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Evangelical leaders across the country have issued a Call to Action to urge their followers to take a stand on the environment, especially at the polls on Election Day. Host Steve Curwood talks with Reverend Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. Rev. Cizik says "to harm this world by environmental degradation is an offense against God." (04:30)
Pombo Fights for His Seat/ Ingrid Lobet
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Republican Resources Committee chair Richard Pombo influences much of the environmental and energy legislation in Congress. Now he finds himself in the race of his life. Ingrid Lobet reports on the California congressman's changing district and the fierce effort by environmentalists to oust him. (07:20)
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California voters will soon cast their ballots on Proposition 87, the high-profile initiative that has won the attention of the oil industry and environmental groups alike. The bill would tax oil drilled in California to directly fund renewable energy projects. Sacramento Bee reporter Laura MeCoy talks with Living on Earth about the initiative. (06:50)
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Host Steve Curwood talks with social scientists Beverly Wright and Robert Bullard about the issues of environmental justice and discrimination that the poor and black people in New Orleans are facing in the rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Katrina. (10:15)
Emerging Science Note/Hurry Up Half-Life/ Ian Gray
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New research suggests that scientists may be able to speed up the rate of radioactive decay. Ian Gray reports. (01:45)
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When Ryan Hreljac was six years old he learned that many areas around the world did not have access to clean water. Ryan decided to raise money to build a well in a village in Uganda. Akana Jimmy lived in that village and the boys became penpals and fast friends. Ten years later, Ryan and Jimmy join host Steve Curwood to share their story and to discuss Ryan’s continuing efforts to bring water to other struggling villages. (07:15)
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It's been 37 years since the last man was on the moon, and now, NASA says, we're going back. The U.S. space agency will send astronauts to the moon as soon as 2019. Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman talks to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, about the draw of moon exploration. (06:30)
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It’s often been said that the human body is a work of art. But what about preserving real human corpses, arranging them in various poses, and creating a museum exhibit around them? Living on Earth’s Dennis Foley visited the controversial exhibit "Body Worlds" at the Boston Museum of Science and brings us an audio portrait. (02:30)
Raving about a lone raven.
HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Richard Cizik, Laura MeCoy, Dr. Beverly Wright, Dr. Robert Bullard, Ryan Hreljac, Akana Jimmy, Neil deGrasse Tyson
REPORTER: Ingrid Lobet
SCIENCE NOTE: Ian Gray
CURWOOD: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth.
[THEME UP AND UNDER]
CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood.
Iraq. Bribery and sexual abuse on Capitol Hill. Energy and housing costs.
These may be key in the 2006 elections, but for one Republican from California, keeping his seat may hinge on the environment.
YOON: He is not like any other member of Congress. We’ve seen in several decades in the manner and speed that he has tried to roll back environmental protection laws.
SEVO: He wants to make sure the environment is preserved for future generations. He is for the rights of property owners.
CURWOOD: The re-election bid of Richard Pombo.
Also, a museum exhibit folks are just dying to get into.
MAN: It’s truly a remarkable dissection. It truly is artwork.
WOMAN: I think it’s gross….
WOMAN2: It’s funny
WOMAN: No, it’s gross.
MAN: No, no. This is not entertainment. This is information.
CURWOOD: Body Worlds and more, this week on Living on Earth. Stick around!
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
As the 2006 elections approach, the Christian Coalition and other evangelicals have launched a media blitz on global warming, as part of a get-out-the-vote campaign among their followers. They say this is a Call to Action on global warming, which they have come to believe is an offense against God.
Key sponsors of the campaign on Christian radio are the producers of the documentary movie “The Great Warming,” narrated by Keanu Reeves and Alanis Morissette. The film opens in fifty cities this week, including some places with close House and Senate races.
REEVES: What if a single species became so powerful that it began to change the very nature of the planet itself?
MORISSETTE: It is happening now, and only one species has the power to stop it.
REEVES: We do.
CURWOOD: The Reverend Richard Cizik is the vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, one of the sponsors of the campaign, and I asked him to explain it.
CURWOOD: Now, the ad campaign that goes along with Call to Action, why is this ad campaign targeted to those states where the election is expected to be very close?
CIZIK: Some say this is an effort to reach out to Democrats. Ahh, contraire. I think it’s an effort to reach out to Republicans, which is to say, we don’t want to preach to the choir, to use a church metaphor. We want to preach to the unconvinced, Republicans largely being the unconvinced. We are reaching out to them. So, it’s a little different than I think people normally take it.
CURWOOD: So, you’re trying to evangelize Republicans on climate change?
CIZIK: We’re trying, literally, to convert them as I was converted. I was converted in 2002 to the science of climate change. And it mattered not to me that one party was progressive and the other regressive or however you want to describe it. It mattered not to me, any of that. What mattered to me, first and foremost, was, is the science real? Is it going to impact people negatively? And I decided that I would do something, whatever I could, as little as it might be, I would do it. And if we reach out to people who, heretofore, haven’t even considered this as an issue, to challenge them with what the Bible itself says, and that we have to do something about this, well, I think we could not only change America, we could change the world. And that’s exciting to me.
CURWOOD: Reverend, how do environmental issues and concerns about climate change rank in comparison to other major issues for evangelical voters today? You say, they vote, say, 80 percent Republican, or they voted 80 percent for George Bush last time. What portion of that vote, at this point, do you think cares, in particular, about the environment and climate change?
