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

June 10, 2011

Air Date: June 10, 2011



U.N.Climate Talks Underway in Bonn, Germany

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Climate delegates are meeting in Bonn to lay the groundwork for negotiations in South Africa later this year. Kilaparti Ramakrishna is Vice President and Director of Policy at Woods Hole Research Center. He tells Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood about the challenges that lie ahead for December’s Durban climate talks. (06:35)

Rights of Sinking Nations / Mitra Taj

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Rising sea levels are forcing some small-island states into new legal territory. Climate change talks, so far, have yielded no guarantees that entire countries won't become uninhabitable, and legal scholars and representatives of low-lying nations are beginning to think about what rights a country has if it’s washed away by water. Living on Earth's Mitra Taj reports. (06:00)

Who’s Running Down RGGI? / Jeff Young

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New Jersey has pulled out and other states are considering quitting the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, the nation’s first cap and trade program to combat climate change. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports on what’s behind the effort to run RGGI down. (07:00)

Pros and Cons of Canada-US Oil Pipeline

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The United States is getting an influx of oil from Canada’s tar sands. But the pipeline that brings it has sprung several leaks and environmentalists, and the EPA, are concerned about plans to build an extension to the Gulf coast. Brad Carson, the director of the National Energy Policy Institute, tells host Bruce Gellerman there are advantages and disadvantages to our dependence on Canadian oil. (05:55)

Choosing to Save Chamois / Ari Daniel Shapiro

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In the mountains of southeast France, retired surgeon Francis Roucher spent many a day hunting chamois – an animal that’s a cross between a goat and an antelope. But a close encounter with a young chamois led Roucher to re-think his actions. As Ari Daniel Shapiro reports, Roucher now spends his time safeguarding the health of the local chamois population. (Photo: Rama/ Wikimedia Commons) (05:35)

Buckminster Fuller Challenge Finalist

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An NGO that helps impoverished communities in Madagascar is a finalist in this year’s prestigious Buckminster Fuller Challenge. Alasdair Harris, founder of Blue Ventures, tells host Bruce Gellerman that his project protects coral reefs and fisheries while providing a sustainable income for poor communities in Madagascar. (06:20)

BirdNote® - Choosing Where to Nest / Michael Stein

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Home is where the nest is, at least for birds. And BirdNote’s Michael Stein says bird species have different specs for where to hang their home. (Photo: © Tom Grey) (02:00)

Eating Dirt

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The practice of eating dirt is known as geophagy and it’s much more common than you may think. Sera Young, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, reviewed nearly 500 papers about people all over the earth. .. who eat earth. Host Bruce Gellerman asks her about this abnormal appetite and bites the dust himself. (07:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

GUESTS: Kilaparti Ramakrishna, Michael Gerrard, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, James Stovall, Brad Carson, Alasdair Harris, Sera Young
REPORTERS: Steve Curwood, Mitra Taj, Jeff Young, Ari Daniel Shapiro, Michael Stein


GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. As UN climate talks resume – time is running out. Scientists warn nations have to get very serious - very fast - and cut greenhouse gases.

RAMAKRISHNA: Once you reach 2020, you need to reduce emissions rapidly - almost 2% per annum going up to 2050, to keep the temperature increase at a safe level. We have never seen reductions of that kind in the history of human development.

GELLERMAN: Also - the study of geophagy - or the dirt on eating dirt.

YOUNG: People are really selective about the dirt that they eat, it's not just any dirt. And it's not like the sand you get at the beach or the black humus-y kind of soil that you'd like to plant your tomatoes in.

GELLERMAN: It’s a dirty job - and I have to do it - we dine on dirt in the name of science. And guess what: It doesn’t taste like chicken. We’ll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth…Stick around!


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

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U.N.Climate Talks Underway in Bonn, Germany

Delegates meet in Bonn for the 34th climate meeting. (UNFCCC)

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville Mass, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. As critical climate talks get underway in Bonn, Germany, let’s do the numbers. Negotiators from 183 nations will be there to try to keep the level of carbon dioxide in the air under 450 parts per million, or else - global temperatures could rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius.

And things don’t look good: last year we pumped 31 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere - the highest in history. For the story behind the numbers Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood spoke with one of the leading scientists attending the Bonn climate talks.

CURWOOD: With me now is Kilaparti Ramakrishna - he’s Vice President and Director of Policy for the Woods Hole Research Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Now this meeting in Bonn is the 34th of these climate meetings, but frankly some folks say they don’t seem to be showing a whole lot of results. Tell me, why is this meeting important?

RAMAKRISHNA: This meeting is to be seen in light of the progress made in Cancun. And Cancun progress needs to be seen in light of what the world community wanted to accomplish in Copenhagen and, by broad perception, did not. This is the session that is going to help us get to where we need to be so that when we convene in Durban, we make progress.

Kilaparti Ramakrishna (UNEP)

CURWOOD: These talks are taking place now in the context of the latest research from the International Energy Agency that says the concentration of CO2 is now up to a record 395 parts per million in the atmosphere. How much do you think this information will add urgency to these talks?

RAMAKRISHNA: That information is giving everybody pause, that, despite putting in place a series of measures and national legislations and regional agreements and what have you, that the trend is continuing upwards. And that is a cause for concern and also brings in a certain amount of urgency, and more needs to be done.

CURWOOD: So the Kyoto Protocol will expire next year - the so-called ‘first commitment period’ of the Kyoto Protocol - what were the goals of Kyoto and how successful have countries been in reaching those goals? It doesn’t sound like a whole lot has happened.

RAMAKRISHNA: Right. If you take the Kyoto Protocol, you know, the first commitment period basically talked about emissions reductions by industrialized countries, to the tune of about five percent as a collective. But they did not talk about what the developing countries might do, and the emissions from the developing countries are increasing, as they should, because of their needs for increasing economic development and so on. In other words, measures by the industrialized countries alone, as part of the Kyoto Protocol first commitment period, are not sufficient.

