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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

June 23, 2000

Air Date: June 23, 2000

SEGMENTS

Ralph Nader Runs

Host Steve Curwood talks with Micah Sifry, a journalist writing a book about third party politics in the U.S., about Ralph Nader's latest bid for the White House, the Green Party campaign supporting him and what the Greens hope to accomplish win the field of electoral politics. (07:00)

New Hampshire Nature Conservancy Purchase / Doug MacPherson

A recent purchase by the New Hampshire chapter of the Nature Conservancy will divide an almost 19,000 acre piece of land into two parcels–-creating an ecological preserve and a working forest. Doug MacPherson of New Hampshire Public Radio reports. (04:25)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on how the level of social disorder in your neighborhood may contribute to your level of depression. (00:59)

States Fail to Test for Lead / Deidre Kennedy

Children who have high levels of lead in their blood can often be treated to prevent severe neurological and behavioral problems. But it's estimated that hundreds of thousands of U.S. children are poisoned by lead each year without ever being diagnosed. Deirdre Kennedy reports from Oakland, CA. (08:00)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about The National Register of Big Trees. (01:15)

Fossil Creek Dam Removal

An Arizona utility plans to shut down its small hydroelectric dam on Fossil Creek. It will be the first dam decommissioned in the southwest. Though the move is seen as largely symbolic, conservationists says it's a sign of more to come. (05:00)

Technology Update / Cynthia Graber

Living On Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a pen-sized water purifier that works with common kitchen salt. (00:59)

Giant Sloth Bones

Living On Earth host Steve Curwood talks with paleontologist David Webb about the newly discovered remains of species of giant sloth that lived in Florida more than two million years ago. (03:20)

The Perfect Story / Sandy Tolan

"The Perfect Storm", the movie based on Sebastian Junger's novel about the deaths of six Gloucester, Massachusetts fishermen, opens nation-wide on June 30th. In another installment of our series, "Gloucester at the Crossroads," Sandy Tolan reports as the city braces for an expected tourist boom in the wake of all the Hollywood hype, some old and painful memories are coming to the surface. (13:25)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Doug McPherson, Deirdre Kennedy, Mark Moran, Sandy Tolan
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber
GUESTS: Micah Sifry, David Webb

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Four years ago consumer crusader Ralph Nader ran for president under the banner of the Green Party, but he stayed home and campaigned from his front porch. This year Nader is back in the race again, and already he's been to almost every state. The pollsters say he can't win, but analysts say his supporters are looking at the long term.

SIFRY: If he succeeds in getting more than five percent of the popular vote, under federal election law he will qualify the Green Party in 2004. Its presidential candidate will get a proportional share of the public funding that goes to presidential candidates for their campaigns. And that could be many millions of dollars. It would certainly establish the Green Party as a major national force.

CURWOOD: Also, why public health officials are losing the fight against the single biggest environmental health threat to children: lead. That and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.

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(NPR News follows)

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Ralph Nader Runs

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Ralph Nader is the Green Party's presidential candidate once again. But this time around, the anti-corporate crusader is campaigning a lot harder than he did four years ago, when he seemed to be running in name only. Many liberals concerned about the environment are in a quandary about how to respond to Nader's current White House bid. They like his politics, but they also know his chances for election are slim. Joining us is Micah Sifry, a writer for The Nation magazine who is working on a book about U.S. third-party politics. First, tell us about the focus of the Green Party platform, and how Ralph Nader presents it.

SIFRY: If anything, I think the focus comes down to a couple of things. One is trying to speak for the people on the bottom of the political system, and the sorts of issues that aren't being addressed by the major parties. For example, universal health care is a very important piece of the Green Party platform. Dealing in a serious way with global warming is an important part of the platform, as is political reform. There is a long laundry list of issues attached to the platform, and not all of them are ones that are that important to Ralph Nader. You don't think of him, for example, as having a position on abortion or on gay rights, and on both of those the Greens are very progressive. The interesting thing about Nader's candidacy is, he is, now as a full-blown presidential candidate, emerges someone who is consonant with just about everything in their platform, while he emphasizes his core issue, which is the rising role of corporations and how they are undermining democracy.

CURWOOD: Interesting theory. I wonder if you could talk a bit about Mr. Nader on the campaign trail. I think, in 1996 he didn't spend any money. He didn't go anywhere. How is he being received this time?

SIFRY: It's a completely different thing, you know. In 1996, he basically just allowed is name to be used. Now he's actually running. And I think at this point he's visited nearly all 50 states. What was exciting to me covering some of the early campaigning that he was doing, was that, you know, he has this image of a very monkish and serious kind of demeanor. And in fact the guy is very funny, and he has very dry wit and understands the need to connect with his audience. And I think if people go out and catch him at one of these appearances, they too will be surprised. Because there is a full-blown philosophy of life that he's expressing. It's far more than just consumerism. It's this notion of civic engagement, that the highest role that we have as citizens is to be active participants in our democracy. Yes, there is a gloom and doom element to what he has to say about corporate power and how it is overtaking our democratic institutions. But at the same time, there's something, I think, optimistic about what he is trying to convey, and I suspect that's why a lot of young people seem to be rallying behind his campaign.

