Feds Cut Cash for Environmental Protection
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Lawmakers are busy battling out the budget for next year, but have finally settled on big cuts to the budget for the rest of this year. Host Steve Curwood talks with Washington correspondent Mitra Taj about how the eleventh-hour compromise treated federal environmental initiatives. (06:10)
Warnings About a New Nuclear Reactor
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The Westinghouse AP1000 reactor is smaller, cheaper and is in high demand all over the world. But is it safer? Host Bruce Gellerman looks into a review from a top American nuclear regulator that warned the AP1000 is “brittle as a glass cup.” (07:20)
Breast Cancer & Pesticides in 1991/ Tatiana Schreiber
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When Living on Earth first began 20 years ago, some new studies had emerged suggesting that breast cancer may be linked to pesticides such as DDT. Reporter Tatiana Schreiber produced a documentary for LOE on the issue and one of the researchers she interviewed was Dr. Mary Wolff of Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Host Steve Curwood catches up with Dr. Wolff to find out what has been learned since the controversial results of her early research. (10:10)
The 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize
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The Goldman Environmental Prize is also known as The Green Nobel. This year’s winners have just been announced. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Ursula Sladek, the European winner. She founded a renewable energy co-operative in Germany 25 years ago, following the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl. Also, host Steve Curwood remembers Richard Goldman, who started the prize with his wife Rhoda in 1989. (07:20)
The Human Costs of Coal and Oil/ Jeff Young
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This month brings the anniversaries of disasters that struck America’s coal and oil producing regions. Together, the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in West Virginia, and the Deepwater Horizon explosion off the Louisiana coast took 40 lives. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young talks with two people who lost loved ones and discovers a hidden cost of energy. (07:00)
Tracking the World's Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler
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The illegal trafficking of butterflies brings in around $200 million a year. The kingpin of butterfly smuggling is a man named Yoshi Kojima — he had butterfly collectors all over the world, and he knew his way around every rule and regulation. In her new book, Winged Obsession, author Jessica Speart follows a rookie agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who goes undercover to bust Yoshi Kojima. And she tells host Steve Curwood how she, too, went undercover to meet with this notorious butterfly trafficker. (08:40)
HOST: Steve Curwood, Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Ed Cummins, Jim Warren, Thomas Bergman, Mary Wolff, Ursula Sladek, Jessica Speart
REPORTERS: Mitra Taj, Tatiana Schreiber (1991 Report), Jeff Young
CURWOOD: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
GELLERMAN: And I'm Bruce Gellerman. Congress and the President crunched the numbers and came up with a compromise - there are winners and losers.
KOLTON: I think that as the American people understand that oil and gas companies were protected in this budget but programs to ensure that their air and their water are clean and safe weren't – that there will be backlash.
CURWOOD: Also the human cost of America's addiction to fossil fuels. And a sleuth nets one of the most successful smugglers of butterflies.
SPEART: There was one called an Apache Fritillary, which is one of California's largest and prettiest butterflies that's on this restricted range of the Sierra Eastern slope - he caught 500 of them in two days and shipped them to Japan for sale.
CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth.
GELLERMAN: Stick around!
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, and Stonyfield Farm.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman.
CURWOOD: And I'm Steve Curwood. Under the threat of shutting down the government, Republican budget negotiators set their sights on certain green programs. Prime targets: the EPA, climate-related funding, and public lands. Now with the details of how the last minute deal affects environmental line items in the budget, here’s Living on Earth’s Mitra Taj. Hi Mitra!
TAJ: Hi Steve!
STEVE: So Congress cut about 40 billion dollars from the budget this year. As I understand it, that’s the biggest single non-military budget cut in history, and environmental programs…well, right up on the chopping block.
TAJ: Yes, a lot of environmental programs carried a disproportionately large share of the cuts. Overall the budget was cut by just one percent, but the EPA’s budget was cut by 16 percent. And much of that came from programs that promote clean water and air. Also, Department of Energy's funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy shrunk by 20 percent to 1.8 billion. Research and Development for fossil fuels was cut also, but only by half that amount.
STEVE: Mitra, what about the Department of Interior? I know efforts there to regulate the offshore oil and gas industry saw an uptick in the amount of dough they’re getting, but other Interior programs didn’t get off so easy, huh?
TAJ: They did not. Interior now has a third less to spend on buying land in order to conserve it. And when it comes to the land that the federal government already owns, it might be harder to track the flora and fauna that live there. The budget zeroed out funding for the Wild Lands Initiative, which was going to help identify special places for protection, but which Republicans feared would lead to fencing out development.
Congressman Mike Simpson, the Republican chair of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, also said spending money on the wild lands program would probably just go towards fending off lawsuits from energy companies. And he led efforts to make even deeper cuts to both Interior and to the EPA, and when Democrats railed against those proposals, he had this to say:
SIMPSON: I will tell you the outrage here is that we are having to do this because the majority, the former majority, when they had the majority in the House, the majority in the Senate, and the White House, fail to pass an appropriation bill. They left the American people in this country with this pile of crap. They should not complain about how we try to clean this up.
STEVE: Whoa, I guess passions were running high there, huh?
CURWOOD: Now Congressman Simpson is from Idaho - that’s a state that is very concerned about its population of gray wolves. And as I understand it, the congressman pushed through an amendment that takes the Rocky Mountain gray wolf off of the endangered species list?
