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

November 8, 2002

Air Date: November 8, 2002



Election Wrap-up

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The balance of power in the U.S. Senate will change hands as a result of the recent mid-term elections. Host Steve Curwood talks with Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, about what it could mean for environmental policy. (06:30)

Colorado Energy Tax / John Ryan

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In Aspen and Pitkin county, Colorado, a new building code requires new homes to meet a strict energy budget. Homeowners who go over the budget by consuming extra energy have the option of installing a renewable energy system or paying a hefty tax to support energy-saving projects. John Ryan reports. (06:00)

Almanac/Lights Out

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This week, we have facts about the biggest blackout in the history of the United States. On November 9, 1965 much of the northeast was plunged into darkness when one electrical line near Niagara Falls shut down, starting a massive chain reaction. (01:30)

California Cleaning / Ingrid Lobet

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We hear lots of stories about efforts to ban chemicals. But Ingrid Lobet reports that for Koreans in the Los Angeles area a proposal to phase out the dry cleaning solvent perchloroethylene strikes close to home. (07:30)

Precious Waters / Shelley Schlender

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Parts of the west are experiencing severe drought. Things have gotten so bad that even holy water has to be rationed out. From Golden, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports. (05:30)

First Frost / Verlyn Klinkenborg

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For some folks, living in one place, year after year, sounds like a bore. For commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg, a place gets more interesting the longer he’s been there. (03:00)

Health Note/Urban Distress / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a new study has found that common pollutants may contribute to low birth rate in minority children. (01:15)

Species Preservation

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Host Steve Curwood speaks with BBC reporter Peter Greste about the continuing debates at the conference on the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species in Santiago, Chile. (05:00)

Humpback Whale Song / Heidi Chang

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The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is the only sanctuary in the United States devoted to one species. It’s also the only place where humpbacks reproduce in this country. Dr. Jim Darling goes to the sanctuary every year to study the song of the humpback whale. As Heidi Chang reports, he’s made some unusual discoveries. (08:00)

EarthEar / Jean Roché

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This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodREPORTERS: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, John Ryan, Ingrid Lobet, Shelly Schlender, Heidi ChangCOMMENTARY: Verlyn KlinkenborgGUESTS: Peter GresteNOTES: Diane Toomey, Maggie Villiger


CURWOOD: From NPR News, it's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

With Republicans now in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, the agenda for environmental protection is shifting to more of a focus on states and individual rights.

SMITH: The paradigm that has dominated environmental policy from 1970 on has been so centralized, it's dominated federal over state, it's been government over private. We have a chance to ask whether that balance was struck right.

CURWOOD: National environmental groups say they expect challenging times ahead. And, hard times in the mom-and-pop business of dry cleaning. The problem is the chemical used to get the dirt out.

CHIN: They invest all their money into this business. They need to get something out of it. They can't afford to change, and then their family’s getting sick. And you know, the stakes are high.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this.

[MUSIC: Felt, “Evergreen Dazed” CRUMBLING THE ANTISEPTIC BEAUTY (Cherry Red/Anagram, 1999)]


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Election Wrap-up


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

The elections on November 5th marked a victory for Republicans across the country. The GOP strengthened its hold on the House of Representatives and won back control of the Senate. Republican leader Trent Lott addressed reporters the morning after.

LOTT: I was delighted to be in the office by seven o'clock, talked to the president just after 7:00 and he started off the conversation by saying, "Majority leader, where are you, still at home?" And I said "No Mr. President, I'm in my office. Let's go to work."

CURWOOD: I'm joined now by Living on Earth's Washington correspondent Anna Solomon-Greenbaum. Anna, let's look ahead now to what the Republican takeover means for the environmental agenda in Congress. What do you see?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, I think we're going to see some big differences in that environmental agenda. In the Senate, in particular, the change of power is going to mean that Republicans are defining what comes to the floor, which laws get created in the first place. The committees are all going to change hands. So, in Energy, for instance, Pete Domenici of New Mexico is going to be the chair of that committee. He generally favors more production when it comes to oil and nuclear.

The Environment and Public Works Committee is going to Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. He tends to be opposed to many regulations, and his score is zero with the League of Conservation voters--obviously not a favorite of the environmental community. So across the board, I think we're going to see a real change in approach to environmental issues.

I talked to Fred Smith. He's the president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This is what he had to say.

SMITH: The paradigm that has dominated environmental policy from 1970 on has been so centralized, it's dominated federal over state. It's been government over private. We have a chance to ask whether that balance was struck right.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Steve, I think what Fred Smith is really getting at here is that he expects to see Republicans asking some fundamental questions about environmental laws; like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act. We've seen the administration asking those types of questions. Now we've got both houses in Congress in line so we could now really start to see some movement.

But I think we might see some surprises as well, Steve. The Republicans aren't all of one mind when it comes to the environment, obviously. John McCain, for instance, is going to be chairing the Commerce Committee. He's been putting forth some pretty strong statements about climate policy and global warming over the past couple years. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some movement from him on that.

