Air Date: June 7, 1996
Immune-Altering Pollution: It's Headline News
Steve Curwood speaks with Marla Cone, an environmental reporter at the Los Angeles Times about her recent articles on links between animal die-offs and human immune system disorders, and what many scientists believe is causing problems throughout the animal kingdom: persistent synthetic chemical compounds. (05:45)
Riding Chattanooga's Success/ John Gregory
Once one of America's most polluted cities, Chattanooga, Tennessee now rides on the electric buses it manufactures, has revitalized its downtown, and includes citizens in its planning. Still, Chattanooga has more work it plans to do. John Gregory reports. (09:10)
Stardust & Soil: An Organic Garden Segment
Steve Curwood speaks again with Living on Earth's occasional organic gardening advisor Evelyn Tully Costa, this time about the essence of soil and its properties. (05:39)
The Living on Earth Almanac
Facts about...global warming predictions. (01:15)
California Regulations: The Pendulum Swings Again/ Tara Siler
Once a state at the vanguard of environmental protection regulations, in its current political climate, California's legislative pendulum is swinging towards deregulation. Tara Siler reports on the motions in the Golden State. (09:05)
G.O.P. Agenda/ Jonathan Adler
Commentator Jonathan Adler remarks on the Republican party's recent waffling on its environmental position. (02:37)
The Sierra Club Kid
The oldest national environmental group has just elected its youngest ever president. Steve Curwood speaks with Adam Werbach, who at just 23 years of age is the new and youthful President of the 104 year old Sierra Club. (05:39)
Environmental Pioneers Profile # 24: The "Don't Make a Wave Committee" Were the Founders of Greenpeace/ George Homsy
Living on Earth producer George Homsy details the maiden voyage in 1971 and the founders of what has come to be known worldwide as the environmental protection and antiwar pressure group Greenpeace. This is the penultimate of our 25 profiles series. (07:31)
Copyright c 1996 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Steve Frenkel, Steve Busalacchi, John Gregory, Tara Siler
GUESTS: Marla Cone, Evelyn Tully Costa, Adam Werbach
COMMENTATOR: Jonathan Adler
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
If you're getting sicker more often or staying sick longer, it might be stress or depression, but it might also be that pollution has harmed your ability to fight disease.
CONE: Experts tell me that perhaps the general population has lost 5% of its immunity. That's worldwide, that's chronic. That's not just a loss of immunity, like you'd get from a stressful day at the office.
CURWOOD: Also, an old industrial city remakes itself as a model for sustainable development.
CROCKETT: Most of what we're cleaning up today was once prosperity. And the whole notion of sustainability is to build prosperity, generation to generation. Just like in an ecosystem, it has a balance.
CURWOOD: The rebirth of Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Living on Earth, right after the news.
NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. The effects of pesticides linked to breast cancer and birth defects are up to 1,000 times greater when they're combined. Researchers reporting in the journal Science examined chemicals known to turn on the gene that produces estrogen, the hormone that controls the formation of female sex organs. The surplus of the hormone has been linked to breast cancer and to malformation of the sex organs in male fetuses. Researchers had assumed that when the chemicals were combined their effect would simply be doubled, not multiplied a thousand fold. A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency says the report may have enormous implications for how the Agency screens chemicals.
A key House panel has unanimously passed a bill to change drinking water standards. Current law requires 25 new chemicals to be regulated every 3 years without regard to risk. But the new measure will let the Environmental Protection Agency decide what contaminants it should regulate based on relative risk. Critics say the old policy prevented the Agency from focusing on the most dangerous contaminants. The bill also authorizes nearly $8 billion for revolving loans and grants to help public water systems meet tap water standards. A similar measure has already been okayed by the Senate. The drinking water legislation is the only one of a half dozen environmental bills expected to be approved by both houses of Congress in this session.
Chicago officials have unveiled a groundbreaking tax plan to spur the rehabbing of those vacant and contaminated industrial properties known as brownfields. From Chicago, Steve Frenkel reports.
FRENKEL: City officials say the program is the first of its kind in the nation and will cut property taxes nearly in half. Officials hope that by providing financial incentives to redevelop brownfields, banks and businesses will no longer shun them over fears of costly environmental cleanups. Henry Henderson, the commissioner of Chicago's Department of Environment, says these property tax incentives are needed to get productive use out of these abandoned properties.
HENDERSON: A very key decision about where you locate your business, about where you locate your investment, turns into what your taxes are going to be, particularly your property taxes. And if your property taxes are in fact working to induce investment that creates jobs and cleans up the environment, you have a unique combination of what will be attractive for businesses to relocate.
FRENKEL: Henderson adds that even though the city won't be able to collect fair market value for these properties, the city will benefit, since many abandoned brownfields are now tax delinquent. There are nearly half a million brownfields nationwide, including more than 2,000 in the Chicago area that could benefit from the program. For Living on Earth, I'm Steve Frenkel.
NUNLEY: Most developed countries can easily and cheaply prevent the emissions that lead to global warming. That's according to the Second Global Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC researchers say up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in most nations can be reduced at no cost, just by phasing out fuel subsidies and increasing energy efficiency. In its First Global Report, the IPCC declared that humanity is having a measurable effect on the world's climate. Sir John Houghton, one of the report's authors, says the report disproves claims by some industries that human pollution is not contributing substantially to global warming.
The energy that warmed last night's pizza may soon be used to kill insects in grain bins. Researchers at the US Agriculture Department in Wisconsin hope to turn microwaves into a safe pesticide. Wisconsin Public Radio's Steve Busalacchi reports from Madison.
