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

July 12, 2002

Air Date: July 12, 2002


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California Dealing / Ingrid Lobet

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California has moved into the forefront in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. As Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports, California’s initiative to curtail vehicle CO2 emissions is sending a strong message to automakers and the Bush administration. (07:00)

Coal and The Economist

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The British business magazine The Economist focuses on coal this month, calling it Environmental Enemy Number One. Host Steve Curwood talks with the magazine’s energy and environment correspondent, Vijay Viatheeswaran about the cover story. (05:45)

Almanac: Crop Over Festival

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This week, we have facts about the Crop Over Festival that celebrates the end of the sugar harvest in Barbados. (01:30)


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A new study by the National Academy of Sciences criticizes the EPA for using outdated science to evaluate the safety of using sewage sludge as fertilizer. Ellen Harrison, head of Cornell University’s Waste Management Institute, discusses the study with host Steve Curwood. (06:30)

Organic Labels / Henry Sessions

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Now that the federal government has come up with a "certified organic" label for fruits and vegetables, some farmers want to broaden the definition of organic. They now want it to mean food grown in a "socially responsible" manner. Henry Sessions reports from Portland, Oregon. (05:00)

Listener Letters

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This week we dip into the Living on Earth mailbag to hear what listeners have to say. (02:15)

Coffee Law

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Berkeley California residents will decide this election day whether to outlaw all coffee that isn't organic, shade-grown, or free-trade. Host Steve Curwood talks with cafe owner Daryl Ross about the move. (03:00)

Health Note: Aroma Therapy / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a new study that found pleasant odors may mitigate pain perception in women. (01:20)

Maya Mural

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Archaeologist William Saturno set out on what he thought would be a short trip into the jungle to photograph Mayan hieroglyphics. Instead, he ended up finding the largest and oldest Mayan mural ever discovered. He talks with host Steve Curwood about the journey. (09:00)

Sound Art

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Doves cooing, juniper branches crackling, wind blowing through the holes of a dead cactus. These are some of the sounds that artist Steve Peters recorded at an outdoor art space in New Mexico. Peters transformed the sound into an installation called "Hear-ings." Paul Ingles produced our story. (06:00)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet, Henry Sessions
GUESTS: Vijay Viatheeswaran, Ellen Harrison, Daryl Ross, Dr. William Saturno
UPDATES: Maggie Villiger, Diane Toomey


CURWOOD: From NPR News, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In response to the Bush administration's failure to limit greenhouse gas emissions, California takes the initiative and moves to reduce CO2 from the vehicles. Proponents say it's time to act now about climate change.

HAWKINS: The public does not like the message they've been hearing from Washington that we should just get used to global warming, live with drought, live with floods, figure out how to build higher dams, figure out how to build better air conditioners. We're not used to being treated as victims in America.

CURWOOD: Also, the world's leading business publication brands coal the top environmental enemy, and calls for market-based solutions.

VIATHEESWARAN: Mandate, litigate, regulate. Those tend to be the buzz words of environmentalists in America. And what that means is that you're imposing much, much heavier costs to achieve the same thing.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more this week. Living On Earth, right after this.


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California Dealing

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. California is keeping its role as a trendsetter and is set to go where the Bush administration will not go when it comes to fighting climate change. Automakers will have to cut the amount of carbon dioxide coming from the tailpipes of the vehicles they sell in California, starting in model year 2009. California's move is significant, both because it is the nation's largest car market, and because the Golden State's economy is bigger than all but a half dozen nations in the world. The auto industry opposed the new law and is looking at how it might make legal challenges.

The legislation was spurred by a little know environmental group from the San Francisco Bay area. Their success raises a series of questions, from the role of states in environmental protection to how cars that American drive in the future will look and feel. Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports.


LOBET: The idea of regulating automobile CO2, that is, asking drivers to address global warming, was such a stretch that when Russell Long of the Bluewater Network wrote the bill, at first, he couldn't get the support of the big name green groups. Environmental Defense, The Sierra Club, The Natural Resources Defense Council wouldn't sign on.

LONG: It was big awkward in the beginning stages of this legislation because some assembly members actually said to us, "Look, you have a lot of environmental support, but none of the big groups have come out favoring this bill. Why should we support something that the big groups are not supporting."

LOBET: The southern California group Coalition for Clean Air did sign on, along with some state legislators. Then, with growing support and some, shall we say, artful weekend lawmaking, environment interest outmaneuvered the auto industry, passing the first such law in the country. They even overcame the catchy ads recorded by, perhaps, the state's best known car dealer.

[WORTHINGTON SINGING OVER MUSIC]: If you want to save a your truck, if you want to save a buck, do it now, do it now, do it now.

