Take to the Hydrogen Highway
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As part of his environmental platform, California Governor-elect Arnold Schwarznegger has announced plans for a hydrogen highway. Host Steve Curwood discusses the scheme with Terry Tamminen, director of the Environment Now Foundation and advisor to the future governor. They are joined by Jim Motavalli, a transportation expert and editor of E Magazine. (11:00)
Environmental Health Note/Eat the Whole Tomato/ Diane Toomey
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Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports on a new study that shows a supplement used to prevent prostate cancer may not be effective. But these researchers did find that the food it comes from, the tomato, may be beneficial. (01:20)
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This week, we have facts about the first All-Electric house. It was built back in 1953 in Shawnee, Kansas for 42 thousand dollars. (01:30)
The Discovery of Global Warming
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Global warming may be a well-known phrase today, but when scientists first started talking about it, they were usually talking to themselves. Host Steve Curwood and Spencer Weart discuss the historian’s new book, “The Discovery of Global Warming.” (08:30)
States Sue EPA
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Host Steve Curwood talks with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal about a suit brought by 12 states to force the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants. (02:30)
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Host Steve Curwood talks with John Cramer, a physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle. Prof. Cramer put together some NASA data and simulated the sound of the Big Bang. (03:00)
Emerging Science Note/Sperm Rations/ Cynthia Graber
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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a new finding that male fowl can control their sperm when fertilizing an egg. (01:20)
Going for the Kill/ Guy Hand
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We often have our views of nature shaped by the shrieks and growls of wildlife television. Producer Guy Hand spent some time with the producers of those films and found there's a fierce argument going on over whether the business needs more blood or more birdsong. (16:00)
HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Terry Tamminen, Jim Motavalli, Paul Scott, Spencer Weart, Richard Blumenthal, John CramerREPORTERS: Guy HandNOTES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber
CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: This week: the nature film reconsidered. Television’s once insatiable appetite for nature cinema is gone. Today, it’s reality TV time for nature filmmakers and many are going for the gore.
FAIRCLOUGH: If you're going to make a film called "Anatomy of a Shark Bite," per se you're going to have a lot of bites you need to be able to analyze them. So the total might have been about 313, but we had a lot of bites.
CURWOOD: Some filmmakers say adapt or die, but others won’t make “un-natural” nature films.
_________: In the endeavor to get bums on seats, as they say, for the minimum outlay of cash, we have reinvented the snake charmer and the lion tamer.
CURWOOD: Also, this week – how scientists discovered global warming. And Arnold Swartzenegger’s hydrogen highway. That and more just ahead on Living on Earth. Stick around.
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Arnold Schwarzenegger is set to become governor of California on November 17th. And while we don’t know a lot about his plans for the environment, we do know that during his campaign he promised to make California a leader in promoting cars that run on hydrogen. The governor-elect pledges that by the year 2010 he’ll build a “Hydrogen highway,” an interconnected system of two hundred hydrogen fueling stations.
Joining me to discuss this ambitious undertaking is Terry Tamminen. Mr. Tamminen is executive director of the Environment Now Foundation and serves as an advisor to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Also with us is Jim Motavalli, editor of E Magazine and author of “Forward Drive: The Race to Build Clean Cars for the Future.”
I understand the idea for these hydrogen filling stations is based on a blueprint your foundation created, Terry Tamminen. How ready is California for a hydrogen highway?
TAMMINEN: There’s been a great deal of work, a lot of money invested in developing hydrogen vehicles of the future. And the constant chicken or the egg situation that we keep hearing is, well, no one is going to build a network of filling stations for hydrogen until there are vehicles, and no one will mass produce the vehicles until there are filling stations. So, this is an attempt to try to break that conundrum and to lay down a basic network of hydrogen fueling stations and allow the auto-makers to make good on their pledge, which we’ve heard many of them say, including General Motors, that they can have tens of thousands of competitively priced fuel cell, hydrogen-powered vehicles on California roads by 2010 if the fueling infrastructure is in place.
CURWOOD: Tell me about these 200 stations. Where will they be located? Will they be part of existing gas stations?
TAMMINEN: In some cases, yes, in some cases they might be stand-alone. There are a number of interstate highways that criss-cross California. And the notion was that if you placed stations 20, 25 miles apart all along these interstates, that you would then have created a network that would allow a consumer to feel comfortable that if they had a hydrogen vehicle they could move anywhere in the state and still find refueling. In some cases, they would be a fueling stations that already exist. In some cases, we’ve been talking with big-box retailers about putting solar panels on their roofs and then making the hydrogen via electrolysis of water, and having the fueling station in the parking lot of the big-box retailer. There’s also 300 natural gas filling stations in the state of California already, and these are very logical places to co-locate hydrogen.
CURWOOD: Jim, how practical does this sound to you?
MOTAVALLI: Well, I think it is a very good idea to do what Terry Tamminen is talking about. I do think we need a hydrogen infrastructure in California, and I think the plan that they’ve outlined is fairly practical. We have to keep in mind that right now there are no hydrogen-powered fuel cell automobiles available for sale to the public, so the infrastructure will come before the cars are actually available.
