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

December 5, 2003

Air Date: December 5, 2003


(stream/download) as an MP3 file


Tilting Against Windmills / Jeff Young

(stream / mp3)

Environmentalists are fighting an energy bill that wind energy companies say they need to survive. Jeff Young reports from Washington. (05:30)

Cell Phone Conundrum

(stream / mp3)

The FCC recently handed cell phone consumers a major victory. No longer will they have to commit to a new number when they switch carriers. As a result, millions of old phones could be discarded in the next year. Host Steve Curwood talks with Eric Most, a researcher for INFORM, about the looming problem of wireless waste. (03:40)

Can You Hear Me Now?

(stream / mp3)

Host Steve Curwood ponders the impact of cell phones on our lives. (02:00)

Emerging Science Note/ Farming Fungus / Cynthia Graber

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports that snails are farming fungus in southern marshes. (01:20)

Almanac/All Aboard!

(stream / mp3)

This week, we have facts about the 20th Century Limited. The last of the luxury trains made its final journey from New York City to Chicago in 1967. (01:30)

Walking With Bears / Diane Toomey

(stream / mp3)

Thanks to a burgeoning black bear population in the U.S., there are more and more encounters between those animals and humans. But researcher Lynn Rogers says only in the rare instances is there anything to fear. Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey went on a walk in the woods with the bear scientist. (10:45)

Strand o’ Lights

(stream / mp3)

Tis the season for lights, as millions of people string up elaborate displays in anticipation of the holidays. The tradition dates back one hundred years, when the first set of wired Christmas lights came on the market. Host Steve Curwood speaks with Bill Nelson, a collector of antique holiday bulbs, from his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. (03:00)

Environmental Health Note/Holiday Tips / Kathy Lutz

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Living on Earth’s Kathy Lutz reports on the health implications of two items normally associated with this holiday season. (01:20)

Kucinich Speaks

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Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Democratic presidential candidate, shares his environmental platform with host Steve Curwood. (08:00)

Play Space Learning / Liz Lempert

(stream / mp3)

Children's author Lynne Cherry believes that kids learn better when they're learning in their own backyards. To that end, she's on a mission: Cherry wants every schoolyard in the country to have its own garden. Living on Earth's Liz Lempert has our story. (07:15)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Eric Most, Dennis Kucinich, Bill NelsonREPORTERS: Jeff Young, Diane Toomey, Liz LempertNOTES: Cynthia Graber, Kathy Lutz


CURWOOD: From NPR - this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. Wind and solar power are caught in the crossfire of the battle on Capitol Hill over the energy bill. Environmentalists want to kill the package that ironically includes tax credits for renewable energy. Meanwhile, the Republican leadership is set to let those tax breaks expire. It all means a shaky future for the fledgling industry.

SWISHER: If the energy bill dies, extension of wind production tax credit will also die for any time in the foreseeable future.

CURWOOD: Also, the growing black bear population has some people worried. But one expert says it’s the bears who are concerned about how people react.

ROGERS: When a bear shows up in somebody’s yard, whether it’s a nuisance or a joy depends on the person’s attitude.

CURWOOD: Those stories and trimming the tree in 1903 this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.

[NPR NEWSCAST - Ry Cooder & Manuel Galban “Drume Negrita” MAMBO SINUENDO (Nonesuch – 2003)]

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

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Tilting Against Windmills

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley studios, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Harnessing direct sunlight and wind for energy is part of just about every environmental platform these days. So you might wonder why some environmental groups are at odds with the wind and solar industries when it comes to the energy debate in Washington. As Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, solar and wind power companies are eager for the continuation of tax breaks included in the now-stalled energy bill. It’s the same bill environmental groups are working to defeat.

YOUNG: Talk about twisting in the wind. The wind power industry, one of the cleanest sources of energy for the future, is now tied to a bill critics say promotes the dirty energies of the past. Environmental groups are fighting the energy bill’s subsidies for nuclear and fossil fuels and regulation rollbacks for polluters. But New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici, the bill’s leading advocate in the Senate, has a warning.

DOMENICI: Wind energy is finished when you kill this bill! It is gone! There she blew, like they say out on the ocean, there she blew! Right out the window with those who decided that they wanted to talk this bill to death!

YOUNG: The bill fell just two votes short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster in the Senate, a victory for environmentalists. But those who make environmentally friendly energies mourned the loss and fear for their future. Randall Swisher leads the American Wind Energy Association, which desperately needs the energy bill’s three-year extension of a tax credit for wind farms.

SWISHER: If we weren’t in the bill, the credit that is the foundation of our industry was going to expire. And with it our industry would expire. So, yes, it was important for us to see that the energy bill moved forward.

YOUNG: For the past decade, the production tax credit provided a little less than two cents for every kilowatt hour of energy a windmill produced. That’s made wind cost-competitive with coal and gas and has driven the industry’s 25 percent annual growth. That credit expires at the end of this month. In the past, when a credit expired, Congress simply extended it. But now the credit is valuable as political leverage to pry the energy bill from the current filibuster. Swisher says that means congressional leaders are unlikely to renew it on its own.

SWISHER: If energy bill dies, extension of wind production tax credit will also die for any time in the foreseeable future.

YOUNG: That’s created uncertainty in the wind industry. Vestas Group, the world’s leading maker of wind turbines, had planned a thousand employee plant in Oregon. Now that’s up in the air. Wind farms proposed for Minnesota and Iowa are stalled, and Swisher says layoffs are coming. The outlook is also less than sunny for solar technology companies with tax breaks in the energy bill.