CURWOOD: Anna, you've been talking largely about the Senate's procedural agenda, which will clearly be in the hands of the Republicans. But what about when it comes down to really getting laws passed? When those bills hit the floor, how much power will the Republicans really have? I mean, they'll still only have a slim majority, nowhere close to the crucial 60 votes that are needed to break a filibuster.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well that's true, Steve, and I think that you're going to see that the most controversial issues, like drilling in ANWR, are not going to pass. But the Democrats can't filibuster everything. They're going to have to pick their battles.
I think the real impact here is not going to be so much in what the GOP does, as in what the Democrats can't do. They've been really playing defense, so to speak, over the last couple of years against the House and the White House. Lieberman, Joe Lieberman, for instance, has been investigating Vice President Cheney on his Energy Taskforce. That's not going to go forward anymore. Jim Jeffords has been demanding that the administration show some analysis of the changes it wants to make to the Clean Air Act to show what impact they're going to have on the environment. We're not going to see Jim Inhofe making those kind of requests.

So I think what's really changing here is that the Democrats have been able to control the message that gets out to the media and the public somewhat. They've been able to portray the White House as anti-environment, and now they've really lost control over that message and over what issues are going to get debated. So, that's really where we can see most impact on the environmental agenda, I think.

CURWOOD: Anna, many of the tightest Senate races were the same races where the environment seemed to be a hot issue. I'm thinking of Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota. But in every one of those races, the candidate endorsed by the national environmental groups ended up losing. Tell me, how important do you think the environment is to voters?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well I don't know how much I'd read into that, Steve. I think voters were really focused on some bigger picture issues in this election cycle. We're already in one war. There is the prospect of another one in Iraq.

I asked Deb Callahan this question. She's the president of the League of Conservation voters. This is what she said.

CALLAHAN: The big lesson that we have to learn is there were forces in play last night among the electorate that were really much bigger than environmentalists could control. It's clear that the president and his agenda was foremost in voter's minds. There is a lot going on in this country right now.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Steve, another way to look at this is that voters did put a lot of emphasis on the environment, but they simply believed the Republican candidates when they said they were pro-environment. They were playing the environment just as hard as the Democrats in a lot of those states that you mentioned, and it's possible that voters listened more to them than they did to the environmentalists who were sort of running alongside them and trying to disprove them.

CURWOOD: Any bet on what we'll see Republicans moving on first when the new Congress starts in January?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: I think we're likely to see them moving pretty quickly on the energy front. The House already has its bill. This is a big priority for the administration. What we're probably going to see is Senate Republicans dismantling what Democrats did in this last Congress, and writing a new bill that's much more focused on production, most likely. I think we'll see some bills come forward with regard to public land issues. There was wildfire legislation brought forward this fall in the Senate that didn't move anywhere. That may move more quickly now.

We might also see some action on the National Environmental Policy Act. This is the act, one of the cornerstone environmental laws that requires impact statements and assessments on activities that could harm the environment. And the administration has been moving on several fronts to sort of tweak that and weaken it a bit, and there is interest in Congress to do that, as well. So now, they might really have the momentum to get some of that going in terms of NEPA.

CURWOOD: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum is Living on Earth's Washington correspondent. Thanks Anna.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: You're welcome, Steve.

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder, “Highway,” MUSIC BY RY COODER (Warner Bros., 1995)]

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Colorado Energy Tax

CURWOOD: Buildings are the nation's biggest consumers of energy. They're also the biggest polluters of the atmosphere. The wealthy resort community of Aspen, Colorado is using public funds to make energy saving improvements in private homes, and the program gets its money in an unusual way. There is now a tax on energy intensive luxury homes. John Ryan has this report.


RYAN: High on a hillside outside Aspen, Robert Trowne steps out of his SUV and onto the driveway of a $15 million dollar vacation home that his architecture firm built last year.

TROWNE: Basically, we have a cobblestone inset within a colored-exposed aggregate pattern.


TROWNE: In the center is an antique wellhead that we bought from France, and just set up for decorative pots and flowers.

RYAN: Pipes beneath the driveway heat the surface enough to melt snow away during cold, Rocky Mountain winters.

TROWNE: If you live in an area like this that gets the volume of snow we do, it's the ultimate luxury, really, to not have to deal with it.

RYAN: Features like snow melting driveways and outdoor swimming pools heated year-round, prompted the city of Aspen, and Pitkin County, to revise their shared building code. The code was already tough on energy use inside new homes, requiring things like super-insulated walls and windows. But the unregulated outdoor heating could end up tripling luxury homes already steep winter-time energy use.


TROWNE: To run this water court, and their spa, and a house like this during the high season, they probably spend $5 or $6,000 a month in gas bills.

RYAN: With the revised code, owners of new homes who want to install these outdoor luxuries now have a choice. They can add renewable energy features like solar panels to their homes, or they can pay a hefty fee to REMP, the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program. The fee is based on how much carbon dioxide that excess energies will generate over 20 years, up to a maximum of $100,000 per house. It works out to $340 per ton of carbon dioxide; the world's stiffest tax on carbon emissions.


