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

February 24, 2012

Air Date: February 24, 2012



Short Term Solution for Climate Change

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Reducing short-lived air pollutants like methane and soot could limit global temperature increase by as much as 25 percent. Johan Kuylenstierna coordinated two UN reports on the topic. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that the US State Department will begin working with other countries to implement change. (05:35)


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Planet GJ-1214b has a lot of water. But instead of oceans and lakes, its water is more likely in the form of steam and “hot ice.” Host Bruce Gellerman talks to Zachory Berta, a graduate student in astronomy at Harvard University. Along with a team of astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Berta discovered and described this totally new type of planet. (06:30)

Keeping up with the Green Gastronomic Joneses / Jessica Ilyse Kurn

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The National Restaurant Association’s survey of “What’s Hot in 2012” placed local sourcing, sustainability and kitchen gardens all in the top ten. To stay current, culinary schools are starting to add courses in eco-conscious cooking to their curricula. Living on Earth’s Jessica Ilyse Kurn visited the Culinary Institute of America to find out how chefs-to-be are learning these new skills. (07:45)

TransCanada Claims Texas Land

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Though the route of Keystone pipeline has not been approved, Canadian pipeline company TransCanada has claimed eminent domain rights to cross private land in Texas. Some landowners are fighting this. Dave Breemer, a property rights attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, tells host Bruce Gellerman that private companies can gain rights to private land if it’s for “public use.” Debra Medina, the director of the grass-roots, property defense group, We Texans explains why you don’t mess with Texans. (09:00)

Goat Accents

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Birds do it, dolphins do it, and so do elephants and humans. We change our vocalization based on social and environmental factors. Now you can add goats to the list. Dr. Elodie Briefer, a biologist at the University of London, tells host Bruce Gellerman about the surprising new discovery that goats have accents. (04:30)

Arctic Explorers / Emily Corwin

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Few navigators have dared to travel the treacherous waters of Northern Canada that marooned Henry Hudson some 400 years ago. But as Mind Open Media’s Emily Corwin reports, a storyteller and a climate scientist have both taken on Arctic exploration as an interest and a challenge. (10:45)

Sled Dogs / Mark Seth Lender

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For a thousand years, the Inuit depended on dogs to carry food and furs and transport them for trade. Now the dogs are bred for racing, and as writer Mark Seth Lender discovered, the dog is still an Arctic icon. (02:25)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Johan Kuylenstierna, Zachory Berta, Debra Medina, David Breemer, Elodie Briefer
REPORTERS: Jessica Ilyse Kurn, Emily Corwin, Mark Seth Lender


GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. A new program to reduce the potent green house pollutants – methane gas and black carbon soot does a lot more than prevent planet warming

KUYLANSTIERNA: There will be some very substantial co-benefits in terms of air quality - we've estimated the black carbon measures would reduce the number of premature deaths by about two million every year, if these measures were fully implemented globally.

GELLERMAN: Also - astronomers discover a weird, wet world.

BERTA: As you dive deeper into this planet the water takes on a very different form - you wouldn't have a liquid water ocean like on Earth, you might have solid water, super-fluid water; frankly I've had a lot of trouble kind of imagining what this planet is like.


GELLERMAN: And sledding on thinning ice and the changing role of the sled dog - these stories and more this week on Living on Earth - Hang on!


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

Short Term Solution for Climate Change

Clean burning cook stoves can reduce air pollution and save lives in the developing world. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, it’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. Carbon dioxide gets most of the attention when it comes to climate change, but scientists say as much as 40% of the increase in global temperature can be attributed to short-lived, but powerful, pollutants like methane and soot, or black carbon.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced a new, multinational plan to implement simple strategies aimed at reducing these planet-warming pollutants.

[CLIP OF HILLARY CLINTON SPEAKING: We know that in the principle effort necessary to reduce the effects of carbon dioxide the world has not yet done enough. So, when we discover effective and affordable ways to reduce global warming not just a little, but a lot, it is a call to action for all of us.]

GELERMAN: The UN will implement the 6-nation program. Johan Kuylenstierna is coordinator of two UN reports on the benefits of reducing methane and soot.

KUYLENSTIERNA: What we're trying to do here is look at ways by which we can reduce the amount of global warming over the next few decades by addressing these so-called short-lived climate pollutants. And if you were to take these measures and implement them, we can reduce climate warming by about half a degree C by mid-century.

GELLERMAN: Half a degree being half a degree Celsius.


GELLERMAN: That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s pretty significant.

KUYLENSTIERNA: Yeah, it is significant because at the moment we have a warming… an estimate of about point eight degrees C above pre-industrial levels. So point five degree C is significant, and it would significantly reduce the rate of temperature increase over the next few decades, giving more of a chance for societies and ecosystems to adapt to a new climate.

GELLERMAN: So these things - methane, soot, hydrofluorocarbons - they’re short-lived, they stay in the atmosphere for a short period of time, but they’re very potent in terms of global warming gasses?

KUYLENSTIERNA: That’s right. And what’s very interesting about the methane and the black carbon reductions is that there will be some very substantial co-benefits in terms of air quality. We’ve estimated that the black carbon measures would reduce the number of premature deaths by about two million every year, if these measures were fully implemented globally.

GELLERMAN: So, specifically, what are the measures you’re taking to reduce these global warming gasses?

KUYLENSTIERNA: The measures we’re looking at, they’re divided into two categories: one are methane measures, and the other are black carbon or soot measures. And the methane measures are really related to capturing the methane when you extract oil or gas or coal, or if you transport the gas on long distance pipelines - making sure you don’t have leakages and so forth.

