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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

April 13, 2001

Air Date: April 13, 2001

FULL SHOW

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SEGMENTS

Bush Budget

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Solar Sam

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Health Update

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Listener Letters

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Slurry Update

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The Living on Earth Almanac

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Condor Egg

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Business Update

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Trash Barge

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Manila Trash

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Amazing Moe

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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

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Bush Budget

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. President Bush is not only planning to cut taxes this year, he's also looking to reduce federal environmental protection services by more than ten percent. According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the cuts amount to more than two billion dollars, small in terms of the overall federal budget, but large in terms of political capital. And joining us now to look at some of the details is Elizabeth Shogren, who covers the environment for the Los Angeles Times. Hi, Elizabeth.

SHOGREN: Hi, it's nice to be here.

CURWOOD: Elizabeth, I think perhaps the best way to talk about this is just go department by department here. So let's start with the Environmental Protection Agency. What stands out for you, looking at the Environmental Protection Agency budget?

SHOGREN: Well, one thing is clear, that the Bush administration wanted to send a strong signal that they were interested in having the states have more control over both funding for pollution cleanup programs, and also for enforcing those programs. There is a shift, it's just a tiny percentage of the overall budget for enforcement, but there is a shift of money that now the federal government controls for enforcing pollution controls. And that, instead, the states will control it. Also, there is another part of the overall Bush budget plan is visible in the EPA budget, which is that they are slashing Congressional pet projects. And a lot of these end up being clean and safe water programs that are part of EPA. And overall, it means that the money available for clean and safe water programs will be much less.

CURWOOD: Let's move over now to the Interior Department, you know, the folks that handle a lot of the public lands, including the national parks. What's the message from the White House about the priorities here? What's the message that's being sent with this budget?

SHOGREN: At the Interior Department, the new administration is saying that they are going to stand up and fulfill some of the campaign promises that the president made. He's going to give more money to help the parks fix their broken buildings and build new bathroom facilities and things like that. And he's also going to give the states more money for their land and water conservation fund, so they can make decisions about what they want to conserve in their own state.

CURWOOD: What about the resource extraction part of the Interior Department's mandate?

SHOGREN: Well, the fascinating thing that you see in this budget for the interior is that it's adding money to give more leases for drilling and for oil and gas. And so, there's more money in it, about $15 million, to both give more leases in these various public lands programs where they do allow leasing, and also they're putting money already in the budget for leasing for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, even though Congress has not approved drilling or development of oil or gas there. And they're really putting down their marker with this. They're saying: We want the public lands to be more open for more drilling. We want more fuel coming from them.

CURWOOD: In fact, the fossil fuel exploration seems to be the focus of the Energy Department budget as well under this, with the increases and cuts. I'm wondering if you could walk us through some of those.

SHOGREN: Yes, I think that the Bush administration said a lot in the new budget for the Energy. And one of the things that they said is, they want a more diverse energy source, and yet they're decreasing the budget for renewable energies. Solar energy is down more than half. Same for wind energy. Meanwhile, the fuel that has the tradition of being the dirtiest fuel of all, coal-powered plants, are getting a big boost. It's not coal in general, but it's the development of new technologies to try to make coal cleaner, and this is getting a boost of more money, $150 million more in next year's budget than before. And I've looked a little bit into these clean coal technologies, and the cleanest of them still pollute the environment much more than, say, natural gas plants or other plants.

CURWOOD: To wrap this up, Elizabeth, what do you think the White House budget says about the White House environmental policy?

SHOGREN: I think there are a couple of clear philosophies that are wrapped up in this budget. And one of the things that we see about the Bush administration from this budget is that they want to give the states more control over whether or not to conserve lands, and how to enforce pollution rules. And this we see both in the EPA and in the Interior Department. We also see is that the Bush administration is very interested in using public lands. They want Americans to use public lands the way they want to use them for their parks. And they want to help the National Parks be in better shape for Americans to use them. They also want oil and gas companies to be able to use the public lands for drilling. And so, we see new efforts by the administration to encourage those activities by supporting them in the budget.

CURWOOD: Elizabeth Shogren is environment reporter with the Los Angeles Times. Thanks so much for talking with us today.

SHOGREN: Thank you.

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Solar Sam

CURWOOD: The White House budget cuts funding for the research and development of solar energy by nearly 60 percent. But this move won't discourage a man who late in life became fascinated with the notion that photovoltaic cells can convert sunlight directly into electricity without releasing a drop of pollution. From member station WBUR in Boston, Monica Brady has this profile of Solar Sam.

(Voices oohing and aahing)

CHILD: That is so cool.

BRADY: Solar Sam stands in the Hunnewell Elementary School library in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in front of a long table crowded with his solar-powered inventions. A class of fifth graders is sitting at the edge of their seats.

(The crowd oohs)

CHILD: That was so cool.

BRADY: A ping pong ball has just been projected at them. It was propelled by a rotating arm attached to a panel that uses energy from the sun. Each of Solar Sam's inventions has a small two-by-four-inch photovoltaic panel that changes light into electricity. In this case it makes a plastic rooster crow.

SAM: You know that roosters like corn, but this one here likes solar energy.

(A rooster crows. Children laugh)

BRADY: Sam is 82 years old, a fit man with thick, wavy, white hair. And he's as wide-eyed as the fifth graders.

SAM: You will get as excited as I do about all the possible uses for this free, non-polluting energy...

BRADY: Solar Sam's real name is Clyde Weihe. He got the nickname Sam when he was a boy growing up in a coal mining area of Pennsylvania. He always assumed energy had to be dug out of the ground, until his daughter introduced him to solar power when he retired at 75. She gave him a solar panel that he attached to a water pump.

