Air Date: January 21, 2000
Candidate Profile: Al Gore/ Steve Curwood
Host Steve Curwood profiles Vice President and Democratic candidate for President Al Gore. Seven years ago, the environmental community was overjoyed as Mr. Gore, author of the environmental tract “Earth in the Balance,” came into office. Today, while some credit him with fighting off Republican attacks on key environmental laws, many claim he hasn't lived up to his promise to foster environmental change. (12:15)
Secret Caves/ Laura Carlson
As more caves are being discovered and damaged by people who are inexperienced – or just plain careless – longtime cavers wonder if a long practiced code of secrecy can still help protect these underground treasures. Colorado Public Radio’s Laura Carlson reports. (08:25)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about - fluoridated tap water. It was first introduced in 1945 and the debate over its benefits versus hazards has been ongoing. (01:40)
Candidate Profile: Bill Bradley/ Pippin Ross
The former New Jersey senator’s voting record on pro-environmental bills is 20 points higher than Vice President Al Gore’s record. Some environmentalists think he might do a better job of promoting environmental issues as president. Pippin Ross profiles the candidate. (12:15)
Living On Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard joins host Steve Curwood for an analysis of the two Democratic frontrunners and their potential as environmental candidates. (05:30)
Dining with Birds
Hugh Wiberg, author of Hand-feeding Backyard Birds, shows host Steve Curwood the fine points of feeding wild birds out of the palm of one’s hand. (07:45)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Laura Carlson, Pippin Ross
GUESTS: Mark Hertsgaard, Hugh Wiberg
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
GORE: I, Albert Gore, Junior, do solemnly swear...
CURWOOD: Seven years ago, as the vice pesident took the oath of office, environmental activists took to the dance floor in jubilation.
CLAPP: This really seemed like a new dawn, a completely new beginning.
CURWOOD: But since then, some who celebrated in 1993 say they are still waiting for Al Gore to fulfill his green promises.
BLACKWELDER: What good does it do when you get into a position of power and you suddenly can't get a result?
CURWOOD: Still, Mr. Gore says he served his environmental constituents well during his tenure under President Clinton.
GORE: He asked me to take charge of that part of the agenda, and, with very few exceptions -- there have been a few exceptions -- but with very few exceptions he has taken my advice.
CURWOOD: The record and rhetoric of Vice President Al Gore, this week on Living on Earth. First news.
(NPR News follows)
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For seven years, Vice President Al Gore has enjoyed a privileged reputation as America's most prominent environmentalist. And he's part of an administration that many consider to be among the greenest in history. But now, as the presidential primaries are on hand and Mr. Gore is running for the top job in Washington, people are taking a closer look at his successes and shortcomings. Not everyone thinks he's lived up to his promise.
GORE: I, Albert Gore, Junior, do solemnly swear.
MAN: That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States...
GORE: That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States...
CURWOOD: It was January 1993, a dream come true for environmental advocates. Al Gore, veteran senator, who said protecting the environment should be, quote, "the central organizing principle of modern society," is sworn in as vice president of the United States.
GORE: So help me God.
MAN: And I know you will, Vice President.
GORE: Thank you, Mr. Justice.
(Crowds cheer, a band starts up)
CURWOOD: As Washington partied at inaugural balls, many environmentalists felt they had seized the reins of power.
CLAPP: For those of us in the environmental movement, this really seemed like a new dawn, a completely new beginning.
CALLAHAN: There was an excitement and an optimism about the future that was extraordinary.
SCHARDT: The electricity was unbelievable. Everybody was just exploding with expectations and hope and a sense of great accomplishments ahead, and had very, very high hopes.
CURWOOD: So high, recalls Deb Callahan of the League of Conservation Voters, that there was almost a magical sense of opportunity about the new administration.
CALLAHAN: I remember so many of my friends were knocking on doors and doing everything they could and trying to maneuver their way into jobs, because they wanted to be a part of this. And that says something when people not only want to vote for you, they want to work for you. They want to be a part of the future that you're creating.
CURWOOD: Thanks to Al Gore, President Clinton started with an ambitious environmental agenda.
GORE: I told him the single most important issue for me was to make sure that he would protect the environment, and he kept his word to me.
CURWOOD: But the euphoria soon faded with a crushing defeat. The administration's firstmajor environmental policy initiative, a broad-based energy tax, was killed by the Senate. And there were other setbacks. Fights to increase grazing fees and mining royalties on federal lands were abandoned as President Clinton ran into political roadblocks. Challenged, the administration seemed to be losing its backbone. Many activists felt their historic opportunity was being squandered. Phillip Clapp is the president of the National Environmental Trust.
CLAPP: The list of environmental issues on which this administration has been willing to say this is a matter of principle, and I will not move from this ground, is very, very short. And had the administration chosen to really take the issue over the heads of Congress and the American people, I think they could have made a lot more progress than they did.
CURWOOD: But some view the retreat as a matter of political survival. Jonathan Adler is with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.
ADLER: The reason the administration was not more aggressive was because it was being politically savvy, not because it didn't want to do those things. And I think a lot of the criticism of the Clinton-Gore administration forgets that. That it wasn't for lack of trying that there weren't more environmental legislative accomplishments.
