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

June 16, 2000

Air Date: June 16, 2000


Shareholder Activism - Part 2 / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

Environmentalists have a new tactic: they're buying stocks as a way into the boardrooms of major corporations with the aim of making the companies more sustainable and accountable. Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum has the second of her series on shareholder activism. (11:22)

Technology Update

Cynthia Graber reports on new techniques that allow scientists to measure rainfall on the open ocean. (00:59)

Environmental Genome Project / Diane Toomey

Researchers are using a breakthrough technology to understand how toxins cause illness. Gene chips are letting scientists actually see, in an instant, how a toxin disrupts thousands of our genes. Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports. (04:17)

Climate Talks Update

Host Steve Curwood talks with Frank Loy, U.S. representative to the Kyoto Accord talks on climate change, for a briefing on the most recent round of negotiations. (04:07)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week... Facts about Stonehenge. ()

Russia and the Environment

Steve Curwood and Living On Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard discuss the latest on politics and the environment in Russia, home to some of the world's most polluted sites. (05:22)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Diane Toomey reports on a new study that has found that people in developed countries will be living a lot longer than official estimates now predict. (00:59)

Blue-Green / Chris Ballman

Living On Earth’s Chris Ballman reports on a fledgling movement in the Pacific Northwest called the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment. The group is working to bridge the decades long gap between labor unionists and environmentalists. (17:32)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Diane Toomey
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber
GUESTS: Mark Hertsgaard

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Picture this: Radical activists from Greenpeace stepping off the picket line and putting on suits to meet corporate leaders. They say it's not a new image, just a new tactic.

TUNMORE: Greenpeace bought 150 shares, and then reallocated them to individual members. For Greenpeace it's always been, within the guidelines of nonviolent direct action, whatever it takes. We use legal means, we use scientific reports, we now use shareholder activism.

CURWOOD: Also, unlocking the secrets of genes to see how pollutants affect our health.

PAULES: This is creating a whole new field that we call toxicogenomics, which is a merging of the classic field of toxicology and combining that with the field of genomics and how genes function and how they control our health.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more, this week on Living on Earth, right after this summary of the news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Shareholder Activism - Part 2

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Major corporations are finely tuned to do one thing—make money—lots of money. And that mission often makes companies the target of social and environmental activists who have different agenda. Companies can ignore protestors, but they have to listen to their shareholders. So increasingly, activists are buying stock to gain a voice in the corridors of corporate power. But the education process may go both ways, as Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports in the second part of her series on shareholder activism.

DUCHIN: Today is a really beautiful day. It's only 19 below zero, which believe it or not is balmy for up here.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: March seventeenth. Melanie Duchin, Greenpeace activist, speaking from a Quonset hut on the Arctic ice off Alaska.

DUCHIN: To the north of the camp you can see a great frozen expanse of Arctic ocean and snowdrifts, and it's really quite beautiful. And it's a stark contrast to, if you look a thousand east, which is where BP Amoco's Northstar project is being built, in that direction you see cranes and dump trucks and all manner of industrial equipment.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Melanie Duchin and fellow Greenpeace campaigners are camped out on the ice to protest BP Amoco's newest Arctic oil field. Greenpeace says it threatens the Arctic ecosystem, and that burning oil in general threatens the global climate. They plan to disrupt construction here. It's classic Greenpeace activism.

DUCHIN: We're trying to stop the project. We're not going away. We're going to be here until this project is canceled.

(Indoor voices conversing, laughing)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: April thirteenth, London. Another front in Greenpeace's Northstar campaign.

TUNMORE: My name is Stephanie Tunmore, and I'm climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace, U.K. I currently own two BP Amoco shares.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Stephanie Tunmore has traded her activist attire for a business button-down and is headed for BP's annual shareholder's meeting. Instead of harassing the company from the outside, she is using her stake as part owner to prod the company from within.

TUNMORE: Greenpeace bought 150 shares just over a year ago, and then reallocated them to individual members and supporters. For us to become shareholders is important because it gives us an entry into the company. We can talk to other shareholders on the same basis: we're like you, we are shareholders. We care about this company. We want to see it do the right thing.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It's a striking departure for an organization known for its guerilla tactics. But, Stephanie Tunmore says:

TUNMORE: For Greenpeace it's always been, within the guidelines of nonviolent direct action, it's whatever it takes. We use legal means, we use scientific reports, we now use shareholder activism.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Greenpeacers have used their new status as BP shareholders to file a shareholder resolution. The resolution asks the company to abandon its new Arctic oil field and reinvest the money in solar energy. And as shareholders, Greenpeacers here are singing a different pitch than their colleagues out on the ice. It's not so much about what's good for the planet as what's good for the company.

TUNMORE: We know that climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels. We know that there are international agreements being reached to restrict the use of fossil fuels. If they remain a fossil fuel company they'll go the way of all dinosaurs.


