October 13, 2000
Air Date: October 13, 2000
Cloning an Endangered Species
An Iowa cow will give birth next month to a cloned baby gaur (GOW-ER), a type of endangered Asian ox. Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at Advanced Cell Technology, the Massachusetts company which performed the procedure, talks with host Steve Curwood about cloning as a tool for preserving endangered animals. (05:00)
Dairy Lawsuits/ Tom Banse
Lawsuits are flying in Yakima County, Washington against dairy farmers. The charges: cow manure is causing water pollution in violation of the Clean Water Act. KUOW’s Tom Banse (BAHN-see) reports these suits might be the beginning of a trend, especially in states where large dairy operations are expanding. (06:35)
Business Update/ Anna Solomon-Greenbaum
Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports.that a leaked document about the Sony Corporation, shows the firm is keeping a close watch on activist groups campaigning for stricter environmental standards for electronics manufacturers. (00:59)
Mt. Desert Rock/ Matthew Algeo
Matthew Algeo (AL-gee-oh) of Maine Public Broadcasting visits marine researchers on Mount Desert (duh-ZERT) Rock in the Gulf of Maine. Residents of this isolated island study whales and seals and have few outside distractions other than the constant sound of the foghorn. (08:05)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about Hurricane Thanksgiving Day. This traditional holiday in the Virgin Islands signals the end of hurricane season. (01:30)
Host Steve Curwood talks with John Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin about a new study revealing 150 years of observations about ice. Using the information researchers discovered less ice cover than previously thought in the Northern Hemisphere. (06:00)
Health Update/ Diane Toomey
Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports that the bacteria which causes botulism may also help stroke patients. (00:59)
Vietnam Floods/ Owen Bennett Jones
Deforestation is said to be the major cause of the floods that have devastated a number of Southeast Asian nations. Owen Bennett Jones reports from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam where the monsoon rains are expected to continue, at least, through the end of November. (04:45)
A Vote for Nader/ Brian Toklar
Commentator Brain Tokar lays out reasons why a vote for Green party candidate Ralph Nader is not a wasted vote. (03:00)
Mountain Party Candidate/ Jeff Young
Denise Giardina is a novelist who has formed the Mountain Party in West Virginia where she is taking on the coal industry in a bid for the state’s governor seat. West Virginia Public Radio’s Jeff Young reports. (09:00)
Show Credits and Funders
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Tom Banse, Matthew Algeo, Owen Bennett Jones, Jeff Young
UPDATES: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Diane Toomey
GUESTS: Robert Lanza, John Magnuson
COMMENTATOR: Brian Tokar
FIRST HALF HOUR
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Agriculture is vanishing as a way of life across the U.S. and many farmers feel under siege. Environmental activists in eastern Washington state say they are sympathetic but they are still suing dairy farmers who let manure runoff into waterways.
REDDOUT: The right to farm does not mean that people have the right to pollute. They cannot come in and ruin your way of life.
CURWOOD: Also while counting whales off a small island off the coast of Maine might sound adventurous, marine scientists say a big problem is boredom and isolation.
DENDANTO: There are things that we all miss about the mainland, regular showers and mail every day, or the ability to run to the convenience store.
CURWOOD: Also, the first cloning of an endangered species. Science is about to play mother nature. That and more this week on Living on Earth, after the news.
(NPR News follows)
Cloning an Endangered Species
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, Iâm Steve Curwood. Noah wonât be born for a few weeks but heâs already famous. Noah is the fetus of a gaur, an endangered animal from India and Burma thatâs similar to an ox. He was cloned from genes obtained from a wild gaur that were implanted in Bessie, a cow from Iowa. Scientists have already met success with cross-species parenting using in vitro fertilization. But this is the first time genetic engineers have tried cloning as a tool to preserve endangered species. Dr. Robert Lanza is Vice President of Medical and Scientific Development at Advanced Cell Technology based in Worcester, Massachusetts. Dr. Lanza is in charge of the gaur project.
LANZA: What we did is we took some cells from a gaur and we actually fused some of those cells with empty cow eggs. These were ordinary eggs which had come from cows where they had their chromosomes removed. And then what we did was we activated those eggs and we implanted the embryos that formed back into domestic cows. And we successfully obtained normal pregnancies which is the first time ever that has been achieved using this technology. And beyond that, we were actually able to show that these pregnancies led to fetal development. In fact, we are actually expecting the birth of one of these animals in a few weeks, perhaps next month sometime.
CURWOOD: Kent Redford whoâs with Wildlife Conservation, was quoted recently as saying that the cloned gaur will never live its life in true gaurdom, to wander in the forests of India and frolic with other gaurs. What do you see, what will happen to this gaur after itâs weened? Is it going back to India?
LANZA: Well, of course, this is the first time an animal has ever been cloned using this technology. And I think we have the responsibility here to observe the animal for a short while to make sure that heâs healthy and that everything is okay and we certainly would not want to separate him from his mom for a while. The goal here really is is to apply this technology to reintroduce animals back into the wild, not to put them into cages or to put them in zoos.
