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

November 9, 2007

Air Date: November 9, 2007



Waste Not, Store Not

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Barnwell County in South Carolina has been a disposal site for much of the nation's low-level nuclear waste for the past 36 years. But by July of next year, the waste site will close to most of the nation - forcing many states to store their own radioactive garbage and raising concerns that many companies, universities and hospitals aren't fit to do so. Associated Press reporter Seanna Adcox has been covering the story and talks with host Bruce Gellerman. ()

Ecological Footprints

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A new study by Global Footprint Network compares the ecological footprints of 93 nations across the globe- and finds that Cuba is the only one developing sustainably. Global Footprint Network Director Mathis Wackernagel tells host Bruce Gellerman why Cuba tops the list. (06:00)

Oil Price Soars, Energy Bill Stalls / Jeff Young

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When Democrats won Congress a year ago they pledged to boost alternative fuels and auto efficiency. But even with oil approaching $100 a barrel the energy bill is still stuck in legislative limbo. Living on Earth's Washington correspondent Jeff Young tells us why. (05:30)

Car of the Future

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Chevrolet ran advertisements for the hybrid electric Chevy Volt during this year’s World Series. But the Volt won’t be available until 2010. Jerry Garrett writes for the New York Times automotive section and tells Bruce Gellerman that he wonders whether the Volt will ever make it to the showroom floor. LOE then speaks with Chevrolet Director of Communications Terry Rhadigan, who says getting the Volt on the road is a top priority. (10:00)

Dial-A-Fish / Ashley Ahearn

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When you’re in the supermarket or ordering fish at a restaurant, ever have trouble remembering which species has high mercury, which is overfished, and which is the most sustainable? Now, a new text messaging service will tell you everything you need to know about one fish, two fish, red fish or blue fish. Living on Earth’s Ashley Ahearn takes her cell phone to a local market to find out how the Fish Phone works. (03:30)

Listener Letters

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Living on Earth dips into the mailbag to hear from our listeners. (02:30)

Give Peace Parks a Chance

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Parks and natural areas can be an important part of international diplomacy and peace building between countries in conflict. That’s according to University of Vermont professor Saleem Ali who edited the new book “Peace Parks: Conservation and Conflict Resolution.” Dr. Ali talked with host Bruce Gellerman. (05:45)

Cool Fix For a Hot Planet

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A listener from St. Louis calls in his cool tips for saving energy. (01:30)

Have No Fear / Cinnamon Nippard

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Scared of those big hairy spiders? A course at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia can help even the most arachnophobic individuals conquer their fears. Radio Deutsche Welle’s Cinnamon Nippard reports. (07:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Seanna Adcox, Saleem Ali, Diane D’Arrigo, Jerry Garrett, Terry Rhadigan, Carl Safina, Mathis Wackernagel
REPORTERS: Ashley Ahearn, Cinnamon Nippard, Jeff Young


GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International, this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Are soaring gas prices and global warming giving you nightmares? Detroit has long dreamed of a better future.

GARRETT: If you remember there was a vehicle called the Ford Nucleon, which was going to be powered by a nuclear reactor. And of course, we never saw that either.

GELLERMAN: So will we ever see GM’s next vision of the future—the Chevy Volt? Right now, the hyped plug-in hybrid is still just a concept car.

RHADIGAN: We’re not trying to bait and switch people. We’re not trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes, by any means. We just want to make sure people know that we’ve got fuel solutions today, and we’re working on the ultimate fuel solution for tomorrow.

GELLERMAN: What’s the future of the car of the future? And, the one that didn’t get away. The Fish Phone puts you on the line with safe fish. These stories and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around!

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

Waste Not, Store Not

A container of low-level radioactive waste from Connecticut is stored at the Barnwell dump. (Courtesy of South Carolina Energy Office)


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

Barnwell County South Carolina is famous for two things.

[MUSIC: James Brown “I Got You (I Feel Good)” from ‘20 All Time Greatest Hits’ (Polygram—1991)]

GELLERMAN: First, James Brown, the king of Soul, was born in Barnwell County. The second thing it’s famous for: nuclear waste. For the past 36 years, Barnwell County has been the place much of the nation’s low-level nuclear waste has been dumped—everything from radioactive mops and test tubes to reactor containment vessels. In all, some 27 million cubic feet of radioactive waste have landed in Barnwell County’s dump. But while it’s low-level waste, Diane D’Arrigo of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service says that doesn’t mean it’s low risk.

D’ARRIGO: Plutonium is in low-level waste. Iodine-129 is in so-called low-level waste. Plutonium is hazardous for a quarter to a half a million years and Iodine-129 is hazardous 170-340 million years. That’s why the title of the waste is such a misnomer.

GELLERMAN: Thirty-six states have been permitted to use the Barnwell waste site. But by the middle of next year, all but three will have to find someplace else for their radioactive garbage. Associated Press reporter Seanna Adcox has been covering the closing of the Barnwell County dump.

An "active" trench at the Barnwell dumping site.(Courtesy of South Carolina Energy Office)

ADCOX: Well, technically they’re not shutting it down. They’re just shutting it down to most of the nation. Part of it is because as of 2000, 90 percent of the landfill was full. Part of it is because South Carolina has been for a long time, tired of being the nation’s dumping ground. Back in 1980, South Carolina’s governor was among those that lobbied Congress to make states more responsible for their own waste, however, none of the states have really done what the law asks for, which is for each to create a landfill.

GELLERMAN: So now states don’t have any other place for this low-level nuclear waste. What are they going to do?

ADCOX: Correct. Well, there’s 36 states that can’t send it anywhere so they’ll have to store it on site. There is a company down in Texas that will—they have a license to store it long term. But the thought is that most won’t pay for that to be done. They’ll find someplace to put it on their own site.