CURWOOD: As I understand it, the big impasse at these meetings is that the developing countries say that they are going to reduce their emissions but they want to do it on a voluntary basis at the same time that industrialized nations are to go forward on a binding basis. Now industrialized nations agreed to do that back when this began, but now they say that, look, developing nations have huge growth in emissions and that everybody should be together on this - everyone should agree to a binding commitment.

RAMAKRISHNA: Clearly we will not have a situation where all parties agree to the same kind of legal measures. You have to look at what large emitters, as they’re called, you know, India and China, are doing. China closed down about 2,000 inefficient factories, and if you look at their next five-year plan, it has ambitious measures on energy efficiency. And the same thing can be said about India. So you need to factor those things in and think about not just one legal instrument, as we have historically been familiar with, but by keeping it all under public scrutiny, develop a system of naming-and-shaming and keep the pressure on the governments through these conferences and various sessions under the UN framework convention on climate change.

CURWOOD: The climate talks in Copenhagen did agree that developing countries would get some 30 billion dollars from the developed world to spend on climate mitigation and adaptation over the course of three years, and we’re now, what, one and half years into that timetable for the money. What’s it been spent on and how much has come from the countries that made these pledges?

RAMAKRISHNA: A very good question. If you ask the industrialized countries, their response is that: ‘yes we have spent a lot of that amount already.’ But if you ask the developing countries, they say: ‘no, nothing has come through so far.’ So the short answer to the question is - not much is seen so far, though one and a half years had lapsed. This really is, as the executive secretary said, the golden key. If you demonstrate that the money is flowing to where it is needed, then, more countries would want to join in the actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

CURWOOD: Now, in Cancun, participants agreed, I believe for the first time, on a maximum temperature change, an average temperature rise, for the earth of, what, two degrees Celsius. But, Kilaparti Ramakrishna, practically what does that mean and how would one enforce such an agreement anyway?

RAMAKRISHNA: To keep the temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius, what the scientific community tells us is that by 2020, emissions will have to be at 44 billion tons. And if you were to succeed in that goal, there is only a 50 percent chance of keeping the temperature to below two degrees Celsius by 2020. But the challenge does not stop there.

Once you reach 2020, you need to reduce emissions rapidly - almost two percent per annum, going up to 2050, to keep the temperature increase at a safe level. We have never seen reductions of that kind in the history of human development. But it can be done, because there is no other alternative.

CURWOOD: How do you stay optimistic in looking at this? Our record is that we don’t seem to be able to get to reductions.

RAMAKRISHNA: I’m optimistic because, finally, this is a normal topic of conversation amongst finance ministers and presidents and prime ministers of the world. They can make it happen. It needs to be a concerted attempt at the global level like never before attempted. But if you believe this to be a global problem requiring, you know, global solutions, given the commitment that various heads of state and government demonstrated so far, it can be done.

CURWOOD: Kilaparti Ramakrishna is Vice President and Director of Policy at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Thank you very much, sir.

RAMAKRISHNA: Thank you very much, Steve.

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Related links:
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Woods Hole Research Center

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Rights of Sinking Nations

GELLERMAN: Among the toughest talkers at international climate negotiations are representatives from small island nations. After all, at stake is their very existence. As global warming melts glaciers, rapidly rising sea levels threaten to inundate low-lying island countries. It’s a crisis that raises several unique legal issues as Living on Earth’s Mitra Taj reports.

TAJ: UN climate negotiations involve a lot of talking, sometimes for days on end, about financing or the obligations of major greenhouse gas emitters. But one conversation the international community hasn’t had yet, raises questions of a more existential nature:

GERRARD: If a country is underwater, is it still a state?

TAJ: Michael Gerrard directs the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

GERRARD: Does it still have a seat at the United Nations? What happens to its fishing rights and its mineral rights? What is the citizenship of its displaced people? Do they have any legal rights against the countries that caused that pollution?

TAJ: The center recently hosted a conference with the Marshall Islands to tackle those topics.

GERRARD: It's tragic that we even have to ask these questions.

TAJ: But island nations perched a couple meters above sea level need answers, even as they struggle against the scary scenario embedded in the premise: their homelands washed away by rising tides. Anote Tong is the president of Kiribati, a Pacific island nation made up of islands that sit an average of just six feet above sea level.

TONG: So the question arises, what do we do? Well obviously we cannot swim for the rest of the millennium. So we have to relocate. Unfortunately we have to look at that option, undesirable as it may seem.

Micronesia says the expansion of the coal-fired Prunéřov power plant in the Czech Republic threatens its existence.

TAJ: The Kiribati government is already helping its citizens relocate to Australia and New Zealand. But other small island states are struggling to strike a balance between preparing for the worst, and insisting it never happen. Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed is the ambassador to the UN for the Maldives, in the Indian Ocean.

MOHAMED: As far as Maldives is concerned, I don’t think that migration of the country as a whole is an option. I mean, it’s something we would not want to think about.

TAJ: To highlight its struggle against rising sea levels, the Maldives has held an underwater cabinet meeting, and vowed to become carbon-neutral within a decade. But as a tiny contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, Mohamed says the fate of his homeland will largely depend on the actions of big polluting countries with relatively little at stake.

MOHAMED: The fact of the matter is that people say in Manhattan, they can move to another part of the US, they can move to higher ground, there is enough land. But in countries like the Maldives there is no other land to move to.

TAJ: Right now, the sea keeps small-island states like the Maldives economically afloat; and maintaining the right to exploit resources in the water — whether tuna fish or oil — could help a displaced nation survive.

But current international law says a country’s exclusive economic zone stretches into the water 200 miles from its territorial edge. James Stovall, legal counsel to the Federated States of Micronesia, wonders whether a nation could lose it all—its homeland and its economic engine.

STOVALL: In the case of Micronesia, which is 600 islands scattered around something roughly the size of the continental US, you wind up with a vast region of economic zone. So what happens from a legal standpoint, when the island goes underwater, does that economic zone disappear? These are not questions that have been answered.