WORHTINGTON: Well howdy, again, I'm Cal Worthington. Hey, I'm here to warn you about something that is very, very important to all of us. You know, they're about to pass a new law here in California that would prevent you from buying the vehicle you need and want.

LOBET: It's by no means the first time California has set a precedent in air legislation. The state has an exemption from the Clean Air Act that allows it, alone, to regulate tailpipe emissions more strictly than the federal government. Again, Russell Long of the Bluewater Network.

LONG: California has always led. We developed the first catalytic converter, and to clean up smog from the vehicle fleet. We did similar things with unleaded gasoline. We've led the fight for cleaner fuels. We've led the fight in California for hybrid-powered and electric vehicles.

LOBET: Several states and some corporations are now trying to address global warming. Once thought to be the province of nations, the New England states, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida and Illinois have all taken steps to reduce CO2. In March, the Bush Administration announced it was rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, the world agreement on reducing greenhouse gases. Dave Hawkins, Climate Director at The Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington says states are taking matters into their own hands.

HAWKINS: The public does not like the message they've been hearing from Washington that we should just get used to global warming, live with drought, live with floods, figure out how to build higher dams, figure out how to build better air conditioners. The public doesn't like that message. We're not used to being treated as victims in America.

LOBET: This latest move by California is also making headlines outside the United States. Jennifer Morgan spends half her time overseas as Climate Change Director for the World Wildlife Fund.

MORGAN: And the hope, of course, is that these statewide initiatives will build up to demonstrate to President Bush that actually tackling global warming is not an economic nightmare and, therefore, the nation, as a whole, can participate in the Kyoto Protocol.

LOBET: No one knows exactly what the new California regulations will look like. That's up to the 11 member Air Resources Board. They could require lower friction tires on some vehicles, or better mileage from SUVs. Or they could go even further, allowing carmakers to plant, say, a "Ford Forest," since trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

But automakers say their options are limited. It's not as easy to cut CO2 emissions as carbon monoxide or oxides of nitrogen. The main way is to burn less fuel and reduce total trip exhaust. Federal law, however, says no state, not even California, can require higher fuel efficiency. Only Congress can. Charles Territo of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says the California law is illegal, a naked attempt to make SUVs more fuel efficient.

TERRITO: This legislation, make no mistake about it, is a backdoor attempt at increasing fuel economy standards for the state of California. And that's something that we think is very dangerous. And it's something that we think is reserved for the United States Congress, and should be done on a state by state basis.

LOBET: Carmakers are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in vehicles that do produce less CO2. But they resent a law that dictates when to bring those products to market. California automobiles won't have to change until 2008. Still, Stuart Schorr, Public Affairs Manager for Daimler Chrysler says the law will mean lighter, smaller vehicles, vehicles that are less desirable to the consumer.

SCHORR: Until there's a dramatic breakthrough in technology, there's only so many ways you can get a significantly improved fuel economy without sacrificing something in the vehicle. And that something might be the amount of cargo it can carry.

LOBET: Other carmakers say they may have to remove less fuel efficient models from California car lots. What will happen next is still the stuff of feverish planning. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says it will go to court, accusing California of overstepping its bounds. And it recently won that argument in a different case. Charles Territo says they may also fight with a referendum or an initiative.

TERRITO: All of the above. Those are all options that we're considering.

LOBET: Clearly, California is testing its right to address global warming. One observer, who works for Honda, predicts this issue will go to the Supreme Court. Another observer with The Coalition for Clean Air believes that regulating CO2 will soon seem as normal as seatbelts or unleaded gas.

For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.


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Coal and The Economist

CURWOOD: Environmental activists have long warned about the dangers of fossil fuels. Now the British business journal The Economist is joining the chorus. The cover of its current issue reads: "CO2AL, Environmental enemy No.1." The issue also opines that markets could be a potent force for greenery if only greens could learn to love them. Vijay Viatheeswaran is the Energy and Environmental Correspondent for The Economist. And he joins me now from London. Welcome to Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: Tell me, how did coal make it onto the cover of The Economist as "environmental enemy No.1?"

VIATHEESWARAN: First of all, more than any other fossil fuel it's particularly carbon-intensive, and it's so much more abundant. It's very clear that we can burn all of the conventional oil, and conventional natural gas that's in the ground, and still meet very aggressive targets for climate change.

But if we burn even part of the coal that's spread all over the world, then we're in real trouble. The final reason is the most important one. That's human health. There's no dirtier fuel out there, frankly. Coal is nasty stuff. And, the current ways that we burn it are very dirty, particularly inefficient, and they do a lot of harm to human health.

CURWOOD: How can market forces help to reduce the use of coal? The stuff is cheap.

VIATHEESWARAN: It's a good question. Many people imagine that markets are, fundamentally, the enemy of the environment. First, nobody that believes in markets, and free markets, would allow coal to get a free ride the way it does. For example, in a lot of rich countries, Germany and Spain are good examples, they give cash to coal producers to encourage them to produce more coal and to lower the price. Now, that's outrageous when you think about the harm that it does to the environment.