SAM: I thought: Gee, this is 12-volt DC current, and I have a little pump in the cellar that's 12-volt DC. I thought: Gee, I wonder if this would possibly go directly from the sun to that pump. And when that water shot eight feet in the air, my heart jumped eight feet. (Laughs) And from that moment on, why, I've been seeing how many uses I can find for solar energy.

BRADY: Sam's blue eyes sparkle when he talks about his inventions. There's the solar-powered wagon, and a kayak he uses on local rivers. He hasn't counted how many inventions he has, but they're all over his house, covering the kitchen counter and littering the back yard. The dining room is filled with dozens of solar power kits that he puts together for school children. The kits allow students to build a solar powered cardboard car. Then they can re-use the components to create their own inventions. Sam has 20 patents, including one for a full-sized solar-powered vehicle. But so far it's been an expensive hobby, not a moneymaker. And despite his devotion to solar, nature hasn't cooperated to allow him to power his own home appliances with the sun.

SAM: I have nothing but trees. (Laughs) And I have to go over to a schoolyard to do most of my testing and so forth. It breaks my heart. (Laughs) And the trees are mostly on my neighbor's property, so I can't cut them down. (Laughs)

BRADY: Sam says he's not an expert on solar power, he's an enthusiast, and his interest may seem outdated. Solar power had its heyday in the late 1970s when Jimmy Carter was president and a world oil crisis created long lines at the gas pumps. In 1980 President Carter initiated the Photovoltaic Demonstration Project, which set up eight solar centers around the country for research and education. Solar energy fell out of favor when Carter left office and the oil sector stepped up its lobbying. Now, only one center remains: Solar Now in Beverly, Massachusetts, north of Boston. Carmel Valenti-Smith is education director of Solar Now. She says electric and oil companies are starting to think again about solar because they know their resources are limited.

SMITH: But it is frustrating that more politicians and policy makers, architects, all of the people that really push the industry, don't see this as choices.

(A radio plays in the background)

SAM: And that will run for hours on sunshine that happened a couple weeks ago.

BRADY: Back in the Hunnewell Elementary School library, Solar Sam is demonstrating how four AA batteries from a radio can be replaced with one battery that stored up solar energy.

SAM: I mean, it's incredible. It just is unbelievable that you can store sunshine, and use it in this manner.

BRADY: A small panel, enough to power a radio, costs about six dollars and lasts more than 20 years: a better deal than store-bought batteries. Ray Clemer, a fifth grader, says he'd like to use solar power for his Game Boy.

CLEMER: My mom would probably love it, because, like, they always, like, are mad when we have to use up batteries and stuff.

BRADY: And these kids say they'll share what they've learned with their parents. Kelly Whittaker is also in the fifth grade.

WHITTAKER: My mom would like it for the lights, because she always tells us, "Turn off the lights!" Because my brothers always forget to turn off the lights.

BRADY: Solar Sam says he'll keep promoting the benefits of solar energy because right now people are squandering a valuable free resource.

SAM: And to this day, every time I see that sun shine I think oh, boy, all that is going to waste. I mean, we should be capturing it and being ready for the day when fossil fuel is exhausted.

BRADY: And according to Solar Now, that day isn't so far away. Although there's controversy over how long the world's oil reserves will last, Solar Now quotes the British Petroleum Company as saying it has only 30 years of oil reserves left. Solar power promoters like Solar Sam hope this means solar energy will finally have its day in the sun. For Living on Earth, I'm Monica Brady in Boston.

(Music up and under: Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark, "Electricity")

CURWOOD: Next week, we'll look at efforts to help Vermont homeowners use power from the wind to cut their electric bills.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: Digging out from Appalachia's coal slurry disaster amid fears of another spill. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

(Music up and under: Theme by Allison Dean)

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Health Update

TOOMEY: Children in industrialized nations are developing allergic diseases, including asthma, at increasing rates. One explanation proposes that lack of exposure to microbes early in life causes the immune system to overreact later on. Now a new study bolsters this theory. Researchers gave a beneficial bacteria, the same kind found in the human digestive tract, to a group of pregnant women. The treatment continued for six months after birth, with the bacteria transmitted through breast milk or mixed into bottle formula. A similar group was given a placebo. Researchers found that by the age of two, the babies in the bacteria group had cut their risk of developing eczema in half. Eczema is an early sign of allergic reaction and asthma risk. Researchers think so-called good bacteria can be used to train young immune systems to resist allergic reactions later on. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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

(Music up and under: Rednex, "Banjo")

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. According to the advocacy group American Rivers, 13 major waterways in America are highly endangered. And in many cases energy is to blame. Hydropower, natural gas exploration, and waste from power plants are the main causes. Number seven on the endangered rivers list is the Big Sandy River that flows between Kentucky and West Virginia. Six months ago an impoundment of coal slurry near Inez, Kentucky, burst. Two-hundred-and-fifty gallons of mud, water, and coal waste went flying into the headwaters of the Big Sandy. The mucky sludge spilled over the river's banks, ruining property and killing aquatic life along a 70-mile path. Clean-up efforts are still ongoing, but there are hundreds of other slurry impoundments in the area. So an investigation is underway about the safety of this disposal method. West Virginia Public Radio's Jeff Young reports.

(Church bells)

YOUNG: Residents of Martin County are thankful the tons of black water and sludge that poured through their streams did not take any lives. But the October eleventh disaster still disrupts life every day. At Union United Baptist Church, members feel they've lost a special place of worship.

NICHOLS: I would say we're Baptists, and the water is very important to us here.

YOUNG: Pastor Woodrow Nichols says more than half Union United's roughly 50 members were baptized in the waters of Wolf Creek, which runs just behind the church. Even winter's ice didn't stop them. But Wolf Creek now runs a slatey gray. Its sandy banks are black with coal waste, and Pastor Nichols must take his baptism services elsewhere.

NICHOLS: We depend on this. This is our way of life. It's - this church. Financially, we could afford a baptistry any time we wanted it, but we choose the creek. We like that.

