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

March 3, 2006

Air Date: March 3, 2006



Pandemic Pointers

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In 1976, a young military recruit died of what was thought to be swine flu, setting off a massive government vaccination campaign. The response: forty million Americans vaccinated, national paranoia, and 14 deaths. Dr. Harvey Fineberg is the author of "The Epidemic That Never Was: Policy Making in the Swine Flu Scare." He shares a history lesson and a cautionary tale with host Bruce Gellerman. (07:30)

Ready or Not

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Host Bruce Gellerman talks with the head of an online chat room dedicated to H5N1. She goes by the screen name of SophiaZoe and she spends about 6 hours a night advising people on how to prepare for a bird flu pandemic. (04:30)

The Politics of Salvage Logging / Jeff Young

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An attempt to censor a study in the journal Science has rekindled debate about logging after insects, wildfires, and storms damage forests. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports on the latest round in the fight over what to do with damaged forestlands. (06:00)

Land Sales for Rural Towns / Rachel Gotbaum

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The Bush administration is proposing the sale of about 200,000 acres of National Forest in order to fund school and public services in rural parts of the country. The plan is stirring up the debate about whether rural communities should be able to rely on federal land for subsidies. Rachel Gotbaum reports. (05:00)

Who’s an Environmentalist?

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These days environmentalists come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Timothy Profeta of Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, about new, and unlikely, recruits to today's green movement. (05:45)

Enviro Hollywood

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"Syriana," George Clooney's recent political blockbuster, is also a blockbuster with environmentalists. It's carbon neutral. That means the production team has found ways to counteract the greenhouse gasses produced while making the film by investing in the environment. (01:00)

Emerging Science Note/Taste Test / Emily Taylor

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Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have tested the brain's ability to lessen the experience of a foul taste by anticipating one that is good. Emily Taylor reports. (01:30)

China’s Environment

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Dai Qing has been an environmental activist since she left the Chinese communist party when tanks rolled into Tiannamen Square in 1989. On a recent trip to the U.S. she came to our studio to tell host Bruce Gellerman about her experiences and the environmental situation in her homeland today. (06:30)

Changing Chengdu / Jean Kumagai

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As development in China soars, it's also spreading westward. Chengdu, a backwater city in western China, became an urban metropolis overnight. Jean Kumagai reports on the newest Chinese boom town. (08:00)

This week's EarthEar selection
listen / download

Poison Dart Frogs of Central and South America.

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Harvey Fineberg, SophiaZoe, Timothy Profeta, Dai Qing
REPORTERS: Jeff Young, Rachel Gotbaum, Jean Kumagai
NOTE: Emily Taylor


GELLERMAN: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.


GELLERMAN: I’m Bruce Gellerman. As health officials around the world prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic, we recall the pandemic that never was: the swine flu scare of 1976.

FINEBERG: It was certainly a false alarm from the point of view of the epidemiology, but it was a fire drill from the point of view of the capacity of our nation to respond in the face of a threat like influenza.

GELLERMAN: In 1918, the flu killed more people in 25 weeks than have died from AIDS in 25 years. Today, online groups prepare for the worst, and offer support and survival tips for the future.

SOPHIAZOE: When you're sitting there planning on how to make sure that your children survive. Mothers especially have hard times thinking along those roads. It's a cyber group hug.

GELLERMAN: Those stories and more, this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.

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


Pandemic Pointers

President Gerald Ford receives a swine flu shot. (Photo: Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library)

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.

Health officials around the world are hoping for the best, but planning for the worst, as they devise ways to deal with a possible bird flu pandemic. The avian flu virus, H5N1, has been found in more than a dozen nations, and millions of birds have been killed in an attempt to contain the deadly disease.

Bird flu isn’t easily transmitted from animals to people. So far, 90 people have died from the virus. But if the virus mutates and makes the jump from human to human, it could spread like wildfire with catastrophic consequences.

That’s precisely what happened in the flu pandemic of 1918. In just 25 weeks, as many as 100 million people died from influenza. That’s more than AIDS has killed in 25 years. In fact, more people died from the 1918 flu than have died from AIDS and all the wars of the 20th century combined.

The circumstances confronting us today are similar in many ways to the situation back in 1976 when there were fears a swine flu would plague the world. It touched off what’s been called the largest public health fiasco in history and serves as a cautionary tale, which Dr. Harvey Fineberg tells in his book, “The Epidemic That Never was: Policy Making in the Swine Flu Scare.”

Dr. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. Dr. Fineberg, hello.

FINEBERG: I’m very happy to be with you.

GELLERMAN: Take me back to 1976, Ft. Dix, New Jersey.

FINEBERG: Yes, 1976. Remember, it was the American Bicentennial Year. It was also a year when early on, in Fort Dix, New Jersey, there was an outbreak in late January of respiratory illness. That illness, it turned out, was largely due to influenza. Some of the influenza was identified as a type that was familiar, so-called AVictoria. But a number of the cases – initially four, and ultimately 13 clinical cases – were identified as a virus related to that believed to have caused that huge pandemic in 1918-19, so-called “swine flu.”

GELLERMAN: Now, one recruit dies .

FINEBERG: That’s correct. One of the 13 recruits who came down with this illness went on a march overnight and did die the next day.