And the agricultural sector it's trying to reduce the amount of methane from rice paddies and also by better handling of manure from cattle and pigs for example on farms, and capturing the methane as well. In terms of the black carbon measures, we have a large emission from the residential sector - one of the major sources in the world of black carbon is cooking indoors using fuel wood or other biomass.

So the black carbon is emitted when you get incomplete burning of the wood. So you need to burn it more completely, which will also mean that you use less wood to do the cooking. And, also, there’s an increasing amount of heating by wood in Europe and North America. And so it’s a question of getting better technology that gives you the heat but low emission.

Ruminant animals like cows are a large source of methane. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

GELLERMAN: So, you’ve got the United States, Canada, Sweden, Mexico, Ghana and Bangladesh - kind of a strange collection of countries if you ask me!

KUYLENSTIERNA: Well, to some extent these countries - several countries - have been focusing on it independently for awhile. Some of the impacts of black carbon are particularly high in the arctic. The black carbon, when it deposits on snow and ice, makes it darker and therefore absorbs more of the sun’s heat and melting the snow and also heating the air above it.

So there’s some real benefits of reducing these emissions in the arctic, so Sweden is very interested, another reason why Canada’s interested. And then countries like Ghana, the Minister says: ‘You know, this is a development issue.’ So people are coming at it from different angles and different reasons, but finding common ground and a desire to do something about it.

Air pollutants like soot are short-term causes of global climate change. (Conservation Law Foundation)

GELLERMAN: So is your project an acknowledgement that our attempts to reduce CO2 emissions, which is the big greenhouse gas, is that an admission that the climate summits just aren’t working?

KUYLENSTIERNA: Well, reducing carbon dioxide is very important, particularly for the long-term climate. What we’re talking about here is no alternative to CO2 emissions, because these will help us in the near term - say in the next few decades, if we implement them we’ll get a benefit - but then the CO2 will kick in and we will have severe global warming if we don’t do anything in the future. That’s why these are complimentary strategies, they’re not alternatives. For the long term you have to address CO2.

GELLERMAN: Johan Kuylenstierna is the Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute Center at York and coordinator of two UN reports on the benefits of reducing methane and soot. Well Mr. Kuylenstierna, thanks so much.

KUYLENSTIERNA:Yeah, thank you very much.

Related links:
- Stockholm Environmental Institute
- State Department on Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Live Climate Pollutants.

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An artist’s conception of GJ12-14b, a super-Earth orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. (Photo: David A. Aguilar (CfA))

GELLERMAN: And now for a trip to a very weird planet. If you blast off from Earth, head for the constellation the Serpent Bearer, and travel 40 years at the speed of light - you’ll hit the planet GJ12-14b. It's known as a super-Earth because of its size – nearly 3 times Earth’s diameter.

It weighs 7 times as much, and orbits a red dwarf star – but those are NOT the attributes that make GJ12-14b unique - it turns out it’s a totally new type of planet. Zachory Berta made the discovery, along with a team of astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

BERTA: We think that GJ12-14b is a planet that has a lot of water in it– I mean, a lot of water in it. So, if the planet really is made - of a large part - a fraction of water, then you would expect that its atmosphere would also have a large amount in it. And so, we went and measured that atmosphere with the Hubble space telescope, and we found it looks like that atmosphere is made of a large fraction of water.

GELLERMAN: So, you have a watery planet.

BERTA: Yeah.

GELERMAN: But there are watery planets. I mean, we’ve got three quarters of our planet is watery - that’s not unique is it?

BERTA: Three quarters of the surface of our planet is water. But only a tiny fraction of a percent of the mass of our planet is water.

Zachory Berta and host Bruce Gellerman (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)


BERTA: We’re talking about something that would be a lot more watery. So, you could have a thousand kilometers of water on the surface of this planet - if you could find a surface to it at all.

GELLERMAN: Well, it’s very close to this sun that it orbits, right - so it would be very hot!

BERTA: Yeah absolutely, and that’s one of the really strange things about this - because the temperature is so high - you wouldn’t have water in any form that we would know it. You would have steam on the outside - that’s probably the closest kind of comparisons we would have is the outer atmosphere of this planet. You know, it’s about the temperature of a hot oven - so it could be where you'd bake a baguette - this is steamy, roasty oven - we know that.

But as you dive deeper into this planet - you start getting into much higher pressures and so the water takes on a very different form. You wouldn't have a liquid water ocean like on earth - you might have solid water but at very high temperatures - super fluid water… all of these very strange substances.

GELLERMAN: I heard it described as “hot ice.”

BERTA: Yeah, that would be one way to describe there.

GELLERMAN: So, if I were to travel there, what would it look like? What would I see?

BERTA: I don’t really know. Frankly, I’ve had a lot of trouble kind of imagining what this planet is like and part of that is because there still is a lot that we don’t know about it.

GELLERMAN: How do you know anything? You mentioned the Hubble space telescope…

BERTA: Yep, so we watched the planet as it passed it’s star as seen from earth. And a tiny fraction of the star’s light will filter through the planet’s atmosphere before getting to us, and so we can measure the color of that light that has traveled through the planet’s atmosphere before getting to us. The analogy that I like to make - and I think this is actually a pretty good one - is that imagine you’re standing on this planet - and watching a sunset, the most beautiful sunset. And it has some color to it. And you could imagine if the atmosphere were different, that color could be very different, right?


BERTA: But now imagine the light that passes over your shoulder - doesn’t come to your eyes, but passes on through space for 40 years and then gets to our telescope. With the Hubble space telescope we can measure that sunset on that planet.

GELLERMAN: That’s almost romantic!

BERTA: Yeah, I think so.

GELLERMAN: GJ12-14b, where does that romantic name come from?

