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

March 2, 2012

Air Date: March 2, 2012



Clean Air Act in Court

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A federal appeals court in Washington DC heard oral arguments in a case pitting coal, oil and steel industry groups against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The coalition who took the EPA to court claims that Clean Air Act regulations are costly and burdensome for businesses. Host Bruce Gellerman talks to Robert Glicksman, professor of law at George Washington University, about the case. (06:30)

Fighting a Renewable Army / Ike Sriskandarajah

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The Defense Department wants to run the military on more renewables and less oil, but some members of Congress don’t think it’s worth one billion dollars. House Republicans complain that the Department of Defense is advancing a political agenda instead of a military one. Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah reports on the battle over clean energy. (05:20)

How Safe is Your Nuclear Power Plant?

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Following last year’s devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami that hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided to survey U.S. nuclear plants. The Union of Concerned Scientists took a look, as well. The UCS’s David Lochbaum tells host Bruce Gellerman the good and bad news about America’s nuclear fleet. (06:30)

Israel Threatens Renewable Energy in West Bank

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Israel says solar panels and wind turbines built in small West Bank villages were installed without permits. Now the state threatens to demolish the renewable energy systems. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks to Elan Orian, an Israeli whose company helped bring alternative energy to the West Bank, and Shuli Hartman, an anthropologist studying the region. (06:40)

Cherry Blossom Birthday

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The cherry trees in Washington D.C. will soon be bursting with blossoms for the 100th year. Over a million people are expected to celebrate this landmark anniversary at the National Cherry Blossom Festival later this month. Host Bruce Gellerman asks Margaret Pooler, a plant geneticist with the National Arboretum, whether this winter’s unseasonably warm weather will affect the centennial blossoming. (05:30)

BirdNote® Navigating by the Earth’s Magnetic Field / Michael Stein

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Modern technology has made it easy for us humans to get around. All we need to do is plug in our coordinates to a GPS, and we’re good to go. But, as BirdNote®’s Michael Stein reports, migrating birds have some unusual ways of charting their flight path. (02:00)

Schooling Salmon / Ashley Ahearn

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Salmon eggs and fish tanks are both part of the learning process in Washington State schools. The Salmon in Schools project not only teaches kids about the salmon lifecycle, but also about environmental stewardship. EarthFix’s Ashley Ahearn reports. (04:15)

Music to Help the Forests of Madagascar

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On the African island of Madagascar, the vast majority of plants and animals are endemic, found no place else on Earth. But deforestation is diminishing these riches at a rapid pace. Musician Razia Said talks to host Bruce Gellerman about the music she wrote to raise awareness about the problem in her native island. (08:20)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Robert Glicksman, David Lochbaum, Elad Orian, Shuli Hartman, Margaret Pooler, Razia Said
REPORTERS: Ike Sriskandarajah, Zak Rosen, Ashley Ahearn
NOTES: Michael Stein


GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International, it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman.

Teams of investigators from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission report good news: no injuries from nuclear accidents at any of our power plants last year. The bad news?

LOCHBAUM: The NRC only sends those teams out when that event of discovery could increase the likelihood of core damage or core meltdown by a factor of ten or more. And last year there were 15 near misses.

GELLERMAN: Meltdowns and near misses, a nuclear watchdog group says our reactors are living on borrowed time. Also, the Pentagon comes under attack for defending renewable energy, and a musician sings the praises of an island nation’s forests.

SAID: Madagascar is known for its biodiversity and for its beautiful endemic species, and if we cut these trees we'll have no more animals living in them. We'll have no more trees. We'll just become a desert.

GELLERMAN: These stories, and a lot more, this week on Living on Earth stick around!

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

Clean Air Act in Court

The Environmental Protection Agency building. (Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, MA, it’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a climate changing pollutant and the EPA could regulate it under the Clean Air Act. The EPA came up with new regulations but backers of fossil fuels, agri-business, and Tea Party politicians claim the EPA's new regs are costly and burdensome for companies.

So they're suing in federal district court, which held two days of oral arguments last week. The case is wonky, with terms like endangerment and tailoring. But, lucky for us, on hand is Robert Glicksman. He's a professor of environmental law at the George Washington University and Professor Glicksman, welcome to Living on Earth!

GLICKSMAN: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

GELLERMAN: So, this is a big deal case, is it?

GLICKSMAN: Yes, it is. It’s one of the big court cases and, indeed, environmental cases to come down in quite awhile.

GELLERMAN: But, didn’t the Supreme Court already rule on this and say the EPA had the authority to come up with the rules?