CURWOOD: Still, there was a sense the administration had surrendered. And come 1994, things only got worse.
HOUSE CALLER: Mr. Clerk, the Speaker-elect Newt Gingrich, representative from Georgia, and the escort committee.
(Cheers from the crowd)
GINGRICH: The balanced budget amendment and line item veto to stop violent criminals emphasizing, among other things...
CURWOOD: In a massive political shift, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress.
GINGRICH: Eighth was rolling back government regulations. Ninth was...
CURWOOD: Newt Gingrich's Contract with America launched some of the most aggressive anti-environmental legislation ever. The speaker's lieutenants in the House were on the attack.
DeLAY: The critical promise we made to the American people was to get the government off their backs. And the EPA, the gestapo of government, pure and simply, has been one of the major claw-hogues that the government has maintained on the backs of our constituents.
CURWOOD: It seemed like Al Gore's darkest hour. But some credit him with fighting back, urging the president to veto GOP initiatives that appeared to go too far, like the one that would have allowed oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as ANWR.
GORE: Any reconciliation bill that opens ANWR to drilling, he will veto, period. Doesn't matter what else is in the bill.
CURWOOD: It's during this time, supporters say, that Al Gore earned his stripes. He reminded the president that protecting the environment is a core American value and that standing his ground would be good politics even if it meant shutting down the federal government. I recently asked Mr. Gore if he feels he made a difference during this critical period.
GORE: Well, I talked constantly with the president, of course, about the need to veto anti-environment measures.
CURWOOD: Did you get down on the floor and scream and yell and --
GORE: No, he's committed. He's committed.
CLINTON: The government is partially shutting down, because Congress has failed to pass the straightforward legislation necessary to keep the government running...
CURWOOD: Many environmentalists credit the vice president with stiffening the resolve of the administration. Attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., is with Environmental Voters for Gore.
KENNEDY: The takeover of the Congress was so dramatic and so convincing and so seductive to so many people, a lot of people thought that's the way we need to go. And Al Gore stood up and said no, you know, the truth is on our side, and as devastating as this appears, it's going to come back. And we came out on the other side of it, and we still had most of our federal environmental laws intact.
CURWOOD: Not merely intact, Al Gore supporters point out, but in many cases improved. When it wasn't fighting off challenges from Congress, the administration managed to expand public lands and forests, strengthen clean air standards and accelerate the clean-up of toxic waste sites. In most of these cases, Mr. Gore took the initiative on the president's behalf.
GORE: He asked me to take charge of that part of the agenda, And with very few exceptions -- there have been a few exceptions -- but with very few exceptions he has taken my advice.
CURWOOD: Those exceptions, however, have left many angry with both President Clinton and Mr. Gore. A case in point: their response to Congressional budget riders, a tactic Republicans used to suspend environmental laws. One of the most infamous riders, to open vast regions of protected forest to so-called salvage logging, came to the president's desk in 1995. Vice President Gore urged another veto. But in the end, President Clinton let the rider pass. Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, was among those left wondering whether Al Gore was as effective as he claimed to be.
BLACKWELDER: What good does it do the improvement of the health of the planet when you get into a position of power and you suddenly can't get a result? Al Gore accepted that title of environmental spokesman. He did not shy away from it. He in fact boasted that he is not like other vice presidents. He has been given extraordinary powers and roles and influence.
CURWOOD: Others criticize the vice president's record on his signature issue, global warming. In 1997 Al Gore traveled to Japan, negotiated a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and got the president to agree. But when Mr. Gore came home, he found a Senate resolutely opposed, and the treaty is now in limbo. Failures like these led Friends of the Earth to endorse Al Gore's Democratic opponent, Bill Bradley. And they're not the only ones talking about the vice president's shortcomings. Lester Brown, president of the World Watch Institute, once said Mr. Gore could be a Gorbachev of the environmental revolution. Now, he's not so sure.
BROWN: He just knew so much more than anyone else in political life about these issues. I mean, he was head and shoulders above anyone. And so, at that point I had to hope that he would really make a difference. But I think he was captured by the office.
CURWOOD: Few question the vice president's ideals, but many wonder whether he has what it takes to maintain his idealism as president. Deb Callahan of the League of Conservation Voters thinks Mr. Gore could choose to compromise the way Mr. Clinton has.
CALLAHAN: The reality is, Gore is somebody who does try to do what is politically feasible. I think if he has a Congress and committee chairs that are like-minded people, I think you'll see very sweeping measures. I think that he'll be careful to make sure that he doesn't get too far out in front of the politics.
CURWOOD: In the end, it's a question of leadership, and whether Al Gore has the charisma to energize voters about the environment. He was once known as a firebrand on the subject, but now he's viewed as passionless and wooden. He rarely talks about his signature issue on the campaign trail.
SCHARDT: Over and over again, I believe that we have seen his staff in the vice presidential arena holding him back from what he knows is really needed.
CURWOOD: Arlie Schardt was once Al Gore's press secretary. He disagrees with those who are apparently advising the Vice President to restrain his rhetoric on the environment.
SCHARDT: Frankly, I think that's a mistake, because I think the main reason that he has reached the prominence that he has is because of his leadership on environmental issues.
