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

November 22, 2002

Air Date: November 22, 2002



Environmental Reassessment / Margie Kriz

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Margie Kriz, reporter with the National Journal, discusses the Bush administration plans to modify the National Environmental Policy Act. (06:00)

Curbing Greenhouse Gas Emissions One Silo at a Time / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

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Citizens in Takoma Park, Maryland are battling global warming at home. Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on one city’s efforts to cool the planet. (05:15)

Business Note/A Greener Staples / Jennifer Chu

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Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on an environmental promise by the world’s largest office supply retailer. (01:20)

Almanac/Happy Birthday, Harriet!

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This week, we have facts about Harriet the Galapagos tortoise. She is celebrating her 170th birthday and, perhaps, reminiscing about her days with Darwin on the HMS Beagle. (01:30)

Cancer Causes

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A growing number of researchers believe that prenatal exposure to endocrine disrupters is linked to the occurrence of certain types of cancers in adult animals. Host Steve Curwood talks with EPA toxicologist Linda Birbaum about some of the latest evidence. (06:00)

Cutting Basic Science / Jon Kalish

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Jon Kalish reports on the controversy in scientific circles over the decision to eliminate the Math Geology Section of the Kansas Geological Survey. (06:00)

Tree-sitting, Suburban-style / Ilsa Setziol

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A Los Angeles suburb is the unlikely scene of a major tree-sitting protest. Cars and trucks roar past the busy site where a man is occupying a majestic Valley Oak. Ilsa Setziol of member station KPCC reports. (03:00)

Health Note/Fighting Polio / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on the final push to eradicate polio. (01:15)

The Eagle’s Shadow

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Mark Hertsgaard is author of the new book "The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World." He talks with host Steve Curwood about some of the environmental factors that influence our international reputation. (06:45)

Too Many Pets / Margaret Combs

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We’ve all heard stories about little old ladies who keep dozens of animals in their homes. But few studies have been done on the syndrome of animal hoarding. Now, a consortium of human and animal researchers is trying to pinpoint the causes, and perhaps a cure, for the behavior. Margaret Combs reports from Boston. (08:15)

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HOST: Steve CurwoodREPORTERS: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Jon Kalish, Ilsa Setziol, Margaret CombsGUESTS: Margie Kriz, Linda Birnbaum. Mark HertsgaardNOTES: Jennifer Chu, Diane Toomey


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

President Bush says the law that requires environmental impact statements is wasting too much time and money and it needs to be simplified. But political observers say the changes could weaken environmental protections.

KRIZ: Some of the environmental impact statements will be a lot faster and, perhaps, more professionally done, but there will be fewer of them done. And, therefore, you could end up seeing more environmental degradation with less ability to challenge it by the public.

CURWOOD: Also, for some folks, too many drinks or cigarettes can be a problem. For others it’s too many pets.

LUKE: They live for their animals. They may have disdained their work, their money, their house, their family, their children, all because their lives become absorbed in the treatment and care of these cats.

CURWOOD: A look at animal hoarding and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this.


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Environmental Reassessment


CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. If you want to use federal resources to change the physical landscape, you probably have to file an environmental impact statement. That’s the law under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Now, the act doesn’t stop you from building a highway or cutting trees in a national forest, but it does require that you tell the public about the environmental consequences. Activists have become adroit at using the Environmental Policy Act to delay controversial federal projects. And the Bush administration says these lawsuits are often a waste of time and money.

Margie Kriz, reporter for the National Journal, says the administration wants to change the law in two major ways.

KRIZ: They want to speed up the environmental assessments that are done now. In some cases, it makes an awful lot of sense, if you’re not using, say, computer technology. They’re saying “Let’s get in there and put the new technology to use.”

The second thing they want to do is they want to say that on some projects maybe you don’t have to do as thorough a—the most extensive kind of environmental assessment. Maybe you can do just a shortened version. Or, in some cases , they want to eliminate it altogether. They say that it’s just not necessary for things like when a forest fire has gone through and burned out the forest. Perhaps you can have a whole category of logging in that area that wouldn’t necessarily have to go through a full environmental impact statement. So, basically, what they’re doing is rather quietly and systematically scaling back the program.

CURWOOD: At the end of the day, though, let’s say the project does an environmental impact statement. It says that the thing is not friendly in terms of what the environmentalists would like to see, but once the state, once the impact study is done, the project can go ahead if the agency wants to.

KRIZ: It certainly can unless the environmentalists—and this is one thing that they do time and again—is they pair it with another law, let’s say the Endangered Species Act. So, if you say some critter is going to be affected by this project so you can’t violate that law. They use this law, the National Environmental Policy Act, in tandem with other laws to try and stop things. But I’ll tell you, the NEPA does not require them to stop even if they say it’s going to do a horrible job on the environment.

CURWOOD: Let’s talk about some of the changes that the Bush administration would like to make in terms of management of the National Forest System. What are they talking about and how would it work?

