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

July 7, 2000

Air Date: July 7, 2000


Adirondacks and Acid Rain / Brenda Tremblay

Brenda Tremblay reports on the effects of acid rain in the Adirondacks. The Clean Air Act of 1990 was supposed to reduce the amount of emissions causing acid rain. But the pollution continues. Currently, about five hundred of the region’s 2,800 lakes are uninhabitable for fish. A new ruling that will reduce emissions from power plants in the Midwest, may slow down the damage. (08:25)

Maine on the Move / Linda Tatelbaum

Commentator Linda Tatelbaum laments the loss of identity and community as the economic boom comes to the Maine coast. (03:10)

Technology Note / Cynthia Graber

Living On Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports that scientists have found the key to preventing aluminum poisoning in wheat and barley. (00:59)

Europe Dims the Lights on Nuclear Power / Mark Hertsgaard

Living On Earth’s News Analyst Mark Hertsgaard assesses the recent moves to phase out, or move away from, nuclear power in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France and Britain. (06:30)

Country Live / Steve Curwood

Host Steve Curwood discovers what attracts the neighborhood deer to his garden, and what keeps them away, now that he no longer has a dog. (02:22)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about tea. Only 96 summers ago, modern day iced tea was invented as a popular thirst quencher. But the history of tea and its leaves goes back more than 5000 years. (01:30)

Trouble on the Mexican Riveria / Kent Patterson

Kent Patterson reports on the environmental impact of unchecked tourist development and population growth around the Mexican resort of Acapulco, and the growing citizens’ movement to deal with the problems. (05:35)

Health Update

Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports that exercise can keep your blood vessels looking half their age. (00:59)

Georgia Lost and Found / Jesse Wegman

Jesse Wegman travels the Georgia coast to bring us the story of the near-death of a unique African-American culture and of a small flicker of hope for its survival. The story of the community of black fishermen and farmers at Harris Neck is told through the eyes of Wilson Moran. Mr. Moran left Harris Neck as a teenager, and returned to recultivate his roots there nearly forty years later. (17:05)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Brenda Tremblay, Kent Patterson, Jesse Wegman
UPDATES: Cynthia Graber, Diane Toomey
GUEST: Mark Hertsgaard
COMMENTATOR: Linda Tatelbaum

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

A federal court has given the EPA the green light to crack down on power plant pollution in the Midwest. For residents of New York's Adirondack Mountains, relief can't come too soon.

BOWES: It's like living downwind of a volcano. When the wind's blowing out of the southwest, you don't have to be a genius to see where the acid rain is coming from, because you can see the ash in the atmosphere.

CURWOOD: Also, the economic boom comes to Maine for better and for worse.

TATELBAUM: Our clapboard community halls and modest homes are no match for their office parks and gated executive retreats. The increased tax base and charitable donations are attractive, but the fate of our little town is now in the hands of a global corporation.

CURWOOD: Those stories and the politics of nuclear power this week on Living on Earth, but first this news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Adirondacks and Acid Rain

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Coal-fired power plants in the Midwestern U.S. will soon be cutting their emissions, thanks to a recent federal court ruling. The new federal limits on nitrogen oxides are expected to reduce smog in northeastern cities and make the air safer to breathe. There are also projected benefits for the countryside. Nitrogen oxides in the air are among the components of acid rain, which had been injuring plants, lakes, and streams throughout the Northeast for years. Brenda Tremblay of member station WXXI in Rochester has this report from New York's Adirondack Mountains.

(Bird song, ambient voices)

TREMBLAY: The summer vacation season is in full swing on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. At the Covewood Lodge, staff members in matching green t-shirts are running around, getting ready to host a wedding. The lodge's owner, Major Bowes, watches the bustle at the front desk with a satisfied smile. He says he's loved life in the Adirondacks ever since he moved here 50 years ago.

BOWES: We have a few bugs in the spring, a little cold in the winter. But it's just terrific. And you don't have to walk far where you can be back 10,000 years, it looks just the same.

TREMBLAY: But the Adirondacks aren't the same. People used to come to Big Moose Lake to fish. Now they go elsewhere because this lake is too acidic for most fish to survive. Even before the fish left, Major Bowes says, changes in the Adirondacks started to affect his own family, who drinks treated spring water from the surrounding mountains.

BOWES: Our girls were not well when they were growing up. And we couldn't find out what was the matter with them. And even the Saranac Lake Hospital, they couldn't find. We never did find out. But in the course of searching, we found that our water had five times the recommended lead and three times the recommended copper in it. And it was coming because the acid was eating the pipes. We were literally drinking our pipes.

TREMBLAY: So Major Bowes started adding limestone to his water supply. He installed a sand filter. And over time his daughters got better. By that time, people had stopped fishing Big Moose Lake, even though it's one of the largest lakes in the region. Other Adirondack lakes were losing fish, too, and scientists are pretty sure they know why.

(A canoe is set up)

KRETSER: Okay, I'll set things up here a minute.

