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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

April 21, 2000

Air Date: April 21, 2000



Host Steve Curwood speaks with Julia Butterfly Hill, who perched in a giant redwood in Northern California for more than two years to save it from being cut down. (11:35)

Technology Update

Cynthia Graber reports that scientists have created hand-held “noses” to recognize and analyze different smells. (00:59)

Tibetan Medicine / Diane Toomey

Thanks to the popularity of the Dalai Lama, the politics and religion of Tibet have become familiar to many Americans. But not so with Tibetan medicine. This healing system, which is influenced by Buddhism, differs radically from its western counterpart. Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports. (08:05)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about Attwater’s Prairie Chickens, a species native to southeastern Texas, whose spring mating behavior is pretty dramatic – both visually and aurally. (01:30)

Trade With China

Political observer Mark Hertsgaard joins host Steve Curwood to discuss why environmental activists are getting involved in the debate about permanent normalized trade with China. (05:50)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Diane Toomey reports on new research that offers some hope of finally being able to thwart the bug that causes the lethal African Sleeping Sickness. (00:59)

The Walk / Sandy Tolan

Producer Sandy Tolan joins Native Americans on a 250-mile march from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez to Tucson, Arizona, to call attention to the high rate of diabetes among Native Americans. Fast foods are said to contribute to diabetes and indigenous people say getting back to native foods may be a remedy. (14:25)

Earthday Reflections

Host Steve Curwood offers some perspective on the 30th anniversary of Earth Day as well as the 10th year of Living On Earth. (02:25)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Diane Toomey, Sandy Tolan
GUESTS: Julia Butterfly Hill, Mark Hertsgaard

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
When some people see a forest chopped off a mountainside by a clear-cut, they see high profits. Others shake their heads in dismay. Only a few are so shaken up they decide to risk their lives to stop it.

HILL: And I just couldn't believe it. It ripped out my gut. It ripped out my heart. It made me sick and sad and overwhelmed all at once. And it inspired me and motivated me to take action. It was not so much a choice, although I know we all have choices. It was more of, Julia, you cannot turn around and walk away from this. You have to do something.

CURWOOD: And what she did was sit in a 1,000-year-old redwood tree named Luna, for a whole lot longer than she had bargained for.

HILL: Seven hundred and thirty-eight days.

CURWOOD: The story of Julia Butterfly Hill and the legacy of Luna -- and the mysteries of Tibetan medicine come to America this week on Living on Earth, right after this round-up of the hour's news.

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(NPR News follows)

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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Years ago on a trip to Northern California, Julia Butterfly Hill fell in love. Her new passion: the ancient redwood forest. She returned home to Arkansas and sold her belongings. She then headed back west to take up the fight against the company cutting down these magnificent trees, the Maxxam Corporation. For her part of the protest, Julia Butterfly Hill volunteered to sit in a 1.000-year-old redwood named Luna. Her home would be a four-by-six platform 18 stories off the forest floor. She would live there longer than she, or anyone, could have imagined. Julia Butterfly Hill has some unique qualities. She's the daughter of a preacher, with a powerful faith. She's also a graduate of business school, and carries herself with a touch of glamour. But in the end, her story demonstrates that anyone with commitment and courage has the power to make a difference.

HILL: When I first entered the ancient redwoods I fell to my knees and began to cry, because the power, the spirituality, the life force, the majesty of these trees is truly overwhelming. And a few weeks later, I saw a picture of what looked like a bomb had been dropped in the middle of it. And I looked to the person at EPIC, the Environmental Protection Information Center, where I saw the picture, and I said, "What is this?" And they said, "This is what Pacific Lumber Maxxam Corporation does to the forest and calls business." And I just couldn't believe it. It ripped out my gut. It ripped out my heart. It made me sick and sad and overwhelmed all at once. And it inspired me and motivated me to take action. It was -- it was not so much a choice, although I know we all have choices. It was more of, Julia, you cannot turn around and walk away from this. You have to do something.

CURWOOD: But you decided to take some direct action. What were your goals in joining the people who were demonstrating to protect the trees?

HILL: I was just so happy to finally have something to do. I mean, I didn't know what that something was going to be, and I tried getting plugged into the forest protection movement in many different ways for a while, and just couldn't find a way to get involved. And the tree sit was the first thing that came my way that I could plug into, and it was really quite funny, because the person who was looking for someone to sit in this tree didn't want to choose me at first. Because like everyone else, they had never seen me before, weren't quite sure what to make of me, or if they should trust me or not, and didn't want to take the time and energy it would take to train me. But when no one else would volunteer to go up into the tree, they had to pick me.

CURWOOD: Now, when you first went up Luna to sit in a demonstration to keep this tree from being cut, how did you feel that first time you went up?