KRIZ: Well, there’s 153 national forests, and right now all of them are governed by a National Forest Plan. It’s kind of like a blueprint for how the land is going to be used. Is some of it going to be for recreation? Is some of it going to be logging? How much of it is going to be held as sort of wild land? And every fifteen years they have to be rewritten.

Right now, they’re going through the process of looking at these plans and the Bush administration wants to change the way the environmental impact statements apply to them. In the past, because you were riding the original forest management plan, they had to go through an extensive assessment on the environmental side. But now, they’re saying that maybe some small changes, maybe even an entire rewrite of the plan, could be done without a National Environmental Impact Statement.

CURWOOD: What do the critics of these changes say?

KRIZ: Well, they are afraid that the Bush administration, they accuse the Bush administration of erring on the side of industry, of making it easier for industry to develop either the federal lands or to get money to build highways and other projects that federal funds are used for. They feel like this is further example of the administration erring on the side of business.

CURWOOD: And why does the Bush administration say it needs to do this?

KRIZ: The Bush administration says that there’s too many lawsuits, there’s too many delays in building highways and allowing more energy exploration on federal lands. They want to get in there and they want to move these things faster and they feel like the whole process has been abused by the environmental community. Too many lawsuits, too many delays, costs too much money. They say it’s a good government thing that they’re doing to try and speed this up.

CURWOOD: Bring me up to date, Margie, on the new balance of power in Congress and questions around the National Environmental Policy Act. In the past, we saw that some of the proposed changes from the White House were blocked by that Democratic majority in the Senate. How does the new balance of power affect that?

KRIZ: Well, the committee in the Senate in particular that is responsible for it, the Senate has changed from, or will be changing in January from Democratic control to Republican control. At that point, you’re going to have a Republican from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, will be the head of the Environment and Public Works Committee. He has control over this law. He is more inclined, I think, to err on the side of business. He’s more conservative.

I don’t think they’re going to rewrite the National Environmental Policy Act, but he and other conservatives in Congress are going to—they’re going to be more sympathetic to the Bush administration’s approach of sort of scaling it back.

CURWOOD: What might the impact be?

KRIZ: It will be challenged in court by any number of lawsuits by the environmental community. But in the end, if this rollback happens, you could end up seeing some of the environmental impact statements will be a lot faster and, perhaps, more professionally done. But there will be fewer of them done and, therefore, you could end up seeing more environmental degradation with less ability to challenge it by the public.

CURWOOD: Margie Kriz is a reporter with the National Journal. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

KRIZ: Thank you.

[MUSIC: Essevbar, “Jabel SooTool” (Magna, 1996)]

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Curbing Greenhouse Gas Emissions One Silo at a Time

CURWOOD: Global warming, as its term implies, is a global problem. And to address it, most scientists agree action must be taken on a global scale. The international agreement to combat climate change is the Kyoto Protocol. The United States is not taking part in the treaty, but efforts are underway here to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

As part of an occasional series on how individual citizens are responding to climate change, Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum has this story.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Just outside Washington, D.C., down at the public works compound in Takoma Park, Maryland, a few dozen people are watching their mayor cut a wide red ribbon to celebrate the town’s newest equipment.


SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It’s not a new dump truck they’re cheering. It’s taller and shinier than that. It’s a brand-new silver silo filled with 21 tons of corn, sticking two stories up into the clear, cold sky.

BROWN: It’s a great big huge symbol about people doing things differently.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Eric Brown is one of ten Takoma residents who will burn that corn to heat their homes this winter. The corn kernels, he says, are clean, cheap and warm.

BROWN: You know, they say that environmentalists, they’re the type who shiver in the dark and knit sweaters out of old mopheads. And boy, does this put the lie to that.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Standing nearby, Ashley Flora looks up at the silo. She and her husband just bought a corn stove last week.

FLORA: The heat is very pleasant, it’s pretty to look at, and it’s nice to be doing something for the environment.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: And Flora says there might be indirect benefits.

FLORA: I told my husband, you know, congratulations, here’s your new exercise program. Our house is kind of up on a hill, so carting the corn up from the street up all the way to the stove, you know, who needs a gym membership? You’ve got corn to carry.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: One corn burner says his heat bill went from $1500 to $300 the year he switched from oil to corn. Others say they’re glad to be supporting the Maryland farmer who sells them the corn. He tries to farm it sustainably by using manure for fertilizer and letting the corn stalks compost back into the ground. Everyone says the silo will make burning corn more convenient.


SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Mike Tidwell squats below the silo and fills a bucket with corn. This is what he’ll do every couple weeks. Then he’ll drive it home.

TIDWELL: This is my house, come on in.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Tidwell directs the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

TIDWELL: So, anyway, just lift the bag….


SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: He says even after factoring in the fossil fuel that’s used on the farm or in transport, corn is far cleaner than natural gas or oil. It emits only as much carbon dioxide as it absorbs while it grew.

TIDWELL: When this thing is full it will hold 75 pounds of corn and that will go a couple of days, two days….

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: When Tidwell started burning corn last winter, he had to make frequent trips 40 miles out to the farm because he didn’t have enough storage space. He knew if he wanted corn-burning to spread, he’d have to bring the corn to the city. So he asked the stove’s manufacturer for a grant to purchase a silo.