TREMBLAY: Fifty miles north, at the foot of White Face Mountain, Walter Kretser and his assistants climb into a canoe on the bank of Owen Pond. They drop a plastic tube into the water, seal it, and draw up a sample to pour into a flask.


KRETSER: Okay. We analyze each of these samples for 20 different parameters. And what this is, is an effort to look at trends as a result of the Clean Air Act of 1990.

TREMBLAY: For seven years Walter Kretser and his team have studied water samples from 52 different Adirondack lakes. Some of the lakes are so remote they have to fly in a helicopter to reach them. The lakes and mountains of the Adirondacks make up the largest state park in the continental United States. But it's the park's location that interests scientists like Mr. Kretser. The Adirondack Mountains can rise as high as 5,000 feet, and they are exposed to winds from the southwest. So everything that's put into the atmosphere from the Midwest to the Great Lakes makes its way to this wilderness.

KRETZER: So, you know, the atmosphere is coming down like a river toward us, and we have this big dam, and the dam is the Adirondacks. And everything splashes on top of the Adirondacks.

(Water splashes)

TREMBLAY: "Everything" includes acid rain, formed by nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxides, which are spewed into the air by coal-burning plants, converted to acids in the atmosphere, and carried here in the clouds. The good news is that acid rain caused by sulfur dioxide emissions has decreased in the last seven years. The bad news is that acid rain caused by nitrogen oxide has not decreased. Instead, it has increased by two percent. Already, Walter Kretser says, 750 of the 3,000 lakes in the Adirondacks are so acidified that life in and around the lake is affected. The fish are disappearing, the trees are rotting. Even birds and animals, such as eagles, otters, and loons are being affected as the situation gets worse.

KRETSER: So, theoretically, if we continue exactly the way we're doing now, we could in fact have as many as 40 percent of our lakes affected in the next 50 years.

TREMBLAY: That's why, Mr. Kretser says, the latest ruling by U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington is such good news for the Adirondacks. The court gave the Environmental Protection Agency permission to force 19 states to reduce their emissions of nitrogen oxide. The reductions will begin in the year 2003. Mr. Kretser says he expects to detect improvements almost right away.

KRETSER: Some of the lakes that are in the middle, that are marginally acidified now, could in fact be in good shape in just a very short time, and could support fish populations.

TREMBLAY: But what's good news for the health of the Adirondacks isn't necessarily good news for Midwestern industries. Over the next few years, meeting the new standards will cost industries billions of dollars. Democratic Congressman Sherrod Brown represents constituents in northern Ohio, where the auto and steel industries have already had to comply with stricter, more expensive emissions controls.

BROWN: The industries in northeast Ohio will tell you that they have had difficulty complying with clean air laws. But they also have done it.

TREMBLAY: And grumbled about it, Congressman Brown adds. He says he supports most bills that benefit public health and the environment. But he admits that doesn't please everyone in his district.

BROWN: It's elicited phone calls from some industrials in my area that aren't particularly happy. And we talk about it, and they end up complying and doing what they're supposed to do.

MARDOCK: This is an important first step, but it's certainly not the end of the road. It's kind of the beginning of the journey.

TREMBLAY: Jane Mardock is the director of the Clean Air Network, an alliance of organizations that advocates for better air quality. Ms. Mardock says she's pleased by the new ruling. But, she says, the plan has one serious weakness.

MARDOCK: This rule is focused on reducing emissions during the five summer-time months, which is April through October. And the worst time for acid rain is really in the spring, when they have build-up of emissions between October and April, the other seven months of the year.

TREMBLAY: Because acid rain falls all year round, Ms. Mardock says, the EPA should be able to enforce reductions of emissions 12 months of the year. But in this recent ruling, the agency's focus is ozone and the human health problems it causes, not acid rain. Nonetheless, Jane Mardock says she's not complaining. Any emissions reduction at all will benefit the Adirondacks.

MARDOCK: In the abstract, yes, it will help. But time will tell how much it will help, actually.

TREMBLAY: Back at Covewood Lodge in the Adirondacks, Major Bowes says he's very happy about the news from Washington.

BOWES: This is something that affects everybody, no matter who you are. And so, we should all be interested in it.

(People milling)

TREMBLAY: Mr. Bowes has welcomed the first wedding guests to his lodge on Big Moose Lake. While they're checking in, he steps out onto the porch and points to yellow, hazy clouds hanging over the mountains across the lake.

BOWES: It's like living downwind of a volcano, 24 hours a day. When the wind's blowing out of the southwest, or even out of the west, you don't have to be a genius to see where the acid rain is coming from, because you can see the ash in the atmosphere.

TREMBLAY: But Mr. Bowes is hopeful that in a few years he'll be able to stand on his porch and see fluffy white clouds. And maybe even a few fish jumping out of Big Moose Lake. For Living on Earth, I'm Brenda Tremblay in Big Moose, New York.