GELLERMAN: In the next few weeks then, in 1976, the CDC gets involved and things start escalating very quickly.

FINEBERG: The Centers for Disease Control jumped on the problem immediately and drew together experts to consult as to what to do. Out of that came a recommendation that the nation should undertake a major private-public campaign, initiated by the government to vaccinate the population and protect them against influenza.

GELLERMAN: President Ford has an interesting meeting with these experts, and twice he asks them, “Are you sure, are you absolutely sure, we need to, you know, go with this?” And in fact, he says at one point, “Listen, I’m going to leave the room, and I’m going to leave my door open for ten minutes, and if you want to come in, anybody, you come into my office.” And nobody does.

President Gerald Ford receives a swine flu shot. (Photo: Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library)

FINEBERG: At the moment the president made the decision there was no dissent.


FORD: We’re going to find a way, either with or without the help of Congress, to carry out this program that is absolutely essential. A program that was recommended to me unanimously by 25 or 30 of the top medical people in this particular field.

FINEBERG: What he was calling for was for the Congress to enact a special appropriation, 137 million additional dollars, to provide for this vaccination program.

GELLERMAN: The government tries to get the word out that it wants people to volunteer and get their shots. We have a piece of tape from a public service announcement. Do you remember Jimmy the Greek?

FINEBERG: (Laughs) I do.


MAN: Hi, I’m Jimmy the Greek. Some people are waiting for a flu epidemic to hit before making up their minds on the flu shots. No coach ever took his team to the Super Bowl by waiting until game time to build his defense. You see, it takes up to three weeks to build immunity.

FINEBERG: At the time, public health officials were remarkably successful, in historical terms, in getting people out to get immunized. More than 40 million Americans were vaccinated in the space of ten weeks. That was actually an unprecedented number.

GELLERMAN: Creating and administering the swine flu vaccine was a real full-blown case of Murphy’s Law – everything went wrong, it seemed.

FINEBERG: Not everything, but quite a few things. For one, the strategic error at the outset, in my judgment, was this failure to separate the decision to produce the vaccine from the decision to proceed with vaccinating or attempting to vaccinate every person.

Another fundamental problem was that the leadership did not establish any checkpoints along the way, any basis on which they could re-examine their assumptions and see what was really happening in the field, and reconsider whether the decision to proceed was, indeed, the correct one.

There were a few cases of what’s called an ascending paralysis, which is usually reversible. It’s a condition Guillain-Barré Syndrome. A little understood condition which, it turned out, appeared to have an excess of association with immunization. And because of that problem, in the absence of any outbreak or any evidence of disease, by December the program was suspended. In effect, it was ended.

GELLERMAN: What are the lessons from 1976? I mean, was this a fire drill or a false alarm?

FINEBERG: It was a little bit of both. It was certainly a false alarm from the point of view of the epidemiology, but it was a fire drill from the point of view of the capacity of our nation to respond in the face of a threat like influenza. One of the big lessons of that time, which is still true today, is the highly variable capacity from community to community, from state to state, in mounting, carrying out and completing an immunization campaign.

This is still a concern, even as we speak, about our preparedness against avian flu today. We do have a first national plan about avian flu, but until we have 3,000 county plans and hundreds of municipal plans and everyone in place and ready to go, we really do not yet have a national preparedness for avian flu.

The critics who simply say it won’t happen are actually more likely to be right in any given month, or week or year, than those who are preparing. But just because your house didn’t burn down this year doesn’t mean you were foolish to have fire insurance. And just because a major flu pandemic has not occurred this year as yet, and may not occur perhaps for many years, it doesn’t mean that we are making a mistake to prepare actively and fully. In fact, I believe strongly that we should be prepared.

GELLERMAN: Harvey Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. Dr. Fineberg, thank you very much.

FINEBERG: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

GELLERMAN: To help prepare for a possible avian flu outbreak, you could go to the federal government's website: pandemicflu.gov. It tells you to store water, teach your children to cover coughs, and stock-up on dried fruit and peanut butter.

But for a more advanced discussion, check out AvianFluTalk.com. At that website you can learn about the antiviral properties of honey and whether the prescription drug Tamiflu really can fight the avian flu virus. You can also read about the benefits of owning the model N95 gas mask.

Related links:
- Harvey Fineberg, Institute of Medicine
- Federal Government website on pandemic flu
- World Health Organization on Epidemics and Pandemics

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Ready or Not

GELLERMAN: Joining me to talk about how to survive a flu pandemic is SophiaZoe. That's her screen name on AvianFluTalk, the chat-room she moderates. Welcome.

SOPHIAZOE: Well, thank you for having me.

GELLERMAN: I see that your online profile describes you as “unabashed free-market capitalist, constitutional watchdog, and Ayn Rand devotee.”

SOPHIAZOE: (Laughs) That’s me!

GELLERMAN: Are you a survivalist?

SOPHIAZOE: Absolutely not. I’m just an average mother. I’m going to be a first-time grandmother in two months. I’m just an average citizen.

GELLERMAN: So, you’re not stockpiling rifles and ammo and that kind of thing?

SOPHIAZOE: Well, I come from a law enforcement background, so we have weapons in the home but that’s because of our background. That’s not because I’m some sort of whacked-out survivalist.

GELLERMAN: You’re not afraid of somebody breaking down your door to get your Tamiflu?