(The congregation sings: Take my hand, precious Lord...." Fade to machinery)

YOUNG: Federal environmental regulators keep watch as the Martin County Coal Company's cleanup continues. Here a "backhoe makes its way up Wolf Creek. The machine's shovel scrapes the stained banks into the water. The idea is that large pumps will later suck the waste from the stream's bottom into another waste impoundment.

(Machinery)

YOUNG: The waste comes from coal mine preparation plants like this one, where all mined coal is washed and separated from waste rock to make it more marketable. The wastewater, rock, and sludge from that process are stored in large lagoons behind dams built for mine refuse. The impoundment at Martin County Coal covered 72 acres and was built to top an abandoned underground mine. When that mine shaft collapsed, the slurry lagoon was like a tub with its plug pulled. The waste emptied into the mine shaft, then shot from its two portals into the streams. At one point the coal company had 500 workers and a cleanup effort that parent company Massey Energy estimates will cost $46 million. Bill Marcum is spokesman for Massey Coal Services.

MARCUM: Clean-up is going very well. We committed from day one, Martin County Coal committed to an efficient and effective cleanup. And I believe and we believe that they've done that and are continuing to do it, and do a good job of it. We're probably somewhere, I would hazard, between 80 and 90 percent, maybe closer to 90 percent on our way.

YOUNG: But many residents are not satisfied with the cleanup. They still see black stains where the clean-up crews have already done their work. The cleanup forced some homeowners to leave for months. Many returned to find their properties altered, shade trees cut and yards looking like reclaimed strip mines. Wolf Creek resident Ray Webb doubts the streams his family once fished and swam will be restored in his lifetime. Webb's family has lived on the same plot of land for three generations, but Webb watches the sludge and black water climb toward his garden with each rainfall and thinks of moving.

WEBB: Look here. You see this? And when the water gets up, it's going to be up here in my garden. And in my yard. And it is terrible what they've done. You can't see a thing they've done here. In fact, it looks bad right now. It's about two inches thick right there. I've been down there lots of times checking on it.

YOUNG: So you're looking at moving.

WEBB: Oh yes, we want to move. We've already been looking. I wouldn't want anywhere close to this place.

YOUNG: It's got to be tough, though, leaving a place where you've lived all your life.

WEBB: Yeah, 67 years. My dad lived 74 years and my mother lived 92 right here. Ninety-two years right there in that house. Yeah, it's tough to leave. A lot of sentimental.

YOUNG: Residents like Webb fear the soil may be contaminated, and they don't trust the water coming from their faucets. Some report discolored, foul-smelling water from wells. Others report rashes after bathing. Monroe Cassady says residents do not believe coal company and federal health agency officials who test the water and tell them it is safe. He's formed a nonprofit community group to test the area's water.

CASSADY: The community people and community are proud of their community. They're just dissatisfied with agencies that are supposed to be protecting the community, and there's no trust in them. We certainly, from past experience in watching the agencies work with Martin County Coal, we certainly would not, under no circumstances, believe them.

YOUNG: Residents are not alone in that distrust. Jack Spadaro is a 35-year veteran of mine safety inspections who recently quit his post on a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration investigative team. Spadaro feared the team's final report would whitewash the causes of the Martin County disaster.

SPADARO: Some of the management and some of the very top management instructed us to change and narrow the scope of our investigation, so that we wouldn't write anything that would be critical of the agency. Several sections of the report were being altered to really obscure the agency's responsibility, and to confuse, as far as the responsibility of the operator, Martin County Coal.

YOUNG: Spadaro says a full investigation should address why regulators did not make the coal company implement safety measures after a similar but smaller failure at the same impoundment seven years ago. He says regulators and the company relied on inaccurate information about how much rock separated the old mine shaft and the floor of the waste lagoon. The coal company disputes that. More than 200 other impoundments around the U.S. are also resting on top of old underground mines. A federal review of the nation's 650 mine waste impoundments is underway, and a panel appointed by Congress is studying their safety. Some activists in the region are calling for a moratorium on new slurry impoundments and a fresh look at safer alternatives. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young in Inez, Kentucky.

(Music up and under: Alison Dean, "Letters Theme")

CURWOOD: Time now for comments from you, our listeners.

(Music up and under)

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Slurry Update

CURWOOD: Newton Ellison listens to us on KSTX in San Antonio, Texas. He heard Nathan Johnson's report on efforts to decipher the recordings of Ishi, the last member of the Yahi Indian tribe in California. He says there's much more to Ishi's story than speech patterns. "Couldn't you have done a little better?" he writes, "in the memory of this abused man's tortured life as the last of an entire race of people who were singly and by hundreds killed off by white adventurers?" Another KSTX, San Antonio, listener, Tom Gallaway, had a different take on the story. "I couldn't help thinking," writes Mr. Gallaway, "of the struggles Ishi described in his storytelling between the fictional Lizard and Wood Duck. Their competition for a bride and the death and resurrection of Wood Duck seemed to closely correspond with the basic Christian teachings of the struggle between Satan, a.k.a. the serpent, and Christ. Could Ishi's story actually be a legendary account of the creation of the Earth and the coming of Christ passed down from his ancestors?"