BERTA: It’s a beautiful name ! So in astronomy, we have a tradition of naming bodies that orbit other bodies, after them. The star has the number GJ12-14, so if you find something orbiting GJ12-14, you have to call it GJ12-14b.

GELLERMAN: So you couldn’t name it something like “Big Berta.”

BERTA: (Laughs.) Um, no. Actually my advisor’s wife is first in line for the planet names. But it’s a problem that we have - at some point there are going to be a few of these planets that are so interesting to us that we really do want to give them interesting names that make them, you know, easier to remember.

GELLERMAN: Now would you be surprised if it turns out it’s not this weird water world but something weird like blue cheese or Styrofoam?

BERTA: I wouldn’t be that surprised.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs.)

BERTA: Well, I would be a little surprised if it were blue cheese. There’s still so much we don’t know about many of these planets, and so a lot of the conclusions that we draw from them are based on our modeling and our understanding of the physics going on on these planets and a lot of what we say is guided by what we know about the universe as a whole. In particular, what we know about the abundance of various elements in the universe - and that’s something that’s fairly well constrained, so that’s something that is a good predictor of what planets will be like.

GELLERMAN: The Hubble has really been a tremendous tool to astronomers.

BERTA: Oh, absolutely.

GELLERMAN: It’s been up there since 1990, am I right?

BERTA: Yeah.

GELLERMAN: But it’s supposed to be shut off in about two years…

BERTA: Well, I think that Hubble is going to keep going as long as it can. With the end of the shuttle program, there will be no more repair missions, which is something that has made Hubble so useful, is that you can keep upgrading it as they years go by. So without the shuttle, at some point, sadly, the cameras will stop working and things will start to fade away on Hubble.

GELLERMAN: Are there plans for a post-Hubble telescope?

BERTA: Yeah, and so that’s something that we’re all really excited about. So, that’s something that’s called the James Webb Space Telescope, which is like Hubble but bigger and better. It’s going to be far away from Earth, and it’s going to be observing at infrared wavelengths, which is great because that allows you to see back to the beginning of the universe- there’s all this incredible astronomy you can do with it. The thing that I’m most excited about with it is that you can study the atmospheres of planets, and specifically- study the atmosphere’s of planets that are not necessarily these weird things like GJ12-14b, but planets that could be a little bit cooler and a little bit smaller, and could, conceivably, be host to life.

GELLERMAN: What’s interesting about science in general, and astronomy in particular, is that the more you learn, the weirder it gets.

BERTA: The thing that makes me really excited about, I guess, as you say “the more we learn, the weirder it gets,” is that we’re at this really interesting place right now where we only just now have the technology to find planets like these and to observe planets like these and to study their atmospheres. To really study what’s out there - it makes me really excited to think about what surprises are around the corner.

GELLERMAN: Well, Zachory Berta, thank you so much for coming in.

BERTA: You're welcome, my pleasure.

GELLERMAN: Zachory Berta is a grad student astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Related links:
- Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
- Zachory Berta

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[MUSIC: Sun Ra “Door Of The Cosmos” from Sleeping Beauty (ESP Disc 2004).]

GELLERMAN: Just ahead: One more reason why you shouldn't mess with Texas. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Booker T Jones: “The Vamp” from The Road From Memphis (Anti Records 2011).]

Keeping up with the Green Gastronomic Joneses

Chefs in training learn vital techniques like sautéing. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Being a chef isn’t easy.


GELLERMAN: The competition is intense.

[CLIP OF IRON CHEF: The time has come once again to answer life’s most savory question—whose cuisine reigns supreme? This is Iron Chef America.]

GELLERMAN: Cooking what’s trendy is one way chefs can get an edge on the competition, and these days - sustainability is on the cutting edge. Living on Earth’s Jessica Ilyse Kurn found that in some kitchens - chefs in training are learning how to keep up with the green gastronomic Joneses.


KURN: This could sound like another cooking competition, but Dwayne LiPuma’s not a TV star and there are no cameras in his kitchen. He’s the head Chef at St. Andrew’s Café, in Hyde Park, New York. And this restaurant is committed to using local, seasonal foods.

Chef Dwayne LiPuma calls out food orders to his students. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

LIPUMA: We change the menu every season, but then we nit and pick. Like all of sudden we can’t get any more butternuts, now we switch to pumpkin, you know or turnips, squashes, um beets.

KURN: He says being flexible is key since farmers are at the mercy of the weather and Mother Nature can be unpredictable.

LIPUMA: There have been many times I’m waiting at the docks and because of rain or whatever; you have to change your menu. So it is very challenging as a chef to stay seasonal and to do farm-to-table. And that’s also what makes it fun.

KURN: St. Andrews is not only a farm-to-table restaurant; it’s also a classroom at the Culinary Institute of America. Here students serve as the wait staff, pastry and sous chefs. This working classroom gets produce from 30 farmers in the surrounding Hudson Valley; and there’s a lot of it—20,000 pounds of Granny Smith apples, 98,000 pounds of yellow onions, and 780,000 eggs. Chef LiPuma says eating seasonal food maybe a fad at the moment, but it’s also satisfying.

LIPUMA: You can’t tell me that after you went skiing and you’re ice cold that you want to come in and have a slice of watermelon. You want that polenta; you want that stew. And in the summertime vice versa, you’re not out walking in the heat and coming in and saying, oh give me goulash, you’re gonna say let me have that peach, let me have that watermelon salad or whatever it happens to be.

KURN: And taking advantage of seasonal food gives LiPuma the chance to spice up the sameness of winter foods.

LIPUMA: We do buy things at the height of their freshness and peaks: like ramps, tomatoes, peaches, and we do a major canning that day. We might buy 300 pounds of peaches and then in the wintertime we might run like pork chops with spicy peach chutney.