UDALL: This is one example of what we hope to build here in the Valley, is a set of decentralized, distributed small power plants that heat--

Randy Udall at Ruedi Creek.
(Photo:John Ryan)

RYAN: Randy Udall stands beside Ruedi Creek, a rushing mountain stream 40 miles from Aspen. His non-profit group the Community Office for Resource Efficiency helps the county government administer REMP grants to projects, including the small hydro power plant that two homeowners built on this creek. But why would Aspen, the winter playground of the jet set, pay attention to energy issues?

UDALL: We're quite concerned now in our valley about the rapid increase in global climate changes. We've just had the warmest winter in 120 years, and our economy is based on skiing. And what we see happening is our ski season being shortened on each side now because of climate change.

RYAN: Udall believes that energy codes nationwide will eventually come to resemble Aspen's and require buildings not only to conserve energy, but produce it as well.

UDALL: Buildings are going to have to be something other than parasites on the landscape. They're going to have to do something useful: produce hot water, produce electricity, harvest rainwater. They can't be on intensive care for the next century.

RYAN: In its first two years, REMP has funded $600,000 in energy saving projects, including solar hot water systems at a low income housing complex, rebates on energy saving washing machines, and the City of Aspen's car sharing program. Its biggest grant is helping build Aspen's brand new recreation center.


RYAN: At the construction site, city building department chief Steve Kanipe points out the rec center's unusual design challenges.

Stephen Kanipe at the Iselin Rec Center construction site.
(Photo: John Ryan)

KANIPE: The building shares a pool, and then the other half of the building is an NHL-sized ice hockey rink.

RYAN: Heating and cooling a single building to polar opposite temperatures would normally guzzle energy. But this rec center is on the cutting-edge of energy efficiency. Thanks to grants from REMP, the building includes features like super-efficient boilers to heat its air, and a state of the art natural gas micro-turbine to generate its electricity.

KANIPE: In fact, about 75 percent of the amount of energy that goes into the turbines to produce electricity produces heat, and we don't look at that as a waste product the way larger power plants do, but we take the 75 percent heat, and use it to produce the domestic hot water for the showers, and most importantly, for the pool features.

RYAN: Kanipe says he initially had misgivings about this program that lets the biggest polluters pay other people to pollute less. But REMP's environmental benefits have erased his earlier doubts.


KANIPE: The advantages of this program outweigh the social stigma of someone with a lot of money can buy their way out, because basically it does the entire world good. We are able to quantify the number of tons of carbon dioxide that we keep out of the atmosphere every year as a direct result of this program. And I believe in that.

RYAN: REMP has generated few complaints, partly because the houses it covers are mostly vacation homes, so their owners can't vote locally. It also seems that $50,000 fees barely register on the radar screens of those who can afford to heat their driveways.
Architect Olivia Emery designs multi-million dollar houses in the Aspen area. She says many of her clients have simply never thought about their energy use.

EMERY: We've had clients who are mystified by why we have an energy code to begin with. And I think the real question is, is there a limit to how much you are entitled to consume in energy terms?

RYAN: It's a question that big energy consumers--whether homeowners or the United States as a whole--will face more as the world struggles to address global warming. For Living Earth, I'm John Ryan in Aspen, Colorado.

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder, “Nice Bike” MUSIC BY RY COODER (Warner Bros., 1995)]

CURWOOD: Coming up, some say cleanliness is next to godliness, but they don't say what to do when you run out of Holy Water. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.


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Almanac/Lights Out

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

[MUSIC: Rolling Stones, “Get Off My Cloud,” HOT ROCKS (London Records)]

CURWOOD: On November 9, 1965 the Rolling Stones were at the top of the charts and more electricity was needed to meet the peak demands of evening rush hour in Toronto.
So engineers responded by routing extra power through a relay switch that was improperly set. The switch failed and touched off a cascade of overloads along the newly established North American power grid. Electricity could travel thousands of miles, but outages could also travel and magnify over those distances.

Within minutes, 30 million people across eastern North America were in darkness. The biggest electrical blackout in history was underway from New Jersey to Quebec, and from Boston to Buffalo. DJ Dan Ingram was on the air just as the lights went out in New York City.

INGRAM: The lights are dipping in the city. You wouldn't believe what's going on at this studio folks. The lights are getting dim. The electricity is slowing down. I didn't know that could happen.

CURWOOD: For New Yorkers, it was a night to remember. Thousands were marooned in stalled subway cars and elevators. Hotels opened their doors to the stranded, if you didn't mind an eight-story walk-up, and people patrolled the streets with flashlights to help neighbors reach home.

When the lights came on eleven hours later, police reported there had been virtually no crime during the blackout. And just how many babies were born in New York exactly nine months after the blackout? No more than usual the records say. The blackout baby boom is just another urban legend.

And that's this week's Living on Earth Almanac.


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California Cleaning

CURWOOD: There are, in the United States, about 35,000 dry cleaners. Most are run by families. Many of those families are first generation Americans, and most of them spend tens of thousands of dollars on machines that washes clothes using a chlorinated solvent instead of water. That solvent, perchloroethylene or perc, turns out to be dangerous to human health. You don't want to breathe it and you don't want to drink it.

