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

February 4, 2005

Air Date: February 4, 2005



Avian Flu

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Since last year, 36 people have died from a virulent strain of bird flu, transmitted largely from infected poultry stocks. Now there's evidence that the virus can jump from human to human, and health officials worry that it's only a matter of time before the flu evolves its transmission mechanism and starts a worldwide pandemic. Guest host Bruce Gellerman speaks with Dr. Jeremy Farrar, who's treating patients with symptoms of the avian flu in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City. (07:30)

ANWR Again! / Jeff Young

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For the second year in a row, President Bush made a national energy policy one of the priorities in his State of the Union address, and Washington correspondent Jeff Young reports that ANWR is at the top of the energy bill wish list. (05:00)

Elephants Revered, Feared / Gina Wilkinson

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In central Sri Lanka, population growth and deforestation is diminishing elephant territory. Hungry elephants are now expanding their boundaries and searching for food in farmers' fields and villages. Anxious humans are finding themselves in conflict with the elephants. Wildlife officials say one person and three elephants die every week in the skirmishes. Gina Wilkinson reports. (07:30)

A Journey to the Fourth World

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When William Powers arrived in Liberia in 1999 as an aid worker, he found a country rife with poverty, environmental devastation and corrupt leadership. He also found one of the world's most beautiful rainforests and a people filled with optimism. Powers chronicles his experiences in the book "Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge" and he joins Living on Earth guest host Bruce Gellerman to talk about what it's like living in, what he calls, "a fourth world country." (08:30)

Emerging Science Note/Monkey Pay-Per-View

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Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports that our obsession with the glamorous and the powerful isn't just a human trait - it's also monkey business. (01:20)

Carbon-Neutral Super Bowl

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The half-time show isn't the only thing the NFL is keeping a close watch on this year. As Jack Groh, director of environmental programs for the NFL tells us, officials there have tallied the amount of greenhouse gas emissions likely to be generated from the Super Bowl, and plan to offset the emissions by planting trees. (05:30)

Whale of a Story / Molly Menschel

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It was very like a whale, a 60-ton dead finback whale to be exact, and it washed ashore on a beach in the poorest county in Maine. Residents recount, in this audio postcard from producer Molly Menschel, how they had to very quickly decide what to do with it. (09:00)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Dr. Jeremy Farrar, William Powers, Jack Groh
REPORTERS: Jeff Young, Gina Wilkinson
PRODUCER: Molly Menschel
NOTE: Jennifer Chu


GELLERMAN: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.


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Avian Flu

GELLERMAN: I'm Bruce Gellerman. In Southeast Asia, a deadly strain of avian influenza seems to be mutating and now can be spreading from person to person and nation to nation. The outbreak has public health officials fearing the start of a global flu pandemic.

FARRAR: When we think of flu, we generally think of something which keeps us off work for a day or two. I mean, this influenza is a very horrible infection because probably none of us have any immunity to this type of virus.

GELLERMAN: Coming up, the doctor on the front lines in the battle against avian flu. And, here we go again. The White House launches a new offensive to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Opponents counterattack.

BOXER: And what we're very worried about is if you do it here, then what about all the other wildlife refuges. They're going to be next.

GELLERMAN: And why the Super Bowl won't be a gas. This week, on Living on Earth. Stick around.

ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman, sitting in for Steve Curwood.

In an average year, 20,000 Americans die from the flu. Last year in Southeast Asia, just 36 people died from a new strain called Avian influenza. But it's this bird flu, known as H5-N1, that keeps public health officials up at night because like a nightmare, they worry that their worst fears are about to come true. There's evidence the avian flu, first discovered in 1997, is no longer transmitted just from birds, ducks and chickens to people but has mutated. It can now spread person to person.

Ground zero of this year's outbreak is Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Dr. Jeremy Farrar is director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases there. Dr. Farrar, thank you very much for joining us. Hello.

FARRAR: Hello, it's good to speak to you.

GELLERMAN: Doctor Farrar, in your hospital you're seeing patients with avian flu, right?

FARRAR: Yes, we started a few weeks ago now. We actually don't have any patients, we haven't had any patients for a few days now. So, one could be optimistic and think that maybe we've seen the worst of it. But, certainly, going back for the last month or so, we've had a steady stream of patients with H5M1 as you describe.

GELLERMAN: Well, are you optimistic?

FARRAR: By nature, yeah, I'm very optimistic. I think your introduction was very fair. I think there are often major worries in terms of global health and often it's crucial to keep these in perspective. I think the greatest fear facing the world in terms of a major outbreak is influenza. The devastation of 1918, the 1950s and the 1960s, when millions of people died from this disease, teaches us that it's very likely to occur again in the 21st century.

The only thing I would take a little issue with in the introduction is the case of the human to human transmission. Clearly, that is the crucial factor. The virus does go between poultry. The crucial issue is whether when one human being gets it whether he or she is capable of passing it to another. And as you rightly say, there has been a report of a case from Thailand, where it seems very clear that a child passed it to the mother. I think that was a special case. The mother was very intimately involved with caring for the child in the last few hours of its life and had very extensive exposure to the child.

I think we're not in a situation, at the moment, where the virus transmits between humans with any degree of efficiency. If that were to occur, in other words, the virus was then able to go from you to me or me to you or from somebody to somebody else, then that is really a terrible scenario where we will see many, many million people die, I suspect, if that were to happen.

GELLERMAN: The influenza outbreak in 1918, the Spanish flu, is now seen to be avian flu, am I correct?

FARRAR: Essentially yes, yeah.

