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

September 29, 2006

Air Date: September 29, 2006



Environmental Exposure

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A new study suggests that prenatal tobacco exposure and environmental exposure to lead are linked to a third of the estimated two million childhood cases of ADHD. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Joe Braun, an epidemologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Dr. Bruce Lamphear, director of the environmental health center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. (06:30)

EPA Watchdog / Jeff Young

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A fight's brewing over the Bush administration's choice for the Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency. Washington correspondent Jeff Young tells us why this little-known position has a big impact. (05:30)

The Grande Dame of Anti-Nukes

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Dr. Helen Caldicott had stepped out of the spotlight in recent years, after a long career campaigning against nuclear energy and weapons. But a recent boost of support for nuclear power has the Nobel Peace Prize nominee back on the warpath, and as feisty as ever. She joins host Bruce Gellerman in the Living on Earth studio to talk about her life’s work. (10:00)

Tuning in to Climate

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Heidi Cullen, a climate scientist for the Weather Channel, is hosting a new show this fall. But this won’t be your normal local weather forecast. Dr. Cullen tells Living on Earth "The Climate Code" will look at how global warming is affecting people around the world. (06:15)

Emerging Science Note/Virtual Detective / Ian Gray

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A new computer program separates fact from opinion in texts. Ian Gray reports. (01:30)

Green Brewery / Claire Schoen

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Businesses have been trying to reduce their energy use for decades. After all, waste is lost profit. But what happens when a business tries to take conservation to an extreme, reusing its own heat and buying all its power from windfarms? Producer Claire Schoen visits a brewery in Colorado to find out. (15:30)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Wenceslas the horse prances around a Massachusetts farm.

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUEST: Joe Braun, Dr. Helen Caldicott, Dr. Heidi Cullen, Dr. Bruce Lamphear
REPORTER: Claire Schoen, Jeff Young


GELLERMAN: From NPR - this is Living on Earth.


GELLERMAN: I’m Bruce Gellerman. A landmark study finds environmental factors may play a major role in a disorder that affects nearly 2 million American kids.

LAMPHEAR: ADHD, learning problems, reading problems, asthma, many of them are linked to exposures to environmental influences like tobacco and like lead. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that these pollutants are at the root of many of the problems we see in children today.

GELLERMAN: Also, for three decades, she was on the frontlines in the battle against nuclear power. So what ever happened to Dr. Helen Caldicott? She contemplates the anti-nuclear movement’s past, present and future and her own.

CALDICOTT: I think I better just sit on my veranda and crochet and I’ve got a two and a half acre garden that I adore…and be a grandma, and then I thought “well, I may as well get in my cardboard coffin if I’m going to do that. What point is it?”

GELLERMAN: The life and times of Helen Caldicott this week on Living on Earth – stick around.

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[MUSIC: Boards of Canada “Zoetrope” from ‘In A Beautiful Place Out in the Country’ (Warp Records – 2000)]

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


Environmental Exposure

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman, sitting in for Steve Curwood.
In 1845, Dr. Heinrich Hoffman wrote a poem called “The Story of Fidgety Philip.” Fidgety Philip is a little boy who just can't sit still or control his urges to grab and yell. His behavior sends his parents up the wall. Dr. Hoffman's poem about fidgety Philip is considered the first written description we have of ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Mental health experts estimate nearly two million kids in the U.S. suffer from ADHD, yet they don't know what causes it. But now, in what's being called a “landmark study” researchers say environmental factors play a major role. That mothers who smoke during pregnancy and preschooler's exposure to lead may account for a third of the cases of attention deficit hyperacivity disorder.

Joining me is the study’s lead author. Joe Braun is an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mr. Braun, welcome to Living on Earth.

BRAUN: Thank you, Bruce it’s good to be here.

GELLERMAN: Also joining us is Dr. Bruce Lamphear, director of the Environmental Health Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and a national expert on lead poisoning. Dr. Lamphear, welcome to Living on Earth.

LAMPHEAR: Thank you very much, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Fidgety Philip, he can’t sit still. He wriggles and giggles. He’s really a wild kid. Joe Braun, does this sound like ADHD?

BRAUN: Yes it does, and it reminds me a lot of the kids from when I used to be a nurse at an inner city school it reminds me a lot of the children there who couldn’t sit still. Or children who couldn’t learn because they were too impulsive or they couldn’t concentrate long enough.

GELLERMAN: So, it’s not just fidgeting. These are kids who really have a problem.

BRAUN: Yes, ADHD is characterized by three characteristics. It’s inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. The hyperactivity is really the hallmark sign of ADHD and this is what Dr. Hoffman described in 1845. This is their excessive talking, fidgeting, running and climbing excessively when it’s not really appropriate.

GELLERMAN: Let’s talk about your study. You reviewed the medical histories of, what, 4,700 kids?

BRAUN: Correct.

GELLERMAN: And you were looking specifically at smoking and lead, the role they play in ADHD. What did you find?

BRAUN: Well, what we found in our study is that mothers who smoke during pregnancy, the children of these mothers were at a 2 and a half fold risk for ADHD. We also found children with blood lead levels above 2 micrograms per deciliter were at a 4-fold risk for ADHD.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Lamphear, so what’s the role of lead and where are kids getting exposed to lead?

LAMPHEAR: Old homes contain high concentrations of lead-based paint. And when that paint becomes accessible either through deterioration, remodeling, or renovation, children are exposed primarily through ingestion. And children are most vulnerable during their first 2 years of life. So when a child crawls around on the floor and then sticks their hand in their mouths, what they’re doing is picking up lead particles from the dust, ingesting it, and then absorbing it.

There’s an added whammy and that is that young children, toddlers, seem to be able to absorb lead more efficiently than adults do.

