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

May 23, 2003

Air Date: May 23, 2003


(stream/download) as an MP3 file


Whitman Resigns

(stream / mp3)

EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman has tendered her resignation to President Bush. National Journal writer Margie Kriz talks to host Steve Curwood about the move. (05:30)

Dangerous Crossing / Kent Paterson

(stream / mp3)

When the nation's security alert level goes from yellow to orange, traffic along the U.S. border with Mexico slows to a dead stop. Kent Paterson reports from El Paso, Texas that the result is intense air pollution in a small area, and it's a problem for people who have to spend time there. (06:00)

Emerging Science Note/Microbing Michaelangelo / Cynthia Graber

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports that bacteria might help protect Europe’s statues and buildings. (01:15)

Almanac/Shine a Light

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This week, facts about lighthouses. The feast day of Saint Venerius, the patron saint of lighthouse keepers, is in May. (01:30)

The Politics of Population / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

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Many environmentalists agree human population is a major source of strain on the planet. But it’s often missing from the environmental agenda. Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports from Washington on the state of the population conversation. (07:00)

Verichip / Angela Swafford

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Reporter Angela Swafford goes beyond the call of duty when she merges herself with a machine and gets an implanted microchip. (03:30)


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We dip into the mailbag to hear what listeners have to say. (01:30)


Environmental Health Note/Saving Cassava / Diane Toomey

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For people living in the tropics, cassava is one of the most important foods. But if it's not properly processed, eating it can lead to cyanide poisoning. Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a new, genetically-modified cassava plant that's cyanide-free. (01:15)

WTO Showdown

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Agriculture is currently the biggest stumbling block in World Trade Organization negotiations. Edward Alden, Washington correspondent for the Financial Times of London, explains the implications to host Steve Curwood. (05:40)

Saving Forests, One Bow at a Time / Cynthia Graber

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Instrument bows are made almost entirely from one type of wood, and that wood is endangered in its native Brazil. Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on the bow-makers’ efforts to help save the trees, and save their craft. (09:45)

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Show Credits and Funders

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Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Margie Kris, Edward AldenREPORTERS: Kent Paterson, Cynthia GraberCOMMENTARY: Angela SwaffordNOTES: Cynthia Graber, Diane Toomey


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

It used to be that discussions about the environment often included talk about population. But as the U.S. faces a population explosion through immigration, environmental advocates tend to avoid the subject.

CHRISTIAN: When you start to talk about immigration policy-- reducing the level of immigration or stabilizing the U.S. population--you are accused of racism, elitism …

CURWOOD: It’s the politics of population. Also, Christine Todd Whitman ends her uneasy stay as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by resigning, and heading home to New Jersey.

KRIS: I think she had one foot out the door when she came here. I don’t think she really liked the idea of being the fundamental regulator; she liked being in the administration.

CURWOOD: We’ll have those stories and the world’s first bionic reporter, this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this.


ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and HeritageAfrica.com.

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Whitman Resigns

   (Photo: EPA)

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

Christine Todd Whitman will leave her post as Environmental Protection Agency administrator at the end of next month. In her letter of resignation to President Bush, she cited the desire to return to New Jersey, her home, and the state she governed before joining the administration.

Margie Kris covers the environment and energy for the National Journal in Washington, and she joins us now.

Margie, Christine Todd Whitman cites “family reasons” for stepping down now. What’s your take on her announcement and timing?

KRIS: Well, she’s been rumored to be leaving ever since she came, just about. I mean, she seemed to have had one foot out the door most of the time she’s been in that position. She seems to have been unhappy. I don’t think she had the clout she thought she was going to have when she came in. She’s been criticized for her policies in the administration from the Left, and the Right doesn’t like her either. She had hoped to get a position as either commerce secretary or a trade representative, or something like that. Those positions are not opening up.

As I said, I think she had one foot out the door when she came here. I don’t think she really liked the idea of being the fundamental regulator; she liked being in the administration. Now she’s decided it’s time to go.

CURWOOD: Which way do you analyze this? Did she jump or was she pushed?

KRIS: Oh, I think it was a mutual decision. She has been considering this for some time, quite clearly. So I think that it was a moment in time when they were saying, look, either you stay for the whole period of time until the elections are over, or else you leave now, giving us the time to make an appointment and get through that before the elections really kick in.

I also think that she’s not a nitty-gritty policy person. She isn’t as curious or interested in the real detailed information about how environmental policy is made. She’s kind of a governor, “big picture” person.

And I also think that the White House people and some of the conservatives have not been happy that she has been reticent on pushing some of the Bush administration policies.

CURWOOD: What are some of the issues that really were quite difficult for Christine Todd Whitman at the Environmental Protection Agency? Where did she get into trouble?

KRIS: Well, from the very start, there were two things that happened in the first year or so. One was her going overseas and bragging that President Bush was going to regulate carbon dioxide, mostly from coal-fired power plants. And she came back from that trip to Europe and found out that no, indeed, he was not going to. He had decided not to go forward with that proposal.
That made her look rather weak and it made her look like she didn’t have any clout within the administration.