CURWOOD: Despite the debate over campaign tactics, Al Gore hasn't completely abandoned the issue. I caught up with him earlier this month at a high school in Somersworth, New Hampshire.
GORE: ... clean up the environment ...
CURWOOD: He stood in a gymnasium full of students, taking an environmental poll.
GORE: How many people here think global warming is real? Could I see a show of hands?
CURWOOD: Almost all the students silently raised their hands.
GORE: How many people here don't think it's real? I hope the traveling national press takes note of that, because we need to take action on problems like that. We need to take action ...
CURWOOD: Events like this are rare. Still, when you sit the vice president down, one on one, his enthusiasm shines through. He told me it's just a matter of convincing Americans the environment isn't an abstract scientific concept. It's something that affects each of us personally. He's confident people can solve big problems like climate change because it's been done before.
GORE: Let me give you an example. People said, when we tried to clean up our rivers, that it was impossible. It would wreck the economy. But we've made tremendous progress. They said that we couldn't clean up air pollution because it would wreck the economy, too expensive. Well, we have made dramatic gains in the reduction of air pollution. And the economy has grown even faster in the process. That's good news.
CURWOOD: Okay, I grant you all of that, and yet to solve the climate change issue --
GORE: Yeah --
CURWOOD: You have to change the entire energy system.
GORE: Yeah, it's tougher. It's tougher, fair enough. But it also makes it a much bigger opportunity. We can find new efficiencies that will make a dramatic, positive difference in the way we live our lives. I mean, who enjoys traffic jams? If we come up with better ways to get to work and back, with less pollution, that's going to be a big challenge, yeah. But it's a big opportunity to improve the quality of life, to give parents more time with their children. If we go to different kinds of fuels, if we go to affordable, safe, comfortable, easy mass transportation, like light rail, we're going to be able to read on the way to work and back, or use laptops or whatever people want to do, instead of sitting bumper to bumper and having our blood pressure go up. Yeah, it's going to be tough. But we've always risen to the challenge.
CURWOOD: So now it's up to Mr. Gore to convince voters that he can rise to the challenge as president, and be the environmental ally many have been waiting for. Our profile of Vice President Gore was produced by Jesse Wegman.
Coming up later on most stations: our profile of Bill Bradley. And our political observer Mark Hertsgaard looks at both of the Democratic candidates and the differences between them. But first, a peek inside the secret lives of caves, when we return with Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Nature drew Colorado's landscape with rugged grandiosity, painting the horizon with endless plains and soaring peaks. But there's even more natural beauty below the surface. Amid the stony upthrust is a wonderland of caves. For years, the few people who knew about these underground treasures protected them with a code of secrecy, but now more and more caves are being discovered And, as a result, damaged by people who are inexperienced or just plain careless. Now cavers are debating whether secrecy can still work. Colorado Public Radio's Laura Carlson has our story.
CARLSON: July 4th, 1986. Ron Ryan and Tom Sherrill are supposed to be with their friends at a caver camp-out in northwestern Colorado. But the two men are mysteriously absent. They're miles away, fighting hypothermia, 90 feet down in a cave they discovered.
SHERRILL: My friend went up the waterfall, and he had about a two-inch pipe of water, actually, it's basically what it amounted to, pouring on you. And it was like 33-degree water. Well, we weren't dressed for it, and I knew, the second I got on the rope, I knew we were in trouble.
CARLSON: His hands stiff with cold, Tom Sherrill clung to his rope and eventually pulled himself out of the cave. It was frightening, but not enough to keep him away. Within two months, Mr. Sherrill had bought a wetsuit and more rope, so he could explore deeper.
SHERRILL: And then we went back and found really, really nice stuff. It was just incredible. World-class cave.
CARLSON: It was named "Ron-Tom" for its co-discoverers. And for years, it was a cherished secret among a small group of experienced cavers. Cindy Mosch was one of them. Now, she has agreed to take me there, as long as I promise not to reveal the location.
MOSCH: We are just about here. It's down over this little rise.
CARLSON: Even though we've been hiking for three hours, and most people would have no idea there's a cave nearby, Cindy Mosch is careful not to leave any clues. She calls this stealth caving, And says it's best not to even look like a caver.
MOSCH: I usually tuck my hardhat in my pack so it's not visible. So I'm not calling attention to the fact that there is a cave down here that I'm going to visit, if it's not already a known cave.
CARLSON: As we approach Ron-Tom, Ms. Mosch steps gingerly, being careful not to leave any footprints in the scattered patches of snow. She says this cave is even more special than most. The usual formations are there, but Ron-Tom is full of minerals that have stained the moist, fragile rock, turning it into a tapestry of blue, red, yellow, and black. In one spot, Ms. Mosch says the cavers found a cluster of delicate, slender formations they call soda straws.
(To Mosch): What was that experience like when you first entered the soda shoppe?
MOSCH: I just was in awe. It's just one of those beautiful, special places that you can actually hear the water droplets dripping into a shallow pool on the floor. And everything glistens and it's so translucent. You shine your light up, and it's like being in a jewelry store. Things just shine and sparkle.
CARLSON: The cavers made dozens of trips into Ron-Tom, each time finding new formations that looked like rose blossoms, pearls, and fried eggs. But eventually, the cavers found something they didn't want to see.