HILL: Well, standing at the base of the tree, it was so beautiful and so magnificent and huge, a 200-foot-tall tree, 15 feet in diameter at the base. I'm five foot ten, and it takes 12 of someone my size with arms outstretched to encircle the base of this tree. So it's really, really phenomenal. And then, though, somebody hands me a harness that's held together with duct tape, and says --


HILL: (Laughs) This is, yes, exactly. And says, "This is what you're going to use to climb it." I said, "Okay." So I put it on, and they show me how to climb, and my climbing lesson 101 was basically, "This is the rope you climb on." And this rope that's about the width of my thumb comes snaking down from up so far above I can't see where it begins from. So I just put it on and went for it, but about 75 feet above the ground, the perilous condition of my life on a teeny-tiny rope with a harness held together by duct tape started sinking in. And --

CURWOOD: Oh, yeah.

HILL: Yeah.

CURWOOD: So you wanted to come back down. Slowly.

HILL: (Laughs) I certainly didn't know I had a fear of heights until that point. And then all of a sudden I had a fear of heights. But I felt this calling, telling me to just close my eyes and put my hands and my feet up against the tree, and when I did I found all this energy flowing through me back down into the roots of the tree. And it immediately grounded me. And then I opened my eyes, and I just kept my eyes on the tree, and I shot up that tree. I actually at that point made it from the ground to the top of the tree, 180 feet up, where the first platform was, in about 15 minutes, which at that time was a record. And I laughed, I think it was because I was so afraid, I just wanted to get somewhere and get somewhere fast. (Both laugh)

CURWOOD: Now, you did a couple of shifts sitting in this tree as part of the organized tree sit. But how did you feel about the prospect of living in a tree for a month?

HILL: I felt that three weeks to a month was just a little bit of a stretch for me, and I thought this could be interesting. But I didn't realize I was climbing up into the tree in the worst winter in the recorded history of California, and the famous El Nino of '97 from which all of the world's problems were blamed.

CURWOOD: And you didn't realize that instead of a month, it would be two years, a little more than two years before your feet would touch the ground again.

HILL: Seven hundred and thirty eight days.

CURWOOD: You were risking your life then. Many times, in fact, you thought you might die in the storms, when they threatened to cut down the tree. And then a protester, Gypsy, was killed while you were up in the tree. He wasn't in a tree, he was killed by a tree that was cut down in a controversial scene, in which some people feel that really, he was deliberately or accidentally deliberately killed by the people that cut the tree. You heard this over the radio, right?

HILL: Actually, I had a solar-powered radio phone, and I got a call from a woman whose forest name is Felony, who is a beautiful, young, vivacious woman. And she's always laughing and always funny. And she was crying desperately hard, and said, "Julia, Gypsy's been killed." And I started screaming, "No," louder and louder and faster and faster, as if maybe, if I did it enough, if I did it loud enough, if I did it fast enough, it could change what had happened and bring Gypsy back. And of course, life doesn't work that way. So, my sadness comes from the fact that I believe that the destruction we're doing to the environment is the direct reflection of the destruction of our lives. Because I don't believe that this is our Earth to possess, I believe that this is us, Earth, to protect. And so, when we see the violence being perpetuated on the environment, it is a violence to human beings. And Gypsy's death to me was the absolute saddest proof that any of us should need that we are so disconnected as a society, that our values are so misled, that we could place value on making a quick buck, making a paycheck, over protecting the last remnants of ancient redwoods. And over the protection of somebody's life.

CURWOOD: How do you think the death of Gypsy influenced the loggers that you were dealing with?

HILL: Gypsy's death further polarized a community that's already polarized, but it also woke people up. It was also a call to people about how far out of balance we've gotten. And a lot of people within the timber industry, they are good people. They're just trying to make a paycheck. They're trying to put food on their tables, and have a life and a sense of security. So his death, I think for a lot of them, was not okay, either. They don't want people to die. They just want to try and find a way to be able to pass down their jobs to their children and their children, just as their fathers before them have.

CURWOOD: So, the people at Maxxam, the people who own what they consider the right to cut this tree, weren't very happy to have you. What kinds of things did they do to try to get you out?

HILL: I climbed up for the third and final time on December 10th, 1997, and the morning of December 11th they began cutting trees all around the tree I was in. They cut two of her babies growing off of her trunk. And they're saying, "We're going through the base of the tree, you better come down." Then they cut trees directly at Luna, hitting Luna while I was in it, and nearly knocking me out. They then hovered a twin-propeller helicopter 75 feet above my head with 300 mile an hour updrafts. They then placed me under a 10-day security blockade, surrounding me with ropes and floodlights and security guards, who in their own words said they were there to cut off my supplies and starve me down. When I told them they might starve me to death but they wouldn't starve me down, they then started blowing air horns all night to cause sleep deprivation.

CURWOOD: At one point, in reaching out to these timber folks, you sent down a bag with a photograph of you and some granola. How did they respond to that?

