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

January 10, 2003

Air Date: January 10, 2003


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108th Congress Begins

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The agenda is starting to take shape for the 108th U.S. Congress. Host Steve Curwood talks with Living On Earth’s Washington correspondent, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, about how the environment fits in. (07:00)

Hybrid Car Roll-out

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Leading car manufacturers announced a flurry of new fuel-efficient vehicles recently at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Among these were a handful of SUV hybrids. Host Steve Curwood talks with Paul Eisenstein, publisher of thecarconnection.com, about how these new models will play in the showroom. (04:00)

Health Note/Childhood Lead Exposure / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a recently published study that shows a link between lead exposure and juvenile delinquency. (01:15)


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This week, we have facts about Spindletop. This gusher in 1901 ushered in the oil era in Texas. (01:30)

The Future of Fusion / Cynthia Graber

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Fusion energy research has continued in the United States, despite the damage its reputation suffered during the cold fusion debacle of the 1980s. Living On Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on the state of fusion research and the chance that the U.S. may rejoin a worldwide effort to produce a viable fusion power plant. (07:10)

A History of Science

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Jim Secord, professor of History of Science at Cambridge University, joins host Steve Curwood to discuss the past century in science, and what this means for future scientific advances in energy production. (06:00)

Lewis & Clark Trails / Barrett Golding

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This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Thousands of Americans are expected to visit historic points along the trail of discovery. Producer Barrett Golding cycled the entire trail and brings us this audio postcard of a family fishing near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. (03:00)

Emerging Sciences Note/Sensitive Robots / Jennifer Chu

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Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a robot that can sense human stress. (01:20)

Western Water

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Southern California for the first time will have to make do with a lot less water from the Colorado River. Host Steve Curwood talks with journalist Clara Jeffery about how the Salton Sea, a bizarre manmade desert lake, came to play a major role in failed water-sharing talks. (07:00)

Utah Water Use / Jenny Brundin

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States across the West are worried they'll face a fifth straight year of drought. Mountain snow packs, so far, are disappointing. From KUER Jenny Brundin reports on how Utah's Mormon history has made the state reluctant to enforce water conservation. (08:00)

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Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodREPORTERS: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Barrett Golding, Jenny BrundinGUESTS: Paul Eisentein, Jim Secord, Clara Jeffery NOTES: Diane Toomey, Jennifer Chu


CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

With the Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, the coming year promises to bring more business-oriented solutions to environmental problems.

KOVACS: The Democrats want to mandate everything. The Republicans are much more free market. They’re saying the oil is there. The oil that’s in Alaska can replace the oil from Iraq and that we want to give consumers a choice.

CURWOOD: Also, solar power, the kind the sun makes. It’s called hydrogen fusion. And after some fits and starts scientists may be getting closer to harnessing this relatively clean and bountiful source of energy.

SECORD: I think none of our human solutions are likely to be nearly that elegant. On the other hand, if we can make it work, that will be kind of minor creation all of our own. Who knows?

CURWOOD: We’ll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this.


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108th Congress Begins


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

CHENEY: Senate will come to order please.


CURWOOD: The first session of the 108th Senate being gaveled to order by Vice President Dick Cheney. And for the first time since the Eisenhower administration the Republican party controls the Senate and the House and the White House, as well. This lineup pleases many in the private sector and worries those advocacy groups who favor greater government involvement in managing the nation’s resources. Joining me is Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

Anna, what about the environmental agenda for the new Congress? What’s at the top of the list?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: One of the first things I think we’re going to see, Steve, is another attempt at a comprehensive energy bill. This has been a priority for the Bush administration and I think Republicans in the Senate want to show that they can do this more quickly and more efficiently than Democrats did in the last Senate.

I think what we’re going to see is a bill that looks more like the one that came out of the house. This means we’re going to see more tax incentives and other subsidies for industry. Some of that will go toward alternative energies like solar and wind power, but most of it’s going to go into the oil and gas sectors.

Also, we might see more for nuclear. The chairman of the energy committee, Pete Domenici from New Mexico, has strong allies in the nuclear industry. I think we can also expect to see Domenici push to get more public lands opened up for energy development and he might use some of the same tactics the Bush administration has been using. He might look at exempting, for instance, certain energy projects from environmental review.

But in terms of the big picture and how this bill is going to differ from the one last year, I think we’re going to see a focus on less regulation and more production. Industry, of course, is happy about this.

I talked with Bill Kovacs. He’s the vice president of Environment and Energy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This is what he said:

KOVACS: The Democrats want to mandate everything. They want to mandate wind power. They want to mandate the use of smaller cars. And they want to prohibit future production of domestic oil and other energy supplies. The Republicans are much more free market. They’re saying the oil is there, the oil that’s in Alaska can replace the oil from Iraq and that we want to give consumers a choice.

CURWOOD: Anna, Mr. Kovacs from the Chamber of Commerce mentioned oil in Alaska and by that I assume he means drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Also, his reference to smaller cars, I take it to mean he’s talking about the debate over raising fuel efficiency standards. Both of these issues were points of gridlock in the last session. How do you see that changing now?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: I think there’s going to be the same probably amount of gridlock on both of those issues. They’re both going to come up again. ANWR is still a major point of pressure for the GOP. This would be a huge victory for President Bush. The problem is the Senate is still very tightly divided and I think it’s unlikely Republicans could break a filibuster that’s been promised by Democrats like John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, both of whom are going to be running for President in 2004.

