Southern Tipping Point/ Melanie Peeples
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The results of the upcoming election could shift control of the House of Representatives from Republican to Democrat. So, political eyes are closely watching the race for Alabama’s 3rd Congressional district between a well-financed republican and a Democrat who has the support of the environmental community. Melanie Peeples reports. (06:00)
No-Fishing Zone/ Ilsa Setziol
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California may soon decide to cordon off miles of water in the beautiful Channel Islands, making a large underwater reserve. It could revive depleted sea life and may grow more fish for fishermen, too. Ilsa Setziol reports. (06:00)
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This week, we have facts about margarine. One hundred forty years ago this week, a French chemist won a prize from Napolean III for inventing a cheap, stable butter substitute. (01:30)
Cruising for Crusoe
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The most famous castaway in English literature was actually based on a real-life marooner. But one adventure writer finds that it’s not who the literary world thinks it is. Host Steve Curwood talks with Tim Severin, author of "Seeking Robinson Crusoe." (07:30)
Grains of Sand/ Bruce Barcott
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The world’s largest desert has a reputation for being vast, barren and formidable. But a new book reveals that much of what we know about the Sahara is a mirage. Reviewer Bruce Barcott takes a look at "Sahara: A Natural History." (04:00)
Ask Dr. Tatiana
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Sure, there’s the birds and the bees, but what about the green spoon worm and the moth ear mite? In the book "Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation," author Olivia Judson takes on any and all questions about sex in the animal kingdom. (03:00)
Technology Note/Solar Surgery/ Cynthia Graber
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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on new research to use sunlight for surgery. (01:20)
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This week, we dip into the Living on Earth mailbag to hear what listeners have to say. (02:00)
Butt Out/NYC/ Amy Eddings
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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing to ban smoking in all restaurants and bars. The mayor says it’s a public health issue and that all restaurant workers should be protected from secondhand smoke. California successfully imposed a similar ban in 1998 and, as WNYC’s Amy Eddings reports, it may hold some lessons for New York. (05:45)
Wellstone Faces Tough Challenge in Minnesota Senate Race/ Mary Stucky
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Political watchers have their eyes on Minnesota's cliffhanger Senate race. The GOP has pegged liberal Senator Paul Wellstone as vulnerable. And a Green Party candidate could cost Wellstone the election. Mary Stucky reports. (07:30)
EarthEar - "Platte Convergence"
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Listen to the Nebraska feeding grounds of a flock of Sandhill Cranes. Recorded by Lang Elliot & Ted Mack. ()
HOST: Steve CurwoodREPORTERS: Melanie Peebles, Ilsa Setziol, Amy Eddings, Mary StuckyGUESTS: Tim Severin, Olivia JudsonCOMMENTATORS: Bruce BarcottUPDATES: Cynthia Graber
CURWOOD: From NPR News, it’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
With control of the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, its most vulnerable member Paul Wellstone is under fire from both the left and the right.
COLEMAN: I run against the most partisan person in the U.S. Senate, the most ideologically driven.
WELLSTONE: I don’t represent Exxon. I mean, I represent people in Minnesota.
TRICOMO: We need to make the environment the number one priority in this country and I don’t think Senator Wellstone is willing to go that far.
CURWOOD: The Green vote and the margin in the Minnesota Senate race.
Also, if you think humans can be weird about sex, consider the ear mite.
JUDSON: It climbs up the moth’s tongue and crawls across the head and into the ear, lays eggs. And the brother and sister mites copulate with each other. It’s a mad, incestuous orgy, all going on within the inner ear of the moth.
CURWOOD: Animal sex and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this.
CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
With the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans hanging by just a single vote in the U.S. Senate, a number of those races are being closely watched this year. And we’ll have a story about one of the Senate campaigns a bit later in the program. But first, we’d like to turn your attention to a Congressional race in east Alabama.
A Republican has held the seat for the last six years. But this year, with new lines for the district, Democrats could pick up a seat in their quest to gain control of the House. Republican Mike Rogers is being helped by Vice President Dick Cheney and actor Charlton Heston. Democrat Joe Turnham is drawing substantial support from national environmental groups. Melanie Peeples reports.
PEEPLES: When Joe Turnham walks into a fundraiser sponsored by the Alabama Sierra Club, he doesn’t have to introduce himself to supporters. They already know him.
[PEOPLE CHATTING AND BACKGROUND MUSIC]
PEEPLES: Turnham has a stellar reputation among Alabama environmentalists for being the guy who united all of the state’s environmental groups into one political action committee, a committee that, until recently, he actually ran. Turnham says a conservationist, like himself, one that believes in environmental protection as well as economic development, can get elected in Alabama.
TURNHAM: You can have a Southern drawl like me, and you can be a good United Methodist, and you can be for the environment. You can be, you can be for protecting the resources of this state.
PEEPLES: Turnham frequently downplays his environmental background, and is more often heard reminding people that he’s a pro-gun, pro-life Democrat, a card carrying member of the NRA. Those are the kinds of issues that hit hard in Alabama, a state where most believe the right to hunt is guaranteed by the Constitution. But Turnham’s reminders fall on deaf ears, particularly when hundreds recently turned up at Republican Mike Rogers’ rally to see Charlton Heston.
HESTON: We need to elect leaders who will defend freedom, and that’s not an easy thing to find. There’s a lot of need for it, but it’s hard to find it. And this election is very important.
