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

September 19, 2003

Air Date: September 19, 2003


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Environmental Injustice

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According to a new study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, government agencies aren't sufficiently considering the impact of policies on minority and low-income communities. Host Steve Curwood discusses the report with commission chair Mary Frances Berry. (05:00)

Living on the Fence Line - Part 1 / Deepa Donde

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When a man returns to his hometown on the Texas Gulf Coast, he's shocked at how dirty the air seems and begins organizing. Port Arthur is home to six of the 500 refineries and industrial plants on Texas's upper Gulf Coast. Independent producer Deepa Donde reports. (08:00)

Living on the Fence Line - Part 2 / Deepa Donde

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Producer Deepa Donde's report on efforts to clean up the air in Port Arthur Texas continues, as she visits long time residents who fear the air may be hurting their health. (12:00)

Emerging Science Note/Super Mammal / Cynthia Graber

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on the world's largest rodent. (01:15)

Peace Parks

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Countries in political conflict may turn to nature as a reason for opening up their borders. Host Steve Curwood speaks with John Hanks, director of the Southern Africa Transfrontier Conservation Areas, about several peace parks proposed in the recent World Parks Congress. (05:00)

Overflowing Artifacts / Ken Shulman

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By law, any public lands set for construction projects or oil or gas exploration must first be open to archaeological examination and, if necessary, excavation. In the Southwest, these excavations are yielding all sorts of historical treasures. But archaeologists and area museums are running out of space to store these artifacts. Ken Shulman has the story. (07:00)

Eating Apes

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The hunting of apes for food is a long-established tradition for certain tribes in the Congo Basin. In recent years, bushmeat has become an increasing source of food for loggers, and a delicacy in some African cities. Host Steve Curwood speaks with Dale Peterson about his book on the bushmeat crisis called "Eating Apes." (08:20)

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Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Mary Frances Berry, John Hanks, Dale PetersonREPORTERS: Deepa Donde, Ken ShulmanNOTES: Cynthia Graber


CURWOOD: From NPR - this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. The federal government is supposed to protect people from pollution, but if you’re poor, black and living in the petrochemical alley along the Texas Gulf Coast, you’d better hold your breath.

PRINCE: The air is so different. I’ll swear to living God. You pull into Houston, and it’s like oh, I can breathe. You know what I mean? When you get back home, it’s like oh my God, what happened. You can taste it almost, when you hit the air. It’s like poisonous or something, I don’t know, it’s like this real foul stench, you know what I mean. It’s in everything.

KELLEY: We just lost a 15–year-old last month, little girl. She had been living with brain tumors, she been having little small tumors all over head.

CURWOOD: Environmental injustice and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this.


ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

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Environmental Injustice

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

If you’re black or Latino or just plain poor, you’re more likely to suffer health effects from polluting industries and other environmental hazards in your neighborhood. That’s why President Clinton signed an Executive Order to promote environmental justice nearly a decade ago. But today, according to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the federal government is not effectively enforcing the measure.

These conclusions are based on a year-long assessment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, and Transportation. Mary Frances Berry, who chairs the commission, says she’s concerned these agencies have a long list of deficiencies.

BERRY: In the last few years, they have not made environmental justice a central part of their mission. That is, they do not, in fact, review the impact of decisions that they make on these poor and minority communities when they approve or clear people for certain siting decisions that are made at the local level. They don’t bother to ask the right questions, that’s one thing. The other is there are complaints filed by community groups on behalf of those who are affected by pending decisions, and the complaints are often backlogged without any response to them in a timely fashion.

The other thing is that the agencies don’t often make sure that community groups can participate in giving advice when decisions are made in the way that they’re supposed to. And even when community groups are able to participate, they often don’t have the information. Many of them are under-resourced, they don’t have the experts, and they draw as much information as they can, whereas in the law there are provisions to provide some technical assistance to these groups. And finally, where the agencies fall short is they don’t really analyze and assess their behavior. That is, what are they doing, why are they doing it this way, what are the impacts on the people involved, and how could they do it better?

CURWOOD: What does the Civil Rights Commission believe has been the resulting damage to minority communities in the wake of this failure to fully implement the Executive Order on environmental justice?

BERRY: Well, if you look at the health care disparities that exist among communities of color in this country, in particular, poor people in these communities – and these are disproportionately poor communities, we’re talking about Latinos, African Americans, and Native American Indians – you will see that the illnesses that they suffer from, including asthma and including all kinds or respiratory illnesses, stress, high blood pressure, you name it, all of these illnesses you find disproportionately in those communities.

And the health research, not done for the purposes of environmental justice, but just done on the health issues, document the impact of things like certain kinds of landfills, and toxic waste, and certain sewage disposal processes, as well as even noise. There are big studies now being done on the impact of lots and lots of noise on the health and the stress levels and the blood pressure. What we really are saying is that we ought to equal out these hazards. We know that the price of civilization and the price of progress is to have factories and businesses and all kinds of enterprises, and we, as human beings, also throw up a lot of garbage. But the point is to minimize having a disproportionate impact only on some people, based on how poor they are or what color they happen to be.

CURWOOD: Why do you think that the order issued by President Clinton around environmental justice seems to have such little teeth when it comes to enforcing it?