GELLERMAN: So, is that the flu that we now have?

FARRAR: No, it's not. But it's very close. The avian flus are, occur in chickens, occur in ducks. Chickens get sick with it; often, ducks are not very sick with it, in fact, can display no symptoms at all. When it jumps into humans, it's a very, very nasty virus. It causes a huge amount of destruction of the lung tissue and when we think of flu, we generally think of something that keeps us off work a day or two. I mean, this influenza is unbelievably unpleasant. It's a very horrible infection because probably none of us have any immunity or very limited immunity to this type of virus which is why the available flu vaccines won't work to protect you against this infection.

GELLERMAN: I understand that there was a woman, a Cambodian woman, who came to Vietnam and died of the disease. She was seeking medical attention and then some other members of her family may have gotten the disease, too. And the suggestion there is that because of the timeline is that, in fact, it was human-to-human contact.

FARRAR: The case from Cambodia, I think, remains unclear at the moment whether this represents common exposure or human to human transmission. It's absolutely crucial to know the difference between those two. You have to remember, many people in Cambodia, Vietnam, live very closely with their poultry in their house or in their yard at the back of the house. And multiple members of families may be exposed to the virus at the same time

GELLERMAN: It's not just in birds. It's in domestic cats, leopards.

FARRAR: Yes, it seems to…one of the most worrying features over the last few years is its apparent ability to have spread in terms of the animals that it can infect. So, what maybe used to only infect chickens and ducks now seems to be able to infect cats. As you say, there were leopards in Thailand that were infected, different varieties of birds, not just chickens and ducks but also wading birds and migrating birds. And that, of course, is an enormous worry because it's difficult enough to control the chicken population where chickens are farmed or kept by households; but to control birds that migrate, is impossible as America's found out with the spread of West Nile which have been carried, probably, by migrating birds.

GELLERMAN: I understand they've been culling, killing these ducks and chickens in the city there.

FARRAR: Yeah, that's right. There's been a mass media campaign and the Vietnamese government has announced in Ho Chi Minh City that all ducks are to be culled as soon as possible.

GELLERMAN: This week, it's the Tet New Year. It's the year of the rooster, ironically, and I understand that in Vietnam, there's a lot of eating of duck and chicken.

FARRAR: Yeah, there would normally be at Tet. Tet is a major festival here. I guess, the closest thing it would come close to is Thanksgiving in the States. I mean, it's a great occasion and it's one that's very important in the Vietnamese cultural life and, of course, chicken and duck are both a major feature of that usually but certainly not this year. I've not seen any chicken or duck being served as part of Tet celebrations so far and I'm sure they won't be.

GELLERMAN: So, what is the atmosphere on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City now?

FARRAR: It is worrying; it's very worrying and everybody knows about it. School children know about it. People are going into schools to educate people about it, but life goes on and, I think, banning chickens and ducks from a city has been a major step forward. People are getting ready for Tet and desperately hoping that this disappears. As you know, the virus particularly likes colder weather and it actually is quite cold in Vietnam at the moment. Hopefully, as the warmer weather comes in the next month or so, we will see less, fewer cases. But, yes, everybody is talking about it. It's in the newspapers daily and there is great concern. But the Vietnamese are incredibly phlegmatic people and tend to take things in their stride.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Jeremy Farrar is Director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Dr. Farrar, thank you very much. Stay well.

FARRAR: Okay, and you. Thanks.

[MUSIC: Sanpi Winpeng "Melody to Welcome Guests" The Chinese Deep South Ensemble: China - Many Faces (Ellipsis Arts) 1998]

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ANWR Again!

GELLERMAN: For the second year in a row, President Bush made a national energy policy one of the priorities in his State of the Union address, urging lawmakers to pass the energy bill that has languished in Congress since 2001.

BUSH: Four years of debate is enough. I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy. (APPLAUSE)

GELLERMAN: Among the items on the president's wish list for energy is the desire to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR for short. It's become something of an environmental battle royale and here to discuss it with us is Living on Earth's Washington correspondent Jeff Young. Hi, Jeff.

YOUNG: Hi, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: This debate over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, it's been around, it's been defeated three times, I don't get it. Three strikes, you're out. How come this bill keeps coming back?

YOUNG: Well, they're hoping to get some leverage, that is, the pro-drillers think they can get more mileage out of the newly-expanded Republican majority, especially in the Senate where they think they've picked up four pro-drilling votes in last year's elections.
And, also, they feel momentum from this push from the president to increase the domestic energy supply and cut down on imports. I spoke with Alaska's Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski about that and she says that if we want to do that, that's going to mean getting more oil out of Alaska, and ANWR.

MURKOWSKI: We have been delivering oil to the rest of country now from Alaska's North Slope for 30 years and we have been doing it with an environmental record that is stellar. We believe that we can do the same with ANWR. So, we are very concerned that we do this right and we are very certain that we can do it environmentally sound.

GELLERMAN: Of course, the opponents disagree with that. They say this is a calving ground for caribou and migratory birds use this. But this time, Jeff, the opposition, they've got a really tough fight on their hands.

YOUNG: Well, their numbers are reduced, but they're not giving up, by any means. In fact, I'd say they've stepped up their opposition here. Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman introduced a bipartisan bill in the Senate calling for full wilderness protection for the refuge. And, as far as this notion of using ANWR to sort of wean us off of foreign oil--Lieberman told a rally on the Capitol grounds that according to one study, the oil from ANWR would cut our imports by only about two percent.