BUSALACCHI: Insects are commonly found in grain storage bins, especially those in warm climates. But current methods for battling the bugs are less than ideal. Some of the insects have become resistant to the pesticides and restrictions on chemical use are becoming more common. Ag Department entomologist Wendell Burkholder and his colleagues say microwave energy may be a great alternative. Burkholder has been experimenting with a microwave applicator that zaps the pests as the grain flows from one bin to another. Burkholder says tests in Wisconsin and Tennessee prove this method is effective, energy efficient, and environmentally safe, because it leaves no residue. Burkholder predicts microwave bug killers could be ready within 5 years. For Living on Earth, I'm Steve Busalacchi.
NUNLEY: Rangers at a California nature preserve are on the lookout for an amorous, overgrown sea lion who has given new meaning to the term "fatal attraction." Nicknamed the Marauder of San Miguel Island, the 1,800-pound male is believed to have killed up to 250 female sea lions in the past 5 years by crushing them to death with his inept mating attempts. Scientists say the sea lion is a freak of nature, a rare hybrid giant resulting from the union of a large stellar sea lion and a smaller California species. Rangers are hoping he was killed over the winter by sharks or in a boating accident, but they say if he does return to the park they will have to shoot him.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Over the past few years there has been an ominous trend. Marine mammals have been dying off in large numbers. Dozens of beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River, 1,000 dolphins in the Mediterranean, half of Europe's harbor seals. At the same time researchers have noticed immune disorders in people, leading at times to widespread illness. The link between these trends, according to more and more scientists, is persistent toxic chemicals in the environment. Over the past few years, we've reported on the association between these chemicals and the disruption of reproductive and neurological functioning, as well as immune responses. Now there's harder evidence that pollution is causing animals and people to succumb to diseases that they might otherwise fight off. Los Angeles Times environmental writer Marla Cone has interviewed dozens of researchers and reviewed hundreds of scientific reports on the subject. She joins us now from the NPR studios in Los Angeles. Hi, Marla.
CONE: Hello, Steve.
CURWOOD: Tell me, why are scientists thinking now that immune disorders and pollution might be connected?
CONE: Well, scientists say it's a question of not whether this is happening, it's to what degree. There have been some massive die-offs among wild animals throughout the world, especially marine mammals that feed in contaminated water. And when scientists started exploring what was happening here they originally thought it was natural causes. They found viruses and bacteria in these animals. But when they explored a little further, they also found that the animals that died also had high levels of PCBs in their tissues and other contaminants, too, but mostly PCBs. And they found a correlation between those. Animals that survived epidemics had much lower levels of these contaminants in their tissues.
CURWOOD: And this had affected their immune systems.
CONE: Right. What it did is, it apparently suppressed the animals' immune cells. They couldn't produce the T-cells, the B-cells, the natural killer cells, those lines of defense against viruses and bacteria and infections.
CURWOOD: And we're talking, this is in response to chemicals like what? Dioxin, PCBs?
CONE: PCBs, DDT, all the organochlorines, as well as some metals and hydrocarbon type chemicals.
CURWOOD: Now there's a study involving seals in the Netherlands that shows a pretty strong link here between pollution and immune disorders. I wonder if you could discuss that for us.
CONE: This was a fascinating study, and it was a landmark one that all the scientists draw attention to. Because what they did is, they took 2 sets of seals that were taken from the wild. One set was fed fairly uncontaminated fish from the Atlantic and Europe while the other was fed highly contaminated fish, contaminated with PCBs, from the Baltic Sea. And at the end of this, what they found is that the seals that were fed the most contaminated fish from the Baltic had severe immune suppression. They lost 25 to 35% of their immune ability.
CURWOOD: How does that compare to something like AIDS?
CONE: In AIDS, in a severe case, you would have fatal complications from a 50% suppression. So we're talking about seals that were fed for only 2 years, which is short, much shorter than the life span of these animals. Yet they had suppression that would mirror what happens with people with AIDS. And these seals were fed natural fish, I mean, that they normally would feed on. And perhaps the most alarming thing to the scientists is that these were also fish that were sold in commercial markets. People in Europe eat these very same herring.
CURWOOD: What about people and pollution? Are immune systems fairly similar to these animals, and so we have a similar risk?
CONE: All animals, and that includes humans, have the same basic immune cells. So we're all facing similar risk. It all depends of course to what our exposure is. And everybody says that certain animals might be more sensitive to pollutants than humans, but nobody really knows at this point.
CURWOOD: Now there have been some looks at humans, for example, the Inuit have been studied, right?
CONE: The Inuit people who live in northern Quebec are living in a very highly contaminated environment, which surprises a lot of people. That's because the pollution seems to wind up there. It blows up there in the air and through the water. And they're winding up, the women especially are winding up with such high amounts of contamination in their blood and their tissues that they pass it on to their infants. And these infants are born with highly suppressed immune cells, and they wind up with a high rate of diseases, especially chronic ear infections which lead to hearing loss, and meningitis and pneumonia.
CURWOOD: What about the rest of us who don't live in the Arctic? What about the world's general population? Are we at risk of suppressed immune systems?
CONE: Experts say that everybody on this planet is immuno-suppressed, and that's because we all contain certain amounts of these compounds in our tissues. This doesn't mean that people are dropping dead. What it means is that people aren't as healthy as they would be, and experts tell me that perhaps the general population has lost 5% of its immunity. Now that might sound like a minor degree of immune suppression, but that's worldwide, that's chronic, that's not just a transient loss of immunity like you'd get from a stressful day at the office.
CURWOOD: So that means that we get sicker more often and stay sicker longer?
CONE: Yes, that's exactly what scientists say it means.
CURWOOD: Marla Cone is an environmental writer for the Los Angeles Times. Thanks for joining us, Marla.
CONE: Thanks, Steve.