HAMER: The tax credits are money in the bank.

YOUNG: That’s Glen Hamer of the Solar Energy Industries Association. He says the bill would expand the use of solar with a two thousand dollar credit for home solar heaters and a plan to put solar panels on federal buildings. Hamer says that’s key because solar products’ costs go down about one fifth every time the use of the technology doubles.

HAMER: The more of these technologies we get deployed the faster will go down that cost curve, and the faster we will be cost competitive with fossils which is the goal, we know, of everyone in the environmental community.

YOUNG: It might be their common goal, but the environmental community prefers a different path. Environmentalists like Katherine Morrison with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, want the energy bill dead, despite its provisions for wind and solar industries.

MORRISON: They’re in a tough position. They have to support the tax breaks for their industry and they think that would move us forward. We feel that, you know, it is sort of the green window dressing on this bill. But we would support moving that separately. But it’s just the unbalance, with two times as many subsidies and tax breaks going to the dirty things. There are so many provisions in here that would further entrench our reliance on the dirtiest unsustainable fossil fuel and nuclear sources of energy, this is not a good bill for the country.

YOUNG: Morrison says PIRG finds even the clean parts of the bill tainted. The production tax credit, for example, also extends to garbage incinerators, a major pollution source. And the bill’s authors rejected a renewable portfolio standard, which would have ensured clean energy producers a share of the electricity market. In short, Morrison says, the renewable energies industries are stuck arguing for a bad bill. All of this sounds familiar to the wind energy association’s Randall Swisher.

SWISHER: I’ve had this discussion with quite a few friends and colleagues. And I find that generally they understand. We don’t have a lot of alternatives. If we’re not in that bill and if that bill doesn’t move, we’re out of luck.

YOUNG: It’s an awkward spot for Swisher, a guy who once worked for PIRG fighting a nuclear plant, and who describes his current job as finding ways to change the world. Now he’s telling his member companies in the wind industry to find ways to change two votes when the Senate considers the energy bill again next month. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

[MUSIC: Mu-Ziq “Midwinter Log” LUNATIC HARNESS (Astralwerks - 1997)]

Related links:
- American Wind Energy Association
- Solar Energy Industries Association
- U.S. PIRG on energy

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Cell Phone Conundrum

CURWOOD: A recent ruling by the Federal Communications Commission has made it much easier for people with cell phones to part with their old models, and ring in with newer versions. That’s because folks who want to switch over to a new plan can now do so without the hassle of giving up their existing phone number. But their old phones probably won’t be compatible with the new service. So what to do with the millions of unwanted phones that are expected to be discarded in the coming year. Eric Most is senior research associate with INFORM, an environmental research group in New York City, and he studies cell phone recycling options. Eric, welcome.

MOST: Hi, how are you?

CURWOOD: So, tell me, how would this latest ruling on cell phone carriers effect the cell phone waste problem?

MOST: Well, it’s likely that millions of people will switch service providers in the new year as a result of the new ruling. And it’s unlikely that their phones will be compatible with the technology of the new carriers because of a lack of standardization within the industry. Therefore, we’re going to see a number of these phones discarded, and ending up in landfills and incinerators.

CURWOOD: Tell me right now, today, what kinds of phone recycling programs that are available in this country.

MOST: The largest programs in the U.S. are run by the wireless industry. For example there’s a donate-a-phone program, which comprises Sprint’s collection program and also the Call to Protect Program. There’s also the Verizon Hope Line program, and AT&T wireless’s Reuse and Recycling program.

CURWOOD: How successful have these programs been so far?

MOST: Basically, the U.S. collection programs are barely making a dent in the wireless waste stream. These programs in the U.S. are collecting less than one percent of cell phones discarded each year. In the period that Inform examined, which was 1999 through early 2003, these programs collected approximately three million phones, and this is in a period where hundreds of millions of phones were discarded.

CURWOOD: One of the most fascinating things that I found in your study, was that cell phones have a life span of only 18 months. Why is that? Why is that so short?

MOST: Unfortunately, it’s so short because of the way the system is set up. When people change service providers, because of a lack of standardization with in the industry, people usually have to get a new phone because their current phones will not work on the technology of the new service provider. Another problem is that phones keep changing. They keep coming out with the latest technology, and we’ve seen a lot of phones that are smart phones, and they’re capable of accessing to the Internet, they have music capability, etc. And people want this latest technology. But the way phones are designed, they’re not designed to be upgradable. People simply are taught to toss out the phone and buy a new one when they want a new product.

CURWOOD: What can people do to recycle their phones?

MOST: They can take their phones to a number of wireless retail stores near them. For example an AT&T store, a Verizon store, or a Sprint store. We’re starting to see drop-off receptacles at transportation centers such as Penn Station and Grand Central Station. One of the things that we would like to see is for the programs to make drop-off more convenient for consumers by establishing permanent collection receptacles at shopping malls, supermarkets, banks, and post offices. Places that are very visible, and they’re also places that people visit often.

CURWOOD: Eric Most is senior research associate with the New York City based research organization Inform. Eric, thanks for taking this time with me today.

MOST: You’re very welcome. Thank you.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

CURWOOD: Now maybe you’re one of those people who have steadfastly refused to get sucked into the mobile phone culture, and enjoy your freedom from searching for the stupid thing when you’re trying to get out the door or having to remember to shut it off in the movie theatre. In that case you’re not going to have much sympathy for those of us who’ve become hooked on cell phone convenience, now made even more convenient with the portability of phone numbers.

