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

September 9, 2011

Air Date: September 9, 2011



9/11: Together We Feel

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The anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th brings up intense emotions for many Americans. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Dr. Roxanne Cohen Silver of the University of California Irvine about the anxiety felt by people across the country. Dr. Silver’s research found that watching the terrorist strikes on television produced stress symptoms similar to those experienced by people present at the attacks. (06:15)

Obama's Second Chance On Air Toxics Rule

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President Obama’s recent decision to go against EPA recommendations for ozone standards shocked environmentalists. Soon the president will have another opportunity to make a decision on another EPA clean air regulation. Lynn Goldman is Dean of George Washington University School of Public Health and former EPA administrator for toxic substances. She tells host Bruce Gellerman that the proposed rules would reduce mercury and other heavy metal emissions from coal-fired power plants, and could have major health effects. (05:10)

Gulf Restoration Bill – A No Brainer for Congress? / Paul Greenberg

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Author Paul Greenberg believes Democrats and Republicans in Congress have a chance to put their differences aside and come together on an upcoming environmental bill. The legislation would mandate the federal government to use BP Gulf oil spill penalties to help restore the Gulf ecosystem. (03:00)

Un-Damming the Elwha / Ashley Ahearn

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A river in Washington dammed for almost 100 years will soon be set free. As Ashley Ahearn from Earthfix reports, scientists are taking measurements of the Elwha River’s ecosystem so they can have a baseline snapshot of the river’s health. (05:00)

Bill McKibben on Protesting Pipeline Expansion

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The Keystone XL pipeline expansion would pipe carbon-rich crude from Alberta all the way to Texas. Environmentalists are protesting the proposal in record numbers. Author, activist and professor Bill McKibben is leading the charge all the way to the White House. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that the pipeline project is a horror that will generate an enormous amount of carbon pollution. (06:00)

A Crude Line in the Land of the Spirit Bear

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In the middle of the largest temperate rainforest lives a rare bear. It’s a white black bear, known to natives as spirit bear. The First Nation people who live in Great Bear Rainforest have kept their spirit a secret, until now. The bears' and the natives’ land is threatened by a proposal to pipe crude through their forest. Writer Bruce Barcott wrote about it for National Geographic and describes this unusual place and unusual creature to host Bruce Gellerman. (05:30)

Birdnote ®/Migration – Long, Short and In-Between / Mary McCann

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Many birds are heading south this month in search of warmer weather. As BirdNote’s ® Mary McCann reports, some are long distance travelers, while others head to the hills. (Photo: Colleen Dewhurst, USFWS.) (02:00)

Redefining Environmentalism

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Author David Gessner kayaks the tamed Charles River in his new book "My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism.” He takes host Bruce Gellerman along for a wild ride. (13:00)

Earth Ear

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Dogs bark, roosters crow, and trucks and tractors make their way down the road during the early morning rush in a small French agricultural village. (01:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman,
GUEST: Roxane Cohen Silver, Lynn Goldman, Sara Morely, George Pess, Bill McKibben, Bruce Barcott, David Gessner, David Gessner
REPORTERS: Paul Greenberg, Ashley Ahearn, Mary McCann, Bruce Gellerman


GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Scientists say memories of 9/11 may not be what they appear to be, but they are felt far and wide, and can have profound effects.

Also, the largest dam removal project in the world will soon be one for the history books, giving fish in the river a fighting chance in the future.

PESS: I think what you’ll see is a rapid rate of change with these species in terms of going from, let’s say, hundreds to perhaps thousands, and even tens of thousands in some cases, for some within, you know, several decades.

GELLERMAN: And we paddle to a tame place to enjoy the pleasures of the wild.

GESSNER: No one’s saying nature is a cakewalk. Is easy. What I’m saying is that there are deep pleasures that we’re missing out on when we remove it from our lives or when we push it over into a corner.

GELLERMAN: We’ll have those stories and a lot more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around!

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[Music: Boards Of Canada “Zoetrope” from In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country (Warp Records 2000)]

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

9/11: Together We Feel

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. The date 9/11 is burned into our hearts and memories. Even now, ten years after the disastrous attacks, the images and emotions are still vivid.

The trauma broadcast over TV was felt far and wide, beyond those who witnessed the terrorist strike. Dr. Roxane Cohen Silver is a professor of Psychology & Social Behavior and Medicine at the University of California Irvine.

SILVER: I studied the impact of September 11th amongst individuals who were not directly impacted. So, I conducted a study of several thousand people across the United States, most of which knew nobody who died that day, and I followed this national sample for several years capturing the emotional, physical and psychological consequences of the attacks over time.

GELLERMAN: Well, what did you find?

SILVER: We saw posttraumatic stress symptoms in the early aftermath of 9/11 that mimicked those seen amongst individuals who were directly impacted by the attacks. And, in general, over time remitted for the vast majority of the population.

Dr. Roxane Cohen Silver, Professor of Psychology & Social Behavior and Medicine at U.C. Irvine.

GELLERMAN: Well, we all witnessed this and watched it on TV, and we were traumatized. I know I felt like I was hit in the gut.

SILVER: Yes, we did find in our study that about 60 percent of the population witnessed some portion of the attacks live as they unfolded on television. That is, they either saw the second plane hit the building, or they witnessed one of the buildings fall. And we found that individuals who saw the attacks live on television were more likely to be experiencing physical symptoms over the years as well as psychological ones.

GELLERMAN: What kind of physical distress did you find in people?

SILVER: We actually were able to see increased numbers of heart problems- cardio vascular effects in individuals who responded to the attacks with a lot of distress and continued to worry about terrorism over time. Those individuals were more likely to experience new onset physical problems in the first three years after the attacks.