CIZIK: Well, I’m not sure. Sixty percent say that they believe that climate change, for example, is an important issue. The environment has never ranked very high in anyone’s calculations. So, if evangelical Christians, which constitute about, well, one-quarter of the voting public of America, were to just cast a few percentages in the direction of environmental protection, that could change a lot of outcomes.
CURWOOD: So, in this year, in this election where victory and loss in the House and Senate are likely to be very close in many cases--
CIZIK: A few voters, a few voters, a small percentage could make the difference. And all we’re saying, in a non-partisan way, is take a look at both candidates—ask them, if you’ve not already, what’s your position on climate change? We think we’ve been able to do that already, even of the President of the United States.
CURWOOD: It doesn’t seem that you’ve converted him?
CIZIK: Not yet. (laughs) And I say that with an expectation that we will, in fact, persuade even this president, the oilman, that this is something he can’t ignore.
CURWOOD: Richard Cizik is the vice president for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals. Thank you.
CIZIK: You’re welcome. Thank you, Steve.
The Great Warming
CURWOOD: A powerful Republican congressman, who chairs a key committee on the environment, has represented an historically conservative ranching and farming district in California's Central Valley for seven terms. But times have changed. Many voters who don't share his views have moved into his district, and environmental activists have energized a fierce campaign to unseat him.
Living On Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports on the newly vulnerable Richard Pombo.
LOBET: Around the towns of Stockton, Tracy, Lodi, and Manteca, California, Richard Pombo has a popular family name that goes back generations, a name that graces yard signs, not just in election time, but all year-round. Pombo Real Estate sells horse acreage and ranchettes in these sun-washed hills.
LOBET: Inside the Pombo campaign office in Stockton, Heather Sevo is spending her Wednesday stuffing mailers.
SEVO: When I moved to Tracy, I was so proud that he was going to be my congressman. I've always known about him growing up, and I thought he was just a wonderful man, and I also feel that he's very strong in his beliefs.
SEVO: He wants to make sure that the environment is preserved for future generations. He is for the rights of property owners.
LOBET: In Washington, Pombo chairs the House Resources Committee. He's among those who shape American policy on the environment and energy. Most significant bills on those subjects don't become law without his consent. Since he went to Congress 14 years ago, few have matched his will to open up more of America's oil and gas frontiers.
POMBO: We had the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and they vote no. We had a bill last year on the floor that expanded wind, solar, geothermal. They voted no. We’ve had the opportunity five times to vote on an energy bill that put money into alternative energy, renewable energy, conservation. And they voted no.
LOBET: Pombo does talk about the importance of clean fuel, and using less fuel, but he says it has to be voluntary.
POMBO: Let me let you in on a dirty little secret. U.S. automakers manufacture cars today that get 35, 40, 50 miles to the gallon. What they want to mandate is not that car companies make cars that get 50 miles to the gallon, they want to mandate that you have to buy them. They want to force them down your throat.
LOBET: Congressman Pombo has tried to weaken provisions of basic environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, to change species protection in favor of developers and landowners, and to make it possible to buy land if you stake a mineral claim, even if it's public land. Much of this he has done in the open, daring environmentalists to take him on.
YOON: He is not like any other members of Congress that we've seen over the last several decades, in the manner and speed in which he has tried to roll back environmental protection laws.
LOBET: Ed Yoon heads up an office of eight full-time workers from the group, Defenders of Wildlife, who've set up a full-blown Defeat Pombo campaign. Defenders alone has plowed in 1.4 million dollars. Environmental groups are running blogs, radio and television ads, and buses that bring in protesters from San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley—outside Richard Pombo's district—into the district to go door-to-door talking to voters.
YOON: This has been an incredible experience for me just seeing the outpouring of support and activism in the community for a congressional race. Just the fact that we’ve had over 150 people come out to canvass in a congressional race? A lot of people are saying ‘anybody but Pombo.’
LOBET: So concerted is this campaign, that at times it overshadows Pombo's Democratic opponent. He is Jerry McNerney, a wind power engineer, a businessman, married to a Latina. He attended West Point, though he's not a veteran, and he has a PhD in math.
MCNERNEY: I’ve always been good at math, and I’ve always loved it. There's a beauty to it, and there is something that’s nice about finding answers that are real and can't really be questioned. But I wanted to actually make things happen.
[CAR DOOR SLAM]
LOBET: McNerney got in at the ground floor on wind energy more than 20 years ago. He designed and tested wind towers in New Mexico, Massachusetts, and then up here in Altamont Pass, in Richard Pombo's district. In fact, the company McNerney worked for installed windmills on Pombo property. The candidate sees possibilities for the baking hot agricultural San Joaquin Valley he would represent, in ethanol, biodiesel, wind, and solar production.
MCNERNEY: As you can see, it's bright and sunny out here, and I think we can produce a lot of solar activity out here. We can, hopefully, do a little bit of manufacturing as well, and become, I think, and I hope, a center for new energy technology--the Silicon Valley of new energy technology.
LOBET: McNerney was somewhat less soft-spoken at a recent debate with Congressman Pombo in Tracy.
MCNERNEY: We have the technology to make our automobiles get 100 miles a gallon with improved performance using plug-in hybrid technology, using turbo diesel, using carbon fibers for reducing weight. We have the technology. Let's take the bull by the horns, and do it right here in our district! Let’s create jobs! Let's build our future! (applause)
LOBET: The race between Richard Pombo and Jerry McNerney this year is playing out in a region undergoing dramatic change. The district itself has been redrawn in a way that is less favorable to Richard Pombo. Forty-five percent of the voters are now on his western flank, nearer to the Bay Area. They are Democrats, Independents and moderate Republicans, many of whom abandoned Pombo in the primary. And the whole district is rapidly becoming more Asian and Latino. Rupa Nurain says she'll vote for the windmill engineer.
NURAIN: It's important because it concerns the global warming, you know, and we have to become less dependent on oil, you know, from foreign countries, and find alternative ways to find energy use that tap the sun and the wind.
LOBET: But this mother of a soldier in Iraq, who preferred we not use her name, says her vote will go to Richard Pombo.
WOMAN: We have somebody who is risking his life over there every single day, so we’re pretty worried about him, and we think that they deserve a lot of support at home. And we think Pombo’s going to provide that, and has demonstrated that.
LOBET: For Jerry McNerney, it's win or go back to his patent on a wind turbine algorithm. For Richard Pombo, it's win, lose, or win and lose. He only retains his powerful committee chair if Republicans keep a majority in the House. For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet.
[MUSIC: Music For Zombies “Carnival of Souls” from ‘Music For Zombies’ (Orchard - 2003)]
CURWOOD: Coming up, fourteen months after Hurricane Katrina, some scholars say environmental racism is a big factor holding back the recovery of New Orleans. Just ahead on Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
You can count on California to do things big, and this year’s election fight over a single measure is no exception. First of all, there is big campaign cash: 120 million dollars.
And then the big names, starting with Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and plenty of Hollywood stars. And, of course, a big prize. In this case, four billion dollars to advance solar power and other kinds of renewable energy.
The big contest is over Proposition 87, which would generate those billions by slapping a tax on crude oil pumped out of the ground in California. Oil companies and their allies have already spent more than 80 million to fight the measure, mostly with ads:
WOMAN: How’s our gas tank looking?
MAN: Um, oh, time to fill ‘er up.
MAN: Yeah and you better fasten your seatbelt because there’s an oil tax headed for the ballot.
WOMAN: You’ve gotta be kidding me.
MAN: I never kid about gas prices. It’s called Proposition 87, a four billion dollar tax.
CURWOOD: The Hollywood-financed proponents of Prop 87 have spent about half of what the oil lobby has spent, but that’s still a whopping 40 million dollars.
PRES. CLINTON: Proposition 87 will move California toward energy independence with cleaner fuels, with wind and solar power. Think of how you could change it all….”
CURWOOD: Laura MeCoy is a reporter with the Sacramento Bee and she joins me now to discuss Prop 87. Hello, Laura.
MECOY: Hi, how are you today?
CURWOOD: Good. Tell me, what exactly is the goal of proposition 87?
MECOY: The goal of proposition 87 is to reduce petroleum usage in the state of California by 25 percent over 10 years.
CURWOOD: That’s a pretty ambitious goal. How exactly would the four billion dollars achieve that?
MECOY: Well, about 60 percent of the money would be used to reduce gasoline and diesel fuel usage in the state by financing alternative fuel vehicles and re-fueling stations. More than a fourth of it would go to California universities for alternative energy research. About 10 percent would be used to try to get energy-efficient technologies to the marketplace faster. Three-and-a-half percent would go for public education campaigns and administrative costs, and two-and-a-half percent would pay for vocational education at community colleges to develop a workforce in alternative energy technologies.
CURWOOD: So, what are the proponents arguing exactly?
CURWOOD: And if there’s a tax on the extraction of oil, obviously, sooner or later, consumers feel instinctively they would pay it. What do the proponents say to that?
MECOY: The proponents specifically wrote into the initiative that the tax that will be imposed on the extraction of oil in California could not be passed on to consumers. However, the legislative analyst, which is our sort of watchdog in the legislature, has said that would be difficult to enforce. And, as we all know, whenever we see gasoline prices go up, trying to parse out what is the cause of those prices going up is very difficult.
CURWOOD: Now, what do they opponents say here? How do they feel it will hurt Californians in the future?
CURWOOD: Now, as I understand it, California is--what, like the third largest producer of oil in the United States?
MECOY: That’s correct.
CURWOOD: What about the other states? What do they have in the way of an extraction tax and how does that compare to the present extraction tax in California?
MECOY: We have virtually no extraction tax in California. There’s a tiny regulatory fee attached to oil that’s miniscule in comparison to what’s done in other states. Every other major oil-producing state does have a severance tax, and, in fact, in Alaska, as you probably are aware, they produce so much oil and they have such a large income from that tax that they don’t have state income taxes. So we are unique in that regard, and that is why the proponents of this initiative chose to go with an extraction tax. And when they first started the campaign, much of their campaign was about making oil companies pay their fair share, was what their ads were saying.
CURWOOD: So, from your reporting, Laura, what do you see as the economic impact in California likely to be, and how might that affect the nation?
MECOY: I think that the goal of the proponents is to try to nudge the entire country towards more alternative energy, that California would once again be a trendsetter.
CURWOOD: Now, as I understand it, over 100 million dollars has been poured into this election campaign. Why is so much being spent here campaigning on the proposition?