PEEPLES: Candidate Mike Rogers is more specific about why he thinks voters should vote for him, the Republican. There are 10 house seats in the country that could go either way this election, and that means control of the U.S. House of Representatives is up for grabs, too.
ROGERS: There are six votes in the U.S. House that separate the current conservative leadership from being given up to Dick Gephardt and his liberal colleagues who will spend everyday for the next two years working to push back President Bush and his conservative agenda. We can’t allow that to happen.
HOWLAND: Mr. Rogers has been a member of this community all of his life. His family lives here. And he’s been a state representative now for quite some time, and has not really stepped forward and dealt with any of the issues that could have been dealt with just at the local level. So I have no reason to think he’d do better as a congressman.
PEEPLES: At the top of those local issues for Howland is the chemical weapons incinerator just built in Anniston. Howland is the closest resident to the federal facility, and lives in fear of an accident. The incinerator will soon start burning deadly nerve gases left over from a time when the United States manufactured them.
Leaders in the community have argued bitterly over how best to protect residents in the event of an accident, whether or not to evacuate, whether or not to supply residents with gas masks. This incinerator is one of the issues Mike Rogers and Joe Turnham square off on. Republican Rogers is from Anniston and has represented that area in the state legislature for eight years.
ROGERS: Keep in mind, I live in what they call the "pink zone." It’s the immediate response zone outside the depot. I have a wife of 20 years. I have three small children, an eight-year old, a seven-year old, and a four-year old. There is nobody that cares more about keeping that incineration process safe than me, especially my opponet who lives two and a half hours away from here.
PEEPLES: But critics say Rogers hasn’t been helping residents deal with the unthinkable. They say he hasn’t even attended community meetings about the incinerator. Democrat Joe Turnham agrees.
TURNHAM: Where you been, Mike? The whole issue of emergency preparedness has been a complete and total fiasco, a disaster. The community, by any measure, is not ready for the burn to start. There’s been a lack of coordination between federal, state and local officials.
PEEPLES: Turnham says Rogers should have been involved in emergency preparedness. Rogers counters by saying that’s the county commission’s responsibility, not his. While the average Alabama voter doesn’t see the environment as a make or break issue, when it affects them closer to home it gets their attention. That’s the case with the incinerator, as well as the so-called "water war." For the last decade, Alabama has been involved in negotiations with Georgia and Florida over a water sharing agreement between rivers that flow through the 3rd District.
And many of the state’s residents are interested in preserving wildlands. But that issue tends to be linked to recreational hunting and fishing. Some observers say that might be why Turnham campaign ads don’t focus on his environmental ties. Birmingham Southern College Political Professor Natalie Davis.
DAVIS: When you think of environmentalists, they’re viewed as being on the left. So Joe’s strategy is never to look like he’s on the left. My guess is that if Turnham said, "I’m an environmentalist," he would have a gun in his hand when he said it.
PEEPLES: Even though Turnham downplays his environmental pedigree, he’s been endorsed by a number of conservation organizations. As they see it, they’re hoping that a Turnham win in Alabama will also be a victory for national environmental policy.
For Living on Earth, I’m Melanie Peeples in Anniston, Alabama.
[MUSIC: Louie Vega, "Maw Latin Blues" NUYORICAN SOUL (Giant Step, 1997)]
CURWOOD: The fog-shrouded Channel Islands of southern California are a national park that shelters rare plants and animals. The mix of warm and cool waters off shore are rich with marine life. Now, California is considering creating the largest no-fishing zone in the U.S.-controlled Pacific waters around the Channel Islands. But the proposal comes at a hard time for the west coast fishing industry.
From member station KPCC, Ilsa Setziol reports.
[BOAT MOTOR IDLING]
SETZIOL: A research boat idles near the shore of Anacapa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara. Marine biologist Jen Cassell wiggles into a wetsuit and straps on a pair of bright blue fins.
[SPLASH OF CASSELL ENTERING WATER]
SETZIOL: The U.C. Santa Barbara researcher dives into 50-degree water and emerges with a bundle of black plastic strips that look vaguely like kelp.
CASSELL (SINGING): Oh, ho, it’s not warm!
[CASSELL SHAKING OUT KELP]
SETZIOL: The black strips are artificial reefs. Cassell studies Channel Island residents like kelp bass, cabezon, and sheephead, trying to find out exactly where officials should draw the reserve lines.
[BOAT IN BACKGROUND]
CASSELL: Okay. So, now what we do is basically shake that thing out. So there is a cabezon, and we will take him back to the lab for genetic study and for aging and growth studies.
[WAVES SPLASHING ON ROCKS]
SETZIOL: Much of this sweep of water, 570 square miles, could become marine reserves. Hawaii and Florida already have large marine reserves, but there’s been some question whether they would work as well in California’s cooler waters. Jen Cassell thinks it’s likely they will. She says a handful of small reserves in southern California are already showing some success. One is near the Anacapa Lighthouse.
CASSELL: There are real effects of the reserve that you can see, even though it’s a rather small reserve. We see larger kelp bass and larger sheephead. And so one of the reasons we may see a lot of California sheephead here, and why they’re growing so fast and they’re so big is that there’s a lot of their prey available. Some of their prey, like lobsters, are fished heavily in other areas.
SETZIOL: But with reserves, you couldn’t fish in many of these places any more, and that comes at a hard time for many west coast fisherman. The government recently shut down much of the fishing on the continental shelf along the entire west coast to protect several species of bottom-dwelling fish. And the number of coastal fishing boats is also being cut back.