TIDWELL: He saw the logic of that argument immediately and agreed to put the equivalent of a $3,000 grant toward the purchase of this.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Takoma agreed to put the silo on its property. Then Tidwell ran into a problem he hadn’t foreseen.

TIDWELL: I started calling local insurance companies and they said “What? You’ve got a corn silo in an urban area and people are going to come and get corn? No, we never heard of that. We can’t insure something that we have no established risk pattern for.”

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Ultimately, Tidwell and the other corn-burners gave the silo to the city and the city put the silo on its insurance plan. Tidwell formed a co-op so Takoma families could buy their corn in bulk, and now ten households own corn-burning stoves like his.

Mike Tidwell’s son, Sasha, with corncobs in front of the corn-burning stove.
(Photo courtesy of Mike Tidwell)

TIDWELL: There’s a very modern computer circuit board here on the side. This isn’t like an old cast-iron wood stove. This is a modern corn stove that is super convenient. So, you have five heat settings on the side. We’ve got it on the lowest of five heat settings and it’s heating the house very, very well.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Maryland is encouraging corn burning by waving the sales tax for residents who buy corn stoves. Still, each one costs about two grand and another few hundred to install. But Mike Tidwell thinks the long-term savings will win all sorts of people over, even outside of places like Takoma Park, which is known for its progressive politics.

TIDWELL: I would not have bought a corn stove to begin with or worked this hard to create a co-operative and have an urban corn silo if I thought that this was just going to stay here in Takoma Park. We are early adopters and I think we are showing that this is a good idea, that it’s practical, it can be integrated into a modern lifestyle, it can save you money, and oh, by the way, it helps stop global warming.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Tidwell predicts the co-op will keep 100,000 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere over the next year and he expects many new members will join. There’s even room, he says, for a second silo.

For Living on Earth, I’m Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Related links:
- Chesapeake Climate Action Network
- American Energy Systems (corn stove manufacturer)

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Business Note/A Greener Staples

CURWOOD: Coming up, important new clues in the breast cancer mystery. First, this Environmental Business Note from Jennifer Chu.


JEENNIFER CHU: After two years of pressure from environmental groups to improve its business practices, Staples, Incorporated has announced a greener company policy. The biggest office supply retailer in the world promises to increase its recycled content in all paper products by 30 percent. Staples’ recycled content is currently less than 10 percent. It will also create a new environmental affairs division to report yearly on the company’s environmental performance. And executives have vowed to phase out the company’s use of wood products from endangered and old growth forests.

The company’s move comes after years of intense environmental criticism led by a coalition called The Paper Campaign. Leaders of the campaign organized nearly 600 demonstrations at Staples stores across the nation and sent tens of thousands of letters to Staples CEO Ronald Sargent.

Environmentalists say they are optimistic that Staples will fulfill its promises to go greener. The company currently produces more than 400 products with recycled content, more than that of any of its major competitors.

The Paper Campaign’s next focus will be Staples’ rivals OfficeMax, Office Depot and Corporate Express. That’s this week’s business note. I’m Jennifer Chu.

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

[MUSIC: Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery, “O.D.G” THE DYNAMIC DUO (Verve, 1997)]

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Almanac/Happy Birthday, Harriet!

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

[MUSIC: Unknown Artist, “Tortoise” (LIMEWIRE)]

CURWOOD: Maybe you’re worried about turning 30 or 40 or 50 or more. How about 170? That’s the milestone that Harriet, the giant Galapagos tortoise, celebrates this month. Harriet is the world’s oldest animal on record and was but four or five when none other than Charles Darwin collected her on his famous voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. She traveled much of the world before she finally settled down at the Australia Zoo near Brisbane in 1988.

Harriet isn’t telling her precise birth date but the zoo celebrates it in November because that’s when giant tortoises typically lay their eggs. Although Harriet is enjoying her golden years, her cousins back home are less fortunate. All 11 species of Galapagos tortoises face extinction due to predators that feast on tortoise eggs.

Those troubles won’t bother Harriet on her birthday. She’ll spend the day soaking in a mud bath and munching on hibiscus flowers. And if you’re around the Australia Zoo, stop by for the big birthday bash, complete with cake and dancing. But Harriet herself won’t be kicking high. The key to her longevity is keeping it slow and steady.

And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.


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Cancer Causes

CURWOOD: We know that pollutants including PCBs and dioxins can alter the hormone systems of animals and humans. Now, new research suggests that there could be a link between prenatal exposure to these chemicals and cancer in adults. Linda Birnbaum directs the experimental toxicology division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She recently published a paper that summarizes research in this area. Dr. Birnbaum says some of the most interesting animal studies to date link exposure to dioxin in the womb to breast cancers later in life.