CURWOOD: Now, if itâs possible to take an endangered animal, clone it and start to reproduce its numbers, some people might say that habitat protection might get a lower priority. What kind of concerns do you have about that?
LANZA: Well, I think you have a legitimate concern. I think thereâs absolutely no question that habitat preservation is the cornerstone of all of our conservation efforts and I canât underscore that enough. But, in reality, that isnât occurring, in particular in many poor countries that simply donât have the resources. But thatâs a much broader problem than we can personally individually do anything about. So, what weâre trying to do, at least at this point, is to try to protect what valuable biological diversity there is left so that these animals really have a fighting chance to survive. I mean, because every endangered animal that should die represents a group of genes that are lost from the planet forever. So we believe that this is certainly not a substitute for habitat conservation, itâs just another tool that conservation planners can use in their fight to protect these animals.
CURWOOD: Now, I can understand if there is a small band of endangered animals, for example, thereâre just 5,000 tigers left on the planet and that thereâs some genetic diversity obviously among those five thousand tigers. But what about where thereâs just one creature left? Your company is also planning on cloning the bucardo, thatâs a mountain goat from Spain, and the very last one died earlier this year but some of the tissue was frozen. So, if your goal is to help preserve genetic diversity and endangered species, how does the goat project fit into that?
LANZA: First of all, the Spanish authorities ought to be commended for having the foresight for catching this animal a number of months before she died so that we could at least preserve the cells from the last remaining animals so that that animal when itâs extinct would not have been lost from the planet forever. But more importantly, it is that if other people had that foresight to think OK we donât want to go the road of the bucardo, letâs try to prevent this from happening to other species. Let that be a warning. So what we are doing in that particular instance is the best we can do which unfortunately, it would be nice to try to avoid that in the future. But, what we are able to do is this last animal Celia, we will be able to hopefully bring her back. They do have a number of other subspecies, a number of other Spanish ibex that that animal could breed with so we could at least rescue what we can of the bucardo. And then, of course, there is the possibility I should point out that we havenât run by the Spanish government at this point, they would need to review this, but thereâs a new molecular biology tool which might allow us to replace one of the X chromosomes with a Y chromosome from a similar mountain goat so we could create a mate for this animal, so they could once again breed in their original habitat, where theyâve been living for centuries.
CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with me today.
LANZA: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.
CURWOOD: Dr. Robert Lanza is Vice President of Medical and Scientific Development at the Advanced Cell Technology company.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Bureaucrats call it non-point pollution, but a group of citizens in Eastern Washington state use plainer language to describe what is fouling local water: cow manure. These activists have filed lawsuits against five large dairy operations in the region, a hardball legal tactic thatâs causing some hard feelings in some quarters.
Tom Banse from member station KUOW has our report from Sunnyside, Washington.
BANSE: Yakima Valley activists have been spying on their neighbors. In the evening mostly, they set out in pairs with camera, video recorders and notebooks.
REDDOUT: We're always on county roads, or on county right-of-way. And it's things that are purely visible to the naked eye, you know. And then we put Îem on either our camcorder or we take stills of it.
BANSE: Helen Reddout is the ringleader of the so-called Dairy Watch gathering evidence of water pollution. The retired schoolteacher serves as president of a group called CARE, which stands for Community Association for the Restoration of the Environment. CARE has lodged citizen lawsuits against five dairies for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act. One settlement cost a dairyman half a million dollars.
(File drawer; office rustling)
BANSE: In her home office, Helen Reddout flips through the pages of her photo collection, The Family Album of Doo Doo she calls it.
REDDOUT: Umm, this is some of the ooze that was coming out into the road. And then these little dark spots are flies that are all over it.
BANSE: The surveillance initially led to angry confrontations between the activists and their targets. Now at one of the dairies being sued, a hand-painted sign faces the county road. It reads: Attention: This field is located in an agricultural area. It is subject to noise, dust. Pungent odors are to be expected. The activists dismiss this defense.
REDDOUT: The right to farm does not mean that people have the right to pollute. They cannot come in and ruin your way of life.
BANSE: Reddout blames excesses of manure spread on nearby fields for contaminating her groundwater. She says that led the health department to Îred-tagâ her drinking well. On the advice of their lawyers, none of the dairy farmers being sued would tape an interview. But others in the milk business are talking. Washington Dairy Federation President Debbie Becker calls the litigation a nightmare. Becker says the industry has a commitment to stop pollution.
BECKER: We've seen dramatic improvements by this industry -- dramatic. And the only downside to this has been this litigation and these lawsuits in Yakima because it's really complicated all the good work that's been done.
BANSE: The dairy inspection manager at the Washington Department of Ecology agrees local dairies have cleaned up their act. But Phil Kauzloric is mindful of the increasing size of the average dairy farm. Kauzloric says one cow produces as much poop as twenty people do every day.