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CURWOOD: Since the United Nations last held a summit meeting on the problems of cities 20 years ago, a billion plus more people have come onto the planet, most of them into cities. For the most part this has not been good news for society or the environment. As people concentrate in cities, so do many of their problems. But there is some good news at this year's UN city summit now underway in Istanbul, Turkey. And that comes from certain cities that are putting urban ecology into their planning as they build or rebuild. A prime example is Chattanooga, Tennessee. Tucked into a narrow valley of the southern Appalachians on the Tennessee-Georgia border, Chattanooga was once one of the most polluted small cities in America. Today, after years of planning and dialogue, this city of about 150,000 leads the United States in environmental and sustainability initiatives. Producer John Gregory has our report.
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GREGORY: At noontime on a sunny, warm Spring day, downtown Chattanooga is bustling. People stroll the wide tree-lined streets, shopping or listening to music at one of the downtown plazas. With its new aquarium, theaters, parks, and renovated buildings, Chattanooga is being reborn.
MAN 1: I think Chattanooga's really got the right idea. It would be really great to see the whole downtown area, strictly a walking and shuttle commute type operation, rather than having vehicles downtown at all.
WOMAN: My mother was here 3 weeks ago, and we came down to the Aquarium and the IMAX and we loved it. It was great.
MAN 2: Just look around. All this comes out of Chattanooga's vision to become one of America's best midsized cities, with its environmental theme.
GREGORY: Chattanooga wasn't always so wonderful. With rich deposits of coal, iron, and copper nearby, the city once measured its prosperity by the number of smokestacks. But by 1969, that prosperity had given the area the worst air pollution in the nation.
CROCKETT: During that time we like to say we had a heart attack.
GREGORY: Chattanooga City Councilman David Crockett jokes about it now, but says the community was shocked into action. In 1969, before the Environmental Protection Agency was formed and before a wave of environmentalism swept the country, Chattanooga established strict air pollution guidelines.
CROCKETT: Frankly, when a problem gets so bad, it may be easier at that point in time to get consensus than when things are okay.
GREGORY: Despite the hard times, Chattanooga still had its long-standing atmosphere of civic responsibility. Rather than being scared off, many local businesses threw their weight behind the air cleanup campaign. City officials even held a contest to recognize companies that met the guidelines early. By the 1980s, Chattanooga's air was cleaner than Federal standards. But it was only the beginning.
CROCKETT: We laugh and say once we cleaned up the air, that we weren't so sure it was a good idea, because then you could see how bad everything else was that needed to be fixed.
GREGORY: Like many American cities in the 1970s, Chattanooga's downtown was dying. Business was moving to the suburbs, buildings were being abandoned, some 9,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, and crime was on the increase. But David Crockett says improving the city's air quality showed Chattanoogans what they could still accomplish.
CROCKETT: I think that that built confidence, oh, in the city. It also was something that took very diverse and at times opposing interests to come together on to address.
GREGORY: In 1983, Chattanoogans again convened to tackle the city's problems. They called it a visioning process, and the vision they conceived was to tie quality of life, the local economy, and education together with what they called sustainability, economic development fostering prosperity today without sacrificing the environment or the future.
(Children playing together: "Oh, look at that fish! That's a big old perch!")
GREGORY: The first step toward that vision was the Tennessee Aquarium. Built on a former industrial site on the banks of the Tennessee River, the privately funded $45 million facility highlights the river's freshwater ecology. Other downtown revitalization projects soon followed. A series of greenways along the river, improved housing for lower-income families, and a children's science museum. Connecting these pieces together is a new public transportation system.
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GREGORY: The whirr and clatter of battery-powered electric buses are replacing the roar and fumes of diesel buses here. Passengers can park in an outlying garage, then catch a free bus into downtown. Rick Hitchcock is the chairman of Carta, the local transportation authority.
HITCHCOCK: That decision to look at a clean, safe, quiet technology such as electric vehicles, rather than traditional diesel buses, represented an attitude that the community has that it wants to look for creative solutions to problems.
GREGORY: Hitchcock says that when the Transit Authority decided to invest in the battery powered buses, the equipment wasn't available. So a local businessman volunteered to design and build them. His company, Advanced Vehicle Systems, is now the nation's largest supplier of electric buses. And Carta has joined with the manufacturer to form an electric vehicle institute that draws engineers, transit managers, and mechanics from around the country. The buses exemplify the type of development Chattanooga wants to foster. Light manufacturing, built around innovative solutions to its own and other cities' problems.
CROCKETT: We've tried to use the city as a living laboratory, literally.
GREGORY: Again, city councilman David Crockett.
CROCKETT: We partner with the best we can find, whether they're architects or urban planners, and whether it's for transportation or housing or non-point source pollution or industries or factories. So that you can take things and try those technologies and designs and policies in a real place.
GREGORY: Chattanooga's latest effort is to chart the city's development path into the next century. There's great optimism here, but citizens do want to maintain control of the city's future. And there is concern that the benefits of revival aren't touching everyone.
(Children play. Man: "Hello, how are you doing?" Woman: "Fine, how are you?" Woman: "Fine.")
GREGORY: Gerald Mason and his wife Diane operate 5 learning centers for lower income children. He participated in the original visioning process in his work to improve the city's school system and promote cultural diversity.
G. MASON: We've done a lot of great things and made a lot of tremendous strides. But we have this little dark secret that nobody wants to talk about. How to help the lower economic strata of our community that hasn't. Most of the jobs that have been created are low wage jobs. You look at all the things that have come in this community, we brought millions and millions of people in here but we have not benefited.
CROCKETT: Don't come to Chattanooga thinking that people just skip down the street holding hands whistling.
GREGORY: City councilman David Crockett says Chattanooga is committed to making sure all citizens benefit from the city's future.
