Climate Talks Begin in South Africa
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The seventeenth United Nations climate summit is underway in Durban, South Africa. After disappointing setbacks at previous talks, expectations are low that agreement among nations with differing interests will be achieved. Richelle Seton-Rogers is reporting on the talks for the South African Broadcasting Corporation. She tells host Bruce Gellerman what these talks mean for the climate of South Africa and the world. (08:15)
Remembering Dr. Paul Epstein/ Steve Curwood
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Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood looks back on the life of Paul Epstein, a physician and co-founder of Harvard’s Center for Global Health and the Environment. Dr. Epstein was among the first to make the links between infectious diseases such as Lyme’s Disease and West Nile Virus and the warmer and extreme weather events of climate change. He died last month. (03:30)
Mozambique Coal Rush/ Rowan Moore Gerety
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Coal is abundant in Mozambique, and international mining companies will soon begin exporting coal from the region to China and India. Rowan Moore Gerety reports that coal exports will bring billions of dollars to Mozambique but that gain comes at a price. (08:25)
Oil Spill off Brazil's Coast
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Chevron recently admitted responsibility for an oil spill off the coast of Brazil. Reporter Ken Rapoza tells host Bruce Gellerman that Brazil is banking on oil for economic development and this accident is unlikely to change that. (05:25)
Living on Earth Updates
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Artist Christo’s Over the River project wins the government okay; the historic Landreth Seed Company gets a second life; and why a refrigerator repairman believes our Cool Fix on ice boxing is not so cool on efficiency. . .Living on Earth updates some of our recent stories. (03:40)
What's Missing from Commercial Honey
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It seems that fraudulent honey is becoming more and more common at big name stores across the United States. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks to pollen specialist Vaughn Bryant of Texas A&M University, who cracked the case of honey being sold without pollen. (05:50)
Pizza Crusts and Hot Dogs as Fish Food/ Bobby Bascomb
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If pizza crusts and hotdogs are good enough for college students, are they also good for aquaponic fish? Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb reports on a project in Syracuse, New York to reduce food waste and grow sustainable food. (07:35)
BirdNote® – Birds of Paradise/ Mary McCann
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There are more than 40 species of Birds of Paradise on the Indonesian island New Guinea. As Mary McCann reports, many of the males have exotic plumage and go all out to attract a mate. (01:55)
HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Richelle Seton-Rogers, Ken Rapoza, Ken Lynch, Vaughn Bryant
REPORTERS: Steve Curwood, Rowan Moore Gerety, Bobby Bascomb, Mary McCann
GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. There’s gold south of the border. Black Gold - deep at sea off the
coast of Brazil.
RAPOZA: If you're Chevron, if you're Exxon, if you're Royal Dutch Shell, if you're BP, if you're any multinational oil company, you want to be deep water Rio and Sao Paulo.
GELLERMAN: But woe to Chevron Oil. It’s been black listed by Brazil, after one of its deep wells sprang a leak. Also, fish-farming might look like a good answer to declining stocks of seafood in the wild, though there are problems with aquaculture too:
AMADORI: We've pretty much out fished all of the main commercial fishes in the ocean. So what we're doing now is we're harvesting their food. We're taking their feed, and grinding it up just so we can grow fish in aquaculture settings. So it's not the most sustainable practice.
GELLERMAN: But cafeteria left-overs could help feed fish in the future. We’ll have those stories and a lot more this week, on Living on Earth. Stick around!
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Negotiators from more than 190 nations are meeting in Durban, South Africa at COP 17, the annual Conference of Parties to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change.
That’s the world body that is supposed to deal with global warming and its effects. UN Climate Chief Christiana Figureres struck an upbeat note at the start of this year’s meeting.
FIGUERES: It gives me great pleasure to address you on African soil and to welcome you to COP 17 and CMP 7. In the Zulu language, I greet you: (SPEAKING IN ZULU).
GELLERMAN: But despite 17 years of international negotiations - the risks from climate change are higher than ever.
FIGUERES: We meet here at a time when green house gas concentrations in the atmosphere have never been higher. When the number of livelihoods that have been dissolved by climate change impacts have never been greater, and when the need for action has never been more compelling or more achievable.
GELLERMAN: And yet expectations that the UN meeting will actually accomplish much to combat climate change are lower than they’ve ever been. Few anticipate that negotiators will be able to come up with a new climate treaty to replace or extend the Kyoto Protocol.
That’s the only legally binding international treaty governing the emissions of climate changing gases, but it lapses at the end of next year, and it includes neither China, nor the United States, even though they're the two biggest producers of greenhouse gases on the planet.
China isn’t included because as a developing nation, it’s not required to sign on; and the US never signed - and won't, until China does. Here’s Jonathan Pershing - US Special Envoy for Climate Change.
PERSHING: We are working for an agreement, which we can endorse, which we can participate in, and primarily, which works on the environmental problem, which means that all countries need to be in.
GELLERMAN: In other words: don't expect much out of Durban. Still, the negotiations will continue till December 10th. There have been surprises at UN Climate Summits in the past, and Jacob Zuma, South African President and host of the talks, remains optimistic.
PREZ, ZUMA: Change and solutions are always possible. In these talks, states, parties will need to look beyond their national interests to find a global solution for the common good and benefit of all humanity.
GELLERMAN: One European delegate called the UN conference "a traveling circus."
But the problem couldn’t be more serious. There are 10 thousand people attending the Durban summit - national climate negotiators, members of non-governmental organizations, and reporters - among them: Richelle Seton-Rogers. She's with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
SETON-ROGERS: These talks are not going as well as hoped, that’s just what we’ve heard from the NGOs. I’ve spoken to the Minister of the Environment, Edna Molewa, and she’s told me that the talks are still on track. So we’re getting a bit of a mixed signal about what’s happening.