We welcome your questions and comments on our program. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include The Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Turner Foundation.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: Egg-citement in the condor restoration effort. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under: De LA Soul, "All Good")

SECOND HALF HOUR

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

(Music up and under: Klaus Wunderlich, "Baby Elephant Walk")

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Two-hundred-and-five years ago, the first elephant landed in the United States after a sea voyage from Bengal, India. Her name was Candy, and though she was only three years old and still a minor, legend has it that with water in short supply the ship's crew quenched Candy's thirst with dark beer. The brewski-loving elephant delighted the sailors by uncorking bottles with her trunk and guzzling the contents. After docking in New York on April thirteenth, 1796, the ship's captain invited spectators to view Candy's amazing talent. Candy wound up touring the nation for more than 20 years, and the curious paid a quarter for a peek at the pachyderm. Now, Candy's fondness for alcohol wasn't all that unusual. In the wild, both African and Asian elephants seek out fermenting fruits to eat. And in India, herds of thirsty elephants have been known to sniff out and raid caches of beer and then go on drunken rampages through villages and rice paddies. Their suds of choice: Carlsberg Elephant Lager, of course. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

(Music up and under)

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Condor Egg

CURWOOD: Two decades ago California's condors teetered on the brink of extinction. And to try to save the birds, researchers took a drastic and controversial step. They captured the last 27 condors and set up a breeding program. A few years ago they started releasing juveniles bred in captivity back into the wild. The work now seems to be paying off. Researchers have discovered that at least one released condor has laid an egg. Biologist Sophie Osborn with the Peregrine Fund recently spotted the egg as she pointed her telescope into a cave near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

OSBORN: I saw what looked like an egg. The adult male was pushing it around with his bill and there, all of a sudden, in this cave entrance was this beautiful, elliptical-shaped object. But as a biologist you always try to be cautious and not jump to conclusions. I kept observing and observing, and a little white later one of the females came up to the egg. And when she was moving it around she actually lifted it up and I could see that it was a hollowed-out egg.

CURWOOD: How did you feel when you discovered this egg?

OSBORN: I was absolutely stunned and almost shaky inside, and sort of overwhelmed by the potential enormity of what I was seeing.

CURWOOD: You observed this egg in a cliffside cave. Why did you pick this location in the first place?

OSBORN: We're following 25 condors around and we basically go where the birds go. These three birds had been investigating this cave, going in and out of it and starting to spend significant time inside it. So it was because the birds were there, we were there. And I just happened to be watching this cave closely with my spotting scope trained at the entrance.

CURWOOD: And you said that one of the females moved the egg around, and it appeared to be hollowed out.

OSBORN: Right.

CURWOOD: So it doesn't seem like there's going to be any condor chicks to come out of that one.

OSBORN: No, I'm afraid not. But that's pretty normal for their first year. Oftentimes, the first time they lay an egg they either end up breaking it or not caring for it properly. Sometimes the first egg is infertile. The amazing thing was that they've actually started this, and they are able to lay an egg and have done so. And that was just an incredible first step for them.

CURWOOD: Now, how big is a condor egg? I'm thinking the condor's pretty big. The wings are stretched out, what? It's almost ten feet across.

OSBORN: Right, nine-and-a-half-feet wing span. Well, I have never seen a condor egg close-up, and I think that potentially I thought it was absolutely huge, but that could be just because it made such a huge impression on me. I think they're probably about five inches long, I'm guessing.

CURWOOD: What are the chances of these birds or the other condors in the wild there laying more eggs this year?

OSBORN: It's very possible this year, actually, because we have two females that this male has been courting. So it's quite possible that the second female might also lay an egg.

CURWOOD: Well, who laid the first egg, do you think?

OSBORN: We think it was the first female, which was condor 119. We have a bit of an unusual situation. Condors obviously usually pair off, but we've had sort of a trio at the moment, one male and two females. And although the male has been primarily courting and displaying to one female, female 119, who we assume, are thinking that laid the egg, there is this other female involved. And that may be just because there are so few males out there for these females to choose from.

CURWOOD: Sounds to me like a classic triangle.

OSBORN: (Laughs) It does. It's definitely an evolving story. We have a web site where we write up what's happening with the condors, and my sister was reading it lately, and she said that it sounded like a romance novel or something with these three birds trying to figure it out. (Curwood laughs) So it can be pretty entertaining.

CURWOOD: And this guy who's responsible for this egg, what kind of personality does he have?

OSBORN: (Laughs) He's very dominant. He's very majestic and very pushy. When he lands at a carcass, you know, everyone steps back and he gets right in there. But like all the condors he can be curious and playful. If somebody's playing with something he'll charge right on in to take over the game.

CURWOOD: How social are these condors?

OSBORN: They're incredible gregarious. They definitely travel together in groups and spend a lot of time together. They're incredibly clever, curious birds. The other day I watched 11 condors playing on a beach, and they were playing with sticks. And then one discovered a plastic bottle and they were pushing it around and jumping around over it. Sometimes you'll see them at a carcass and one bird will walk up to the other one and grab its tail and pull it off. (Curwood laughs) They just are endlessly entertaining to us.

CURWOOD: Now, how many California condors are there in the wild right now?

OSBORN: There are 49 in the wild at the moment. We have 25 in Arizona and 24 in California.

CURWOOD: I've heard about a number of setbacks in the California condor release program. Some of the birds had to be recaptured because they just, I guess, were too used to people. And some have been, what? Attacked by coyotes. They run into power lines or the wrong end of a bullet.

OSBORN: Right. The biggest problem for them really has been lead poisoning. They're scavengers, obviously. They eat only dead things. And they several times have come across carcasses that were loaded with lead shot. Last summer we lost five of them here in Arizona to lead poisoning, and at least ten others had to be treated for lead poisoning.

CURWOOD: What's your feeling about the likelihood of re-establishing a self-sustaining population of these birds in the wild?

OSBORN: I think it's really good. And I think that seeing this egg has given us all, you know, more than a glimmer of hope that it can be successful. It's the long haul, simply because these birds reproduce very slowly. They don't mature and begin reproducing until they're six years old. So, we know we finally have six-year-olds in the wild and that's why we're so excited to start seeing this nesting behavior.

CURWOOD: Sophie Osborn is a field biologist and condor egg discoverer with the Peregrine Fund in northern Arizona. Thanks for joining us today.

OSBORN: Thank you for having me.

Link to Sophie Osborn's field notes at the Peregrine Fund website.