And hooked we are. And it’s not without consequences. One of the symptoms of cell phone addiction can be drawers full of old handsets. Let’s see, I’ve got four perfectly good but now useless units from a broadcast we did in Germany a few years ago, and oh yeah, there are two more from another cell phone provider that I dumped when I found I could get a better deal elsewhere. The services practically give you a new phone when you switch over to them, and that’s why the ones in my junk drawer are reminders of perhaps the most annoying thing about these companies. Now if you’re a long-time satisfied and loyal customer your reward is a higher rate. That’s because the bargain rates go to the people who complain and threaten to switch or in fact do switch.

Hey – maybe that’s part of the cell phone culture: complaining. Having an old phone around gives something else to complain about. I mean these new mobile phones with their LCD screens and built in cameras look too valuable to throw away, but truth is, someday they’ll wind up in my junk drawer too. By the way, this patchwork of cell phone networks clutters more than homes. The duplicate and triplicate and quadruplicate cell phone towers erected to serve the various analog and digital and CDMA and GSM systems each leave their own imprint on the landscape. So sprawl, mistreated customers, trash, and yet cell phones are supposed to be progress.

Well, cell phone convenience may not be all that convenient at the end of the day. Still, like many Americans, I can’t seem to live without one.


CURWOOD: Hello? Hey, how ‘ya doin’. Can you make it this weekend? I’m so glad you called…

[MUSIC: Yo Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin “McFerrin: Grace” HUSH (Sony – 1992)]

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Emerging Science Note/ Farming Fungus

CURWOOD: Just ahead: black bears in the back yard. First, this note on emerging science from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: Scientists have known that certain species of ants, termites, and beetles actually farm the fungus they eat. Now you can add snails to the list. Scientists researched snail populations in 16 marshes in eight states along the southeastern U.S. coast. They knew that snails snack on fungus that grows on dead plant material. And recent research has shown that these snails occasionally snack on live marsh grasses as well.

But the new research showed something surprising. The snails aren’t actually eating the grass. Instead, they slash away at the plants as they move. Then, they deposit fecal matter on the torn up areas, four times as much as they deposit on any other area of the plant. The fecal matter contains fungal spore, because the snails only digest about half of what they eat. And the fungus grows along the edges of the dying plant material. Finally, the snails return and feed on the fungus that they’ve planted. In addition to providing food, the fungus also limits the growth of the marsh grass. So by farming fungus, snails also control the marshes. That’s this week’s note on emerging science, I’m Cynthia Graber.

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

[MUSIC: Bulbbs “Tr 4”]

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Almanac/All Aboard!

[MUSIC: Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant “Flippin’ The Lid” STRATOSPHERE BOOGIE: THE FLAMING GUITARS OF SPEEDY WEST & JIMMY BRYANT (Razor & Tie - 1995)]

CURWOOD: If you were looking to ride in style in 1949, you couldn’t do better than the swanky 20th Century Limited express train that made a daily run between New York and Chicago. Howard Zane, from Colombia, Maryland, was just a kid when he rode the Limited for the first time.

ZANE: And it was 1949, I was 11 years old when I rode that thing with my dad. And I can remember my father because his eyeballs were coming out of his head. Why? Not because of the food, but because Lana Turner was on the train, the movie actress. And he couldn’t get his eyes off her, nor could I. I was 11 years old and she was a beautiful woman.

CURWOOD: And as Mr. Zane remembers, you didn’t have to be a movie star to get first class treatment.

ZANE: And inside the service was fabulous, you had a lounge and a barbershop, you had a secretary on board, the conductors would always travel in pairs of twos to take your tickets, I remember.

CURWOOD: And don’t forget the food. Bisque of Crab Cardinal. Roast Long Island Duckling. And coconut pudding to top it all off. But by 1967, the automobile became the primary means of getting from one place to another for most Americans and 20th Century Limited rolled out its red carpet for the last time that year. President Dwight Eisenhower had pretty much sealed the fate of luxury trains when he created the Interstate Highway system in 1956. But according to Mr. Zane, nothing beats taking the train.

ZANE: Getting there was half the fun. And we have forgotten that. Because everyone is in such a hurry right now to get somewhere. And it was just the most beautiful train in the world. Nothing ever compared to it.

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

[MUSIC: Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant “Flippin’ The Lid” STRATOSPHERE BOOGIE: THE FLAMING GUITARS OF SPEEDY WEST & JIMMY BRYANT (Razor & Tie - 1995)]

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Walking With Bears

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

CURWOOD: Black bears are coming back in earnest in the U.S. these days. Where I live an hour outside of Boston a mother bear and her cub were spotted just down the road a piece, and there are now so many black bears in New Jersey that the state is launching its first bear hunting season in more than three decades. Bear and human interactions are way up in many parts of the country, ranging from backyard encounters to bears entering homes to raid kitchens. And one researcher says any problems lay with the attitudes of humans. Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey has this profile of bear scientist Lynn Rogers.


TOOMEY: It’s a chilly morning on the Massachusetts’ side of the Berkshire mountains. About a dozen people are gathered here today, in black bear country, in the hopes of tracking a bear.

FEMALE: I’m here to meet people who like bears and to learn something.

TOOMEY: But even among this crowd, there’s a bit of trepidation. This woman recently had a close encounter with a bear right outside her front glass door.

FEMALE: I was face to face with bear looking in. [LAUGHTER] And he really scared me. But I love the bears and I’m trying to work through that experience! [LAUGHTER]

TOOMEY: For that kind of fear, there’s no better therapist than wildlife biologist Lynn Rogers.


