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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

June 22, 2001

Air Date: June 22, 2001


China Olympics / Rob Gifford

(stream / mp3)

Beijing is hoping to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. Paris, Toronto, Osaka, and Istanbul are also in the running and the International Olympics Committee will announce its decision in July. In preparing for its bid, Beijing has set environmental standards that are helping to make the city less polluted. NPR’s Rob Gifford reports. (06:00)

Mining Letter

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Host Steve Curwood talks with Lexi Schultz, of the Mineral Policy Center, about a letter written to President Bush by more than a dozen Republicans. The representatives asked the President to keep in place stricter environmental regulations for the mining industry proposed by the Clinton Administration. (05:15)

Health Note / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a study that suggests eating PCB-laden fish may affect your memory. (01:15)

The Living on Earth Almanac

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This week, facts about the World’s Worm Charming Championships in Willaston, England. Contestants have half an hour to charm the most worms out of the ground. (01:30)

Germany / Sarah Chayes

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Germany has made it official – the government and the country’s leading energy suppliers just signed an agreement to phase out the use of nuclear power over the next twenty years. But, as NPR’s Sarah Chayes reports, not everyone is happy with the agreement. (02:00)

Fire / Jackie Yamanaka

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A new batch of men and women are being trained in preparation for the upcoming wildfire season. Producer Jackie Yamanaka brings us this sound portrait from a firefighter rookie camp on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana. (03:55)

Turkmenistan Treasures / Anne Marie Ruff

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Producer Anne Marie Ruff travels with plant explorer Stefano Padulosi as he wanders through Turkmenistan collecting fast-disappearing food plants. (06:55)

News Follow-Up

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New developments in stories we’ve been following recently. (03:00)

Animal Note

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Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on a mysterious technique hornets use to build a level nest. (01:30)

Spying on the Greens

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Even environmental organizations aren't immune to spy operations. Host Steve Curwood speaks with Maurice Chittenden of the Sunday Times in London, who broke the story that British Petroleum and Shell hired a spy organization to find out the plans of the environmental organization Greenpeace. (06:25)

Rats / Amy Jo Ehman

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You’ve heard of the Canadian Mounties and the Royal Canadian Air Force. Add to that stellar list a Canadian… Rat Patrol. The province of Alberta has zero tolerance for the rodents. And as Amy Jo Ehman reports, the government there employs a team of trusty officers to carry out its policy. (09:40)

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China Olympics

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Beijing has some of the worst pollution in the world, but it's getting better. A campaign launched by the Chinese government a few years ago to clean up its capital is already beginning to pay some dividends. And now the cleanup has received another boost. Beijing wants to host the 2008 Olympic Games, and that has led to a blitz of environmental efforts. NPR's Rob Gifford reports.

(Street sounds. A horn blares.)

GIFFORD: Taxi driver Wang Guoxing is not a happy man. As he weaves through Beijing's crowded streets, he peers out at the smog that envelops his car.

WANG: When I was a boy, I could look at a star at night, and the blue sky in the daytime. But now, it's difficult because of air pollution.

(Another taxi toots.)

GIFFORD: Wang is a typical Beijinger. He's proud of the modernization of his city that's taken place since Chairman Mao died, 25 years ago. But he can live without the accompanying pollution. However, in the last year or so, he says he's noticed an improvement.

WANG: I know government has been taking many, many measures. First, stop burning coal, especially in the kitchen. (Another horn blast.) Secondly, taxi drivers and other cars' drivers must use lead-free gasoline.

GIFFORD: Researchers have also noticed a difference. Recent data compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy show that carbon dioxide levels in China have been reduced by 17% since the mid-90s. That figure is staggering, considering China's gross domestic product grew by 36% over the same period. But still, concerns about pollution persist, and some see it as more of a danger to Beijing's front- runner status as host for the 2008 Summer Olympics, than the criticism of China's human rights record. The Beijing bid committee knows it has a problem. Deputy director Wang Wei says the government has made it a number one priority to meet the air quality standards of the World Health Organization, or WHO.

WANG WEI: We have an investment of about 12 billion U.S. dollars input in this program. The air quality has seen a drastic improvement already. In August, the weather in Beijing is almost perfect. Our specialists have a chart to show during that period the air quality in Beijing will surpass the standard set by the WHO.

GIFFORD: Wang and his committee encouraged the Beijing government to not only reduce coal burning in the city, but also to order that all cars now sold must meet European environmental standards. According to the Beijing Olympic Committee, car emissions have been reduced by more than 20% in the last three years. The sewer system has been updated. Tens of thousands of trees have been planted, and if Beijing gets the nod for the 2008 Games, older neighborhoods will be knocked down, the residents moved to the suburbs, and whole swaths of green parkland area created in the heart of the city. Perhaps most importantly, some of the city's biggest polluting factories are being relocated to the very outskirts of Beijing. New factories in the city are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.

[Factory sounds]

GIFFORD: The Olympic Committee is hoping that more factories can be like the Beijing Cement Works, the biggest cement factory in the capital. Plant manager Yang Shenglin takes vistors on a tour of the factory, and points proudly to the main smokestack, which, unlike most others in the city, has no smoke belching from the top.

YANG: (Speaking Chinese).

GIFFORD: There are some waste gases coming out of there, he says, but you can't see them. While older factories in Beijing pump out about 300 tons of dust per day, the Beijing Cement Works uses the latest American technology, and produces no dust at all. Nor does it produce any solid waste, and all its water is recycled.

