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

May 13, 2011

Air Date: May 13, 2011



Flammable Gas In Drinking Water From Hydraulic Fracking

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Researchers have found dangerously high levels of the explosive gas methane in the drinking water of homes located within two thirds of a mile of hydraulic fracking wells. Duke University environmental scientist Robert Jackson tells host Bruce Gellerman that the water in some homes near the natural gas extraction wells show as much as 17 times the normal amount of methane, levels that can cause tap water to catch on fire. (06:00)

Cut the Deficit By Cutting Oil Subsidies, Senate Democrats Say / Mitra Taj

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The Senate Democratic leardership wants to repeal two billion dollars worth of subsidies for the five biggest oil companies. Living on Earth's Washington Correspondent Mitra Taj reports on the opposition and efforts to make the proposal more palatable to fiscal conservatives. (06:30)

Coal in the Classroom / Jeff Young

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Children’s books publisher Scholastic is taking money from the coal industry to teach elementary students the benefits of coal. The coal industry calls it “progress.” Some academics call it “propaganda.” It’s just the latest example of the coal industry’s forays into the classroom. In Kentucky, taxpayer money supports a coal industry program that offers students misleading information about climate change. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports on coal in the classroom. (07:00)

Japan Says No More Nukes

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Nuclear safety expert David Lochbaum brings us up to date on the reactors at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power complex in Japan. He speaks with host Bruce Gellerman about the first photos from inside the reactors, and the prospects for the surrounding land and for nuclear power in East Asia as Japan calls a halt to its own nuclear power expansion plans. (05:40)

Plugging Kids Into the Great Outdoors

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Is your kids’ nature deficit disorder getting you down? Commentator Bonnie Auslander thinks she may have the right prescription for getting children outside. (03:00)

Cool Fix / Air Batteries / Sean Faulk

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The lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars today may be good for the environment, but they are too bulky. Now, researchers are developing what they call a lithium-air battery that will weigh less and give more. Living on Earth’s Sean Faulk reports. (01:40)

Belly Button Biomes

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Researchers explore one of the last biological frontiers: the microbial jungle that is our belly button. Jiri Hulcr, a postdoc in biology at North Carolina State University, leads the quest. (06:15)

Climate Change and Chasing Chile Peppers

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On a pepper-harvesting excursion across North America, a chef and an ethnobotanist find that climate change is altering peppers and affecting the people who pick them. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with the duo, Chef Kurt Michael Friese and Professor Gary Paul Nabhan, about their book Chasing Chiles, and samples a few spicy fruits in the process. (Photo: Kim McWane Friese) (11:00)

**NEW**Coal in The Classroom Story Triggers Response / Jeff Young

Media attention to the coal industry’s influence in classrooms—including Living on Earth’s story—brought a quick response. (Image: Scholastic, Inc.) ()

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Robert Jackson, David Lochbaum, Jiri Hulcr, Gary Paul Nabhan, Kurt Michael Friese
REPORTERS: Mitra Taj, Jeff Young, Bonnie Auslander, Sean Faulk

GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Fracking is experiencing explosive growth, releasing vast amounts of methane from rock. But new research suggests it's not all it's cracked up to be.

JACKSON: When you looked at houses that were near a natural gas well, you had much higher concentrations of methane - concentrations that are a danger for flammability and even explosions.

GELLERMAN: Coming up - finding methane in all the wrong places. Also, oil subsidies are running out of gas, and kids get lessons in the virtues of coal - courtesy of coal companies and Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of children’s books.

BONINGER: It’s branded materials that pretend to be education. You know, they’re not really education - they’re propaganda. It intentionally portrays only the positive aspects of the coal industry.

GELLERMAN: These stories and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around!

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


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Flammable Gas In Drinking Water From Hydraulic Fracking

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, isn’t new - it’s been around for more than 60 years. But advances in the process over the past decade have revolutionized the natural gas business.

Drillers, or frackers, pump a cocktail of water, sand, and chemicals deep into the ground under high pressure, cracking open rock, releasing the natural gas locked in shale formations. Today’s technology enables frackers to drill not just down but sideways. But with the expansion of fracking come concerns that methane might be leaking into the drinking water wells of people living near the drill sites.

Robert Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University, studied fracking fields in Pennsylvania and New York State. His research is the first scientific study to show there is a problem.

JACKSON: Well, surprisingly, we found that if you were living near a natural gas well, less than a kilometer away, you were much more likely to have very high methane concentrations in your drinking water - if you were on a private water well.

GELLERMAN: What was the methane doing in the water?

Robert Jackson is an environmental scientist at Duke University

JACKSON: Well I think the most likely explanation is that gas well casings are leaking and that methane is leaking out into the surrounding rock and aquifers and moving that way. But to be perfectly honest, we don’t know the precise mechanism.

GELLERMAN: And so the well casing - that’s the shaft that the gas comes up through and then goes up to the ground.

JACKSON: That’s correct - metal tubes and then cement that provide a protective buffer on the outside.

GELLERMAN: Isn’t methane commonly found, in low levels, in wells?

JACKSON: Methane at low levels is common, especially in the region where we worked. But when you looked at houses that were near a natural gas well, you had much higher concentrations of methane - up into concentrations that are a danger for flammability and even explosions.

GELLERMAN: Can you trace it back to the wells?
JACKSON: Well we couldn’t trace it physically to the well because we, one, don’t have access to the wells - they’re private. Gas wells are private. And we can’t see through the rock. The way we tried to trace it is to use the chemical signature - the isotopes of methane. And what we found was that methane in high concentrations looked much more like deep methane from far underground than the methane that’s found naturally in shallow layers.

GELLERMAN: So one could assume, or draw the conclusion, that this was probably coming from the fracking of the earth.

JACKSON: I think it’s very likely. And we also went one more step: we looked at actual samples coming out of a handful of gas wells, attained data from those wells from the state of Pennsylvania - and when you compare those data to the houses right around those wells, the match was almost perfect.

GELLERMAN: So are these high levels of methane in the drinking water - are they dangerous? I mean, here this stuff is odorless, it’s colorless, it’s tasteless, so is it dangerous?

JACKSON: Typically we don’t worry about methane until the concentrations are so high that someone gets dizzy or asphyxiates, in a coalmine for instance, or when flammability comes into play. One of the things that we’ve called for as a result of our study is for a medical panel to look at the chronic low-level consequences of methane. What happens to people if they breathe or ingest methane through time? I’ve been unable to find any peer-reviewed literature that studies this. And I think it’s something that needs looking at.