CURWOOD: Alright – Terry?
TAMMINEN: Just to correct one thing Jim said, there’s a company called Anewview, it’s one word, Anewview. And they sell a fuel cell Nissan station wagon which they’ve actually converted into a fuel cell, it has about a 200 mile hydrogen range. And you can buy it today. It’s $100,000 but you can buy a commercial, fuel cell, warranteed product, hydrogen-powered product today. BMW has told us that in 2007 they’re going to be introducing internal combustion hydrogen vehicles. Ford has said that in 2008 they’ll have Escape, a small/midsize SUV in an internal combustion hydrogen vehicle. And the Governor-elect is actually in the process of converting his Hummer, which is an internal combustion engine, to operate on hydrogen.
CURWOOD: Jim, what do you think of – what about the Governor-elect’s Hummer?
MOTAVALLI: Well, I think the problem with the Hummer is you’re starting with a very fuel-inefficient vehicle. It weighs 6,400 pounds. Our biggest challenge with fuel cells, and even, also, with internal combustion hydrogen, is getting enough range out of the vehicle. When you start with something big and heavy like that you’re already at a disadvantage.
CURWOOD: Terry, I want to come back to you. How do you answer the big question about the production of hydrogen? As I understand it, at the moment, I think that the bulk of hydrogen will be created from non-renewable sources, such as reforming oil, or using a coal-firing plant to electrolyze water. How much does this affect the overall impact of switching to a hydrogen system?
TAMMINEN: Well, you know, there’s clean ways of doing everything. And certainly, in California, it’s unlikely we’re going to be gasifying coal, for example. In other parts of the country that is a concern. Again, even there, it can be done and the carbon can be sequestered, although it’s certainly not the preferred method.
But if you take a look at what’s likely to happen in California, the initial supply of hydrogen is most likely to come from two sources. One would be natural gas, where a steam reformation process is used to extract the hydrogen. And on a well-to-wheel basis, in other words, if you measure the impacts on the pollution and greenhouse gases from the moment that the product is taken from the well – if you’re comparing, say, gasoline to hydrogen – if you look from the well all the way to the wheel and the tailpipe, all of the studies that we’ve looked at show that you have a net benefit by even this system of converting natural gas into hydrogen. The other way to do it is with electrolysis, as you mentioned. And the ideal way, of course, is to use solar or other renewable forms of electricity.
CURWOOD: Now, we’re talking about, really, future technologies. I mean, the technology is here but implementing something is in the future. And some folks are lamenting the passing of an existing technology. Over the years California has had this mandate for a certain percentage of zero emission vehicles on the road. And that was originally interpreted as being battery operated cars. Your plan, and other steps that California has taken, would make it appear that the state is going to leave electric vehicles and focus on hydrogen. And I’d like to bring in a guest we have with us on the line. His name is Paul Scott, and he owns an electric vehicle. Paul Scott, I’d like to give you a chance to ask our guests a question of your own.
SCOTT: Oh, sure. It’s been an interesting conversation, so far. And I guess, you know, you’re talking about the future, and what can be done in 10 years or 20 years. And I’ve been driving an electric car for about a year now. And I power it from solar panels on my roof. And it does everything that I need it to do. I drive all over the LA freeways everyday. And I know friends who have driven electric cars for seven or eight years, and commutes of 70 or 80 miles a day – no problem. Given that these technologies are already in existence, and have been for such a long time, I don’t understand why we’re not doing more electric cars. I don’t fault you for trying to build new technologies and go into fuel cells, but EVs are phenomenally efficient ways of moving people around town. So I guess my question is, why aren’t you going toward building more electric cars as well as fuel cell cars?
CURWOOD: Terry, I want you to answer this, but Jim, first, comment on the question and then we’ll throw it to Terry to take both of your views here.
MOTAVALLI: Well, the problem is that consumers in California have had the option of buying EVs, as he describes them, electric vehicles, for some time. And they have not actually taken that option. The General Motors EV1 was on the market for four or five years and California consumers only leased approximately 600 of them. The Honda EV Plus, which I think is a very good battery vehicle, actually leased even fewer than that. The thing is that true blue environmentalists are willing to go with this technology but very few consumers, all told, will actually do it. And the problem is range, and also the inconvenience of having to plug vehicles in. I’m not saying that it’s the hardest thing in the world, but people seem unwilling to do it. And they’re unwilling to have vehicles that have a range of 100 miles or less. In terms of actually eliminating pollution, in the few years that they were on the market, electric cars did not achieve that.
SCOTT: Can I respond to that?
CURWOOD: Sure, go ahead.
SCOTT: First of all, the new batteries, the lithium ion batteries, are giving ranges in excess of 300 miles per charge. They can be fast-charged in minutes instead of than hours, so there’s no reason to wait around overnight for a charge. And as far as no consumer demand, all of the OEMs produced several thousand electric vehicles over the last several years. Every single one of them was either leased or sold, and there was an extensive waiting list for more. And this is without any marketing whatsoever.