GLICKSMAN: Yes, but it didn’t mandate that EPA regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars, or define exactly how to regulate if EPA decided to do so.

GELLERMAN: So the EPA came up with its rules and regulation to enforce the Clean Air Act and cleanup the greenhouse gasses and that’s what this court case is about- those specific rules and regs.

GLICKSMAN: Yes, it’s about EPA’s efforts to follow through on the Supreme Court’s instruction to consider whether or not greenhouse gasses present endangerment to public health and welfare, and, if so, to control the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing that problem.

GELLERMAN: So, are the plaintiffs arguing that greenhouse gasses are not endangering public health and welfare?

GLICKSMAN: Well, they are challenging what’s known as the ‘endangering finding’ that EPA issued after the Supreme Court decision. Early in the Obama Administration, EPA issued an official endangerment finding in which it concluded that the scientific evidence supported the conclusion that the emissions of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, are, indeed, creating an endangerment to the public health and welfare.

GELLERMAN: So, do the plaintiffs have a case in this regard? You know, is the EPA science not good?

GLICKSMAN: The courts tend to be very deferential to EPA scientific determinations. And given that the Supreme Court has addressed at least some aspects of this case, thus far, I would be very surprised if the plaintiffs were to prevail on their challenge to the endangerment finding. I think that the court will uphold the EPA’s conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to climate change in ways that present threats to the environment and public health.

Professor Robert Glicksman. (GW University)

GELLERMAN: Another big, contentious issue is what they call ‘the tailoring rule.’ What’s that?

GLICKSMAN: The tailoring rule is an effort by EPA to regulate factory emissions of greenhouse gasses in a way that the agency thinks makes sense. Greenhouse gas emissions became subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act and, therefore, EPA became obliged to require states in issuing permits to factories to regulate those emissions.

The problem is, you would wind up regulating an enormous number of sources and not only factories such as manufacturing plants, not only electric utilities that burn coal and emit carbon dioxide, but much smaller facilities – even schools, hospitals and other public buildings. And they simply don’t have the funds or the personnel to handle the crushing workload that would result.

So EPA, what it is trying to do in the tailoring rule, is to tailor or narrow the scope of the permit program so that only the largest sources are going to be controlled by this new set of regulations.

GELLERMAN: So what the opponents are saying is, ‘We’re going to argue you into submission. If you can’t regulate everybody equally, than the tailoring rule ain’t going to pass muster.’

GLICKSMAN: Yes. Essentially what the industry is arguing is that EPA lacks the digression to decide what the cutoff levels will be. So if it’s going to regulate anybody it’s going to regulate everyone. The goal, of course, is, as I’ve think you’ve implied, to wind up with EPA regulating no one. Because if EPA thinks that regulation of the multiplicity of smaller emitters is not feasible, then I think the hope on the part of the challengers is that EPA will essentially throw in the towel and decide not to regulate anybody.

GELLERMAN: So, what do you think the court will decide in terms of the tailoring rule?

GLICKSMAN: It’s a close question, I think. And because the courts under the Clean Air Act have never addressed this precise question, it’s impossible to predict. The real question is whether the court is going to insist upon a literal application of the meaning of the statute or accept EPA’s justification that it is appropriate to allow EPA to adapt modifications to this statute that make the statue feasible, as opposed to impossible to implement. And it’s possible the court could go either way on that question.

GELLERMAN: When do you think that the court will hand down its judgment?

GLICKSMAN: What’s unusual about this case is that the court is holding oral argument over a series of several consecutive days, which indicates that the court regards this as a very complicated set of questions which are related to one another. And so it may take a bit longer for the court to sort this all out than it would in a typical case. But if I were to make a wild guess, I’d suspect that we’ll have some answer by some point this summer.

GELLERMAN: Could this case go back to the Supreme Court? Or is that already a done deal?

GLICKSMAN: I don’t think there is any question that this is a case that could wind up in the Supreme Court’s lap once again. We’ll wait to see what the Court of Appeals panel decides. If the court winds up split two to one, that, at least marginally, increases the chance because it indicates at least one federal judge on either side found that the opposing parties had viable arguments.

GELLERMAN: Well, Professor Glicksman, thank you so much.

GLICKSMAN: My pleasure.

GELLERMAN: Robert Glicksman is an environmental law professor at the George Washington University Law School.

Related link:
More on the endangerment clause of the Clean Air Act

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[MUSIC: Todd Clouser “All Apologies” from 20th Century Folk Selections (Royal Potato Family 2012).]