BIRNBAUM: Other researchers had published several years ago, had shown that if you exposed animals to dioxin prenatally and then treated them with a known carcinogen, when they were young adults that, in fact, they got a much greater incidence of breast cancer. And in our work, the work that Sue Fenton conducted in collaboration with me, what we did was we looked at the development of the breast following a single-day exposure to dioxin, the dose of one microgram per kilogram bodyweight of the rats, which is a relatively sort of an intermediate dose. It’s certainly higher than humans are exposed to. And what we observed was that the breast structure was actually changed so that now is much more susceptible to exposure to another carcinogen later on in life.

Those results, the results that we had which sort of explained why you got the higher incidence of breast cancer just got me thinking. And my colleague and I began to raise the issue of were we conducting studies in the right way and were we in our human studies trying to associate exposure and effects at the wrong time.

CURWOOD: What types of cancers are most closely linked to the question of early exposure to endocrine disrupters?

BIRNBAUM: In the female, for example, there are changes in carcinogenesis reported in the ovary and the uterus and in the vagina and in the cervix. There’s suggestion of effects on the mammary gland and on the prostate. Also the liver, which is an endocrine target, appears to be affected in some of these studies, as well.

CURWOOD: What’s your sense of what the process is? Is this a single-step process, an organism, a person is exposed to a chemical and then the cancer is like a time bomb waiting to go off, or does something else have to happen to ignite the cancer later in life?

BIRNBAUM: There are two possibilities, or at least two possibilities. One is the first one, that the exposure to a certain type of chemical early in life can in fact be like a time bomb that eventually explodes.

But the second possibility that you mentioned has equal probability for different kinds of chemicals, chemicals that actually early exposure may actually change the structure of an organ so it is now more susceptible to insult later on in life, either by another chemical or by more of the same.

There is some data for PCBs that that may be the case—again, this is experimental animal data. There is some very recent data that’s about to be published demonstrating that developmental exposure in utero to arsenic in mice is associated with cancer, a greatly increased cancer risk in the offspring. And there is some other data that is being presented, not yet published yet, suggesting that certain pesticides or other kinds of chemicals may, in fact, have a similar effect of altering development and increasing the risk of cancer later on.

CURWOOD: How important is the dose versus the timing of the dose?

BIRNBAUM: The timing, for at least the effect that we’re looking at, was very critical in that it really occurred towards the end of organogenesis, which is when the organs are being formed. If we waited until the animals were born or just before they were born, we didn’t get the effect.

CURWOOD: Recently, the long-awaited results of the Long Island breast cancer study were released. That’s the study that looked at the link between environmental toxins and breast cancer by taking blood and urine samples from women, as well as samples such as their tap water. But the study failed to show a connection between breast cancer and pesticide exposure. Given your concerns about prenatal exposure, how should we view the results of the Long Island study?

BIRNBAUM: I think what the Long Island study demonstrates is that there is no apparent relationship between ongoing exposure and breast cancer. It doesn’t address the issue of whether or not early life stage exposure could be associated.

CURWOOD: How should your findings inform future studies, do you think?

BIRNBAUM: If we want to know whether a chemical might have a delayed impact, we need to consider exposing early in life. At some point, it would be nice to begin to design such studies and in fact right now in the design phase is a multi-agency approach. The idea is to identify as many as 100,000 families, get samples from women before they get pregnant, during pregnancy, and then follow these offspring for as many years as could possibly be done, and eventually, we might be able to answer this question.

CURWOOD: Linda Birnbaum is director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Experimental Toxicology division. Her paper was published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Thanks for taking this time today.

BIRNBAUM: My pleasure.

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Cutting Basic Science

CURWOOD: Basic scientific research is not aimed at making money or even curing diseases. It’s simply about expanding human knowledge. There may be commercial or social payoffs down the road, maybe not. As a result, basic research must compete for funds with projects that produce a tangible economic benefit, and sometimes basic science loses.

Some say that’s the case at the University of Kansas. After more than 40 years of service, the math geology section of the Kansas Geological Survey is set to be eliminated for budgetary reasons. Jon Kalish reports on the section’s contributions to earth science and the outcry to save it.

KALISH: Geological surveys collect scientific data on natural resources and landscape hazards in a given region, and some of the world’s best scientists in this field work for the Kansas Geological Survey. The survey’s math geology section, for example, is responsible for a number of groundbreaking advances. But come June 2003, its six full-time members will be out of work.

James Roberts, associate vice provost for the University of Kansas, which administers the survey, says the cutbacks are needed because the program faces a quarter million dollar shortfall next year.

ROBERTS: We approach the cuts in a strategic way rather than trying to butter-spread them and uniformly hurt everyone. We took a strategic approach of identifying units that contributed least to the research mission of the university. It became a matter of simply saying where can we cause the least impact to the mission of the survey and the University of Kansas, and that was the way the decision was made.

KALISH: The decision to disband the section was obvious to survey director Lee Allison. He claims that of all the survey sections, math geology has garnered little in the way of outside contracts and grants. Allison argues that while its contributions are important scientifically, the section is clearly not as critical as those sections that deal exclusively with petroleum exploration, groundwater management, mining and geological hazards.