GELLERMAN: Well Mr. Braun, you found correlations between lead levels in kids and ADHD that are much lower than the federal government standard for safety. What you’re suggesting in your article is that the federal government standard is 4 times higher than what you’re finding effects at.

BRAUN: We are finding effects at well below what the government standard is, yes. This isn’t a surprising result in light of some recent research that’s been finding an inverse relationship between children’s blood lead levels and cognition at these low levels. Going from a lead level of zero to ten is associated with anywhere from a 4 to 6 point decrease in IQ.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Lamphear, in the article it’s written that it’s difficult to infer a causal relationship between the disorder and these environmental insults if you will. You have a link but there’s not a causality?

LAMPHEAR: Well that’s correct. It’s very different to infer from observational studies causality. What’s important about this particular paper is for the first time we’ve been able to link lead exposure using blood lead tests with the diagnosis of ADHD. It’s clear that there are many other risk factors that we did not, nor were we able to address. For example, like alcohol intake, like family history of ADHD. I think it’s important for people to know that while we feel fairly confident that prenatal tobacco exposure is indeed a risk factor as is lead exposure, there are still a number of other factors that may increase a child’s risk for having ADHD.

GELLERMAN: Mr. Braum, what do you hope people come away from this study with?

BRAUM: Well, I would hope that this would help persuade policy makers and people on the CDC advisory board to consider once again lowering the action level for blood lead levels. I would also hope that this adds evidence to our vast knowledge of the effects of prenatal tobacco exposure. We know that exposure to tobacco smoke in utero is associated with a whole host of problems ranging from pre-term birth to low birth weight. And I would hope that physicians and other clinicians use this information to work with their patients who are expecting to become pregnant or who are pregnant to quit smoking before they do become pregnant.

LAMPHEAR: This brings up an important point, Bruce and that is that we do change the environment, to alter the environment to make children less likely to start smoking. And we do know that there are things we can do to protect children from lead contaminated hazards in their home. The point is we know what to do and yet as a society, we fail to take those steps to protect kids. Many of the new morbidities of childhood ADHD, learning problems, reading problems, asthma are all linked to, many of them are linked to environmental exposures like tobacco and like lead. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that these new pollutants are at the root of many of the problems we see in children today.

GELLERMAN: Well, Dr. Lamphear, I want to thank you very much.

LAMPHEAR: Thank you very much, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Bruce Lamphear is director of the environmental health center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. And Mr. Joe Braun, thank you.

BRAUN: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Joe Braun is an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Their study, Exposures to Environmental Toxicants and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in US children will be published in Environmental Health Perspectives and is available on line. You can find a link to their study at our website loe dot org.

Related links:
- The National Institute of Mental Health
- The National Resource Center on ADHD
- Study Linking Lead and Tobacco to ADHD

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[MUSIC: Sound Tribe Sector 8 “Today” from ‘Rock The Earth Sampler 2’ (eMusic – 2006)]

EPA Watchdog

GELLERMAN: Okay, quick: who’s the inspector general of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency? Don’t feel too bad if you don’t know. There’s just an interim person in the position right now but while it’s an obscure job, the agency’s inspector general plays a critical role in making sure the EPA does what it’s supposed to be doing. A congressional committee is trying to choose a new inspector general for the agency. But as Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, it’s having a tough time of it.

YOUNG: Reports from the EPA’s Inspector General come with bland titles, a careful tone and measured, factual language. But those quiet reports resound like thunderclaps when they expose agency shortcomings. For example, the IG, as it’s known, recently reported on the EPA’s Environmental Justice program. An executive order from the president told EPA to make sure its actions did not put low income and minority communities at greater risk from environmental health threats. That order was signed in 1994.

BULLARD: After 12 years you would think that those things would be in place and that we would have a system of determining whether or not the executive order is implemented.

YOUNG: That’s Robert Bullard. He directs the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. Bullard says the IG report shows that after more than a decade EPA is not doing the required reviews to learn how its actions affect the poor and people of color. Nearly 90 percent of EPA personnel surveyed said no one in the agency even asked them to do those reviews.

BULLARD: These studies really point out inadequacies and just the fact that EPA at the top has really not taken environmental justice seriously. And because of that, people on the ground in communities that are hurting and suffering, they’re paying the price and the price is with their health.

YOUNG: The IG report confirmed Bullard’s suspicions and allowed him to press for change at the agency. EPA says it will accept the report’s recommendations. The IG office guards against waste, fraud, and abuse, and evaluates how faithfully and effectively the agency enforces the law. In recent years it’s been a busy office. The IG confirmed complaints from scientists that their work was ignored when the administration proposed its rule on mercury emissions. The IG outlined problems with the agency’s communication of health risks at ground zero after 9/11. And the IG found that White House changes to rules on power plants hindered enforcement of the Clean Air Act.
Time and again it is an inspector general report that gives the clearest picture of whether the environment is really being protected

SCHAEFFER: We need some part of the government where people are paid to look at the facts and only the facts. Not to stick their finger up and see which way the political wind’s blowing.

YOUNG: Eric Schaeffer directs the advocacy group environmental integrity project. He used to head enforcement at EPA but resigned in protest over changes to air quality rules.
Schaeffer says he always respected the inspector general’s work, even when he was on the receiving end of a report. He calls it one of the most important and difficult jobs in the agency.

SCHAEFFER: You need to have a good head for investigation, you need to be ruthlessly nonpartisan and you need to be fearless. You’re gonna take heat. You can’t be worried all the time about whether you’re gonna be invited to the tea party.

YOUNG: Schaeffer says EPA’s last Inspector General, Nikki Tinsley, had those qualities. She took fierce criticism from Republican Senator James Inhofe, who called her reports politically motivated attacks on the Bush administration. Tinsley retired last year. Now Congress is considering her replacement.