GELLERMAN: Well, now that we have the tenth anniversary, and a lot of us are seeing and recalling and remembering the events of that day- are we being re-traumatized?

SILVER: I believe that there is a possibility that re-witnessing graphic images of the attacks may in fact reactivate some of the immediate post-9/11 distress. And, I, in fact, discourage people from watching the graphic images of that day. I think that we can memorialize and commemorate the events of September 11th in a respectful way, without being re-traumatized, without needing to reexamine the graphic pictures of that day.

GELLERMAN: Do you remember where you were and how you felt when you first heard about the 9/11 attacks?

SILVER: I do, and I will tell you, however, that fascinating research suggests that while we may believe that our memories of where we were and how we were feeling are accurate, they may in fact be wrong.

But I was in California at the time, and I was corresponding via email with somebody who was in Washington who said, ‘It’s terrible, what’s going on here,’ and I didn’t know what she was talking about because it was so early, and I remember calling out to my husband to say, ‘turn on the television.’

GELLERMAN: I had to turn off my TV set after awhile. I just, I couldn’t watch anymore.

The 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon is on the spot where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the side of the building. This memorial was designed by Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman. (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, Michael Myers)

SILVER: Well, in fact, I saw the buildings fall, and I must acknowledge that I have never watched television about the attacks again. I was quite sure that watching these images were not going to be psychologically beneficial. And, I think my research suggests that there is no benefit to watching these graphic images - certainly more than once.

GELLERMAN: So, has this left a societal scar? Does it heal over? Does it mend?

SILVER: I would not say that our society in general has been scarred by September 11th. I think that that are many ways in which we have changed as a result. We no longer have a sense of invulnerability; we recognize that an attack like September 11th is possible. Alternatively, if we would have asked a group of people about that on September 10th, 2001, I think most people would not have believed that such a thing was possible.

GELLERMAN: After 9/11, it seemed people were, well, nicer to each other. What happened to that?

SILVER: We did see that people were able to see some positives in the aftermath of the horror. And, I think that we see that often in the aftermath in any community-wide trauma. There is increased donations of blood and money, and I think that that is part of human nature and certainly part of our society to rally round those who have been traumatized by an event and do the best we can to help them get through it.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Roxane Cohen Silver is a Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior and Medicine at UC Irvine. Dr. Silver, thanks so much, I really appreciate it.

SILVER: Thank you very much for having me.

Related links:
- Read more about Dr. Silver’s research
- Dr. Silver’s article about 9/11 distress
- The 9/11 Memorial and Museum

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[MUSIC: Amina Figarova “Photo Album” from September Suite (Munich Records 2005).]

Obama's Second Chance On Air Toxics Rule

GELLERMAN: Environmentalists were shocked and disappointed when President Obama recently delayed implementation of rules that would have regulated ozone emissions from cars, factories, and power plants. Now environmentalists are eager to learn what the President will do with another EPA clean air proposal.

That one would reduce emissions of mercury and other heavy metals from power plants. Ninety-nine percent of neuro-toxic mercury comes from coal-fired power plants. The proposed rules have been in the works for more than 20 years but, still, there are no federal standards for these pollutants. Lynn Goldman is Dean of George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services and a former administrator for Toxic Substances at EPA.

Warnings about dangerous level of mercury in fish are common in many lakes and streams. (Photo: Joey Rozier)

GOLDMAN: It’s taken a long time, and yet during that time, we’ve continued to see from these power plants emissions of very harmful substances - mercury, even arsenic and lead. And so, what this rule will do, once it’s finalized, is that it will require these power plants to install technologies that reduce the pollution from these toxic substances.

GELLERMAN: How does mercury get into the environment? So you’ve got this coal, you burn it, it goes up the smoke stack, and then what happens?

GOLDMAN: Ok, so then the mercury is in the air, and eventually what’s going to happen is that it will be deposited. And when it is deposited, particularly in water, it is converted from a metallic form of the mercury to an organic form called methylmercury. It’s converted that way by microorganisms in the environment. That methylmercury then winds up in the food chain.

GELLERMAN: And mercury bioaccumulates, right? So, a big fish gets eaten by a bigger fish, and so on. And, if we eat that biggest fish, we get the total accumulation of mercury.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, and since we’re like the biggest fish, and we like eating the big fish - we like eating fish, you know, that particularly have high levels of mercury like shark and swordfish and mackerel, which we really need to avoid - especially pregnant women shouldn’t eat those fish at all.

The most serious effect of mercury is the effect on the developing brain of the fetus and infant. And we know that if mothers are exposed to mercury during pregnancy, that there is a good likelihood that there will be an impact on development of the child, and particularly intellectual development, such as verbal abilities.

GELLERMAN: So, if the EPA proposals are adopted, what are the likely outcomes in terms of public health?

GOLDMAN: Well, what EPA has estimated is that, as early as 2016, every year we would have 17,000 fewer deaths, 4,500 fewer cases of bronchitis, around 120,000 fewer cases of asthma, and something like 850,000 fewer days of missed work, mostly due to respiratory problems.

GELLERMAN: You know, House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, put repeal of air quality regulations as one of the top ten job destroying regulations, and he’s targeting it this fall for re-appeal.

GOLDMAN: You know that the air quality regulations in this country have been estimated to save the economy literally billions of dollars. Billions of dollars. And, if you want to increase the deficit, what you want to do is get rid of air pollution regulations.

If you think about it, can we actually afford the additional deaths, the additional cases of bronchitis and asthma? The fact that the medical care costs that are associated with this kind of pollution are enormous, and are a burden to our society? Can we afford all those days of missed work- what is the impact on families from those days of missed work? So, the whole picture needs to be considered when talking about the effects on the economy.