KAUZLORIC: Say, if you have a 1,000 head dairy farm, that's roughly equivalent to a town of 20,000 people. So, certainly management of the waste becomes more complex. But on the other hand, in our view too, as the farms get larger, financially they should be in a better position to make the investments necessary to adequately manage the waste.
BANSE: Kauzloric might as well be describing the situation of dairyman Dan DeGroat.
(milking barn ambience)
BANSE: DeGroat owns over a thousand cows on his farm near Sunnyside, Washington. All day long, the cows line up to be milked.
DEGROAT: This is the milking parlor.
BANSE: Between milkings and feedings, the herd mills about in large dirt corrals. Elsie the cow no longer ranges over meadows of grass and daisies.
(Sound of spraying/farmhands whistle)
BANSE: That requires an elaborate system of drains, holding tanks, gutters and just plain shoveling to keep all the cow poop contained.
DEGROAT: You know, when I built the dairy I was well aware of environmental concerns so I tended to oversize all the lagoons.
BANSE: I see one of them there...
DEGROAT: Thatâs one of them. And there's another one next to it that's empty.
BANSE: Dan DeGroat has spent heavily on environmental upgrades and is proud to show it off. He tries not to let the lawsuits flying all around him get on his nerves. DeGroat himself has not been sued.
DEGROAT: The citizen lawsuits are generally individual cases that are looked at by a certain, very small group of people. I'd say the vast majority of the community in this area is pro-agriculture and certainly pro-dairy farmers. We bring a huge economic base to this valley.
BANSE: Another nearby dairyman says the continuing litigation now amounts to extortion. The farmer says heâs passed two state inspections with no problems, but still is being pressured to pay a settlement. Helen Reddout says the activist neighbors will carry on until thereâs no threat to the water.
REDDOUT: There has been improvement in the valley. But your question, has it been enough that we can back down? No, it hasn't. Not when you have wells that are polluted.
BANSE: And Reddout says water quality may only be a start. Members of her group also want to use the Clean Air Act to attack the stink that sometimes rises from their lush valley. Federal EPA dairy expert Bub Louisell describes the discord in Washington as just the tip of the manure pile.
LOUISELL: The problem as far as animal wastes, animal wastes that you realize from either a beef feedlot operation or a dairy operation are much broader than just Eastern Washington.
BANSE: Louisell says for a long time, agriculture took a back seat to other pollution priorities. But, not anymore.
LOUISELL: This sector has risen to the top as far as getting national attention and I expect it to remain there for several years.
BANSE: Environmental regulators suggest different solutions for different farms. For example, one dairy may stay out of trouble merely by spreading manure a little more judiciously on surrounding fields. Another might have to put in bigger storage lagoons. A third could be asked to bulldoze earthen berms everywhere sewage could run off. Bub Louisell says he hears often from farmers that the cost of regulations is killing them, to which he offers this advice:
LOUISELL: You either pay the price today to fix it up or you pay an exorbitant price tomorrow because EPA has busted you. Pay us now or pay us later.
BANSE: The dairy federations on the West Coast all can name member farmers whoâve relocated inland in search of friendlier territory. Idaho, New Mexico, even Kansas, are home to many more dairy cows than just a few years ago. The farmers benefit from having fewer human neighbors, and the weatherâs drier, which means fewer problems with runoff. But the activists are following close behind. The Western Environmental Law Center, which represents the unhappy neighbors in Washington state, is now preparing similar pollution lawsuits in Idaho. For Living on Earth, I'm Tom Banse, in the Yakima Valley, Washington.
CURWOOD: Boredom, claustrophobia and no twinkies. Roughing it in the name of environmental science That story is just ahead here on Living on Earth. Now, this environmental business update with Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.
(Music up and under)
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: A leaked document shows that campaigns to tighten environmental standards for electronics manufacturers have the Sony Corporation on alert. The document called NGO Strategy warns that non-governmental organizations including Friends of the Earth and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition have attained a global reach, and the industry must unite to counter costly new legislation and threats to its public image. It also urges companies to contact foundations that support NGO campaigns and offer an industry perspective before they empty their pockets. The report goes on to recommend the hiring of investigative agencies to track activist groups on the internet. The NGOâs say theyâre a little bemused at all the attention. Sony says it does not view NGOâs as a threat and the report was meant to inspire industry to start a proactive dialogue with activist groups. Thatâs this weekâs business update. I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
Mt. Desert Rock
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Imagine moving in with a dozen strangers, on a tiny island twenty-five miles out to sea, in a dwelling with no running water and minimal electricity. It sounds like some new "reality" TV show, but it's how some researchers from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine spent their summer on Mount Desert Rock. The scientists are studying whales and seals. Maine Public Radio's Matthew Algeo paid them a visit.