(Music up and under: Lee Ritenour, "Theme from Three Days Of The Condor")

CURWOOD: To read Sophie Osborn's first-hand account of her condor egg find, as well as her other dispatches from the field, see the link on our web site at www.loe.org. Just ahead: From Florida to the Philippines it's hard times for trash. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this environmental business update with Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

(Music up and under: Theme by Allison Dean)

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Business Update

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The petrochemical company Koch has pled guilty to covering up violations of the Clean Air Act. Just days after an inspection by regulators in 1995, the company disconnected pollution control equipment at an oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. The equipment was supposed to control benzene emissions, and with it disabled Koch released 91 tons of the carcinogen, almost 15 times the refinery's limit. In a plea bargain with the Justice Department, Koch agreed to pay $20 million in fines. That's one of the most expensive settlements ever in an environmental crime case. This isn't Koch's first tangle with environmental regulators. Last year the company paid the government $30 million in fines for leaking three million gallons of oil in six states. That's this week's business update. I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth. You can hear our program any time on our Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

(Music up and under: Tin Hat Trio, "Quick Marble")

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Trash Barge

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Just ahead: A dime store purchase that led to a lifelong friendship between man and turtle. But first, one of the most unwelcome payloads in waste disposal history is stuck at a dock on Florida's east coast in the town of Stuart. A Philadelphia garbage barge left that city 15 years ago, carrying thousands of tons of incinerated trash, and, after all these years, no one seems quite sure who's responsible for it. Country after country refused the ash. In 1988 some of it, misrepresented as fertilizer, was dumped on a beach in Haiti. The rest landed illegally in a watery grave at sea. Finally last year, Haitian officials succeeded in getting the ash that hadn't already blown off the beach shipped to Florida. It now sits on a barge owned by Captain Stan Kraly, who joins us from the studios of WQCS in Fort Pierce, Florida. Hello, Captain Kraly.

KRALY: Hello.

CURWOOD: So, you accepted this ash as a temporary measure, I guess, as a pit stop while transferring it off the ship from Haiti and into trucks here. How long did you expect to be babysitting this stuff?

KRALY: We were told we would have it for three to seven days.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Been a lot longer than that.

KRALY: It became three to seven weeks, then three to seven months, and we're a little over a year right now.

CURWOOD: Now, when you had it for a year, I understood you kind of celebrated.

KRALY: Well, we had a huge candle that we stuck in it, and all of us stood around it and said this is the one-year anniversary.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) What exactly is happening now to get rid of this stuff? To finally resolve the situation? Can you walk me through some of the mechanics of it?

KRALY: Waste Management, the consignee of the cargo, is diligently looking for a place for it to reside. A landfill or concrete encapsulation. And the local politics, the county commissioners of Martin County, are doing their best to resolve the problem with Waste Management. And we're storing it until they come up with an answer.

CURWOOD: So the lesson learned from this, you said to yourself, what?

KRALY: If anyone brings by a bag of garbage, don't accept it.

CURWOOD: Wait a second, that's the problem you're in.

KRALY: No, because we really shouldn't be holding and storing this for this length of time. It's very much out of order.

CURWOOD: Do you feel like you're holding the bag?

KRALY: Pun intended, of course.

CURWOOD: Captain Stan Kraly owns Maritime Tug and Barge in Stuart, Florida. Thank you for joining me, Captain Kraly.

KRALY: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Officials in the Philippine capital, Manila, have dropped a controversial plan to barge some of that city's garbage to other parts of the archipelago. Manila generates about 6,000 tons of garage a day, so much trash that the teeming metropolis has run out of places to put it. The city's main landfill was closed last year after angry community protests concerning potential health risks. The Philippines' new president, Gloria Arroyo, has promised to reduce Manila's waste, and her first piece of legislation puts a premium on recycling. From Manila, Orlando de Guzman reports.

(Motors, whistles, shouting)

DE GUZMAN: Much of the recycling done in the Philippines happens at massive dumpsites like this one on the outskirts of Manila.

(Shouting, motors, whistling continue)

DE GUZMAN: Here, trucks roll in every few minutes to unload garbage from metro Manila's 12 million residents.

(Sounds continue)

DE GUZMAN: This dump is more than 600 feet high, so large the trucks and bulldozers on it look like small insects. It's the biggest trash heap in the Philippines, and officially it's called Payatas. But for the thousands of poor Filipinos who pick through the trash for a living, it's known as the Promised Land, a smoldering mountain of rotten vegetables, used tires, and plastic bags that gives off stinging, acrid vapors.

MAGLACIO: [Speaks in Filipino]
TRANSLATOR: We choose the garbage, the waste. We somehow know what's going to sell, what is salable.

DE GUZMAN: Alma Maglacio tears open bags of garbage with a sharp metal hook. Glass bottles can be resold for a few cents a pound. The amber-colored ones for perfume and cough syrup sell for even more. She drags a burlap sack full of copper wire, scraps of cardboard, and broken glass. You've got to stay alert, says Maglacio. Competition between scavengers is tough.

MAGLACIO: [Speaks in Filipino]
TRANSLATOR: You don't have to be fast about getting the waste. You just have to be observant. So you get everything. You get the most valuable waste, just like jewelry and gold. If you are so fast, you might miss it.

DE GUZMAN: But striking gold is rare. More common are the daily hazards. Dump trucks sometimes lose their brakes. Broken glass can cut your hands and feet. The risk of acquiring tetanus, cholera, and dysentery are high, and there's the occasional load of toxic chemicals mixed in with the garbage. These dangers of picking through trash have gone unnoticed by most Filipinos until last July, when heavy rains caused a large part of the garbage dump to collapse. An entire village was buried beneath tons of trash. Rescue workers recovered about 200 bodies. The exact death toll is still unknown, and many here believe hundreds more lie buried. The Payatas disaster was a huge embarrassment for the government, which temporarily closed down the dump. For many of Manila's residents the disaster brought an urgency to Manila's garbage problem. Von Hernandez is the campaign director for Greenpeace in Manila.