MOSCH: We know that there have been trips that have caused damage into the cave.
CARLSON: In fact, Cindy Mosch says one of her favorite formations has been broken. A dramatic stalactite that may have taken millions of years to form. She's not sure if someone bumped into it or pulled it down on purpose.
MOSCH: It just makes you feel like you're going to cry. On the trips I've been, even the guys, tears well up in their eyes. It's just -- or you become very angry.
CARLSON: The damage to Ron-Tom prompted cavers to change their minds about secrecy. They told the Forest Service about the cave, in hopes the agency would help keep people out. Now a small sign at the entrance warns of a $5,000 fine for entry. We honor it. But Ms. Mosch says others are probably still exploring, and damaging the cave. While it took 10 years for cavers to tell anyone about Ron-Tom, sometimes they give up the secret a lot sooner. Last summer, caver Tom Dotter told the Forest Service about a newly-discovered cave in hopes that would keep it from being damaged. Mr. Dotter took me down inside to show me why cavers are so protective. We start with a ten-foot drop into inky darkness.
DOTTER: Okay, well, we're coming down through the entrance. Just above your left shoulder and right above me, we have what's called speliathem [phonetic spelling]...
CARLSON: That's a caver term for all the unusual rock shapes you find underground.
DOTTER: That's what this ribbon is right above our head.
CARLSON: It's like a spinal cord, maybe.
DOTTER: Yeah, a little tiny one. It does, doesn't it? Has little knobbies on it every quarter inch or so, all the way down.
CARLSON: Mr. Dotter calls these "pretties." And he says they're a big reason he caught the caving bug. We keep going in search of more, wriggling on our bellies across the cool dirt floor. Suddenly, Tom Dotter drops out of sight.
(To Dotter) Is it steep down there?
DOTTER: There's a little bit of a drop-off, of about three feet. I'm standing on the floor.
But this journey comes to an abrupt end when Mr. Dotter hears something growling.
DOTTER: Whatever that critter is up there, he went ahead of us, And it's up in there, And basically just said, "I don't want to go any further, so why don't you go away?" (Laughs)
CARLSON: Before we head out, Mr. Dotter takes a minute to explain what it is about all this that pulls him in.
DOTTER: To go into a cave, especially a new cave, And to find one and explore and map and so on, is the only place that the average human can go to be an explorer. To go where someone has never been before, is in a cave. And I can't go find the North Pole, And I can't go to the bottom of the sea, but I can go someplace where no one has ever been.
CARLSON: But cavers say secrecy isn't always the best way to protect a cave. Even if no one talks about a discovery, Mr. Dotter says inexperienced cavers could stumble upon it and cause damage. On the other hand, he says revealing the location of a cave can attract even more people who don't know how to explore carefully.
DOTTER: So, it's kind of a hard choice, And depends on the individual cave, the location, And how delicate it is.
CARLSON: With this cave, Mr. Dotter was worried because a timber sale had been proposed nearby, And he wanted to make sure loggers wouldn't toss dead wood into the entrance. Bill Kight with White River National Forest says he's glad the cavers brought him here. After looking around, he says the proposed logging is far enough away it won't hurt the cave.
KIGHT: That was what was critical, was being able to come here and see what the situation was.
CARLSON: Mr. Kight has been a caver and understands how hard it is for cavers to give up their secrets. So, he's trying to earn their trust.
KIGHT: The Forest Service doesn't have to know about every cave. But we would like to know about the significant ones, so that we can work together to do a management plan that protects the cave and allows uses of the cave to continue.
CARLSON: But when cavers do cooperate with land managers, they're not always satisfied with the outcome. In the case of Ron-Tom, a management team, including cavers, agreed the cave should be gated with entry allowed for research only. But it's been two years and there's still no gate. Forest Service officials say they don't have the money. And that's a bitter disappointment for discoverer Tom Sherrill.
SHERRILL: I don't know what you can tell people to say look, if you don't get a gate on this it's going to be just damaged beyond, you know -- you're not going to need a gate. And to my way of thinking, that's probably beyond that now.
CARLSON: Mr. Sherrill says he has no plans to return to Ron-Tom. He wants to remember the cave the way it was back in 1986, when he and Ron Ryan played hooky from the caver's campout. Besides, Mr. Sherrill says he has a stash of other caves that are still secret, and he intends to keep it that way. For Living on Earth, I'm Laura Carlson in Grand Junction, Colorado.
(Music up and under)
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 Living on Earth, 20 Holland Street, Suite 408, Somerville, MA 02144. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org, where you can also hear our radio program any time. Tapes and transcripts are $15. 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 National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; And the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com.