GELLERMAN: Did I hear you correctly, did you say there are no health studies about the effect of methane in drinking water?

JACKSON: Well I’m not a medical doctor, but I could not find any studies looking at lower-level concentrations of methane in drinking water - that’s correct.

GELLERMAN: So what are the chemicals that are used in fracking?

JACKSON: Well in fracking fluids, there are everything from sand, which is used to keep open cracks that are formed - sometimes there are organics such as benzene or toluene. Controversially there has been diesel oil that’s used, some acids…there’s a whole potpourri or smörgåsbord of compounds that are used.
We found no evidence for fracking fluids at all - that is most definitely good news. And if in fact the problems that we saw with methane arise primarily from leaking well casings, that may also be a relatively simple problem to fix through better standards for the wells, better application of existing standards…so in a sense, this problem may be able to be fixed fairly easily. We just don’t know yet.

GELLERMAN: So how is it that we have had so many years of fracking and there really is no federal regulations overseeing this whole practice?

JACKSON: You have to remember that the revolution of shale gas is relatively new - it’s only been occurring for approximately a decade. And it’s the shale gas revolution that has brought fracking to the fore. So I think really it’s just a matter of people not thinking about it and not having to think about it until, all of a sudden, there was an explosion of shale gas. The Department of Energy’s estimates for the available natural gas and shale gas have doubled in the last year or two. It’s in West Virginia, Texas - where it began - Arkansas, Louisiana. It’s coming to my home state of North Carolina.

A mixture of water, sand, and chemicals are forced down a well shaft to fracture shale and force natural gas (methane) to the surface where it is collected to use as an energy source. (Photo: Pro Publica)

It’s not that the gas wasn’t known about before. It’s just that people didn’t know that you could get it out of the ground cheaply. As an environmental scientist, I don’t know what to wish for sometimes anymore. The shale gas revolution has been a tremendous boom for this country - it’s domestic, it’s cleaner than coal…but it is extremely cheap right now and that low cost is providing a brake, I believe, on the implementation of renewables like solar and wind. It makes it harder for those renewables to penetrate the market.

GELLERMAN: Well, Professor Jackson, thanks so much!

JACKSON: Thank you, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Robert Jackson is an environmental scientist at Duke University.

Related link:
Report: Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Facturing

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Cut the Deficit By Cutting Oil Subsidies, Senate Democrats Say

GELLERMAN: Well despite record profits last year - 30 billion dollars - U.S. oil companies paid an effective tax rate of just two percent. But now prices at the pump are soaring and the nation is deep in debt, so some in Congress want to cut the billions of dollars oil companies get in federal subsidies and tax credits. The Senate Finance Committee recently invited the CEOs of the top five oil companies to Capitol Hill. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat from New York, quizzed ConocoPhillips CEO, Jim Mulva.

SCHUMER: Do you think your subsidy is more important than the financial aid we give to students to go to college? Could you answer that: yes or no?

MULVA: Well that's a very difficult question for me - they're two different, totally different questions.

SCHUMER: But we have to weigh those two things, Mr. Mulva. We have to weigh it because we have to get the deficit down to a certain level. So which would be - if you had a choice of one or the other as an American citizen, which would you choose?

MULVA: Well Senator, that's a choice that, legislatively, you're going to have to be making.

GELLERMAN: And Congress is set to make that choice. Soon it will decide if oil subsidies stay or go. Living on Earth’s Mitra Taj reports.

TAJ: With high gas prices and oil profits at an all-time high, Senate Democrats are throwing their political weight behind a bill to repeal subsides for the country’s biggest oil companies. Senate majority leader Harry Reid says the reform is a no-brainer at a time when reducing the deficit is a top priority.

REID: Seniors are struggling - oil companies are not struggling. Yet Republicans want to keep handing billions of dollars to the oil companies and ending Medicare as we know it.

TAJ: The legislation would undo special tax credits, deductions, and royalty relief for the country’s five largest oil companies, redirecting two billion dollars a year to the U.S. Treasury. Much of that would come from changes to the foreign tax credit, which gives companies doing business abroad a dollar per dollar refund on taxes paid to foreign governments. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the lead sponsor of the legislation, says oil companies have found a special loophole in the credit that he wants to close.

After saying he'd consider removing tax breaks for oil companies, House Speaker John Boehner changed his mind and said all tax forms of tax increases are non-negotiable. (Courtesy of the House of Representatives)

MENENDEZ: U.S. oil and gas companies have smart lawyers and accountants, and they have figured out that if you can convince foreign governments, such as Nigeria, to charge you taxes instead of royalties on your exploration, then they can get a big break on U.S. taxes. This amounts to the U.S. government subsidizing foreign oil production.

TAJ: This isn’t the first time Menendez, from New Jersey, has authored legislation targeting benefits enjoyed by the oil industry. But Democratic co-sponsor Claire McCaskill is from the more conservative Missouri and is one of the most politically vulnerable Senators facing re-election in 2012. She says she signed up for the bill when it became clear the money recovered from oil companies would only be used to reduce the deficit.

MCCASKILL: I support the bill because it goes toward deficit reduction. I will not support the bill if it goes for any other purpose.

TAJ: McCaskill says she’s confident voters paying around four dollars a gallon for gas will agree.

MCCASKILL: This ought to be the essence of low-hanging fruit. This ought to be a bill that goes to the floor and receives unanimous support. If anybody believes that the oil companies aren’t going to remain the most profitable companies on the planet after we enact this bill, then I’ve got a car that I want to sell you that runs on sunshine.

TAJ: Actually, there are electric cars that can be powered by solar energy on the market, and President Obama wants them to steer us away from our oil addiction. His idea was to pay for clean energy investments with the subsidies now given to oil companies. But Democrats in the Senate decided to abandon that approach for one they think would be harder for fiscal conservatives to say no to: instead of turning the oil offsets into green subsidies, they’ll put them toward deficit reduction: instead of removing subsidies for all oil companies, as the President proposed, they’ll just take them from the most profitable companies.

But Republicans have roundly dismissed the proposal as an energy tax. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cited work of the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.

MCCONNELL: The Congressional Research Service tells us that raising taxes on American energy will do two things: it will increase the price of gas, and it will increase our dependence on foreign competitors. By taxing American energy production, they’re also outsourcing American jobs. So let me get this straight - higher gas prices, fewer American jobs, and more dependence on foreign competitors at the expense of American energy? That’s their plan? No thank you.