GELLERMAN: So there seems to be an irony here. I mean, these states are sending it to you in Barnwell County, South Carolina, because they didn’t want it in their backyard. Now this stuff has to stay in their backyard.

ADCOX: That’s correct. That’s the concern.

GELLERMAN: Is it safe to keep this on site? So, most of this stuff is produced at nuclear power plants—some at universities, some at companies, some at hospitals—but mostly, this stuff is coming from nuclear power plants.

ADCOX: Right.

GELLERMAN: Now you’ve got all these places located around the country. Are there any concerns about the safety?

A container of low-level radioactive waster from Connecticut is stored at the Barnwell dump.(Courtesy of South Carolina Energy Office)

ADCOX: Remember there are 22,000 companies, hospitals, whatever, licensed to handle radioactive materials. Of those 22,000, only 104 of them are nuclear power plants, even though they generate the most waste. And there doesn’t seem to be that much concern for the nuclear power plants because they already have to keep the very high-level waste—the spent nuclear fuel—because there’s no place for that to go either. And so, they say that they already have the storage, the security.

They’re more worried about the littler folks, the people that don’t have anywhere to store it, that may have very little to store, but aren’t used to storing it. And they’re also they’re very worried about the very small sources—the gages, things that can easily get lost track of, that can fall into the wrong hands possibly. Some people are afraid that it will get put in a warehouse and be forgotten about—the company will be sold or there will be employee turnover, and no one will remember that it’s radioactive and it’ll be sent to a smelter. But, the environmentalists actually think that it’s the better option to store on site because if that place is already contaminated, why take it somewhere else to be contaminated?

GELLERMAN: It’s interesting that most of the country, or most of the attention to radioactive waste has been focused on Yucca Mountain and high-level waste—the fuel rods themselves—and yet it could be low-level waste that proves to be very problematic for the nuclear industry.

ADCOX: Yeah. There are those who fear that those small sources can be made into—not nuclear bombs, certainly, but dirty bombs—that they get enough of the little stuff together and it could spread radioactivity.

GELLERMAN: Have you been to the Barnwell County dumpsite?

ADCOX: I have. I went earlier this year.

GELLERMAN: Do you think it’s safe? And the reason I ask that is because since they’re going to have less customers; they’re going to be making less money. Will they have the funds to maintain the safety and security of this site?

ADCOX: They won’t, actually. They just had a meeting a couple of weeks ago to figure out how to make sure the site can break even instead of making a profit for the state, which it has been doing. And also remember that SRS, which is Savannah River Site, which takes up about a third of Barnwell County, is very much right next-door.

GELLERMAN: That’s the place where they produce nuclear weapons?

ADCOX: Right, it used to be—the locals used to refer to it as the bomb plant. And they have to store stuff on site there so the locals say ‘it doesn’t really matter what variant of nuclear if we’ve got SRS right next door.’

GELLERMAN: Seanna, what about the local people in Barnwell County? What do they say about the closing of this site?

ADCOX: Well, they fear what it will do to their tax base, which has eroded over the years anyway.

GELLERMAN: So locals want it to stay open?

ADCOX: Mainly. I’m sure there are some locals who don’t. But mostly, yes.

GELLERMAN: Well, Seanna, thank you very much.

ADCOX: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Seanna Adcox reports for the Associated Press from Columbia, South Carolina.

Related links:
- South Carolina Energy Office: Radioactive Waste Disposal Program
- Nuclear Information and Resource Service
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Low-Level Waste Disposal

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[MUSIC: Gil Scott Heron “South Carolina” from ‘From South Africa To South Carolina’ (TVT Records—1998)]

Ecological Footprints

Mathis Wackernagel (Photo: Global Footprint Network)

GELLERMAN: Sustainable development is one of the Holy Grails of the environmental movement, even though there's no general agreement on what the term actually means. But there’s a new definition of sustainable development, devised by researchers at Global Footprint Network. That’s an international nonprofit organization dedicated to creating tools for sustainable living. In a paper published in Ecological Economics, they've identified which countries are measuring up. And the results may surprise you.

Mathis Wackernagel is the executive director of Global Footprint Network. Welcome to Living on Earth.

WACKERNAGEL: It’s wonderful to be with you.

GELLERMAN: So what is sustainable development?

WACKERNAGEL: Sustainable development, we would say, is one of the most specific policy concepts around. Essentially it has two parts; one is development, the other one is the sustainable. Let’s start with the development. Development can be measured with the United Nations human development index, which summarizes three key components that make good lives possible. One is to have long lives. The other one is to have access to education and literacy. And the third one is to have access to some minimum income. However, we call it sustainable development because there’s only one planet. So we have to provide this development within the means of one planet. And that’s what we can measure with the ecological footprint.

GELLERMAN: So as we advance we can’t be eating our seed corn because future generations won’t be able to advance?

WACKERNAGEL: That’s exactly right. So, essentially we claim let’s live on the income rather than dipping into our assets.

GELLERMAN: So you looked at what—93 countries on the sustainable development index. How many countries are measuring up?

WACKERNAGEL: Among all the 90 countries we looked at, we only found one country that meets both minimum criteria, which doesn’t mean that they are necessarily sustainable but they are providing long lives and high education and minimum income without using more than what is available globally worldwide per person. And this country is called Cuba.

GELLERMAN: Cuba? That’s a surprise.

Mathis Wackernagel (Photo: Global Footprint Network)

WACKERNAGEL: To be totally honest, Cuba would probably like to have a larger footprint; it would like to have access to more resources. They were forced to be much more resource efficient than they probably would like to be because of the trade embargo they’re under and so their footprint has shrunk a little bit since, in particular the Soviet Union collapsed back in the early 90s. However, they have still been able to maintain high human development in terms of still increasing longevity and maintaining very high access to educational success.