BERRY: Well, the main thing that the order relied on was leadership on the part of the people in the agencies, and that Bill Clinton and OMB, and other government agencies that have oversight, would hold them accountable, keep their feet to the fire. It is fair to say that since the Clinton administration, no one in the administration since has done that. It is public knowledge that environmental issues are not a major concern of the Bush II administration. In fact, Christie Whitman, when she was at the EPA, articulated her desire to implement the Clinton order and to keep it on the front burner. Well, she’s not there anymore. I noted, even yesterday, there was some statement that Bush made about the environment – pollution – and he sort of added to it some caveat about jobs which he’s concerned about because the unemployment rate, but it has nothing to do with the issue. It’s just throwing up sand and dust in peoples’ eyes. So, there’s an absence of leadership in the political arena, in the administration, on this issue.

CURWOOD: Mary Frances Berry is chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

BERRY: Thank you very much.

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Living on the Fence Line - Part 1

CURWOOD: People along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast face some big challenges when it comes to sharing a neighborhood with industry. They live alongside the largest concentration of petrochemical plants and oil refineries in the nation. Some five hundred of these facilities run from Houston along the upper Gulf Coast. And unplanned releases of hazardous chemicals are frequent. These accidents have become a way of life for people who, as they call it, live on the fenceline. But not everyone accepts the status quo.

Producer Deepa Donde reports from Port Arthur, Texas.


DONDE: Port Arthur, population 58,000, is at the far tip of the Texas coastal marshland, about 90 miles east of Houston. As you approach, signs for Spindletop, the first American oil gusher, and Janis Joplin’s hometown museum pop up on your left.


DONDE: Nearer still, plumes of white smoke rise from the treetop – the green wall between the highway and the gulf coast refineries. The plants seem hidden but they have been here since the oil boom at the turn of the 20th century. And so have generations of Port Arthur residents.

KELLEY: See the housing projects over there? That’s where I was born, right there and my grandmother used to walk from there all the way down what we call Dunt Road.

DONDE: Hilton Kelley recently came back to Port Arthur from Hollywood. He had plenty of work there, in film and television, and his Screen Actors Guild card is still current. Kelley says he always knew he wanted to inspire kids with his success. But when he did come back, what struck him was the air.

KELLEY: I grew up looking at an orange sky. I thought it was normal until I moved away, went to California and found out that hey, at night the sky didn’t have to be a bright glowing orange. You didn’t have to smell sulfur all day long.

DONDE: In a freshly pressed shirt and khaki linen shorts, Hilton Kelley stands before a barbed wire fence. It divides some thirty houses from a tank farm, dozens of smokestacks, and a maze of piping.

KELLEY: And you can see the refineries right there, bordering this community.

DONDE: At first, you smell something like burnt matches but then it sharpens. A rotten eggy odor lingers in the heat. Most folks here have gotten used to the smell, including Kelley. That is until he had a conversation with an elderly pastor.

KELLEY: He brought it to my attention by saying, “Son, I understand that you want to start a community center but do you understand how polluted this area really is?” And so he started to give me a breakdown as to really what this town was facing.

DONDE: For the past three years now, Kelley has been trying to persuade residents to organize and demand cleaner air. But he’s found it slow-going.


KELLEY: They don’t understand how these chemicals coming out of these plants – when they talk about so much was released in the upset – they don’t equate that with “Wow, I’m breathing this stuff in. This is why I’m coughing so much or this is why my eyes are constantly watering all day. “


DONDE: He points to the day’s paper.

KELLEY: Two nights ago, they just had a pipeline explosion. I heard it and everything – boom – it was so loud. See how orange the sky is right here? Here it is, front page. “Cause of explosion still under investigation. Natural gas pipeline ruptures.”

DONDE: And two days later, the details are still sketchy.

NEWSCASTER: Good morning everyone, I’m Andrea Bishop. Officials are still trying to figure out what caused that pipeline to leak and explode Tuesday night in Nederland.

DONDE: From June 2002 to June of 2003, there were three hundred and forty upsets or accidents in the Port Arthur area. Among these were fifty-six more serious chemical spills, fires, and explosions, releasing millions of pounds of toxic chemicals such as benzene, tuolene, and xylene.

Frustration over numbers like this have lead Hilton Kelley to seek support from experts, people like Neil Carman, who was an investigator for twelve years at the Texas agency that monitors air quality. What he saw made him angry, so he quit. And now, Carman leads the Lone Star Sierra Club.

CARMAN: Port Arthur is a particularly egregious situation because there are so many poor people of color who are living along the fence line of these large industrial plants, the refineries and the chemical plants. I have been down there on a series of trips over the last 10 to 12 years and it’s been a very frustrating situation.

DONDE: Of the six plants in Port Arthur, only Motiva agreed to speak to us. The Motiva refinery is co-owned by Shell and Saudi Arabian oil. Tracey McMinn is an advisor on government affairs for Shell Oil. She says Motiva has reduced emissions by ten percent. It has also invested $70 million dollars in improvements to the facility, following a consent decree with the federal government. Despite Motiva’s improvements and investments, a few months ago the plant had an upset.

MCMINN: We had an incident. We had a power failure is what happened.

