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

March 4, 2005

Air Date: March 4, 2005



Reining in Mercury / Jeff Young

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As the U.S. nears its first regulations to control mercury from power plants, critics are questioning whether the rule will do enough to protect children from the pollutant. A new study says mercury pollution lowers IQ for hundreds of thousands of children and costs the U.S. economy billions each year. Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports from Washington. (06:00)

Killing Endangered Species To Save Them

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Killing animals to preserve a species? That's the premise of a program designed to sell a limited number of permits to hunters in order to help communities conserve indigenous populations of endangered sheep. Author Daniel Duane went on his first hunt and wrote about it for Mother Jones magazine. He tells host Steve Curwood that after his experience he had to re-think his notions about hunting. (10:40)

An Ice Age Averted?

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Modern advances like autos and power plants have mostly been to blame for causing climate change. But a University of Virginia professor claims our ancestors had a hand in warming the planet. Host Steve Curwood talks with William Ruddiman, who says that human activity 8,000 years ago may have put off an Ice Age. (06:30)

On A Train Heading South / Todd Spencer

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Global warming is not a likely topic for a modern dance troupe. But ODC Dance of San Francisco decided to tackle the issue with a modern day telling of Cassandra's story, complete with large blocks of ice melting around the dancers. Todd Spencer attended a rehearsal. (05:30)

Emerging Science Note/Garbage Fuel

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Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports on a cost-saving process that makes energy from landfill waste. (01:20)

Saving the Bay / Andrea Kissack

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There was a time when the San Francisco Bay was replete with native oysters. But it's been many years now since they were contaminated and fished out. As part of efforts to restore the Bay, Andrea Kissack of KQED reports scientists are trying to bring back these useful and sought-after mollusks. (06:00)

Desert Walls

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For twelve years, Ken Lamberton wrote about the natural history of his desert home in Arizona. His essays described the caves, canyons and dry ponds of the landscape, but it wasn't outdoors where he honed his prose, it was in prison. At 27, Lamberton was convicted of child molestation and sent to jail. He's since completed his sentence, along with a book about the nature of his crime, called "Beyond Desert Walls: Essays from Prison." (10:20)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Daniel Duane, William Ruddiman, Ken Lamberton
REPORTERS: Jeff Young, Todd Spencer, Andrea Kissack
NOTE: Jennifer Chu


CURWOOD: From NPR - this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. With the federal government poised to set new regulations on mercury emissions, there's new evidence that mercury pollution is not only making people sick and lowering I.Q's--it's hurting them in their pocketbooks as well.

TRASANDE: This cognitive impact resulting from mercury pollution has a significant impact on the economic productivity of our nation, which is at least 2.2 and possibly as high as 43.8 billion dollars each year.

CURWOOD: Also, a sexual offender seeks redemption in prison through the study of nature.

LAMBERTON: The damage that it did to my victim, to my family, to my children--it's baggage I'll carry for the rest of my life, that I'll never escape. And y'know, truthfully, I'll probably define myself as a prisoner for the rest of my life.

CURWOOD: Those stories and a dance for a warming planet--this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.

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


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Reining in Mercury

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

Mad as a hatter. Years ago mercury was used to stiffen fur in hat making, but it also got into the nervous systems of hatters and made many of them act crazy. Now in the face of evidence that even small amounts of the metal are harmful, the Bush administration is getting close to regulating mercury emissions from power plants. Trace amounts in coal go from smokestacks into the air, into water and into the human food chain, often through fish. Developing babies are especially vulnerable. A rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency would gradually reduce mercury pollution over the coming ten to 15 years. A bill pending in Congress, called Clear Skies, would largely do the same.

But, critics say both measures come up short when it comes to adequately protecting the health of children. Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports.

YOUNG: Researchers at the Mount Sinai Center for Children's Health and the Environment in New York City wanted to know more about what life will be like for children born to mothers who've accumulated mercury in their bodies. Their study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found mercury impairs cognitive ability in 300 to 600,000 American children born each year. Study co-author and pediatrician Leonardo Trasande says high mercury means lower IQ.

TRASANDE: These are children for whom their native intelligence is knocked down a bit and they're less sharp in school. The really smart are slightly duller and don't perform well in school.

YOUNG: Trasande's work is the first peer-reviewed medical study to measure the extent of IQ loss due to mercury. His study also looked beyond learning to earning, putting a price tag on the lost job opportunities that result from that lowered IQ.

TRASANDE: This cognitive impact resulting from mercury pollution has a significant impact on the economic productivity of our nation, which is at least 2.2 and possibly as high as 43.8 billion dollars each year.

YOUNG: The broad range comes from the many variables Trasande had to consider. His best guess is a mercury-induced loss of 8.7 billion dollars to the U.S. economy each year. Scientists employed by the electric industry disagree. Michael Miller is environment director for the Electric Power Research Institute.

MILLER: Well, heh, we've got some major reservations about that study.

YOUNG: Miller questions the link between mercury exposure and IQ loss and says the study overstates the role of power plant emissions of mercury. He says most mercury in the U.S. comes from natural sources like forest fires or blows in from industry elsewhere around the world. Trasande stands by the Mount Sinai study and it's caught the attention of a committee advising the Environmental Protection Agency on children's health issues. Committee member John Balbus is health director for the advocacy group Environmental Defense. Balbus says the Mount Sinai study addresses the very questions the committee had been asking EPA.