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(Bird song up and under)

Maine on the Move

CURWOOD: Down east Maine there are still plenty of small hamlets where life is slow and unique. But like the rest of the nation, Maine is changing, too, and long-time Maine transplant Linda Tatelbaum isn't so sure that's a good thing.

TATELBAUM: Pity the little city of Rockland, Maine, built on the edge of Penobscot Bay. Fishing town, county seat, commercial center. Rockland was never home to wealthy summer people like Camden up the road. The local saying goes, "Camden by the sea, Rockland by the smell." Today it's not the smell of fish but the smell of money that flavors Rockland.

Like the rest of Maine, Rockland used to be peopled by independent cusses who'd rather be poor than dance to a distant drummer. When my husband and I moved here in the 70s, we embraced a community that affirmed the small, the slow, the self-reliant. When we did shop it was in downtown Rockland for hardware or lumber or clothes. We needed the town and it needed us, and we were in it together, for life.

Two decades later, many local businesses are gone. Instead, we have a strip of McDonald's, Pizza Hut, a Wal-Mart. Main Street is said to have survived nicely. Its brick storefronts now house art galleries and upscale restaurants. But Rockland's future no longer depends so much on residents as on visitors and investors.

The downtown renaissance, as it's called, is dominated by the Farnsworth Art Museum, attracting tourists in droves. And the museum is lavishly funded by a corporate newcomer, credit card giant MBNA. It's a quandary. Delaware-based MBNA has proven itself the quintessential good corporate neighbor since coming to midcoast Maine in 1992. Their telemarketing centers have brought thousands of jobs and civic investments to Rockland, Belfast, and Camden. All three coastal towns now sparkle with period streetlamps, rolling lawns, stone walls. But MBNA's generosity erodes a community where everyone was in it together. Bake sales, raffles, scrimping and saving, are things of the past now that MBNA's grants are available for schools, libraries, and ball fields.

And like it or not, MBNA soon will be everyone's neighbor, as the corporation buys up property all over the area. Our clapboard community halls and modest homes are no match for their office parks and gated executive retreats. The increased tax base and charitable donations are attractive, but the fate of our little town is now in the hands of a global corporation.

Maine is on the move, Governor Angus King likes to say. And the current boom has brought us a share of America's prosperity. But where are we going, and who gets to decide? And now that the smell of money fills the air here, will we still be in it together?

CURWOOD: Linda Tatelbaum teaches English at Colby College. Her new book is Writer on the Rocks: Moving the Impossible.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: The lights dim in Europe for nuclear power. That story is coming up here on Living on Earth.

CURWOOD: First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

(Music up and under)

Technology Note

GRABER: Aluminum is an element that's found naturally in the soil. Usually it doesn't cause a problem, but in acidic soils aluminum can be toxic to the roots of crops. And this can drastically cut down the amount of food the land can produce. It's a widespread problem that affects almost a third of the world's potentially arable land, and dealing with it can be expensive. But some strains of important plants, like wheat and barley, are naturally resistant to aluminum toxicity. Now, researchers have found the location of the resistance gene in both crops. This means resistant strains can be identified in the laboratory and then can be cross-bred with strains that aren't resistant. Eventually, researchers say they might be able to use genetic engineering to transfer the genes from plants that can withstand aluminum poisoning to other unrelated crops. 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.

Europe Dims the Lights on Nuclear Power

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Germany's announcement that they're going to be phasing out nuclear power over the next 20 years attracted a lot of attention around the world. Less noticed, though, have been some other major developments in the continuing debate over nuclear power. For example, there is serious talk about ending it in Sweden, and a complete shut-down is now planned in Holland. Above all, nuclear power is stalling even in the two nations that are most committed to it, Japan and France. Does all this signify a turn away from nuclear power once and for all? With us now to help answer that question is Living on Earth's political observer, Mark Hertsgaard. Hi, Mark.


CURWOOD: Mark, let's start with Germany. Now, this decision is basically the result of politics, right?

HERTSGAARD: Yes, indeed. The Green Party has been demanding an end to nuclear power since they first began in the 1970s. Now they're in power. They're in the government as the junior coalition partner to the Social Democrats of Chancellor Schroeder, and that has been their key demand: End nuclear power. Schroeder agreed to this during the campaign, tried to backtrack once he was in office. German industry also tried to put the kabosh on the plan. The Greens have held tough on it, though, and now they've got a deal. And this deal is the following. That basically by the year 2020, over the next 20 years, Germany will shut down all 19 of the nuclear plants that provide the country with 31 percent of its electricity. So, that's a pretty major accomplishment for the Greens. It's worth noting, though, that there was some dissent within the Green Party about accepting this deal, because they're afraid that if Schroeder and the Greens get voted out during the next election, that the new government could rescind it. On the other hand, the anti-nuclear sentiment is very strong in Germany. Politically, this is now definitive, in the sense of, okay, Germany is now coming out and saying we're the first major industrial power to stop nuclear power. That's obviously going to have some big effects. France in particular, they now get 70 percent of their electricity from nukes. It's going to be interesting to see what happens there. They've got a moratorium at the moment on new nuclear construction, up until the year 2002, and then they have an election. So, after that election, be interesting to see, are the greens going to be even more in power in France than now? And will they push for a similar kind of restriction?

CURWOOD: Now, what about the Dutch? They're going to have a full moratorium, but they don't have many plants, right?

HERTSGAARD: They're closing their last nuclear plant in the year 2003. They will be completely non-nuclear at that point. And recently we hear from Sweden that the Swedes, who rely on nuclear for 48 percent of their electricity supply right now, the Swedish Environment Minister came out and said we should get rid of nuclear power entirely, and Sweden wants to be a leader in renewable energy development.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering about Japan. They're another really big nuclear user. Of course there was that big accident back in September, that reprocessing plant. A couple people were killed. There was a lot of radiation. What is happening to the support of nuclear power there?

HERTSGAARD: Well, that action that you mentioned, Steve, that may have been the world's most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl. And predictably enough, it had an enormous effect on the Japanese public opinion. Of course, Japan has particular historical reasons for concern about nuclear technology, and when that accident came last September it really reminded people of just how small and densely populated a country Japan is vis a vis nuclear technology. So, big public opposition, clearly jeopardizing the government's plan to build 20 new reactors. They were planning to build 20 new reactors over the next ten years. Hard to imagine that going forward. The government is now questioning the credibility of the nuclear industry in Japan, and you've got one more real logistical problem, which is they have no place to put that waste. And the public is really concerned about that, because it's such a densely populated country. The Russians, as we mentioned a couple weeks ago on this program, the Russians are seeing that as an opportunity, saying send your nuclear waste to us. So that could open up a little breathing room for the Japanese. But nuclear power looks like it's in big, big trouble in Japan now.

CURWOOD: What about the less-developed countries? I'm thinking of South Asia, where there are a lot of plans to build nuclear power plants. South Korea in particular, but also China, India, they're talking about it.

HERTSGAARD: That's right. The nuclear industry for many years has been looking to the less-developed countries as a possible salvation for their market problems. South Korea is a big market for them. They now have six nuclear plants under construction. They say they want to add 14 more. Interesting to see if they're going to be able to go forward with that, now with the kind of new concerns about this. And then of course the big tamale here is China. China has been saying that it wanted to have 40,000 megawatts of nuclear power by the year 2020. But last year, they, too, said that they're going to essentially call a moratorium for the next three years, which is probably good, since right now two of the plants that they've got on their drawing boards are two Russian-designed nuclear reactors that are supposed to go down in the most densely-populated area of the world, south China.

CURWOOD: It doesn't look like nuclear power is doing well anywhere, but what about the call that it could be used to help fight global warming?

HERTSGAARD: That's always been what the nuclear industry has been saying. Nuclear plants obviously don't release any CO2. And therefore, if you don't want coal, come to nuclear. The problem with that, of course, is the cost. Nuclear power was always promoted as being too cheap to meter. Now it's turning out to be uneconomical throughout the world. And as a result, even in France, the big champion of nuclear power, when they unveiled their plan for fighting global warming in January, even France does not foresee a significant reliance on nuclear power.

CURWOOD: We don't have much time left, Mark, but what's your analysis? Nuclear power is finished on the planet?

HERTSGAARD: I don't think it's finished. One of the most devilish aspects of nuclear power is that you're never quite done with it because of the waste. It stay around for thousands and thousands of years. However, as a growing commercial concern, it's very hard to see much future for nuclear power, and the German and French decisions are just further evidence of that.

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

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

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(Music up and under)

Country Live

CURWOOD: Each of us has our own ways of marking the seasons. The signs of summer around my house are country music, yes, and disappearing Hasta plants. Now, Hastas are squat little bushes with leaves about as wide as a hand, and when spring turns to summer they sprout lush, new growth that deer love.

When I had a dog roaming the grounds of my New England farm house, my Hastas made it through the season untouched. But once I no longer had a dog, well, the local doe began bringing her gang by in the early mornings. Now they neatly snip off the Hasta leaves, at a respectable length, of course, that allows them to grow back. I don't so much mind the deer pruning my Hasta plants. But last weekend they went too far.

It was a beautiful sunny morning. The ground just damp enough to make weed pulling almost a pleasure, and I found the tops of my biggest tomato plants had disappeared along with the Hasta shoots. A lethal lament slipped into my thoughts. Serves you right, I said to myself, for putting up those signs telling hunters they are not welcome. If you'd let those hunters come around last winter, you'd be picking more tomatoes this summer. Too late now, I thought. I could get a new dog, but the time's just not right.

Or I could seek advice from my neighbor, farmer Randy. Randy grows such tasty corn, grapes, and strawberries on his 300 acres that folks drive for miles when they know he's picking.

"Randy," I says, "you ever heard of a deer eating tomato plants?"

"Yup," he says. "And they usually spit it right back out. They'd much rather eat Hasta."

So I suppose I could plant even more Hasta. Or, Randy says, "Put on the radio."

I smile at this one, until he says the next thing. "But don't put on your kind of radio. All that news stuff and talking. It's got to be music."


"And not just any music. Country music," he says. "The deer around here don't seem to mind rock or pop, but if they hear country music they flash that white tail and they are gone. It doesn't even have to be that loud. Just leave it on 24 hours a day."

Hmm. Suppose my neighbors like that better than a barking dog? Well, so far it's working. So, here's to the voices of summer. George Strait and Dixie Chicks? Thanks.

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(Country music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supporting reporting on western issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity: www.wajones.org.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. Regenerating the roots that grow to bind a community and culture. Our special voyage of discovery on the coast of Georgia is coming up, right here on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under: "Georgia On My Mind")

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

(Music up and under: "Tea for Two")

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: For many people, nothing hits the spot on a hot summer day like a frosty glass of ice tea. The first ice tea is said to have first been served in 1904 in an act of commercial desperation. As the story goes, a tea vendor at the St. Louis World's Fair was having little luck selling regular hot tea during a heat wave. So, he finally got the idea to pour ice into the brew and hit the jackpot. Tea leaves come from a pointy green plant by the name of Camellia sinensis, that's native to India and China. Wild Camellia can grow up to 30 meters high. And centuries ago, monkeys were recruited to pick the leaves and drop them into baskets. The flavor of tea depends upon the soil, the climate, and the altitude where it's grown, as well as the way it's processed and blended with other teas. The world's first hot cup of tea is also the stuff of legend. A Chinese emperor was reclining under a tea tree nearly 5,000 years ago while his servant boiled some water. A leaf fell from the tree and landed in the pot. When the emperor drank from the pot he discovered a taste that would eventually captivate much of the world. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Trouble on the Mexican Riveria

CURWOOD: When tourists think of Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta, they usually visualize white beaches, sparkling resorts, and fresh ocean breezes. But many locals think of something else. Decades of tourist development and population growth in the so-called Mexican Riviera are causing severe problems. Kent Patterson reports on efforts to rescue one of the world's most famous coastlines.

(Spilling into water)

PATTERSON: Raw sewage spills from a pipe into a lagoon that flows into Zewateneho Bay. A half-finished marina looms over the polluted swamp.

CANJALES: [Speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Margarito Canjales is a long-time fisherman from Zewateneho Bay. He blames the sewage and other forms of pollution for killing fish and shellfish in the lagoon, once an important breeding ground for the bay's marine line.

(Several men speak)

PATTERSON: On a third-story patio overlooking the bay, members of the newly-formed Movement for the Defense and Protection of Zewateneho Bay hold a meeting. Anita, who doesn't want her last name used, arrived in Zewateneho 40 years ago.

ANITA: We used to go and find lobsters right down on the beach, and we had all kinds of clams. All kinds of clams we had. And lobster, they would say hey, which one you want today? They could go and pick up the lobster right on the rocks. That was 40 years ago. And now you just don't find nothing any more. The beaches were full of little birds catching all kinds of little crabs and stuff. You don't see them any more. We had the mangrove here, which was full of cranes that looked beautiful, like roses in the evening when they would come and sleep on the mangrove trees, and it was lovely.

PATTERSON: A 1996 study by the Mexican navy's Pacific Oceanographic Institute warned that the bay's waters were not safe for fishing or swimming. Some now say the pollution is threatening the mainstay of the local economy in both Zewateneho and nearby Ixtapa: tourism. Fitca Langhost runs a popular hotel with her Mexican husband Javier.

CALANKOS: Every year there's more. The water is kind of muddy, and some people came out at certain times of the year. They come out and they're covered in rashes, so it is getting worse, definitely. If the contamination continues, tourism will definitely go further back. They see a decrease in occupancy rates here in the hotels in Zewanteneho and Ixtapa. It's kind of a twin situation here. I mean, Ixtapa cannot survive without Zewateneho. Zewanteneho cannot survive without the bay.

(A man speaks in a large, echoing room)

PATTERSON: Fed up with the pollution, Anita and Langhost and thousands of others are attending meetings and signing petitions demanding that their bay be cleaned up. And already they are claiming victories. A protest against a stone jetty residents blame for aggravating the bay's contamination paid off. The Mexican government ordered the structure dismantled late last year.

RIOS: [speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Amago Rios is a government biologist. He says he's recently noticed an important shift in the public mood.

RIOS: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: I'm from the coast here in the state of Guerrero. I know about the environmental problems, the pollution in Acapulco, Ixtapa, and Zewateneho. What surprises me is how the people are worried and are getting involved in these problems. They want to participate in deciding how to resolve them.

PATTERSON: For the first time, large numbers of people are taking to the streets to protest pollution. Like here, for example, in Petecaco Bay.

(Bird calls)

PATTERSON: About one hour north of Zewateneho, farmer Arasmo Lopez runs his finger through a mango leaf in this coastal orchard. He then shows a black ash-like residue he says falls from the smokestacks of the Petecaco power plant right across the street.

LOPEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: Because of this, our production doesn't have a market. Nobody wants black mangoes. I think mangoes are supposed to be red. They sell in the market because of their pretty reddish and yellowish appearance.

PATTERSON: Lopez and other farmers charge that the emissions from the petroleum-fired thermoelectric are ruining their crops, making the people sick, and killing off marine life. Mexico's Federal Electricity Commission did not return calls seeking comment.


PATTERSON: Meanwhile, efforts to clean up Zewateneho Bay are showing signs of progress. Three million dollars in new state money is earmarked this year to improve sewage treatment. Yet the challenges are immense. Some estimate that it will cost more than $100 million to thoroughly cleanse the waters. Long-time resident and activist Anita says the money must be found.

ANITA: I feel sorry for the bay, and I wish it will come back. That's why we have started this movement. We want it to go back to what it was. To create consciousness with the people, that they have to see. Because if the bay goes, we all go. That's the end of us. All of us.

(Adult's and children's voices in the background)

PATTERSON: For Living on Earth, I'm Kent Patterson reporting.

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(Voices continue, fading to music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: A culture lost and found along the Georgia coast. The story is just ahead right here on Living on Earth.

First, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

(Music up and under)

Health Update

TOOMEY: Scientists know exercise can slow down the aging process. And now they know by how much, at least as far as blood vessels go. Researchers in Italy divided a group of young people, one half of whom were couch potatoes. The rest were athletes. They did the same with another group of people in their 60s. They gave everyone acetylcholine, a substance that makes blood vessels dilate if they're working properly. By measuring blood flow, they found little difference between people in their 20s, whether they were sedentary or active. That wasn't true for people in their 60s. The blood vessels of elderly athletes behaved like they belonged to someone half their age, producing blood flow greater than the seniors who didn't exercise. All this flowing blood protects against fatty build-up and blood clots, which in turn helps prevent disease and can let you live longer. And that's this week's environmental 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 at our Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Once again, that's letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. CDs, Tapes and transcripts are $15.

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Georgia Lost and Found

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the mid-coast of Georgia, there's a place that was once so isolated that locals say it was three years before anyone there heard about the Emancipation Proclamation. The place is called Harris Neck. And while Lincoln's words finally did reach the community in McIntosh County, its isolation didn't end with the Civil War. Well into the twentieth century, Harris Neck was a world apart from much of the United States. African-American families fished and farmed and owned their own land and boats. They built a community and sustained themselves for generations through their own businesses. Today that community is almost gone. It's been eroded by forces far beyond its control. And the local African-American culture, with its close connection to the land and the sea and its past in West Africa, is almost gone, too. Almost, but not completely. Living on Earth's Jesse Wegman recently traveled to Harris Neck. He met a man there whose own life story is also the story of the near-death of this unique culture, and of a small flicker of hope for its continuation. Here's his report.

WEGMAN: If you ask Wilson Moran, the trouble started six months before he was born. It was the summer of 1942, and someone reported seeing a German U-boat in the waters off Harris Neck. Within days the military decided it needed an airbase there. The residents were given three weeks to leave.

(Bird calls)

MORAN: They took all the crops, carrying all the beans, peas, okra, tomatoes, all that stuff, carrying it out. Some houses they even tore down.

WEGMAN: Several older townspeople died of heart attacks from the strain. Wilson's grandfather, a farmer and crabber, refused to leave, and was removed by force.

MORAN: There is no sign that we ever lived there. Now, those people, they had a grade school, they had a fire house, they had a police department, which worked from the county seat therein. They had two oyster houses, two crab houses, and they had stores. They made everything, including their liquor. They made moonshine. They were good at it. Very good at it. (Laughs)

WEGMAN: Harris Neck had been a tight community, about 90 families, all black. Mostly fishers and farmers, the children and grandchildren of freedman.

MORAN: And all this way of life was gone.

WEGMAN: The military seized 2,687 acres at Harris Neck. The families were offered plots of land a few miles away, a fraction the size of what they had left. Five months later, in November 1942, Wilson Moran was born on this new land, in a small shotgun shack his parents built with wood they salvaged from their original home. He was the fourth of 13 children.

(A vehicle drives on rough road)

WEGMAN: On a late spring afternoon with the sun low in the sky but the air still warm, Wilson drives his old Dodge pickup a mile or so down Route 2 to the land his family once owned.

MORAN: Now this land here, from here to the woods and back, my grandpa had 11 acres right in here. This was where his main house was.

WEGMAN: Today the land at Harris Neck is lush and seems untouched by human hands. Shaded groves of pecans and live oaks open into the wide, flat marshland of South Georgia's barrier islands. Wilson drives intently, hunched over the wheel. As the truck rounds a bend, he points to a large field.

MORAN: That was a big old point, that's where they grew rice in my grandpa's day. These are people's, you know, livelihood. And it really destroyed a lot of people. Two of them, they left and never came back. Both of them lived in Philadelphia. They became porters on the railroad. But it was just -- this hurt them, you know what I mean? That somebody could be so powerful to move you, and after they were through with it wouldn't let you back. They wanted to use the airstrips right here.

WEGMAN: Out the window a dormant runway lies like an unhealed scar, its pavement cracked and overgrown with weeds. Moran says the military promised to return this land to the residents as soon as the war was over. But no one at Harris Neck remembers getting that promise in writing. So after the war, the land was turned into a county airport. Then in 1962, it was designated a national wildlife refuge.

MORAN: Now it takes an act of Congress for us to get this land back. And you know, the Audubon Society, and they have a little bird watch and they have archery hunting and, you know, things like that. But this land is ours. Is ours. It's beautiful, man, you wouldn't believe it, man. And to walk or ride a bike in here and just listen to all the sounds, man, the red-headed woodpeckers, the larks, the sparrows, the cardinals, the bluebirds. They're all here.

WEGMAN: Do you come in here a lot?

MORAN: No. It's not a good feeling for me. I don't enjoy coming in here.

(The pickup advances)

MORAN: Now, isn't it -- you wouldn't believe this was here, would you? This is where we lived. This place here was called Thomas Landing. This was the main landing for the community. Would you believe?

(Car door opens, shuts)

WEGMAN: Wilson walks through dry marsh grass down to the water's edge.

(Surf, bird calls)

MORAN: This, it doesn't get any better than this.

WEGMAN: The water here is calm. It's protected from the open ocean by the barrier islands offshore.

MORAN: Now, when I was a little boy, we'd come down here, and we'd hit this river, and we'd crab and we'd fish. And, like, there are oysters right there, and we'd eat oyster. Man, it was amazing, you wouldn't believe it. We thought it was all ours. (Laughs) We sure got fooled, didn't we?

WEGMAN: When the families of Harris Neck lost their land, they also lost their docks. Fishing had been central to the community and to blacks up and down the Georgia coast for centuries. Many of the first Europeans to settle here were from cities and knew nothing about fishing. But the Africans who soon followed as slaves did. It wasn't long before they dominated the fisheries. Like their ancestors, they worked close to shore using small boats and cast nets. It was one of the last links they had. Even into the twentieth century, shrimping, crabbing, and oystering all remained virtually 100 percent black.

(A boat engine starts up; voices on radio)

WEGMAN: Then the diesel engine found its way into the area, which meant fishermen could use bigger, more powerful boats. If they could afford them. Within 20 years a new breed of fisherman had pervaded the industry. One with more money to spend, frequently northern, and almost always white.

(Voices, chains. Man: "I'll stop it right there...")

WEGMAN: After World War II thousands of white servicemen came home looking for work. Soon the Georgia fisheries were controlled by white families. By one independent estimate, of the more than 400 shrimp boats currently licensed in the state, blacks own and operate fewer than ten. When Wilson Moran was born, there were still blacks making a living on the water.

MORAN: But as we began to grow older, we saw that it wasn't a good way of life. Every year you were in debt. Every year it was getting harder. And I just didn't want to do it. And none of my brothers. We decided that there had to be something more. There had to be something better than crabbing and being the low man on the totem pole. We didn't have the farms like my grandpa did. So hey, next thing for us, everybody started going into the military.

WEGMAN: Wilson was 17 when he left McIntosh County and joined the Army. Then he went north to Hartford, Connecticut, and became a cop. As American stories go, it's a common one. Young man from small town leaves home to find a better life. In Hartford, Wilson found it. He had a good job, and soon his wife Ernestine gave birth to their first child. But it didn't make sense to him that he should be doing well and yet be so far from home. He grew increasingly uncomfortable with his new life. Then in the late 60s, Wilson hit the breaking point. His unit was called to respond to a riot downtown. Amid the chaos, he shot a man. Not long afterwards, Wilson was on traffic duty, waving a group of children across the street, when a young boy pointed at him. The boy said, "That's the man that shot my uncle."

MORAN: And that was the end of me. And I couldn't last any longer. I didn't like it any more.

WEGMAN: Moran packed up his family and headed back to Georgia, settling in Glen County. He tried catching and selling crabs as his father and grandfather had done. He even tried police work again. Ernestine was losing patience. They had a young child, and their jobs up north had paid well. Here, Wilson was making as little as $86 a week. Eventually he landed a job with the phone company, one of only two black men he remembers being hired in 25 years. It was a decade after the Civil Rights Act, but Wilson was discovering that in small southern towns, things changed slowly.

MORAN: The mainstream jobs were closed, and even today some of them still are closed. There's no secret. You can't cover it up.

WEGMAN: Wilson Moran had entered this world literally surrounded by the wreckage of a once vibrant culture. Now, at the end of his working life, he had never worked in his own community. And he had never been able to earn a living doing what he had been raised to do. His own children were putting down roots elsewhere. Wilson knew as well as anyone what all this meant.

MORAN: When that way of life be interfered with, then the culture begins to fail. That subculture, the dialect, you lose the dialect. You lose the skills. Like building a boat. My granddad built boats. My father built boats. I cannot build a boat. You understand? My grandmother knitted nets. I can't knit a net. So therefore, we've lost these things. That was handed down through generations, is now gone. Now, I still have my garden, so I can keep myself informed. But my boys can't plant. They don't even know what season to plant in, right? That way of life is gone, yeah. It's gone. That's the end of it. Want to see my garden? Man, I've got a great garden. Come on, let's see my garden.


WEGMAN: Wilson's garden is out back, on the same acre of land he was born on. Unlike so many others who left McIntosh county, Wilson Moran has come home.

MORAN: This is my garden. You know what that is. Sweet potato. Man, they are something else. And there's my peppers. Sweet peppers...

WEGMAN: Wilson and Ernestine returned here to Harris Neck in 1992, moving into a modest brick house next door to his parents.

MORAN: I grow it and I can give it away.

WEGMAN: A few years ago, Wilson retired and started this garden. It's small, nothing compared to the hundred acres his family once owned. But it's growing.

MORAN: And this is just enough for me to keep me acclimated to what, you know, how to plant. And look how pretty and green they are. Aren't they pretty?

WEGMAN: It's easy to see the loss in the story of Harris Neck. But the way Wilson sees things, standing on this land he left 40 years ago, something is truly lost only when you stop trying to find it. And recently, he found something remarkable, right in his own back yard.

M. MORAN: (Singing) Wombay I walk a mon a cambaleali lily...

WEGMAN: That's Wilson's mother, Mary Moran. A few years ago, an anthropologist named Joseph Apala heard Mrs. Moran singing this song. When he asked her where she had learned it, she told him her mother had taught it to her as a child. Apala traced the song to a region in West Africa that is now part of Sierra Leone. At less than half a minute, it's believed to be the longest text in an African language preserved by an African-American family.

M. MORAN: (Singing) I walk a mon a cambaleali lily. Wombay I walk a mon a cambaleali lily...

MORAN: We found so much history, man, it is unbelievable, all kinds of stuff.

WEGMAN: Wilson immediately began to look into his family history.

MORAN: You've got the sentence, pictures. This is the root people right here. And all these people...

WEGMAN: In 1997, Joseph Apala and Wilson Moran helped organize a family trip to Sierra Leone. In a small village called Sanahungola they met a woman who knew the exact song Mary Moran sang. She'd learned it as a child, too. Wilson says the trip to Africa was like a fairy tale.

MORAN: Because me, being black, I don't know how many generations black in this country, called African-American, but ain't nothing African about me but my color, because everything about me is American.

(Mary Moran sings)

MORAN: So when they found out that this song took us to West Africa, yeah, it was unreal. How could I trace myself to not West Africa but almost the very village in which my grandmother's people came from? That's impossible. But it happened. And then, what was even more strange was, met a guy on the river banks, and this guy is knitting a net. The same way my grandma, Madie Dolly, knitted nets. And I said wow, this is unbelievable. And there are some guys making boats, the same way this guy here made the boats. It was unbelievable.

(A boat cuts through water)

WEGMAN: In Gala, the West African English hybrid still spoken on the sea islands off Georgia and South Carolina, there is a proverb that says, "If you don't know where you're going, you should know where you come from." A song can't tell you where you're going, but the song that led Wilson Moran to West Africa helped him find a thread that runs through hundreds of years. From a river bank in Sierra Leone through slave ships across the Atlantic, through his family's lost farm land, fishing boats, and nets, right up to his back yard garden, his mother, and himself, today. Wilson Moran knows he can't get back what's gone, but he also knows that the thread which ties his family to this stretch of Georgia coast isn't broken yet. And that he won't be the one to break it.

MORAN: My children don't know this, but my grandson, who comes every summer, I take him on the water. I get him acclimated. And now, this summer I teach him how to cast the net, at ten. I'm just giving him a taste of what it is. He'll never learn how to read the water. He'll never learn how to read the weather, other than listening to it on television. But he will get some knowledge about what we were about. And every year we teach him, and every year we put him in situations that he can know something about his environment, that it was unique, and it is almost gone, but it did exist. So he can tell his children about it.

(Bird calls, fade to flute up and under)

WEGMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Jesse Wegman, with Wilson Moran in Harris Neck, on the coast of south Georgia.

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(Flute continues, joined by clapping, singing)

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. We had help this week from Jennifer Chu, Jenna Perry, Nicole Kalb, and James Curwood. Alison Dean composed our theme. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is the 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. And thanks for listening.

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