BEEHLER: It is a great honor and privilege to be here today as the nominee to be Inspector General of Environmental Protection Agency.

YOUNG: Alex Beehler is the Bush administration’s choice. Beehler told the Senate’s environment committee he’d bring the same professional approach to EPA he now uses as the top environmental official for the Defense Department.

BEEHLER: Through independent and measuring thinking, sound judgement and common
sense, respect for the rule of law with the highest ethical standards.

YOUNG: But California’s Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer says Beehler’s resume makes him the wrong person for the job.

BOXER: I just don’t see how his career thus far gets him ready for this important task.

YOUNG: Boxer says Beehler tried to exempt the defense department from environmental laws and delay cleanup of contaminated military property. Beehler did not deny seeking the exemptions, which the military argued were needed for training and readiness. He says the contamination in question needed further study. Beehler also worked with Koch Industries, a corporation that paid tens of millions in fines for oil spills. The company also faced dozens of federal criminal charges for failing to disclose toxic air emissions but the Bush administration dropped most of those charges. Koch also supports conservative groups that oppose environmental regulation. Boxer says one of Beehler’s jobs was to dole out that money.

BOXER: Since you’ve done that I just don’t think—and maybe I’m wrong again—that you would have a deep-seated belief that these statutes should be defended.

YOUNG: Boxer pledges to block Beehler’s nomination. A committee vote was twice postponed and will now wait until Congress reconvenes after the November election.

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

Related links:
- EPA Inspector General Office
- Environmental Justice Resource Center Comments on EPA's Environmental Justice Program

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GELLERMAN: Coming up: Thirty years and counting. Nuclear power hath no fury like Helen Caldicott. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood “Little Walter Rides Again” from ‘Out Louder’ (Indirecto – 2006)]

The Grande Dame of Anti-Nukes

(Photo: Ashley Ahearn)

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. For more than three decades Dr. Helen Caldicott has been on the front lines in the fight against atomic power.
Here she is back in 1982 leading the charge:

CALDICOTT (1982): Today America has 35,000 nuclear weapons. That’s enough, the Pentagon says, to overkill every Russian human being 40 times. If you think about this in medical terminology, how many times can you kill a human being?

GELLERMAN: Maybe the question is how many times can Helen Caldicott fight nuclear energy? The grande-dame of the anti-nuke movement is still at it after all these years.
Protesting nuclear weapons, atomic power and the war in Iraq.

CALDICOTT (2003): This country America is a true rogue state. They’re gonna put weapons of mass destruction in space. Cheney is a wicked man, Rumsfeld is a wicked man, and the way they’re going now they’re gonna start a massive nuclear arms race which will lead inevitably to nuclear war.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Helen Caldicott doesn’t mince words. As co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s written six books. Her latest is “Nuclear Power is Not the Answer.” Helen Caldicott joins me in the studio.

(Photo: Ashley Ahearn)

GELLERMAN: Dr. Caldicott, welcome to Living on Earth.

CALDICOTT: Thank you, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Your whole career is nuclear power. And yet in the last 30 years we haven’t had a new nuclear plant built in the United States.


GELLERMAN: They’ve had 30 years to kind of think about it and maybe get it right, do you think.

CALDICOTT: No, not get it right. You’ve got 103 reactors that are all really old and aging and cracking and falling apart but they want to extend their life span because they make more money by not building new ones. But the truth is Wall Street is very allergic to building nuclear power plants and so is Standard and Poor’s - they won’t touch it.

GELLERMAN: Your new book, Nuclear Power is Not the Answer, is a very detailed, nuts and bolts polemic. What are the biggest negatives of nuclear power for you?

CALDICOTT: Nuclear power produces massive quantities of carbon dioxide gas. How? Not from the reactor, per se, but you’ve got to dig up the uranium. You’ve got to crush the ore. You’ve got to enrich the uranium. They use a hell of a lot of CFC gas, which is leaking prodigiously from pipes. Now, CFC is 10,000 to 20,000 times more potent as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide. That’s the front end of the fuel chain. That’s not including decommissioning the radioactive mausoleum at the end of 40 years. And transporting and storing radioactive waste for half a million years. So in fact it adds substantially to global warming. A radioactor continually emits radioactive material into the air and water every second of every day as it operates. And over time induce epidemics of cancer and leukemia and genetic and chromosomal disease for ever more.

GELLERMAN: Do you ever feel like you’re just….

CALDICOTT: Whistling in the wind?

GELLERMAN: Well that’s the nice way of putting it.

CALDICOTT: Well I feel like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. The truth is that nuclear power has really ended, although they kept the old reactors running, making more and more and more waste every day. But now there’s a resurgence of nuclear power because the industry is lying and using the issue of global warming to say that they’re the answer. So my life’s work, I hate to say this, but it feels like it’s been in vain unless we all rise up again and eliminate nuclear weapons. And unless we close down every single nuclear power plant in the world.

GELLERMAN: What was it that got you on this road?

CALDICOTT: I read a book called On the Beach, when I was 15 and I lived in Melbourne, Australia which is where it’s set.

GELLERMAN: Where the book takes place, right.

CALDICOTT: And it was about the end of the world from a nuclear war and we were all waiting for the nuclear fall out to come down and kill us and eventually it did. And at the end of the book the beautiful streets of Melbourne are still there, elegantly situated, a blind gently flapping in the breeze and that was the end of life on earth. And that seared my soul. I was 15. Then I went to medical school at 17, and I learned about what radiation does to genes and how it causes cancer and genetic abnormalities. And at the time Russia and America were blowing up bombs with impunity in the atmosphere. And I could not understand why they were doing this when strontium 90 and plutonium and the like was falling out from the sky. So, I’ve been on this path ever since, mainly because I’m intensely curious. So every article I read about nuclear weapons I learned more. I can’t understand these men. I just don’t understand these men who build these weapons and like nuclear power. And I’m sorry to say but it is that sex that does it.