TAJ: The research service analyzed the President’s broader plan to repeal oil subsidies and did conclude it could result in small-scale increases in gas prices. But the service followed up with a look at provisions in the current Senate bill and concluded gas prices wouldn’t be affected. Economist Doug Koplow follows energy subsidies for the organization Earth Track. He says while Republicans call the legislation a tax, subsidies are really more like spending - a way to favor one group over others.

KOPLOW: One way to think about it is that we have a government that requires money for its operations, and the government collects that money from its citizens and its corporations. And if you come out with special rules that allow certain citizens or certain corporations to pay less than other people, you have a shortfall in revenues that needs to be made up - usually by higher taxes on the people left paying the fees and taxes.

TAJ: Republicans say the bill is a distraction from the trillions of dollars in cuts they want to make. But the most vocal opposition has come from within the Democratic Party itself. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana took to the Senate floor to defend the companies that do business in oil-rich states.

LANDRIEU: Some states like to consume a lot and produce nothing. We produce enough energy for everybody in our state - what we need - and we export it to everyone else in America that needs it. And what do we get? We get bills like this that go after, directly, the big companies in our state, that work in our state, to somehow put them in a position that makes them feel like they’re not really good companies, they’re not American companies, they get all these subsidies.

TAJ: With Landrieu and a few other Democrats prepared to vote ‘No,’ the proposal to make oil companies pay more taxes is unlikely to succeed in the Senate. There, even a unified 51 Democrats struggle to find a few Republicans to overcome a filibuster. And in the House, a similar proposal was shot down by Republicans who passed their own answer for voters frustrated with high gas prices: legislation to expand and speed up offshore oil drilling. For Living on Earth, I’m Mitra Taj in Washington.

Related links:
- For more on the Senate bill, click here
- The CRS report on impacts on gas prices
- The CRS report on the President's proposal
- ConocoPhillips released a statement calling the proposals "un-American"
- Senator Landrieu defends oil companies

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[MUSIC:] Al DiMeola “A Brave New World” from Pursuit Of radical Rhapsody (Telarc Records 2011)

GELLERMAN: Just ahead - the coal industry hits the books: buying friends and influencing kids in the classroom. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

[CUTAWAY MUSIC:] Grover Washington: Not Yet” from A Secret Place (Verve Music group 1976)

Coal in the Classroom

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. The name Scholastic should ring a bell - a school bell that is. If you went to public school in the United States, you might remember the Scholastic company’s book clubs. Scholastic, Inc. is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books.

“Clifford the Big Red Dog,” “The Magic School Bus” series - just two of the company’s vast offerings made possible because of its partnerships with authors and artists. But now Scholastic is drawing criticism for another partnership - one with the coal industry. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports on coal’s efforts to influence kids in classrooms.

YOUNG: The American Coal Foundation paid Scholastic to help produce and place in classrooms maps and worksheets called the “United States of Energy.” At first glance, it looks like an exploration of all sources of electricity. But much of the information comes from the National Mining Association, a coal-lobbying group. And these exercises for children subtly emphasize coal’s benefits.

CHILD’S VOICE: How is the energy collected from nature? What are the benefits of this kind of energy?

YOUNG: But there are no questions asking kids about any drawbacks.

Scholastic, Inc., helped the American Coal Foundation place the “United States of Energy” materials in 4th grade classrooms. The map highlights the top coal producing states. (Scholastic, Inc.)

CHILD’S VOICE: Follow along this flow chart to learn how coal is turned into electricity. One, miners dig for coal in surface or underground mines. Two,…

YOUNG: For example, this chart does not mention damage from mining or pollution. The pictured miner doesn’t have a smudge of coal dust. The power plant has no smokestack. An attractive map highlights top coal producing states. Solar power shows up only once - in the desert.

CHILD’S VOICE: Bonus - coal is the source of half of the electricity produced in the United States. Research - a coal-producing state.

YOUNG: These materials strike some education watchdogs and environmental educators as one-sided and not in keeping with criteria for fairness or balance.

BONINGER: You know, they’re not really education - they’re propaganda.

YOUNG: That’s Faith Boninger, a research analyst with Arizona State University’s Commercialism in Education Research Unit.

BONINGER: It’s not meeting the standard of being unbiased. It intentionally portrays only the positive aspects of the coal industry.

YOUNG: Boninger says it’s unlikely that a busy teacher would seek out other materials to provide balance, especially because the Scholastic brand is so trusted. That reputation was clearly a selling point for the American Coal Foundation. A post on the Foundation’s Coal Blog notes that, “Four out of five parents know and trust the Scholastic brand.”

The 1991 video, paid for by coal burning electric companies, claims, “Our planet is deficient in CO2, and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations would be very beneficial.” (CEDAR Program)

The Coal Foundation had been distributing materials on its own, but only about 7,000 teachers got the packages. Since the partnership with Scholastic, the Foundation says 66,000 fourth grade teachers have received materials to build into lesson plans. The Coal Foundation did not respond to an interview request. The advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is pressuring Scholastic to end the coal-funded project. Josh Golin is the campaign’s associate director.

GOLIN: I think all of us remember, you know, getting Scholastic book club flyers in schools and the thrill of opening our books when they arrived. So that’s why it’s so valuable to the coal industry to have Scholastic’s name on this - is because Scholastic has just a wonderful reputation among educators and in this case it’s ill deserved.

YOUNG: A Scholastic representative declined to be interviewed. Instead, she emailed a brief statement, which reads, in part, “Since the program is designed for elementary schoolchildren, the materials do not attempt to cover all of the complex issues around the sourcing and consumption of energy,” end quote.

The Scholastic partnership is just the latest example of the coal industry’s influence in classrooms. In the Appalachian mining communities of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, mining companies sponsor something called CEDAR, Coal Education Development and Resources. John Justice directs the CEDAR program in eastern Kentucky.

JUSTICE: All the coverage that the coal industry has received through the years through the media has all been negative. I mean, you’ll just not read anything positive about coal. So we wanted to give students and teachers an opportunity to look at the other side.

YOUNG: CEDAR offers teachers booklets and DVDs produced by coal-burning utility AEP and mining giant Peabody Coal. One emphasizes how Kentucky has benefited from reclaimed mine land. There is little mention of any negatives of strip mining. And on the issue of coal’s carbon dioxide emissions, CEDAR offers teachers this video, titled “The Greening of Planet Earth.”

[VIDEO EXCERPT - NARRATOR: And as more and more scientists are confirming, our world is deficient in carbon dioxide and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 is very beneficial.]