GIFFORD: Yang points proudly to the greeness of the factory area. "Look how clean the leaves on the trees are," he says.

SHEN XIN-GEN: (Speaking in Chinese).

GIFFORD: Yang's boss, Shen Xin-gen, says the plant, built in the mid-90s, is all part of a move to cleaner air, and that the bid for the 2008 Olympics has been a major boost.

SHEN XIN-GEN: (Speaking in Chinese).

TRANSLATOR: Of course, everybody cares about Beijing bidding for the Olympics. So bidding has become a motivation for workers and citizens to take even better care of the environment. We should strive to meet international standards.

GIFFORD: But for every modernized factory in the capital, there are hundreds in China's hinterland, where the Olympic spotlight never shines. The equipment for this plant cost $150,000 U.S. dollars, which is money that most don't have. Many Beijingers are fanatical about the Olympic bid. For the emergent China, winning the Olympics would be like a symbol of acceptance by the international community. But for taxi driver Wang Guoxing, the bid is part of a much bigger picture, and he hopes the cleanup goes on, whether Beijing wins or not

(Taxi toot).

WANG: Taking these measures for controlling air pollution, not only important for Olympic bid, but also good for the future of our life in Beijing.

GIFFORD: The International Olympic Committee will choose a host city for 2008 in Moscow, on July 13th. The other candidates are Paris, Toronto, Istanbul, and Osaka. For Living on Earth, I'm Rob Gifford, in Beijing.

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Mining Letter

CURWOOD: Critics say since 1872, hard-rock mining companies in the West have gotten a sweet deal. They buy the land cheap, and leave their waste for others to clean. In January, President Clinton pushed through a rule reform for the industry, including the requirement that mining companies pay cleanup costs in advance. The Bush administration has suspended implementation of President Clinton's reforms, and is considering throwing them out. But fourteen Republican members of the House, led by Christopher Shays of Connecticut, recently wrote to the president, asking him to keep the Clinton regulations in place. Lexi Schultz is with the Mineral Policy Center, a group that advocates for mining reform. The organization advised Representative Shays in the drafting of the letter. Ms. Schultz joins us now. Ms. Schultz, what do the Clinton mining rules do?

SCHULTZ: These regulations are the only controls that we have to protect the environment from hard-rock mining. And the updated rules, that had not been re-written since 1980, before most modern and destructive hard-rock mining practices were in place. So, these rules were very, very important to clean water, to protecting public lands, and to helping to protect local communities from some of the devastating effects of hard-rock mining.

CURWOOD: Now, there was a similar letter that was sent to President Bush last month. It was signed by mostly Senate Democrats. Tell me, why is it that this most recent letter is signed only by House Republicans?

SCHULTZ: These fourteen Republicans who signed the letter, wanted to send President Bush the message that people in his own party care deeply about the environment, in general, and about this issue, protecting water and public lands from hard-rock mining, in particular. There were House Democrats who would have been happy to sign a letter such as this, but the moderate Republicans who signed this letter know that this is a unique time, when President Bush is listening to moderate Republicans in both the House and the Senate, and they wanted to send this as a very strong message that President Bush needs to re-think some of his anti-environmental policies.

CURWOOD: Tell me about the politics here. Do parties matter much here? Or is there something else that's going on?

SCHULTZ: This issue, hard-rock mining, is much more about the politics of the western Rocky Mountain states versus the rest of the country, as opposed to strictly being a Democrat versus Republican issue. There are some states where hard-rock mining is a very, very powerful interest, such as Nevada, such as Montana. There are other states where that is less so, and, as a matter of fact, there are Republicans who feel very strongly that hard-rock mining companies have gotten away with murder; they have shafted taxpayers and they have damaged the environment. And, in states where coal is a major player, many members of Congress support hard-rock mining law reforms, because the hard-rock mining industry gets away with a great deal more than the coal industry is allowed to. One example is that the coal industry has to pay a royalty for mining of public lands. The hard-rock mining industry doesn't have to pay anything, and it is the only industry that gets that kind of favorable treatment.

CURWOOD: President Bush has received this letter, but what do you think he's gotten, in terms of receiving the message? What's his reaction to this?

SCHULTZ : Well, there has not been a direct response from President Bush. Since this letter was sent, the Bureau of Land Management released a notice that they intend to keep at least one portion of the rules in place. The rules do three very important things. The first is to require mining companies to bear the costs of cleaning up abandoned mines. Right now, taxpayers often bear those burdens, and their liability could be a billion dollars, just from currently operating mines alone. The second thing that the rules do is put strong environmental protections in place to protect ground water and surface water from mining-specific pollution. And the third thing is to give federal land managers the right to say no to mines, in certain very, very particular circumstances, where there will be substantial irreparable harm to cultural or natural resources. Right now, there's no way for land managers to say no to a mine, even if they go outside a national park, or if they would destroy an archaeological site or destroy a town. The Bureau of Land Management last Friday said that they intend to keep the financial portion of the rule. That means that they will make mining companies bear the cost of their own cleanup. The trouble is that the Bureau of Land Management has not said anything about the other two, very important parts to this rule, and the implication is that they are still considering repealing those portions.

CURWOOD: Lexi Schultz is director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the Mineral Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Thanks so much for taking this time.

SCHULTZ: Thank you, very much.

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Health Note

CURWOOD: Coming up, training to fight forest fires. First, this health note from Diane Toomey.

[Music; Allison Dean "Health Note Theme" up and under]

TOOMEY: A recent study shows that eating a lot of fish contaminated with PCBs may affect learning ability and memory in adults. The research focused on a group of about 100 people, age 49 and older, who'd been eating large amounts of fish caught in Lake Michigan for a number of decades. Researchers tested them on various cognitive abilities, and then gave the same test to another group, who ate little or no Lake Michigan fish. Scientists found that a significant percentage of those who ate more than 24 pounds of this fish a year performed poorly on tests that measure memory and verbal learning. The reason for this result? After controlling for other factors, including education, age, and health, researchers found that high levels of PCBs in the blood of those who ate lots of fish, were associated with the memory difficulties. PCBs are a group of industrial chemicals that were banned in the U.S. more than two decades ago. However, they still persist in the environment, and continue to make their way up the food chain, and can accumulate in great amounts in fish found in contaminated waterways. Exposure to PCBs in utero has been shown to impair childhood memory and learning ability, but, until now, adults were thought to be less susceptible to the effects of PCB exposure. And that's this week's health note. I'm Diane Toomey.

[Music; Allison Dean "Health Note Theme" up and over]

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

[Cutaway 1 Music; Louis Sclavis & The Pifarely Acoustic Quartet "Hop!"]

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The Living on Earth Almanac

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

[Music: Tony Borello "There's a New Sound]

CURWOOD: Instead of coming up roses in Willaston every June, it comes up--worms. The small town in western England hosts the annual Worm-Charming Championships.

[Boinging sound of "There's a New Sound" in the background]

CURWOOD: Each contestant gets a nine-square-meter of earth, and attempts to raise as many worms as possible in a half hour. Eleven- year-old Nicholas O'Malley won last year. He says that there are many ways to charm a worm.

O'MALLEY: Some people use drums, and scare the worms to the top, and others dance, and some play musical instruments.

CURWOOD: But Nicholas prefers another technique: he and his grandfather stick a pitchfork in the ground, and strike it again and again. The vibrations bring the worms out of hiding.

O'MALLEY: My grand-dad was shaking the worms, and banging the fork with his stick, and I grabbed the worms. And I caught 337 worms.

CURWOOD: Worm-charmers have to adhere to some strict rules. The use of water to moisten the soil is strictly prohibited. And contestants who attempt to increase their number of worms, by cutting the creatures in half, are immediately disqualified.

[Sound of worm squishing]

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's the Living On Earth Almanac.

[Music: Tony Borello "There's a New Sound"]

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CURWOOD: Last year, the German government declared it would shut down all of the nation's nuclear power plants. Now an agreement has been reached with the German electric utilities to implement the shut- down. But the plan is drawing criticism from both friends and foes of nuclear power. From Paris, NPR's Sarah Chayes reports.

CHAYES: The devil is in the details, says the adage, and this complex plan, reached after tough talks with recalcitrant power companies, seems to confirm the saying. Germany is not shutting down its nuclear power plants now; it'll let them die a natural death over the next 20 years. They currently produce a third of the country's electricity. The transport and reprocessing of nuclear waste will be reduced; insurance fees for reactors increased to reflect true-market cost, and incentives will be devised to encourage the use of renewable resources. Already, many environmentalists are angry at the plan's long timetable, while members of the pro-nuclear Atomic Forum hint darkly about reversing the policy, if elections in a year's time force the current Social Democratic coalition out of office. The decision to do away with nuclear power was a concession to the Green Party, part of the ruling coalition. Germany's neighbor, France, is on the opposite end of the scale: eighty percent of French electricity is produced by nuclear reactors. And now, with climate change and greenhouse gasses topping the international environmental agenda, some see a new value in nuclear power. Reactors don't emit greenhouse gasses. And the French government's reliance on nuclear energy may just allow it to meet its Kyoto requirements. The U.S., which cut back its use of nuclear power in the late 1970s, is now reconsidering its policy. So, as one German environmentalist put it recently, "The battle isn't over with this nuclear consensus.'" For Living On Earth, I'm Sarah Chayes, reporting.

[Music up and over]

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CURWOOD: In Indian country, the up-coming wildfire season can be a welcome time. That's because unemployment on reservations can reach 70%, and temporary fire-fighting jobs can become a major part of a family's income. Each year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs puts on a weeklong rookie camp to train new fire-fighters. This year, more than 200 people, from three Montana reservations, are learning basic fire behavior, survival techniques, and how to use their hand tools to halt an advancing wildfire. Jackie Yamanaka of Yellowstone Public Radio, recently visited the training camp on the Northern Cheyenne reservation, and has this sound portrait:

[Sound of tree bark burning]

ST. MARKS: Say this tree bark here was burning? You wanna use your polaski and pull it off, and take all that you can off of there. Once it's on the ground, you bust it up.

[Sounds of stamping or breaking]

ST. MARKS: Everything is busted up in little pieces. You don't gotta go a million pieces, but you bust it up. You break all the embers off of it. Dry moppin', when they talk about dry moppin', this would be dry-moppin'. We don't have a water source. Dry moppin', you can mix it up; you can stand and mix it, one pile, for an hour, walk away, turn around a minute later, and look at it, and it's started smokin' again.

[Stamping, crunching sounds, then "Ow!"]

ST. MARKS: My name's Jamie St. Marks and I've been fighting fires for eleven years now, out of Fort Peck. And comin' from a reservation, this is really a lot of income, and provides a lot of jobs for us.

YAMANAKA: If you had had an opportunity to do something else, do you think you would have gone that route, instead of fighting fires?

SAINT MARKS: I think I would have, maybe in the wintertime and stuff, but come summertime, you know, this is, once you get this into your system, it's part of your blood, you know. I had a two-year break in between there, where I did another job, but it was something that I missed so much, you know, and I see firefighters go by all the time, and boy, it just gets my blood pumpin', because it's an adrenaline rush for me, to be part of this. It's just something, like I said once it gets into your blood, it's there for good.

[Sounds in the background of instruction and coaching fire-fighting]

ST MARKS: It's--I always call it a paid vacation. I'm adventurous, I like to get out there, I like to teach people things, that I've learned.

[Stomping sounds, "burning," fire-fighters describing what they do]

HART: A typical day as far as hours, it's gonna be 12 to 16 hour shifts, where you'll be hiking up steep mountains, fighting fires in about 90-degree weather. You can lie right next to the fire. They're pretty new, but they'll slowly get used to it. Some of 'em won't come back, I'd say about five or ten percent won't wanna do this again.

YAMANAKA: Could I get your name?

FOUR BEAR: Cordell Four Bear.

YAMANAKA: And what prompted you to sign up for rookie camp?

FOUR BEAR: To me, it seemed interesting. I mean to do something else. Maybe it will be a career for me to change in a different direction. I was a janitor.

YAMANAKA: So you know you're going to be out, on a fire, and the hazard, and everything, doesn't...?

FOUR BEAR: The hazard doesn't bother me. And what you learn here, it sticks with you, it does.

[Fire burning sounds, instructions, laughter]

FOUR BEAR: They teach you a lot.

ST MARKS: Being a Native American, you know, we've come a long ways. Like, I enjoy seeing that people are out here, they're happy to be part of the land, and workin', and tryin' to preserve Mother Nature, you know, and keepin' it safe.

[Crunching sounds. "There you go, good job fellas..." More crunches]

CURWOOD: That was Jamie St. Marks, Cordell Four Bear, and Ray Hart, at the Fire-Fighters' Camp, on Montana's Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The trainees are now waiting to be called out on their first wildfire. This sound portrait was produced by Jackie Yamanaka of Yellowstone Public Radio.

[Music up and out]

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Turkmenistan Treasures

CURWOOD: Many of our food crops have been cultivated for thousands of years. Traditional methods of plant domestication often incorporate wild plants that tend to promote genetic diversity. This helps increase heartiness and disease resistance. But with more industrial farming these days, wild varieties of seeds are disappearing fast. So, some scientists have made it their business to travel the world to search for, and conserve, these wild plants. Anne-Marie Ruff has this report from Turkmenistan.

RUFF: Stefano Padulosi has travelled from his native Italy to dozens of countries to collect plants and seeds. They are then conserved by an international network of research institutes. He's used to tough situations in the field. Here, in the mountains of Turkmenistan, that form the border with Iran, he and his colleagues frequently have to push-start their ancient Russian-made van.

[Man grunting "Bah!' and slamming a van door. Encouraging (non-English) words as the engine sputters. "Ahh!" of triumph as the motor catches.

RUFF: But he considers it a small price to pay, in order to see this place.

PADULOSI: I think this is actually, like in a paradise.

RUFF : These remote mountains feel like paradise, because of the incredible richness of plants that have evolved here.

PADULOSI: So, we are now sitting in one of the most important center of origin of major agriculture crops. Pear, for apple, for fig, pistachio, for pomegranate, and many other vegetables, like onions, we saw wild onions, wild garlic today.

RUFF: Stefano and his colleagues take every opportunity to taste the rich diversity.

WOMAN: ""Mmmm!" PADULOSI: "I got some blackberry." WOMAN: "Oh?" PADULOSKI: "Yeah, immature. But when they're ripe, they're black. Very nice."

[Sniffing other plants) PADULOSKI: "Wild grape." OTHER RESEARCHER: "This is grape? Wild grape? Really?

RUFF: Stefano's favorite is the field of salad greens at his feet.

PADULOSI: Yes, this is a very big, wild-spread population of Rucola, Ruca Sativa, which is "rocket," in English.

RUFF: Even though Stefano is an old hat at plant exploration, his passion for discovering plants is undiminished.

PADULOSI: I love this. Do you know how much I love this. You see, I like it so much! Mmm! Great!

RUFF: But the real object of Stefano's mission is pomegranate, a ruby-red fruit full of juicy seeds that first evolved in these semi-arid mountains. And Stefano's guide in this mission is Dr. Gregory Levin, a Russian scientist, who's been collecting wild and cultivated pomegranates for the last 40 years.

LEVIN: [Speaks in Russian) . TRANSLATOR: I have surveyed the Caucauses, including Azerbijan, Georgia, and Armenia, and Central Asia including Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgistan, and Turkmenistan. Because of my work, the pomegranate collection has increased in size by fifteen times.

RUFF: During the golden era of Soviet science, the collection was used not only for conservation, but to breed better pomegranates, which are widely produced in central Asia and the Middle East. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dr. Levin's work, and the pomegranate collection, have been orphaned, as their national funding was simply eliminated. So with the help of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Stefano has come to Turkmenistan, with Messoud Mars, a pomegranate expert from Tunisia.

MARS: [Speaking foreign language]

TRANSLATOR: My dream is now a reality. I always think about this wild population of pomegranate, and collect plant material, and now, I'm doing that. I'm very happy.

[Brushing, crushing sounds of plant gathering]

RUFF: Messoud takes samples of these wild pomegranates, to conserve them in his Tunisian gene bank. He will also use them to breed varieties that are hardier.

MARS: I'm collecting fruits of these wild pomegranates, considered by Dr. Levin as resistant to cracking.

RUFF: Cracking spoils the fruit. So Dr. Levin's knowledge about genes that can prevent cracking is crucial. But Dr. Levin is retired now, and there's no one prepared to take his place at his institute. So his new relationships, with Messoud and Stefano, are crucial to ensuring that Levin's knowledge about the collection, and the locations of wild populations, won't be lost. There's no road to the biggest stand of wild pomegranates, but Dr. Levin knows the way, since he has been monitoring these trees for the last 30 years.

[Foot-falls on fruit-tree tuff)

LEVIN: "Yah, I never expected to find such a big forest of pomegramates....It's quite difficult to get through"

RUFF: But Dr. Levin says the jungle Stefano sees may not look the same 30 years from now.

LEVIN: [Speaking in foreign language]

TRANSLATOR: But you can see that human activity has caused great damage, destroyed vegetation. So now, many species are endangered here.

RUFF: As these trees die, they are not replaced because herds of sheep and cattle eat the seedlings. This kind of damage, referred to as "genetic erosion," is happening not only with pomegranates, but with nearly every other food crop in the world. Wild varieties of crops, that contain some of the most valuable genes for hardiness and disease resistance are disappearing nearly as fast as plant and animal species in the world's rain forests. But, as always, Stefano is optimistic.

PADULOSI: There are good chances that what you see here, all this wild vegetation, wild population, will be better protected and maintained.

RUFF: Stefano is hoping to secure funding to allow Turkmen and international scientists to protect wild populations, along with collections, like Dr. Levin's. While genetic erosion is already occurring, Stefano thinks it's not too late to conserve important diversity.

PADULOSI: I think, coming to central Asia, like, really, a jump into the past. You are able to see diversity that has been lost a long time ago, in other places.

RUFF: For Messoud, that diversity is almost enough to keep him from returning to his native Tunisia.

MARS: [Speaking in a foreign language)

TRANSLATOR I don't want to go back. Because this is his world, the pomegranate world. The Lost World of the Pomegranate.

RUFF: For Living on Earth, this is Anne-Marie Ruff, in Kara Kala, Turkmenistan.

MARS: Rocket. This is a whole rocket!

[Music up and under: anonymous Turkish Musicians "Instrumental Remix."]

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News Follow-Up

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living On Earth.

[Music up and under]

CURWOOD: Time now to follow up on some of the news stories we've been tracking lately.

[Music up and under]

CURWOOD: Recently, we talked about the state of New York's plan to require renewable energy use in its government buildings. In California's Alameda County, the Santa Rita Jail has gone one step further. It's using renewable energy that it harvests from solar panels on its own roof. Matt Muniz is the county's energy program manager. He says the California energy crisis has helped to make the solar project even more economical.

MUNIZ: Environmentally, it's a good project, but it also has to meet the criteria so that it's still cheaper to do the project, generate our own electricity through solar, than it would be if we were to buy it from the utilities.

CURWOOD: Mr. Muniz says the jail's solar panels will provide up to a fifth of its energy needs. That works out to a savings of about $300,000 annually.

[Music up and under]

CURWOOD: Last fall, we reported on Arizona's tax credit plan for owners of vehicles that use alternative fuels. The hitch was that drivers didn't need to actually use alternative fuels to cash in. Kathy Peckardt of the state's administration department says, now owners must use a certain amount of alternative fuels, to receive the credit.

PECKARDT: Most of the taxpayers, I believe, are happy that we could save a half a billion dollars of taxpayer money, money that can be used for children and health care and public safety and other vital needs.

CURWOOD: Estimates now place the total cost of the tax credit program around $200 million.

[Music up and over]

[Killer whale calls]

CURWOOD: That's Keiko, the killer whale made famous by his starring role in the movie "Free Willy."

[More killer whale whistling calls]

CURWOOD: Several years ago, we reported on the early stages of a plan to release him from captivity. For about three years, this healthy, 25-year-old orca has been swimming in a bay off Iceland. Although he's free to leave, Keiko chooses to stick close to home. So, his handlers take him on what they call "boat walks," excursions of about 50 miles a day in the open ocean. And now Keiko is starting to interact with wild killer whales. Charles Venick, of the Ocean Futures Society, says these meetings are vital for Keiko.

VENICK: It's very easy to open a gate and release an animal, say "Goodbye, you're out on your own, let us know how it goes." In this case what we're doing, is continue to try to bring him in contact with groups of whales, so that he can bond with a given pod, because theses animals live in a social group.

CURWOOD: Mr. Venick says the ultimate goal is for Keiko to make that bond, and eventually leave his human companions behind.

[Calls from whale]

CURWOOD: And that's this week's follow-up on the news, from Living On Earth.

[Music up and over]

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Animal Note

CURWOOD: Just ahead, a corporate spy campaign against Greenpeace. First, this animal note from Maggie Villiger.

[Music up and under[: "Update Theme and Stings" composed by Allison Dean]]

VILLIGER: Oriental hornets are meticulous architects. Found throughout the Middle East, these insects carefully orient their nests with respect to gravity. Each cell in their comb points along the exact same axis, away from the Earth. Scientists have long wondered how hornets can precisely detect the direction of gravity's pull. Now, researchers have discovered what they think in a kind of "gravity detection system," that hornets actually install in their homes. Every cell in the nest comb has its own domed roof. And right in the center of that roof, the hornets use saliva to glue a tiny crystal into place. These stones are made up of mostly titanium and iron. It's unclear whether the hornets collect them from somewhere, or secrete them in some way. Researchers think the hornets may use these crystals in combination with a mysterious organ in their heads, that also contains several metals. Perhaps, scientists say, the crystals form a kind of invisible net, that acts like a surveyor's level, helping the hornets build symmetrical, balanced cells. Scientists are now investigating whether these crystals influence the way larvae develop in the cells. That's this week's animal note; I'm Maggie Villiger.

[Music up and over: "Update Theme and Stings" composed by Allison Dean]

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

[Cutaway 2 Music: John Fiuczysnki & John Medeski: "Vog" ]

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Spying on the Greens

CURWOOD: It's Living On Earth; I'm Steve Curwood. The Sunday Times in London recently reported that two oil companies hired a private espionage service, to infiltrate Greenpeace, Germany. The spy firm, called "Hakluyt" is made up of former operatives for the British government's official spy agency, MI-6. British Petroleum and Shell pay the MI-6 veterans to gather information about Greenpeace activities. With me to talk about this, is Maurice Chittenden, one of the two Sunday Times reporters who broke the story. He says BP was hoping to head off protests that would draw attention to possible new oil drilling in the North Atlantic.

CHITTENDEN: BP wanted to explore a new oil field in the north-west Atlantic; Greenpeace were deadly opposed to it. So, BP, it would seem, employ this firm called "Hakluyt". Hakluyt, using their old intelligence agency contacts, contact this guy called Manfred Schlickenreider, who is known as "Agent Camus," after Albert Camus, the writer, and he approaches Greenpeace as a, says he's a film-maker, documentary film-maker. Gets a lot of information about them, about a campaign that Greenpeace are aiming to do in the North Sea, against BP. To Greenpeace's own admission, their campaign was not a success, because BP knew at every stage what they were going to do, and what they planned to do, and were not taken by surprise.

CURWOOD: Now, Schlickenreider helped BP, apparently, avoid the effective wrath of Greenpeace for its North Sea projects. What did this secret do to help Shell?

CHITTENDEN: Shell were in a lot of trouble over their oil exploration in Nigeria and West Africa. The suggestion was that the Ogoni tribe in West Africa were being oppressed, to help oil exploration. Their leader, or one of their leaders, a guy called Ken Saro-wiwa, was hanged. I think it was 1996. There was a lot of angry outburst about this across Europe, boycotts, this sort of thing. To be fair to Shell, we do know that so of their petrol stations were fire-bombed, and that one was riddled with bullets in a drive-by shooting, so they did have genuine concern for their staff as a result of this.

CURWOOD: So, how did you guys find out about this? How did this all become public?

CHITTENDEN: Firstly, in Britain, the first we knew about it as when their contact told us that this had been going on, but I have to say that a Swiss anarchist group had previously got alongside Manfred Schlickenreider, the fake documentary maker. A female colleague of his seems to have, as you say, sold him out, and there was a search of his flat in Munich, in which were found certain documents linking him with various nefarious activities. And, along the lines, it eventually became known in London, and somebody I know, close to this private intelligence agency, has told me about it.

CURWOOD: Now, Greenpeace, Germany, says that it's not a big deal, that Mr. Schlickenreider's activities took place, and that, in fact, his activities didn't influence the outcome of their campaign. What do you think about that comment?

CRITTENDEN: I think they have to say that. We know, after talking to them, that they were trying to run a campaign similar to Brent Spar's, called the Stena Dee in the North Sea, which they occupied for ten days, and basically gave up, because they were not getting any publicity on it. Normally, in European terms, this would have been a big story, but because BP were fully aware of what they intended to do, and knew what to do, in reaction to it. Greenpeace say, "Ok, it was a campaign that we hoped we're going to get more publicity. It didn't work out." And they tried to, obviously, downplay the issue that it completely scuppered the campaign. Our suggestion is that it really did scupper that campaign.

CURWOOD: What does Shell and BP say? About your story, that they had hired these spies to infiltrate Greenpeace?

CHITTENDEN: We've spoken to both oil companies, and both say that yes, they have have employed Hakluyt, which is the name of the company. Shell says, it did it to protect its employees, which it feared that, after the fire-bombing, and after the drive-by shooting, some of its employees woud be in danger. BP says yes, it did employ Hakluyt . It was unaware of the activities of Agent Camus, the film-maker in Germany, but it says it only employed Hakluyt to obtain materials in the public domain, which we have a slight question mark about, because we have documents where the filmmaker Schlickenreider is billing Hakluyt for the equivalent of about $10,000 for research on Greenpeace, which seems a lot of money for stuff that's in the public domain.

CURWOOD: What information do you have that this kind of spying has gone on against other environmental groups, and might be going on yet today?

CHITTENDEN: Certainly, we know that Hakluyt was aiming at other groups, The Society for the Protection of Endangered Species is one. We know that a big business does want to keep an eye on environmental groups that might, at some stage, endanger their business, and we know that the companies do employ them. They boast that 28 out of what's called the FTSE 100 which is the top 100 quoted companies on the stock exchange in London, did employ, at one stage, Hakluyt. That's 28 of the 100 top companies in Britain, employed this private intelligence agency.

CURWOOD: Thank you for taking this time with us today.

CHITTENDEN: Nice talking to you.

CURWOOD: Maurice Chittenden is a reporter with the Sunday Times in London.

[Music: Propellerheads: "Spy Break"]

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CURWOOD: Rats like people. Or rather, they like the food and dwellings that people provide. But of course people don't like rats. It's not just that we fear the bubonic plague, which rats can carry, or that they can multiply so fast that a single pair of breeding rats can have 35,000 descendents in a single year. Rats can also keep us hungry. Around the world, rats destroy enough food to feed 200 million people. And nowhere do people guard the grain elevators more meticulously than the folks of Alberta, Canada, in the heart of winter wheat production. Indeed, Albertans boast that they are "rat-free." They do it with a mix of poison, guns, and good humor. Amy Jo Ehman has our report.

[Sound of a car door opening, car starting]

EHMAN: Don Breunig is on patrol. He is armed, with a thermos of coffee, and a 410-gauge shotgun stashed behind the seat. He wears a royal blue ball cap emblazoned with the words in gold, "Alberta Rat Control." Breunig's job: to seek, and destroy, rats.

BREUNIG: I don't go out of my way to kill any other animals, put it that way, but I don't even think of it as far as, "It's the job, and that's what we're there for, and it's, it doesn't bother me at all to kill rats.

EHMAN: Breunig is one of seven rat control in the province of Alberta. They control a swath of land on Alberta's eastern border with the province of Saskatchewan, a narrow strip that is 18 miles wide, and 380 miles long, running north from Montana. Rats aren't native to North America. They arrived in the 1700s aboard European ships, and they moved west with the population. Alberta is lucky enough to have three natural barriers against the rats: mountains to its west, Montana ranchland to the south, and the forest to the north, are all inhospitable terrains for these creatures. But to the east, Saskatchewan is infested with them. So any of these rats unlucky enough to infiltrate the buffer zone are killed before they have a chance to move into the rest of the province. That is why Alberta, with 255,000 square miles of land and 3 million people, is one of the few urban areas on Earth that can call itself "rat-free."

[Car door opens; package is moved; car door shuts.]

EHMAN: Today, Breunig pays a visit to a cattle farm. There are open feed pits, hundreds of bales of hay, and wooden grain bins--the ideal habitat for rats. Under Alberta law, rat control officers have the right to visit any private property, and take whatever action they have to to get rid of the rats. Farmers like Tim Guhle don't mind the intrusion.

GUHLE: [Laughs] No, it's good. Sometimes we're not around, so, you know, they know where to look. I don't. I just see some traces here and there once and a while. So, no problem with that.

EHMAN: Last year on this farm, Breunig killed some rats living under a grain bin by gassing them with the exhaust from a couple of trucks. Today, there's no sign of any rats, but he wants to be sure.

[Sounds of men moving stock in a barn)

BREUNIG: "Ok, so we'll head back. Actually, I'm going to move some bales up on this furthest stack up over here, just to make sure." GUHLE: "No problem." MAN: "See you guys again."]

EHMAN: Rats can cause a tremendous amount of damage. They eat immense amounts of grain and other stored food. They must gnaw constantly, to keep their incisors from growing too large, so they undermine sewers, eat through walls, and start fires by chewing electrical wires. And they spread disease "like the plague," among livestock and people. So when rats were first spotted on the Alberta border, in 1950, the government acted fast, marking off the 18-mile buffer zone and hiring people to kill the rats. Today, rat control costs about $200,000 a year, but the annual savings from the destruction of rats is estimated to be at least $30 million.

[Car door slams again.]

EHMAN: Breunig visits another farmer, on his regular route. Larry Heck hasn't seen a rat here in five years, and that's the way he likes it.

HECK: Because I hate rats. We were brought up to hate 'em, and I just--I'll do anything. If I see rats, get rid of 'em.

EHMAN: But there were a lot of rats here when he was a child. Rats so bold, he says, they would bite the pigs in order to get at the food trough.

HECK: I'll tell you another thing they used to do: they'd go into the chicken barn, they'd eat a hole in the end of the egg, and they'd suck out the egg. The rats would. That's how smart they'd get.

EHMAN: Albertans are taught young to loathe the rats. Many would be horrified at the idea of a pet rat. In fact, pet rats are illegal in Alberta. John Bourne remembers hating rats back in the seventh grade.

BOURNE: We had a coloring poster contest on the rat control program, and I can distinctly remember what my picture looked like. I had lots of blood, and lots of violence,because I had these rats that'd been trapped with a big mouse trap, and lots of red [laughs], red crayon because of the blood and the rats screeching, and so on.

EHMAN: Forty-five years after that coloring contest, Bourne supervises the rat control program. He admits, the rats give him nightmares.

BOURNE: One of the greatest fears, I guess, of rat control, is that you, you, you try and conduct it, --and it--it fails! And the rats are still there! What's wrong? You know, and so this anxiety builds up, that, in a dream, could become a, kind of a nightmare that makes me wake up, and my wife says to me, "You have another rat dream again, dear?" And it's true. I'd, I'd have a, a anxiety dream, unable to succeed in gettin' rid of the rats.

EHMAN: His worst waking fear, is that rats will get into Alberta by hitching a ride on an airplane or a truck, and go unnoticed until it's too late. And it almost happened a few years ago. A big, black rat was spotted at the airport in Edmondton, the provincial capital. It had jumped out of a suitcase, just arrived from India. To his great relief, Bourne was able to capture the renegade in a leg-hold trap, under the luggage carrousel.

BOURNE: Now, what are the chances of that animal staying in that luggage, and getting to someone's home, or someone's restaurant, or some food store--[sigh].

EHMAN: Back on the rat patrol, Don Breunig has called in the troops.

[Hubbub of intent voices. Man: "From [phonetic spelling] the water? ]

EHMAN: Five rat control officers are meeting in a coffee shop before they head out on a mission.

[Coffee shop fan. First man: "How you doin', cowboy?" Second man: "Good! And you?" First man: "Good. What have you been doin' with yourself?" Second man: "Not a heck of a lot." Coffee cups clink.]

EHMAN: Everyone in the cafe recognizes the rat patrol, dressed in their blue jackets and caps.


EHMAN: Today, they're heading to a farm suspected to be harboring rats.

[Coffee shop stools moving. First man: "Maybe be should get goin', boys." Hubbub: "Have to hurry, or--get there in time--dinner, perhaps."

[Alarm of open car door dings]

EHMAN: I am invited on this operation, so I jump in the truck with Officer Orest Popil. A couple of weeks ago, the rat patrol shot 60 rats on this farm. Today, it's a mop-up operation, to take care of any rodents that may have escaped. Popil has been on the rat patrol for 21 years.

POPIL: The job was, when I first started, was, was action-packed. There was no time to even think. It was just "Go go go!" and seek and destroy. And that was actually a lot of fun.

EHMAN: Last year, Popil saw just one rat in his patrol area. But he knows there are more out there, so he must be ever-vigilant.\

POPIL: A lot of people say, "Well, you're not totally rat-free, because you're killing them." But, as long as they're contained to their 18 miles, we're stopping the ground movement from Saskatchewan, then we consider ourselves rat-free.

[Car door-open alarm again. Popil: "I'll have to get my shotgun out." Door slams. Clink as shotgun is armed.]

EHMAN: The farmer is already lifting haybales, two by two, with a tractor.

[Shells being loaded into shotgun]

EHMAN: The rat control officers are standing by, rifles at the ready, fingers on the triggers. Some have tucked their pants in their boots, just in case a rat runs their way. But the first rat they find is already dead, poisoned, curled up in a nest of grass.

[Tractor lifts more hale bales. Voices of the controllers: "There's another one." "Look at this!" "All the way up!" "I'm damn beat" [To Ehman:] "So, ah, it takes away from our fun today, but a dead rat's a good rat, so we're happy to find them in there.]

EHMAN: They find two more "good" rats. Their feet and tails are bloody, a result of the anticoagulant in the poison. It looks like the rat patrol has done its job so well, there are no rats left here. Well, they're happy with that, but disappointed to be cheated out of a little action today. It looks like it's all been over, until the tractor lifts the last of the bales.

[Tractor heaves. Shotgun snaps. Voice commands: "Look out!" Laughter. "There's a nice one." More shots. "That's big enough to skin, that one!" Officer: "He is the survivor!" Another: "He doesn't look like a survivor to me!" Laughter.

EHMAN: There's a saying among rat control officers. "It's not the first 1000 that matter. It's the last one that counts the most."

["Nothin' wrong with this one." "No!" Voices trail off, covered by tractor still at work]

EHMAN: For Living On Earth, I'm Amy Jo Ehman in Provost, Alberta.

["Boy, they grow them healthy, here in Alberta!" Laughter. Tractor drives away.]

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living On Earth. Next week, hundreds of deaths and illnesses in Libby, Montana, have been linked to asbestos exposure from a mine owned by the chemical company W.R. Grace. Now, the toxin has been found on school playgrounds.

WOMAN: Literally, all my grandchildren have been exposed to this now. The same thing that killed my parents, and, and, and, probably, is gonna get myself. My children, my own children, I couldn't protect them, they were exposed. And damn it, I couldn't protect my grandchildren. And, and that really hurts me, right now.

CURWOOD: The on-going tragedy in Libby, Montana. Next time, on Living On Earth.

[Bird sounds up and under: Chris Watson "Embleton Rookery"]

CURWOOD: Before we go today, let's take an audio journey, to the rugged coast of Scotland. Chris Watson recorded these sounds of rooks flying near an old stone church, atop a sheer cliff.

[Rook call--dong! Raucous calls--dong reverberates. Sqeaks, squawks, raw calls--dong! Buzzy calls--dong! Twittering of other birds--dong! Bell falls silent, but not the birds.]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Milisa Muniz, and Bunny Lester. We had help this week from and Gernot Wagner, Marie Chung, and Katy Saunders. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of Earth Ear.

[The rooks take over again]

CURWOOD: Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is our science editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

[The rooks again, 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, supporting environmental education; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; The Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change; the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues; The Turner Foundation, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supporting coverage of western issues.


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