CURWOOD: Is he a good campaigner?

SIFRY: You know what? He's not a good campaigner. I mean, let's be serious. He is not a politician. He doesn't like to wade into crowds and shake hands and kiss babies. And he is not one to glad-hand. "I do not have the political ego" is how he puts it. But I think that some people may find that an attractive element.

CURWOOD: Now, I don't think that Ralph Nader himself would tell us today that he expects to move into the White House some time in January of 2001. So, what does the voter get, aside, perhaps, from feeling good about voting for Mr. Nader if they have politics consonant with his?

SIFRY: You know, historically a vote for a third-party candidate has often been a very powerful vote for change in this country. There are a whole host of issues, ranging from the abolition of child labor, the creation of a 40-hour work week, suffrage for women, the direct election of Senators, unemployment insurance. All of these issues were first raised by third parties, going back now more than a century. And by voting for a third-party candidate raising those kinds of issues, usually what happens is, if enough voters do it, is that one or both of the major parties comes along and says gee, we've got to co-opt this. In fact, this is a good idea. We should be for it, too. So even in the case of Ross Perot in 1992, he only got 19 percent of the vote. He obviously didn't win. But he put that issue of deficit reduction, which until then had been neglected by both parties, he put it at the center of the debate. So that's what can happen with a strong third-party vote.

CURWOOD: Is money involved? I mean, one thing that Mr. Perot picked up after his third-party run was a lot of cash for the Reform Party from us, taxpayers. Federal money.

SIFRY: Well, the Greens and Nader do make this argument, that if he succeeds in getting more than five percent of the popular vote, and that's entirely possible, he's at about six percent now in the polls -- that under federal election law he will qualify the Green Party in 2004. Its presidential candidate will get a proportional share of the public funding that goes to presidential candidates for their campaigns. And that could be many millions of dollars. It would certainly establish the Green Party as a major national force.

CURWOOD: When people say that Ralph Nader would be a spoiler for Al Gore, what's your analysis here?

SIFRY: You know, it's a lot more complicated than that. First of all, Al Gore is in the head-to-head match with Bush right now. He's losing as is, without Nader included in the polls. Second, with Pat Buchanan in the race, it's quite possible that we will see a full-blooded four-way race, and no one will be a spoiler. The third factor is the role of new voters, the people who will come in who will otherwise not vote. And I think we saw this with Perot in '92. We saw it certainly with Jesse Ventura, that their is this X-factor. This is in fact one consideration for people who may think that the real battle here is not so much for the presidency as it may be for control of Congress. He may have a positive turnout effect that may tip the balance for the Democrats in the fight for the House. So it is a lot more complicated than a simple "you're throwing your vote away."

CURWOOD: Is Mr. Nader's campaign doomed in our present political system of two parties: That a vote for a third party is really a statement rather than the act of electing someone, for the most part?

SIFRY: No, there's no question that Nader's campaign is severely disadvantaged because of the winner-take-all system. I think it's also important to remember that the Greens already have a track record in some places of running candidates, running them strongly, and then moving the entire political scene sort of in their direction. So I think that that shows, yes, there is a short-term risk by running a strong candidacy as a Green, that you will potentially elect a Republican rather than a Democrat. But in the long run, what you do is you realign the parties in a more beneficial direction. And I think it's this quest for political realignment is what makes the Nader candidacy so interesting.

CURWOOD: Micah Sifry is a writer with The Nation and is writing a book about third parties in the U.S. Thank you for joining me today.

SIFRY: Thanks for having me.

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New Hampshire Nature Conservancy Purchase

CURWOOD: Not all logging is bad for land conservation. That's the word from the Nature Conservancy. The New Hampshire chapter of the nation's wealthiest environmental organization is buying about nineteen thousand acres of forest land in the northern reaches of the Granite State. The purchase includes a dozen mountains, almost thirty miles of streams, and plenty of spruce fir trees. Some of the land will remain completely untouched. But on the rest of it some trees will be cut under what the conservancy says will be a plan for sustainable harvesting. This way, says the group, both wildlife and human needs will be protected. New Hampshire Public Radio's Doug MacPherson reports.

MAC PHERSON: The deal involves the purchase of about 40 square miles, an area slightly larger than the city of San Francisco. In New Hampshire, The Nature Conservancy is known for buying much smaller parcels of land and setting them aside as ecological preserves. This deal is different. Plans call for dividing the land into two tracts. Slightly more than half will be set aside as a preserve. The rest will be sold to a yet to be named private timber investor. Both parcels will remain open to hikers, hunters, and snowmobiles. Darrell Burtnett, The Nature Conservancy's state director, uses words like "historic" and "unprecedented" to describe the transaction.

BURTNETT: In one deal, we're protecting a natural landscape. We're also ensuring long-term access for recreation. And the third and the newest part is incorporating an intact buffer of working forest.