YOUNG: That 1991 video was paid for by a group of coal-burning power companies. Its claims are widely discredited. But it’s one of the few items CEDAR offers students to learn about climate change. Justice says the Kentucky CEDAR program’s biggest annual event is coming later this month, when some 500 students will participate in the regional Coal Fair.

JUSTICE: The Coal Fair is - students can enter a coal project where coal has to be the theme. It’s sort of like the science fair, if you remember the old type science fair.

YOUNG: Some projects explore geology through the creation of coal, or physics by way of coal combustion. But a number of projects read and sound like industry talking points. Here’s a sample of past fair projects in the music category.

“There are many uses of coal, and coal is a
great natural resource.”
“Coal, Coal, Coal, Coal.”
“Believe, when I say, Coal is the right way!”
“Can’t give up, Can’t give up,’Cause without coal
we would freeze to death! And not be able to

YOUNG: If it sounds like kids are just repeating industry slogans, that’s okay with John Justice.

Coal in the classroom? The coal industry is gaining access to tens of thousands of classrooms with help from the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and, in Kentucky, taxpayer dollars. (Photo illustration: Bobby Bascomb)

JUSTICE: Well, you know, our program is to focus on the positive. Knowing that the negative is out there - either they’ve been exposed to it or they will be. And this way - this is the way that we view it’ll balance them out.

YOUNG: Justice says Coal Fair judges will award up to 12,000 dollars in prizes. The grand winners get a trip to Myrtle Beach. Some of this is paid for by Kentucky taxpayers. This year the state budget gave CEDAR 85,000 dollars. Taxpayers have provided about one and a half million dollars over the life of the eastern Kentucky program. I asked education analyst Faith Boninger at Arizona State University to assess the CEDAR materials and Coal Fair.

BONINGER: They just have every angle covered - they’re really very impressive. (Laughs). I mean, the student buy-in through the projects and the teacher buy-in…I just find those really insidious.

YOUNG: But Boninger doesn’t blame the coal industry for trying to clean up its image in classrooms. She says it’s the school officials, teachers, and parents who ultimately must decide how children will learn about our energy choices. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young.

In one of the Kentucky Coal Fair projects, students tweak the lyrics of a Backstreet Boys song into a coal slogan: “Coal Is the Right Way!” Ironically, band member Kevin Richardson, a native Kentuckian, is an outspoken critic of coal mining’s damages.

***Click Here for an Update on the story*** -- Media attention to the coal industry’s influence in classrooms—including Living on Earth’s story—brought a quick response.

Related links:
- Scholastic’s “United States of Energy” materials
- Scholastic Teaching Materials
- Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
- CEDAR of Eastern Kentucky
- American Coal Foundation
- In Kentucky, the coal industry’s CEDAR program offers this video for classroom use. The 1991 production, paid for by coal burning electric companies, claims, “Our planet is deficient in CO2, and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations would be very beneficial.”

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[MUSIC: Coal Fair Project - “Where would we be without coal?”]

Japan Says No More Nukes

GELLERMAN: It’s been just over two months since the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. And the radioactive and public policy fallout has spread worldwide. In Germany, a government committee is recommending that all of the nation’s 17 nuclear plants be shut down within a decade. Switzerland has stopped the development of new reactors. And Japan is rethinking its nuclear future.

Prime Minister Kan says the nation is going to abandon plans to construct 14 new reactors and instead start from scratch to develop an energy policy based on renewable sources and conservation. David Lochbaum directs the Union of Concerned Scientists' Nuclear Safety Project.

LOCHBAUM: Well I think it’s - it is ambitious, it's going to be a difficult challenge - but I think it's possible because if you look at the history of nuclear power, the first time that anybody on the planet split an atom to produce electricity was back in 1952 in Idaho. And that test lit up four light bulbs. We went from lighting up four light bulbs to having over four hundred nuclear power plants in about 50 years. So if there’s a rallying cry behind renewables or alternatives to nuclear power, it seems like they could have the same growth in the future that nuclear power has had in the past.

The refueling floor of Fukushima I Unit 4. The yellow is the the head of the drywell, removed during refueling. Unit 4 holds significant numbers of highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies. (TEPCO)

GELLERMAN: News from the Fukushima disaster has really slowed, but is it still dangerous - are these reactors and fuel pools still leaking?

LOCHBAUM: Well the plus side: the more time that goes by, the decay heat levels drop off, they’re getting better treatment of the water - all the water that’s been dumped in the basements and places - they’re now treating that water, cleaning it up, and limiting how much leaks out to the ocean and ground. So there’s a lot of progress being made dealing with the challenges they have. At the same time, the challenges themselves are diminishing - so that’s all on the plus side. On the downside is that there’s still a lot of contaminated water within the buildings.

GELLERMAN: Do they know what’s going on in these reactors? I know that immediately after the disaster, they lacked the instruments - they lost total understanding of what was going on in these reactors.

LOCHBAUM: The primary problem that they faced was the total loss of power. You know, the instrumentation was dead. The computer was dead. All their instruments throughout the plant monitoring temperature, pressure, and water levels were not telling them anything. Only in the last few days have humans been allowed to re-enter the reactor building to assay what was damaged. You know, what equipment’s available if I restore power to it, what equipment’s been broken that’s a waste of time to try to restore power. So they’re still doing, essentially, a CSI: Nuclear to figure out what they’ve got over there - what works, what doesn’t work.

GELLERMAN: They got the first images from inside some of these reactors - have you seen them?

LOCHBAUM: I’ve seen some of them. For example, the remote camera they dropped into the Unit Four spent fuel pool makes things look much better than had been anticipated. The racks and the fuel themselves looks like they’re intact. That’s not the same case on the Unit Three spent fuel pool - that looks almost like the images of the people diving on the Titanic. It’s just a mire of debris and mess, and it’s a very bad situation.

David Lochbaum is director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He worked in power plants for 17 years and is a nuclear engineer by training. (InvestigateNY)

GELLERMAN: So let’s see, we have…how many reactor cores were damaged?

LOCHBAUM: Three reactor cores - Units One, Two, and Three - have fairly significant fuel damage.

GELLERMAN: Are they still emitting radiation into the atmosphere, into the environment?

LOCHBAUM: Yes they are. The hydrogen explosions that were very vividly seen on Units One, Three, and Four destroyed the reactor buildings. So as the contaminated water evaporates, it’s got a direct pathway to the environment.

GELLERMAN: The first hundred of the 80,000 people that were evacuated from 12 miles around the plant returned to their homes recently, and - but what happens to that area now?

LOCHBAUM: There will have to be surveys done to see how badly contaminated the soil is. Depending on the results from those surveys, it may be possible to scrape the first few inches of soil away to remove the bulk of that radioactivity and leave, basically, uncontaminated soil beneath it. If the depth and the amount of contamination is higher than that, it may be cheaper just to abandon those areas for a period of time until that radioactivity decays away. So it’s going to be a combination of how badly it’s contaminated and how badly you need to re-enter those areas.

GELLERMAN: So right now, we really don’t know if those people can return to their homes.

LOCHBAUM: Well they are prioritizing areas that need to go back - for example, schools and other locations. So they’ll do the surveys on a triage system - you know, who needs the survey first, make a decision based on the results, and either allow people to re-enter or proceed with the cleanup so that re-entry can occur later.

GELLERMAN: David, how have other nations responded to Japan’s decision to scrap 14 reactors? China, for example - very ambitious plans. Have they said they’re going to rethink what they’re doing?

LOCHBAUM: The word we’ve heard out of China is that they’re revisiting their program. Reading between the lines, it doesn’t sound like China is going to abandon its program. One of the advantages China has is that they’ve embarked fairly recently on a construction program so they have the luxury of making adjustments to the designs without having to retrofit all those ideas into existing plants.

It’s hard to speculate because, a lot of times, I think I have more of a bowling ball than a crystal ball - but I think Fukushima is not going to be the end of nuclear power.

GELLERMAN: Well David, thank you so very much, I really appreciate it.

LOCHBAUM: Thank you, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: David Lochbaum is Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project.

Related links:
- Full bio for David Lochbaum at Union of Concerned Scientists
- Union of Concerned Scientists Nuclear Power program
- Tokyo Electric Power TEPCO News Releases
- Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear Tumblr blog
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission Fukushima page
- Prominent Japanese anti-nuclear group

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[MUSIC:] Ernest Ranglin “Bourbon Street Skank” from Below The Bassline (Island Jamaica Jazz 1996)

Plugging Kids Into the Great Outdoors

GELLERMAN: Now that warm weather is finally here, hikers are beginning to hit the trails. But what if hiking isn’t a hit with your kids? Commentator Bonnie Auslander has some advice.

AUSLANDER: For me, hiking has been an acquired taste. Like olives and anchovies, I didn’t really enjoy it until I was in my twenties. But my husband always liked being outside. To hear his parents tell it, he was a little Mozart of tree identification: he could spot the difference between a red oak and a white oak by the time he was 18 months old.

For a while it looked like our two children were falling close to the wrong tree. The indoor ficus from my past, that is. My kids preferred playing computer games and watching TV to spending time in nature. My daughter declared walking along the nearby canal “bohr-RING.” And my son complained whenever we went outside for longer than it takes to get from the front door to the car. Talk about nature deficit disorder!

A chocolate mountain birthday cake, complete with rock candy boulders and marzipan frogs. (Photo: Bonnie Auslander)

But two years ago it all began to change. We prodded them into climbing a mountain in Virginia where my daughter spied some vultures riding the currents. We found a little mountain in Maryland with a steep scramble to the rocky top that my son adored. He even held his seventh birthday party there, complete with a chocolate cake in the shape of a mountain. So what was behind this shift?

Number one: we took them to steep, rocky places. Kids like running uphill. Forget leisurely strolls along open meadows and go for elevation. Two: we used bribes strategically. The kids know that at the top of the trail, we’ll pull out the unhealthy gorp, the kind where the chocolate chips outnumber the nuts five to one. Three: we purchased equipment. We invested in binoculars, a compass, and some sketchbooks and colored pencils that come out only for hikes. Now for four - this one is so radical that I know it won’t work for everyone: we gave away the TV, and the DVD player, and locked up the laptops. For our family, it was just easier to get rid of it all rather than argue everyday over how to ration it.

Bonnie Auslander and her family take a hike along the Potomac. (Photo: Bonnie Auslander)

We un-tethered the kids from electronics two years ago, and more than anything else on my list it’s responsible for how they’ve changed. Nature has just gotten more interesting. On a recent hike, my son held out a striped pebble for me to admire. My daughter showed me how the reflection of leaves falling into the water seemed to rise up to meet the real leaf. You can try it too. It just takes a dose of willpower, binoculars, and some chocolate chips. Throw in the tree identification book, but leave the iPhone at home. You really don’t need it when you’re outdoors.

GELLERMAN: Bonnie Auslander hikes with her husband and two kids outside of Washington, D.C.

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[MUSIC:] Bill Frisell “Good Old People” from The Intercontinentals (Nonesuch 2003)

GELLERMAN: Coming up - probing the last frontier of the human biome, the belly button. Stay connected - it's Living on Earth!

ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Gilman Ordway - for coverage of conservation and environmental change. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.

[CUTAWAY MUSIC] Leo Tradin: “The Space Race” from Grandpianoramax (Obliquesound Records 2005)

Cool Fix / Air Batteries

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. Just ahead - chili today, hot tomorrow: global warming and picking a peck of hot peppers. But first, here's a Cool Fix for a Hot Planet from Sean Faulk.


FAULK: Thousands of cars on the road today now run on batteries instead of gas. With far fewer emissions than gas, batteries are great for the environment, but they weigh down a car and take up lots of space. Now, researchers have designed a battery that is partly made of air.

Electric cars today use lithium-ion batteries that contain lithium and other metals. Scientists at the Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina replaced those metals with oxygen to create what they call a lithium-air battery. It draws oxygen from the air, which reacts with the lithium to release energy. Researchers calculate that this new battery could supply up to ten times as much energy as a standard lithium-ion battery of the same weight. And this would allow batteries in electric cars to provide as much energy, pound for pound, as gasoline.

Scientists say the new lithium-air battery is still a long way from commercial use. But when it does come to market, drivers can say they are riding on air.

That’s this week’s Cool Fix for a Hot Planet, I’m Sean Faulk.

(Photo: Patrick Gillooly/MIT)


GELLERMAN: And if you have a Cool Fix for a Hot Planet - we'd love to hear it! Email it to Coolfix@loe.org. That’s Coolfix, all one word, at L-O-E dot org, or post it on our Facebook page - PRI’s Living on Earth. And if we use your idea on the air, we’ll send you a cool LOE shiny blue tire gauge.


Related link:
Link to original article

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Belly Button Biomes

GELLERMAN: Don't look now, but in all likelihood, lurking on your body are life forms that no scientist has ever studied. That is, until Jiri Hulcr began probing the microbial jungle we call our belly button. Hulcr is a postdoc in biology and chief navel gazer at the Belly Button Biodiversity Project at North Carolina State University. Jiri Hulcr - hello!