Lynn Goldman is the Dean of George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. (Courtesy of Lynn Goldman)

GELLERMAN: The EPA got something like 800,000 comments in support of this mercury regulation, but the opposition is vociferous. And, I guess the president is under tremendous pressure not to allow these regulations to go into effect.

GOLDMAN: Well, in this particular case, I don’t think that there is a lot of choice. I mean the EPA was actually taken to court by the American Nurses Association to ask that the EPA be required to make this standard, and this regulation must be done under consent decree. And so, I don’t think that there are very many options, other than moving forward as they’ve committed to do.

GELLERMAN: So, the EPA is required to come up with the rule and adopt the rule, but could the president just say ‘Uh, we can’t afford it at this point?’

GOLDMAN: No, I don’t think that that’s an option under the law for the president to do that. And, I don’t think that the president would want to do that. When you think about the impacts on children’s health, on the health of families, this is a very important thing to move forward.

GELLERMAN: But President Obama just recently kind of backed off of the ozone standard that the EPA had proposed. Do you not see him doing that - just backing off? Just delaying?

GOLDMAN: This is under a different provision of the law. And, the situation is very different. But still, it’s a signal that we’re all watching very carefully - for sure.

GELLERMAN: Lynn Goldman is Dean of George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. She’s also former administrator for Toxic Substances at the EPA. Dr. Goldman, thank you so very much.

GOLDMAN: Thank you. Bye.

Related links:
- Lynn Goldman’s Home Page
- The EPA on Mercury and Air Toxics

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Gulf Restoration Bill – A No Brainer for Congress?

GELLERMAN: Well, Congress is back in session. And after months of mudslinging, showdowns and standoffs, you might not expect lawmakers will get much done. But commentator Paul Greenberg believes there’s an important environmental bill that's coming up... where Republicans and Democrats could find common ground.

GREENBERG: After scoring a resounding F during last July’s miserable debt ceiling fight, Senate and House members are stumbling back from their summer vacation, desperate for an easy A. And actually, there’s one waiting for them if they want it - bobbing in plain sight in the legislative waters in the wake of the BP oil spill.

You see, the Federal Clean Water Act, the instrument that the government is using to exact fines from BP, has one tricky problem - oil spillers must pay anywhere from 1,100 to 4,300 dollars for every barrel of oil spilled. But, the Clean Water Act doesn’t really stipulate where that money should go, or how it should be spent.

What that means, is that the possibly 20 billion dollars BP is supposed to pay in fines could simply disappear into the morass that is the federal government’s 3.8 trillion dollar annual budget. Fortunately, the ultimate do-nothing Congress has a chance to do something smart about this. Bill S-1400 that will go before legislators this fall, has the simple goal to mandate the federal government to use the BP oil spill damages to actually fix the Gulf. And boy, is that money needed!

In addition to cleanup, the Gulf needs massive programs to restore the regions marshes - marshes which are now disappearing at a rate of 1.5 Manhattans a year. It needs work to rebuild barrier islands that protect the shorelines from hurricanes. And, it needs a huge investment to restore the billions of oysters that were lost during last year’s spill.

And what’s great about this particular piece of legislation is that it probably wouldn’t cost the taxpayer anything, while at the same time creating important economic benefits in the form of rebuilt fisheries, safer shorelines and cleaner ecosystems. Maybe this is why both Tea Partiers and Democrats like this bill!

A recent poll of 1,000-plus likely voters, conducted by Lake Research Partners, showed broad bipartisan support for using BP funds to restore the Gulf. And so, Congress, still sitting in the corner with the dunce caps on after getting the lowest public opinion ratings in history, has a chance to come back and score an easy A. Lets hope they don’t find a new and innovative way to flunk out.

GELERMAN: Commentator Paul Greenberg. His latest book is “Four Fish – The Future of the Last Wild Food.” It’s now available in paperback.

Related links:
- Bill S. 1400 Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf States Act of 2011
- Paul Greenberg’s “Four Fish” website

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[MUSIC: Eddie Bo “Having Fun In New Orleans” from New Orleans Solo Piano (Night Train International 1995).]

GELLERMAN: Just ahead - letting the Elwha River go with the flow – again. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

[MUSIC: Etienne Charles: “Sugar Bum Bum” from Kaiso (Culture Shock Music 2011).]

Un-Damming the Elwha

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. In a few weeks, workers will start dismantling the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams in Washington State. The effort is the largest dam removal project in the world. The Elwha River has been dammed for nearly a century, generating electricity for the region, but it prevented salmon from making their legendary annual runs.

As engineers prepare to take down the two hydropower dams, scientists are hurrying to collect baseline data, so they can compare the Elwha River now and when it’s dam-free. Ashley Ahearn prepared two reports about the un-damming of the river. This week, we have her first.


AHEARN: In a side channel of the Elwha, nestled between the two dams, there’s a scientist walking around in hip waders sporting a backpack that would make the Ghostbusters jealous.


MORLEY: That’s actually a modified car battery on the back of that. They’re electrofishing and it’s a way of temporarily stunning fish, and fish, such as salmonids that have swim bladders, will then float to the top.

Scientists go electrofishing and use a device to temporarily stun fish so they can find out more about them. (Photo: Ashley Ahearn, http://earthfix.kuow.org/)

AHEARN: Sarah Morley is crouched by the river, surrounded by buckets, bottles and nets. She’s one of a team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that’s trying to record the food web of this river.

Basically, they’re trying to figure out who’s living here, who’s eating whom and how that might change once the dams are removed. Morley reaches into one of her buckets where several rainbow trout are recovering from their run-in with the Ghostbuster backpack.