PENDLETON: I think it’s pretty clear in the short term that recreational fisherman, and especially commercial fisherman, are going to take it on the chin.
SETZIOL: Economist Linwood Pendleton, studies coastal issues. Like many people looking at west coast fish, he questions whether the current rate of fishing would have been sustainable.
PENDLETON: We just see one fishery after the next that’s in trouble.
SETZIOL: The government says it could be more than a hundred years before some fish can be caught again. So the boats are parked at the docks; so many, in fact, that people are comparing this situation to the Atlantic Cod crisis. Still, recreational fisherman, like Tom Raftican, don’t see marine reserves as the answer.
RAFTICAN: If these work, we’ll be the ones pushing for marine reserves. But you’ve got untested reserves in an untested area. Let’s make sure they work before you take away the public’s ability to fish.
SETZIOL: The sad truth for some coastal communities is that planners are beginning to look beyond fishing. David Bunn is deputy director of the California Department of Fish & Game.
BUNN: I think one thing you have to realize is that the coastal economy today is much more diverse than just fishing. We now have kayakers. We have birders. We have whale watchers. We have divers. And those are equally valuable parts of our coastal economy. People will want to go see these beautiful, pristine areas on the Channel Islands.
SETZIOL: More than 17 million people surf, kayak and bird watch, or just look at the scenery along the California coast every year. Only one in six brings a fishing pole. Again, economist Linwood Pendleton.
PENDLETON: In the long run, tourism is clearly more sustainable. We know that people spend more and more time outside, and they value it much more. More and more people in California consider themselves environmentalists, or, at least, people that care about nature.
[WAVES SPLASHING AGAINST BOW OF FAST MOVING BOAT]
SETZIOL: As marine biologist Jen Cassell pilots the boat to another survey site, we see hundreds of brown pelicans coasting over the island’s deep cliffs. A couple of dozen sea lions are cavorting in a cave. Cassell hopes her research will ensure that reserves around the Channel Island are good for both fish and fisherman.
Researchers already know reserves can create abundance within their confines, and now many of them believe they can be designed to deliberately increase fish outside the reserve boundaries too.
[SPLASH OF CASSELL ENTERING WATER]
SETZIOL: Cassell dives again and this time she brings up something new--a clear gelatinous squiggle that’s all head, eyes and tail.
[SOUND OF IDLING BOAT]
CASSELL: What we’ve got here is a transparent kelp fish. This is an actual larvae. It must have just landed on the reef today because it hasn’t even gotten any color.
SETZIOL: The trick, she says, is the find out where fish travel. And in looking at that, scientists recently made a discovery. The inner ear of fishes contains a tiny flight recorder, a tape of where fish have been, a map of habitat.
CASSELL: We don’t know where larvae come from. For the most part, we don’t know where they go. And that’s a major focus of our research program right now, is figuring that out. Because that has very important consequences for how you design marine reserves.
SETZIOL: The state is expected to approve plans for marine reserves around the Channel Island on the 23rd of October.
For Living on Earth, I’m Ilsa Setziol, off of Anacapa Island.
CURWOOD: For more on the California marine reserves, go to loe.org on the web.
[MUSIC: Herb Palmieri, "Habriendo El Dominante" NUYORICAN SOUL (Giant Step, 1997)]
CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living On Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
[MUSIC: American Brass Band, "La marseillaise" NATIONAL ANTHEMS (Delta Music, 1989)]
CURWOOD: In 1862, the Emperor of France was having problems feeding his army. He needed cheap food with a long shelf life that required little refrigeration. So Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could create an inexpensive butter substitute. Chemist, Hippolyte Mege-Mouries took up the challenge and concocted the world’s first margarine, with a blend of beef suet, skim milk, and a bit of chopped cow’s utter for taste. It might not sound like something you’d spread on your toast, but oleomargarine was good enough to win the Emperor’s prize. On the other hand, it was the only entry.
Margarine spread to the U.S. in 1873. The dairy industry wasn’t pleased to see margarine luring away butter consumers and lobbied to restrict the product. Some states banned it completely and Congress imposed a heavy tax. But when World War II came along, dairy shortages spiked butter prices and margarine’s day finally came.
Over the years, the animal fat in margarine has been replaced by vegetable oils. The debate continues today as to whether margarine or butter is better for you. Margarine is low in cholesterol, but can contain hydrogenated oils, which also promote heart disease.
The margarine industry is trying to make its product healthier and that might benefit the average American who eats over eight pounds of margarine every year.
And that’s this week’s Living on Earth Almanac.
CURWOOD: Tim Severin is not your average travel writer. He makes his living retracing famous literary voyages, including the epic journeys of Ulysses, Marco Polo, and Sinbad the Sailor. Tim Severin travels all over the globe in replicas of old boats.
And his most recent book follows the story of, perhaps, the most famous castaway in English literature. It’s called "Seeking Robinson Crusoe." Tim Severin joins me now from Cork, Ireland to talk about his book and about a discovery he made along the way that may redefine the origins of "Robinson Crusoe." Welcome to Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: Tim, how did you get into this line of work?
SEVERIN: I’ve virtually done nothing else since I left university. As a student I was doing geography, and we geographers, I thought, got a very raw deal because we were the only students who had to do a summer vacation project. I wanted to travel like all other students so I proposed following the route of Marco Polo to explain, sort of, the practical difficulties. And to my delight, the Board of Studies accepted that notion and I’ve never looked back.