In America, too, it's a more implicit form of subsidy. But, old coal plants don't have to meet current environmental regulations. So, when one talks about market forces, I would say, first of all, get rid of the subsidies and the free ride. The flipside of that, I would say, that's still not enough. And classical economists would argue you need to get prices right. That means rolling in the environmental and human health harm caused by all kinds of fossil fuels.

In some countries in the world, particularly in Europe, they impose carbon taxes or various kinds of taxation on top of the market price. And, that's very specifically meant to take account of the harm that it does.

CURWOOD: Let's look a little closely at how the U.S. handles this. How does the U.S. stand in terms of our free trade, our free market economic approach vis a vis coal?

VIATHEESWARAN: This is the great irony. America is thought of, the land of the free, and the free market. But when it comes to environmental issues, America is very much a Stalinist economy. It is, fundamentally, a command and control, top-down, dirigiste regime of environmental legislation that started in the early '70s with the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, much cherished, hard fought environmental laws that have done a lot to clean up the air and water in America.

The point, though, is it uses a very, very blunt instrument, mandate, litigate, regulate. Those tend to be the buzz words of environmentalists in America. And, in fact, what that means is that you're imposing much, much heavier cost to achieve the same thing. You're imposing technology mandates, for example. You're telling everyone in a particular industry, let's say, you all must adopt this very specific technology, or else we'll sue you or throw you in jail because we want to achieve a certain kind of environmental good.

There are more efficient, smarter ways of achieving the same environmental good using economic incentives, using markets, for example, in tradable permits, giving property rights. And, this is the area that America, actually, lags the rest of the world in.

CURWOOD: Let's just say, for the sake of the discussion, that at the White House somebody walked in with a copy of The Economist. President Bush looked down and saw that you guys had declared coal as environmental enemy number one, and he said, "Boy, maybe they're on to something." How could President Bush satisfy both those concerns about the environment, environmental advocates and business, which has a lot at stake here?

VIATHEESWARAN: If I were in on this conversation, I'd say, "Mr. President, this is your chance to save yourself on the environment and on global warming." Now, we all know this is an area where he's gotten beaten up after walking out of the Kyoto Treaty on Climate Change.

Here's a plan that I put forward that says be pragmatic. Coal is going to be part of the future for decades to come, especially in poor countries. On the other hand, it is still environmental enemy number one. Technology can help get us from point A to point B, that is, the ways of using coal in a lot cleaner ways. These are technologies that American companies, energy companies, are pioneering. This will be, actually, the greatest gift that he could give to the coal industry and the energy industry, is to throw them a lifeline and show how they can be compatible with a cleaner energy future.

CURWOOD: What response to your article has your magazine received from its readers?

VIATHEESWARAN: Well, I can tell you, it's stirred up quite a hornet's nest. The environmentalists on one side feel slighted because other environmental problems don't get the top cover. I've already gotten various letters from various sectors in the energy industry saying, "This is unfair. You're picking on us." The technologists have written in saying, "Well, your ideas on how you can use coal, these are too simplistic. Don't you understand this is very complicated? This is going to take a long time."

Fundamentally, I think that when you make a provocative argument like this, you're going-- I am only pleased that people on all sides are throwing tomatoes at me. It means I might be on to something.

CURWOOD: Vijay Viatheeswaran is the energy and environment correspondent for The Economist in London. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

VIATHEESWARAN: It's been a pleasure.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.


Related links:
- Living on Earth Today, July 11, 2002

"Environmental enemy No. 1" (The Economist, July 6, 2000)
- The Economist's Survey on The Global Environment

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Almanac: Crop Over Festival

CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.


CURWOOD: Life in the land of sugar cane isn't always sweet. But after four months of grueling harvest, sugar cane workers in Barbados are ready to party. The Annual Crop Over Festival gets underway this week.

Now, in days gone by, festivities were scattered all over the island at various sugar-producing mills. Brightly decorated carts carried the last loads of sugar canes back from the fields. And laborers would celebrate at a big party hosted by the plantation owner.

Barbados was once the world's sugar cane capital, producing nearly 200 tons of the sweet stuff every year. Over time, the industry declined. And, as cane cutting jobs disappeared, the Crop Over Festival nearly faded away. But, in 1974, the tradition was revived. And today, celebrants whoop it up to toast not only the harvest, but also the culture and history of Barbados.

The first settlers of this eastern-most Caribbean island came from Venezuela in dug out canoes. Then the British came and brought slaves from West Africa to work in the sugar plantations. These diverse ethnic groups fused to form the unique Bajan culture.