DONDE: Losing power meant losing the steam that dilutes hazardous gases. So the plant had to release undiluted gases to avoid a buildup and explosion.

MCMINN: The wind direction took that smoke over into what’s called the El Vista neighborhood which is one of our neighboring communities over here.

DONDE: McMinn says that within thirty minutes of the upset, Motiva sent out a team of air monitors.

MCMINN: According to our monitors and according to screening levels there is no reason to be concerned. We did hold a community meeting in El Vista and the reason we did that is that we don’t want people to have concerns or issues or fears and feel like they can’t talk to us about it. And we want people to be informed of what’s happening over here because I think in many cases not having information is really when problems arise.


DONDE: Kelley, though, has been out gathering his own information with gear he keeps in the trunk of his car.


Hilton Kelley takes an air sampling bucket out of his car. (Photo: Deepa Donde)

DONDE: Using a five-gallon plastic bucket with a vacuum-screw top, Kelley collects a sample in a clear teflon bag. Activists call this the bucket brigade. It’s part of a national grassroots initiative, the Refinery Reform Campaign, to arm citizens with information.


DONDE: After he’s collected the sample, Kelley sends it to an independent laboratory in California.

KELLEY: Well, it finds out that there was a big release of benzene in that plume and it was right on this community – and I took the air samples, we got samples to prove it.

DONDE: Analysis of Kelley’s air sample showed levels of benzene that were not high, but were high enough, if sustained, to cause a greater incidence of cancers among residents. Tracey McMinn of Shell Oil stands by her results.

While some gulf coast companies, like Shell, have reduced emissions, others in Texas have been fined stiff penalties for increasing theirs. This May, the Texas attorney general fined Huntsman Petrochemical Corporation close to 9.5 million dollars for releasing more than sixteen million pounds of chemicals from its plant, a few miles from the fenceline. In a rare criminal trial, two of Huntsman’s plant managers were convicted of felonies for lying to the state and EPA. The two are appealing. But one thing is certain. More than thirty years after the passage of the Clean Air Act, many folks along the fenceline are still getting sick.

CURWOOD: Our story about air pollution and the community of Port Arthur, Texas will continue in just a minute. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Tortoise “Six Pack” STANDARDS (Thrill Jockey - 2000)]

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Living on the Fence Line - Part 2

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

Much of the nation's gasoline, fertilizer and plastics is manufactured along the southern Gulf Coast. Producer Deepa Donde continues her report now on the Texas community of Port Arthur. The town borders six chemical plants, and it's not uncommon for even young people to face a range of diseases, from respiratory illness to cancer.


DONDE: A few miles from the refineries, close to the tracks that used to separate black from white Port Arthur, Hilton Kelley waves to a small thin man at the corner.


KELLEY: How are you doing?

DOMINIC: All right.

KELLEY: We are going to get out for a minute and meet and greet then we’re going to take a tour. Mr. Dominic this is Deepa.

DOMINIC: Wonderful, wonderful. Close that door.

DONDE: A veteran of World War II and Korea, Reverend Alfred Dominic still holds service on Sunday. He’s the pastor who inspired Hilton Kelley to advocate for clean air, and was one of Port Arthur’s first environmental activists.

DOMINIC: They would never tell us that pollution was here. That all of the Gulf and the Texaco and Atlantic Richfield, at that time, they would never tell us that they were polluting our air. And this is what’s so stifling to me. Why didn’t they tell us? Many of my friends have died with cancer. I am just one of the old dinosaurs and I’m still alive, my wife and I.

DONDE: Reverend Dominic’s concerns for clean air stretch back to Jim Crow times. And he says it gives him peace to pass the torch to Hilton.

DOMINIC: But thank God for this young man. He didn’t, he didn’t wait for nothing; he got out there and saying what he had to say. See, I came up in an era from the 20s on now when they would not allow you to speak. If you would speak they would squash it out. But now, it’s coming to pass that people are speaking out regardless to who you are, what color you are, what country you are from. They are speaking out. And I praise the Lord for that.


DONDE: A few houses down lives fifty-year old John Dixon, a former refinery worker.

DIXON: That’s Snoop Dog – some friends of mine give him to me. That’s the name they gave to him, Snoop Dog. You can’t be interviewed so might as well rest.

KELLEY: Did the German Shepherd every have any puppies?

DIXON: Rest, Snoop. Rest. You’re not resting.

DONDE: A picture of Martin Luther King Jr. hangs on his living room wall. But before we have a chance to say much, a young woman walks in to return a fishing pole. She stands cautiously by the door, smoothing her hair.

DIXON: There is a young lady right there – I don’t know if she wants to discuss it but you have a comment. We are on the subject of cancer and environment…hmmm…uterus.

KELLEY: Uterus, you got cancer in the uterus.

DIXON: In the uterus.

WILLIAMS: I just wake up every morning. I’ve got two kids to live for. I have a two-year-old, and I have a four-year-old. A four-year-old, a man. I can’t just lay down on my back and be like “oh well, I’m dying” or something. I just put it in God’s hands – whatever happens, happens. That’s why I don’t claim it all. Everybody has to go from something, so you know.

DONDE: Judy Williams is 21. You’d never know from her broad smile that this woman is a cancer survivor. She found out four years ago, a few weeks after she had her first baby. She thinks that there is something wrong with the air here. She can tell the difference when she drives into Houston, even though Houston has some of the worst air in the country.