Fighting a Renewable Army

The USS George Washington in formation in the Caribbean Sea. A Carrier Strike Group like this one will test advanced biofuels off Hawaii this summer. The biofuels cost four times as much the traditional petroleum based fuel. (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

GELLERMAN: The United States Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of energy in the nation. In fact, it consumes more oil than anybody else in the world.
To cut the use of fossil fuels, the military’s top brass has pledged to get 25 percent of the Pentagon’s energy from renewable sources by 2025.

But now that target has come under attack by Congressional Republicans. And they’ve set their sights on the U.S. Navy, which has the Defense Department’s most ambitious energy goals. Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah reports.


SRISKANDARAJAH: The Navy first got its cutting edge fighter jet in 1980.

[VIDEO CLIP: You want a buzzing insect that can sting your enemy before he knows what has happened. That’s what the Navy asked for and that is what they got: the F/A-18 Hornet.]

SRISKANDARAJAH: The Hornet became the Navy’s most famous jet – it’s what the Navy’s Blue Angels fly at airshows. Thirty years later, in 2010, the iconic fighter got an overhaul, with a shot of plant fuel. They called the biodisel burning jet: the Green Hornet.

Navy Secretary Mabus introduces the Blue Angels. The Navy flight team performs stunts and test out their new 50-50 mix of jet fuel and JP-5 aviation fuel. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Shavers)

[VIDEO CLIP: Here’s your Pentagon channel report. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus watched the Green Hornet test flight. He says the Navy is committed to reducing dependence on foreign oil and safeguarding the environment.]

SRISKANDARAJAH: Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has charted a path for the Navy and Marine Corps to get half of their energy from biofuels and renewables by 2020. Politicians who disagree on most national energy policy issues found common ground here. But in an election year, with a tough economy, the Navy’s goal has become another target for Republicans in the House Armed Services Committee. Here’s an exchange between Representative Mike Conaway of Texas and Secretary Mabus at a recent budget hearing.

CONAWAY: Now, if you get to 2020 and you’ve got to this holy grail of a 50/50 blend across your team, that means you’ll be a third more expensive for fuel than the other services.

SECRETARY MABUS: Sir, I think your premise is absolutely wrong.

A T-45C Goshawk training aircraft conducts a test flight using a biofuel blend. (U.S. Navy photo by Kelly Schindler, Aug. 24, 2011)

CONAWAY: I disagree with that.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Besides the Green Hornet, the Navy has test-flown two other planes on jet fuel cut with plant fuel. The service is also planning to run battleships on half a million gallons of advanced biofuel that cost 12 million dollars, as Secretary Mabus told Congressman Conaway.

MABUS: Actually sir, the additional cost there is so tiny compared to the additional cost of…

CONAWAY: Only in the Department of Defense budget…there’s not another budget on the face of the Earth where $600 million of new money would be considered tiny.

SRISKANDARAJAH: The Department Of Defense is asking for $525 billion. One billion of that is for “energy conservation investments.” That’s two and a half times more than was allocated in 2010.

RORKE: And with a budget increase that extreme, there’s a lot of room to get it wrong.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Catrina Rorke is the director of energy policy at the American Action Forum, a center right D.C. think tank. Rorke attributes the spike to President Obama’s larger energy agenda.

RORKE: The Department of Defense is not insulated from the politically motivated budget decisions that happen elsewhere in government

SRISKANDARAJAH: Rorke isn’t opposed to investment in renewable energy but she says she has a hard time justifying the additional costs, especially when military has to trim elsewhere.

RORKE: Five point one billion in cuts, along with a 600 million increase in renewable energy, seems to really demonstrate that the Pentagon is driving on renewable energy and energy efficiency investments as a new priority that we’re unfamiliar with.

SRISKANDARAJAH: The priority isn’t that new. In 2005, President George W. Bush first required the military to invest in renewable and alternatives under the Energy Policy Act. Within a year, the military became the nation’s biggest buyer of renewable energy.
In the current administration, for Deputy Assistant Secretary of Navy for Energy, Tom Hicks, it’s not about party.

HICKS: My view is when folks become more aware of the progress we’ve made, the real goals of what we’re driving towards, I think it’s a story that works on both sides of the aisle. I really do.

SRISKANDARAJAH: That progress is already being seen with solar panels and smarter batteries in combat today.

HICKS: And not just any part of the theatre but the heaviest part of the fight in the Sangin province in Afghanistan, and what they were able to do was to take out 25-90 percent of the energy in the fort operating base environment. I think one company was able to reduce 700 pounds of batteries that they would’ve brought on their patrols. That to me is the essence of what we’re trying to get at.