But from looking at some of the faces in the plenary, and from what some of the things that have been said, there does seem to be that there is a bit of uncertainty about the Green Climate Fund. As you know, this was agreed upon in Cancun, Mexico, and the countries are now trying to operationalize it here in Durban.
GELLERMAN: Now, the Green Climate Fund would be 100 billion dollars a year from rich countries across the world to less developed countries. But with the worldwide economy in the dumps, where do they hope to even think about getting 100 billion dollars a year?
SETON-ROGERS: Yes, I have put that question to our Head of Delegations and our Environmental Minister, and she was saying that countries can’t use the financial crisis as an excuse not to put money into the Green Climate Fund. Cash for those funds needs to be garnered from 2020 onwards.
And,she’s saying that the financial crisis is not a permanent crisis that’s going to be with us and so countries can’t use that to now make excuses for not working on the fund at this conference. So, at the moment, we’re just looking at the kind of framework that would surround this Green Climate Fund, and not at where the funds are actually going to come from.
GELLERMAN: Well, I was reading something that the United Nation’s chief climate scientist told the Conference of Parties earlier this week, and he said that if things continue as they are, Africa will lose half of its agriculture due to drought within a couple of decades - half!
SETON-ROGERS: Yes. That’s why, with the conference being here in South Africa, it’s really a chance to highlight the plight of Africa. And Africa, along with these small island states, are going to be the worst affected by climate change because the temperature over Africa is actually going to be rising higher than the rest of the world.
So although the conference is working to keep the global temperature rise to under two degrees Celsius, even if they keep it to that, it’s going to rise to about two to three degrees Celsius over Africa, and that’s going to have massive implications for our rainfall. In some parts, it’s actually going to cause flooding.
At Durban, on Sunday night, we already saw some floods and a number of people died in some of the rural areas in Durban, and some people saw that as a sign - a clear sign - to show delegates and negotiators here that climate change is real and it’s happening right now.
GELLERMAN: South Africa is, by far, the economic leader on the continent, but it’s also the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, and very dependant upon coal. Is there a sense there that South Africa has to clean up its act?
SETON-ROGERS: Yes, there’s a big sense in that. South Africa is the biggest emitter on the continent, and we are, at the moment, busy constructing two of the world’s largest coal-fired power stations, the one called Medupi, which is close to being completed, and another one called Kusile, which is still in the process of being constructed.
What the South African government is generally saying is that South Africa has the right to develop, so that we can give electricity to all of the people who don’t have it still. The majority of people who are actually living in a lot of poverty, they don’t have access to water and sanitation and electricity. And they’re saying the best way for South Africa to do this, because of our coal reserves, is coal-fired power stations.
GELLERMAN: The World Bank, as I understand it, gave almost three and three quarter billion dollars to the utility, in terms of a loan, to build this coal-fired power plant.
SETON-ROGERS: Yes. That was quite a controversial decision. And a lot of the NGOs were lobbying for the World Bank to not to give the money to Eskom, which is our power utility here. The World Bank still did give the funds, but there was a condition to that.
The World Bank only gave the money to Eskom if they also invested in renewable energies. And so Eskom is saying that they are going to be doing some kind of move to renewable energy, and they are going to be building a solar power plant as well as a wind power plant, which they say is enough to power a large city like Cape Town - which is the second smallest city in South Africa.
So it is a move in the right direction. But according to NGOs like Greenpeace, South Africa could be doing a lot more when it comes to renewable energies and we really don’t need to be building two new coal-fired power plants.
GELLERMAN: You know Richelle, back in 2009, there was the UN meeting on climate in Copenhagen, that was a disaster. Then we had Cancun last year, basically kicking the can down the road - no firm, legally binding treaties coming out of that. Is there a sense in Durban that time is running out?
SETON-ROGERS: In Durban, you know, the EU, the European Union, has expressed that the carbon-cutting targets are not sufficient. Science is saying that the targets that were put on the table in Copenhagen and that are in the Cancun agreements would put the world on check for about a four degrees Centigrade rise, which leads us into a situation where we’re dealing with possibly catastrophic climate change.
And some of the countries are standing in the way when it comes to making any kind of progress here in Durban. The two biggest emitters in the world, the USA and China, are at a bit of a standoff with each other, and if one doesn’t move, the other isn’t going to move. So it looks like we are on track for a four degree temperature rise if they don’t come up with better pledges.
GELLERMAN: So, Richelle, thank you so very much.
SETON-ROGERS: It’s been a pleasure, thank you.
GELLERMAN: Richelle Seton-Rogers reports on the environment for the South African broadcast corporation. She joined us from the UN Climate Conference in Durban.
[Rogers: Hugh Masakela “the Boy’s Doin It” from Live At The Market Theater (Four Quarters Entertainment 2007).]
GELLERMAN: Well, shortly before the climate summit got underway came news that Dr. Paul Epstein had died. He was 67. Dr. Epstein was among the first to warn of a link between infectious disease and extreme weather events. Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood has our remembrance.
CURWOOD: I first interviewed Dr. Epstein almost twenty years ago in a cramped office at the Cambridge City Hospital Annex. He warned me about what he said were the clear and present public health dangers that we can expect from climate disruption.
We had come to interview him because Dr. Epstein was among the first to educate the public and the medical community about the links between the spread of infectious diseases like Lymes and West Nile and the warmer winters and extreme weather events of climate change. Here he is in the year 2003:
EPSTEIN: West Nile’s largest outbreaks in the 90s in Romania, in Russia, in Israel and in New York in 1999, were all associated with severe droughts. Heat in the atmosphere, in the oceans, is changing the water cycle, affecting the intensity, duration, and geographic patterns of precipitation. These are fundamental to where mosquitoes breed. So in addition to the warming, it’s these extremes and wide oscillations from droughts, punctuated by heavy rains, that are key to destabilizing the biological systems.