SOPHIAZOE: Well, if they tried they would be surprised.

GELLERMAN: Was there ever a situation like that that happened you said, “Oh, I’ve got to prepare for the worst?”

SOPHIAZOE: Yes. My family lived through Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Three-fourths of our state was wiped out, and I got to learn how to live in the 19th century instead of the 20th century. We didn’t have electricity for ten weeks. And we had well water at the time, so that meant we had no water either. We had paychecks, my husband and I, but we had no money because the banks couldn’t open because there was no electricity. We got caught with our pants down and we promised ourselves that we would never ever, ever be caught in that situation again.

GELLERMAN: What kind of special precautions are you taking, if any? Should I buy Tamiflu?

SOPHIAZOE: Well, I bought it. (Laughs) It’s better than nothing, but it’s not the golden bullet.

GELLERMAN: How much food are you stocking up?

SOPHIAZOE: We have a year’s supply of food.

GELLERMAN: A year’s supply?

SOPHIAZOE: A year’s supply. And here’s my reasoning, okay? Computer models show that if a pandemic happens – and that is still in this point and time a big “if” – when we hit the three-month mark then the illnesses and the deaths will start tapering off. Well, we’re not going to be able to just pick our lives up where we dropped them off. I mean, I work in the tourist industry. I’m going to be unemployed. So, I bought food not only to get us through the pandemic period, but also the period where I’m going to be unemployed.

GELLERMAN: It seems to me, you know, that you can prepare physically for this. You can have your gas masks and so on. But psychologically, how do you prepare for something like this?

SOPHIAZOE: You can become overwhelmed, you can become depressed, when you’re sitting there planning on how to make sure that your children survive. Mothers especially have hard times thinking along those roads. You know, it’s like a group hug. I know that sounds so touchy-feely but that’s – it’s a cyber group hug.

GELLERMAN: Boy, if this comes to pass we’re in big trouble.

SOPHIAZOE: If it’s bad. It’s a toss of the dice. It doesn’t have to be bad. But I’d rather be prepared for the worst and hope for the best than hope for the best, then get caught with my pants down, as the saying goes.

GELLERMAN: Well, SophiaZoe, thank you very much.

SOPHIAZOE: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: SophiaZoe is the online identity of the head moderator of the website, AvianFluTalk.com.

Related link:
SophiaZoe’s Avian Flu Chat Room

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MUSIC: Chicago Underground Duo “Red Gradations” from ‘Synthesia’ (Thrill Jockey – 2004)]

GELLERMAN: Coming up: a burning issue – Congress and science, at odds over fire-damaged forests. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

MUSIC: The Instruments “Sea Chantey” from ‘Billions of Phonographs’ (Orange Twin Records – 2002)]

The Politics of Salvage Logging

(Photo: D. DellaSala, WWF)

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. The practice of removing trees from fire damaged forests is called “salvage logging.” It’s been going on for decades, but a new study in the journal Science – like many others before it – finds salvage logging can do long term harm to forest ecosystems. The latest research comes as Congress considers a bill that could greatly expand “salvage logging.” And as Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, some researchers and activists charge lawmakers are ignoring – even suppressing – the scientific evidence.

YOUNG: Daniel Donato is bookish, thin, not yet 30 years old – the kind of guy you’d expect to see crunching numbers at a computer, which is what he often does as a grad student at Oregon State University. He’s not the kind of guy you’d expect to see on the hot seat at a crowded and contentious Congressional hearing.

MAN: Do you solemnly swear, or affirm under penalty of perjury that the statements made and the responses given will the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?

(Photo: D. DellaSala, WWF)

YOUNG: But that’s just where Donato found himself after he published a one-page paper in the journal Science, titled “Post-Wildfire Logging Hinders Regeneration and Increases Fire Risk.” He found that logging two years after a fire in Oregon killed seedlings and left behind fuel for more fires. Some Congressmen from the northwest’s timber country used the field hearing in Medford, Oregon, to let Donato know just what they thought of his work.

BAIRD: My judgment is that in this case Mr. Donato, the journal Science, and the reviewers of this article did not do their job.

YOUNG: Washington Democrat Brian Baird is co-sponsor of a bill with Oregon Republican Greg Walden to streamline rules and limit environmental review of salvage logging. Baird accused Donato of bias, of a lack of humility, and of misusing statistics.
Donato politely stood his ground.

BAIRD: It rank orders the variables of the plots of which ones are different. It ranks order the magnitude, but doesn’t tell the absolute magnitude. It just doesn’t.

DONATO: The median is a measure of central tendency of all nine plots beforehand and all nine after.

BAIRD: No, it’s not.

DONATO: Yes, it is,

BAIRD: It’s not.

DONATO: (Laughs) Yes, it is. I disagree.


YOUNG: It’s the latest round in the long battle over salvage logging. And it’s not the first fight over Donato’s study. A federal government agency briefly suspended funding for Donato’s research, and officials at his own school tried to stop his paper’s publication. After Science had accepted the peer-reviewed paper, some professors at Oregon State’s School of Forestry asked the journal to pull it.

DELLASALA: It really was an attempt at academic suppression that sent shock waves across the academic community, that if you don’t like somebody’s results you can try to block them. That is unheard of.