The Crop Over Festival kicks off with the crowning of the King of the Cane Cutters and the Queen of the Cane Bundlers. But, the lifeblood of the party, man, is Calypso music, known for its infectious rhythms and incisive lyrics. And, for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.


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CURWOOD: For years, sewage sludge has been used to fertilize soil in everything from parks and golf courses to home gardens. The Environmental Protection Agency created standards for sludge processing and application. But a recent critical review by The National Academy of Sciences says those standards may not adequately protect public health.

Ellen Harrison directs The Waste Management Institute at Cornell University and was a member of The National Academy Review Panel. She says the EPA is using outdated science that allows too many toxic chemicals to remain in processed sludge.

HARRISON: We have so little information about the contents of our sewage sludges. Right now, the rules require people who want to land apply sludges to test for nine metals. And we know that there are hundreds of chemicals, probably thousands of chemicals that are used in industry and homes that go down the drain, and will end up in sludges.

And, it is this combination of wastes that generate an incredible mix of contaminants and pathogens that go into the sewage treatment plant where the plant is designed to clean the water. That's its objective. And, many of the contaminants and pathogens are concentrated then, in the sewage sludges.

CURWOOD: So, pathogens, that's a fancy word for germs, things that can make people sick from infectious disease. In terms of pathogens, how safe is sludge when it's applied to land?

HARRISON: The treatment of sludge before land application can be done at sort of two different levels. The first level of treatment is designed to reduce pathogen levels, but not eliminate pathogens. And, that Class B, so-called, sludge is the main kind of sludge that's applied around the country.

We have very little information on the pathogen content of those Class B sludges. They're tested only for a couple of pathogens that are supposed to be sort of an indicator of how well the treatment process has taken place.

CURWOOD: My understanding is a number of people are making complaints about getting sick from sewage sludge being applied to land in their neighborhood or their locality. What are the nature of these complaints and how valid might they be?

HARRISON: The symptoms include headaches, nosebleeds, nausea, vomiting, coughing, heavy mucus. A number of people have gotten lesions, boils on various parts of their bodies. I have been struck by the sort of commonality amongst symptoms at different sites. Actually, these people who call themselves sludge victims call it sludge syndrome.

And, I have become convinced, even though these are anecdotal reports, in looking through them, and the commonality of what I'm seeing, I believe that there are cases in which people are getting sick. So we don't know what's happening. It may be a combination of chemical contaminants and pathogens moving off the site, either via air-- because if anybody's been to an ag field, they know that things tend to blow around if it's been dry. And, anything that was in that Class B sludge, if it's blowing off the site, will be arriving at neighbors' properties. Or it may be going in runoff, water runoff from the site. And those are two pathways that were not evaluated in developing the federal rules.

CURWOOD: The Environmental Protection Agency says that current standards do protect human health. But, they do say there's a need to strengthen and update the science behind these standards. What's your response?

HARRISON: EPA has been both the regulator of land application, and it's also been a promoter of land application. And I think that's a very dangerous position to be in, to try and have both those hats. Unfortunately, what that means is, to some extent, they forfeited the ability of people who have concerns to trust them. Because the sense is that they're looking to find an answer that makes land application okay.

In terms of doing further science, I think that there is additional science that's needed that the National Academy report points that out. We talked about the need to do a new survey of what's in sludges, both pathogens and chemicals. We talked about a real need to investigate these health incidents. And I'm not sure that EPA can do that investigation, but somebody needs to. And there are other scientific questions that need to be addressed. But I'm a bit fearful that there are also policy questions that need to be addressed. And I would hate to see those put off while we spend another ten years looking at the science.

CURWOOD: Ellen Harrison is a geologist and the director of Cornell University's Waste Management Institute. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

HARRISON: Thank you for concentrating on this important issue.

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Organic Labels

CURWOOD: In October, the federal government will start labeling fruits and vegetables as "certified organic." For the feds, organic means produce grown without pesticides. But for some farmers, that's not good enough anymore. They want to broaden the definition of organic to refer to food grown in, what they call, a "socially responsible manner." And they've come up with their own ethical farming certification. Henry Sessions has our report.


SESSIONS: From chocolate bars to soda pop, you can get almost anything in an organic version these days.

McCARTHY: I buy soy milk, and I buy the organic milk, organic pizza, waffles.

SESSIONS: In her regular visits to New Seasons Market in Portland, Lisi McCarthy homes in on products with the organic label.

McCARTHY: You know, organic kind of means pure, natural, healthy. Anything that's organic I feel has got to be healthier than if it's not.

SESSIONS: That aura of health and purity has led to a projected $9.3 billion market for organics in the U.S. in 2001, according to The Organic Trade Association. Organic has outgrown the fragmented private network of groups now certifying food. So, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has adopted national rules for organic labeling. Those go into effect this fall.