CURWOOD: Over the years, Paul Epstein moved out of his tiny office into larger quarters as co-founder of Harvard Medical School’s pioneering Center for Global Health and the Environment. And today, more than 60 medical schools offer courses similar to the popular ones that Dr. Epstein helped start at Harvard.
His teaching partner of more than 15 years, Professor James McCarthy, says Paul Epstein captivated and inspired students, and many found new career paths under his guidance. Dr. Epstein connected the dots between climate and disease by showing how chaos in the weather helps fast growing pests, such as rats and mosquitoes, as well as microbes and weeds.
With climate change, he said, allergy seasons grow longer and poison ivy grows faster. Dr. Epstein was also able to get some of the world’s biggest insurance companies to begin considering climate risks. But at heart, he was still a primary care physician.
The son of a New York City doctor, young Doctor Epstein headed for the clinics in the poor neighborhoods of Boston shortly after he finished his training. He and his wife Andy, a public health nurse, also volunteered in East Africa, taking their two young children, Ben and Jesse, on their missions in the 1970’s to help heal the poor.
Until October, family and friends believed modern technology would save Paul Epstein from lymphoma, much the way so many of us think that technology will somehow solve the climate crisis. Still, to the very end, Doctor Epstein had time to care.
At a memorial gathering for her father, his daughter Jesse told me she had come home to marry during his final weeks, and one day, her new husband injured his knee. Upon hearing this, Jesse reports, her father slowly arose from his chair without a word, went to the freezer for a package of frozen berries, wrapped the frozen pack on his new son-in- law’s leg with an Ace bandage, and shuffled back to his chair.
It was a graceful reminder that no matter how difficult our own situation may be, we can still help a relative, a friend, or an overheating planet. We will miss you, Doctor Paul Epstein, farewell.
BRUCE: Steve Curwood is Living on Earth’s executive producer.
[MUSIC: Abdullah Ibrahim “Moniebah/The Pilgrim” from Good News From Africa (Enja Records 1973).]
GELLERMAN: Just ahead: New fields of coal and oil fuel fears in Brazil and Mozambique. Keep listening to Living on Earth!
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Robert Jospe’ “Mozambique” from Heart Beat (Random Chance Records 2006).]
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. While much of the world suffers a global economic slowdown, China and India are booming - and fueling those red-hot economies is coal. It provides two-thirds of their energy.
And while both China and India are coal rich, they’re increasingly coal hungry.
To satisfy the demand, multinational mining companies are going far afield. But as Rowan Moore Gerety reports from Mozambique, the coal rush there may come at a high cost.
MOORE GERETY: On the banks of the Zambezi River, Manuel Maenda cuts firewood near his home in Benga village.
[SOUNDS OF CUTTING WOOD]
MOORE GERETY: It’s hot – well over 100 degrees – and Maenda wears a worn nylon cowboy hat to escape the sun.
MAENDA (through translator): I’m cutting this wood to help me get by.
MOORE GERETY: Maenda drags the wood to his bicycle, propped against a tree in a speck of shade. He’ll bring the wood home to cook, or use it to produce charcoal which he sells on the side of the road to Tete, the provincial capital. Maenda points in the distance to large yellow dump trucks clearing rock.
MAENDA (through translator): You see? People lived right there. All the way up to Nganja, over there. Some left at the end of last year. Others went this year.
MOORE GERETY: The land now belongs to Rio Tinto, a British-Australian mining company that’s one of the world's largest. Rio Tinto will soon begin exporting coal from Mozambique, primarily to buyers in China and India. Tete is one of the driest regions in the country, and one of its least populated. But the land in the Zambezi river valley is prime real estate, largely because of access to water—and coal.
THERON: Well, they say it's the world's largest undeveloped coal basin, and it's got huge resources of coking and metallurgical coal.
MOORE GERETY: That’s Gerritt Theron, a geologist with the Ncondezi Coal Company. Ncondezi is still in the prospecting phase, but mine construction in the region has already displaced some 2000 families. Before the resettlements of other villages nearby, Rio Tinto representatives came to Benga to speak with the locals. They promised help, like building a water source right in the village. Manuel Maenda says his community appreciated the gesture.
MAENDA (through translator): We were having problems with crocodiles attacking people and so forth, and so, they built it, and nobody goes to the river now or has problems with crocodiles.
MOORE GERETY: Now, women wash their clothes in a shaded pavilion in the middle of the village, thanks to the same pipe that brings water to the mine. All around Benga, more dramatic changes are taking place: construction is everywhere.
[SOUND OF CONSTRUCTION]
MOORE GERETY: Multiple hotels are going up. 4x4s are cruising through the bush. I asked Theron who’s driving the boom.
THERON: I think there's just a huge demand for coal now—with China, and India. Everybody that makes steel will be interested in it.
MOORE GERETY: Today, coal accounts for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions and more than a quarter of the world’s energy use. Still, the planet as a whole will burn 50% more coal in 2030 than it does this year. Already, the price of coking coal has increased six-fold in a decade. Prices for thermal coal are also at record-highs.
But the flip side of increased demand is reduced supply. Many experts believe that 'peak coal' — when the world’s maximum coal production rate is reached — will come as early as 2030, or 2025. In China's case, it could be 2015, or even sooner, while China currently mines more coal than the next three largest producers combined. Theron says that this economic pressure has changed the bottom line for mining companies.