Also, shortly after that, she was working on a regulation that had come to her from the Clinton administration to control the amount of arsenic in drinking water. And she said, well, they’re going a little bit too far on this; they’re regulating it too strictly. I’m going to ease up on that.
And the environmental groups jumped on that and said, you know, Bush wants to allow you to be poisoned with arsenic. And it got to be a bad public relations problem for her and for the administration.

There have also been some more recent issues that have come up about her asking for favored treatment when she is traveling around the country and around the world--wanting certain radio stations on, wanting to be driven by coffee places and favorite bookstores, and being called “Governor” instead of “Administrator.” Some of those things make her look a little bit elitist, as opposed to being kind of this everyman regulator that people at the EPA tend to sort of seek that image.

CURWOOD: Now, as Christine Todd Whitman’s resignation becomes yesterday’s news, let’s look ahead to tomorrow’s news--her replacement. Who do you see on the short list there?

KRIS: You might start with Linda Fisher, who is now the deputy administrator at EPA. Linda was with EPA for years, then became a lobbyist at Monsanto.

The most interesting one is David Strues who is in Florida right now as the chief regulator for environment there, for Jeb Bush. He also has an inside line because he is the brother-in-law of Andy Card, who is chief of staff at the White House. There is Governor John Engler of Michigan who environmentalists are not crazy about his record when he was in place. There is Josephine Cooper. Josephine Cooper is now the lobbyist for the automobile industry, but she had a good reputation when she was at EPA years ago. For all I know-- my prediction is that it is going to be somebody who is not on this list.

CURWOOD: In this administration, does it matter who is in the top spot at the Environmental Protection Agency? Some would say the White House calls most of the shots there.

KRIS: I think you are right about the big picture stuff. It’s coming from the White House. It’s coming from the economic people there, from the Energy Department. But I think on a day-to-day basis, and as far as morale within the agency, it depends a lot on who is the administrator.

And in this department, I think that Whitman has not been as strong. She has not been a great leader. She has not been somebody who has instilled a lot of confidence that she has been able to put forward the best arguments that the EPA staffers can make and really fought for their issues. So, yes, policies are not going to change dramatically, but there might be a subtle underpinning to it that brings some strength to EPA.

CURWOOD: Margie Kris is an environment and energy writer at the National Journal. Thanks for filling us in, Margie.

KRIS: Thank you.

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Dangerous Crossing

CURWOOD: Each time the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declares a Code Orange terrorist alert, long lines of traffic build up at the U.S.-Mexico border as inspectors are required to open each car hood and trunk. But in El Paso, Texas, the traffic jam is more than an inconvenience. Federal agents say the heavy buildup of exhaust fumes is endangering the health of workers and the public. Kent Paterson has our story.


PATERSON: Jose Juan Aguilar roams the Santa Fe bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, hawking foldout sunshades for cars. Aguilar says long lines are good for business but make him feel bad, especially during the warm months when smog accumulates.


PATERSON: With traffic waits sometimes reaching two hours or more during Orange Alerts, the issue of bad air at the bridges is becoming more urgent for officials on both sides of the border. Alma Leticia Figueroa is the director of the Environment Department in Ciudad Juarez.

FIGUEROA: [SPANISH] What we have here is a really small ecosystem, and the emissions here are hurting the healthy people who have to spend eight hours or more here for their work. People who work in Immigration, in Customs, people who are selling on the bridge--they are the ones most affected.

PATERSON: Figueroa is also irked that many of the dirty vehicles on the bridges are out-of-compliance U.S. junkers that end up being sold to low-income commuters from Juarez. Brad Gaetzke is the chief steward in El Paso for the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents several hundred U.S. Customs employees who staff the bridges. Gaetzke says his members get headaches and feel lousy, especially since Orange Alerts have become more frequent since 9-11. They filed 150 grievances over the amount of time spent on the bridge at inspection stations.

GAETZKE: If it’s like in the middle of July, and there is no wind, and the temperature is about 100 degrees, and cars are overheating, of course, you are going to have the heat. Plus, you are going to have the carbon monoxide coming off of that. Plus, sometimes we also have impurities that blow in from Mexico when they are burning paper and things like that.

PATERSON: The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) looked at the air around El Paso bridges shortly after 9-11. They have found Customs Inspectors were exposed to carbon monoxide in peak exposures lasting 30 seconds or less that were a cause for concern. When the measurements over an eight-hour shift were averaged, however, the amounts were not considered excessive. The same study noted that bridge pedestrians were exposed to carbon monoxide on a short-term basis, up to nine times the eight-hour OSHA health standard.

CLOUSE: Well, the problem, obviously, is the number of vehicles operating on the bridges that are at very low speeds, typically at speeds in stop-and-go conditions which really emit the largest amount of pollution.

PATERSON: Archie Clouse directs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s El Paso office. Clouse says one of the main concerns is carbon monoxide.

CLOUSE: It displaces oxygen from the blood and can cause anywhere from just drowsiness to death, and all the symptoms in between. So, typically, with carbon monoxide, we’re talking about an acute concern.