CROCKETT: To clean up the air, to shape a new economic strategy, to restore neighborhoods, to alleviate racial and social tensions and to fix the number of things that you fix. It's a little bit like shifting gears with no clutch. It makes an awful grinding sound, and it takes some real finesse, but eventually we do in Chattanooga.
GREGORY: Chattanooga will focus the next phase of its redevelopment on 2 former industrial areas and a series of Superfund sites in the city's poor and minority neighborhoods. Civic leaders hope to attract clean businesses to these recycled sites rather than have them eat up open space away from downtown. David Crockett hopes these eco-industrial parks will ensure Chattanooga's economic strength better than their predecessors did.
CROCKETT: Most of what we're cleaning up today was once prosperity. And the whole notion of sustainability is to build prosperity, generation to generation. In a total quality way it means that you do it right the first time. And you don't go back and have to redo it. And that you understand how each piece of the business relates with the other pieces of the business. Just like in an ecosystem, it has a balance.
GREGORY: Given the social, political, and economic pressures all cities face, it's impressive how Chattanooga has stayed focused on their goal of changing from a traditional industrial city to a model sustainable community. In the problems that they share with many other cities, Chattanooga is creating opportunities for its citizens and its businesses and redefining the nature of urban economies. For Living on Earth, I'm John Gregory.
CURWOOD: Stardust. Believe it or not, our organic gardener says it is the secret ingredient to making things grow. Find out just ahead on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's time now once again to turn to the green garden spot with organic gardener Evelyn Tully Costa. Evelyn heads Garden Services in Brooklyn, New York. Hi, Evelyn.
COSTA: Hi, Steve.
CURWOOD: Last time we talked about figuring out where to get started in our gardens. But before we plunk down those expensive plattes of flowers and vegetables in the ground, what about the dirt?
COSTA: Very good question, Steve. Now the first thing everybody asks these days is, what about my pH levels? And I tell them, forget about those soil-testing kits and let's look at the big picture first. We really need to understand a little bit about Earth history before a pH test is going to make any sense. Now, somebody who's done a lot of thinking and philosophizing about the soil is Bill Logan. Bill is a writer in residence at St. John the Divine in Manhattan and he's an arborist. Logan recently wrote Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth. It reads like 100 Years of Solitude meets Scientific American.
CURWOOD: [Laughs] In other words, pH is the first 2 letters of philosophy.
COSTA: You got it. For instance, in his chapter called "Stardust," he writes, "The truth is, we really don't know the first thing about dirt. We don't even know where it comes from. All we can say is it doesn't come from here. Our own sun is too young and too cool to manufacture any element heavier than helium. We are all stardust," he writes, "in fact, everything is stardust."
COSTA: Now, what did you want to know about pH, Steve?
CURWOOD: [Laughs] Well, I mean, if I shouldn't be worrying about my pH right away, I mean, what should I be thinking about?
COSTA: Well, once you figured out where the sun hit your property, you need to figure out what the plants are going to go into. Soil, in my opinion, is the basic raw material of the gardener's art. The chemical gardener uses soil simply as a means to anchor all those plant roots to artificial fertilizers. Think of those fertilizers as the human equivalent of caffeine: you might get a quick fix from coffee, but your body is depleted of energy and nutrients and you have no fuel left over for the long haul. Now, the soil is no different. Now, organic gardening on the other hand aims to enrich the soil, and it recognizes that the soil is actually a complex ecosystem like a swamp or a forest. And it's teeming with millions of organisms. Those organisms release nutrients that are required for healthy plant growth. So think of the organic matter that you need to add to your soil as good nutritious solid food. Like a hearty balanced meal that lasts you all day and keeps you healthy for a lifetime.
CURWOOD: All right. So does soil, I mean stardust, come in different flavors?
COSTA: Yep. It comes in 5 different flavors: clay, sand, silt, limestone, and peat, and these are going to vary depending on where you live. So the next thing you need to do is dig deep enough to find out where the 3 layers of soil are. For most gardeners who do shrubs, flowers, and vegetables, you need 10 to 12 inches of topsoil. You have the subsoil, and then you have the third layer. And the reason you want to dig down, let's say, about 2 or 3 feet, is to get a sense of the relative depth of each of these and their texture, and that's going to vary according to your location.
CURWOOD: Okay, and then what do I do?
COSTA: The next thing you want to do is find out what you're going to grow there, and then you can decide what nutrients, minerals, and ecosystems you need to encourage to make your particular garden thrive. You can send a soil sample to your local cooperative extension for a small fee.
CURWOOD: And then what will they tell me?
COSTA: Well, you're probably going to find out whether or not your soil is acidic, alkaline, and what nutrients are already there. But just keep in mind that the solution to most gardeners' needs is very simple. Generally speaking, if you add lots of rich, composted, organic matter, this is a surefire way to neutralize the soil, which is what most garden plants need to grow. This gets the main nutrients going in your back yard. Now, you can supplement your plot with some organic fertilizer such as bone, fish, blood meal, cow manure, fish emulsion, wood ash, and liquid seaweed. But remember, these only fine tune what should be a healthy, rich environment that you've created by adding organic compost.
CURWOOD: Okay. And what's the scoop on getting this organic matter.
COSTA: Where to get it, well, there's a couple of ways to do that. You can buy it. Manures are sold at most garden centers along with organic mulches such as cocoa and buckwheat chips. You can make it yourself by starting a compost heap with all those leaves and lawn clippings that you might otherwise stuff into plastic bags and haul out the front to be taken away. In my opinion that's like throwing out money. Just let's think about what soil philosopher and tree pruner Bill Logan says: "As the beings that make up organic life continue to exist, evolve, and cover the earth, they create a rich, stable atmosphere and rich, deep soils. Only here on earth does stardust engage in this extraordinary array of self-organizing behaviors." Okay, Steve, till next time.