ALGEO: During the summer, humpback and finback whales come to the Gulf of Maine to feed. These two humpbacks, a cow and her calf, were recently spotted off Mount Desert Island. Whales are still mysterious creatures. They spend much of their lives deep underwater, so researchers have to be willing to go to great lengths to study them. And the researchers who come to Mount Desert Rock every summer go to very great lengths to do their work.
(Boat sound, horn blows)
ALGEO: The boat ride from Bar Harbor to Mount Desert Rock takes about two hours. The Rock, as it's known, is 25 miles from the mainland, smack in the middle of the Gulf of Maine. It's a remote, rocky, four-acre island, with a rambling two-story house, a lighthouse and a foghorn that blows every 22 seconds. One historian called the Rock part of another world.
(Foghorn blows, seagull sounds)
ALGEO: The lighthouse was automated more than 20 years ago. Today the rock is uninhabited, except in the summer, when a dozen or so researchers from the College of the Atlantic come to the tiny island to study whales and seals. They live without plumbing, and at night, they work by candlelight and oil lamps. Dan Dendanto studies finback whales and manages the research station on the Rock. He says the living conditions are primitive.
DENDANTO: There are things that we all miss about the mainland. Regular showers. Mail every day. The ability to run to the convenience store.
ALGEO: Despite the harsh conditions, whale researchers like Dendanto are drawn to the Rock because whales are drawn to the Rock. As far as the cetaceans are concerned, it's a great place to eat. As the ocean's currents hit the island, plankton are forced to the surface of the water. The plankton are eaten by small fish like herring, and the fish are eaten by whales.
(Wind and bird noise atop the lighthouse)
UZ: You're looking for a blow, for finbacks and humpbacks.
ALGEO: Ozlem Uz is a native of Turkey and a recent College of the Atlantic graduate. She usually starts each day on the Rock by climbing fifty feet to the top of the lighthouse. With binoculars, she scans the horizon, looking for puffs of mist rising above the water whale blows. Uz can tell a whale by its blow. Humpbacks have short, squat ones and finbacks have tall, thin ones.
UZ: There's another blow! To the southeast. That's a finback, too. See how tall the blow is?
ALGEO: After the researchers find out where the whales are, they set out in small motorboats to catch up with them. But whales are elusive and surprisingly fast. Some can swim fifteen miles an hour. If they find one, the researchers take a picture of its fins. Each whale has unique markings on its fins, like fingerprints on humans. Judy Allen has been studying whales for more than twenty years and she helped pioneer the photographic identification technique.
ALLEN: That gives us information about a lot of aspects of the whale biology. It tells us about breeding patterns, calving intervals, we can determine things about the social structure of these animals.
ALGEO: If they can get close enough to a whale, the researchers also try to get a sample of its skin. Dan Dendanto says this is a useful way to study whale breeding patterns
DENDANTO: We use a modern version of the 13th century crossbow that has a modified arrow tip which is like a punch, and it removes a piece of skin just like a cookie cutter would work in dough. And it removes a piece of skin about the size of a pencil eraser, and from that piece of skin we can extract the cells, and, more importantly, the nucleic acids which occur within those cells, and then we can use that DNA for a number of different types of investigation.
ALGEO: Whales aren't the only subject of the researchers on Mount Desert Rock. Seals are studied here, too. During the summer, the island is home to more than a thousand gray and harbor seals, and Steve Renner counts them all.
RENNER: 13AHU sleep, 1JHU change, in response 1AHU.
ALGEO: Renner is a grad student who's on the Rock to study seal behavior. He watches the seals that haul out of the water and congregate on rock ledges just off the island. Renner spends as many as six hours a day counting the seals, identifying them by species, age and sex and cataloging their behavior.
RENNER: With the scan method, I will start on one side of a ledge and go across, pretty much, animal by animal and just give them a quick look, determine what species they are, what sex they are, and determine what behavior they might be doing and categorize that as best I can. So, the idea is to get to figure out what proportion of animals are doing a certain behavior nearly simultaneously and projecting that onto a single animal to see the amount of time an animal would spend doing a given behavior, such as sleeping or being involved in an aggressive encounter with another animal.
ALGEO: Gray seals and harbor seals are different species. Gray seals can weigh as much as a thousand pounds. Harbor seals usually weigh less than half that. But Renner says both species have something in common: they're not very active and counting them for hours on end can get a little repetitious.
RENNER: By hour number three or four it gets a little sketchy sitting in the seal blind by yourself, just noting the same behaviors. And as the tide goes out I find that more and more animals are spending more and more time sleeping, so the scans get much more monotonous. You have 200 animals and 198 of them are sleeping.
ALGEO: Life on the Rock can sometimes be as monotonous as counting sleeping seals. When the fog rolls in, the researchers can be stuck inside for days with few diversions.
(Sound of pool balls racked up)
ALGEO: There is a pool table in the house, reportedly flown in by helicopter several years ago, when the coast guard managed the property. There's also a computer and a cell phone, but not much else.