PATERSON: In El Paso, the dangers of carbon monoxide couldn’t be more acute for one family. Michael Widfeldt is El Paso’s assistant fire chief. Widfeldt describes what happened on October 21st, 2001 when post-9-11 traffic tie-ups had the family of Lara and Francisco Valenzuela stuck for almost two hours on an international bridge.

WIDFELDT: They thought that their two children were asleep in the back of the pickup truck they were driving. When they got home they tried to wake them up to put them to bed, and that’s when they realized there was a problem.

PATERSON: Thirteen-year-old Erica and six-year-old Danielle were unconscious.

WIDFELDT: The two children that were in the back of the pickup were not breathing. Efforts were made to try and revive them. They were transported to the hospital and they were pronounced dead at the hospital.

PATERSON: It wasn’t the bridge traffic alone that caused carbon monoxide to build up in Francisco Valenzuela’s pickup. The exhaust system was faulty. But the delay was a contributing factor. Officials say they don’t have the full picture on air pollution at border crossings. In part, that’s because air monitors are often located a distance from these bridges and don’t register peak emissions. Experts could point to no comprehensive health studies focused on air quality at the international bridges. Gerardo Tarin is the director of environmental regulation in Ciudad Juarez.

Tarin contends that traffic backups haven’t worsened the overall quality of the local airshed, but he says more needs to be done to reduce the exposure of customs workers and other people on the bridge to very localized or micro-pollution.

TARIN: [SPANISH] We’re working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Mexican secretary of Public Health. We’re preparing a study that looks at heavy diesel vehicles on the bridges and how they affect the people that work there, like Customs agents.

PATERSON: Meanwhile, officials recommend that drivers crossing international bridges in these times of increased security keep their cars well-tuned for everybody’s benefit.

For Living on Earth, I’m Kent Paterson in El Paso, Texas.

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Emerging Science Note/Microbing Michaelangelo

CURWOOD: Coming up: immigration pressures and the response of the environmental movement.

First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.

[MUSIC: Science Note Theme]

GRABER: Picture a European city with limestone sculptures adorning streets and buildings. Now, imagine what the city might look like without these works of art.

They are threatened by pollution. Acid rain that gets in the pores of the stone eats away at the grains. Previous attempts to protect statues by coating them clogs those pores, trapping moisture inside. When the moisture froze, the statues cracked.

Now, two scientists in Spain have turned to some microbes for a solution. They knew that one type of common garden bacteria exudes the mineral calcium carbonate which is similar to the stone found in the statues.

So, they took pieces from the cathedral in Grenada, Spain and immersed them for 30 days in a bath containing the bacteria. At the end of that month, the microbes had worked their way half a millimeter into the limestone where their mineral deposits acted as a bio-mortar, coating and strengthening the original grains.

Researchers hope to one day spray threatened sculptures or wrap them in bacteria-soaked cloth. But they say they’ll proceed cautiously. Previous attempts to use bacteria to cure acid rain erosion left statues slimy or discolored.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Cynthia Graber.


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

[MUSIC: Erroll Garner “Tea For Two” That’s My Kick and Gemini - Ocatve (1994)]

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Almanac/Shine a Light

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

[MUSIC: Manfred Mann “Blinded by the Light” Best of Warner Archives - Warner (1996)]

CURWOOD: Many a mariner has scanned the horizon for the beam of light that signals the presence of dangerous shoals. Some of these sailors may have offered up a prayer of thanks to St. Venerius, the patron saint of lighthouse keepers. May holds the Annual Feast Day of Venerius. No one is quite sure how this Catholic Bishop from Milan became associated with the solitary folk who shine a light on the dangerous out-croppings of the seas.

Lighthouses have been around for ages before Venerius died in the fifth century. The most celebrated, of course, the 40-story plus lighthouse of Alexandria. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it marked the Egyptian port with a beacon that reflected fire of the giant mirror. To help ships navigate during the day, some lighthouses are painted with distinctive patterns. At night, lighthouses send out different flash patterns called their characteristic. Sailors can consult a chart to figure out their position based on the pattern of alternating light and darkness, and the different colors of light they see.

The Boston Harbor Light on Little Brewster Island was the first lighthouse established in America. It was first lit on September 14, 1716. (Photo: USCG) The Makapuu Point Light on Oahu Island, first established in 1909, has a lens that's more than eight feet across and can beam out a light that can be seen for 28 miles. (Photo: USCG)

Nowadays, it's the job of the coastguard to make sure the lights are on in more than the 300 remaining American lighthouses. And they've taken a load off the shoulders of Saint Venerius. The traditional profession of lighthouse keeper became obsolete in the U.S. when the last light was automated in 1998.

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


Related links:
- U.S. Coast Guard page on Lighthouse History
- National Park Service Inventory of Historic Light Stations

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The Politics of Population

CURWOOD: Back in 1970, population control was a popular topic in speeches on the first Earth Day. After all, scientist, Paul Ehrlich had just published his groundbreaking book, “The Population Bomb.” And the group Zero Population Growth, which linked population to environmental degradation, had just been formed. But over the years, the issue of population has almost disappeared from the agenda of many environmental groups. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum explains why that might be.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: On Earth Day this year, leaders of some of the nation's leading environmental groups held a press conference in Washington. This group of suit-clad, mostly white male activists talked about a range of tangible and, some would argue, donation-friendly issues, from wilderness protection to super-fun clean-ups. The one thing they didn't talk about was population. That chore was left to the gray-haired founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, who brought up the subject at the National Press Club.