TAJ: Exactly - that ended up being in the final deal. The gray wolf, as you know, was brought back into the wild 16 years ago, and whether it should be protected has been the subject of a slew of lawsuits over the years. So in passing this amendment, Congress has essentially legislated a species out of endangered status without a scientific or legal review.
CURWOOD: Now what about those other amendments, those other riders that had nothing to do with the budget? The ones that would have restricted the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act?
TAJ: Well the rider that would have blocked the EPA’s climate authority was part of why budget negotiations got so close to a government shutdown. Democrats ended up standing their ground and managed to strip it out of the final deal at the very last minute, which made many climate advocates very happy.
But some environmental groups weren’t as pleased with the rest of the deal, and not just what got cut, but what didn’t get cut. The tax credit for ethanol was left untouched, as was the some four billion a year we spend on oil and gas subsidies. Here’s Adam Kolton with the National Wildlife Federation:
KOLTON: If we eliminate tax breaks for oil and gas companies, we could save 46.2 billion dollars over the next ten years. So when you start talking about taking, you know, nearly two billion dollars out of the Environmental Protection Agency budget, 4.7 billion from Forest Service operations, it doesn't make a lot of sense. And it doesn't really pass the smell test to make the argument that everyone's got to bear the burden of making these cuts when you know that wasn’t the case: that corn ethanol subsidies were left intact, that oil and gas subsidies were left intact.
CURWOOD: Mitra, now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lost 142 million dollars in funding and will have to put on hold a program that hasn’t even got off the ground yet: The Climate Service.
TAJ: That’s right, Steve. The Climate Service lost its funding for the rest of the year, and some suspect that it might have been targeted in particular because it has the word "climate" in its name. Programs related to climate change in all federal agencies lost 13 percent of their funding.
And, you know, The Climate Service was actually NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco's vision for drawing what’s known about climate change from a number of federal programs into one place so that people across the country could plan for the future. She spoke to Living on Earth about it in 2009.
LUBCHENCO: We need a national climate service to provide the kind of information that citizens, policymakers, and the private sector are already asking for: How will climate change affect my interests and my businesses, my recreational opportunities - in my backyard? Currently, there's no one place they can go.
CURWOOD: And so there's still no one place they can go. And Mitra, I guess this is far from Washington's last word on the budget: These and other programs can be restored, or chopped further, in just a few months.
TAJ: Yes, this budget just funds the government for the rest of this fiscal year, which means just until the end of September. Republicans have put out their proposed budget for 2012, which calls for even deeper cuts to environmental initiatives and fewer restrictions on oil and gas drilling.
And President Obama is still asking Congress to make bolder investments in clean energy and to leave the EPA’s climate authority alone. So we'll have to see what happens, but I think when you look at the compromises achieved in this budget, it's pretty clear that a lot of common ground will be found in spending less on environmental programs.
CURWOOD: Living on Earth's Mitra Taj in Washington. Thank you, Mitra!
TAJ: You're welcome, Steve.
[MUSIC: Marco Benevento “Risd” from Between The Needles And Nightfall (Royal Potato Family Records 2010).]
GELLERMAN: It’s now official: the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan has been raised to the highest level of atomic crisis, on par with Chernobyl.
CURWOOD: Chernobyl and the meltdown at Three Mile Island a few years earlier derailed the US nuclear industry. Over the past three decades, not a single new reactor has been built here. But now, even in the shadow of Fukushima, in the United States a nuclear renaissance is in the making. In fact, it’s on the fast track.
GELLERMAN: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is just days away from closing public comment and approving an innovative design for a new nuclear plant: the AP 1000. It’s being built by Westinghouse, which is owned by the Japanese company Toshiba.
ADVERTISEMENT: Westinghouse Electric Company, the pioneer in nuclear energy, once again sets a new industry standard with the introduction of the AP 1000, safest and most economical nuclear power plant available in the worldwide commercial marketplace.
GELLERMAN: The pressurized water reactor at the heart of the AP 1000 has been used in scores of nuclear plants over the decades. What’s new is the building surrounding the reactor and the safety features built into it. Ed Cummins is Vice President and Chief Technologist for Westinghouse.
CUMMINS: The typical plants in the U.S. are about twice as good as the NRC requirement, and the AP 1000 is 200 times as good, so 100 times better than the current operating plants.
GELLERMAN: So what makes this the safest and most economical nuclear power plant in worldwide commercial marketplace?
CUMMINS: I think the biggest distinction of the AP 1000 is that it is passively safe. So all of the things that challenge the reactor system are mitigated by natural phenomenon, like gravity and evaporation and condensation and natural processes. No AC power is required.
GELLERMAN: In an accident, a giant tank above the AP 1000 reactor filled with three quarters of a million gallons of water would drip down, cooling of the core. For three days, gravity - not electricity - would do the job. It was the failure of the backup diesel generators and batteries that led to the disaster at Fukushima. Cummins says that wouldn’t happen with the AP 1000.
CUMMINS: There would be no core damage, there would be no spent fuel damage, no radiation emitted, no evacuation, none of the aspects of the Fukushima accident would have occurred with the AP 1000.