CURWOOD: Alright, Terry, here your are now advising the new governor. A question comes about electric cars – why not go for them now? We can have them today.
TAMMINEN: Well, I think the answer is we have. And I think, perhaps, the truth lies somewhere between Paul’s question and comment and Jim’s answer. I certainly agree with both of them to some degree. First of all, the Governor-elect owns two electric cars himself, so he already understands this technology and realizes that there is a market for it. And I was particularly disappointed that General Motors actually withdrew their EVs. They didn’t just sell a certain number, or lease a certain number. When those leases are up those people have to return those cars. So I would agree with Paul that there is definitely more of a marketplace out there than has been tapped. That said, Jim is right that given the longer time to charge, some of the other inconveniences on range and so forth, that they’re not for everyone. But I go back to the point about the AB 2076 Report and the fact that we just cannot continue to rely on one fuel. We must diversify our fuel portfolio or we are not only in for environmental damage that we already have, but tremendous economic damage if we can’t move our goods and services and ourselves around our rather large state. So I think we must promote the electric vehicles where possible and build this bridge toward hydrogen, which – again I tend to agree with Jim – even if it’s 2010, that’s only seven years away.
CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with me today. Paul Scott joined us earlier. Speaking with us now has been Terry Tamminen executive director of the Environment Now Foundation, and an advisor to the Governor-elect of California, and Jim Motavalli, who is editor of E Magazine. Thank you both for taking this time.
TAMMINEN: My pleasure.
MOTAVALLI: Thank you.
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CURWOOD: Just ahead: how humans came to understand that we are changing the planet’s climate. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.
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TOOMEY: Recent studies show that increased consumption of tomato products reduces the risk of prostate cancer. Some think that lycopene, an antioxidant in tomatoes, is responsible for this effect. Many American men take lycopene supplements to prevent or inhibit the growth of prostate cancer. But a recent study shows that simply taking a pill might not the answer.
Researchers at Ohio State University fed different diets to rats that had been treated to development prostate cancer. One group received tomato powder in their food. Another group got lycopene supplements, and a third was fed a diet without supplementation. Researchers found that the tomato-fed rats experienced a significant delay in the development of their cancer. Overall, their risk of dying with prostate cancer over the 14 month study period was reduced by 26 percent. But there was no benefit for the group that received lycopene.
Researchers think there must be other components in tomato that inhibit cancer growth or that lycopene needs to act in concert with them. Researchers also divided the rats into two subgroups – with one put on a low calorie diet. Regardless of what was in the diet, the low calorie group had a reduced cancer risk - giving further weight to studies that show exercise and lower body mass may protect against prostate cancer. That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Diane Toomey.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: Okay, how about a switch in the bedroom that turns on the coffee maker in the kitchen. Or curtains that open and shut by remote control? Well, these days some folks have computers to do those and other mundane chores but back in the 1950's, you had to live in the All-Electric House in Shawnee, Kansas, to enjoy such conveniences. The Kansas City Power & Light Company built an all-electric model home 50 years ago that was typical in size and style to the ranch houses popping up across America back then. And it put the latest in luxuries at your fingertips.
|(Photo courtesy of Johnson County Museums)||
STEITZ: You could push a button that could move a painting that was over the mantle and that would reveal your television set. There was a GE refrigerator that had shelves where you could push a button and they'll raise and lower so you can accommodate room for your Thanksgiving turkey.
CURWOOD: Tracy Steitz is curator of education at the All-Electric House, today part of the Johnson County Museum of History. The museum welcomes as many as 15,000 visitors each year to the house. Ms. Steitz says the most interesting reactions come from kids raised in the world of computers and video games.
STEITZ: They find something as simple as having a remote-control painting in front of a television is just amazing, and they all want to buy the house. So I think the technology that really awed people in 1953 is still doing the same thing 50 years later.
CURWOOD: But the price tag also awed potential homebuyers. With its cutting-edge technology, the All-Electric House listed for $42,000 in 1953 - more than four times the average cost of a home in those days. But, while the All-Electric House never caught on, some of its innovations have become standard in today's modern homes. Imagine suburbia without the garbage disposal, the dishwasher or the garage door opener. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
CURWOOD: Long before global warming became a rallying cry for environmental groups and political fodder on Capitol Hill, it was a fragmented and obscure field of science. Few researchers thought to connect the many dots that would eventually outline the global evidence of human-induced climate change. Those who did met with resistance and a certain unyielding psychology among scientists, politicians and the public.
Historian Spencer Weart documents the twists and turns as climate change slowly emerged as a science. His new book is called “The Discovery of Global Warming.” And he says that it wasn’t one branch of science that made it all come together.
WEART: It took many different kinds of scientists to work on it, and for a long time many of them didn’t even know of one another’s existence. And even today it’s very difficult to get them all on the same page, so to speak. Climate change has also involved new social mechanisms, quite unprecedented in the history of science, for getting hundreds of scientists from different field all together to understand one another.
CURWOOD: Okay, so what are those different fields?