NELSON: The ultimate key to sustainability is population. When I was born in 1916, the population of the United States was 98 million.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That number today is almost 300 million. And even though fertility rates here are almost low enough to stabilize the population, it's expected to nearly double over the next century. That projected growth is largely due to immigrants and their children. And that may be why most major environmental groups tend to avoid the topic.

CHRISTIAN: When you start to talk about immigration policy, reducing the level of immigration or stabilizing U.S. population, you're accused of racism, elitism.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Johnette Christian is founder of Mainers for Immigration Reform.

CHRISTIAN: You're accused of xenophobia, nativism. These are all the words that we use to silence any discussion around stabilizing our population and reducing immigration.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Consider what happened in 1998 when some Sierra Club members called for a vote on whether the group should lobby to reduce the number of immigrants allowed into the U.S. every year. Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a think-tank focused on Latino issues, says Latinos and environmentalists could be natural allies. But the Sierra Club vote challenged that relationship.

PACHON: I think it really raised some eyebrows. It was like, you too are joining the fray against the Hispanic community. Because you have to take the context of the period in which the vote was taken. It came within four years of Proposition 187, the restriction on immigrant assistance. And the whole tenor of the time was anti-immigrant rhetoric and immigrant bashing, per se.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The Sierra Club measure to cut immigration was eventually voted down. Still, almost 40 percent of Sierra Club members voted for tighter restrictions on immigration, including some heavy weight environmental thinkers, like Gaylord Nelson, E.O. Wilson, and Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute. Cut away the rhetoric, says Brown, and the fact is more people use more resources and produce more waste. Unless population is stabilized, he says, ecosystems won't survive.

BROWN: I think systems are going to be breaking down because of water shortages, severe water shortages. And if we look into future of water shortages, we're probably also looking into future food shortages.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: However uncomfortable, Brown says, today's environmental activists need to face the issues of population and immigration at home, and call for a national policy that sets limits on growth.

BROWN: If we had one, then I think it would enable us to think a bit more rationally and a bit less emotionally about some of these issues.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: But that's a slippery political tightrope for today's environmental leaders to walk. Vicky Markham directs the Center for Environment and Population. Not only is immigration a touchy topic, but Markham, who's coordinating a state-by-state study on the population/environment equation, says the data simply isn't in yet on whether immigrants are having a negative impact on the environment.

MARKHAM: In my view, there is no good, solid body of evidence that's backed up by the research, the data, or the analysis to clearly demonstrate links. So, they would be going out on a limb, for which they could be attacked.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Annette Souder of the Sierra Club says there's another problem if environmental groups equate immigration with environment degradation. They ignore another sensitive subject, the responsibility current U.S. citizens must accept for over-consuming.

SOUDER: We need to think about the fact we are five percent of the world's population in the United States, and we consume 25 percent of the world's resources right now.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: There's almost a sort of generation gap between the 1970s first wave environmentalists who see over-population primarily as a problem of statistics, and current spokespeople who know that race, ethnicity, and class are spectres that can't be avoided in any discussion of the topic today. Bob Engleman, with Population Action International, falls somewhere between the two groups. He says the key to bridging the gap lies in finding a new way to frame the conversation.

ENGLEMAN: The new generation, the new leaders in the environmental field are going to find they really don't have any choice but to take these issues on and to try to frame them in terms that people can relate to, terms like, what is fair? What is inclusive and not exclusive? What doesn't demonize one group of people or make another group seem to be really good actors, when we're all in this together.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Engleman was disappointed at the 2002 Summit on Sustainable Development to see the population issue reduced to. what he describes as, “sideshows at the circus.“ That was in contrast to the first Summit in 1992, when an entire chapter was devoted to population and the environment. But Engleman envisions a shift back.

ENGLEMAN: There will be a need in the next few years as population continues to grow, as it continues to be more evident in a number of debates, particularly water, access to fresh water, climate, and the loss of biodiversity. It's going to be increasingly obvious to people who are paying attention to these issues how important population is.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: While the environmental community decides how to address immigration and population, other groups are moving on the issue and using the environment as a talking point. In February, Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo, introduced a bill to sharply cut immigration. A major reason, he says: curbing sprawl.

For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, in Washington.

Related link:
Center for Environment and Population

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CURWOOD: No matter how many people populate our nation in the coming years, chances are advances in technology will ensure that their relationships with digital devices will be more intimate than what most of us now experience. And for some, that day is here already. Journalist Angela Swafford goes beyond the call of duty to merge herself with a machine and give us a glimpse into the future.

SWAFFORD: The painless procedure lasted barely 15 minutes. The doctor applied a local anesthetic to my right arm. Then he inserted a thick needle deep underneath my skin. With that, he shoved a half-inch long, three-millimeter wide microchip into my arm. I have become a guinea pig. I was the 18th person—and the first journalist—ever to have this chip implanted. I got it because I desperately needed some video material for a documentary I was working on.