CURWOOD: Bye for now, Evelyn.
COSTA: Bye bye.
CURWOOD: Evelyn Tully Costa digs stardust and soil in Brooklyn, New York. She'll be back in a couple of weeks with more organic gardening tips.
CURWOOD: Got a gardening question? Write us. Our address is The Green Garden Spot, Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Or e-mail us at LOE@NPR.ORG. Be sure to put the Green Garden Spot in the subject line.
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CURWOOD: Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded at the studios of WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood.
ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major support from the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt -- whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; and the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment.
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CURWOOD: Coming up later, California has been a trend-setter for so many things, what does it mean when it starts cutting back on environmental protection? That's just ahead on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most prescient scientific papers ever published. In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius presented his groundbreaking work linking changes in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere with the world's climate. Working with data gathered by fellow scientist S.P. Langley, Dr. Arrhenius reckoned the burning of fossil fuels would double the CO2 levels in 3,000 years. He did more than 10,000 calculations by hand, and predicted that would lead to a rise in temperature of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius. That projection has stood up remarkably. Today's computers revise the estimate of temperature rise only slightly, to between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees. But Dr. Arrhenius's projections on the rate of CO2 increase proved way off the mark, because he could never have seen the unprecedented industrial boom of the 20th century. The doubling of CO2 levels he said would take 3,000 years is now projected to happen by the year 2070. But his work did show remarkable insight into many factors that influence climate, including ice fields, clouds, and the ocean. In 1903, Dr. Arrhenius was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, not for this work on global warming but for his research into something far more mundane, electrolytic dissociation. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: California is one of the world's biggest trend-setters. Its entertainment industry shapes what's hip, hot, and happening. And the same could also be said when it comes to protecting the environment. From clean air to clean water, California pioneered regulations that are now taken for granted as national standards. But as reporter Tara Siler found, California may now be leading the nation the other way. Environmental activists charge that the state's Republican governor and state assembly are eroding decades of safeguards.
(Water flows from a tap.)
SILER: Most Californians take it for granted that the water flowing from their kitchen tap is safe. After all, their state has more stringent water protection standards than the Federal Government. California also boasts tough regulations governing clean air, the disposal of hazardous wastes, and protections for endangered species. California developed renewable energy programs and exported environmental technologies long before other states. Dan Weiss, political director of the Sierra Club in Washington, DC, says California has been the environmental trend-setter for the rest of the nation since the 1970s.
WEISS: One of the reasons why California has boomed over the last 20 years is because they've take on a concerted effort to provide a healthy and safe environment for its citizens.
SILER: California's legacy of national leadership in environmental protection is not in dispute. The question up for debate now is whether the state still holds that title.
WALKER: The equation is simply that once upon a time not that long ago, California was justifiably proud of being a national and world leader in environmental protection.
SILER: Bill Walker of the California League of Conservation Voters is one of many environmentalists who say the Golden State's title as environmental leader is already tarnished, and he lays the blame at the doorstep of Governor Pete Wilson.
WALKER: This is sort of a report card on Pete Wilson's performance in his first term in office. Overall I can tell you that we gave him a C, which we have begun in recent years describing to people as probably a gentleman's C, that he probably wouldn't get these days. In other words, there was, you know, it was sort of like we gave him the benefit of a doubt, we'll give him a passing grade. In the intervening years we feel that he's sort of negated his right to get that benefit of the doubt.
SILER: If Bill Walker sounds bitter, it's because candidate Wilson promised to be California's environmental czar. Environmentalists say Governor Wilson is too easily swayed by corporate lobbyists. Soon after his election in 1990, they say, the Governor began scapegoating the state's environmental regulations for California's then souring economy. Jerry Merrill, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, says the assault has escalated since Governor Wilson's ill-fated bid for the White House.
MERRILL: For example, in air quality, we have always been the leader in terms of pollution control technology and in requiring cars to be clean, and recently, much to our horror and amazement, the Air Resources Board gave up the electric car mandate over the next 7 years. And so we gave up probably the most important position of leadership we had in the world in environmental protection.
SILER: In this hangar at the Alameda Naval Air Base, workers are grinding parts for electric cars. The 8 companies working on advanced transportation projects here are part of the Cal Start Program, which receives state, Federal, and private funding. The state electric car mandate would have required that 2% of cars on the California market in 1998 be electric. Now, Cal Start participant Lee Ackerson says a question mark hangs over the fledgling industry.
ACKERSON: People have made a lot of commitments, personal and business commitments, to pursue clean air technologies, and then to have the government back off on their commitments creates a climate where business is less willing to start investing money in those technologies.
SILER: And the impact is already being felt beyond its borders. As a result of the California decision, electric car programs in New York and Massachusetts are now under review and may wind up in court. Environmentalists say they severed another blow this year when Governor Wilson decided to extend the use of methyl bromide, an herbicide the Environmental Protection Agency calls an acute toxin. Under state law, California was supposed to halt its use of methyl bromide in April, because manufacturers failed to complete required health studies. But Governor Wilson convinced the legislature to pass a 2-year extension of the herbicide's use. Kevin Herglotz is with the California Food and Agriculture Department. He says a methyl bromide ban would have meant a financial disaster.
HERGLOTZ: There are no known economically viable alternatives to methyl bromide currently, which, without its use, would hamper our exports and also our crop and field production here in the state.
SILER: A Federal ban on methyl bromide is scheduled to take effect in the year 2001, but environmentalists fear that California agribusiness will keep winning extensions and the state will fail to lead the rest of the country away from using this herbicide. The methyl bromide and the electric car decisions are prime examples of the Wilson Administration's new approach to environmental protection, which include a sweeping cost-benefit analysis of all 28,000 state environmental regulations. James Strock, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, says the new policy is based on common sense.