GELLERMAN: Safer, says Cummins, and cheaper. The massive safety shield buildings surrounding the nuclear components of the AP 1000 will be built using prefab Lego-like blocks, dramatically cutting on-site costs.
CUMMINS: And so if you build portions of the plant in a factory and you ship those portions to the site, then that’s a lot less work and a lot less time that occurs on the site to build the plant.
[CLIP: Voice speaking Chinese]
GELLERMAN: Westinghouse has already shipped four AP 1000s to China. A Chinese video shows a huge reactor vessel under construction. Here in the United States, utilities in the Southeast have ordered six AP 1000s. However before construction can begin the NRC has to give final approval to the design. But critics charge, in cutting costs to build the AP 1000, Westinghouse has cut corners on safety.
WARREN: The AP 1000 might be considered safe as long as it remains on the drawing board and nobody actually tries to build one.
GELLERMAN: Jim Warren is Executive Director of NC WARN. It’s part of an alliance of anti-nuclear organizations that’s petitioned the NRC to slow down the approval of the AP 1000. Over the years, the NRC sent Westinghouse designers back to the drawing boards 18 times, saying the reactor’s safety shield building didn’t meet fundamental engineering standards. But now the NRC concludes there’s quote, “reasonable assurance that the revised design can be built without undue risk to the health and safety of the public.”
But not everyone at the NRC agrees. Dr. John Ma, the commission’s most senior reactor structural engineer in charge of evaluating the shield building, has written a strongly worded report charging that the safety shield isn’t ductile: it won’t bend under stress, and that could lead to catastrophe. Dr. Ma declined to talk to us, but here’s Jim Warren of NC WARN paraphrasing his official report.
WARREN: Dr. Ma says, in particular, that they have underestimated earthquake risks, and he says that the material they’re proposing to use would be too brittle and would, in his words, “shatter like a glass cup.”
GELLERMAN: Shatter like a glass cup. What does he mean by that, do you know?
WARREN: He’s saying that instead of a tornado-driven missile poking a hole in the building, it would be so brittle it would shatter and collapse.
CUMMINS: Well that’s not true.
GELLERMAN: Ed Cummins of Westinghouse.
CUMMINS: Imagine this building: It’s got on each side three-quarter inches of steel, and then it has three feet of concrete between them. It’s impossible to imagine that that is going to fail like a glass.
GELLERMAN: The NRC commissioners agree with Westinghouse. Despite Dr. Ma’s objections, the overall conclusion of the NRC is that the AP 1000 design meets federal safety standards. Thomas Bergman is the NRC’s director of engineering.
BERGMAN: The “shatter like a glass cup” isn’t a good analogy. The steel itself is very ductile, and it wouldn’t really shatter.
GELLERMAN: So how do you resolve something like that? I mean, Dr. Ma is a very senior person at the NRC.
BERGMAN: That’s why we have the non-concurrence process, and the agency – I don’t know how familiar you are with our structure, but we have what we call the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards.
GELLERMAN: Yeah, ACRS.
BERGMAN: They also independently assessed the design and hired their experts. And their letter on the shield building is publically available, where they also agree with the staff conclusions regarding the AP 1000’s shield building.
GELLERMAN: The NRC does acknowledge that the AP 1000 could be built stronger and more ductile but it’s not necessary to meet current safety standards. Again, Westinghouse Vice President Ed Cummins:
CUMMINS: Yes, I suppose that you could build anything stronger. There is really not a justification for building it stronger when we have built it strong enough.
GELLERMAN: Opponents aren’t giving up. They’re asking the NRC to delay final approval of the AP 1000 design. Jim Warren of NC WARN says public safety is at risk and so is more than eight billion dollars in federal construction loan guarantees that is going to the Southeast facilities that have ordered AP 1000s.
WARREN: The NRC has to require a return to safety being the priority at these plants and stop putting economics as the priority. That’s the only reason why all these companies chose the AP 1000 across the U.S. South, and yet, they still are running into massive cost overruns.
GELLERMAN: The NRC expects to grant final approval to the Westinghouse AP 1000 design sometime this summer, with construction to begin soon after.
[MUSIC: Donald Fagan “The New Frontier” from The Nightfly (Warner Bros. 1982).]
CURWOOD: Just ahead - breast cancer and DDT. We update our story from 20 years ago with some surprising findings. Keep listening to Living on Earth!
[CUT AWAY MUSIC: Jim Hall: Rock Skippin At The Blue Note” from Concierto (CTI Records 2010 Reissue).]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.
GELLERMAN: And I'm Bruce Gellerman. In the United States, one woman in eight can expect to get breast cancer - a higher rate than any previous generation. Only half the cases can be attributed to known risks factors such as genetics, so researchers have been investigating environmental exposure to get more answers.
CURWOOD: Back in 1991, when Living on Earth began, only a few scientists were looking at whether pesticides and other environmental toxins might play a role in breast cancer. A pioneering study at the time had found breast cancer incidence declined in Israel after the pesticides lindane and DDT were banned from dairy production in 1978.
One of our early shows explored the link between these chemicals and breast cancer. In a few minutes, we'll check in with one of those scientists we spoke with back then - but first, here's an excerpt from our 1991 story by reporter Tatiana Schreiber.