CURWOOD: Could you briefly tell us the story of Robinson Crusoe?
SEVERIN: The central part of the Robinson Crusoe story is the one that we learn as children. It is this sole survivor from a shipwreck on a desert island and has to sort of make do. And he is extremely competent, you know. He sort of builds his home in a cave. He catches and tames wild goats. He plants crops. He makes pottery. It’s a, sort of, self-help castaway story.
CURWOOD: Tell me, why Robinson Crusoe? What inspired you to investigate his story?
SEVERIN: Well, I was told at school and it is received wisdom that, yes, there is a real character behind Robinson Crusoe-- a Scotsman by the name of Alexander Selkirk who was stuck in an island off the coast of Chile, about 400 miles off the coast. And his experiences were the basis for the figure of Robinson Crusoe.
And I thought, well, I’m going to go and look at this and see if that is actually the case. Is it the real person that we’ve identified. And, to an extent, I’ve discovered that it’s true. But I found that there was actually a huge divergence between what happened to Selkirk in reality and what happens with Crusoe in Defoe’s novel, because Selkirk was not a self-help expert. And, amazingly, he never even explored the island he was on, and yet it would take five days to explore the length and breadth of the island. And in the four years and four months he was there, he never explored his island.
CURWOOD: So, the conventional wisdom that Alexander Selkirk, the Scotsman, was the prototype of Robinson Crusoe, according to you, there’s not a whole lot of weight to that. You have found the true Robinson Crusoe, you believe?
SEVERIN: In the sense that Alexander Selkirk dressed in his coatskins is the image of Crusoe. But what Crusoe actually does, how he behaves, all the things that we think of as the castaway, the survival expert, most of them are taken from the story of Henry Pitman. He wrote his own account right at the end of the 17th century which described how he had been a rebel. He had joined the rebellion in England against the crown. He had been caught, convicted, and, with hundreds of others, shipped out to Barbados in the role of, essentially, white slaves. He organized his escape from the island, purchased a small boat, and he put together this little gang of former rebels. And, again, this extraordinary parallel.
As the prepares their boat, he lists the sort of things that they got hold of. And lo and behold, the same list appears in the story of "Robinson Crusoe" when Crusoe, before he is shipwrecked, he is also made a prisoner, works as a slave, runs away in a small boat, exact parallel to what Pitman and his colleagues did.
CURWOOD: What was the most exciting part of this journey?
SEVERIN: Definitely, going to the island of Salt Tortuga with the information containing Pitman’s book, which is so colorful. You think, this cannot be true. Go around the island and identify every single place that he mentions in his narrative. I mean, he had to have been there. He couldn’t have made this up. And then, the ultimate excitement was actually not on the journey, but in a library, in the British Library in London.
CURWOOD: This is a true scholar at work now.
SEVERIN: [LAUGHTER] Well, there I was. I proved that Pitman’s story was correct. And there are astonishing parallels with what happens to Crusoe. You know, Pitman and his companions try to make pottery. They have a man Friday figure with them who helps them catch fish. And, above all, they are rescued by pirates in exactly the same way that Crusoe was rescued by pirates. And even the names--there’s a Jeremiah Atkins, who’s a famous pirate in Pitman’s story, and there’s a Will Atkins in Crusoe’s story. I mean, the names even crop up the same. The overlap is astonishing.
So I come back to London to write my book and I check Pitman’s narrative. The last page there was an advertisement and it was by Pitman who was a surgeon. And he had come back to London, set himself up as an apothecary, and he gave the address of the shop where you could go and buy his medicine.
And I looked at the address, and it was familiar. It was the address of Daniel Defoe’s publisher for "Robinson Crusoe." And it turned out that Pitman had come back from the Caribbean where he had been a castaway on a desert island, and he had lived with the family that then published "Robinson Crusoe" for Daniel Defoe. And if that ain’t the smoking gun that links the two stories, I don’t know what else could possibly be.
CURWOOD: If this had all happened today, the Pitman family would be suing the Defoe estate for a lot of dough.
SEVERIN: [LAUGHTER] We don’t know what happened to Henry Pitman. I think that now that his importance perhaps is being underlined as a wellspring for literary inspiration, I’d rather hope that some PhD student is going to track down the further life of Henry Pitman.
CURWOOD: Tim Severin is an adventure writer and explorer who has made a living of recreating the adventures of famous literary characters. His latest book is called "In Search of Robinson Crusoe." Thanks for joining me today.
SEVERIN: Okay. Bye, for now.
CURWOOD: Explorers call the Sahara Desert "the great nothing," an endless emptiness that stretches for thousands of miles across the face of North Africa. The Sahara is the world’s largest desert. And there are as many stories of thirst and mirage as there are grains of Saharan sand. But there is also life in the desert, and two authors took in this formidable dry land and wrote a book about what they found. It’s called "Sahara: A Natural History," and Bruce Barcott has our review.
BARCOTT: The Sahara is so big that if you strip the continental United States of its glaciers, trees, grasslands and lakes, and turned the whole thing into an ocean-to-ocean desert, you’d still have to add a quarter of Mexico to equal it.
The place looms equally large in the western imagination. Home to ruthless nomads, French legionnaires, and exotic cities like Timbuktu, the Sahara is the ultimate inhospitable foreign land. The Antarctic seems homey by comparison.