YOUNG: That’s Dominick DellaSala, a forest ecologist with the environmental group World Wildlife Fund. He says the incident raised questions about academic freedom in a college that gets ten percent of its budget from a tax on timber, and received a million dollar endowment from a salvage logging company. DellaSala opposes salvage logging, and Congressman Walden’s bill. He says Donato’s study is just the latest in a large body of work showing how logging after fires hurts forest recovery.

(Photo: D. DellaSala, WWF)

DELLASALA: There hasn’t been a single peer-reviewed scientific study that has showed that effects of logging are benefiting these ecosystems to recovery. There’s no scientific justification or support for the need to go into these areas and log them to get them to come back, when in fact the logging is impairing the recovery that is happening quite nicely on its own.

YOUNG: DellaSala says salvage logging can erode soil, silt up streams and mar wildlife habitat. Richard Hutto directs the University of Montana’s Avian Science Center, where he’s studied birds in burned forests.

HUTTO: There’s not one single bird species that has increased in abundance or benefited from post-fire salvage logging. Not one.

Post-fire logging soil impacts, Bisucit area (Photo: Chris Frissell, Pacific Rivers Council)

YOUNG: Other forestry experts say the science on salvage logging is less clear. Effects can vary with terrain and rainfall patterns, and some desired forest characteristics are easier to achieve with logging. One study, for example, showed tree cover was greater after salvage logging compared to areas left uncut. Congressman Walden says some of those results indicate support for his bill’s approach.

WALDEN: And the science I’ve read, it would indicate that if you’re going to remove trees you’re better to do it quickly.

YOUNG: Walden says his bill doesn’t instruct forest managers to cut or not to cut. It simply speeds up the process if managers decide to clear forests damaged by fire, insects, wind or ice storms.

WALDEN: Right now, it can take upwards of three years after a forest fire in the west before the Forest Service is, if they choose to go in and cut a burned dead tree, able to go in and cut a burned dead tree.

YOUNG: Where trees are timbered, some of the money would go for restoration and follow-up study. Critics say this eliminates endangered species protections and full environmental review before cuts – a blow to forest protection and a boon to the forestry industry. Salvage logging has become an important source of timber revenue, accounting for roughly half the timber cut on Forest Service land in the northwest And forestry is Walden’s top source of campaign donations from industry. Campaign finance records and recently published reports show he’s taken 300,000 dollars from timber interests. But Walden insists that has nothing to do with his bill.

WALDEN: I find that offensive. I don’t look at a newspaper reporter and say, look who’s buying ads in their paper, therefore they’re biased, do I? Who gives to NPR? Does that affect your reporting? No. And who gives to me doesn’t affect my legislating.

YOUNG: A vote on Walden’s bill is expected soon in the House Resources Committee where both supporters and opponents argue that the science is on their side in this still smoldering debate. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

Related links:
- Rep. Walden’s Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act
- Post-fire logging – World Wildlife Fund

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Land Sales for Rural Towns

GELLERMAN: Playing out in rural America is a variation on the old philosophical saw: If a tree falls in a forest, and communities care what happens to it, will the Bush administration hear their sounds of concern? Living on Earth’s Rachel Gotbaum has this story about a controversy over selling national forest to fund local programs.

GOTBAUM: As part of the president’s budget package, the administration is seeking permission from Congress to sell off about 200,000 acres of national forest. The money from the sale would be used to maintain schools, build county roads and other public services in rural parts of the country. In 2000, Congress passed a law guaranteeing payment to these communities, but the law is set to expire later this year.

Mark Rey is undersecretary of agriculture. He says when the law was first created, there was a budget surplus, but now the federal budget is tight so selling Forest Service land makes sense to help fund rural counties.

REY: Isolated parcels have come into the national forest ownership almost as a result of an accident of history. They’re not attached to or in any way part of the national forest system, and have been viewed in our individual national forest plans as not of great environmental value; very expensive to manage, because they are isolated from the balance of the national forest system; and not meeting national forest system needs.

GOTBAUM: Since 1908, communities surrounded by national forest have been able to share in any revenue the land produced. In most cases, the money came from timber sales. But in the late 1990s, logging on federal land was restricted to protect the spotted owl and other endangered species, and the land no longer generated significant income for the neighboring towns.

That’s when the law guaranteeing government funding for rural communities was created. More than half the federal money goes to schools and roads in Oregon. That’s because Oregon is where most of the logging took place.


STAHL: Here we have the sign: “Forest Research. Experimental Area. U.S. Forest Service.” Climb over the gate.

GOTBAUM: On a recent afternoon, Andy Stahl takes a tour of one of the Forest Service parcels that may go up for sale. This piece of land, in western Oregon, is about 140 acres. It borders a state wildlife refuge and also some private farmland. Years ago, the land was owned by the military, and then ended up under Forest Service domain.

STAHL: This is the kind of place where voles and squirrels and wood rats find home. There’s lots of wet areas. So, you have a great place for raptors to hunt. And that’s what this place is known for, it’s known for its owls.

GOTBAUM: Stahl heads up a group called Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. He says putting public land up for sale to fund rural communities is a bad idea.

STAHL: Once you start opening the door to selling national forest, where do you draw the line? All that will be valued is these lands’ real estate development potential. And that’s not what these lands were originally protected for. These lands were protected for the American people and for the environment.