(Music up and under)
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: Coming up: In this campaign season, Bill Bradley has picked up the endorsements of some environmentalists whom you might expect to be backers of Vice President Al Gore. We'll look at Mr. Bradley's environmental appeal, and our political observer Mark Hertsgaard compares the two Democratic contenders. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
SECOND HALF HOUR
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.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
(Pouring water; fade to music up and under)
CURWOOD: For most Americans, the simple act of turning on the tap helps take care of their teeth. This week marks the anniversary of what most dentists hail as an important advance in public health, adding fluoride to drinking water. Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first city to fluoridate its water back in 1945. Now, more than two third of the nation gets the fluoride treatment. Some studies show it reduces tooth decay by up to 40 percent. Fluoridated water was extremely controversial when it first began to flow, and the controversy continues today. Critics say over-exposure to the chemical can cause cancer, bone fractures, and neurological damage. They dispute claims that the additive fights tooth decay and charge instead that it causes brittle, mottled, and discolored teeth--and the ailment known as dental fluorosis, which generates extra income for dentists. The American Dental Association denies that dentists have ulterior motives, but the fluoride fight won't die. Since 1990, 60 U.S. cities have said no to fluoridation. And last year a group of employees at the Environmental Protection Agency came out against the additive. Beyond the health debate, fluoride has fueled a raft of some pretty wild conspiracy theories. Some tried to claim fluoridated water was developed to dispose of toxic fluoride waste from fertilizer factories and plants that build atomic bombs.
(Music up and under: Soviet Union national anthem)
CURWOOD: And then there's the Cold War charge that fluoridation was a secret plot by the Soviet Union to turn Americans into communist dupes. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Most voters know the environment has been a key issue throughout the career of Vice President Gore. But his challenger in the Democratic presidential primaries, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, is also widely regarded to be a champion of environmental protection. Mr. Bradley spent 18 years on the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he was instrumental in crafting key environmental laws. He is currently proposing an end to billions of dollars worth of tax shelters, loopholes, and subsidies that support environmentally-destructive practices in the mining, cattle, chemical, and oil industries. This has left many voters in a bit of a quandary, wondering which Democrat is the better candidate on the environment. Reporter Pippin Ross has been looking into Mr. Bradley's background and his environmental credentials. She prepared this report.
ROSS: Madison Square Garden. Home of the New York Knicks. This is where Bill Bradley, fresh from the ivory towers of Oxford University, first found himself taking a shot at professional competition.
ANNOUNCER: It's now time to announce the winner of tonight's ...
ROSS: As a basketball rookie in 1967, former teammate and Garden commentator Walt Frazier says Mr. Bradley seemed awkward in the public spotlight and uncomfortable in the slick world of professional sports.
FRAZIER: You know, we used to steal the shoestrings out of his shoes on the plane. He'd be walking through the airport with no shoestrings. But he liked that, because he felt like a part of the team, you know. So he was sort of the fall guy early on in his career.
ROSS: With legendary discipline, including a ritual of listening to the song Climb Every Mountain before each game, Mr. Bradley transformed himself, building a reputation as a confident and thoughtful player. Mr. Frazier thought it odd that his teammate refused to do product endorsements, but was impressed that he took time to teach basketball clinics to kids in Harlem. Mr. Bradley spent 10 years in sports before retiring to run for the U.S. Senate. Along the way he earned the lasting respect of his teammates, so much so that today Walt Frazier is both a Bradley campaign contributor and volunteer.
FRAZIER: If I do that, I really like somebody. (Laughs) Give him my money and my time. I guess that he's a family man, team-oriented, all the things that you would want in a person in the White House as the president.
ROSS: The environment isn't the issue that prompted Walt Frazier's support, but among those who do judge candidates on their environmental record, Bill Bradley is winning praise.
WOMAN: A long-time friend of the League of Conservation Voters and now, presidential candidate, Senator Bill Bradley.
ROSS: At last fall's annual fundraising dinner for the League of Conservation Voters, Mr. Bradley was honored for his accomplishments before leaving Congress in 1996.
BRADLEY: One of the important jobs is cleaning up that which has already been polluted.
ROSS: Although considered a quiet, behind-the-scenes politician, during the dinner Mr. Bradley uncharacteristically promoted his contribution to the Superfund, the reauthorization of the Clean Air and Water Acts, wilderness protection, and the massive clean-up of the New Jersey shore. On the League's tally of congressional votes, Mr. Bradley has an 84 percent, one of the highest lifetime pro-environment scores. Mr. Bradley also promised what he'd do as president, such as removing tons of industrial pollutants from America's air.
BRADLEY: I think it's time to be prudent and stop talking about taking tons out of the atmosphere and start actually taking tons out of the atmosphere.
ROSS: Some activists say that in a side-by-side comparison, Bill Bradley looks better on the environment than Al Gore. Mr. Bradley's voting score is 20 points higher than Mr. Gore's record during his years in the Senate. This has prompted one group, Friends of the Earth, to take the unusual step of formally endorsing Bill Bradley in the primaries, while openly attacking Al Gore. Brent Blackwelder is the group's president.
BLACKWELDER: Most people think Gore was active, but there's almost nothing that he passed in his entire career. Whereas Bradley has a solid set of legislative achievements. For example, reforming western water law in 1992, putting taxes on pollution as part of the Superfund law, protecting the largest unspoiled forested area outside of New York City, the Sterling Forest. So, if you look at his record, you see that he was very quiet about it, but he got results.
ROSS: It's an endorsement that's creating a rift among political activists. Attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a prominent Gore supporter, has been shooting back, going after Mr. Bradley's decision four years ago not to seek another term in the Senate.
KENNEDY: When things got hot, he left, and Al Gore stayed and fought it out and fought for us. And, you know, Bill Bradley said that politics is broken and I'm going home, and he went and took a job for a consulting firm and he made himself money, while Al Gore was sitting there fighting for us and fighting for the environment.