What we might see, though, is Republicans actually attaching a provision to drill in ANWR to the Budget Reconciliation Bill. And what this would mean is that no filibuster would be allowed. It would just be a straight up or down majority vote. But whether the GOP has the votes even for that isn’t clear at this point. This is an issue where lawmakers have crossed partisan lines in the past, as we’ve seen, and I don’t think we can rule that out now.

But as far as fuel efficiency goes, I think we’re not going to see much movement on that, especially since the Bush administration recently announced small increases for light trucks and SUVs. I think that’s going to make it easier for GOP lawmakers to resist calls for tightening those standards even further.

CURWOOD: Anna, now there is one Republican who stepped out supporting tougher fuel efficiency standards. In fact, he co-sponsored legislation that environmentalists have been supporting. I’m talking about Senator John McCain, of course, from Arizona. Now, how likely is it that he’s going to push this issue this time around?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: McCain says he is going to introduce legislation on the fuel efficiency standards. Probably he’ll do that with John Kerry again like he did last year. And he’s also stepping out from his party on another environmental issue. This is the climate change bill that he’s introducing with Joe Lieberman.

This is a bill that would require U.S. industry to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide and it would also put a trading scheme in place to help with some of the costs. Of course, this is really a direct challenge to the Bush administration which has come out with its own climate change plan. And this is what Senator McCain had to say about that plan at a recent press conference:

MCCAIN: It simply doesn’t do very much except study the issue for another four or five years before any significant action is taken. And I think we certainly need further study but we can’t wait until further study is completed before we take action.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Steve, regulating carbon dioxide is something we saw Jim Jeffords trying to do in the last session. He wasn’t successful, you’ll remember, and the odds really aren’t much better for McCain now. But it’s significant nonetheless because what he’s doing is really putting pressure on his party and on the administration and he’s making it a big priority. I think it says a lot that he held the very first hearing of the Commerce Committee on this issue.

CURWOOD: So, Anna, what do you think will actually happen on climate change in this Congress?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, one thing that’s interesting that could have an impact on it, even if it’s not directly aimed at dealing with climate change, is the transportation bill. This is a bill that’s re-authorized every few years in Congress. It sets out how much funding there is going to be for transportation and where it will go. And the last vast majority of the current bill goes into the road and highway system. A smaller portion of it goes into public transit, for instance. And environmental groups are going to be fighting to change that ratio this year.

There’s another environmental issue that’s going to come up. Both the administration and some Republicans in Congress want to, quote, streamline environmental reviews of transportation projects to get those projects moving faster. Environmentalists say that project delays usually aren’t due to environmental reviews. They see the approach that Republicans are taking being more like steamrolling than streamlining.

This is Deren Lovaas. He’s with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

LOVAAS: Especially when we’re talking about highway construction projects, these are big projects, they’re big investments, and they’re going to be hardwired into our communities and the environment for a long time. So, we should consider carefully what the alternatives are and what the impacts are.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Steve, one point to make here. On everything we’ve been talking about, from energy to transportation, a big difference this year is going to be a much tighter budget. And so, no one is really going to get everything they want, so money really may end up dictating what happens here as much as partisan politics and the rhetoric.

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

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: You’re welcome, Steve.

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Hybrid Car Roll-out

CURWOOD: As Anna noted, the Bush administration has announced an increase in fuel economy standards for pickup trucks and SUVs, starting in the year 2005. Some say the one-and-a-half mile per gallon increase is too small and that the industry has the technology to do better. And there’s some evidence that they can. Recently, major carmakers rolled out a number of fuel-efficient SUV hybrids at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Paul Eisenstein, publisher of thecarconnection.com, says these new models could be coming soon to a showroom near you.

EISENSTEIN: Ford has an Escape hybrid. Now, the Escape is what some people like to call “cute ute”. It’s a car-based crossover sport utility vehicle. This vehicle, which will be out for the ’04 model year, will have a four-cylinder engine and an electric-assisted powertrain. And that will get about, oh, I think they’re talking 40 miles a gallon right now. So you will get better than four-cylinder mileage but six-cylinder performance because this vehicle’s electric system is designed essentially to work as, what you might call, an electric super charger.

General Motors will be coming up with an electric assisted Silverado and Sierra pickup and they are talking about putting hybrid electric systems on some of their SUVs, including the Saturn Vue and possibly a few others.

CURWOOD: Tell me about Toyota. They pioneered bringing the hybrid to market along with Honda. What’s their next move?

EISENSTEIN: Well, one of the most interesting things is the new hybrid RX330. This is actually put out by Toyota’s upscale division, Lexus. This will be a very advanced system, even more advanced than the system in the Toyota Prius, which is probably the most sophisticated hybrid out there right now. It can operate in purely gasoline mode, purely electric mode, or as a hybrid. So, in a sense, Toyota is giving you an electric vehicle for around-town usage, and that’s pretty significant because in that mode it is a true zero-emission vehicle. But you don’t have to plug it in. You don’t have to worry about limited range. You don't have to worry about recharging time.

What’s really interesting is that they are putting it into the luxury segment. Those buyers are the ones who are already paying a fairly hefty premium for their vehicle and they’re probably the ones who could conceivably afford the penalty that a hybrid vehicle brings in terms of cost, as long as they have a bent towards more eco-friendly automobiles.