ALLISON: If you look at what our charter in the state statutes requires, and that’s to do investigations into the geology of Kansas, with a special emphasis on those things of economic importance. It was not a difficult recognition that math geology was the least critical to our core mission. Doing basic research with an international flavor certainly advances the scientific community, but it’s really not critical to us carrying out our core mission.

KALISH: Dismissing the math geology section’s work as basic research with an international flavor outraged the close-knit six-member section, which has characterized Allison’s justification of the disbandment as intellectually dishonest.

Supporters of the section say its research effort has been of extraordinary significance and point to the group’s accomplishments. They include programming the first successful digital mapping software, creating a geological database used by the Kansas Highway Department, and developing a program that became the worldwide standard for oil and gas well log analysis.

Statistical methods developed by the math geology section are now used in climate studies and for measuring ground water in Kansas. The unit’s work has also been applicable in national defense. Research by the section is being used to detect tunnels and assist vehicles in remote areas using sensors.

DAVIS: Forty years of loyal service to the University and the survey and $2.75 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

KALISH: John Davis is the chief of the mathematical geology section. In addition to benefiting earth sciences in general, he says the section’s work has had practical applications that benefited the state of Kansas.

DAVIS: For instance, the log analysis package is used by all of the Kansas producers who are involved in petroleum exploration and who do well log analysis. The mapping programs which we have developed are widely used in academic institutions in Kansas and in other government agencies and corporations which use computers and do mapping.

KALISH: In a resolution passed at its annual convention this September, the International Association for Mathematical Geology urged the University of Kansas to reverse its decision to terminate the math geology section. Dan Merriam is a retired professor who co-founded the math geology section. For the last five years he has volunteered as a geological mapper for the survey.

MERRIAM: This group is a basic function in the survey and without them we’re crippled on some of the research we can do. I just don’t know quite how we’re going to handle this. We lost our statistician, one of our two engineers, we lost our log analyst, we lost a computer scientist that works in hydrology, we lost an excellent editor and research assistant. So it’s going to cripple us a little bit.

KALISH: Survey director Lee Allison agrees that the loss of the math geology section will hamper the survey’s ability to do its job.

ALLISON: It’s a painful, difficult decision to make and it’s not helping us do our jobs better, it’s doing just the opposite.

KALISH: The University of Kansas stands to lose more than a million dollars if it abolishes the math geology section. John Harbaugh, an alumnus of the school and the co-founder of the section, is so upset with the planned disbandment he’s threatening to withdraw his bequest of more than a million dollars to the university. Harbaugh has met and corresponded with the university’s top administrators in an effort to rectify what he’s called an egregious situation. Once again, section chief John Davis.

DAVIS: To abolish a proven successful group on specious grounds when without doubt there are alternatives that could address the financial difficulties seems to me to be a terrible injustice.

KALISH: Two of the math geology section’s six members have been offered positions elsewhere in the Kansas Geological Survey, and the third is said to be under consideration for a position at a national laboratory.

For Living on Earth, I’m John Kalish.

CURWOOD: Peter Rabbit celebrates his 100th birthday this year, but Beatrix Potter, who created the story of the mischievous bunny, had another passion: the English landscape that inspired her writing.

LEAR: In the country she was able to wander at will and to discover at will and to be away from her family and nature was the key to her independence, and it starts very, very early. It starts at age five or six.

GIRL (READING POTTER’S LETTER): My dear Papa, things are not nearly so far on here as I expected. I don’t think the bushes are so green as those in the park in London. We hardly found any primroses as they’re only just coming up.

CURWOOD: Starting Monday, November 25th, visit the Living on Earth website for drawings and readings from Beatrix Potter’s work and photos of the countryside that inspired it. You can also curl up and enjoy two full-length readings from the tales of the flopsy bunnies. That’s loe.org every day next week for the other English Potter.

You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

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Tree-sitting, Suburban-style

CURWOOD: On the outskirts of Los Angeles, a man named John Quigley is sitting in a tree. He’s been there for more than three weeks, and a lot of people are taking notice. News vans are tracking his every move. Onlookers crane their necks to see him. The tree is an elegant Valley Oak more than 250 years old, but this tree isn’t in a lush forest. It’s surrounded by concrete and brand-new homes. For member station KPCC, Ilsa Setziol reports.

SETZIOL: For years, this largely conservative community of Santa Clarita seemed to tolerate the fast pace of growth. Many people moved here to claim their little patch of paradise at the foot of these crumpled hills, studded with graceful oaks. But then the county decided one particular oak tree had to be removed to widen a road for a batch of 20,000 new homes. That’s what prompted John Quigley to move up into a tree and endure days of sitting on a small platform about 40 feet off the ground.

QUIGLEY: It’s a little tough. The biggest thing is it would be nice to take a shower. But, you know, this has become something larger than my personal comfort, obviously.


SETZIOL: A parade of cement mixers and other trucks rolls in and out of a tract of nearly finished homes just across the street. Quigley says no sooner had he taken up his roost than visitors began to arrive.

QUIGLEY: This community, they didn’t know that this tree was scheduled to be cut. When they found out, they started mobilizing and they have fought for this tree and that has been an inspiration. And now, we’re starting to see the politicians finally listening to them instead of the wealthy developers here.