MORLEY: So we’re going to do something called “gastric lavage” which is a non-lethal way of collecting their stomach contents - kind of like when you go to the hospital room and they make you throw up if they think you’ve ingested something toxic.

AHEARN: Morley grabs a fish and squirts water on its snout until it opens its mouth. Then in goes the syringe, and more water is used to flush out the brown, gunky contents of the rainbow trout’s belly.

MORLEY: Sometimes moving the needle in and out helps pull it out a little bit. So this is what was in the belly. This looks pretty digested - lots of small pieces.


AHEARN: While Morley and her team are trying to map out what’s going on at the bottom of the food chain in this river, another team from NOAA is trying to figure out how the river itself is going to physically change once the dams come out.

And this is where the story gets personal. It’s my first time in hip waders, clambering over some pretty big slimy rocks in about 3 feet of water. I’m off to catch up with the other team of scientists when, before I know it, I’m on my back in the Elwha, I’m soaking wet, and so is my equipment.

Scientists George Pess (left) and Mike McHenry wade out to measure rocks in the Elwha River. The rocks move sediment along the river, which impacts the spawning habitat of salmon. (Photo: Ashley Ahearn, http://earthfix.kuow.org/)

George Pess leads NOAA’s restoration monitoring team on the Elwha. He explains that I didn’t slip simply because I’m a klutz (although that’s a big part of it). It’s about the rocks, which he and his team are measuring in this section of river.


AHEARN: Most of the rocks here below the dams are the size of softballs to basketballs and larger.

PESS: It’s definitely a sediment-starved river. So what that means simply is that all the smaller material eventually kind of goes away with nothing coming upstream.

AHEARN: Rivers are like conveyor belts. They move massive amounts of sediment. When the dams went in that sediment flow was blocked. Now there’s about 23 Empire State Building’s worth of smaller-grained material built up above the dams, with mostly big slippery rocks left below. And that’s not just a problem for clumsy journalists.

PESS: So when the salmon spawns, what it does is the female will turn to its side and actually move its tail and project the water down, and actually dig, basically, a nest. Now if you have really large material, it’s going to be really hard for a smaller fish to actually dig through that, you know, almost like a sheet of concrete.

AHEARN: Once the dams come out, water will flush the sediment down the lower river and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Scientists predict some wildlife mortality initially, but big picture, that sediment will eventually rejuvenate the estuary and restore critical spawning habitat for salmon. Turns out the sediment in a river is almost as important as the water.


AHEARN: There are no salmon above the dams anymore, but every year steelhead and chinook, coho, pink and chum salmon bump their noses at the base of the lower dam, as if they know what they’re missing out on.

Population numbers of these fish have steadily declined since the dams went in, but Pess says, things will turn around once the dams are out.

PESS: I think what you’ll see is a rapid rate of change with these species in terms of going from, let’s say, hundreds to perhaps thousands and even tens of thousands in some cases, for some within, you know, several decades. It may not be a quick turn around in the sense of somebody’s life, but it’s a quick turn around for ecological recovery.

AHEARN: The question is: are people willing to wait for the fish to come back naturally? The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe has built a new hatchery to boost stocks of steelhead, coho and other salmon in the next few years. George Pess and his team will continue monitoring the Elwha ecosystem through the dam removal process, which starts September 15th.


AHEARN: I’m Ashley Ahearn on the Elwha River.

GELLERMAN: Our story about the Elwha comes to us from EarthFix. It’s a public media project that explores the environment of the Pacific Northwest. Next week, Ashley Ahearn continues her series on the historic Elwha River dam removal project and efforts to restore fish there.

WARD: Ultimately, I think we’re looking for thousands of adults coming back to the hatchery: chum salmon, coho, steelhead, and producing upwards of a million and a half or two million fish to be released.

GELLERMAN: Not so fast, there’s controversy along the river. Some people don’t want fish hatcheries there at all. Tune in next week for part two of “Un-damming the Elwha.”

Related link:
Undamming the Elwha Series

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[MUSIC: Various Artists/Kolombo “Waiting For” from Total 12 (Kompakt Records 2011).]

Bill McKibben on Protesting Pipeline Expansion

GELLERMAN: In recent weeks more than 12 hundred protesters have been arrested in front of the White House. They were demonstrating against a proposed 17 hundred-mile pipeline that would carry thick, gooey oil from the tar sands of Alberta Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

Along the way, the seven billion dollar pipeline called Keystone XL would pass through two Canadian provinces, six U.S. states and over the nation’s largest aquifer. Leading the protests in front of the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline was Bill McKibben. The author and activist is with tarsandsaction.org. He joins us from KQED in San Francisco. Welcome to Living on Earth, Bill.

(Photo: by Milan Ilnyckyj, Tar Sands Action Network)

MCKIBBEN: Well, Bruce as always, good to be with you guys.

GELLERMAN: Well, we’ve done a lot of stories about the existing Keystone pipeline and the proposed XL extension, but can you tell us exactly why you’re against this project?

MCKIBBEN: Yeah. I think, in a sense, it’s easier to say why it is that our protest against it turned into the biggest display of civil disobedience in 30 years in this country. And, you know, the reasons are two: One, this project is a horror. Not only is it a horror in Alberta where they mine this stuff, and not only is it a grave danger to be putting a pipeline across the Ogallala Aquifer to get it to Texas, but it’s also a pipeline that runs into the second largest pool of carbon on earth.

If we start burning this stuff in a big way, it’s essentially game over for the climate. So, that’s one reason that there has been this, you know, willingness of 1,250 people to march themselves off to jail.

