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

June 30, 2006

Air Date: June 30, 2006



Drilling for Votes / Jeff Young

View the page for this story

By a narrow majority, the US House of Representatives votes in favor on offshore drilling, mindful that the fall elections are rapidly approaching. Politicians want voters to know they're doing something about high gas prices by increasing domestic energy supply. But environmentalists are betting that the public wants a different energy plan. Jeff Young reports from Washington. (06:30)

Pumping Up Butanol

View the page for this story

Is Butanol the answer to the world's energy needs? BP and Dupont have recently teamed up to develop Butanol using biomass as a base, instead of petroleum. They’re claiming bio-butanol is cheaper, burns cleaner and will power any car. Host Steve Curwood interviews Andy Aden of National Renewable Energy Lab, in Golden Colorodo to learn more. (05:00)

Dead Zones / Mhari Saito

View the page for this story

Dead zones--large areas of water with little oxygen--occur when excess fertilizer and untreated sewage seep into the waters. The dead zones are usually seasonal and they cause fish and other bottom-dwelling animals to move outside the area to avoid being suffocated. Much underwater life also dies. Since the 1960s the number of dead zones worldwide has doubled with each passing decade. In Lake Erie, a massive multiyear study is underway to study how the lake’s ecosystem is affected by its dead zone. Producer Mhari Saito has our report. (06:00)

Striped Bass: A Cautionary Fish Tale

View the page for this story

The 1980s fight to bring back the striped bass is considered one of the greatest environmental success stories. But, today the species faces a new and potentially devastating threat: the omega-3 market. Author Dick Russell talks with host Steve Curwood about what it will take to save a species that's already been saved. (07:30)

Comfy Camping / Robin White

View the page for this story

Americans are so pinched for time and so stressed, camping is suddenly too much work. Maybe we're just getting lazier. Robin White reports on the blurring line between camping and the spa vacation. (05:00)

From the Islands to the Ozarks / Jacqueline Froelich

View the page for this story

Many Marshall Islanders, transplanted to Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains, carry the legacy of post-World War II atomic testing. Some continue to suffer poverty and illness. Jacqueline Froelich reports from Fayetteville, Arkansas. (16:30)

This week's EarthEar selection
listen / download

Early-morning rowers race along the banks of Boston’s Charles River.

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Host: Steve Curwood
Guests: Andy Aden, Dick Russell
Reporter: Jacqueline Froelich, Mahri Saito, Robin White, Jeff Young,


CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living On Earth.


I’m Steve Curwood. As Congress takes a break to celebrate Independence Day, energy independence is shaping up as a key issue for the fall elections. Some law-makers are calling for more drilling at home, others say conservation and renewables are the way to go.

KARPINSKI : This election is very intentionally going to be framed around the question of energy policy. It’s on voters’ minds, they have conversations about it every day. They’re mad about rising gas prices, they’re mad about our dependence on foreign oil. The question is: which direction should we go.

CURWOOD: Also: camping with creature comforts: heated tents and down comforters. It’s great, except for creatures.

WOMAN: Oh, we’ve been attacked by birds. Deluxe camping has gone to like, not so deluxe. We had a dead bird on our doorstep this morning. It’s fine.

CURWOOD: We’ll have those stories and more - this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.

Back to top


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


Drilling for Votes

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios, in Somerville Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. As members of Congress head to their home districts for the July break, they seem to have one eye on the price of gas, and the other on the calendar. November 7th, Election Day, is just around the corner. And energy is shaping up as the key domestic item on voters’ minds.
Republican leaders want more offshore drilling, to increase domestic supplies of oil and natural gas. Leading democrats say Americans would be better off using more renewable fuels and conservation. Which argument will appeal more to voters who are paying near record prices at the pump? The answer could tip the balance of who controls Congress. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports from Washington.

YOUNG: For 25 years, most of the US coastline has been off limits to offshore drilling. But in a fiery debate in Congress California Republican Richard Pombo told the House of Representatives that should end.

POMBO: I’m telling you, it’s time to stop saying no. It’s time to move forward with energy policy that makes sense for all of America. Not just for a small group of special interests who want to destroy our economy.

YOUNG: And the house agreed. The close vote would end the moratorium on offshore drilling in favor of a bill that would let states decide weather or not they want oil rigs offshore.

Critics say that tilts the playing field, making it easier to allow drills than to keep them out. Democratic House leader, Nancy Pelosi of California says it’s also an unbalanced approach to energy.

PELOSI: When we talk about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, when we talk about that, we talk about alternative energy. It’s not just about drill, drill, drill.

YOUNG: But so far drilling has ruled in the house energy debate. In addition to the offshore vote, the house also voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as ANWR for oil and gas exploration. Neither bill is likely to pass the Senate. But both were symbolic victories for House members, who want to show voters they’re doing something about energy prices by increasing energy supply. Both bills were championed by Richard Pombo, who chairs the powerful committee on House resources.

POMBO: The underlying issue here is how do we increase domestic production of energy in order to meet what is a very real crisis that we’re going through. Part of that is ANWR part of it is the deep sea oil and gas exploration. Over the last 30 years we have locked up more and more of our own resources. And as a result of that have become more dependent on foreign countries for our energy.

YOUNG: Pombo’s push to open more federal land for oil and extraction wins him support from the oil and gas industry, which has given him nearly $230,000 in campaign cash. It’s also made Pombo an election-year target for environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters. League director Gene Karpinski is betting a good chunk of his groups resources on a campaign to defeat Pombo and a half dozen other lawmakers he calls the oil slick seven. Karpinski is happy to have an environmental issue foremost in people’s minds and says energy issues could be the deciding factor in many races.