MAC PHERSON: Darrell Burtnett says the working forest will serve two functions: buffer the preserve from any future commercial development, and help safeguard the local timber industry. Sale of the working forest would be subject to legal restrictions designed to ensure it would be harvested in a sustainable manner. Eric Kingsley, head of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, says the fact that The Nature Conservancy is willing to let any of the land be harvested speaks to the growing acceptance of sustainable forestry.

KINGSLEY: For a long time, there's been a lot of common ground between forest land owners who want to protect and manage the sustainable timber base, and the environmental community that wants to protect a land base. However, only now are we seeing these two coming together in some real practical ways.

MAC PHERSON: Only ten years ago, such an arrangement would have been unthinkable. But today, The Nature Conservancy prides itself on employing what it calls market-based economic solutions to protect habitat. Outside of New Hampshire, there are precedents for the Conservancy's move. In Maine, it recently acquired almost 300 square miles of land along the Upper St. John River. Some of that land will be permanently preserved, but much of it will remain open to logging. Other conservation groups in New Hampshire were not surprised by The Nature Conservancy's announcement. Richard Ober is spokesman for the most powerful conservation group in the state, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest. Mr. Ober says it's important to the long-term conservation of the region that some lands be logged.

OBER: One of the best tools we have to keep New England green is to have land owners have the ability to manage their land, sell some timber off of it, and not be tempted to develop.

MAC PHERSON: State Senator Fred King, who represents New Hampshire's north country, has mixed emotions about The Nature Conservancy's plans.

KING: I guess I'm disappointed that more of the timber won't be available for harvesting. But I believe a lot of it doesn't lend itself to harvesting. It's steep slopes and high elevations, stream frontages, the types of things that need to be protected.

MAC PHERSON: Senator King has two concerns. He hopes The Nature Conservancy will make good on its promise to continue to pay property taxes on the entire parcel, even though the preserve portion is legally exempt. He also hopes the working forest portion will not be so legally tied up by easements that it becomes impractical to cut it. For his part, The Nature Conservancy's Darrell Burtnett says his organization is concerned about the region's economy.

BURTNETT: Part of being a great neighbor is realizing not only what we think is important on the land up there, but what the local community believes is really important.

MAC PHERSON: The Nature Conservancy is scheduled to close on the lands later this month. The group's officials say their mission is to protect biodiversity. They say this latest deal reflects the fact that in New Hampshire and elsewhere, the strategies they employ to carry out that mission are broadening. For Living on Earth, I'm Doug MacPherson.

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CURWOOD: When it comes to lead poisoning, many state governments are shortchanging the health of children. That story is coming up here on Living on Earth.

First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

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Health Update

GRABER: When natural disasters strike, drinking water supplies can become contaminated, causing a host of unpleasant and debilitating illnesses. So scientists in New Mexico have developed a battery-powered water purifier that looks like a small, pen-shaped device. You drop a salt pellet into two milliliters of water, then twist the top of the pen. This action creates an electrical current, which runs through the solution and changes molecular bonds, leaving chlorine and oxygen molecules in an electron hungry state. Then you pour the solution into contaminated water, and the reformulated chlorine and oxygen molecules start grabbing electrons from other molecules nearby. All this electron-grabbing can kill enough bacteria and viruses to make a liter of water safe enough to drink, even by EPA standards. And that's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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

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States Fail to Test for Lead

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For years the public health profession has stressed early detection and treatment of diseases such as prostate and breast cancer. But when it comes to what the federal government says is the number one environmental health threat for children, there is little prevention and screening. The threat is lead poisoning, which damages brain development and is linked to juvenile delinquency and learning disabilities. But researchers say hundreds of thousands of children are poisoned by lead each year without ever being diagnosed. From Oakland, California, Deirdre Kennedy has our story.

(A baby laughs)

KENNEDY: A children's hospital in Oakland, California. Angela and David Jackson -- their mother asked that their real names not be used -- run and tousle in the hallway like a pair of puppies. The two- and three-year-old brother and sister look like any bright, affectionate toddler. But these children are suffering from lead poisoning.

RYDELL: Hey, how have you been?

WOMAN: All right.

RYDELL: Don't look too sick to me.

KENNEDY: Jim Rydell is a nurse practitioner who's been working with the family to make sure the children's lead levels come down and stay down.

RYDELL: These were really serious lead levels, and if they were maintained at this level, it's possible that they would develop more significant neurological signs, such as possible seizures and things of that nature.

KENNEDY: Both children were hospitalized twice for lead poisoning. On this day they're at the hospital for a follow-up visit. Rydell explains to their mother about other possible symptoms of lead poisoning, such as hearing loss and hyperactivity.

RYDELL: Have you been concerned about their hearing at all, or...?

WOMAN: (laughs) They don't listen to me.

RYDELL: They don't, huh? Tell me about their activity. Are you concerned about their activity at all, like being too much, too little?

WOMAN: Too much.

RYDELL: Too much?

WOMAN: Too much.

RYDELL: As compared to other kids that you know?

WOMAN: Too much.

RYDELL: Too much, really? Okay.

KENNEDY: Angela and David came to Rydell's attention only after their GP found that David was severely anemic. It was then that his pediatrician tested him for lead poisoning. When David's lead levels turned out to be extremely high, 12 times the accepted danger level, doctors sent both children to the hospital. The children are now getting drugs to flush the lead out of their bodies, but nurse practitioner Jim Rydell warns their mother that more damage could still show up later.