GELLERMAN: I was in Cuba soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union and things were terrible there. I mean, people were really suffering. There was no gas for cars. People were pulling cars down the street with horses. I went back a few years ago and things had dramatically improved. One of the things that I found was that they were doing sustainable agriculture. They weren’t using inputs like pesticides and chemicals because they couldn’t afford them. And other things had improved but they had suffered mightily.

WACKERNAGEL: Yes. If we say Cuba meets the sustainable development criteria, we don’t say that’s the nirvana, the most beautiful life you could imagine. I mean, actually, I have quite a large footprint and that makes my life quite comfortable as it is. But it’s a contradiction I totally acknowledge, but if everybody lived like me, it would take about five planets. We don’t have five planets. So, it’s like a budget question. We have to be creative and find out how can we have the best outcomes recognizing there’s a budget limitation?

GELLERMAN: What country was number two behind Cuba?

WACKERNAGEL: Many of the Caribbean nations and Latin American nations are pretty close to the quotient—the sustainability quotient, which is defined by low footprint and high human development.

GELLERMAN: What about the United States?

WACKERNAGEL: The United States may be one of the countries furthest away from the box. The United States has one of the largest footprints per person worldwide and it would take about six planets like Planet Earth to support the world population if everybody assumed current American consumption patterns.

GELLERMAN: If Cuba is the only nation that measures up according to your sustainability development index, that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the planet.

WACKERNAGEL: The sustainable development challenge probably is the defining challenge of the 21st century: will we be able to provide well-being within the means of one Planet Earth, or not? If not, we’ll be seeing more and more collapses around the world. We have seen them now in, let’s say Haiti, with very severe resource constraints and extreme social misery implications. What we saw in Rwanda and Darfur right now is a kind of manifestation of the resource crunch leading to quite tragic human breakdowns. However, there’s another path and I believe, a much more attractive one, which the World Wildlife Fund calls ‘one planet living.’ And the idea is: how can we live well within one planet?

GELLERMAN: What about my life? Can I live an American lifestyle and yet have a sustainable lifestyle? Or are the two incompatible?

WACKERNAGEL: Right now, infrastructure how it’s built in the United States makes it very hard to live very low-footprint lifestyles. We can dramatically reduce our individual footprints. Can we get to one-planet living on our own and still kind of participate in mainstream society? Probably, that’s still a bit of a challenge. But there are big decisions that you make in our life. We call that ‘slow things first.’ We should look at the stocks that we invest in—are they putting us in a better place or are they traps? These big decisions that we make in our lives—how many offspring we have, for example, what kind of housing we buy into, and what kind of cars we buy if we depend on car transportation—majorly determine resource consumption for the next decades to come. It just shows that building infrastructure right and making sure we have attractive, well-functioning, resource-efficient, high-performing cities is really the key to the future.

GELLERMAN: Well Mr. Wackernagel, thank you very much. I appreciate you taking the time.

WACKERNAGEL: It’s wonderful being with you. Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Mathis Wackernagel is executive director of Global Footprint Network.

Related links:
- Global Footprint Network
- "Measuring Sustainable Development Nation by Nation" in Ecological Economics

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[MUSIC: Alfredo Rodriguez “Tres Palabras” from ‘Oye Africa’ (O + Music—2007)]

GELLERMAN: Coming up: We’re shocked, shocked, that Chevrolet would advertise an electric car you can’t buy—the Volt. Stay plugged in to Living on Earth.

Oil Price Soars, Energy Bill Stalls

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tests out a Hybrid. (Courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives)

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. The price of crude oil is rapidly approaching a landmark 100 bucks a barrel, and at the pump—well, we don’t need to rub it in. Meanwhile the U.S. has the lowest automobile fuel economy standards in the world. And here’s something else to consider. Three quarters of people polled say when it comes to energy; they don’t like the job Congress is doing.

Democrats won control of Capitol Hill a year ago promising action on auto efficiency standards and alternative fuels. But as Living on Earth’s Jeff Young tells it – while the price of fuel is accelerating, the Democrats energy bill has stalled.


TAYLOR: Okay, so it cost me $44 and 84 cents to fill up my tank. Usually $40 would have done it, but not today, not today.

YOUNG: Penelope Taylor has watched gas prices in Silver Spring, Maryland, jump about 29 cents just since early October. She wonders why Congress isn’t jumping on the issue.

TAYLOR: Yeah, I think they should be doing a lot more, and I think they should be looking at fuel alternatives. There are all kinds of things that could be done that would make more efficient vehicles or make more efficient sources of heat for peoples’ homes, all kinds of things, yeah.

YOUNG: Taylor’s talking about just the things Democratic leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked about when they won control of Congress.

PELOSI: I have asked the chairs of the relevant committees to pass legislation so that by the Fourth of July we can have a package of legislation to truly declare our energy independence.

Speaker Pelosi receives the Excellence in Leadership Award from MALDEF. (Courtesy of Office of the Speaker)

YOUNG: And by summer’s end both the House and Senate did approve energy bills. Both would boost alternative fuel production and encourage new forms of biofuels that could be better than corn-based ethanol. But there are important differences between the bills.

The Senate’s version included a historic increase in auto fuel efficiency, something the House could not agree to. The House version calls for renewable electricity like wind and solar. And House Resources Chair, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, insisted on repealing tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. Rahall says those breaks were meant to encourage more drilling and refining when oil prices were low.

RAHALL: I think with prices what they are today, I hardly think now is the time that they need more incentives, and more grants, and more royalty holidays to go out there and drill.

YOUNG: Repealing tax breaks for the oil industry seemed to fit the public mood. And polls show the public strongly supports fuel efficiency and conservation measures. But as summer turned to fall the effort to meld the Senate and house bills into one remained stuck in legislative limbo.

Now, we all remember from civics class how this is supposed to work, right? When the two bodies of congress pass different versions of a bill a special committee meets to resolve the differences. But what you probably did not learn in school is that the committee can be blocked.

HUTCHISON: I am very concerned about the taxes in the bill and that’s why I’m holding it up because it is terrible tax policy.

YOUNG: That’s Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. She leads a handful of senators from oil-producing regions upset that the House bill takes away tax breaks for the industry.

HUTCHISON: Just two years ago we passed an incentive for refiners. So we say, of course, that we have a shortage and increasing refinery capacity is a worthy goal. We give incentives now two years later we’re going to take them away? I can’t let a bill go without assurances that those tax increases that target production of gasoline will be eliminated.

YOUNG: Hutchison is backed up by President Bush, who has threatened a veto. Massachusetts Democratic congressman Ed Markey says that’s the big hurdle to getting a final energy bill.

MARKEY: So that’s clearly at the heart of this debate, is the president still standing by the oil companies and threatening to veto the energy bill over tax breaks for the oil industry.

YOUNG: But Democrats have other problems within their own ranks. The Senate version of the bill would raise auto fuel efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. That’s too much for some powerful Democrats from auto-making areas like Indiana and especially, Michigan.

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tests out a Hybrid.
(Courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives)

LEVIN: I’d like to see some standards, which are tough but practical and achievable.

YOUNG: That’s Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin, who’s still pushing for lower mileage targets and more time for the industry to meet them. That failed in the Senate, but he’s hopeful he might still work it into the final bill even if it means delaying the bill’s completion.

LEVIN: I think it’s worth getting a fair conclusion. We’ve got to make progress on the energy bill but we’ve also got to have a standard which is practical, and not just for the Big Three but folks like Toyota.

YOUNG: The combined opposition from oil patch Republicans and Motor City Democrats makes passage of a final energy bill very tough, unless Democratic leaders are willing to sacrifice some of the bill’s most meaningful parts. Other energy bills, however, are most assuredly coming—the ones consumers will pay for higher gas and home heating oil. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

Related links:
- Speaker Pelosi touts Democratic energy bill
- Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) on energy
- Green Car Congress overview of Senate's action on auto fuel efficiency
- Living on Earth's Report: Fuel Economy Fight
- Living on Earth's Report: Energy Independence Day

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Car of the Future

(Courtesy of Chevrolet)

GELLERMAN: Carmakers are gearing up for the L.A, Auto Show. It happens in mid-November. That’s when manufacturers go full throttle putting on the glitz and glamour to create buzz, with a capital B. Or this time around, should I say capital V? That’s ‘V’ for Volt. The Chevy Volt is one of the most anticipated cars in years. While the average U.S.-made car today gets about the same mileage as Henry Ford’s Model T, the Volt gets great MPGs and produces little in the way of greenhouse gases. It’s a sleek, full-size, plug-in electric hybrid with a small flex-fuel engine. Maybe you caught one of the ads for the Volt that ran during the recent World Series.


GELLERMAN: The Volt ads certainly generated buzz, but before you run out to your Chevy dealer for a test drive, there’s just one thing you should know. You can’t buy it. Right now, the Volt is just a concept car. So I asked Jerry Garrett, a contributing writer to the automotive section of the New York Times, when he thought the Volt might show up in showrooms.

GARRETT: That’s a good question. GM says it will be, you know, three to five years but you know, we hear a lot of new technologies introduced and it always seems to be three to five or even ten years out. Nothing is right around the corner, unfortunately.

The Chevrolet Volt (Courtesy of Chevrolet)

GELLERMAN: So, a car of the future and always will be?

GARRET: It seems to be the carrot that’s forever in front of the horse, doesn’t it?

GELLERMAN: But Jerry, why would GM advertise a car now for an automobile I can’t buy?

GARRET: Well the thing with advertising, Bruce, you know, is that they want to be able to change perceptions and change people’s minds. They have gotten some bad press from things like the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?” And there are certainly some perceptions out there that GM has been against electric cars or hybrid cars, and I guess they want to get the message out there that they’re not only not that way but they’re trying to get to a new future where we don’t have to depend so much on foreign oil.

GELLERMAN: Jerry, I’m old enough to remember the GM Futurama, the exhibit at the World’s Fair in New York, where they have the cars of the future driving on these little roadways. And I’m wondering—do Detroit dreams ever come true?

GARRET: Only if—it seems so far—if it involves fossil fuels, because if you remember that far back, Bruce, you remember there was a vehicle called the Ford Nucleon, which was going to be powered by a nuclear reactor. And of course, we never saw that either.

GELLERMAN: They had turbines. And there actually was one turbine car produced.

GARRET: Well, there were quite a few turbines produced, yes, and they were said to be very viable and there are people now, today, reviving turbines for use. In fact, I just saw one at the SEMA show in Las Vegas last week that turned out a thousand horsepower and ran on propane. So, there’s going to be, I think, a lot of new technologies that come into the marketplace, a lot of room for entrepreneurs to show off their wares and then there’s going to be a shake out and we’ll see who wins.

GELLERMAN: You know, we hear so much about climate change and pollution and fuel security. Do you think that the green movement has really caught on—I mean, really caught on—and captured the imagination of Detroit where they’re going to produce cars that are truly revolutionary in the way they’re powered?

GARRET: Well, the difficulty that Detroit has right now is that they’re trying to fight for their very economic survival and it’s going to take a lot of money, perhaps money that they don’t have, to develop these new technologies. So there’s a real tug of war here about what you’re going to spend your money on. But I’ll tell you who does have this whole green movement in mind and that’s the public. Because anytime that we put out anything there—about you know, a discussion on ethanol, or alternative fuels, or different types of propulsion for vehicles, people are on them. They want to talk about this. They want results. They want a change.

Volt ad (Courtesy of Chevrolet)

GELLERMAN: So you would think that if the consumer talks about this and wants this, you know, Detroit would serve it up.

GARRET: Well that’s why I think that if Detroit doesn’t, there’s a golden opportunity for entrepreneurs who will.

GELLERMAN: So if you had one question for GM to answer in regards to the Volt, what would it be?

GARRET: Boy, I was asked this the other day and I said: where’s the beef? Show me something I can drive, and I’ll be impressed when I can do that.

GELLERMAN: Jerry Garret is a contributing writer to the automotive section of the New York Times. Jerry thanks a lot.

GARRET: Bruce, it’s been my pleasure.

GELLERMAN: So, where’s the Volt? I called up Chevy and spoke with communications chief Terry Rhadigan.

RHADIGAN: Well, if it’s specific to the Volt, we’re working feverishly on it and we’ll be ready when the batteries are as far as—we have a fully-developed concept vehicle that’s going through our product development cycle as we speak. And we’re just going to work as fast as possible with our battery providers and with GM research and development on the development of the batteries, and we hope to have that in just a very short amount of time.

GELLERMAN: Terry, you ran commercials for Chevy Volt during the recent World Series that couldn’t have come cheap. And I’m wondering why would Chevy spend so much money on advertising for a product that people can’t buy yet.

RHADIGAN: To really show where the Volt fits into our field solutions strategy—today, tomorrow, and long term. We really have a multi-faceted approach, and we want to make sure that folks are aware that we have the fuel economy cars now. The hybrids are here now. The E85 is here now. The fuel cells will be here in a couple of months. And then the Volt is not too far in the future as well. So we’re just really looking at our today-and-tomorrow strategy and we want to make sure people know. I mean, we haven’t always got the credit that we feel we deserve for all of our fuel-solutions strategies so this is our way of telling the story.

GELLERMAN: But you’re advertising a vehicle that people can’t buy yet. And I’m wondering you know, was the idea to get people excited about this—maybe go into their Chevy dealership and say, ‘well, okay, you can’t buy the Volt yet but how about the Silverado over here.’

RHADIGAN: On our fuel-solutions advertising we have actually a variety of vehicles. The Volt is the only one really that you can’t get yet. The other ones, the hybrids and the E85s and the fuel-economy vehicles that we have—they’re all available. And we call it concept Volt to make it clear that it’s someday. You know, I think it’s very clear that we put ‘someday’ into the ads. We’re not trying to bait and switch people; we’re not trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes by any means. We just want to make sure people know that we’ve got fuel solutions today and we’re working on the ultimate fuel solution for tomorrow.

GELLERMAN: I’m just wondering, Terry, though. You know, if GM in general and Chevy specifically are so very gung ho for fuel-efficient cars, why have they been so much against CAFE standards and increasing the standard efficiency for automobiles and gasoline consumption?

RHADIGAN: I wouldn’t say we’re against it but trying to reach some of those fuel economy numbers that they’ve proposed would dramatically reduce the size of the vehicles that we sell, and let’s face it: we sell vehicles that people want to buy. And it would pose problems for things like our Silverado. And people buy a Silverado because they need it for work. People buy a Tahoe because they have five kids and they need to put everyone into the vehicle and do so safely. Some of the more dramatic and more significant proposals that have been put forth would compromise our ability to even put those kinds of vehicles on the road and we’re just looking for a more measured approach. We share people’s interest in reducing our dependence on oil by all means, and we just want to do so in a smart way that would be more market driven rather than legislation driven.

GELLERMAN: Well Terry, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

RHADIGAN: You’re welcome. Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Terry Rhadigan is director of communications for Chevrolet.

Related links:
- Jerry Garret’s New York Times automotive blog “Wheels”
- Chevrolet Volt Website
- To view a print ad of the Chevy Volt click here.

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[MUSIC: Jah Wobble “Car Ad Music 7” from ‘Car Ad Music’ (Hertz Records—2005)]

GELLERMAN: You can hear our program anytime on our website or get a download for your mp3 player. The address is loe.org. That’s loe.org. You can reach us at comments at L-O-E dot org. Once again, comments at L-O-E dot org. Our postal address is 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts, 02144. And you can call our listener line at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988.


Not this kind of fish phone! (Photo: Sue Allen)

GELLERMAN: When you’re in a restaurant or a grocery store, thinking about fish for supper, you might also want to think about what could be in the fish—maybe mercury, perhaps PCBs? Or maybe the fishery is floundering. Some fish are good—some not—but can you remember which fish is which? Now you don’t have to—you can let your fingers do the fishing, as Living on Earth’s Ashley Ahearn learned when she dialed-a-fish at her local supermarket.


AHEARN: So I’m going to type in ‘swordfish’ and see what comes up.


AHEARN: It says; Atlantic and Mediterranean caught, few environmental concerns. It got a green rating. And they’re high mercury, though. Okay, so maybe I won’t do swordfish. I’m trying salmon now.


AHEARN: But for wild salmon it says it’s fine. So I guess farmed salmon is off the menu for dinner, too.

Not this kind of fish phone! (Photo: Sue Allen)

So yeah, that was me with my cell phone, talking to myself at the local market. As crazy as I might have looked, though, this service is really cool. It’s called Fish Phone. The guy who dreamt it up is Carl Safina, head of the Blue Ocean Institute. I called him to find out how it works.

SAFINA: You simply send a text message with the word ‘fish’ and the name of the fish that you are interested in and virtually instantly, you will get a beep on your phone and you will see whether you should tell the waiter that that’s what you want to eat or you should tell the guy behind the counter or the woman behind the counter that that’s what you want to buy.

AHEARN: So it’s kind of like cheating in a way.

SAFINA: Uh, it’s kind of like being a very informed consumer and feeling kind of smug about it.

AHEARN: Carl Safina and his team have put together a database that rates each fish based on pollution exposure, fishing practices, population levels, even how long it takes that species to reproduce.

SAFINA: And then we score all those things and then we relate the score to a color code and the code sort of ranges from green to light green to yellow to reddish yellow to red.

AHEARN: I think Dr. Seuss wrote a poem about that.

SAFINA: Yes, he did (laughs). Maybe subliminally that was our inspiration all along.

AHEARN: But beyond the rating system, Carl has some basic rules of thumb for anyone buying fish, even if they don’t have text messaging on their phone.

SAFINA: Farmed shellfish is generally very good and then the smaller the fish is, the better it’s likely to be. The bigger the fish, the more fished out it probably is and the more you might have a concern about mercury or other pollutants. But there are some surprises. For instance, the swordfish have come back up and they’re doing much better than they were a decade ago.


AHEARN: That doesn’t really help me for dinner, though. Swordfish is a little bit out of my price range. But Safina says farmed shellfish is good. So, I’ll text the number 30644, the word ‘shrimp,’ and let’s see what my phone spits out now.


AHEARN: Oh, okay, so if I get farmed shrimp, I’m okay, it looks like, from here. So shrimp it is for dinner. Thank you Carl Safina. Thank you Fish Phone. Alright, great. Can I get a half a pound of the farm-raised—

For Living on Earth, I’m Ashley Ahearn.

[MUSIC: Taj Mahal “Fishing Blues” from ‘The Real Thing’ (Sony Music—1972)]

Related link:
The Blue Ocean Institute: Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood

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GELLERMAN: Just ahead. How nature can nurture peace among nations. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for the environmental health desk at Living on Earth comes from the Cedar Tree Foundation. Support also comes from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for coverage of population and the environment. This is Living on Earth on PRI: Public Radio International.

Listener Letters

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. Time now to hear from you, our listeners.


GELLERMAN: Our interview with singer Bonnie Raitt didn’t rate for some of you. Ms. Raitt and other musicians created a YouTube video to protest a part of the proposed energy bill that would provide subsidies for nuclear power plants.

‘I like Bonnie Raitt’s music,’ emailed Joshua Cohen, who listens to the show on WBUR in Boston. ‘But I would not turn to her to answer questions she has no qualifications to answer.’

And John Cork asks why Bonnie Raitt isn’t protesting against coal. He works at a nuclear plant in Russellville, Arkansas and listens to us on KUAR. In his letter he says, ‘I am proud to work in an industry that produces vast amounts of electricity with the only appreciable pollution coming from the manufacturing of the plant’s components.’

And listener Steve Stockton of Charleston, West Virginia writes that he’s always skeptical when it comes to musicians talking about energy. ‘I would have been interested to hear how Ms. Raitt powers her guitar, her recording studio, or her amplifiers at her concerts.’

And while some of you wrote in to say you were inspired by our segment on food security in India with activist and physicist Vandana Shiva, Patrick Moore called in to say, he wasn’t. Mr. Moore was a co-founder of Greenpeace and is founder of Green Spirit Strategies. He now lobbies on behalf of the nuclear power industry.

MOORE: I find it very disturbing that you would print the blatant lies of Vandana Shiva about farmers in India committing suicide because they are growing genetically modified cotton. Cotton farmers choose which seeds to buy themselves and a growing number are recognizing the benefits of BT cotton in reducing losses to the cotton bollworm. Vandana Shiva is the enemy of progress for farmers in developing countries who want to lift themselves out of illiteracy, poverty, and short lives.

GELLERMAN: Hydroecologist Sydney Bacchus of Athens, Georgia wrote to say our segment on the record-breaking drought in the U.S Southeast was ‘superb.’ But she writes: we made an error. The University of Georgia is the largest user of municipal water, not state water as I said. Well, thanks, Sydney. Seems sometimes, we’re all wet.

If you want to rain on our parade or praise us to the sky, our email address is comments at L-O-E dot org. Once again, that’s comments at L-O-E dot org. Or put a stamp on it and send it to 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts, 02144. And there’s always our listener line at 800-218-9-9-8-8. That's 800-218-99-88.

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Give Peace Parks a Chance

Saleem H. Ali is a Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning at the University of Vermont. (Courtesy of Saleem Ali)

GELLERMAN: Seventy-five years ago this fall, residents along the U.S.-Canadian border began a novel, noble, some might say naive project. They created the world’s first peace park, symbolically uniting National parks divided by a political border. Over the years, cooperation in the Waterton–Glacier International Peace Park has helped restore vegetation, fight wildfires and rescue lost hikers.

Today there are scores of Peace Parks around the world but advocates believe they can serve a new role—as tools of diplomacy in war zones. Saleem Ali is an associate professor of environmental policy at the University of Vermont and editor of a new book: “Peace Parks: Conservation and Conflict Resolution.”

ALI: A peace park is a place where the environment is being instrumentally used to resolve conflict—territorial conflicts as well as ethno-religious conflicts. In fact, conflicts, which may have nothing to do with the environment, could be resolved through environmental peace building. Peace parks definitely work and it’s an underutilized mechanism in our diplomatic efforts.

GELLERMAN: Well let’s talk about say, Iraq. How could you put a peace park in Iraq?

ALI: Between Iraq and Iran, there has been of course, a territorial dispute, which led to the Iraq-Iran war. There is also a region in southern Mesopotamia which is environmentally very sensitive and so there is consciousness of the environmental value of that region in Iran. In Iraq, that area has been very special for cultural reasons. The Marsh Arabs were a community which developed a very unique culture in those wetlands and in fact during the Saddam regime, they were deliberately targeted because they had opposed some of Saddam’s policies. And so, the wetlands there were dewatered deliberately. Now one of the very few success stories of the current conflict in fact, is that those wetlands have been replenished through a program which the United Nations Environmental Program started.

GELLERMAN: So how could this place between Iraq and Iran be designated a peace park? How can that make things more peaceful?

Saleem H. Ali is a Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning at the University of Vermont. (Courtesy of Saleem Ali)

ALI: Well, if you were to have an international treaty around the environmental aspects of that area, then any potential future disputes would have to go through that mechanism and it’s much more likely that if you have an environmental agreement of that kind, you will have built some measure of trust between the countries.

I can give you one more example from my ethnic homeland, Pakistan, where both India and Pakistan have been involved in violent conflict since 1947—three major wars. But there was an international agreement between them—the Indus-Basin agreement on water issues. And that cooperation over water was able to endure any other kind of violent conflict. And in fact, in the most recent conflict, which was potentially going to erupt in the late 90s, the Indus-Basin agreement helped both countries open a communication channel that was able to prevent that further escalation from occurring, even though one million troops had assembled on each side of the border.

GELLERMAN: What about a place like Korea, the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between north and south? Peace park potential?

ALI: Absolutely. This is an area where both sides would like to establish a peace park because it’s a no-win situation for either side. It’s an area, which, by default, has been made into a high-biodiversity region because there’s no development there. And if we’re able to get enough momentum in terms of the six-party talks to move this forward, this might be the first real territorial dispute resolution on the Korean peninsula.

GELLERMAN: Do you think realistically both sides of a conflict that are armed to the teeth, they’ve got their tanks facing each other and they approach this peace park—are they just going to stop?

ALI: I think there’s a psychological dimension, which we have to consider first of all. Anytime you bring the environment into the conversation you create a zone of potential commonality. They may not have common interests but the fact that they have a common aversion, they can move forward with it. I use the example with my students of two cars on an intersection. Both of them have divergent interests; they’re going in different directions, but they have a common aversion, which is to get into a car accident and so they’re much more likely to cooperate over that and that’s what we’re framing the peace park narrative with.

GELLERMAN: What about people who live in these areas that you want to turn into peace parks. What happens to them?

ALI: This is a very important concern because we do have a history of conservation being manipulated by a powerful elite in various contexts, such as our own national park system where Native Americans were disenfranchised. But those are issues of management. I don’t consider them to be a hindrance in terms of the concept of peace parks per se. But if they are not implemented correctly, even a bright idea can be wrongfully manipulated.

GELERMAN: I wouldn’t be the first one to say all you’re saying is give peace parks a chance.

ALI: No. That’s right. But apart from that I would also say that there’s much more which we can do, especially with conflicts in the Middle East and Iraq and Afghanistan. We have now enough empirical evidence to suggest that there is a direct connection between environmental cooperation and resolving intractable conflict.

GELLERMAN: Professor Ali, thank you very much.

ALI: Thank you so much, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: University of Vermont Professor Saleem Ali is editor of “Peace Parks: Conservation and Conflict Resolution.”

Related links:
- Saleem Ali’s website
- The Peace Park Foundation

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Cool Fix For a Hot Planet


GELLERMAN: In the segments we call "Cool Fix for a Hot Planet" we highlight ways you can take action against climate change. Dan Davison of St. Louis, Missouri sent us an email with some ideas. So we gave him a call.

DAVISON: In St. Louis, the maple trees put down seeds in the spring and we usually have to pull up the seedlings. So a few years ago we left a few of the stronger ones and then relocated those to the southern and western exposure of the house. Over the years they’ve grown up and have started to give us some shade. Well, that put our vegetable garden out of business but our idea there was to move the vegetable garden up to the single-story flat roof above our garage. To get even more sun on the plants we painted the flat roof with aluminum-based paint, and we noticed that the garage was staying cooler so we went ahead and painted the three other flat roofs on our home with the same paint. So, now having done this for a few years, between the shade of the trees, the heat-absorbing plants on the roof, and the aluminum paint on all the roofs, we’re saving at least ten percent a year in heating and cooling costs.

GELLERMAN: Well, thanks, Dan. And for your cool fix, we're going to send you a shiny blue Living on Earth tire gauge. And if you use it to keep your tires correctly inflated, it could save you as much as $432 a year. That’s according to a study from Carnegie Mellon University. And if you or someone you know has a Cool Fix for a Hot Planet, let us know. If we use your idea on the air, you too will get an LOE tire gauge. Call our listener line at 800-218-99-88, that's 800-218-9988. Or email coolfix—one word—at loe.org. That's coolfix at loe.org.

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Have No Fear

A Huntsman spider (Photo: Tim Williams)

GELLERMAN: Australia is home to some of the world’s deadliest spiders, so it’s no surprise that many people there get nervous around the eight-legged creatures. In fact some people even panic at a mere picture of a spider. So at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney Australia, they’ve developed a course to help truly terrified people overcome arachnophobia—that’s the fear of spiders. Radio Deutsche Welle’s Cinnamon Nippard has our story.


NIPPARD: Warrick Angus is the Australian foreign precinct manager at Taronga Zoo in Sidney. He’s a former arachnophobic and it took him ten years to get over his fear. Now he helps other to get over their fear in just four hours. One of the keys to the success of the course is educating the participants about the sorts of spiders living in Australia and their role in the ecosystem.

ANGUS: The spiders most people are scared of are the larger, hairier ones, and in Australia that’s the huntsman spider. It’s a spider we often find in our homes and they come in our homes because there’s lots of insects for them to eat. Spiders eat over 90 percent of all the insects in the world. So, you know, if you’re having a barbeque at home and there’s one little fly bothering you, then if it wasn’t for spiders there’d be 90 flies bothering you.

NIPPARD: While huntsman spiders can give you a bite, they won’t kill you. And besides, they’re usually quite timid so bites are rare. But being long legged, big and furry, they fall into the category of spider that most people don’t like. However, Warrick says that we should be afraid of spiders for a more serious reason.

Huntsman spiders are very common in Australia.
(Photo: Susan Freeman)

WARRICK: In Australia we have the most dangerous spiders in the world, and so we can’t tell the participants, you know, ‘don’t worry, they’re not going to hurt you.’ We have to say, ‘well, they can hurt you.’ And I have learned that the best way to get people over their fear is to educate people about spiders and so rather than seeing them as sort of a scary, mythical beast, which they may perceive them to be, something that’s out there to hunt them and attack them, I want to see them as an animal that has a place of being or a place of belonging in and around our homes.


NIPPARD: Australia is home to the notorious and deadly red-back and funnel-web spiders. So keeping a safe distance and having a healthy respect for these creatures makes sense. But for people who have phobias, the fear of the object or situation is so intense, it’s irrational and often causes physical symptoms like hyperventilation and panic attacks. Dr. Lisa Phillips is a psychologist and lecturer in the psychology department at the University of Melbourne.

PHILLIPS: An individual who experiences a phobia will experience these intense fear sensations, both thoughts—so, panicky thoughts, not wanting to see the thing that they’re worried about, and so forth—but also associated with that will be a range of physical symptoms or physical signs, as well, such as a racing heart, shakiness, blushing perhaps, trembling sort of feelings and so forth.

NIPPARD: Arachnophobia, or fear of spiders, is one of the most common fears. Debora Ford hails from the UK but now lives in Australia. She used to be arachnophobic and her fear was at a level that interfered in her everyday life.

A Huntsman spider (Photo: Tim Williams)

FORD: I was at work and I was in the kitchen and a huntsman appeared on the wall, and I just saw it out of the corner of my eye and I just froze—couldn’t breathe, couldn’t catch my breath, just tears were streaming down my face. And my manager, my manager stood right in front of me, and he had to literally pick me up and carry me out the kitchen and I remember thinking ‘this isn’t normal, this isn’t normal behavior.’

NIPPARD: The fearless course at Taronga Zoo aims to address these sorts of symptoms and this fear by educating participants about spiders and giving them practical skills so that they can deal with these creatures in a humane and safe way, without reaching for a can of pesticide. Warrick Angus from Taronga Zoo.

ANGUS: When people start the program, they come with a certain feeling about spiders and you might say it’s a comfort zone. And in their comfort zone when they arrive, it might be that they can barely talk about a spider, and if they start talking about the different parts of the spider they start to feel sick. So that might be their comfort zone. So we want to push their comfort zone and make it bigger. So, the first step is to talk about spiders quite a bit so they’re comfortable with that. And then look at spiders so they’re comfortable with that, and then maybe look at a live one, and then maybe hold a container with a spider in it, and then maybe touch a dead spider, and then touch a live one.

NIPPARD: And just in case you’re thinking about picking up that friendly-looking spider on your wall, before you do—Warrick has a word of warning.

WARRICK: Now, we don’t encourage people to touch live spiders out of the zoo. But by giving people that memory, if you like, of actually touching a live spider or holding a spider, then capturing a spider without holding it is much easier.


NIPPARD: Holding a huntsman spider was a big step for Deborah because her fear was so great, she even had to be careful watching wildlife shows in case a spider suddenly flashed onto the TV screen.

FORD: I actually didn’t’ know what a huntsman looked like. I had an image of it in my head of this big, furry tarantula thing and everyone goes ‘oh, they’re horrible!’ And then, once I’d seen—been able to look at a tarantula—I looked at the huntsman and said ‘is that it? That’s not scary.’ And I had it crawling up my arm and on my hands, and yeah, you just put it on the floor, put a pot over it and yeah the feeling of just euphoria. You just couldn’t stop smiling and the fact that you know, something, my family said that I’d never be able to do and I said I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. I did, and it was just the best feeling in the world.

NIPPARD: For Deborah, the education component of the course really made a difference.

FORD: You know, I think one of the most important things I learned, which has stuck with me—if you’re in bed at night, they’re not going to jump on you. They don’t want to be anywhere near you. You’re not food. You’re moving; you’re breathing. If a spider’s in your room, it’s not going to come near you, because you have this fear they’re going to drop on you. And I think that made a lot of people at ease when we were told that, you know, that they will keep away from you. And that has stuck with me, and now, I’ve had huntsman in my bedroom and I just leave them. They don’t bother me at all.

NIPPARD: Boasting a 97 percent success rate in its arachnophobia course, Taronga Zoo is now helping people get over their fear of snakes and they also have plans to branch out to moths, birds, and cockroaches. Cinnamon Nippard, Sidney.


GELLERMAN: Our story about spiders comes to us courtesy of Radio Deutsche Welle.

Related links:
- Radio Deutsche Welle’s Spectrum program
- Taronga Zoo, Australia

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[MUSIC: Jake Shimabukuro “Going to California” from ‘My Life’ (Hitchhike records—2007)]

GELLERMAN: Next time on Living on Earth, keeping track of migrating animals.

WILCOVE: They developed a tiny radio transmitter weighing about one one-hundredth of an ounce that we could glue onto the belly of a dragonfly.

GELLERMAN: New ways to follow animals, great and small, on the next Living on Earth.

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer, Emily Taylor, and Jeff Young. Our interns are Alexandra Gutierrez and Mitra Taj.

Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. Our executive producer is Steve Curwood. You can find us at loe.org. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science. And Stonyfield Farm: organic yogurt and smoothies. Stonyfield pays its farmers not to use artificial growth hormones on their cows. Details at Stonyfield.com. Support also comes from you our listeners, the Ford Foundation, the Town Creek Foundation, the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of climate change and marine issues, and Pax World Mutual Funds, socially and environmentally sustainable investing. Pax World: for tomorrow. On the Web at PaxWorld.com.

ANNOUNCER 2: PRI: Public Radio International.


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