KARPINSKI: This election is very intentionally going to be framed around the question of energy policy. It’s on voter’s minds. They have conversations about it every day. They’re mad about rising gas prices. They’re mad about our dependence on foreign oil. The question is which direction should we go. Should we drill and destroy our most beautiful lands? Or should we move forward with clean renewable energy policy?

YOUNG: Democrats think the energy debate could fuel their run to take control of Congress. Republicans hold the house by just 15 seats and the senate by just 6. South Carolina’s James Cliburn says democrats will use the summer to remind voters of what’s happened to energy prices with Republicans in control.

CLIBURN: We’ve got $3 for a gallon of gasoline. We’ve got 9 billion dollars in subsidies to the oil companies. And Democrats are seeking new directions for our energy program.

YOUNG: Pole after pole shows energy prices among the top voter concerns, but it’s less clear who benefits. Does a voter paying 3 bucks for a gallon of gas support a Democrat’s ideas for fuel efficiency or a Republican’s plan for more drilling?
The American Petroleum Interest put that question to some focus groups. The API lobbies for the oil and gas industry. Spokesperson Lisa Flavin says the higher the price the more willing people are to support drilling.

FLAVIN: So now what we’re seeing is a bit of a shift with the high gasoline prices people are saying “ya, you know we need to reevaluate that and we need to look to America to develop our own supplies.

YOUNG: Environmental groups say most people still don’t want offshore drilling. And they point to poles showing most Americans opposed to drilling in the Arctic Refuge. And instead favor alternative energy and more fuel-efficient cars. Sierra
Club executive director, Carl Pope, says high prices probably don’t change minds so much as draw attention to the issue.

POPE: It doesn’t fundamentally, if you look at what the public wants, the public still believes that renewable energy is much better than oil and gas. The public still doesn’t want to see more nuclear power. So, what this creates is pressure on legislators and politicians to act. Whether they act wisely or not is always the question. And what’s happening right now, is here in this town they’re not. But what high gas prices do is put the issue on the agenda.

YOUNG: If Pope is right about that, what it means is candidates will face an energized electorate and a lot of questions about how the country will satisfy its appetite for fuel. For Living On Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

Related links:
- Sierra Club on offshore drilling
- The American Petroleum Institute on offshore drilling
- Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act of 2006
- League of Conservation Voters’ Dirty Dozen press release

Back to top

[MUSIC - The Weepies “Love Doesn’t Last” from ‘Say I Am You’ (Nettwerk - 2005)]

Pumping Up Butanol

CURWOOD: Big business is making is making some big plays in the alternative energy arena. Oil giant BP is teaming up with Cal Tech to make cheaper solar cells using nano technology. The company believes the novel process could help relieve the worldwide shortage of silicon. And just when we were getting used to putting ethanol in our tanks now there’s a new biofuel coming down the pipe. BP and DuPont have announced plans to start selling butanol. Now if butanol sounds a lot like ethanol, it is. They are chemically related. But butanol delivers more miles to the gallon, it’s not corrosive like ethanol and it can be burned in gasoline engines without modifications. Right now butanol costs more than gasoline but there are new processes that could make it much cheaper, and that’s what BP and DuPont seem to be counting on.

Andy Aden is a process engineer at the National Renewable Energy lab in Golden, Colorado and specializes in biomass energy sources. Andy, thanks for joining us.

ADEN: Thank you, Steve.

Andy Aden, program researcher at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of: National Renewable Energy Lab)

CURWOOD: So, Andy, BP and DuPont say they are going to start selling this next year in Great Britain, but I never heard of Butanol until they announced this deal.

ADEN: I think it’s actually caught quite a few people off guard and people are asking the questions - should I be interested in this? Why is this special? How close is this to ethanol? How different is this to ethanol? It’s got a lot of people asking a lot of questions, but I think that is a good thing.

CURWOOD: What’s really exciting about Butanol?
ANDY: The really exciting thing about Butanol is the fact that we have another choice for a biofuel. Before out there we had one choice for a fuel. Well, a couple choices, you know gasoline or diesel. Now we’ve got choices in the form of E-10 or E-85. And these biofuels in addition to being better for the environment are becoming a lot more economically attractive with the high price of petroleum. Now you’ve got butanol coming on to the scene and it gives consumers an even larger spectrum and diversity of choices for fuels. And that’s something that we’ve never had in the United States before and so it’s really exciting.

CURWOOD: How is the bio-butanol that BP and DuPont are talking about, how is this different from the butanol being produced these days in the United States by the chemical companies?

ANDY: Well butanol is currently produced from petroleum, specifically from either propaline or ethaline. DuPont is looking to do it biologically. Doing it from biomass sources, either corn stalks and husks or corn or sugar beets, something along those lines. It’s through a simple fermentative process that’s actually been around for quite some time. This was done commercially back in the early 1900’s through the 1950’s to produce not only butanol but other solvents as well- acetone, ethanol and other byproduct organic acids and such.

CURWOOD: So the same process that makes butanol, can in fact, be used to make ethanol, huh?

ADEN: Well, for biobutanol it’s produced by a fermentation the same way that ethanol is produced by a fermentation. You just simply use different organisms. For ethanol you’re using a yeast, butanol is produced using a bacteria.

CURWOOD: Explain to me though, what the difference would be for consumers who go for these products. If ethanol is coming out of one pump and butanol another, what is the choice that I should make as a consumer?