ROGERS: When a bear shows up in somebody’s yard, whether it’s a nuisance or a joy depends on the person’s attitude.

TOOMEY: Sixty-four year old Lynn Rogers, six feet tall with shoulders to match, looks like, you guessed it, a bear. He even sounds a bit like Smokey, that most famous of black bears. And when the group picks up the trail of a bear, and Rogers stops to investigate, you’ll see he shares some of the animal’s tastes.

(Photo courtesy of Lynn Rogers) ROGERS: Here's one the bear missed. Hmm. I like nuts and berries. This is a beechnut. Really good! Bears are no dummies.


TOOMEY: Rogers began his research 35 years ago in northern Minnesota, studying basic bear biology. He was the first researcher to draw blood from wild hibernating bears, and did pioneering work in describing the matriarchal nature of bear society, in which mothers bequeath parts of their territory to daughters. His research, using radio telemetry to follow as many as four generations of various family groups, has been praised by E.O. Wilson as one of the greatest wildlife studies of all time. But Rogers eventually turned to what he describes as the least studied area of bear biology – the bear/human interface.

ROGERS: There’s people making a living trying to scare us about bears. Telling and retelling the stories of killings by bears. But there’s only been 52 killings by black bears in the last 100 years across North America.

TOOMEY: So for every human killed by a black bear, Rogers says, 45 are killed by dogs, 120 by bees and hornets, and 60 thousand people are killed each year by a fellow human.

ROGERS: That’s why I feel safest walking in the woods right next to a bear!

TOOMEY: With the help of tracker John McCarter, the group is walking through a light dusting of snow, in the hopes of backtracking a bear, tracing its movements back in time and moving away from the actual animal. But it’s looks like we’ve gotten too close for comfort.

MCCARTER: And see how the leaves are all scuffed down? The bear stopped abruptly here. And look right down there where the bear was facing? That points to the swamp we were in earlier. And the bear did a 45 degree turn here – hard and fast - and ran off that way.

ROGERS: It shows just the extent to which bears try to avoid people. Here’s a bear, two, three hundred yards from us. Not only did it avoid us, it ran to get away from us while we were still that far away.

TOOMEY: Rogers’ knowledge of black bears comes from a unique perspective – a distance of about five to 10 yards. It’s a research technique no one else has tried with bears.

ROGERS: After hundreds of hours of trying to get near a bear and get it to accept me, finally I get to a point where I can walk, sleep with it, record detailed data. And it ignores me. I’m not a friend, I’m not an enemy, I’m not a competitor. I’m not a food giver. I’m just there.

TOOMEY: On these 24-hour walks, Rogers carries no food or water, barely sleeps, and just simply…observes.

ROGERS: And the bears just go about their business of making a living, tearing open logs to get ants, foraging for berries, or hazelnuts, whatever. I learned their vocalizations and body habits and how they care for cubs. I learned what bears are really like.

TOOMEY: While Rogers may acclimate a bear to his presence in one part of the forest, he says that same bear may be spooked by him in another. So to get past this, Rogers often does something that sounds pretty dangerous.

ROGERS: Sometimes you have to wait till they have cubs. Then when the mother is in there with the cubs, that holds her in place and I can set up an office outside that den. With a sleeping bag, a laptop computer, and a cell phone. And they have to just get used to me being there. And by the time they emerge in the spring, I’m just part of the woodwork.

TOOMEY: Or part of the family, as he puts it. This technique wouldn't be possible with a grizzly bear. That’s because grizzly mothers are hard-wired to protect their cubs. Indeed 70 percent of grizzly killings are by mothers doing just that. But Rogers says no one has been killed by a black bear defending offspring. He has a theory about why this species has, in his words, come to be ruled by fear.

ROGERS: I think part of it goes back to ice ages, when they were living next to such powerful predators as saber tooth cats and lions. Powerful predators black bears wouldn’t have stood a chance against any of them. But black bears could survive because they were the only one that could climb a tree and they had this attitude of run first and ask questions later. The timid ones apparently passed on their genes and they seem to have developed a mind more of a prey animal then of a predator.

TOOMEY: Rogers has even gotten to the point where he can place a radio collar on an acclimated black bear without tranquilizers, using only a can of condensed milk as a distraction. Rogers is quick to warn that touching a bear is usually one of the quickest ways to get bitten or slapped and that his acclimated bears still maintain their fear of other humans, even when he's with them.


TOOMEY: Back in the forest, the group has come across more proof that they’re on the right trail.

ROGERS: Hey, look here. What’s it made out of?

TOOMEY: It’s bear poop. Or scat, as its known in the business.

ROGERS: I’m not gonna ask anybody to taste that, but I would like to have everybody smell it. I say bears are such wonderful animals that their scat doesn’t even stink.


TOOMEY: And when Rogers pulls it apart, he find lots of beechnut hulls. Rogers says, under normal conditions, bears prefer that kind of natural food to things like backyard grills or dog chow. But there's research that disputes that. And Rogers has garnered criticism for his research techniques as well. Some say because they're habituated to his presence, his bears are less likely to fear other people, placing both animal and human in jeopardy.


TOOMEY: This haunting sound is being made by a black bear. Some people have described it as a growl.

ROGERS: Because if a person is afraid of an animal, any sound they make will be interpreted as a growl.


ROGERS: But it’s just their moan of fear. The bear’s sitting up in a tree in abject terror.