GELLERMAN: A lot of the people who are your personal friends in the fight against nuclear power for so many years are now among its biggest supporters.


GELLERMAN: Well, let’s see the former head of Green Peace.

CALDICOTT: He’s not my personal friend. Patrick Moore, I invited him to my conference in Washington DC called nuclear power and global warming as a sort of token of an environmentalist turned tail. He is employed by the nuclear industry. And also Green Peace disowns him and says he wasn’t one of the founders.

GELLERMAN: Do you think you made a difference? That these many years have changed things?

CALDICOTT: Well, I think we led a revolution in America in the ‘80s. I formulated Physicians for Social Responsibility. We recruited 23,000 physicians in America and around the world many more. And we started doing what we called the bombing run. We dropped the bomb on Boston. The first symposium was held at Harvard and was written up on the front of the Boston Globe. And the bishops started reading about this and they said, “Oh, I don’t think Jesus would be in favor of nuclear war.” So, they formulated the Bishop’s Parcel Letter. The Methodists did the same thing. And people started saying, “nuclear is bad for our health.” And in 5 years literally, the whole country moved from really metaphorically supporting nuclear war the concept to 80 percent being violently opposed. And that was a peaceful, sagacious Ghandian revolution.

GELLERMAN: What happened to us? What happened to that revolution?

CALDICOTT: Well the Cold War ended. We were successful. We ended the Cold War. But guess what, George the First was good. He eliminated quite a lot of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and in Europe to help Gorbachev with his difficult military and to help him bring all the missiles and bombs back to Russia per se from the Ukraine and the like. Then we got Clinton. Everyone likes Clinton. They think he’s very smart and he is. But his legacy, and I tell you for this I really resent him, is he left the weapons in place in Russia and America. He didn’t have the courage, tenacity, wisdom, and vision to go to Yeltsin and say, “Ok, Boris, sign here. In five years, we will eliminate nuclear weapons between Russia and America.” Of the 30,000 hydrogen bombs in the world today Russia and America own 97%. And here’s George Bush running around the world with a microscope looking and saying, “Ooh, I think Iran’s got one, ooh what about…?” You know, where the major culprits, the real nuclear rogue states in the world are Russia and America, holding the world at nuclear hostage. And that’s the backdrop upon which the world stage is being played, Iran, Iraq. Because any anxiety could trigger an inadvertent launch and America still has a policy to fight and win a preemptive war against Russia and blow it all up and then they’ll blow you up.

GELLERMAN: When are you going to re-retire?

CALDICOTT: (laughs) Well, Bruce, I’m 68.

GELLERMAN: I wasn’t going to ask.

CALDICOTT: Well, I am. I don’t care. I mean I’m 68, I’m 68. I’ve got a bit of a heart thing. And when the diagnosis was made this year I thought, gee I think I’d better just sit on my veranda and crochet. I’ve got a 2.5 acre garden that I adore and be a grandma. And then I thought well I may as well get in my cardboard coffin if I’m going to do that. What point is there? Cardboard so the worms can get to me while I’m still nice and juicy.

GELLERMAN: You don’t even crochet.

CALDICOTT: I do so. I made myself a suit. A patient came in once with a beautiful crocheted suit and I said, “That’s gorgeous”. She said, “I’ll give you the pattern”. So I sat in my bed and I crocheted a suit. But I knit too and I used to make all my clothes.

GELLERMAN: I was going to say, does this ever really get to you? I mean this is doom and destruction and death and despair and…

CALDICOTT: Bruce, the trouble with me is that I’m a bit child like. I can’t practice psychic numbing. I can’t block out unpleasant reality. And unfortunately I can see things that are going to happen. I can’t help it. And in order to maintain my sanity I have to do this work. If I stop I get so depressed I have to take an anti depressant.

GELLERMAN: (laughs)

CALDICOTT: No that’s serous. I do. I have a sense, I can sleep with a clear conscience at night. I can look at my grandchildren in the morning because they live with me, and know that I’m doing my work to help save their lives. I’m a proper grandmother and mother. And I know I can die with a clear conscience. I like being a hedonist. I like my red wine, and you know. But I can’t not do the work. Because otherwise, what’s the point in living? I’m here to serve.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Caldicott, it has been a real pleasure.

CALDICOTT: Thank you very much, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Helen Caldicott’s latest book is called “Nuclear Power is Not the Answer.”

Related links:
- Physicians for Social Responsibility
- International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
- Nuclear Policy Research Institute (Dr. Caldicott is founder and president)
- Nuclear Power is Not the Answer

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[MUSIC: The Album Leaf “Red-Eye” from ‘Into the Blue Again’ (Sub Pop - 2006)]

Tuning in to Climate

Climatologist Heidi Cullen is host of "The Climate Code," which premieres on The Weather Channel in October. (Photo:Courtesy of The Weather Channel)

GELLERMAN: When I heard in 1982 that they were starting the Weather Channel that broadcast 24/7 nothing but weather I remember thinking, “Are they nuts?” Who’d want to watch a station that only dealt with the weather? Well, turns out, a lot of people, including me. There are shows about weather and travel, home and garden, weather and health, global weather, hurricane watch, and now climate change. Starting Sunday, October 1st, the Weather Channel presents the Climate Code with Dr. Heidi Cullen.


CULLEN {FROM TAPE]: Hello, I’m Dr. Heidi Cullen, the Weather Channel climate expert. Welcome to our new show the Climate Code, the first weekly program of its kind on television. Here’s our promise: give us 22 minutes and we’ll help you connect the dots about climate change. How it effects you and what it all really means.