Concerns about contamination of groundwater have regulators in southern California pushing for a phase-out of perc. But as Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports, some of the dry cleaners say perc is not easy to give up, even if it is harmful.

LOBET: It's hard to imagine an industry that relies more on a single chemical than dry cleaning. So, when southern California air officials said they might phase out perchloroethylene, more than 500 owners, many of them Korean, left their shops for the day and packed a public hearing.


LOBET: The business owners rebuked air officials, saying they understated the costs of changing equipment, and overstated the risks of perc. Charles Kim of the Korean-American Coalition, likened the campaign against perc to the way Korean businesses suffered during the Los Angeles riots a decade ago.

KIM: Ten years after, Korean dry cleaners are here today and are feeling they were being victimized again. We're becoming the killers and polluters, and then you know, we're the cause of the problem. All of this bad air, bad water that we drink and breathe. Of course, who doesn't want to breathe clean air, and also drink clean water? We all do.

LOBET: Dry cleaners say they've clamped down dramatically on perc vapors, and regulators agree. But officials say their surveys show half of what is loaded into machines is still ending up in surrounding neighborhoods. UCLA's Dr. John Froines has studied perchloroethylene for more than a decade. He testified at the hearing.

FROINES: And I can say unequivocally that the evidence of the toxicity of perchloroethylene has increased in the past ten years.

LOBET: Back then he said perc was associated with cancers of the esophagus and cervix.

FROINES: New findings have indicated ovarian cancer in women, bladder cancer and other cancers of the female organs.

LOBET: The manufacturers of perc, including Dow Chemical, say the risk is far lower than regulators claim. The EPA lists perc as a possible or probable carcinogen. Dry cleaning owners insist it's too costly to replace perc machines with cleaner alternatives.
But privately, away from the glare, perc is a more personal story, woven into the lives of dry cleaning families. And some shop owners, like this one on the outskirts of LA, will tell you--perc is making them sick.



VOICEOVER: Well, to be quite frank with you, when it comes to perchloroethylene, this is a toxic substance. It is toxic.

LOBET: This shop owner asked us not to use his name, fearing pressure from the Korean-American Dry Cleaner's Association. Above us swung the laundered clothes of working people, in plaid and denim.



VOICEOVER: Basically, I've been in this business for about 16 years and lately I have begun to feel that maybe there is something not quite right with my breathing these days. Sometimes we end up inhaling the vapors, and sometimes we inhale a lot. That's when I start experiencing these sorts of problems, and just the feeling is just not good.

LOBET: His symptoms may not be related to perc, but in visits to other cleaners, people tell similar stories. Bill Pourdavoudi used to run his own shop. Now he sells dry cleaning equipment.


POURDAVOUDI: You know, I've been in this business 20 years. The reason I quit the job was the perc. I had the allergy. I couldn't continue. There’s so many problems, your kidney, your liver, skin problem, rash. Sometimes I get a rash, or sometimes getting headache. You don't realize. You don't realize right away, but after a while you will find out.

LOBET: But even though people, especially in the Korean community, have lived with perc for many years, rarely is it discussed publicly as a community health issue. Dr. Sue Young Chin works with KHEIR, a large Korean health organization in Los Angeles. She says it's a hard subject to broach because so much capital, so many dreams, are wrapped up in this one industry.

CHIN: People do get sick, and they don't know why they're getting sick. Because, you know, Korean immigrants aren't told "Well, these are the side effects of the chemicals." They invest all their money into this business. They need to get something out it; they can't afford to change, and then, their families getting sick. And, you know, the stakes are high.

LOBET: So common is dry cleaning among Koreans that few people are many steps removed from it. Dr. Angela Jo is a resident at a clinic in LA's Koreatown. I asked her how difficult it might be for a Korean physician to speak openly about the potential health effects of dry cleaning solvents. She sighed.

JO: Hmm. That's actually a tough question. You know, specifically because my parents are dry cleaning business owners, and, you know, they raised my siblings and me, and they sent two of us to medical school, and one is finishing up his Ph.D. So we have a lot to be grateful for, you know, for this small business that my dad and mom ran.

LOBET: Those, who like Dr. Jo, do favor gradually doing away with perchloroethylene, nearly always stress that the government must ease the cost of changing to an alternative: hydrocarbon solvent, silicon, liquid CO2, or wet cleaning. Estimates of this cost vary widely, from $30 to 90,000. In the San Francisco Bay area, one of out of every six cleaners is already using a perc alternative. But Paul Choe, president of the Korean American Dry Cleaner's Association, says the prospect of switching methods has him in knots.


PAUL CHO: I have to worry about my house payments and car payments and support my children's tuitions. At night when I go to bed, I get nervous, and I don't know what to do.

LOBET: Air officials vote on phasing out perc December 6. One proposal would let businesses keep using the solvent, but require they get newer perc technology. Another would make dry cleaners replace equipment as it becomes 15 years old with a cleaner alternative. In that case, the region would become the first in the country to force a phase out of perc.

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

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Precious Waters

CURWOOD: The old saying in the arid West is whisky is for drinkin' and water is for fightin'. So, when your mission is peace and harmony at the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, Colorado, and the Holy Water starts to run dry, you face a special set of problems. Shelley Schlender reports.