KURN: St. Andrews Café is a unique classroom setting, but teaching extends beyond the restaurant kitchen to the Institute’s regular classrooms, where students in white toques—the signature chef’s marshmallow hat—scribble kitchen conversions on chalkboards and study the rigors of basic French cuisine. Sophomore, Rebecca Hibay.

HIBAY: We’ve really started to focus on how to be sustainable as a chef and how to focus on where we would procure our food and we were talking about it today in lecture -how when you buy local and buy in season it ends up saving you money in the long run.

Sophomore Rebecca Hibay cooks in Professor LiPuma’s class. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

KURN: Professors also focus on how to keep an eco-conscious kitchen—from recycling used cooking oil, to composting food scraps.

HIBAY: The compost that we actually generate here is taken to local farms and even though I have no culinary use for it, I know that it really is turning into a culinary value for me in the future by, you know, regenerating into the earth.

KURN: The wintry grounds of the Culinary Institute are dotted with pines, maples and barren garden beds. In warmer months these plots are filled with vegetables and herbs.

SRAMEK: My name is Andra Sramek, and I’m the supervisor of grounds, recycling and horticulture.


Andra Sramek shows off some of the food plants that grow in the Culinary Institute's garden. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

KURN: When Sramek arrived at the Culinary Institute, the grounds were covered with rhododendrons, ferns and other ornamental plants. Slowly she’s been ripping them out to create an edible landscape.

SRAMEK: This is mostly celery, but we had some parsley in here, and we had swiss chard and so now we’ve got string beans and a pumpkin that’s being eaten by a woodchuck. We had, before the woodchuck ate them, beautiful okra that were this big, it was just amazing and the students, you know so many of them are like, “what is that?” or they see the brussels sprouts and they’re like, “what is that?” And it’s like… it’s brussels sprouts and that’s okra growing. And so it’s this whole education thing going on also with the students…

KURN: They’re encouraged to pick and pluck from the garden for their hyper-local meals.

SRAMEK: And then you see the students come out with their big toques on, and their jackets and they’ve got their little snippers and scissors, and they’re just dumbfounded that here they are in their kitchen and they walk out here and literally one minute later they have this incredibly fresh parsley that they know came from here, didn’t come from California or Florida and they’re using it.

KURN: Teaching how and where food is grown in culinary schools is relatively new. It’s a trend following on the heels of what’s in vogue in professional kitchens. In the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2012” survey, local sourcing, sustainability and kitchen gardens all came out on top.

Melissa Kogut is the executive director of the Chefs Collaborative—a national network that focuses on culinary sustainability. She says schools are just starting to add courses to teach this philosophy.

[Office background sfx]

KOGUT: Historically in the last few years it's sort of been left up to individual instructors to add it into their curricula, but what we’re starting to see now is that the administration is making decisions to put it into the curriculum.

KURN: Kogut says culinary schools from Seattle to Providence are following this trend.

KOGUT: At Johnson and Wales they've actually added a sustainability track, where students can take a number of courses addressing nutrition and sustainability. And my thinking is that this is coming from the students who are applying. They want to have this kind of training.

KURN: But since it’s a relatively new trend in culinary schools, Kogut says the chefs who have been cooking this way taught themselves.

KOGUT: They come at it first from the quality of the ingredients—and they realize that the ingredients taste better when they’re local. That’s sort of the first step. And then they tend to get into all of the environmental reasons why sustainability is good.

KURN: These chefs have been on the frontlines, spearheading a change—including growing their own food on rooftops and in backyard gardens.

[Sound of opening the metal garden gate]

KURN: The students at the Culinary Institute of America also get a hands-on lesson in the student garden. Junior Edward Kopp.

KOPP: Part of it is the educational process of having the opportunity to put your hands in the dirt, and see that food takes time.

KURN: The long wait from seed to plate gives Kopp and other Culinary Institute students an appreciation for the journey that food takes.

KOPP: There is some farmer somewhere who is putting time, effort and care into delivering the best product possible for me to then deliver it to the public as great food.

Student Edward Kopp next to the beehive in the student-run garden on campus. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

KURN: So Kopp and his classmates will leave the Culinary Institute of America not just with the skills to make canapés and cassoulets, but also armed with a special understanding…

[CLIP FROM IRON CHEF: There is one more ingredient to this battle…our secret ingredient—the theme in which our chefs will offer their succulent variations. Today’s secret ingredient is…]

KURN: …Sustainable food. The secret ingredient that keeps them on the culinary cutting edge. For Living on Earth, I’m Jessica Ilyse Kurn in Hyde Park, New York.


Related links:
- The Culinary Institute of America
- The Chefs Collaborative

Back to top


TransCanada Claims Texas Land

Protestors gathered outside the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees eminent domain decisions. (Photo: We Texans)


GELLERMAN: The scene is mid-February - on the steps of the Lamar County Court house in Paris, Texas.

[PROTEST SOUNDS "Don't mess with Texas"]

GELLERMAN: Protesting against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline was an unlikely coalition of environmental groups and Tea Party, libertarian types. The company TransCanada wants to build the pipeline to carry crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta -17 hundred miles to refineries on the Gulf Coast. President Obama put construction on indefinite hold pending an environmental review, but inside the Lamar courthouse, lawyers for Texas landowners were fighting to prevent TransCanada from taking their property for the pipeline by eminent domain.

Protestors turned out in Lamar County, Texas, to support a landowner who filed a restraining order to keep TransCanada off her land. (Photo: We Texans)

The practice is permitted by the US Constitution but the Texas judge handed landowners a temporary injunction halting construction. It’s just one of several, similar lawsuits in the Lone Star State. Leading the charge against the taking of private property by a private company is Debra Medina. She’s a former Republican candidate for governor and head of the property rights group “We Texans.” Also joining me from Sacramento California is David Breemer an eminent domain attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation. Hi Debra.

