June 8, 2001
Air Date: June 8, 2001
Tobacco Farmers/ Leda Hartman
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It was the cash crop of choice in many parts of the south. But with tobacco facing an uncertain future, reporter Leda Hartman checks in with some tobacco farmers in North Carolina to see how they’re faring. (09:00)
Swede Meet/ Cynthia Graber
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President Bush meets with members of the European Union on June 14. On top of the agenda will be his climate change policy. Cynthia Graber reports. (02:30)
Consumer Note/ Jennifer Chu
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Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on scam artists who follow in the wake of natural disasters. There are now guidelines to help consumers avoid being victimized twice. (01:30)
The Living on Earth Almanac
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This week, facts about the night-blooming Queen of the Night. This desert cactus unveils its flower only once a year, with a royal display of sight and smell. (01:30)
Acela/ Adeline Sire
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Reporter Adeline Sire critiques Amtrak’s new fast train called the Acela. The train runs the Boston to Washington D.C. route. It’s modeled after a French bullet train, but it doesn’t quite live up to all its expectations. (07:50)
Sprawl Walk/ Tom Springer
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Commentator Tom Springer tells us why going for a walk in some of America’s newest communities can be dangerous to your health. (02:50)
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This week, Living on Earth dips into our mailbag to hear what listeners have to say about our stories. (01:30)
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New developments in stories we’ve been following recently. (03:00)
Health Note/ Cynthia Graber
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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports that eating a variety of foods at one meal may lead to overeating. (01:15)
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The Sierra Club, along with three other environmental groups, met with Vice President Cheney and his staff to discuss the environmental implications of the Bush Administration’s energy plan. Host Diane Toomey talks with Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, about his first face-to-face with the Vice President. (05:20)
Klamath River/ Clay Scott
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The Klamath Basin on the Oregon/California border is home to a rich variety of wildlife, including bald eagles and salmon. It’s also home to hundreds of farming families encouraged by the government to settle in the area at the start of last century. But now, with the Klamath Basin in the middle of the worst drought in 100 years, the government decided for the first time to limit water rights for farmers. Clay Scott reports. (10:20)
This week's EarthEar selection
Show Credits and Funders
TOOMEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey, sitting in for Steve Curwood. Over the last few years, tobacco has become a pariah crop and, some might say, a dying one. First came a national class action law suit against the nation's big cigarette makers. Next came cuts in the amount of tobacco that the federal government allows to be grown. And this year, for the first time, most tobacco will be grown on contract with individual companies instead of being sold at open auction.
All these changes have made for an uncertain future for tobacco farmers. Leda Hartman reports from the nation's leading tobacco producing state, North Carolina.
HARTMAN: Billy Carter eases his pick-up along a back road outside the tiny central North Carolina town of Eagle Springs. He's heading for a newly ploughed field that he'll plant with little tobacco seedlings from his greenhouse. Not long ago, someone else farmed this field.
CARTER: I'm actually growing tobacco that, four years ago, five different individuals were growing. One of those retired, one of them passed away, and two of them, just their quotas were cut to the point where it was more viable for them to lease their quota to me and work public work.
HARTMAN: That's been the trend in tobacco farming over the last few years. There are fewer farmers, and those that are left have bigger operations than ever before. Carter has chosen to stay in tobacco because for now, despite the uncertainties, no other crop he raises brings in the same amount of money. Tobacco compromises less than a third of his acreage, but it's 80% of his income.
CARTER: I basically know, short of a national disaster, what I will make on an acre of tobacco in a year, and what I make on an acre of tomatoes, I never have any idea, and we've grown them for a total of over 20 years.
HARTMAN: Though other farmers have opted out of tobacco, they haven't necessarily abandoned farming. One group that's tried to help tobacco farmers diversify is the Rural Advancement Foundation International, which supports sustainable agriculture in rural communities. Three years ago, the foundation started a pilot program to help families find other lucrative commodities to grow--everything from goat meat to pick your own grapes. Executive Director Betty Bailey says this strategy is better than forcing tobacco farmers off the land.
BAILEY: All those human skills, all those farm skills, that are in place, let's use those, let's not just toss those out and retrain everybody. That's something that's very valuable.
HARTMAN: In the small town of Anger, Ronnie Fish eases a load of fescue grass onto the back of a landscaping truck.
FISH: Appreciate it. Haul it in. This is what I like, they give me a check.
HARTMAN: Fish grew tobacco in this very same field until 1998, when the federal cut in allotments made him decide to quit.
FISH: For a three year period, they cut a basic allotment in half, just like if you was working for somebody and they cut your pay every year, would you keep working there? But farmers are supposed to take that on the chin and keep on going.
HARTMAN: These days, Fish raises sod for the new sub-divisions and office parks springing up around North Carolina's Research Triangle Park area, just up the road to the north.
FISH: People buying these houses, that's their little world, is around their house and yard. And they'll spend whatever it takes to get it looking like they want.