HULCR: Hello!

GELLERMAN: Belly Button Biodiversity Project? What do you find in the belly button growing that you don’t find in other parts of the body?

HULCR: It’s actually a fairly unique place on the body, not only because that’s where we all started - that obviously was our connection to our mothers in our past - but the belly button is one of the few places that no one ever notices, really. And, subsequently, no one ever really washes them. We asked people in completely anonymous questionnaires how often they washed their belly buttons with soap and it turns out that not many people do.

A lot of people lie about it, but not many people do. And so that’s great for the bacteria. We are trying to find out what the native, real, natural, undisturbed biota is on the human body. And the rest of the body either is heavily scrubbed daily in most people, such as the regular surface of skin, or other crevices and nooks and crannies, such as the armpit, or the nose, or the mouth and so on - they have special adaptations, they have special secretions, and they have other features that make the bacteria that live on them different than the rest of the skin. But the belly button doesn’t secrete anything - it’s just a safe haven for the bacteria and so it’s a great place to go sample them.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs). Well how do you sample a belly button?

A sample of the life that thrives inside our belly buttons. (North Carolina State University and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.)

HULCR: So we don’t actually do that. We don’t actually touch anybody - fear not. We provide everybody who is interested a Q-Tip and a vial, and each person samples their own navel. We plate them on a nutritious media, on which bacteria grow happily, and grow them. And this is what - these are the pictures - the agar plates, they’re called, that you see online in our database.

GELLERMAN: I was looking at these little dishes of bacteria. It looks like Google Earth.

HULCR: Sometimes it looks more like Google Stars, doesn’t it? They are really incredibly variable and form various constellations. We have so many people telling us that they see shapes there and that they see constellations or faces and so on.

GELLERMAN: Oh, I most definitely see a shape. Yours is one of those that was sampled, and yours looks like little islands.

HULCR: Oh yeah! And each of those islands is a little colony of millions and millions of bacteria. What you see on the plate are not actually individual large bacteria - which this was a surprise to us that a number of people thought that the little dots, the colorful blobs that they see, are big bacteria. That’s actually not true. They are composed of millions or trillions of individual, single-cell, minute bacteria that just happened to originate from a single one.

GELLERMAN: Boy, it’s a microbial jungle out there! Or down there!

HULCR: Indeed! We are really interested in the diversity. We are not only growing those bacteria to show to people - that’s more the fun part. We are actually taking most of the sample and isolating DNA, and we are reading this DNA to identify all the bacteria in the sample.

GELLERMAN: So what are you finding when you take these samples?

HULCR: We are finding big differences between people, for example. You can see that, even when you just take a look at the plate, everyone is slightly different in terms of abundance. That’s expectable - that’s also because…

GELLERMAN: Oh, for sure! I mean, I’m looking at Meg Lowman’s sample that’s online and hers is loaded - it looks like Australia and part of Southeast Asia there!

HULCR: (Laughs). Yes, no, that’s definitely the truth. That’s, of course, partly reflecting on how people are serious about their sampling. If they really poke in deep, then they’ll get a good sample. If they are a little hesitant, then we get only a few colonies, but the diversity - the numbers are one thing, but the numbers of kinds or species, if you will, are also…that’s also surprising.

GELLERMAN: You know, after you get past the, kind of, the laugh factor and the yuck factor - this is serious stuff. I mean, you were finding Pseudomonas, right?

HULCR: Absolutely. We are finding Staphylococcus, we are finding yeasts, we are finding Aspergillus filamentous fungus. We are finding lots of organisms that are normally, in most people’s minds, associated with a disease or with something unhealthy or dirty. One of the main goals, really, one of the long-term overarching goals of this project is to change people’s perception of their own symbiotic microflora. Only if something goes wrong, only if one member predominates, or if we scrub ourselves too much - for example, if we do something that’s akin to clear-cutting in the forest, then you get all the weeds growing really fast.

But if the forest is old and dominated by diversity of slow-growing and metabolically versatile trees, or in our case bacteria, then you generally tend to get balance. And of course there are weeds growing all over the place, but they’re never dominant. And it’s only when we do something wrong or when there is something wrong with our immune system or if there is something wrong with our bacterial ecosystem that we see some of those go wild and grow over everybody else.

GELLERMAN: I noticed you have a lot of fun online, on your website, and you have a segment that says, “Lady GaGa lives the wild life - she also hosts it.” (Laughs).

HULCR: That’s exactly right. In fact, both Lady Gaga and you, and me and everybody else - we have more bacterial cells in our body than human cells. And so we are really, essentially, walking human covers for microbial biota.

GELLERMAN: Jiri Hulcr is a postdoc probing innie and outie space at the Belly Button Biodiversity Project at North Carolina State University.

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[MUSIC:] Tricycle “Belly Button” from King Size (Homerecords.be/ Believe Digital 2006)

Climate Change and Chasing Chile Peppers

GELLERMAN: To get in the mood for our next story, let's serve up a little music.

[MUSIC: “Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot…”] Arrow “Hot, Hot, Hot (Original Mix)” from Hot Hot Hot (Edits) (red Bulet Records 1995)

GELLERMAN: That’s better! Well some like it hot - then again, sometimes it can get too hot. That’s true of climate change and peppers. The unusual pairing is the subject of the new book “Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail.” In it, co-authors Gary Paul Nabhan and Kurt Michael Friese go on a pepper-picking journey across our fruited plains and find a changing climate is changing peppers and the people who pick them.

Professor Gary Nabhan is an ethnobotanist. He joins us from his home in Tucson, Arizona. Kurt Michael Friese is a chef and owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay and he’s here in the studio.

GELLERMAN: Professor Nabhan, welcome to Living on Earth!

NABHAN: It’s great to be with you here.

GELLERMAN: And Chef Kurt, welcome!

FRIESE: Thanks, great to be here.

GELLERMAN: Now, you guys are chili heads, right?

FRIESE: Oh, absolutely.

NABHAN: I am the wild chili-eating champion of Baja, Arizona - a dubious distinction.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs). In your book, you call yourself ‘gastronauts,’ and you boarded a van, the spice ship, and you took off on quite an adventure across the continent. What were you looking for?

NABHAN: Well we were looking for the real story of climate change and how it’s affecting our food system. So we wanted to talk to the people out in the fields and in the kitchens that are already being affected by climate change and see how they’re adapting to it.

GELLERMAN: You know, when I think of global warming, hot chilies don’t immediately come to mind - what’s the connection here?