RYDELL: Lead can cause problems that we can't always notice, that we don't see. They're very subtle, what we call like silent problems or developmental problems that, you know, we don't see right up front. But when you go to look at how they're performing, like in kindergarten or school, sometimes we see they're having some developmental delays. And if we can pick those up now and start intervening, giving them some help, and get the lead out of the house, then hopefully we'll avoid any, you know, real school problems later on and stuff.

KENNEDY: Those problems can also include juvenile delinquency. In a University of Pittsburgh study, Dr. Herbert Needleman found that young male juvenile delinquents were twice as likely to have high bone lead levels than young men without convictions. Angela and David were lucky that their lead poisoning was caught early. The longer lead exposure lasts, the more neurological damage can occur. Once it's diagnosed, the effects of lead poisoning can be mitigated by getting rid of the lead hazard and giving the children early educational assistance. But more than 200,000 other children in California will likely suffer the long-term effect of lead poisoning without ever being diagnosed, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group. It found that since 1992, a mere four percent of the state's lead-poisoned children were ever tested. One of the study's authors, Bill Walker, says that many people mistakenly think that since lead has been taken out of gasoline and paint, that it isn't really a problem any more.

WALKER: As lead levels in children's blood have declined, that's been a very great thing. As a result of people thinking that the problem had been solved, there has been a lot less diligence by the medical community, by the regulatory community, in trying to search out those children who are still affected.

KENNEDY: Poor children are at highest risk for lead poisoning because they're more likely to live in dilapidated housing where there's old lead paint. And children who suffer from malnutrition absorb lead much faster. A 1989 federal law requires that states provide screening for all low-income children under age six, or reimburse HMOs and private doctors for the tests. But federal investigators say most states are flouting that law. And without enforcement or monitoring, testing is simply not happening, says Neil Gendel, who heads San Francisco's Healthy Child Project.

GENDEL: If the doctor doesn't believe that a kid should be tested, often the kid's not tested. And if you leave it to the parents to demand that doctors have their kids tested, well, you know that most parents are not going to be able to deal with doctors and be able to do that, and especially poorer parents.

KENNEDY: Gendel believes that doctors and parents are also reluctant to put young children through a painful blood test.

WOMAN: Okay, baby, quick owie. One, two, three, yeow!

(A child screams, cries)

WOMAN: That's it. No more owie. No more owie. I'm sorry, sweetheart. I know, that was rude, huh?

KENNEDY: The most important time to screen children is at 12 months and again at two years, when toddlers are most likely to ingest lead dust from the ground or on window sills. Doctor Susan Cummins heads California's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. She agrees that the state has fallen behind with its screening, but says her department simply hasn't had the funding to enforce existing guidelines and laws.

CUMMINS: We've done all the easy stuff. We've done all the regulatory activities that are needed to take lead out of paint, gasoline, other consumer products. What we're doing now is dealing with the tail end of the problem, the most difficult problems that are the hardest to solve. And that includes the children, who are the most marginalized societally, and finding them and caring for them requires a lot of intensive effort.

KENNEDY: In recent years states like New York and Massachusetts have spearheaded efforts to tackle childhood lead poisoning. But several other states, like Washington, California, Montana, and Alabama have come in for major criticism from children's advocates. Washington officials say they don't believe it's worth spending money on lead testing, because lead poisoning isn't really a big problem in the Pacific Northwest. But with more and more medical evidence pointing to long-term social problems from lead poisoning, it's an effort that state governments can't afford to economize on, says the Environmental Working Group's Bill Walker.

WALKER: We are talking about expenditures of a lot of money to try and attack it. But there have been study after study that shows that we would get that money back and lots more in terms of not only improved earning power of these kids, but money that society doesn't have to spend on special education, doesn't have to spend on health care, and doesn't have to spend on juvenile justice programs.

KENNEDY: The Environmental Working Group's report has apparently prompted California lawmakers to back up laws with more funding. They're currently considering adding $2 million to the health department's budget to make sure that cities and communities are screening each and every child in California for lead poisoning.

RYDELL: Say aah. Show her how we did it. Aah...

CHILD: Aah...

RYDELL: Good. Can you do that for me?

CHILD: Aah...

RYDELL: (Laughs) Okay. Do it real quick and then you can go home soon, okay? Perfect. Say aah...

KENNEDY: Children's advocates are hoping that more kids like David and Angela will be diagnosed early, so that health workers can intervene to stop their lead exposure and help them grow up as healthy as possible.

RYDELL: Okay, you look pretty good. We'd never know there was anything wrong, huh.

(Child says something unintelligible)

RYDELL: No.

KENNEDY: For Living on Earth, I'm Deirdre Kennedy in Oakland, California.

RYDELL: Is he being silly?

ANGELA: Yeah.

RYDELL: He's a silly guy, huh? (Angela laughs) I'd say both of you are silly, huh? Both of you are silly, okay.