HARTMAN: Fish financed his new venture by selling off all his tobacco equipment and getting some seed money from the Rural Advancement Foundation. Even so, he's had to go into debt--no small thing for a man in his forties with two kids to put through college. Still, Fish says, he considers himself lucky.
FISH: No, I don't miss tobacco at all.
HARTMAN: Eighty-six-year-old Elizabeth Royal doesn't miss tobacco either. Royal runs a roadside produce stand in Whiteville, a county seat in the southeastern part of North Carolina, the heart of tobacco country.
ROYAL: Mustard and turnips and kale and garden peas, that's what we got back there. We had green onions and all those things.
HARTMAN: Royal remembers what it was like to raise tobacco before the federal government established price supports for the crop. That was back in the late 1940s.
ROYAL: At that time, you just didn't know whether you were going to make a sale or not, and sometimes you made it and sometimes you didn't. It was just a bad thing, no money in it. My dad depended on his strawberries at the time.
HARTMAN: Royal says that history is repeating itself, with tobacco in decline these days, and strawberries the better money-maker once more. Just this past year, she and her family sold the tobacco allotments they inherited from her father.
ROYAL: That's just the way times are. I didn't feel bad about it or nothing.
HARTMAN: It wasn't the federal cut in allotments that forced Royal and her family out of tobacco. It was the new system of growing and selling the leaf, called contracting. Under it, a farmer grows a set amount of tobacco for an individual company, according to a set price, rather than selling it the traditional way - at open auction. This year, all five of the nation's big cigarette makers are buying much of their leaf on contract, and 80% of the nation's tobacco farmers are working for them. That could mean the demise of the auction system, and that, contracting critics say, will hurt farmers in the long run.
Mac Dunkley is managing director for the Bright Belt Warehouse Association, which coordinates the auction system in the southeast.
DUNKLEY: Once that switch is made and all the farmers switch to contract, and there is no competition to keep those contracts high and lucrative for the farmer, the price will come down. The companies will then be in control of what is being paid, rather than the farmer being in control, when he has an option.
HARTMAN: And that's exactly what Elizabeth Royal's son-in-law, Wade Gore, is afraid of. Gore, who's in his early seventies, predicts that contracting will eventually make things as bad for farmers as they were before the government price supports came in.
GORE: We weren't under contract, but all we'd do, we'd take it to the warehouse and lay it down there, and whatever the company's offered us, that's what we had to take. It amounts to the same thing. I did it when I was young, but I'm not going back to that.
HARTMAN: And there was one more reason Gore decided to reject the contract system: in order to be eligible for a contract from a big tobacco company, farmers must pay to convert their curing barns to a new method, developed by R.J. Reynolds. The process is thought to make the tobacco slightly less carcinogenic. At his age, Gore says, he wasn't about to take on that kind of investment.
And he wouldn't let any of his kids do it, either. All five of them wanted to go into farming, but he didn't allow it. He sent all of them through college, but he wouldn't pay to set any of them up on a farm. Gore told them something he hated having to say.
GORE: There's one way, one word, I know to describe farming: Dead.
HARTMAN: Still, even though he's retired, Gore hasn't gotten out of farming completely. He dabbles in strawberries, and has helped set up a local farmer's market that provides a modest outlet for growers like him, who are moving away from tobacco. But the transition isn't easy, and, in some cases, it's not even possible. Unlike Wade Gore, some farmers have sunk too much money into their tobacco operations to be able to quit. Others lack the expertise to grow new crops. And some are reluctant to give up a way of life their families have embraced for generations.
Back in Eagle Springs, tobacco farmer Billy Carter says the biggest challenge to diversifying is to find crops that can bring in the same income as tobacco. Despite everything, Cater says, the golden leaf is still more golden than most any other croup around.
CARTER: It's what's really difficult for people to understand, because they think that North Carolina farmers are just hardheaded. Tobacco's a traditional thing. They just don't want to quit it. They're not willing to try other things. But you take all of the things that have been opportunities to diversify over the years, and it's all been funded with the profits off tobacco.
HARTMAN: Carter says he realizes some anti-smoking advocates would be glad to see him, and all his fellow tobacco farmers, go out of business. He says he's not offended by that point of view, because in the free-market system, there are no guarantees that all farmers get to stay on their farms.
CARTER: But people do, in fact, enjoy open spaces, not being developed, that's not being put to golf courses, or mobile homes, or sub-divisions or whatever. And one of the reasons why North Carolina has remained, in particular, the real economic, agriculture driven engine that it is, is because it's had tobacco to fall back on and keep people on the farm.
HARTMAN: Meanwhile Carter and the other tobacco farmers who have survived thus far face the year's season with a healthy dose of realism. Carter says that in tobacco, long term used to mean ten years out. Now, he says, it's next season.
For Living on Earth, I'm Leda Hartman reporting.
TOOMEY: President Bush will be in Sweden on June 14th for his first official meeting with representatives of the European Union. Missile defense and trade will be among the Administration's top agenda items. But EU nations are looking to the meeting as an opportunity for the White House to outline its position on climate change, before negotiations on the global warming treaty resume next month, on Bonn, Germany.
Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports.
GRABER: The meeting itself is nothing unusual. Every six months since 1995, the U.S. has met with representatives of the European Union. But this meeting provides the first chance for EU ministers to assess the official Bush stance on climate change. Phillip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, will be one of many traveling to Gotenberg, Sweden, to see first-hand what takes place.
CLAPP: This is particularly important summit. If the United States refuses to commit itself to any binding action to reduce its global warming emissions, I think it's going to be a major, major disaster for American foreign policy.
GRABER: The Bush Administration's decision earlier this year to back away from the Kyota Agreement angered the leaders of many European countries. The administration has not released any statement about what the President plans to say at the June 14th meeting, but, based on previous statements of both the President and the Vice President, the expectation is that the President will reject mandatory reductions of greenhouse gas emission and instead emphasize voluntary targets.
Kenneth Green is director of environmental policy for the Reason Public Policy Institute, a conservative think tank.
GREEN: It's voluntary, but you're offering incentives to have them upgrade emissions technology, or to buy cleaner fuel vehicles, to retire old equipment factors. It's not simply a matter of saying, we ask you to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. There's much more to it than that.
GRABER: Phillip Clapp of the National Environment Trust says President Bush, Sr., tried a voluntary approach after the Rio Summit on global warming, back in 1992.
CLAPP: The U.S. is now 13% above its target level under the Rio Treaty. Now, that was a voluntary treaty. That's why negotiations began on a binding treaty that led to the Kyoto protocol.
GRABER: Voluntary reductions aren't expected to sit well with the European Union, whose members have vocally opposed them in favor of mandatory cuts.
And now there's additional pressure on the President to come up with a policy with teeth. Last month, the administration requested a review of the conclusions on global warming put forth by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. The National Academy of Sciences recently released that report. The committee concurs with the conclusions of the IPCC, saying climate change is likely the result of human activities and is getting worse.
White House officials say that President Bush will include this information as he formulates his climate change policy. For Living on Earth, I'm Cynthia Graber.
TOOMEY: Coming up, the little train that almost could, and why walking can be hazardous to your health. First, this consumer note from Jennifer Chu.
CHU: With the start of hurricane season, a reminder that con artists are quick to follow in the wake of natural disasters. Scam contractors prey on the needs of the newly homeless, promising clean-up and shelter and asking for a hefty down payment up front. Sometimes what's left is some shoddy work, or no work at all.
That's why the National Insurance Crime Bureau has recently released guidelines to make sure victims of natural disasters don't get swamped twice. Their advice: get everything in writing, get more than one estimate, never pay in full until the work is finished, and never sign a blank contract.
In 1999, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, recorded more than 1,500 complaints on their fraud hotline from victims claiming to have been swindled, mostly in the wake of Hurricane George. That's this week's Consumer Note. I'm Jennifer Chu.
TOOMEY: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
TOOMEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey.
(Music: Bernard Hermann, "The Day the Earth Stood Still")
The Living on Earth Almanac
TOOMEY: Any day now, the Tohono Chul Park in Tucson, Arizona, will send out its 24 hour alert notice about a botanical event that occurs only once a year. It's the 10th annual celebration to mark the blooming of the cactus flower called Queen of the Night. Hundreds of people travel each year to the Sonora Desert and find their way through lantern lit paths to watch the flower unfurl.
Before blooming, the cactus plant looks pretty much like a dead bush, and you might not even give it a second glance if you passed it in the desert. But in early June, just one day before blooming, the cactus flower's buds will double in size, looking like a fist stretching up against a green, waxy coating. When the cactus finally blooms, it displays several large, creamy white, trumpet-shaped flowers that give off a heavy, sweet aroma.
But the Queen of the Night isn't the only plant for which people have waited with baited breath to bloom. Last month, The University of Washington played host to the corpse flower. Its namesake comes from the near unanimous consensus that, when in bloom, it smells like rotting flesh.
And, for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
TOOMEY: Amtrak's high speed train, called the Acela, has been up and running between Boston and Washington since last November. The train was a year late getting into service, thanks to glitches in making a sophisticated tilting mechanism work properly. The Acela is modeled in style and technology after the French bullet train, called the TGV.
But, as Adeline Sire reports, after a ride from Boston to New York, the Acela has a ways to go before catching up with its French cousin.
SIRE: Think about train travel the way most Americans know it: cars with sticky vinyl seats, and linoleum floors of dubious colors. The train stops at every podunk town. It changes engines halfway through the trip, and often runs late. Now, close your eyes, and step into the future.
(Ambient Sound: Amtrak Conductor)
SIRE: Meet Acela, Amtrak's new sleek and silver, all-electric fast train. Step aboard through the automatic doors. Your car is softly lit, and music emanates from just above your plush blue seat. If you travel first-class, the cabin crew will bring you drinks and dinner.