CURWOOD: Which car manufacturers are lagging behind this move towards the hybrid?

EISENSTEIN: Well, the domestic makers-- Ford, GM, Chrysler-- were really dragging their feet. They had talked about a whole bunch of hybrids, slipped back a little bit. Ford, for example, has scrubbed a plan to put a hybrid powertrain into its Explorer. Chrysler had plans to do a Durango. It’s pulled that and will only do one small truck version-- one truck version but at low volume, I should say.

Now we should point out that not all the Japanese are going into the hybrid direction. Nissan will get there, they say, if they have to. In other words, if the market demands it, they’ll jump in, but they’re being very, very slow to market with their own hybrids.

CURWOOD: What do you see as the future of the SUV?

EISENSTEIN: I think that we are probably seeing the peak of the full-size SUV, the big rigs like the Lincoln Navigator. The huge market will be for more car-like SUVs or crossover vehicles…vehicles that will fill the niche, if you will, between the traditional station wagon and the more traditional SUV.

The good part about that is that these vehicles tend to be lighter. They handle better. They’re less likely to have rollover problems. They also get significantly better fuel economy. So, I think that this is probably a trend that people who don’t like the SUVs should at least be happier for.

CURWOOD: Paul Eisenstein is a frequent NPR contributor and publisher of thecarconnection.com. Thanks for speaking with me today.

EISENSTEIN: Good to be with you.

[MUSIC: Ikarus “Touch the Sun” Touch the Sun, Earthtone Records (2001)]

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Health Note/Childhood Lead Exposure

CURWOOD: Just ahead, science is at work trying to bring mini suns to the earth. First this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: In the past few years, there has been increasing concern that childhood exposure to lead may play a role in juvenile delinquency. Now, the results of a recently published study add to that concern.

University of Pittsburgh researchers measured the bone lead levels in almost 200 juvenile delinquents convicted of crimes such as gun possession, drug dealing, assault and robbery. They administered the same test to a group of non-delinquent high schoolers from the same area and found that the juvenile delinquents had a lead concentration more than seven times greater than the non-delinquent group.

Herbert Needleman, a pioneer in lead research who headed this study, says it’s not clear how lead exposure might cause delinquent behavior. The neurotoxin may affect the brain’s pre-frontal lobes where impulsiveness is controlled. Or the effect could be due to the poor school performance and learning disabilities found in lead-exposed children. It’s been shown that poor school performance is a factor in delinquency.

Needleman notes that lead exposure alone doesn’t cause juvenile delinquency. But when he controlled for other factors, including race, absence of two parental figures in the home and neighborhood crime rate, Needleman says lead level was still the second strongest risk factor for juvenile delinquency, exceeded only by race.

That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Diane Toomey.

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

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder “Cancion Mixteca” Music by Ry Cooder, Warner Bros. (1995]

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

[MUSIC: Stevie Ray Vaughn “Texas Flood” Texas Flood, Epic Records (1983)]

CURWOOD: The folks who gathered on Spindletop Hill this week back in 1901 had little idea they were about to witness the birth of the age of petroleum. Indeed, when oil was struck at about 10:30 in the morning, the wife of the leaseholder had him hurry back from the barbershop in town. She was worried the oil would stop and he would miss all the action. But Spindletop didn’t stop. It gushed for years and would shoot 150 feet into the air if it wasn’t capped.

At the time, oil was used mainly to make kerosene and to grease wagon wheels. It would take the automobile and its thirst for gasoline to make the oil business huge. Even so, thousands of boomers inundated the small southeast Texas town of Beaumont, eager to get their share of black gold. The Spindletop oil fields produced millions of barrels per year until the salt dome that formed the hill was depleted. In the 1950s, the area was stripped mined for sulfur, and today, Spindletop looks like a swampy sinkhole. But prospectors say there are still huge gas and oil reserves deep below the site, and descendents of the original leaseholders still draw oil royalty checks to this day.

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


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The Future of Fusion

CURWOOD: When most people hear the word “fusion” they think cold fusion and the debacle from the late 1980’s. That’s when two scientists in Utah startled the world with the announcement they had accomplished the unheard of feat of producing energy from fusing hydrogen atoms together at room temperature. Their research didn’t hold up under scrutiny, and the scientific scandal gave fusion a bad name. But research has continued on efforts to imitate the way the sun fuses hydrogen to produce energy using extremely hot temperatures. And this research recently got a rather big boost.

The National Academy of Sciences has recommended the United States rejoin negotiations for an international research hydrogen fusion reactor. If commercialized, fusion could yield enormous amounts of fairly clean energy. Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber has our story.


GRABER: For decades, fusion scientists here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have pursued the energy of the sun. The sun and other stars are fueled by fusion, the process in which the protons in separate atoms fuse together to form a new element, releasing tremendous amounts of energy.

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think it’s awe inspiring.

GRABER: Physicist Ian Hutchinson, heads fusion research at MIT. Hutchinson says he is trying to pattern his work after the stars, which have been burning for billions of years.

HUTCHINSON: I as a human fusion reactor designer find that to be a tremendously elegant solution (laugh). I think none of our human solutions are likely to be nearly that elegant. On the other hand, if we can make it work that will be a kind of minor creation all of our own. Who knows?