Called a VeriChip, the implant is similar to the 25 million plus chips already embedded in animals all over the world. The tiny capsule in my arm contains a radio frequency identification chip. Right now, it stores only an identification number, like a barcode. But for instance, in the future, it might contain medical information. So, for example, if I ended up comatose in an emergency room, a scanner waved over my arm would immediately recall my medical history. Already, some 10 medical facilities in Florida carry this scanner, but the company is working to expand that.

The most radical, and perhaps sinister, concept for using the chip is to track people and animals through the global positioning system. This technology could be putting society a step closer to the Orwellian prediction of constant surveillance and has applications that are already rife with controversy. Should the chips be implanted in rapists and other criminals or resident aliens? What about companies following their employees' whereabouts? But it could also be used to track a kidnap victim.

So, for this reason, the company has been literally inundated with requests for information from Latin-American firms who are hoping to cash in on this technology, giving the astonishing number of kidnappings in those countries. According to Dr. Harvey Kleiner, who is so far the only physician authorized to insert the VeriChip, hundreds of people are already lining up to get the implant. And the president of the company that manufactures the chip believes that the day will come when most people will have a VeriChip-like device implanted under their skin.

Meanwhile, at Dr. Kleiner's office, my arm felt like a salami at a supermarket's cash register. It beeped every time the doctor waved the scanner over it. At the same time, a long number with many zeros flashed on the scanner screen. I can imagine this number may become embedded in my memory, just like my social security number. For good or bad, I thought, this chip is quietly heralding a time when humans will literally have technology under their skin, and the merger of human and machine will be routine. These will give some Luddites a chip on their shoulder. But for the rest of us, it will be embedded in our arm.

[MUSIC: Frank Sinatra "I've Got You Under My Skin" My Way Warner (1997)]

CURWOOD: Journalist Angela Swafford lives in Miami, Florida. You can find the two-part series she produced for Living on Earth on the environmental consequences of Colombia's drug war by going to livingonearth.org. Also, coming up on our website, profiting from climate change. The push to limit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is spawning a global market in carbon trading. As trading these emission rights becomes a big business, there are more and more folks trying to find ways to tap potential profits.

Journalist Wendy Williams looked at some of these schemes. She found one controversial effort that's being touted as good science.

WILLIAMS: Well, I visited with a very nice man named Russ George, who has a website, and tells people that if they want to deal with the carbon that they themselves have put in the atmosphere, they can send him a certain amount of money and he'll seed the ocean with iron for them, grow the phytoplankton, and they will have dealt with their personal carbon obligations that way.

CURWOOD: Emission trading and why it's attracting so much attention, coming up next week on our website, livingonearth.org, that's livingonearth.org.


CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living On Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation, for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, and the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation for coverage of western issues. Support also comes from NPR member stations, and Bob Williams and Meg Caldwell, honoring NPR's coverage of environmental and natural resource issues, and in support of the NPR President's Council. And Paul and Marcia Ginsberg, in support of excellence in public radio.

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CURWOOD: Time for comments from you, our listeners. Many listeners were intrigued by our recent special about cutting edge research on lead poisoning. But several were distressed by the description of one of the studies getting underway now on minute amounts of lead exposure.

"Let me see if I heard you correctly," writes WMEA Portland, Maine listener Stephen Grabowski, "all the homes are tested for lead paint. Then half the homes will be abated, and half will only be made more child-safe. Is this ethical?" This, of course, was among the very first questions we asked Dr. Bruce Lanphear of Cincinnati's Children's Hospital who heads up the new study.

He points out that numerous studies have shown that efforts to produce lead hazards can be ineffective or even backfire and increase a child's exposure to lead. This new study, he says, will test the safety of methods to reduce lead in houses. And although only half of the homes will receive lead abatement, all the children in this study will regularly have their blood tested. If any child shows up with high blood lead levels, the team will intervene. Finally, Dr. Lanphear's study was unanimously approved by an independent panel of scientists, ethicists and community people.

Send your comments to us at letters@loe.org, that's letters@loe.org.

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[MUSIC: West African Balafon Ensemble “Farfina” The Pulse of Life Ellipsis (1992)]

CURWOOD: When the sun sets on the African savannah, it's a good time to go looking for giraffes, at least it was for me one early evening near the border of Mozambique and South Africa. These magnificent creatures with huge, gentle eyes and improbable necks are rather shy, and seek the lengthening shadows when they come out for a chew from the acacia trees.

Behind one tree is the tallest giraffe I've ever seen. It gives us a demure look at we pass by in an open truck. Over there, also close to the trees, and somehow blending in the shadows, a pair, a mother and progeny, perhaps? Oh, now I understand about the spots. They're good for being unnoticed in the murky light at dusk. Soon, the graceful creatures disappear under a starry blanket thrown over the sky, stars I can't see at home. The southern cross and the Magellanic clouds glitter in the clear air of the bush wilderness.