HILL: I believe that labels and stereotypes are extremely dangerous for our society. So when the loggers were at the base of the tree screaming at me, I remembered that I had this picture in the tree with me at the last party I attended before selling everything I owned and climbing up into a tree. And I'm decked out in this silk suit and my hair is done, and I have a tan, I have makeup. And I thought, ah, this might work. So then I thought about the granola. So I dropped -- I gave them a warning and said, "I'm dropping this bag down." And they screamed, "You better not drop anything on us!" And I said, "Calm down, calm down. It's just a picture and it's a bag with some granola. You ought to eat it." And so I dropped the bag down on the ground, and everything gets quiet for a moment. And I wait and I wait and there's no response. And I said, "Hey, are you down there? Did you find it?" And they screamed up, "This ain't you!" And I said, "Yes it is." "No, it's not!" And it was a back and forth yes it is, no it isn't, and then they finally said, "Well what the heck are you doing up in a tree, then?" And so, it was really funny. It kind of helped to break the ice. It took away the stereotype. And it really opened us up to be able to start treating each other like human beings.

CURWOOD: While you were in the tree, you started a dialogue with the gentleman in charge of the logging operation there, a Mr. Campbell. And you started negotiations with him. Eventually, those negotiations succeeded from your perspective. You got a deal so that you could, the tree would be protected, and you could come down.

HILL: When I decided that I was going to stay in the tree longer than the three weeks to a month, I gave my word that my feet would not touch the ground again, no matter what, until I had done everything I could to make the world aware and raise consciousness, and number two, protect the tree I was in, and hopefully some around it. And on December 17th, 1999, we had reached the world in a way I never could have imagined being a part of. People, thousands upon thousands of letters from around the world, of people saying, "Thank you for helping me realize the power of my actions. Thank you for teaching me the importance of personal responsibility." And as well, we had a legally-binding document that forever protects this over-one-thousand-year-old ancient redwood and some of the acreage around it. We reached those goals. The goals that I had set, we accomplished. So I climbed down, because we had done it. It is just one piece in the puzzle. There is a lot of work still to be done.

CURWOOD: Julia Butterfly Hill's book is called The Legacy of Luna -- her story of being in a tree for two years to protect it, the redwood. Thank you so much for taking this time with us today.

HILL: Absolutely. Thank you, Steve.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: The power and promise of Tibetan medicine is just ahead on Living on Earth.
First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

Technology Update

GRABER: Scientists have been trying for years to develop a machine that mimics the human nose. They've come up with a few models, but they're all too big to carry around. Now, two companies have unveiled hand-held devices that can detect smells even our noses might otherwise miss. One, the Cyranose, can recognize up to 200 different odors. Right now it's marketed for use in the food and beverage industry. But one day, you might find it at the site of chemical spills or other places where environmental contaminants need to be quickly identified. Meanwhile, the Department of Energy's Sandia Lab has introduced a portable device that can recognize vapors and analyze minute amounts of liquid. Today it can identify agents of biological and chemical terrorism. Researchers expect future uses to include finding land mines, detecting pollutants, and even diagnosing medical conditions. And that's this week's Living on Earth technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

CURWOOD: Thanks, Cynthia. It's 19 minutes past the hour.

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Tibetan Medicine

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's been about two decades since alternative medicine first captured the attention of many North Americans. Since then, things such as Chinese herbs and acupuncture have become so popular, they're just about mainstream. Today, a lesser-known medical discipline is slowly gaining acceptance here. Tibetan medicine is a complicated system of treatments. It has survived invasion of its homeland, destruction of its medical schools, and the imprisonment and exile of its doctors. Living on Earth's Diane Toomey prepared our report.

ANNIE: So I just wanted to tie that.


ANNIE: And sometimes when I bend over like this, I feel a sort of squeezing here.

BHUTTI: Mm hm. Mm hm.

TOOMEY: This is Annie's monthly consultation with her doctor, a Tibetan physician practicing just outside of Boston. Annie says for the past five years, she suffered from a number of chronic conditions. She went to Western doctors, but failed to get better.

ANNIE: I get a lot of headaches. Migraine headaches. And I'm nervous.

TOOMEY: Her doctor, Keyzom Bhutti, is one of a handful of Tibetan physicians working in the U.S. Like all her colleagues, she has studied the four tantras, ancient texts that are the root of her discipline. Tibetan medicine charts a geography of the human body that differs radically from its Western counterpart. The tantras speak of health as a state of balance between three systems governing body and mind. The wind system deals with circulation, of blood, nerve impulses, even of thoughts in the mind. The system of heat deals with metabolism, liver, digestion. And the system of cold concerns itself with the structure and stability of the body. When these systems become imbalanced, illness results.

ANNIE: So, should I avoid mainly all greasy foods, do you think?

BHUTTI: Just for three days, don't take the greasy food. After three days you can have. Okay?

ANNIE: Okay. Thank you.

TOOMEY: Dr. Bhutti questions Annie about the effects of the medications she's been taking. It's a collection of large, earth-tone pills that contains ingredients such as pomegranate, pearl, and red sandalwood. Dr. Bhutti has designed a mixture which she believes will equalize Annie's specific imbalances.

ANNIE: When I take them, I definitely notice a shift.

BHUTTI: OK. Relaxation.