SRISKANDARAJAH: The military translates energy conserved into lives saved. In Afghanistan, convoys transport energy more than anything else. For every 50 convoys, one Marine is killed or wounded. In the coming months, Congress will decide if energy conservation is the best way to spend one billion dollars.

For Living on Earth, I’m Ike Sriskandarajah.

Related links:
- Testing biofuels in the Navy’s “Great Green Fleet”
- The White House budget proposal for defense spending
- Rorke’s article: Obama Turns to Pentagon to Finance Green Energy:

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[MUSIC: Spirit Level/Various Artists “Solar Funk” from The Best of Cookin (Ubiquity Records 2000).]

GELLERMAN: Just ahead: Life is just a bowl of cherries, we check out the blossoms. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Jeff Lorber Fusion: “Live Wire” from Galaxy (Heads Up Records 2011).]

How Safe is Your Nuclear Power Plant?

A nuclear power plant. (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, BlatantWorld.com)

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. It’s been nearly a year since the six reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant were hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami tidal waves. Now, a new Japanese study reveals that in the confusion that followed, government officials considered evacuating Tokyo.

After the Japanese disaster, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigated the safety of our reactors. They all passed, but the NRC reports that last year there were 15 significant safety lapses at U.S. nuclear power plants.

The Union of Concerned Scientists studied those safety lapses and the NRC's response to them. David Lochbaum, director of the group's Nuclear Safety Project, says while no one was injured, there were some "near misses."

LOCHBAUM: ‘Near miss’ is our term for the times when an event or discovery at a U.S. nuclear power plant caused the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to send a team out to understand what happened and why. One other aspect of a near miss is that the NRC only sends those teams out when that event or discovery could increase the likelihood of core damage or core meltdown by a factor of ten or more. And last year, there were 15 near misses.

GELLERMAN: So, a near miss is nearly disaster!

LOCHBAUM: Well, it’s a couple steps down a road that nobody wants to get to the destination of.

GELLERMAN: Now, you’ve reviewed these near misses and you’ve said that at least on three occasions, the NRC did a pretty good job.

LOCHBAUM: Yes, the NRC did an extremely good job – the best example would be the Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska where the NRC inspector found that its flooding protection wasn’t good enough, made the owner fix those problems and, just a few months later, the Mississippi River flooded and made that plant an island for a short period of time. So, the NRC’s efforts months earlier made that plant ready for the act of nature it experienced.

GELLERMAN: On the other hand, there’s some very serious incidents, as you say.

LOCHBAUM: It’s a yin and yang or good and bad, as you say. On the other side of the coin, the NRC is tolerating some problems. There’s roughly half of the fleet of U.S. plants don’t meet fire protection regulations. About a quarter of the plants have seismic hazards or earthquake hazards greater than they’re designed to withstand, so we have to do something about the known hazards because they’re going to hurt us someday.

GELLERMAN: Now, when you say they don't meet the fire protection standards, the NRC acknowledges that?

Aerial view of Fort Calhoun Nuclear Reactor marooned during the Missouri River Flood on June 16, 2011. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineer)

LOCHBAUM: Yes, the NRC acknowledges that. They have a list of the 47, we use their list. Those owners have made promises and plans to come into compliance sometime over the next decade or so, but that pace is good as long as they don’t have a fire. It’s bad if they ever experience a fire.

GELLERMAN: What about the earthquake risk? You say that there are 27 plants allowed to operate with seismic protection levels that were inadequate?

LOCHBAUM: Yeah, the NRC has known that since 1996. Last August, August of 2011, the North Anna nuclear plant in Virginia experienced an earthquake larger than it was designed for. That was on the list that the NRC has known about for two decades, that are in that boat. Fortunately, that plant survived an earthquake larger than it was designed for. But we need to reduce our dependence on luck and increase our dependence on skill.

GELLERMAN: Now, one nuclear power company, Entergy, had a particularly bad record last year.

LOCHBAUM: Yeah, Entergy had four of the 15 near misses, far more than their fair share. The NRC looked at those four individually but they didn’t step back to see if there was a corporate hand at play in those problems. You know, is the company not providing enough resources. Do they not establish high enough standards? Or are they just not following through?

But the NRC never asks and answers those questions. So we felt that’s of the things the NRC should do when they see one company having a particularly bad year – connect the dots to see if its just coincidence or if there’s some common theme that’s causing those problems to manifest themselves over and over.

GELLERMAN: One of the plants that Entergy owns actually is not far from where I’m sitting right now. It’s the Pilgrim power plant just south of Boston. Seems to me from reading your report they had a very serious incident.