FRIESE: They make a great weather vane. They’re a great way for you to see the effects here and now, because this isn’t something that’s off in the distant future - these changes are here now.

GELLERMAN: You went to Florida and you learned about the Datil?

FRIESE: Yeah, that was one of my favorite finds on this voyage.

GELLERMAN: Why’s that?

FRIESE: It’s a fascinating pepper and it’s got a lot of culture behind it that I wasn’t aware of before we went into this whole thing. It’s pretty hot, but it’s got a wonderful citrus-y sweet edge. The people down there - the whole culture seems to be built around it. Everybody’s got a five-gallon bucket in their backyard.

GELLERMAN: What’s the connection to the Datil and climate change?

NABHAN: For one thing, there’s been astonishing introductions of weeds, pests, and diseases with an increased frequency of tropical storms so that pepper farmers there are not just dealing with winds and floods, but they’re dealing with invasive species, including some viruses that never were known from Florida before Hurricane Gilberto. So that was what surprised us - that the farmers are saying that it’s not merely the physical effects of storms that are challenging them, but the aftermath of storms.

GELLERMAN: Well I’ve got a bottle of Minorcan Datil Pepper Hot Sauce from St. Augustine, Florida, and let’s try this out - take her for a little spin, okay?

FRIESE: Sounds good.

GELLERMAN: I’m going to shake this up, okay.


GELLERMAN: We got some chips. Dip in there. Now do I have to be brave?

FRIESE: Oh, I think you could probably handle this thing - it’s not the hottest one we have here today.


GELLERMAN: Mmmm. That’s good!

FRIESE: Just eat it first, then the heat starts coming on.

GELLERMAN: And then the kick…right in the middle of my tongue. Oh that’s good. So I got some water, I’m going to take some…

FRIESE: No, d-d-d-d-d-don’t. If the heat’s too much for you, you don’t want to gasp for water.

GELLERMAN: Oh really?

FRIESE: No, no, no. You want something dairy: milk, ice cream, maybe yogurt.

GELLERMAN: Why not water?

FRIESE: Well the capsaicin is what they call hydrophobic - that is to say, all the water will do when it gets on your palate is spread the heat around. It won’t diminish it at all. But the fats in things like milk and yogurt and ice cream and such will help diminish it rather rapidly.

GELLERMAN: And why is it that I cry when I eat them?

NABHAN: Because you’re an emotional guy, I guess.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs).

NABHAN: But it’s also because chilies use capsaicin, this pungent principle, for their defenses against predators and herbivores. It’s something that humans weren’t evolved to deal with - in fact, very few mammals have a tolerance for capsaicinoids, these highly pungent chemicals. And so even though we are attracted to them, our bodies aren’t necessarily fully adapted to them.

GELLERMAN: You met a farmer in Florida who grows Datil and, all of a sudden, he’s got a lot of competition coming from further north.

FRIESE: And that’s a good example of the shifting climate.

GELLERMAN: It’s getting hotter further north.

FRIESE: Right. And so besides the challenges that come with the weather and the pests and the viruses and all that sort of thing, farmers have to be able to adapt to changing markets and having different competitors. I think if there’s a central theme to the story we are trying to tell in this book, it’s resilience. And that’s why it’s important to talk to the farmers - they’re on the frontlines and they know all about resilience. They’ve been doing it for 10,000 years.

Photo of a Chiltepin plant in Sonora, Mexico. (Photo: Raudi Wikipedia Creative Commons)

GELLERMAN: One of your first stops was Sonora, Mexico, in search of their chiltepin - did I pronounce that right?

NABHAN: Chiltepin, that’s right.

NABHAN: I like to call it the ‘mother chili’ because it’s very similar to the original chili that all the rest of these 10,000 different varieties came from.

GELLERMAN: The original chili came from Mexico?

NABHAN: We think that chilies were domesticated in Puebla and Oaxaca about 5,800 years ago. That’s what linguistic evidence, archaeological evidence, and our co-author Kraig Kraft’s genetic studies demonstrate.

GELLERMAN: In the book, you call the chiltepin the most curious pepper. Curious?

NABHAN: Curious because it is tiny. It’s smaller than your little finger’s fingernail, and yet it packs a wallop and it’s one of the few wild relatives of a crop that remains in commercial trade - about 50 tons of it come into the U.S. economy every year from Mexico, and they go for about 80 dollars a pound!

FRIESE: And people haven’t been able to domesticate them yet. Much like Americans maybe familiar with the morel mushroom and the inability to domesticate that - and the same thing’s true of the chiltepin. I mean, they’ve grown some stuff that’s very similar, but not anything that anyone would say is exactly the same as a chiltepin.

GELLERMAN: So how is climate change affecting the chiltepin?

NABHAN: It’s a classic case of what Thomas Friedman calls ‘global weirding.’ One part of the range of chiltepins has suffered from tremendous drought and crop failure and even larval infestations of the few fruit that are produced. Another part has seen damaging floods - one place had two and a half times the annual rainfall in just one day and eight feet of water where the chiltepins grow.

Habenero pepper. (Photo: Jeremy Keith Flickr Creative Commons)

GELLERMAN: You went to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and you met with habanero growers. I brought in some habanero.

FRIESE: Yup, that’s a hot pepper. Now you want to be careful with that - we chopped up this habanero, but there’s still pith and such there. You want to keep the pith away because that’s the hottest part of the pepper.

GELLERMAN: The little white stuff?

FRIESE: The white stuff inside that the seeds cling to, yeah.

NABHAN: You don’t want a pith-ed off habanero.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs). Whoa, I definitely think I did! Wow! Ooh, that’s cruel. I’m going to go for the yogurt here.

FRIESE: Now that’s about as hot as the peppers get that are native to North America. But the hottest pepper in the world is roughly ten times hotter than that. It’s called the Bhut Jolokia, or Naga Jolokia - death pepper or ghost pepper - and it’s from India.

GELLERMAN: Why do we like peppers?

NABHAN: Peppers are not something that everyone likes. Some of us are supertasters that respond negatively to the pungency in peppers like we do to bitterness. But a lot of us find our taste buds and our minds stimulated by them. And, you know, it’s really the flavors that fascinate me with chilies.

FRIESE: Right, right.

NABHAN: It’s not just the pungency - there’s remarkable flavors hidden within the chili family.

GELLERMAN: Well here’s a bottle that everybody’s got in their refrigerators, and it’s Tabasco. I didn’t know this - how do you pronounce the name of that?

FRIESE: McIlhenny and Company.