MEDINA: It’s good to be with you, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: And David Breemer, welcome to Living on Earth, too.

BREEMER: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Let's start with you Debra- you’re against the pipeline. Why?

MEDINA: I’m against the use of eminent domain for private business.

GELLERMAN: What do you mean?

MEDINA: The law is very clear that those pipelines must serve a public purpose. So, what happens in practice is that those pipelines cloak themselves in that regalia, and they like to do that because then they have the power of eminent domain, and they can just take the property that they deem they need for their business. And we believe that’s exactly what’s happening here and there’s a bit of controversy over that.

GELLERMAN: Well, Dave Breemer, you’re a bit of an expert in eminent domain issues - help us out.

BREEMER: Ultimately, it comes down to the question of whether a project is serving a public use, really providing a public benefit, rather than simply a private one. This specific question about TransCanada - it’s a very hard question.

Debra Medina argues for private property rights at the TransCanada office in Houston. (Photo: We Texans)

It looks, in a lot of ways, like other things that have always been allowed as public uses like utilities - cable companies, power companies, there’s easements all over the place of these things buried underground that were taken by eminent domain. But this case is strange in my opinion because the pipeline hasn’t even been approved and they’re going around taking people’s property, and I think that gives it a whole new gloss where something doesn’t smell right.

MEDINA: I think that’s one of the things that’s been most eye-opening for the landowners, if you will, I think many of them suspected that once the Presidential permit was denied that the eminent domain takings would cease. So we’ve got a recent Supreme Court case from August of last year - the Denbury Green Pipeline case - where the Supreme Court found for the landowner, saying that the pipeline company that had exercised eminent domain was in fact a private business not serving the public interest, and therefore should not have had the ability to use eminent domain to take property.

We’re anxious to see that similar question raised in the TransCanada Keystone XL case, unfortunately, you’ve got a multi-billion dollar pipeline company that has a very sophisticated legal team, and it’s very difficult for landowners to amass the resources to get themselves into court to fight that fight.

GELLERMAN: So the question is public use. I’m reading something from the President of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce. And Port Arthur is where the refineries of the oil would be used on the Gulf Coast. And, he says this - ‘There’s not a politician in Texas, in their right mind - I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican - that doesn’t know the importance of this to all of Texas.’ I mean, I looked at some of the economic breakdowns, they’re taking about two billion dollars of economic value in terms of jobs. So, isn’t that, you know, a public good?

BREEMER: Well, I would say that there is a very good chance that it would be seen that way by a court. Those are all good things, and we are in favor of development, so, again the standard is very loose. The public use standard is very loose. However, as far as I know, it has never permitted a government or a private company to condemn land for a project which may never actually be approved.

Lost in all this is the fact that owners have to be fully and justly compensated - even if it is a public use - there's got to be full, just compensation. And a lot of times what happens in these types of cases is the property owners are low-balled. They’re told that they’re going to be compensated and they’re offered a very, very low price.

GELLERMAN: So, Debra Medina, is this just a negotiating strategy to get a better price?

MEDINA: We haven’t heard that. Most of the objections that we’re hearing are involving the terms of the contract, rather than the price. The landowners are being told, for example, that they can’t move heavy equipment over the top of the easement - once the pipeline is buried, they can’t drive a tractor, they can’t drive anything heavier than a four-wheeler over the top of that buried pipeline.

One particularly property says: ‘I’m a timber company, I cut and harvest timber off of this property, and we’ve had a drought in Texas, we’ve had forest fires here. If there’s a fire, I need to be able to move bulldozers and fire trucks and I can’t be prohibited from doing that - it wouldn't be safe.’ The company said, ‘Well, we won’t allow that.’ And the gentleman said, ‘Well, then, you’re going to have to go around my property.’ And they said: ‘No, we won’t - we’ll condemn it.’ And they have. They’ve condemned his property - they’re going through his property, and they’d like the terms to be that he can’t drive anything over the top of that pipeline.

The pipeline route has not been approved, but TransCanada is acquiring land rights through Texas. (Texas Railroad Commission)

GELLERMAN: Are there other environmental concerns that you might have there Debra?

MEDINA: I think from landowners, we’re hearing a number of those sorts of concerns- one gentleman has 66, one hundred-year-old trees that are going to be removed from his property in order to clear a path. And safety concerns. People want to know about possible water contamination - the company has had some leaks on the Keystone 1 and they’re concerned about that. So landowners come to the table of these negotiations with varied concerns, and unfortunately, many of those landowners have met with an obstinence from this company and an unwillingness to address these concerns. And so you have 89 - at least 89 - eminent domain cases here in TX that we've been able to document here today.

BREEMER: You have to remember, eminent domain is an extraordinary power. It’s always disruptive. And most people’s primary concern at first is not money - their primary concern is keeping the use of their property and the enjoyment of their property. That is how it’s always been when you look at the railroads that were given the power of eminent domain in the 19th century to put rails across the United States - the same concerns came up there too.

GELLERMAN: Debra, is this a case of very strange political bedfellows - the Tea Partiers have come out against the pipeline on the property issues and eminent domain, so have libertarians, but so have environmentalists.

MEDINA: It is an interesting coalition. We’re all coming to the table, I think, from different concerns, but we see overlap and common concern here is the behavior by this company - the way it’s treating Texans. Whether it’s citizens who have environmental concerns or private property concerns and so it’s drawing those folks together to say - we don’t like the way you’re doing business here in our state, or attempting to do business here in our state. And they’re gong to meet some resistance until either their behavior changes or they are able to address the concerns that Texans are raising.