ANNIE: Yes, I do. I feel relaxed .

BHUTTI: Uh huh. Any questions?

ANNIE: No. I want you to feel my pulses. (Laughs)

TOOMEY: Pulse reading is the crucial diagnostic tool in Tibetan medicine. Through this technique, physicians glean clues as to which imbalances afflict a patient. Dr. Bhutti obliges Annie's request. She reaches over and places three fingers from each hand on the side of each of Annie's wrists. She applies varying amounts of pressure, as if playing a flute. She feels not for one pulse, but for a dozen. Each one is connected, she says, to organs such as liver, lung, and bladder.

BHUTTI: So altogether, two points. But that way I can take out the illness, which was not in the balance. It needs a lot of experience.

TOKAR: Really, if you work at it and perfect it, you can understand almost everything just through the pulse. Now, I'm nowhere near that point, but I've seen it done.

TOOMEY: Eliot Tokar is one of the few Westerners to have apprenticed with Tibetan physicians.

TOKAR: And the kind of interaction that's involved in taking the pulse, and the quality of that interaction, has a lot to do with the nature of the doctor's mind.

TOOMEY: And if the mind of the physician is sufficiently focused, such characteristics as depth, thickness, and regularity can be felt.

TOKAR: A lot of the analogies are to animals. And one of them is, let's say the pulse, it feels like a caterpillar. Does it just move up and down in a linear kind of way, or does it feel like it's kind of creeping across, because you're feeling with three fingers?

TOOMEY: A Yale surgeon observed the power of pulse reading firsthand. In his autobiography Mortal Lessons, Richard Selzer writes about his encounter with a Tibetan physician who is asked to examine a patient. The woman suffered from a congenital defect, a hole in her heart. But the Tibetan doctor had been told nothing of her illness. Through pulse diagnoses, along with an examination of her tongue and urine, this was his conclusion.

DOCTOR: There are winds coursing through her body, currents that break against barriers. These vortices are in her blood -- the last spendings of an imperfect heart. Between the chambers of her heart, long, long before she was born, a wind had come and blown open a deep gate that must never be opened. Through it charged the full waters of her river.

TOOMEY: Rather mystical-sounding language to describe a hole in her heart, but accurate nonetheless. Advocates of Tibetan medicine say these insights come from centuries of empirical observation. Again, Eliot Tokar.

TOKAR: So, Tibetan doctors are scientists who have developed this very detailed and complex understanding of what the human body is, how it's composed, and then how disease can arise and how it should be treated.

TOOMEY: But Tibetan medicine is influenced by more than science. Tensin Choedrak is the personal physician to the Dalai Lama. He says while Tibetan medicine is separate from Buddhism, the two intertwine.

CHOEDRAK: [Speaks in Tibetan]

TRANSLATOR: Of course, certainly if a person has this knowledge on Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, it certainly helps you become a good doctor. Because in Buddhism, its main essence is to have love and compassion for other sentient beings.

TOOMEY: And Tibetan medicine has a distinctly Buddhist take on the true cause of imbalance and illness. These are known as the three poisons of desire, anger, and delusion.

BHUTTI: So sindu 35 [phonetic spelling] is to increase the heat in the stomach. Whatever you eat you will digest nicely.

TOOMEY: Today, Dr. Bhutti has prescribed a number of pills for Annie.

BHUTTI: And then, agar 35 [phonetic spelling] is very, very good for the relaxation, keeping you more relaxed and a happy mood.

ANNIE: Mm hm.

(Pills are gathered)

TOOMEY: As Dr. Bhutti prepares a prescription for Annie's stomach ache and her nerves, she says there are differences between her clients in India and her American patients.

BHUTTI: In India, I find many clients are coming with arthritis, and here I found that most of the, many clients, they come with their depression. (Laughs)

TOOMEY: In Tibetan medicine, pills are a last resort to be used only after changes in behavior and diet have failed. So in the case of depression, Dr. Bhutti's advice is simple, one might even say simplistic. But as Americans, perhaps it might do us some good to hear these guidelines. First, Dr. Bhutti says, maintain good family relationships.

BHUTTI: And sitting in a calm place, not listening to any bad news, drinking some wine, nice wine. That way, depression will less, less, less.

TOOMEY: Annie says after about a year of treatment, she's feeling better.

ANNIE: It is true that I am less depleted, and I am on the whole less emotional. I think they call it less wind. I have a ways to go.

TOOMEY: Both Annie and her doctor say they're pleased with her gradual progress. That's because in the philosophy of Tibetan medicine, it can take a long time to achieve balance. For Living on Earth, I'm Diane Toomey.

MAN: Some more chempo [phonetic spelling]?

BHUTTI: Yes, some more chempo [phonetic spelling], yes.

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CURWOOD: Next week, we'll examine some of the difficulties of popularizing an ancient tradition in the West.

MAN: Tibetan medicine is not a pile of pills.

CURWOOD: Western science puts Tibetan medicine under the microscope. Our series on alternative healing continues next week here on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: You can hear our program any time on our Web site. The address is www.loe.org And while you're online, send your comments to us as 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.