ADEN: Well, maybe that’s the question of what benefits does butanol have over ethanol and vice versa. Butanol has a higher energy content than ethanol, pretty close to gasoline maybe 85 or 90 percent. So, you don’t get into the lost fuel mileage issue that you do potentially with ethanol. That’s one potential benefit for using it. Another one is that it integrates well into the existing fuel infrastructure with petroleum and gasoline.

CURWOOD: Andy, I need you to help look inside the thinking process at DuPont and BP. They’ve announced this partnership to go forward with butanol as a fuel and sell it in the United Kingdom. What’s their game plan? Are they going to use the old process that was used by chemical companies or do they have a new process up their sleeve? And are they going to sell this just as butnol or do you think they’ll sell this as some kind of blend?

ADEN: If I were to get into their minds, I say they’d probably be starting this as some kind of fuel blend to meet the EU requirements for 2010. To do it within the time frame that they are talking about, which is in the next couple of years, they’re going to have to use existing technology. Perhaps, tweaked I guess is how they would probably say it but it’s going to be mostly based off of past research. But being the large companies that both BP and DuPont are they have the resources and the know how to be able to throw both personnel and biochemical tools at this type of problem and really make some significant technological achievements.

CURWOOD: I understand this gentleman David Ramey of Environmental Energy has come up with a new process to make butanol and he’s burned it actually in a car, driven it all the way across the country. What’s his process and how does it differ from the present process used when butanol is made from chemical reactions?

ADEN: What David Ramey is doing to improve the process is to take the fermentation reaction and to separate it into two different reactions so instead of having one bacteria that does this reaction inefficiently, he takes two separate organisms, separates them out into two reactions and does it more efficiently where you can get potentially higher yields in a shorter amount of time.

CURWOOD: Andy Aden is a process engineer at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. Thanks so much, Andy.

ADEN: Thank you, Steve, it’s been a pleasure.

Related link:
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Back to top

[MUSIC: To Rococo Rot “Sol” from ‘Semper Satago’ (Domino – 2005)]

CURWOOD: You can hear our program any time on our website or get a download for your iPod or other personal listening device. The address is Living On Earth dot org. That’s Living On Earth dot o-r-g. You can reach us at comments at loe dot org. Once again that’s comments at loe dot o-r-g. Our postal address is 20 Holland St. Somerville, Massachusetts 02144. And you can call our listener line at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988. CDs and transcripts are $15.
Coming up: probing the depths of Lake Erie’s dead zones. Stay tuned to Living On Earth.

[MUSIC: Chin Up Chin Up “Collide The Tide” from ‘We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers’ (Flameshovel Records – 2004)]

Dead Zones

Scientists trawl a large net to see what lives in Lake Erie. (Credit: Courtesy of NOAA-GLER)

CURWOOD: It’s Living On Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. Nearly every summer, the bottom waters of Lake Erie’s central and western basins become dead zones. They lose so much oxygen that fish can’t survive. US and Canadian scientists are now in their second year of a research program to study Lake Erie’s dead zone, and Mhari Saito has our report.


SAITO: Joe Herr and his crew haul crates of iced yellow perch from the deck of his boat and onto the back of his son’s SUV. Lake Erie has been the source of his family’s livelihood for decades. This grey-bearded fisherman has had to find ways to catch fish in Lake Erie through good times and bad.

HERR: When I started fishing in it, it looked like coffee with cream in it. Back in the 50s and 60s it was really bad, but now it’s blue, clear.

SAITO: Almost too clear. On this Indian summer day, the lower layer of Lake Erie’s central basin is hypoxic. That means the bottom few meters of water in much of the lake have extremely low levels of oxygen.

HERR: It’s strictly when the weather gets hot, the water gets trapped down below. It stays ice cold, loses its oxygen. Fish just swim away from it.

SAITO: Lake Erie’s dead zone has been around for decades. But accumulations of agricultural runoff and excess sewage made the Lake’s hypoxia so dramatic, in the 1970s the U.S. and Canada signed agreements to try to end it. Reductions of phosphates in laundry detergents and municipal water treatment plants have cut the amount of phosphorous going into Lake Erie by more than half. The dead zone seemed to improve. But recently scientists have found disturbing signs.

The oxygen levels of Lake Erie during the dead zone season. (Courtesy of NOAA-GLERL)

MATISOFF: In the western part of the lake we have these toxic and harmful algal blooms occurring more frequently, much like they did in the 60s and 70s.

SAITO: Gerald Matisoff heads Case Western Reserve University’s Geology Department.

MATISOFF: In the central basin we have low oxygen,much like we had in 60s and 70s, and then in the eastern part in the last few years – though not this year - we’ve had significant outbreaks of avian botulism. Now, what we don’t know is whether or not these are all related or they’re all independent and the result of simultaneous events that happen to be dominant in certain parts of the lake at the same time.


SAITO: Fifteen miles north of Cleveland, government scientists look for clues in Lake Erie’s waters. They hoist a small metal crane onto the deck of their boat. The crane drops a couple of handfuls of mud from the lake bottom into a gray plastic tub. Two scientists dig through it, looking for life.

LUDSIN: Do you see anything?

SCOTT: arnomids…little red larvae…

LUDSIN: So, the oxygen, Scott, was a half milligramper liter…

SAITO: Oxygen saturation of a half milligram per liter of water is very low. Most fish can’t survive at anything below two milligrams. Stuart Ludsin is an ecologist with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

LUDSIN: Part of what we’re looking at is how does insect larvae vary in areas of high and low oxygen. The expectation would be that in severe hypoxic events these organisms would die and be unavailable for food.