WILLIAMS: The air is so different. I mean I’ll swear to living God. You pull into Houston, and it’s like “oh, I can breathe.” You know what I mean. When you get back home, it’s like oh my God, what happened? You can taste it, almost, when you hit the air. It’s in everything.

DONDE: Not a person I met here drinks the tap water. Everyone drinks either distilled or bottled water, including Judy.

WILLIAMS: Ah, yuck!

DONDE: You drink bottled water?

WILLIAMS: Bottled water.

DONDE: You drink bottled water.

WILLIAMS: Bottled water! Honey, you have no idea what’s in this water out here. I mean, people pollute…

DONDE: The mood suddenly shifts to more serious, as Hilton informs Judy about the latest and most forceful of the recent efforts to clean the air in Port Arthur: a class action lawsuit for damages against Premcor, Motiva, Chevron Phillips, Huntsman, BASF, and Atofina.

KELLEY: Because too many young people like yourself is dying from cancer. We just lost a 15-year-old last month, little girl. She had been living with brain tumors. She been having little small tumors all over her head, on the inside, on her brain. She died just last month.

WILLIAMS: Oh my God, who are you talking about?

KELLEY: She was 15 years old. She was 15 years old. She developed brain cancer.

WILLIAMS: I know who you are speaking of.

CARMAN: In a way, you could describe Port Arthur has a kind of Bhopal in slow motion.

DONDE: Again, Neil Carman, president of the Lone Star Sierra Club.

CARMAN: People are being, slowly and systematically, poisoned on a daily basis. And while they may not die today or tomorrow from the insults – from the pollution – they will get cancers and leukemias and brain tumors and kidney failures and so forth from the pollution over the next 10, 15, 20 years.

DONDE: No one has ever conducted a comprehensive survey of Port Arthur’s air or associated health risks. A 1998 study conducted by the Texas Department of Health did show Port Arthur had levels of ozone, hydrogen sulfide, and benzene that suggested a “public health concern” and could pose a risk to the health of residents.

A local toxicologist recently conducted a symptom survey of residents in Port Arthur. More than seventy-five percent had ear/nose/throat problems, respiratory illnesses, muscle and bone diseases, compared to less than a quarter of those in a control group in Galveston.


DONDE: Our last stop is the home of Reverend Dominic’s daughter, Shaza Dominic Prince, a mother of three.


DONDE: When I enter, the first thing I notice on her kitchen counter are dozens of medicine bottles and a neatly stacked pile of prescriptions. Next to it lies a portable breathing machine, the kind you see in hospitals.

PRINCE: You clean this out with a little vinegar. We just put this solution, it’s already pre-mixed so we don’t need to add anything to this one, some of the solutions we have to add things…


DONDE: The nebulizer was a gift from her father to help her children cope with asthma attacks. Shaza herself suffers from chronic pain, earaches, and migraines. On average, she takes twenty pills a day to cope. And last year, the doctors told her she has a degenerative bone disease.

PRINCE: I think that the problem is stemming from a lot of the inhalation of different chemicals and what not that is causing it to deteriorate so fast. Now, it might have been caused by something else, I’m not saying the plant caused it, but I think the deterioration is caused by a lot of the chemicals I’m inhaling and digesting and whatever.

DONDE: Just then, Shaza’s oldest daughter Temisha walks in.

PRINCE: Look, she’s all clogged up now.

TEMISHA: I’m always sick, everyday.



DONDE: Your nose?

TEMISHA: My sinus and congestion and everything – well, it cleared up but when I moved back here about a month ago, I’ve been sick everyday.

DONDE: Temisha takes breathing treatments twice a day. Cullen, her eleven-year old brother, stands quietly in the corner watching us closely, holding a basketball.

PRINCE: You wanna show her a couple of hoops? He wants to be a basketball star, I think his cousin was one.

DONDE: Cullen is the one that Shaza spends her time worrying about most, because his asthma is the worst in the family.

PRINCE: I mean, the first couple years of his life he didn’t even know what the outside looked like, I don’t think. We couldn’t let him go out there, because every time he went outside he got sick. You know, it’s ridiculous.

DONDE: But tonight is a good night. And Cullen’s doing what he loves best, playing basketball.


(Photo: Deepa Donde)

DONDE: There is a slight orange glow from the refinery across the street. They live at the last house on Foley, the closest to the fenceline. Cullen’s five-year old cousin Mariah runs circles around him.


DONDE: Mariah’s wide smile and carefree skip touches anyone who nears her. Shaza whispers that the child came to live with her, a year ago, just after her mom died of uterine cancer at the age of twenty-one.

Shaza has signed her family onto the class action lawsuit filed against the six plants that border her property. But some environmental advocates don’t believe a lawsuit can solve all Port Arthur’s problems. A few have argued for the relocation of Port Arthur residents. That’s what happened to a small group of residents in Norco, Louisiana, about two hundred and fifty miles from Port Arthur.

But many longtime residents like Shaza don’t want to relocate. She hopes that the refineries and petrochemical plants can simply do a better job.