You too can see stars and giraffes like you've never seen before by winning a safari for two to some of the most exciting places in Africa. Thanks to heritageafrica.com, Living on Earth is offering the ultimate African safari, with visits to wildlife hot spots like Kruger Park and the Serengeti. To enter your name in the drawing, just to go our website, livingonearth.org. That's livingonearth.org for the trip of a lifetime.


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Environmental Health Note/Saving Cassava

CURWOOD: Coming up, it's high noon at the World Trade Organization talks, as the Americans and Europeans face off over food policies. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.

[MUSIC: Health Note Theme]

TOOMEY: Cassava is one of the most important foods in tropical countries, providing many people with a key source of carbohydrates. But if the plant is not properly prepared, it can trigger the production of cyanide. That's because cassava contains linamarin, a substance that discourages insects and animals from eating the plant. But if humans eat improperly prepared cassava, the linamarin breaks down and releases cyanide into the body. This release of cyanide also happens during the processing of the plant, as it's heated, crushed and dried. So women and children who most often prepare cassava can be poisoned with cyanide gas. Chronic low-level cyanide exposure can lead to neuropathy, a nerve damaging disorder. And severe cyanide poisoning is associated with an irreversible paralytic disorder that can lead to death.

But at Ohio State, there's a cyanide-free cassava plant. Researchers there genetically modified the plant, blocking the operation of the genes responsible for linamarin production, reducing its content by up to 99 percent. Preliminary studies also show that linamarin may be important in the transport of nitrogen from cassava leaves to its roots. So, researchers say field trials will be necessary to determine if the inhibition of linamarin will affect plant yields.

That's this week's Health Note, I'm Diane Toomey.

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

[MUSIC: Erroll Garner “Tea For Two” That’s My Kick and Gemini - Octave (1994)]

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WTO Showdown

CURWOOD: It's Living On Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.

Debates over genetically modified foods and agricultural subsidies are driving a wedge between Europe and the U.S. in the current round of World Trade Organization talks taking place in Doha, Qatar. Developed countries give their farmers hundreds of billions of dollars a year, either by paying subsidies on the export of goods, as the Europeans do, or on making up the difference to farmers if prices drop, as we do here in the U.S.

Edward Alden, Washington correspondent for the Financial Times of London is following the debate over this issue. He says the U.S. wants to lower subsidies which would even the playing field.

ALDEN: The Europeans subsidize their farmers more heavily than the U.S. subsidizes its farmers. And so, basically, the U.S. feels if there were an agreement that would bring those subsidies to roughly equal levels, the U.S. would come out well ahead.

CURWOOD: How likely do you think it is that this will go through, that the U.S. will get this reduction in agricultural subsidies?

ALDEN: I think the U.S. is not going to get anything close to what it's asking for. I think the most optimistic version is that the European Commission's proposal will get support in Europe, which would mean, still, a significant cut. They have called for about a 55 percent cut in these trade-distorting domestic supports, and a one-third average cut in tariffs. So that would be significant for us, not nearly as much as the U.S. has asked for. Even that, realistically, if it happens, is only going to happen after several years of difficult internal political wrangling in Europe.

CURWOOD: How big a deal is the subsidy question for the developing world?

ALDEN: Well, it's a very big deal because subsidies in advanced countries have the effect of driving down market prices across the world, both in the advanced countries and in the developing countries. So the elimination of subsidies could bring a lot of benefits to developing countries in terms of increasing the market price for their products. So they have a lot at stake in how the U.S. and the Europeans resolve this difference.

CURWOOD: What's the environmental impact of this, if it's not an impasse, very slow progress?

ALDEN: There is general agreement in the environmental community that the trade-distorting subsidies, the subsidies that are linked to production, are bad for the environment because farmers will take fields that they might otherwise have left fallow and plant them with corn or wheat or whatever other crop that gets subsidized. They, obviously, in drier climates they use water heavily in order to irrigate those crops, which is environmentally damaging. So I think there's general agreement it would be a good thing for the environment if those subsidies were reduced.

CURWOOD: Now, this is a tricky enough issue to have at the World Trade Organization, but at the same time, we're looking at another move by the United States. This country and a number of others have requested that the WTO look at this European moratorium on genetically modified foods. Americans say that under the WTO Agreement, Europe must prove scientifically that GMO foods are not safe before they can restrict the import. How deep is this divide?

ALDEN: This is a very fundamental divide. I mean, the European position is, well, the scientific evidence is uncertain. Yes, you cannot declare authoritatively that these products are unsafe, but there are many things that we don't know about them. It's a new technology. There may be problems that emerge over time. And therefore, we should have a right to regulate these in a way that takes that uncertainty into account. The U.S. position is, well, that's all well and good, but that's basically, as far as we're concerned, just an excuse for blocking trade. And the WTO will say, you really do need to be able to demonstrate some scientific basis before taking actions that are effectively an import barrier, because the result is the U.S. farmers who use these genetically modified crops quite heavily can't sell into the European market. So it's a very fundamental split.

CURWOOD: So, Edward, tell me, what do these debates about agriculture mean for the future, the fate of the World Trade Organization? You've got the U.S. going up against Europe. It doesn't look like they will come to much of an agreement over genetically modified foods. It seems that the subsidy issue is going to be a long, difficult path to resolution. What happens to the WTO itself in that kind of scenario?