LOCHBAUM: They and a similar event at the Millstone plant in Connecticut were the two near misses that troubled me the most. What happened at Pilgrim was in April of 2011, they were restarting from a refueling outage, very common activity that’s practiced in control room simulators and in the plant routinely.

An evacuation sign near the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

That day, for some reason, the operators had a very, very bad day. They increased the power level too much, they corrected it by decreasing the power level too much, they overcorrected again and pulled control rods out, increased the power level too much. They eventually got the reactor to the point where its power level was doubling every 20 seconds.

That’s a hundred ton mass of nuclear uranium and plutonium that’s power level is doubling every 20 seconds. At some point, they tilted the machine, basically, and it automatically shut down. What troubles us about that is it’s good that the protective system stepped in and took the operators out of the game and shut the reactor down. But these are the operators who are supposed to protect workers and the public in event of an accident. If they can’t walk and chew gum, we’re not confident that they’re going to be able to run and juggle like they’d need to do to respond as necessary during an accident.

GELLERMAN: Now, the NRC is considering re-licensing Pilgrim. It’s been operating for 40 years, it wants to go on for another 20 years. Does the NRC consider this incident in reviewing the re-licensing application?

LOCHBAUM: The NRC reviewed this event separately from that procedure. The NRC was not happy with the performance at Pilgrim. Basically, they used up their get-out-of- jail-free card. If they do anything like that again in the next year or so they face serious consequences. So, they sent the right message based on what happened, and that seems like it got the company’s attention.

GELLERMAN: Now, as I understand it, 70 of our nuclear reactors have gotten re-licensed for another 20 years. Not a single one has been denied.

LOCHBAUM: That is correct. To be fair to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, while they’ve never denied an application, they have said ‘not yet’ quite frequently, which then requires the plant owners to go back do more homework, commit more measures in order get the NRC’S concurrence at the end of the day. So while they have never denied a petition, they have required plant owners to supplement them extensively to satisfy the NRC.

GELLERMAN: The NRC, I guess, saw your report and they say there’s nothing new here.

LOCHBAUM: Unfortunately, that’s true; those plants have been out of compliance for many, many years. So, what would be new would be to have the NRC make those plants comply with the regulations and, if so, we’ll record that in next year’s report.

GELLERMAN: Well, David Lochbaum, thank you so very much.

LOCHBAUM: Thank you, Bruce. Appreciate it.

GELLERMAN: David Lochbaum is director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Nuclear Safety Project.

Related links:
- The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety 2011 Report: Living on Borrowed Time
- Before and after photos from Fukushima
- Frontline’s story on Fukushima
- Pilgrim Watch

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[MUSIC: “Manu DiBango “Ceddo End Title” from World Psychedelic Classics Vol.3 (Luaka Bop Records 2005).]

Israel Threatens Renewable Energy in West Bank

Shuli in a community that hasn't received yet clean energy. (Photo: Shuli Hartman)

GELLERMAN: Last year, we broadcast a story about the installation of solar panels and wind turbines in Palestinian and Bedouin communities on the West Bank. We have an update but first, this snippet of our original story from reporter Zak Rosen at the village of Tha'le.


ROSEN: This is Jameel Awad. He’s 47 years old and has lived in Tha’le for his entire life. He wears chunky, brown, work boots and a blue kafia on his head.


SHAHAM: He said that with the electricity they will have light and they will have chadada, which is the butter churning, electrical butter churning, and he is saying we’re going to have television and the woman can have a better time and they can rest better.

ROSEN: Before they had electricity, the women here would spend up to three hours manually churning butter with the skin of a goat. But now, they can buy electric butter churners. Saving lots of time and energy.

West Bank villagers depend on herds of sheep and goats; the women milk them and make butter and cheese. (Photo: Shuli Hartman)

GELLERMAN: Well, since we aired that story, the Israeli Government has ordered the villages' solar panels and wind turbines be demolished. Israel administers this part of the West Bank and says residents never got construction permits. Elad Orian founded the group that put up the renewable energy systems. Welcome to Living on Earth.

ORIAN: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: So, did you know that you were building solar and wind turbines in places that it was illegal?

ORIAN: Yes. The short answer would be yes. The way the Israeli occupation forces look at it, the whole community is illegal, although they have been living there well documented at least since the 19th century. So there is not a way for us to have done it.

GELLERMAN: So, you couldn't have applied for a permit?

ORIAN: No. I mean, we could have applied, but the answer would be no.

GELLERMAN: So, how many Palestinians in the West Bank there have you managed to supply with electricity from the solar cells and the wind turbines?

ORIAN: About 1,500.

GELLERMAN: So, all of these many years, these 15 hundred people that you’ve been providing with renewable power, they didn’t have any electricity at all?