PRINCE: I don’t want them to go away. Like I said, I have a brother that works right out there, out there, and he’s been working there forever. I want him to get his retirement out of them. I don’t want them to go away. I want them to control their emissions so that we can live safely here. That’s what I want.


DONDE: It’s nighttime now at the Dominic Prince residence. The children gather close to form a circle.

CULLEN: We want to pray for all the people here, Lord. We want to make sure they wake up tomorrow, Lord, and have another great day like today was. Forgive us for our sins and all the sins that other people have done, amen.

DONDE: In Port Arthur, Texas, I’m Deepa Donde for Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Jimi Hendrix “Once I Had a Woman” JIMI BLUES (MCA-1994)]

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Emerging Science Note/Super Mammal

CURWOOD: Coming up: environmental protection and national security. The promise of peace parks. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.


   An artist's rendering of Phoberomys pattersoni, a giant rodent, roughly the size of a buffalo, that roamed the banks of an ancient Venezuelan river some 8 million years ago. The illustration was made according to the scientists’ approximation of what P. pattersoni looked like. (Credit: © Science / Illustration: Carin L. Cain)

GRABER: Scientists recently identified the world’s biggest guinea pig. The rodent called Phoberomys pattersoni lived about eight million years ago along the banks of a massive Venezuelan river that has since run dry. At about 1500 pounds, this guinea pig was roughly as large as today’s buffalo.

Scientists describe it as a huge, strange-looking creature, with a long tail so it could balance on its bent hind legs, and constantly growing teeth. No one knows why the rodent reached this immense size, or why it disappeared. But scientists say it gives a new glimpse into life along ancient tropical South American Rivers.

Fossiliferous exposures of the formation found in the town of Urumaco, Venezuela. (Photo courtesy of Marcelo R. Sánchez-Villagra)   

South America had been an island for tens of millions of years before a land bridge arose about three million years ago, connecting it to Central America. Because of this, South America’s animals evolved in isolation. The continent was home to a variety of super-sized mammals. Now scientists can add a giant rodent to the roster.

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

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Peace Parks

CURWOOD: The borders between India and Pakistan, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and North and South Korea are political walls for countries that have seen years of bitter conflict. But delegates to the fifth World Parks Congress are trying to break down those barriers by creating “peace parks.” Peace parks are designed to open up large tracts of land to protect wildlife and be jointly managed by both sides of the border.

John Hanks attended the Congress in Durban, South Africa. He directs the Southern Africa Transfrontier Conservation Areas and joins me now from Cape Town. Welcome.

HANKS: Good day, Steve, it’s good to join you.

CURWOOD: You’ve been working in the field of peace parks for quite some time. How do you define a peace park?

HANKS: It really is a trans-boundary protected area, that two countries come together, they open their boundaries so that animals and people can move freely across the boundaries. And before you can do that, of course, you have to have peace. And then as a result of that, people say, well, let’s make that an objective of the park – in other words, the promotion of peace and cooperation between two countries. So that, in a nutshell, is what a peace park is.

CURWOOD: You were able to listen in on a number of conversations there in Durban. Where are the most challenging areas for proposed peace parks, do you think?

HANKS: Well, people are talking about where we could take this further, and obviously there’s interest in places where there is conflict such as North and South Korea and Kashmir, obviously getting India and Pakistan involved. But that’s only going to work there if both sides of the border make a genuine commitment to making this happen. And I think in those two areas there’s still quite a long way to go. I think anyone working in this field loves to have a challenge. And if you look at what we could do if a peace park was established in a very sensitive border area – and let me stress also a very important area from the environmental conservation point of view, such as Kashmir – if we could get something going there it really, really would be most exciting.

CURWOOD: What do you see as the specific challenges, both politically and ecologically, that need to be overcome in order to make these peace parks work?

HANKS: Yes, I think you’ve got to have buy-in at so many different levels before it works. Obviously, if you’re going to open the boundaries and have this level of cooperation, you’ve got to have an agreement right from the top. And here the heads of state must really say they want this thing to go ahead. And then there’s a whole host of government departments that need to be involved. A lot of people think it’s just a question of two conservation organizations getting together and saying, well, let’s open the boundary. But think about what you are doing. You’re removing fences, you’re removing the barriers that in some cases have been there for years. So you’ve got to bring in veterinary issues, you’ve got to bring in health issues, you’ve got to look at customs, at immigration. And then you’ll think you’ve got all those lined up and right at the end the Minister of Defense will put his hand up and say, well, nobody’s consulted me. It doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it can take, perhaps, four, five, or six years before what is a vision becomes a reality.

CURWOOD: You’ve been spending a lot of time working on this. What are you most excited about right now? What are some of the prospects that make you get up in the morning?