HERNANDEZ: I think people realized, when Payatas happened, that everybody, actually, not just local government executives and the national government agencies, but everyone had a contribution for that disaster. Because when you throw your garbage in the trash bin, garbage goes somewhere, and is going to Payatas and has created that mountain, which has killed people.

DE GUZMAN: The garbage problem in Manila has been around for decades. During the reign of former president Ferdinand Marcos, another garbage dump known as Smokey Mountain became a symbol of poverty brought on by Marcos' corrupt regime. Marcos was ousted during a popular revolt 15 years ago known as People Power.

(Crowds cheer)

DE GUZMAN: In January hundreds of thousands of Filipinos gathered in the streets of Manila for People Power Two, this time to oust President Joseph Estrada, who now faces criminal charges for plundering the country of millions of dollars. Many at the demonstrations were fed up with what they saw as rampant corruption in the government. That the garbage problem got particularly worse under Estrada, says Hernandez, is not surprising.

HERNANDEZ: Pollution is also a function of corruption. The more corrupt your government leaders are, the more polluted the environment is.

DE GUZMAN: The Philippines new president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has promised to clean up government as well as Manila's garbage-strewn streets. But there are no easy solutions. For one, there's not a single government agency in charge of overseeing waste management here. That's because metro Manila is a sprawling checkerboard made up of ten towns, seven cities, and three provinces. Each jurisdiction is run by influential local mayors whose power rests largely on patronage and corruption, says Hernandez.

HERNANDEZ: What happened in the past, and I think to a great extent is still happening now, is that decisions are made behind closed doors. The people are not aware. People are made to believe that the only solution was landfilling or opening a dump site or running an incinerator.

DE GUZMAN: These three options are becoming more and more unpopular here. Incinerators are banned under a recent clean air act, and no one wants Manila's trash dumped on their island. Because garbage is such a political issue, few officials are willing to touch the problem, especially now that local elections are coming up this May. Benjamin Abalos is the chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority, a government body charged with finding solutions to Manila's garbage crisis. He admits that corruption is a problem, but only half the problem.

ABALOS: The biggest problem is the attitude of the people, because, you know, you can't just change the habit of people overnight. We have been used to having garbage unsorted, having only one receptacle, everything there. But that is number one.

DE GUZMAN: Filipinos recycle only about six percent of their trash, compared to 30 percent in the U.S. To change that, president Macapagal-Arroyo recently passed a law mandating all households and neighborhoods to begin sorting their garbage, the first law of its kind in the country. President Macapagal-Arroyo is also requiring every local government to come up with a ten-year solid waste management plan.

(Ambient voices)

DE GUZMAN: Some local activists, like Narda Camacho, have been trying to raise awareness about recycling for years. Every day Camacho goes around Manila's maze of neighborhoods preaching about what trash can and can't be reused.

CAMACHO: The major problem is lack of information. Very few people know about this. That is why we are having a tough time implementing the law.

DE GUZMAN: Camacho says 90 percent of the waste generated by an average Manila household can be recycled.

(Glass bottles clink)

DE GUZMAN: Seeing the potential, Camacho founded a non-governmental organization called Linis Ganda, which means Clean and Beautiful in Filipino. Over the past ten years, her organization has set up 550 private neighborhood junk shops, where residents can sell their recyclables. Many of the junk shops are run by former scavengers, like Igmedio Tambong.

TAMBONG: [Speaks in Filipino]
TRANSLATOR: If it weren't for our recycling center, then a lot more garbage would be thrown away in dumps. And that would add to the government's problems. We are able to help, but we need the government to become more involved.

(Shouting, motors)

DE GUZMAN: Meanwhile, the Payatas garbage dump continues to grow, and so are the number of people picking through the trash for a living. There are plans to close the dump for good before June, when monsoon rains will make climbing the mountain of garbage even more dangerous. The government says it can give people here a safer livelihood by enlisting them to go around Manila's houses collecting recyclables. For Living on Earth, I'm Orlando de Guzman in Manila.

(Glass bottles clink. Horns, voices calling)

Back to top

 

Manila Trash

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Just ahead: A dime store purchase that led to a lifelong friendship between man and turtle. But first, one of the most unwelcome payloads in waste disposal history is stuck at a dock on Florida's east coast in the town of Stuart. A Philadelphia garbage barge left that city 15 years ago, carrying thousands of tons of incinerated trash, and, after all these years, no one seems quite sure who's responsible for it. Country after country refused the ash. In 1988 some of it, misrepresented as fertilizer, was dumped on a beach in Haiti. The rest landed illegally in a watery grave at sea. Finally last year, Haitian officials succeeded in getting the ash that hadn't already blown off the beach shipped to Florida. It now sits on a barge owned by Captain Stan Kraly, who joins us from the studios of WQCS in Fort Pierce, Florida. Hello, Captain Kraly.

KRALY: Hello.

CURWOOD: So, you accepted this ash as a temporary measure, I guess, as a pit stop while transferring it off the ship from Haiti and into trucks here. How long did you expect to be babysitting this stuff?

KRALY: We were told we would have it for three to seven days.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Been a lot longer than that.

KRALY: It became three to seven weeks, then three to seven months, and we're a little over a year right now.

CURWOOD: Now, when you had it for a year, I understood you kind of celebrated.

KRALY: Well, we had a huge candle that we stuck in it, and all of us stood around it and said this is the one-year anniversary.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) What exactly is happening now to get rid of this stuff? To finally resolve the situation? Can you walk me through some of the mechanics of it?

KRALY: Waste Management, the consignee of the cargo, is diligently looking for a place for it to reside. A landfill or concrete encapsulation. And the local politics, the county commissioners of Martin County, are doing their best to resolve the problem with Waste Management. And we're storing it until they come up with an answer.