WEART: Well, besides volcanology, and solar physics, and oceanography, and biology, we obviously have to consider meteorology. And, perhaps quite crucially, computer science, in order to do the big computer models that we need. Then there’s also the ice caps which play a crucial role. And one can even dig down into what seem like obscure fields like soil mechanics, because the rate of runoff depends on how the climate changes. All sorts of things like that.
CURWOOD: Spencer, there are dozens of scientists mentioned in your book, but there’s one person, Guy Stewart Callendar, who seems to take a pretty big role in the story that you tell here. Could you tell us that story please?
WEART: He seemed to be one of these people who were common in the past century, who liked to sit around and do amateur science of one kind or another. And what he had done was to compile weather statistics. Other people had done this, and there was some indication in the 1930s that the world was getting warmer. And Callendar put together statistics better than anybody else had done so far to show that this was a truly global effect. But then, unlike everybody else, he thought that this wasn’t just some random thing, that it was something that we were causing. And he went back to old theories that had come out in the late 19th century that by putting carbon dioxide into the air we might be able to warm the Earth. This was something that most scientists paid little attention to, but Callendar went back and burrowed around in old statistics and found that, by George, the carbon dioxide level of the atmosphere actually was warming. And he said, see, we’re the ones who are responsible for this warmer weather that we’ve been having recently. And he stood up before the Royal Meteorological Society in 1938, and told them that global warming was something that might indeed happen and could perhaps even be seen at that time.
CURWOOD: Now, when Guy Stewart Callendar comes to this meeting, and says, hey, things seem to be warming up, did he suggest what might happen as a function of that?
WEART: Well, like most people at the time, he was mainly interested in it just as a scientific phenomenon, and thought “well, if it really does turn out that over the next few centuries we get a couple of degrees warmer that would be nice, because it will prove that carbon dioxide might have something to do with the ice ages,” which was the scientific problem that really interested people. At that time, people saw global warming as something that, if it did happen, would come only over centuries and be maybe a degree or so. Because people didn’t really picture how the world population and industrialization were increasing exponentially. And so people thought it would come very slowly, and also they thought anything that happened that slowly would probably be benign and it would make for better crops and that sort of a thing.
CURWOOD: Give me a sense of history as to when science began to understand that certain chemicals, that certain compounds, could change the balance of the Earth’s climate.
WEART: Well, people actually realized in the mid 19th century that the Earth’s atmosphere plays a major role in regulating the climate. The question that became interesting was “so what?” What difference does this make? It was probably because of the atomic bomb that people changed their minds about that. People began to think, well, maybe we are able to do things of global significance. And then, of course, along came ideas like chemical pollution, with Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” the idea that the whole Earth might indeed be affected somehow by chemical pollution. So began to think, well, maybe the carbon dioxide that we’re putting into the air is actually enough to affect the whole global system.
CURWOOD: When does the scientific community begin to think pretty seriously that humans are promoting global warming, and why?
WEART: It was a very step-wise change. The first thing was the recognition that there might be a remote risk of global warming a couple of centuries ahead. And that came in the late 1950s and early 60s as a result of two developments. One was calculations that carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere really could rise, that it wouldn’t all just be absorbed in the oceans or in the rocks or whatever. And the second was a measurement by Charles Keeling which showed that the level was, in fact, rising. With the idea that, well, let’s go measure the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere now, and then we’ll come back and measure it 20 years from now and see if it’s increased, and that will give us some idea whether we need to worry about global warming in the 21st or maybe 22nd century.
CURWOOD: Now, this is what, 1958?
WEART: This is 1957, ‘58. But Keeling, through enormous effort and ingenuity, managed to measure the level so precisely that in only two years he was able to show that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was being raised. That was certainly one of the main things that got people to thinking seriously about it, the visible demonstration that carbon dioxide has been rising year by year.
CURWOOD: When do the folks who make their living from carbon dioxide, with fossil fuels and the such, when do they start to pay attention to this?
WEART: Corporations can be very far-sighted about something that they think might concern their economic interests. And as soon as global warming was mentioned, back in the 1950s even, there were some corporate interests that were concerned about the bad image that it might give carbon emissions. And on the other hand, some people in the nuclear energy industry, already in the 1960s, began to say, well, if there ever is global warming, maybe nuclear energy will be the solution. And people in the coal industry began to say, no, no, you guys have it all wrong, there’s nothing wrong with carbon dioxide. This was already in the 1960s they were starting to do that. And the people in the energy industries, particularly coal, oil, and automotive industries, began to take steps, and by the 1970s, and particularly by the 1980s, they were spending a considerable amount of money in attempts to sidetrack the issue, and attempts to convince people that it was not a problem that needed to concern them.
CURWOOD: So, how did the scientists handle this? Here you have very deep-pocketed industry taking on the work that they’re doing.