And yet, as Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle write in their fascinating new book, "Sahara: A Natural History," much of what we believe about the Sahara is a mirage. Consider the sand. It’s said to swallow armies and smother villages, to move with menace in its grains. And it does. During a breezy 120-degree afternoon, the authors write that quote, "sand fills the ears, and the nose, and the reddening eyes, and infiltrates the clothing, drifting sand in every crack and crevice. Sand in the tea glasses, sand in the food, a dismaying grit on the teeth."
The thing about the Sahara, though, is that it’s mostly not sand. The whole thing is less than 20 percent dune. When you caravan across the desert, you’re mostly riding on hard stone and gravel. A path is firm and clear as a good grade country road. What the authors find along those roads is a land slow to give up its traditions, which isn’t necessarily good. Salt, gold and slaves are ancient mainstays of Saharan commerce, and sadly, all three can still be had for a price.
The bandits, whose clans have preyed on passing caravans for centuries, still ply their trade. For the feared Taureg nomads of southern Algeria, highway robbery is a tradition embedded in their very language. In Taureg, the verb "he is free," also means, "he pillages."
It’s not all bad news and banditry though. De Villiers and Hirtle write about the Sahara’s well-documented expansion, but they also find evidence that the desert may not be growing, so much as shifting its boundaries. And the same Taureg tribes that raise bandits, also produce brilliant guides whose code of the desert compels them to offer their last drop of water to a stranger.
For all of their knowledge of the Sahara though, the authors maintain a frustrating distance from the desert. I think de Villiers and Hirtle crossed the west central African nation of Niger in a 20-day caravan. Now, I say, I think, because their account of the experience is so sketchy as to be nearly theoretical. It’s hard to say when they departed, where they were going, and why they traveled.
At this and other points in the book, I kept hoping for less history and more travel memoir, the sort of journeying prose that makes writers like Pico Iyer and Jonathan Raban such great companions.
This isn’t to say the book reads like a social studies test. There are moments that reach the poetic, as when de Villiers and Hirtle ask a Taureg elder to explain the vivid mirages produced by desperate thirst. "What the dying see," the nomad explains, "is not a vision of paradise. It is," he says, "just the human spirit trying to escape, trying to escape its fate." In moments like these we come to understand that the vast African nothingness is actually full of fascinating stories and tenacious life.
CURWOOD: The book is "Sahara: A Natural History," by Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle, published by Walker & Company. Reviewer Bruce Barcott writes about the environment for Outside magazine.
[MUSIC: Roger Eno, "Aryis" SWIMMING (All Saints Records, 1996)]
CURWOOD: In the far Canadian Arctic on Devon Island, a group of scientists spend the summer studying a place that’s more like Mars than anywhere else except Mars. Reporter Robin White was there recently and kept a journal about his trip.
WHITE: I’ve been warned to keep away from the dogs, and at the beach there were great long lines of them chained up. They’re sled dogs and not bred for friendliness. Apparently, some of them are wolf hybrids. They spend most of the year tied up out in the elements, waiting to be fed. Then in the winter they come into action, dragging the sleds across the packed ice.
On the beach itself there was a sled brought up with three fresh killed seals dripping blood into the water, five more on the beach. I suppose this is dog food.
CURWOOD: Starting on Monday, October 21, Living on Earth’s website will present special daily installments from Robin White’s journal of his Arctic adventure. You can see them all at loe.org. That’s loe.org.
CURWOOD: And you’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.
The animal kingdom is rife with tales of jealousy, promiscuity, and incestuous affairs. From the humble slime mold, to the veracious lioness, mating strategies range from the bizarre, to the downright dangerous. Now, there’s a Dr. Ruth of the animal world to answer questions about sex and the wild.
Olivia Judson is author of the book, "Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation," the definitive guide to the evolutionary biology of sex. Among the creatures she counsels is the small green spoon worm.
JUDSON: "Dear Dr. Tatiana: There’s been a frightful accident. I was happily sitting in my usual spot at the bottom of the sea when I felt an itch on my nose. Being a green spoon worm--I don’t have arms, and I couldn’t scratch-- so I sniffed, and I inhaled my husband. I tried sneezing, but he hasn’t reappeared. Is there anything I can do to get him back? From: Too much heavy breathing near Malta."
CURWOOD (LAUGHING): Well, what happened here?
JUDSON: Well, it’s a wonderful story. The green spoon worm has one of the largest known size differences between male and female. The male is actually 200,000 times smaller than the female. It’s as if a human male were no larger than the eraser on the end of a pencil. And whether or not you become a male or female green spoon worm depends on whether you meet a female during your first three weeks of life.
So, if you’re traveling through the seas and you happen to meet a female, then you will become male and you will spend your whole life in her reproductive tract fertilizing eggs, regurgitating sperm through your mouth. If you fail to meet a female, then you will settle on the sea floor, and you will become female yourself, and you will grow to be large organism that tries to attract little, minute husbands.
CURWOOD: Dr. Tatiana, where are some of the more bizarre places that animals choose to procreate?
JUDSON: Well, one of the most peculiar animals that I came across is the moth ear mite. What happens is, a mite waits on a flower for a moth to come and drink, then it climbs up the moth’s tongue, crawls across the head and into the ear, and then it pierces the tympanic membrane which is what allows the moth to hear. So, at that point, the moth goes deaf. And then the mite lays eggs, and the brother and sister mites copulate with each other. It’s a mad, incestuous orgy all going on with the inner ear of the moth.