SETZIOL: Quigley was recruited to sit in the tree by local activists. For years, they say, they’ve tried to raise the issue of uncontrolled growth and loss of open space. They’ve talked about endangered fish and frogs. But activist Lynn Plambeck says even people who were concerned didn’t think they could make a difference.

PLAMBECK: And yet here’s a guy that could get up in a tree and really stop the bulldozer from coming. And it’s a symbol for them that we really can, we’re empowered, we can really have a say still.

SETZIOL: Plambeck says Quigley has spurred many people who have never been active before to inundate the phone and fax lines of county officials. All the attention has made Quigley and the tree celebrities in this quiet bedroom community. Scores of schoolchildren have sent letters and pictures addressed to Quigley care of the oak tree. Every day, dozens of people like Katie Doody and her three kids stop by.

DOODY: It’s an opportunity to show my children something about conservation and something about respecting nature.

SETZIOL: County officials say widening the road is necessary to avoid future traffic jams. They recently offered to resolve the conflict by moving the tree elsewhere. But John Quigley and his supporters think because it’s already stressed, moving the tree could kill it. For Living on Earth, I’m Ilsa Setziol in Santa Clarita.

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Health Note/Fighting Polio

CURWOOD: Just ahead, America’s environmental shadow on the rest of the world. First this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: An international coalition is beginning a final assault in the war against polio, the dreaded disease that still affects seven African countries along with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The partnership is made up of individual governments, the UN, private foundations and volunteers.

Known as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, it uses an oral vaccine to immunize young children, the population most vulnerable to the infection. Disease rates are most intense where population density is high and sanitation levels are low. This month, sixteen countries in West Africa will try to immunize all 60 million children within their borders under the age of five. The targeted area includes Nigeria, which still has a high rate of polio.

The project is on track to meet its goal of a polio-free world by the year 2005. That goal is within reach because the polio virus cannot survive long outside the human body and has no other animal host. So once everyone is vaccinated, the disease will be eradicated. But to accomplish that, the coalition must continue to immunize in regions where violent conflict makes it most difficult to do so. That includes the war-torn countries of Somalia, Angola and Afghanistan. That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Diane Toomey.

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

[MUSIC: The Chieftains, “Jimmy Mo Mhile Stor” TEARS OF STONE (BMG, 1999)]

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The Eagle’s Shadow

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Coming up, the problem of too many pets. First, joining me from the studios of KQED in San Francisco is Living on Earth contributor Mark Hertsgaard.

Mark traveled the world in the early 1990s to report on the planet’s health. He wrote a book based on his experiences called “Earth Odyssey.” But on his journey he found that the people he met were often more interested in talking about America than about their local environmental problems. So, last year Mark hit the road again to research his new book “The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World.” Mark, on the environmental front, what’s changed since your last trip around the world?

HERTSGAARD: Well, of course, many of the larger environmental trends had accelerated and, unfortunately for the most part, in a negative direction. Global warming, in particular, was much worse. And I must say even as an environmental reporter, I was shocked at how large the environment loomed in the minds of other people around the world when they thought about the United States.

CURWOOD: In particular, what kinds of things were people saying about the United States in reference to environmental policies?

HERTSGAARD: I left the states in May or so, and you’ll remember in May of 2001 President George W. Bush had just said “Kyoto is dead,” basically, unilaterally rejected American involvement with that treaty. And that was really up and down the spectrum, from heads of state, and then, of course, you heard it from scientists and environmental activists, but even people on the street would talk about, why is it that you Americans are being so stubborn about Kyoto?

And this gets to something else that we’ve been told about outsiders. After September 11th there was this sort of caricature of outsiders’ views that why they hate us, as one Newsweek cover put it, and we were told that they hate us because we’re rich and they’re not and they envy us. And I must say, my reporting does not support that. People, in general, even very poor people, do not hate America because it’s rich. They envy America’s richness in the sense that they would like to be rich themselves, but they don’t resent that we’re rich.

What they do resent is what we do with our money, and, in particular, when we refuse to engage in environmental cleanups and refuse to cut back even slightly for the Kyoto Protocol. That does strike outsiders as selfish.

CURWOOD: I’m really curious about what the average folks, the ordinary folks on the street, said to you about our environmental policies. How important was this to them?

HERTSGAARD: Well, it came up usually fairly naturally, Steve. I remember one young man in Cairo, an engineer, and we were talking in general about how America’s influence had spread around the world. And he was talking about American consumption patterns. He said, you know, I have to laugh sometimes when I see on television the pictures of your supermarkets. You have it looks like hundreds of different kinds of pasta and toothpaste and soap. Surely, five or six kinds is enough. And he segued quite without any prompting from me, he said, you know, you Americans are very individualistic and you consume the same way. You do what’s right for you and you don’t care about anyone else. Now, that’s not the most sophisticated analysis of America’s environmental policies, but it is certainly one that is shared by quite a lot of people.

CURWOOD: As you wandered about, Mark, who really wasn’t all that concerned about U.S. environmental policy?