WOMAN: Are you a shareholder?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: April fourteenth. Outside London's Royal Festival Hall, the venue for BP's annual meeting. Colorful banners have been strung above the Thames river. Bobbies in fluorescent jackets stand guard as protesters gather, some in unusual dress. There is a line of tall, somber polar bears, and a small boy in a furry brown costume.

MALCOLM: I'm dressed as a caribou and I have this caribou outfit.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: His name is Malcolm and he's holding a sign: Do not drill for oil in my nursery.

MALCOLM: These are supposed to look like hooves. Actually, this is not the most perfect skin, because the baby caribou has a much, much richer brown than this.

MAN: No, not now.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: BP stockholders on their way to the meeting try to avoid the gauntlet of environmental and human rights activists, however cute they may be. But the stockholders won't be able to avoid the activists who will go into the meeting with them. Like Greenpeace's Iain McGill.

McGILL: We're here to present to the shareholders our resolution, and explain to them why we believe they should support it. Why it's in their interest to support it.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The Greenpeace resolution will be presented, opened up for debate, and then voted on. These votes will be added to millions of others cast by investors around the world.


SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The shareholders file into the meeting. No caribou, polar bears, or tape recorders allowed.

(Milling crowd)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: After the meeting, Stephanie Tunmore celebrates with a smoke.

TUNMORE: It was an unprecedented vote. We're very pleased. We've got -- the preliminary figures show we have 13.5 percent of the vote.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Thirteen-and-a-half percent may not sound like much, but activists like Ethan Manuel are elated. He's here with another environmental group, which voted its shares in support of the Greenpeace resolution.

MANUEL: It's a big success because generally first-year resolutions get three to four percent of the support, because shareholders want to familiarize themselves with the issue and don't want to defy the company, frankly. And so, any time you get more than ten percent of shareholders to vote with you, it really represents a large percentage of shareholders.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: All told, about $14 billion worth of BP’s shares were voted against BP’s management and in favor of the shift from drilling for oil in the Arctic to developing solar energy.

MANUEL: It's a very big number that can't be ignored by the board of directors of BP Amoco.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: In the atrium of BP’s London headquarters, big red numbers keep count of daily production on a model of an oil barrel. Today's figures: two million fifty thousand barrels of oil, 6.4 billion cubic feet of gas. Upstairs, BP Managing Director Chris Gibson Smith is magnanimous about the shareholder challenge to the company's established way of doing business.

GIBSON-SMITH: We haven't had time to think about it, but I promise you we will think about it.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Mr. Gibson-Smith says the Greenpeace-sponsored resolution made for the most interesting annual meeting he's ever attended. He says Greenpeacers made a shrewd choice when they added shares to their more classic tactics.

GIBSON-SMITH: I take the people in suits at the meeting very seriously. I think actually they engage us in a much more profound way than the demonstrations do. The demonstrations on the ice are dangerous. They're breaking the law. And that's not very attractive to me. So the ones in suits win for me.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That said, Mr. Gibson Smith warns there are limits to the influence investor activists can have. He says environmentalists have to take a genuine interest in the financial well-being of the company, if BP is going to take an interest in them. The Greenpeace resolution, he says, exposed the group's lack of business savvy. It's appropriate for shareholders to decide who will control and run the company, he says, but it's going too far to actually try to manage it.

GIBSON-SMITH: I think if you get the shareholders trying to run the firm, that will turn out to be incredibly inefficient. We are deeply skilled at creating wealth for society, and they're not. We are.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The Greenpeace investors are unrepentant. As Stephanie Tunmore put it, it isn't wealth that's driving them.

TUNMORE: We don't profit from the shares. We don't cash our dividends. And we'll dispense with them as soon as their usefulness is over.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: But the effectiveness of that approach remains to be seen. The old guard of investor activists may not always go along.

McDOUGALL: The investment community wants to know that the NGOs themselves believe in the success of companies, and they want companies to be profitable.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Alan McDougall runs a U.K. company that advises big investors how to vote on shareholder resolutions. The tradition of shareholder activism goes back a long way, and about 30 years ago religious groups and other small investors began using their shares to pressure companies on social and environmental issues. They have often joined forces with pension funds and investment firms. But these groups are usually investors first. The activism comes second. Alan McDougall says this old guard may not support the newcomers until they're convinced they share the same assumptions.

McDOUGALL: Clearly there is one strand within the NGO community that doesn't particularly care whether the companies are profitable or not, because they believe that their particular objectives override the desire to see the company be profitable. So I think we've got some dialoguing to do on that.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Some of the activist groups are eager for that dialogue to begin.

CHAN-FISHEL: We are going to do it right.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Michelle Chan-Fishel coordinates the Green Investments Project at Friends of the Earth. Friends of the Earth was the first environmental group to use the shareholder process. Now they've become a kind of mentor on the subject for other nonprofits. Ms. Chan-Fishel says some activists might not like talking about profit when the environment is on the line. But, she says, that can change.