The other reason is: for once, we have a chance of prevailing, because Barack Obama can stop this stupid thing, all he has to do is say, ‘I’m not gonna sign the presidential certificate of national interest.” - that’s what they call it - that would be necessary to build this thing across national borders.

GELLERMAN: Well, the State Department is involved in this because it crosses the border, and they came out last month with an Environmental Impact Report that says, you know, ‘no harmful effects,’ basically.

MCKIBBEN: The State Department Environmental Impact Report - I mean, I’m a college professor, once in awhile anyway, and I’ve read enough blue books to know when people are studiously avoiding the issue. The government’s chief climate scientist - James Hansen at NASA - had to go get arrested in front of the White House to make himself heard.

The calculations that his NASA team put together are astonishing. They showed if you could light all the tar sands on fire, you would raise the carbon concentration in the atmosphere from its current 390 parts per million to somewhere above 500 parts per million.

GELLERMAN: But Bill, there’s a lot of oil, as you say, in the ground up there - the second largest proven oil reserve in the world, and this country needs energy and jobs.

MCKIBBEN: What this country needs is finally to come to grips with the idea that we better make the transition off fossil fuel and onto something else. And, they need to keep that oil in the ground. And, if we do, then we will actually create a lot of jobs as we finally make the transition, instead of delaying it for another generation.

The protests against the Keystone Pipeline Expansion were the largest acts of civil disobedience since the Vietnam protests. (Photo: Josh Lopez, Tar Sands Action 2011)

GELLERMAN: Any indication that the White House has actually heard the protestors.

MCKIBBEN: Well, that’s an interesting question. The press secretary, the only thing he said is, ‘I haven’t discussed it with the president.’ But, I’m pretty sure they’ve heard. I don’t know whether he’s heard enough yet, which is why we’re continuing- tarsandsaction.org - will be fighting on all fall because the president said he’ll make his decision by Christmas. Many of us were arrested wearing our Obama ’08 buttons.

GELLERMAN: Well, you were willing to go to jail - are you willing to sit out the next election if the president does sign the certificate and find that this is in the national interest?

MCKIBBEN: I imagine that most hardcore environmentalists will probably end up voting for the president because it’s clear that, you know, Rick Perry or whoever would be, you know, eager to build as many pipelines as he possibly could. But there’s a big difference between voting for someone and supporting them.

And if the president … you know, to get reelected, to have that kind of enthusiasm that marked his last campaign, he’s going to need to do the right thing here. As one of my young colleagues said, ‘it’s hard to knock on doors when you’re in handcuffs.’ And, I’ve gotta tell you, I am so proud of the people who showed up. This was not the usual suspects.

We asked people when they signed up who was president when they were born, and the biggest cohort of people who were arrested came from the Truman and FDR Administrations. We are…the last day, the oldest person arrested was an 86-year-old man with a sign around his neck that said ‘World War II vet. Handle with care.’ He was 86 years old, born in the Harding Administration.

GELLERMAN: In your heart of hearts, you think you can stop this pipeline from going in?

MCKIBBEN: Uh, look, the odds were very … were slim to none two weeks ago. The odds are probably still against us, but they are improving daily and hourly. What had been a regional issue is a national and international one. Word is out: global warming, you know, it’s not like we’re facing some future threat.

GELLERMAN: Author, environmental activist and professor, Bill McKibben. He’s head of Tar Sands Action. Bill, thank you so very much.

MCKIBBEN: Thank you very much. Take care, Bruce.

Related links:
- Learn more about the on-going protests
- See more pictures of the demonstration

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A Crude Line in the Land of the Spirit Bear

GELLERMAN: Well, there’s another proposed tar sands pipeline in the Canadian pipeline. It’s called the Northern Gateway, and it would carry Alberta crude 700 miles west to a port on the British Columbia coast, and from there, to China, Japan and perhaps California.

Along the way, the pipeline would cut through the pristine Great Bear Rainforest. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a temperate rainforest. Turns out, it’s a unique home for a unique animal. National Geographic Magazine sent writer Bruce Barcott on assignment to Great Bear – he came back with the story: Pipeline through Paradise.

Two adult males tussle over a prime fishing spot in a river. "Bear scraps are rare events," says Doug Neasloss, a Kitasoo/Xai'xais wildlife guide. "There's a high potential for injury, so they avoid conflict if they can." (©Paul Nicklen/National Geographic)

BARCOTT: It is, in fact, the largest existing temperate rainforest in the world up there. It’s a massive swath of enormous trees. I mean, all sorts of firs and cedars- and, well, imagine moss everywhere - it’s like a snowfall of moss. And, it’s a lot of small islands, really a huge archipelago of these islands that are home to wolves and black bears and grizzly bears and a special sub-species of bear known as the spirit bear or the kermode bear. It’s actually a black bear with white fur.

GELLERMAN: You got to see a spirit bear, right?

BARCOTT: I did. I saw three separate spirit bears when I was up there. I had the good fortune to be with a couple of local wilderness guides who knew where the spirit bears generally came down to fish during the day. And, even then, you know, hanging out with the guides - just incredibly misty and spooky and wet and dripping and raining, and you know, you’re wearing all of the Goretex that you own and still this stuff seeps down into your bones.

GELLERMAN: There are some spectacular National Geographic pictures in the article, but you describe the bear as, kind of, a white rug in need of a shampooing.

BARCOTT: Yeah, it’s almost like a vanilla ice cream sort of color when you see it up close - a little bit of orange to it. But one of the things that is most striking when you see it up close is that it is just a bright spotlight against the dark forest.

GELLERMAN: Well, now they want to build, in your words, ‘a pipeline through paradise.’ They want to build this northern gateway, which would cut through the Great Bear Rainforest.

BARCOTT: Right, right. That all ties back to the oil sands out in Alberta- there’s a lot of debate in America about the Keystone XL pipeline. But, at the same time, Canada is working on other ways to tap the Asian oil markets - and one of their ideas is to run a pipeline from Alberta, all the way to the coast that would end at a port right in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest.

And the folks there aren’t so much worried about the pipeline, but their concern has to do more with the oil tankers that would be, sort of, winding their way through this jigsaw puzzle of islands at a rate of about 250 a year.

GELLERMAN: And, I guess they’re really large.

BARCOTT: Yeah, some of the largest tankers that would go through that area are about as long as the Empire State building is tall. And, like I say, the main concern for the local people there - which are mainly First Nation folks - is that they do, you know, gain an immense amount of their daily diet from the shores. They go after seaweed, clams, mussel, salmon, and even herring eggs and other sorts of food from that area.

GELLERMAN: But, the unemployment rate in the area is close to 90 percent, you write, aren’t they, you know, hoping that the pipeline brings jobs?

BARCOTT: The 90 percent figure actually is from back in the 90s when the previous battle in the Great Bear Rainforest was over logging and timber. And that was the great debate - was whether we should let the timber companies log the land, and take the jobs that came with that. And, since then, a lot of the First Nations folks up there have found other ways to make a living. But, by and large, the First Nations people on the water and in the Great Bear Rainforest are pretty heavily against the pipeline. They don’t see a whole lot of benefits coming their way.

A young bear settles into a mossy day bed at the foot of a giant, old-growth western red cedar. Bears use such day beds to rest and sleep after a meal. (©Paul Nicklen/National Geographic)

GELLERMAN: What effect will the pipeline, if any, have on the spirit/white bear?

BARCOTT: Essentially, we’re talking about the risk of an Exxon Valdez happening in this area. And, if that were to happen, you know, the white bears can stay out of the water just fine, but their food supply would dry up. You know, they rely pretty heavily on the fall salmon runs coming back. They get a lot of their protein and fat from those salmon, and essentially their ability to bear cubs depends a lot on the amount of fat they can store up from those salmon runs.

GELLERMAN: Have the First Nation peoples developed traditions and mythology around the bear?

BARCOTT: You know, it’s funny - not really. I mean, when you go up there, you don’t see a white bear depicted on, you know, totem poles or carved into cedar in their long houses. But, really, it’s a very, it was kept very quiet. And keeping the spirit bear a secret over the generations has worked well for both them and the spirit bear. But, at this point, you know, I think they’re, kind of, at least as interested in publicizing the spirit bear’s existence, if only as a way to help protect the land and the water that both they and the spirit bear rely upon.

GELLERMAN: Well, Bruce, thanks so very much. It’s a terrific article, and I’m very appreciative that you took the time to talk with us.

BARCOTT: No problem, thank you.

GELLERMAN: Bruce Barcott wrote ‘Pipeline through Paradise and Spirit Bear’ in the August issue of National Geographic. For pictures of the white-black bear, visit us at loe.org.

Related link:
See more photos of the Spirit Bear by Paul Nicklen.

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[MUSIC: Anouar Brahem “The Astounding Eyes Of Rita” from The Astounding Eyes Of Rita (ECM Records 2009).]

GELLERMAN: Coming up: we go up the river, and drown our recording equipment again. Stay aboard….just ahead, on Living on Earth!

[MUSIC: Grover Washington Jr.: “Bright Moments” from The Ultimate Collection (Universal Music 1995).]

Birdnote ®/Migration – Long, Short and In-Between

GELLERMAN: You’re listening to Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman.


Arctic Terns fly south from Alaska to Antarctica. (Photo: Tom Grey©)

GELLERMAN: As the weather cools and we move into fall, many birds are taking wing in search of warmer climes. Mary McCann has this BirdNote.

MCCANN: In September, Arctic Terns fly south over the ocean, from Alaska all the way to Antarctica.


MCCANN: Also in September, the last Rufous Hummingbirds depart their breeding range in the West, following “floral highways” of mountain wildflowers south to Mexico.


MCCANN: Ruby-crowned Kinglets are leaving the northern evergreen forests where they nest, on their way to milder climates.


MCCANN: Each of these birds is migrating, but on a very different course. All have the same adaptive goal – making the most of food and breeding opportunities that change with the seasons. Arctic Terns follow one of the longest annual migrations, traveling as much as 44,000 miles each year. Arctic tundra provides their ideal nesting site in summer, the Antarctic, the ideal feeding grounds in our winter.


The Rufous Hummingbird follows the wildflowers on its way south.(Photo: Tom Grey ©)

MCCANN: Rufous Hummingbirds are medium-range migrants, traversing about 5,000 miles a year between temperate and tropical nectar sources.


MCCANN: Some Ruby-crowned Kinglets are altitudinal migrants, especially in the West. They may remain close to the same latitude all year, but spend the cold months in the relative warmth of the lowlands dining on insects and their eggs. In summer, you’ll need to ascend thousands of feet into the western mountain ranges to hear the kinglet’s exuberant song.


GELLERMAN: That’s Mary McCann of BirdNote. To see some photos of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet and other birds, migrate over to our website LOE dot org.

Related links:
- Bird audio provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Arctic Tern calls, Ruby-crowned Kinglet song and Rufous Hummingbird call recorded by G.A. Keller. Ambient songbird track recorded by C. Peterson.
- BirdNote® “Migration – Long, Short, and In-Between” was written by Bob Sundstrom.

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[MUSIC: Brian Blade “You’ll Always Be My Baby” from Mama Rosa (Verve Music 2009).]

Redefining Environmentalism


GELLERMAN: Let’s take a wild trip to a tame place. Traffic zips along route 128… known as America’s High Tech Highway- it circles Boston- passing through densely populated suburbs.