SAITO: Ludsin believes studying the lake’s food web may reveal clues. Researchers started to find low oxygen spots in Lake Erie in late June. Ludsin says the dead zone forced fish off the bottom, home to most of their prey.

LUDSIN: They now are cut off from access to their necessary food and might be forced to live up in the water column and feed on sub-optimal prey like zooplankton. And that, in turn, might lead to reduced growth. So those are the kinds of things we are going to try and get at.

(Courtesy of NOAA-GLERL)

SAITO: Ludsin and his team use sonar and underwater sensors to analyze the lake’s waters – but the best way to find out what’s avoiding Lake Erie’s low oxygen depths is to cast a fishing net and see what comes up.

LOUDSPEAKER: We’re good to fish. Okay!


SAITO: After 10 minutes of trawling a large net, the scientists pull in their catch. They shake the flopping fish into a plastic bucket.


SCIENTISTS: Ooooh! Four, gross underestimate!

Scientists trawl a large net to see what lives in Lake Erie. (Courtesy of NOAA-GLERL)

SAITO: The fish will be measured, their stomach contents analyzed. Scientists hope all this research will help them understand the dead zone well enough to be able to forecast it, reduce it and, ultimately, make predictions of its impact to Lake Erie’s booming fishing industry.

LUDSIN: White perch, yellow perch….three perch, four perch.


LUDSIN: Oh, a little goby…


SAITO: The goby fish and zebra mussel are among 170 types of invasive species in the Great Lakes. Shipping vessels are blamed for bringing transplants into these waters at a rate of more than one per year. Scientists are eager to understand how these new residents are impacting Lake Erie’s dead zone. But answers to the lake’s quandaries could mean new challenges.Researchersadmit stopping the influx of invasive species and finding new places to cut pollution flow into Lake Erie would be difficult.


SAITO: Back at the dock, Joe Herr and his crew laugh when they hear people worrying about Lake Erie’s dead zone. Lake Erie’s fisheries are more productive than all the other Great Lakes combined and Herr has lasted nearly 50 years on Lake Erie because he has adapted to its changes. These days, he uses a depth finder to look for Lake Erie’s dead zone, and plans accordingly.

HERR: We know where it should be so we go set our nets ahead of time and wait for it and herd the fish to us.

SAITO: While the dead zone may help an old fisherman learn new tricks, Herr is carefully watching to make sure Lake Erie’s ongoing changes don’t negatively impact his daily catch. For Living on Earth, I’m Mhari Saito at the southeastern edge of Lake Erie.

Related links:
- Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab
- Lake Erie Dead Zone (EPA)
- "Dead Zones Spreading in World Oceans" BioScience, July 2005

Back to top


Striped Bass: A Cautionary Fish Tale

CURWOOD: Fishermen all along the eastern seaboard won't soon forget the 1980s, a time when lines came up empty for striped bass. The species had been fished to near-extinction, and the fight to bring it back has gone down as one of the greatest environmental success stories. Dick Russell was on the frontlines of that effort and now anticipates a second conflict on the horizon that fishermen might not be ready for. He's an environmental journalist and author of “Striper Wars: An American Fish Story.” I went out on the water with Dick Russell near Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and asked him what it took to bring the fish back.

RUSSELL: Eventually, it took pretty much a complete shutting down of all the fishing along the Atlantic Coast. Striped bass migrates from North Carolina all the way to Maine and sometimes even to Nova Scotia. And, eventually, the state of Maryland, which is where most of the stripers on the Chesapeake Bay – excuse me, on the Atlantic Coast – come from, declared a five-year moratorium. And when they shut down the fishery in the spawning grounds I knew that that was gonna do it. I didn’t know the fish would ever come back to the extent they have today, but it took a near total shutdown of the entire Atlantic Coast fishery to do it.

CURWOOD: Now, one of the people that was involved in the bass recovery effort is what, a postman? His name is Jim White. And I understand he has a whale of a tale?

RUSSELL: He really does. It’s one of those magical stories that kinda has no explanation.

He had become bitter enemies with a sports fisherman who owned a bait and tackle shop named Joe Mollica. And they’d become enemies because they took different sides on the moratorium question, whether Rhode Island needed to shut down fishing or not for a period of time, and Mollica didn’t think so.

One day, Jim was out fishing and his reel broke. This was after the moratorium had been declared in Rhode Island, Maryland and elsewhere. So he needed to get it fixed and the closest place he could do that was this bait and tackle shop that Mollica owned. So he went there, and he saw this beautiful fishing rod on the wall. And he asks Mollica about it, and Mollica said, “you want one, I’ll make it for you.” Jim thought, “oh, jeez, I don’t know if I can do that, we’re enemies.” But anyway, he said, “okay, I just love this rod. I gotta have this rod.”

So Mollica made it for him. He came back, he got it, he went striped bass fishing I think that same day – this is a time when there are very few striped bass around – and on every cast he made he hooked into an incredible bass with this rod. And he was shaking. I mean, he said he looked up at the heavens at one point and said, “Lord, if you’re going to take me, take me now.” He just hadn’t had an experience like this in lord knows how long.

So he caught all these fish and finally he went running back to Mollica’s tackle shop and he says, “what did you do to this rod? Is it haunted? I can’t believe what’s happening!” And Mollica says, “I think it’s just a lucky rod for you.” Well, he went on catching striped bass when nobody else could with this rod, all kinds of great adventures, for 79 consecutive trips. And on the 80th trip the spell was broken somehow. He didn’t catch a bass.