ALDEN: Well, I mean, I think the difficulty is that the WTO is the only international organization ever created that actually has binding dispute settlement authority, that can tell its members through a process that's equivalent to a court of law what they can and cannot do, and whether they're upholding the rules that they agreed to. The difficulty is that the Europeans and the Americans really have pretty different notions of what those rules mean, and they want to organize their agricultural economies very differently. And I'm not certain that that's something that panels in the WTO--which are basically made up of trade experts, former trade bureaucrats and trade lawyers and others-- I'm not sure that those panels can really resolve those kinds of disputes. These are fundamental disputes between nations that need to be resolved through negotiations.

And I think the danger is that if the U.S. and the Europeans push the WTO too hard to try to resolve those disputes, they'll end up destroying the organization that they created. And I think that's the danger that everyone is aware of, and both sides try to tread at least a little bit gingerly on.

CURWOOD: Edward Alden is the Washington correspondent for the Financial Times of London. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

ALDEN: Thanks very much, Steve.

[MUSIC: Foday Musa Suso “Sunset” Pieces of Africa - Elektra (1996)]

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Saving Forests, One Bow at a Time

CURWOOD: When Portuguese explorers reached the New World in 1500, they discovered a tree that produced wonderful dyes, reds, browns and oranges. The called the tree “pau brasil,” and soon the land where this tree grew also became known as Brazil. Millions of pau brasil trees were cut down to supply the dye trade. That practice ended in the mid-1800s with the development of chemical dyes but demand for the trees continued.

Today, more than 90 percent of Brazil's Atlantic coastal forest is gone and development pressures threaten the rest. Now, an international group is trying to help save what's left of the forest because of their strong connection to the pau brasil tree. Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber explains.


GRABER: Michael Rosenbloom leans over his violin and listens carefully. Rosenbloom is concert master with the Boston Ballet. He also plays with Boston Pops and Boston Symphony. Today, at a violin shop near Symphony Hall, he's testing a new bow.


GRABER: Rosenbloom says he owns about a dozen bows, each with its own personality.

ROSENBLOOM: Some of them have a lighter touch. Some of them sink into the string more. But I have to admit, there are times, especially in the pit down at the ballet, if I have a solo to play and the piece has two different styles in it, sometimes I'll take two bows down there and switch in the middle.

GRABER: To obtain the perfect bow, some musicians will pay up to $3,000 to craftsman like Tom Dignan.


DIGNAN: Can you hear that? Doesn't that sound beautiful?

GRABER: As Dignan scrapes a hand-made plane down a stick of wood he's carving into a violin bow, fiery orange shavings float through the air and coat his workshop near Boston with a fine layer of dust.

DIGNAN: A great bow--the maker has, generally, a very choice piece of wood that has been worked just enough so that it's strong, but resilient and flexible at the same time. It's in your hand. You can feel it in your hand.

Violin bows made of Pau Brasil wood.
(Photo: Cynthia Graber)

GRABER: To make a perfect bow, you need the perfect wood, and it's found only in the Atlantic coastal forest of Brazil. It's called pernambuco, or pau brasil in Portuguese, and it has the flexibility, durability, and resilience, plus rich hues ranging from oranges to dark reddish-browns that bowmakers crave. But today, the pau brasil tree's survival is at risk. Up until the mid-1800s, vast numbers of trees were cut and exported to support Europe's dye trade. Today, habitat loss from urban development and farm expansion threatens remaining trees. And protecting the tree is complicated.

In Brazil, it's illegal to cut pau brasil trees. But people skirt the law by securing permits to clear land for farming or to build homes, and then they're allowed to sell any pau brasil they find on the property. So in 1997, the group Flora & Fauna International invited scientists, conservationists, wood exporters, and bowmakers to discuss the future of the tree. The meeting was a wake-up call for bowmakers who never considered the state of the natural resource or their role in its depletion.

DIGNAN: And certainly, when the minutes from the meeting were published, and we all had a chance to look at that, we became aware of how critical the issue of conservation and how rarified the species seems to be getting in the Atlantic forest of Brazil.

GRABER: It's hard to find pau brasil trees in the wild. But Floriano Schaeffer knows where they are. We're in the state of Espirito Santo, about eight hours north of Rio de Janeiro.

SCHAEFFER: [PORTUGESE] Here's some pau brasil that I planted two months ago.

Floriano Schaeffer is one of a number of Brazilian bowmakers growing Pau Brasil trees. (Photo: Arcos Brasil)   

GRABER: Schaeffer is part of a community of Brazilian bowmakers who know the importance of conserving their precious resource. Schaeffer was 12 years old when he began cutting wood. A few years later, he made his first bow. Today, he owns his own bowmaking company. He's also what Brazilian's call a matero, somebody truly at home in the mata, the forest.

SCHAEFFER: [PORTUGESE] There is pau brasil. There's another one.

GRABER: Schaffer pulls a baseball cap low over his forehead and races through the forest. He shows me the places he's been planting over the past three decades. His business partner, Celso de Mello points to the results.