SCHREIBER: What's needed, scientists say, are studies that directly measure chemical residues in women who have breast cancer compared with those who don’t. One researcher who has done just this is Dr. Mary Wolff, a chemist at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Wolff recently completed a pilot study with Dr. Frank Falck at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. Their report will be published later this year in the Archives of Environmental Health. She used techniques developed over years of studying how the body stores chemicals to measure pesticide residues in breast fat.
WOLFF: This was a case-controlled study of a small number of women, in which we measured a number of pesticide residues and found that some of them were elevated in cases with malignant compared with non-malignant disease.
SCHREIBER: The study involved 25 women with breast cancer and an equal number who had biopsies but didn’t have cancer. The results showed differences significant enough to interest the government’s National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, which will fund a larger study – a collaboration between Wolff at Mt. Sinai and Dr. Paolo Toniolo, an epidemiologist at New York University’s School of Medicine.
Wolff and Toniolo will be looking at DDE, which is a metabolite of the pesticide DDT, and PCBs, a common industrial chemical - both in the organochlorine class of chemicals. They were found at higher levels among the women with breast cancer in the pilot study and are widely dispersed in the environment.
The organochlorine pesticides, like DDT, were widely used in the United States from the 1940s through the 1970s. Though still used in the third world, most have been banned in this country because of their high toxicity and evidence that they’re carcinogenic in animals. They tend to accumulate in the food chain and concentrate in animal fat and milk. Mary Wolff:
WOLFF: They’re stored in fat and stay around – some of them we think – for a person’s lifetime. PCBs and DDT, if they have a role in carcinogenesis, are thought to be promoters, that is, that they will take an initiating event and carry it along the road to cancer. That could happen in a number of ways.
SCHREIBER: Wolff says DDT and its metabolites are estrogenic, that is, they could act like estrogen it’s thought in promoting tumor growth. The organochlorines also affect an important system of enzymes in the body. The Israeli investigators think these changes could promote tumor growth itself, or deactivate the immune system, or destroy anti-cancer medications.
The fact that levels of pesticide residues found in human adipose tissues in the United States has been decreasing since the 1970s, while the breast cancer rate continues to rise, seems to contradict the Israeli observations. But New York University’s Paolo Toniolo points out that the chemicals could act differently at different exposure levels, and they’re unlikely to act alone.
TONIOLO: It’s probably complex interactions, if you allow me, between chemicals in the environment, endogenous hormones, dietary factors, that all concurrently act in a very complex way and ultimately will lead to a malignant transformation and a tumor.
SCHREIBER: Toniolo adds: That process could take 20 to 30 years, and age-at-exposure to chemicals in the environment is probably important. He also emphasizes that different individuals may be more or less predisposed to developing cancer. In the new study, Toniolo will add pesticide exposure to factors he’s examining in ongoing research involving 15,000 women attending a breast cancer screening clinic in New York.
Wolff and Toniolo’s new study will measure chemical residues in blood samples in a large population of women. And it takes into consideration reproductive factors, dietary habits, family history of cancer, and levels of hormones in the body. Results should be available in about a year.
CURWOOD: We’ve been listening to an excerpt of a piece by reporter Tatiana Schrieber back in September of 1991 on Living on Earth, and we decided to catch up now with Dr. Mary Wolff. She’s a professor of preventive medicine and ontological sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Wolff, welcome to Living on Earth.
WOLFF: Why thank you.
CURWOOD: So what happened? I mean, when we first interviewed you for that story back in 1991, you had just completed that pilot study on pesticide residues in breast fat and were about to start that larger study that looked at DDE and PCBs and possible links to breast cancer. What did you find?
WOLFF: Right, well that was a study with Dr. Toniolo and it was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1993, and it made a huge splash. It was one of the most-cited papers of the 1990s and led to a bunch of copycat research investigations by me, among others, in different populations, and most of those were negative or had very small effects. And so over what’s been almost 20 years now, right, the consensus is that those chemicals probably have very little impact on breast cancer risk.
CURWOOD: So bottom line: DDT doesn’t cause breast cancer, at least as far as you and others have been able to tell.
WOLFF: Right, there are a couple of papers that suggest that if it had been measured early in life, we might be better able to establish risk. But using the current technology and currently-exposed populations, I don’t think that it’s considered a big problem for breast cancer.
CURWOOD: So you come out saying, ‘You know, folks, it’s probably unlikely then that DDT is directly linked to breast cancer.’ How do people receive this news?
WOLFF: Oh, well, there’ve been some very interesting responses. I mean, scientists take it as, you know, ‘well, that’s how it goes, on to the next project.’ But there’ve been some, sort of, faint damnation type papers, you know, undertaking foolish research, and, you know, following a wrong trail. But my feeling is that it was something that was worth pursuing, and that it has led to other studies on the effects of pesticides on reproduction and other intermediate endpoints that might be related to cancer or to other chronic disease, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
CURWOOD: So which pesticides, if any, do you think are linked to breast cancer?
WOLFF: Well, actually, now people look at this whole group of environmental chemicals that have hormonal activity, which again was cited as one of the mechanistic bases for those investigations. And what that work led us to was alluded to in your introduction: to look at intermediate risk factors, because if the window of exposure is long for cancer and detection, then maybe the effects of environment happen earlier in life.
So we got interested in events around puberty. You’ve talked about the risk in terms of breast cancer ¬– we got to be very interested in that, and particularly in minorities because at Mt. Sinai we serve a largely minority community. The black women in the United States get breast cancer, early onset breast cancer, at a higher rate than white women, and of course early onset breast cancer is the most aggressive, and at the same time, they also have earlier menarche than white women. So because environmental factors might be associated with all of those phenomena, we decided to look at exposures in the environment and their relationship to pubertal development in girls.
CURWOOD: Anything different you would do today with this research, knowing what you know?
WOLFF: Well one of the things that it’s led me and others to understand is how to use these biomarkers. So in that interview, Tatiana Schrieber was saying that what we thought was the best way to measure environmental exposures was to measure the actual levels in the body. One thing that that study and the many others that followed have taught us is that we don’t totally appreciate how long these chemicals stay in the body and what factors affect elimination and persistence.
So there’s a very interesting body of literature on that for DDT and related chemicals that I think may be valuable in using biomarkers. So I think maybe we were a little too simplistic, just because of lack of knowledge about how to use those measurements. And today, in fact, technology is driving a lot of measurements of environmental biomarkers, some of which are probably not based in good exposure science.
CURWOOD: So in other words, you’re saying chemical residues in a woman’s body doesn’t automatically predict disease. Well I want to thank you very much for helping us update our story from 20 years ago.
WOLFF: Thank you.
CURWOOD: Dr. Mary Wolff is a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and directs the Center for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research.
- Listen to Living on Earth’s September 20, 1991 program on the possible links between pesticides and breast cancer.
- Mary Wolff’s biography
- Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program’s project on the environmental and genetic determinants of puberty
- A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives in July 2010, spearheaded by Dr. Wolff, found exposure to three classes of chemicals in young girls may affect development.
[MUSIC: The Doors “You’re Lost Little Girl” from Strange Days (Warner Music 2007 reissue).]
GELLERMAN: Winners of the prestigious Goldman Prize have just been announced. The Goldman is given to environmental activists around the world. This year, winners of the 150 thousand dollar prizes include an Indonesian environmentalist who protected the drinking water of three million people from industrial pollution.
Africa’s winner worked to protect the critically endangered black rhino. And in Europe, the Goldman Prize has gone to an electricity rebel: Ursula Sladek, organizer of Germany’s first cooperatively-owned renewable power company. Sladek is the mother of five children whose environmental activism started 25 years ago, a few days after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Ms. Sladek, welcome to Living On Earth.
GELLERMAN: Congratulations! This is a big deal; this is like the Nobel Prize of the environmental movement!
SLADEK: Yes, I know, and I’ve been so overwhelmed to getting this prize that I nearly can’t express it.
GELLERMAN: So take me back: April 26, 1986, Chernobyl erupts – where were you, what were you doing, what were you thinking?
SLADEK: Well I was at home in Schönau, and you know, with five small children, I was very concerned because Germany was also polluted by this disaster. We did not know what could the children eat, what could the kids go out in the garden as they used to do. We knew we had to do something.
GELLERMAN: So what did you do?
SLADEK: Well we had, at first, to educate ourselves. And we learned that energy waste is a real great problem. We started on the demand side because we were all energy consumers and tried to save energy as much as we could in our little crew, which we called Parents for a Nuclear-Free Future. And when we saw that we could save up to 50 percent electricity, we wanted the whole town to do the same.
So we had to have an idea how to motivate the people, and our idea was to make energy saving competitions. One should save as much energy as he could within a year, and then the people who saved most could get prizes.
GELLERMAN: What were the prizes?
SLADEK: A holiday in Italy with your whole family, or tickets for the railway…well, quite interesting things!
GELLERMAN: You weren’t satisfied with consumers being more energy efficient – you went after the electric company!
SLADEK: Yes. We had, in 1990, the idea to overtake the grid so that we could set the basic conditions ourselves. This was a crazy idea because we were only citizens, you know. It took us seven years, and at the first July 1997, we overtook the local grid. And since then, we run the grid ecologically. All Schönau electricity consumers have only renewable energy and cogeneration energy and no nuclear energy, no coal energy and we are doing a lot for energy efficiency.
GELLERMAN: How did you take over the grid?
SLADEK: Well, in Germany, communities give a treaty every 20 years: who should operate the grid. Our treaty with the regional grid operator was expiring, and he wanted to have a new treaty of course, but he did not want to have any ecological science in his treaty, and that was why we said, ‘well, we do not want to sign this treaty.’ But it was quite a difficult thing because we had to win two referendums to buy the grid. The grid operator wanted to have a lot more money for his grid than it was worth.
GELLERMAN: How much did he want?
SLADEK: He wanted nearly nine million Deutsche mark. In Euro it’s four million five hundred Euro, more than double the price the grid was worth.
GELLERMAN: So where did you get the money from?
SLADEK: There were many people all over Germany who said, ‘well, that’s such a wonderful project, we want to take part in it.’ So we had a Germany-wide campaign. We sold shares, because within six weeks we had the first million, and at July 1997, we overtook the grid.
GELLERMAN: So now you’ve got an electricity co-op!
SLADEK: Yes, more than a thousand people own the cooperative. We think it is very important to have the citizens with you because the change of energy supply is such a great task. It cannot be achieved by power supplies, by governments alone, you must have the citizens with you.