BALBUS: It raises the question why it took an academic outside the agency to do it when we've been asking the agency to do this kind of thing for over a year.

YOUNG: Balbus says the advisory committee has long questioned the EPA's mercury proposal. Instead of forcing power plants to install the best technology to control mercury, the EPA proposal calls for a cap and trade approach. It would reduce overall mercury emissions by about 30 percent by the year 2012, then 70 percent six years later. Power companies could buy and sell mercury emissions credits to meet those targets. Balbus says the advisory committee sent four letters to EPA questioning whether the proposed rule would make mercury cuts fast enough or deep enough.

BALBUS: And so we asked to see proof that the rule that was being proposed was taking all these factors into account and was coming up with a solution that was best for children's health. That's the kind of analysis we were looking for and unfortunately, I don't think that's the kind of analysis that we ever got.

YOUNG: Some career scientists within EPA raised similar questions about the mercury rule, how it was put together and what it would achieve. Milt Clark is an EPA health and science advisor. He says he can't speak for the agency, but as a scientist, Clark says he does not see how the EPA's proposal will get mercury out of rivers, lakes, fish and people.

CLARK: And the 30 percent has to really be compared with the fact that there would be a potential of several, well, we want to be very clear here, over a million children that would be born above acceptable levels.

YOUNG: A report last month by the EPA's own inspector general echoed those complaints. The report said the agency ignored scientific evidence to set modest mercury limits that would agree with the Bush administration's cap and trade approach in its Clear Skies legislation. Instead of conducting since to determine a mercury limit, the IG report says, the agency worked backwards to justify a predetermined goal. EPA officials declined to grant an interview for this story. In a written response to the Inspector General report, an official called it flawed and inaccurate and said the inspector general had—quote "characterized the process as incomplete before the process has even finished" –end quote. Before the agency completes the mercury rule, Mount Sinai's Dr. Trasande says he hopes EPA will think about the public health costs his study points out.

TRASANDE: It's also unconscionable not to go after the primary problem, which is mercury pollution from manmade sources such as power plants.

YOUNG: EPA faces a March 15 deadline to make its mercury rule final. A committee vote on the Clear Skies legislation is set for March 9th. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young in Washington.

[MUSIC: "The Pearly Eyed March" Birdsongs of the Mesozoic: Dancing on A'A (Cuneiform) 1995]

Related link:
Mount Sinai Center for Children's Health and the Environment

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Killing Endangered Species To Save Them

CURWOOD: Thirty years ago, it seemed that the magnificent bighorn sheep of the western mountains were headed for extinction. The bighorn is the most prized trophy of the four North American wild sheep species that hunters consider a grand slam. So, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep came up with a program to save the endangered animals by killing just a few of them. Saving an endangered species by hunting them sounds like an oxymoron but the organization had the notion that by getting a lot of money for a few hunting permits, they could raise money for sheep conservation and community development. The concept seemed unusual to writer Daniel Duane. So, he joined a foundation hunt in Vizcaino Biosphere, in the south of Baja, California, recently and wrote about that experience in the March issue of Mother Jones magazine. Dan Duane, welcome to Living on Earth.

DUANE: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Now as I understand it, before you started doing the research for this story, you had never been out hunting. So, what were your views on hunting up until then?

DUANE: Well, I didn't have very well formed views. I grew up as an urban, liberal environmentalist, with most of my, well, all of my exposure to the outdoors being backpacking in California Sierra Nevada and that sort of thing, and the picture of a hunter, in my mind, wasn't an especially favorable one. And I think if I had any view of them at all, it came from fairly cliched-notions picked up through TV and here and there. And, I don't know, visions of beer-swilling guys driving around in pickups trying to blow away Bambi on the weekends and somehow feeling bigger about themselves when they managed to do it.

CURWOOD: So, that's a pretty negative view in other words.

DUANE: That's a pretty negative view. Yeah.

Hunter Brian Drettmann paid $59,000 for the right to hunt this bighorn ram.
(Photo: Daniel Duane)

CURWOOD: So, for this story, you end up going out on a trip with a man named Brian Drettmann. He's a wealthy man who's a seasoned hunter from Michigan and as I understand it, he's paid $59,000 at an auction for a permit for, basically, for the right to hunt bighorn sheep which are considered endangered. But, how does this work?

DUANE: So, the way this works is that a wildlife conservation group formed by hunters called the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep got this idea that the best way to raise money for the conservation of wild sheep was to talk to states that have sheep populations into granting the foundation a small number of hunting permits. The foundation then auctions off those permits to the highest bidder and gives 90 percent of the money right back to the state with all of it earmarked for sheep conservation.

CURWOOD: Let me see if I figure this out. They kill endangered sheep to save them?

DUANE: Isn't that peculiar?

CURWOOD: Indeed.

DUANE: And, but that's exactly what they do. And they've been very successful at it. The killing of the endangered Bighorn sheep over the last 15 years through these FNAW permit programs has raised many, many millions of dollars for the conservation of those sheep and has been directly responsible for, I believe, it's a four-fold increase in the number of wild sheep in North America.

CURWOOD: So, what are the incentives here? How does it work to kill an endangered sheep to save the population?

DUANE: The way it works in Baja is that there is a very small and, until recently, dwindling population of Bighorn sheep in a desert mountain range. That mountain range lies within the collective property holding of a group of local rural people. In other words, the Mexican government has granted collective ownership of a large piece of desert to 142 Mexican families. The Foundation for North American Wild Sheep comes down to them and says ‘hey, let's get the Mexican government to grant us a permit to hunt one or two of those bighorn that are on your land.' We'll take that permit up to the United States, we'll auction it to the highest bidder and we'll give all that money right to this Ajito, to this group of families that own this property collectively. And, with that money we will create a conservation program to preserve the Bighorn sheep and that conservation program will employ you guys.' So, a bunch of guys get jobs and an economic incentive is created for all of these rural people to preserve both the bighorn sheep and the habitat on which they live.

CURWOOD: So, tell me about the hunt itself. What happened? You get up in the morning, and?

DUANE: Well, we get up before dawn. We load up our packs, you know, have breakfast around a fire, load up our packs and start up the mountain. The guides took us up sort of winding, snaking, very steep footpaths. At times we were scrambling on hands and feet. We gained a couple thousand feet elevation to get to a ridge near the summit of the mountain that would allow us to look down into the canyon where the sheep were, moving as quietly as possible and whispering and being careful not to drop anything or brush any sticks. We crept up to the edge there and looked over and down at the sheep. It took a while for Ramon the chief guide to figure out exactly which ram he wanted Brian to shoot.

CURWOOD: What was he looking for?

DUANE: He was looking for the oldest ram and the ram with the largest rack of horns.

CURWOOD: And, why is that good?

DUANE: That's good for hunters because hunters like big racks of horns. And, it's good for conservation because the oldest ram in the group has presumably had plenty of opportunity to spread his genetic diversity through the herd. So, Ramon eventually pointed to a particular ram down near a Yucca tree. There was a lot of anxious whispering back and forth between Brian and Ramon to make sure that Brian knew exactly which ram Ramon had in mind. Once Brian was confident, he chambered a bullet in his rifle and settled his crosshairs on that ram and waited for the all clear. For a moment there was a ewe, a female bighorn, standing directly behind the ram. So, there was some concern that the bullet could go through the ram and kill the ewe as well.

CURWOOD: What would happen if you killed the wrong ram or the ewe?

DUANE: It would have put a real smear on the hunt. It would have been very upsetting for everybody involved. The Ajiditarios are very committed to preserving their sheep. They place an enormous value on preserving their herd and a killed female is a small catastrophe for them. What happens next is that finally that ewe moves, Ramon, the guide, hisses "listo," all clear, and, there's a dead silence in the group for a beat and then this tremendous concussion as Brian pulls the trigger and the rifle bucks. The sheep had all sort of bolted; they had no idea what had happened but, of course, they had heard this terrifying noise. And, then came this groan sort of as Ramon communicated that Brian had missed.

CURWOOD: We're speaking with Daniel Duane about hunting endangered sheep in a bid to conserve them. We'll join him back on the Bighorn trail in just a minute. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: "Rogaciano" La Calaca: Putomayo Presents Mexico (Putomayo) 2001]

CURWOOD: We're back with Dan Duane who's telling us the story of his first hunt, a hunt that's sponsored by the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, part of a program that allows hunting of the endangered sheep in order to conserve them. Our story continues as hunter Brian Drettmann, who was paid almost $60,000 for a permit to bag a bighorn sheep, has taken a shot and missed.

High atop Mexico's Tres Virgines volcano, hunter Brian Drettmann takes aim at a bighorn ram as guides uses binoculars and range finders to tell him which animal to shoot. (Photo: Daniel Duane)

DUANE: Part of the problem had been that the range finder wasn't working when Brian took that shot and he wasn't sure how far away the sheep was. After that first shot missed, suddenly the range finder started working again and Brian got a clear view of his sheep. He got a clear read that it was 150 yards away. As he took the second shot, he did what I'm told a good hunter tries his best to do which is to let out a long, steady exhale as he squeezes the trigger. This time a cry went up among the guides that he had hit the target.

CURWOOD: And how did you feel?

DUANE: I was surprised to feel exhilarated by it. I had wondered what I would feel in that moment. I had really wondered in advance what I would feel watching a man shoot a bighorn ram. Growing up in California and spending time in the mountains of California, the bighorn had always loomed for me as the real sort of mystical inhabitants of the airy keeps of the high mountains. And, I wondered if I was going to feel revolted or saddened or something like that and I didn't at all. I felt exhilarated by it. I felt excited by the adventure of it. I felt privileged to be along with these local men and watching them apply their woodcraft, their tracking and all of that. Another thought I had was, you know, please let me go this way. This guy was, he was near his expected life span anyway. He was in great health. He was eating from a favorite kind of bush. He was surrounded by all his descendants and family and then the lights went out.

CURWOOD: So, how do you think your views on hunting changed after this hunt?