(Sound of break)
ALGEO: Despite the isolation, the hard work, the primitive conditions, the researchers who spend their summers on Mount Desert Rock always find it hard to leave. And, says researcher Kari Barber, adjusting to life back on the mainland can be hard.
BARBER: Out here, it's kind of like you're living in your own world. And you're somewhat connected, but you're not. And you're just so immersed in your work and you're immersed in your research, that going back is kind of like, "Wow, I really don't like being here one bit."
ALGEO: At summer's end, the researchers on Mount Desert Rock leave the island. The research station is now closed for the year and the Rock, once again, will face the winter alone. For Living on Earth, I'm Matthew Algeo.
(Foghorn sounds and music)
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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 and the environment. The W. Alton Jones Foundation promoting new ways to provide energy to the world economy without harm to the environment. www.wajones.org . And the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues.
CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood and this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return, how ordinary human rituals can help document the earth's changing climate. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
The Living on Earth Almanac
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Each July, residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands pray to be spared the ravages of a hurricane during the coming season. By the third Monday in October, they're back in church, giving thanks that they've missed a major hurricane or at least survived the latest storm. Hurricane Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated since the early 1700s, when Denmark ruled this part of the Caribbean. Technically speaking now, hurricane season isn't officially over until the end of November. In fact, Hurricane Lenny was a reminder last year when it swept through the Virgin Islands on November 17. It seems like in recent years, twice a decade or so, the Virgins get slammed by hurricane force winds and rain. And there's not much by way of high land to retreat to so praying is one of the few options. Last year, the governor rescinded the official status of Hurricane Thanksgiving Day, perhaps after noticing too many people were observing it on the beaches rather than in the pews. But, many islanders still make time to give thanks. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth almanac.
CURWOOD: Global climate change: a highly technical issue to be tracked by elite scientists using exotic technology, right? Not necessarily. A new study collected 150 years worth of observations made by average Joe's and Josephine's from across the Northern Hemisphere. Researchers found that for centuries people have been keeping track of when local lakes and rivers froze and melted. All the researchers had to do was pool the data, analyze it, and then see if the first freeze is coming later and the spring thaw earlier than in the past. John Magnuson, a limnologist at the University of Wisconsin and an author of the study, tells me the oldest records they found were religious-based.
MAGNUSON: One in Germany which is Lake Constance, or the Bodensee, goes back to the ninth century, and there they would carry a Madonna statue across the lake if it froze. It was a lake that didn't freeze very often. And then the next winter if the lake froze they would carry it across the other way between two churches. The other old record is from the Shinto religion in Japan. In Lake Sua there are two temples one on either side of the lake. And when the lake froze it had religious significance, the date that it froze. And they would keep this record year after year after year. They would keep the date the lake froze. And that record goes back to the fourteen hundreds. Those are the only two that we know, for sure, are religious -based. The others are probably started more in the area of practicality and commerce, in parts of the world where traveling over water or on ice or travelling up and down stream or across lakes in boats and canoes were important. I think that these kind of dates were as important to these people a hundred and fifty-or-so years ago as us knowing the plane schedules today.
CURWOOD: So, you looked at a total of thirty-nine records from around the Northern Hemisphere. What did you find in your analysis?
MAGNUSON: Of those thirty-nine, thirty-eight of them were all in the direction of reduced ice cover or warming. It's a remarkably consistent result around the entire Northern Hemisphere. Then, when we looked at individual lakes many of them also had a significant trend even as an individual. We also noted that it really didn't matter quite where this lake or river was, if it was up in the high arctic, or if it was down in southern Wisconsin, where I am, or if it were in Finland, or if it were in the Swiss Alps. The general pattern held around the entire Northern Hemisphere.
CURWOOD: So, what did you find in terms of freeze dates and ice break up?
MAGNUSON: Yeah, I think it's common sense that if it freezes later and breaks up earlier, that it Îs gotten warmer. If you look at the hundred and fifty year period, freeze dates change by about nine days in the hundred and fifty days on average, and the break up days about ten days. Almost three weeks difference in the duration of ice cover. And that's an important part of this observation as well because we do not have exact records of what criteria the people used to call the lake open or frozen. So, if we found only a small change a day or two, we would have very little confidence in this. But this is a large change over one hundred and fifty years. Much larger than the measurement error ever would have been under many different criteria.
CURWOOD: How do your findings correlate with other studies and other efforts to document what could be happening to the Earth's temperature?
MAGNUSON: Almost all the really long-term indicators are not direct observations by humans. For example, there's an excellent paleoclimate indicator from looking at tree ring growth, but it's not direct. People have to relate the growth of trees to a presumed past climate. I think the interesting thing is about the lake ice and freeze data is that these lakes and rivers are in many cases in people's back yards. And the kind of things that they themselves note, like when the first robin appears in the spring, or when a certain flower first blooms. Human beings have had this tendency to write this down in their diaries, their kitchen logs, their backyard garden logs, so that they are very much within the human experience. They're not a model output. They're not on the other side of the world. At least for people that live in a place that has a winter.