But Deborah Kane, executive director of the Portland-based Food Alliance, says there's a new breed of consumers who aren't satisfied with the relatively narrow criteria behind the organic label.

KANE: So, I think that organic halo, to a certain extent, is waning. It's just simply been our experience that consumers are starting to ask the tougher questions rather than just simply were pesticides applied or not?

SESSIONS: The Food Alliance has developed its own certification system for produce and prepared foods. Food Alliance farmers agree to conserve soil and protect water quality on their farms, offer decent and safe working conditions, and reduce, but not eliminate, pesticide use. A major goal is to give consumers a better idea of where and how their food is grown.

KANE: More and more now, we see consumers saying, for example, they'd rather buy locally produced strawberries than organically produced strawberries that came from Mexico.

SESSIONS: So far, Kane says The Food Alliance has certified more than 150 farms, covering a million acres in the Northwest, Minnesota and Wisconsin. They're adding new farmers at a rate of 50% a year, most of whom are not organic. And they're planning on opening a New England office later this year.

CHAMBERS: You can see much of the remnants here of the cover crop.

SESSIONS: Karla Chambers enthusiastically shows visitors around Stahlbush Island Farms, the family farm and processing operation she runs with her husband, Bill, near Corvallis, Oregon. She terms the farm a "sustainable operation." Cover crops of clover provide natural nitrogen fertilizer to the fields. Satellite-guided tractors plow perfectly straight rows, saving in diesel.
Crop rotation breaks up insect cycles and gives the land a rest. But unlike organic growers, Stahlbush Island Farms does use pesticides and herbicides.

CHAMBERS: We're looking at every management tool we have available to us before we use the chemical. Under our sustainable production, we don't make the claim that we're pesticide-free, but we're managing our farming system so that our outcome will give us a pesticide residue-free product that we can guarantee to the consumer.

SESSIONS: Chambers estimates the operation uses about a tenth as much pesticides as a conventional operation. She also highlights working conditions. The farm offers wages well above the minimum, plus health insurance, and a 401K Plan for full-time employees.
As the organic movement was born in the '80s and '90s, many groups developed their own seals of approval. And many of those did take social factors, like working conditions, into account. But those standards won't be part of the new USDA Organic Certification.

Pete Gonzalves is executive director of Oregon Tilth, one of the nation's oldest and best-known organic certifiers.

GONSALVES: The USDA took the approach that those concerns are addressed in other elements of the law, labor laws and OSHA requirements, and that it was inappropriate to add those to organic.

SESSIONS: Oregon Tilth, by the way, will be helping carry out the new USDA system. As the new rules go into effect, Deborah Kane says the Food Alliance is betting its future on consumers seeing a link between environmental and social issues.

KANE: If you can go out into the marketplace and say to consumers, "I produced this apple in a way that was both environmentally friendly and socially just," there will be a consumer for that product.

SESSIONS: The Food Alliance's informational displays now appear in produce departments in more than 100 stores throughout Oregon and Minnesota. That's double last year's number. And produce and products bearing the Alliance's distinctive label, an image of a barn in a plowed field, are now being shipped all over the U.S. and Canada. For Living on Earth, I'm Henry Sessions in Portland, Oregon.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: Time now for comments from our listeners. Marianne Das heard our piece on designer babies on WHYY in Philadelphia. "This week, I especially liked your story on germ line manipulation," she writes, "because you carefully weighed the advantages and disadvantages of this technique. What I like about your program is its balance of science and humanity. Keep up the good work."

KLCC listener Jesse Shue from Eugene, Oregon, took issue with our report about the All Species Foundation's effort to catalogue all life on earth. "I was disappointed that your story came with no criticism of the possible repercussions of such a massively invasive project. For example, in extremely biodiverse regions where a single species of insect may be limited to a single acre or even a single tree's canopy, the completion of this project would necessitate sampling every possible niche and, thereby, endangering these rarest of species. The existence of millions of undiscovered species should inspire reverence for nature, not a naive drive to endanger it through hyper-documentation."

You can comment on our program anytime. Just call our Listener Line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or, write us at letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. And, visit our web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're there, please take the survey we're conducting to give us some specific feedback and help us plan for the future. Let us know what stories you like or don't like. Or tell us what we should have more or less of. And, what about the internet? How can Living on Earth help you best use the web?

Everyone who responds to our survey will get a chance to win a neat little waist pack donated by the Patagonia Company. You'll also receive a list of ten household plants that can help keep the air clean in your home and office. So please, go to www.loe.org, and tell us what you think. That's www.loe.org. And click on the Living on Earth poll. And thanks to everyone who has already responded.


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Coffee Law

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. Residents of Berkeley, California have something to ponder over their morning coffee or after dinner espresso, for that matter. A question on November's ballot will ask whether the city should ban the sale of any coffee that isn't organically grown, or shade-grown, or doesn't carry the Fair Trade Label.


CURWOOD: Daryl Ross owns and runs four cafés on and near the University of California, Berkeley campus, and joins us now from Café Strata. Daryl, what percentage of your business would you say is in Fair Trade coffee?

ROSS: Well, at the Café Strata here, off campus, we don't have regular coffee. We just have espresso drinks. And people can get Fair Trade as an option. I think that is a real minimal percentage. It's probably less than 10%. At the cafés on campus, all of our regular coffee, all of our house coffee, is Fair Trade coffee. And that makes up a sizable percent of our sales, probably 50%.

CURWOOD: You can be honest with me here, Daryl. How much do customers really pay attention to whether it's Fair Trade, or organic, or not?

ROSS: Other than maybe a vocal minority of people, we haven't had a lot of people pushing us to carry it.

CURWOOD: Now, why do you support the Fair Trade Label with your business?

ROSS: I just think it's very good to bring awareness to people of where their food comes from. Fair Trade, the organization, makes people aware of the plight of farmers, and the wages they are receiving. Coffee is ubiquitous. And, I think we all take it for granted.

CURWOOD: As I understand it, you don't support this proposed law that would mandate that you must only serve Fair Trade, or organic, or a shade-grown coffee. Why?

ROSS: Well, actually, I mean, I really feel this campaign has already been successful because it's already hit all the major newspapers. And, here, we are talking on NPR. If its goal was to bring awareness to people of this whole issue, then it's been successful on that level. But I think it's about the freedom to choose. Even if we discover that a certain brand is better for us, should we really be forced to buy that brand of coffee.

We all know that NPR is better for us to listen to, but should it be the only station that we're allowed to receive?

CURWOOD: Okay, Berkeley restricts coffee sales only to Fair Trade, or organic, or shade-grown coffee. And I'm picturing Berkeley residents slipping across the border into Oakland, or across the bridge into San Francisco, to score their favorite, now illicit, blends. How realistic?

ROSS: Well, indeed, I mean, I think people have sophisticated taste here, or at least they believe they have sophisticated taste. People like their particular cup of coffee. If they can't get it here in Berkeley, they may be slipping outside the border.

CURWOOD: Daryl Ross runs Café Strata and is a coffee purveyor in Berkeley, California. Thank you for filling us in, Daryl.

ROSS: Thanks very much.

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Health Note: Aroma Therapy

CURWOOD: Just ahead, an unexpected archaeological discovery in the jungles of Guatemala. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: New research from the University of Quebec shows that pleasant scents may help reduce pain. Researchers asked a small group of people to rate various odors such as almond extract, baby oil and vinegar. Then they had people immerse their hand in very hot water while they inhaled the odors they had rated most unpleasant, most pleasant and neutral.

The researchers found that when women were exposed to a pleasant odor, their perceived pain level dropped 30%. There was also a slight increase in pain perception for women exposed to odors they didn't like. But researchers found no such correlation in men. And they can't say why.

Women are typically more sensitive to odors. But that doesn't explain differences found in this study, since there was no gender difference in the perceived intensity of the odors tested. Brain imaging has shown that pleasant touch activates an area of the frontal cortex related to smell. And another group has shown that women exhibit more activity in this area of the brain. So scientists think there may be an interaction between the sense of smell and the processing of touch and pain, especially in women.

This study, researchers say, raises the question of how odors in hospitals might be affecting patients' perception of pain. And that's this week's Environmental Health Note. I'm Diane Toomey.


CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.


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Maya Mural

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And coming up, creating art for our ears. But first, all over Central America, there are Mayan archaeological treasures buried within the rainforest. And often, the best way to hear about them is to listen to the local gossip.
That's what Dr. William Saturno discovered on a recent trip to Guatemala to document ancient Mayan hieroglyphics. He'd heard rumors of a site about three hours from his jungle base near Lake Peten, and set out with a team of guides. Dr. Saturno says it was a journey that began with every hope for a quick and rewarding find.

SATURNO: We set out bright and early. We had planned on, sort of, a three-hour drive followed by, essentially, a three-hour walk. And, the drive was planned on this track through the rainforest. It's really just wide enough for the Land Rover. But we came upon numerous obstacles; tree falls, lots of water, impassable parts of this track. And we ended up taking about twelve and a half hours.

CURWOOD: So now, you started in the morning. By now, you're getting pretty hungry.

SATURNO: Yeah, well, we had food for that first day. We stopped at like 7:00 that night, 7:30, and we ate some rice and beans, and drank the water that we had. And we pretty much exhausted our supplies. We knew that we were only a few kilometers away from this site. And now, we'd be able to walk out in the morning, and walk back before lunch.