ROGERS: You also hear this blowing and chomping. [LOUD BLOW] They blow and then clack their teeth together. Just means the bear is scared.


TOOMEY: And then there’s this scenario.

ROGERS: A mother at the base of a tree. Cubs are up the tree. Somebody comes near. The bear gathers itself. Lunges forward. Slams its feet down hard. Makes the ground shake and goes WHHHHHOOOOOOOO.


ROGERS: And it’s so explosive you can’t help but jump. And a lot of bears get shot for that because people interpret it as an aggressive bear. It means the bear is nervous. It’s no more threatening than when a deer stomps its foot and snorts.

TOOMEY: Rogers says in 35 years of research he’s never heard a bear growl or had one try to attack him.


MCCARTER: This is the end of the trail.

ROGERS: Ho, ho, ho.

TOOMEY: At the base of a red maple tree, the group spots a bear-size depression in the leaf litter.


MCCARTER: This is the bed, at the base of the tree between these logs. No tracks leading out except to defecate.

ROGERS: Look at all this sign of where it laid on the log and scrunched down in the snow.

TOOMEY: Most researchers agree that black bears pose less of a danger than a lot of people realize. But Rogers has chosen to take that message out on the road, to become an advocate for the animal at a time when black bears and people are increasingly entering each others’ territories. Perhaps, for Rogers, it’s his way of showing gratitude.

ROGERS: I never thought I’d have the privilege of walking right next to a bear and viewing the forest through the bear’s reactions. What it’s focusing its ears on, what it’s looking at, what it’s sniffing on the forest floor. It just opened my eyes to a new view of the forest.

TOOMEY: Rogers is currently following seven radio-collared bears near his home-base in Ely, Minnesota. And he’s working to establish a bear education center there as well. Rogers says bears can co-exist with us. The question for him is, are we willing to co-exist with them. For Living on Earth, I’m Diane Toomey in Charlemont, Massachusetts.

ROGERS: Someone’s been sleeping in my bed and it’s all messed up!

MALE: Talk about evil, Goldilocks was the evil one.


MALE: Took advantage of these poor bears who had beautiful beds, lots of food….

CURWOOD: To listen to bears, and to see some unusual bear photos go to our web site livingonearth dot org.

[MUSIC: Kronos Quartet “Tilliboyo (“Sunset”) ” PIECES OF AFRICA (Nonesuch -1992)]

For a black bear slideshow click here.

Listen to some bear vocalizations:

Related links:
- Wildlife Research Institute
- North American Bear Center

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CURWOOD: And while you’re there, please see our invitation to join me on the next Living on Earth African Eco-tour. In May, I’ll be hosting a group of Living on Earth listeners on a journey to some of Africa’s great natural areas.

Our safari will check out lions and elephants and other big animals and then trek along South Africa’s Eastern Cape, in a rugged and beautiful area called the Wild Coast. The Wild Coast is one of the least developed parts of South Africa and has been preserved in its natural state. It is a region of hills and waterfalls, rivers, and long white beaches. One of its greatest sights is the beautiful Mtentu estuary. We’ll explore this unique environment on the water, quietly paddling canoes for a close look at its wildlife.

There are two ways that you can come aboard. Go to our website – livingonearth dot org to find out how you can win a trip for two. Or you can also reserve a space by buying a ticket right now. For details, visit our website – livingonearth dot org. That’s livingonearth dot org for a chance at the trip of a lifetime.

[MUSIC: Kronos Quartet “Tilliboyo (“Sunset”) ” PIECES OF AFRICA (Nonesuch -1992)]

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

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation. Major contributors include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, for coverage of western issues, and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. 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 Marsha Ginsburg in support of excellence in public radio.

Strand o’ Lights

CURWOOD: It's hard to imagine a Christmas without light displays these days. We put them on trees, on houses, even on pickup trucks. But it hasn't always been this way. The first set of wired Christmas lights was sold exactly 100 years ago. Joining me from Knoxville, Tennessee is Bill Nelson. He’ s a collector of antique holiday bulbs. Bill, tell me about that first set of Christmas lights.

NELSON: They were actually sold by General Electric. They were made out of very heavy cloth-covered wire and had miniature porcelain sockets. And it was very difficult to handle. It was expensive. Cost $24, which was an average person's weekly pay.

CURWOOD: How safe were these things?

NELSON: The first ones were actually not too safe for two reasons. Number one, the bulbs burned hot enough to ignite paper or a Christmas tree and the other problem was that the wires were so heavy that when they went into the sockets they often broke off.

CURWOOD: Now one thing that I'm told is that Christmas lights became popular even before they were sold to the general public. How could that happen?

NELSON: What happened was that a vice president of Thomas Edison put some light bulbs on a tree actually as a publicity stunt. The social elite at the time picked up on this. It became a status symbol. They would have what were called "Christmas tree parties" where they would light a tree from top to bottom, which was extremely expensive in those days.

CURWOOD: Ordinary folks like us, we had what, candles on our trees?

NELSON: Exactly. Candles or nothing at all. In those days, Santa Claus brought the Christmas tree. When the children awoke they were kept away from the tree until the parents had actually lit the candles. Then the candles were then put out because they were so dangerous.

CURWOOD: I gotta ask you this one because this drives me crazy [LAUGTHER]. When you get those lights you know just one goes out and the whole thing goes out?

NELSON: Exactly.

CURWOOD: Why did they make it so that if one went out they would all go out.