GOTBAUM: By selling parcels like these, the Bush administration hopes to raise about 800 million dollars for schools and rural services over the next five years. Then, the administration hopes to phase out its commitment to the 700 counties nationwide that rely on this money. But school district officials want the funding to continue indefinitely, and most say they don’t want their schools’ future to be tied to the sale of public land.
John Marshall is with the Oregon School Boards Association.

MARSHALL: It’s like we’re going to sell these lands one time, we’re going to pay you the money over five years, and the, oh, by the way, you lose the Act, you lose the ongoing revenue, and you’ve you lost the land. So, we think it’s a three-time loss.

GOTBAUM: The notion of selling public land is not a popular idea in Congress either, and virtually no lawmakers would go on record supporting Bush’s proposal. But Greg Walden, a Republican Congressman from Oregon, says the federal government must consider all of its options, and those may include selling some Forest Service land.

WALDEN: I haven’t had a chance to look property by property, but I can tell you one of ‘em is a tiny little piece of property in the middle of the parking lot of a grocery store in a town 20 miles from where I live. Literally, in the middle of the parking lot. I would rethink a.) the Forest Service should have that, and b.) why wouldn’t we dispose of it? And, in the meantime, we’re acquiring 84,000 acres on average a year adding to the forest system.

GOTBAUM: The public has until the end of March to comment on the parcels the Forest Service is proposing to sell. In the meantime, lawmakers in Washington are expected to come up with their own plan to fund rural schools and county services that may or may not include the sale of public land. For Living on Earth, I’m Rachel Gotbaum.

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[MUSIC: : Iron and Wine & Calexico “He Lays In the Reins” from ‘In The Reins’ (Overcoat Recordings – 2005)]

Who’s an Environmentalist?

GELLERMAN: Who’s an environmentalist anyway? These days it’s sort of a forest/tree question. The closer you look, the harder it is to tell the difference between granola-eating tree huggers from the corporate suits selling the virtues of going green. Then there’s the religious right warning about global warming, and typically conservative hunters taking up the cause of preserving habitats.

To help sort out the distinctions and political implications of the changing environmental landscape we turn to Timothy Profeta, director of Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Thanks for joining me.

PROFETA: It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me.

GELLERMAN: You recently conducted a poll on environmental issues. What did you find that surprised you?

PROFETA: Well, first we found, which has been found in many polls, that the vast majority of Americans support the protection of our environment; the number’s at 80 to 85 percent when asked in the abstract. But when you ask them where they would vote on the issue, it has low voter resonance. And that was confirmatory; we did the poll and we confirmed that result. What we really wanted to get after, though, is why? What explains that disconnect?

And what we found was that people could easily say that they support environmental protection, but they looked at these issues through many different lenses. They looked at it through the economic effects, through the moral obligations to the future generations, to the health effects, etc. And you had to appeal to their interests through all those lenses through which they looked to really get their support. That was really the next layer that we had tried to get after in this poll.

GELLERMAN: So, are we talking about a new environmentalism, do you think?

PROFETA: I wouldn’t say that. I would say that we are now dealing with environmental issues that are of such scope that they’re more than environmental issues. So we’re talking about environmentalism, but we’re also talking about national security concerns, and we’re talking about economic concerns. So we’re talking about issues that span the scope of all those issues.

GELLERMAN: This term “environmentalist” is a broad term. It’s a difficult label. Is there any such thing as an environmentalist these days? That we can just say, “you’re an environmentalist?”

PROFETA: Well, I think you pointed out a very key question, Bruce. I think the word means different things to different people, and trying to find one person who fits the moniker is not easy. It also has a little bit of a stigma attached to it at some point. We did one focus group in Ohio where there was a lot of support for environmental concerns, but a lot of resistance to being called an environmentalist.

GELLERMAN: Who would that be? I’m thinking a hunter in one of those so-called “red states” thinking, “I like to hunt, and I like the environment, but don’t call me an environmentalist.”

PROFETA: I think that you probably could find somebody rather easily that fits that description. I remember back to a focus group we did this fall in Ohio where a woman commented, “You know, I don’t like littering or pollution any more than the rest of us, but don’t call me an environmentalist.” There was a stigma attached to that term for her.

GELLERMAN: What about the Christian Right? I would think that they’ve become kind of absorbed into this environmental issue. They’ve got a lot of interest in global warming.

PROFETA: I think it’s really because it’s a bigger issue than just a small acute environmental problem. It’s a question of the stewardship of the Earth. And the teaching of Christian thought teaches us we have to steward God’s creation, and that issue is really coming home to them.

GELLERMAN: But it kind of puts them at odds, in some ways, with the Bush administration, which kind of lumps them in another part of the continuum, political continuum.

PROFETA: I think it does have the effect, I think it’s a positive effect, of reframing this issue outside of the political context. In our political system there are very few voices that speak for long term interests and future generations. But our religious groups are one of those entities, and their ability to bring their voices to take it away from today’s political debate, the Bush administration versus the Democrats, and into the larger context, is invaluable to help us make progress on this issue.

GELLERMAN: Could there be a rising new coalition around these larger environmental movement then? That is, something that takes the Christian Right, and the hunter, and the liberal, and brings them together around these larger issues of the environment?