MOORE GERETY: The Brazilian mining giant Vale has already begun exports by rehabilitating a colonial railway to the coast. More will have to follow, and ports too - the existing line can only transport a fraction of the coal Vale hopes to produce.
Meanwhile, 35 more companies are looking for coal throughout the province. Ncondezi, for one, has drilled more than 10 miles of boreholes. Today, they've decided to drill one more. With the backhoe out of commission, local workers are preparing the site by hand.
[SOUNDS OF SHOVELING AND FRIENDLY CHAT]
MOORE GERETY: These jobs are one reason that the District Administrator, Manuel Guimaraes, has high hopes for his district, Moatize.
GUIMARAES (through translator): Already, Moatize is advancing. And it's advancing in big steps.
MOORE GERETY: Locally, Guimaraes says that the coal projects have created 1500 jobs for Moatize residents, and brought medical clinics and schools in addition to Benga’s water source. Still, more than half the land in Tete Province has been licensed for prospecting.
GUIMARAES (through translator): We all need to understand that mining in Moatize is irreversible. We have to learn to deal with the process because we have no way to stop it. The world today needs the resources that Moatize has.
MOORE GERETY: Local officials may have little choice but to take Guimaraes' view. In 2012, coal from Moatize will boost Mozambique's exports by 13%. With more than half the state budget dependent on foreign aid, mining has become a top priority. Lucia Francisco has worked on community development projects in Tete for more than a decade. She worries that locals have lost out in the government’s eagerness for investors.
FRANCISCO: There is so little community consultation, because all the licenses, and all the projects are being designed in Maputo. The Governor has no say. What he does is to go to the community and say, 'please, this is not my will, but this part of land has been already allocated to someone. We have to leave'.
MOORE GERETY: All the same, says Francisco, the local people were understanding when they heard about resettlement. Some were even excited. From villages near the river, they were moved to Cateme, 20 miles away. The mining companies Vale and Rio Tinto built them concrete houses, known here as "casas melhoradas," or improved homes. But the houses were poorly built, and there are cracks throughout the walls. The area is isolated and arid.
FRANCISCO: And they are really suffering because there are no rivers or streams that they can get water. No shops.
MOORE GERETY: Cateme is at the end of a bumpy dirt track on a dusty plateau. In the center of the settlement, vendors chat and sift corn at a small market.
[SOUNDS OF SIFTING CORN IN A BASKET]
MOORE GERETY: Farming was an important source of income for the communities that were resettled in Cateme, yet none of this corn was grown here. Even the district administrator, Manuel Guimaraes, recognizes that the lack of water has made agriculture hard.
GUIMARAES (through translator): Right now, frankly, there are problems with pockets of hunger in the population there in that region.
MOORE GERETY: There may soon be other reasons to worry. Studies in the US have linked open cast coal mining to higher rates of cancer, pulmonary diseases and birth defects from air and water pollution. In Moatize, many people and livestock drink straight from the rivers. According to Lucia Francisco, environmental effects of the mines have not gotten sufficient review.
FRANCISCO: And nobody speaks about the pollution. Everybody says the mining is good, because it's bringing money to the nation, but they don't even ask whether this open mining is going to damage their life.
MOORE GERETY: Rio Tinto recently published a report that estimates coal exports will earn Mozambique $15 billion over the next 25 years, but the government has not yet disclosed how mining revenue will be spent. The arrival of ‘peak coal’ globally is expected to push coal prices even higher. Mining companies here will surely gain as a result. The locals are hoping they will too. For Living On Earth, I’m Rowan Moore Gerety in Tete, Mozambique.
[MUSIC: Robert Jospe’ “Mozambique” from Heart Beat (Random Chance Records 2006).]
GELLERMAN: Brazil has oil fields of dreams. In recent years geologists have discovered mega oil fields off the coast, deep under the South Atlantic, miles below rock, salt and sand. Chevron, America’s second largest oil company, began tapping into Brazil’s oil wealth about 2 years ago, but now a spill at the company’s first well has cast doubts on Chevron’s ability to safely drill so deep under the sea.
Joining me is Ken Rapoza. He was a reporter for the Wall St. Journal and Dow Jones in Brazil. Now he's back stateside, and writes about business in Brazil for Forbes online. Hi Ken, welcome to Living on Earth!
RAPOZA: Thanks, Bruce.
GELLERMAN: So what went wrong with this well?
RAPOZA: Well, it’s complicated. It becomes a technological issue for Chevron. When you’re drilling into rock, you have to use heavy mud that contains the oil as it’s coming out of the ground, okay? They didn't use it properly, and all hell broke loose. At first, they said that it was a crack in the ocean floor - they blamed nature basically - and then, within about 48 hours, they came clean and said, you know, "it was our fault" and they take full responsibility for it. 2,400 barrels of oil leaked out of the Frade Field, which is mostly owned by Chevron.
GELLERMAN: 24 hundred barrels of oil - kind of a drop in the ocean compared to BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf.
RAPOZA: Sure, you can’t compare. You can't compare the two. Yeah. And Chevron is very happy that you can’t compare the two.
GELLERMAN: But it was TransOcean, the same company that operated the BP rig, as operated Chevron’s rig.
RAPOZA: Absolutely, and both of them are under investigation right now, from the National Petroleum Agency of Brazil, the federal police and Brazilian Navy are all checking it out. So, Chevron right now isn’t drilling anywhere in Brazil and they face 28 million dollars in fines, more fines possibly on the way.
GELLERMAN: This field that they were drilling in is really a precursor to the big show. Brazil has a lot of oil off the coast.