And he happened to look up in his log book, he kept a log book of all the meetings he’d attended, and, you know, kind of everything he’d been doing in fishing for a period of years, and for some reason he just started counting up the meetings that he and Mollica had attended. And they had gone together to precisely 79 meetings, and there had never been an 80th. And that’s exactly the number of trips with that magic rod that Joe Mollica made for him. That’s how many stripers he caught. Now, they became friends again, and they remain fast friends to this day.

CURWOOD: And that has to be a fish story.

RUSSELL: (LAUGHS) I think it’s a wonderful fish story.

CURWOOD: What’s the trick to catching one of these fish?

RUSSELL: Well, it’s kind of like being in the right place at the right time. Plus, you just never know what they’re gonna do, they’ll confound you at any moment. If you hook into one they’ll wrap around a rock and, you know, just do everything they can to shake loose and shake you up. At the same time, it’s this very special feeling inside about a striped bass. I think it’s a soulful feeling. And that’s what made them worth fighting for long ago, and still today.

CURWOOD: Dick, I understand that maybe the striped bass is headed for another crash?

RUSSELL: Well, we hope not, but there’s a big, big problem happening again today in the Chesapeake Bay and it’s ecosystem related. Almost 70 percent of the striped bass are suffering from a bacterial infection, and it’s sort of a chronic wasting disease that gives them lesions and also impacts their internal organs. It’s being studied extensively by scientists from all along the coast. And it appears to be stress-related.

That stress appears to be coming from the fact that they’re not getting enough to eat. A lot of the fish that you’re seeing in the Chesapeake today, and even along the Atlantic Coast as they migrate, are very emaciated. And they’re turning to things like lobsters and blue crabs and things that aren’t as nutritious for them as this little bony, oily, inedible fish called a menhaden, which has always been the preferred food of choice for striped bass. And there aren’t as many menhaden around and now it appears that they are being overfished in the Chesapeake.

Menhaden are used – they’re brought back and they’re ground up into fishmeal, which is used to feed chickens and hogs and also for aquaculture. And then they’re also being used increasingly for the oil, fish oil. Because they’re very oily fish, and it’s being used for omega 3 vitamin supplements.

CURWOOD: So the person who buys that capsule containing omega 3 vitamin maybe is helping hasten the demise of the striped bass?

RUSSELL: I’m afraid that’s true, or could be true. I’m just afraid if they continue to fish menhaden at the levels they have been – which is taking like literally millions of fish, millions of pounds of fish every summer – that not only are the menhaden going to perhaps disappear, but all the striped bass may go, too.

CURWOOD: I want to read a bit from your book. Quote: “Everybody was so happy to have plenty of striped bass it makes it very difficult for people to let go of the success story. That’s what’s going on today. They can’t afford to believe it might not go on forever.”

Dick, is there a mental block against the idea that bass might again be in danger? Who has that block?

RUSSELL: Oh, I think a lot of fishermen have it, you know, especially because there’s so many striped bass in the last ten years and they’ve been going up every year. You know, the regulations have been getting more and more lax because there are a lot of fish out there to catch. You know, my book I believe is a cautionary tale because we’d all like to – I would too, you know – like to sort of rest on what happened 20 years ago, and the fact that that worked and the fish have come back.

And yet, today we got a whole ‘nother new set of problems, and I think it’s a slowly dawning awareness. I think that, you know, the necessity is for constant vigilance, and that’s the message I’m trying to get out there.

CURWOOD: Well, thanks, Dick. Your book is called “Striper Wars: An American Fish Story.” Dick Russell, thanks so much.

RUSSELL: Thanks, Steve. So good to be with you today.

Related link:
Dick Russell’s website

Back to top

[MUSIC- DICK RUSSELL’S FISH TALES: Leo Kottke “The Fisherman” from ‘6- and 12 – String Guitar’ (Fantasy - 1974)

Comfy Camping

CURWOOD: It used to be that camping divided the hearty and daring from the shrinking violets. Cold water, latrines, and nights on hard ground were all part of the fun of roughing it. But campground managers say few of us care to go that route anymore. Camping is changing. And there are now luxury campsites that provide all the comforts of home, if your home comes with room service, that is. Robin White has our report on today’s pampered campers.

WHITE: As a backpacker, I had to admit I was skeptical when I heard about Costa Noa. It's a high-end campsite on the spectacular central coast of California. Here, for about 18 times the cost of a Forest Service campsite, you can sleep out under canvas in a luxury escape, with heated mattress pads and a hot tub to soothe your aching muscles. Manager Daniel Medellin says many of his customers are in, what you might call, mixed marriages.

MEDELLIN: We have a lot of couples that have come to visit us where one of the party – and we really can't distinguish whether it was the guy or the gal that wasn't so comfortable with camping. But, there's a happy medium. You get the outdoor experience, and then you're able to enjoy some creature comforts at the same time.

WHITE: Creature comforts like restrooms with heated floors, queen-size beds with down comforters, terrycloth robes, and fancy smelling soaps and shampoos. Outside one tent cabin, some campers who don't usually get close to nature are right now experiencing it firsthand.


Where are you from? [TO CAMPER]

MILLER: Marin County.

WHITE: And what's your name?

MILLER: Christine Miller.

WHITE: Okay, Christine…

MILLER: [LAUGHTER IN BACKGROUND] Oh, we've been attacked by birds. Deluxe camping has gone to, like, not so deluxe. We had a dead bird on our doorstep this morning. It's fine.

WHITE: Replete with dead swallows, Costa Noa is the brainchild of Chip Conley. He spotted the exploding market for SUVs in the 1990s. He saw people looking for escape. And, he designed Costa Noa to give them somewhere to escape to.