GELLERMAN: So, as I understand it, you and your little band of electricity rebels have started a real movement throughout Germany now!
SLADEK: Yes, that’s right. We now have more than 110 thousand customers and not only households, but also large factories, industrialized companies. We support communities who want to overtake their own grid. I think we are quite a model for changing energy supply in Germany.
GELLERMAN: Well Ms. Sladek, thank you. I really appreciate your time.
SLADEK: Thanks as well!
GELLERMAN: Ursula Sladek is one of this year’s winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize.
CURWOOD: Richard and Rhoda Goldman established the prize in 1989. Rhoda Goldman died in 1996, and as this year’s recipients were being selected, Richard passed away. He was 90 years old.
RICHARD GOLDMAN: My late wife and I had always had an interest in the environment.
RHODA GOLDMAN: One overall goal is that people will become so aware of their environment that they will do everything in their power to protect it.
RICHARD GOLDMAN: Ours is a very simple idea: we’d like to leave the world a little better than we found it.
CURWOOD: Rhoda and Richard Goldman searched for the unsung heroes of the environment, annually honoring activists who made a difference on each of the six inhabited continents. I met him a couple of times. He was a fun-loving activist, who was visibly excited in the company of the winners of his prize. A Republican in politics, a philanthropist at heart, Richard Goldman loved the great outdoors and as often as not, he got there in his little Honda Civic hybrid.
Over the years, there have been 139 winners of the Goldman Prize. Perhaps the most famous is Wangari Maathai from Kenya, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize. Richard Goldman once said, “I see this as the most meaningful philanthropy I’ve ever been involved in. It has a future value, and really, if I died now, I’d die with a smile.”
The Goldman Environmental Prize
[MUSIC: Omar Sosa “Dance Of Reflection” from Calma (OTA Records 2011).]
CURWOOD: Coming up – a mystery writer goes undercover to track down a big time smuggler of bugs and butterflies. Stay tuned to Living on Earth!
ANNOUNCER: Support for the environmental health desk at Living on Earth comes from the Cedar Tree Foundation. Support also comes from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for coverage of population and the environment. And, from Gilman Ordway for coverage of conservation and environmental change. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.
[CUT AWAY MUSIC: Bill Frisell: “Poem For Eva” from Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch Records 1999).]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.
GELLERMAN: And I'm Bruce Gellerman. Poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month.” And this April brings cruel reminders of disasters a year ago in two important energy producing regions of our country. It was on April 5th, 2010, that Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine exploded in West Virginia.
It was the nation’s worst mining disaster in 40 years. Then on April 20th, the BP Deepwater Horizon oilrig exploded in flames and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering our biggest oil spill. Those twin disasters, just 15 days apart, put in stark view the costs some places pay for the coal and oil we consume. Here’s Living on Earth’s Jeff Young.
YOUNG: A year ago this month, 40 men went to work to bring energy to America. And they never came back. Twenty-nine men died in the Upper Big Branch mine. Eleven died on the Deepwater Horizon rig. At memorial events this month, they’re remembered as men of faith and family, small town roots, and blue-collar pride. Here are two of those stories, as told by people left behind.
Roy Wyatt Kemp of Jonesville, Louisiana, was 27. He worked for Transocean on the Deepwater Horizon. He had two children. Courtney Kemp is his widow.
KEMP: Wyatt and I actually started dating in high school. We were both 15, actually. We were, you know, just high school sweethearts, we did everything together. Everybody says we grew up together. And then in 2004, we got married. And he just really, really enjoyed family and friends and just loved being with his girls.
YOUNG: Gary Wayne Quarles of Naoma, West Virginia, was 33. He worked for the Massey Energy subsidiary that ran the Upper Big Branch Mine. He had two children. His father, Gary Quarles, is also a miner.
QUARLES: Gary Wayne had been in the mines for 13 years. He worked when he first came out of high school at a sawmill just for a little while. And then he went to work underground. He said ‘I been in the mines crawling in mud, working in water up to my waist.’ That’s what you work in. But he was about like me - he didn’t mind it.
KEMP: You know, it takes a special kind of guy to be able to work out in the Gulf and he loved his job. The oil field definitely has its ups and downs. Of course most of the guys hate being away from their family but enjoy their time off. And he really enjoyed that and being able to hunt and fish and do whatever he wanted when he was at home, just really enjoyed the outdoors. And he has a duck dog, Ellie, that’s a chocolate lab that’s pretty much his best friend - rides around with him all the time and all that kind of stuff when he was at home.
QUARLES: Me and him hunted a lot, turkey hunted and deer hunted. What me and him would have done every day if we didn’t have to work. The headstone we got for him is a big buck mounted with a set of big horns and bears and turkeys and water running like a stream. But that was him, he loved it.
[MUSIC: Bill Frisell “Rain, Rain” from Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch records 1999).]
YOUNG: Gary Quarles says there was never much question about what his son would do for a living. In the Coal River valley, coal is what people do. Courtney Kemp says her husband’s choices were limited, too.
KEMP: Well, you know, where we live in, we live in central Louisiana, and basically our state is the oil industry or agriculture. You’re walking down the road, you know, in our hometown, probably 80 percent of the men who live here work in the oil field in some shape or form. So that was nothing new, nothing really, you know, special to us, you know, that’s just the way of life.