GELLERMAN: Here in Auburndale12 miles due west of Boston, just off the highway, the flow of traffic is replaced by the flow of the Charles River, sounds of the roadway fade and nature takes over.


Bruce Gellerman and David Gessner head out on the Charles River (Photo: Daniel Gross)

GELLERMAN: Here, at a historic Victorian boathouse there are kayaks to rent. I take two. One for me, and a double for my producer who’ll ride shotgun with the author of a new book about nature and the environment.

GESSNER: My name is David Gessner, and I’m a professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. At this point, I’ve been cast as this kind of a nature writer. There are times that I rebel against that, but I feel like nature is a part of everything that I work on, just like it is part of my life. I don’t feel the need to be defined solely by it.

GELLERMAN: In his latest book, David Gessner searches for re-definition. It’s titled ”My Green Manifesto Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism,” kayaking the river seemed the natural thing to do while talking to Gessner about his book.


GELLERMAN: We strap on life jackets, grab paddles and squeeze into kayaks.

GESSNER: Alright, let’s set off….

GELLERMAN: I put my recorder into a plastic bag and my microphone on top of the boat.


GELLERMAN: We push off from the dock and paddle a few yards.


GELLERMAN: Then, my cell phone rings…I grab for it…And knock my mic…


GELLERMAN: Into the water. What a jerk. I fish it out…fearing the worst.


GELLERMAN: TESTING 1….2….3…4…5, 1….2….3…4…5 …Well, it didn’t take me long to ruin my microphone. I dropped it right in! Luckily, my producer Daniel Gross brought along another microphone.


GELLERMAN: And the three of us set off again paddling and talking about the 80-mile journey David Gessner took along the length of the Charles River that inspired him to write “My Green Manifesto.’

GRESSNER: Well, it was a little bit tongue and cheek, honestly. That’s why I put the ‘my’ in front of ‘Green Manifesto.’ I didn’t feel that it was going to be the end-all-be-all of environmentalism. I felt that ‘My Green Groping’ wouldn’t sound as good.


GRESSNER: And, really what it was is that groping toward some ideas about environmentalism that I have been developing for years, and break out of being paralyzed by my previous thoughts about the environment. Those thoughts included a sense that we’re all doomed, a sense that everything I do was fairly impotent and just an overall sense of hopelessness. And, what I came up with in this book is what I would call a limited environmentalism, a smaller environmentalism, but hopefully a more effective environmentalism.

GELLERMAN: There are thousands or tens of thousands of rivers you could have chosen to go on, but you chose this river, the Charles River. Why? I mean, it’s not remote, it’s not romantic, it’s an urban river.

GRESSNER: Well, particularly because of that. I felt that you don’t need to go to Everest or the Amazon to experience the wild. I love the fact that it is a limited river. I love the fact that you cross the highway- 128. I like the fact that we’re floating toward a Marriott Hotel right now and that when we go around the corner we might see muskrats, herons. I like the idea of an accessible, wildness and wilderness.

It really went with my thinking about a limited environmentalism. And we better understand that the way we fight for the environment doesn’t have to be pure, and the environment that we fight for doesn’t have to be pristine and pure.


GELLERMAN: Boy, you don’t have to go far to get beautiful here, huh?


GRESSNER: No, and I think at the next turn we’re going to start losing the sounds of the highway here too.


GRESSNER: We’re hearing red-winged blackbirds over there. And, we’re seeing, that’s loosestrife, the purple.


GELLERMAN: And, we’ve got some kids in a kayak here, they’re making a racket.

GRESSNER: Yeah, well, that’s good, right? We’re getting the kids out there, that’s where it starts! (laughs) Contact. We need to have that contact.

GELLERMAN: The word contact occurs again and again in your book- you have to touch it. You have to be in it. You have to be in nature.

GRESSNER: I think the missing leg of environmentalism with a capital E is the whole mucking around in the world itself. It seemed like- why would you fight for something…There’s a great blue heron right over there going over the loosestrife!



GRESSNER: The kids just saw that too, that’s what they’re yelling about. This time they’re yelling positively. So, you can actually still see it…just cruise ahead… no one is saying nature is a cakewalk, is easy. What I’m saying is that there are deep pleasures that we miss out on, when we remove it; when we push it into a corner. There’s a landing up here and we can land along the edge and climb up the hill into the trees for a little bit.


GELLERMAN: So, where did this book come from? Is it something that you’ve always wanted to write? It just popped into your head one day?

GRESSNER: Well, in a way, it built up for years and then popped into my head. And it came in 2007 at a time when environmentalism was suddenly hot. You had Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover of Vanity Fair next to a polar bear and supposedly a melting ice cap. And, you had Gore winning his Nobel Prize for his slideshow.

Twisty light bulbs were all in vogue. And, what I was saying was: that these things are great, anything that helps us or ignites us is great, but we need to have that contact- looking at birds, looking at plants, looking at trees. And, that seemed to be missing for me.

GELLERMAN: We’re only a few miles outside of Boston and it easy to get here! It’s not hard to get to nature.

GRESSNER: Well, it’s a little hard, we paddled.


GRESSNER: (LAUGHS). But, you know, I don’t know. I do think that the more we’re looking- we can hear a siren now- you can hear it in our little pastoral glen. The more we look at devices, we’re not outside and the more we are estranged from it and the more difficult it does seem. But, here we are, a half an hour into our paddle and I for one hope that my daughter will see and that her kids will one day see.

GELLERMAN: How do you do that?