ROSS: The candidates themselves, who have been sharply critical of each other on health care and education, have generally been silent about their differences on the environment. In fact, when it comes to the environment, Bill Bradley isn't saying much of anything at all.
BRADLEY: I think that people tend to focus more on their own economic circumstance, a good job, good health, good education. And I think that those are the issues that come to the fore.
ROSS: Inside his national headquarters in New Jersey, Bill Bradley took a time out from campaigning to tell me where the environment fits into his political strategy. He believes people truly care about the environment, but only if they're economically secure.
BRADLEY: Because if you're only concerned with your own material welfare, then you have certain limitations as to what can happen for all of us in the country. But if you feel yourself a part of something that's larger than you are, whether it's a team or whether it's a country, then you recognize that we can all accomplish more together than any one of us could accomplish alone. And that is particularly true with regard to the environment, because the environment requires all of us to act responsibly, but the benefit is all of us. Whereas if we acted alone, we could never counter the forces that pollute our world today.
ROSS: To Mr. Bradley, the environment is like any other issue. He says it all boils down to money. His number one priority is campaign finance reform, ridding the political system of the influence of special interests. To do this, he wants to limit campaign contributions to $1,000 per person, no exceptions, no loopholes.
BRADLEY: And I think that if we reduce the role of money, then people would feel once again that the government is responsive to them. And we'd finally be able to get rid of some of the loopholes that have made their way into the environmental laws, exempting this company or that industry or this certain person for that period of time.
(Music up and under)
ROSS: Mr. Bradley's biggest challenge seems to be translating his ideas into rousing language. At this boisterous outdoor rally in New Hampshire, he was surrounded by sympathetic, bright-eyed college students and red, white, and blue bunting. But when it came time to talk, he seemed to struggle. Here's how he described the concept of environmental protection.
BRADLEY: It means protecting that for you to come into contact with, so you can come into contact with the natural world, and that means something that's bigger than you are and lasts longer than you do.
ROSS: Later that day, while campaigning inside a health food store, Mr. Bradley ran into an eager employee who wanted to hear his thoughts on the perils of economic growth.
WOMAN: One of my questions about that whole concept of growing and growing is that the Earth is only one size, and everything can't keep expanding. So how would you --
BRADLEY: Well, what happens is, you know, most of the economic growth now takes place in services, which is high-tech, information technology, and it is not use of natural resources. To the contrary, you can use that technology to preserve the natural environment.
ROSS: Bradley's meandering response seemed to disappoint her.
BRADLEY: You're welcome. Thank you. Bye-bye. Bye, thanks.
ROSS: (to woman) Do you think he answered your question?
WOMAN: No. (Laughs) Not satisfied.
ROSS: In New Hampshire, the Bradley campaign has scheduled private sessions with local activists to hear their concerns and share ideas. But Chris Bogen of the group Clean Water Action came away from his meeting frustrated by a lack of specifics and commitments.
BOGEN: In a way it's a fairly simple thing to say, that we're going to do more to protect our air, to protect public health, and we didn't get that. So, you know, we figured, well, we'll keep trying, and hopefully he'll come up with a better response.
ROSS: Bradley campaign flyers do provide some detail. He supports ratification of the Kyoto treaty to combat global warming, as well as tougher rules and stiffer fines for polluters. But even Bradley supporters have a difficult time understanding why their candidate isn't portraying himself as greener than Gore, and isn't pushing his record on an issue that clearly resonates with Democratic voters.
(Milling crowd; a horn honks)
ROSS: Standing beside a road in Keene, New Hampshire, holding a homemade Vote Bradley sign, campaign volunteer Joel Ziff shares his theory about what's happening behind the scenes.
ZIFF: I think politically, some of that can be attributed to the fact that everybody assumed that Al Gore was going to have, you know, the environmental issue locked up as his, because he supposedly built a reputation as somebody that cares about the environment and will clean it up.
ROSS: It's unclear if Bill Bradley can overcome that assumption. Nonetheless, Mr. Bradley himself seems confident. After all, he's a former basketball star who's always excelled at the outside shot. For Living on Earth, I'm Pippin Ross with the Bradley campaign in New Hampshire.
MAN: How are you doing? Yes sir, you've got it!
MAN 2: Yes, that's right. The man for the job, next president of the United States.
CURWOOD: Living on Earth's political observer Mark Hertsgaard joins me now in the studio, to talk about how environmental issues are unfolding in the democratic primaries. Hi, Mark.
HERTSGAARD: Hey, Steve.
CURWOOD: Now, this week, with our reports on Gore and Bradley, we're looking at two men with extensive environmental credentials. But neither one is talking much about the environment. In fact, a woman got up at the debate in Iowa recently to ask about global warming from the back of the room before the cops hustled her out. Now, Republicans aren't talking much about the environment, either, but the Democrats, you'd think, would have something to crow about. What's going on here?