GELERMAN: So, David, when all is said and done in this case, what do you think is going to happen?

BREEMER: I think it’s a close call. The law is not on the side of property owners in this case, unfortunately, in this area. So, if the project is approved, it’s probably a public use under current law. If it’s not approved, that’s a strange situation.

GELLERMAN: Debra, I’ll give you the last word, if you’d like.

MEDINA: Don’t mess with Texas, Bruce!

GELLERMAN: Debra Medina is director of ‘We Texans’- it’s a public policy advocacy group in Wharton, Texas and Austin. Debra, thank you.

MEDINA: Thank you, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: And David Breemer is a property rights and an eminent domain attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, California. David, thank you.

BREEMER: Thank you, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: We received a written response from TransCanada - the pipeline company says: ‘the temporary restraining order is without merit and the eminent domain process permits them to use the land in Texas.’ Quote: ‘Our commitment is to treat landowners with honesty, fairness and respect, to work with them and come up with the best possible solution.’

Related links:
- The Pacific Legal Foundation represents private property rights
- We Texans protests the Keystone pipeline taking private property
- TransCanada argues that they economic benefits of the pipeline meet a “public good”

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[MUSIC: Bob Wills “pan Handle Rag” from the Best Of Bob Wills (Geffen Records 1987).]

GELLERMAN: Coming up – Captain Henry Hudson had it hard— his crew mutinied and he was cast adrift. Today, Arctic explorers have it easier… but not by much - Stay tuned to Living on Earth!

ANNOUNCER ONE: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, supporting strategic communications and collaboration in solving the world's most pressing environmental problems, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Gilman Ordway - for coverage of conservation and environmental change. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Marcin Wasilewski: “Night Train To You” from Faithful (ECM Records 2011).]

Goat Accents

A female goat and her two kids. (Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

GELERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. Doe’s a deer that works well in a song - but does don’t make much sound. On the other hand goats do…


GELLERMAN: Goat kids get vocal right after birth - and it turns out, they quickly pick up accents. Give a listen…here’s one kid.


GELLERMAN: And here’s another---


GELLERMAN: Can you hear the different accents? Well, Dr. Elodie Briefer can. She's a biologist at the University of London, and she discovered that pygmy goats – like humans, bats and whales - are among the elite group of mammals that can adapt vocal sounds in response to the environment.

BRIEFER: Well, actually I wasn’t expecting that at all, because people don’t think that species such as goats have flexible vocalizations and that they can adjust their vocalizations to their social environments. So, in my study, I recorded them when they were one week old and then five weeks old. And the goats became a lot more similar during those four weeks.

GELLERMAN: So, goats have different accents.

BRIEFER: Yeah. I found that when goat kids were raised in the same group, they actually started to copy each other and develop similar vocalizations. So their vocalizations changed with time, just like us humans.

GELLERMAN: So, I’m from Brooklyn, New York, and you’re from…?

BRIEFER: Yeah, I’m originally from Switzerland, yeah.

GELLERMAN: So, we can both speak English, understand each other, but different accents.

(Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

BRIEFER: Exactly, yeah.

GELLERMAN: Now, you’ve listened to these kids bleating hundreds of times, right?


GELLERMAN: Can you tell the difference just by listening?

BRIEFER: Yeah. Actually, if you hear goat calls from the same group and then goat calls from a different group, you might be able to hear the difference, even you.

GELLERMAN: Well, we’ve got some goat calls - let’s hear the group one here:


GELLERMAN: Let’s hear that one again:


GELLERMAN: So, lets play a goat from a different group:


GELLERMAN: Even I can tell the difference there!

BRIEFER: Yeah, so the pitch of the call is a lot higher in the second group.

GELLERMAN: Group one:


GELLERMAN: Group two:


GELLERMAN: Now, why would they be different?

BRIEFER: I think that this group effect on the vocalizations is like an indicator of the group. So, goats are really social animals and it will allow them to differentiate who’s from their group and who’s from another group and will increase group cohesion.

GELLERMAN: So, the function is to increase group cohesion, and why would that be?

BRIEFER: They need to keep together in a group. And goats have really complex social structure. Actually, they’re in a really big group during the night and they spilt up into small groups during the day and in the morning, for example, they will need to know, for example - who are the members of their group.

GELLERMAN: So, if we had a herd of zebras, or you know, a pack of wolves, they’re social animals - would you expect that they would have different accents too?

BRIEFER: Yeah. My results were surprising because the main, original idea, was that in animals such as goats - there’s no effect of the environment on vocalizations. Because I found that on goats - I’m pretty sure that it exists on lots of other mammals.

GELLERMAN: So, I have to ask you, Dr. Briefer. When you tell somebody that you study goat calls, what’s their first impression?

BRIEFER: They find that quite funny, of course. But most people don’t really see what could be so important - to study goat calls. But I think it’s pretty important because it shows us - how did we evolve. Especially these accents that I found on goat kids show us the basis of the huge vocal flexibility that we have in humans. It also shows us that some animals, like goats, also have a flexible vocalizations and they can also learn from each other and develop accents.

GELLERMAN: Could it be even more complex? Could it be, not just a signaling or an emotive expression, but actually communicating ideas?

BRIEFER: Well, we never know, yeah. I think that we’re only at the beginning of researching this area and there are lots of things that we still need to discover. For example, we know that some animals actually have different alarm calls for different predators. They are actually giving information about what kind of predation is around them - that’s quite impressive.

GELLERMAN: Well, Dr. Briefer, thank you so very much.

BRIEFER: Yeah, no problem.