As it turned out, we had about a 20 kilometer walk ahead of us. So, it took us a full eight and a half hours. We hadn't really had supplies of food. We exhausted our supply of water. And we arrived at the site of San Bartolo around 4:30 in the afternoon, and there are no carved hieroglyphic monuments.

CURWOOD: Nothing. Nada.

SATURNO: Nothing.

CURWOOD: Just big mosquitoes.

SATURNO: Just big mosquitoes, that's pretty much it, and sun. The guide had some emergency rations which he was carrying with him, which was Cup-A-Soup, actually, which, of course, you only need water for. So, we were missing the one ingredient required.

And, while they were off finding water, I decided to explore a looters tunnel that had been dug into one of the pyramids there, mainly to get out of the sun, partly curious as to what was inside. But, mainly it was, "It'll be nice and cool in there. And, I'll just sit in the shade for a little while, while they're finding water."

And so, I went into this tunnel. And just past where the light enters, I sat down, and shined my flashlight up on the walls, and there it is.

CURWOOD: And there was?

SATURNO: This Mayan mural.

CURWOOD: Describe for me just exactly what I would see looking at the part of the mural that's now exposed.

SATURNO: Well, it's a really stunning piece. It depicts the Mayan maize god. It's a central male figure. He's looking backwards over his shoulder at two half-clothed females that are sort of offering up their hands to him. It was really stunning.

I mean Mayan murals, in and of themselves, are exceedingly rare. Finding one in the tropical rainforest, in this state of preservation, is unheard of. And the style of it indicated that it was of a very early date. And so, I was quite pleased.

CURWOOD: What was your first reaction when you saw this mural?

SATURNO: Well, I mean, first shocked. I was very excited when I saw it. But, my real concern was that-- my next thought after thinking, "Wow, there's this Mayan mural here," was, "And, I'm gonna die here right in front of it. And someone will find it and me in 20 years."

I mean I really had genuine concerns about walking back out because we still had no supplies. And, even having found the mural, it was great, and I took my photographs, and did my proper documentation of the find, as any archaeologist would, and then was faced with the journey the next day.

CURWOOD: Tell us, those of us who don't really know much about archaeology will wonder, well, what's so significant about this mural? Can you tell us that?

SATURNO: Well, there are a number of reasons the mural is significant. One is its early date. Traditionally, our ideas about the ancient Maya and Maya art focus around what's called the Classic Maya Period. And, our best example of Maya wall painting comes from about 790 A.D.

And when you have such a limited sample of wall paintings, we tend to focus on that as the pinnacle of Maya painting achievement. And, those paintings are beautiful and impressive. But, now to see something of similar quality, as far as the execution goes, 700 years earlier, or 600 years earlier, that really forces a reconsideration of our general ideas about the canons of Maya wall painting. So it's important for that reason.

CURWOOD: The canons of Maya wall painting. And what about the whole state of the civilization?

SATURNO: Certainly. I mean, putting the mural in its proper cultural context is really my job over the next five years or so. And, having this sort of jewel at this early date, which doesn't seem to be practice, this is a Maya art form that's fully in place at 100 A.D. in a society that is flourishing at this time.

This is a period when we thought everything would be sort of starting up, starting to gel into its classic period form. And now, at 100 A.D., we're seeing things have already gelled, and we need to be looking for these origins much further back in time.

CURWOOD: Now why do you suppose this particular mural survived when others apparently haven't, or, at least, you haven't found them yet?

SATURNO: Well, one of the reasons it survived was due to the way the Maya preserve ceremonial space. When the Maya build a large pyramid, they tend to build it on top of an existing pyramid. And so, they reuse that sort of ceremonial location. They preserve that spot on the map, and they continue to build up, and up, and up, one on top of the other.

In doing that, you're forced to fill in all of the open space in any of the buildings that you want to build over. And that's what they did here. When they filled in this room with mud, and stone, and old ceramics, and things like that, they essentially entombed this painting and then built over the top of it.

Now, these may be in existence at dozens of Maya sites, without the entrance into the earlier periods that the tunnel provides. We likely would never have seen it.

CURWOOD: How long do you think it'll take you to excavate this mural?

SATURNO: Years. The excavation process is a very slow one. This mural has been buried for almost 2000 years. And, it hasn't had any contact with the air in all that time. So, to bring it into contact with the heat and the humidity of this tropical forest, all at once, will shock it. It will destroy it.

And so, the first step to excavating it is getting some solid scientific data on what the environment is, how it changes throughout the year, and to begin doing testing on how we can best preserve the part that's already exposed. Once that's done, we can slowly begin to uncover it. The other problem is that this whole thing is buried underneath an 80 foot high pyramid. This is essentially a mining operation. And, the engineering required to carry out that task is a daunting one. We don't want the 80 feet of fill above us collapsing down upon us, destroying the mural and us in the process.