RAPOZA: Yeah, a lot of oil. But, this field was called the Frade Field, it has about 300 million barrels of oil, it produces now about 79 thousand barrels of oil, I believe, a day. There’s been a lot of major oil discoveries far off the coast of Sao Paulo and Rio States, and they’re pretty much situated in two big basins - the Campos Basin and the Santos Basin.
And they’re both about 200 miles off the coast of both states. And they’re in deepwater; some of them are under lots of bedrock and salt. And they produce - both of those two basins - produce about 1.8 million barrels of oil a day, over 27 million cubic meters of natural gas and the biggest basin of all - the Santos Basin, which is the most famous of the two - has an estimated 33 billion barrels of oil.
GELLERMAN: Oh, that’s real money!
RAPOZA: That’s real money. And PetroBras, the Brazilian oil company just discovered more oil there, you know, on November 25th. So it’s a very productive field - if you’re Chevron, if you’re Exxon, if you’re Royal Dutch Shell, if you’re BP, if you’re any multinational oil company, you want to be deepwater Rio and Sao Paulo.
GELLERMAN: Well, that’s the problem: this is very deep water and, while it’s sweet crude, which is highly valuable, getting to it is going to be really difficult. Can they drill that far under the sea right now with the technology we have?
RAPOZA: Yeah, they sure can. They do it. PetroBras is the leader of it, but they definitely do it, yeah absolutely.
GELLERMAN: PetroBras being the Brazilian state oil company.
RAPOZA: Correct. PetroBras is really investing billions of dollars inventing new technologies, coming up with new technologies to drill through rock and salt to get that oil. And they’re doing it, and they’re going gangbusters on it and that’s part of their growth plan.
GELLERMAN: People in Brazil really hold PetroBras in high regards. I think it’s something like NASA during the space shot here.
RAPOZA: Yeah, those oil discoveries were equivalent of, you know … that’s the Brazilian moon landing. If you did today’s dollars compared to what we spent on the moon landing, it’s almost equivalent to what PetroBras is spending on drilling and oil discoveries and technological innovations to pull that oil out of the ocean.
GELLERMAN: So when people in Brazil hear about the problems that Chevron has had these past few weeks, what’s the sentiment there?
RAPOZA: It’s very bad PR for Chevron, and Chevron knows it. They’re already considered a bad neighbor in South America. AlterNet, which is an alternative online news agency - they mostly cover issues related to the environment and social causes - and they just ranked Chevron the worst energy company in the world. The Brazilian government is not going to stand for a multi-national company spilling oil in the Atlantic. I think it’s tolerable at this point only because no oil has washed up on the shores of Copacabana and Ipanema in time for the 2014 World Cup.
GELLERMAN: So, the long-term effects of this oil spill - do you think it will put the brakes on the development of these three mega-fields?
RAPOZA: No. There’s no chance of that. I think that Brazil wants to develop these oil fields. It’s extremely important for Brazil because Brazil looks at itself in this light: they say, you know, look what happened to Norway when they discovered oil in the North Sea, look what happened to the technology that was developed out of Norway - look what happened to the know-how and the engineering expertise that happened to that country.
Look what happened to Texas - what became of Houston because of the oil discoveries in Texas in the 60s and 70s. We want that to happen in Rio de Janiero, and the government is planning on that. And in order for that to happen, you have to have clean, perfect, as flawless as can be, oil drilling and natural gas drilling operations in those two basins. So, it is extremely important for the government to get this right.
GELLERMAN: Talking to us about Brazil’s oil present and future is Ken Rapoza. He writes about Brazilian business for Forbes online. Well Ken, thank you so very much.
RAPOZA: You're welcome, Bruce!
[MUSIC: Thievery Corporation “Bario Alto” from Mirror Conspiracy (Eighteenth Street Lounge 2004).]
Chevron Responds to the Oil Spill
GELLERMAN: Time now to update some stories that recently aired on Living on Earth: You may recall our interview with environmental artist Christo. His latest project - Over the River - would suspend nearly 6 miles of shimmering fabric over the Arkansas River.
Critics call it Rags over the Arkansas, but Christo told us this - like his other art works - is designed to disturb.
CHRISTO: They are totally irresponsible. All our projects - they’re irrational, totally useless, and the world can live without them. But, they cannot be bought. (from LOE Nov 7, 2011).
GELLERMAN: Well, since we aired our story about Over the River, it’s gotten through the federal regulatory woods. Christo’s Environmental Impact Statement was approved by the Bureau of Land Management. It'll go up: August 2014.
A few shows ago, we reported on the extensive use of antibiotics in animal feed. The FDA wouldn’t talk to us while there were petitions by environmental groups wanting to stop the practice. Well, days after our report, the FDA denied the petitioners' request. The agency didn’t challenge the need to reduce antibiotic use, but argues that the withdrawal process itself is too expensive.
And money was also the issue when we spoke with Barbara Malera of Landreth Seed Company - the 227 year old firm was on the brink of bankruptcy despite its deep roots in the nation's agricultural history.
MALERA: In 1798, it introduced America to the zinnia - one of its most beloved flowers. 1811, the white fleshed potato. 1820, it was the first time that tomato seeds were sold commercially in this country. (from Living on Earth September 23, 2011).
GELLERMAN: Malera tells us since our interview aired, listeners' response has been - quote - truly amazing - and sales of Landreth's seeds and catalogs have bought the company time to renegotiate its debt.
But a listener's response to our request for a Cool Fix for a Hot Planet got us in hot water. His suggestion: Save energy by turning your refrigerator into an old-fashioned ice box -freezing water outside in winter, and putting the ice on the top shelf of your fridge.