ORIAN: Before, most of them did not. Some had diesel generators but mostly they did not have electricity before.

GELLERMAN: Now, the Israeli communities that are there, do they have electricity?

ORIAN: The Israeli settlements in the West Bank are connected to the Israeli grid. Moreover, even illegal settlements, so settlements that are illegal by Israeli standards not by international standards, even these get connected to the Israeli power grid and have, you know, regular electricity.

GELLERMAN: So, do you have any legal recourse?

A simple washing machine powered by renewable energy. (Photo: Shuli Hartman)

ORIAN: Well, you have two populations that live, in some cases, literally meters apart, Palestinian and Israeli citizens, and these two populations are under completely different legal systems. The Israeli settlers, although they are formally outside the state of Israel, are under Israeli civilian law, while the Palestinians who live on their native land are under military law.

GELLERMAN: So, the Israeli government, the military authority that’s in charge of this part of the West Bank, they’ve issued a demolition order. Do you know when they might carry it out, when they might bulldoze the systems?

ORIAN: Unless we are able to postpone it, theoretically the bulldozers can come on Monday, the sixth of March.

GELLERMAN: When the bulldozers come, where will you be?

ORIAN: I’ll be there, that’s for sure. But I really do hope that we’re not going to go that route.

GELLERMAN: What do the Palestinians think of you when you come to them with this type of news?

A family patriarch and his granddaughter. (Photo: Shuli Hartman)

ORIAN: I cannot speak on behalf of all Palestinians, but there is great fear, I mean, in these communities. Can you imagine living without electricity?

GELLERMAN: Elad Orian is the founder of the group Community Energy and Technology in the Middle East. It installed the renewable energy systems in the West Bank.

Israeli anthropologist Shuli Hartman has been living and working in the villages that got the solar panels and wind turbines.

HARTMAN: Let me tell you something. I was there, you know, a few weeks ago and an elderly man, and there was someone there from one of the media and he asked me to ask this man what change did electricity make to your life, and he said, ‘It was like giving water to a sick man.’

Before they had electricity it’s one thing, but after they have it to take it from them, it’s going to be very, very hard. You must realize that these people are very poor and they are just living on the survival sort of level, so first of all saving money, but then in terms of work, daily work, and especially for the women, work that has taken hours has become so much easier.

They used to sit for two hours washing. Now, they work with a machine and they can do some other things at the same time.

GELLERMAN: So, these labor saving devices have changed women and their ability to do work. Has it affected their roles in the family?

HARTMAN: Look, it’s too short a time. You don’t see dramatic changes. But what you do see is that they have more time to be with the children. In the morning, the women are cleaning, yes, but if they are cleaning they are using radio. And sometimes they hear the Qur’an or sometimes they hear music, or sometimes they hear some kind of a program and they are connected to the world.

Small children in the village. (Photo: Shuli Hartman)

I want to give you just two other points. Some of the herds are herded by 14, 13, 15 year old children. These children that when they tell us that they are not interested in studies and so on, when they followed the whole process of installing this clean electricity and they took part in it because they helped, you know, they became really interested in the process. They began to ask me, you know, whether they can get some books, to understand how it works. So, it’s like re-opening a game, the mind of children that already sort of gave up on these kinds of things. You know, I hope people will realize how important this is for this community

GELLERMAN: Isreali social anthropologist Shuli Hartman. We asked the Israeli government about the demolition order. Yigal Palmor from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says the solar panels and wind turbines went up without permits. And he adds that had the West Bank villagers applied for the permits, they probably would have gotten them. The government of Germany, which paid for the systems, has complained to Israel's Prime Minister. And, as of now, the demolition order is suspended.

Related links:
- Community, Energy and Technology in the Middle East
- Remote West Bank Villages Get Renewable Energy

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[MUSIC: Steven Bernstein “It’s A Family Affair” from MTO Plays Sly (Royal Potato Family 2011).]

Cherry Blossom Birthday

Cherry Trees and Jefferson Memorial. (National Cherry Blossom Festival)

GELLERMAN: The cherry trees in Washington D.C. will soon be busting out all over. It was a hundred years ago, back in 1912, that Japan gave the U.S. a small forest worth of cherry trees. A gift from the people of Japan to America. The cherry trees were planted along the Tidal Basin in the nation's capital and their pink and white flowers are a sure sign that spring has sprung.

During the 100th anniversary National Cherry Blossom Festival later this month, more than a million people will stop and smell the flowers and take in the intoxicating sight. For a bit more history and perspective, we turn to Margaret Pooler. She's a plant geneticist with the National Arboretum. Margaret, welcome to Living on Earth.