NELSON: Well, it was to reduce the burning temperature of the lamps. They had lights that would run on 120 volts, but they burned so hot, they were extremely dangerous. So the only technology they had in those days was to make technology that would reduce voltage. So they took the voltage and divided it by the number of lights. And that reduced the temperature very dramatically.

CURWOOD: I bet if I came to your house in Knoxville, Tennessee I’d get quite a display.


NELSON: You would indeed. We have a Christmas tree up in every room, usually decorated for a particular decade. We’ve got one up for the fifties and one for the forties one for the thirties.

CURWOOD: The fifties? What do they have an Elvis thing hanging?


NELSON: The fifties have a lot of unusual colored lights. That’s when the non-traditional colors because popular – like pink. Things like that.

CURWOOD: Bill Nelson decorates his trees this holiday season in Knoxville, Tennessee. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

NELSON: I appreciate it. I enjoyed it very much.

[MUSIC: Vince Guaraldi Trio “Skating” A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (Fantasy – 1988)]

Related link:
Bill Nelson’s website

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Environmental Health Note/Holiday Tips

CURWOOD: Just ahead: White House hopeful Dennis Kucinich on the environment. First, this environmental health note from Kathy Lutz.


LUTZ: To a lot of people, nothing says “holiday season” more than a cup of hot cocoa and a poinsettia plant on the table. New studies suggest some people may want to keep the cocoa, but skip the poinsettia this year. Poinsettias belong to the same family as the rubber tree. Some people have severe allergic reactions to natural rubber, or latex.

So a Georgia researcher thought latex sensitive patients could also be allergic to poinsettias. To see, he mixed blood from a few of these patients with poinsettia extract. 40 percent of the blood samples reacted to the plant compound, indicating an allergy. So the researcher is warning people allergic to latex to be careful when handling the plants.

On a warmer note, a hot cup of cocoa may now be considered a health drink. Cocoa teems with antioxidants – chemicals like flavonoids known to protect against cancer and heart disease. Researchers at Cornell University wanted to know how plentiful these compounds were in different drinks. They tested red wine, green tea, and cocoa. Cocoa beat out its competitors, hands down. It contained 564 milligrams of one flavonoid compared to just 163 milligrams in red wine and a mere 47 milligrams in green tea. That’s this week's health note, I'm Kathy Lutz.

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

[MUSIC: Air “Dead Bodies” THE VIRGIN SUICIDES [SOUNDTRACK] (Astralwerks - 2000)]

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Kucinich Speaks

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood and coming up: Growing future gardeners in the Garden State. But first, as part of our ongoing coverage of the upcoming presidential elections, we’re hosting a round of interviews with the Democratic candidates. And joining me today from the studios of WCPN in Cleveland, Ohio is the former mayor of that city. In 1977, at age 31, Dennis Kucinich was elected as the youngest mayor of any major U.S. city. He also served in the Ohio Senate and since 1997 has represented the Cleveland as a member of Congress. Dennis Kucinich, thanks for speaking with me today.


CURWOOD: Tell me, briefly, what are some of the key points of your environmental policies?

(Photo: Robin Doyno) KUCINICH: Well, it starts with sustainability, and that we have to move from non-renewable energy resources of oil, coal, and nuclear towards renewable energy. Renewable energy beginning with wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, what’s called green hydrogen. And America needs to create a major investment so we can build the economy of the future, which will be built, I believe, on a renewable approach to energy which enhances a sustainable United States and a sustainable world.

CURWOOD: Let’s take a look at some of the major issues today. The U.S. has come under fire internationally for its agricultural subsidies. How would a Kucinich administration deal with this?

KUCINICH: Well, first of all, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to farmers throughout the Midwest, and we have some fundamental questions that we need to address. And that is with respect to the structure of our agricultural market. Family farmers have been squeezed out. There was a tremendous shake-out in small and mid-level farms in the mid 80s. And there is a great deal of monopolization that has occurred. Both vertical and horizontal monopolies exist in agriculture from seed to shelf. We need to break up the monopolies in agriculture, and we must provide for farmers to be able to get their price and get their products to market. We also, in line with sustainability in agriculture, need to connect farmers with markets within their own community. And we also have to provide farmers with the ability to save their seed, and move away from this kind of terminator seed technology, which tends to be another way of controlling markets.

CURWOOD: What about the question of subsidies, though. Right now the U.S. subsidizes U.S. agricultural exports to the extent in that many parts of the rest of the world – the developing world, that would ordinarily be able to sell their agricultural products – they can’t, because they simply can’t compete with the cut rate prices that we can offer because of those subsidies. What would you do about those subsidies?

KUCINICH: Well, first of all you have to understand that the way the market is right now, that most of the agricultural subsidies – not all, but most of the agricultural subsidies – end up benefiting ‘Big Ag.’ And I want to see the agricultural market change. And farmers have told me, look, we want to get our product to market, we want to get our price. People are looking for parity, they’re not looking for subsidy. And so I’m responding directly to what I’m hearing from farmers. Now with respect to America in the world economy, I think that there are times that it is appropriate for America to provide some assistance and price supports for certain key segments of our economy, including agriculture. And I don’t have an objection to that. What I do object to is when we have a condition where global corporations are essentially controlling not only the markets in this country, but global markets.

CURWOOD: Dennis Kucinich, I have encountered you a number of times at the climate change talks – negotiation sessions over the Kyoto Protocol, where you have been a Congressional representative. Let’s say you were president of the United States. What would you do about the Kyoto Protocol?