And, indeed, some of the same sort of thing may go on in humans. Humans have mites that live in their eyelash follicles, and they are certainly copulating within the eyelash follicle.
CURWOOD: What example in the animal world do you think humans can learn the most from?
DR. TATIANA: If you sort of say, "Well, what animal would it be most fun to be if sexual gratification were what you were after," I think I’d go for the dolphin. The Atlantic bottlenose dolphin has been recorded trying to have sex with sharks, turtles, seals, eels, and even the occasional human. I think that dolphins will be my vote for the most sexually liberated organism.
CURWOOD: Olivia Judson is author of "Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation."
Dr. Tatiana, thanks for taking this time with me today.
DR. TATIANA: Thank you very much, indeed.
CURWOOD: For more about an insect that just can’t get enough, go to our website at loe.org.
CURWOOD: Just ahead, ecology and the election for the U.S. Senate seat for Minnesota. First, this Environmental Technology Note from Cynthia Graber.
GRABER: Laser surgery is often the best way to treat small tumors. It’s relatively non-invasive and effective. The problem is, the equipment needed for the procedure costs about $100,000, and many hospitals simply can’t afford it.
So, Dr. Jeff Gordon, an Israeli researcher with a background in optics and solar power, figured he could capture sunlight for the same use. He developed a device that concentrates the sun’s power up to 10,000 times its normal level using small focusing mirrors and found that the sunlight beam mimicked the power of lasers. Tests showed the beam could burn a spherical area inside tissue. The team expects to begin testing the device on lab rats by the end of the year.
There are other applications of Gordon’s research. The U.S. Department of Defense is funding a partnership between the Israeli institution and Drexel University to produce electricity from the concentrated solar rays. Of course, this technology is only useful in sunny regions of the world. But there are about 250 days of clear sunshine a year in areas such as the Middle East, north Africa, parts of the southwestern U.S., and parts of Asia and South America, all of which can benefit from sunbeam surgery.
That’s this week’s Technology Note. I’m Cynthia Graber.
CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living On Earth.
[MUSIC: Art Pepper "I Can’t Believe You’re in Love with Me" (Contemporary Records, 1960)]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
CURWOOD: ...comments from you, our listeners.
Our interview about a scientist’s discovery of a hidden image of Japan’s Ryoanji Zen Garden was not calming for KUNM listener Karen Mack in Albuquerque.
"I found it to be shallow and in the typical spirit of a scientific reductionist paradigm," Ms. Mack wrote. "I, frankly, have never needed any scientist to either confirm or deny the validity or uselessness of any religious practice or ceremony. And I’m sure the vast majority of people who practice their faith and spiritual beliefs feel the same way."
Rebecca McClanahan’s poem about eating dirt disturbed listener David Staber from Floyd, Virginia.
STABER: As long as you have people on there who are eating dirt and glorifying it, you’ll never be taken seriously by the mainstream, and you are, yourself, your own worst enemy.
CURWOOD: Seth Crosby heard the poem on KWMU in St. Louis. He’s a physician and says he recognized in a fictional pregnant narrator, the symptom of a real disorder called pica. "Pica is caused by iron deficiency," Dr. Crosby wrote. "Growing a little person in one’s body takes iron, which often causes or worsens the mother’s iron deficiency."
Dr. Crosby suggests that the poem’s narrator might find it easier to keep her promise not to eat dirt by taking a mineral which comes from soil, iron. A daily vitamin with iron, he says, ought to do the trick.
There’s no waiting on our listener line. We’ll take your call any time at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988. You can also write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once again, email@example.com. And visit our webpage at loe.org. That’s loe.org.
CURWOOD: In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban smoking in all restaurants and bars. The mayor says the move would save thousands of restaurant employees from the health dangers of secondhand smoke. Opponents say the ban would infringe on their personal freedom and hurt the restaurant industry.
It’s not a new debate, but it’s a growing one in more and more localities. One of the earliest actions came in 1998, when the state of California enacted a smoking ban similar to what New York City is now considering. From member station WNYC, Amy Eddings takes a look at what lessons New Yorkers might learn from their west coast cousins.
PROTESTERS CHANTING: Our workers deserve clean air!
EDDINGS: A recent public hearing on the smoking ban drew a large passionate crowd to New York’s City Hall. Outside, a bar owner with a huge cigar blew smoke in the face of a supporter of the ban who was in costume as the Grim Reaper. Someone dressed as a large cigarette held up a sign, "I love secondhand smoke." And a man jeered Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he briefly stepped outside to thank his supporters.
MALE: I’m a bartender in this city, Mike, and I’m not going to have anymore customers.
EDDINGS: Mayor Bloomberg, an ex-smoker himself, has already raised cigarette taxes, pushing prices to seven dollars a pack. Inside the crowded council chambers, Bloomberg testified that 1,000 New Yorkers die each year from secondhand smoke, mostly from heart attacks. He said the ban would not stop people from smoking, but it could save lives.
BLOOMBERG: The question before us is straightforward. Does your desire to smoke anywhere, at anytime, trump the right of others to breathe clean air in the workplace? Common sense and common decency demand the following answer: the need to breathe clean air is more important than the license to pollute it.