WEART: Well, different scientists handled it in different ways. Some scientists, to be very blunt, took the money and found reasons to explain scientifically, as they thought it, why global warming did not need to be a problem. Other scientists took to the airwaves, so to speak, and began to give interviews to reporters so that they could mount their own educational efforts, as they would say. Most scientists didn’t trust any of this, and they had the viewpoint, well, we’ll sit here and do the studies, and they’ll be so definitive and convincing that surely the politicians will have to be convinced by the pure logic of our thoughts.
CURWOOD: Recently, 43 senators voted on a bill to reduce emissions that promote global warming. From a historian’s point of view, what do you think this recent action will mean in the greater history of global warming?
WEART: When I look at the way that this has been approached politically – and in the larger sense of the forces that are arrayed on both sides – I can’t help being reminded of the controversy over chemical pesticides, over ozone depletion, and one could name many other things including lead in gasoline, and tobacco, and so forth. Many cases in which initially it seemed ridiculous, in which powerful economic forces said there was no reason to worry. This just smells like that. It’s a case where sooner or later people will be convinced. But it takes a long time for the economic forces to be convinced that perhaps the issue can be attacked without seriously damaging their economic interests.
CURWOOD: Spencer Weart is director of the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics in Maryland, and author of “The Discovery of Global Warming.” Thanks for taking this time with me today.
WEART: Thank you. My pleasure.
CURWOOD: With the federal government stalled over any action on climate change, states are taking the lead. Attorneys general from twelve states recently filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its failure to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Richard Blumenthal is attorney general for Connecticut, and joins me from his office in Hartford. Welcome.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
CURWOOD: Mr. Blumenthal, this isn’t the first time that Connecticut has filed suit against the EPA over global warming. I believe your state, along with Massachusetts and Maine, brought a similar suit in June, filed in the federal district court there in your state, in Hartford. What’s different this time around?
BLUMENTHAL: What’s different is that the federal government has clearly and unequivocally said that global warming is not a threat. What’s different now is that the EPA has determined, authoritatively, that CO2 and other greenhouse gasses do not cause global warming and global warming is not a threat to the planet. So we filed before simply to force the administration to reach a conclusion. Now it’s reached a conclusion that essentially ignores the problem. And we believe that the EPA has a duty under the law to classify carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions as a threat and a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
CURWOOD: If I understand it correctly, Mr. Blumenthal, all 12 of you attorneys general that have filed this suit are Democrats. How fair is that criticism that this might be a partisan effort?
BLUMENTHAL: There really is absolutely nothing partisan about this action. Indeed, some of the states filing this action have Republican governors, such as Massachusetts, even Connecticut, New York. So there really is very strong bipartisan support for this effort, essentially to compel the administration to follow the law.
CURWOOD: Richard Blumenthal is attorney general for the state of Connecticut.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
CURWOOD: In its defense, The EPA says Congress has given the agency no authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide at this time.
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CURWOOD: Earlier this year Living on Earth teamed up with Heritage Africa and South African Airways to give away a 15 day African Safari. We were thrilled that so many listeners entered the sweepstakes – and sad we could only give the trip to one. That lucky winner is a Portland, Oregon psychologist, a mother who plans to take along her young daughter. Wildlife enthusiasts both, they are eager to see the animals of Africa up close.
Now, we want to give everyone else another chance to do the same. We are preparing another African Eco-tour. This time, you can have a chance to join me on a walking safari. We’ll stay in an African village where we will have the chance to canoe and hike, and then travel deep into Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park to see lions, hippos, monkeys, and all sorts of wild animals at home in the bush.
There are two ways that you can join the caravan. Go to living on earth dot org to find out how you can win a trip for two. You can also reserve a space by buying a ticket right now. For details, visit our website – livingonearth.org. That’s livingonearth.org for another chance at the trip of a lifetime. And you’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.
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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Town Creek Foundation 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 Ginsburg in support of excellence in public radio.
CURWOOD: Some thirteen billion years ago – okay, so maybe it was fourteen billion years ago – a tiny point rapidly expanded to make what became our universe. The Big Bang is how science today believes our universe came to be. A few years ago, John Cramer, a physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle wrote about a project that mapped radiation leftover from the Big Bang. That column got an eleven year old boy wondering what it all sounded like. So Professor Cramer set out to simulate the sounds of the Big Bang. Professor Cramer, how did you go about re-creating a sound that happened billions of years ago?
CRAMER: Well, there’ve been some recent measurements by NASA satellites of radiation that was released about 300,000 years after the Big Bang. And what one finds if you look very closely at this radiation on a small angle scale, is that it has a structure that represents temperature being high or low at certain places in the sky. And the people who measured this characterize it in terms of frequencies, essentially sound frequencies, that were present in the early Big Bang. And I took those and used them in a computer program to make the sound that you hear.
CURWOOD: Let’s give it a listen.
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CURWOOD: What are we actually hearing?
CRAMER: You’re hearing frequency-shifted sound waves from the Big Bang that were measured by a NASA satellite, moved very far up in frequency so that the human ear can hear them. You’re also hearing the sound waves dropping in frequency as the universe expands. And you’re hearing the sound get more intense as the cosmic microwave background becomes stronger and stronger, and then falling off as it becomes weaker and weaker over the first 700,000 years of the universe.