STROCK: We're very proud of our program, very hopeful for it. And we believe the kind of tough, smart, cost-effective solutions that we're looking at demonstrate why the states that are leadership states that had stricter standards and have smarter process are the key national leaders in this area.
SILER: Secretary Strock cites a long list of successes on behalf of Governor Wilson, including progress in air quality and increase in protected wetlands. And major strides in the clean-up of selected Superfund sites known as brownfields.
(A court hammer strikes. Man: "Questions or debate? Secretary, please call the role on the confirmation." Secretary: "Alquist? [answer: "Aye."] Aiella? [answer: "Aye."] Beverly? [answer: "Aye."]")
SILER: Most battles over California's environment begin here in the state legislature in Sacramento. Bill Walker of the California League of Conservation Voters says the blame for California's slide in environmental protection must be shared with the new Republican majority in the state assembly.
WALKER: California has joined the ranks of what we call the wise use states. The Idahos, Montanas, Arizonas, where extreme right-wingers are heading an environmental agenda that basically defies science, logic, and reason.
SILER: In the state assembly, Walker says drinking water and air quality standards are under attack, as is the state's Endangered Species Act and the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires that before construction begins developers prove their projects won't harm the environment. Environmentalists are looking to the Democratic majority in the State Senate to hold the line against what they call the assault on California's basic environmental protections. While Republican efforts to weaken national environmental standards have stalled in the nation's Capitol, Dan Weiss of the Sierra Club in Washington, DC, says the campaign against California's environmental protections is well underway.
WEISS: Hopefully, the Californians will oppose efforts to roll back some of their groundbreaking environmental protection laws. They've gained a lot but there's a lot at risk. We hope that they'll continue to move forward, either with the governor or against him if need be.
SILER: Environmentalists say they are tracking hundreds of environmental bills in the legislature. At least some of those are expected to reach the governor's desk. Last year the California League of Conservation Voters reported that of the 6 pro-environmental bills sent to Governor Wilson, he signed 3 and vetoed 3. Of the 8 anti-environmental bills passed, the group says Governor Wilson signed every one. For Living on Earth, this is Tara Siler.
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CURWOOD: Ever since the presidential campaign season began, the Republican party has been trying to reposition itself on the environment. Leaders in the House of Representatives have been working especially hard to make the party look more moderate on green issue. But that doesn't impress commentator Jonathan Adler.
ADLER: Recently, News Gingrich and some of his colleagues stood on Roosevelt Island in the Potomac to announce a new set of Republican principles on the environment. Only, they aren't very new. It sounds like the GOP is trying to embrace the rhetoric of its opponents in an attempt to regain political momentum. It will not work. Offering a moderated version of the conventional agenda will gain Republicans little credit in environmental circles. No matter how hard they try they will never out-spend or out-regulate the Democrats. Efforts to "me too" the issue will look lukewarm and insincere. And why should any self-respecting environmentalist vote for a half-hearted green when they can vote for the real thing?
Republicans need an environmental message. But to be successful, it has to be one of their own. In 1994 they showed they understood the frustrations of those who must comply with America's environmental laws. Now they must prove they understand the aspirations of those who wish to safeguard the environment. Republicans must articulate an environmental vision that rejects Federal bureaucracies and embraces the principles of free enterprise and limited government. Most importantly, the GOP must demonstrate that allegiance to these principles does not pose an environmental threat.
As most experts recognize, there is a strong environmental case against the status quo. But Republicans have failed to make it. Emphasizing economic costs pits environmental protection against corporate profits, a debate that is difficult to win and obscures what is really at stake. It may be unreasonable that cleaning a Superfund site costs many millions of dollars. But the true outrage is that the 15-year-old program is doing little, if anything, to clean up the environment. And it is frustrating economic redevelopment in poor communities. Current hazardous waste regulations and endangered species protections often create perverse incentives that increase waste production and the destruction of wildlife habitat. Challenging this state of affairs is not anti-environment.
Large majorities of Americans embrace both the need for strong environmental protection and a limited government agenda. The challenge to would-be reformers is to bridge this gap. Thus far, the Republicans have not been up to the job.
CURWOOD: Jonathan Adler is director of Environmental Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and author of Environmentalism at the Crossroads.
CURWOOD: Coming up we meet the 23-year-old who's taken the reins of the Sierra Club. That's next on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: June means graduations, and most of the Class of '96 is now starting out into their first jobs, usually at the bottom. But one member of the Class of '95 has gone straight to the top. At 23 years of age, Adam Werbach has just been elected president of the Sierra Club, the nation's oldest environmental group. Now, if that seems a little young to be leading an organization with more than half a million members, it isn't for lack of experience. Mr. Werbach joined the organization when he was in the second grade. In high school he founded its student auxiliary. And while he was in college he was elected to its board of directors.
WERBACH: Yeah, I was elected in 1994, and just completed my second year on the board, and was just elected by the rest of the board members, the directors, as president of the Sierra Club.
CURWOOD: So how did you get involved with the Sierra Club?
WERBACH: [Laughs] It was actually a funny story. When I was, oh, about 8 years old and in second grade, I received a petition in the mail, actually my parents did, to sign and try to oust James Watt, who was the Secretary of the Interior at the time, 1981. Now, I took this little petition, not really knowing what it was. I thought James Watt at the time had something to do with electricity. [Curwood laughs.] And I took it around to my second grade class and said hey, guys, come on, sign up. This is something that you can do. You can make a difference. You can sign here and do something. And the kids went wild. Everyone grabbed their crayons, their big, fat second grade pencils, and signed their names. And by the end of the day I had 200 signatures on that very petition and I was hooked.
CURWOOD: Now, as president of the Sierra Club, this is a year-long job and it pays you absolutely nothing. Do you do anything, or do you just have a nice title?
WERBACH: [Laughs] Well, the job of the president is to go out and in some ways rally the troops, to get the message out and basically say this is what's happening in DC, this is what's happening in your state capitols. These are the issues that you care about that you're not hearing about. This is not what your politicians are telling you. So my job is to get the Sierra Club into mediums that people listen to, that people understand.
CURWOOD: So you're the top PR guy for the place.
WERBACH: Well that, as well as running the -- we obviously have a huge volunteer aspect. So my job is to rally them and to work with our professional staff to make that happen.
CURWOOD: Professional staff. Now, Carl Pope is your executive director.
WERBACH: That's right.
CURWOOD: What do you say when people ask you how is it you do this at age 23? I mean, how does someone like Carl Pope react to having a 23-year-old boss?
WERBACH: Well, I think it comes back to the question of, you know, how can someone who's not 23 do this? Generally we need young people to be involved. We need young people to take this mantle of responsibility and say this is my future, what am I going to do about it?
CURWOOD: What's going to happen to the Sierra Club now that you're in charge?
WERBACH: Oh, wonderful, great things. The Sierra Club has been, has just completed a thorough restructuring of its volunteer capabilities and its staff structure. We've moving to new offices and we're really excited. This has been a tremendous year of challenges because of the Congress of -- the 104th Congress has been in my mind the worst Congress ever in terms of the environment. So the challenges are there and the Sierra Club has been fighting those battles from the halls of Congress down to the lanes of every community and every neighborhood.
CURWOOD: Now, there are some critics that say that the big environmental organizations like the Sierra Club are out of touch with their constituencies. In fact, I think that your organization recently had a big vote. Your membership approved a ban on all commercial logging in Federal forests, but that's a move that your leadership, including you, had opposed. I'm wondering, are the critics right?
WERBACH: I don't think so. I mean, our members decide what we do. And the vote on forest protection, which I actually didn't take a stand on, was a good example of Americans' total anger at Congress and the way they've managed our public lands. When Congress is talking about selling off our national parks, they get some people angry. And people are willing to take strong and decisive action.
CURWOOD: Now, why didn't you take a stand on that logging on Federal forests?
WERBACH: Sometimes I think it's important for an organization to work through its issues and to really let the membership make the final decision.
CURWOOD: So how do you feel about it, though?
WERBACH: Well, I feel like we need to [laughs] make a very strong statement to Congress that unless they get their act together we're not going to have any logging on public lands. Until we get our acts together on this, we're going to see some real strong activism on the issue.
CURWOOD: The public seems to be contributing less to environmental causes these days, and the Sierra Club seems to not be exempt from that movement. You seem to have less money and more of a deficit. Is this making it harder for you to do the work you need to do?
WERBACH: We've been out there fighting the battles, and I tell you it's been a frightening year. When we used to see threats coming every 3 months, they're coming every 3 days. So actually I've been very, very proud of the way the Sierra Club's been able to respond to those in the immediate way that they've needed to do it.
CURWOOD: Adam, you keep talking about reaching out through new media. The Sierra Club, and we're much impressed here at Living on Earth with your public relations machinery, you have a web site, you seem to be on television and on the radio and you handle the newspapers pretty well. What do you mean by the new media?
WERBACH: We need to go out even further electronically. We need to be on television, because people right now learn through television. And we need to go out on television and show people, instead of just telling them and newspapers about the problems. We need to show people the problems. When I think about people who are my age, young people, we've in many ways been tricked into becoming a consumer generation. We vote through what we buy. We need to reach out to young people like myself through music, through fashion, through magazines, and say hey, this is your movement, too. If you want to get involved, this is your chance. Don't try to slough this off in terms of your parents and what they've messed up. This is your chance to get involved, and this is your chance to make a difference.
CURWOOD: So are we looking at Sierra Club clothes, Sierra Club MTV spots? What are we looking at?
WERBACH: I think we're going to see the Sierra Club all over the media the next year. We're going to see the Sierra Club reaching out to folks and saying how do you want to get involved? How do you want to protect America's environment, both for our families and for our future? We're going to be focused on the elections, and we're going to make sure that politicians who aren't voting for our heritage are out of office.
CURWOOD: Well thank you for joining us. Adam Werbach is the newly elected president of the Sierra Club.
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Environmental Pioneers Profile # 24: The "Don't Make a Wave Committee" Were the Founders of Greenpeace
CURWOOD: In the fall of 1971, a group of Canadian activists decided to protest a US nuclear bomb test in the far reaches of Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Two of the groups' leaders were Quakers who believed in bearing witness for peace. And they decided to send a boat to the test site. They hoped to be able to disrupt and perhaps stall the test. They called themselves the Don't Make A Wave Committee, the name based on the fear that the atomic blast would create a giant tidal wave that could swamp West Coast cities. The protest failed; the bomb was eventually detonated. But the group lived to fight another day, and before long it blossomed into the global research and direct action organization Greenpeace. This year, Greenpeace marks its 25th anniversary as one of the world's most widely-known and controversial environmental organizations. The Don't Make A Wave Committee wanted to make that first voyage more than just another isolated anti-nuclear vigil. So, Bob Hunter, a Canadian columnist who joined the crew, said the group decided to document the event for all the world to see.
HUNTER: The idea was to take cameras out there and make everybody bear witness, and presumably that would have the same effect on other people as it was on the person who was just seeing it for themselves.
CURWOOD: But first the committee had to find a boat. After weeks of searching, they charted the Phyllis Cormack: 80 feet long and, it seemed, 100 years old. In a documentary he produced for Canadian radio, Ben Metcalf describes the vessel.
