major presidential candidates, with a look at Republican Steve Forbes. Mr. Forbes believes the private sector, not the government, should be in charge of protecting the environment. Federal regulators and the science behind them, he says, are not to be trusted.

FORBES: We can certainly do better by getting away from some of the crazy junk science that has permeated the EPA and other regulators.

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CURWOOD: Steve Forbes on the environment, 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, 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, Russel Wiedemann, Hanna Day-Woodruff, Keneed Leger, KTOO in Juneau and Alaska Public Radio. Michael Aharon composed the theme. 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 of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the 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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