HERTSGAARD: Immediately I go to China and I think of a coal miner that I interviewed there, a former coal miner, I should say, who had given up life underground after he had seen a colleague have his head smashed in by a runaway coal train. And he went back above ground and he opened up a little restaurant and started to be a budding capitalist. And I came across him and he was thrilled to find someone from America.

And what he was interested in was America’s market economy. You guys in America have had a market economy for a long time. We, in China, have not. I want to learn your secrets. I want to get rich just like you.

And I listened to this and then gently, gradually asked him questions—well, but what about the environmental aspect of all this? You know, China, you guys burn coal, we in America, we do coal and oil, we’re both the biggest producers of greenhouse gases in the world. If we keep going this way there may be trouble for the climate. He could not have cared less about that, Steve, and, in that regard, he is similar to quite a lot of poor people that I’ve talked to around the world where what matters to them is putting food on the table today and making sure that their kids have some kind of future to look forward to. And if that means sacrificing environmental goals, that’s something that, in many cases, they’re quite prepared to do.

CURWOOD: Why is what the United States does environmentally important to those who don’t live here?

HERTSGAARD: Because the United States is the big environmental superpower. Us and China, I would say. And remember, the United States in the modern era, we have been the environmental pioneers, starting back in the 1960s. The laws that were passed under President Nixon to set up the National Environmental Protection Act and the EPA and Clean Water Act and all that, these became the templates, the blueprints for similar laws in many, many countries around the world. So, the rest of the world has a habit of looking to America as the model on environmental policy.

I talked in Prague again on this trip with a gentleman who I had interviewed before, the former environment minister of the Czech Republic. And he pointed out how disappointed he was that Clinton and Gore had made so little progress on the environment. He said, you know, they talk a lot about it but they didn’t do very much. And he says the danger of that is its international ramifications. He said, Americans are watched by the rest of the world much more carefully than you realize, and when you refuse to reform, that gives the excuse to others also not to reform.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is author of the new book “The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World.” Thanks for speaking with me today, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: My pleasure, Steve.

Related link:
"The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World" by Mark Hertsgaard

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Too Many Pets

CURWOOD: The people who keep large numbers of animals without providing them adequate care are known as animal hoarders. Some of the worst cases involve hundreds of animals. And by the time authorities discover the situation, many of the creatures are dead, or so ill they must be put down. Understanding the animal hoarding syndrome is not easy, but now animal and human health professionals are coming together to search for causes and a possible cure. Margaret Combs has our report.


DINNAGE: Hi honey, come on out.

COMBS: Veterinarian Julie Dinnage is in charge of animal protection medicine for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. At the moment, she is taking care of 11 extremely sick cats at Boston’s Angell Memorial Hospital, including Teddy, a middle-aged female with black and white long hair. Three weeks ago, they were all removed from the home of a 75-year-old woman where about 80 cats roamed throughout her house, defecating everywhere and trading diseases and parasites.

DINNAGE: This little girl, she is actually one of the older kitties from the home and on top of ringworm, she has very severe upper respiratory. She has chronic problems with diarrhea and, of course, a low body weight. We haven’t really been able to get a lot of weight on her.

COMBS: Teddy is a typical animal hoarding case, suffering from multiple problems. With intense care, she may survive. But another 60 percent of the cats in this house were found infected with contagious feline leukemia or a feline form of AIDS. Thirty of the cats were so sick they had to be euthanized. Many of the ones saved will be sick for life.

It’s easy to see why animal hoarders can be charged with animal cruelty. But Dinnage and her colleagues at the Massachusetts SPCA have known for some time that fines and prosecution do little to stop animal hoarders. Recidivism is nearly 100 percent. What’s more, there’s something confounding about animal hoarders that flies in the face of cruelty.

LUKE: Have we got someone who is malicious and evil here? Absolutely not. We’ve got someone who, if you were to interview them, the first statement out of their mouth would clearly be, “I love cats.”

COMBS: Carter Luke is the vice president of Animal Protection for the Massachusetts SPCA. He’s the man who goes to court, gets a warrant to enter a home, and seizes the animals. By the time he’s tipped off by someone by someone like a concerned neighbor or telephone repairman, most animals are already in crisis. He’s seen dead animals in cages or in freezers, some left so long they’ve mummified. And yet he believes that animal hoarders are painfully attached to their animals.

LUKE: They live for their animals. They may have disdained their work, their money, their house, their family, their children, all because their lives become absorbed in the treatment and care of these cats. So, it is not uncommon for us to be executing a search warrant and listening to the owner standing by screaming and crying. It is a brutal experience.

COMBS: Why would someone who loves animals let them suffer and die underfoot? Until recently, no one had a clue. Then five years ago, Luke and other healthcare professionals, both for animals and humans, formed the Hoarding of Animal Research Consortium, or HARC.

The group’s co-founder is veterinarian Gary Patronek from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. He’s published the first statistics on animal hoarders. Drawing from case studies at ten agencies across the nation, Patronek found some evidence did support the stereotype of the little old cat lady down the street. Three-quarters of hoarders were female, nearly half were at least 60 years old and lived alone. However, Patronek says a significant number do not fit this profile.