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CURWOOD: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write to 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the Town Creek Foundation; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues and the environment; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change.

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CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: Batten the hatches and reef the sails. Gloucester, Massachusetts is bracing for the perfect storm. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on sustainable development and environmental issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues.

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: The National Register of Big Trees is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary. Hardwood scientist Joseph Stearns created the list when he began worrying that too many big trees were being cut to supply the Second World War effort. So, the folks at American Forest started keeping track. The Registry is updated every two years, using a system of crown, height, and girth measurements to track the largest trees. Among the biggest: the Osage orange tree next to Patrick Henry's home in Red Hill, Virginia. Legend says this tree grew from a seed found by Lewis & Clark on their famous westward expedition. Also on the list: a swamp chestnut oak in Marshall, Tennessee, with a crown equal to 36 people lying end to end. And, of course, in Sequoia National Park, California, there's a 275-foot Giant Sequoia named General Sherman. The oldest? A western juniper in California's Stanislaus National Forest that's 4,000 years old. Now, what trees will be on the list in the year 2002? Maybe yours! Of the 826 species eligible for the Big Tree register, 93 still don't have a reigning champion. So, get out that tape measure. That big tree in your backyard or along the fence line of your property could be one of the oldest and largest of its kind. And for this week, that's the Living On Earth Almanac.

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Fossil Creek Dam Removal

CURWOOD: The Arizona power company APS is working out the final steps of a deal with conservationists and regulators to stop using a dam and restore Fossil Creek in central Arizona to a more natural flow. It's a small dam on a small river. But as Mark Moran of member station KJZZ in Phoenix reports, the move could mark in big change in attitudes toward conservation and habitat restoration in the Southwest.

(Driving)

MORAN: Fossil Creek is not easy to get to, even in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. From the central Arizona town of Strawberry, you head down a twisting, turning, and bumpy dirt road perched perilously, thousands of feet above the rugged, rocky ridges of the Tonto National Forest. At the end of the nail-biting ride sits the town, if you want to call it that, of Irving. The place consists of a few small houses, some trees, a flagpole, and a hydroelectric generator operated by APS. The century-old generator, which supplied power for all of the brand new streetlights in the booming town of Phoenix in the 1920s is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

(Turbines)

MORAN: The water from Fossil Creek gets here through miles of metal flume, a manmade channel that twists through the rocky hillside. The generator's responsible for a tiny fraction, one fortieth of one percent of APS's overall power, and about half a million dollars in revenue each year. But the agreement in the works between environmental groups and the utility company will cause this huge machine to fall silent.

(Bird calls, footfalls)

MORAN: It's four miles to the head of the flume, and the diversion dam on Fossil Creek.

STEWART: I'll just caution you that the rattlesnakes are already out. I ran onto one day before yesterday. Most of the ones you see up here are Mojave species, which are the green ones.

MORAN: APS dam manager Mike Stewart gives me a tour.

STEWART: On December the thirty-first at midnight in 2004, this gate would be raised. That would eliminate this diversion of the water going this way and into the flume.

MORAN: Returning the flow to Fossil Creek will be that simple. In fact, you can straddle the length of the gate. So while the dam will be decommissioned, when the gate is raised only a fraction of the water will flow through. Complex negotiations remain over whether the dam itself will come down. And if it doesn't, who will maintain it? A quarter-mile hike upstream brings you to the genesis of Fossil Creek and huge pools of crystal clear water, graciously shaded by canopies of Ponderosa pines and other trees. Here at the source of the creek, natural artesian springs gush out of the ground at the rate of 470 gallons per second.

FORREST: And this is just Mother Nature's generosity in action.

MORAN: Lisa Forrest is with the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been instrumental in negotiating the restoration of Fossil Creek.

FORREST: It's incredible. And here in the middle of the desert it is an absolute oasis, and look at the vegetation it supports. This is not the kind of vegetation you expect to see in the central desert. Tall trees, huge sycamores, cottonwoods. Lush undergrowth.

MORAN: Along its quarter-mile path to the dam downstream, Fossil Springs creates beautiful azure-colored travertine pools, natural springs at a constant 72 degrees, and habitat for countless species. Forrest says restoring Fossil Creek is symbolic after a century of damming up waterways. Fossil Creek is not alone. Environmental groups say there is tremendous public support to remove more than 100 dams from California to Pennsylvania, some big, some small.

FORREST: It's a whole new era. It's the beginning of a different way of thinking about rivers and streams and waterways. For the last hundred years we've been busy putting up dams. We've put up 100,000 dams in the United States. And just now are they starting to come down.

MORAN: Environmentalists consider the restoration of Fossil Creek a major victory. But there's nothing stopping another utility company from seeking the license to operate the dam, or ranchers who could turn their cattle loose on the land along Fossil Creek.

FORREST: We're sort of in the mother bear phase here, where we're protecting it from all the other impacts that may happen to it once it's restored.

MORAN: Environmentalists are celebrating the decommissioning, but that's of little consolation to Jake Randall, whose entire life has revolved around the generator in Irving and the kids he raised here. When the generator shuts down, he'll be out of work.