Well, that got a lot of listeners hot under the collar. They wrote: that would just confuse the fridge’s thermostat. So we put it to refrigerator repairman Ken Lynch:
LYNCH: The theory is a good one, it’s not going to be super efficient in terms of keeping things cold. You'll create cold spots. The refrigerators today, they rely on air circulation to really move the air to efficiently cool the entire unit.
So, when you have no fan movement, basically all the cold air is just going to drop to the bottom of the compartment - be it the freezer or the refrigerator. It’s a good temporary fix, but aside from packing ice in it, there are definitely ways that you can reduce the energy consumption of the refrigerator.
GELLERMAN: So, what are some ways that I actually could cut down on my refrigerator’s energy use.
LYNCH: One of the best things is if you don't use the icemaker. The icemaker accounts for about 15 to 20 percent of the refrigerator’s energy consumption when the icemaker is running.
GELLERMAN: Ah, so putting ice in your refrigerator is an inefficient thing and actually making ice in your refrigerator is not an efficient thing.
LYNCH: Yeah, I would use the old copper ice cube pop trays, or even the plastic ones. Just something that doesn’t use energy to create ice.
GELLERMAN: And Ken Lynch should know - his company Ken’s Appliance Services is in Arlington, Massachusetts, home to Spy Pond, where in the 1800s, they used to cut blocks of ice out of the frozen pond, pack them in sawdust and send them on clipper ships to customers as far away as India.
Well, we’re always as close as your keyboard. Check out our website - that’s L-O-E dot ORG - where you'll find a new survey about the show. Please take a few moments to fill it out, and let us know what's hot and what leaves you cold. That's L-O-E dot ORG.
[MUSIC: Herbie Hancock “4 AM” from Mr. Hands (Happy Birthday Jaco )(Sony Music 1980).]
GELLERMAN: Coming up - How sweet it isn't - what's missing from most honey. Stay tuned to Living on Earth!
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation; Gilman Ordway - for coverage of conservation and environmental change, and the Sierra Club, helping students, workers, entrepreneurs and families create a healthy and prosperous clean energy future. Online at sierraclub.org/livingonearth. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.
[CUT AWAY MUSIC: Freddie Hubbard “Fantasy in D (polar AC)” from First Light (CTI Records 2011).]
GELLERMAN: It's Living On Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman.
[MUSIC: The Who “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from Who’s Next (Geffen Records 1971).]
GELLERMAN: Professor Vaughn Bryant of Texas A & M University is a crime scene investigator.
GELLERMAN: When it comes to analyzing the not so sweet side of life, they don’t get any nittier or grittier than Professor Bryant. He’s the nation’s premier melissopalynologist. The web based publication Food Safety News recently called upon the professor to investigate a sticky crime scene. Hello Professor!
BRYANT: Glad to be here.
GELLERMAN: What’s a melissopalynologist?
BRYANT: It’s melissopalynology- if you want to really literally translate it: melisso- refers to sweet, palynology is a technical term for the study of pollen. Melissopalynologist is someone who looks at pollen in honey.
GELLERMAN: So, Food and Safety News wanted to do a sting operation into the sale of honey in the United States, and they called upon you.
BRYANT: That’s true. They had been hearing that a lot of the honey produced in the United States had the pollen removed. And, of course, once you take the pollen out, you don’t know two things: the first thing you do not know is where the honey was produced, and the second thing you do not know is exactly what flowers the bees were utilizing in order to produce the honey.
And the reason Food Safety News was concerned about this was because China has been, for a number of years, guilty of dumping honey on the international market and particularly in the United States.
GELLERMAN: So, a kind of honey launderer.
BRYANT: Yeah. (Laughs). Well, because there’s a 250-percent tariff on Chinese honey, they’ve been sending it to other countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and India and places. And then those countries were then exporting it to the United States and claiming that it was domestic honey from those countries.
And so, the American Beekeeping Federation and the National Honey Board and others have consistently requested the federal government to enforce some kind of a truth in the labeling. But the federal government has been dragging their feet for years! And most other countries in the world have truth-in-labeling. You cannot export anything to the EU, unless you certify where the honey comes from and what is in the honey, or they won't allow you to import it.
GELLERMAN: So, what does the USDA say about this?
BRYANT: The USDA basically says that as long as you do not add other sugars, or as long as you do not add extra water, and as long as you take out any of the bee parts - meaning legs and wings and stuff - that you can sell it as honey. That’s the only requirements, they have no other requirements.
GELLERMAN: So, if you take out the pollen from honey, what are you left with?
BRYANT: Well, if you take the pollen out, the only thing you've got is sugar. So, the pollen is really the only nutrient material in honey. The pollen does in fact contain amino acids, it contains starches, it also contains fats and vitamins and various kinds of minerals. A lot of people eat honey because of the nutritional value that they’re getting from the pollen.
GELLERMAN: Well, you found and Food Safety News reports that 100 percent of the honey that was purchased from CVS pharmacy, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, had no pollen, and therefore, really wasn’t honey. Ditto for McDonalds. I guess three quarters of the honey purchased at Costco, Target, Sam’s Club, Walmart, didn’t have any pollen either.
BRYANT: Well, that’s true! You know, quite frankly, what I tell people is caveat emptor, meaning let the buyer beware, because most of what you buy in the store, in terms of honey, is not what the label says. One of the things that we’ve discovered, not only can we not tell where the stuff comes from, but premium honey that’s being sold like buckwheat or orange blossom or sage or thyme honey - and people were willing to pay premium prices for this very exotic types of honey - we can’t confirm that any of that stuff is actually coming from those plants, because there’s no pollen.
I’ve been telling people for years the only way to really guarantee you’re getting good honey is to buy it locally - in other words, buy it from the beekeeper or buy local honey that is being sold in grocery stories and so forth, because all of this commercial stuff isn’t honey!