PATRONEK: It crosses all demographic and socio-economic boundaries. We have seen this behavior in people who one might call socio-economically disadvantaged or marginalized. It’s also been seen in white-collar professionals who, essentially, are leading double lives. It’s been seen in people whose lives revolve around animal care, up to and including shelter workers and veterinarians.

COMBS: To dig deeper, HARC members have launched new studies on a number of fronts. Right now, they’re analyzing data from the first direct interviews with both animal hoarding caseworkers and hoarders themselves. Although it’s too early for definitive conclusions, animal hoarders do seem to have a number of psychological factors in common. Many tell of neglect or loss in their childhood. So hoarders seem to gain from animals what they have not been able to get from humans: reliable, consistent love. HARC member Michele Papazian is a clinical social worker at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

PAPAZIAN: One woman I talked to, she is living in a small trailer and has something like 78 cats. And she was saying, you know, when I come home after a hard day, I come in and I get enveloped, all of the cats come around me and they envelop me. And she said, it’s like a whirlpool for the soul. This is a person, like many of the people I spoke to, who can’t identify anybody that she is close with, that she can rely on.

COMBS: Like other members of HARC, Papazian suspects hoarding develops in stages. In stage one, things are under control and the person is often admired as an animal lover in the community. Then there’s stage two, when one too many stray cats have come through the door.

PAPAZIAN: Many people, I think, have a sense that they’re crossing the line, but there’s nobody else to take this pet and how can I turn—and it’s better than—some people said this: you know, it may not be ideal here because it’s overcrowded, but this cat, at least, is getting fed every day now and has a warm place to sleep and sleeps with the other cats and snuggles up. Yeah, maybe I do have 78 cats in a small trailer, but I know it’s still better for this animal here than out there.

COMBS: This justification in phase two turns to denial in phase three, when animals begin to die. At that point, two different factors may be in play. One, most hoarders believe they’re on a mission to save animals. The rescue complex is so strong it may outweigh their judgment. A second factor is physical aging, and with it a decrease in awareness, perhaps some dementia. There’s even a theory that toxic levels of ammonia built up from cat urine could be contributing to befuddlement at this stage.

Altogether, stage three is marked by growing confusion, denial, and, most of all, fear of losing their animals. HARC member Jane Nathanson helps counsel and rehabilitate animal hoarders. She tells the story of a hoarder who received a letter from her town forbidding her to own any more animals.

NATHANSON: She was very disturbed by this. And I asked her, what troubles you more, the idea of not having or getting any more, or the prospect of having none, that they would through attrition die off and she’s not replenishing. And she said, having none. It really sent chills up my spine. It almost brought me to tears.

COMBS: By better understanding what drives people to hoard animals and getting them psychological counseling early on, HARC and its supporters, like veterinarian Julie Dinnage, hope to prevent the further suffering of animals, as well as the hoarders themselves.

DINNAGE: In a lot of instances we still work with these people and we will try to get a couple of animals back to them. Because I mean, the worst thing to do is deny them what they love, and that is the presence of animals.


DINNAGE (TO CAT): You’re purring now, but you still don’t want to come to the front.

COMBS: Back at the animal hospital, Teddy is up on her feet for the first time in days, rubbing against the bars of her cage. With a lot more care, Dinnage is hopeful Teddy and the other cats will eventually join 13 of their housemates who have already been put up for adoption or placed in permanent homes. For Living in Earth, I’m Margaret Combs in Boston.

CURWOOD: By the way, there’s a happy ending for Teddy the cat. We’re told she is doing well, has been adopted by a couple with two children and a dog on Martha’s Vineyard. We should all be so lucky.


Related link:
Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine - Animal Hoarding Research

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

Next week, Verlyn Klinkenborg owns a small farm in upstate New York. It’s only five acres but it’s plenty of work. And after years of molding and shaping, he’s starting to see himself in the land.

KLINKENBORG: In 20 years time, a self-portrait emerges and it exposes all the subtleties of your character, whether you like it or not. The land and the shape of the buildings show precisely how much disorder you can tolerate, how many corners you tend to cut, how much you think you can hide from yourself.

CURWOOD: It’s a taste of the rural life with Verlyn Klinkenborg, 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.


CURWOOD: Before we go, a stopover at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska, where Lang Elliott made this recording, which astonishingly enough contains no human sounds or audio manipulations of any kind.

[MUSIC: Earth Ear/Eliot Land “Green Winged Teals” (Earth Ear, 2002)]

CURWOOD: The great whooshes you hear are not jets, they are green-wing teals flying close overhead. The melodic pulses of high-pitched sound come from the wings of a duck, the common goldeneye, also known as a whistler. Such sonic experiences, while familiar to the denizens of this prairie pothole, are rarely heard by humans.


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, Carly Ferguson, Jessica Penney and Liz Lempert. 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 Ford Foundation for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity, and the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues.

ANNOUNCER 2: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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