Climatologist Heidi Cullen filming “The Climate Code.” (Photo:Courtesy of The Weather Channel)

GELLERMAN: And Dr. Cullen joins me. Hello, Dr. Cullen.

CULLEN: Hello.

GELLERMAN: A show that deals with only climate change?

CULLEN: Yeah, believe it or not. I’ve been at the Weather Channel for 3 years and I started out as only a cub reporter and I’d get a minute and 30 to talk about global warming if I was lucky, and now we get a whole half-hour.


CULLEN: So many people have been talking about climate change and global warming. I think the weather channel just wanted to stick a scientist up there -me- and talk about the science for folks and then connect the science for people who don’t necessarily feel connected to this huge global warming issue that seems so big and so unfathomable. And we just wanted to explain what’s going on and combat, I think, all of this confusion that’s been circulating out there.

GELLERMAN: There are still skeptics out there. The other day I was flipping through the channels and I came across Fox News and they had a documentary special on debunking climate change.

CULLEN: Yeah, I’m surprised actually that that’s still going on ‘cause, as a scientists I just assume that we’re past this issue of trying to debunk it because the science is really quite simple. Humans emit, we burn fossil fuels, those fossil fuels create carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide is added into our atmosphere and it causes our atmosphere to warm. It’s warmed about 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 100 years. And the physics of it are pretty simple. And granted the impact and what it’s going to look like in the future is hard, but I’m really shocked to see that people are still debating the issue. But you know it’s because it’s such a big deal and it hits so many people in the pocket book.

GELLERMAN: Tell me about the format of the program.

CULLEN: Well, I think each show will start with talking about breaking news in science. Weather it was this week’s discussion of the polar ice caps melting more quickly than we thought or putting the summer into perspective. The fact that the summer of 2006 was the hottest summer on record since 1936 which was a Dust Bowl year. Starting with the science, putting that into perspective. And then sort of taking different issues. So the first show, we’re going to talk about how heat is expensive and talk to an economist about the power grid and how electricity consumption is expected to increase substantially over the next 20 to 30 years. And that our grid really isn’t in the best shape to support it.

And then we want to connect that essentially to alternative energy issues. And we ended up going down to Georgia and we did a story on the Vogle power plant, a nuclear power plant being built in a small town in Georgia. And we talk about the fact that nuclear energy has become a hot topic with respect to alternative energy options. And then we end up with an interview with Ted Turner’s daughter, Laura Seidel who is in the process of building this pretty amazing house that has solar panels and geothermal heat. So we sort of start with the science and then we end up with a real person doing something and kind of taking matters into their own hands.

GELLERMAN: How are you going to engage the average viewer? This is a very exciting subject but it can be very scientifically dry.

CULLEN: Yeah, and that’s really going to be the challenge. We want to make people feel like they can talk to us and that they can send in ideas for shows or nominate people. We’ve got this segment of the show called climate changers where folks can either nominate friends or themselves, people who are really doing things about the environment. Whether you’re running your old Mercedes on biodiesel or you name it. So we want to get feedback from viewers and actually, the second episode we are doing is because of a farmer who sent us an email.

And, I don’t know, It’s kind of a neat story. A farmer in Nebraska sent us an email during our coverage of tropical storm Alberto. And he was just like you know I love the weather channel. But I am sick and tired of watching you guys make a big deal out of a nothing storm. Whereas I’m in the middle of the country and you guys always focus on the coast. I’m sitting here in the middle of the country and I am a farmer who’s been dealing with a drought that’s been going on for 7 years. And no one ever talks about what we’re going through. So we were like, hello? Thing is with droughts, they’re not terribly sexy. People love to watch hurricanes but it’s hard to watch a drought, right?

GELLERMAN: Well that’s what I was going to ask you about. How do you deal with climate change without sounding like an alarmist?

CULLEN: Right.

GELLERMAN: Can you do it, more importantly, without alliteration? You know hurricane horror, weather warming, those kind of TV things.

CULLEN: I know and that’s been the hardest part for me since I’ve gone to the TV side of things is I had a really hard time using just adjectives in general. I just always shied away from making these inflammatory statements and, you know, when you watch TV it’s just pretty much common place. So I think for us we want, it’s going to sound cheesy, but we want the science to speak for itself.

GELLERMAN: So tune in to the weather channel, October 1st with Dr. Heidi Cullen. Dr. Cullen, thank you very much.

CULLEN: Thank you.

Related link:
The Climate Code

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GELLERMAN: Just ahead: something green is brewing in Colorado. First this emerging science note from Ian Gray.

Emerging Science Note/Virtual Detective


GRAY: He wanted the facts. They were hard to come by...he got his from shifty-eyed shoeshine boys in dark alleys and dingy bars. His only weakness besides two-timing blondes and a pack of smokes - he wasn’t a computer. Now a virtual detective was taking over his beat on the means streets of America. The new detective in town: a computer program!


Scientists at Cornell University are designing a computer program that will distinguish opinion from fact. The research hinges on how computers convert human language into computer language. Our words turned into 0s and 1s. The Cornell team will try to teach their computers the difference between subjects, objects and other parts of written language. Their goal is to develop algorithms that recognize key phrases of opinion like “according to” or “it is believed that...”

This type of programming, called information extraction can be used to locate specific types of information from sources like emails, blogs and other online forums. Information extraction is a growing cornerstone of the security and surveillance industry – and the Cornell study is funded by the Department of Homeland Security. But Cornell scientists say that their research is only focusing on online newspaper text. For instance, their algorithms could be used to find out what newspapers around the world are saying about the American occupation in Iraq. They can also find out how much of what online sources are saying is based on factual statements versus statements of opinion. By cross-referencing thousands of texts at once, the computers could even determine whether some media are presenting opinions as though they were facts.