DE MELLO: Seedlings. Seeds from the trees that he planted 25 years ago. This is growing by itself now, you know.

GRABER: Bowmakers have just started growing pau brasil trees on plantations, but forests are still the ideal location. In the forest, trees must compete for bits of light that push through the tree-lined canopy high above. So new trees grow straight and tall, good for making bows. And de Melo says there are other benefits to growing in the wild.

DE MELLO: If you plant it here, you don't have to water it that much. If you plant it under the sun, you've got to water it a lot. So here nature takes care of that. If it rains, the soil, the earth is going to be moist for many, many days, which is really good for the plant.

GRABER: After growing for 40 years or so, a tree can provide enough wood for hundreds of bows.

DE MELLO: This is a very nice tree. Look at that.

GRABER: The tree stands straight, no twists, few branches, and the bark is peeling off, a clue that deep, reddish-brown heartwood lies within.

DE MELLO: This is about 10 years old, and it's got the heart inside already.

GRABER: Schaeffer and de Mello turn pau brasil wood into exquisite bows in an airy concrete building about a 20-minute drive from the forest. Dogs guard the precious wood stacked outside. Schaeffer pulls them away and explains how each piece is unique.

SCHAEFFER: [PORTUGESE] I feel how solid the wood is, and I hear the sound. This is a violin. This one is a viola, a cello, because it's heavy.

GRABER: Schaeffer sells his best wood to bowmakers abroad, and makes lower cost bows with the rest. Schaeffer is committed to putting back into the forest what he takes out. So he and his partner, Celso de Mello bought a 20-acre farm they're slowly replanting. One area is mostly pau brasil, but de Mello says, soon, other native trees will follows.

DE MELLO: We've got to plant first the fruit trees, bring the birds back, animals, and then we start with the second line of trees. And then the pau brasil is going to be the third. We got to bring the whole forest back.

GRABER: Brazil's four bowmaking companies have been replanting pau brasil for years. It's a small conservation effort that will need a broader scope if pau brasil trees are to be saved.

RAUBECHEK: I got up on this wharf and I looked out over the vast grassland that I knew once before was a forest. And it finally hit me in my conscience, my heart. It finally sunk in. I couldn't cut any other tree. It was like destroying a human.

GRABER: Al Raubechek cut pau brasil illegally for more than two decades. He'd go into the forest with saws and oxen and take out trees. Today, he runs a legal salvage business, buying up old fence posts made from pau brasil, or finding the wood left in fields. But Robicsek says poaching continues unabated, because some bowmaking companies are willing to buy wood without asking many questions.

RAUBECHEK: People that supply me with deadwood tell me they are giving it to the other folks. I know, the buyers for the other folks are down there, and they're contracting trucks to bring out logs. I know where they were hiding logs right near my house. So, I mean, these are the clues and elements to let me know that they're doing this. It just kills me. The only thing I can do is not to do it.

GRABER: Two years ago, the international bow-making community got together to form the International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative. Their goals: protect their craft and save the trees that support it.


GRABER: Back in Boston, bowmaker Tom Dignan points to the piles of brownish-red slabs stacked against the wall, and tells me he can survive any crisis.

DIGNAN: Basically, I think I almost have enough wood for myself for the few years that my eyes and hands will hold out.

GRABER: Dignan says he knows the pau brasil trees he's protecting in some faraway land are not meant to ensure his livelihood. It's the future of his craft he's concerned about.

DIGNAN: I would say, all my colleagues feel the same way. We know we're not going to reap the benefits of the trees that get planted, but we feel, really, it's important. It's really very important to all of us that it doesn't disappear either.


GRABER: The international bow-making community says its next step to save pau brasil trees is to involve musicians, the final users of the product, in the conservation effort.

For Living on Earth, I'm Cynthia Graber.


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

Next week, cruise ships. About eight million people will board one this year, and they'll generate a massive amount of waste that too often gets dumped into the deep blue sea.

MALE: Frankly, these are large floating cities. And they have all the same kinds of effluent and pollutant streams that a city does, but without the same kind of monitoring and enforcing that cities have.

CURWOOD: The argument for cruise control, 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 livingonearth.org. And while you're there you can also get a chance to win a safari for two to Africa. That's livingonearth.org.

[STORM SOUNDS: EarthEar “Afternoon Storm” Caratinga Earth Ear (2001)]

CURWOOD: Before we go, one more stop in the Atlantic coastal forest of Brazil.


CURWOOD: Douglas Quinn recorded the aftermath of a rain shower for a piece he calls "Afternoon Storm."


CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by The World Media Foundation, in cooperation with Harvard University. You can find us at livingonearth.org. Our staff includes Maggie Villiger, and Jennifer Chu, along with Tom Simon, Jessica Penny, Al Avery, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson and Liz Lempert. Special thanks to Ernie Silver.

We had help this week from Katherine Lemcke and Nathan Marcy. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.


CURWOOD: 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: Funding for Living on Earth comes from The National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science, and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, supporting the Living on Earth Network, Living on Earth's expanded Internet service.
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