GELLERMAN: Dr Elodie Briefer is a biologist at The University of London.

Related link:
Dr. Elodie Briefer’s website

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Arctic Explorers

Arctic sea ice. (Courtesy of Fiamma Straneo)

GELLERMAN: 400 years ago explorer Henry Hudson set sail from England in search of an Arctic route to the riches of Asia. It was an ill fated journey that ended in disaster for Captain Hudson and his son - and they never did discover the fabled Northwest Passage.

Even today, despite satellite maps and GPS, much of that same region in Northern Canada, remains an unexplored mystery. But still, there are those who dare to venture –and challenge the unforgiving place just as Henry Hudson did 4 centuries ago. Emily Corwin of Mind Open Media has their story.

MILLMAN: My name is Lawrence Millman, and I'm an arctic explorer, and I have an abiding interest in other arctic explorers who disappeared off the face of the earth.

[MUSIC: Zorn1.]

CORWIN: On a modern-day expedition to the Hudson Bay, Larry Millman overheard an unusual story about the first white man to live among that region’s native Cree. The story had been passed down among the Cree for generations, and the white man was known as Firebeard.

MILLMAN: With very little research I determined that in all probability Firebeard was Henry Hudson, who was perhaps the best recognized navigator of his day.

CORWIN: There are only a few things we know about Henry Hudson’s personal life.

Lawrence Millman is a modern day Arctic explorer.

MILLMAN: Here’s one of the things we know about Henry Hudson, that he had a great affection for bangles. Like jewelry - and males in those days wore lots of jewelry like bracelets - he liked golden wristbands, and rings. We know that and there's one source that mentions that he really enjoyed big meals.

CORWIN: Back in the early 1600s, navigators were tired of sailing down around South America, all the way across the Pacific to Asia. So a British trading company hired Henry Hudson to find a shorter route.

MILLMAN: He sets out from England in 1610.


MILLMAN: Touches Iceland, gets some supplies and heads into the furious overfall otherwise known as Hudson Strait. They thought, because of all these heavy currents, that it was close to the Pacific, it had to be a great ocean. No it wasn't a great ocean, it was a long narrow strait. CORWIN: This so-called furious overfall with its counter-clockwise swirling chunks of ice was much, much colder than the guys on Hudson’s crew ever expected. Pretty soon their ship got stuck– it was mired in the ice. MILLMAN: There's a feeling of complete and utter paralysis. You might like to go somewhere but you can’t go anywhere, you can't get your boat to move a bloody inch.

CORWIN: Hudson’s crew wanted to turn around. They said:

MILLMAN: 'As soon as we get out of this ice, Captain Hudson, we're heading home.' There was an interesting democracy among crews of that day. If the crew wanted to head home and the captain didn't, the crew got their way. He said ‘well look', he brought out a map, he showed his crew the map, 'we're a hundred miles farther West than any other known expedition. And you want to turn around.’


MILLMAN: Well they couldn't turn around and he was using that possibly as part of his ammunition.

[CLIP FROM FILM: We stand now on the edge of discovery. This great bay must open somewhere and yield a passage. Let us thrust westward in the common triumph of raising the Indies!]

Chart of Hudson Bay. (Photo: Fiamma Straneo)

CORWIN: That’s from the 1964 film “The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson.” Come November, it was too cold and icy to go on. Hudson and his crew would spend the winter camped on the shore of the frigid James Bay.

MILLMAN: It was just an absolute miracle that they survived the winter.

CORWIN: The crew was starving and it was freezing cold. Scurvy made their gums bleed and their teeth loose. When the ship could finally sail again, Hudson told his crew they would return to England. But there was a problem.

MILLMAN: Hudson wasn't going in the right direction for England. He was heading west, and he should have been heading north, up along the coast and out the same way they came in. And when one of the members of the crew noticed that certain individuals had cheese, and had more food than they themselves had— that was the spark that inspired the mutiny.

[CLIP FROM FILM: Arrh now that you’re free of us master Hudson, you may sail westward for all you are worth! Mr. Green– it is not too late. Reconsider!]

CORWIN: The crew threw Hudson and his son on a sailboat, and headed right back to England. Did Hudson go by “Firebeard” and live among the Cree, or did he freeze to death alone in the bay? We don’t know. 400 years later, another adventurous Arctic Explorer wanted her turn. The legend of Henry Hudson loomed.

STRANEO: Every time I brought up Hudson Strait everybody shook their head, it had this reputation for being a really tough place where to work.

CORWIN: That’s Fiamma Straneo. She’s an ocean scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Three years in a row Straneo has returned to the same place where Henry Hudson disappeared. She’s not looking for riches or spices or any of that. And none of her crews have ever threatened mutiny. See, Straneo is on a new kind of mission. She wants to understand climate change in the Arctic.

[MUSIC: Exilio Zorn5.]

STRANEO: And so if we think of Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait as a small microcosm in the climate system, then if I can understand how they work, if I know what goes in and I know what comes out, then I can put this in a bigger model that has the entire planet, the entire atmosphere, and its going to help us predict future change.

CORWIN: As the planet heats up, moisture evaporates from warm places like the tropics. And then wind pulls that moist air over the arctic, where it rains and snows into the ocean. That fresh water is lighter than the saltwater, so it sits like a blanket on top of the entire ocean, getting in the way of the ocean’s usual temperature regulation and circulation patterns.

Fiamma Straneo is an ocean scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. (Photo: Fiamma Straneo)

Straneo is monitoring the water in the Hudson Strait, a bottleneck that connects the Hudson Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. This is the strait that Henry Hudson may have called the Furious Overfall - with its massive 30-foot tides and swirling currents.