GELLERMAN: So, Professor Bryant, is there any way the average honey eater can taste-test for the presence of pollen.
BRYANT: I doubt that very seriously. And I do know that there are professional honey tasters, and they say - oh, well, I can taste the difference between a sourwood and orange blossom and stuff like that - but quite frankly, I don’t know whether or not they could actually tell if the pollen was removed or not. I myself, I love honey - I eat all kinds of honey, but I’d be honest with you - I can’t tell the difference whether there’s pollen in it or not in most cases, but again, I’m not a professional honey taster. I am a honey tester.
GELLERMAN: So, professor, are there any crime scene honey investigations other than this one that you’ve cracked?
BRYANT: Well, I’ll tell you, in addition to looking for pollen in honey, I also do kind of CSI work. I work with law enforcement agencies looking for pollen in trying to catch criminals. And a case that I worked on a couple of years ago was in Rochester, New York where they had a teenage girl who was murdered in 1979, and it was a cold case. And they reopened the case just about a year ago, and I suggested that they send me the clothing. And after doing a thorough pollen investigation of her clothing, I determined she probably came from San Diego, California, which of course shocked the people in Rochester. The last I heard, they were investigating missing teenagers in California back in 1979.
GELLERMAN: Well, professor, thank you for talking to us.
BRYANT: My pleasure.
GELLERMAN: Vaughn Bryant is director of the Palynology Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University.
[MUSIC: The Who “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from Who’s Next (Geffen Records 1971).]
GELLERMAN: Our voracious appetite for seafood vastly outstrips the world supply. Globally, fish stocks are in steep decline. As a result, fish farming or aquaculture is booming – and so is a relatively new industry: aquaponics, growing fish and plants together in a closed symbiotic system.
In Syracuse New York, far from the ocean, a young scientist is experimenting with aquaponics - feeding fish with a... well, let's let Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb tell you the story. She has the latest installment in our series: Go Fish: Striving for Sustainability.
[CAFETERIA SOUNDS, MUSIC: “I WAS BORN THIS WAY” BY LADY GAGA.]
BASCOMB: The State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse serves meals buffet style.
AMADORI: They have a salad bar, a pizza bar, you know, your stir fry bar, taco bar.
BASCOMB: Michael Amadori is a graduate student here majoring in ecological engineering.
AMADORI: There’s a huge array of different samples of food to choose from.
BASCOMB: All those choices lead to a lot of leftovers. In 2009, the university composted 200,000 pounds of food waste.
AMADORI: FDA regulations, a lot of this stuff after it’s been out, cannot be used again and again and again. So, after being used for a day, anything that’s left at the end of the day is trash. They get a box of cucumbers, and two of the cucumbers have like soft or moldy spots, that whole box of cucumbers is now trash.
BASCOMB: Roughly 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is wasted. So Amadori came up with a thesis project to convert some of his University’s waste into a valuable resource…. fish food.
AMADORI: The cafeteria usually closes around 8:00 pm, so I’ll go there right around 8:30. So, what I’m getting a lot of times the left over meat off the grill is still warm. I’ve contemplated making myself a sandwich off some of the stuff I find back there!
BASCOMB: He doesn’t make himself a sandwich, but he does feed the meat to his fish. In general he keeps an eye out for any foods they might like.
AMADORI: This corn and bean salsa right here, I mean, that’s like gold right there. If I get some of that, I’ll put all of that in the food - the corn, beans.
BASCOMB: All the food he collects, except dairy, goes into the grinder to make a mush the consistency of play dough. Then he squeezes it through an extruder to make spaghetti shaped strands that are baked, dried, and broken into bite sized fish pellets.
[WALKING SOUNDS, DOOR OPENS]
BASCOMB: Amadori leads the way across campus to a small greenhouse where his thesis experiment is growing and eating.
AMADORI: So, in each fish tank there’s 50 gallons of water and about 19 tilapia fish.
BASCOMB: There are 6 tanks in total, and above each tank is a 50 gallon drum cut in half and filled with gravel. That’s where Amadori cultivates the other half of his experiment.
AMADORI: Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. You raise fish in your standard fish tank like people have at home. But instead of using those commercial filters that clean the water, you pump the water up into a hydroponic grow bed which cleans the water just like the commercial filters, but you also get value added produce out of it.
BASCOMB: The fish deposit their waste in the water. That waste acts as a fertilizer for Bibb lettuce plants, and the water filters through the gravel to drip back to the fish.
[RUNNING WATER SOUNDS]
BASCOMB: Tilapia are omnivorous. Amadori feeds the cafeteria diet to the fish in three tanks. Fish in the other three tanks get the industry standard corn-based fish food.
AMADORI: I like to say that there are three main ingredients: ground corn, ground fish and ground up Flintstone vitamins. So it’s a vitamin and mineral pre-mix and just a corn-based feed and a lot of fish.
BASCOMB: It’s all that fish in aquaculture feed that worries Amadori. He says it’s not sustainable.
AMADORI: We’ve pretty much outfished all of the main commercial fishes in the ocean, so what we’re doing now is we're harvesting their food. The smaller based fish that is feed for the haddock, feed for the tuna, feed for the salmon, we’re taking their feed and grinding it up just so we can grow fish in aquaculture setting, so it’s not the most sustainable practice.
BASCOMB: Sustainable or not, fish love it. Amadori takes out a plastic container of food.
[PELLETS SHAKING IN BOX UNDER TRACK]
BASCOMB: And shakes some into the tanks. The fish immediately come to the surface and gobble it up.
AMADORI: The commercial food has been formulated after decades of research so it is catered exactly to what the fish want to eat. They really like this. It’s like they get to eat their favorite cereal every day.