TAJ: Legal scholars are working with small island nations to make their current boundaries permanent with the UN. They think the international body will be willing to accommodate the ongoing economic needs of nations facing flooding due to climate change, and would also be unlikely to kick a sunken nation out of the General Assembly.

What’s less clear is what would happen to the people who lose their homeland. Columbia law professor Michael Gerrard says past environmental destruction in the Marshall Islands indicates one approach. After the U.S. tested nuclear weapons there in the 40s and 50s, communities were forced to abandon contaminated islands.

GERRARD: The atoll of Bikini was where many of these tests took place. People could no longer live in Bikini because of the residual radiation, but Bikini still has a town hall on the capital island of Majuro, the displaced people of Bikini still elect a Senator to the national parliament, and people go to the Bikini town hall to collect food stamps and welfare benefits.

TAJ: But relocating the entire population of a sovereign country to a new land is more complicated. Jim Stovall remembers what happened to a tiny island state near Micronesia, called Narua.

STOVALL: Narua is a phosphate island, and was mined for many years by an Australian conglomerate that just mined it down to the sea level basically. So they worked out an arrangement that the population would be moved to a place in Australia. They were not able to find any place that was willing to accommodate them.

TAJ: Narua considered taking the matter to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, but eventually agreed to a complicated plan that required Australia hauling shiploads of dirt to help restore the island.

STOVALL: (laughter) This is, I think, a pretty good example of why you don't just say, well, let's move these people someplace else.

TAJ: Stovall says Micronesia prefers to stay put, and urges industrialized countries to cut back on their emissions. It’s also opposed plans to expand a coal plant in the Czech Republic, using a legal intervention normally reserved for neighboring countries. It marks the first time a country has claimed to be threatened by a polluter more than 7,000 miles away, and could set an important international precedent for legal efforts to slow climate change.

Some islands are already taking steps like
building sea walls to adapt to a changing climate, but if the world can keep temperatures, and sea levels down, then all those other questions about what happens to a country when its land mass is swallowed by the sea might just remain a purely academic discussion. For Living on Earth, I’m Mitra Taj in Washington.

Related link:
Click here to learn more about Columbia's conference.

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[MUSIC: Quantic “Angels And Albatrosses from Mishaps Happening (Ubiquity Records 2004).]

GELLERMAN: Just ahead – shutting down America's most important oil pipeline after it springs a leak. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

[CUT-AWAY MUSIC: Ray Bryant: “My Blues (Blues #5) from Alone With The Blues (Fantasy Records 1958).]

Who’s Running Down RGGI?

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. In the absence of a federal policy, it's states that are fighting climate change. Leading the effort are 10 northeastern states stretching from Maine to Delaware. In 2008, they banded together to form RGGI: the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. It's a carbon-trading program for power plants --- a market mechanism that enables utilities to buy and sell emission credits so they can meet caps on the amount of carbon they're allowed to put into the air.

But soon RGGI will be down to nine states. New Jersey is pulling out of the regional pact and lawmakers in at least three other states are squaring off to do the same. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports on why RGGI is on the ropes, and who’s really throwing the punches.


YOUNG: Republican Presidential hopeful Herman Cain made a stop in New York recently, right in front of the offices of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

[HERMAN CAIN AT RALLY “It should have been RGGR- regional greenhouse gas rip-off!”]

YOUNG: Cain and other organizers called the gathering the “RGGI on the Run Rally.” Conservative opponents of climate change action are hoping to capitalize on their victory in New Jersey, where Republican Governor Chris Christie announced his state will drop the program by year’s end.

CHRISTIE: RGGI does nothing more than tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernible or measurable impact upon our environment. In other words, the whole system is not working as it was intended to work - it’s a failure.

YOUNG: David Littell disagrees. He’s chair of RGGI Inc.

LITTELL: It absolutely is working.

YOUNG: Littell says the program has invested $700 million in clean energy and energy efficiency projects and achieved its other major goals.

LITTELL: We set a cap, we’ve now reduced carbon emissions below the cap. We also have set a price on carbon, which was one of our goals, and we’ve done that through the most effective market mechanisms.

YOUNG: Sorting out these conflicting claims is Emilie Mazzacurati’s job. She’s a carbon markets analyst for a company called Point Carbon. Mazzacurati says it’s true, northeastern states have reduced emissions. They’ve already done better than the 10 percent cut RGGI aimed to achieve by the year 2018. But Mazzacurati says that has more to do with the drop in the price of natural gas than the greenhouse gas initiative.

MAZZACURATI: I don’t think RGGI can take credit for the fact that emissions fell. But RGGI can take credit for having put carbon on the radar of those companies and RGGI has raised money and helped fund a number of significant programs in terms of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

YOUNG: Mazzacurati says the regional initiative set too weak a cap on carbon. That meant the cost of emissions, as reflected in the carbon credits that companies bought, was too low to really change behavior.

GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain at a rally against RGGI. Americans for Prosperity, which organized the event, has spent more than $200,000 in its campaign against the greenhouse gas initiative. (Photo courtesy AFP)

Of course that also means RGGI’s cost to consumers is very low— fuel costs in the region are actually lower now than before RGGI started. Mazzacurati says that makes Gov. Christie’s criticism a bit incoherent.

MAZZACURATI: He said well, ‘Prices are too low, it’s not doing anything, but it’s a horrible burden on our economy.’ And that’s not really consistent. So that’s why in my sense the moves that we see in those states is really driven by politics and not really by economics because the reality is that the economic impact of RGGI is very small.

YOUNG: With the failure of national cap and trade proposals, the regional system has become the political punching bag. Voters in northeastern states are hearing more ads like this:

[RADIO AD: Female voice: “It means higher taxes, lost jobs and less freedom.”/ Male: “It’s got to stop.”/Female: “It’s time to pull the plug on RGGI.”]

YOUNG: The New Jersey state chapter of the conservative, pro-business group Americans for Prosperity, has spent about 200 thousand dollars for those ads and other efforts to fight RGGI. Chapter director Steve Lonegan also organized the rally where Herman Cain spoke in New York in hopes that other states will follow New Jersey’s lead.

LONEGAN: It’s a small victory, but it’s only a step in the right direction of putting an end to the regional greenhouse gas initiative cap and trade program in its entirety.

YOUNG: Americans for Prosperity is closely associated with Koch Industries, an oil refining and chemicals giant that’s among the country’s largest privately held companies. Lonegan says his state chapter does not get support from Koch industries, but the national AFP does. David Koch has served on the AFP board. And it’s not the only group affiliated with Koch industries that’s going after RGGI. In New Hampshire, freelance writer and activist Dave Anderson found another example during an internet search of language in the state’s bill to pull out of the regional initiative.

ANDERSON: And what popped up was a reference to this legislative template produced by the American legislative exchange council.

YOUNG: The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, offers conservative legislators "model bills" on key issues. ALEC’s exact language against cap and trade programs showed up in legislation in 6 states, including the section in the New Hampshire bill that Anderson spotted.

ANDERSON: It says ‘whereas there has been no credible economic analysis of the increasing cost of doing business in the state of,’ and then there’s a blank, so, in this case, they inserted the words, New Hampshire.

YOUNG: Some of ALEC’s major funding sources are tied to Koch Industries. A spokesperson for ALEC declined to be interviewed. Carbon market analyst Emilie Mazzacurati says RGGI is still going strong despite New Jersey’s departure. The bill to pull New Hampshire out passed the state House but was rejected by the Senate. Repeal efforts in Maine and Delaware were beaten back in committee. And Mazzacurati says RGGI is a pioneering model for other regional initiatives.

MAZZACURATI: It is a successful experiment in the sense that also the sky hasn’t collapsed. You know, the end of world hasn’t happened. There’s a cap-and-trade running in the U.S. and it’s okay.

YOUNG: RGGI’s most lasting contribution could be the efficiency investments it makes possible.


YOUNG: The ventilation system of this new cancer research center on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a prime example. Project manager Jim May and sustainability coordinator Julia Ledewitz explain how they saved energy by having the massive intake and exhaust fans together.

MAY: We can run a glycol loop from the exhaust side to the supply side so that in the winter we can transfer the heat that would otherwise be sending out to the outdoors to the air, the cold air, that we are bringing in from the outdoors.

LEDEWITZ: …And that exchange is about 55% efficient and it saves us $450 thousand a year compared to just wasting that heat.

YOUNG: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative enabled the utility to give MIT valuable incentives to engineer the building’s efficient design. All of which is a bit odd, given the building’s name: the David H. Koch Institute. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young.

Related links:
- More about RGGI
- Americans for Prosperity’s NJ chapter
- SourceWatch information on groups supported by Koch Industries
- The David H. Koch Institute

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[MUSIC: Tome Verlaine “Rain, Sidewalk” from Around (Thrill Records 2006).]

Pros and Cons of Canada-US Oil Pipeline

A pipeline north of Dallas. (Photo: Rick Kimpel, Flickr Creative Commons)

GELLERMAN: There are billions of tons of oil locked in the vast tar sands of Alberta, Canada. Much of the oil soaked sand is owned by China, but 100 percent of the crude goes to the U.S., making Canada America’s number oil supplier. Getting the crude here by pipeline is costly – financially and sometimes environmentally.

The existing pipeline is just a year old, yet it's had more than ten leaks, and plans for an even longer pipeline are raising serious concerns at the EPA. Brad Carson is director of the National Energy Policy Institute at the University of Tulsa. Welcome to Living on Earth!

Installing pipeline. (Photo: Vicki Watkins, Flickr Creative Commons)

CARSON: Thank you so much for having me on today.

GELLERMAN: The pipeline that they’ve been having problems with these last few weeks, with spills, is called Keystone. Am I right?

CARSON: That’s right. Keystone pipeline, it runs 3,500 kilometers down from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, toward Cushing, Oklahoma. And there are about 40 million barrels worth of storage in Cushing. There are a number of pipelines that come into it, and that lead out into major metropolitan areas and it is an essential part of the North American oil infrastructure.

GELLERMAN: That infrastructure doesn’t come cheap.

CARSON: No, it’s very, very expensive. The oil infrastructure in this country and around the world is billions, if not trillions, of dollars of investment.

GELLERMAN: And it’s a year old, and they’ve already had a bunch of spills. At the last count I think it was 11 in just a year.

This map shows the three main oil sands in Alberta, Canada. (Photo: Norman Einstein, Wikipedia Creative Commons)

CARSON: Well, pipelines, as you can imagine, have inherent problems. They have to be closely watched and tightly regulated, and we are fortunate in this country to have those kind of regulations. And recently we’ve found a couple of spills - one in the Dakotas, one in Kansas, far smaller, and that led the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has oversight of those pipelines, to come in and ask them to cease operations until it could be corrected.

GELLERMAN: And I guess they’ve made those corrections.

CARSON: They have indeed.

GELLERMAN: This is very thick and gooey and corrosive petroleum, right?

CARSON: It is very thick and gooey, yes. Oil is measured by its viscosity - how thick it is - and also by its sulfur content. The thicker it is, the higher sulfur, the less valuable that oil is. And Canadian tar sands is thick and it is relative to the best crude oils in this country and around the world - a relatively high sulfur content as well.

GELLERMAN: It’s also very plentiful - there is a lot of oil in them there tar sands.

CARSON: There is indeed. It is now estimated that Canada has the world’s second largest oil reserves, only after Saudi Arabia. So, from purely the perspective of the oil market, Canada’s role and the United States’ interests in those tar sands is a very important one - a very important public policy issue for this nation.

GELLERMAN: Well, and that’s why there’s a new pipeline in the works. What is it called? Keystone XL? I’m guessing it stands for “extra-long?”


GELLERMAN: “Extra-large?”

CARSON: Keystone XL, exactly right. This pipeline will go all the way from Alberta down toward the Texas Gulf Coast where there’s refinery capacity. It’s controversial for a couple of reasons - there’s of course the environmental concerns - that the pipeline is going to go through some important environmental areas and important habitats for various species in the Dakotas and Nebraska, and also because of the Ogallala Aquifer, which is an important water source for the increasingly arid great plains.

GELLERMAN: So if you have a rupture of this pipeline that’s buried under the ground and you have this heavy, gloppy oil, you can have potential disaster, yeah?

CARSON: You have to be worried about it, but whether the water can seep down into the water table is an open question. The Ogallala Aquifer is not necessarily close up to where the pipeline would be. When you talk about any of our energy infrastructure in this country, there are tradeoffs. And access to more and powerful sources of energy, like oil, from a national security perspective, from the perspective of our economy, is also very important. And so really the public policy question is: Are the tradeoffs, the risks to the environment, worth getting Canadian tar sands to market?

GELLERMAN: But this oil, while it might be good for national security and energy independence, is also very, very polluting in terms of greenhouse gasses.

CARSON: It is right now. It does release more greenhouse gasses than other forms of oil production, than more traditional forms of oil production. And that too is one of the issues that many of the environmentalists have raised in complaining about the Keystone XL. That, you know, they’re opposed to tar sands development for that very reason.

The good news is that new technology is coming on board, and every day it is cleaner and less expensive than it was yesterday to produce that kind of oil. And I have no doubt overtime that technology will improve to the point that it will be as clean as a fossil fuel can be.

GELLERMAN: Climate scientist James Hansen has said that the exploitation of the tar sands could make it implausible to stabilize the climate.

CARSON: I have no doubt that if you look at the amount of resources that are talked about with the tar sands, or around the world, if we were simply to burn all of these oil reserves, we could probably still meet some of the climate targets of two degrees or three degrees Celsius.

You know, scientists say that we can release only another 500 billion tons of carbon, and if you look at natural gas or oil, we can probably burn through most of that and still meet those numbers. We can’t do that plus burn all the coal in the world, of course, but again, the dynamics of the oil market are important to remember here. Because right now, we are sending trillions of dollars a year to often hostile regimes, or regimes that are ambivalent toward the United States.

And so, to have Canada sitting on top of these massive reserves is, in general, a good thing for the United States. The larger debate that James Hansen is part of is whether we need to wean ourselves off of oil in the near term, period. And that is a debate worth having. But so long as we’re an oil addicted economy, the tar sands I think can play an important role in the world oil market.

GELLERMAN: Well, Brad, thanks a lot.

CARSON: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Brad Carson is the Director of The National Energy Policy Institute at the University of Tulsa.

Related links:
- National Energy Policy Institute
- TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline page
- Read Friends of the Earth’s take on the Keystone XL

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[MUSIC: Bucky Pizzarelli “Ain’t Oklahoma Pretty” from Diggin Up Bones (Arbors Records 2009).]

Choosing to Save Chamois

(Photo: Rama/ Wikimedia Commons)

GELLERMAN: On a trip to southeast France, reporter Ari Daniel Shapiro met an elderly couple. They welcomed Ari into their home, where he enjoyed a meal and spent the night. The next day, the old man told Ari about an experience that had forever changed his life. Now, Ari Daniel Shapiro shares it with us.

SHAPIRO: Here’s a story about one sort of relationship that a person can have with an animal, and how that relationship can change. First, the person…

ROUCHE: My name is Francis Roucher. I’m living at the foot of the Alps.

SHAPIRO: Those are the Alps in the southeast of France. And it’s those mountains that you see from Roucher’s front lawn, soaring above a legion of rolling hills and shorter peaks. They form a smaller mountain range called Chartreuse, and it’s breathtaking.

Francis Roucher is 79, and a retired surgeon. I talked to him because of his hobby. Which brings us to the animal in this story. Something called a chamois. Scientific name: Rupicapra rupicapra.

ROUCHER: It’s between a goat and an antelope.

Chamois live in the Alps in the southeast of France. (Photo: Ari Daniel Shapiro)

SHAPIRO: Chamois live – and I should say that the plural of chamois is also chamois – chamois live amidst the mountains. They can have brownish-golden fur, a light face with a dark stripe running from each eye to their nose, and two short, curved horns.

The first time Roucher saw a chamois, he was 16. Just Roucher, the chamois…and a rifle. Roucher’s hobby: hunting. For fun, and for meat. He learned the most humane way to hunt was to aim for the chamois’ heart.

ROUCHER: Immediately, no blood comes to the heart, and no blood to the brain. He has no pain. It taught me to shoot very, very accurately.

Francis Roucher in his home, with his hunting trophies.
(Photo: Ari Daniel Shapiro)

SHAPIRO: For Roucher, there was something exact about the hunt. And something electric. For years, he hunted the chamois close to his home in Chartreuse, where – as it turned out – the herd was in decline. Still, Roucher hunted them regularly, until one day…

ROUCHER: The last chamois I shot – a chamois got out of the trees so I shot it but not very, very well. So the poor chamois – he was 3 or 4 years old – went down, you know, trying to be on his feet and could not. And fall down just near to me.

But his head high and looking at me: “What have you done, sir? I was just so happy in my meadow.” You see these big eyes, like black eyes, like antelope: they are very soft, you know. And they look at you. Il ne peut pas penser… They couldn’t think people are dishonest.

SHAPIRO: He quickly brought the animal’s suffering to an end by firing off a second shot. But that was it for Roucher.

ROUCHER: I stopped hunting. I was fed up with hunting.

SHAPIRO: Once Roucher quit his hobby, he had time to think about the dwindling numbers of chamois in Chartreuse. And he got concerned they were being over hunted.

ROUCHER: I switched to game management, which is much more interesting than shooting. So, the shooters were my instrument of work.

SHAPIRO: Through game management, Roucher had to balance two things. On the one hand, he wanted to maintain a healthy population of chamois. And on the other hand, he had to satisfy the hunters who didn’t want to be told they couldn’t hunt. So he came up with a compromise.

Francis Roucher on his lawn in front of the Chartreuse mountains.
Credit: (Photo: Ari Daniel Shapiro)

A controlled hunt where only a limited number of animals of a certain age and sex could be killed each year. It was unusual for a layperson to even try to establish such a protocol, and it took him a while to convince the hunters, but he earned their trust, and eventually they came round. These days, the numbers of chamois are back up, and the hunters still get to hunt.


SHAPIRO: The day after I visited Roucher, I went to Chartreuse to find some chamois. There was a damp mist that was swirling along the ridges, as it fell onto the grass, trees, and rocks where I was walking. My guide was Philippe Boquerat, a local forest ranger with a sun-leathered face and a shock of light hair. He agrees that there are more chamois today than before, and at least some of that increase is due to Roucher.


(Photo: Doroneko/Wikimedia Commons)

SHAPIRO: After an hour of walking, Boquerat and I spotted a couple of adult chamois. And we crouched down.

BOUQUERAT: When we are entering in our space, we can disturb them by our noise and our smell… To see chamois is seeing a part of the wildness.

SHAPIRO: I was gazing at two chamois in the distance, but there was one I missed seeing altogether. Boquerat leaned in and started whispering.

BOUQUERAT: You have a female, yeah, and on the left of the female, you have a small one, a baby.

SHAPIRO: Ohhhhh…

BOUQUERAT: On the left.

Forest ranger Philippe Boquerat says the increase in chamois numbers is partially thanks to the conservation efforts of Francis Roucher.
(Photo: Ari Daniel Shapiro)

SHAPIRO: Tiny, tiny. A little baby chamois. All told, we saw about 25 chamois that day, gliding up and down the slopes. And because there are more chamois now than before, both wildlife watchers and hunters can appreciate them, each in their own way. For Living on Earth, I’m Ari Daniel Shapiro.

GELLERMAN: Ari’s story comes to us from the series One Species at a Time. It’s produced by Atlantic Public Media with support from the Encyclopedia of Life. You can learn more at our website: L–O–E dot org. Or tweet us - on twitter - at livingonearth - that’s one word.

Related link:
One Species at a Time

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[MUSIC: Marco Benvento “Seems So Long Nancy” from Not Me (Royal Potato Family 2009).]

GELLERMAN: Coming up – dirt - it's what's for dinner! Stay tuned - 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: Nicole Mitchell: “Thanking The Universe” from Black Unstoppable (DElmark Records 2007).]

Buckminster Fuller Challenge Finalist

A local woman in Madagascar carries octopus, a staple of the local economy. (Blue Ventures)


GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman - and right now, I’m at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s a National Historic Landmark and heaven for birders. It’s America’s first landscaped cemetery - as much park as the final resting place for thousands of distinguished people including Buckminster Fuller – architect, mathematician, poet, visionary and inventor. His geodesic dome is the lightest, strongest, most cost effective structure ever devised.

Buckminster Fuller’s tombstone at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

Buckminster Fuller died on July 1, 1983. And his tombstone, which I’m standing in front of, is a simple affair – two small slabs of granite both inscribed with the words: “Call me trimtab - Bucky." So, what’s a trimtab and why was it so important to the life of this extraordinary person that he would choose it as his epitaph?
Well, for an answer - we turn to Alasdair Harris - Project leader and founder of Blue Ventures. Harris and his organization are finalists in this year’s Buckminster Fuller Challenge. It’s the world’s most prestigious award for socially responsible design. So Mr. Harris - what's a trimtab?

HARRIS: Well, a trimtab is a tiny device on a ship’s rudder that can influence the rudder and turn the whole ship around. And we use it to demonstrate the huge role that a small component of a machine can have in affecting some pretty major changes, in this case, the direction of the ship.

GELLERMAN: Well, Buckminster Fuller used to talk about the Spaceship Earth. What’s your trimtab that you should be a finalist in this award competition?

HARRIS: Well our trimtab is we work in the oceans - we’re marine conservationists. In Madagascar, it’s one of the world’s great biodiversity conservation priorities; it’s one of the hottest of the hot biodiversity hotspots. That means it has unparalleled levels of species facing huge, huge threats because of human impact, because of habitat loss, etc. But it’s also one of the poorest countries on Earth. I think, according to a recent assessment, it’s actually the fourth poorest on Earth.

Poor rural communities in Madagascar created marine reserves and derive their income from sustainably managed fisheries. (Blue Ventures)

So, when we’re dealing with this level of pervasive poverty, we really can’t argue as conservationists that we need to protect biodiversity for its own right, because communities’ needs are paramount. These are often, in our case, subsistence fishermen that depend on biodiversity, coral reefs perhaps, for their survival.

So we approach conservation from the perspective of poverty alleviation. We try to demonstrate that managing a fishery responsibly, for instance, doesn’t just help the fishery recover - that can actually reap dividends for the fishes themselves, and it can mean that there are long-term profits that can accumulate. If we can demonstrate those profits, if we can measure those profits as we do, then we can actually start to work with the supply chain and get conservation to build momentum and pay for itself.

GELLERMAN: Well, where does the money for this project come from? I mean, it’s a poor country.

Madagascar is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. (Blue Ventures)

HARRIS: We fund all of our work - most of our work, I should say - ourselves, by our underlying non-profit social enterprise. So, we run ecotourism projects all around the world where we take paying volunteers that want to learn about conservation, learn about scuba diving, and take a part in our research and education programs. They give us the money that we need to invest in our conservation programs.