CURWOOD: So your study uses work by ordinary people and you also have all of your sources available. I guess one can go to the internet and get your basic data here. This sounds to me different from the way that many scientists operate. What's that like?
MAGNUSON: Well, I think it's exciting and I think it's also responsible. You know, the old adage of science is, you know, that you collect your data and you cluster it to your chest and it's private and some of the more important phenomena that are occurring around the world are not little private things that we can see and clutch to our chest. They're things that are the collected experience of people around the globe, whether they happen to be scientists, in many cases, or whether they happen to be lay people that are making observations. In the scientific arena of long-term ecological research we have argued that it's more important if we want to understand the ecological systems around us and the changes around us that we have to work in a network basis of science around us, and we gain more from the results if in fact they are shared. The fact that this depends on early religious records and early records perhaps of fur traders and shippers in Toronto harbor and things of that nature, I guess I'm just enough of a person who's interested in history that I think it adds, doesn't add much to the science, but it certainly adds to the flavor and joy with working with these data.
CURWOOD: John Magnuson is professor of limnology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His study was just published in Science Magazine . Thank you, Dr. Magnuson.
MAGNUSON: You're welcome.
CURWOOD: Just ahead mining the politics of coal in West Virginia's gubernatorial race. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: Now this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.
TOOMEY: In the past few years, the bacteria that caused the deadly form of food poisoning called Botulism have been used to smooth out wrinkles. Now, that ability to relax muscles has been found effective against a more serious condition. After a stroke, muscle stiffness and limb spasms are common. The spasms can be so severe they interfere with sitting, even sleeping. But researchers found that a single injection of the toxin significantly reduced these spasms for up to four months. The substance works by preventing the release of acetylcholine, a chemical that enables muscles to contract. Doctors stressed that after the treatment a patient's ability to perform everyday tasks does not improve since the toxin weakens the muscles it's injected into. But, patients did experience less stiffness and pain. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living On Earth. You can hear our program any time on our web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org, and while you're on-line send your comments to us at email@example.com. Once again, letters @loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, and you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. More than one million people in Southeast Asia have been forced to flee their homes due to severe flooding during the past few months. People are used to seasonal monsoon floods, but this year the high water flowing through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam is the worst in nearly four decades. In Vietnam's Mekong River Delta alone nearly three hundred people have drowned. Owen Bennett Jones traveled to the region and has our report.
BENNETT JONES: Dong Thap, Southern Vietnam and there's water everywhere. The mighty Mekong River is fifteen feet deeper than usual and 90 percent of the province is under water. Tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes are living on top of muddy dykes in cramped, unhealthy conditions. They face a long wait - the water won't recede until late November at best. The flood started back in July and the rain is still coming down. Craig Lesher, the UN's environment adviser in Hanoi, believes extreme weather conditions like these are increasingly common.
LESHER: There's a lot more rain falling in less time. Overall the amount of rainfall I don't think is changing on average but it's coming down in very intense short bursts. On the other side of this equation: what happens to this rain once it hits the earth I think there are several factors. The primary one, undoubtedly, is deforestation.
BENNETT JONES: The Mekong River starts in China and passes through Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. All along the way, forests are being cut down·and that undermines the land's natural capacity to retain water upstream. Nguyen Tuy Nien is the Director of Flood Control and Dyke Management in Hanoi.
TUY NIEN: (speaks in native language)
TRANSLATOR: The Mekong River goes through several countries so it is very difficult to control deforestation. In Vietnam, we have a very strict policy on forest control. Some cases have already been sent to court. Even so, deforestation has still happened. Some poor people cut down trees. They need the money to make a living.
BENNETT JONES: Although the last fifty years have seen drastically reduced forest cover in Vietnam, there are signs that the situation is now improving. Further upstream, though, especially in Laos, the logging is almost totally uncontrolled. As a whole, the Mekong River basin is becoming ever less capable of retaining water.
(splashing and children laughing)
BENNETT JONES: A group of children splash and play in the flood water near the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. All too often their games turn to catastrophe: over two hundred children like these have drowned in the last few weeks. Their home area is undergoing radical change. In the past, extensive mangrove plantations helped control the ebb and flow of the tides. But many have now been cut down. Oxfam's Koos Neefjes believes that part of the problem is the sheer numbers now trying to make a living in the Mekong Delta.
NEEFJES: More and more people live in the delta. Extremely poor people are living closer to the banks of the river. The banks of the rivers are less protected by mangrove forests because of increased shrimp farming. These very poor people, they need to fish, they need to live on the banks and use the little bits of land on the flood plains for rice cultivation. And these people will not be organized enough to make their way to safe areas quick enough. High floods are always causing trouble for them.