SCHLENDER: On a beautiful Sunday morning, thousands of pilgrims drive up the buff-colored foothills near the city Golden to visit Mother Cabrini Shrine.


SCHLENDER: Some climb the 373 steps called the "Stairway of Prayer" to see the outdoor statue of America's first saint. Mother Cabrini is known for the founding of hospitals and orphanages. In fact, this site was originally a summer camp for orphans, although now it's used primarily as a shrine; popular with hundreds of the faithful who flock to the Sunday Service. But what draws most visitors here is Mother Cabrini's mountain spring.


SCHLENDER: On this day, dozens of visitors gather around small, outdoor spigots not far from the chapel to fill paper cups, quart bottles and plastic gallon jugs with the mineral-laden water.

FEMALE 1: It tastes like very clear.

MALE : A little bit sweet, like water.

GIRL: Mandy, my dog. I got water for Mandy because maybe it will help her because she's getting older, and it might cleanse her body or something because it's holy water.

FEMALE 2: We use it when we say our prayers, you know, to bless ourselves with it. We don't take a lot, but we take enough to keep us through the month.


SCHLENDER: Her frugal attitude is especially warranted this year, because Colorado is facing its worst drought in a century. In fact, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who oversee the shrine, have asked people to limit themselves to one gallon of the special water per visit. While the Catholic Church does not consider the spring an official miracle site, the visitors and sisters here believe in its healing powers.

SISTER BERNADETTE: People drink the water and they've had stomach problems that all of a sudden are gone.

SCHLENDER: Sister Bernadette lives at the Mother Cabrini Shrine with a handful of other nuns and caretakers.

SISTER BERNADETTE: And a lot of people rub the water on their eyes, because of eye problems and whatnot. And there has been a lot of cures with eyes.

SCHLENDER: To Sister Bernadette, the spring is miraculous in many ways. When Mother Cabrini bought the property in the early 1900's, government officials said there was no water here. As Sister Bernadette tells it, shortly after that pessimistic pronouncement, Mother Cabrini tapped some rocks with her walking cane, and then something amazing happened.

SISTER BERNADETTE: Water started to gush up from the ground, and ever since that day the water is still flowing from that same stream. It has continued to flow since then. It's never frozen.


SCHLENDER: The spring is now housed in a small stone building with outdoor spigots on the side, where pilgrims to fill up.


SCHLENDER: For 90 years it has supplied enough water for those who live at the shrine, as well as for all its visitors. At least it used to. Colorado's severe drought has reduced the spring's water flow by 40 percent, and some say housing developments in the mountains may also be drawing down the water. So Sister Bernadette says the nuns are careful about their personal water use.

SISTER BERNADETTE: We've joked about doing showers the Navy way, which is to wet, turn off the water, put soap on, and then put the water on. But we are careful with all bathing, and showers.

SCHLENDER: When people come up for weekend retreats, the sisters now send the extra towels and linens to a laundry down in Golden. And the gardens on the grounds here have not been watered at all this past summer. The nuns have even resorted to hauling in Port-o-Potties to replace the flush toilet bathrooms.


SCHLENDER: While a stopover here is not quite as pretty or convenient as it used to be, most visitors say the changes are worth it.

MALE: That's right. [Laughter] You can't waste a miracle. [Laughter] So you've got to conserve it too, you know? It's like everything else.

FEMALE: I hope that people do not waste this water because it is precious, very precious, I think, you know?


SCHLENDER: According to Sister Bernadette, this water conservation fits Mother Cabrini's philosophy.

SISTER BERNADETTE: If she were alive today, she would tell us to be very careful with the water, not to take God's gift of creation and water and just be frivolous about it, but to be extremely careful. And she would want us to share it with the others.

SCHLENDER: To further reduce demands on the mountain spring, staff at the Mother Cabrini Shrine have applied for permits that would allow them to tap a nearby municipal water source for their every day water needs. The nuns say they plan to use that water carefully too, because any water is a gift from God.


For Living on Earth, I'm Shelley Schlender in Golden Colorado.

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

Related link:
Mother Cabrini Shrine website

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First Frost

KLINKENBORG: The other day I noticed that I was walking down to the barn again. It sounds like a strange thing to notice, because some days I walk down to the barn a dozen times without noticing it.

CURWOOD: Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg.

KLINKENBORG: My mind is on the tape measure I worked on the workbench or the pile of logs, cluttering up one side of the barnyard. Sometimes I get down to the barn, and can't remember why I came. But there are so many things I could have walked down to the barn for, that I'm sure to find something I need, or need to do.

All the tools live there, as well as most of the things, like lumber and machines that require tools sooner or later.

I often wonder what it would be like to live your life in just one place. It would mean, among other things, a depth of repetition I can barely imagine, and with it, an awareness of the subtlety of change.

When my wife and I first moved to this small farm, I marveled almost every day at where we were, and how we lived. That now happens less than it used to, but when it does I feel like I'm walking along beside myself, through a deep tunnel of habituation. Everything seems so familiar. The sugar maples and hickories, the brambles edging their way up from the rail fences, they recapture their identity when I recapture mine.