QUARLES: I’m looking at a mountaintop removal from my kitchen door. I mean, I don’t want to see the mountains tore up but when it comes right down to it, it’s jobs. My dad was a coal miner, my two brothers was a coal miner. And my two grandpas both were coal miners, and the grandpa on my dad’s side, he was killed in the coal mines. And as far as I know, it’s always been coal mining. But then the explosion happened, and I ain’t been back to work underground since.
[MUSIC: Bill Frisell “Rain, Rain” from Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch records 1999).]
As far as I’m concerned, I’ve spent my last day underground, with 34 years. I see a psychiatrist and I told him I’ve never been afraid to go underground. And he said it’s not nothing about being afraid. It’s up in your head, you know, it’s just things that just ain’t right no more, you know.
KEMP: You know, one of the hardest things that I did…you know, when Transocean sent me Wyatt’s truck back, I – it was a couple weeks before I would drive it – and I had to drive it to town and get some gas. And I opened up his gas tank and on the actual gas lid, when you open it up, it says BP and it has the BP symbol. And that… that would be very, very minute to anybody else - like, people basically wouldn’t even pay attention to that. But to me, I lost it right there. It was just gut-wrenching.
YOUNG: Courtney Kemp remembering her husband, Wyatt, and Gary Quarles talking about his son, Gary. Two of the men lost in last year’s disasters, two families that paid a price for energy that doesn’t show up at the gas pump or on an electric bill. Next week, we’ll hear how coal and oil have shaped the people and places that provide energy.
GIARDINA: Whether it’s the Louisiana oil fields or coal fields in West Virginia, anyplace where you have a major extractive industry and it’s the dominant industry in a place, then you’re gonna have the same situation.
YOUNG: For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young.
- Jeff Young interviews Coal River author Michael Shnayerson about Massey Energy’s safety and environment record
- US Mine Safety and Health Administration’s resource on the Upper Big Branch mine
- Oil Spill Commission final report on the Deepwater Horizon
- A memorial for the miners created by students at West Virginia University
[MUSIC: Bill Frisell “Rain, Rain” from Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch records 1999).]
CURWOOD: Jessica Speart writes mysteries. She's the author of the “Rachel Porter” series, which features an agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who hunts down smugglers and poachers. Sometimes, though, a real life story comes along that's even stranger than fiction, they say.
That's the genesis of Speart's new non-fiction sleuth story "Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World's Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler.” She says writing this non-fiction thriller wasn't so different from writing her mysteries.
SPEART: All of my mysteries involved endangered species, my protagonist was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent. This is what I’ve done all my life. Even before writing mysteries, I was doing journalism, I was specializing in wildlife law enforcement and endangered species. So it’s just taking it from one format to the next.
CURWOOD: The butterfly trafficking business is a pretty big business, what, some 200 million dollars a year.
SPEART: Yeah. Word has it, it’s 200 million dollars a year. And when you start looking at the prices for butterflies, it begins to make sense. Queen Alexandra’s, which are the big beautiful birdwings, Papua New Guinea, they’re the largest butterfly, they will go for $10,000 dollars a pair. I’ve even heard of butterflies, dealers have told me that it’s nothing for obsessive collectors to spend $60,000 dollars on butterflies.
CURWOOD: Whoa! Who would pay 60 grand for a butterfly? I mean, who are these people?
SPEART: Somebody with a lot of money that is totally obsessed. I mean, there are crazy collectors out there.
CURWOOD: And these butterflies are…dead.
SPEART: They are dead. You have to kill them almost immediately as soon as their wings open and begin to harden so that you have a perfect, perfect specimen with no scratches, no tears. And the only way to get that is to do it soon after they hatch.
CURWOOD: So tell me about this notorious butterfly smuggler. His name is Yoshi Kojima.
SPEART: He’s a Japanese national, and Yoshi ended up coming over here after college, coming over to the United States, and he would prowl around National Parks, especially around the northern rim of the Grand Canyon in the ‘90s. There’s a butterfly called the Papilio indra kaibabensis that they love in Japan.
He would go into certain areas and he would just wipe them out. And it wasn’t even that it was totally illegal to collect some of these. It was just the extent that Yoshi did it. He hammered away at legal U.S. butterflies. There was one called the Apache Fritillary, which is one of California’s largest and prettiest butterflies that’s on this restricted range of the Sierra eastern slope. He caught 500 of them in two days and shipped them to Japan for sale.
CURWOOD: Uh huh, so Yoshi Kojima is the Mr. Big of the international butterfly trade.
SPEART: Yoshi was so famous. There’s something called the bug fair that takes place every year in Los Angeles, at the Museum of Natural History, and each wing of the museum, the bottom floor, is filled with vendors that are selling butterflies and bugs. Yoshi used to show up there, and everybody would gather around him because they knew, you know, underneath the table, he had all these illegal butterflies he was going to sell them.
CURWOOD: And you, the mystery writer, decide to follow a rookie agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His name is, what, Ed Newcomer. You didn’t make that up, right?
SPEART: Yes, no, no. Is that a perfect name or what? (Laughs). You know…
CURWOOD: And this guy goes undercover to try to catch Yoshi Kojima. So what happens?