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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 David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; and the Ford Foundation, striving to preserve our ecological values.

CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: There's plenty at stake for the environment in the debate over permanent trading privileges for China. 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 W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity; www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

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

(Bird calls)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Love can make you cuckoo. Just ask an Attwater's Prairie Chicken. Groups of male Prairie Chickens meet to dance every April in areas in southeastern Texas called leks. They point their tails and head feathers skyward, stamp their feet, and twirl around. And then the males inflate their bright orange featherless neck pouches and let loose with a booming mating call, guaranteed to make the hens -- or if you prefer, the chicks -- swoon.

(Booming calls)

CURWOOD: These avian lonely hearts were recorded at the Houston Zoo. The few remaining wild Attwater's Prairie Chickens live on the Texas coastal prairie. Grazed grasslands are their preferred habitat. For years they depended on bison to trim the grasses. But the prairie is pretty near gone now, and the number of wild Attwater's Prairie Chickens has dwindled to about 50. Captive breeding programs are trying to stabilize the surviving population. If you've been captivated by the call of this lovelorn bird, you can head each April to Eagle Lake, Texas, home of the annual Attwater's Prairie Chicken Festival. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Trade With China

CURWOOD: Next month Congress will take up the question of granting Most Favored Nation status to China on a permanent basis. Right now, China's trade status comes up every year for review. Many American businesses say it makes it hard to invest in China's huge economy with such uncertainty. Others say the yearly review is a much-needed safety net for labor rights and environmental protection. Protesters took up the call during the recent trade demonstrations at World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington.

MAN AND CROWD: No more sweatshops! No more sweatshops!

CURWOOD: Labor unions say that if trade opens up, companies will move operations to China, where labor is cheap and plentiful and human rights abuses abound. Joining labor are environmental groups. Living on Earth's political observer Mark Hertsgaard is here to talk about what's at stake for them. Hi, Mark.


CURWOOD: Mark, what really concerns environmental activists about opening up trade with China?

HERTSGAARD: Well, they recognize that China has enormous environmental problems, and also quite lax environmental standards. And they feel that this agreement is not going to do anything to address that. In fact, Brent Blackwelder of the Friends of the Earth organization told me that he and other environmentalists who are on the environmental committee of the U.S. trade representative were specifically excluded from the meetings that drafted this agreement. And so he says it's not a surprise, therefore, that you've got an agreement that's of, by, and for the multinationals. And they're afraid that these multinationals are just going to go into China, exploit the market there, and not do anything to prevent the environmental disaster that is in the making there.

CURWOOD: Mark, you've spent a fair amount of time in China. What do you see as some of the real environmental implications of normalized trade with China?

HERTSGAARD: Well, clearly, the environmental situation in China is crucial to the entire planet. They are now the number two producer of greenhouse gas emissions behind the United States. They are the number one user of coal. Enormous production of CFCs that are depleting the ozone layer. Big environmental problems, no doubt about that. What would happen under normalized trade? I think it's difficult to see. There are, you know, Brent Blackwelder of Friends of the Earth says, look, there's no doubt that American technology could help China deal with its environmental problems. Energy efficiency, as we've talked about on this program in the past. China could use 50 percent less coal tomorrow if they just installed better lights, better electric motors, more efficient insulation. American companies are the leaders in that field, so there's an enormous potential there. But as Blackwelder will tell you, the agreement that the Administration has struck completely ignores those possibilities. And ironically, what they're doing, what this agreement will do much more to help, is the tobacco companies, which are on the run in this country but now will have a wide open market in China. So very ironic that we're going to be sending that kind of commerce to China, rather than the environmentally benign commerce that we could be engaging in.

CURWOOD: Now, environmental activists are lining up with labor on this. What do both groups want to see happen?

HERTSGAARD: In the short term, they want to win this vote on May 22, to basically maintain the status quo. Right now, we have to vote in Congress every year on whether to have normalized trade relations with China. They want to keep that annual vote, so that there is some leverage over China. The labor unions in particular are concerned about labor rights in China. They point out that there are no independent trade unions in China, and that if you dissent from the government you end up in jail. Likewise with environmental activism. And so, both labor and environmentalists want to win the vote on the 22nd and keep the status quo.

CURWOOD: But has this one-year-to-year agreement with China, has it ever been enforced? Have we ever stopped trading with China?

HERTSGAARD: No. Every year, there has been an agreement to continue trade, but it has often been very close. And what the labor and environmentalists would argue is that, look, that's how we've been able to enforce some degree of leverage over this. And human rights activists, too, will tell you that China has released some dissidents in advance of these votes. They've treated their people a little better in advance of these votes. If we let go of this and basically give China carte blanche, you're going to see the end of those kinds of relaxations.

CURWOOD: Mark, there's a lot of political positioning, of course, going on now as the vote comes closer and closer up on Capitol Hill. How do you see people lining up?

HERTSGAARD: This is going to be a huge fight, Steve. The president has said this is his number one foreign policy priority for the rest of the year. And yet the Democratic Party is split on this. Vice President Gore has waffled, saying originally with a big wink and a nod to the AFL-CIO that he would do a different deal, a more sensitive deal than President Clinton. Then Gore has pulled back from that. It looks like it's going to pass in the Senate, going to be much tighter in the House of Representatives. There are swing votes of about 75 Democrats, largely. And they are going to be really whipsawed between now and May 22, between, on the one hand, the White House's pressure and the enormous pressure of the business community. And on the other hand, two of their key constituencies, labor and environment.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. Thanks, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

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CURWOOD: A Native American trek to fight diabetes is just ahead on Living on Earth. First, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

Health Update

TOOMEY: When someone becomes infected with African sleeping sickness, they never recover. It may take years but the paralysis and coma resulting from the tsetse fly's bite eventually lead to death. Until recently, scientists have had no clue how to treat the disease. That's because the parasite that causes the illness coats itself with as many as 1,000 different proteins, allowing it to constantly change and evade the immune system. Now, researchers from Johns Hopkins University have discovered how the parasite makes the fatty acids that bind those proteins. So they tested a chemical that would prevent the production of fatty acids, and it worked in a test tube, killing the parasite. This drug is too strong for use in humans right now, but researchers predict this new development could lead to a cure for African sleeping sickness. And that's this week's Living on Earth health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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CURWOOD: Thanks, Diane. It's 21-and-a-half minutes before the hour.

Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time 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. Once again, www.loe.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15.

(Music up and under)

The Walk

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For centuries, the Tohono O'odham people would journey south from their home in the Arizona desert down to the sea. There, at Mexico's Sea of Cortez, they would barter squash and watermelon for the fresh fish and sea turtle caught by the Seri Indians. This trade stopped generations ago. It was discouraged by a border that divided the indigenous peoples and a white man's economy that overran the traditional native food gathering. Processed food from modern stores replaced the traditional native diet. But the O'odham were not adapted to the large amounts of fats and sugars so prevalent in these foods. Eating foods with lots of fat and sugar is closely linked to diabetes, and many Indians in southern Arizona now suffer about the highest rates of diabetes in the world. Last month, a small band of O'odham and Seris got together again. They carried traditional foods 250 miles from the Sea of Cortez back to Arizona. Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan joined them for the beginning and end of their desert walk.

(Rattle sounds)

MAN: So let's get everyone in a circle. Mas adelante, uncirco.

(A woman speaks in native language)

TOLAN: A circle on the beach at the Sea of Cortez. This is where the journey begins. The land of the Seri Indians, who call themselves Conca’ac, a tribe that for millennia gathered the desert and fished from kayaks woven from reeds. We are 17 walkers and a few people who drive the vans and ferry packs, tents and supplies, and elders riding along. In all, 25 people, Anglo, Latino, and Seri and O'odham Indians, together again after generations.

LOPEZ: Tony and I are going to sing a couple of songs to the people and to the ocean.


TOLAN: Danny Lopez, a teacher and keeper of the O'odham songs, invokes the memory of the days his people made their annual pilgrimage to gather salt from this shore. He turns toward the sea.

(Lopez sings and rattles)

TOLAN: A Seri elder has told the group, "We're going to be in the hands of the Great Spirit. We'll be taken care of every step of the way.

TOLAN: And we start.

TOLAN: Mile one of our journey, from this place in northern Mexico where the desert joins the sea, to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. Twelve days, 250 miles. We carry with us the local herbs and salves from a Seri healer, for the aches and blisters sure to visit us. On our way north, we will seek to eat only native foods, heal ourselves only with native herbs and medicines. Slowly we pilgrims inch our way north, snaking along a wash, through one of the lushest stands of cactus in the world.

JOHNSON: Well, they had their own fruit, these cactuses.

TOLAN: Terrol Johnson and I make up the caboose in the line of walkers. Soon, the rest of the group is out of sight. Gentle and round-faced, Terrol, a master basket weaver, is taking it slow. Six foot three and 300 pounds, he hasn't exercised in a long time.

JOHNSON: Yeah, the one thing that really concerned me was, I'm diabetic, and you know, people say you really have to watch for your feet and your health. So I was really scared to come, thinking that if I have to walk for an hour, I'll get blisters, and, you know, you're afraid that they won't get well and they'll have to amputate. I mean, those things just went through my head.


JOHNSON: And I've had several family members die on the operating table because they've had to have legs amputated and feet amputated.

TOLAN: Terrol's calves begin to cramp up. Every little while we stop, massage the knots out of them, and slowly move on.

JOHNSON: It's very serious. I mean, my people are dying, you know? And if we could wave our hand and say, you know, no more junk food, no more soda, you know, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But you know, we're dealing with people that grew up on that, you know? My whole family, to shut the baby up you fill the bottle with Coke, you give it to them and they drink it. It's really hard. It's really hard to say, well, I'm going to change and eat this.

TOLAN: Long ago, Terrol's people took their foods from nearly 300 Sonoran Desert plants: saguaro and organ pipe cactus pear, buckhorn cholla buds, mesquite pods, agave, wildflower seeds, the soft pads of the prickly pear cactus, and crops grown on floodplain farms that soaked in the monsoon rains: the teppary bean, drought-resistant corn, and melons and squashes and panic grass. Diabetes, Dr. Gary Nabhan tells me, was virtually unknown.

NABHAN: People had a very diverse, healthy diet, that had about four to five times the amount of soluble fiber, one of the key factors in controlling diabetes, than what health specialists now recommend that Americans on the average consume every day.

TOLAN: The grandson of Lebanese immigrants, Gary Nabhan is director of conservation and science at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and an organizer of the walk. His many books deeply evoke the life of the Sonoran Desert, its people, and its native foods and medicines. On a break, we sit in the shade of an ironwood tree.

NABHAN: They were completely protected from diabetes by that highly-seasonal diet. Some months an overabundance of cactus fruit, other months mesquite, other months whole wheat and lentils and peas. But gradually, they became wage workers in cotton fields as irrigation agriculture took off, abandoned their flood water fields that relied just on local rainfall, and became part of the global economy.

TOLAN: At the end of World War II, O'odhams suddenly could buy white man's food. This old life of gathering and hunting and relying on the rains was too risky, the government said. Get rid of those weedy plants. Assimilate. Fifty years on, the results are in. O'odham and nearby Pima people suffer diabetes at the highest rate in the world. Debates rage about the cause. Some scientists believe desert peoples around the world have genetically adapted to gain weight in times of abundance and survive on less in hard times. Gary Nabhan says the key to healing lies in diet.

NABHAN: Their metabolisms grew accustomed to these foods. They worked well with them. So there's sort of a gene/food co-evolution that's happened here. We really are made from the place, from the calories, from the earth of the place that we live in. So, I don't think we can have a solution to this problem until we integrate the traditional knowledge and traditional customs and food gathering back into the core of a culture. It's not asking folks to step back in time, but to integrate what was good from their legacy with all that we know today.

(Footfalls, voices)

TOLAN: This first day we walk for 23 miles. In late afternoon, everyone slows. For hours up a long asphalt road, we gaze at our destination: a big hill shading our camp site below.

(Singing and rattling)

TOLAN: In the evening, by a small fire, Seri elders sing. Nearby O'odham singers shake their rattles softly. Tea brewed from sage will relax our sore muscles and help us sleep. I sit on the ground near a van where Gary has just finished his daily journal. Gary's colleagues put the finishing touches on his text, and hook up his laptop to a satellite phone.

(Modem beeps)

TOLAN: From a camp site in a Mexican desert, the journal of the slow walk for native foods, of the reconnection between the Seri and Tohono O'odham peoples, is beamed into outer space, bounced off a satellite, and down to the Website of the Desert Museum in Tucson, desertmuseum.org.

MAN: And the instant that it hits the server, they're live.

(People mill about)

MAN 2: These mesquite tortillas are so good!

TOLAN: On the second day, breakfast is eggs with chili sauce and prickly pear cactus pads; pinole, a delicious gruel made from brown corn; tea and coffee -- mostly native foods, with a few concessions to exotic tastes.

(People move about)

TOLAN: Soon we're on the trail again, 17 miles this day, cutting through desert scrub land toward the twin stacks of a power plant on the cost of Puerto Libertad. From here the group will cut inland for the heart of the journey. The Seris will tell their stories of the old days when they traded with the O'odham by the sea. The O'odham will sing to the Seri, and the Seri will sing to the O'odham. And along the way they will learn to dance to each other's music. Terrol, the young basket weaver, will gather material for his journey basket: seaweed and pieces of fishing net, ocotillo skins, a 20-peso note, dried animal bones, photographs found by the roadside.

(People milling)

WOMAN: We made it.

TOLAN: Five days later, tired, muscled, sun-darkened, the group of pilgrims arrives in tiny Sasabe Bay, Mexico, steps from the U.S. border. The group walks in two lines into the United States.

MAN: U.S. residents, you've got U.S. citizens --

(Men speak in Spanish)

MAN: Where were you born?

MAN 2: Thank you. Welcome home.

TOLAN: Terrol, who was having such trouble on that first day, looks happy and strong. He says he's been walking 10, 11 miles a day.

JOHONSON: First day, second day, third day, now, you know, no pain at all.

(Ambient conversations; fade to footfalls)

LOPEZ: I remember people got together, you know, decided that they would work together.

TOLAN: Walking north on a dirt road with Danny Lopez. At 63, he is the eldest of the walkers. For many years he's been keeping alive the stories of the days of self-reliance, of gathering and laying seed.

LOPEZ: And everybody worked together, plowing and planting. And they'd go right to the next field because our fields were right adjacent to one another from east to west, where the water ran, the rainwater.