HANKS: Oh, gosh. I think I wouldn’t be doing this job if I wasn’t enthusiastic. I’m very excited about one particular initiative that involves the Okavango Delta and it’s catchment comes from way up in the Angolan highlands. Now we’re developing a particular transfrontier conservation area that will help link together Zimbabwe, Botswana, what’s called the Caprivi Strip, which is a long stretch of Namibia which goes out towards the Victory Falls, nearly, Angola, and Zambia. Why it’s so important is that in the northern part of Botswana we have the biggest contiguous population of elephants in the whole of Africa, some 120 thousand elephants. But unfortunately they’re becoming more and more restricted, and we’re working on the elephants in Botswana by immobilizing them with drugs and fitting a number of elephants with collars that are linked to satellites. And what we’re finding is that the elephants have a very restricted corridor where they can move out of Botswana, into Namibia, and up north back into Angola, and hence back into Zambia. But before they can do that, a key part of this area is a bottom corner of Angola. And as you might know, Angola has just come out of some 30 years of civil war, and the country is absolutely full of landmines, in fact, an estimated 10 million unexploded landmines. And what we’re looking at is seeing what we can do to de-mine a key corridor in the bottom corner of Angola so that the elephants can start to move back, other animals can follow, and eventually, of course, tourism can follow them, as well. And I never thought, when I did my training as a zoologist, I would end up getting involved in de-mining programs in Angola, but that’s a key part of what we’re doing.

CURWOOD: John Hanks is director of the Southern Africa Transfrontier Conservation areas. Thanks for speaking with me today.

HANKS: It’s been great to join you, Steve. Thanks very much.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues, and the Geraldine R. Dodge foundation. 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.

[MUSIC: Music for a Bachelor’s Den, “Moonglow and Love Theme From ‘Picnic’” Vol. 1 In HiFi (No Label- 1995)]

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Overflowing Artifacts

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

The philosopher George Santayana once wrote that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But history can also become too much to handle. Especially if you are working in archaeology in the American Southwest these days. As more and more highways and homes are being built, archaeologists are unearthing an ever-increasing collection of artifacts. And as Ken Shulman reports, they are running out of places to put it all.


SHULMAN: The Pojoaque corridor is one of the ten most dangerous roads in the United States. Accidents are common on this two-mile spread of asphalt fifteen miles north of Santa Fe. In 1999, the state of New Mexico allotted $8.8 million to redesign the artery and widen the roadway. Before construction began, researchers from the Museum of New Mexico excavated four sites along the corridor.

MOORE: We’re finding prehistoric shards typical of Spanish sites….

SHULMAN: Jim Moore is a project director in archaeology at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Here in the museum’s research laboratory, he supervises four researchers as they examine, catalogue, and bag the artifacts from the Pojoaque corridor. It will take close to a year to process the 150,000 arrowheads, stone tools, and potsherds recovered from the highway project. But Moore isn’t worried about the pace. He’s worried about space. Storage space.

Jim Moore (right) discusses findings from the Pojoaque corridor with a researcher. (Photo: Ken Shulman)   

MOORE: We don’t know if the repository will actually be able to accept this entire collection because they are running out of space. Boxes of artifacts take up a lot of space when they’re stored. They’re supposed to be properly prepared and curated in perpetuity, on projects like this.

SHULMAN: There are lots of construction projects in New Mexico and across the southwest. In the 1950s, it was massive highway construction. Today, it’s oil and gas exploration. By law, contractors working on public lands must assess, and if necessary excavate, any archaeological sites that might be disturbed. These excavations yield all sorts of Indian, Spanish colonial, and Santa Fe trail era treasures. They aren’t all the kind of treasures you’d expect to see in museums. Moore estimates that fewer than one tenth of one percent of the objects he examines are of display quality.

MOORE: Frankly, we make our living looking at people’s trash, and you don’t usually throw out good things. So, we’re looking at broken objects and stuff that had seen the end of its useful life.

SHULMAN: Just because a thumbnail-sized glazed pottery chip might never make it to the display case doesn’t mean it can be tossed into the dumpster. For archaeologists, these fragments are priceless nuggets of information, to be cherished, studied, and then carefully stored so they can be studied again by future researchers. And storage wasn’t always a problem. According to Duane Anderson, associate director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, museums used to compete to see who could house the most artifacts.

ANDERSON: Because there was a lot of stature and prestige in that. But then, when people became more concerned about the quality of space and curation, how things were cared for and climate-controlled conditions and the cost of all that, why all of a sudden there’s been a reversal. And now it’s almost, as in the case of Colorado, they’re saying we can’t take anymore.

SHULMAN: Unlike Colorado, the other southwest states haven’t closed their doors. But New Mexico is getting close. Thirty years ago, New Mexico archaeologists had excavated about 13,000 sites across the state. Today that number has increased ten-fold. There are approximately 10 million artifacts in the museum’s repositories. Part of the collection is stored in a damp, dark basement in central Santa Fe, in what once was the city morgue. The rest is stored here, in the basement of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on the south side of the city.


SHULMAN: In the Prewitt House, the museum’s basement repository, rolling high-density shelving maximizes the 8,000 feet of storage space. This facility is named after the company that built most of New Mexico’s highways in the 1950s and 60s, and whose work created the first wave of excavations and artifacts.

Conditions here aren’t bad. Temperature and humidity levels are relatively stable. Unlike the former morgue, Prewitt House has no exposed plumbing or heating ducts. It’s not perfect, says Julia Clifton, curator of archaeological collections at the museum. But it’s a big improvement.

Julia Clifton with a box of artifacts in the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. (Photo: Ken Shulman)

CLIFTON: This building was just jam-packed full of artifacts. The first summer I worked here, the big project was to process all that material into standard size containers. Once we finished that we moved it all out of here, stored it someplace else until the compacting shelving could be installed. And when we reinstalled that material onto these shelves, everything that had filled this place to bursting before could fit on the first four storage units.