PROFETA: I would say it’s too early to say there is a rising coalition. There are the seeds of such a coalition. There are a lot of trust issues between those various political groups that need to be addressed. There are a lot of stakeholders in the debate that don’t hold those same opinions, and so, it’s very early. But you can see the seeds of such a thing.

GELLERMAN: So do you think, Mr. Profeta, the time is right for somebody, some charismatic politician, to step in and unite blue states, red states, conservatives, environmentalists, under one rubric?

PROFETA: We have a disparate set of stakeholders interested in action, they have disparate interests, and we need some unifying force. And there has been no means to unify all these various voices. I think the situation is ripe for that voice to emerge, and I think once it does, action will happen.

GELLERMAN: Timothy Profeta is director of Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Mr. Profeta, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

PROFETA: Thank you very much. I enjoyed my time here.

Related link:
Duke University Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

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Enviro Hollywood

GELLERMAN: Drum roll. And the envelope, please.


GELLERMAN: And the Academy Award for this year’s most environmentally-friendly film goes to: “Syriana.”

[MUSIC: “Syriana” from the original motion picture soundtrack (Red Seal 2005)]

GELLERMAN: Accepting the award is Billy Connelly, director of marketing communication for Native Energy, the consulting company that calculated how to make “Syriana” carbon-neutral. That means all of the carbon dioxide emitted during production of the film was offset by investments in renewable energy technologies, such as a methane generator on a dairy farm and a wind park in the Midwest. And according to Billy Connelly, “Syriana” is just a preview of things to come.

CONNELLY: This is definitely an emerging trend. Hollywood is very sensitive to the impact that they have, whether it be through trying to reuse sets, or reduce their wastes, use more locally grown and organic materials, to renewable energy.

GELLERMAN: Connelly estimates making “Syriana” produced more than 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide – what with first class air travel, renting limos, lights, camera and special effects. It’s about as much as driving your car 4,000,000 miles…A long way to go to see a movie. Pass the organic popcorn.

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[MUSIC: Her Space Holiday “Tech Romance” from ‘The Young Machines’ (Mush Records – 2005)]

GELLERMAN: Just ahead: the human dynamo who fought China’s River Dragon. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and Kashi, maker of all natural foods, founded on the belief that everyone has the power to make healthful changes. Kashi. Seven whole grains on a mission; The Kresge Foundation, investing in nonprofits to help them catalyze growth, connect to stakeholders, and challenge greater support. On the web at Kresge dot org; The Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; The W-K Kellogg Foundation. 'From Vision to Innovative Impact: 75 Years of Philanthropy' This is NPR -- National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: Japan “Canton” from ` Tin Drum’ (Blue Plate Caroline - 1991)]

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. And coming up:


GELLERMAN: That’s “Go west, young man.” in Mandarin. A journey to Chengdu on the frontier of China’s economic expansion. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Emily Taylor.


Emerging Science Note/Taste Test

TAYLOR: Remember your first curse word? You thought your mom was gonna wash out your mouth with soap, didn’t you? So you closed your eyes and prepared for the worst. Well, maybe you didn’t.

A recent study from scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that the human brain can have a response that is based on the perception of taste, regardless of whether the taste buds actually experience the sensation.

After enlisting 43 students to undergo MRI brain imaging, assistant professor Jack B. Nitschke tested the ability of their brains to reduce the experience of a foul taste by tricking itself through the anticipation of a less foul taste. He conditioned the students before they entered the MRI session to associate a specific cue with a taste, and monitored their brain activity as cues flashed and liquid was dropped into their mouths.

But Nitschke didn’t always match the cues with the tastes the subjects were anticipating. So, when some students saw a cue for a less bitter taste, less bitter is what they perceived even if the actual taste was bitter.

Nitschke was able to ultimately conclude that the brain acts differently when it anticipates a sensation as compared to when it experiences a sensation unexpectedly. Sensory input could be largely based on perceptions of, say, fear or joy, rather than on reality. Nitschke hopes to use these anticipatory processes in the brain to help people dealing with anxiety and depression. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Emily Taylor.

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China’s Environment

(Photo courtesy of Next City)

GELLERMAN: China’s leaders have plotted an ambitious course to ensure the nation’s power-hungry economy does not sputter and fall. Over the next 15 years, they plan to build 30 nuclear plants and double the nation’s hydroelectric output by 2010.

Much of that energy will come from the controversial Three Gorges project, which harnesses China’s mightiest river, the Yangste. Hundreds of towns, villages, and ancient sites were submerged to create a reservoir as long as Lake Superior, and nearly two million residents were forced to relocate.

While promising energy for the future, the Three Gorges project also fueled China’s fledgling environmental movement, which was powered by a human dynamo - dissident journalist Dai
Qing. Known as “DQ” by her friends, she published a book about the environmental consequences of the Three Gorges project called "The River Dragon Has Come." The book was banned in China, but Dai Qing has brought it West, and she’s here in our studio - and can I call you DQ?

QING: Yes, of course.

GELLERMAN: Your book was written in 1990. It was published in English in, what, 1998? You predict some very dire consequences from the Three Gorges project. You say there was going to be 1.9 million people displaced, ancient sites submerged underwater, that there was going to be flooding of hundreds of towns. It was going to be really a mess. Have your predictions come true? I mean, this project’s almost finished now.

QING: It will come worse than what we researched in 1980s. Because, right now, lots of things get worse already. At the beginning, the builder of the Three Gorges project promised compensation. But actually, the central government only gave the money not directly to the people they’re uprooting but to the officials. And when the money arrived it’s very little. So right now, the hate, the angry, just accumulates in their heart, and maybe one day, when the environment gets worse and worse, they cannot live. So something definitely will happen. But it’s a beginning.

GELLERMAN: There were some really dramatic environmental spills and catastrophes that have happened in China just in the last few months. I’m reminded of a chemical spill on a river where they had to truck water in to the city for everyone to drink.

QING: Yeah, these kind of things have already happened. And it is going to happen in the future because in China there is no law to limit the big companies’ behavior. Of course, we have some environment-protecting laws, but when the officials try to let it work, lots of things happen. You know, pay some money to the company and then everything is resolved.

GELLERMAN: Corruption?

QING: Corruption.

GELLERMAN: China sounds like an awfully polluted, dangerous place.

QING: Yeah, I agree with you, and the main reason, I think, is the ownership is not clear. The river belong to whom? And the mine belongs to whom? And the land belongs to whom? And if you have some connection with the authority you can get the right to develop something. You know, you don’t have to pay for the resource. Very few people see behind the figures; the cost of resources and environment and human rights is huge.

GELLERMAN: You have these thousands of protests. People getting shot. You have people getting thrown off their land.

QING: Mm-hmm.

GELLERMAN: I was reading that the environmental protests have gone up dramatically in China over the years. In 2003, there was something like 58,000 protests – and these are government numbers. In 2004, there was something like 74,000. Do you see that becoming broader? Not just an environmental movement, but a political opposition movement that could challenge and disrupt the Communist Party?

(Photo courtesy of Next City)

QING: I think it’s already a political project. Because if they just obey and obey, they have totally no sense of their basic rights. This is old China, you know, Chinese, they’re so used to dictatorship they’re just looking for a good emperor in their country. So if the living condition is just okay, they will obey the government. But right now China, the Chinese people, with the help of journalists and environmental NGOs, they got sense that they should try to protect themselves. So I think this will become a political movement, and I think it’s very important.

GELLERMAN: Now I know your dad was in the Communist Party. Were you ever in the Party yourself?

QING: I was a Communist Party member, and I quit the second day when the tanks, you know, went through the Tiananmen Street.

GELLERMAN: You were in jail.

QING: I was in jail. One person, one small cell.

GELLERMAN: And what were the charges against you?

QING: No charge. Just detain.

GELLERMAN: And why’d they let you go?

QING: Because no evidence. It’s very difficult to charge me. And everybody knows the true reason I was arrested [was] because I show my different opinion about Three Gorges project.

GELLERMAN: By you talking to me, and us broadcasting this conversation…

QING: Uh-huh.

GELLERMAN: You go back to Beijing. Are you afraid?

QING: I can say right now I have lost almost everything. I have no medical insurance, I have nothing. Only I insisted that live in Beijing and just watch what kind of policy, what kind of things they are going to do. So, you know, maybe people will think that I give my opinion frankly and then I’ll face a very dangerous situation. My answer is that my situation is dangerous enough.

GELLERMAN: Would they put you in jail again?

QING: I don’t think so. I don’t think so because right now the prison is already full of corrupted officials already. I don’t think there’s enough room for liberal independent intellectuals.

GELLERMAN: So, DQ, why do you still stay in China then?

QING: I’m Chinese. This is my motherland. And I’m a writer. My reader is in mainland China so I have to stay with them, suffer with them, fight with them. So this is my choice.

GELLERMAN: DQ, thank you for coming in.

QING: Thank you for giving me the chance to share my opinion.

GELLERMAN: Dia Qing’s book is called "The River Dragon Has Come."

Related link:
International Rivers Network

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Changing Chengdu

GELLERMAN: So far, nearly all of China’s industrial development has taken place along its eastern coast. But recently, the central government has been pushing investors westward into the interior, underdeveloped provinces. This “go west” policy has, in just a few short years, turned the backwater city of Chengdu into a hi-tech boomtown. Jean Kumagai visited the city and has this reporter’s notebook.


KUMAGAI: Chengdu isn’t on the way to or from anywhere. It’s in the middle of a wide, flat plain at the foothills of the Himalayas, 900 miles southwest of Beijing, a thousand miles northwest of Shanghai. Early on in its 2,400-year history, it was renown for its silk brocades, lively trade and intellectual life. But with the fall of the Shu Dynasty in the third century, Chengdu became a sleepy provincial backwater. After the Communists came to power in 1949, they sited their most sensitive military work here because it’s so cut off from the world.


KUMAGAI: Then, five or six years ago, the Beijing government launched the Western Development Strategy. Billions of dollars flowed into the hinterlands, extending new highways, rail lines, international airports and telecom links. Hundreds of multinationals flocked to Chengdu and the city was reborn.

I’d wondered what life was like in this sprawling city of 11 million at the literal frontier of China’s tech revolution. I figured I’d find a wild, freewheeling, anything-goes kind of place. Instead, I found darkness.


KUMAGAI: It was close to midnight on a Saturday, and I road in a leather-upholstered sedan, exhausted and jet-lagged, on my way from the airport to the hotel. I gazed out the window only half-seeing the place. And then it hit me: there were no streetlights, no store lights, no lights at all. Just the darkened outlines of apartment buildings and office complexes stretching on for mile after mile like a modern day ghost town. Except for the car’s two headlights on the road, it was utterly dark.