DUANE: Ray Lee, the CEO and president of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, said to me that, in defending hunting, he said to me that, look this is the way people did it for tens of thousands of years. This is how people got food and now we all get our food wrapped in cellophane at the supermarket. And, if you ask a hunter what he's doing out there, he'll tell you: "Look, 362 days a year I get my food wrapped in cellophane and three days, on these three days a year when I go hunting, what I'm doing is putting myself back in, putting myself back in the natural world." And, as someone whose idea of being put back in the natural world has typically meant finding a gorgeous high mountain lake and watching the sunset, it was hard for me to accept the blood sport version of being put back in the natural world until I was out on the mountain with that sheep, watching it being butchered and then eating it. I felt privileged to be there and I did feel that at least in the one setting in which I participated, hunting could really be an extraordinary way to participate in the rhythms of life.

CURWOOD: How do you feel about going hunting again yourself?

DUANE: Well, I'm curious about it, you know. I was so enthusiastic about this that Brian has invited me to go turkey hunting with him in Michigan this spring and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm curious about it, you know, I mean, again I'm not sure what it's going to feel like because I'll be taking yet another step to actually pull the trigger. But, I plan to have a big dinner party afterwards and, you know, have roast wild turkey for a bunch of friends and learn some good recipes for stuffing, I guess.

CURWOOD: Daniel Duane is the author of the article, "Sacrificial Ram," in the March/April issue of Mother Jones magazine. Thanks so much for taking this time with me today.

DUANE: Thanks for having me.

CURWOOD: And, if you have an opinion about hunting in the name of conservation, we'd like to hear from you. Our telephone number is 1-800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write to us at comments at loe dot o-r-g; that's comments at loe dot org

[MUSIC: Kronos Quartet "Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight" Winter Was Hard (Elektra/Nonesuch) 1988]

Related links:
- Foundation for North American Wild Sheep
- "Sacrificial Ram"

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An Ice Age Averted?

CURWOOD: When most of us think about how people might be disrupting the global climate, we tend to blame greenhouse gas emissions from cars, power plants and factories--all products of an industrial society not even 300 years old. But, William Ruddiman, a marine geologist and professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, has another idea. He thinks our ancestors may have had a hand in climate change, as far back as 8,000 years ago.

In a cover story for the March issue of the magazine Scientific American, Professor Ruddiman says early human activity caused atmospheric levels of methane and carbon dioxide to jump at a time when they should have been falling. Up until then, the earth had regularly alternated between ice ages and warming periods, due to the wobbles in our orbit around the sun. And right now, the earth should be on the verge of an ice age. But, since the climate has by and large stayed warm for the past 8,000 years, Professor Ruddiman wanted to know why. He joins me from member station WMRA in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Hello, sir.


CURWOOD: So, what exactly were early humans doing 8,000 years ago that could have brought on global climate change?

RUDDIMAN: Well, basically they were farming. They were clearing forests across the southern tier of Eurasia in order to open up land so that the sun could get to the plants. Agriculture had been discovered in a couple of locations in the Middle East and in China 11,000 years ago, but it began to spread into forested areas around 8,000 years ago. So, that's one part of it. The other part is that by 5,000 years ago, people began to flood wetlands in Southeast Asia to irrigate the land to grow rice. So, clearing the forest generates carbon dioxide; irrigating generates methane.

CURWOOD: So, your hypothesis is that we would be in an ice age if it weren't for human activity. Do I have that right?

RUDDIMAN: That's basically right, although it's easy to overstate it. What I said was that ice sheets of some size would now be growing in the Northern Hemisphere, probably in far northeastern Canada. Now, this should not be understood to mean that there would have been massive ice sheets down to Toronto and Chicago and New York the way there were 20,000 years ago. These would be small, but growing ice sheets.

CURWOOD: What did you find in your research that led to your theory of ancient global warming?

RUDDIMAN: Well, basically part of my hypothesis is that if greenhouse gases had done what they normally do, what they naturally did in the past for the last three or 400,000 years, they would have decreased during the last several thousand years. But instead they started that kind of decrease but then they turned around and went the other way; they increased, they went the wrong way. Humans were putting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that warmed up the atmosphere. And, in effect, that warming stopped a natural cooling. It kept the earth from cooling off.

CURWOOD: Now, some of your colleagues are skeptical of your hypothesis and the conclusions that you have from the data. We talked to a couple; Professor William Pelletier of the University of Toronto, for example, questions if there really could be, could have been enough deforestation and crop irrigation with the resulting releases of carbon dioxide and methane, to cause the increases that you cite here. How do you respond to this criticism?

RUDDIMAN: It is at first blush a valid criticism if you go back say to just before the beginning of the industrial era when I say these greenhouse gas anomalies had reached these very large sizes that I had mentioned earlier. There were about 500 million people, 600 million people around and that's only a tenth of the number of people that are alive today. So, if you look at how much methane or CO2 farming and deforestation generated today, from six billion people, and then you think, oh well, there were only 500 million people alive then, you have to wonder if, indeed, if there is enough farming activity to do that. But, I think there's an underlying fallacy to that point of view and it's basically this: we don't live, the average person today does not live the way the average person lived in 1700 or a 1,000 years ago or 2,000 years ago. Back then, almost everyone was a farmer and so everyone that was farming needed cleared land and therefore deforestation to do the farming. Today, most of us are not farmers and so the relationship is not a one-for-one relationship between population and greenhouse gas emissions.