KUCINICH: Well, I’d sign it. And furthermore, America under my administration will move towards a 20 percent renewable energy portfolio by the year 2010. The same way that President Kennedy issued a clarion call early in his term for America to harness it’s technological and spiritual energies to put someone on the moon. We need that kind of challenge to our own society at this time to move towards renewable energy and towards a sustainable planet. Because we have to recognize that we have a responsibility toward the planet. You know, I’ve heard long attributed to Chief Seattle the quote that the Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth. Whether he said it or not, it’s true that we need to reconnect with our relationship with the Earth. We have an obligation to protect this planet. And my presidency will be about doing that, through enforcing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, signing the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty, as well as taking the broader view and signing the biological weapons convention and the chemical weapons convention as a means of also protecting our environment. We need to recognize, additionally, that war is also a form of ecocide, and that war itself does great damage to the environment.

CURWOOD: As a Congressman, you were endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters, and I believe they give you a 90 percent lifetime voting record. I’m looking here, and it says that Senator John Kerry, one of your presidential opponents, has received a 96 percent record, and Senator Joe Lieberman 93 percent. It looks to me like the difference comes because you voted against funding the UN population growth measure. Why that vote?

KUCINICH: Well, I would say that if that vote came up again I would vote for it. And throughout my career I’ve had a strong support for a position that would be construed as being pro-life. But what I’ve seen is the direction Congress has taken on that issue in recent years. And long before I became a candidate for president, when the Stenberg v. Carhart case came before the Supreme Court, declaring that the Nebraska legislature did not sufficiently meet the test of Roe v. Wade in providing for the health of a woman or defining the procedure, and thereby imposed an undue burden on a woman, I decided that this was not an appropriate position for this country to be taking. And so what I did was to slowly begin to move in a direction that worked to make abortions less necessary through sex education and birth control, but only within the framework of protecting Row v. Wade. That’s where I am, and then of course it follows that any of the issues that have been caught up in the abortion issue, including issues of population control – I would certainly be supportive of anything that would be a reasonable effort to address the United Nations population funds concerns.

CURWOOD: Tell me, what about your candidacy makes you more attractive for somebody who’s concerned about the environment then say John Kerry or Howard Dean.

KUCINICH: I have a very strong record in challenging monopolies. Utilities monopolies who were indulging in practices of not sufficiently monitoring the burning of coal, and the utility monopolies who’ve created acid rain by burning coal in the Midwest and send out their acid rain to the Northeast. And so my ability and willingness to stand up, record of having done so in the past, my commitment to a world view which is holistic I think qualifies me for being President. And I would say that my understanding of the relationship between humanity and nature is critical here.

CURWOOD: Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is the U.S. representative from Cleveland, Ohio. Thanks for speaking with me today.

KUCINICH: I’ve very grateful for the opportunity, Steve. And I look forward to another discussion.

[MUSIC: Fela Kuti “V.I.P.” FELA ORIGINALS (MCA - 2000)]

Related link:
Kucinich for President website

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Play Space Learning

CURWOOD: In her best-selling children’s book, “The Great Kapok Tree,” author Lynne Cherry tells a fable about preserving the Amazon rainforest. Millions of children have read the book, and many were moved to learn more about this exotic place and to raise money to save it. But Ms. Cherry says she’s uncomfortable with the way “The Great Kapok Tree” has been used in schools. If children are to learn about just one forest, she says, they should learn to care for the woods in their own community. To that end, she’s working with educators and parents to develop teaching methods centered on the local flora and fauna. From central New Jersey, Living on Earth’s Liz Lempert has our story.


CHERRY: OK. Who’s strong? This one is really heavy.

LEMPERT: Lynne Cherry hoists a white pine sapling into the arms of two third graders. The children lug it across the school parking lot onto an old playing field. It’s not long before they discover something moving in the grass.

MALE: I see bugs! I see grasshoppers.


MALE: Right there! Right there!

LEMPERT: Lynne Cherry drops to the ground.

CHERRY: Where’s your magnifying glass?


KID: Oh! Right here…

CHERRY: Let’s see if you can see one.

FEMALE: Do you need a little bug box to catch them?


CHERRY: It’s a little hopper. It has wings like a grasshopper.


CHERRY: When you bring these kids out they’re so excited. They’re just ‘Look at this. What’s this?’ Then you’re teaching using the inquiry method. The kids are driving the curriculum. They’re asking the questions. And then it’s so easy to teach that way.

LEMPERT: Lynne Cherry is best known as a children’s book author. But today she is here at Dutch Neck Elementary School in West Windsor, New Jersey as a sort of evangelist for environmental education. Her mission: to create outdoor learning spaces in every schoolyard.

CHERRY: Y’all paying attention? Okay. So you put a couple scoops of soil in here. And what you’re doing is you’re putting loose soil in because - Go ahead….

LEMPERT: The students are planting 10 trees – white pines, ashes and sweet gums.


LEMPERT: The new grove of trees will transform this old playing field into a new ecosystem, and hands-on classroom.

CHERRY: Right now we’re laying transects.

LEMPERT: Cherry helps the students divide the grove into squares with string, stakes and a yardstick.

CHERRY: Who wants to measure off 15 feet…

LEMPERT: Time for an impromptu math lesson.

CHERRY: Three feet are in a yard, so if you want to do 15 feet – how many yards?

LEMPERT: After they lay the string, each child will study one square yard of burgeoning woods. They will record the temperature of the air and the soil, and write down the names of the plants and animals they find. The idea is they’ll come back to the same spot, month after month, year after year, through the end of 8th grade, and see first-hand the difference planting a few trees can make.