KUMAGAI: Later I learned that, like every major city in China, Chengdu doesn’t have enough electricity to go around. Though the province boasts an abundance of natural gas and hydropower, its electricity is shipped back to the power-starved east coast. Chengdu suffers blackouts for two to five days every week.


KUMAGAI: By day, Chengdu was sunny and warm. The wide avenue in front of my hotel was packed with shoppers streaming in and out of gleaming indoor malls, checking out the latest from Tommy Hilfiger, Disney, and Esprit. Young women chatted on cell phones, young men packed the video arcades, young couples laughed, nuzzled and walked arm-in-arm in a way that would have shocked earlier generations of straight-laced Communist youth.


KUMAGAI: Chengdu is a place full of right angles and contradictions. By night, it’s an eerie void. By day, a shopper’s paradise. I’d heard from city promoters all about Chengdu’s 29 universities and its half a million professionals, cheap and plentiful housing, a Carrefours hypermarket, and soon, a Walmart; a shiny new airport with direct flights to Tokyo and Paris, good air, clean water, and the Himalayas at your doorstep.


KUMAGAI: We drove to an industrial park where dozens of multinationals have set up shop. This area had all been farmland once, and amid the wide, well-paved boulevards and corporate complexes, I spotted some crumbling stone houses, many of them still occupied. These were probably the original inhabitants, their land and livelihood gobbled up by Chengdu’s rapid rise.

A few months earlier, in another city in Szechwan, a similar land-grab had triggered a massive protest. Tens of thousands of displaced farmers seized the local government headquarters and held the Communist Party chief hostage. But when I asked about the farmers in Chengdu, and even pointed at them from the car window, the promoters just shook their heads. Nobody lives here now, they said.


KUMAGAI: When I needed to get a new SIM card for my cell phone, the bellboy at the hotel directed me to a street just around the corner. “Any particular store,” I asked him. “No, no, it’s all cell phones,” he said.


KUMAGAI: And so it was. The city’s bustling cell phone district offered store after store, block after block, and thousands of models of gleaming new cell phones. Trying to escape the crowds, I ducked down a back alley. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I found a parallel universe – an enormous second-hand bazaar entirely devoted to cell phones. Hundreds of vendors sat cheek-by-jowl, their battered wares arrayed on narrow card tables. In nearby stalls eagle-eyed technicians hunched over jewelers benches making precision repairs.


KUMAGAI: The owner of one repair shop told me that he turns a monthly profit of 10,000 Yuan, or about 1,200 dollars. That day, he had five guys working for him. Assuming they split the profits equally, which they probably didn’t, they each took home about 200 dollars a month. Workers don’t get health care, or a pension, or paid vacation; those things went away years ago when the Communist government began embracing capitalism for real. More than a few Chinese people I met joked to me that the U.S. today, with its social security and Medicare, is more communist than China.


KUMAGAI: In the end, I stopped trying to tease through Chengdu’s many contradictions and, instead, embraced the one thing that for me remained absolutely, unvaryingly good and true: the food. Szechwan is known the world over for its fiery cuisine, and no matter where or what I ate in Chengdu, I always ate like an empress. I had one of the best meals of my life in a state-run dumpling house. Sitting on a hard bench surrounded by office workers and students, I feasted on a 75 cent bowl of tender meat dumplings floating in a oily, spicy sauce. I still think about those dumplings, probably more often than I should say. For Living on Earth, I’m Jean Kumagai.


GELLERMAN: Jean Kumagai is a reporter for Spectrum Radio, the broadcast edition of IEEE Spectrum magazine. To find out more about Chengdu, and other hi-tech transformations in China, visit our website - Living on Earth dot org.

Related link:
IEEE Spectrum’s “China’s Tech Revolution” article

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GELLERMAN: We leave you this week in the dangerous world of Poison Dart Frogs.


GELLERMAN: These sometimes fatal amphibians inhabit South and Central America. Darren Meyer and Dave E. Stiles recorded and mixed this collection of their calls.

[EARTH EAR: “Poison Dart Frog Species Montage” recorded by Darren Meyer and Dave E. Stiles from “Sounds of Poison Dart Frogs of Central and South America” (Ribbit Recordings – 2005)]

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky and Ingrid Lobet - with help from Christopher Bolick, Kelley Cronin, James Curwood and Michelle Kweder.

We bid a fond farewell to one of our crewmembers this week. Susan Shepherd has been with Living on Earth longer than any producer on this show. And during her time here, Susan has created and edited some of this program’s most memorable pieces and interviews, and she got our web page off the ground. But it’s been Sue’s spunk and sense of humor, her quick wit, and her divine fashion sense, that have kept us smiling and on our toes all these years. Sue, goodbye and good luck. We’ll miss you.

Our interns are Bobby Bascomb and Emily Taylor. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Alison Dean composed our themes. You can find us at LOE dot org. Steve Curwood’s away. 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 milk. 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, the Ford Foundation, the Welbourne Ecology Fund, and the Saunders Hotel Group of Boston's Lennox and Copley Square Hotels. Serving you and the environment while helping preserve the past and protect the future, 800-225-7676.

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