GRABER: Fusion takes place when atoms are literally fused together. But our first and so far only venture into nuclear power involves splitting atoms, a process known as fission. This produces significant amounts of radioactive waste. Fusion, on the other hand, results in no radioactive waste, but does leave slightly radioactive containers. These become harmless in about a century, compared to tens of thousands of years for the wastes produced by fission.


HUTCHINSON: There are basically pumps, fans, electronics of one sort or another. That’s basically what you’re hearing here.

GRABER: Hutchinson is standing in a cavernous room in an old converted Nabisco Cracker factory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He points at a huge silver cylinder in the middle of the space. This is where the fusion experiments take place. A tangle of wires, cables and ducts lead into and out of the cylinder, which is designed to hold super-heated gas called plasma.

HUTCHINSON: The plasma itself is sort of deep in there, and it’s only less than two meters across. So it’s actually quite a compact experiment. Then there are lots and lots of instruments all around us that measure different aspects of the behavior of the plasma.

GRABER: When gas is heated to a temperature of millions of degrees, it becomes plasma, a state in which atomic particles are highly energized. At that point, atoms can actually fuse together. Fusion researchers at the dozen state-of-the-art reactors around the world use two forms of hydrogen gas in the process. In the reactors known as Tokomak, these atoms fuse together and produce helium.

Scientists have managed to produce energy from this reaction. But they haven’t yet been able to make the plasma, as Hutchinson says, ignite. Hutchinson explains that it’s like trying to light a campfire.

HUTCHINSON: If you take that firelighter away, one of two things can happen. Either the fire stays lit, and it burns and keeps itself going, or when you take the firelighter away, the fire may simply go out, in which case you’re not going to get any useful heat from your work. Well, it’s the same kind of idea with a fusion fire.

GRABER: Once the plasma catches, then all scientists will need to do is guide it with small amounts of energy and feed it hydrogen as fuel, like throwing more logs on the fire. But there are a few problems in making a fusion reaction self-sustaining. For one, there’s no material on earth that can withstand fusion’s heat. So the plasma must be held together with magnetic fields.

HUTCHINSON: The plasma has lots of degrees of freedom, ways that it can try to sneak out and escape from our magnetic bottles. And so, a lot of what we do is understanding the basic physics of how a magnetic field confining a plasma really works.

GRABER: Scientists have been able to make huge advances in getting the magnets to hold the plasma together. But they can’t perform an experiment for very long at any of the fusion research centers, including MIT or Princeton.

HUTCHINSON: For example, the experiments at Princeton produce 10 megawatts of fusion power for a bit under a second.

GRABER: That’s right, a second. But that’s 100 times longer than experiments conducted decades ago. Here’s one of the problems. The magnets that hold plasma together now can’t sustain a longer reaction. In the next generation of reactor on the drawing board, super-conducting magnets will be used that can keep the experiment going for hours at a time. This will help scientists understand how best to contain the plasma and how to keep heat from escaping. Once they have these variables under control, researchers think they will be that much closer to reaching the holy grail of fusion research: the point when the reaction becomes self-sustaining. Hutchinson says scientists have already made great strides in this direction.

HUTCHINSON: And all of this gives us much greater confidence that the next step, experiment that’s been designed will actually produce the goods in terms of demonstrating a plasma that is really keeping itself hot with its own reactions.

GRABER: That next step Hutchinson refers to is called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER. It’s run by a consortium made up of Japan, the European Union, Russia, and Canada. Negotiations are underway to build a five billion dollar reactor that can do the type of experiments necessary to take fusion to the next level. The U.S. pulled out of ITER in 1998 because of the expense, and because, at the time, the science didn’t look feasible. But recent advances have lead to growing support for rejoining ITER. Dr. Rob Goldstein is head of the Department of Energy’s Fusion Lab at Princeton University.

GOLDSTEIN: Fusion is not ready for industry to get in and build systems and go compete on the market. There’s still the substantial research to be done. So there’s a tremendous advantage in banding together with other countries, both in terms of the financial and in terms of the intellectual capabilities. And so ITER gives us, through this collaboration, the ability to move the whole world forward.


GRABER: Fusion scientists here at MIT are excited about the possibility of rejoining ITER. If that happens, it will probably cost the U.S. about one billion dollars over 10 years. Now that the National Academy of Sciences has recommended the U.S. rejoin negotiations, it’s up to President Bush to make a decision. And according to the Department of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, the President is, in his words, “particularly interested in the project.” But even if the international effort goes forward, scientists say a viable economic fusion power plant is at least three decades away. If that is achieved, scientists will have succeeded in producing a form of energy that is limitless and nearly pollution-free.

For Living on Earth, I’m Cynthia Graber in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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A History of Science

SECORD: I mean, I think it’s easy for us to assume that there’s going to be a kind of sudden breakthrough that’s just going to transform the way we use energy. And it may, unfortunately, be that the case isn’t going to be quite that simple.

CURWOOD: That’s Jim Secord, professor of the History of Science at Cambridge University in England. The Journal of Science recently published a paper by a scientific task force that considered research possibilities, including fusion, aimed at reducing dependence on oil, curbing climate change, and meeting growing energy demands. To reach those goals at the same time, the scientists conclude, will take “revolutionary changes in the technology of energy production.”

We asked Professor Secord what history teaches us about breakthrough efforts in science. He reminds us that problems in science are unlikely to be solved overnight.

SECORD: Thinking back, the time scale in which something like fusion might develop is very long. And when you get that length of time scale, it’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen. So, a lot of the suggestions the authors put forward in the article involve throwing large amounts of money at what are, effectively, big technological solutions. I think, in many ways, we may need to think the problem from the ground up and look at it in a different kind of way.

CURWOOD: Well, yes. I’m wondering if today we, in fact, don’t do science backwards. Looking at a technological problem trying to find a scientific answer, the ancients explored the natural world just to be curious about it. Our friend Archimedes was exploring how the world worked and not looking for the best way to make a bathtub.

SECORD: Yes. I think what often happens then it means that we don’t really deal with these kind of problems in the right sort of time scale. We look at the immediate problem we’ve got, which is, of course, a very real problem. And then we think of where we are in terms of the scientific and technological approaches we have now, and we expect somehow to bridge that gap between the two. And it doesn’t always work that way. I think quite often changes in these things come from quite a different sort of a direction. There’s sort of one example I was thinking about which might illustrate what I mean. I mean, for a lot of people that work in an office everyday, one of the most useful things that’s changed their life and the way they operate is something like the Post-It Note, which is very low tech, very easy to use. I think quite often there’s much simpler and basic sort of solutions that are going to come to some of these energy problems, and they may come through a way that comes through science, but really much more through basic science, through thinking back, and things that we already know through solutions that we may already have available to us now, but just haven’t been implemented in the right sort of way.

CURWOOD: Professor Secord, how much of our present approach comes from the World War II experience? I’m thinking in particularly of the crisis of World War II, this huge crisis that led to the Manhattan Project, that lead to taking Albert Einstein’s theories and turning them into the atom bomb in this race for survival?

SECORD: In a way, if you look at the last half century of scientific development, the Manhattan Project has always been our kind of utopian blueprint for the way that science might be. That we could get a big project, get lots of people together, and solve the problem. And a lot of the attempts to do that kind of work haven’t been all that successful. The war on cancer, which obviously has had some successes, but hasn’t had the kind of success that might be expected, and, again the fusion project has had successes, but not the kind of instant fix that I think people expected might come through that. And, in fact, if you look, it’s often-- the genome project is another example where they put lots of money into something, but it was very distributed among large numbers of small groups of people. It was, in some sense, small science being done with big funds. And we may need more of that kind of work in order to make this work.

CURWOOD: How do you see science changing now compared to what’s happened in the past couple of hundred years?

SECORD: I think the big transformation of science, certainly in the last 10 years, has been a much closer relationship between commerce and science than we’ve had before this. And I think that domination of the sciences by commerce is, I think, a very important development. It can provide wonderful resources for science. But we need also, I think, to make sure that we don’t allow the power of science, in some sense, to become solely part of something that’s looking towards the development of, say, large multinational corporations. We need to make sure that those are actually worked in within other kinds of concerns we have. The kind of concerns we have as citizens about how we live and our cities and so forth.

CURWOOD: I’m wondering if I’m hearing you say that perhaps our energy problem may not be as much one of supply but one of thinking.

SECORD: I think there’s an awful lot of truth in that. I mean, I think what we need to do is to first of all think about the sciences, not just as one thing that is going to give us some simple solution to the problem. Science is a complicated kind of issue. It involves humans, it involves machines, it involves ways of thinking about how nature and humans interact. We need to first of all get that kind of thought relationship right and then we need to tackle problems of how do we use the energy in the same breath as we’re tackling problems of how do we get more energy.

We need to keep those options open I think. And not just in terms of technological fixes but in terms of establishing the right kind of relationships between humans and energy from a point of view that makes sense scientifically.

CURWOOD: Jim Secord is a professor of the History of Science at Cambridge University. Thanks so much for taking this time with me today.

SECORD: Thanks very much.

CURWOOD: To hear an extended version of our interview with Professor Secord and learn more about the latest in fusion research, go to our website: loe.org. That’s loe.org.

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

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Lewis & Clark Trails

MALE: Fire in the hole.


CURWOOD: The year 2003 marks the start of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial.


CURWOOD: So, what’s become of the woods, waterways, prairies and towns the famous explorers traversed on their quest for the fabled Northwest passage?

WOMAN: One, two, three.


CURWOOD: To find out, we asked producer Barett Golding to bicycle the trail and bring back portraits of people along the way.

BUTLER: Now that’s the way we rigged that.


CURWOOD: One fellow he met is Lewis Butler, a retiree from Hanford in Eastern Washington, which once produced weapons-grade plutonium. But now the mission of the plant is to clean up its own radioactive waste.

BUTLER: I’m Lewis Butler from Yakima. That’s my daughter Peggy. She’s from Yakima. And this is my little grandson Caleb. And we’re trying to catch a few catfish. Caught two. They’re right there on a string if you want to see them.


BUTLER: I’m retired. I retired from Hanford. Yeah. Everything worked around radiation and every-- I done that, whatever they wanted me to do. It was just a pretty nice bunch of people to work with. It wasn’t a bad job. A lot of time we had to get down and lay down a ditch and dig ditches around the pipes that had radiation in it, but they put lead on it to try to bring it down to normal as they could. They were pretty-- they pretty safety up there. They’re a good bunch of people.

That stuff’s potent. When they’d open them big lids, wind would blow and get some of it out. Then we’d go around and gather up the tumbling weed with a pitchfork and gloves on and everything, then we’d haul them up and burn them, and the ashes was just as strong after you burn them as it was before.

They dressed as good as they could. We’d dress each other. We’d wear two pair of gloves and two suits of clothes and sometimes we’d have to wear a mask if we was in a zone that was pretty hot.

I don’t talk about too much what they make, you know. Kind of a secret. And that’s about all I know.


BUTLER: Yeah, we’re trying to enjoy ourselves. She works all the time and I help take care of the house on the outside and help the rest of my kids.

PEGGY: There’s four generations right here.

BUTLER: Yeah, when we leave you won’t see no paper or nothing laying around here like you do in a lot of places. Most of the people is trying to clean up and everything. But there’s a lot of them that goes fishing and leaves more junk than they take. But we don’t. And we’re trying to teach the little ones to be the same way, where they’ll have something when they get big.


PEGGY: Ooh baby, oh yeah.

CURWOOD: Barrett Golding’s portraits of the Lewis and Clark Trail are part of “Hearing Voices” funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

For more audio, images and interviews from the Trail, go to loe.org.

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Emerging Sciences Note/Sensitive Robots

CURWOOD: Just ahead, pressures continue to build on the water crisis in the west. First this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: Researchers at Vanderbilt University have designed a robot that can pick up human stress levels. Instead of using visual or vocal cues that humans rely on to gauge each other’s moods, researchers programmed their robots to analyze physiological data. First, they outfitted human subjects with a variety of sensors, then asked people to play a progressively difficult video game and recorded measurements from each sensor.

Early in the game researchers established, what they called, a baseline of boredom in which the subject was relatively stress-free. They then determined a threshold at which a subject became stressed. They programmed this information into the robot and fed it a continuous stream of sensor readings as it moved randomly around the room. When the robot detected readings above the stress threshold it would come to a halt and say:

MALE: I sense a high level of anxiety. I am coming to you for help.

CHU: That’s one of the researchers recruited as the voice of the robot. Scientists believe a robot able to sense human emotion would be helpful in detecting anything from an injured soldier on the battlefield to a bored or restless patron at a museum and come to the rescue.

And that’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Jennifer Chu.


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

[MUSIC: Stevie Ray Vaughn “Texas Flood” Texas Flood, Epic Records (1983)]

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Western Water

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

Snowmelt off the Rocky Mountains in seven states feeds the Great Colorado River. For generations this river has been generous, and from Wyoming to Los Angeles its waters spurred immigrant settlers to plant crops and multiply. But today the river is overtaxed. Cities need more water and their clout is growing against farmers.

California has been consuming more of its allotted share of the Colorado’s water for decades. But on January 1st, the federal government said, “enough.” Interior Secretary Gale Norton called the move a turning point.

NORTON: The future of the Colorado River will be shaped by drought and population growth. We no longer have abundant surpluses and full reservoirs. The era of limits is upon us.

CURWOOD: Failed negotiations on how to divvy up the water between farmers in Southern California’s Imperial Valley and residents of the San Diego area led to the restrictions. The unexpected sticking point was the Salton Sea, a putrid and shrinking man-made body of water that would dry out without runoff from farms.

Clara Jeffery is a journalist who has written about the Salton Sea for Harper’s Magazine. Clara, how would this body of water and the agricultural runoff that maintains it wind up as the lynchpin of the entire water deal?

JEFFERY: This all goes back to a Coolidge administration law known as the Law of the River that determined how much water each of the seven states in the Colorado River Watershed would get. For years and years almost since the law was passed, California was using way more water than it was allotted, but because the other states were fairly unpopulated, nobody minded. However, as Vegas and Phoenix and other cities in the southwest started to boom, those states wanted their share of the water.

So, during the Clinton administration a deal was brokered in which California would slowly be weaned from its overuse of the Colorado River. In order to do that, California had to sort out its own internal water disputes. So, San Diego, looking at its coming growth, wanted to take some of the water that was now going to the Imperial Valley and use it for its own purposes. So, unless the Imperial Valley agreed to give up that water, the inner California deal would fall apart and therefore, the larger seven state treaty couldn’t be enacted either, which is what happened on December 31st.

CURWOOD: Now, the Salton Sea, in fact, is a sea, if I understand this correctly, in that it’s salty water. Tell me, what’s the ecology of the Salton Sea?

JEFFERY: The Salton Sea is 25 percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean, although technically it’s a lake. Because it’s only fed by the runoff of the nearby farms at this point, not only is it saltier but it has a lot of fertilizer in the water.

So, the sea basically has two problems; one is that it’s so salty and if it continues to get saltier it won’t be able to support any fish at all. The other problem is that this runoff causes the algae in the sea to bloom and when it then dies the decomposing algae takes all the oxygen out of the water and so all those fish then die. When this happens, you can have rafts of dead fish that stretch on for acres and acres.

CURWOOD: This doesn’t sound like exactly the most pleasant place to visit or be a part of. What do you see and smell when you go to the Salton Sea?

JEFFERY: Well, the first thing you notice is the smell. I mean, you can smell it from miles and miles away. The second thing you notice as you start to approach the sea is that where there should be sand, it’s all bone. So the beach is composed of fish skeleton bones, ground up at first but then as you get closer to the waterline, they’re sort of full carcasses being disemboweled by birds. It’s not a particularly attractive sight close-up. From far away it’s absolutely gorgeous: mountains ringing a beautiful sea.