POOLER: Thank you!

GELLERMAN: So, 100 years. Congratulations!

POOLER: Yeah, pretty amazing, huh?

GELLERMAN: Yeah, it’s incredible. Whose idea was it to plant the trees in the first place?

POOLER: Well, it was kind of a team effort, I think. I give a lot of credit to USDA employee David Fairchild who sort of introduced flowering cherries to the U.S., but really it was first lady Helen Taft who made it happen, who had this vision of transforming Potomac Park into a field of cherries.

GELLERMAN: And the Japanese donated the trees.

POOLER: Definitely, yup.

GELLERMAN: How many trees are there today?

POOLER: Well the original gift it was over 3,000 trees, and so there’s more than that now.

GELLERMAN: Are there any original trees that were planted way back in 1912?

POOLER: Yes, there are. Believe it or not, there are some trees that are celebrating their 100 anniversary of being planted there.

GELLERMAN: I was reading that after Pearl Harbor, when we went to war with Japan, four of the trees were actually cut down.

A Cherry Tree in Washington in full bloom. (National Cherry Blossom Festival)

POOLER: Well, I guess, you know, that’s because they were sort of associated with Japan. I think its kind of interesting how that has evolved, and that now we have all kinds of changes in Washington all the time, but those cherry trees are sort of just this constant. I think people have, sort of, come to depend upon their predictability.

GELLERMAN: Well, how predictable are the buddings and blossomings of the cherry trees?

POOLER: Well, I think, we know that they’re going to bloom. I know a lot of people have talked, especially this year because we’ve had such a warm winter and spring, so people are wondering what’s going to happen to these trees, is this going to have an impact on them? But, interestingly, although we’re kind of confused by the spring, the trees really are not going to really be affected by it other than probably blooming a little earlier than usual.

GELLERMAN: So the fact that this was the fourth warmest February on record won’t confuse the trees?

POOLER: It won’t confuse the trees, believe it or not, because what happens is the trees during the winter, they actually go dormant. But in the spring, the sap starts to move and the bud start to spring and color up, and that’s already going on right now. So, really, they just respond to day length and temperature, and are going to bloom no matter what.

GELERMAN: What’s the earliest do you know that they started blooming?

POOLER: I think the earliest on record for peak bloom was March 15th.

GELLERMAN: So, how long do the blossoms stay?

POOLER: Um, the blooms can last anywhere from a week to two weeks and it depends a lot on the weather. Like if we get a lot of rain and wind they’re going to last a less time.

GELLERMAN: So, do you go out and walk the Tidal Basin when they’re coming up?

POOLER: I do. I try to get down there to see the cherry blossoms. It’s very crowded though, especially at the peak of the bloom, but yeah, I think it’s definitely worthwhile seeing.

GELLERMAN: I know when the blooms come off, it looks like this gentle snowfall.

POOLER: Oh, yeah, it’s beautiful! I’m kind of lucky though. At the Arboretum we also have our own collection of cherries, and they’re different then the Tidal Basin because instead of being mostly one type, we have so many different species and cultivars. We get a longer bloom time; it usually lasts for about a month. And it’s so many different colors and sizes and shapes and forms so it’s beautiful but in a different way than in the Tidal Basin.

GELLERMAN: How many different types of cherry trees are there around the Tidal Basin?

Cherry Trees and Washington Monument. (National Cherry Blossom Festival)

POOLER: Around the Tidal Basin there’s probably two or three prominent varieties ¬– and that’s the Yoshino which is what sort of everyone associates with it. There’s also Kwanzan that has double flowers, and there’s also one called Prunus takesimensis.

GELLERMAN: Do you have a favorite?

POOLER: Um, my favorite is Prunus sargentii, the sargent cherry.

GELLERMAN: And, why’s that?

POOLER: Well, I like it because it’s pretty hardy, it’s vigorous. It has really beautiful single pink flowers. That’s the one I like.

GELLERMAN: Now, these are cherry trees, but no fruit, no cherry.

POOLER: Well, actually, they do – the Yoshino trees around the Tidal Basin do actually set fruit. But you don't see that many fruit because the birds usually take care of it before it even drops to the ground.

GELLERMAN: So, Margaret Pooler, how are you going to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the cherry trees?

POOLER: Well, at the Arboretum we’re going to be doing pollinations to try to create, develop new varieties of flowing cherry trees by making crosses with different species.

GELLERMAN: And, what happens to them?

POOLER: Those we then test and, hopefully, release as new cultivars so we can sort of broaden the genetic base of the flowering cherry trees that are planted in the U.S.