SHULMAN: The high-density shelving did buy Clifton and her colleagues a little time. But it didn’t buy them any more space. At current rates of accumulation, about 500 cubic feet of artifacts per year, the Prewitt House will be completely full by the end of 2006. And that’s only if the pace of excavation remains constant. Steven Fosberg is state archaeologist for the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management. He says that oil and gas drilling in New Mexico is bound to increase. And as energy needs expand, so will excavations.

FOSBERG: We haven’t gotten to the point where, because of the lack of curatorial facility, we basically were unable to carry out the type of excavations that we want to. I wouldn’t say we’re at that point yet. But we are at the point where we’re going to have to, I believe, make some long-term planning decisions about how we face this curation crisis.

SHULMAN: There are plans under consideration to build a $7 million storage facility in Santa Fe. The facility, if built, would give the state a ten- or twelve-year buffer before it, too, reached capacity. As an alternative, Fosberg has proposed converting Fort Wingate, a recently abandoned military base in Gallup, New Mexico, into a mega-repository for all the southwest states. The idea is promising. It’s also expensive. Repositories for stone tools and potsherds tend to lose state budget battles to more glamorous projects like museums, galleries, and theaters. The only thing that seems certain is that the flow of artifacts will thicken. And that while everyone agrees that New Mexico’s past is important, no one seems to be able to agree what to do with it.

For Living on Earth, I’m Ken Shulman in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

[MUSIC: Al-Jabra “The Rise and Fall” THE HEREAFTER (No Label - 2003)]

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Eating Apes

CURWOOD: The great apes of Central Africa are threatened on a number of fronts. Habitat loss and disease have cut into their numbers. But the bigger danger for the survival of the chimpanzee, bonobo and gorilla comes from the bush meat trade. These animals have become an increasingly popular delicacy in cities throughout Africa and demand for their meat is on the rise. Some say the hunting of these primates is pushing them to the edge of extinction.

Dale Peterson has traveled through the jungles and meat markets of the Congo, tracing the path of the bush meat trade. And he's written about it in a new book called “Eating Apes.” He says there are a number of reasons why people who live in the Congo Basin eat apes.

PETERSON: Probably, you know, as long as people have been in this part of the world, that’s been part of their food source. But there’s a tremendous variety, actually, of traditions. In fact, a lot of people are offended by even the idea of eating apes, and they’ll say things like ‘we would never eat apes because they’re like humans.’ And then the other people will say almost the opposite, “well, you know, what’s your problem, they’re just like an animal, they’re just another animal.” So, there’s this great variety.

And there’s actually a third tradition, which is sort of that “they’re a special animal and we eat them because they’re special, because they’re sort of human-like but they’re really an animal. This is a meat that will give you strength.”

CURWOOD: Now, you’ve been immersed in the topic of apes in the bushmeat trade for quite some time now. What are your thoughts on jut how closely related we are to these animals, to the apes?

PETERSON: Well, I think you can sort of see the relationship if you go to a zoo and look at an ape, and you discover the ape – you know, a gorilla or chimpanzee or bonobo – looking back at you. There is a sense that this is an animal that is somehow different from other animals, that is somehow more alert, more intelligent. The apes are, in fact, close to 99 percent genetically identical to humans.

If you see them in the wild, in my opinion, it’s a totally different experience because then you get much more of a sense of them in their natural life. And so, it’s less like, say, looking at a person in a jail. You see them in the wild and you see an animal that clearly, just from your own observations, has a lot of the emotional reactions of ordinary people.

You know, I’ve spoken to hunters who say that when you corner a chimpanzee in a forest and you’re about to shoot him, he’ll beg for his life. Chimpanzees have a lot of gestures that are really, really recognizable to people, including the begging gesture.

CURWOOD: So, what’s different? What’s changed? Why the concern about eating apes today?

PETERSON: Well, population growth. This is a part of the world where population numbers are doubling every 23 years. There has been, you know, the entry of modern weapons and modern hunting tools and technology into this part of the world. And then, the third thing, and the most important thing, has been the entry of European and Asian loggers, who have cut roads into the Congo Basin, and opened up what was previously a completely remote and very inaccessible part of the world. They’ve opened it up to hunting and trading and the commerce.

CURWOOD: In your book you have some pictures of the bushmeat trade. Could you open your book and describe some of these pictures for me, please?

PETERSON: Okay. I’ve opened this kind of randomly to a photograph of a gorilla head in a bowl in someone’s kitchen. And this was not a set-up photograph. I’ve spoken to Karl Ammann, the photographer, about this photograph. Karl met this hunter who had been hired by a police chief in southern Cameroon to kill a gorilla. The chief gave him a gun – lent him a gun – and the hunter went out and killed a gorilla, and then sent back the meat to the police chief. And since he was the hunter he was allowed to keep the head and an arm. Now it’s bizarre seeing this head on a plate, and it kind of looks like John the Baptist, you know. It has that sort of iconic quality to it. But in fact there is a lot of meat in a gorilla head, and this is food. But it’s a very disturbing photograph.

CURWOOD: Another picture there?