The Acela rolls out of South Station, in Boston. Destination: New York City. In the lead is the engine, with its aerodynamic tip like the nose of an airplane. And this train aims to beat the plane by offering more comfort and more class. The Acela rolls out of South Station, in Boston. Destination: New York City. In the lead is the engine, with its aerodynamic tip, like the nose of an airplane. And this train aims to beat the plane by offering more comfort and more class.
Dan Knapick is an assistant vice-president at Amtrak.
KNAPICK: You can always tell the primary airline customer: When you announce, "In three minutes we'll arrive Boston," they bring their seat up to the upright position and stow their tray table. They're very well-trained. And they really don't like it. They're sick of being confined, they're sick of being told what to do.
SIRE: But, there's a cost to pay for all the attention the Acela will lavish on you. For a one-way bus into New York ticket, you'll pay $187 in first-class, and $120 in business class. That's only slightly less than a plane ticket bought at the last minute, and there's no coach service.
But Amtrak's Don Knapick says that as the Acela adds more trains - up to 10 round trips by the end of this year - ticket prices will drop and air weary travelers will come.
KNAPICK: I would venture to say that if I can attract people, the first time, off the airplane, we pretty much have them. It certainly has enhanced travel experience, in any way you define it.
SIRE: The Acela riders I spoke with seemed to agree. They appear taken by the train's modern looks and its service. Han Nguyen, on his way to Newark, New Jersey, opted for the train to avoid prohibitive last minute air fares.
NGUYEN: I just wanted to get to where I wanted to go really fast, and this is sort of like a Buck Rogers meets Star Trek. I mean, just looking into the corridors, I mean, it literally looked like something out of a t.v. show. Like, they have sensors to open the doors, and the lighting's really nice, and it's just very open-aired, versus the old trains, which are really claustrophobic and sort of dim-colored. And this is very--I think it's more pleasing.
SIRE: Han Nguyen also appreciates that the Acela is wired: you can plug in your computer or your cell phone at your seat, or plug your headphones into the arm rest, to hear music channels. And CNN is available down at the cafe car.
But what about the real purpose of this train, speed? The Acela is capable of reaching 150 miles per hour, but it takes three and a half hours to run the 210 mile distance between Boston and New York. That's a mile a minute, a mere 60 miles per hour, and it only shaves an hour off the much cheaper, conventional train ride.
To find out why the Acela isn't living up to its potential, I visited the two men who make the train go. George Craig and Donald Lacey are the Acela's engineers. As Lacy explains, the Acela is modeled on France's high speed train, called the TGV. The Acela uses the same propulsion equipment as the TGV, but the French train can travel an equivalent Boston to New York route an hour and a half faster than the Acela.
The difference, says Lacy, is that, unlike the TGV, the Acela doesn't run on its own tracks.
LACEY: Here in the Northwest Corridor we run commuter trains, inner city trains and freight trains on the same track. If we could find dedicated track, then we could run higher.
SIRE: Dedicated tracks would also slow another factor that slows the Acela down: the track layout from Boston to New York is curvy, which doesn't allow for high speeds.
LACEY: Near Providence we have some curves, then we'll be leaving Greenwich, we'll be going into the high speed track, 150 miles an hour.
SIRE: So how long are we actually going at 150 miles per hour?
LACEY: Actually, on the Corridor we have 18 miles of 150 and that's it--so far. Maybe we'll build more.
SIRE: Still, the engineers love their new train set.
LACEY: It's like going from a 1939 Ford to a 2001 Ferrari. Probably the nicest train I've ever been on. It's really been a pleasure operating it. It is a pleasure to operate.
SIRE: And the train conductor cheers on the engineers as the Acela begins to pick up speed. Almost at 150, huh? What is it now?
LACEY: You gonna do it.
CRAIG: I know I can, I know I can. (beep noises) Ha-ha. Alright.
SIRE: Here it is, 150 miles per hour. But don't blink.
CRAIG: Now this is the way it's supposed to be. Unfortunately it doesn't last that long. Now we slow down a little bit you will think you're not even moving.
SIRE: Is that it?
CRAIG: That's it for now.
SIRE: 30 seconds?
CRAIG and LACEY: yeah.
SIRE: (laughs) That was our peak?
CRAIG: That was the peak.
SIRE: Okay, so what's the big deal? In France, the high speed train, TGV, has been part of the landscape for more than 20 years, and I've ridden it many times. In comparison, riding the Acela, while certainly as comfortable as the TGV, can sometimes feel like I'm standing still. There's also the cost: hopping aboard the French TGV costs little more than the conventional train. This Boston to New York run, for example, would cost about $50. And, the French railway system offers a wide range of discounts. Amtrak's Don Knapick says the difference is the matter of investment. Compared with Americas, the French give their railway system a lot of attention.
KNAPICK: The amount of money spent on TGV is probably five hundred times what is invested in the entire Amtrak system, in a country as small as France. Our capital budget for high speed rail is probably on the line of something you would find in a much smaller country.