CHERRY: Instead of putting kids on bus and taking them to a nature center, you can actually have the school yard become the nature center, and it’s right out the door. It costs almost nothing to create. Saves you a lot of money on field trips. And it’s connecting them with the place where they live.

LEMPERT: One hundred miles north, in the town of Ramsey, Tisdale Elementary has built a nature center right in the middle of the school. Inspired in part by a book Cherry wrote about a wood thrush, the inner courtyard is a birding mecca, packed with berry bushes and bird feeders. Cedar waxwings swoop in to snack on the winterberries, mallard ducks splash around in the pond, and great blue herons sometimes fly in for a snack. Inside, students study slides of local birds.

CLASS (together): Magnolia warbler.

PREDERGAST: Okay, field marks…Colton.

COLTON: It has black necklace coming down.

PREDERGAST: Excellent. I love that black necklace.

LEMPERT: Carol Prendergast, the school librarian, and a birding enthusiast, enrolled the school in Cornell University’s classroom feeder watch program. Now these 3rd graders can identify over 60 local birds, including 30 kinds of warblers.

CLASS: Ooh, ooh. Canada warbler.

PRENDERGAST: Canada. OK we need field marks. Gracie.

GRACIE: It has a black necklace

PRENDERGAST: Okay. That’s why I always got it confused with the Magnolia. So you need to tell me field marks that make it different. Kinto.

KINTO: The magnolia has like jellyfish shaped necklace.

PRENDERGAST: I love that description! He’s right. The necklace is shaped like jellyfish. I never noticed that before.

LEMPERT: The ability to identify local birds enables the children to contribute to real research. Librarian Carol Prendergast.

PRENDERGAST: Kids are using computers to transmit data up to lab, and then that information is being used to create distribution maps for across the country of where people are seeing birds.

LEMPERT: And Tisdale students have also used their birding knowledge as citizen activists. Several years ago, students went before the town council to help preserve a nearby wetlands. They described the discarded fishing wire they found on a field trip and why it was harmful to birds. As a result of their testimony, the council voted to ban fishing there. Lynne Cherry says when children use what they’ve learned to help improve the environment, they’ll remember the lesson forever.

CHERRY: This is not just learning for a test. It means that they’re learning what you’re teaching them. That’s really what the objective is supposed to be with schools, I think.

LIEBERMAN: It’s not that it’s difficult to teach, it’s that it isn’t the way teachers have been trained to teach.

LEMPERT: Dr. Gerald Lieberman is director of the State Education and Environment Roundtable, a consortium of 16 state departments of education. The group encourages schools to use their surroundings and community as a framework for teaching. But he says with today’s emphasis on standardized testing, teachers are under pressure to teach to the test.

LIEBERMAN: The movement towards having teachers focused on what was being taught has really caused them to shift away from thinking a bout and actively being involved in how things are being taught. Neither of these should be left along the sidelines.

LEMPERT: In fact, his group found that getting students outside, learning about their environment and community in a hands-on way, improved test scores, raised grades and reduced disciple problems.

LIEBERMAN: I think the students do better simply put because they’re engaged. The students stopped asking ‘why are we studying this?’ They really began to understand that when they were looking at water quality in a creek that they’d need to do graphing and rate calculations just to see what the impact of the pollution that might be entering the stream. They begin to see value in what they’re learning no matter what the subject.

LEMPERT: Dr. Lieberman’s group supports dozens of demonstration sites. He says educators are interested in the approach, but many still are reluctant to adopt it.

CHERRY: This is my new book. It’s about growing things, so it starts out from seeds

LEMPERT: Back at Dutch Neck Elementary School, Lynne Cherry is inside the classroom, talking about her latest book, “How Groundhog’s Garden Grew,” and her hope that the children will save seeds from peppers and pumpkins to plant in the spring. Cherry says she has a vision: within the next decade, every school in the country will use a garden to teach. For Living on Earth, this is Liz Lempert.

CHERRY: Those plants out there, those pine trees looked great. I think they’re going to do fine. You just have to remember to water them.

[MUSIC: Thomas Newman “Dead Already” AMERICAN BEAUTY [SOUNDTRACK] (Dreamworks – 2000)]

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week: It’s estimated that the earth plays host to anywhere from ten to thirty million species. But only a fraction are actually known to modern science. Now, famed biologist E.O. Wilson and others are calling for a concerted effort to change that.

WILSON: It’s not an exaggeration to say we live on a little known planet. And the science of biology in the 21st century will depend on a closer examination of the diversity of life at the species level and an all out effort to complete the mapping of life on earth.

CURWOOD: In a special edition of Living on Earth, our science editor, Diane Toomey, take us on a journey to that little known planet with folks who are trying to count all its creations. That’s next week on Living on Earth. And between now and then you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to livingonearth dot org. That’s livingonearth dot org.


CURWOOD: We leave you in the midst of a shopping frenzy.


CURWOOD: Hildegard Westerkamp recorded this busy market in the heart of New Delhi as part of her latest work called “Into India.”

[Hildegard Westerkamp “Gently Penetrating: beneath the sounding surfaces of another place” INTO INDIA (Earsay - 2002)]

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 dot org. Andy Farnsworth mixes the program. Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes form the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; and Stonyfield Farm – organic yogurt, cultured soy, and smoothies. Ten percent of their profits are donated to support environmental causes and family farms. Learn more at Stonyfield.com. Support also comes from NPR member stations and the Annenberg Foundation.

MALE ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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