BENNETT JONES: Aid agencies like Oxfam are trying to provide some villagers with boats and outboard engines so they can escape to higher ground. The Red Cross is distributing water purifying equipment and basic food supplies to those affected by the flood. The government is also taking some action - in recent years, for example, loans have been given to families so they put their houses on stilts. But unless some long term measures are taken to address issues such as deforestation, many in the Mekong Delta fear there could be worse to come in the years ahead. For Living On Earth this is Owen Bennett Jones in Hanoi
(Boat engine, water)
A Vote for Nader
CURWOOD: As the presidential debates unfold and the campaigns draw to a close - - - more and more of those so-called undecided voters are deciding which candidate will get their nod. Now, for folks who care about the environment, this is not an easy choice.
Some will vote for George W. Bush, but many are split between Al Gore and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Commentator Brian Tokar says he'll vote his conscience.
TOKAR: It's election time and, once again, environmentalists are being courted by the Democrats and largely shunned by Republicans. That's not so unusual. Neither is the near certainty that once the voting is over our ecosystems and communities will take a back seat to politics as usual in Washington, D.C. This year, we're told, is different: Al Gore, they say, is a real environmentalist. But, a look at the record suggests several steps backward for every step forward in the name of the environment. The Clinton-Gore administration cast itself as defender of the Northwest's ancient forests, but allowed a "salvage logging rider" in 1995 that led to the sharpest increase in National Forest logging since the Reagan administration. It repealed the Delaney Clause, which banned cancer-causing substances in food, and opened severe loopholes in endangered species enforcement. Vice President Gore is a proponent of "free trade," a long-time supporter of genetic engineering, and on the crucial issue of global climate change, a leading advocate of tradable carbon dioxide credits. That's the mechanism that would encourage companies to invest in forest plantations rather than reduce fossil fuel emissions, while developing a global "free market" in tradable "rights" to pollute. Into this fray has stepped Ralph Nader, a time-tested crusader against corporate abuses and an internationally known environmentalist. His credentials and experience speak for themselves. But, this election is about more than Ralph Nader's electibility. It's about the decline of our democratic institutions. As long as we remain limited to two parties, equally beholden to Wall Street and global corporations, we remain unable to shape the REAL decisions that affect our lives. Inequality grows, the loopholes expand, and our forests, air, water and health continue to suffer. Clearly, no president can solve all our problems, but this year there's a chance to vote for someone who speaks for popular power and citizen initiative. A vote for Nader is not, as some claim, a wasted vote. It is a small step toward the renewal of a genuine, community-based direct democracy. One that could, some day, offer real solutions to our pressing environmental and social problems.
CURWOOD: Commentator Brian Tokar teaches at the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont, and is the author of The Green Alternative . He comes to us via the web magazine TomPaine dot com.
Mountain Party Candidate
CURWOOD: In the state of West Virginia, a novelist is waging a campaign to unseat an incumbent Republican governor and outdo his Democratic challenger. Her name is Denise Giardina. Her party is called the Mountain Party and she's running on a largely environmental platform against the coal industry. From West Virginia Public Radio, Jeff Young reports.
YOUNG: For most of her life Denise Giardina has been an unruly subject in King Coal's domain. Giardina grew up in McDowell County, West Virginia, where coal determined everything from where adults worked to where children played.
GIARDINA : I couldn't wade in the stream because of mine drainage. I saw the slag piles that were covering the sides of the mountain. I've just grown up with this awareness of coal and the problems it causes.
YOUNG: Giardina returned to McDowell County after earning a degree in theology. She lead an Episcopal church but soon left the ministry to pursue a writing career. She's published four novels. Two of them, Storming Heaven and the Unquiet Earth , trace a hundred year history of coal miner families. Her characters fight to unionize the mines and keep their mountain lifestyle, only to lose the jobs to mechanization and lose the mountains to strip mining. In this excerpt from the Unquiet Earth , a union organizer watches his kin leave for jobs elsewhere.
MAN READS: I have heard of people in South America, religious fanatics, who cut themselves and whip themselves and until they bleed and even nail their hands to boards. I think the boys who leave are like that, returning to the place that is no longer home, coming back again and again until they are cut and bleeding and the pain of loss is all that binds them to these hills. Those of us who stay are like that too, holding on to what wounds us like picking up ground glass.
YOUNG: Giardina says her writing focused her emerging political views - but it took the controversy over mountain top removal mining to move her to political action.
GIARDINA: My dad's company was the first to do mountain top removal back in the 1960s, so I've been aware of it since I was a teenager. Last couple years though as the mining industry's gotten more and more blatant about their total disregard for the law and regulations and have been creating larger and larger mines. A lot of people have gotten to be very upset about it.
(Mountain top removal operation)
YOUNG: In mountain top removal coal companies blast and bulldoze the tops off mountains and dump the waste rock and dirt into neighboring valleys. The companies say it's the only cost effective way to get the region's thin seams of low-sulfur coal into a competitive market. But opponents say the process has flattened thousands of acres of wooded hills and buried more than 700 miles of streams in West Virginia alone. Giardina started speaking out against mountain top removal and crowds, like this one at West Virginia's capitol, started listening.
GIARDINA: They have the nerve to say to us they should be allowed to destroy our mountains because they create jobs. The mafia creates jobs. The Colombian drug cartel creates jobs, pimps create jobs, and they're the same kind of jobs that destroy communities and even exploit the people that they employ. King Coal is dead. Long live the people of West Virginia.
GIARDINA: Several people said to me then you know, you ever think about running for governor?" and I was sort of like well that's a new thought (laughs), a new and interesting thought. And I guess it kind of stayed with me. As time passed and it became clear that no one was going run and speak out against the issue it seemed to me someone should.
YOUNG: But it's been an uphill effort for Giardina and her newly formed Mountain Party. Third party advocates say West Virginia's laws on ballot access are among the nation's most restrictive. And last year the legislature doubled the number of petition signatures needed to get on the ballot. Giardina's campaign has a budget of only about twenty-four thousand dollars and only one paid staffer. Giardina has little visible support from the union coal miners she portrays so sympathetically in her fiction. And while her pro-environment platform has attracted an enthusiastic core of volunteers, members of West Virginia's oldest and biggest environmental group fear she will only be a spoiler in the tight governor's race. Tom Rodd is with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
RODD: Well, I certainly understand why people are attracted to her message of abhorring mountain top removal mining. But I think the practical consequence of a vote for Giardina is to increase the likelihood that the incumbent business Republican, Cecil Underwood, will remain in office another 4 years.
YOUNG: Governor Underwood sparked much of the controversy on mountain top removal mining when he signed a law that doubled the allowable size of valley fills. Underwood is a former coal company executive and a strong advocate of the practice.
UNDERWOOD: If we can resolve mountain top mining issue, it does two things. It will attract, re-employ unemployed miners and secondly, it creates level land sites in West Virginia, which is one of our greatest needs. We have so few acres that can be used for industrial building sites. Mountain top mining creates flat sites where none existed before.
YOUNG: Underwood's Democratic rival in the governor's race is West Virginia's second district congressman Bob Wise. Wise says he would make coal companies obey the law.
WISE: Mountain top mining has to be done a lot more strictly than it has been, that you can do it appropriately, but it has to be tightly regulated and unfortunately under Governor Underwood and this administration it's not been.
YOUNG: Giardina pledges to end mountain top removal mining. She says that difference between her and the major party candidates points to the need for a third voice in West Virginia politics.
GIARDINA : The Republican governor is a strong advocate of the coal industry and does everything he can to make sure that they get everything they want. The Democratic congressman was part of the effort to attach a rider on a bill this past session that would have gutted the Clean Water Act and he was doing that in order to try to support mountain top removal. He has said that he supports the coal industry on that issue. I think a lot of people at that point realized that the Democratic party was not going to be the vehicle to challenge the coal industry in the state. And so they were trying to find someone to run as an Independent and I agreed to do that.
YOUNG: But, Giardina must find a way to make the Mountain Party stand out on a ballot crowded with five candidates for governor. And she has been shut out of all but one of the televised debates with the major party candidates. So far the novelist-turned-candidate's run for governor has not been a storybook affair.
GIARDINA: If this were a novel, you know, you'd be like something's got to happen to keep you turning the pages. It Îs just a real up and down process.
YOUNG: Happy ending?
GIARDINA: Oh, see happy endings aren't necessarily what they're cracked up to be. I guess if happy ending means winning the election, it's probably, it a very long shot. If happy ending means that the dialogue has changed, it's already been happy. I think a number of issues I've staked out are being talked about that wouldn't have been talked about otherwise. Younger people realize the days of coal are over and I think that's a new thing for West Virginia.
YOUNG: Denise Giardina needs at least one percent of the vote in the gubernatorial race for her Mountain Party to win official party status in West Virginia. And, right now, polls show her close to reaching that goal.
For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young in Charleston.
CURWOOD: You can hear our program any time on our web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org, and while you're on-line send your comments to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once again, email@example.com. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, and you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988.
CURWOOD: And for this week - that's Living on Earth. Next week: Tens of millions of baby boomers face the prospect of a long, and healthy retirement in the coming decades. And the government is looking to make it a productive time by employing their skills and experience in cleaning up the environment.
WOMAN: I think it's something that people become more conscious of as they get older because they see the changes that have happened since they were and there's a tremendous sense of stewardship among the old because they're helping to preserve the earth for future generations.
CURWOOD: Going green in the golden years - next time on Living On Earth We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu and James Curwood -- along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, and Bree Horwitz. We had help this week from Carly Ferguson and Jessica Camp. Alison Dean composed our themes. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is our science editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor and Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for reporting on marine issues, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Serdna Foundation, the James and Kathleen Stone Foundation, the Town Creek Foundation, and the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues.
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