MECOY: The primary reason that it is so expensive, or so much money is being spent, is because both sides have very deep pockets. On the “no on 87” side, you have the oil companies, and they have dumped most of the 80 million dollars into that campaign. On the “yes” side, you have venture capitalists, and a Hollywood producer, and real estate heir, Steven Bing. He has put about 43 million dollars into the campaign in favor of Prop 87.
CURWOOD: Lets talk about some of the personalities here, particularly the politicians. Now, we’ve seen former President Bill Clinton campaigning in California on this, former Vice President Al Gore campaigning in California. Both of these men, Democrats, both in favor of this proposition. What about your governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger? Now, he’s a Republican running for re-election. What do we hear from him on this issue?
MECOY: He is opposed to the measure. But he came out against it very, very early in the process, and has been relatively silent since then. He’s opposed to the measure because it has a tax increase in it, and he has vehemently opposed tax increases. But he says he does support the goals of the initiative, and that if it is approved by the voters, he will work aggressively to implement it. I think he’s trying to keep faith with his Republican voters by opposing the tax increase, but he is clearly not opposed to the goals. So I think there is a strategy in his being relatively silent about the measure.
CURWOOD: Now, from your analysis, what would need to happen in the electorate for this to pass on November 7th?
MECOY: I think people are going to have to be convinced that this is really going to make a difference. But I have to say the supporters are pulling out all the stops. Bringing in Clinton and Gore is a very smart strategy, and I think that the proponents need this push. They’re declining in the polls. They were at 52 percent in August, and in September their support had dropped to 44 percent in the field poll.
CURWOOD: Laura MeCoy is a reporter for the Sacramento Bee. Thank you, Laura, so much.
MECOY: Thank you.
[MUSIC: Piano Magic “There’s No Need For Us To Be Alone” from ‘A Rocket Girl Compilation’ (Rocket Girl - 2006)]
CURWOOD: When the levees of New Orleans failed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of mostly black people were stranded for days in deadly chaos. The callous and inept response to Katrina not only exposed old racial divisions, but as New Orleans struggles to recover 14 months later, some academics say racism is still alive and well in the plans to move forward.
In particular, they question the clean bill of health recently given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to New Orleans. They say it allows a disproportionate number of the poor and people of color to move back into areas that are still unsafe and highly polluted with no plans for proper cleanup. They also say redevelopment plans unfairly favor the rebuilding of white areas.
I recently traveled to New Orleans for a conference of environmental justice scholars and activists organized by Dillard University sociology Professor Beverly Wright.
She directs the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans. She and Professor Robert Bullard, who directs the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, spoke with me in the studios of WWNO.
WRIGHT: I think that black people’s concerns about the environment and environmental justice are synonymous. I believe that black people understand the environment because of the injustices that exist in their communities as it relates to their health and exposure. It all merges around the larger concept of civil rights, and so we have combined the idea of environmental protection with civil rights.
BULLARD: The environmental justice movement, actually, in its founding was a response to the fact that the more traditional environmental movement, conservation movement, did not address many of the issues that impact disproportionately people of color and poor people. And so, you know, some 25 years ago, a number of us decided that we have to define for ourselves what our environment is and how we are going to address many of the issues that impact us as people, and particularly as people of color.
CURWOOD: What was the environmental justice situation here in New Orleans before Katrina?
WRIGHT: Well, I can really speak to that because at our center about eight years ago, we mapped the Mississippi River chemical corridor by TRI facilities, TRI facilities being toxic release inventory facilities that have to report to the federal government because they release carcinogens into the air, water, and soil. And that mapping actually showed that African-Americans live closest to these dangerous facilities, even in a city like New Orleans that was predominantly black with a small white population. The white population still tended to live in areas that were cleaner and safer. But in this particular situation, race trumped class, as Dr. Bullard likes to say, because it didn’t matter whether you were middle class, upper class, or wealthy in the city of New Orleans and African-American, you still lived closer to toxic facilities than whites who weren’t as wealthy as what you were.
BULLARD: You know, it’s not by accident that 85-mile stretch from Baton Rouge to New Orleans was dubbed Cancer Alley. You have over 125 petrochemical plants along that river. You have lots of environmental devastation. You have communities that were largely African-American and founded right after slavery. Many of them survived slavery, survived Jim Crow but, in some cases, could not survive the onslaught of the petrochemical industry.
CURWOOD: How did environmental justice make itself manifest during and after Katrina?
BULLARD: I think the fact that before Katrina there were African-American communities that were not given equal protection when it comes to environmental laws and when it comes to health laws. There were children being poisoned with lead, and Moten Elementary School, in the agricultural (?) community, was built on top of that dump, and I don’t think it was safe for that school to re-open. This was before Katrina.
WRIGHT: When the waters actually came there were reports, anecdotal, but I tend to believe them, that even the cadaver dogs were dying by diving into the water. The water was just so corroded and toxic, initially, that they stopped the dogs from diving in. And you saw people walking in all of the muck and the mire and the chemicals that were left behind.
Even with all the talk about contamination, what we find is that there is absolutely no talk about cleaning up the areas that have, in fact, been affected, and most of the homes that were destroyed were those of African-Americans. We are basically being told that because there were so many pollutants in this very old urban city, that what’s here now is no different from what was here before Katrina. And for that reason, they are going to allow us to come back into a heavily polluted city.
CURWOOD: So, let me see if I have this right. The Environmental Protection Agency is saying that since all this pollution was there before the storm, that there’s a clean bill of health because things are about the same today as they were before and so…
BULLARD: Well, that’s, if you read the report, that’s exactly what it’s saying. And we’re saying that is not logical, that is not rational, and it does not make any common sense. This was the golden opportunity to clean up the contamination and the mess that’s there. If there’s contamination, we don’t need to monitor. We need to clean it up.
WRIGHT: And so environmental justice becomes a major point of contention for us in that we have to ask the question: if we were in Boston, for example, in an area that was mostly white, how long would it take for them to clean up that city? We were promised initially that in three months the Army Corps of Engineers would come in. It would take them three months to remove the topsoil and sweep the streets clean so that we can return. Then, all of the sudden, the whole discussion about contaminants completely disappeared, but the contaminants are still here.
CURWOOD: Now, people say that your neighborhood, New Orleans East, below sea level, it should just be allowed to, you know, be a place where water could spill over. Parks, perhaps. This isn’t a place that people should go back and rebuild. What do you think of that?
WRIGHT: Well, I think that’s baloney. The city of New Orleans, the whole city, is nine feet below sea level. There is no high ground here. The Lower Ninth Ward is higher than Lake View, higher than where the University of New Orleans is sitting.
CURWOOD: The studio we’re in right now.
WRIGHT: The studio that we are in right now is actually lower than the Lower Ninth Ward, but these areas were picked for immediate restoration and rebuilding. And now that the floodplain maps have come out, you find out that there was no science at all involved in making those decisions. It may have been political science, but it certainly wasn’t science that anything that had to do with the physical and natural environment. And when you looked at the map, the only areas that they were talking about not rebuilding were areas where the African-American population was about 75 to 80 percent. That was New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward.
CURWOOD: Tell me about your own experience in the aftermath of Katrina. What happened to you?
WRIGHT: There was a lot of discrimination against African-Americans with apartments. You would go there to rent, you’d call, and it was available, and when you got there it wasn’t. And then later you found out there were rental units, but they were not renting to us. They had met their quota of African-Americans. It was really very difficult. And so, as Dr. Beverly Wright, I can absolutely tell you that, in my profession, I rarely, rarely see it or feel it close up, but after Katrina I did because I was no longer Dr. Beverly Wright. I was just an evacuee or a refugee, and I went to the Red Cross, went to the food stamp line, went through everything that very poor people go through. And I was humbled by it.
As a sociologist, I teach people about just how humiliating poor people feel about having to go through the process of dealing with the food stamps, or—you know, for me, learning what EBT was, you know, on the machine. I usually do debit or credit. I never knew that there was a special button for the Louisiana Purchase Card or food stamps. And when you have to press the EBT button, then everybody knows that you’re getting food stamps, and you get this look, you know, like ‘why aren’t you working? or ‘you don’t deserve this.’
BULLARD: We’ve made a lot of mistakes in terms of how we plan for building our cities and providing for communities that don’t have access to jobs and clean energy, and et cetera, and so the environmental justice movement really is talking about bringing about equity, justice, fairness, and the overarching theme is the issue of sustainability.
WRIGHT: Racism holds everybody back. So, while people make the decision that people who work in hotels and restaurants really don’t need a livable wage because they’re black, and we don’t have to pay black people a lot, what they are doing is they are robbing themselves of a decent tax base. They are producing citizens who can’t buy health insurance, putting a drain on the city. And so the racism that drives this belief that you can treat some human beings less than others, in the end catches up with all of us because it lowers the standard of living for everybody. And I think that’s what we have been dealing with in the city of New Orleans.
CURWOOD: Dillard University Professor Beverly Wright and Clark Atlanta University Professor Robert Bullard are co-authors of a report, “In the Wake of the Storm: Environment, Disaster, and Race after Katrina.”
- The Environmental Protection Agency’s Summary Results of Sediment Sampling in Response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
- "In the Wake of the Storm: Environment, Disaster, and Race After Katrina"
- The Deep South Center For Environmental Justice
- Environmental Justice Resource Center
[MUSIC: Cassandra Williams “Death Letter” from ‘Dead & Gone: Songs of Death, Volume 2’ (Indigo – 1997)]
CURWOOD: Just ahead, the search for clean water unites two boys from different parts of the world.
First, this Note on Emerging Science from Ian Gray.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]
GRAY: Radioactive waste has always had a hard time finding a long-term home. But new research suggests there might be a faster way to get rid of dangerous radioactive materials.
Radioactivity occurs when the nucleus of unstable isotopes like radium-226 or polonium-210 emit bits of energy. The radioactive decay, or half-lives of these isotopes, lasts anywhere from days to millennia, depending on the isotope, until, eventually, their nuclei become stable. The energy released during radioactive decay can be extremely dangerous to living tissue.
Physicists from the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics, a research center beneath Gran Sasso Mountain in Italy, claim to have discovered a way to speed up the decay rates of radioactive isotopes. The scientists mixed polonium-210 into liquefied copper and then cooled the metal solution to 259 degrees below 0 degrees Celsius. The cooling process causes the metal atoms to move closer to their nuclei. That creates a dense charge of negativity that releases radioactive emissions from the isotopes at a faster than normal rate. In the polonium experiment, the decay was sped up by 10 percent. That means it took only 124 days, instead of 138 days, for the isotope to become stable.
In the future, the physicists hope to take a more potent radioisotope, like radium-226, and reduce its 1600-year half-life to a dizzyingly short period of two years. The research is controversial, but if experiments are successful, they could have profound implications on the disposal of nuclear waste.
That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Ian Gray.
Half-life Heresy: Accelerating Radioactive Decay
CURWOOD: For more information on this or any of our stories, go to www.loe.org. Keep listening to Living on Earth from PRI—Public Radio International.
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
At age six, Ryan Hreljac found out that not everyone in the world had access to water the way he and his family did in their home in Canada. He was also told that building a well in Africa would only cost seventy dollars. So even though he was only in grade one, Ryan set out on a mission: to raise the money to build a well for Agweo, a village in Uganda where people spend hours every day searching for water.
In his quest, Ryan found out it would cost much more but that didn’t stop him. And once the well was drilled, he went to Africa and met Akana Jimmy, an orphan in the village, and their paths have been intertwined ever since. Now, almost ten years after that meeting, Ryan and Jimmy join me in the studio to share their story and talk about the Ryan’s Well Foundation which is bringing water to other struggling villages in Third World countries.
Ryan and Jimmy, welcome to Living on Earth.
HRELJAC: Thanks for having us.
AKANA: Thank you.
CURWOOD: So, Ryan, how is it that a first grade boy decides to go into the African well business?
HRELJAC: Well, it was just the fact that I could walk nine steps out of my classroom and get a drink from the water fountain, whereas on the other side of the world, people didn’t have that. People had to walk five kilometers to get to a dirty mudhole that contained diarrhea and worms and diseases, and had to live off that. And I felt I was in a position to do something about it, so I did. And then one thing led to the next. Public speaking was around the corner. More people started to help. And, now, we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve raised about 1.5 million dollars, helped almost 400,000 people in eleven developing countries.
HRELJAC: Well, in my grade two class, my grade two teacher found out what happened in grade one and said, ‘wow, what a pretty good story,’ and thought, ‘why don’t we expand on this and get penpals at the school where the first well was built.’ So, we all got penpals at Angolo Primary School in northern Uganda, and my penpal ended up to be someone named Jimmy. (laughs)
CURWOOD: And so after a while you go to Uganda to meet Jimmy and see the village where this well has been put in, the well that you helped raise the money for. And, Jimmy, I’m wondering if you could describe for us the day when you knew Ryan was arriving.
HRELJAC: When I went to Jimmy’s school and I got to see all of the people clapping on the road; there was a huge celebration that lasted five hours. There was a big meal and everyone was so happy just because they had clean water to drink. And, I don’t know about you, but a smile doesn’t light up on my face because I can have a shower every morning. It just makes you put everything in perspective.
CURWOOD: So, Jimmy, tell me about your village, Agweo, in Uganda. The rebel group, I think it was known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, comes through one day attacking your village. What happened to you and how were you able to escape?
AKANA: Well, it was kind of luck. They come at night and they found me sleeping in my little house. And they arrested me and tied my hand. And they brought me outside, but I made a decision. Instead of just staying with them, waiting to get killed, I would run away or just follow them. My hand was tied, so I just bite the rope, keep biting the rope, and the rope untied and I just started running away. And I come in the morning, everything was burned down. There was no one left at all.
CURWOOD: You bit through the rope that had you tied up. You ran away into the bush, and the next morning, you come back to your village and everything is burned down?
AKANA: Yeah, all the houses. Some of my cousins were killed, too. Some were captured.
CURWOOD: So, where did you go?
AKANA: I came back that morning and I met a friend of ours. His name called Tom Omach. And by that time, we were, Ryan and I, we were in connection, so Tom sent a letter to Ryan’s family, and said Jimmy is in, kind of in trouble. By that time, they were sending a couple monies to help me for schooling because in Uganda you have to pay for school when you reach to grade six. And Tom told them the story, and in 2003 I got invited to Canada as a visitor. But some miracles happen and now I’m ended up to be living in Canada now.
CURWOOD: Now, I’m wondering how you feel, Jimmy, about the fact that you were able to escape when bad things came to your village and so many people were not.
AKANA: Sometime when I sit down and start thinking what’s happening back there, it make me feel kind of guilty living in such a fortunate world. And while those people, back there, always sleeping in a bush, and they have nothing. But when I was back there, I thought that the world is, like, all equal; that the same thing that we were experiencing, that other people are also experiencing. But that’s not the way it seem to be though.
CURWOOD: Jimmy, what’s life like for you today? Are you working, you going to school? What’s going on?
AKANA: Right now I’m a student. I go to Saint Michael. I’m in grade twelve now in the high school, so -- (laughs).
HRELJAC: Jimmy’s very modest about his stuff. He’s also on the cross-country team.
CURWOOD: Psst. Ryan, how good is he on the cross country team?
HRELJAC: (whispers) He’s not very good.
AKANA: (laughing) I run like a taurus!
HRELJAC: I’m just kidding.
AKANA: You know--
HRELJAC: Really, right now, what we found right now is wrestling is his strength.
AKANA: No, not really. Just do--
HRELJAC: Out of all the North American food he’s eaten, he was a good runner when he first got here, but then as he started to eat more food.
AKANA: That’s not true! (laughing)
CURWOOD: (whispering) Jimmy. Psst. Hey, Jimmy.
AKANA: (whispering) Yes, yes?
CURWOOD: (whispering) Tell me about Ryan.
CURWOOD: What’s he really like?
AKANA: Oh, it’s like the way he sounded. He sound pretty good. That’s the way he is.
CURWOOD: OK, Ryan, so what’s your next project?
HRELJAC: Well, right now we’re just trying to facilitate as many water projects as possible. We’re working in all over Africa and South America. We just finished our few projects in India. And as we grow, we’ll try to do even more to make the world a bit more equal.
CURWOOD: Recently, the world got together and set millennium goals to say that there are all these people, about a billion people, without enough fresh water, and that by the year 2015 that we should get fresh water at least to half of them. How do you feel about that? Is fresh water for half of the people in the world who don’t have it by the year 2015, is that soon enough?
CURWOOD: The book is called “Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together.” And that’s Jimmy Akana and Ryan Hreljac. I want to thank you both for taking this time.
HRELJAC: Thanks for having us.
AKANA: Thank you for having us.
[MUSIC: Stephan Micus “Birds of Dawn” from ‘Towards The Wind’ (ECM – 2002)]
CURWOOD: The waxing moon is less than full in the night sky right now. But it has received a lot of attention down here on Earth recently. U.S. scientists announced that they've found a piece of the moon in Antarctica. Meanwhile, the European Space Agency deliberately crashed a probe into the moon. And now, NASA says that after 37 years, we're going back. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, sat down with Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman to talk about the moon revisited.
GELLERMAN: You know, we all know who the first person on the moon was in Neil Armstrong. But do you know who was the last person?
TYSON: Yeah, well, because I’m kind of, you know, I hang out with some of these folks. The last person on the moon was Gene Cernan.
GELLERMAN: Yeah, but that occurred in 1972.
GELLERMAN: That’s over 30 years ago.
TYSON: One can make an even stronger, possibly more depressing statement that 1972 Apollo 17 mission was the last time anybody left low Earth orbit.
GELLERMAN: Well, why is it depressing? I mean, did we learn something from the moon that we wouldn’t have known had we not landed men on the moon?
But space exploration, or rather, exploration as a human enterprise, historically has never been driven by science. Make a list of the greatest explorers there ever was, they were simply not driven by science. They were driven by other forces that were at work at the time. There were economic forces, military forces. But, regardless, the previous astronauts, though they weren’t scientists, had their marching orders from scientists on the ground saying ‘pick up rocks of this kind and this variety and bring them back because they could be a tremendous value to our understanding of the Earth-Moon system.’
GELLERMAN: And were they?
TYSON: Yes, indeed. Oh, by all means. In fact, before the Apollo era we could not have spoken with confidence about the formation of the Earth and Moon system, and now there is a consensus view about how that formed, which is remarkable. In the early solar system, we now know that it was quite a shooting gallery. And the Earth didn’t cool off from having getting slammed by asteroids and comets for about 600 million years. And so over that period, one such impactor was large enough to, sort of, sideswipe Earth and cast its debris into orbit around Earth which then coalesced to form the Moon. And all this is post-Apollo era understanding of the Earth-Moon system.
GELLERMAN: Well, why not just send robots up there? Why do we have to have the risks and costs of going there with people? It’s very expensive.
TYSON: Yes, to send people instead of a robot is anywhere from 10 to 100 times more costly. And it’s…for a bunch of obvious reasons, of course, the safety concerns are much greater when you’re sending people than when you send a robot. Plus, people usually want to come back.
GELLERMAN: Well, that would be nice.
TYSON: So part of your expense has to be all that it requires to carry the fuel with you that you would then use to come back. Then you want to feed the people and keep them comfortable. Robots don’t need to be comfortable by our standards, and you hardly have to feed them. You give them a battery pack, and it can recharge from the sun, and they are happy. And, of course, they never have to come back. If your only reason for going into space were science, then wearing my scientist’s hat, I would say, no, never send people. What are you doing? Give me the 100 missions I’d otherwise be able to fund using robots. But last I checked, no one ever named a high school after a robot. So, there is something importantly vicarious about sending one of our own into space.
GELLERMAN: In Antarctica, just recently they found a golf ball-size piece of Moon rock there. How do we know it’s really from the Moon and not some other planet or system or…
TYSON: Excellent question, because we’ve now been to the Moon! And we can now compare the two and say, ‘hey, this rock that’s been on my shelf, that’s a Moon rock for goodness sake!’
By the way, the Moon is not the only place from which we’ve found meteorites. Another kind of meteorite here on Earth are from Mars. And we only know that because we’ve been to each of those places, and have analyzed samples, and then compared them with these meteorites here on Earth and they’re bang on.
GELLERMAN: Well, since we know all this about the Moon already, what’s to be gained scientifically from sending people back there again?
TYSON: First of all, what we now know about the Moon is just what we now know about the Moon. That doesn’t mean we’re done with knowing things about the Moon. The Moon is a tremendously interesting place, geologically. But not only that, but it does represent a whole other place to do science that you might not have otherwise been able to do from Earth’s surface or even from Earth orbit. Now, maybe there won’t be much. That is to be determined. And it just takes some clever creative people, who, at the turn of the century, not this most recent turn of the century, but from the 1900s to 2000, who then was thinking, you know a telescope in orbit would be just smashing. No one was thinking that. They were thinking let’s put a telescope on a yet higher mountain. And so the scope of what was possible had not yet been fully realized until the space age was opened up.
GELLERMAN: Like they say, “to boldly go.”
TYSON: (laughs) We fixed the split infinitive. “To go boldly where no one has gone before.” And, in fact, in that “Star Trek” opening where they say, “Space, the final frontier,” I think of it as space, the next frontier. Who knows what frontier we have yet to reach? What next frontier lies beyond space itself? I like to stay open-minded about these things.
[MUSIC: Star Trek SFX “Transporter” from ‘Science Fiction Sounds’ (Columbia River Entertainment – 2001)]
CURWOOD: Neil deGrasse Tyson is director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, and host of the PBS program “Nova Science Now.” He spoke with Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman.
CURWOOD: And now we move from outer space to inner space. Plastination is the extraction of bodily fluids from human and animal cadavers, replacing them with hardening resins and elastomers, and then posing the bodies in perfectly rigid forms.
This seemingly morbid type of corpse preservation was created by a German doctor, Gunther von Hagen, as a novel way to study human anatomy, and it has been the subject of a controversial exhibition touring the U.S. called “Body Worlds.”
Living on Earth’s Dennis Foley spent a day at the Boston Museum of Science to collect some insights from a few of the living bodies walking around the exhibit, and has this audio portrait.
RECORDING: This plastinate shows the thinker. Sitting deep in thought, watching and observing.
[MUSIC: The Stranglers “Waltz In Black” from ‘The Gospel According to the Men In Black’ (EMI – 1981)]
WOMAN: I think it’s gross.
WOMAN: It’s so…it’s funny.
WOMAN: It’s gross.
MAN: No, no, no, this is not entertainment. This is information. There’s a lot of difference between entertainment and information.
WOMAN: The person is gone. It’s just the body. The body’s going to rot anyway, so why not use it for educational purposes?
GIRL: A person’s body with only muscles, and they took out the bones of it, and then the bones are over there.
WOMAN: They clearly are people. The fact that the name isn’t offered to us doesn’t change that.
MAN: Well, I think that’s what makes it easier on people—the fact that it is anonymous. If you knew exactly each and every corpse in the place, then it’s going to freak the crap out of everybody, but….
WOMAN: If you’re going to go so far as to position the bodies in a lifestyle, then you need to, you know, give them an actual personality, as opposed to just a body.
MAN: I don’t know. I’d donate my body to it.
MAN: To be displayed like this would be a, you know, you’re being made into a statue. So, I can see why people would volunteer to donate their body to this particular exhibit.
WOMAN: I have two boys and I could never, ever, ever, ever, in my life, have them displayed like this, ever.
MAN: Well, I wouldn’t want my family going through something like this. I wouldn’t want them, you know, knowing that I’m off in a museum somewhere.
GIRL: It sort of creeps me out, but, I don’t know, just that the feeling that these were real people, that you’re actually just looking at them.
MAN: Yeah, the internal organs, the chest and the abdominal cavity. And they’ve made it so that she looks like she’s diving off of a platform.
MAN: It’s truly a remarkable dissection. You know, it truly is artwork.
BOY: Like Muscle Man, it’s kicking the soccer ball.
MAN: It’s just the eyes.
MAN: The eyes, just looking at me. It felt like they were just staring into me.
MAN: I would think part of the point of the bodies exhibit is to show what’s, kind of, going on inside of all of us.
WOMAN: This is what I look like on the inside.
MAN: It’s just exactly what you are underneath.
WOMAN: I don’t like how, like, we’re on display out here like that. It’s freaking me out.
WOMAN: They didn’t turn to ashes. They didn’t disintegrate. They’re just still intact.
WOMAN: How does it make you feel to look at all these?
CHILD: Me, too, scared!
WOMAN: Maybe mom made the wrong decision.
MAN: As much as it is disturbing and controversial, it’s something we need to know.
CURWOOD: Our “Body Worlds” sound portrait was produced by Living on Earth’s Dennis Foley. To take a peak at Dr. Von Hagen's work, visit our website at www.loe.org
[MUSIC: The Stranglers “Waltz In Black” from ‘The Gospel According to the Men In Black’ (EMI – 1981)]
CURWOOD: Next week on Living on Earth,
SONG: “Up that lazy river, with me.”
[MUSIC: Hoagy Carmichael “Lazy River” from ‘Stardust Melody (Remastered)’ (RCA – 2002)]
CURWOOD: The Grand Cascapedia River in Canada has some of the largest salmon in North America. And Hoagy Bix Carmichael, son of the great singer/songwriter of the same name, is hooked on the river and its rich history.
CARMICHAEL: I loved the beauty of the river, seeing a bald eagle land as I was casting for a rising 20-pound salmon. It really did feel that I needed to come back here.
CURWOOD: Fishing with Hoagy, next week on Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: We leave you this week with some gentle “rapping, rapping on a chamber door.”
CURWOOD: In Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest, far from Edgar Allen Poe’s birthplace in Boston, Geoffrey Keller recorded this common raven’s call—of “Nevermore.”
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Eileen Bolinsky, Bruce Gellerman, Ingrid Lobet, Emily Taylor, and Jeff Young, with help from Bobby Bascomb and Kelley Cronin. Our interns are Ian Gray and Jennifer Percy. Special thanks this week to WFLS in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Dennis Foley is our technical director. Allison Lirish Dean composed our themes. I’m Steve Curwood, Thanks for listening. Evermore!
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