It leaves me wondering how deep the reverie of living in only one place might really go. That is something I'll never know.

But even a little time in one place adds up. The chores never go quite the same one day to the next, because the wind stirs the dogs up, or a truck backfires on the highway just as the horses were settling down. The seasons never proceed along quite the same path either.

Even something as categorical as the first frost comes in the most uncategorical ways. Some years it drops like death on the garden, blackening everything in sight. This year it waited, and waited, then took only the morning glory blossoms along the road, before returning a week later, second frost, and taking everything else.

Up here, we live within the circumference of change, and every year the circle gets a little bigger. Some things almost never change, of course. At dusk, the chickens take to their roosts, my wife says, like ninth grade girls at the high school basketball game. Every evening the pigs still come loping over to visit when we walk out their way to check on their feed and water.

Coyotes yip in the moonlight, and it only seems to deepen the silence that surrounds them. And no matter how the day has gone, night never really begins until we walk up from the barn for the last time.

CURWOOD: Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about the rural life for The New York Times.

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Health Note/Urban Distress

Just ahead, how best to save elephants and other creatures on the edge of extinction. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: A group of Columbia University researchers have found that common pollutants may play a role in adverse birth outcomes in minority children, such as low birth weight. More than 260 non-smoking women from New York City participated in the study. The women, all African or Dominican-Americans wore an air monitor over a two-day period during their third trimester. The monitor measured pollutants present in automobile exhaust. The researchers also tested the mother's blood and the newborn's umbilical cord blood for the presence of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide once heavily applied in New York City.

After researchers took into account variables such as maternal age and alcohol use, they found that among African-Americans prenatal exposure to high levels of auto exhaust was associated with a nine percent reduction in birth weight, and a two percent reduction in infant head circumference. A number of other studies have linked smaller head circumference with lower IQ and a drop in school performance.

The auto exhaust, however, did not effect the Dominican babies, although researchers can't explain why. Both groups showed reduced birth weight and length due to their exposure to the pesticide chlorpyrifos. That's this week's Health Note. I'm Diane Toomey.

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

[MUSIC: Tito Puente “Take 5” THE VERY BEST OF LATIN JAZZ 2 (GT, 1999)]
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Coming up, guy talk in the songs of humpback whales. First, this note from our webmaster.


CURWOOD: From Auckland to Zanzibar there are animals that have gone extinct, in some cases, leaving only the slimmest traces of their existence. Author Tim Flannery searched the globe to tell their stories.

FLANNERY: Sometimes I go into a place like the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and a whole drawer would be opened up, and every specimen in that big drawer where there are hundreds of stuffed birds, all of them were extinct.

CURWOOD: Starting Monday, November 11, visit the Living on Earth website to learn the fate of these animals, including the story of Steven's Island Wren and Tibbles the Cat.

FLANNERY: In 1894, the New Zealand government built a lighthouse there, and the lonely lighthouse keeper decided that he must have a cat for company. Within a year or so, that solitary feline had caught every one of the island's tiny wrens. Tibbles then brought them, one by one, and very much dead, to David Lisle's door.

CURWOOD: For illustrations, photos, and more stories from Tim Flannery's, “A Gap in Nature,” visit LOE.org. That's LOE.org starting Monday, November 11.

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Species Preservation

CURWOOD: Elephants, whales and mahogany. The fate of these species, and others, is being debated at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, now underway in Santiago, Chile. At issue: the levels of protection provided for certain plants and animals. These appendix classifications, as they're called, can have significant impact on regulating trade. Joining me is Peter Greste, a BBC reporter covering the negotiations. He says the hottest topic is a proposal for a one-time sale of ivory stockpiles, followed by a limited quota on ivory sales each year.

GRESTE: There are those that are saying that ivory should be allowed to be traded if there are sustainable populations. And there are a number of southern African states, and South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia for example, who are all saying that they have sustainable populations, they have the stockpiles of ivory, and they need the cash, and there is no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to profit from those stockpiles of ivory and plow those profits back into their resources.

But there are others that are saying that the populations might be sustainable in those southern African states, but they're certainly not sustainable in other parts of Africa, and certainly not in Asia. The fear is that if you open up the ivory trade, you create a market, you create a demand, an unsustainable demand, that will be met, ultimately, by uncontrolled poaching.

CURWOOD: I want to ask you about whales. The Japanese want to allow limited trade in two species of whales. What's been the response to that request so far?

GRESTE: A rather mixed response. There are a number of states, again, who are saying, who are talking very strongly about sustainable use; who are saying that if we have a resource and we have the numbers and we have the controls, there is no reason why we shouldn't be exploiting that, those resources. The Japanese have been arguing very, very strongly for that, and they've been saying that the whale stocks of the minke whale, in particular, are now at around a million animals; there are a million minke whales according to their numbers.

Just the numbers, though, are being hotly disputed. There are plenty of people who are, plenty of environmentalists, in particular, who are saying that those figures are grossly inflated. They're also saying, the environmentalists in a number of countries still opposed to whaling, are also saying that the controls are simply not in place.