HERTSGAARD: Good question. I actually thought that incident in Iowa was a metaphor for what's been going on here, the silence of these two candidates. You can only assume that there is a method to the madness, and presumably they're figuring well, we're not that far apart on that issue, I can't really score that many points against the other guy. You know, Gore has praised Bradley's environmental record. Bradley knows that Gore is at least seen as Mr. Environment. So I assume that that's why they're not talking more about it. It's especially odd, though, in Gore's case, because certainly as he goes into the general election he is going to be painted as Mr. Environment whether he likes it or not. It is his issue. And so, you'd think that just tactically it would make more sense to run toward it rather than away from it.
CURWOOD: Let's talk a little bit about some allegations against both of these men in the area of the environment. They could take some hits on this. I'm talking of the work that's been done by the Center for Public Integrity. Could you describe some of the charges that have been brought up against them?
HERTSGAARD: Sure. This is this new book The Buying of the President 2000. And for those who don't know it, the Center for Public Integrity is a watchdog group in Washington, D.C., of journalists. They broke the Lincoln bedroom scandal, for example. And in this book they look at all the big money contributors to all the presidential candidates, and they say here's what they've given, and here's what it appears they've gotten in return. In Mr. Gore's case, as part of his reinventing government crusade, Gore opened up the Elk Hills oil reserve in California to commercial development. Beginning in 1912 that reserve was for the use of the Navy, for military emergencies. Nixon tried to get it away for the oil industry. Reagan tried three separate times to get it away for the oil industry. Gore succeeded in 1995. He and Clinton put the land up for auction, and in 1997 when the bids were won, it was Occidental Petroleum. Now, what's the connection with Gore? Well, Gore himself and the Democratic Party have received $500,000 in campaign contributions from Occidental, but his own relationship with Occidental goes way back, further than that. His father, Al Gore, Sr., worked for Occidental as far back as the 1940s, and he owned, at the time of the decision in 1995, Al Gore, Senior's estate still had half-a-million dollars in stock in Occidental Petroleum. Al Gore, Jr., is the executor of that estate.
CURWOOD: Now, the Center for Public Integrity is an equal opportunity complainer
(Hertsgaard laughs), and they have Mr. Bradley in their sights, too. What are the complaints there?
HERTSGAARD: They do indeed. And Bradley of course likes to say he wants to get the special interest money out of politics. But you read The Buying of the President 2000 and you learn that he has long been the favored candidate of Wall Street. But he's also done a lot of favors for chemical companies. And between 1988 and 1996, Mr. Bradley introduced 45 separate bills that sought to lessen the tariffs and other import restrictions on bringing in toxic chemicals to the United States. That is something that didn't come up in his League of Conservation Voters 86 percent approval rating.
CURWOOD: If neither Mr. Bradley nor Mr. Gore is excited about the environment at this stage of the campaign, firing up Democratic voters on this issue, which man do you think will do a better job during the general election, when the Republicans will be out there complaining about big government and too much regulation in terms of the environment?
HERTSGAARD: I would think that Gore would have a slight margin there, partly because he can say, as he has been saying repeatedly in these debates, that hey, I was there in the White House fighting you guys in 1995 when the Gingrich Congress tried to overturn all the environmental regulations. And there's something to be said for, you know, having an opponent who's going after you. And if the Republicans are going after the Democratic nominee, Gore is in a little bit better position to respond to that than Bradley would be.
CURWOOD: Which man, do you think, if he were to be elected in office, would actually make the most difference for the environment?
HERTSGAARD: I don't mean to dodge, but I think the question will depend largely on what listeners and environmental activists and the public in general do. The president in any party, what you end up doing on the environment, you have to fight a lot of special interests. Both men have said they want to fight those special interests, but it's very hard to do that without public support. And if the public gets out there and gets organized, that will be far more decisive than the difference between Al Gore and Bill Bradley.
CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. You can listen to all our candidate profiles and analysis and link directly to the campaigns, the parties, and political watchdog groups by visiting the special election page on the Living on Earth website. Our address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. Thanks, Mark.
HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, especially when it's dinner time. The art of hand-feeding wild birds is just ahead. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. With me now is Hugh Wiberg. He's a freelance writer, and he's written a book called Hand-Feeding Backyard Birds. And we're out here at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary outside of Boston, something run by the Audubon Society, to hand-feed birds.
WIBERG: That's the plan, Steve.
CURWOOD: Ah, okay. How's this going to work? I like to think that I'm friendly and charming, and yet I don't think I've ever had anything aside from a rather assertive parrot or a cheerful parakeet land on my fingers.
WIBERG: Well, I'll tell you. Human beings have been conditioned since early childhood to believe that wild birds are going to stay clear of human beings. And for the most part that's true. But what I've discovered by wandering through various wildlife sanctuaries in Massachusetts is that if you have a lot of patience, and can take the time, you can condition the birds to take feed right out of your hand.
CURWOOD: So they get to know you. You become their buddies.
WIBERG: Exactly. You become their buddies.
CURWOOD: Okay, well what are we going to do now? Tell me what --
WIBERG: All right. We're going to take a walk down into an area in this sanctuary where the birds have pretty much come to expect that when Wiberg walks into the sanctuary they're going to get a free snack. And I've found, doing a lot of experimenting, that the wild birds, particularly the common birds that we see in this area, the nuthatches and the chickadees and the tufted titmice, they love walnut meats. And I'm holding in my hand right now lots of little bits of walnut meat. And with any luck at all we're going to have some company this morning as we wander down into the sanctuary.