CURWOOD: Now, how possible is it to give us the sound of the actual moment of the Big Bang?
CRAMER: The instant of the Big Bang something rather spectacular was going on, namely a process called inflation where the universe was expanding much, much faster than the speed of light. That stopped, I don’t know, after picoseconds or less, and then the Big Bang proceeded to expand at a much more leisurely pace. We don’t have any data that represents that inflation period, when there must have been something that really sounded more like a bang.
CURWOOD: What’s next on you’re agenda?
CRAMER: Well, this is not what I do for a living. I do relativistic heavy ion physics at RHIC.
CRAMER: Yeah, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven. And we have some very interesting data coming out of our gold-gold collisions there that seem to have destroyed most of the theories that existed before the machine ran, and we’re trying to understand what’s going on.
CURWOOD: Sounds pretty physical to me.
CRAMER: Yeah, right. We bash gold nuclei together at nearly the speed of light and we make a fireball that looks something like the first microsecond of the Big Bang, so perhaps there’s some connection between this and the sound file.
CURWOOD: John Cramer is a physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle. Thanks for taking this time with me today.
CRAMER: Thank you.
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CURWOOD: Just ahead: unnatural nature films. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]
GRABER: In the animal world, males often have vibrant colors or perform elaborate rituals to attract a mate to ensure their genes will be passed on. Now, scientists say males of a species of fowl have another ploy. It seems that male cockerals can regulate the amount of sperm they ejaculate. Females cockerels have multiple sex partners. So scientists in England developed a novel method. They harnessed female cockerals with a special contraption to collect ejaculated semen.
The researchers then controlled which female was presented to each male. They also controlled whether or not other males were present during copulation. They analyzed the resulting sperm and found that males who mated with the same female numerous times reduced the amount of sperm with each successive copulation and eventually stopped mating with the female altogether. But when a new partner came along, the level of sperm went up again. The level of sperm was also higher when another male was present during copulation. Scientists say each male has a limited number of sperm. Rationing how much of it goes into each partner may raise the chances of a successful fertilization. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Cynthia Graber.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: Thomas Newman “Mr. Smarty-Man” AMERICAN BEAUTY – ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SCORE(Dreamworks – 2000)]
CURWOOD: For many of us, nature films on television are as close as we’re ever going to get to wild places like the Serengeti Plain, Denali National Park, or the Great Barrier Reef. We trust that the filmmakers who travel to these places will bring back an entertaining - and accurate - portrait of what they find. After all, we call them "documentaries." But, more and more, broadcasters are questioning whether a “faithful rendition” of nature is the best way to attract audiences. And filmmakers are left wondering how well their films really reflect nature. As producer Guy Hand found, the questions go to the very nature of nature television.
[WILDLIFE FILM NOISES, GROWLS, AND SQUAWKS]
HAND: If you haven't noticed, it's a jungle in there. Your TV set harbors a certain feral element. From the old Disney to the new Discovery, from Wild Kingdom to Animal Planet, television and nature share a long relationship.
[DRAMATIC WILDLIFE SOUNDTRACK MUSIC]
HAND: For decades, that relationship was built around big-budget wildlife films with pristine landscapes, grand music, and god-like narration.
ANNOUNCER: Mt. Rorima, the site of a legendary lost world of dinosaurs…
HAND: These are the films that follow lions across the African plain, elephants through the Thai jungle, or leopards over the Himalayas. And as cable networks multiplied, television's appetite for wildlife programming only grew.
ANNOUNCERS: Up next on Animal Planet…major funding for Nature…coming up next…in this episode of Croc Diaries…Wild Asia . . .
HAND: The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Explorer, and Animal Planet had joined PBS in putting out more nature shows than audiences had ever seen before.
LEITH: There was a big drive in the mid '90s, the late '90s to increase wildlife programming.
HAND: But Brian Leith, head of Grenada Wild, one of Britain's largest wildlife production units, says that led to problems.
LEITH: So it suddenly grew, it probably tripled, quadrupled the number of wildlife films being made over several years. And I think the viewers got fed up. If you suddenly quadruple the number of wildlife films being made, the quality inevitably drops.
Photographer Brad Markel (Photo: ©Guy Hand)HAND: And that has delegates here, at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, worried. Every two years, producers, cinematographers, screenwriters and TV execs wander in from twenty-some countries to talk technique, pitch stories, and watch their compatriots' new films. But this year, they're also discussing production company closures and cancelled projects. The festival's first seminar sets the tone.
SPEAKER: Hi everybody. Welcome to Jackson Hole. Always great to be here. The title of this forum is “How to Stop Wild TV Going Extinct.” Subtitles I'd thought of might be “Reality Bites,” which it has over the last few years.
HAND: Its never been easy to attract audiences to natural history, to visually illustrate the grand flow of evolution, climate, or geology; to push rangy, unruly nature into the confines of a TV set. That's why nature films often fall back on the habits of Hollywood, substituting flash for substance, casting big animals in a kind of beastly melodrama.