TOLAN: Most everyone on this walk understands how difficult it would be to return to the days of floodplain farming and wild gathering. The economy and the structure of life today are so different. Danny and Terrol's group, Tohono O'odham Community Action, is giving out native seeds for local gardens. And the money raised by the organizers for this walk, $50,000, will help hire O'odham and Seri youths to bring home the message of the health benefits of native foods. There are literally many thousands of acres still to hoe. But Danny says he wants people to understand: This is not some romantic exercise. It's life and death.

LOPEZ: People sit there and they nod their heads and they agree with you, but to actually go out and eat those foods, it's something else. It's a different story. And I'm hoping that an awareness will be created among my people. And so we don't lose any more legs and toes.

(Drumming and singing)

TOLAN: Three days later, near the journey's end at San Pedro on the O'odham reservation. Tomorrow the group arrives at the Desert Museum in Tucson. Tonight, a feast.

(Drumming and singing continue)

TOLAN: Warm breads, roasted corn with red chilies, cholla cactus buds, rabbit. The place is packed with walkers, their families, the community. Terrol stands before the group. He's walked for 10 days. He told me some people his age came up to him and said he was a role model. Looking out of the packed room, his face radiates emotion.

JOHNSON: It was hard. I didn't think I was going to make it. You know, the pain, you know, everybody went through to get here. You know, we all had personal reasons for coming. Me because I'm diabetic. I don't want to die of diabetes. You know, it's really hard to live with, and this trip really opened my eyes to a lot. It was really encouraging. It's nice to know that you come from a culture that's so rich.


TONY JOHNSON: I think I left here three shades lighter and now I'm back a little darker, but we made it back.


TOLAN: Tony Johnson is back home now, not just from Mexico but from a long time off the reservation. He'd been accepted at Harvard Divinity School, but he gave it up to study the language, the songs, the old ways of planting, of gathering, of living, of the O'odham people. He's an apprentice to Danny Lopez, the O'odham elder.

TONY JOHNSON: We started this walk ten days ago, down at the ocean. We walked all the way. It was because of the people that were with me. O'odham people. That's why I walked, because I believed that we’re not dead. People say that we're dead because we're diabetics. They say we're dead because we're alcoholics. But I haven't seen a dead O'odham yet walking from Mexico to here. They've all been alive. They may look dead, but they’re alive!

(Laughter and applause; fade to music and singing)

TOLAN: Next day, the group is 150 strong. Every day new walkers have joined the journey. On the twelfth day they hike up a dry river bed beneath the long arms of the saguaro cactus, and finally to the Desert Museum.

(Singing, drumming, rattling)

TOLAN: A crowd gathers to greet them. Confetti rains down on their shoulders. An O'odham man sprinkles them with water from a greasewood branch. On the long road, they have arrived.

(Singing, drumming, rattling)

TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan in Tucson, Arizona.

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(Singing, drumming, rattling)

Earthday Reflections

CURWOOD: Before we go this week, some thoughts as we mark Earth Day 2000. Thirty years ago, when the first Earth Day rallies got underway, I was slow to get in line. As an African-American I was busy marching about civil rights and fighting poverty. As the son of a single mother, I was busy marching for equal rights for women. As a concerned citizen and Quaker, I was busy marching against the war in Vietnam. Let the white guys march for the environment, I said. Let them rally to keep open space so they can ride to hounds, while I work for a better world.

But over the next 20 years things changed, and I changed, too. As a society, we made a lot of progress on many of the problems of 1970. Poverty and racism didn't disappear, but far more African-Americans and other minorities won more good jobs and acceptance. There is now a national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Women started to close the pay gap with men. Many run companies, serve in government, and enjoy more protection from gender discrimination. And while it still haunts our memories, the Vietnam War ended and we learned important lessons.

Meanwhile, I became a journalist and a parent. By Earth Day 1990, my own young son was telling me that environmental change was the most important, under-covered story going. And I realized that he was right. Of all the issues Americans marched about in 1970, only the environment has gotten worse. Population has almost doubled since the first Earth Day. Species are going extinct faster and faster. Open space and wilderness are disappearing. Evidence is mounting that pollution not only causes cancer but a host of other disorders, including asthma, heart attacks, immune system breakdowns, reproductive problems, and even criminal behavior.

Pollution is also changing the climate in ways that scientists could barely imagine back in 1970. In short, life as we know and love it is changing profoundly. Living on Earth doesn't advocate any particular point of view, except that our relationship to our environment, and what we do to it, is as important as any other part of our lives. And it's our job to bring you the information you need to make the choices that will determine our future.
So, as we move beyond Earth Day 2000, we hope that the need for this kind of reporting will diminish, that the threats to our life support systems will be removed. But until then, we promise to do our best, growing and changing to help you meet the new challenges.

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(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth.

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: 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, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Hanna Day-Woodruff, Steven Belter, and Emily Sadigh. Alison Dean composed our new theme. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is science editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. And this week we welcome our new technical director, Dennis Foley, as Eileen Bolinsky takes over the post of senior editor. Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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