LIEBERMAN : Let me ask you this question. Is that two percent worth forever
losing one of the most beautiful wild places in America and the world? (crowd: NO!) That's the right answer.

YOUNG: And Lieberman's argument is that we'd do a lot more to reduce foreign oil by conserving, instead.

GELLERMAN: Well, the oil companies must really be pushing for this. I mean, oil's, what, bumping around 50 bucks a barrel now?

YOUNG: Well, you'd think that, wouldn't you? But there's this odd trend afoot where some of the major oil companies that stand to benefit most seem to be losing interest in the lobbying effort to open up ANWR. Conoco Phillips last month rather quietly pulled out of the main pro-drilling lobbying group, called Arctic Power. BP, another company, had already given up on that group and that leaves just Exxon Mobil to lobby for access to ANWR.

GELLERMAN: So, wait, companies that would reap the profits from drilling in the refuge are no longer lobbying for access? What's going on?

YOUNG: Well, that's what I asked Fadel Gheit about this. Fadel Gheit is an energy analyst with the brokerage firm, Oppenheimer & Co. And, he says as these oil companies get bigger and bigger, the gains from something like ANWR look smaller because they can go do business somewhere else.

GHEIT: So, basically, you know, they are saying that we spent all this time and effort and all we got is a black eye and we don't need that. We don't need a bad public image.

YOUNG: In a word, precedent. Winning here in ANWR could pave the way for more access to oil and gas drilling in other protected areas. Or, at least, that's what the drilling opponents like Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California think is going on.

BOXER: You can't have a wildlife refuge and drill in it. And, what we're very worried about is if you do it here, then what about all the other wildlife refuges? They're gonna be next.

GELLERMAN: Hmm. So, Jeff, how's this likely to play out in Congress this time?

YOUNG: Oh, that's the big question. The real battle is in the Senate, where drilling opponents can still mount a filibuster. The pro-drillers are looking for a way to win this on a simple majority vote. They might be able to do that by attaching something to a budget resolution. So, I'd say watch the budget and those talks start any day now as the president sends his budget up to the hill.

GELLERMAN: Follow the money, huh, Jeff?

YOUNG: That's always good advice, I think.

GELLERMAN: Thanks a lot. Jeff Young is Living on Earth's Washington correspondent. Jeff, thank you.

YOUNG: You're welcome.

GELLERMAN: Coming up, an expedition to the fourth world. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Alison Brown "The Red Earth" A World Instrumental Collection (Putomayo) 1996]

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Elephants Revered, Feared

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman.

In the wake of the Tsunami that struck in December, killing so many people and destroying so much property, the government of Sri Lanka says it will start enforcing a law banning construction within 330 ft. of water's edge. The move would force hundreds of thousands of people to relocate inland but residents worry there may not be enough room for them.

In central Sri Lanka, scarcity of land is already causing an unusual conflict. Due to logging and agriculture, the forest that is home to wild elephants is disappearing, Now, as Gina Wilkinson reports, hungry elephants searching for food are killing farmers trying to protect their crops.


WILKINSON: In the tiny jungle village of Veheregala in central Sri Lanka, half a dozen locals gather at the communal water well.


WILKINSON: Women chat as they take turns pumping the rusty metal handle to bring water to the surface to wash their brightly-colored sarongs and saris. Today's main topic of conversation is the latest in a series of devastating raids by ravenous elephants.


WILKINSON: Fifty-five-year-old B.G. Babee describes how a herd of about 25 elephants arrived two nights ago and destroyed five acres of the village rice paddy.

Rice farming is the main source of income for the village and B.G. Babee says she doesn't know how they'll make ends meet after losing their crops to the elephants.


VOICEOVER: We are very poor people and we used all our money to buy seeds and fertilizer for the field. What do we do now? How will we live? We have nothing left.

WILKINSON: Not only are village rice paddies being decimated. In the past year, one third of the 150 homes in Veheregala have been damaged by elephants, as well.

Ajith is still rebuilding his home after it was attacked by a hungry pachyderm three months ago.


VOICEOVER: An elephant came to my house around 11 o'clock at night. I think it was looking for food or perhaps fruit from the tree in my garden. It attacked my house and ripped the roof right off my kitchen. When I tried to scare it off with a torch, it ran next door and attacked my neighbor's house, too.

WILKINSON: Farmers are not the only ones suffering. Elephants are also casualties in this conflict.


WILKINSON: At Pinnewala elephant sanctuary, 60 miles southwest of Veheragala, a herd of trumpeting elephants heads down to the Mahaweli river for their afternoon bath.


WILKINSON: Elephant handlers, known as mahouts, surround with five-foot-long, metal-tipped spears, and warn curious tourists to keep their distance from the potentially dangerous pachyderms.

At Pinnewala Elephant Sanctuary, elephant handlers, known as mahouts, help the pachyderms take a bath in the Mahaweli River, Sri Lanka. (Credit: Gina Wilkinson)

Many of these animals are wild elephants brought into this government-run sanctuary for medical treatment.

S. R. B. Dissanayake is an ecologist with the Sri Lankan Wildlife Department.He says many of the elephants here were attacked by farmers desperate to prevent the animals destroying their livelihoods.

DISSANAYAKE: With the nightfall, they come out and raid crops… It's like opening a supermarket for elephants. So, then, they come into conflict with people. Usually 140 to 160 elephants are killed annually and that means three elephants a week and one human; that's the rate.

WILKINSON: The elephant is a national symbol and highly revered in Sri Lanka.

But over the past three decades, rapid population growth and deforestation have gradually caused conflict between pachyderms and humans. Forest cover has fallen from 44 percent to almost half that amount in just 50 years, with close to 100 thousand acres lost annually to logging and land clearing for agriculture.

New villages are springing up in what was once elephant territory. With Sri Lanka's population expected to double within 30 years, pressure on the pachyderm's natural habitat is set to rise even further.

Ecologist S.R.B. Dissanayake says many Sri Lankans are conflicted about their troubles with elephants.

DISSANAYAKE: It is a Buddhist country. People don't like to kill animals because killing is prohibited according to our religion. But, sometimes, they are compelled to kill because of the anger they have, because they lose their way of living because of these elephants.

WILKINSON: A century ago, Sri Lanka had more than 12,000 wild elephants. Now, that figure is estimated to be as low as 3,500.

The government has tried to set aside elephant habitat by making several protected national parks. It's recently built new waterholes and encouraged the growth of indigenous plants to attract and keep elephants inside the reserves.

But, it's believed that 70 percent of elephants live outside these protected zones, in areas also inhabited by farmers. The wildlife department is also planning special wilderness corridors to allow pachyderms to travel from one protected nature reserve to another without passing through villages and farmland.

Another proposal calls for building electric fences around some of the most vulnerable farming communities. Lower cost solutions are being tested in villages like Veheragala.


WILKINSON: Instead of turning to guns and poison, villagers in Veheregala are now using large bells, supplied by the Millennium Elephant Foundation, to scare away roaming pachyderms. Long ropes allow villagers to ring the bells from inside their houses when they see or hear the animals approaching.

And since most elephant attacks occur at night under the cover of darkness, Veheregala is particularly vulnerable because most homes don't have power and there's just one streetlight for the whole village.

Lyn Burnett, a volunteer with the Millennium Elephant Foundation, says they hope to reduce this problem by building an environmentally friendly bio gas plant.

BURNETT: The villagers will be putting in elephant dung, cattle dung and other human wastes and then that decomposes produces the gas, which is collected within the cylinder. And the gas that is collected will be used to either fuel three lamps which will burn each for four hours or one lamp that burns for ten hours.

WILKINSON: The villagers can also use the sludge produced by the bio gas plant as fertilizer for their crops and vegetable gardens.


WILKINSON: Back at the Pinnewala elephant sanctuary, tourists watch a massive six-ton elephant tear leaves and branches from a tree. It's easy to see how he could destroy a field of crops in just a few hours.


WILKINSON: The 60-year-old bull is almost blind. Veterinarians suspect his eyes were damaged by a blast from a farmer's gun. Wildlife experts believe more pachyderms are likely to suffer a similar fate and the problem of human-elephant conflict won't be solved overnight. But officials, as well as villagers and conservation groups, hope they ‘re now on track to find a long-term balance that protects both farmers and the country's revered elephants.

For Living on Earth, this is Gina Wilkinson, in central Sri Lanka.

[MUSIC: Kronos Quartet "Escalay (Water Wheel)" Kronos Quartet: Pieces of Africa (Elektra Nonesuch) 1992]

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A Journey to the Fourth World

GELLERMAN: Now, to Liberia where in 1999, William Powers traveled to the west African nation to take over as director of projects for Catholic Relief Services. Powers was fresh out of graduate school and filled with idealism and a healthy dose of fear. Seven years of a bloody civil war had ripped Liberia apart and the next seven years of so-called "peace" under then President Charles Taylor weren't much better.

Still, Powers believed in his mission to fight poverty and save Liberia's rainforest. He spent two years there trying to teach Liberians to live sustainably. But, it was the lessons he learned about, what he calls, "the fourth world" that endure.

William Powers has chronicled his experience in Liberia in a new book, "Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge." Mr. Powers, How's da body?

POWERS: Body fine-o.

GELLERMAN: You really have a voice in this book that really captures the sounds of the people from Liberia.

(Credit: William Powers)

POWERS: That's right. The Liberian English is actually a mixture of African dialects and, you know, English from the American South.

GELLERMAN: That's because Liberia was formed from American-freed slaves.

POWERS: It's America and Africa. It's our quasi-colony, the only one we actually set up in Africa. And you hear in the – for example, around Christmas time, people will say, "Compliments of the season," which comes, I think, right out the 1800s in the States. And, you know, the country was set up by former American slaves, as a way of going back to Africa. So, there's a good sense of it being sort of a part of ourselves.

GELLERMAN: You write very passionately at the beginning of the book about your first impressions, and I wonder if you could share those with us?

POWERS: Well, one of the first impressions was just driving from the airport into Monrovia. You're going along this road where all the telephone poles have been decapitated and the wires are hanging out like spaghetti, just coming out of the poles. And, then you end up in the downtown area of this capital city, which is just a bombed-out area, you know, buildings that are just falling to the ground and marked with mortar shells. And yet, against this background of total human devastation is the most brilliant ocean, palm trees everywhere, a lush kind of jungle that's right there coming out of every possible crack in the city.

And then, of course, arriving at my house at Carolina Farms, where I went through the gates and it was just this beautiful compound of villas, like Italian villas, on this river that empties into the Atlantic. And people with pet chimpanzees and a kind of bizarre new colonial world that I never had even dreamed of when I signed up to work with CRS in Africa.

GELLERMAN: Kind of ironic that here you've got this country that, you know, was of freed American slaves, and yet you're returning back to, basically, a plantation system.

POWERS: Well, that's the interesting thing. I mean, historically, the former slaves that went back established kind of a black on black apartheid system that was one of the worst the world's ever seen. It's almost like South Africa's. The True Whig party – which was these America Liberians, the ones who were former slaves – reestablished antebellum sort of master/servant relationships. And they'd build these houses just like in the American South – which you can still see today in Liberia – with fireplaces. I mean, who needs a fireplace in the tropics? And they would sit on the wraparound porches and watch the 99 percent indigenous Africans work their plantations.

And, interestingly enough, actually, Liberia was brought to charges on slavery in the 1920s by the League of Nations and it toppled their president and vice president. They were actually accused internationally of slavery. So, in a sense, when I arrived there, I mean, you just fall right into the top of that pyramid. You know, you're at the top of the hierarchy. You're now part of that master class, and everyone kind of looks at you in that way.

GELLERMAN: We're all familiar with the term "third world" countries, but you write about the "fourth world." What do you mean?

POWERS: That's right, yeah, the fourth worlds. That's a term that I coined for the countries that are not just poor, but the ones that are completely unstable, environmentally devastated. You know, the ones where Pandora's box has been opened and just can't be closed. I'm talking about the frontiers of anarchy, countries like Myanmar, like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, and maybe even now Iraq.

GELLERMAN: But here you've got a country that's been cursed by, you know, murderous, maniacal dictators, and yet blessed by natural resources – in particular, this vast rainforest.

POWERS: Yes, Liberia is just an absolute garden of Eden. It's got one of the largest percentages of rainforests, virgin rainforests, anywhere in the world. I would watch pygmy hippos tobogganing into rivers, just gorgeous rainforests rising up into the canopy, and howler monkeys and all kinds of wildlife. It's just incredible.

GELLERMAN: And the UN has a ban on the export of timber from the rainforest.

POWERS: Yeah, that's right. They were calling it "conflict timber" because when I was there during Charles Taylor's regime, he was actually trading timber for weapons and supplying the R.U.F. in Sierra Leone. And, of course, they were the famous people who chopped off, you know, people's limbs to terrorize them. So, ironically, not only was the country being just deforested at an incredibly fast rate, but it was also contributing to destabilizing the region.

GELLERMAN: There is a success story, however, in your book, and you talk about Chief Wah, a guy who experiments with fish.

POWERS: Yeah, he was a wonderful chief down by Sapo National Park where I worked, Liberia's only national park. And he was able to transform secondary bush into a veritable paradise of multi-story agriculture and fish farming, you know, contouring, different ways of preserving the land while saving the rainforests that were right around his village. And, you know, what he told me, he said "I don't need to go into the bush and I don't need to slash and burn any more because I'm producing everything right here."

William Powers (right) went back to Liberia for a visit in November 2004. Here he visits his former Catholic Relief Services colleague and friend, Liberian agronomist Augustine Laveleh (in white shirt next to W. Powers) at his new Monrovia home. Laveleh's former home was destroyed in the August 2003 battle for Monrovia when Charles Taylor was ousted.
(Credit: J. Laveleh)

GELLERMAN: Why was he successful?

POWERS: That's a really good question. He was one of the so-called master farmers that I worked with. He wasn't very educated, but like a lot of Liberians, he was innovative and optimistic and he was able to adopt these technologies. I think part of the reason also was that we came up with a song. Everything in Liberia, in the rural villages, is tied to singing and playing music and so on. And, I think what really had it take was the fact that we developed a song for swamp rice and for working in aquaculture. And, you know, once they had a song, everyone went out into the swamp fields and started harvesting rice and so on. It's kind of a beautiful thing to see.

GELLERMAN: What do we need to do to preserve the rainforests in Liberia?

POWERS: All the first world governments, as far as I know, have prioritized saving, you know, the last great rainforest on earth, not just the conservation groups. So, Liberia is maybe almost half pristine rainforest, so what I would suggest is that we set that aside as a UN biosphere reserve. Liberia needs stability and, you know, we need these rainforests, so let's make a trade. Let's do a quid pro quo and commit to Liberia for 20 years. And I'm talking about bringing piped water to a couple of cities, bringing some electricity to the country and committing to education. Because I think education is important for breaking the cycles of violence that have existed there. And, in return, we receive the kind of return that rainforests give us. So, I think it would be a fantastic move for President Bush to go for a, what I would call a, a peace-for-nature swap. You know, we help bring peace to Liberia and they hand over a good portion of their county to humanity.

GELLERMAN: Mr. Powers, you're still an idealist.

POWERS: [LAUGHS] Yeah, that's true, that's true. I think I am still an idealist.

GELLERMAN: Mr. Powers, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

POWERS: Yeah, it was really great talking with you. Thank you.

[MUSIC: Kronos Quartet "Wawshishijay (Our Beginning)" Kronos Quartet: Pieces of Africa (Elektra Nonesuch) 1992]

GELLERMAN: William Powers is author of "Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge."

Related link:
"Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge"

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Emerging Science Note/Monkey Pay-Per-View

GELLERMAN: Just ahead: This year's Superbowl gets to the root of an environmental problem. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.

CHU: To catch a glimpse of your favorite celebrity, you may be willing to spend a few dollars on a glossy magazine.

Turns out: monkey see, monkey do, too.

Researchers at Duke University have discovered that male rhesus monkeys will give up a portion of their favorite fruit juice to look at images of a female's hindquarters or view socially dominant monkeys - the same way humans pay for a peek.

Neurobiologists offered male rhesus monkeys a choice: take a large portion of cherry juice; or take a smaller portion of cherry juice and get the chance to look at photos of other monkeys.

On average, the monkeys would forego eight to ten percent of their juice allotment if the researchers let them view the faces of powerful males or a female's derriere.

But, the monkeys had to be bribed with larger amounts of juice to get them to stare at subordinate males.

Researchers say weighing the value of social interactions among animals could help understand human behavior, specifically, of people with autism who lack the motivation to connect with other humans.

They add, the study may also help us understand people's fascination with gossip magazines and our ongoing obsession with Hollywood. That's this week's Note on Emerging Science. I'm Jennifer Chu.

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

FUNDERS: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and: The Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund, supporting the creation, performance and recording of new music; The Kresge Foundation. Building the capacity of nonprofit organizations through challenge grants since 1924. On the web at k-r-e-s-g-e dot org; The Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; and, The W-K Kellogg Foundation. ‘From Vision to Innovative Impact: 75 Years of Philanthropy'; This is NPR -- National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: Ali Akbar Khan "India Blue" A World Instrumental Collection (Putomayo) 1996]

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Carbon-Neutral Super Bowl

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman.

Okay, quick. What comes to mind when you hear the words "Super Bowl" and "green" in the same sentence? All those greenbacks the game generates in ad revenues? The color of the field maybe? Or, perhaps, the Green Bay Packers who lost in the first round of the playoffs?

You probably didn't think of "greenhouse" as in greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. But, that's exactly what NFL officials are thinking. They plan to go "carbon neutral"--offsetting all the greenhouse gases generated at this year's big game in Jacksonville, Fla.

Joining us from Jacksonville is Jack Groh. He's the NFL's director of environmental programs. Hi, Jack.

GROH: Hi Bruce, how are ya?

GELLERMAN: I'm well, thanks. But, I didn't even know the NFL had environmental programs.

GROH: Yeah, we've been doing this for about 12 years. Not the carbon neutral, but we've had environmental initiatives with Super Bowl going back about 12, 13 years now.

GELLERMAN: So, what kind of things do you do?

GROH: Well, originally we just started with solid waste management recycling. We wanted to recycle as much of the waste as we could from our facilities and then we started to add other programs.

GELLERMAN: Tell me about this carbon neutral program.

GROH: We tinkered around with the idea for about a year and we looked at it in Houston last year, but we weren't satisfied that we had the information in place to do it. So, we went and did some research and looked into how we could mitigate all the greenhouse gas produced. As you know, every human activity produces some greenhouse gas and we've got a lot of humans and a lot of activity. So, we figured we'd get involved in that.

GELLERMAN: How much greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, do you actually get out of a Super Bowl?

GROH: Well, the major sources that we measured were somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand tons of CO2. And, I think that's about two million pounds.

GELLERMAN: How did you get those figures? I mean, how do people at a Super Bowl generate all that carbon dioxide?

GROH: Well, the two primary sources we found, Bruce, were transportation and utility usage. Utility usage is obviously the stadium because the stadium wouldn't be up and running if the Super Bowl wasn't here. There wouldn't be another game there. The NFL Experience Football Theme Park, which is about a one million square foot theme park that we build here in each Super Bowl city--it's a temporary theme park. That's the other major source.

So, those are the two big sources of utility usage that wouldn't be here without Super Bowl and then, of course, transportation. There are the normal cars that are in Jacksonville, anyway. We weren't concerned about that. What we were concerned about was all the fleets of vehicles, whether it's buses or limos or vans or staff cars that we bring into the city. So, we identified that as the other big source of carbon dioxide.

GELLERMAN: How do you get rid of it?

GROH: We looked at a couple of different ideas. One was a mission's credit trading. That just didn't seem to fit what we wanted to do with it. And then, it was one of those flat forehead moments, you know when you take your, the palm of your hand and hit it against your forehead and go "why didn't I think of that before?"


GROH: Right. One of those, a Homer Simpson moment. And we realized planting trees was the way to go. So, we hooked up with all the right people here in Jacksonville and then we went and did the research to get the figures, you know, how many trees, and what we needed to do to actually mitigate all that carbon.

GELLERMAN: How do the trees, you know, neutralize it?

GROH: Well, the trees, a certain percentage, and, again, I'm not one of the scientists. We went to the scientists to get this figured out, you know what we needed, how many trees, this and that. These guys made sure we didn't get led astray as far, you know, what we were doing. We wanted it to be valid. We didn't want it to just be good intentioned; we wanted it to be scientifically valid, as well.

The folks at Princeton University Carbon Mitigation Center told us once we provided them with the figures on carbon dioxide, according to their calculations, it takes about one acre of trees to absorb about, roughly about 70 tons of carbon dioxide. I'm sorry, I said carbon dioxide, it's actually 70 tons of carbon locked up. Because we're not too worried about the oxygen. I mean, like you, I like oxygen. It's the carbon that causes the problem.

GELLERMAN: Keeps me going.

GROH: Yeah.

GELLERMAN: So, have you planted any trees?

GROH: Yeah, two weeks before Super Bowl we did a big planting at University of North Florida. They provided us with about two acres of land on their campus and then volunteers, college students came, people from the community came and we planted, give or take a couple, we planted about a thousand trees on two acres.

GELLERMAN: Did Tom Brady or Andy Reed pitch in?

GROH: No, those guys weren't in town yet. [LAUGHS]. No.

GELLERMAN: Jack, since this is CO2, carbon dioxide, it's seemingly, or scientists tell us, related to global warming. Is this the NFL telling us we're doing our bit to prevent global warming?

GROH: Well, that's part of it, too. That's a message that we like to send out. And since people watch the NFL closely, other event organizers and planners and managers look at what we do in Super Bowl because Super Bowl is the pinnacle of special events. It's the biggest and most comprehensive special event in the world each year. Other people look at it and see how we manage our events. So, it's a good way for us to send that message, too. And, have folks look at us and say "well, the NFL thinks that this is a good way to manage events, maybe we should look into it, too."

GELLERMAN: And I thought it was just another football game.

GROH: [LAUGHS]. Well, we have that, too! There is a football game, by the way. I don't want to lose that.

GELLERMAN: Jack, thank you very much.

GROH: Thank you, Bruce. Pleasure to chat with you.

GELLERMAN: Jack Groh is the NFL's Director of Environmental Programs.

[MUSIC: "Horizon" Music Library Sampler: Summer 1995 (Non &Stop Productions) 1995]

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Whale of a Story

GELLERMAN: What would you do if a 60-ton dead animal showed up in your community. Okay, granted, it's not likely to happen to you but that's just what happened to the people of Lubec county, Maine. They had to figure out, and quickly, what to do when one day, a giant finback whale washed up on their shores. Producer Molly Menschel sent us this audio postcard she calls "Just Another Fish Story," about how the good citizens of Lubec handled their "whale" of a problem.

MAN1: The story about the whale, the story about the whale see. I understand it's a fish story and notwithstanding, it's a big fish. But what happened, years ago in Lubec, Maine, there was a whale that got tangled up in fishermen's lines way off, somewhere off a quarter head. The whale could see them, see. And, it drifted in to shore. It just couldn't swim. The tide carried it in and it landed on the beach over here in Lubec, not too far from here, see. I saw it. I was down there.

WOMAN: Ah, it was big. I couldn't tell you how long it or…

MAN: The whale was roughly 55 to…

MAN: 56 and a half feet long…

MAN: A 70-foot animal. That's almost the size of an 18-wheel truck.

MAN: To me it was huge.

WOMAN: It was huge.

MAN: It was huge.

MAN: Laying down it would be as high as this ceiling.

WOMAN: It was the largest animal I ever saw.

MAN: No wonder, in the Holy Bible it says, ‘"Jonah went into the belly of the whale." Well, there's plenty of room there. That mouth is a big one.

MAN: It was laying there right on top of the beach.

MAN: And it was laying on its side.

WOMAN: I remember it was blackish-grayish color.

WOMAN: He wasn't gray anymore. He wasn't grayish-blackish.

MAN: It was mostly black and white.

WOMAN: It was white, or whitish-grayish.

MAN: There was a lot of wounds on it, old scars.

MAN: What it looked like was a vicious animal to me.

MAN: It was a monster.

WOMAN: But, I wasn't frightened because it was dead.

MAN: Mouth happened to be open. Its mouth happened to be open. It was a dead fish, but its mouth happened to be open.

MAN: It might have been middle of August or so.

MAN: Yeah, August, September. I can't…

MAN: Evidently, it washed up in the night and someone spotted it after daylight, laying there on the beach.

MAN: It was early in the morning. The word had started to spread that this whale had washed ashore and people started coming in.

MAN: I went down by myself but there were plenty of people around.

MAN: On the first day when it washed up, I went down.

WOMAN: Yeah, we took the kids down to see it.

MAN: Little kids were running up to it and touching it.

WOMAN: Climbing up on top of the whale, standing on it and getting their pictures taken.

MAN: Sell hotdogs or something. Make a little money. [LAUGHS].

WOMAN: I think people in a small town handle death in a different way.
They have to deal with it a lot more often. Everybody knows everybody so when someone dies, the whole town grieves. I actually went down there, it was coming on to sunset and I sat on the beach and smoked a cigarette and bawled my eyes out. Yeah, that's what I done. And I never went back down. And we lived probably a thousand feet from the beach.

MAN: The mystery of the whole thing is how it got there. Nobody knows if it died off in the bay and floated ashore or whether it grounded itself out and died on the beach or whether it just got confused. Nobody knows.

MAN: It washed up on the beach.

WOMAN: He got snarled up, could have been…

MAN: I guess that's what happened to him, he drowned…

WOMAN: He couldn't get clear.

MAN: You know, this is where it wanted to be…

MAN: They called the Coast Guard to see if they could tow it back off shore and let it go to some other town, but they wouldn't do it.

WOMAN: Because it had already been a couple of other places and that's what they'd done, they towed it out and Lubec finally wound up with it…

WOMAN: There was no boats big enough.

MAN: And depending upon the way the wind was blowing when the current is running, some things are almost impossible to get rid of.

MAN: This thing laid on the beach for days while the town was trying to determine how they were going to get rid out of it.

MAN: And it sat there because the government didn't know what to do. They were arguing, one branch of government and arguing with another branch of government over what to do.

MAN: Vicious circle.

MAN: It was too big to move. You couldn't move it. You couldn't do anything.

WOMAN: We're a very poor town. We're the poorest county in the state of Maine. And that we'd be the one's having to foot the bill…

MAN: Small town Lubec, it was big doings.

MAN: Well, the people in the town and the town office and the whole nine yards were all disturbed because like any dead body, it began to smell, you know. Stink the town. A lot of people were saying "we've got to move out of here on account of the odor from this whale see."

WOMAN: You could smell it. Low tide smells around here anyways, but this reeked of death.

MAN: Rotten meat sitting in the sun for a month. You just take the cover off the can, stick your head in there and that's just about what it smelled like.

WOMAN: It was an oily, greasy smell.

MAN: It was right in your nose.

WOMAN: Oh, it smelled like rotten meat.

MAN: Rotten fish and oil.

WOMAN: The older, they couldn't stand it, you know when the wind was blowing in that direction right on the town.

MAN: You could smell it for miles.

MAN: As far away as Freeport, Maine, they could smell it.

WOMAN: Oh, I touched it. Probably felt the same as what it did almost when it was alive. Cold; they're cold-blooded.

MAN: It did have a funny feeling. The texture of the animal was…

MAN: Like a great big smooth piece of rubber.

MAN: I touched it with one finger and I had to use lest oil to get the smell off.

WOMAN: The stench really had to get off your hand.

MAN: I put hand cleaner on my hands. I put straight gasoline.

WOMAN: Bleaching it off your hands, and that's what I wound up doing.

MAN: And finally they decided something had to be done about it.

MAN: It came to the point that no matter what it cost, it had to go.

MAN: They knew something had to be done and they did something.

MAN: One thing lead to another so they called Ramsel. A man named Ramsel.

RAMSEL: I was notified by the town of Lubec. They contacted me to come down and dig a hole with an excavator. It was kind of a hazy, overcast day and the sun didn't shine. I think there was like a crowd of 15 or 20 people, actually showed up.

MAN: There were a lot of people, maybe a hundred. A hundred or so people.

WOMAN: Word spread fast. Everybody in town was there. I just wondered where are they all going, you know. So I went, too.

RAMSEL: So, we dug a hole as close as we could and before I got the hole dug, he accidentally slid on his own and went into the hole. Sort of graceful. I mean it was so big it just took it's time just sort of, I mean the side caved in a little.

MAN: He rolled in, he slipped in and rolled belly up.

RAMSEL: When they finally rolled it into the hole, everybody sort of quieted down. They were kind of respectful. They were kind of sad to see it go.

WOMAN: Oh, I don't know how to explain it. Something that you never think of dying. You always hear stories that a whale is a passed on fisherman's soul.

MAN: Made me think how small I was. Yeah. There's a lot of people who think, oh, I'm so big. I'm so great. No matter how powerful they are something will happen in life that will cause people to say, ‘how small am I anyway.'

MAN: We're both mammals that have reached the pinnacle of our place and they just seem to be close to us. I feel close to whales.

RAMSEL: And we buried it, six feet over the top.

WOMAN: We dug up gravel and stuff and covered it all over.

MAN: I've dug graves for humans, they're in (inaudible) also. It just seemed different to bury something with no box. Just putting raw earth right back onto its body.

WOMAN: You picture them as being immortal, like a free soul, free will out there. You just don't see them dying. It was sad; it was very sad.

RAMSEL: And, it took about two and a half hours, three hours, to dig the hole and then to fill it back in. And, by noontime it was all finished. I think I got like 300 dollars as burial digger. I did the town a favor actually. Maybe the whale, too, how do we know?

RAMSEL: It was just a day's work for me. To bury a whale, I mean, it was an oddity to bury a whale, but…

WOMAN: It's just something weird that it happened and something unforetold...

MAN: If you never did see it, you couldn't understand it, you know what I mean?

MAN: I know it's still there.

MAN: He's still laying there. That's about all I can tell you about the whale.

WOMAN: I haven't been down there since. Maybe we all go down and take a stroll over.

MAN: That's the way things went. And this is just another fish story.

[MUSIC: Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley "Running the Lee" Mither o' the Sea (Greentrax) 1999]

GELLERMAN: Our audio postcard, "Just Another Fish Story," was produced by Molly Menschel, a recent graduate of the Salt Institute, a radio documentary program in Portland, Maine.

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GELLERMAN: At Living on Earth, we want to hear about your encounters with nature's creatures, dead or alive. And, we invite you to send them to us. Just visit Living on Earth dot org for complete details.

We'll tell you how to make a recording, which could be as simple as sitting down with a friend and talking into a tape recorder or picking up the phone, like this listener did.

LISTENER: My first interaction with a raccoon concerned her opinion of music on an all-night radio station. The radio was carefully placed in the garden with an outdoor extension cord and tuned to the most noisy and unpleasant station I could find. The intention was to discourage the raccoon from eating in the garden. The next morning, I found the radio, a muddy paw print on each side of it, humming from the far side of the garden where the nocturnal diner had thrown the offensive item. To make sure I got the point, she left a turd on the radio.

GELLERMAN: Gee, I hope she wasn't tuned to NPR. So, what's your story? We'll choose some of your recordings and post them on our Web site. We might even put it on the air. This is not a contest. There are no winners, no losers. It's simply a call for self-expression. Visit Living on Earth dot org for directions, sample submissions and a chance to tell your story. Hey, Rocky, get off my mike.

[EARTHEAR: "Seabird Islands" Nature Recordings by Lang Elliott, #14]

GELLERMAN: And we leave you this week along the cost of Maine, not far from Lubec and its beached whale.

Lang Elliot recorded this flock of storm-petrels on Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy.


GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Christopher Bolick, Jennifer Chu, Ingrid Lobet and Susan Shepherd - with help from Kelley Cronin. Our interns are the Katies - Katie Oliveri and Katie Zemtseff. Our technical director is Paul Wabrek. Alison Dean composed our themes. You can find us at Living on Earth dot org. Steve Curwood's on vacation. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science and Stonyfield Farm, organic yogurt, smoothies and cultured soy. Ten percent of profits are donated to efforts that help protect and restore the earth. Details at Stonyfield dot com. Support also comes from NPR member stations, and the Ford Foundation, for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

ANNOUNCER2: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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