CURWOOD: So the lesson learned from this, you said to yourself, what?

KRALY: If anyone brings by a bag of garbage, don't accept it.

CURWOOD: Wait a second, that's the problem you're in.

KRALY: No, because we really shouldn't be holding and storing this for this length of time. It's very much out of order.

CURWOOD: Do you feel like you're holding the bag?

KRALY: Pun intended, of course.

CURWOOD: Captain Stan Kraly owns Maritime Tug and Barge in Stuart, Florida. Thank you for joining me, Captain Kraly.

KRALY: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Officials in the Philippine capital, Manila, have dropped a controversial plan to barge some of that city's garbage to other parts of the archipelago. Manila generates about 6,000 tons of garage a day, so much trash that the teeming metropolis has run out of places to put it. The city's main landfill was closed last year after angry community protests concerning potential health risks. The Philippines' new president, Gloria Arroyo, has promised to reduce Manila's waste, and her first piece of legislation puts a premium on recycling. From Manila, Orlando de Guzman reports.

(Motors, whistles, shouting)

DE GUZMAN: Much of the recycling done in the Philippines happens at massive dumpsites like this one on the outskirts of Manila.

(Shouting, motors, whistling continue)

DE GUZMAN: Here, trucks roll in every few minutes to unload garbage from metro Manila's 12 million residents.

(Sounds continue)

DE GUZMAN: This dump is more than 600 feet high, so large the trucks and bulldozers on it look like small insects. It's the biggest trash heap in the Philippines, and officially it's called Payatas. But for the thousands of poor Filipinos who pick through the trash for a living, it's known as the Promised Land, a smoldering mountain of rotten vegetables, used tires, and plastic bags that gives off stinging, acrid vapors.

MAGLACIO: [Speaks in Filipino]
TRANSLATOR: We choose the garbage, the waste. We somehow know what's going to sell, what is salable.

DE GUZMAN: Alma Maglacio tears open bags of garbage with a sharp metal hook. Glass bottles can be resold for a few cents a pound. The amber-colored ones for perfume and cough syrup sell for even more. She drags a burlap sack full of copper wire, scraps of cardboard, and broken glass. You've got to stay alert, says Maglacio. Competition between scavengers is tough.

MAGLACIO: [Speaks in Filipino]
TRANSLATOR: You don't have to be fast about getting the waste. You just have to be observant. So you get everything. You get the most valuable waste, just like jewelry and gold. If you are so fast, you might miss it.

DE GUZMAN: But striking gold is rare. More common are the daily hazards. Dump trucks sometimes lose their brakes. Broken glass can cut your hands and feet. The risk of acquiring tetanus, cholera, and dysentery are high, and there's the occasional load of toxic chemicals mixed in with the garbage. These dangers of picking through trash have gone unnoticed by most Filipinos until last July, when heavy rains caused a large part of the garbage dump to collapse. An entire village was buried beneath tons of trash. Rescue workers recovered about 200 bodies. The exact death toll is still unknown, and many here believe hundreds more lie buried. The Payatas disaster was a huge embarrassment for the government, which temporarily closed down the dump. For many of Manila's residents the disaster brought an urgency to Manila's garbage problem. Von Hernandez is the campaign director for Greenpeace in Manila.

HERNANDEZ: I think people realized, when Payatas happened, that everybody, actually, not just local government executives and the national government agencies, but everyone had a contribution for that disaster. Because when you throw your garbage in the trash bin, garbage goes somewhere, and is going to Payatas and has created that mountain, which has killed people.

DE GUZMAN: The garbage problem in Manila has been around for decades. During the reign of former president Ferdinand Marcos, another garbage dump known as Smokey Mountain became a symbol of poverty brought on by Marcos' corrupt regime. Marcos was ousted during a popular revolt 15 years ago known as People Power.

(Crowds cheer)

DE GUZMAN: In January hundreds of thousands of Filipinos gathered in the streets of Manila for People Power Two, this time to oust President Joseph Estrada, who now faces criminal charges for plundering the country of millions of dollars. Many at the demonstrations were fed up with what they saw as rampant corruption in the government. That the garbage problem got particularly worse under Estrada, says Hernandez, is not surprising.

HERNANDEZ: Pollution is also a function of corruption. The more corrupt your government leaders are, the more polluted the environment is.

DE GUZMAN: The Philippines new president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has promised to clean up government as well as Manila's garbage-strewn streets. But there are no easy solutions. For one, there's not a single government agency in charge of overseeing waste management here. That's because metro Manila is a sprawling checkerboard made up of ten towns, seven cities, and three provinces. Each jurisdiction is run by influential local mayors whose power rests largely on patronage and corruption, says Hernandez.

HERNANDEZ: What happened in the past, and I think to a great extent is still happening now, is that decisions are made behind closed doors. The people are not aware. People are made to believe that the only solution was landfilling or opening a dump site or running an incinerator.

DE GUZMAN: These three options are becoming more and more unpopular here. Incinerators are banned under a recent clean air act, and no one wants Manila's trash dumped on their island. Because garbage is such a political issue, few officials are willing to touch the problem, especially now that local elections are coming up this May. Benjamin Abalos is the chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority, a government body charged with finding solutions to Manila's garbage crisis. He admits that corruption is a problem, but only half the problem.

ABALOS: The biggest problem is the attitude of the people, because, you know, you can't just change the habit of people overnight. We have been used to having garbage unsorted, having only one receptacle, everything there. But that is number one.

DE GUZMAN: Filipinos recycle only about six percent of their trash, compared to 30 percent in the U.S. To change that, president Macapagal-Arroyo recently passed a law mandating all households and neighborhoods to begin sorting their garbage, the first law of its kind in the country. President Macapagal-Arroyo is also requiring every local government to come up with a ten-year solid waste management plan.