METCALF: The only one we could find was a beat-up old halibut boat displacing 99 tons with crew space for 12 men. And we were able to charter that vessel only because her skipper and engineer were freaky enough to go along with our cause.
(Fog horns sound. Man: "Well, what do you say we all break open a bottle of cold duck?" Man 2: "That's a good idea." Man 3: "Wow." Sea gulls call.)
CURWOOD: On September 15, 1971, 12 activists celebrated as their boat slipped out of Vancouver Harbor on an unseasonably warm fall day. The crew nicknamed the boat the Greenpeace to note the dual ecological and antiwar nature of their mission. On the second day, the Greenpeace broke down.
(Mechanical boat sounds)
CURWOOD: Mechanical problems were only the start. As Ben Metcalf noted in his audio journal, the rough autumn seas of the North Pacific took a toll on the unseasoned crew.
METCALF: The weather, although John Cormack described it in his log as "a calm chop," it is really rolling. The Greenpeace is pitching and rolling. Some of the boys are still pretty sick.
CURWOOD: A storm sent the Greenpeace scurrying for cover at Acutan, an island partway up the Aleutian chain. Crew member Bob Hunter says the unplanned landfall was a pivotal event for the group. The crew stumbled upon an abandoned whaling station.
HUNTER: It was like a scene from The Killing Fields, only it was, these bones were all giant bones, like a race of giants had been slaughtered there. You know, you had the feeling that you'd come too late, and it was sort of like after an apocalypse. It was actually very instrumental in getting us very turned onto the idea, later on, of saving the whales.
CURWOOD: The encounter at Acutan had another fateful resonance as well. The island is part of Alaska. The Greenpeace crew was Canadian, and they had landed on American soil without clearing customs. As Ben Metcalf recorded, they were boarded by sailors from the US Coast Guard cutter, Confidence.
(Voice on bullhorn: "District Director of Customs asked the Coast Guard to notify Master of Phyllis Cormack that he has incurred penalty within, with US Customs failure to report on the Tariff Act of 1930...")
CURWOOD: As the Coast Guard commander charged the captain of the Greenpeace with customs violations, the Coast Guard crew slipped the protesters a note.
(Man 1: "Wow!" Man 2: "Read it out, to that mike. Listen, you guys." Man 1: " 'Due to the situation we are in, we the crew of the Confidence feel that what you are doing is for the good of all mankind. If our hands weren't tied by these military bonds, we would be in the same position you are in if it were at all possible. Good luck. We are behind you 100%.' Jesus." Man 3: "Hey, that's really great!" Applause follows.)
CURWOOD: Greenpeace crew member Patrick Moore remembers the show of support as an important victory.
MOORE: We cheered a lot, but of course the first reaction by Ben Metcalf and the other people who were in charge of our communications and media side was to get on the radio telephone and let the world know that this had happened.
CURWOOD: Soon after their run-in with the Coast Guard, the Greenpeace crew received word that the US had delayed the test. As winter approached, the already rough waters of the North Pacific would get worse. As Ben Metcalf recalled in his documentary, supplies and money were also running out.
METCALF: They were pulling the bomb away from us and smothering us in red tape. And we were suddenly conscious of sailing on the far edge of the ridiculous. The only possible way for us to carry out our mission would be to sit off the 3-mile limit of Amchitka in our leaky loser of a boat for an indefinite period, through those 100-mile-an-hour winds. In other words, no way.
CURWOOD: The beleaguered crew voted to return home to Vancouver. But the trip and the publicity it generated set the tone for future campaigns. In fact, the story of Greenpeace, from sailing ships into nuclear test sites, to confronting whaling vessels on the high seas, to members chaining themselves to trees and smokestacks, is a lesson in direct action to attract media attention. Twenty-five years later Greenpeace has a $200 million budget, a cadre of lawyers and hundreds of staff in 30 countries. Still, the group's sensational and confrontational tactics are just as controversial as ever. Even among the crew of that original voyage. Crew member Patrick Moore went on to become director of Greenpeace Canada before leaving the organization. Today he consults for the timber industry in British Columbia. He says the environmental group he helped found has lost its focus.
MOORE: A lot of the issues have been dealt with that can be most effectively dealt with by the direct action tactics. I mean, they've stopped dumping nuclear waste in the sea, so you can't go out and fight against that any more. They've basically stopped killing whales. And so, as each of these campaigns is won, the situation becomes more diffuse and you start having to deal with what really are the larger issues of the human species relationship with the environment. Issues like fisheries and forestry and agriculture and urban development.
CURWOOD: But Patrick Moore's crewmate, Bob Hunter, believes the legacy of Greenpeace still resonates today. Mr. Hunter took over the Canadian organization when Patrick Moore resigned. Today he covers environmental issues for a Toronto television station.
HUNTER: I'm an old armchair warrior who has disagreements on tactics here and there. But on balance, as I look at it, the planet is slightly better off that there is an organization doing this kind of work full time.
CURWOOD: As the disappointed crew of the first Greenpeace trip headed home, the Don't Make A Wave Committee was busy. Capitalizing on the publicity generated by the trip, they raised money to charter another, faster ship. The Greenpeace II was about 700 miles from the test site when the US detonated its nuclear bomb. The feared tidal wave never materialized, but the energy generated by the effort to stop the explosion did blow a new and powerful environmental group onto the world scene.
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CURWOOD: Our segment on Greenpeace's first voyage was produced by Living on Earth's George Homsy. Senior producer for Living on Earth is Chris Ballman. Our editor is Peter Thomson and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes Liz Lempert, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. We also had help from Susan Shepherd, Peter Shaw, Josh Hewlett, Justin Kim, and Paul Massari. Special thanks to Jane Pipik and Antonio Olearc. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Frank DeAngelis and Mark Navin. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthellier and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
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