CURWOOD: Now, the Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species, CITES, has not yet gotten seriously involved in commercial species, except, I guess, this year I see that there are questions being raised about mahogany and the Patagonian tooth fish, which appears on tables in the United States as the Chilean sea bass. They're both up for increased protection. What argument is there for greater protection of these species?

GRESTE: The people who are supporting the application say that there is uncontrolled poaching in a lot of cases, illegal fishing, and that in order to protect these species, in order to stop them slipping from, into the endangered list, there needs to be an adequately, a well-enforceable permit system to regulate and control the trade in these species. And that's why they're arguing very strongly to put both mahogany and the Patagonian tooth fish onto Appendix two.

CURWOOD: Who objects to this, and why?

GRESTE: Well, the Chileans aren't particularly impressed with it, Japanese aren't, and an awful lot of other major fishing nations are particularly concerned about it. Because they all have big industrial fisheries of their own, who are all putting a lot of pressure on other species; the North Sea cod, for example, or the yellow fin tuna, and they all have very strong domestic lobbies who are arguing against regulation.

There are a couple of reasons. One of them is the implication that by listing something in the CITES Appendix two, you are labeling it as "endangered" and, therefore, members of the public would feel particularly uncomfortable about eating, about having a fish that's considered endangered on their dinner plates.

There is also, I think, the principle of sovereignty here. A lot of those fishing industries say that we can adequately control our own fishing industries. We don't need an international body like CITES to tell us what to do.

CURWOOD: Most of these decisions won't be made until November 15, but what are you hearing about how things might come out?

GRESTE: There are a whole range of issues. Obviously, there are almost 60 proposals on the table at the moment. There is an awful lot of horse trading which could skew a lot of these debates, and a lot of these proposals, the voting on these proposals. Just how much of an influence that has on the final outcome is difficult to say, but my instincts are, for example, that whaling will not go through. I suspect that mahogany might make it onto the CITES II listing. I'm not so convinced about the Patagonian tooth fish because I think there are a lot of other political interests that might skew that particular vote.
On ivory, too close to call, I'm afraid. I think it's one of those things that we'll simply have to wait and see.

CURWOOD: Peter Greste is a reporter with the BBC, speaking to us from Santiago, Chile, during the meeting of the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species. Thanks so much.

GRESTE: And a pleasure.

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Humpback Whale Song

CURWOOD: Each fall, thousands of north Pacific humpback whales migrate from their summer feeding grounds off Alaska to winter near Hawaii. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is the only place where humpbacks reproduce in the United States. The sanctuary covers 1,400 square miles of ocean, and scientists come here to do research. One of them is Jim Darling, who studies the humpback whales’ songs. Heidi Chang has this profile.


CHANG: It's early on a sunny and warm Hawaiian morning. Zoologist Jim Darling is at the helm of his research boat as he takes off from Lahaina Harbor. He's on a personal quest.

Jim Darling in his boat “Never Satisfied” in the waters off Maui.
(Photo courtesy of Whale Trust)

DARLING: We're going to go out and find some whales. Okay? Here we go.


CHANG: As Darling heads out to sea, the historic whaling town of Lahaina, Maui fades away in the distance. The town is a magnet for tourists during the peak of the whale mating season. Since 1997, these waters have been designated as the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine sanctuary. It's here the whales come to breed, calve, and nurse their young.

DARLING: There is no question that this is a special place. I mean, I don't think anybody who has been here, certainly who has been out in the water, would deny that this is one of the really special places in the world regarding whales.


CHANG: The goal of the sanctuary is to help in the recovery of humpback whales that were once nearly hunted to extinction by the early 20th century. International laws now prohibit the hunting of humpbacks, and in the 1970's, the humpback whale was listed under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, scientists estimate there are 8,000 humpbacks in the North Pacific. Nearly two-thirds of that population migrate to Hawaii. The rest breed in Japan or Mexico. Recent studies show the humpback population in Hawaii has been increasing annually by seven percent.

DARLING: Almost certainly the conditions in Hawaii, the warm waters, clear waters, shallow banks, are conditions which are beneficial to the reproductive success of these whales.

CHANG: Jim Darling has been coming here for the past five years from Vancouver, Canada. He's leading a study of humpback whale song for Whale Trust, a non-profit research and education organization he co-founded on Maui. And there's plenty of action to observe.


CHANG: On this morning, it's not long before a huge whale breaches nearby. It's twice the size of the 20-foot long research boat. Soon, Darling spots another whale in the distance and moves in closer to it.


CHANG: Darling quickly tosses a hydrophone, an underwater microphone, into the water, and begins recording the whale's haunting song.


DARLING: Oh, I don't think there is any question that the most unique thing about humpback whales is their song. You know, most other whales, I would say virtually all other whales, make different types of sounds, and indeed, some of them can be classified as songs. In other words, they're a series of sounds which are repeated, but none of them come close to the kind of loud, complex song of the humpback whales.

CHANG: While some people may try to compare humpback songs with human songs, even going so far as describing them as arias, Darling says there is no equation.