GRESSNER: You make it fun. You make it fun, in a word. As far as grown-ups, you remind people that having a couple of beers around a campfire is joyous. And, some of the most wild times that you’re ever going to have are out there. The fire is heating your face, you’ve got this sort of primal thing going on, you’re having fun and you’re beyond social boundaries and bonds.

It’s not some church-like experience only. It can be that, it can be spiritual, but it can also be fun. For kids, it’s easy to make it fun. Granted, we just heard a bunch of kids screaming bloody murder back there, but I’ve had a bunch of experiences taking kids out canoeing and kayaking to know that at least some of them start to get the bug a little bit.

GELLERMAN: But what about despair? Global warming, the price of gas keeps going up and we use more of it? How do you reconcile that? How do you just not throw up your hands and say, ‘I give up!’

GRESSNER: Horrible things are happening. I know, as the population is skyrocketing and species are dying out but my question is: ‘OK, then what? What do we do?’ The tendency when we think about these things is to get into a kind of an intellectual equivalent of a panic attack. It’s like getting into an argument with a spouse who is always saying: ‘This marriage is over, this marriage is over!’ The world is doomed.

Well, what do you do with that? What do you do when you’re in a panic attack? You constrict, you tighten up, you don’t do anything. You get paralyzed. And, what I say is, OK maybe these things are true, but you still get up in the morning, and make your things-to-do list, you drink your coffee and you still go to work. If we are an environmentalism that works against human nature, we’re going to lose. You know, we’ll have an army of none.

GELLERMAN: You don’t use the word wilderness, you use the word wild. What’s the difference?

GRESSNER: To me, wilderness means some park somewhere far from your home, apart from your life. And, what I’m advocating is a wildness that is part of your daily life. I mention in the book that seeing my daughter’s birth and my father’s death were the two wildest moments in my life and I compared them to seeing breeching humpback whales on Cape Cod bay- to me, that’s everybody’s wild.

And we forget that we’re animals too. And, we all know it intellectually, but we really do kind of forget it. We’re like: ok, that’s over there, that’s sloppy, green, messy, biological stuff and we’re over here in our other world.

GELLERMAN: So, you can reconcile the wild world because it’s all one. We’re part of it.

GRESSNER: Exactly. Where the Charles starts, I saw a lot of wooded banks, I saw marshes, but I also saw backyards with old tire swings and broken down docks. And, I thought: How lucky these people are who live along this river. They’ve got a normal front yard, and they’ve got a watery secret in their backyard. And, to me, that’s a taste of wildness, even if it isn’t a wild river, per say.

GELLERMAN: What’s the secret?

GRESSNER: The secret is that they are connected to a larger world. And, I particularly like rivers for this. I have a very close friend who lives off of Temple stream, he’s a writer in Maine, and I live off of Hulett Creek in North Carolina, if we were ever feeling particularly ambitious, we could meet around Washington DC. John Muir said pick up one thing in the universe and you’ll find it is hitched to everything else. Well, rivers hitch you to everything else.


GELLERMAN: David, what is that bird- right over there, see him?

works fine.

David Gessner (left) and Living on Earth intern Daniel Gross (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

GRESSNER: Ah, that’s an egret. Looking, looking over at something that snapped at him in the water when he was trying to catch a fish.

GELLERMAN: You say in the book that this is a young adult book. Um, what do you mean by that?

GRESSNER: Well, a couple years ago I went to Walden with my wife and my daughter who was then four years old. And she pointed to the stones that were where Thoreau’s cabin was and she said: 'That’s where the house was of the man who ruined Daddy’s life.'


GRESSNER: When I was 16, I read Walden, and you know, it’s been downhill ever since, and I want to do the same thing for some 16 year olds. At one point while writing the book I said- you know who I’m really writing this for?

I’m writing this for the 16 year old who used to be me and someone who is deciding ‘what am I going to do with my life, what am I going to throw myself into?’ And, maybe I can encourage some people to throw themselves into a life that has a mission and a goal but also that has something to do with the natural world. So, it was a more consciously an inspiration book than anything I’ve done before.

GELLERMAN: Are you happy with the book?

GRESSNER: Yes. (LAUGHS). I’m happy with the combination of the humor and direct moralizing of the sort you usually won’t hear outside of church. And, I’m happy with the kind of shaggy, unformed character- I meant it to be as meandering as the river and I think it’s pretty meandering. So, yes.


GELLERMAN: Well, David, back to civilization!

GRESSNER: Yeah, and quite the civilization. If the point of the book is to get kids involved in nature, we came to the right place.

GELLERMAN: You succeeded wildly. Thanks a lot for a great day.

GRESSNER: Thank you so much, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: David Gessner is author of: My Green Manifesto- Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism. For some photos of our trip down the Charles, paddle over to our web site: loe.org. And, by the way,…my microphone dried out…it's still working.

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[MUSIC: Bill Frisell “Shenandoah” from Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch Records 2000).]

Earth Ear


GELLERMAN: We leave you this week in a small French village.


GELLERMAN: It’s morning in Sermerieu, an agricultural town, southeast of Lyon. Church bells ring, trucks, cars, and tractors are on the move…and roosters, birds, and dogs join in the mix. Steven Feld recorded this soundscape for his series “The Time of Bells.”

[EARTH EAR: Steven Feld “Sermerieu” from The Time Of Bells (Vox Lox Records 2004).]

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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, and Ike Sriskanderajah, with help from Sarah Calkins, Gabriela Romanow and Sammy Sousa. And this week, we welcome our new interns Raphaella Bennin and Jack Rodolico. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us anytime - loe.org - and check out our facebook page, it’s PRI’s Living on Earth. And while you’re online, visit myplanetharmony.com. Our sister program, Planet Harmony welcomes all and pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at myplanetharmony.com. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening!


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