CHAN-FISHEL: Once they start working with shareholders and engaging with senior-level management, then they are able to become more sophisticated. They're able to find out what the real win-win situations are, and the real ties between financial performance and environmental performance.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Ms. Chan-Fishel says this kind of engagement is especially important now. Globalization is reducing the influence of local and national policy, she says, so the role of shareholders as watchdogs is growing. It's too soon to tell whether the Greenpeace resolution has begun that kind of engagement at BP. The company hasn't backed off its new Alaska oil field, and the protesters who promised to stop it left when the ice began to thaw. And BP hasn't shifted any money into its solar company, which is already one of the largest in the world. But there are signs that BP is stepping up its green efforts. Its Web site has been revamped to focus on solar and other clean energy sources. And the company recently announced it will invest up to $50 million in a big U.S. provider of so-called green power. Michele Chan-Fishel of Friends of the Earth says progress is always like this at corporations, slow and incremental. She says it's important for the new generation of shareholder activists to realize this, and get used to it. But patience isn't a virtue for Greenpeace activists. And Stephanie Tunmore says that isn't going to change. Whether they're holding banners or shares.

TUNMORE: I think absolutely we want to see results, and we want to see results now. There isn't time. Look at what's happening to the climate. It's not slow. It's not incremental. And we can't afford to take into consideration the sensitivities of these poor companies. We want them to move and we want them to move now, and we shouldn't have to apologize for that.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in London.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our series on shareholder activism was edited by Peter Thomson.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: The Clinton Administration faces international gridlock over fighting global warming. The story is coming up here on Living on Earth.

First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

(Falling water)

Technology Update

GRABER: This is a sound you've probably never heard before -- it's an underwater recording of raindrops falling on the ocean. Until recently, scientists have only been able to measure the amount of rain that falls on land. But, now, they've discovered a way to measure how much rain falls on water. And this is how they do it. When rain falls, it makes two sounds -- a slap as it hits the water's surface, and a ringing tone created by the air bubbles trapped beneath the surface. By analyzing slaps and the ringing recorded by special microphones twenty feet under the waves, scientists are able to decipher just how big the raindrops are and how fast they are falling. These hearing devices are placed throughout the Pacific, where researchers are trying to measure tropical rainfall -- helping them better understand weather patterns and the process of global climate change. And that's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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

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Environmental Genome Project

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Any time now, scientists will finish decoding the billions of building blocks that make up our genes. One expected payoff for this work will be new ways to treat or even prevent disease. But another project already has a head start on that. The government’s Environmental Genome Project is trying to discover how interactions between our genes and pollutants can lead to illness. Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports.

TOOMEY: When researchers study how a toxin affects the body, they're limited to looking at just a few genes at a time. But a new microchip technology is changing that. It's letting scientists see a toxin's effect on thousands of genes at once. Rick Paules is a biologist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the federal agency that's in charge of the Environmental Genome Project.

PAULES: This holds potential for our being able to study the responses of cells to exposures from our environment, and to look how genes are turned on or turned off.

TOOMEY: There may be up to 140,000 genes in the human body. At any given moment some are off. Others are on, or active. Environmental toxins like dioxin or heavy metals can cause illness by disrupting this on-off mechanism. But often, scientists don't know which genes have gone haywire. By using microchip technology, Dr. Paules is able to figure that out. When a gene is turned on it produces a substance called RNA. Each gene has its own distinctive RNA. Using this information, Dr. Paules exposes a batch of genes to a toxin. Then he scoops up the resulting RNA and tags it with a fluorescent red color.

PAULES: And we take another set of cells that are normal cells, that have not been exposed to anything, prepare the RNA from that, and then label that with a different chemical that under a laser will glow a certain color, but it's a different color.

TOOMEY: Usually green. So researcher have two color-coded clumps of RNA that represent the genes that are turned on in each group. To tease out the toxin's effect, they need to compare the two. To do that, they take a simple glass slide and use microchip technology to place 12,000 human genes on it. At that point, the slide is transformed into a gene chip.

PAULES: We will then allow these labeled or colored RNAs to float over the face of the chip.

TOOMEY: Conveniently, RNA sticks to the type of gene it came from. So if the toxic turns a gene on, the RNA from that gene finds its mate on the chip and makes that spot glow red. If the toxin turns a gene off, the spot that corresponds to that gene would glow green.

PAULES: So we have a slide, then, that has a collection of spots that are glowing either red or green. And the pattern, then, gives us a wealth of information as to the toxic mechanisms, what's going on in the cell. What genes are turned on and turned off.

TOOMEY: Each toxin creates a distinctive fluorescent pattern. Its own signature, so to speak.

PAULES: it should be able to give us some insight into some of the mechanisms of the disease processes underlying the genetic changes and the disease processes that occur as a result to an exposure. And when you can understand those mechanisms, then that holds the potential for an intervention and a therapy.

TOOMEY: Gene chips might also offer a way to pin down the effects of combinations of toxins, and they could be used to screen chemicals for their potential to cause illness.

PAULES: Once we've established a basis of information, then the expectation is that we will be able to use what we know to look at a new compound and say, well, that looks very similar to something we've seen before. We hope that this technology will allow us to do this very rapidly, and minimize the use of animals in these long-term studies.

TOOMEY: Dr. Paules says as more and more human genes are discovered, they'll be added to his gene chip. He hopes it may one day be possible to fit the entire human genome on a single chip. This would let scientists see, in a single moment, the complete picture of how a toxin affects our bodies. For Living on Earth, I'm Diane Toomey.

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Climate Talks Update

CURWOOD: The US government has released a striking new draft report on the projected impact of global climate change on America. Concerns range from the loss of sugar maples in the East and salmon runs in the west to coastal erosion and widespread shortages of fresh water. The report brought even more urgency to efforts to finish the 1997 treaty that would cut pollution that leads to climate change. The treaty is known as the Kyoto protocol. Unresolved issues include how to verify and enforce agreed pollution reductions, and how credits for reductions might be traded among nations. At the latest round of treaty talks last week in Bonn, Germany, the US was criticized for being obstructionist. It insists on being able to meet its obligations by investing in reductions in greenhouse gases overseas without a minimum requirement for reductions at home. Frank Loy is the American Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs. He explains the Administration’s position.

LOY: It's a fact that you can reduce emissions much more inexpensively in some places than others, and one of the things we want is to make sure that we take full advantage of that. Not only to reduce costs, but actually to increase the number of tons of carbon we can take out of the air. And one of the consequences of that, of course, would be that we would be able to transfer to developing countries where I think some of the cheaper tons would be available, some important technology and very significant resources in the form of investments. And get back certain of these credits, which would show that we were meeting our obligation. One sticking point is that some members of the European Union want to put a limit on the extent to which that mechanism is used, and want to require that we take certain additional measures at home.

CURWOOD: How do you respond to criticism of the United States, that our nation is concentrating too much on helping the developing world clean up its act without concentrating enough on reducing emissions at home?

LOY: I say two things. First of all, we are doing in fact a lot at home. But the second thing I would say is that the Earth doesn't care where the reduction in emissions takes place. A ton of carbon taken out of the air is a ton of carbon taken out of the air, whether it's done over Omaha or whether it's done in Oman. Therefore, it seemed to us that it made sense to develop a system where we took the ton out of the air in the most efficient fashion. In relatively few years, the developing countries as a whole will contribute more than half of all the greenhouse gas emissions. The developing countries are going to have to, in some fashion, become part of the system, and that's feasible. President Clinton, again and again, when he meets with leaders, makes the point that today, as opposed to 20 or 30 or 50 years ago, we know how to develop our industries without the kind of pollution that characterized the early part of the twentieth century.

CURWOOD: The criticism comes, though, that the United States is talking the talk but not walking the walk. Looking at our actual emissions since the Kyoto Protocol was signed, they continue to go up, rather than down.

LOY: That's accurate. We have had, since 1990, an unbelievably robust economy. And that has made our task more difficult. At Kyoto we took on a tough target. We said we would reduce our emissions by seven percent in a five-year period, 2008 to 2012. Because since that time our emissions have actually grown, we're going to have to reduce our emissions a good deal more, and the number is over 30 percent. What that tells us is that we have to work harder, but it also tells us that we have to work smarter. And that means that we have to use all of the techniques that were built into the Kyoto system to reduce emissions, and that includes the trading mechanisms that we just talked about.

CURWOOD: Frank Loy is the Undersecretary for Global Affairs for the United States. Thank you for speaking with me, Mr. Secretary.

LOY: Great pleasure.

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(Music up and under)

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 W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment: www.wajones.org; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: A sharp swing in Russian politics is raising big questions about environmental health and safety. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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Living on Earth Almanac

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for reporting on marine issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; the James and Kathleen Stone Foundation; the Town Creek Foundation; and the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues.

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

(Music up and under: "Stonehenge! Where the demons dwell. Where the banshees live, and they do live well!")

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Long, long ago, huge giants were said to have danced in circles on the plains of Salisbury, England. Their massive steps could be felt for miles around. Then without warning, the giant revelers were mysteriously turned to stone, their hands still joined in a circle. Now all that remains of their ancient choreography is a place called Stonehenge. Just a myth, you say? Well, Probably. But this story is just one of the legends inspired by the mystery of England’s most famous ancient wonder. And this week there will once again be revelers on the Salisbury plains. For the first time in sixteen years, Stonehenge will be open to the public for the summer solstice. Stonehenge was historically a ritual meeting ground for the Celtic intellectuals called Druids. But its original purpose is still shrouded in mystery. Some believe the stones were purposely arranged as a sort of calendar, first built around 3,000 BC But in any event, if you stand in the right spot across from the entrance to Stonehenge, you can see the sun rise directly over the giant arms of the great stone arch on the very first day of summer. And for this week, that’s the Living On Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under: "And where are they now? The little people of Stonehenge? And what would they say to us if we were here? Tonight?")

Russia and the Environment

CURWOOD: On May twenty-third the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, announced the abolition of the Russian State Committee for Environmental Protection. That's the equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency here in the United States. Mr. Putin proposes to put the responsibilities for that agency on the Natural Resources Agency, the group responsible for commercialization of natural resources. Joining me now is Living on Earth's political observer Mark Hertsgaard. Mark, I take it you think that Mr. Putin's decision is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

HERTSGAARD: Well, it's hard to avoid that conclusion, Steve. The State Committee for Environmental Protection is what its name suggests, the body that monitors environmental damages in Russia and regulates environmental procedures. And to abolish that agency is, as you say, it would be like not only abolishing EPA, but then giving EPA's functions over to, say, the Commerce Department. And the Commerce Department is an important department, but its function is to accelerate business development. And so these are two agencies that it's a conflict of interest, really, to give the monitoring functions over to the agency responsible for exploiting it.

CURWOOD: Now, what would be the impact on the environment of Russia from this bureaucratic change? I mean, the place is already in trouble. They've got a lot of pollution, and they're losing a lot of their natural resources.

HERTSGAARD: Yeah. I think it's almost impossible to overstate the catastrophic situation of the environment in Russia. This is a country where the rivers are so saturated with chemicals that one bursts into flame once a month. And so, what we're going to see is an intensification of a lot of the economic activities that are producing these problems. In fact, the very day after Mr. Putin's decision was announced, the Natural Resources Agency said that it was going to, quote, "simplify," unquote, the environmental rules governing industrial behavior in Russia. So, that's going to lead to more forests being cut down, more oil being drilled. Right now, Russia, for example, holds 22 percent of the world's forests. That's more than any other country. But they are planning to mount a major program to, quote, "fully realize the potential," unquote, of those forests by introducing a more attractive environment for private investment, with a $60 million loan from The World Bank. Mr. Putin has also named as his energy minister a relative unknown, Alexander Gavron, who is close to the oil monopoly, Kuloil.

CURWOOD: Now, what happens to environmental activists under Mr. Putin's government? Of course, environmental activism was key in Glasnost under Mr. Gorbachev in sort of a political opening. But Mr. Putin has a reputation as what? A high official in the KGB, the secret police, before he took this job. What do you think will happen now?

HERTSGAARD: By all appearances, Mr. Putin is bringing that same kind of paranoia from the KGB era into his new role as president. He has said to the Duma, the Russian parliament, that environmental groups provide what he calls convenient cover for foreign spies. And there has been a great increase of harassment, official harassment of environmental groups in Russia. In particular, Mr. Putin was describing the case of Alexander Nikitin, who is an environmental activist and journalist in Russia, who got some degree of international notoriety when he blew the whistle on the terrible nuclear pollution up in northwestern Russia off the Kola Peninsula, near the border with Finland and Norway. Nikitin made the mistake, in Putin's view, of working with the Norwegian environmental group, Bellona, publicizing the nuclear dangers up there. And they threw him in jail and put him on trial. Eventually Mr. Nikitin was exonerated because he had good legal representation and because they pointed out, look, we are only giving out information that's already publicly available. How can you possibly imprison a man for this? But you can be sure that if Mr. Putin gets his way, there's going to be a lot more cases like that.

CURWOOD: Mark, I have to ask you about this. Of course, Nikitin's case is about historic nuclear waste. But now I understand the Russian government is saying it would like to become the world's nuclear waste dump, import nuclear waste.

HERTSGAARD: Yes, this is in line with the same pro-business development mentality that Putin has announced here. They want to import nuclear waste, which is a very ironic thing for Russia, sadly ironic. Because Russia has more nuclear waste pollution than any other country in the world. Not just up on the Kola Peninsula but also in Chiliabins, where they made their nuclear weapons for 40 years. I've been there. Lake Karachai there has so much radiation from those 40 years of nuclear weapons production that if you stand by the shore of that lake for one hour, you will get a lethal dose of radiation. It has been called the single most polluted spot on Earth. They have no idea what to do with that waste. They don't have the money for it. And yet they want to import more. It's a catastrophic situation in Russia, and it's hard to imagine that it's not going to get much, much worse if this decision abolishing the environmental protection agency is allowed to stand.

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

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

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CURWOOD: Coming up: bridging the gap between the blues and the greens. Union and environmental activists find common ground in the Pacific Northwest. The story is just ahead on Living On Earth.

First, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

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Health Update

TOOMEY: People are living a lot longer these days and outfoxing the number crunchers in the process. That's the word from a new study on life expectancy in the major industrialized nations. Using new forecasting models to predict future death rates, researchers say by the year 2050, people in First World countries might live up to eight years longer than official estimates now predict. Japan is one country that really miscalculate the life span of its citizens. Official estimates there place life expectancy in the year 2050 at about 83. But this new study says the average Japanese will live to just shy of a ninety-first birthday. The study's authors caution industrialized nations to plan ahead, given the expected pressure on their retirement and health care systems. That’s this week’s health update. I’m Diane Toomey.

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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. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. And you can reach our listener line anytime, at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CD's, tapes and transcripts are fifteen dollars each.

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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For years, labor unionists and environmentalists have mostly ignored each other. For a while in the 1970s the two groups banded together to push landmark labor and environmental bills through Congress. But then they slowly drifted apart. You might have seen them together at liberal rallies or under the Democratic party's umbrella, but they didn't talk much to each other. Differences over climate change and tensions over jobs related to natural resources kept them at arm's length. But more recently pressure from the new global economy has been bringing them closer together. Unions were seeing jobs head overseas. Environmentalists feared an increasing demand on the planet's resources. They starting talking again, and by the time of the world trade organization meeting in Seattle they were marching arm in arm.

MAN: When we come together as environmentalists, as human rights activists and trade unionists we can literally change the course of history, and we are taking that first step here today. Thank you. (Cheers)

CURWOOD: But this reunion is still tenuous. Living on Earth's Chris Ballman recently spent a few days traveling with some of the people who are trying to forge this coalition.

CATON: I got it, I got it.

BALLMAN: Cliff Caton and Don Kegley are packing the car for a road trip through the Pacific Northwest. They have no trouble lifting their gear into the trunk of Cliff's blue Chevy Lumina. That's because Cliff and Don are big burly guys. They both sport black T-shirts, leather jackets, and jeans, but it's easy to tell them apart. Cliff has the ponytail. Don shaves his head.

CATON: The place that we do our drinking is right over there.

KEGLEY: That's the neighborhood bar right down there.

CATON: The Trenton Dale.

KEGLEY: The Trenton Dale.

CATON: Little bitty place and they just squeeze them in.

BALLMAN: Caton and Kegley look like members of a motorcycle gang but the colors they wear belong to the United Steel Workers of America. They worked at Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane, Washington, until a labor dispute with the Maxxam Corporation left them locked out of the plan.

(A guitar plays)

BALLMAN: Now Caton and Kegley think environmentalists can help them get their jobs back. Cliff even makes up songs about it to pass the time on the road.

CATON: (Sings to the tune of "If I Had a Hammer") But then along came the unions, and the people from the forests, and we got together to take back our land. To fight against the Maxxams and the corporate structure. To prove when we stand together we can do anything we want to -- and that's kind of where the song breaks down and we ain't got that figured out yet.

BALLMAN: To figure it out, Cliff, Don, and other steel workers roam the Pacific Northwest these days, building what they call the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment. Today they're heading to Eugene, Oregon, where their alliance was born about a year ago. They went to Eugene looking for allies in an environmental conference, but they didn't know the players. And as Don Kegley recalls, they almost left without meeting one of the most important.

KEGLEY: We were getting ready to leave and a gentleman came up to us and said, "David Brower would like to buy you a beer." And we were kind of excited about that, except that two young women had offered to take us also to a big party. It was kind of a funny moment, because Don and I were like wrestling back and forth: Let's see, do we go get the beer or do we go with the women to the party, and they've probably got beer there, too.

BALLMAN: So they went for the beer with David Brower, and found out that the octogenarian is considered the dean of the modern environmental movement. Don Kegley told Brower that he'd love to have him at an upcoming meeting about labor and environmentalists working together. "Not half as much as I'd love to have you," Brower replied.

KEGLEY: And I really knew then, when he said that, he was talking about labor. He had shared the same vision that we'd come to know, that as long as we continue to divide each other and let the corporations put us in little boxes and label us, we weren't going to get anywhere. So it was very incredible that he had already recognized and was really after us as much as we were after him.

BALLMAN: With Brower's blessing and the steelworker's organization behind it, the alliance was born. Built around a partnership between unions and environmentalists in the Northwest. Returning to Eugene for this year's environmental conference, the steelworkers are no longer strangers.

(Mingling crowds)

WOMAN: I'm glad you guys are here.

CATON: Thank you.

KEGLEY: Thanks, we're glad to be here. We're glad we've been accepted like we have.

BALLMAN: To kick off its founding, the alliance ran an ad in the New York Times. It asked, "Have you heard the one about the steelworker and the environmentalist?" Today in Union Hall's corporate boardrooms and coffee houses, the joke is being taken seriously. Alliance members say they have the beginnings of a national movement.

PICKETT: It feels like it's on the cutting edge, and the potential is tremendous.

BALLMAN: Karen Pickett is a forest activist who's found common ground with unionists in a common enemy: Charles Hurwitz and his Texas-based Maxxam Corporation. In 1986 Maxxam acquired the Pacific Lumber Company in northern California and began aggressively logging redwoods. A few years later Maxxam bought Kaiser Aluminum. The company's first ever strike followed, and in a move the National Labor Relations Board has since called illegal, the workers were locked out of the plants. After a few Internet connections and a couple of phone calls, Karen Pickett says the parallel universes of the aluminum mill and the redwood forest converged.

PICKETT: You listen to the changes that they said took place in the Kaiser plants, and it was the same method of operation. Which isn't surprising, but here we were sitting across the table from these people, who weren't part of our campaign. And we were speaking the same language and having the same problems.

BALLMAN: Like many alliances, this one began modestly. The Kaiser steelworkers asked redwood activists to use union printers. The environmentalists got steelworkers to use recycled paper. But the alliance picked up steam with the corporate campaign against Maxxam. Lawsuits, boycotts, and a lobbying and public relations blitz took off. The goal was to increase union leverage at the negotiating table and hold Charles Hurwitz morally accountable for cutting down ancient redwoods. A Maxxam spokesman calls the alliance a marriage of convenience between disgruntled workers and eco-terrorists, and its corporate campaign a waste of time and money. But it is having an impact. Maxxam's stock has lost half its value since last summer.

PICKETT: Charles Hurwitz, thank you. He has given us a good example to hold up there, and he has brought us together in something that's very powerful.

(On the road)

CATON: (Yawns) How far are we out?

KEGLEY: We're only five minutes away.

CATON: Five minutes away; we need a five-minute song.

BALLMAN: Cliff Caton, Don Kegley, and I are on Highway 101 now, heading into Eureka, California, center stage in the feud over the redwood forests.

(A phone rings)

KEGLEY:[phonetic spelling] Hello? Hey, Garlic, what are you doing?

BALLMAN: The alliance has his office here and Don is working the phones. He talks with locals who have complaints against Maxxam, checks in on the lawsuits, and to appreciate up close the trees they are now committed to saving, the steelworkers sometimes travel to Founder's Grove just south of Eureka. This redwood sanctuary is a place of majestic beauty, and sometimes inspiration.

CATON: (Sings) As I watch one more truck full of old growth leave the mountains and head toward the mill, I wonder why they can't see the destruction that is caused when you clear-cut a hill...

BALLMAN: Cliff Caton's making up songs again, and nature is his studio. Cliff, Don Kegley, and I are standing comfortably inside the rotting innards of a redwood that rises several hundred feet and is nearly 12 feet around. It's like being inside the ruins of a cathedral.


CATON: It amazes me that we would even consider cutting trees like this down to make decks and hot tubs. It's just insane.

BALLMAN: But trees are being cut near here. Maxxam's Pacific Lumber Company is based just a few miles away, and its men, trucks, and helicopters are working around us.

(Helicopter rotors)

BALLMAN: We leave Founder's Grove to go see a man who's trying to stop the logging of unprotected trees.

CATON: So how long you been back up?

MADESON: Oh, a little over a week, I guess, now.

CATON: Really.

MADESON: Not too long, just kind of getting settled in, so to speak. Takes a little while.

BALLMAN: Nate Madeson is perched on a platform 150 feet up a redwood just outside Freshwater, California, the place where voices echo through the hills. He's been living in the tree for 20 months now, to keep it from being cut down. Occasionally he likes to take a break, if he can find a replacement. The idea tempts Cliff Caton.

CATON: I heard somebody throwing around an idea of getting a steelworker up there for a little while, anyhow. I wouldn't mind doing it.

KEGLEY: Well, Cliff, you can sleep just about anywhere. I'll bet you can sleep up there. (Madeson laughs)

CATON: Just give me a rope to tie to the trunk in case I start tossing and turning in the night and I’m there. (Kegley laughs)

MADESON: There you go.

CATON: Okay, Bud, take care.

MADESON: All right, guys.

CATON: Later. (Madeson whoops)

BALLMAN: Hugging trees and hanging out with forest activists are new experiences for steelworkers. And after we check in at the Earth First office in nearby Arcada, I asked Don Kegley about the bond forming between the leather-jacketed visitors and their tie-dyed hosts. He likens it to a slow dance.

KEGLEY: Where we've, maybe in the past, looked at some of the young activists and thought, you know, these are a bunch of hippies and dreadlocks, goofy kids, but a lot of these kids look at us with suspicion. And some of them have even said to us, "Well you guys are the problem, though. I mean, you guys are the ones that are consuming." I mean, we're the ones that are buying in massive amounts all the products that are causing the corporations to have to continue to extract more and more resources. I feel guilty once in a while when they start talking about, you know, what the automobile is doing, and I know that I have this big old truck that costs $40,000 and burns a lot of diesel (laughs). And so, that's the downside, is that they are pre-judging us, too. It's a very strange balancing act that we're going through, and it's not like we're just doing it. But it's just something that's happening on both sides. We're like pulling and giving and looking, and it's different.

(Snoring on the road)

BALLMAN: Cliff Caton's snoring now. He's stretched out in the back of the car as it rambles up the California coast. Don Kegley's behind the wheel for the first stretch of the 12-hour ride to the steelworker's union hall in Spokane, Washington. Don and Cliff agree that if looks and lifestyle were the only gauge, many of their coworkers might not accept the grungy forest activists as allies. Truth is, most union members don't know about the alliance being forged with environmentalists, but some are taking an interest.

STROMM: Turns out I work at one of the least environmentally conscious places, probably, on the planet.

BALLMAN: Larry Stromm is on the picket line at the Kaiser Aluminum plant in Mead, Washington. Nearby, a coworker is splitting wood to stoke a potbellied stove that heats a makeshift strike headquarters. Stromm doesn't know if environmentalists can help him get his job back, but he says they have forced him to take a closer look at his industry.

STROMM: You know, we're just outside a plant here, where they've had, you know, in the last 18 months, an excess of $200,000 in fines. The thing is, they pay the money as a business expense, but yet the pollution's there. You know, the people around the plant live with it, and you know, I live in this town. And it really kind of makes me rethink a little bit what I'm doing, too.

BALLMAN: Still, Larry Stromm says he doesn't always see eye to eye with environmentalists. Tearing down dams to restore salmon runs, a green mantra here in the Pacific Northwest, he's not sure he can support that. Could hurt the region's economy, he says. The jobs versus environment argument remains an obstacle for the alliance to overcome, and there are other hurdles to cross.

(A group sings: "We shall not, we shall not be moved. We shall not, we shall not be moved...")

BALLMAN: We're at the State House in Olympia, Washington, now. Steelworkers are lobbying lawmakers to extend unemployment benefits for locked-out Kaiser workers. But union leaders did not invite environmental activists to join them here. They also canceled a labor environment protest at a Kaiser plant in nearby Tacoma. Some observers say union leaders balked at the prospect of environmentalists committing civil disobedience and getting arrested, a common tactic among green activists. The labor movement was born of that kind of fervor but today it's an institution, bound by laws which limit its activities and discourage militancy. The difference in tactics bothers steelworker Don Kegley as he tries to build the alliance. Unless labor gets aggressive, he fears environmental activists may walk away.

KEGLEY: They just want to say the hell with your lawyers, you know. The hell with the law. And I, if anything I begin to quiz those things myself. I mean, because, if we're just going to be subservient to the law and subservient to everything without protest, without standing up, I don't know if we are going to change anything. I don't want these kids to fight my fight. I'd love to have them join in, but if we can't participate, I have a problem with that.

(Milling voices, laughter)

BALLMAN: Remember that ad the alliance placed in the New York Times? The ad that asked if you'd heard the one about the steelworker and the environmentalist. Well, there is such a couple. Don Kegley introduced them to me in Eugene, Oregon.

BUTTERFLY-HILL: My name is Julia Butterfly-Hill.

GOODMAN: John Goodman.

BALLMAN: John Goodman and Julia Butterfly-Hill sit holding hands in a lounge at the University of Oregon Law School. It's the first time they've seen each other since Butterfly-Hill climbed down a redwood tree called Luna. Julia Butterfly-Hill spent 738 days living on a small platform high in the tree. She did it to keep Pacific Lumber from cutting it down, and in the process the waif-like tree-sitter earned the respect of the beefy steelworker.

GOODMAN: You know, I used to think I was a tough guy. I went to Vietnam, I was in martial arts for a lot of years, full-contact karate, road bowls and rodeos and stuff like that. But when I met her I had to redefine what tough was, you know, and what tenacity is, and what true grit is. And I'll tell you what. She has definitely shown me that. She's something else.

BALLMAN: John Goodman spent hours talking Julia Butterfly-Hill through the cold, stormy, just plain lonely nights. He also spent hours negotiating with officials at Pacific Lumber. The steelworker and the lumberjacks spoke the same language, and eventually they struck a deal that saved Butterfly-Hill's redwood.

BUTTERFLY-HILL: If anyone doubts the power of alliances, they can drive north from San Francisco, 250 miles north. And on a little ridge top above the town of Stafford, the very top is a magnificent tree standing, and three acres around it, which is just a piece of the puzzle. But it is a phenomenal piece of the puzzle, the tree being over 1,000 years old, marked to be turned into somebody's deck, where it could last maybe another 100 to 200, tops. Now stands for at least another thousand years. That happened, that area is protected forever, to live and die by nature's laws for the rest of time, because of alliances. That's the power of alliances.

BALLMAN: One tree, it's said, does not a forest make. And given its cultural, tactical, and political differences, this alliance is as fragile as a newly-planted sapling. But if they can save more redwoods and help some steelworkers gets their jobs back, these activists say their work will help pave a road for unionists and environmentalists to travel together.

(A car door shuts; an engine starts up)

BALLMAN: And that's where Don Kegley and Cliff Caton are headed, back out on that road.

KEGLEY: Hello?

BALLMAN: Don on his cell phone, and Cliff on his guitar, making the calls and making up the songs they say can bridge the gap between the blues and the greens.

(A guitar strums)

CATON: (Sings) As I watch one more truck full of old growth leave the mountains and -- mountains and head for the mill, there we go. Can I write this down as I go? Mill...

BALLMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Chris Ballman.

CATON: (Sings) Wonder why they can't see the destruction that is carving clear-cut hill...

Back to top


CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, and Maggie Villiger, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, and Bree Horwitz. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is science editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

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