(Ambient voices)

DE GUZMAN: Some local activists, like Narda Camacho, have been trying to raise awareness about recycling for years. Every day Camacho goes around Manila's maze of neighborhoods preaching about what trash can and can't be reused.

CAMACHO: The major problem is lack of information. Very few people know about this. That is why we are having a tough time implementing the law.

DE GUZMAN: Camacho says 90 percent of the waste generated by an average Manila household can be recycled.

(Glass bottles clink)

DE GUZMAN: Seeing the potential, Camacho founded a non-governmental organization called Linis Ganda, which means Clean and Beautiful in Filipino. Over the past ten years, her organization has set up 550 private neighborhood junk shops, where residents can sell their recyclables. Many of the junk shops are run by former scavengers, like Igmedio Tambong.

TAMBONG: [Speaks in Filipino]
TRANSLATOR: If it weren't for our recycling center, then a lot more garbage would be thrown away in dumps. And that would add to the government's problems. We are able to help, but we need the government to become more involved.

(Shouting, motors)

DE GUZMAN: Meanwhile, the Payatas garbage dump continues to grow, and so are the number of people picking through the trash for a living. There are plans to close the dump for good before June, when monsoon rains will make climbing the mountain of garbage even more dangerous. The government says it can give people here a safer livelihood by enlisting them to go around Manila's houses collecting recyclables. For Living on Earth, I'm Orlando de Guzman in Manila.

(Glass bottles clink. Horns, voices calling)

Back to top

 

Amazing Moe

CURWOOD: The state of Maine is famous for its lobster and its moose, but not necessarily for its turtles. But at least one turtle is making a name for himself in Maine. His name is Moe. And like countless other pet turtles, he was purchased in a department store in the 1960s. But unlike most of his fellow reptiles, Moe has survived for almost 40 years now. Maine Public Radio's Matthew Algeo visited Moe and his owner in Portland.

ALGEO: Every night Michael Lotfey feeds his pet turtle Moe.

LOTFEY: It'll last in his bowl about 14 seconds.

ALGEO: Lotfey has been feeding Moe for a long time, 36 years to be exact. Lotfey was six years old when he bought Moe and another red-eared slider turtle named Minnie at a W.T. Grant store in 1965. Minnie was dead within weeks, but Moe is still kicking -- or crawling, as the case may be.

LOTFEY: He's been a really good pet, you know? He's got his own personality. It's really funny. He's tough. I guess he's been through a lot of things, you know?

ALGEO: Lotfey and Moe have been together since the Johnson administration, and Lotfey says he knows Moe pretty well. He describes him as nosy.

LOTFEY: He seems to, like, follow you around. Like, even when he's out of the bowl, if I say to him, "You better not be coming over here," he comes over.

ALGEO: Lotfey says he doesn't know the secret to Moe's longevity. But he says he has survived a couple of close calls. Twice, once in 1978 and again in 1983, Lotfey's mom accidentally left Moe outside on a cold day, and he froze solid inside his bowl.

LOTFEY: We came out one day and there was the two, three inches of water frozen. Moe just like a turtle cube, if you will. And she thought for sure he was gone. But she brought him in the house, and next thing you know he just kind of woke up, and said where's my food?

ALGEO: Moe is definitely a creature of habit, says Lotfey. A typical day includes plenty of lounging in the sun and lots of crawling around the house, albeit very slowly.

(Creaking)

ALGEO: Lotfey says Moe also enjoys sleeping and listening to music.

(Music plays: Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love")

LOTFEY: He likes everything from Patsy Cline to Led Zeppelin, you know? Anything in between.

(Zeppelin continues)

LOTFEY: He'll stay busy in the aquarium or whatever, but when a certain song comes on he just sort of lolly-lags around. And so I just kind of feel that he likes it.

ALGEO: Moe is about four inches across, but he wasn't much bigger than a quarter when Lotfey bought him, much too small to be legally sold today. The FDA banned the sale of turtle hatchlings in 1975 because they carry bacteria, such as salmonella. As for his age, Moe is believed to be between 38 and 40 years old. Not bad for a common red-eared slider turtle.

McCURDY: It's actually pretty amazing.

ALGEO: Dean McCurdy teaches biology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

McCURDY: There are really millions of these turtles sold in the United States. And of all these turtles that are sold, very few of them actually survive to adulthood, let alone 40 or 50 years, which is probably the maximum range of lifespan for that species.

ALGEO: Red-eared slider turtles have long been popular pets, sometimes too popular, McCurdy says. He says owners who get tired of their pets have been known to release them into the wild, and that can make life more difficult for a region's indigenous turtles.

McCURDY: They carry diseases, some of which they pick up in captivity, which could harm native turtles. And in the case of the red-eared slider, in places like Florida, it's actually invading in certain areas and competing with native species.

ALGEO: But Michael Lotfey has no intention of releasing Moe into the wild. He says he hopes they have many more years happy together.

LOTFEY: He's been kind of a ninth wonder of the world. I mean, nobody ever expected Moe -- most people go, "Do you still have that turtle?" I don't know, he's just -- through romaine lettuce and tuna fish and fish sticks and sunlight and good music, I guess he's happy.

ALGEO: For Living on Earth, I'm Matthew Algeo in Portland, Maine.

(Music up and under: The Turtles, "So Happy Together")

Back to top

 

CURWOOD: It's This American's Emissions 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, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, and Milisa Muniz. We had help this week from Steven Belter. Our interns are Merav Bushlin, Dawn Robinson, and Evie Stone. Alison Dean composed our themes. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is our science editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. And it is with sadness and pride that we bid farewell to producer Stephanie Pindyck. She has brought you some remarkable interviews over the past few years, has helped bring Living on Earth into classrooms around America, and carried a wonderful spirit into our lives. Thanks for everything, Steph. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. And thank you for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include The Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Turner Foundation.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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