That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Ian Gray.


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[MUSIC: Eyvind Kang “Lost Souls” from ‘Theater of Mineral NADES’ (Tzadik – 1998)]

Green Brewery

Every worker receives a New Belgium bike after their first year. (Photo: Bryan Simpson)

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. There’s green beer – the kind you drink on St. Patty’s Day - and then there’s green beer you can make in a green way. That’s what the New Belgium Beer Company is doing. The Colorado-based brewery is using alternative sources of energy, not to save money – it costs them more – but to save the planet. Claire Schoen has our story.

SCHOEN: New Belgium's beers can be found on the shelves in 16 western states today. The company's Hilary Mizia reels off the most popular labels:

MIZIA: New Belgium is a maker of fine Belgian beers. Sunshine Wheat, Blue Paddle, 1554, Abbey and Triple. And then Fat Tire is the one we’re most known for.

SCHOEN: As the 3rd largest craft brewer in the U.S. today, New Belgium is certainly making lots of beer, according to Chief Financial Officer, Christine Perich, and Chief Operations Officer, Jennifer Orgolini

PERICH: Last year we did 370,000 barrels and we're looking at about 415,000 to 430,000 barrels this year.

Finished bottles in the packaging hall. (Photo: Bryan Simpson)

ORGOLINI: A hundred and thirty seven million bottles.

PERICH: That's a lot of bottles. A bottle for every other American. (both laugh)

SCHOEN: It's also making hefty profits.

ORGOLINI: Do you think we say our gross margin?

PERICH: Sure. So our gross margin has run anywhere from 40 to 45%. The revenue you have left over after you’ve made the beer. We’re doing very well.

JORDON: We are profitable. We've always been profitable.

SCHOEN: CEO, Kim Jordon, also explained to me that 100% of the electricity the company uses in its production comes from renewable energy.

JORDON: We see economic benefit to being environmentally sustainable.

SCHOEN: Clearly the company's commitment to using green energy hasn't hurt its profits. But is it, in fact, actually a money maker? I went to Fort Collins, Colorado to find out.


SCHOEN: In the company parking lot you see more bikes than cars. All employees are given a bike after one year and about a third of them ride to work -- the hardy ones even in cold Colorado winters. Bryan Simpson, Director of Media Relations, pedals into the lot.

Every worker receives a New Belgium bike after their first year. (Photo: Bryan Simpson)

SIMPSON: How was the commute today.

WOMAN: Breezy.

SIMPSON: Breezy?

WOMAN: Well, cause I was going fast.

SIMPSON: Your hair shows it. Whissshhhhh!

SIMPSON: If you look at the bike as metaphor, you know there's no more elegant form of transport that conserves energy and it really can be the future in a lot of ways as well.


SCHOEN: It was fascinating to watch beer being made here, on an industrial scale. Big noises. Big machines. Big computers. But still a personal touch, as brew master Mat Gilliland measured out the ingredients by hand.

GILLILAND: So we're brewing a wheat beer today. The wheat in it makes it have a nice light body. And the coriander and orange peel give it a really refreshing punch. These are hops that are vacuum packed in nitrogen to stay as fresh as they can. Best part is you get to smell ‘em. They can be musty or citrus-y or floral. And so I'm weighing them out into the bucket that I'll take upstairs and throw in the kettle.


This is a couple thousand gallons of wert that’s all going to be beer pretty soon. (Pouring hops in.) That boils about 90 minutes.


SCHOEN: It's clear that this process requires plenty of energy. And as "Sustainability Specialist," it's Hilary Mizia's job to keep energy consumption here as low as possible. Around the plant, Hilary is referred to as New Belgium's "Sustainability Goddess."

Sustainability Specialist, Hilary Mizia, in front of a brewing vessel. (Photo: Bryan Simpson)

MIZIA: Lots of companies have these types of positions, because it’s just good business practice.

SCHOEN: As we toured the plant, Hilary pointed out a number of energy-conserving designs they use in their beer-making process. Insulation is a simple one.

MIZIA: We used to have a hot liquor tank that sat on a gas burner. We got rid of that and just do a well-insulated tank. So, that right off the bat saves a lot of energy.

SCHOEN: Then there is the "Wert Chiller," which takes heat produced by the boiling brew and uses it to heat up the next batch.

MIZIA: So as you can tell we have a lot of heat that's created during the process of making beer, but we also need a lot of heat in the process. So if we can recycle that heat as much as possible, then we’re saving on electricity.

SCHOEN: Then Hillary showed off the company's pride and joy: the Merlin Brew Kettle, which is 4 times more efficient than a traditional model.

MIZIA: The brew kettle is where most of the electricity is used. So when you consider you're boiling 6200 gallons, then you're saving quite a bit.

SCHOEN: New Belgium also uses green building concepts to reduce the costs of heating and cooling both the brew house and the offices. Hilary pointed out the sun tubes in the packaging hall. They looked like bright lamps. But....

Suntubes light up the packaging hall with natural sunlight. (Photo: Bryan Simpson)

MIZIA: The light on the ceiling there does not have any light bulb in it. That's 100% sunlight and it just comes through a tube that's lined with reflective metal and it looks like this on the inside, beautiful diffuse sunlight.

SCHOEN: Taken together, You'd think these steps would add up to considerable cost savings. But how much? Financial Officer, Christine Perich:

PERICH: We don't necessarily go into every decision that's made that's sustainable and say, "This is the financial impact of the lighting decision that we've made." So it's difficult to sort of extract those pieces and tie some financial metric to it.

SCHOEN: While New Belgium was trying to conserve electricity at every turn, it was still using a lot of it. So in 1998, the company made the decision to switch from coal to wind as its source of electric power. At that time, wind cost more than coal -- by two and a half cents a kilowatt hour. New Belgium is an employee-owned, private company and workers are involved in decision-making.


WORKER: So, four veggies and a couple of meats in there.

WORKER: What are you going with, Mason?

WORKER: Uh, veggie.

SCHOEN: I met with several workers during their lunch break who told me how it happened. They gave me pepperoni pizza and food for thought.

WORKER: The meeting where we looked at voting on wind power was a typical monthly staff meeting. But during that meeting it was determined that wind power is more expensive than regular power. And our bonuses would be smaller because we'd be spending more money on the same electricity.

WORKER: It was like 26% more expensive to do wind power - the number sticks in my mind

WORKER: It was five more cents a barrel, I remember.

WORKER: I remember thinking at the time this is going to be a long contentious meeting.

WORKER: People are going to be like, "Well, that's going to come right out of my pocket. I don’t want to do it.

WORKER: Then everybody kind of looked at each other, as I remember, and you know we had this consensus voting system where you put a thumb up if you’re in favor of something or a thumb down if you’re not.

WORKER: When I looked around the room and there was all those thumbs up it was like, "This is something bigger than what I assumed it was."

SCHOEN: So why did these employees vote to pay extra for wind, when it would come out of their own pockets? Some say they were taking into account the health and environmental costs of coal -- like mercury and soot pollution -- even though those are not reflected on the company's balance sheets.

MIZIA: There are a lot of hidden costs to coal. There is environmental reclamation costs, there is huge health care costs, as well as emission factors. Those have huge price tags that go on for a long time, possibly multi-generations. So financially the payback is actually going to be much better on something like a wind turbine than on a power plant that is fueled by coal.

WORKER: And I think conventional electricity is really rising now, so it could very well be that wind power will be the more economical choice within a couple of years. We're really advocating for the idea that sound environmental practices mirror solid business practices.

SCHOEN: And wind power is turning out to be a good financial bet for New Belgium.

MIZIA: A few years ago the price of wind power dropped drastically. When we first signed on it was two and a half cents more per kilowatt-hour. Now it's down to one cent.

SCHOEN: That's because more and more businesses are buying into the utility company's wind program.

MIZIA: The more that people are using it, the lower the price of wind. So it's exciting. We've been a part of this major growth.

SCHOEN: Then, having opted to pay more for wind power, the incentive to conserve was even stronger. Chief Financial Officer, Christine Perich, and Chief Operations Officer, Jennifer Orgolini:

PERICH: The fact that we were willing to invest in wind power, pushed us to create efficiencies and to do other things.

ORGOLINI: It sort of started us off making green choices for energy investment.

PERICH: I mean it would be hard to do the math on that, but I have to believe that net net we're still ahead of the game. That's my gut, I don't know that mathematically. Do you believe that?

ORGOLINI: Absolutely I believe that.

SCHOEN: Once again, faith-based mathematics. But it all made sense. And I had still not factored in that New Belgium gets some of its fuel -- methane -- from its own wastewater.


MIZIA: So now we’re walking out to the process water treatment plant.

WEAVER: Hillary took me to meet Brandon Weaver, who operates this "co-generation" facility. First the brewery's waste liquid flows into an anaerobic, or oxygen-free, tank filled with hungry bacteria.

MIZIA: After we’re done brewing beer there’s all kinds of proteins and things left in the water, and so that serves as food for the microbes, the little bugs that live in the anaerobic environment. And so they digest that.

WEAVER: So as the bacteria is cleaning the wastewater they release this bio gas that is very methane rich, it's about 85 to 89% methane.

MIZIA: You could look at it as bug farts. (laughs) That's one way to look at it (laughs).

WEAVER: They're producing this reusable byproduct that we can send back to the brewery, burn in a combined heat and power engine, and produce electrical and thermal energy.


MIZIA: That is our new methane storage tank and it’s actually a balloon. It looks like metal but it's a balloon. I didn’t believe it myself until I touched it.


WEAVER: From there we go into our second stage which is aerobic treatment, bacteria that operates on the exact opposite principle, likes a lot of dissolved oxygen to perform.

MIZIA: The water is being churned around by forced air vents.

WEAVER: And from there we flow on to the city’s treatment plant.

SCHOEN: I peered into the frothy, bubbling basin, hoping to spot the little microbes doing their aerobic exercises.

WEAVER: Hey, there's Mandy, we need you.

SCHOEN: But Brandon led me on, down into a tunnel that ran beside the anaerobic basin. Here, he and Mandy Miller drew water samples from the basin.


MILLER: This is the tunnel on the side of the basins. And it's where we take the samples.

WEAVER: So it looks like everything's flowing here.

MILLER: You take that sample and it just goes Buucchhhhh, Pshiich. Sometimes you just get sort of a sludge shower.

WEAVER: We're performing certain analytical tests every step of the way to make sure that the pollutant level of the wastewater is being reduced after each stage of the process.

SCHOEN: Here the numbers were more solid. New Belgium creates 14% of its energy use with methane gas. But it actually saves more than that -- closer to 25% because it uses methane power during "peak" hours when wind power rates are highest.

ORGOLINI: The utility charges a premium for electricity during certain times of the day, and so we've programmed our co-generation plant to run coincidental to those peak times.

JORDON: And so the payback is better, because we're able to take the most expensive time of day and use our own energy source rather than the city's wind power.

SCHOEN: Cleaning the water through this process is also saving the company ten to fifteen thousand dollars a month in CITY surcharges for waste water treatment.

WEAVER: We're reducing the pollutant load in the water about 98.9% before we send it on to the city.

JORDON: So it’s a really very elegant solution to energy production for us.