CONLEY: What we're trying to do is attract the person who can go and experience nature in a new way without having to walk into the office on Monday morning and having red, bloodshot eyes from not having slept all weekend.


WHITE: At the huge recreational equipment coop, REI, in Berkley, they're picking up the theme. Annie Irwin shows me around some of the latest products.

IRWIN: There's a tea-for-two table, the blow-up supreme mattress, camp espresso machine. A propane tent heater, put it right in there. Hey, it's just like being in the house, only you're outdoors.

WHITE: There's a hand-crank blender, solar panels for GameBoy on the trail, titanium cook sets, pressure-heated showers, and portable sit-down toilets.

[TO FEMALE CUSTOMER] Can I just show you a couple of things and see if you would ever buy these, and what you think of them?

FEMALE CUSTOMER: Probably not, but you could show me.

WHITE: Right there. That, there, is a hand-cranked blender. Would you ever--

FEMALE CUSTOMER: No way, no way.

WHITE: See this?


WHITE: It's a hand-crank blender.

MALE CUSTOMER: Unnecessary.

WHITE: Could you ever see using one of those, a propane tent heater?

2ND MALE CUSTOMER: No, I wouldn't see that. No.

WHITE: Well that's what they say now. But they might get caught by the trend. REI says the hand-crank blender is one of their hottest items. An estimated 850 campsites from California to Georgia, offer some sort of luxury service. And they're packed in a year when hotel occupancy is down. Even some KOA campgrounds have organic vegetable stands, web access and wine tasting on Saturday nights.

I had to go try this luxury camping for myself. I grabbed my friend Rob Tufel and we set off to Safari West in Santa Rosa. The promo material calls it "Serengeti in the Wine Country."


TUFEL: Tent camp adventure at Safari West is a deluxe camping experience at a premier safari park located right over the interstate. Safari West is home to over 350 exotic endangered and extinct-in-the-wild, African mammals and birds. Extinct-in-the-wild? Extinct-in-the-wild, all hyphens. Is that correct?


WHITE: In the morning, we woke up to the sight of nine giraffes wandering across the field, only 20 feet from our tent cabin. Kelly Verhoeg said it wasn't camping, but she liked it anyway. [TO KELLY VERHOEG] If it's not camping, what is it?

VERHOAG: [LAUGHING] Pretending you're going to Africa. Last night, sitting in the tent cabin, I guess they call it, you know, I was looking at my husband sitting there. And I was like, it's like I'm looking at Ernest Hemingway or something, and we had been taken back in time. And, you know, this is kind of how you would picture it.

WHITE: Well, he didn't look like the big game-hunting author, Ernest Hemingway, to me. But who am I to spoil the fun? For Living on Earth, I'm Robin White at Safari West.

Back to top


CURWOOD: Coming up, living with the results of the nuclear bomb test. Stay tuned to living on earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and: Kashi, whose “Day of Change” tour features yoga lessons, natural food cooking demos, and Kashi cereals, crackers and granola bars. Details at Kashi dot com; 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; and, The Kellogg Foundation, helping people help themselves by investing in individuals, their families, and their communities. On the web at wkkf dot org. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

[MUSIC - Ethel “Hardwood” from ‘Ethel’ (Cantaloupe Music – 2003)

From the Islands to the Ozarks

The Castle Bravo Blast in March 1954. (Credit: Photo Courtesy of: U.S. Airforce)

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. In scattered towns across the United States, you'll find communities of folk from the islands of the Pacific. In the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, for example, people from the five islands and 29 coral atolls of the Marshall Islands have been arriving in search of the same things that draw other immigrants: better jobs and education.

But the Marshall Islanders also bring something else: memories of the 67 atomic and thermonuclear weapons tests staged there between 1946 and 1958. Hundreds of islanders were evacuated from atolls where the bombs were exploded. The blasts disrupted life there and contaminated the land. Some islanders still cannot go home. And some say they still pay a price in illness and poverty for their Cold War cooperation. From Fayetteville, Arkansas, Jacqueline Froelich has their story.


FROELICH: Six thousand miles from the Marshall Islands, there’s now an Islander neighborhood in the chicken processing town of Springdale, Arkansas.


FROELICH: When school is out, Islander kids ride bikes and skate between the faded houses.


FROELICH: Sitting on a sofa in an open garage, two Islander women sing to eight children playing quietly at their feet.


FROELICH: It’s customary for women to keep children at home, says Lumon Benjamin, Arkansas Marshallese community president. Benjamin’s home, like others here, is decorated with lots of island mementos, cascades of artificial flowers and family photographs. He concedes that Islanders are here by choice, but maybe not first choice.

BENJAMIN: I miss the water, the clear water. I miss the oceans, I miss fishing! I always fished every day. There are many other things that are really different from back home – I have not seen any sailing canoes over here! (laughs). That is our main transportation back home.

FROELICH: Back home, Benjamin taught elementary school. Now he makes four times as much money working the midnight shift at a metal siding plant. He says it took a while to get used to the lakes, mountains, shopping centers – even the street lights. And he alludes to another draw, besides jobs.

BENJAMIN: And the hospitals, they are really big. That is one of the main reasons the people want to come over here. They want to be near these big hospitals because of their sicknesses and these things.

FROELICH: Benjamin’s family is originally from the Marshall Island’s Bikini Atoll, where in 1954 the United States conducted its biggest test, a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb. The operation, code-named Bravo, was one of many detonated on Bikini, as well as Enewetak Atoll. The explosion was equivalent to a thousand Hiroshima-sized bombs, and pulverized large portions of coral reef, irradiating the land and sea.

The U.S. Navy, along with Atomic Energy Commission personnel, evacuated people, including Benjamin’s family, from test sites like Bikini before the tests. They were allowed to go back twenty years later. But then it was determined that drinking water on Bikini was still too radioactive, so, six years after that, islanders had to leave once again. In the meantime, some may have received a dose.

BENJAMIN: Right now, I have a lot aunties, and also uncles, they died. They had the sicknesses with them until their body cannot fight it anymore. I got two this year, they passed away. My sister also passed away last year because of cancers.

FROELICH: The testing continued for more than a decade. Islanders on nearby atolls often were not evacuated during the tests. They were deemed to be at a safe distance.

Tony Debrum holding honorary nephew, Lucas Sherman, aboard the "Oleander"near Majuro. (Photo: Jessica Reimers-Langijota)

Former Marshallese Minister of Health Tony Debrum was a nine-year-old boy fishing with his grandfather on the beach of Likiep Atoll when he witnessed the Bravo test on the northwest horizon.

DEBRUM: First the flash, which, at 187 miles away, still managed to blind us. And then I describe it as if we were standing under a glass bowl, and someone poured blood on it. The whole sky turned red, the beach was red, the fish I had in my basket was red, my grandpa was red, his net was red. But I kept hearing him say, “run, run, run to the house, run to the house,” but I couldn’t run. I was too scared.

FROELICH: Bravo’s mushroom cloud rose 100,000 feet up into the atmosphere, and according to the Atomic Energy Commission, fallout reached as far as Memphis, Tennessee. Prevailing winds that morning spread fallout eastward over the populated atolls of Rongelap and Utirik.

Anthropologist Holly Barker has conducted hundreds of ethnographic interviews with survivors. She serves as a senior advisor to the Marshallese Embassy.

The Castle Bravo Blast in March 1954. (Courtesy of U.S. Airforce)

BARKER: The fallout from the weapons started dropping from the sky. They describe it as like a powder, like a mist that made everything foggy and fell to the ground. They didn’t know what it was; they didn’t know that it was radioactive fallout, and so they went and they ran through it and touched it and picked it up and played with it and ate it. And some people would store it in bottles or put it in their pockets.

They just didn't know what it was, and they didn't know it was harmful to them. So when it fell in their water and they drank that water, and fell on their food and they consumed the food, they didn’t understand the connection between starting to feel ill and the radiation.

FROELICH: Reno James is one of about a hundred people still living who witnessed Bravo and experienced the fallout. He first felt the blast from inside his two-room thatched cabin on Utirik Atoll, downwind east of the Bravo Shot. He was 16.

JAMES: And we was hear the noise, the big noise, and our island is shaken and its lightning. Some of trees, the coconut, fell down. And also after that, the powder is dripping down, and after a couple of hours the people become sick, and some people like me, I was vomiting, very dizzy.

See my grandfather, my father’s father, he passed away because he got so many kinds of sick. Some things come out on the skin, is like mumps, really big. Some kind of sickness we didn’t have before, and it’s why he died.

FROELICH: A U.S. Navy ship equipped with medical personnel arrived three days later to treat their radiation sickness. James now has thyroid cancer.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands declared independence in 1986, but maintains a strategic relationship with the United States. An agreement allowed the U.S. to keep an Army base on Kwajalein Atoll in the central Marshalls. There they test ballistic missiles and missile interceptors, support NASA space operations, and assist the U.S. space command with satellite tracking and surveillance.

In exchange, the U.S. helps pay for public education, health and government operations in the Marshalls. Another benefit is one many prospective immigrants would relish: Islanders are free to travel and work in the U.S. for as long as they wish. The compact also provided compensation for damages from the nuclear testing. A Nuclear Claims Tribunal dispensed 72 million dollars in personal injury claims to 2,000 survivors.

Dr. Neal Palafox is a University of Hawaii professor and family practice physician. He also has been a principle investigator for the Department of Energy Marshall Islands Nuclear Victims Program. He says 50 years after the tests, exposed islanders, including those in utero at the time of the tests, those allowed to return early, and cleanup workers, still live with effects, including thyroid disease, mental retardation and many types of cancer.

PALAFOX: The cancers that have been shown are breast, lung cancer, thyroid cancer, brain cancer, stomach, intestine cancer, skin, mouth cancer, bone cancer, liver cancer and kidney cancer. All those have definitely been linked to long term effects of direct radiation exposure in high doses.

FROELICH: Many Marshall Islanders have other health conditions that may not be related to their special history, conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

Before European explorers arrived, the indigenous Marshallese caught reef fish and crabs and grew breadfruit, taro, and pandanas, in their atolls’ sometimes poor sandy soils. The islands’ carrying capacity was limited, infant mortality was high, with intermittent typhoons and famine. More outside contact meant food was more abundant, but now it included white flour, rice and sugar. Locally grown foods were abandoned for convenience. Christian missionaries discouraged birth control. Dr. Palafox says the islands’ public health system is overwhelmed and cannot cope with the Islanders’ great needs.

PALAFOX: They approach the Ministry of Health in the Marshall Islands, but it cannot provide adequate care. So many of them actually go without necessary care that they should receive.

FROELICH: Now, overpopulation, the desire for better jobs, dislocation from radioactive atolls and sickness have all triggered a Marshallese diaspora. Of the islands’ estimated 60,000 residents, 10,000 have immigrated to the United States, most settling in northwest Arkansas. Arkansas Marshallese cultural liaison Carmen Chong-Gum says her people have something special to offer.