CURWOOD: Okay, well let's go.
WIBERG: Now, we're coming into an area of pine trees here, where I usually am greeted by a small group of chickadees who are looking for their morning handout.
CURWOOD: Will they be scared by us talking?
WIBERG: They will not be scared if we talk while they're around. Their hearing mechanisms are decidedly different than ours. I think they're on a much higher frequency than we are. I'm not at all sure that they even hear us when we talk. Now, let's stand here for just a minute and see if any of these guys are aware of my presence yet. I'll be very embarrassed if they're a half a mile from here, but we'll see chickadees. Maybe not right in this spot, but we will see them. Good morning gentlemen, ladies. Anybody looking for a snack here today?
WIBERG: Dead silence. That's the sound of a black cat chickadee that you just heard. All right, these guys are chattering to themselves about something else, so we're going to continue our little walk a little further down here. And we will encounter some chickadees as we walk down this path over here.
CURWOOD: How often do you come?
WIBERG: In the winter time, at least once a week, usually on a Saturday or a Sunday morning. Here we go.
(A loud chirp; wings flapping)
CURWOOD: Well, look at that. There comes one, and now another one.
WIBERG: You see, we've got quite a little family in here that are -- they have their own pecking order. They're lining up, up there, to come in, depending on where they stand in the chickadee hierarchy.
CURWOOD: This one is next, kind of a big one. This is amazing.
WIBERG: Isn't that fun?
(A loud chirp)
WIBERG: Now, Steve, for just a second here I'm going to put some feed in your hand, and you're going to have one or two of these guys on you before you can say Jack Robinson. Stand right up there, close to that shrub. See now, they're a little cautious, because you're a stranger to them. But you're with me, and they know me. And there's a tufted titmouse up there, by the way.
CURWOOD: Oh there comes one.
WIBERG: You almost had that titmouse standing on your hand.
CURWOOD: He chickened out after --
WIBERG: He'll be back.
CURWOOD: Well there's a -- (Laughs) Oh, that's amazing!
WIBERG: And the first one is always the biggest thrill. I'd like to see that titmouse come down and stand there.
CURWOOD: Oh, here's another chickadee. And another one.
(Loud chirps; wings)
CURWOOD: Does it hurt the bird to feed them like this?
WIBERG: Hurt in what sense?
CURWOOD: What if they become dependent?
WIBERG: Okay, that's a very good question. The School of Ornithology at Cornell University did a controlled test on exactly that question. They had two groups of chickadees out in the field, one who were deep in the forest who had never had any contact with human beings, and another that were close to society and were getting bird food on a regular basis. And the birds that were being fed on a regular basis had their food cut off after six months, the warm summer months. Anyway, the long story short was that both groups of birds showed no drop off in mortality rates, whether they had contact with humans or whether they did not. So the consensus appears to be that this does not hurt them in any way.
CURWOOD: Is there any risk of disease, either to humans or to the birds?
WIBERG: No. As far as ornithologists are able to determine, diseases between humans and birds are not transferable one to another. So that's fortunate to us.
CURWOOD: Whatever got you started hand-feeding birds?
WIBERG: Well, I think what probably attracted my attention in the beginning was, I'd been feeding birds with my bird feeders back in Wilmington, Mass. for 25 years. And I noticed early on that the chickadees were the very last bird to fly away when I went out to restock the feeders. So I had, once in a great while I'd seen a picture of a black-capped chickadee standing on a human hand. And I decided one day to see, where the birds in my back yard seemed to be quite accustomed to my presence, to see if I could actually get one of them on my hand. So I set up a step ladder in the back yard, took the feeder down, put it in the house, and became in effect a substitute bird feeder. And after three or four weekends of trying this, in January I think it was, a chickadee came down and stood on my hand and took some seed. And his fellow travelers saw what was happening, and eventually many of them began to hand-feed also.
CURWOOD: Hugh, before we go --
CURWOOD: I just have to ask you about your other life.
WIBERG: Okay, and believe me, I do have another life.
CURWOOD: You grow giant pumpkins?
WIBERG: Yes I do. I am the director of an esoteric organization here in New England called the New England Pumpkin Growers Association, with over 500 members. We dedicate ourselves in a lighthearted manner to the fine sport hobby of growing these monster, giant pumpkins that you see at the fairs every fall. My personal best pumpkin, largest pumpkin, was a 674-pounder that I grew two years ago, that came in fifth in the all-New England fair. That year there was a 920-pounder grown that came in first place.
(Loud chirps, wings)
CURWOOD: Hugh Wiberg's book is called Hand-Feeding Backyard Birds. Thanks for taking this time with us today.
WIBERG: My pleasure.
(Loud chirps, wings; fade to music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, the passions of Jamaica Kincaid. The author talks about her love of gardening, and how she would change the calendar to continue the affair all year long.
KINCAID: I wish spring would last for six months, a rather long, slow spring. And then an equally long summer. And then a longish fall, and winter would be one day.
CURWOOD: Jamaica Kincaid and her garden 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 Hannah Day-Woodruff, Steven Belter, Kaneed Leger, and Brent Runyan. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is our science 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 an under)
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W.A. Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to eliminate environmental threats to children's health; www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Newsletter [Click here]
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth