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

February 25, 2005

Air Date: February 25, 2005



Amazon Deforestation

View the page for this story

Shortly after environmental activist Dorothy Stang was murdered in Brazil, the country's president Lula da Silva pledged to step up law enforcement to stop the violence. He has also agreed to create two large reserves in the area where the 74-year-old nun lived and worked. Host Steve Curwood talks to Outside Magazine contributing editor Patrick Symmes about Stang and the future of the Brazilian Amazon. (10:00)

Listener Letters

View the page for this story

We dip into the Living on Earth mailbag to hear what listeners have to say. (02:30)

Cleaner Truckin' / Ingrid Lobet

View the page for this story

More than a million truck drivers in the United States spend most of their time living in their cabs. To keep warm or to keep cool, most have to idle their engines, which spew particles and harmful gases. But, as Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports, a Tennessee inventor has come up with a solution that's proving very popular in truck stops across the nation. (09:30)

Exploring the Ocean's Geology

View the page for this story

Living on Earth host Steve Curwood talks with scientists at sea in the eastern Pacific Ocean. With the help of a submarine named Alvin and a robotic craft called Jason II, they're exploring an underwater canyon called Pito Deep and hope to uncover some of the mysteries of the ocean floor. (08:30)

Emerging Science Note/Can You Hear Me Now?

View the page for this story

Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports that hearing loss could be all in the brain. (01:30)

Polar Bear Politics / Jeff Young

View the page for this story

An environmental group says polar bears belong on the endangered species list because global warming is melting their habitat. Conservatives in Congress say the enviros are turning the polar bear into a political poster child. Jeff Young reports from Washington. (04:40)

Big, Bad Wolf?

View the page for this story

Ever since America's colonization, wolves have gotten a bad rap as vicious, relentless predators. Host Steve Curwood talks with author Jon Coleman about the psychology behind the big bad wolf, and about his new book, "Vicious: Wolves and Men in America." (09:00)

This week's EarthEar selection
listen / download

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Patrick Symmes, Emily Klein, Jeff Karson, Jon Coleman
REPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet, Jeff Young
NOTE: Jennifer Chu


CURWOOD: From NPR - this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. There are millions of trucks on the nation's highways these days-delivering goods to communities big and small. But the diesel fuel most of them burn leaves the air heavy with pollution that is hazardous to public health.

CACKETTE: There are about 2900 premature deaths from the emissions of diesels....and 600,000 lost workdays every year in California alone.

The good news: one man has found a way to clean the air by making it easier for diesel truckers to shut off their engines more often.

Also, why the wolf has been reviled for so much of history.

COLEMAN: Bad times for humans are often good times for wolves, so if you have extended periods of war or disease or plagues, you would actually have wolves out eating humans.

CURWOOD: The dark side of humans and wolves, this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.

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

Back to top


Amazon Deforestation

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

When Amazon rainforest activist Chico Mendez was murdered outside of his home sixteen years ago, many thought his death would lead to reforms that would slow the destruction of the Amazon and end the corruption aiding its decline.

But even Chico Mendez, himself, was skeptical that his own death would change anything. This is actor Raul Julia playing the leader of the Brazilian rubber tappers union in the 1994 movie "The Burning Season."

FILM: If a messenger came down from heaven and guaranteed that my death would strengthen our cause, it might be worth it, yes. But it's not with big funerals that we're going to save the Amazon. I want to live.

CURWOOD: Recently, the funeral of another leading activist put hope into the minds of Brazilians and others around the world that the Amazon would benefit at last from the death of a martyr. This time the victim was seventy-four-year-old American nun Dorothy Stang who was shot six times at close range. Immediately after her slaying, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva said he would establish more than 20 million acres of protected reserves in the forest regions where Sister Dorothy had lived and worked. He's also vowed to stop the violence against rural workers. Since Lula took office in 2003 Amazon deforestation has not only continued but it's been on the rise.

Joining us now is Patrick Symmes who is a contributing editor for Outside Magazine. Welcome, Patrick.

SYMMES: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Now, Patrick, several years ago you wrote a feature story called "Bloodwood" for Outside Magazine. It's about the illegal logging trade in Brazil. First, set the scene for me here. Now the government has pledged to set up a nine million acre reserve. What area are they talking about?

SYMMES: I've been in both of the reserves that make up that more than nine million acres. It's one of the main tributaries to the Amazon to the south, deeply wild region, full of meandering rivers, very subject to changes in the rainy season and the dry. The upperlands, the larger part of the reserve is home to a lot of Kaipo Indians and other groups, and logging has been encroaching in it bit by bit and people have been settling around the edges of it and logging companies are starting to...have been coming in for years now and stealing mahogany and other valuable trees off land that really doesn't belong to anybody. It's public land or Indian land. Some landowners claim it. So you have a lot of land conflicts over who gets the profits from abusing the Amazon and it's never the poor farmers who are the first ones who come in driven by a sense of hunger.

CURWOOD: Hmmm. How much is a mahogany tree worth?

SYMMES: By the side of the water in the upper Jingo watershed it's probably worth five to 20 dollars depending on how big it is, which would usually be paid for in sugar and gasoline to whichever farmer or poor person cut it down. By the time it gets to a sawmill, it's worth a couple thousand dollars. When it's cut into boards and shipped down to one of the great port cities like Manaos or Belém, it's worth probably a hundred thousand dollars. By the time it gets to a furniture showroom on Madison Avenue in New York, I've seen mahogany sideboards priced at 25 thousand dollars apiece. So that tree, in the end, could be worth a million dollars.

CURWOOD: And the guy who cuts it down gets maybe 20 bucks.

SYMMES: Sugar and gasoline.

CURWOOD: Now, how meaningful is this declaration by the Brazilian government to set these areas aside as a reserve?

SYMMES: It's very important as a watershed event in Brazil's relationship with the Amazon. The national project has always been to develop the Amazon, and Brazil has had a rise in its own environmental movement getting stronger; but the Amazon has always been out of bounds, a place that was lawless where politicians and businessmen set the agenda and there was impunity. Now that impunity, at least in theory, has been put on the table and is gonna be ended.

CURWOOD: To what extent is the government gonna back up this declaration with real enforcement? Boots on the ground with rifles?

SYMMES: Well, they sent a lot of soldiers into the Amazon immediately to try to make a show of force and a symbolic step, but that doesn't change things over the long run, just as these two reserves, as large as they are, in fact, they're just a tiny, tiny piece of the Amazon. The question is, there would need to be more reserves and more planned and are also being logged by companies coming in from overseas that looking for a quick return on some investment funds.

CURWOOD: This is nothing new, I mean, the Chico Mendez story from what? 1988 is, perhaps, the most famous of these.

SYMMES: That's right and look how little has really changed. What's quite frightening to me is, you hear headlines from time to time about the Amazon disappearing at a greater or lesser rate and what does this mean? The real story is that over time the rate has stayed just the same. Year after year, decade after decade. We have failed to stop or even really decrease deforestation. It just carries on forward. Nothing has changed since the days of Chico Mendez.

In theory, now, with a more democratic Brazil, a larger, popular environmental movement in the country, there is room for real change now in asserting that the Amazon must be governed. That logging must take place under a system with permits that are actually enforced and mean something.

CURWOOD: So, the Amazon has this history of activists trying to protect the forest being killed. Most recently Dorothy Stang, a nun. Tell me, what happened in her case? Where did this happen and what exactly did happen?

Dorothy Stang, an American nun, helped organize peasant farmers against illegal logging in the Brazilian Amazon. She was murdered on February 12, 2005. (Photo © Seamus Murphy)

SYMMES: Dorothy Stang, I met her two years ago in the town of Altamira which is now the town where her, the suspects accused of her murder are being held. She was a Catholic nun who worked in the field among barefoot peasants championing their causes and defending them and these people are, oddly enough, leading environmentalists in the Amazon. They're in favor of sustainable uses, so she became an environmentalist by default. She took their part in land disputes with wealthy ranchers and logging companies who claimed ownership over land that had been perhaps bought with dubious means and was repeatedly threatened, told to get out, that she was a foreigner, that it was none of her business. Gunmen would be hired to come in and clear out little settlements of farmers and she would intervene and you know, read her Bible and sling scripture at people and had successfully disarmed gunmen on several occasions just by the fact that she was a nun and had, you know, an amazing amount of courage. She openly predicted to me that she would be killed in just this fashion. She said "if I get a stray bullet we know exactly who did it."

CURWOOD: What was she like, you spent a fair amount of time with her?

SYMMES: She was a small very powerful woman. One of these people, she was sort of round, and not that imposing a figure. A genial, great smile, and sort of flashing eyes. Gray hair and just a great sense of humor and singing and you know, went around, she didn't wear a habit. She was wearing a t-shirt with an environmental sort of social struggle slogan on it. And she clearly had a sense that there was a tragedy taking place for Brazilians and for the people like her who were defending them and she was keenly aware that it was dangerous work. She made light of it, but you could see the pain in her eyes. She said oh, you know, she had gotten all these death threats and she said, "well, a dog that barks a lot, doesn't bite." But, eventually, they found a dog that would bite.

CURWOOD: The killing of a 73-year-old American nun who, by the way, I would take it could have been killed just about any time, clearly sends a message to the government that the killers don't believe that anyone is in charge, but them. Why do you think that they took this time, now, to do this?

SYMMES: The impunity had been spreading and growing. Previous promises to put an end to assassinations and the murder of land activists had been made and broken. And time after time, those who ordered assassinations, or insisted that a certain person be gotten rid of were left, you know, in their social clubs uninterrupted.

CURWOOD: Why do you think that now after the death of the nun, Sister Dorothy, that things will change?

SYMMES: I think Brazil has changed. Over the last, sort of, 25 or 30 years the big environmental movement in the first world has clamored over the Amazon without having any success at reducing deforestation. The difference now is that Brazil has a big environmental movement. The Brazilians are the ones marching and demanding protection of forests, the honoring of reserves, the rights of the indigenous. That's the only hope for change . I think.

CURWOOD: This does not sound like the easiest place in the world to live. And what is it like for the ordinary people who are there? I've heard stories that people working small areas of land will sometimes get a knock on the door and be told to clear out in a couple of hours because some large land-barren interest wants them out.

SYMMES: That's exactly right. Dorothy Stang was actually killed while walking to a meeting of peasant farmers who had been given an eviction threat by armed gunmen and been told "you have to be out of here in a couple of days." And they were organizing to defend themselves when she was killed. It's important to look away from the one crime of what happened to Dorothy Stang and remember that there are five hundred Brazilians who are living under death threats right now because they are activists in the Amazon.

CURWOOD: Patrick Symmes is a contributing editor at Outside Magazine. Thanks so much for taking this time with me today.

SYMMES: Thank you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Since we spoke to Patrick Symmes, yet another prominent Brazilian forest activist has been murdered. Dionisio Ribeiro, who was working to stop poaching and the illegal harvesting of palm trees, was gunned down at the Tingua nature reserve near Rio de Janeiro on February 22nd.

Related link:
"Blood Wood"

Back to top


Listener Letters

CURWOOD: Time now for your comments.


CURWOOD: Our round table discussion on the future of environmentalism drew a number of responses. In their essay, Michael Schellenberger and Ted Nordhaus argue the environmental movement is on the decline. Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, defended the viability of environmentalism.

David Lillie, who listens to Living on Earth on New Hampshire Public Radio, took Mr. Pope to task. "Carl Pope, like so many liberals, and like so many so-called environmentalists, wants to blame all of the shortcomings of the movement on the "right." Each time you do this you insult a large group of allies and potential allies."

WMRA listener Ken Betts in North Garden, Virginia added, "Concern for the environment is not a liberal or conservative issue. It is the mark of good citizenship and stewardship for future generations, irrespective of one's politics."

WAMC listener Peter Riva writes, "Over the years, as an active environmentalist, I have listened and been dismayed at the professional fund-raisers' use of hyperbole and scare tactics to further what are, admittedly, respectable goals. The only environmental campaigns that have proven successful over the years with the public are those that sought a positive goal, a goal that could be seen, felt and enjoyed."

Some of you also wrote about our story on the continuing battle over drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In our report, Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski asserted that the environmental record of Alaskan oil has been stellar.

But Janet MacLean, who listens to KUOW in Seattle, writes, "It is well known that during that thirty years, Alaska experienced the Exxon Valdez oil spill...no one can honestly call the record ‘stellar.' You should have called the Senator on her claim."

Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-99-88. Or write us at 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts 02144.


CURWOOD: Our email address is comments at loe dot org. Once again, comments at loe dot org. And you can hear our program any time on our web site, Living on Earth dot org. That's Living on Earth dot org.


CURWOOD: Coming up, fresh air for truckers and their neighbors during rest stops. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Tony Furtado & Dirk Powell "Angeline the Baker" Tony Furtado & Dirk Powell (Rounder) 1999]

Back to top


Cleaner Truckin'

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. Clean air advocates are calling on the federal government to do more about older trucks on the road in response to yet another report that shows the harmful health effects of diesel exhaust. The news couldn't come at a better time for one inventor from Knoxville, Tennessee. He's come up with a novel way to cut down on diesel pollution and, as Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports, it all started with a parking ticket in New Jersey.

LOBET: About five years ago in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, A.C. Wilson and his wife Doris had just set up their camper for the evening. They waited for A.C.'s brother-in-law Carl, a long haul trucker, to show up but it was getting late and they were getting hungry.

A.C. WILSON: So, we all went on to dinner without him and came back and he was mad as a hornet. He had been up in the Northeast, Jersey, and had gotten a ticket for parking on the on-ramp and idling his engine.

LOBET: Carl left his truck running because that's the usual way truck drivers keep their cabs warm or cool through nature's extremes. That night, Wilson, a longtime tinkerer, pondered the predicament.

WILSON: I bedded down in my motor home. And I was layin' there and I thought--why can I not do this for a trucker? Because I've got all the--cablevision, I've got heat and air on my rig but I've got to come up with a way to put heat and air conditioning into a parked truck.

LOBET: That night, Wilson got his idea. Picture a car vacuum hose. But instead of sucking air, the hose ends in a touch screen panel and vents that deliver warm or cool air, and also telephone, satellite TV, and fast internet. The next morning, he showed his brother- in-law the sketch and soon found himself talking to truck stop companies.

WILSON: They were very receptive to it, and wanted to know where we'd been the past 20 years, but that was how it was actually founded.

LOBET: Today, Wilson's company Idleaire makes a device that fits snugly into most truck windows. Drivers can find the connections at truck stops in ten states. The company has received clean air awards from the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of California. And some major trucking companies, like National Freight and Continental Express, have signed on. They pay Idleaire $1.40 an hour, but save two dollars every hour on diesel fuel.


PORTER: Hello My name is Jerome Porter. I drive for Continental Express.

LOBET: Jerome Porter says he likes life on the road. He better. For most of the month, his truck is his home.

PORTER: Livin' in my truck, I don't have a problem with it. You know, I make pretty decent money. I got a comfortable bed back there, matter of fact I have two beds. I have a TV. I have a DVD player, a VHS player, along with my laptop computer, so I can always find something to do, to occupy my time.

LOBET: But to keep his cab warm or cool, he needed to idle.

PORTER: But you get up on the East Coast and New York they don't like big trucks to idle their trucks, you know. You mainly have to have a heated blanket or idle your truck for, you know, 15 minutes to an hour. But if the police come by, you have to shut your truck off otherwise they will ticket you.

LOBET: Then, one day, Porter pulled in to a truck stop with Idleaire hookups.

PORTER: I said to myself, "well, lemme see what it does. I'm not going to pass judgment yet." And once I felt how cold the air could get without me idling my truck, I'm like -- "oh, I'm sold (laughs)." I wasn't caring about the TV, the Internet service, uh-uh....just the air, heh-heh.

LOBET: Idleaire was initially aimed at alleviating the sweats and chills of life on the road. But it turns out the inventor stumbled on a partial solution for one of the nation's biggest air problems -- diesel exhaust. The situation is so serious 21 states make truckers limit their idling. California is the most recent. Tom Cackette is deputy executive officer at the California Air Resources Board.

CACKETTE: Here, in California, we have over a million diesels operating and they cause a lot of smog. They are responsible for about half of the summertime ozone smog-forming emissions.

LOBET: Half of all nitrogen oxide emissions in summer. But that includes diesel equipment and driving. What about just idling?

CACKETTE: Well, the idling is about 50 tons per day of NOX and about one ton per day of particulate. That's about the same smog forming emissions as 1.75 million cars would put out.

LOBET: Truck engine makers are retooling and they'll soon sell rigs that burn 97 per cent cleaner. And the Bush administration is cracking down on tractors and construction equipment diesels. That still leaves the trucks already on the road. Recent studies in California show even commuters who spend short periods in heavy traffic are getting significant exposures to diesel exhaust.

CACKETTE: We have characterized what the impact of these diesel emissions are and it is quite stunning. There's about 2900 premature deaths every year from the emissions of diesels. There's about a quarter of a million asthma attacks that occur as a result of diesel emissions and over 600,000 lost workdays every year in California alone.

LOBET: So when Idleaire came along and allowed trucks to turn off, regulators took notice. They started paying Idleaire to install facilities, in some cases defraying the company's capital costs.


LOBET: At a truck stop in Fresno, California, Idleaire employee Courtney Bowman shifts her weight from foot to foot to keep warm as she waits for her chance to persuade a weary trucker to give Idleaire a try.


BOWMAN: We are a company that provides air conditiong, heat, plug-ins, phone, satellite TV and internet.

MAN: Yes, ma'am.

BOWMAN: This is a window adapter here that you will buy which is ten dollars. That's yours to keep. We give you a membership card with ten dollars already on it. That'll hold you for, like, seven hours. After that, it's a dollar 40 an hour.

MAN: Okay.

BOWMAN: Here you can get on the internet and browse. I'm not going to hold you up too long. I know you have got to go. Nice to meet you. Happy holidays.

MAN: Thank you, ma'am. Appreciate it.

LOBET: Bowman gets about 30 seconds to make her pitch . It's too early in the day for much business. But a few who have hooked up are happy to say why. Daniel Johnson drives out of Rolla, Missouri.

JOHNSON: I wish there was more Idleaire. I'd pull into it every time I can, you know. If we turn off our truck in the summertime we get too hot because of the heat coming off of the engine and the transmission and, you know, heat coming through the cab from the sun. And in the wintertime, it's just unbearably cold really, really fast. And, you know, you really do need to keep more of a constant temperature so you don't get yourself sick.

BIRD: I hate pulling into a truck stop, trying to get some sleep and somebody next to me decides he's gonna run his rig all night.

LOBET: Jeff Bird drives out of Sacramento.

BIRD: It's annoying and it's expensive and it's polluting the air and these are already extremely gross polluters . But everybody in America wants their product, so they're...it's kind of a give and take. You're gonna give up some clean environment so that everybody can have their Gucci handbags. We, Americans, are consumers of everything. From popcorn to Gucci.

LOBET: But, as much as Jeff Bird loves this service, he scratches his head about Idleaire's business model.

BIRD: Like, I pull in and I used it for three hours. That's only five bucks, I don't know, maybe the numbers crunch right, but to me it didn't seem like it would.

LOBET: He has a point, says Linda Gaines, a physicist and diesel idling guru at Argonne National Laboratories Center for Transportation Research. Gaines says selling devices that let truckers shut of their engines and still have power should be a profitable game, and several companies are making a go of it. But she doesn't think Idleaire wins in an even race.

GAINES: The installations are very expensive. They require a very large staff to run them. And the revenues from just the basic services are rather low. And so, what we see is that a lot of the initial installations have been funded by government grants but we don't know how they're going to make it as a long-term viable business without government subsidies.

LOBET: Potential competition includes small diesel engines, and a fuel cell power unit developed by Freightliner and UC Davis. Also some newer trucks are being built so they plug in where power is available. A.C. Wilson, Idleaire's low-key founder, says his model is competitive.

WILSON: We're not out here promoting anti-idling or anything but we are here to promote a solution and we think the communities and the drivers themselves would really like.

LOBET: And for now, that's one way of making a dent in the nearly one billion gallons of diesel fuel burned each year by idling trucks. For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet.

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder & V.M. Bhatt "Longing" A Meeting by the River (Water Lily Acoustics) 1993]

Back to top


Exploring the Ocean's Geology

CURWOOD: Our next guests are a couple of scientists who have hit bottom. The bottom of the sea, that is. In their research vessel the Atlantis, anchored just west of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean, they are exploring Pito Deep, an underwater chasm, to get a glimpse into the geology beneath the ocean floor. The research submarine Alvin and a robotic called Jason II, allow a small crew to travel about two and a half miles beneath the ocean surface to go into Pito Deep and take pictures and collect samples of rocks and lava from the earth's crust.

Emily Klein is co-chief scientist of the expedition and a geology professor at Duke University. She joins us now from aboard the Atlantis.

Professor Klein, welcome to Living on Earth.

KLEIN: Thank you for having me.

CURWOOD: Now, what's a group of geologists doing out in the middle of the ocean?

Alvin is launched from the Atlantis. (Photo courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.)

KLEIN: Well, 70 percent of the earth's crust is covered by water and so a great deal of geologic interest on the earth takes place on the ocean bottom.

CURWOOD: You're out at this deep underwater chasm, described as an underwater Grand Canyon, called Pito Deep. What actually is Pito Deep?

KLEIN: Pito Deep is an unusual place in the ocean where, if you can imagine that, imagine the ocean crust being something like a layer cake. Normally, you can only see the top of the cake, that is to say, the icing, but we're particularly interested in looking deeper into that cake into the known layers of the igneous crust below the surface and normally you can't see that. But there are certain places in the ocean where due to some unusual tectonic forces, in this case, a large fault, a rift, has opened up a deep, wide chasm that allows us to look at the deeper layers of this cake or this ocean crust. And the Pito Deep is one such place.

CURWOOD: So, these places are found only in the ocean? There's no place on land that you can see this kind of formation?

KLEIN: There are rifting places on land, certainly. East African Rift is one of those places, but the ocean crust is unique. It's different from the continental crust, entirely different in chemical composition and in structure. And so, if we want to look and study the ocean crust we have to go to the oceans.

CURWOOD: Professor Klein, your research ship, the Atlantis, is using two types of vehicles to explore the ocean floor and in a few minutes we're gonna talk with a scientist in Alvin the submersible, but there's also Jason, a robotic. Tell me about the differences between the two, what they're used for, what they look like.

The Jason II uses its robotic arms to collect rocks from the ocean floor. (Photo courtesy of Duke University.)

KLEIN: Jason II is a vehicle that is, basically, an extremely sophisticated camera package with both video and still camera capabilities, as well as mechanical arms for sampling. It's tethered to the ship so that through the cable we get real-time video images and still camera images of what Jason is imaging. So, if you can imagine again with the Grand Canyon analogy, suppose the Grand Canyon were filled with water and it were utterly dark and you couldn't see the stratigraphy, the layers of rock on the side. You might drop a fancy camera down into the water and with its own propulsion system and guiding it, direct it to traverse the canyon wall, stopping to take measurements, stopping to use its mechanical arm to grab samples and put them in a basket on the vehicle to recover later.

Now, it's a magnificent piece of equipment, but it is a fairly two dimensional image that you get back of the ocean floor. So that capability, Jason II capability, in conjunction with Alvin, really brings the richness of the structures and the relationships of the geology on the ocean floor to life because with Alvin, then you can go in and with real observers, two scientists and a pilot, really look at the three dimensionality, go around cliffs, take measurements that you couldn't take with the two dimensionality of the Jason vehicle.

The Jason II takes photos of the ocean crust. (Photo courtesy of Duke University.)

CURWOOD: How about we go down beneath the surface and speak to the Alvin crew now?

KLEIN: That'd be great.

CURWOOD: Hello, is this chief scientist Jeff Karson? Over.


KARSON: Yes, it is Steve. I can read you loud and clear down here on the sea floor. Over.

CURWOOD: Dr. Karson, who's down there with you in Alvin? Over.

KARSON: Down here today besides myself is Duke University graduate student Meagen Pollock, who is studying the volcanic rock here. And also, of course, we have a veteran pilot, Pat Hickey, who has made over 500 dives in Alvin over his career. Over.

The Alvin submersible, carrying a pilot and two scientists, begins its hour-long descent to the ocean bottom. (Photo courtesy of Duke University.)

CURWOOD: What does it feel like to be in a submarine so deep beneath the surface? Over.

KARSON: It's extremely exciting. I often say that it's like being in a space ship going to a different planet. We're very aware of the huge pressure of the weight of the ocean around us, but basically we're so excited by looking at the geology, that we don't even think about that. Over.

CURWOOD: What' s exciting about the geology? Over.

KARSON: Well, today we're moving up a huge cliff face. It's several hundred meters high. At the top of the cliff where we are right now, we're sampling some lava that was erupted on the sea floor about three million years ago. Earlier today, deep down on the cliff face, we were able to sample these tabular rock bodies called "dikes." These are, basically, the frozen conduits through which the magma once moved as it was erupted on the sea floor. We're also looking at a number of fault zones that are full of interesting minerals. Over.

CURWOOD: And before we go, what's the biggest surprise so far? Over.

KARSON: I think the biggest surprise for us is just how beautifully exposed the sea floor is here. It's just opened up for us in a way that we can study in great detail and really learn a lot about how the sea floor is made. And it's just a remarkable place and, you know, it's just the kind of place that if it were on land, would probably be some sort of national park. Over.

CURWOOD: Thank you so much for taking this time today. Over.

KARSON: Thank you. It's been fun. By for now. Over.

CURWOOD: Professor Klein, what happens next? What do you do with all the rocks that you're bringing up from the ocean floor?

KLEIN: My particular emphasis is on the geo-chemistry of the lavas and dikes that we will be sampling, we have sampled. And we'll bring them back to my laboratory at Duke University. We will grind them up, analyze their chemical composition, and from that we will determine their what we call petro-genesis, the origin of these lavas, how they relate to one another, what they can tell us about how crust is created at mid-ocean ridges.

CURWOOD: Professor Klein, do you ever go in Alvin?

KLEIN: Yes, I have dove in Alvin on two different cruises previously and I'm slated to go in the sub next week.

CURWOOD: What's your favorite part of the expedition?

KLEIN: Oh, my. I find the descent in the dark to be an overwhelming experience. We keep the lights off. We don't want to use battery power on the descent down so it's done in complete darkness. Sometimes we put on music and descend the two and a half miles to the bottom of the ocean. And then just as you get to the bottom of the ocean, the pilot begins to turn on the lights on the outside and, suddenly, you're in a magnificent world that nobody has ever seen before in this place.

CURWOOD: And what kind of music do you play?

KLEIN: Sometimes we play classical music, but on a recent dive we put on the soundtrack to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

[MUSIC: Norman Blake "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" Soundtrack- O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Mercury) 2000]

CURWOOD: Duke University geologist Emily Klein is co-chief scientist of the Pito Deep expedition. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

KLEIN: Thank you.

CURWOOD: We also spoke with her colleague Jeff Karson, who also teaches geology at Duke.

For photos of Alvin and Jason II, as well as some of the expedition discoveries, go to our website Living on Earth dot org. That's Living on Earth dot o-r-g. Just ahead, an endangered status debate for the biggest predator on land or ice.

Keep listening to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: 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 kresge.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: Tony Furtado & Dirk Powell "Courtney's Promise" Tony Furtado & Dirk Powell (self titled) (Rounder) 1999]

Related link:
Pito Deep Expedition

Back to top


Emerging Science Note/Can You Hear Me Now?

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And coming up: the violent history of humans and wolves. First, this Note on Emerging S cience from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: If you've been hard of hearing lately it may not be your ears that are failing, but your brain.

According to studies at the International Center for Hearing and Speech Research in Rochester, what people consider loss of hearing as we age has to do with our brain's decreased ability to organize information, not with our inability to hear.

Generally, the brain is a master at sorting through many noises in order to concentrate on one voice, for example. But as we age our brain's filter system, located in the brain stem in the back of the neck, gets overwhelmed with information, making it harder to pick out key sounds or phrases.

Scientists proved this by testing the hearing capacity and the brain's feedback system of 30 subjects in a noisy room. They played sounds into one ear and measured how much of the sound was processed. They then administered hearing tests to these same subjects. They found even those with excellent hearing still had difficulties picking out sounds in a crowded room. Although the reason behind this distinction is unclear, researchers think it may have something to do with a breakdown in the calcium regulation in the brain stem.

These findings may help to counter what's called "the destructive feed back loop." That happens when people compensate for another person's hearing loss by speaking louder to them and doing real damage to otherwise healthy ears. That's this week's Note on Emerging Science, I'm Jennifer Chu.

Back to top


Polar Bear Politics

CURWOOD: The polar bear could go extinct as global warming melts away the icy habitat of the giant white predator. That's according to the Center for Biodiversity which is seeking federal protection for this icon of the arctic under the Endangered Species Act. But critics in Congress accuse the group of playing politics with the polar bear. Living on Earth's Jeff Young has our story.

YOUNG: Most scientists expect global warming to make the planet a little thinner on top as polar ice melts over the coming century. And they say that would be bad news for polar bears.

DEROCHER : What we're seeing is a shortening of the period of time that the bears are on the sea ice and this is where polar bears make their living.

YOUNG: Biologist Andrew Derocher at the University of Alberta has studied polar bears for more than 20 years. These days, he's seeing declines in animal condition, reproductive success and numbers in the best known bear population near Hudson Bay.

DEROCHER : As you decrease the amount of sea ice that's available you decrease the amount of seals that are produced in a given area , as well. So, as you decrease polar bears' habitat you're going to see a reduction in the number of polar bears.

YOUNG: The California-based environmental group, Center for Biological Diversity, is using that argument to petition the US government to list the polar bear as a threatened species. The Center's Kieran Suckling says even though extinction could be a century away, the time to act is now.

SUCKLING : And what we're trying to do here is to get in front of the extinction curve. And say, look, the polar bear is fairly healthy today, we can see extinction coming on the horizon, so there is time to fix this problem.

YOUNG: But some in Congress say the group's petition has more to do with politics than polar bears.

KENNEDY: The Center for Biological Diversity is using the law here for political, if not fundraising, goals and not a real interest in recovering endangered species.

YOUNG: That's Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, a Republican from California who wants to rewrite parts of the Endangered Species Act. Kennedy says the Center simply wants a mascot for its fights against global warming and arctic oil drilling.

KENNEDY: I think that's very much what's going on here is to use a very attractive animal that we all love and enjoy and can pull on heartstrings and purse strings of America to gain attention and political goals for a group that is opposed to energy production up there.

YOUNG: There's no doubt the polar bear is a potent image. Remember this television ad with animated bears cracking open bottles of Coke?


YOUNG: And environmentalists are already banking on the bear's appeal to help sell their ideas.

PROTESTORS: No spill, no spill, save the Arctic now! No drill, no spill, save the Arctic now! No drill, no drill...

YOUNG: At this Capitol Hill rally, an activist in a polar bear costume got a bear hug from Connecticut's Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman.

LIEBERMAN: And if I even love a person in a polar bear outfit. (laughter) well, you know, let's protect those polar bears, those real ones that are there.

YOUNG: Lieberman is a cosponsor of a bill calling for limits on greenhouse gas emissions. He called the polar bear petition a wake up call for action on global warming. The Center for Biological Diversity's Suckling says he's glad to have the polar bear as a poster child.

SUCKLING: There's nothing wrong with that and anything that helps people emotionally connect with the environment and feel like we need to take action is a good thing in my book.

YOUNG: Suckling doesn't expect the administration to add the bear to the threatened list, at least not without a fight.

SUCKLING: We're gonna have a court battle over whether or not the best science says that global warming is happening and that it's threatening wildlife and we look forward to that because one of the problems the conservation movement has faced over the past few decades is this constant denial of global warming.

YOUNG: Polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher stops short of calling the bears threatened because the changes in climate are too tough to predict. But he says the Center's petition will start a helpful discussion.

DEROCHER: I think there is scientific merit in the context that we really have to closely examine the issue and the status of polar bears, not just in the immediate future but in the longer term future. I'd rather be wrong about climate change than be right about it. If the actual changes from climate change come to pass, I think it's going to be a very, very sad situation. And if humanity doesn't respond to it in a timely manner I think we will be very harshly judged by future generations on that point.

YOUNG: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ninety days to make its initial response to the Center's petition. Then the real debate will begin about whether the polar bear is on thin ice.

For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young in Washington.

[MUSIC: Russian National Orchestra: Serge Prokofiev "Peter and the Wolf": Peter & the Wolf; Jean Paul Beintus: Wolf Tracks]

Back to top


Big, Bad Wolf?

CURWOOD: For many years it was government policy to get rid of predators in North America, with bounties offered, especially for the wolf. Eventually, there were so few wolves left they were placed on the endangered species list. But now with populations of grey wolves growing again in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Upper Great Lakes, the Bush administration says it's time to think about de-listing wolves. Ranchers applaud the move because they would then be able to kill wolves if packs went after livestock. But some ecologists call de-listing bad public policy.

The long violent relationship between humans and wolves in North America goes back to the first days of European settlement. Jon Coleman, a historian at Notre Dame, has written a book about that history called "Vicious: Wolves and Men in America" and he joins me now. Hello, professor!


CURWOOD: So, your book begins as a historian would writing about America back at the first European settlers coming to North America. What were some of the attitudes about wolves that European settlers brought with them to North America?

COLEMAN: When they came over, wolves had been exterminated from England for almost a century. So they brought with them a whole folklore going back thousands of years and they picked and chose from that to do with the animals that they actually met. The settlers that I looked at were in colonial New England and they relied a lot upon the Bible. And the Bible is very pastoral, so you have animals everywhere and a lot of wolf and sheep metaphors. The ones that the people that I studied picked up upon were this idea as wolves as criminals, wolves as corrupt as thieves, but also wolves as deceivers.

CURWOOD: So, early Americans, mid-history Americans...


CURWOOD: ....and many present time Americans aren't particularly fond of wolves, so tell me how does the wolf get such a bad rap in the first place?

COLEMAN: Oh, man. Going back to the very beginning, that's hard to tell. I would say, number one you have this competition, between livestock owners and wolves especially for Europeans. Also I think, there's a long history in Europe with wolves being associated with social, economic chaos and also warfare. Bad times for humans are often good times for wolves, so if you have extended periods of war or disease or plagues, you would actually have wolves out eating humans, eating human bodies. And I think that is obviously quite horrific and I think a lot of the very dark associations come from that.

CURWOOD: In your book, you write, Jon, that early European-American settlers identified closely with their livestock and when a wolf attacked other animals, you say it not only hurt the settlers in their pocketbooks, it also effected them personally. How?

COLEMAN: Well, I think, the amazing thing about livestock from a perspective of someone who is trying to colonize a new territory is that they're obviously mobile. And because they can carry themselves into new territory it makes them the perfect kind of allies for colonizing Europeans. And I think, at heart, this idea of going into a new territory that you don't know much about is a very hopeful exercise. You only do it if you think you are going to improve your life.

CURWOOD: Uh-huh.

COLEMAN: And so, I think a lot of their hopes get put on these animals and when they're devoured by wolves it strikes a blow not only in your pocketbook, but also your aspirations for your family and your future.

CURWOOD: Now, one of the hardest parts to read in your book is where you recount how settlers took some rather extreme forms of retaliation against wolves. Tell us, what were some of these?

COLEMAN: Oh gosh, they were so many. It's quite an ugly history. There are instances of setting wolves on fire, of creating these wolf hooks which are, basically, large mackerel hooks, that they strung together and then they dipped them in balls of tallow and left them for wolves to ingest. In the American west you have instances of cowboys pulling wolves apart with lassos between horses, or dragging them to death behind horses. More ugly instances than you really want to recount.

CURWOOD: You write that it's not so much that they killed wolves as that they punished them for living. Why do you suppose the settlers felt they had the license to...treat...

COLEMAN: The license to do this?


COLEMAN: Well, I think they saw wolves as unredeemable and I also think they interpreted wolves' attacks on their livestock as an act of savagery and so they felt free to react with similar violence. And wolves, I mean, it was never just about wolves. Wolves became a symbol of many different kinds of conflicts and situations that these Americans got themselves into. I think a lot of the people who killed wolves in this kind of ritual fashion saw themselves, in some way, as victims. And by destroying these animals it was a way for them to recover the sense of power that they believed that they had lost.

CURWOOD: Now, tell me, why is it that for many people now that the image of the wolf has gone from this bloodthirsty villain to poster child of the ecological movement. When do you think perceptions about wolves started to change and why?

COLEMAN: Well, I think I would put it around the end of the 19th century, the start of the 20th century, you start to see a move away from kind of a unanimous loathing of the animals. I think, ultimately, it's due to these massive changes in American society. Moving from a rural country to an urban one and you have fewer and fewer people owning livestock and having this kind of visceral experience with the animal. That said, it doesn't really explain how they basically become the rock stars of the endangered animal world.

I think there's such a long tradition with wolves and culture telling stories through wolves that this new story almost seems inevitable in a way. They are unlike any other animal, so involved in European and American culture, it's hard to let them be, you know. You almost have to pick up wolves and say something about them.

CURWOOD: Now, there are efforts underway to remove wolves from the endangered species list...

COLEMAN: Uh-huh.

CURWOOD: Now, politically these days, the White House is run by two men who have close ties to the ranching community, culturally, at least. President Bush, of course, from Texas and Vice-President Cheney from Wyoming. To what extent do you think that the experiences of those men and that perspective might affect the perception of wolves?

COLEMAN: [LAUGHS] It's, well, I don't know if you have a direct link, but you definitely have this idea that on the more conservative side of the political spectrum that certain groups in the west are under siege by a host of forces including environmentalists, including kind of clueless urbanites, and wolves become the ultimate expression of this attack upon these traditions. Because you say, oh we're bringing wolves back. It seems almost absurd from that perspective. In another sense the wolves and the ranchers have a lot in common. In many places they're both endangered. One economically and the other biologically.

CURWOOD: Now there's a saying that the failure to study history, sometimes condemns us to repeat it .What do you hope readers will take away from your book and the understanding of this history that you don't want to see repeated?

COLEMAN: Well, I certainly don't want to see any animal tortured and mutilated and persecuted in these same ways. In a way this book, you know, it is about wolves, and that's what drew me to the subject. But I think, in the end, the book is more about humans. And I hope the people that read the book come away with a better understanding of themselves and their relationship to animals, their relationship to animals and culture, the stories that we tell about animals, the metaphors that we use that involve animals and how they impact the actual living creatures that are out there and recognize when these stories, narratives are being used.

CURWOOD: Jon Coleman teaches history at the University of Notre Dame. His book is called "Vicious: Wolves and Men in America." Thanks for taking this time with me today.

COLEMAN: Thanks so much for having me.

[MUSIC: Russian National Orchestra: Serge Prokofiev "Peter and the Wolf": Peter & the Wolf; Jean Paul Beintus: Wolf Tracks]

Related link:
"Vicious: Wolves and Men in America"

Back to top


CURWOOD: Next week on Living on Earth -- For 12 years Ken Lamberton wrote about nature from a small windowless prison cell in Arizona. And in the process he came to terms with the rape that put him there in the first place.

LAMBERTON: The damage that it did to my victim, to my family, to my children -- it's baggage that I'll carry for the rest of my life, that I'll never escape. And y'know, truthfully, I'll probably define myself as a prisoner for the rest of my life.

[Earthear CD]

CURWOOD: One man's prison diary, next week on Living on Earth. We leave you this week with some big, hungry mammals.

Lisa Walker recorded this humpback whale chorus in a long, narrow channel off Chichagof Island in Alaska. Then amplified, attenuated and mixed their voices into a composition entitled, "Tenakee Feeding Call."


CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation.Our crew includes Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Steve Gregory and Susan Shepherd - with help from Jennie Cecil Moore and Carl Lindemann. Our interns are 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.

I'm Steve Curwood. 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 Town Creek Foundation.

ANNOUNCER2: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth