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

July 30, 2010

Air Date: July 30, 2010



Without Congress / Mitra Taj

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The Senate isn't taking up a climate change bill this summer, despite years of efforts to legislate a solution. But other plans to cap greenhouse gas emissions are beginning to grind into gear. Living on Earth host Steve Curwood talks with Washington correspondent Mitra Taj about two alternative paths to a low-carbon future: EPA regulation, and state action. (05:50)

Gulf Oil and Gulf Restoration / Jeff Young

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Conservationists and Gulf Coast officials say the effects of the BP oil disaster will be widespread and long lasting, and itÂ’s time to start thinking about a large-scale, long-term response. They say the best way to help the fragile marshes recover from the oil is an ambitious plan to restore the disappearing wetlands of the Mississippi Delta. LOEÂ’s Jeff Young reports from the Louisiana coast. (06:00)

1000 Shows and Counting / Steve Curwood, Helen Palmer

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Living on Earth marks a milestone: 1000 shows and counting. Host Steve Curwood rewinds LOEÂ’s first broadcast and finds the issues today are eerily similar to those we reported on when the show debuted 20 years ago. (04:30)

Environmental Advocacy Then and Now

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Back in 1991 when Living on Earth first began, the climate in Congress relied on a more bipartisan environmental sentiment. Carl Pope, the chairman of the Sierra Club and Fred Krupp the president of the Environmental Defense Fund talk with host Steve Curwood about these changes and how theyÂ’ve shaped the current environmental movement. (07:30)

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Climate scientist George Woodwell played an unintended but instrumental role in the creation of Living on Earth. He talks to LOE founder Steve Curwood about the responsibility of scientists and their role in shaping public policy. (06:00)

Ozone Update

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As Living on Earth airs its 1,000th program this week we take a look back at the very first news segment on ozone depletion from 1991. Host Steve Curwood talks with environmental journalist Dianne Dumanoski about the near miss of an ozone catastrophe and how to apply lessons learned then to today's struggle to deal with climate change. (06:00)

Science Note/Micro-Ear / Bridget Macdonald

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Microscopes let researchers look at bacteria. Now a new device will let them listen to these organisms as well. Living on EarthÂ’s Bridget Macdonald reports on a micro-ear for hearing sounds on a cellular level. (01:30)

Birding by Ear / Bruce Gellerman

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There’s a lot more to bird watching than meets the eye. Members of the Lowell Association for the Blind learn to tune in to nature and bird by ear. Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman went along to see,and hear,how it’s done. (09:00)

This week's EarthEar selection
listen / download

Listen to the sounds of geothermal bubbling from Yellowstone National Park.

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUEST: George Woodwell, Carl Pope, Fred Krupp, Dianne Dumanoski
REPORTER: Mitra Taj, Jeff Young, Bruce Gellerman
SCIENCE NOTE: Bridget MacDonald

CURWOOD: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth. IÂ’m Steve Curwood. With a climate protection bill stalled out in the Senate the action now shifts to the Environmental Protection Agency and a California-led deal to reach across the Canadian border.

CUMMINS: It means that we’re looking at an international North American market for carbon trading. Nothing like that exists today.

CURWOOD: And we look back on a thousand editions of Living on Earth. Our very first show reported on oil fouling the Gulf– the Persian Gulf .

O’BRIEN: What I say is it’s a very massive spill thatÂ’s coated every beach, every bay, every back bay, every lagoon, every shore-line.

CURWOOD: And there were some predictions that – somehow - didn’t come true.

ANNOUNCER: The Australian group predicts that within a decade their cells will produce electricity at half the price of coal.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick Around!

[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.

Back to top


Without Congress

EPA headquarters, where new rules for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are being written. (Photo: thanigaivel)

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley studios in Somerville MA, this is Living on Earth. IÂ’m Steve Curwood. Last summer, the House passed a comprehensive climate protection bill. This summer, Senate majority leader Harry Reid announced his chamber is not going to follow suit.

REID: For me it’s very disappointing and it’s also very dangerous.

CURWOOD: But the path to a low-carbon future doesn't run just through Congress; California and New Mexico are joining a cap-and-trade program with three Canadian Provinces and the EPA is working on new rules to cut carbon emissions from polluting industries. Living on Earth's Mitra Taj has been looking into the alternatives and joins me now from our Capitol Hill bureau. Hi there Mitra!

TAJ: Hi Steve.

CURWOOD: So the Senate’s decided to punt on this, at least for the near future, huh?

TAJ: Yeah, and that means that the biggest player is going to be the EPA. You probably remember that in 2007 the Supreme Court opened the door for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

CURWOOD: Under the Clean Air Act.

TAJ: Exactly. Well until now that authority was seen mostly as the stick to Congress’s carrot—a way to sort of push for comprehensive climate change legislation. But since the Senate is taking a pass on that, the EPA is now trying to figure out how to wield its big stick.

CURWOOD: So what’s the EPA likely to do?

TAJ: Well in terms of emissions reductions it’s kind of hard to say right now. The EPA's still weighing its options. But sources familiar with the EPA’s thinking told me the agency probably can’t cut total U.S. emissions more than five percent below 2005 levels and that’s by 2020. That’s a lot less than Obama’s promise to make a 17 percent cut, and much less ambitious than what scientists and Europeans want the U.S. to do.

The EPA is considering applying cap-and-trade mechanisms to industrial subsectors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo: haglundc)

CURWOOD: And still it’s a reduction, so what’s the plan?

TAJ: Well even before the Senate road blocks the EPA had moved to tighten fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. Now the agency’s working on how to deal with big, industrial polluters—power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants. And a new permitting process is starting January, which will ensure that new facilities are as low-carbon as possible. But the step is even trickier – it has to figure out how to deal with existing emitters. One idea is to cap emissions industry by industry and allow companies within a specific industry to trade pollution permits amongst themselves.

CURWOOD: So if you run a cement plant and so do I, but I do a better job at cleaning up more quickly than you, then I could sell you my extra allowances. That would be cap-and-trade.

TAJ: It is cap-and-trade, but a little more limited. You could sell your allowances or you could hold on to them for later when you actually need them as the cap gets lower and lower. The idea is to make cutting carbon as cheap and flexible as possible. But if you are a cement plant then you wouldn’t be able to trade allowances with say a coal-fired power plant or a car factory. So the EPA wouldn’t be regulating into existence a huge single carbon market—that is really controversial.

CURWOOD: But still there’s likely to be a big legal fight, I imagine.

TAJ: Oh yeah, a huge fight. I mean, it’s already become one. Industry is very worried. I talked with Jeff Holmstead, a former assistant administrator for President Bush’s EPA air program.

EPA headquarters, where new rules for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are being written. (Photo: thanigaivel)

HOLMSTEAD: If you’re in the iron and steel business, or cement — any of those industries that requires a lot of energy. They compete in a global market place. And so if it becomes much more costly to produce those things in the U.S. then they get produced somewhere else and we import them. It’s a conundrum that EPA faces, that Congress faces. There is no easy answer to climate change.

TAJ: Now Holmstead works for the Washington DC law firm Bracewell and Giuliani. He’s now supporting ongoing Senate legislation to slow down or stop completely the EPA’s greenhouse gas authority.

CURWOOD: But surely the President wouldn’t sign that into law. I mean, he’d be handcuffing his own agency.

TAJ: Right, a White House official told me on background that the President would veto any attempt to curb the EPA’s authority, but Obama himself hasn’t made any public comments to that effect. And that’s something that people like Gene Karpinski really want to hear. He’s president of the environmental group League of Conservation Voters:

KARPINSKI: He needs to stand firm, stand tall, and make it clear he won’t accept any efforts to block or delay EPA from doing its job. That’s their responsibility, that’s what the Supreme Court said they have to do, and they’ve already begun to move forward. And that’s a critically important next step forward to begin to cut carbon emissions to protect public health.

CURWOOD: So Mitra, what does this mean for the big picture for cap-and-trade?

TAJ: Well cap-and-trade took a big beating in Congress, but it’s not dead. Europe uses it — just recently China said it’s considering using it — and here at home, California and New Mexico just announced they’re going to be doing cap-and-trade with three Canadian provinces starting in 2012.

CURWOOD: Canada—that’s interesting. So that would open a pathway for California and New Mexico to sell in international markets.

Downtown Montreal. Quebec is one of three Canadian provinces that will join a cap-and-trade program with California and New Mexico. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

TAJ: Yeah. And in time it could also fold into the mix similar regional programs that are taking place in the Midwest and East Coast. Pat Cummins, the program manager for the Western Climate Initiative, said his new cap-and-trade program is designed to grow.

CUMMINS: The bigger, the better. If you have more participants and the market is bigger, and everyone is shooting for an emission reduction goal, the overall reductions will be greater as well, so there are a number of reasons why growing the market is important.

TAJ: But you know Steve, just as with the EPA, this West Coast plan also has to withstand some tough challenges. In California, that means a proposition on the ballot in November that would nix the state’s carbon reduction plans. And without California, the program wouldn’t make as big a splash. So Congress might be out of the picture for the moment, but politics definitely are not. I think we’ll probably see political opposition trail behind any plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the near future.

CURWOOD: Mitra Taj is Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent. Thanks Mitra.

TAJ: YouÂ’re welcome Steve.

[MUSIC: Incognito: Expresso Madureira from Transatlantic RPM (Shanachie records 2010)]

Related links:
- Click here to listen to Senators Reid, Kerry, and White House energy czar Carol Browner deliver the news that taking legislative action on climate change would have to wait.
- Learn about the oil spill and clean energy bill that Majority Leader Reid wants to pass instead of comprehensive climate change legislation.
- Click here for more about the Western Climate Initiative's plans to cap carbon.
- The World Resources Institute studied how to reduce emissions without Congress.
- Learn more about the EPA's greenhouse gas authority here.

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Gulf Oil and Gulf Restoration

A blob of oil floats on the surface of the water in the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo: Jeff Young)

CURWOOD: More than 100 days into BPÂ’s oil disaster, officials are close to injecting mud to kill the runaway well. But those dealing with the blow-out and its effects say this is only the end of the beginning. Millions of gallons of oil still pollute the Gulf of Mexico and the long job of restoration lies ahead. From Louisiana, Living on EarthÂ’s Jeff Young reports.

[Boat engine revs then slows]

YOUNG: We were about ten miles from the mouth of the Mississippi when Doug Inkley spotted it.

INKLEY: Look right here, see the sheen? Also all the little droplets of oil all over the surface.

[Boat sloshing about in water]

YOUNG: Inkley’s Senior Scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, which organized this boat trip. Here, where the river’s brown water hits the Gulf’s blue, he finds a line of thick rusty brown blobs stretching on and on.

INKLEY: There’s no way you can get though this water without coming into the oil not only the sheen on top but little particles spread everywhere all over the surface and probably underwater as well. Just oil everywhere.

Doug Inkley of the National Wildlife Federation points to oil in the Gulf of Mexico (Photo: Jeff Young)

YOUNG: OK, but nasty as this is, it’s got to be better than it was?

INKLEY: Well certainly the situation I’m looking at on the surface appears to be better than it was from what I saw 2 months ago. It is more degraded. I’m not seeing as much of it. But I’m also not looking underwater. I’m very anxious to see the science and the reports that come back from NOAA and other agencies looking at this underwater. I wish you could come back to talk to me in 5 years and say, I was wrong. I hope I’m wrong about the impacts. But I don’t think I am.

YOUNG: Inkley thinks the impact will be big and broad. And he says it’s time to start thinking the same way about recovery: large-scale and long-term.

INKLEY: The ultimate solution to this BP oil spill is to do long-term restoration. You really can’t clean the oil up, as we’ve seen, because it’s floating in the gulf. You really can’t clean up once it’s spilled. If you go into the wetlands you do more harm than good tromping around in there or using other means to try to get it out of there. Recognizing we can’t go in and clean the oil out of the wetlands, let’s put in place a large program to begin to restore some of these wetland areas.

YOUNG: Inkley says more resilient marshes will have a better chance of bouncing back from the oil. But making them stronger means tackling some tough issues. The Mississippi’s long levees keep the river from spilling over to rebuild wetlands with sediment. It’s estimated Louisiana loses a football field of land every 40 minutes. In his June speech from the Oval Office, President Obama indicated coastal restoration would be part of his Gulf restoration plan.

Doug Inkley removes his oil covered hand from the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo: Jeff Young)

OBAMA: We need a long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region. The oil spill represents just the latest blow to a place that’s already suffered multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats.

YOUNG: The president assigned Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, to lead Gulf restoration. That was a hopeful sign for King Milling. Milling is a courtly former bank president who chairs Louisiana’s advisory committee on coastal protection and restoration. In his office in the Whitney National bank in New Orleans, Milling pulled out a map.

MILLING: The map we are looking at reflects what happens if we do nothing.

YOUNG: The map shows a slender strip of land along the river sticking out into the Gulf. But the rest of southeastern Louisiana’s wetlands are gone. It is a radically different coastline that could be reality by the end of the century.

MILLING: Absolutely the Gulf of Mexico has inundated far beyond New Orleans north on both sides of the river. If this occurs we will probably have to move 1.5 to 2 million people. What you’re looking at in terms of that map could make Katrina look like a blip on the water. So there are choices that have to be made.

YOUNG: Louisiana’s official plan to fight back calls for large diversions of the Mississippi to carry fresh water and sediment to replenish marshes. Coastal scientists endorse the plan, but the state can’t carry it out alone. Milling says it’s a massive civil engineering project that could cost from 50 to as much as 100 billion dollars – and would require strong federal leadership.

MILLING: Now, is Washington prepared to take this on and understand it or are they going to continue as they have at some points in the past, of kind of pushing it aside in hopes that it will go away. This is not going away.

A blob of oil floats on the surface of the water in the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo: Jeff Young)

YOUNG: What’s your sense from what you’ve heard from Secretary Mabus - are they serious this time around?

MILLING: I think they’re serious. I think they’re very serious. I think the president and his staff are concerned about this issue. It’s the magnitude of it I think that is difficult for people to get their minds around it. I don’t want to be cynical but fact of the matter is if this much land had been lost in New England or on the northeast coast I suspect we’d have figured out a way to address it. We deliver the fish and we deliver the oil and gas and that’s our function and if that don’t happen then hell with it. And this country’s just got to decide what it can and can’t do. And if it decides it can’t do it then tell us to get the hell out of here.

YOUNG: It’s startling to hear these words from this genteel member of the establishment. But people on the Gulf Coast have heard so many promises and seen so much loss, they can’t hide the frustration and anger. Secretary Mabus will be back on the Gulf Coast the first week of August for more talks about Gulf restoration. He’ll likely hear a call for less talk – and more action. For Living on Earth I’m Jeff Young in New Orleans.

[MUSIC: Eddie Bo “Eddie’s Gospel” from New Orleans Solo Piano (Night Train International 1995)]

CURWOOD: Just ahead - Keep listening as we celebrate one thousand broadcasts of Living on Earth!

Related links:
- A report by National Wildlife federation and other environmental groups on a long term approach to Gulf recovery
- The White House site on Gulf Coast recovery
- Click here to see a satellite image of Louisiana

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1000 Shows and Counting

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth show number 1000, I’m Steve Curwood. We’ve kept master copies of all our shows. They’re in boxes piled floor to ceiling in a storage room. In the early days we recorded onto ten-inch reels of magnetic tape.

[scrabbling, moving boxes]

CURWOOD: So when we realized this milestone was getting close – producer Helen Palmer and I set off on a quest to find the very first show.

PALMER: We’ve got to move all these…look here… so we have to move all this stuff on top.

CURWOOD: Alright down it comes.

PALMER: Oh, I can’t lift this.

CURWOOD: So let’s see...the politics of global warming…oh this was one of the pilots done in 1990.

PALMER: Oh my goodness.

CURWOOD: Yes, look at this

PALMER: Let me have a look at this one.

Editor Helen Palmer with an oldie but goodie reel-to-reel recorder. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

CURWOOD: So show 14- show 4

PALMER: Show 7…ok, look this 1991:08:18 -this is 1991:04:05. Isn’t that the one we are looking for? It’s on the very bottom!

CURWOOD: Well where else would it be? Yeah, now I’m going to move these one at a time and put them over here.

PALMER: ok 91:04: 05…master reels. That should be exactly the thing.

CURWOOD: Yes, OK let’s open it up…Living on Earth. Here it is 91 0001, the very first show. April 5th 1991.

PALMER: Wow, here it is 7 and a half inches per second reel to reel tape, when did you last see that?

CURWOOD: All right, let’s go into the studio and see if we can find a machine that will play this thing.

PALMER: Ok, here’s the thing. Let me plug it in. Look it turns on! How absolutely amazing!

[Sound of machine turning on]

PALMER: Ok, put it on.

CURWOOD: Now it seems to be working properly. Ok, let’s play itand see if it kicks anything.

[Original show theme music]

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

PALMER: Steve, you don’t sound much different. It’s amazing.

CURWOOD: hahahahah…

CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. Damage to the earth, to the land, the air, and the water. The environmental cost of the Persian Gulf War.

CURWOOD: Our first show focused on the environmental consequences of the Persian Gulf War - and today, a thousand shows later - it’s de ja  vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say. Back then, Susan Murray of the CBC reported on what is still the biggest oil disaster in history - in Kuwait and off the Saudi coast.

MURRAY: Vacuum pumps work furiously to suck in some of the thick black mats staining the beaches of Saudi Arabia. Jim O’Brien, of the Louisiana clean up firm, OOPS.

O’BRIEN: What I’d say is, it’s a very massive spill that’s coated every beach, every bay, every back bay, every lagoon, every shoreline.

CURWOOD: Many of those first stories were doom and gloom - but we saw a bright, green future too - just over the horizon:

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: The Australian group predicts that within a decade their cells will produce electricity at half the cost of coal.

LOE founder and executive producer Steve Curwood searches the archives for the programÂ’s very first broadcast. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

CURWOOD: Well, rather too optimistic, and we’ve made our share of mistakes since we started Living on Earth, 1000 shows ago. But creating a radio show wasn’t my first idea - I wanted to write a book about global warming. I thought it was the hottest journalistic topic out there - war – peace - the economy and more are wrapped up in the question of global warming. So for advice, I went to Cape Cod and met with George Woodwell. He’s a leading scientist who had counseled President Jimmy Carter and testified before Congress about climate change. Dr Woodwell wasn’t exactly encouraging.

WOODWELL: Well I remember that you came with the idea that you would write a book and I wonder if I should have been as discouraging as I apparently was. The fact is that I have written a lot about the climatic issue, a lot that had been ignored, and others were writing about it, and we seem to be getting nowhere. And at that time I thought another book would probably have the same fate. So I guess I was discouraging in that context.

CURWOOD: Hearing you say well, who’s going to read another book, certainly one by Steve Curwood, I said well doggone it nobody is doing radio on this subject. So I left your place mad, and taking action. I was going to do a radio show.

WOODWELL: Well, I’m not too happy that I made you mad, but it’s worked! And that’s even more important now than it’s been previously.

Related link:
Click here to listen to LOE's first show

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Environmental Advocacy Then and Now

The Sierra Club executive chairman, Carl Pope. (Photo: The Sierra Club)

CURWOOD: In 1991, when our show first began, we were in a very different time in terms of international climate agreements. We were still a few months before the Earth Summit in Rio - and since then we’ve had the Kyoto Protocol to control greenhouse gas emissions in some countries - and seen the failure of Copenhagen to create a truly global deal. Carl Pope and Fred Krupp have been through it all and are with me to talk about changes in the environmental movement between then and now. Carl Pope is the executive chairman of the Sierra Club and Fred Krupp is the president of the Environmental Defense Fund. Welcome both of you to Living on Earth.

POPE: It’s wonderful to join you for your 1000th show, Steve!

KRUPP: Great to be here Steve.

CURWOOD: Well, thank you both. Carl Pope, what are the major landmarks or turning points you see?

POPE: Beginning in 1994, there was a part of the American political spectrum, the reactionary right, that decided to challenge the whole concept that we ought to have an environmental safety net, that we shared this planet with other species, and other generations and other countries, and that we had to take care of it. And there was really a systematic assault, from 1993 until Katrina. And I think the biggest success of the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations during the last 20 years has been that we held on during that assault and I hope we’re coming out on the other side of it and I think our biggest accomplishment was getting through it intact.

CURWOOD: What about you, Fred Krupp?

Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp. (Photo: Environmental Defense Fund)

KRUPP: Well what the economists call the biggest success of the 1990s was the implementation of the Clean Air Act, which was proposed by George H. W. Bush. It cut sulphur emissions in this country by 50% for a fraction of the cost, and I’m reminded that in the early 1990s, the first president Bush had an environmental council. There were champions in the Senate on the Republican side, like John Chaffee, later followed by his son Lincoln Chaffee, like Jack Heinz from Pennsylvania. And the administrations, the Republican administrations, there were wonderful environmental champions like Rush Train, Bill Reilly and Bill Ruckelshaus, Mike Deland. And unfortunately since that time the issue has become so much more polarized. It used to be the Republicans and Democrats were competing to see who could be best on environmental issues. Now the Democrats tend to take us for granted. And the Republicans often tell me they can’t get any credit for the good things they do, so they sometimes say “why bother?” and this is a bad dynamic and is something we really need to get back to the old days on.

CURWOOD: Carl Pope, how healthy is this and what kind of hope do you see for a more bipartisan approach?

POPE: Well the assault from those voices that said that we really shouldn’t be trying to protect the environment for future generations has been extremely unhealthy, and one of the consequences was you drove the voices of environmental responsibility in the Republican Party either underground or out of the Republican Party. We have an enormous number of Sierra Club members who used to be Republicans. They are now mostly independents or Democrats. We have to actually take the Republican Party back from the voices on environmental issues who currently control it, and say that the United States for example should not do anything to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Voices who really do not believe in environmental stewardship. Most grassroots Republicans do. They just donÂ’t have leaders in their party who are listening to them and we have to fix that somehow.

CURWOOD: And what about the business sector Fred Krupp? It’s become quite involved with the environmental movement. How well is that working?

KRUPP: Well I think it’s working reasonably well. We’ve had some real success with companies like Wal-Mart who are greening up their supply chain and squeezing carbon emissions out of their manufacturers in China. We’ve had great work with McDonalds on getting folks who raise chickens to use less antibiotics. We’ve worked with FedEx and pioneered a whole new generation of hybrid trucks that are now used by more than 200 companies. So there have been real successes, and I think the United States Climate Action Partnership was a great example of companies and environmental groups coming together to jointly recommend to Congress a path forward on climate change. Unfortunately the utilities that were part of it ended up deciding that they were better off without a bill. I’m sure in the future, while we’ll continue to partner with companies, you’ll probably see a little more litigation from the Environmental Defense Fund to keep some of them honest.

CURWOOD: Carl Pope how well do you think this business-oriented approach on environmental protection is working?

POPE: Well there are innovative companies and there’s stand pat companies, and the challenge always is that the stand pat companies resist change. So the real challenge we face is how do we build access to finance, market share and regulatory predictability for innovative companies, companies that are making wind turbines or solar cells, or that are increasing the efficiency of the grid. How do we give those companies a fair shake and get out of the way the roadblocks to progress that are being erected by companies that want to hold onto the technologies of the 20th, and in some cases, even the 19th century?

CURWOOD: Let me ask you both — how well do you think the Obama administration is doing in terms of the environment? Particularly I’m thinking in terms of climate.

KRUPP: You know Steve, President Obama has done more than any president in history on the climate issue. He made it a priority in his campaign; his first speech from his oval office was not only about the disaster in the gulf but also the need to act on energy and climate issues. Unfortunately he never came out with a specific proposal for where he wanted the senate to gel. Unlike president H.W. Bush, who came out with a proposal on the Clean Air Act, President Obama did not do that and it was just unrealistic to expect that the senators would gel around a specific proposal without that one additional thing.

CURWOOD: Carl Pope?

The Sierra Club executive chairman, Carl Pope. (Photo: The Sierra Club)

POPE: Well I think the executive decisions of the Obama administration have been remarkably strong, remarkably progressive. Where I think I would give the president less good marks is in figuring out the formula for leading the United States Congress in developing consensus on an approach to climate. To be fair to him, he’s dealing with a very difficult landscape in which the leadership of the Republican Party in both the House and the Senate was determined from the very beginning to deny his administration by abusing the Senate’s tradition of extended debate, the filibuster. And it is the president’s job to solve political problems as well as run the government. And I think the president failed to solve this problem. I think the next Senate absolutely must change the rules of the game, which allow a tiny minority of Senators to completely obstruct the public business.

CURWOOD: Carl Pope is the Executive Chairman now of the Sierra Club, and Fred Krupp is the President of the Environmental Defense Fund. Thank you.

POPE: Thanks Steve, it’s wonderful to be with you and I probably won’t be on your 2000th show but I hope you’re still around and doing it!

KRUPP: Steve, 1000 shows, quite an achievement. You’ve enlightened a lot of people on these important issues and we’re all the better for it.

Related links:

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CURWOOD: The Sierra Club has been around since 1892. But George Woodwell – whose advice helped inspire the launch of Living on Earth – worked with Fred Krupp in creating the Environmental Defense Fund, and had a part in starting the World Resources Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council as well. He founded and directed the Woods Hole Research Center and has also been a science advisor and board member of the World Media Foundation, which produces Living on Earth. George Woodwell says scientists have a duty to alert the public to the dangers they see.

WOODWELL: I think the public understands the climatic disruption issue far better than our governmental leaders, at the moment, are willing to acknowledge. And unfortunately we have a very heavy corporate influence over government at the moment in the United States. I think that’s a malevolent influence. Certainly as far as the climatic disruption is concerned it is a malevolent influence. Bad for the public, bad for the country, and bad for the world. They have been deliberate; these corporations have been deliberate in undermining the seriousness of the climatic disruption in the public eye, and certainly in the political eye. And the money they control influences the political eye of the world heavily. I think that is corrupt, simply corrupt. And something has to be done about it very soon. We hoped that Mr. Obama would take leadership and clean up the mess. And we really need someone like him who can do it.

CURWOOD: So how do we get there? How does society get to this place where you say we need to be for our survival?

WOODWELL: Well, if I knew how to get there, I would be pushing to get there. My perspective at the moment is that we have to have presidential leadership in the nation right at the moment. Real presidential leadership. He and the White House and his staff, science advisor and his entire administration have to step forward and say to the nation, we have a problem. Here is the scale of the problem, and here are the details of the solution. The solution involves shifting away from fossil fuels immediately, as rapidly as we can. A 20% reduction in the use of fossil fuels overnight is possible. We have in the past year used less fossil fuels than ever previously, that is in previous years. And there’s no reason that we can’t use much less over the course of the next few years. The objective has to be to not just stop the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but to reduce the present burden. That can be done, but it can be done only with US leadership and White House leadership within the US.

CURWOOD: Now George, you’re an ecologist by profession, you’re a conservationist by conviction. You’ve devoted your career to the understanding the interaction of different ecosystems but you’ve also taken it a step further to get involved with the policies and politics of things. Why?

WOODWELL: Well, if one is going to pursue a life dealing with significant issues, we have to show how they’re significant and be effective. My view has been that environmental issues are indeed significant issues these days, and that they are at the core of governmental responsibility. If we step back and ask why it is, at least in democracies, that we entrust to some of our fellow citizens the business of running human affairs, then we come out with the view that those human affairs are very heavily linked to environmental issues; that the core purpose of government has to be to protect human interests and life on earth, and living on earth in fact.

CURWOOD: [laughs]

WOODWELL: And breathing clean air, using clean water, and having rules and regulations that make it fair to everyone in their access to opportunities for life. So a scientist looks at all of this and says well, we have to connect our basic biophysics and biophysical requirements to governments. So there’s every reason to look at government and ask whether it’s doing its job. And in many ways our government is doing its job but in many ways at the moment on environmental issues, it is not.

CURWOOD: How important is it for scientists to be revolutionaries?

George Woodwell is founder of the Woods Hole Research Center and a member of Living on EarthÂ’s board of directors. (Photo: George Woodwell)

WOODWELL: Well scientists don’t want to be revolutionary of course; they want to be simply laying out the facts of the world. But when the facts of the world are not taken, not heard, and ignored in a systematic way by commerce and government, scientists have to be outspoken. And now I think it’s time to be really shrill and unfortunately obnoxious because the cost of failures, failures to protect the basic bio-physics of the earth, are going to be, if we don’t recognize them, civilization itself. It will lead to chaos.

CURWOOD: How obnoxious are you going to be, George Woodwell?

WOODWELL: Well, [laughs]…it’s hard to say. You have to figure out where to be obnoxious. I’d have to say I think our scientific community has to make a lot more noise. We should have been and must be now in the very center of the political arguments and the economic arguments. Protecting the basic environment of the earth to protect all life and to protect people. But protecting people isn’t enough. Protecting all life will protect people.

CURWOOD: George Woodwell is founder, director emeritus and senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. Thank you so much!

WOODWELL: Well it’s my pleasure, Steve.

[MUSIC: Steely Dan “Janie Runaway” from two Against Nature (Giant Records 2000)]

CURWOOD: Coming up: we turn our attention to O3 – or ozone – an environmental challenge met with timely and effective action. That’s just ahead right here on 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 the population and the environment. And from Gilman Ordway for coverage of conservation and environmental change.

This is Living on Earth from PRI, Public Radio International.

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Ozone Update

Environmental conditions above Antarctica make it the worst location on earth for rapid ozone depletion. (NASA)

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. The very first story we did back in 1991 was a brief item about the hole in the ozone layer. Back then we had an environmental newscast at the top of the show. Jan Nunley was our newscaster.

NUNLEY: The Bush administration is reviewing new research data that show the ozone layer over the United States is disappearing at twice the rate previously estimated. The Environmental Protection Agency is now predicting that 12 million Americans will develop skin cancer in the next 50 years as a result of increased exposure to ultraviolet light. Agency administrator William Reilly says the US should reappraise its policy on control of ozone-destroying chemicals.

Dianne Dumanoski is an environmental journalist. (Random House Publishing)

CURWOOD: At ground level, ozone, a hyperactive form of oxygen, is a pollutant. But high in the stratosphere a thin layer of ozone screens out a lot of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, making life possible on land. Back in the 1980Â’s a large hole in the ozone layer suddenly appeared over Antarctica and surprised scientists. The hole in the sky spawned the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international treaty to phase out Freon and other chemicals that destroy the ozone layer. Still, the damage was done and skin cancer rates in the US have turned out to be much higher than earlier predicted. Ozone loss appears to have peaked in 2006. But it will be another 60 or so years or so before the protective layer is forecast to get back to normal. Author and journalist Dianne Dumanoski covered the Montreal Protocol for the Boston Globe in 1987 and says the ozone story has much to teach us today.

DUMANOSKI: One of the things that was really ironic about this was that shortly before the hole in the ozone layer appeared, the National Academy of Sciences research council had done the final of its four assessments on ozone depletion and had concluded that the problem was not as severe as we thought. And then - bam - we have this report out of left field about this dramatic loss of ozone. And you had the scientific community debating about whether this was man-made, or a natural event. And a whole lot of people found the idea that man-made chemicals could cause this bizarre disappearance of ozone to be inconceivable, basically. They thought the planet was robust and how could humans do enough, even with the modern scale, the modern industrial enterprise, to perturb it?

CURWOOD: The ozone problem, you write in your book, actually could have been much worse if the engineers involved, the chemical engineers, had used a slightly different refrigerant, cause this was first - these chemicals were first widely used in refrigerators. Can you tell me that story?

DUMANOSKI: Yes. Had Thomas Midgely, the inventor of CFCs, made his refrigerants with bromine rather than chlorine, we could have had catastrophic ozone loss by the early 1970s in all seasons, in all parts of the earth.


DUMANOSKI: Because atom for atom, bromine is a hundred times more destructive and it doesn’t require special conditions. In Antarctica you only have ozone depletion in the springtime when the sun is rising, and you need these special super cold clouds, polar stratospheric clouds that only occur over Antarctica. Had we had bromine in these refrigerants, these refrigerants could have destroyed the ozone layer anywhere and at all times.

CURWOOD: So what did the world do at the time to avoid truly catastrophic ozone depletion? We’ve got plenty of problems from it, but it didn’t push us over the edge really.

DUMANOSKI: Basically, when ozone depletion showed up, it showed up in a place never forecast, in a much more dramatic way, and via a chemistry that hadn’t even been thought of. So it was a complete surprise that blindsided scientists. Where you had basically 50% of the ozone layer over the South Pole disappearing in a matter of weeks. I mean it was just this science fiction event that was so bizarre and so beyond what was thought possible that the NASA computer kept consigning the data that the satellite was seeing to the junk file for further analysis later. If you had suggested, before this was actually documented, that this was possible, one leading scientist, Susan Solomon, said, “it would’ve been considered preposterous and alarmist.” The fact that it didn’t turn into worldwide catastrophe was perhaps in part because we got together and did a treaty called the Montreal protocol to start eliminating these chemicals.

CURWOOD: So the ozone story can be seen, actually, as a fairly good story. It’s still a problem but itÂ’s not a catastrophe. A treaty was put together. Caps were put on this. We took these chemicals as much as possible out of industrial circulation.

DUMANOSKI: That was a positive development for sure, and at the time there was huge optimism that this would be a model that we could follow and move on quite swiftly to climate change. I can, in fact, remember the day I was in a room in Montreal, when the treaty events were concluding, and I remember speaking with a Norwegian diplomat who was saying to me “well onto climate change.” And there was a feeling that we were going to roll forward to the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 and really get moving and deal with these problems of global change. We went to Rio, but we seemed to go home and take off on another track.

Environmental conditions above Antarctica make it the worse location on earth for rapid ozone depletion. (NASA)

CURWOOD: Around climate, there’s much controversy in the political realm about the science. How does that compare to what happened over the ozone layer? What lessons could we take from our experience with ozone and the scientific debate there and bring into the present?

DUMANOSKI: Well I think one of the important lessons is that uncertainty cuts both ways. That our ignorance is often far greater than our knowledge. And that we’re playing a game where nature holds a lot of wild cards. And that we’re likely to go through the century knocked off our feet by surprises. So I think uncertainty is no reason to continue playing this Russian roulette with the planetary system. Uncertainty could mean that we do not emerge at the end of the century with organized human life.

CURWOOD: Dianne Dumanoski’s latest book is “The End of the Long Summer,” thank you so much Dianne.

DUMANOSKI: Thanks Steve.

[MUSIC: Ozone: Various Artists “Ozone” from Space Oddities (Permanent Vacation Music/Good To Go 2008)]

Related links:
- EPA page on Ozone Depletion
- EPA annual report of stratospheric ozone depletion

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Science Note/Micro-Ear

CURWOOD: Just ahead – how to spot the birds – when you can’t see them. But first this note on emerging science from Bridget Macdonald.


MACDONALD: Stethoscopes let doctors hear inside the human body. Now researchers have found a way to tune into individual cells. Researchers in the United Kingdom are developing a micro-ear device that will let them listen to cells by using laser technology. Scientists surround a cell with a ring of laser beams, each with tiny glass or plastic beads suspended inside. When the cell makes a noise, the beads wobble – causing vibrations that are converted into sound waves. It’s the same way that acoustic energy becomes an audio signal inside a microphone. When the beads vibrate, a high-speed camera records their movement, so scientists can figure exactly where the sound is coming from. Researchers think the micro-ear could be used to eavesdrop on parasites and bacteria, like E. Coli. By understanding noises that come from an organism’s smallest moving parts, scientists hope to develop medicine that can stop them in their tracks. Even for microbiologists, it pays to be a good listener. That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Bridget Macdonald.

Related links:
- National Institute for Medical Research
- University of Glasgow, Bioelectronics
- University of Oxford, Bionanotechnology

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Birding by Ear

Bill Gette of Mass Audubon leads the Blind Birders.

CURWOOD: America is going for the birds. Literally. According to a survey by The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, bird watching is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in the nation. More than 50 million Americans report that they watch birds. But as Living on Earth’s senior correspondent Bruce Gellerman learned, there can be a lot more to birding than meets the eye.

Bill Gette scoops up some salt marsh muck. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

GELLERMAN: An hour north of Boston, on Plum Island, is The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, a 46 hundred-acre birder paradise.

GETTE: It’s one of the most spectacular birding areas on the east coast.

GELLERMAN And Bill Gette should know. He’s Sanctuary Director of Massachusetts Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center—just up the coast from the national refuge.

GETTE: It includes marshlands, saltwater marshes, ocean beaches, some upland forest on the mainland side. We have a lot of nesting birds, including the endangered piping plover and least tern. So people come into this area to view birds throughout the year.

Bill Gette of Mass Audubon leads the Blind Birders. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

GELLERMAN And then there are people who come here once a year who don’t view birds.

DONOVAN: I used to think birding was all watching with binoculars and everything. That’s what I used to think.

GELLERMAN: Dorothy Donovan is a lifelong bird lover…she’s been coming to the national refuge every year more than a decade, but she’s never seen a bird.

DONOVAN: I’ve always liked birds. My mother used to have us watch the birds in the yard. We’d all go out and she’d tell me what was going on and I would listen to them sing. It’s always been a part of my natural world.

GELLERMAN: When did you lose your sight?

DONOVAN: I was one of those premature babies who got too much oxygen.

GELLERMAN: so you were born without sight?

DONOVAN: Basically, yes.

The salt marsh boardwalk. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

GELLERMAN: Dorothy Donovan is with the Lowell Association for the Blind. The group has been part of Mass Audubon’s Birding by Ear program since it started 11 years ago.

GETTE: Ok, we’re going to meet over here….

(car horn)

GELLERMAN: The blind birders gather in a parking lot at the national refuge.
Bill Gette leads the group slowly down a dirt path into a maritime forest filled with 30-foot pin-cherry and birch.

(sfx Yellow Warbler)

GETTE: Ok why don’t we do this folks. We’re going to move up…a little bit…there’s a little bit of a hill…but if you listen to your left hand side…there’s a Yellow Warbler. And it’s singing sweet sweet sweet…I’m so sweet or sweet sweet sweet sweeter than sweet…Oh do you hear the Towhee?


GELLERMAN: The path pitches down. It’s slippery. Some of the blind birders use canes, but not all.

GETTE: Just go slow, haha - just don’t make any rash moves.

GELLERMAN: Bill Gette discovers something at every step. He stops, and waits for the group to collect.

GETTE: When we go on these trips we’re birding by ear but we also make an attempt to show and have them smell as many different things, so use as many senses as possible.

GELLERMAN : There’s moss, honeysuckle and bayberry. Gette snaps off a twig from a low bush.

GETTE: This is certainly a nice one smell that.

GELLERMAN: Oh, smells like a rose - that’s a rose?

GETTE: Yes, that’s a rose. A beautiful rose, pink color, rose and the thorns. Folks, I’m going to pass back a rose. It has little thorns so you’ll want to be careful of that but smell the flower. ItÂ’s a beautiful Rosa Rugosa.

CINASVICH: Oh, you find a lot of this on Cape Cod near the beach.

GELLERMAN: Sharon Cinsavich has macular degeneration — and just had cataract surgery in both eyes. But she wouldn’t miss the birding by ear field trip for the world.

CINSAVICH: It’s very important because I have a lot of faith and it makes me feel closer to God’s nature and that’s good.

Bruce Interviewing Sharon Cinsavich. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)


GETTE: Oh there’s a Redstart, that real squeaky song - and a Catbird. Oh, the Redstart is really quite close. Let me just – psst - sometimes when you make that noise you can actually attract the birds come closer – pssst - psst.

GELLERMAN: Bill Gette can hardly finish a sentence without identifying a bird. He’s a world-class birder and naturalist. The Birding by Ear program for the blind was his idea.

GETTE: Can you imagine being blind? OK? I can’t imagine it. And I can’t imagine not being interested in natural history either. Its part of my soul or whatever you want to say. So we so enjoy it but we also think it’s a really important part of the Massachusetts Audubon mission, to get out and try to get as many people excited about the natural world and conserving it as we possible can. That’s what we’re in the business to do.

GELLERMAN: Mass. Audubon volunteers lead the birders out of the steps down the forest path onto a narrow boardwalk stretching out over the Merrimack salt marsh.

VOLUNTEER: Yeah, we’re going left again. Now there’s a little lip, not a step just a little lip, about an inch down.

[canes tapping]

GELLERMAN: Violet Santamaria tap, tap,taps her cane, to make sure she doesn’t fall into the salty muck. She has a little vision in one eye, but her hearing is sharp, and she quickly identifies the song of the marsh wren that Bill Gette describes as a burst of bubbles.

GETTE: It’s a small bird only about the size of a chickadee.

SANTAMARIA: Oh, oh, oh! Hear that bird! I’ve never seen a marsh wren. But I can hear it – haha! – chip – chip – haha! Chip – chip – chip!

George Desmaris with a branch twig. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

DESMARIS: It’s so peaceful you don’t even hear traffic. Just nature – haha!

GELLERMAN: 84-year-old George Desmaris wears thick, thick glasses but navigates without a cane.

DESMARIS: Well, between cataracts and macular degeneration, I’m almost legally blind.

GELLERMAN: Do you feel like you’re missing anything not being able to see the birds?

DESMARIS: Well I can hear them - ha ha! It doesn’t feel any different. I just can’t see them as well but I enjoy it just as much as I did before.

GELLERMAN: HereÂ’s a step.

DESMARIS: Yep, it is a little frustrating not being able to see all the finer points of it as I once could but hey - it’s beautiful.

Violet Santamaria goes birding. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

GELLERMAN The day is crystal clear and warm. Tall green grasses and cattails line the boardwalk as it cuts a path through the salt marsh. It’s a wonderful sight even for those with just peripheral vision.

HESS: See, I have an advantage! See the dark green? YouÂ’ve got a white boardwalk down through the center - more or less it’s bleached - and I can see it.

GELLERMAN: Ed Hess lost his most of his sight to macular degeneration 6 years ago but he’s a birding by ear veteran.

HESS: I enjoy it - it’s about my 5th trip here with the blind. Thoroughly enjoy it.

GELLERMAN: I see you’ve got a camera.

HESS: Yeah.

GELLERMAN: So you take pictures?

HESS: Yeah, always took pictures. I enjoy photographs.

GELLERMAN: So even though you can’t see so well, you still take pictures?

HESS: Yeah, I aim in the general direction and then I go to one of these stores where you can adjust the size and what scope you have on it and all like that. I still have a very expensive camera I can’t use with a telephoto lens. I can’t see what I’m homing in on.

GELLERMAN: Photographer Al Trudeau has his sight. He’s come to the refuge to take photos. His expensive camera is perched on a tripod; a humongous lens points to a distant tree but Trudeau isn’t having much luck spotting birds.

TRUDEAU You hear it. You locate it. You try to get the visual. My end result is visual.

GELLERMAN: Can you identify the sounds of the birds.

TRUDEAU: IÂ’m not good at it….hahah!

GELLERMAN But Bill Gette sure is.

GETTE : We had the Catbird, the Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat….

GELLERMAN: He ticks off the birds we’ve heard this day. He says not being able to see the birds isn’t a handicap.


GETTE: In some cases actually to survey birds, it’s better to listen for them because you’ve seen 2 birds but I’m sure there are at least 20 that we’ve already experienced but we’ve only seen 2. Right behind you there’s a Redstart. There’s a Towhee again singing drink your tea, hear that song.

GELLERMAN: The birds will be in full voice throughout the summer but Bill Gette warns stay away until mid-August - or the greenhead flies will eat you alive.

GETTE: But in the fall you should come back sometime in the evening when we have 30 or 40 thousand Tree Swallows here. It’s a natural history wonder, it’s just fantastic.

GELLERMAN: A gift for the ear, the eye, and all the senses. For Living on Earth I’m Bruce Gellerman.

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CURWOOD: We leave you this week in some hot water – but don’t worry, you’re not in trouble.

[geothermal bubbling]

CURWOOD: Yellowstone National Park is known for its geothermal features, and hot springs are the most common. This small hot spring percolates right into the Yellowstone River. Jeff Rice enjoyed the bubbling and recorded it for the University of Utah Marriott Library, westernsoundscape.org.

[MUSIC: Geothermal Hot Springs recorded by Jeff Rice for The University Of Utah, Marriott Library westernsoundscape.org]

The Institute of Museum and Library Services funds the Western Soundscape Archive: http://www.imls.gov/
Visit the Western Soundscape Archive: westernsoundscape.org)

CURWOOD: Today Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. The crew of our very first program back in 1991 included Gary Covino, Peter Thomson, Lisa Weiner, Jim St. Louis , Debra Stavro and George Homsy. Our original theme music was by Michael Aahron, and Bruce Gellerman helped design the billboard. You can hear all of the first broadcast of Living on Earth - that’s 1000 episodes ago - by going to loe.org. I’m Steve Curwood, and a word of thanks to all of you who over the years have made Living on Earth and now it’s younger sibling myplanetharmony.com, possible. It’s been a wonderful journey so far.

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 Town Creek Foundation supporting coverage of climate change and marine issues. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, dedicated to the idea that all people deserve a chance to live a healthy productive life. Information at gatesfoundation.org. And Pax World Mutual Funds, integrating environmental, social and governance factors into investment analysis and decision making. On the web at paxworld.com. Pax World, for tomorrow.


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