CURWOOD: What are the implications for the future here? If climate change has been an ongoing phenomena for the last 8,000 years from human agricultural activity, what does it mean now that we have all these industrial emissions of greenhouse gases and much larger proportions than our farming ancestors emitted these gases?

RUDDIMAN: There is a fundamental difference between the early warming that I claim to have detected and the present day industrial-era warming. The early warming came on very slowly, but it also did not carry the greenhouse gas concentrations or the climate beyond the natural balance that had been varying over the last several 100,000 years. That's not the case for the current warming. The greenhouse gas concentrations are now well outside, well above their natural, the natural range that they have been varying at and the global temperature is just at the point of exceeding the natural range of temperature as well. So, we're heading into terra incognita. We are right now at the warm limit of how warm the earth has been in the last several 100,000 years and we're heading fairly quickly toward something a good deal warmer.

CURWOOD: Professor William Ruddiman is author of the article, "Did Humans Stop an Ice Age?" in the March issue of the Scientific American. Thanks for taking this time with me today, Bill.

RUDDIMAN: It's good talking to you, Steve.

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On A Train Heading South

CURWOOD: Last year, the disaster film, "The Day After Tomorrow," was a notable attempt by Hollywood to draw wider attention to the issue of climate change. Another effort by the art world to document the warming planet is underway in San Francisco, where one of the city's most respected dance companies is tackling the almost impossibly unglamorous subject. Producer Todd Spencer sat in on a rehearsal of ODC Dance's "On A Train Heading South" and has our story.

WAY: Take it slow going back to that place and let her grab you and pull you back to that place.


SPENCER: ODC founder Brenda Way has choreographed 70 pieces over the last 30 years, but never one like this. Like me, you might wonder what a dance about, essentially, weather, would look like. You might also question the topic's value as good dance fare, but if the feedback from advance audiences is any indication, the 30-minute dance packs an emotional wallop.


WAY: Did you guys figure out what you're doing there?

SPENCER: The piece is the brainchild of Way and composer-collaborator Jack Perla, who pitched the idea to Brenda after a vacation to Antarctica.

WAY: He proposed this idea, I thought it was ridiculous. I mean, I thought it was so massive.

PERLA: And, I still get that, you know, like, if I describe the piece to colleagues at work…can you really do that? I mean, a dance piece about global warming. It's pretentious.


SPENCER: As it opens, we see the dancers as a picture of society engaged in what could be a fancy, black tie party. An awkward female guest soon arrives.

PERLA: Cassandra is, sort of, the party crasher and she's the, you know, she's the downer and she's not a very good conversationalist and she's not very effervescent.

SPENCER: In Greek mythology, Cassandra could see into the future. But, stripped of her powers of persuasion by Apollo, she's unable to convince the Greek generals about the danger posed by the Trojan Horse. Throughout this piece, the lone Cassandra figure tries to alarm her fellow dancers about the strange weather.


PERLA: And as the evening wears on, the tension gets greater and greater. It starts innocent; it really becomes quite violent.


ODC Dancers Yukie Fujimoto and Daniel Santos.
(Photo: RJ Muna)

SPENCER: Jack describes the arc of the story this way.

PERLA: Sky is falling, sky is falling, ah shut up, ah shut up, ah shut up, and then the sky falls. That's the arc of the story (laughs).


SPENCER: The piece is scored by Jack, who peppers his original music with snippets of media clips from politicians and samples of MTV-style hip-hop and even a parody on a Britney Spears song, not coincidentally named "Toxic."


SPEARS: It's dangerous, I'm falling…

SPENCER: But, it's when the choreography and the music are combined with a third element, the stage set, that a new emotional understanding of global warming is created with viewers.

SPENCER: Hanging above the stage suggesting a glacial world, are twelve giant blocks of ice.

PERLA: The pieces of ice are shaped in an arc so they, sort of, remind you of being at one of the poles or being at the top of the world or the bottom of the world. But at the same time, they look like big ice cubes and they almost look like they should be draining into a martini glass.

SPENCER: With the ice cast iridescent in hot stage lights, the dancers' world literally melts around them. Yukie Fujimoto is a dancer.

FUJIMOTO: It was so beautiful until, of course, we started slipping in it (laughs) and then we ran the piece a couple a times, people fell and I think Brenda was horrified.

SPENCER: She might have been horrified, but Brenda fell in love with the set and its emotional impact.

WAY: For me, the idea of a big chunk of ice melting on the stage and a group of brilliant dancers with gorgeous bodies ignoring it seemed to me such a perfect metaphor for our social non-response to the condition that that's really all I was thinking about.


SPENCER: In a moment that elicited audible gasps from a preview audience, the dancers form an elegant human glacier that sinks and contracts in jerky tremors, personifying our intrinsic connection to the fate of the icecaps.

WAY: I was reading all these descriptions of what was happening to the glaciers and so on and I felt there was a profound analogy between what was happening to the glaciers and what's happening to our social order--the collapse of both. One is actually collapsing because of the other.