RANDALL: Certainly, for all of us losing our jobs, there are some hard feelings. We don't understand the politics. Of course, you know, living out here, I guess you don't understand politics too much. But I certainly don't have too much nice to say about most of those groups.

MORAN: The coalition of environmental groups and APS say they'll forward their agreement to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by the first of July. For Living on Earth, I'm Mark Moran in Irving, Arizona.

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CURWOOD: Coming up: it was bigger than an elephant and possibly one of the strangest animals to ever walk the earth. The discovery in Florida of the remains of an ancient giant sloth is just ahead right here on Living On Earth.

First, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

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Technology Update

TOOMEY: It may not come as a big surprise to people who live in one, but new research shows that neighborhoods plagued by crime, graffiti, and noise have higher than average levels of depression. The study surveyed nearly 2,500 people in Illinois, asking them to describe their physical neighborhoods, and how much vandalism, violence, and other illegal actions they witnessed. Researchers controlled for depression risk factors, including marital status, education, and income, and concluded that environmental depression accounts for a significant percentage of the total causes for depression suffered by people who live in bad neighborhoods. The study also found that environmental depression increases with the level of social disorder. And that's this week's environmental health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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Giant Sloth Bones

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Today's average three-toed sloth is about two feet long and weighs about eight pounds. Now, imagine a sloth weighing in at five tons and covered with hair. If you had been around two million years ago you might have seen such a creature. Scientists recently published findings of a new species of prehistoric ground sloth that arrived in North America much earlier than anyone had previously thought. David Webb, a paleontologist with the University of Florida, describes what a spectacle they would have created, if we could go back in time to see it for ourselves.

WEBB: They would have been a preposterous sight because not only were they surely slow-moving and gigantic, but because they have huge claws, especially on their front feet, they walked with the palms turned inward in a sort of straddling mode. The other main mode that we visualize for these beasts were reared up on their heavy tails in a tripod stance, reaching up and stripping branches, probably about 20 feet up in the air.

CURWOOD: This discovery was made, what? Back in 1986?

WEBB: We started in '86. A chance discovery by a geologist who wasn't looking at the right outcrop. And from there, we began to realize that there was a lot of this sloth, and by getting fairly complete material we began to realize that it didn't fit anything known. It had extra claws, extra fingers, different proportions. So at that point the scientific team began to work on a description, as the rest of us actually continued excavating.

CURWOOD: What does this tell us about the ecosystem back then? This fossil is, what? Two million years old? Two point two million?

WEBB: Yeah, it's just over two million. This is a time when the Panama land bridge first allowed a raft of different animals to come north out of South America. And we're a little bit struck by the fact that these gigantic sloths, which are surely eating lots of lush vegetable material, leaves, were able to come so far north so fast. In the late Pliocene, they come all the way around the coastal plain, all around the Gulf of Mexico. And that's surprisingly early, and suggests a surprisingly moderate climate, just when in other regards, in other places, the ice ages are just beginning.

CURWOOD: This all happened a long time ago. What makes it very interesting right now?

WEBB: Well, it's always interesting to look back, and I think we're always doubly fascinated with the really big animals that are totally out of character compared to anything we know today. I'm still a little bit amazed by trying to take a living tree sloth and blow it up to the scale of bigger than an elephant, and then imagine how a herd of these animals lumbered around. It tells us more about the climate. It tells us more about the pathways between South and North America. But most of all it's just the sheer fascination of wonderful beasts.

CURWOOD: David Webb is a paleontologist with the University of Florida in Gainesville. Thanks so much for speaking with us today.

WEBB: My pleasure, Steve.

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The Perfect Story

CURWOOD: Later this month, the Perfect Storm. Sebastian Junger's tale of six fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts, who were lost at sea in 1991, is ready for its big screen premiere. Many in Gloucester are anxious about the public display of such private pain. But the city has also been hit hard by strict federal regulations and closed fishing grounds. So, some hope a tourist wave in the wake of the Hollywood storm could help refloat the town's economy. As part of our continuing series, "Gloucester at the Crossroads," Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan has this profile of a town in waiting.

(Footfalls)

MAN: That's a little slippery.

MAN 2: Thank you.

(Rain, thunder; milling voices)

TOLAN: I suppose it's only fitting, yet still pretty weird, that the moment I arrive on board the old fishing schooner for the Chamber of Commerce party to kick off the perfect weekend, we're hit by a huge storm.

(People yell amidst the rain and thunder)

MAN: Please go below decks!

TOLAN: The skies open up and the rain pours down. Sideways rain out of nowhere. Winds whip about and pry at the canopy. People scramble below deck.

DILLON: ... insisting we go below, but I'm not going below. I'm from Oklahoma, so we don't have many boats.

TOLAN: Near the fish hole, I run into a neighbor of mine, Leslie Dillon. Like everyone else at this gathering, Leslie's making the most of Gloucester's 15 minutes in the spotlight.

DILLON: I'm here because I've written a show about my time as a stand-in on the movie The Perfect Storm. It's called Me and George, about me and George Clooney. It's a show about fantasy, aging, love.