ANNOUNCER: In these mountains, every step of every day is a struggle. Only the tough and the lucky endure…
HAND: These films focus on the visually dramatic and that predictably means "the kill." Cinematographers call it "the money shot."
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the snow leopard will finish its kill, then it will disappear into the shadows, its mystery preserved until the chance comes to kill again.
HAND: Many filmmakers say this focus on "Fang Television" ignores nature's complexity, its long stretches of calm, its subtle interactions, its small creatures.
LINDEN: If a Martian came to Earth and was watching these films they'd say, “well, Earth is populated by four billion cheetahs and three billion tigers. And sharks are the only thing in the ocean.”
HAND: Eugene Linden has written several books on nature and animal behavior and spent the last few days judging films at the Jackson Hole festival. He and his fellow judges say that quick cuts and attention grabbing scenes can misrepresent the reality out there.
LINDEN: For those of us who've had the privilege to sort of be out in Africa or in Asia and out in nature, a lot of it is really quiet. The sort of rhythm of that is really a special thing. I think your pulse slows down. But given the frenetic pace that the broadcasters feel like “gotta keep the audience attention at any point, my God, they're going to switch the channel, stop him!”
[GRAND MUSIC AND GROWLING LIONS]
HAND: But Derek Joubert and his wife Beverly, who have been shooting wildlife films in Africa for years, believe that big animals and big drama are essential to the genre.
JOUBERT: I don't have any qualms about doing a film about predators. The reason that we do films is to convince people to take care of nature, to take care of the wild places, look after the wildernesses. And frankly, if we can't take care of elephants and lions, the bugs and plants don't have a chance. So we use them as dramatic species to engage people in a story so they actually care.
HAND: Derek says there are different kinds of mega-fauna films, the good ones and the ones he calls "predator snuff films."
JOUBERT: Somebody in one of the panels at this Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival was proudly saying that he had fifty seconds of shark attack footage and he managed to turn it into a two hour film. I would never say that with a clear conscience and be able to sleep.
ANNOUNCER: With cameras rolling, a shark scientist went into the water for what he thought was a routine interview. Things went terribly wrong…
HAND: Phil Fairclough, vice president of production at the Discovery Channel, is that film's creator.
FAIRCLOUGH: In the course of making a program about bull sharks for Discovery Channel, we were present when a very unfortunate incident happened.
ANNOUNCER: The water was warm and clear [LAUGHTER].
FAIRCLOUGH: One of the scientists who was talking to our presenter was bitten by a shark, and in a few seconds he essentially lost his calf. I mean the shark came in, bit his calf off. And we at Discovery were faced with a dilemma. How do we use this? Do we use this? And I came up with the idea of essentially making a show about a bite and culminating in the bite.
ANNOUNCER: “Anatomy of a Shark Bite!”
HAND: Phil took less than a minute of tape and turned it into a two-hour show. To add scientific credibility, he built mechanical sharks and brought experts into the studio to re-create and examine the attack in detail. But, he says, to keep his target audience hooked, there also had to be lots of blood and what he calls a "festival of bites."
FAIRCLOUGH: Yeah, we had 296 bites, shark bites, you had a lot of bites. And of course if you're going to make a film, a two hour show called "Anatomy of a Shark Bite," per se you're going to have a lot of bites. You need to be able to analyze them. It's not to say they're not good TV either.
ANNOUNCER: The footage in its entirety is extremely graphic and we warn you, if you do not want to see the full reality of a shark bite on a human being, then look away now.
HAND: Discovery is well known for its yearly special called Shark Week. "Anatomy of a Shark Bite" was the highest rated Shark Week episode in the last 14 years.
FAIRCLOUGH: I think for us at Discovery, it was more a success in terms of defining a new way of, in an entertaining fashion, giving information about animals.
HAND: For many of the filmmakers at the festival, this new way sounds a lot like the worst habits of old, with a reality TV twist. But Phil Fairclough says he's just a broadcasting pragmatist.
FAIRCLOUGH: If wildlife is not to fall out of the schedules entirely, it has to compete. It has to be able to do as well as a reality programming. It has to do as well as Monster Garage. People in the wildlife industry need to learn the lessons of nature: adapt or die.
ANNOUNCERS: Pee-ew! Are you trying to tell me that I smell? Animal Planet's The Most Extreme is sniffing out the foulest odors in the animal kingdom. We're talking rancid, rotten, lethal smells. Who has the deadliest dung, the most vile vomit, and whose most hideous halitosis…
MOORE: What I want to do here, actually, I'm working on a grizzly bear film and what I need is just a couple of shots of elk as part of that.
HAND: The film festival is going on just down the road, but you get the impression that Shane Moore is happier here, in the pre-dawn glow of Teton National Park. He sets up his camera and tripod behind a pine, then scans the horizon for bugling elk.
MOORE: I think that at some basic level, everybody that's in the documentary field makes films because what they think is cool. They want other people to think it’s cool, as well. I think it really boils down to that. I love nature.