CURWOOD: It sounds like something that wouldn't be good for somebody to be claustrophobic in your line of work.

SATURNO: Definitely not, not if you plan on spending time in tunnels. You can't be claustrophobic, and you can't hate bats.

CURWOOD: William Saturno is a lecturer at the University of New Hampshire, and a research associate with Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Thanks so much for taking this time with us today.

SATURNO: It's been a pleasure.

Related link:
Living on Earth Today, May 6, 2002">

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Sound Art

CURWOOD: Listening to nature can be an art form. At least it is for sound artist Steve Peters. He spent hours recording in an outdoor space in New Mexico called "The Land," taking care to capture sounds of nature that normally escape our attention.

Steve Peters has turned his recordings into a piece that recreates the soundscape of the land in a museum setting. He talked with producer Paul Ingles about the production of "Hear-ings.".


PETERS: The land is located about an hour and a half drive southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the eastern foothills of the Monzano Mountains. It's a 40-acre site. But there's 14 acres of it that they use as a work site and exhibition space for environmental art and, specifically, low-impact environmental art.


PETERS: I was just so impressed by how still it was and quiet. And what happened was that, because it was so quiet, every little sound that happened really stood out. You really noticed it. And all of the sounds had this kind of delicate, hushed quality that I'm a real sucker for anyway.
So, what happens, if I commit myself to coming here for a year, a couple of times a month, and sitting and doing nothing more for an hour at a time than listening to what's going on here?

Sound artist Steve Peters (Photo: Mary Roy)


PETERS: Each time I would go and spend this time listening to this place, I would make a recording of that hour. I stretched a whole day out over a year. I made 24 hour cycle of recordings over the course of one year. What I did with all those 24 hours of recordings was to edit each hour down to about five minutes or so.


PETERS: This is the sound of a chollo cactus. Chollo cactuses are these kind of long, spindly things. And when they die, they leave these beautiful kind of sculptural shapes, like long tubes with little long holes in them, and they're hollow. So this is a chollo cactus with a contact microphone attached to it on a windy day. And you're hearing the wind sort of whistling through the holes in this dead cactus.


PETERS: This here was probably the most sensational sound in the whole show. I had set a contact microphone outside the entrance to an anthill of these large, red, I think, harvesting ants. And, a couple of scouts came out and investigated, and they walked around on it. And then they went back and got a whole bunch more ants. And they all came out and swarmed on the contact microphone and started chewing on it. And then they started making these sounds, which I later learned are called "strigulation" where they sort of have like a rub board on their thorax and their abdomen or something. And they rub it together and make this little shrieking noise. It was slightly terrifying. I thought, "Okay. I think I better go now."


(Photo: © Margot Geist)

PETERS: This is the sound of a wire fence that runs around the perimeter of the property. And that's kind of an interesting story because I thought this fence was such an insult to the landscape in a way. I'd sit there and go, "You know, the land on this side of it isn't any different than the land on the other side. And what's this thing doing here. It's just ugly and stupid."
And then one day, I was out there, and it was really windy. And I put my ear up to one of the fence posts, and it was the most beautiful sound. [FENCE SOUNDS] The wind was blowing these stocks of grass against the lower strand of the wire fence.


PETERS: You don't get a sense of the beauty of the place from a quick scan. You really have to slow down and be with it and accept it on its own terms. And I think that's a really good lesson for all of us to carry over to all sorts of other areas in our lives.


CURWOOD: Steve Peters' sound art exhibit "Hear-ings" is now at the Magnifico Art Space in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our story was produced by Paul Ingles.

Related link:
HEAR-INGS: A Sonic Geohistory (book/CD La Alameda Press)

!Magnífico¡ Arts Incorportated presents: being, here: work from the land works by Steve Peters ">

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CURWOOD: And, for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week, we travel to Maine, and meet a biologist who says she's found the answer to one of nature's most puzzling questions.

MAHER: Yeah, a woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

CURWOOD: It's Chris Maher, Queen of the wild woodchucks, next time on Living on Earth.



CURWOOD: Before we go, a listen to one of the most distinctive of bird calls. Of the 9,000 different birds, the loon stands alone. David Dunn recorded their mournful, yet mocking yodels in the echoey open space of Alaska's Distin Lake.


CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. You can find us at www.loe.org. Our staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Jennifer Chu and Al Avery, along with Julie O'Neill, Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson and Jessica Penney. Special thanks to Ernie Silver.

We had help this week from Gernot Wagner, Jamie McEvoy, Max Morange, and Emma Uwodukunda. Allison Dean composed our themes.

Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Ingrid Lobet heads our western bureau. 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 1: Funding for Living on Earth comes from The World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include The Educational Foundation of America for reporting on energy and climate change, The Ford Foundation for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, and The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change.

ANNOUNCER 2: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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