SPEART: Well basically his boss said, ‘we’re going to send you out there with a confidential informant who is another dealer. He’ll be wired up during the bug fair. You just stand back and watch and see what goes on.’ And Ed was watching this whole thing: The dealer would go and talk to Yoshi and then the dealer would go back to his own vendor table.
And finally, Ed got really bored with just standing around and he started going around the museum looking at all the vendors’ tables, and naturally he’s drawn to Yoshi, where everybody else is. And he started asking Yoshi questions about butterflies and said he would like to collect butterflies. And Yoshi began a whole conversation with him. Ed went back, walking around again. At the end of the day, he feels a little tap on his shoulder and he turns around and there’s Yoshi with a box of butterflies. And he says, ‘Here, this is to help you start your collection.’ And on top of the box was Yoshi’s phone number. And he said, ‘Contact me.’
CURWOOD: And so begins this rookie agent. He goes undercover, first real big investigation. I won’t give away the secrets of this story because you are a mystery storyteller and you certainly do crank in a fair amount of suspense and the reader has to wonder what’s gonna happen next. I will give away a little bit that, not only is this about butterflies, but there’s something in here about sex.
SPEART: Yes, what doesn’t… you know, you need that for a good story. But I’ll tell you, this story is so much stranger than fiction, the truth. I became obsessed with Yoshi because it was such a dark, quirky, weird tale. And the more I learned about this, the more obsessed I became with Kojima, and that’s where it started getting interesting. Because Kojima had already been in prison, here in the States, and was sent back to Japan and refused to speak to anyone.
CURWOOD: So you go to Japan to try to find Yoshi Kojima –
CURWOOD: Why did you go?
SPEART: The more I dug into this, I began to learn more and more about Yoshi that even law enforcement didn’t know. And I began to meet some of his quirky friends and hearing other stories, and I felt the only way to end this story, for me to be satisfied that I had truly told the story, was to go and meet Yoshi. How could I not? How could he just be this mystery figure that I’ve seen on undercover Skype tapes?
I studied those tapes for hundreds of hours. I knew him inside out. I knew every one of his lies. I had to put that period on the end of the sentence, and that was going to see Yoshi. And so I did go undercover. And I managed to stake him out, to quote unquote, “bump into him” ¬– and become friends with him. We would go out for coffee, we would go out for dinner, to the point where he wanted me to be his liaison over here in the States for the illegal trade. And that’s when it really started getting strange.
CURWOOD: All these years you’ve written mysteries.
SPEART: Uh huh.
CURWOOD: So you can never actually hop into the investigation of a mystery because it doesn’t exist, it’s your fantasy.
CURWOOD: In this case, you decided really to become the gumshoe that you’ve been writing about.
SPEART: Yeah, I did. I mean, I have lived vicariously through Rachel Porter, my character, for years. And with each book that I’ve done, I’ve always gone out into the field, riding shotgun with an agent, learning the area, learning the problems, all about the endangered species there. And this was taking it… yes, this was taking it a step much further. And in a sense I was a little bit scared by it, but I couldn’t not do it.
CURWOOD: I have to ask you: So what did Yoshi Kojima say to you after he figured out that you too were, you know, gaming him?
SPEART: Well Steve, this is the interesting part. As far as I know, he – maybe he has figured it out now since this book came out – but he hadn’t. What happened was I was feeling so guilty when I was doing this because he was actually being very nice to me. And I started thinking, how can I do this to this nice man? He’s the one person in Japan who’s befriended me, how do I betray him?
And the last night that we went out to dinner, that’s when he started saying, ‘You know, I would really like to sell my butterflies on eBay, but I don’t know how to work eBay. Do you know how to work eBay?’ Now this guy knows how to work internet auction sites. He’s got his stuff up all over Japan, everywhere. This is what he had done with Ed Newcomer, because he wanted Ed Newcomer to take the fall if he was caught. And suddenly, I saw the same game happening.
But what’s not in the book is that when I came home, we continued to Skype for quite awhile until Yoshi began to push harder and harder and harder. He wanted me to get butterflies from dealers in the States here for him. Because dealers didn’t want to deal with him anymore, they didn’t – you know, he was a hot potato. He figured I could get them, and he was going, ‘Silly rules, silly regulations, don’t worry, you’ll never be caught.’ He wanted me to send them by express mail, and he would pay me by PayPal. And that’s when I spoke to one of my friends who’s an undercover agent, and he said, ‘Abort, get out, enough, it’s the end.’ And that’s when my relationship with Yoshi came to an end.
CURWOOD: Jessica Speart’s new book is called “Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler.” Thank you so much.
SPEART: Thank you, Steve!
Jessica Speart’s Website
[MUSIC: Azymuth “Butterfly” from Butterfly (Far Out Records 2008).]
GELELRMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer, Jessica Ilyse Smith, Ike Sriskandarajah, Mitra Taj, and Jeff Young, with help from Sarah Calkins and Sammy Sousa. Our interns are Sean Faulk and Wynn Tucker. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes.
CURWOOD: You can find us anytime at LOE dot org. And while you're online, check out our sister program, Planet Harmony. Planet Harmony welcomes all and pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at my planet harmony dot com. And don’t forget to check out Living on Earth’s Facebook page. It’s PRI’s Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
GELLERMAN: And I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening!
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[All Living On Earth music themes composed by Allison Lirish Dean (2001).]
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