CURWOOD: This description of what’s there doesn’t make it sound like it’s an obvious poster child for conservationists.

JEFFERY: It doesn’t, and that’s really helped people who want to take the water from the sea and take it to the cities make their case. In fact, the issue is that California has drained 92 percent of its wetlands over the past hundred years and the Salton Sea is the only stop on the Pacific flyway for 400 species of migrating birds that use it. There’s a lot of water there, there’s a lot of fish there, and the birds need this place to land and to re-fuel. There’s no place left for them.

CURWOOD: Now, if the municipalities get the water from the Salton Sea area, what happens to the sea itself?

JEFFERY: Well, that’s the problem. The water would be taken actually out before it even reaches the sea, because it’s this incredibly elaborate system of canals and irrigation aqueducts and dams and so forth that are networked all over Southern California. If that water goes to San Diego, the sea gets that much less runoff water and the sea starts to dry up, the salinity problem becomes worse.

When the sea dries up, possibly there could be a sort of dustbowl situation as there was in Owens Valley when they took the water to feed LA 50, 60 years ago. And, you know, it’ll be an ecological disaster.

CURWOOD: Well, let’s look ahead in the future. What do you think comes next in terms of Southern California’s water wars?

JEFFERY: Well, this can go on for only so long. The Salton Sea is a good example of how we’re living past our means. And at the sea you can really see those bills mount. Southern California just hasn’t made much of an effort, nor has the rest of the nation, to enact any sort of conservation or responsible use policies. And if the Salton Sea collapses, there’s going to be a lot of lawsuits from environmentalists, from homeowners.
And one of the main problems holding up this deal is that the farmers and the Imperial Valley irrigation district are afraid that they’re going to be the ones that are sued if they give the water to San Diego. They asked San Diego to take on some of that liability and San Diego consistently refused. So, they want the water but they don't want the responsibility.

CURWOOD: Clara Jeffery’s article on the Salton Sea was published in the November issue of Harper’s Magazine. She’s a former editor at Harper’s, now deputy editor at Mother Jones. Clara, thanks so much for taking this time with me today.

JEFFERY: Thank you, Steve.

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Utah Water Use

CURWOOD: Southern Californians will be hearing more about saving water, and they won't be the only ones. Many Westerners are looking from the calendar to the mountains and wondering for another year where the snow is. Drought still plagues the region.
In Salt Lake City, where pioneers built a green valley over sagebrush and dry grass, the Wasatch Mountains no longer provide enough water. But Utah is only beginning to come to grips with its desert reality.

From member station KUER in Salt Lake City, Jenny Brundin has our story.

BRUNDIN: Glenn Leonard likes to imagine what it was like when the Mormon wagon pioneers rumbled down the mountains into the Salt Lake Valley below.

LEONARD: These early Mormon pioneers were New Englanders, and they had found the rich prairies of Illinois and Missouri their Eden. To come to Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake area and see this desert was, as one of the women in the company said, a delightful disappointment. This wasn’t the Midwest.

BRUNDIN: Leonard, director of the Museum of Church History and Art, points to the mountain canyons on a museum wall map. Driven by persecution and buoyed by faith, says Leonard, Mormons built a civilization in the desert.

LEONARD: Mormons had a religious worldview that gave them a sense of being that people were the destiny.

BRUNDIN: They created a water ethic inextricably linked to their faith. Leonard puts in a CD of early Mormon music from the museum’s collection. [EARLY MORMON MUSIC UNDERNEATH} While the lyrics speak of hardships, there is a deep-rooted belief that the pioneers can and will transform the desert.


LEONARD: They were quoting the scripture that says the desert will blossom as a rose. That took on more meaning after they got to Utah, and that became almost a goal for them. And Brigham Young encouraged them. He said God will change the climate. He will give us more water if we’ll just do our part.

BRUNDIN: So Mormons did their part. They planted fruit orchards, shade trees and fields of grass, creating an oasis in the desert valley. The settlers erected dams, filled reservoirs and dug canals, piping water from farther and farther away. In the process, the Mormons pioneered a regional economy based on irrigation. Now many Utahans, like Nikki Rich, can imagine nothing else.


NIKKI RICH: I came here and everything was green, and I-- honestly, I don’t even associate Utah with the desert. I don't see it as being part of the desert.

BRUNDIN: But it is a desert, getting about 13 inches of water a year. Yet Utah has the second highest per-capita water use in the nation. Much of the west is bone dry, baked hard in what is starting to look like the fifth year of a deep drought. You might expect conservation to be second nature to Utahans, but it’s not.


PETERSEN: I like to squirt off my porch and get whatever all there off and my grass clippings after I run my weed eater.

BRUNDIN: Utahans like Reid Peterson love their water.

PETERSEN: I’ll squirt it, squirt the driveway and the sidewalk off a little bit, make it look good.

BRUNDIN: Why do you do that?

PETERSEN: Just so I live on a corner and everybody comes around and looks at my house, you know. I-- just what I’ve done all forever and it’s-- habits are hard to change, I guess.

BRUNDIN: Of course, you can find someone watering a sidewalk almost anywhere in the arid west. But water experts says Utahans waste an astounding 25 to 50 percent of all the water they use outdoors. Yet, on a visit to State Water Chief Larry Anderson, he spoke not of conservation but of pride that each year Utahans have had plenty of water to soak their lawns.