STRANEO: When you’re close to land you just see the entire landscape change. You know, your ship just goes up and down and you look and you thought oh there was an island there - well its gone. Because there are these super strong tides, the other thing that you see are these really fast currents, which switch every six hours or so and there’s so much mixing and turbulence the water literally boils.

CORWIN: Here is Straneo, in the same treacherous strait that brought about Henry Hudson’s demise 400 years ago. FIAMMA: And so if you read the old books and the old maps, Hudson Strait is actually indicated with a waterfall like the currents were so strong that ships had a really hard time navigating it.

An Inuit map of Hudson Bay. (Photo: Fiamma Straneo)

MILLMAN: There are a couple maps that actually show Hudson bay long before Europeans ever went there. "Here Be Dragons, Here Be Monsters, or you fall off the edge at this point.

CORWIN: The legends of monsters that tormented Henry Hudson’s crew boded ill for Straneo’s expedition. Yet Straneo forged ahead. For her research, she put three chains of instruments down into the water. These chains – called moorings - are so big they have to be lowered in with a crane. What looks like a massive red fishing bobber sits at the top, while the instruments sink down, measuring water salinity, velocity, and temperature.

STRANEO: I think the most exciting moment was putting everything in the water the first time. Just seeing everything disappear, it feels silly because that's it! You've just chucked thousands - 100s of thousands of dollars in the water, don't know what they're doing, but just putting everything in and know that if everything goes as planned you can come back and there will be data, and there's something magical about letting go of all the instruments and just sort of walking away and trusting.

( Photo: Fiamma Straneo)

CORWIN: Straneo’s reward for taking on this challenge - is getting to be the first.

STRANEO: One of the reasons to work in the arctic is that it's an incredibly important place in the circulation of the ocean and the climate system and yet we know so little about it, and so you can go to so many places in the arctic and be the first person ever making measurements there, and so when you pull up this instrument that's been in the water for an hour, or for a year, and you look at these data, you think WOW, nobody's ever seen what's going on under the surface of the ocean here, you're sort of, hearing a story for the first time.

CORWIN: Kind of like when Larry Millman heard the story of Firebeard for the first time. For Millman, being in a place like the Hudson Bay gave him something else, too– a new kind of sensory experience.

MILLMAN: When you're in a place that you know, each wrong step will land you in if not trouble, deep doo doo, bear, caribou, or otherwise, then you're aware of the world around you. So I enjoy that all my senses are on the alert when I’m traveling in the Arctic.

( Photo: Fiamma Straneo)

CORWIN: Larry Millman left the arctic with a new kind of awareness and a story about Henry Hudson. Henry Hudson’s mutinous crew left Henry in the middle of the Hudson Strait. And Straneo left the Hudson Strait with the data she needed to build a predictive model of climate change in the Arctic. All of them did something that had never been done before, in a place no one – except for, perhaps, the native Cree – was meant to survive.

For Living on Earth, I’m Emily Corwin.


GELLERMAN: Our story about arctic explorers comes to us from Mind Open Media, working with researchers to tell stories about their science and their lives. To learn more, head to our website, LOE dot org.


Related links:
- Mind Open Media
- Watch “The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson” (28 min.)
- Lawrence Millman’s website
- Fiamma Straneo’s Research Group

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Sled Dogs

(Photo: Mark Seth Lender ©)

GELLERMAN: Long before there were snowmobiles and airplanes, sled dogs were one of the main methods of transportation in the Arctic regions of the world. Dogs mushing over frozen ground are still very much in evidence today but as writer Mark Seth Lender found out, the job, and even the dog itself, has changed.


LENDER: A thousand years of dogs: running pressure ridge and ice ridge, skirting every crevice, loping frozen tundra through permanent day and the long months of near dark. They are a special breed.

In warm weather, the sled dog team lines up for training. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender ©)

Their sense of snow; their sense of smell; long hours without shelter in wind that freezes human flesh solid as a wall of ice and the dogs did not lie down, not once. Forward. Panting. Steady on broad feet on short legs made to endure, sure footed as Magnetic North.

Behind the loaded sled, following, Inuit come. Drawn toward the lodestone of Viking iron offered in trade for meat, for fat, for furs. And sled dogs led them on that journey - every inch - and by heart and will and sinew allowed Inuit to stay.

Now this canine Continental Drift is done, what will become of Arctic in a civilized imagination? As the Arctic melts away the Inuit dog remains. Bred now for speed, racing the leads that crack the shelf ice like liquid lightning; across bare snow in a blizzard minus 40 below, their job is not to carry but to win, and keep alive at least the sound, that deep-throated growl, the barking howl of the team.


LENDER: In dappled winter dark, light-echo of a sunrise that never seems to come, what Arctic Dreams do Inuit Elders dream?


GELLERMAN: Mark Seth Lender is a regular contributor to Living on Earth. To see some of Mark’s sled dogs photos, go to our website, LOE dot org.

Related link:
Mark Lender’s website

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[MUSIC: K Project “Arctic” from Arctic (The K Project Music 2010).]

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer and Ike Sriskandarajah, with help from Sarah Calkins, Meghan Miner, Gabriela Romanow, and Sammy Sousa. Our interns are Mary Bates and Sophie Golden.

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 - at livingonearth, that's just one word. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman.Thanks for listening!

ANNOUNCER ONE: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation supporting coverage of emerging science; and Stonyfield Farm, organic yogurt and smoothies. Stonyfield invites you to just eat organic for a day. Details at justeatorganic dot com. Support also comes from you, our listeners, the Go Forward Fund, and Pax World Mutual and Exchange Traded Funds, integrating environmental, social and governance factors into investment analysis and decision-making. On the web at paxworld dot com. Pax World for Tomorrow.

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