BASCOMB: We’re feeding them Fruit Loops basically here.
AMADORI: Yup, the sweet delicious cereal that they love.
BASCOMB: Amadori says the fish don’t like cafeteria leftovers as much.
BERNSTEIN: My concern about taking the food waste stream from a university is that that doesn’t necessarily translate into something that is consumable by a fish.
BASCOMB: Sylvia Bernstein wrote the book Aquaponic Gardening: a Step by Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together. She says cafeteria tacos and stir-fry might not provide all the necessary nutrients.
BERNSTEIN: Fish need vitamin C. If fish don’t get enough vitamin C they get something called broken back syndrome. Another thing that can happen is there have been peer reviewed studies that if you feed any sort of mammalian protein to a fish that they get something called fatty liver disease that can kill them as well.
AMADORI: I’ve done analysis of the pellets and they're comparable in terms of protein content, fat content, carbohydrate content, and mineral content to the commercial fish feed. So, in terms of their basic nutrient requirements, they’re being met.
BASCOMB: Aquaponics expert Sylvia Bernstein thinks it’s a good idea to use food waste, but there could be an even better way.
BERNSTEIN: The alternative would be to take this waste stream and put it into a vermicompost or worm process where the worms are now breaking down the food waste. They will create vermicompost, which would be tremendous for the school grounds and the worms are something that is excellent for the fish.
BASCOMB: Pelletized pizza or compost worms, either way the fish food is basically free. So, even though the cafeteria fed fish grow more slowly, Amadori says it still makes economic sense. Furthermore, the fish really aren’t the most profitable part of the system.
AMADORI: In one week I’m getting three heads of lettuce in that fish tank. Between the whole system, I’m getting 18 heads of lettuce a week. And that organic lettuce sells for three dollars a head. That’s where your real moneymaker is.
BASCOMB: And aquaponics is a very efficient system. It uses about one tenth as much water as traditional farming, making it ideal for areas prone to drought - much of Africa, the US Southwest, or Australia.
AMADORI: You can also grow tomatoes, cucumbers, just about any other crop you can grow in your garden - outside of root vegetables - you can grow in an aquaponic system.
BASCOMB: Amadori is eight months into a year-long project. When he’s finished, some of his fish will be analyzed and compared to the commercially fed fish as a food source. But he’ll still have a lot left over for dinner.
AMADORI: When I’m done, we’re going to be eating lots of fish tacos, I guess. I’ve put in a year of hard work growing these fish in this system and I intend to eat them all and savor the flavor.
BASCOMB: For Amadori, this project is a possible way to kill two birds with one stone: reduce food waste and grow sustainable food. Though he’ll spend a year caring for his tilapia, they are anything but his pets. For Living On Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.
[MUSIC: BIRD NOTE® THEME]
GELLERMAN: Animals often go to great lengths to attract the opposite sex, but one of our very finest feathered friends offers a unique perspective on the mating game as BirdNote®'s Mary McCann reports.
[SOUNDS OF NEW GUINEA FOREST AND RAGGIANA BIRD OF PARADISE CROWING]
MCCANN: It is early morning on the island of New Guinea. The lowland forests erupt with the crowing calls of male Raggiana Birds of Paradise.
[SOUNDS OF RAGGIANA BIRD OF PARADISE, HIGH PITCHED, FAST CALLS]
MCCANN: Groups of male Raggiana Birds of Paradise perform elaborate displays to attract females. The size of small crows, the males have a yellow head, bright green throat, and a lush mass of fine, russet-orange plumes that hang well beyond their tails. In a sequence known as the “flower display,” the males hang upside down with their wings flexed downward, while flaunting those lustrous russet plumes upward.
[SOUNDS OF RAGGIANA BIRD OF PARADISE]
MCCANN: “Birds of Paradise”—an aptly exotic name for this most varied and extravagantly decorated group of birds. All forty-three species are found on New Guinea, or nearby. Picture one named the Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, as it flies along the forest edge.
With an emerald-green head and velvety black body, the Astrapia trails two slender, white tail-plumes a full three feet behind its body. They undulate like fine ribbons in the breeze.
[SOUNDS OF RIBBON-TAILED ASTRAPIA]
GELLERMAN: That’s Mary McCann of BirdNote®. To see some photos of Birds of Paradise, flap over to our website loe.org.
[MUSIC: Charlie Parker “Bird Of Paradise” from The Very Best Of The Dial Years (Stardust Records 2009).]
- BirdNote® Birds of Paradise was written by Bob Sundstrom.
- Calls of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Raggiana Bird of Paradise and Ribbon-tailed Astrapia recorded by Eleanor Brown.
GELLERMAN: On the next Living on Earth: The Redfish Rocks off the southern coast of Oregon teem with fish, but soon they'll be off limits to fishermen.
FISHERMAN: It’s really difficult the thought of a marine reserve - to have your fishing grounds taken away. You know, and my first instinct was just to run and hide from it.
GELLERMAN: Reservations over establishing a new marine reserve, next time on Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: Charlie Parker “Bird Of Paradise” from The Very Best Of The Dial Years (Stardust Records 2009).]
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Eileen Bolinsky, Jessica Ilyse Kurn, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer, and Ike Sriskanderajah, with help from Sarah Calkins, Gabriela Romanow and Sammy Sousa.
Our interns are Raphaella Bennin and Jack Rodolico. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us anytime at LOE dot org – and while you're online, check out our sister program, Planet Harmony. Planet Harmony welcomes all and pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at my planet harmony dot com. And don’t forget to check out the Living on Earth facebook page. It’s PRI’s Living on Earth. And you can follow us on Twitter - @livingonearth, that's one word. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening!
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