DARLING: Oh, I think they sound like a barnyard in the morning. [LAUGHS] You know, it depends, really. They sound incredibly beautiful often from a distance, and often if you're in deep water where they're echoing off canyons and things like that. I mean, they're remarkably beautiful things to listen to. When you're really close like we are, in other words, when you can virtually, not virtually, when you can actually see the singer below the boat, and the hydrophone is just a few feet away from it, they're pretty loud and screechy. I mean, they're sort of hard to listen to.


CHANG: These giant creatures first captivated Darling while he was growing up in Canada, and began studying them in the 70's.

DARLING: I used to, you know, run charter boats and surf a lot on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and we'd see whales all the time, and take people out to look at whales, and they'd start to ask questions. And when I went back to libraries and so on and tried to find answers just so I could sort of provide some information, I found we really knew very little about the animals.


CHANG: Jim Darling is now one of the leading experts in whale song. While other researchers may study groups of whales from different regions and compare the differences and similarities in their song, Darling's approach is unique. He studies the day in the life of individual whales to better understand their behavior patterns and the function of song.

DARLING: I think, almost undoubtedly, the prevailing hypothesis has been that males sang to attract females. There is, unfortunately, virtually no proof for that.


CHANG: Darling was one of the first scientists to discover that only males sing, apparently as part of their mating strategy. And he became the first scientist to propose that the male's song attracts other males.

DARLING: I think it's quite clear now that the song it at least and perhaps primarily a signal between males, and it doesn't repel them, it in fact attracts them. You know, males sing until they interact with another male.

CHANG: Darling thinks song could serve as some form of status display, or may help determine the social order of male whales.



CHANG: On this journey, as Darling follows a singing whale, he's assisted by National Geographic whale photographer Flip Nicklin who's on another research boat nearby.


DARLING: Yes, are you still with that singer?


NICKLIN (ON RADIO): Yeah, we're still out with him.

DARLING: Okay. Well maybe we'll just sort of slowly drift down that way and take a look at it. Thanks.


CHANG: The boats stay in touch by two-way radio, and keep track of what happens when a singing whale is joined by another male. Each boat is prepared to follow a different whale once the whales split apart and head in different directions.

A typical whale stays under water about 10 to 15 minutes before surfacing to breathe, and its song can last anywhere from five to 25 minutes. But this particular singing whale turns out to be unpredictable. As it begins interacting with another whale, it becomes even more challenging to follow by boat. Both males are moving fast, traveling together at about five miles an hour. As their shiny black dorsal fins roll in and out of the waves, they blow as they surface for air.


CHANG: In the end, Darling loses track of the initial singer, as both whales go their separate ways. So calling it a day, he pulls into shore before sunset. Back on land, Darling listens to the day's recordings.


DARLING: So, what you're hearing here is the first theme, or often it's the first theme after the whale dives, and that "woo, woo, woo, woo" is really what we're calling the first theme. And then that shifts into the second theme, which is sort of a long, drawn-out screech.

CHANG: Scientists don't know why the composition of whale song evolves from season to season. They've found a song can change completely over four to five years.
On this journey, Darling hears, what he believes are, some new sounds.

DARLING: This is a bit of a new set here, and it may be something which is going to become more common over the next few years, but we'll just have to wait and see.

CHANG: Do you have any idea what he's trying to communicate?

DARLING: [LAUGHS] None, not at all.

CHANG: Well at least not yet. Jim Darling will spend the rest of the year analyzing his latest observations about humpback whale behavior and their haunting songs.


CHANG: For Living on Earth, I'm Heidi Chang in Lahaina, Maui.

[MUSIC: Herbie Hancock “Vein Melter,” HEADHUNTER (Columbia, 1973)]

Related link:
The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth.

Next week, a journey down two rivers. In the southeast, the Chattahoochee and the Appalachicola Rivers form an intricate ecosystem and sustain a unique culture. In Georgia, people rely on the river for drinking water. In Florida, folks fish its waters. And in both waters, pressures on the rivers are threatening their future.

BLACKWELL: There's rivers everywhere, but you ain't got the river swamp everywhere. And it's just a wonderland. And I spent a lot of time in it, and learned a lot of things, and it didn't take long to see the changes going on in what was being done, you know?

CURWOOD: Rollin' on the rivers, next time, on Living on Earth.

And don't forget that between now and then you can hear us any time and get the stories behind the news by going to loe.org. That's loe.org.

[MUSIC: Earth Ear/Jean Roche “Venezuelan Wonderfrogs” (Earthear, 2002)]

CURWOOD: Before we go, an audio adventure to the wooded swamps of northern Venezuela. Recordist John Roche presents “The Wonderfrogs.”


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 Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger and Jennifer Chu, along with Al Avery, Susan Shepherd, Jessica Penney and Carly Ferguson. Special thanks to Ernie Silver.

We had help this week from James Curwood, 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 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 National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, supporting the Living on Earth Network, Living on Earth's expanded Internet service, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for coverage of western issues, the Educational Foundation of America for coverage of energy and climate change, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues, and the Wellborn Ecology Fund.

ANNOUNCER 2: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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