[FAR OFF ELK BUGLE]
HAND: Shane has worked on over a hundred wildlife films, for PBS, National Geographic, Discovery, and the BBC. And he's also one more filmmaker worried about the future.
MOORE: I realize that people aren't going to watch the same type of films year after year. We need to change. But I think that what really bothers me is it feels like, on some fundamental level, we've gone from an appreciation of wildlife to crossing a line of exploitation of wildlife. And I think there are a lot of people like me in the business that wouldn't ever consider doing that. That's not why we're in the business. And a lot of us are kind of wondering if we really have a place in it anymore.
HAND: Big bull elk are moving toward us, bugling as they walk. Shane looks through his eyepiece and begins to shoot.
MOORE: There's another guy coming in.
MOORE: If we get lucky just about the time the sun pops over the ridge, he'll be passing through here and we'll have steamy, back-lit bugling [LAUGHTER]. That's not asking for too much, is it?
HAND: But finding a place on TV, even with spectacular footage, might be asking too much. There's a growing list of creatures and habitats that broadcasters say won't work on modern American TV. Conservation stories don't work. Complex ecology doesn't work. Plants don't work. Birds don't work. And that worries BBC filmmaker Jeremy Bristow
BRISTOW: There's a limited criteria that's being applied that is a kind of a straight jacket beyond which there is a really fascinating and interesting world out there and a fascinating story that’s not being told.
ANNOUNCER: A chimpanzee and a gorilla.
HAND: Jeremy's film "Ape Hunters," a film that deals with complex conservation and cultural issues, has won numerous awards.
BRISTOW: And yet, strangely, no channel in North America has taken the film. I know people from the main channels have come up and judged it to win a competition or a festival. But they've said to me, “great film, but it's not for our audiences.” And well, that's really disappointing really.
HAND: Janet Han Vissering, senior vp at National Geographic TV, admits that conservation is a tough sell.
VISSERING: Conservation is a topic that, to be honest with you, a lot of people want to say that they're interested. They do want to say that it's something they want to watch, but in some of the shows we've put out about conservation, with a conservation undertone, it hasn't rated as high as some of our other wildlife programs.
LINDEN: National Geographic obviously has enormous expertise in putting this stuff on television.
HAND: Again, writer and festival judge Eugene Linden.
LINDEN: But research isn't perfect, nor is the research that National Geographic and others do about second-guessing what the audience is going to like and not like.
ANNOUNCER: And the winner is, that's a fantastic announcement, “Ape Hunters.”
HAND: The audience certainly seems to like the films that are being honored tonight at the festival's award ceremony.
ANNOUNCER: And the award goes to “My Halcyon River.”
HAND: But many of these award winners aren't likely to make it onto American TV screens. And that illustrates the stark divide between the kind of nature film that gets on the air and the kind that many filmmakers think they should be making.
ANNOUNCER: And the award goes to “The Cultured Ape.”
HAND: The highest award of the evening goes to “The Cultured Ape,” which is neither beastly melodrama nor nature turned reality TV. Eugene Linden and his fellow judges simply thought it the best natural history film of the festival.
LINDEN: But I'm sure many in the audience were shocked because it was a low budget film, it dealt with a very complicated subject that has a high intellectual content. It certainly was not breaking new ground in terms of cinematography or anything like that. But it was absolutely gripping.
GOODALL: You can sort of imagine a chimpanzee reaching out across this imaginary line that people used to believe divided us from the rest of the animal kingdom…
LINDEN: And I think it sends a wonderful message. I think it shows that you don't have to dumb it down. You don't have to oversimplify. You don't have to second-guess the attention span of the audience. You can make what you think is a good film and people will recognize that.
DIRECTOR: Ok, roll camera please
[SOUND OF CAMERA ROLLING]
HAND: Just beyond our satellite dishes and cable connections, there's an amazing world chirping and churning away. TV has never been a perfect window on that world and some people say we shouldn't expect it to be. But there’s the sense among filmmakers here that more is at stake than entertainment; that an audience that doesn’t get to see the complexity and wonder they see in nature, may not be able to make as informed choices about the natural world. For Living on Earth, I'm Guy Hand.
[MUSIC: Air “Empty House” THE VIRGIN SUICIDES – ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SCORE (Astralwerks - 2000)]
[EARTHEAR: Sarah Peebles “Train Ride On Sobu Line” 108: WALKING THROUGH TOKYO AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY (Post Concrete – 2002)
HISSING, WHEELS TURNING OF MOVING TRAIN; PEOPLE TALKING]
CURWOOD: And for this week, that’s Living on Earth. We leave you riding the Sobu Line. That’s the title of this recording made by Sarah Peebles along one of the many train routes that run through the heart of Tokyo.
[HISSING, WHEELS TURNING OF MOVING TRAIN, PEOPLE TALKING]
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. Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar. You can hear our program anytime on our website. The address is living o earth dot org. Once again, living on earth dot org.
You can reach us at comments at loe dot org. Once again, comments at loe dot org. Our postal address is 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts, 02144. And you can call our listener line, at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988. Cd’s, tapes and transcripts are fifteen dollars. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.
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