(Photo: Courtesy of Lifespan)
[CROWD OF PEOPLE SOCIALIZING]
EDDINGS: Sitting on a bar stool at Gallagher’s Steak House on Manhattan’s West Side, veteran newspaper columnist Sidney Zion savors a cigar. He joined others at the bar for a smoke-in.
ZION: When fascism comes to America, it will come with a white coat and a stethoscope. We’re a free country, I hope. And this city cannot turn into LA East.
EDDINGS: Gallagher’s general manager Brian Reidy believes he will lose money if smokers aren’t allowed to linger. Reidy says he’ll also lose a certain buzz.
REIDY: Did you ever go to a bar where there’s no smoking? Yeah, it’s boring. It’s like, you know what, all of those people there are like losers. You look in there and go, like, where’s the fun?
[MUSIC AND PEOPLE SOCIALIZING]
EDDINGS: On the East Side at a supper club called Jimmy’s Downtown, supporters of the ban hosted a smoke-free party -- complete with a new drink, the "No No Nicotini" -- to prove the folks at Gallagher’s wrong.
KLOTZ: If you look around here, this is not boring.
EDDINGS: Dan Klotz is a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society.
KLOTZ: Everybody likes this because no one likes coming home smelling of cigarette smoke.
EDDINGS: Advocates for smoke-free environments have heard the restaurant and tobacco industries warn of economic collapse before, when California passed its smoking ban in 1998. Instead, in the two years that followed, hotel and restaurant sales in the state went up, and smokers like San Franciscan James Dawson seem to have adjusted to their new nightlife rituals. He has some advice for New York smokers if Mayor Bloomberg’s ban becomes law.
DAWSON: Bring a coat. [LAUGHS]
EDDINGS: Dawson is dragging on a cigarette outside a jazz club in San Francisco’s North Beach area--a neighborhood packed with bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Unlike New York’s proposed ban, smoking is allowed in outdoor dining areas in California. Some places have pushed back their entrances to create outdoor cafes. Others have set up sidewalk smoking corrals, with brass posts and velvet ropes.
DAWSON: I mean, sometimes it’s funny. Because if you’re in a dive bar and they have a little patio, there’s, like, no one in the bar and there’s like 40 people on this 9x12 patio.
EDDINGS: At the University of California San Francisco, Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine, says the most important lesson New York City could learn from California’s experience is that the stakes are the highest for the tobacco companies. Cigarette consumption goes down, he says, when places are made smoke-free, and New York’s ban would affect 13,000 restaurants and bars.
GLANTZ: If this works in New York, it will work anywhere. And so the potential losses to the tobacco companies are huge. And what I expect you’ll see there in New York is what we saw here in California, and that is very expensive efforts orchestrated by public relations firms on behalf of the tobacco industry to encourage people to ignore the law.
EDDINGS: The tobacco company Philip Morris is located in New York and has, in the past, lobbied unsuccessfully to keep the city from passing smoking restrictions. A spokesperson says no current public relations campaigns are being planned, but the company is considering providing money for – quote – "those who share our views."
At least one other public hearing is scheduled on the ban. City officials say the council may vote on the measure before the end of the year. Even if the smoking ban passes, it will not put an end to the debate. Advocates expect an adjustment period where restaurants and bars will be monitored, even sued, to be sure they comply. And smokers will have to change their habits, which, as many will tell you, can be very hard to do.
For Living on Earth, I’m Amy Eddings, in New York.
CURWOOD: Paul Wellstone of Minnesota is one of the most liberal voices in the United States Senate. He’s up for reelection this year and Republicans see it as one of their opportunities to knock out a Democrat, regain the majority, and control debate in the upper chamber of Congress.
In an echo of the Bush/Gore/Nader 2000 campaign, Mr. Wellstone faces Norm Coleman, a formidable Republican challenger, and Ray Tricomo, a Green Party candidate who’s peeling votes away. Minnesota Public Radio’s Mary Stucky reports.
[SOUND OF WATER]
STUCKY: Minnesota is called the land of 10,000 lakes. Though the weather is fierce much of the year, it seems like almost everyone here is hunter, fisherman or other sports enthusiast.
STUCKY: There are conflicts over water and woods, too. How many motors should be in the wilderness? How many trees should come out? In his 12 years in office, Senator Paul Wellstone has tried to build a bridge—the so-called Blue-Green Coalition, blue for labor and green for the environment. That coalition is out in force this election and recently rallied in Duluth on the shore of Lake Superior.
STUCKY: These voters are not deterred by Wellstone’s stand against the president’s policy in Iraq, or by the fact that Wellstone went back on his promise not to run for a third term. They’re drawn to Wellstone for his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and for his strong environmental positions, like support of stricter drinking water standards.
WELLSTONE: Thank you. We want a fair trade policy where we have a new global economy that works for workers, works for environmentalists, works for the environment, works for family farmers, works for our children, works for safe food. That is the world economy that we fight for and that we speak for.
STUCKY: Aware that the challenge to Wellstone is serious, environmental groups are pouring money into the race. The Sierra Club just sent their national president to Minnesota to unveil an advertising blitz reminding voters of Wellstone’s environmental record.
ADVERTISMENT: Paul Wellstone sponsored legislation to protect our water from animal waste, and voted to protect our national monuments from drilling and mining.
STUCKY: The League of Conservation Voters, the most prominent Green ranking group, gives Wellstone a 100 percent rating for his Senate voting record. Wellstone’s Republican opponent is Norm Coleman, an attorney and former mayor of St. Paul. Coleman is trying to use Wellstone’s record against him.