Carmen Chong-Gum speaking in Fayetteville, Arkansas at the annual “Remembrance of Victims of War Day.” (Photo: Joannie Conners)

CHONG-GUM: It’s something that we can learn – it’s not just Marshallese, but the whole world – to know that these people already experienced nuclear war. They know what nuclear war is like, experiencing all the consequences of the fallout and losing their land and not knowing if it is really safe to be on their islands.


FROELICH: In memory of those who have suffered and died from the testing, Chong-Gum organizes an annual Nuclear Victims Day in Springdale.


FROELICH: The three-hour-long program featured several processions, testimony from survivors, and a church youth choir. Hundreds of islanders of all ages showed up


FROELICH: This year, Chong-Gum, for the first time, showed a documentary film about the Bravo Test.


FROELICH: It was eerie watching Islanders, sitting motionless, watching themselves on the big screen. Most, like seventeen-year-old Crystalahni Jack, had never seen these unsettling archival images.

FROELICH: How did it make your feel?

JACK: It made me feel sad. Sad knowing that some of the people that was part of the Bikini Island couldn’t go back to the Bikini island because they had poisoned over there, so they could not go back there to live in their own island.

FROELICH: Do you think young talk about this? Do young Marshallese talk about this?

JACK: Yeah. Everybody talk about it. Even young kids talk about. It’s a big thing that happened to the Marshall Islands. They don’t want to forget it because it’s what affected the people of the Marshall Islands.

FROELICH: Now, five decades later, the U.S. State Department says compensation to islanders directly affected by the test program should be considered paid in full. Former Marshallese Minister of Health Tony Debrum was a co-author of the original compensation agreement.

DEBRUM: The problem is the United States is trying to limit its liability to islands that it says were exposed when, in fact, now we know that many, many more than the four atolls were exposed.

FROELICH: Debrum is referring to the long-held U.S. government position that only four atolls in the Marshall Islands were affected by the nuclear tests. New estimates by the National Cancer Institute, however, indicate that all of the Marshalls were exposed to radiation. NCI researchers testified before Congress they estimate 290 more radiation-related cancers still to develop beyond 2004, especially among islanders who were children during the testing. The Marshallese government is asking for 3 billion dollars in additional compensation.

FALEOMAVAEGA: Mr. Chairman, I submit this is much larger than a legal issue. This is a moral issue.

FROELICH: In a packed Senate Committee hearing, U.S. Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, ranking member of the International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, testified on the Marshall Islands behalf:

FALEOMAVAEGA: The fact is, the people of the Marshall Islands are still suffering severe adverse health effects directly related to our nuclear testing program, and they are still unable to use their own lands because of the radiation poisoning. We have a moral obligation to provide for health care, environmental monitoring, personal injury claims, and land and property damaged in the Marshall Islands.

FROELICH: But Howard Krawitz, at the U.S. State Department's East Asia and Pacific desk, has a different view. Tape of his Senate testimony was not available, and he declined through a spokesman to be interviewed, but he said the United States recognizes there are serious and continuing public health and medical challenges for Marshall Islanders.

But he said the United States will already spend 16 million dollars in health care funds in 2005 in accordance with the compact. Since the 1950s, he pointed out, the country has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on health and environmental problems related to the nuclear tests. Krawitz testified that additional expenditures in the billions of dollars are not warranted.

Back in Arkansas, physicians are getting used to seeing islanders in their clinics. One physician interviewed says practitioners are learning they need to admit Marshallese patients to hospital when they first get an infection. Their immune systems, she says, seem to be compromised.

To better serve Marshallese with their unusual health issues, providers have been gearing up. Medical anthropologist Dee Anna Perez Williams surveyed islanders for Northwest Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute’s cancer prevention and outreach program.

PEREZ WILLIAMS: One of the main reasons they have migrated to the United States is because of their health. However, ideally, they would like to stay in their homeland. They would like to stay there and make a living, have the health resources, have the educational resources and benefits, because that’s their home.


FROELICH: But for now, these Pacific Islanders are choosing the Ozark Mountains as their home away from home. For Living on Earth, I’m Jacqueline Froelich in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Related link:
Republic of the Marshall Islands information

Back to top



CURWOOD: We leave you this week on a cruise down the river.

MAN: Ready all! Row!

CURWOOD: Every summer Boston’s best known river is a host to several crews, in fact. Dennis Foley captured the sounds of these long and pointed shell boats racing up and down the banks of the Charles River.

[EARTH EAR - “Crew Sculls on the Charles River” recorded by Dennis Foley (July 2005)

CURWOOD: Living On Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashely Ahearn, Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Jennifer Chu, Bruce Gellerman, Ingrid Lobet, and Jeff Young, with help from Kelley Cronin and James Curwood. Our interns are Tobin Hack and Allison Smith. Our technical director is Denis Foley. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us at LOE dot org.

And we wish Christopher Bolick a fond farewell and a hearty congratulations, as he heads off to the marriage altar, and a new life in Connecticut. We’ll miss you Chris. I’m Steve Curwood, thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; Kashi, whose “Day of Change” tour features yoga lessons, natural food cooking demos, and an array of Kashi products. Details at Kashi dot com.

Stonyfield Farm, organic yogurt and smoothies. Stonyfield pays its farmers not to use artificial growth hormones on their cows. Details at Stonyfield dot com.

Support also comes from NPR member stations, the Ford Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, 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.

ANNOUNCER 2: 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