SPENCER: Toward the dance's conclusion, there's a battle between Cassandra and a solo male dancer where she is physically dominated, partially smothered and left in emotional shambles. Then, as she predicted, the worst happens. The final scene is a flood scenario. Upstage, a shattered Cassandra sits, making circles in the water with her finger as two male dancers come to terms with the devastation behind her. One props the other up in consolation, and wills him to continue on, to adjust to the new reality.


WAY: What a dance form can do is touch a place emotionally that you didn't even know you were sensitive to. And I hope we do that!


SPENCER: For Living on Earth, I'm Todd Spencer.

CURWOOD: ODC Dance Founder Brenda Way's "On A Train Heading South" just opened in San Francisco and will tour nationwide this autumn.

Related links:
- ODC Dance
- ODC Dance's Touring Schedule for "On a Train Heading South" (PDF file)">

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Emerging Science Note/Garbage Fuel

CURWOOD: Just ahead: Ah shucks! Turns out oysters may be key to restoring San Francisco Bay. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.

CHU: The average person in the U.S. generates almost a ton of waste per year and most of it winds up in landfills. As this waste decomposes, it produces a blend called Landfill Gas or LFG, which is composed of 50 percent methane and 50 percent carbon dioxide. LFG can be extracted and processed into fuel to power vehicles and turbines or heat and cool buildings. But, when air enters the landfill it raises the cost of LFG purification, since separating nitrogen and oxygen is expensive. So, British scientist Viktor Popov has come up with a design that virtually eliminates air from entering a landfill in the first place. Popov's solution is to cover the landfill with a multi-layer membrane that includes a middle permeable layer sandwiched between two low permeable layers. In the middle layer, carbon dioxide prevents air from entering the landfill and LFG from escaping, allowing for efficient and cost-effective purification of LFG. In 2003, more than six million metric tons of methane was captured from landfills in the U.S., half of which was used for energy production. Popov's new design will allow the U.S. to increase its use of methane while decreasing its emission of global warming, greenhouse gasses. So, maybe some of that garbage you're throwing away isn't such a waste after all. That's this week's Note on Emerging Science. I'm Jennifer Chu.

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

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[MUSIC: Thelonious Monk Quartet "Body and Soul" Monk's Dream (Columbia) 1965]

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Saving the Bay

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood and coming up: The powers of observation made keen by a life behind bars.

But first, San Francisco Bay is one of the world's most popular places. But that popularity has come with a cost: gold mining runoff, dredging and development have killed many native species that once thrived in the bay. Now, an ambitious plan is underway to restore it to its natural state. And one critical step is to bring back a tiny, native shellfish. Andrea Kissack has more.


KISSACK: The lunch crowd at Hog Island Oyster Company on the famous San Francisco wharf slurps down oysters just as fast as the waiters can shuck ‘em. But these oysters didn't come from the bay, just a few feet away. They were hauled down from another body of water, 60 miles north--Tomales Bay. There was a time when you could eat native oysters right out of San Francisco Bay. For generations the mollusks fed the Coast Miwok and Ohlone Indians.


KISSACK: In the late 1800s, it was the gold miners' voracious appetite for the native Olympic oyster that made the Bay Area the capital of the west coast oyster industry. Jack London even memorialized the abundant oyster in his short stories. But by the time of London's death in 1916, San Francisco oysters were mostly gone, choked off by the city's raw sewage or over-fished. The oysters that survived were imported from Seattle or hauled by train from the East Coast and dumped on top of the old San Francisco oyster beds. But by the 1940s, even the non-native oysters couldn't survive in San Francisco's increasingly polluted bay.


MCGOWAN: Well, the last time I tried this I sank to about my knees walking through this mud.

KISSACK: In the shallow waters off Tiburon, in the northern part of the bay, Marine biologist Mike McGowan sloshes through four feet of quick sand like sludge, washed down from upstream.

MCGOWAN: This mud, which is a legacy of the hydraulic mining, gold mining in the Sierras is still here in the bay.


KISSACK: McGowan is trying to find one of his oyster beds. Last spring, volunteers helped him sink clusters of empty oyster shells off this shore in hopes they would become homes for baby oysters. A larger scale effort is succeeding in Chesapeake Bay. But while that experiment aims to revive the eastern oyster industry, McGowan hopes to save San Francisco Bay and bringing back the oyster may be the key.

MCGOWAN: Everything is interrelated. The oysters help the eel grass, the eel grass helps the oysters. Having more oysters and eel grass means there is more habitat and shelter for fish.

KISSACK: When the whole bay ecology improves crabs, starfish and birds benefit too. Oysters are also the lungs of the bay. Just one can filter more than 15 gallons of water a day, enough to nearly fill a bathtub. So, more oysters mean cleaner water and more life in the bay.

MCGOWAN: The first thing we are going to do is walk out to that oyster reef. Turn it upside down.

KISSACK: It's low tide on a sunny Thursday morning and McGowan is slogging through the mud flats to reach one of several white buoys. This one is floating about 40-feet off shore. Anchored to the buoy is a sunken wooden pallet with about a dozen nylon mesh bags stacked and tied together. The bags are full of oyster shells. When they are very young, oysters are searching for something hard to cement themselves.

MCGOWAN: They will recruit onto just about anything--wood, old batteries' cases, shopping carts, but they greatly prefer other oyster shell because a good place to land for a young oyster is where adult oysters have already managed to grow up and survive.

KISSACK: When they find a home, oysters stick to it for life. They are much more adventuresome when it comes to their sex lives. Oysters are hermaphrodites, beginning life as males but changing to females to spawn hundreds of thousands of larvae. And back and forth they go, spending the rest of their lives switching genders. Meanwhile the pin-head sized oyster larvae are carried by the currents of the bay. And McGowan is, well, hoping to catch their drift. While some of his early tries failed, today he finds what he's looking for.

MCGOWAN: Ok, now here's an oyster, this is really great. I have looked at three shells and Brooke, how many have you looked at? Four? OK, so seven shells, on the eighth shell we found a large, native oyster, oh, there's another one.

KISSACK: McGowan searches 100 shells and finds 23 baby oysters. With the help of volunteers from the Tiburon Audubon Center, he carries them to shore and measures each one.

MCGOWAN: 2.5 centimeters.

KISSACK: At two months old, these oysters are just beginning to grow their own shells, inside the ones they've found. It's the way they've been doing it for millennia. This is one of several projects funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. McGowan, the Tiburon Audubon Center and local conservation groups are counting on the resilience of nature to bring back the oysters.

MCGOWAN: One way to look at it is that each isolated, small population of oysters is like a little light bulb. When the larvae from one population find a good place and settle, that's like a light bulb turning on, but then one of these light bulbs is turning off some place else. So what we'd like to do is have enough light bulbs blinking on and off around the bay that it's a continuos glow and the oyster population makes a comeback and does it on its own.

KISSACK: McGowan is hoping that happens in his lifetime. And if the bay's native oyster does return, we may find that sometimes we can reverse some of the damage we've caused. For Living on Earth, I'm Andrea Kissack in San Francisco.


[MUSIC: Birdsongs of the Mesozoic "Swamp" Dancing on A'A (Cuneiform) 1995]

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Desert Walls

CURWOOD: Ken Lamberton spent much of his early career teaching others about the Arizona desert. As a biology instructor and YMCA camp counselor, he led students through caves, canyons and desert plateaus, always on the lookout for rare animals and artifacts. But at the age of 27, he had to give it all up. Ken Lamberton is now a published nature writer, but it wasn't the open desert where he honed his craft--it was in prison.

Mr. Lamberton served twelve years for child molestation and while incarcerated, he wrote collection of nature essays, now published, called "Beyond Desert Walls: Essays from Prison." Many of them are attempts to make peace with his family and his crime that began with an obsession with a 14-year-old girl who worked at his summer camp.

LAMBERTON: You think of most camps as being in the pines with lakes and rivers, and canoeing; this is a desert camp and it's centered mostly around horseback riding and some other desert-type activities, camp craft skills, hiking. It's not low desert as we have here in Tucson, it's a little bit higher grassland desert and so it's about ten degrees cooler than Tucson would normally be in the summertime, so there's outdoor activities don't become an issue because of the heat.

CURWOOD: And at this camp you met your wife. What was that summer that you first met your wife. What was that like?

LAMBERTON: That was my second summer working at this camp. And camp is a whole different thing. Your inhibitions are, well there aren't any I guess. It's a very magical place and when Karen walked into my life I noticed her immediately and I knew I wanted to be with her. And we hit it off right away. She was helping direct the same program that I was working in and camp was just one of those places where everything is just laid bare. I mean, you do your laundry together. And so our relationship developed and we spent many nights, sleepless nights, under the stars. Unfortunately, you know where this leads is when my victim arrived, I began repeating the same thing and so I've destroyed a lot of precious memories that my wife had by bringing somebody else into the situation, into our camp.

CURWOOD: What happened, the girl whom you victimized sexually, she comes to camp what, the summer of 1986?


CURWOOD: And you're, what, about to be a father, your wife…

LAMBERTON: Right. My wife is pregnant with our third child. We had two small girls and we're all there. We've moved to the camp after the school year. So, there was already a relationship that was developing and it just took off when she came to camp. So the relationship grew into this obsession. I saw no way out of it except running away with her. And that's what we did before the camp season ended. In August, we decided to run away together. It lasted two weeks.

CURWOOD: And she was how old and you were how old?

LAMBERTON: She was 14; I was 26, 27.

CURWOOD: What do you tell people in those circumstances? What, how do you explain your feelings about what happened in the past?

LAMBERTON: Well, I, people ask me all the time, what were you thinking? And the best answer I can give them is that, I just wasn't. I was fueled on my emotions and my brain, my mind was not engaged at all. So, I'm not trying to absolve myself of any responsibility. I feel completely responsible for my actions during that time and I regret it deeply. I mean, the damage that it did to my victim, to my family, to my children, it's baggage I'll carry for the rest of my life that I'll never escape. And you know, truthfully, I'll probably define myself as a prisoner for the rest of my life.

CURWOOD: Now as someone who was convicted as a sex offender, I understand that there's a certain hierarchy among inmates and that…

LAMBERTON: Oh, yeah.

CURWOOD: You even write that sex offenders are at the very bottom of that ladder, but…

LAMBERTON: They are.

CURWOOD: During your time in prison you were recruited to teach science and nature to your fellow inmates.


CURWOOD: How do you think this made you fit in within the prison community with the label of sex offender yourself?

LAMBERTON: Well, first of all, I was in a facility that was largely sex offenders, probably 60 percent. But there were others that were not and sometimes there would be trouble with them, but not very often. But I think that because I decided to teach in education, to share my knowledge and my skill, that I was respected by these men and, in this case, helping them gain their GEDs.

CURWOOD: What sort of lessons did you offer them?

LAMBERTON: Well, I had this enormous science background so the first thing I did was develop a science program that involved a lot of activities. The yard we were on was what they call an open yard, which means that the inmates can travel from their cells to and from classes and dining facilities. And so I tried to develop activities where it would take us kind of outside the classroom. And I used what resources I had, insects that I would find in the yard or a bat, you know that would cling to the roof from the night before. I'd catch him in like a jar so we could examine it and look at the structure of its wing and take it outside and release it. I developed some astronomy programs because we did have some evening classes and one of the things that I was really connected to in prison was seeing stars. I was glad for that, seeing the sky, seeing the stars at night, seeing Orion in the wintertime swing overhead.

CURWOOD: In any sense, did being in prison give you an advantage as a nature writer?

LAMBERTON: Yeah, it really forced me to focus. I think it's Kathleen Norris, she knows something about the cloistered life. She wrote a book about it. She talks about being forced inward by the spareness that is outward. And that's what it did for me. It really taught me to pay attention to details. There's not much in that environment and so you become attuned to everything that moves. Every little trespass that comes through the fences, through the razor-wire, even if it's an insect, or a bird, or a weed that comes up through the cracks in a section of concrete. And you rejoice in those. It's nature. I found a wilderness inside of a prison. And it was right there before my eyes.

Ken Lamberton
(Photo: Karen Lamberton, 2002)

CURWOOD: So, this is a long time that you were there. What, twelve years?

LAMBERTON: Twelve years.

CURWOOD: What was it like returning to your family? You had now, unlike probably most prisoners, you had this group of people that were very anxiously awaiting your return.

LAMBERTON: Yeah, well most wives, most families of inmates are gone within the first two years. Mine stayed with me for 12. So I had a place to go; I had that family support. My wife said a few months before I went to prison that my children would always be my children. There is nothing I could do to escape that. And that she would always be my wife. And, boy, talk about a confrontation, all I wanted was out. I was still, you know during those, that foggy time between my arrest and when I actually went to prison, you know, I was still wanting to continue the relationship and my wife was really in my face about it. And it was the birth of my daughter, Melissa, where I finally made a decision that I was wrong and that I needed to come back to my family.

CURWOOD: And without violating her privacy, what's happened to your victim? Did your victim testify at the trial?

LAMBERTON: Yes. By this time, she had realized, I guess, pretty much what I did. That I had made a horrible mistake and she thought I should go to prison. And I know she went on with her life. She went to a school, graduated I believe at the law school here at the University of Arizona and is practicing law somewhere now.

CURWOOD: Now, have you gone back to your camp, the summer camp, since you've been released?

LAMBERTON: Actually, I haven't. I've been back to the area; I've been to the caves that we explored and the mines. I've been to the area all surrounding it. I've looked down on the camp from a mountain bridge above it, but I've never actually stepped foot back in the camp and neither has my wife. She spent some time there after my arrest, kind of finishing up things because she was very involved with the camp also. But she says, my wife feels probably the same way I do. She says there are ghosts there that she continually bumps into. She has no desire to go back.

CURWOOD: So, why don't you move farther away from the area here? Why do you keep all this so close to you?

LAMBERTON: Yeah, well, my wife talks about it all the time. She'd like to move away. I think it's a need to kind of start over. But you know, the thing is that our friends, our church, our family, they're all here and they know and there's a kind of, they know about me and the crime and the long incarceration, what my family went through and there's some comfort and security in that. And really, I believe that there isn't so much a "starting over." What my wife really has given me is not a chance to start over, but a promise of continuing. And, so that's what we're doing. We're just continuing with our lives in this place, you know, carrying everything with us, carrying our past with us, the scars with us.

CURWOOD: Ken Lamberton is author of "Beyond Desert Walls, Essays from Prison." Ken, thanks for taking this time with me today.

LAMBERTON: Thank you, Steve.

[MUSIC: Birdsongs of the Mesozoic "Birdgam" Dancing on A'A (Cuneiform) 1995]

Related link:
"Beyond Desert Walls"

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CURWOOD: We take you now to the desert, where it's not that unusual to find things lying around abandoned--things in the middle of nowhere that leave you wondering how they got there in the first place. Like an old chest and a reclining chair that Scott Smallwood found squeaking and rattling in a heavy wind blowing through the Great Salt Lake desert in Utah.


CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Chris Ballman, Jennifer Chu, Steve Gregory and Ingrid Lobet--with help from Christopher Bolick and Kelly Cronin. Our interns are Katie Oliveri and Katie Zemtseff. Our technical director is Paul Wabrek. Alison Dean composed our themes. You can find us at Living on Earth dot org. I'm Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

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