Yards of water-loving Kentucky Blue grass lawn await planting.

ANDERSON: This is a pretty serious drought in northern Utah. I don’t think anybody has missed a water turn on their lawns and gardens yet. I think we’ve done a wonderful job providing the water resources.

BRUNDIN: Conservation is almost completely absent from the public dialogue in Utah.

HOWELL: When are we willing to step up and to have our yards in the natural state versus lawn? (applause)

BRUNDIN: But in one memorable debate a few years ago, Senator Scott Howell did challenge Governor Mike Leavitt on statewide TV.

HOWELL: We live in the desert. It’s a reality of life. The governor I hope will lead the way and have the mansion landscape in natural sagebrush. I think it would look appropriate for the rest of the citizens.

BRUNDIN: The mansion is still surrounded by the water-guzzling Kentucky bluegrass lawns that Utahans love. Stephanie Duer, Salt Lake City’s water conservation coordinator, came to Utah from California. She found that here there are none of the restrictions familiar to residents of Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

DUER: Utah’s in kind of its own little world in many different ways, and the dilemmas and problems outside of Utah have been kind of ignored. And I think other western states have long ago had to come to terms with water conservation.

FRANKEL: We really are 20 to 50 years behind other western communities.

BRUNDIN: Water conservationist Zach Frankel is even more blunt.

FRANKEL: We’re clinging to 19th century ideals about water development and conservation when the rest of the west is entering the 21st century understanding about water supply. And it’s a shame to see.

BRUNDIN: Frankel doesn’t see why it should take 50 years to cut water use by 25 percent-- that’s the state’s current goal-- when the city of Irvine, California cut water use in half in eight years. They did it by making users pay more. Frankel wants that to happen here. But state and local governments are using a softer approach.


BRUNDIN: There are also demonstration gardens featuring desert plants, and garden fairs like this one where a few homeowners are taking notes as they walk around.

MALE: So, what you folks have to determine is how you’re going to use the lawn and how much you want to be married to a lawn.

FEMALE: We’re thinking the more landscaping and the more vegetable garden and the more orchard...

BRUNDIN: They’re called “heritage gardens,” a term harkening back to Utah’s pioneers. The term “zeroscaping” has a bad name. But despite that soft approach, Sheryl Isitch, with the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, says a growing number of Utahans are searching for ways to use less. Last year, in fact, people did cut water use by 11 percent.

ISITCH: There is a grassroots movement. There are a lot of people that are proactive and they’re interested. They’re screaming for this stuff. They’ll come out to the gardens and they’ll say, “Where can I get all this? Where can I find these plant materials?” Most of the nurseries that are mainstream don’t carry this.

BRUNDIN: While some Utahans flock to demonstration gardens, others hold a more traditional view, like Glenn Leonard back at the Museum of Church History and Art. He has faith that science and technology and human ingenuity will trump environmental realities.

LEONARD: There is a, probably a greater emphasis in Utah on that confidence that we can solve this one without worrying about conservation because of the history of success over great odds in Utah. The pioneers triumphed over the desert; so can we.

BRUNDIN: Triumph for ecologist Susan Meyer means living within the limits of the land. The desert can still blossom, she says, just with a different plant, maybe a firecracker penstemon or a round lead buffalo berry.

MEYER (IN CLASSROOM): The one at the top I’m cheating a little because this isn’t actually a Utah native, it’s from Idaho….

BRUNDIN: Meyer is teaching a native landscaping class at the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District offices. The place is packed, young and old. Some are green thumbs, some just clutching pen and notepad, ready to write down strange names of native plants, plants that don’t need much water.

Meyer tells the group they are the new pioneers--the first wave of people committed to trying something new, like the pioneers before them, altering the landscape and doing it for the generations to come.

For Living on Earth, I’m Jenny Brundin in Salt Lake City.

[MUSIC: Ikarus “Shine On” Touch the Sun, Earthtone Records (2001)]

CURWOOD: You can hear our program anytime on our website. The address is www.loe.org. That’s www.loe.org. And while you’re on-line, send your comments to us at letters at loe.org. Once again, letters at loe.org.


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

Next week, meet Ray Bandar, a man who combs the California coast looking for the bones of dead sea lions.

BANDAR: Bones are beautiful. They’re fantastic pieces of sculpture. And so once they’re cleaned up they’re art pieces, but they also can tell you a functional story about the life of the animal.

CURWOOD: Or the secrets of El Nino or past pollution. Find out why the sea lion bone is connected to the science bone, next time on Living on Earth. And remember 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 quick trip to the capital of Portugal.


CURWOOD: Michael Rusenberg and Hans Ulrich Werner collected and mixed these sounds from one of Europe’s most beloved urban landscapes. Here’s a sampling from the work they call “Lisboa”.


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 Maggie Villiger, Al Avery, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Jessica Penney and Liz Lempert. Special thanks to Ernie Silver.

We had help this week from Kat Lemcle, Jenny Cutraro and Nathan Marcy. Allison Dean composed our theme. 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 William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, for coverage of western issues; 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 Educational Foundation of America, for coverage of energy and climate change; the Ford Foundation for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues; The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, for reporting on marine issues; The W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity, www.wajones.org; The Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues; and the Town Creek Foundation.

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