But, at the actual project level, the money comes from the fishery itself, so we’re managing fisheries more sustainably, the fisheries thus become more profitable, and then we can convince the supply chain that it makes sense in that way.
And what we’ve recently done through a long-term seven-year study that’s involved, actually, weighing over a quarter of a million octopus, if you can imagine that, we’ve actually proven that when villages get together and start managing their fisheries themselves, they can actually reap dividends and it’s profitable for them. Using this approach, we created the first community-run marine protected area in Madagascar.

GELLERMAN: Well, I’m looking at the criteria for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. It says an entry has to be comprehensive, I guess you’re comprehensive. It has to be looking at future trends, ecologically responsible, feasible, verifiable and replicable. Is your project replicable?

HARRIS: Exactly. Because we can integrate these marine reserves into markets and get them to pay for themselves, yes it is replicable where there is a market. That one particular fisheries model has grown from one to over 110 sites in Madagascar alone. And just last week I was working in a very remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean called Rodrigues which is a far-flung outpost of the Republic of Mauritius because their government is also interested in replicating it.

Volunteers receive training in Madagascar. (Blue Ventures)

And we’ve also had visitors from a country called Comoros, which is somewhere that you probably haven’t heard of, and several places in East Africa as well. So it’s very exciting to see the international as well as the national scaling beyond that example in Madagascar.

GELLERMAN: I understand that there is another component to your project, and that’s something very far afield from fish, it’s family planning. How’s that?

HARRIS: That’s right. In many parts of the developing world, rural poverty is often driven, at least in part, by an unmet demand for reproductive health services. And this has severely adverse consequences, both for public health and for ecological sustainability. In Madagascar, the birth rate there is 6.7 children per woman, more than half the population is under 15.

This is a big driver of biodiversity loss. In the last three years alone, we’ve increased a metric called the CPR, or the contraceptive prevalence rate, in that one region of southern Madagascar from around 10 to over 40 percent. So that means that we now have, for the first time, women who are able to space their children. They’re empowered with the ability to choose. So, indirectly that’s having a huge impact on our conservation goals. It’s not a conventional approach to conservation, but it’s certainly a very practical and a pragmatic one.

GELLERMAN: Buckminster Fuller would have been proud! Alasdair Harris’s organization, Blue Ventures, is a finalist in this year's Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

Related links:
- Blue Ventures
- Buckminster Fuller Institute

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BirdNote® - Choosing Where to Nest

A male Warbling Vireo sits on his suspended nest. (Photo: Tom Grey ©)


GELLERMAN: They say that home is where the heart is - but for some female birds, it’s where they decide to lay their eggs, as Michael Stein tells it in this week's BirdNote®

An American Robin sits on its nest. (Photo: Tom Grey ©)


STEIN: When it comes to building a house, one of the first decisions to make is where to put it. The same is true for birds.


STEIN: Biologists call this “nest-site selection.” Birds find many different places to lay their eggs, from burrows and cliff edges to cavities in trees. Most familiar is the cup-shaped nest of plant material that most songbirds build each year. Yet even among these cup-nesters there is great variety. Picture three species and one tree.


STEIN: A robin builds its nest on top of a stout branch. It weaves together twigs and grass stems and even discarded string then lines the cup with mud.


STEIN: The much smaller Warbling Vireo hangs its nest from the fork of a slender branch…


STEIN: …a tiny sack suspended by grass fibers and spider silk. And a junco?


STEIN: It forgoes the branches entirely to build its cup nest on the ground, between the tree’s roots and concealed by overhanging ferns.


STEIN: Different “nest-site selection” for sure. But the one thing these and most birds’ nests have in common? The female chooses the site.

Dark-eyed Junco eggs in the nest on the ground.(Photo: S. Kropidlowski ©, USFWS)


GELLERMAN: That's Michael Stein with BirdNote®. For some photos, flit over to our website, LOE.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 myplanetharmony.com.

Related links:
- Sounds of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. American Robin recorded by G.A. Keller; Warbling Vireo 110999 by T.G. Sander; Dark-eyed Junco 118692 by G.A. Keller. Suburban ambient recorded by C. Peterson
- BirdNote® - Choosing Where to Nest was written by Bob Sundstrom.

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[MUSIC: Bill Laswell “Employees Must Wash Their Hands” from Roots Tonic Meets Bill Laswell (ROIR Records 2006).]

Eating Dirt

A woman on Pemba Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania, collects soil to eat.

GELLERMAN: In the book "The Grapes of Wrath", one of John Steinbeck’s main characters is caught eating dirt. Dirt is also part of the diet for a character in Pearl Buck’s novel, "The Good Earth", and it’s on the menu in Don Quixote. Turns out, eating dirt isn’t just the stuff of fiction - in fact, scientists say in some places it’s fairly common, they even have a name for it - geophagy.
Sera Young is a nutritional anthropologist at Cornell University. She’s author of a new book about dining on dirt, and has paper in the latest edition of the Quarterly Review of Biology called
"Why on Earth?"
Professor, welcome to Living on Earth!

YOUNG: Thanks, nice to be here!

GELLERMAN: Professor, have I pronounced that correctly- geo-FAY-gee?

YOUNG: That’s correct, you could also say: GEOF-agy. I’ve heard it, tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to kind of thing.

GELLERMAN: Well, you wrote a paper about geophagy, eating dirt, it’s actually a study of a lot of other studies, right?

The cover of a dissertation from 1691: "Dissertatio medica de pica" by Didericus Christiani.

YOUNG: Well, there have been a lot of observations of eating dirt, so missionaries, anthropologists, plantation doctors have observed this and remarked on it on population levels. But no one has assimilated those findings to analyze or assess any hypotheses.

GELLERMAN: But it’s a long history - it goes back millennia.

YOUNG: It does. In fact, there is archaeological evidence that it’s even maybe two million years old. And then we have the first written example from 400 BC, thanks to Hippocrates, and Aristotle wrote about it, about 100 years after that.

GELLERMAN: So, why do people eat dirt?

YOUNG: That’s a very good question and it’s one I’ve been studying for the last decade or so. There are a number of explanations, and what we’ve found is that the best one, the one that fits the most of the observations that we’ve made is that it’s a protective behavior. So, clay is a big component of the earth that’s eaten. And clay is really good at binding, it almost acts as like a mud mask for your face, except it’s a mud mask for your gut in a way. It sucks up these pathogens like viruses and bacteria and harmful chemicals and lets them evacuate from your body without entering your bloodstream.

GELLERMAN: There’s something in the dirt that protects us?

YOUNG: Exactly. And what’s so, sort of, paradoxical about what we’ve found is that dirt can in fact be cleansing. People are really selective about the dirt that they eat. It’s not just any dirt, and the dirt that’s preferred is, well, often described as ‘clean dirt’. And it’s also very clay-rich, so what you find is very soft, malleable, it’s not like the sand you find at the beach, or the black humus-y kind of soil that you’d like to plant your tomatoes in.

GELLERMAN: I have a bag of dirt that we got from Sam’s General Store in White Plains, Georgia. It’s called ‘Grandma’s Georgia White Dirt’ and I just got it - it says: Not intended for human consumption, but I’m going to try it anyhow…


YOUNG: (Laughs).

GELLERMAN: It looks like chalk and it feels slippery…ooh it is… and it gets all over my hands …

Georgia White Dirt from Sam’s General Store is for the gourmet geophagist.


GELLERMAN: It crumbles….yeah, it tastes like chalk, clean chalk.


YOUNG: You’ll notice it’s sort of, kind of astringent and drying on your tongue.


YOUNG: And, so you can imagine that it’s absorbing the spit on your tongue, the same way that when you swallow it, it will probably bind with some of the food that you’ve eaten. But in fact, what we’re finding is, it is associated with micronutrient deficiencies, people who eat earth are frequently anemic. Such that people who are eating this stuff - it seems to be causing anemia if you eat enough of it.

GELLERMAN: Now when people have a craving for a non-traditional food item, that’s called pica? Did I pronounce that right?

YOUNG: Pica, that’s right. It can also be pronounced: peeka.

Host Bruce Gellerman has not developed a taste for the white clay that many pregnant women crave.

GELLERMAN: Well, the word pica comes from the word magpie, which is a bird.

YOUNG: Right. It's a bird that was thought to have an indiscriminate appetite because it builds its nest will all of these sort of found objects. And so, in the early, I think it was the early 1300s, this name was given to the phenomenon of women, of pregnant women typically, who were craving all of these non-food substances.

But, with the case of the bird, it was a misnomer, they weren’t eating these things - they were building their nests with them. And in the case of the pica phenomenon in humans, it’s also a misnomer because people are not indiscriminate at all - people have extremely, extremely specific cravings.

GELLERMAN: So what is it about pregnant women?

YOUNG: Pregnant women’s behavior is easily dismissed because pregnant women: they know not what they do. But in fact, they’re immuno-compromised. Which means that their immune system is tamped down to avoid rejecting the fetus or the embryo, and at the same time they really need to be shielding this very vulnerable thing growing in them from insults - including pathogens like viruses and bacteria and other harmful chemicals.

So, people with rapidly dividing cells such as pregnant women and also young children are at greatest risk, or in most need of protection. Geophagy is a protective behavior. It fits with our hypothesis because in fact it is pregnant women and young children who do this most frequently.

GELLERMAN: And there are some really weird things that people eat: paint chips, chalk, baby powder, newspaper, coffee grinds, burnt matches…

YOUNG: Right, and you’ll see that there’s something that all of those substances have in common and that’s that they’re a dry, powdery, absorptive. Another substance that is commonly craved is corn starch. Corn starch up until the 60s was sold in chunks that looked a lot like clay.

GELLERMAN: Professor, have you ever developed a taste for dirt?

YOUNG: Well, I’ve been tasting dirt right and left ever since I started doing this as an anthropologist - participant observation is a really important part of your work. But to really take the plunge, I thought - let me see if getting pregnant and having a baby would help me develop this taste because certainly your sense of smell and taste change - but that one backfired. I am left with a charming, lovely little baby girl, Stella, but I never did develop really strong uncontrollable cravings for non-food substances.

GELLERMAN: I have a secret craving.

YOUNG: Tell me.

GELLERMAN: You know the paper they cook cupcakes in?


GELLERMAN: I eat the cupcake and then I eat the paper, the paper is even better!

Sera Young tells the story of the strange compulsion that is “pica” in Craving Earth.

YOUNG: (Laughs.) Well, are you pregnant?

GELLERMAN: (Laughs.) Well, you know, we’re going to have a contest, Professor, we’re going to ask our listeners to tell us about their dirt-eating experience and we’ll post it on our Facebook page - PRI’s Living on Earth - and, if we dig it, we’ll send them some gourmet ground from White Dirt of Georgia. Sound good?

YOUNG: I love that. In fact, what we could do is Colombia University Press would be happy to send the most compelling entry a free copy of my book - “Craving Earth” - that just came out last month.

GELLERMAN: Well, Professor, it was really fun, thanks a lot.

YOUNG: My pleasure.

GELLERMAN: Professor Sera Young from Cornell University is the author of the new book: “Craving Earth.” And I’m going to take another bite. Now I’m all white. (Laughs).

YOUNG: (Laughs). The dangers of pica.

GELLERMAN: I know… tastes like chalk…

Related link:
A map that plots worldwide distribution of cultural reports of geophagy.

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[MUSIC: Robert Cray “Playing In The Dirt” from Authorized Bootleg – Austin 5/25/87 (Island Def Jam 2010).]

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Helen Palmer, Jessica Ilyse Smith, Ike Sriskanderajah, Mitra Taj and Jeff Young, with help from Sarah Calkins, Gabriela Romanow and Sammy Sousa. Our interns are Daniel Gross, Stephanie McPherson and Anne-Marie Singh. We had engineering help this week from Dana Chisholm. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. 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.

ANNOUNCER 2: PRI - Public Radio International.


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