PETERSON: Well, right to the right of the gorilla head is a picture of a gorilla hand in a restaurant. This is not a high-class restaurant. This is a pretty rough restaurant in a rough logging town. And the hand has not been cooked so it’s just a disembodied hand by a group of beer bottles, and I’m sure it was going to be food, and Karl took the picture.

CURWOOD: Let’s talk a little about numbers. How many gorillas are there left? You say they’ll be gone in a generation.

PETERSON: The numbers are not encouraging. There are only about 120 thousand gorillas left in the world as far, as we know, maybe 200 or 250 thousand wild chimpanzees left in the world, and only somewhere between five thousand and 50 thousand bonobos. Those are extremely low numbers. Now, how many are being killed every day, nobody knows. So, a lot of it is anecdotal, it’s just looking. But, you know, when I can go in a single day, randomly, and visit a meat market in Libreville, Gabon, capital city of the wealthiest country in this part of the world, and find a chimpanzee leg laid out in the meat market for sale, we know there’s a problem.

CURWOOD: Dale, was there a specific experience that prompted you to write this book?

PETERSON: Well, I think, you know, this is the biggest conservation crisis in central Africa. And it’s been going on for 10 years, 15 years. Everybody knows about it and nobody’s been talking about it, and there was this amazing conservation news blackout on the subject.

CURWOOD: Why is that?

PETERSON: It’s a sensitive subject. We’re talking about people’s cultural traditions. We’re talking about a part of the world where people are very poor. You know, my friend, Karl Ammann the photographer, tried to get some of his photographs published ten years ago, in American Conservation and Natural History magazine, and they simply turned it down. It was too grim, too disturbing, too frightening, too this, too that. So, you know, in essence nobody was talking about this very important subject. And yet, we must face this.

CURWOOD: Perhaps the oldest zoological foundation, the Wildlife Conservation Society, has now entered into an agreement with a German logging company in the northern Congo. They claim that by working together with loggers rather than standing by, that they can help preserve what’s left. What do you think about this?

PETERSON: Well, once again, when we get back to what is causing this explosion in bushmeat commerce, it’s the loggers. I think there’s no question about it, it’s the loggers entering the Congo Basin, building these roads, opening up these forests. Now, how do you deal with that? Well, the Wildlife Conservation Society has gone into this, at least, this one logging concession, a very large concession in northern Congo. And they’ve formed a partnership with the logger.

I think my main problem with this is that in developing partnerships with loggers, conservation groups are, in essence, greenwashing the situation. So that loggers who are still going into the Congo, who are still destroying virgin forests, can now turn to he public and say, you know, ‘What’s your problem? We’ve got these partnerships with these great conservation groups, therefore we’re green.’

CURWOOD: So, if you were in charge, what would be the solution that you would try to impose here?

PETERSON: The first thing you do is set aside some land – creation of parks, protection of parks, economic rejuvenation. Part of the reason that this problem is so great is that the bushmeat commerce has become an enormous business, so it’s a way to make money for impoverished people. And I’m not talking about ending the commerce, but the ape part of the commerce only amounts to about one percent. In other words, one percent of the meat that’s coming out of the Congo Basin is ape meat. So you could actually end the eating of apes and the crisis that’s affecting the apes, and have no effect, virtually no effect, on the larger meat trade in the Congo Basin

CURWOOD: Dale Peterson teaches at Tufts University and wrote “Eating Apes.” Dale, thanks for taking this time with me today.

PETERSON: Thank you, Steve. It was great to be here.

CURWOOD: For the viewpoint of the Wildlife Conservation Society on its bushmeat trade work in the Congo, and to see photos discussed in the interview, please go to our website, livingonearth.org. That’s livingonearth.org.

[MUSIC: Kronos Quartet “OBO ADDY: Wawshishijay” PIECES OF AFRICA (Elektra – 1992)]

For a slideshow of photos from Mr. Peterson’s book, click here.(Please be advised—many of these images are graphic and disturbing.)

Related links:
- “Eating Apes” by Dale Peterson
- The Bushmeat Crisis Task Force
- Wildlife Conservation Society's work with a logging company in the Congo

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CURWOOD: And, for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week, a trip to Chile and the island of Chiloe, where residents say plans to build a huge bridge to the mainland could threaten their distinctive culture.

MALE: Arriving by ferry in Chiloe is like going though a magic door to an island like none that exists anywhere else in Chile or South America.

CURWOOD: The bridge to Chiloe, next time, on Living on Earth. And between now and then you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to our website, livingonearth.org. That’s livingonearth.org.


CURWOOD: We leave you this week in the mountains of eastern Africa.


CURWOOD: Bernie Krause recorded these mountain gorillas as they foraged for food near Karisoke, Rwanda.


CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced for the World Media Foundation by Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Jennifer Chu, Cynthia Graber, Ingrid Lobet, Diane Toomey and Jeff Young. You can find us at livingonearth.org.

Andy Farnsworth mixes the program. Special thanks to Howard Gelman, Danny Bringer, and member station KQED. Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write to 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts, 02144. Our e-mail address is comments@loe.org. Once again, comments@loe.orgAnd visit our web page at livingonearth.org. That's livingonearth.org. Cds, tapes and transcripts are fifteen dollars.

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