COLEMAN: I don’t want to have a 100 percent rating with any special interest group. I run against the most partisan person in the U.S. Senate, the most ideologically driven. If you vote for me, you bring someone with a sense of how do we work together, and in the end gets stuff done.
STUCKY: Coleman is fondly remembered by many voters for reviving business in downtown St. Paul. People also credit him with bringing professional hockey back to Minnesota. His focus on economic growth is part of, what Coleman calls, a wise use balance between creating jobs and protecting the environment. And it’s what he stressing on the campaign trail.
COLEMAN: Give me your vote on November 5 and I will work for you. I work in a way that brings people together, that gets things done, that enhances this great opportunity we have in America, which is called freedom. And I’ll be on your side working sure that we have it forever. Thank you very much.
STUCKY: That message appeals to this group, the Minnesota Motorcycle Riders Association, [MOTORCYCLE REVVING] who roared into Medina, Minnesota on a beautiful fall Saturday for their so-called Freedom Rally. Bikers like Gordy Shoemahker liked what they saw.
SHOEMAHKER: I want a candidate who is open, flexible, receptive. And he is, I think.
STUCKY: In July, Coleman may have misstepped when he seemed to endorse motor- boating and snowmobiling in a much loved wilderness here, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. At one time, this was a bitterly divisive issue, pitting environmentalists against outdoor business interests. And some saw Coleman as reopening an old wound. Coleman says, he was misunderstood.
COLEMAN: The BWCA is pristine. It needs to remain pristine. I have never questioned that.
STUCKY: But Coleman says he is logging some trees in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. A powerful windstorm toppled hundreds of thousands of trees, and Coleman says he would support logging to protect the wilderness from fire.
COLEMAN: Well, Senator and I disagree on that, and we’ve just got to hope and pray, hope and pray, that nothing happens. I don’t want to see what happened in Arizona and Colorado and California happen here.
STUCKY: Coleman is opposed to drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but he does support most of the Bush energy plan which expands drilling for oil and gas. Wellstone, on the other hand, refers to oil and gas interests as polluters, and says he wants 20 percent of all energy to come from renewable sources by 2010.
WELLSTONE: The oil companies, and a lot of the polluters, and a lot of the big economic interests have poured a couple of hundred thousand dollars into the state. Geez, they haven’t given me one cent. But that’s okay, I don’t represent Exxon. I mean, I represent people in Minnesota.
STUCKY: Polls show most voters have made up their minds in the race, and that it’s a statistical dead heat. That leaves Wellstone and Coleman trying to change voters’ minds. And the minds Wellstone would love to change belong to supporters of the Green Party.
TRICOMO: I don’t think he’s been nearly strong enough on any issue. Our species may not survive as a species at the rate things are going. We need to make the environment the number one priority in this country, and I don’t think Senator Wellstone is willing to go that far.
STUCKY: Tricomo calls himself a radical ecologist, but has few specific criticisms of Wellstone’s environmental record. In Minnesota, the Greens have major party status and polled just over five percent in the last presidential election. Tricomo is polling below that, less than two percent. Nevertheless, many Greens fear Tricomo will cost Wellstone the election. Greg Harmon is a member of the group Greens for Wellstone.
HARMON: The main concern is that the Senate will go over to a party that has absolutely no interest in the direction of government that Greens support. This is likely. So, Wellstone’s continued presence in the Senate is our best bet of keeping things more the way we like them.
STUCKY: Harmon rejects comparing this race with the last presidential elections, saying Wellstone is a stronger environmental candidate than Al Gore was.
HARMON: He is probably the most environmental senator we have. And how could we see sacrificing that? It doesn’t seem to make sense.
STUCKY: No one in Minnesota claims that the environment is the number one factor in this race, but every issue matters when a race is too close to call and the result could change the balance of the United States Senate.
For Living on Earth, I’m Mary Stucky, in St. Paul.
[MUSIC: Balaio, "The Girls Colors" BASKET (Malandro, 2001)]
CURWOOD: And for this week, that’s Living on Earth. Next week, the planning agency in charge of scenic Lake Tahoe is considering limits on how property owners design and build along the lakefront. Some homeowners are incensed by a move that could limit their views and their property values.
MALE: I have had homeowners come up to me and say, people don’t come up here to Lake Tahoe to see the water or the boulders or the trees, or the majestic views of the mountains. They’re here to see my home.
CURWOOD: It’s beauty in the eyes of the beholders, next time on Living on Earth. And don’t forget that between now and then you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to loe.org. That’s loe.org.
[SANDHILL CRANES CALLING]
CURWOOD: Before we go, a quick stop along the banks of the Platte River near Holdrege, Nebraska, where a flock of sandhill cranes has stopped to feed. Lang Elliot and Ted Mack were there to capture the event.
[MUSIC: Earth Ear/Elliot Lange, "Platte Convergence" WINGS OVER THE PRAIRIE (Nature Sound, 1995)]
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 Jennifer Chu, Maggie Villiger, and Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, along with Al Avery, Susan Shepherd, Jessica Penney and Carly Ferguson. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. We had help this week from Cape and Islands Radio, along with James Curwood, Jamie McAvoy, Andrew Strickler and Nicole Giese. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.
Our Technical Director is Chris Engles. 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. I’m Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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