TOLAN: The Perfect Storm and its leading man gave my playwright friend material she'll perform on stage at City Hall for a few weeks this summer. But as she went to the set and talked with fishermen day after day, something else happened. She began to connect with the town, and its deepest identity, in a way she never expected.

DILLON: It was really fascinating to see them playing extras on this movie about the death of other fishermen. I mean, it was a very strange kind of world within a world. It's like just a minute, let's look at the lives that are bringing these fish to your table and what kind of struggles they go through. You know, in some ways the fishermen are like kind of the last cowboys (laughs).

TOLAN: If we on shore feel more empathy now with the fishing life, and I think we do, a lot of us also see the movie as a way to cash in. The story of six of these cowboys of the sea and their demise is now splashed up and down Main Street.

WORTHLEY: My name is Jeff Worthley. I'm the tourist manager for the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce. We are on Main Street, Gloucester, Massachusetts, and we're looking at the real Gloucester.

TOLAN: Well, kind of. This is Gloucester, but the once-over it's getting makes downtown look a bit like a theme park. Local merchants are competing for the best Perfect Storm window. Most display the marquee Perfect Storm poster, with the doomed Andrea Gale about to be swallowed by a massive wave.

WORTHLEY: Very dark and very dreary and pretty frightening, actually. The winner of the competition will get free tickets to the movie premiere. Here's another one at The Cormorant. You see, you get some photos and some books and some fishing gear and nets, and buoys and such.

(Music plays from a speaker)

TOLAN: With the fishing industry down, merchants are eager for a tourist hit from the movie. For some this is, to say the least, in bad taste.

HARMON: It seems quite a few people have lost sight of the fact that when the Andrea Gale met its demise with all hands, they left behind family and friends who don't feel it's party time at the expense of loved ones.

TOLAN: Steven Harmon lost friends on the Andrea Gale. He sent this letter to the Gloucester Times.

HARMON: What's even more appalling is the amount of people crawling out of the woodwork to make a quick buck. My wife and I will be attending the premiere, but we won't be mingling, rubbing elbows or tipping champagne. We'll be holding a box of Kleenex because we lost friends, and feelings of sorrow never go away. Enjoy your party.

TOLAN: Beyond Main Street, workers buff the scuffed edges of this working harbor. Stacey Boulevard, known for its Fisherman's Memorial, its sweeping view of Gloucester Harbor, and also its ragged, weedy lawn littered with cigarette butts and dog poop, awaits the unrolling of tons of new sod just in time for the premiere. The town adorns a flashy necktie hastily knotted over a work shirt, hoping the tie will hide the grit underneath. City tourism officials have even given etiquette workshops urging us to be extra nice to visitors this year. For if there's one thing people here do seem worried about, it's that the gritty image, especially that of the seedy waterfront bar called The Crow's Nest, will come to define the community for the millions who see the movie.

(Creaking wood on water)

ALEXANIAN: I know most of the large fishing families in Gloucester. And I don't think, not one of them has been in The Crow's Nest, ever.

TOLAN: My friend Newbar Alexanian has lived in Gloucester for 30 years. An international photographer, he's chronicled the town and its fishing families since the 70s.

ALEXANIAN: So here we are in the perfect boat, the perfect ride on the perfect evening. Trying to catch the perfect fish. On the eve of The Perfect Storm, that would be the movie.

(A reel lets out)

TOLAN: We're fishing for striped bass on the flat silver water of the Essex River. It's quiet. No storm in sight. Actually, after a few casts, my line gets hopelessly tangled. I'm having better luck holding a microphone. I ask Newbar about The Crow's Nest and the image of Gloucester Sebastian Junger's story conveys.

ALEXANIAN: Let me catch this fish first. (The reel lets out.) This book, and definitely this movie, is going to put it on the map, kind of representing Gloucester, which is not really true. I mean, it's okay, because it's a good story and it's a true story. But it's not Gloucester. Gloucester is about fishing families that came from Sicily, mostly. And the grandfathers came, started fishing, made enough money to buy a boat. Their sons got old enough, they bought another boat and another boat. None of those people have ever been to The Crow's Nest or even been in The Perfect Storm.

TOLAN: Author Sebastian Junger didn't set out to tell the more familiar story of Gloucester: the Sicilian family boat trawling for ground fish day after day, year after year. Junger's subjects, the Irish-Anglo guys who died in The Perfect Storm, are high-rolling swordfishermen going for a big payoff. Taking a risk by staying out in weather many Sicilian fishermen might have avoided.

(The reel lets out)

TOLAN: Yet in bad weather, the bonds of risk and fear make distinctions of style, ethnicity, and fish preference meaningless.

LENA: And the St. Christopher go down like that.

MASSERI: The St. Christopher was rammed by a steamliner in the fog.

LENA: Everybody lost at sea.

BERTOLINO: My mother's father.

LENA: Your father's father was --

BERTOLINO: My mother's father.

LENA: Yeah, the same boat.

BERTOLINO: Right.

LENA: When he was getting on the same boat, I guess, and he got stuck and he died.

TOLAN: On a bright Saturday morning my friend and colleague Vinci Bertolino, daughter and granddaughter of Sicilian fishermen, invites me to her Aunt Lena's home. Carlo Masseri was walking his dog in the neighborhood and joins us. We sit at the kitchen table talking about decades-worth of storms and the pain they brought.

MASSERI: Which brings it home to all of us, it was life. We were fishermen.

TOLAN: But now, Vinci says something's happened to those stoic old Sicilians.

BERTOLINO: I think the book is now opening up something that they've held inside for a long, long time.

MASSERI: We can bring it home to our lives.

LENA: Right.

BERTOLINO: When I was growing up, my dad never spoke of anything that happened on that vessel. Never -- I mean, you know, perhaps not to worry his family or to let them know how really scared they were, or whatever. Now that the book is out, the fishermen are now saying, well this is what happened to me.

MASSERI: Positively. The book may have brought some of it out, and when you start talking about hundred-foot seas and all hands lost. Because we've had a lot of those things happening.

TOLAN: And now at the table on a breezy Saturday, Carlo lets out a story he kept from his family for decades.

MASSERI: We were steaming home to the southwest, and I felt a strange feeling in the bunk. And I got up and I looked. Out there is dark. And I'm telling you, I was almost frightened to see what I saw out there. The seas were getting big, and the wind was just howling, really howling.

TOLAN: Carlo put the boat to windward. He shouted to his crew: Lash everything down.

MASSERI: That's about that time we all start to say prayers.

TOLAN: The boat took a lurch, way over to the starboard side.

MASSERI: ... and the next thing I know is, another sea picked her up and threw her, actually threw her, down. You talk about prayers. I'll never, ever forget that. Dear Lord, I said, please let her come back. Let her come back. And slowly, she was shivering, she slowly, slowly, slowly came back. And when she finally straightened up a little bit, I ran up in the porterhouse, put all the lights on, and she is level, from rail to rail. You can just imagine. And if one more sea, so help me, had come, I knew we were gone.

JUNGER: My name is Sebastian Junger. I'm the author of The Perfect Storm...

TOLAN: We sit at the waterfront, near the homes where the Irish and the Portuguese and then the Sicilian fisher families have lived for 100 years. I tell Sebastian what I've been hearing. The stories are flowing now, out of old fishermen like Carlo.

JUNGER: It's very nice to hear that. I didn't know that. I mean, I could see how that would work, but it hadn't occurred to me that that would happen. One of the things that's most sort of gratifying to me is that it seems to have made people realize that these stories have value. And that people outside of Gloucester appreciate them, or for that matter inside Gloucester.

TOLAN: Gloucester has been fishing for 375 years. Over that time, perhaps 10,000 men have been lost and countless stories told. Captains Courageous, the Rudyard Kipling novel and Spencer Tracy movie, was one. And now, The Perfect Storm, it seems, will define our town for the world, for a while.

JUNGER: And I'm going to hand you over to Joe, now. Please give him a fine welcome. Thank you.

TOLAN: A couple weeks before the movie opens, Junger is back in town for some pre-Storm Hollywood publicity. In introducing Joe Garland, the young storyteller bows to Gloucester, and to the storytellers she's held in her grip for centuries.

JOE: It was January of 1883. His dory mate's name was Tom Welsh, who was a Newfoundlander. A storm came up, a blizzard came up. Snow, sleet, everything. They got separated from their schooner...

TOLAN: For our most revered storyteller, Joe Garland, the storm around the storm is something to watch. Joe is author of a dozen books about Gloucester on the wind and sea, including perhaps its most compelling tale about legendary Captain Howard Blackburn.

JOE: He was 65 miles, 60, 65 miles from land. And the only way he's going to get to land was to row the dory.

TOLAN: Joe, who conceived Long Voyager before Sebastian Junger was born, now sees his book being re-released 37 years later in the wake of The Perfect Storm. But Joe knows this storm, too, will pass. And Gloucester, trying to protect its working harbor in the midst of a changing economy, will still be facing its future.

JOE: I'm far more concerned about the effect of modern times. I mean, I'm far more concerned about, for one thing, the tremendous wealth out there, the money that's coming into town. People are coming into town who have made their multi-millions. Young people coming in, finding a fine old house, just tearing it down no matter how great a house it is. Just tearing it down so that they can spend their money to build something new. I think we're going to weather this storm here in Gloucester. I mean, I know damn well we're going to weather the storm in Gloucester. We're going to weather The Perfect Storm.

(Raging waves)

TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan reporting.

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: In Iraq, economic sanctions have prevented the southern city of Basra from recovering from the effects of the Gulf War. Doctors there say they are seeing an alarming increase of health problems, including cancer.

MAN: it is a well known fact internationally that orthopedic surgeon would see one case of bone tumor every three years. That's in England. But we are seeing one case of bone tumor every one month.

CURWOOD: A cancer epidemic in southern Iraq, next week on Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, and Maggie Villiger, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, and Bree Horwitz. We had help this week from Christina Russo, Jennifer Chu, Jenna Perry, Nicole Kalb, and James Curwood. Alison Dean composed the theme. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is science editor and Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid transmission and distribution deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.

 

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