GELLERMAN: Yeah, Louisiana, right?

FRIESE: That’s right. Avery Island, Lousisana.

GELLERMAN: Now this is hot.

FRIESE: It’s pretty hot. For a lot of people, it’s the upper echelon. For me, I use it like I would salt, so…(Laughs).

GELLERMAN: Oh yeah, well let me salt one of those crackers there.

FRIESE: Load it up.


FRIESE: Very familiar flavor to just about anybody. Vinegar, and heat, and salt.

Two varieties of the popular Tabasco sauce. (Photo: sacks08 Flickr Creative Commons)

NABHAN: The McIlhenny Company has a remarkably unique product that’s recognized in just about every country in the world. It’s great because it has such a distinctive flavor that reminds us that terroir is not just the pepper variety, but how it’s prepared - the fermentation of the pepper mash, mixed with local salt, and stored in barrels for over a year.

GELLERMAN: So what’s the climate connection with Tabasco?

FRIESE: I was fascinated down there hearing the stories of when Katrina, and more importantly for them, Rita hit the area. The floodwaters came within just a few feet of devastating their factory and their fields and all of it.

NABHAN: We can’t attribute Hurricane Rita to climate change. We can’t say any hurricane is the result of climate change, but for me, the interesting thing about the Tabasco story is that it’s a harbinger of what climate change will do to many coastal areas around the world if it proceeds the way that some scientists predict.

GELLERMAN: In your book, you use a word I hadn’t come across before: phenologies?

NABHAN: Phenology. That’s the observation of flowering and fruiting times of plants - both wild and cultivated, and the animals that visit them. Some of our most interesting insights about phenological change come from Henry David Thoreau. We know that since his time, in the Boston area, plants are now flowering three to five weeks earlier.

And what that does with chilies is it means that a whole different set of insects may need to pollinate them, that their ripening times may be different from when the peak availability of farm labor is, and that it may put them more in the storm pattern, where the greatest frequency of storms is occurring, than the kinds of challenges they faced previously from storms of that magnitude.

Bell peppers—Gary’s least favorite pepper. (Photo: Seth Anderson Flickr Creative Commons)

GELLERMAN: Did you guys ever meet a pepper you didn’t like?

FRIESE: That I didn’t like? No. But I don’t like it when the pepper is nothing but heat. There needs to be something else going on - otherwise, it’s just masochism.

NABHAN: I have a pepper that I don’t like, and that’s the bell pepper. It now lacks the distinguishing characteristic of the capsaicin-filled genus that we call Capsicum. It lacks the pungent principle, so I think it should be kicked out of the family!

FRIESE: I still kind of like ‘em.

NABHAN: Yeah, but you’re from Iowa.

FRIESE: I’m from Chicago.


GELLERMAN: Well my lips are numb.


GELLERMAN: Chef Friese and Professor Nabhan, thank you so very much - that was really quite tasty.

Chasing Chilies authors (from left) Gary Paul Nabhan, Krag Kraft, Kurt Michael Friese at lunch in San Ignacio, Sonora, Mexico. (Photo: Kim McWane Friese)

FRIESE: Happy to be here. Make it spicy!

NABHAN: Mo’ hotter, mo’ better.


[MUSIC: Feeling hot, hot hot] The Island Caribbean Steel Band “Hot Hot Hot” from Pan Drum band Island Favorites (Panman Records 2010)

GELLERMAN: Ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan grows a mean chili on the
five acres around his house in Tuscon, Arizona. Kurt Michael Friese serves up local foods with worldly flair at his restaurant Devotay in Iowa City. Gastronaut Kraig Kraft was also along for the ride that resulted in the new book, “Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots along the Pepper Trail.”

Related links:
- Learn more about the authors’ adventures along the pepper trail!
- Learn more about fiery foods

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**NEW**Coal in The Classroom Story Triggers Response

Media attention to the coal industry’s influence in classrooms—including Living on Earth’s story—brought a quick response. An industry program pledged to review its classroom materials and a major children’s book publisher ended its relationship with coal.

Living on Earth’s story singled out the Coal Education Development and Resources
(CEDAR) program in eastern Kentucky, which uses taxpayer money to distribute
material to classes. Some of the offered material includes information about climate
change that is widely dismissed by climate scientists. Cedar Director John Justice
said in an email that in response to Living on Earth’s story he is planning a review of
the materials offered to classes:

“It has led me to the decision to have a complete review of the content of all our
material. Although the reviewers will be either neutral or friendly to coal, they will
be individuals of expertise and integrity that will be able to advise us concerning the
content's accuracy.”

Living on Earth and other media outlets also reported on the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s effort to draw attention to one-sided materials
sponsored by the American Coal Foundation and distributed by Scholastic, Inc., the
largest children’s book publisher. Scholastic, Inc., has since backed away from its
partnership with the American Coal Foundation. In a statement, Scholastic said:

“We acknowledge that the mere fact of sponsorship may call into question the
authenticity of the information, and therefore conclude that we were not vigilant
enough as to the effect of sponsorship in this instance. We have no plans to further
distribute this particular program.”

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood called it:

“(A) significant victory for anyone who believes that schools should be free of
industry PR and teach fully and honestly about coal and other forms of energy.”

Also, some alert listeners point out that Illinois has a taxpayer-supported coal education program that raises similar questions about balance. The state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity sponsors a “Coal Education and Marketing Program”
that includes an annual art and essay contest for students and offers classroom materials. A brochure suggests topics for the art and essay
contest, such as “How the coal industry contributed to my town’s development”
and “Illinois coal and the environment: Working together for cleaner air and abundant energy.” Winners receive a $100 US savings bond.

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GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer, Jessica Ilyse Smith, Ike Sriskandarajah, Mitra Taj, and Jeff Young, with help from Sarah Calkins and Sammy Sousa. Our interns are Sean Faulk and Wynn Tucker. We had engineering help this week from Dana Chisholm. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes.

You can find us anytime at L-O-E dot org - and while you're online, check out our sister program, Planet Harmony. Planet Harmony welcomes all and pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at my planet harmony dot com. And don’t forget to check out the Living on Earth Facebook page. It’s PRI’s Living on Earth. And we're on Twitter! It’s atLivingOnEarth - one word. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. 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 invites you to just eat organic for a day. Details at justeatorganic dot com. Support also comes from you, our listeners, the Go Forward Fund, and Pax World Mutual and Exchange-Traded Funds, integrating environmental, social, and governance factors into investment analysis and decision making. On the web at pax world dot com. Pax world, for tomorrow.


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