SCHOEN: When the beer is brewed and bottled, there's still one more way the reduce dependence on fossil fuels -- with bio-diesel delivery trucks.

HINES: So this is one of three trucks that we run Fort Collins in. And uh, yeah we run all our trucks off of bio diesel.

SCHOEN: Shawn Hines is known around town as the "Pharaoh of Flow". He's making the Fort Collins delivery rounds today with Michael Klepper:


HINES: What do we need?

KLEPPER: Two Fat, three Sun......

HINES: Two Fat, three Sun. You want to take three Skinny in? Alright!

SCHOEN: Inside Lucky Joe's pub, Shawn has to maneuver two kegs down a staircase that's barely the width of his shoulders.


HINES: Man it is going to be tighter than stripes on a watermelon through here.
Oh Daddy! Stairs! They’re about 170 pounds a piece, and you figure each guy moves I'd say about 40 to 50 a day. So, definitely earn their keep. (chuckle)


HINES: Ready to motor on?


KLEPPER: It's easy making friends when you're driving around in a big red beer truck.

SCHOEN: On the way to the next stop, I asked Shawn about the price of bio-diesel.

HINES: It’s actually comparable in price to regular diesel.

SCHOEN: I pressed Shawn on this point and so he made a call to check prices.

HINES: (on the phone:) Hey, Kirk, what’s going on man? Hey, ball park, what’s the going rate on bio right now? So it is more, more than regular diesel right now? Yeah, that sounds about right. Let me give you a shout back here shortly. Alright.

HINES: (to me) So it’s more expensive right now by about ten, eleven cents.

SCHOEN: So, if it isn't saving money, why is the company doing it?

HINES: It's a very, very family oriented place. You can't sling a cat around the brew without hitting a newborn on every given week. And we want our kids to have the best future and bio-diesel seemed like a natural step.

SCHOEN: I kept running up against lots of good intentions. But there just wasn't much concrete data.

ORGOLINI: You've probably noticed, we don’t have the hard numbers to make the decisions in a lot of cases. I mean we are profitable overall, and so we know that the decisions that we've made have been the right ones for us, but we don’t take every decision apart financially.

JORDON: But make no mistake about it, we know that profit is an essential component of running this company. We can be as groovy as we want to be, but if we’re not profitable we’re not gonna keep the doors open.

SCHOEN: If the brewery hasn't quantified the value of its energy decisions, it would have an even harder time measuring the value of its green image. But New Belgium goes about marketing just like any other beer vendor. Well, maybe not quite like the others. It's traveling bicycle and beer festival called the "Tour de Fat," in honor of their Fat Tire beer, landed recently in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.


WINN: (on stage) Welcome to the 3rd annual Tour de Fat San Francisco edition. Can you all hear me out there in the land of beer and bicycles? I am one of your hosts from the brewery. My name is Captain Ballyhoo.

SCHOEN: Chris Winn is the brewery's "Event Evangelist."

WINN: (on stage) Know that you are part of a clean movement. The cups are not plastic, those are made out of corn. And they can be composted. Our volunteers will not go compostal on you unless you take one of those cups and try to throw it in the trash. (bike bell sounds)

SCHOEN: A non-official survey of local beer drinkers showed the message is getting through.


PATRON: I'll have a Skinny Dip.

PATRON: Go ahead and pour me another Blue Paddle please.

PATRON: And we're playing pool. And drinking New Belgium beer.

PATRON: We've heard good things about the company. They've got their own little water treatment thing.

PATRON: They get most of their power generated from wind.

PATRONS: They make it very evident in all of their marketing.

PATRON: Their commercials show a guy on a bicycle.

PATRON: I feel better about drinking it because they're environmentally friendly.

SCHOEN: But a lot of people I talked to at New Belgium were also defensive about their green advertising - worried that it would be perceived as "green washing".

JORDON: We’re trying to figure out where that elegant line is between letting people know who we are without doing that, "Look at me, look at me, look at me? Aren't we great, aren't we great?” And I feel like we walk that line on little tiptoes.

SCHOEN: Maybe it's just a good beer. Maybe the country is ready for an alcoholic drink that's this green. For now New Belgium is doing very well, by doing good.

PATRON/WAITRESS: Can I get a Blue Paddle and it looks like we need another order of cheesy fries.

SCHOEN: For Living on Earth, I'm Claire Schoen in Fort Collins, Colorado.

[Dan MacKenzie “Cheers to the Beers” from ‘Monster House’ (Amygdala Music – 2003)]

Related link:
New Belgium Brewery

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GELLERMAN: Next week on Living on Earth: Fill-‘er up with vegetable oil. Truck drivers across the country are buying into biodiesel. More and more truck stops are carrying the fuel.

CORNELIUS: The truckers say you get better mileage the exhaust is not hurting your eyes or anything else. It’s beautiful stuff.

GELLERMAN: Where the cooking grease meets the road, next week on Living on Earth.

[“There Be Dragons Farm Horse Dressage” recorded by Dennis Foley in Littleton, Massachusetts (September 23rd, 2006)]


We leave you this week – at a gate. At “There Be Dragons” Farm in Littleton, Massachusetts, trainer Tommy Jensen gives her student Sarah and her noble steed Wenceslas, a ballet lesson. Living on Earth’s Dennis Foley recorded the sounds of this “dressage” rehearsal.


Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation.
Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Eileen Bolinsky, Ingrid Lobet, Emily Torgrimson and Jeff Young - with help from Bobby Bascomb, and Kelley Cronin. Our interns are Ian Gray, Tobin Hack and Jennifer Percy.

Dennis Foley is our technical director. Our executive producer is Steve Curwood. Allison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us at loe dot org. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Sorry, my voice is a little hoarse.


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