SIRE: Let's say -
SIRE: The Acela arrives at New York's Penn Station, ten minutes behind schedule. Now, some might call that fashionably late, and, come to think of it, the Acela is a stylish train. It's very chic, and very costly, and that's fine. But, for now at least, the Acela won't get you anywhere very fast. For Living on Earth, I'm Adeline Sire.
TOOMEY: Walking, is the oldest, and cheapest, form of transportation. But as commentator Tom Springer explains, in many new communities, walking can be a difficult and dangerous activity.
SPRINGER: Nothing quite beats a good, long walk as a way to refresh the body and rejuvenate the senses. Ralph Waldo Emerson once described walking as "gymnastics for the mind". Søren Kierkegaard said that he knew of no thought so burdensome that one can not walk away from it. Back when these deep thinkers went for a stroll, most of the world's mass transit system still had hay and oats for breakfast. But in today's suburban communities, walking can be a difficult, and downright dangerous, activity.
Consider this frightening statistic from the Mean Streets 2000 report, which is put out by a public transportation advocacy group. In the United States, the rate of pedestrian death is 14 times higher than in some European countries. If you've driven in France or Italy, then you know that European drivers are certainly not 14 times more careful and law abiding than American drivers. In Europe, and in many older U.S. cities, what protects pedestrians is the physical layout of their man-made environment.
Before World War II, city planners thought it was normal, and necessary, for people in urban areas to work, worship, and go to school within a five minute walk of home. They built streets and sidewalks on a grid pattern, which allows for effective traffic control and good pedestrian visibility. But today, because of car-friendly zoning, our new suburbs are separated into separate pods, which are connected by high speed, high traffic roadways.
The office park is here, the mall is over there, and the new school is usually way out on the edge of town. The only safe and sane way to get around is by automobile. At this very moment, you may be driving down a suburban boulevard. Do you see a decent sidewalk system, or an adequate number of crosswalks? Chances are, you don't. It's not uncommon for crosswalks to be a half mile apart, which leaves pedestrians little choice but to dash, unprotected, across wide and busy streets.
Tragically, that's exactly how 59% of all pedestrian deaths occur. But if there's any good news about suburban sprawl it's this: new communities are being planned and built every day, and there's no reason why zoning codes and master plans must always favor cars over people. Our land use policies are man-made regulations, they are not immutable laws of the universe. In recent year, enlightened developers from Maryland to Oregon have built dozens of new and walkable communities. Their amenities include more crosswalks and sidewalks, as well as small stores and restaurants that people can walk and ride their bikes to. And people are paying a premium to live in such places. They like the idea of burning calories while they run errands or commute to work.
To make cities safe and convenient for pedestrians, we don't need to ban automobiles, we just need to keep them in their proper place. And sometimes, the best place of all is in the garage.
TOOMEY: Commentator Tom Springer is a freelance writer from Three Rivers, Michigan. He comes to us via the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.
Time now for comments from our listeners. Riley Kempton of Franklin, Vermont hears us on Vermont Public Radio. "Jessie Wegman's report on the animal crisis in England was so gripping that it held me in my car well after I had arrived home," he writes. "As the child of American dairy farmers who have sold our cows, I am always interested in the fate of others. However, I was unprepared for the reality that this is every day life in Great Britain. I applaud Living on Earth for showing me what is really happening to these people. Well done."
Marty Garber hears us on KUER out of Salt Lake City, Utah. He called in to point out a missing detail in our story.
GARBER: You guys didn't mention Mad Cow disease. Mad Cow disease is a protein, it's getting buried in the ground with some of those animals, burnt or not burnt, doesn't matter, it doesn't kill the protein. You can't kill it, apparently. And if it gets in the water supply, there could be some people who could actually get Mad Cow disease.
TOOMEY: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. Our email address is email@example.com. And visit our web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. CD's, tapes and transcripts are $15. You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth.
Time now to follow up on some of the new stories we've been tracking lately. In 1994 we talked with environmentalist Lester Brown about his book, Who Will Feed China? Brown warned that as China's population grew richer, the country would need to import vast quantities of grain to feed its people. China reacted by ramping up production. Now, in an editorial, the Wall Street Journal asserts that Brown's recommendations led to huge dust storms and wound up doing more to hurt the environment than help.
In his defense, Brown says Beijing has its own policies to blame for the disaster:
BROWN: They ended up encouraging the plowing of land in northwestern provinces in the country, land that shouldn't be plowed, and it has started to blow. That is certainly not something that I recommended.
TOOMEY: Brown adds that, rather than increasing water efficiency, China has added to its troubles by overpumping its aquifers.
We told you about a fatal fuel pipe explosion two years ago in Bellingham, Washington. Now another section of that pipelines has been reopened. This stretch runs through the city of Renton. Mayor Jessie Tanner says his community is satisfied with the safety tests British Petroleum ran on the closed pipe, but he remains concerned about a larger pipeline that crosses the city.
TANNER: Our goal now is to get them to pressure test the 20 inch pipeline. That may be somewhat harder to do than a 16 inch pipeline, because it was shut down, whereas the 20 inch pipeline is presently, and always has been, transporting fuel.
TOOMEY: The pipeline supplies fuel to the Seattle/Takoma International Airport.
You may remember our story a few years ago about the veggie van that runs on recycled vegetable oil. Now, the first bio-diesel filling station is open for business in Sparks, Nevada. Russ Teall of Bio Diesel Industries says anyone with a diesel engine can fill up with the fuel, made partially of recycled cooking oil from Las Vegas hotels and casinos. Teall says a gallon goes for just $1.62.
TEALL: They have a choice now, and it's actually a better fuel. The fact that it also cleans up the air and reduces pollution and your exhaust smells like fresh fries are all bonuses.
TOOMEY: Another bio-diesel station has recently opened in San Francisco, using a blend of virgin soy oil.
And finally, an update on the continuing quest for an environmentally friendly after-life. Cremation releases toxic gases, and bodies buried in the conventional manner take about a half-century to decompose. Now, a Swedish scientist has found a way to convert a body into pure organic matter by immersing it in liquid nitrogen. Bury those remains in a thin coffin in a shallow grave, and it will be enriching the soil in short order. And that's this week's follow-up on the news from Living on Earth.
GRABER: Variety may not be the spice of life - when it comes to overeating. In a recent study, scientists found that piling different foods on your plate actually encourages you to eat more. Here's how they found out. Researchers gave one group of people a four course meal of sausage, bread and butter, chocolate, and bananas. Another group was given only one of the courses. Turns out that the group that ate four different courses ate 44% more food than the other group. A separate experiment, conducted with a buffet of food, came up with similar results.
Researchers say that variety keeps people from getting tired of how food tastes and keeps them from getting that full feeling. Looked at from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense. Different foods provide different nutrients, and we tend to keep on tasking foods and adding to the nutritional content of our diet.
Eating a variety of foods is still important today, to get that nutritional diversity. But if you're concerned about eating more than you need, it's probably better to vary meal by meal instead of feasting at the local smorgasbord.
That's this week's Health Note, I'm Cynthia Graber.
TOOMEY: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
TOOMEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey. The first face-to-face meeting between the Bush Administration and members of some of the nation's mainstream environmental groups took place recently at the White House. They met to discuss the administration's energy proposal and other issues with Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff. The entire exchange lasted an hour and a half. Mr. Cheney was present for about 20 minutes. Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, was there, and he tells me that the green groups pressed the Vice President and his staff on three key energy proposals.
POPE: If they are genuinely serious about giving America energy solutions that are quicker, cleaner, cheaper, and safer, they need to increase fuel economy standards for our cars and trucks to 40 miles per gallon; the auto industry needs to be required to use the efficiency technology that right now is sitting on the shelf.
We need to rely on renewable energy for at least 20% of our electricity by the year 2020. It's cleaner, it's cheaper, and it's more reliable. And we also need to ensure that we replace our dirty, inefficient older fossil fuel power plants with new, clean fossil energy. And we presented these three proposals to the Vice President. He was there for most of the discussion about renewable energy, and his staff was there for the remainder.
TOOMEY: After the meeting, you were quoted as saying that the Vice President put things on the table that you hadn't thought were on the table. What did you mean by that?
POPE: In the administration's original energy plan, they made statements like that renewable energy would only provide two and a half percent of our electricity by the year 2020, that we would be using 50% more natural gas by the same year, that we'd be using lots more coal. And all of those statements were kind of a business as usual forecast. That's an energy future which involves really no reliance on new technology or energy diversity.
The administration, at this meeting, maintained that they hadn't meant to say that was what they wanted, that was just where we were headed. But they said that business as usual was not an option for them, that they really were committed to changing America's energy course to increasing our reliance on efficiency and renewables, and that was new.
We don't know yet, though, whether they really mean it. We haven't seen the policy proposals to match their rhetoric.
TOOMEY: A Washington Post/ABC News poll that was released on the day of your meeting with the Vice President shows that 58% of those polled disapprove of the administration's energy policy. It found that public confidence in Bush's energy and environmental policies are a big factor in the recent drop in the President's approval rating. Given that, I'm wondering if this meeting was a dog and pony show. I wonder if this was a tool the administration is using to boost their environmental image.
POPE: Well, I think it's quite clear that one of the reasons for the meeting was an attempt to send the American people a signal that they are listening, that they have heard from the American people our desire that we want a diversity of energy solutions, we want a balanced energy policy, we don't just want more nukes, more coal and more oil.
But I think if the administration is trying to get away with just a dog and pony show, we'll all know about it fairly soon. We are going to have some follow-up meetings, and if those follow-up meetings don't yield real results, we'll be back in front of the microphones to tell the American people that, while the President is earnestly saying to them he's listening, he's not really acting on their values.
TOOMEY: Contrast for me the climate in the room for this meeting compared to your meetings with the Clinton administration.
POPE: Quite different. There were far fewer jokes, the atmosphere was much more formal. With the Clinton administration we were working with people, in many cases, that we had known for years and years and had worked with before they went into government. This was a new cast of characters for us, so it was considerably more formal.
TOOMEY: I'd venture to guess that the Vice President's face is probably a bull's eye for many an environmentalist dart board, so I'm wondering what it's like to meet with one's nemesis.
POPE: Well, I don't see the Vice President as our nemesis. He is obviously somebody whose environmental record is very poor and whose policy proposals we have strongly proposed. But we meet all the time with people on the other side. We meet with oil company executives, we meet wit auto company executives. I've never met with the nuclear industry but I've met with the mining industry. So it's not particularly different to meet with the vice-president than it is to meet with the head of a polluting industry. You need to listen respectfully, you need to find out if there is common ground, and you need to be very firm that we need policies that reflect the American people's values and the country's needs.
TOOMEY: Carl Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club. Thanks for taking some time today with us.
POPE: Thanks. Bye-bye.
TOOMEY: One hundred years ago, the Klamath Basin comprised thousands of acres of wetlands along the Oregon-California border. The wetlands drained into the Klamath River, which flowed for 200 miles into the Pacific Ocean. The river was a crucial spawning habitat for salmon and other fish. But all that changed in 1912, when the Bureau of Reclamation completed an ambitious project: draining the marshes and converting them to farmland--and damming the Klamath River, diverting the water for agriculture.
They called it the Klamath Reclamation Project, and the lure of free land and cheap irrigation water brought hundreds of homesteaders. But water diverted for farms meant reduced flows downstream, and that affected both the salmon and the people who depended on them. Still, the needs of agriculture always came first, until this year.
With the Klamath Basin in the middle of the worst drought in a century, the Bureau of Reclamation ruled for the first time that fish will come before farmers. Clay Scott has our story.
SCOTT: A single irrigation sprinkler waters a field of onions, but the water comes from one of only a handful of wells here in the Klamath Basin, and these 40 acres of lush and vivid green stand in sharp contrast to miles of brown. At the height of the planting season here, field after field stands fallow, covered in sparse weeds, the dusty topsoil shifting with every gust of wind. The irrigation canals that normally supply the basin with water are dry. Hundreds of small farmers here are facing a season without water.
BOLESTA: We are always promised with some water. We can get by with less water, but we can't get by with no water.
SCOTT: Eleanor Bolesta has farmed near Tule Lake, California, since 1947, when she was the first woman ever to be granted a homestead by the Bureau of Reclamation.
BOLESTA: I was quite young, I was 22, 23 I think, when I won the homestead, and it was like I'd been given a chance at a future. It was very, very wonderful to win the homestead.
SCOTT: A photograph of Eleanor taken the year she arrived, shows her riding a tractor, in a field of barley. She's wearing khakis and a workshirt, long hair blowing in the wind, a look of determination on her face. Farming here was never easy, she says. At 4000 feet elevation, the growing season is short and summer frost is a constant worry. But she and other farmers survived, she says, because they knew they could count on at least some water. Not this year. The Klamath Basin is suffering the worst drought in memory, and the Bureau of Reclamation has cut off irrigation water.
BOLESTA: And I'm very angry, because they invited us here to become homesteaders, they promised us water, and that's been taken away, and so it will never be the same, and our whole future is jeopardized by it.
SCOTT: Eleanor pulls out a faded government document and points to the signature at the bottom: Harry S. Truman. It's the patent to her homestead and it grants her and her heirs water from the Klamath Reclamation project, forever. She came here in the strength of that pledge, but this year, for the first time ever, the water that would normally be diverted to irrigation will instead flow into the Klamath River. A federal judge upheld the ruling, saying the water was needed downstream, to help the threatened Coho salmon and other species. To Eleanor, the plight of fish in a far-off river is something abstract. She knows only that, without water, the land she invested her life in is all but worthless.
BOLESTA: It never can be the same again, or the value of our property and the value of what we've worked for all our lives. If you have been raised on a farm, land is security. I feel very strongly about my farm.
SCOTT: Some 200 miles downstream, the Klamath River flows through stands of tedwood and Douglas fir, and empties into the Pacific Ocean in California's northwest corner. A narrow strip of land straddles the last 40 miles of the river's course. This is the Yurok Indian Reservation. In 1855 the tribe gave up its claim to millions of acres in return for a government promise of a permanent home along the Klamath. Glen More is Yurok Tribal Elder.
MORE: We lost part of our river. We was a rich, a very wealthy tribe one time. A wealthy place to live. And now, we don't have no resources left.
SCOTT: One resource the Yurok's do still have is this stretch of the Klamath River and the fish that run up it: Searun cutthroats and steel heads, sturgeon and Pacific lamprey. Above all, it is the salmon that has always been crucial to the Yurok way of life.
(More sings tribal song, "Brush Dance")
SCOTT: Glenn Moore sings a traditional Yurok brush dance song. Many of the tribe's ceremonies and rituals give thanks for the river and pray for an abundance of fish. But with destruction of spawning habitat and water diverted to agriculture upstream, the salmon runs have been reduced to a fraction of what they once were. Glenn remembers a time when they were still plentiful.
MORE: Some of the best smoked fish that I ever ate were smoked right along the river, and I just made a little brush house, out of pepperwood, and that built just enough fire to keep the flies away, and then they just slowly dried it. And it was some real good salmon, jerked that way, and it kept a long time.
SCOTT: A lot has changed since the days when Glen Moore navigated the Klamath in a dug-out canoe of hollowed Redwood. Today, Yurok fishermen use aluminum boats with outboard motors. They refrigerate the salmon as well as smoking it. And their gill nets are made of nylon mono-filament instead of twisted plant fiber. But the river is still at the center of their lives.
WILSON: It means everything, it means our life. It's our life. That's what--we live here, this river. If this river wasn't here, we wouldn't be here.
SCOTT: Tommy Wilson learned to fish the Klamath from tribal elders like Glen Moore. Today, both men are out in Tommy's boat. At the confluence of the Klamath and the Trinity Rivers the banks are thick with red alder and madrone, huckleberry and salmonberry. For generations, this has been the traditional fishing hole of Tommy Wilson's family. Are these your nets here?
WILSON: Yeah, this is my home. This is a regular gill net, and about a 45, 50 foot gill net.
SCOTT: Hand over hand, Tommy pulls up the net. There we go.
WILSON: Nice Chinook fish.
SCOTT: Is that a big one?
WILSON: No. This is just a little guy, it'll probably go about twelve…twelve, thirteen pounds.
SCOTT: That's it for the afternoon's take: a single Chinook salmon. It's a female, a hatchery fish, Tommy explains, pointing out the clipped adipose fin. Nearly all the salmon he nets are hatchery raised, he says. Like many Yurok fishermen, he feels the native salmon have trouble spawning because too much water is being diverted to farms upstream.
WILSON: I've known people in the headwaters. They need to live, too. But they don't need to take our water and just throw it away foolishly. They could grow crops that need less water.
SCOTT: Back in Tule Lake, Keith Buckingham is doing his best this year to grow crops that need no water. Here he plants a field in barley--not to make a profit, he says, but merely in the hopes of keeping the topsoil from blowing away. You're still planting and tilling and whatnot. But do you feel like you're going through the motions, under the circumstances?
BUCKINGHAM: Exactly so. It seems to be little point to the endeavor here but it's the formalities we go through.
SCOTT: Do you feel like you're still farming?
BUCKINGHAM: Without much enthusiasm. I have no planter's fever this year.
SCOTT: Keith Buckingham inherited the farm from his father who, like Eleanor Bolesta, won his homestead after World War II. In 1954 the elder Buckingham was profiled in a Collier's magazine article with the optimistic title, "Sod Busting Pays Off." But he was quoted as saying that his one goal was to get out of debt. Nearly 50 years later, his son Keith is still trying to achieve that goal.
BUCKINGHAM: With the loss of water, it has just changed the parameters completely. You're looking in the past at what crops can I plant, what shows the best avenue for profit? And at this point it's just, how can I generate any revenue to try to hold this operation together?
SCOTT: Keith Buckingham is not alone. Many farmers here, perhaps most, are deeply in debt. This year's water cut-off was a severe blow to an already struggling community, and Keith predicts more cut-offs in the future. One solution being proposed is the acquisition of Klamath Basin farmland by the federal government. This would take the land out of irrigation, reduce the demand on the water, and give willing sellers a chance to get on their feet financially. If the government does find the money for such a project, Keith says he and others like him would jump at the chance.
BUCKINGHAM: We've been through enough trying and economic times where we were on the verge of losing the operation, that it has lost the emotional impact that it had at one time. When you have your toes at the edge of the cliff, it changes your perspective on survival.
SCOTT: Keith Buckingham and the other Klamath Basin farmers have survived for decades, but the water that enabled them to farm here no longer seems limitless. Many farmers feel abandoned, betrayed by a government that brought them here long ago and promised them water forever. Others, like Keith, admit values about the use of water are shifting and that farmers aren't the only ones with the claim to the resource. The challenge facing them now is how to survive that transition. For Living on Earth, I'm Clay Scott, in the Klamath Basin.
TOOMEY: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week, we'll report on new technologies becoming available that offer dry cleaners substitutes to the commonly used toxic method to clean your clothes. Taking pollution to the cleaners, next time on Living on Earth.
(music -- Rusenberg: Lisboa Epilogue)
TOOMEY: Before we go today, a quick audio voyage to Lisbon, Portugal. Michael Rusenberg produced this montage portrait of the city, on a recording called Lisboa Epilogue.
TOOMEY: Living On Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Milisa Muniz, and Bunnie Lester. We had help this week from Gernot Wagner. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of Earth Ear. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. Chris Ballman is the senior producer, and Steve Curwood is the executive producer of Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; The Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change; the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues; The Turner Foundation, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supporting coverage of western issues.
(Music up and under)
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