GELLERMAN: Can people buy them?

POOLER: They can. Once we release them, they go out to nursery owners and propagators who then sell it via their retailers.

GELLERMAN: Well, Margaret Pooler, thank you so very much.

POOLER: You’re welcome. Glad to talk with you.

GELLERMAN: Margaret Pooler is a research geneticist with the National Arboretum. And, Margaret? Happy Spring!

POOLER: Thank you, and to you, too!

GELLERMAN: And this just in - according to the National Park's official blossom predictor, peak bloom will be from March 24th .

Related links:
- National Cherry Blossom Festival
- National Parks Service

Back to top

[MUSIC: George Benson “Last Train To Clarksville” from The Shape Of Things To Come (A&M Records 1988).]

GELLERMAN: Coming up: songs to save the forests of Madagascar. 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: George Benson: “Dance” from Body Talk (CTI/Sony Records 2011).]

BirdNote® Navigating by the Earth’s Magnetic Field

A Bobolink in flight. (Photo: © Paul Higgins)

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman.


GELLERMAN: Getting around these days is easy to do. Just tap in your destination on the old GPS, and you're good to go. Migratory birds, on the other hand, have other ways of finding their way, as BirdNote®’s Michael Stein reports.


STEIN: How do birds navigate? They steer by landmarks and by the sun and stars. A keen sense of smell helps some birds chart their course. And, it turns out, migrating birds also find their way by responding to the magnetic field of the earth.


STEIN: These bobolinks we’re hearing orient themselves to Earth’s magnetic north with the help of iron-rich magnetic crystals inside their upper beaks. Homing pigeons also carry these magnetoreceptors, as do robins and other birds.


STEIN: But that’s not the only way birds use the earth’s magnetic field to help them on their way. Light hitting a specific protein in a bird’s eye may trigger a chemical reaction that varies depending on the direction of the earth’s magnetic field. And “birds may actually see Earth’s magnetic field in the form of changing dark areas across one eye.”

Bobolink © Tom Grey.jpg (Photo: © Tom Grey)


STEIN: This sensitivity explains why night-flying birds need to recalibrate their magnetic sense every day by the light of the setting sun. In an experiment in central Illinois, 18 thrushes were fitted with radio transmitters and exposed to a misaligned magnetic field. When released after dark, the birds headed west. Birds not exposed to the false geomagnetic field headed north. On subsequent days, however, the misdirected birds reoriented themselves to follow their true course.


STEIN: I’m Michael Stein.

GELELRMAN: To see some Bobolink photos, point your compass to our website LOE dot org.

Related links:
- Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Bobolink song and calls recorded by D.S.Herr; whinny of American Robin recorded by G.A. Keller; and song of Bobolink recorded by A.A. Allen.
- BirdNote® Navigating by the Earth’s Magnetic Field – New Discoveries was written by Todd Peterson.
- “Masters of Magnetism” Preview. Ed Young. NewScientist. 27 November 2010.
- “The Compass Within” Preview. Davide Castelvecchi, Scientific American. January 2012.

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[MUSIC: Marco Benevento “Fireworks” from Escape Horse (Royal Potato Family 2012)]

Schooling Salmon

Gabby Larsen and Mahala Mrozek check the temperature on the tank every day to make sure it’s 45 degrees. (Katie Campbell, EarthFix)

GELELRMAN: Salmon eggs hatch in rivers and then the fish spend a good part of their lives in the open ocean bulking up and swimming in schools before making the trip back upstream to spawn. But for some small fries, in Seattle, there’s another step in the schooling process when they get a real education and give one, as well. Producer Ashley Ahearn of the public media collaborative EarthFix has our report.

AHEARN: The students at Viewlands Elementary School in northwest Seattle have some interesting guests this winter.

LARSEN: I like coming down here because it’s kind of fun to see how much they’ve grown each day.

AHEARN: Gabby Larsen is in fifth grade. She and her classmate Mahala Mrozek are standing in front of an aquarium in the hallway of their school. At the bottom of the tank, round red salmon eggs clump and cluster together. Soon these eggs will hatch. Mahala describes what happened last year.

Gabby Larsen and Mahala Mrozek take care of the salmon eggs at Viewlands Elementary School in Seattle. (Photo: Katie Campbell, EarthFix)

MROZEK: It was really cool because when you first hatch, they still look like the egg except that their head and tail are out because they still have the sack and they use the food inside of it for their first week or two and then it finally goes away and they start looking like fish.

AHEARN: Viewlands Elementary is one of about 500 schools in Washington involved with the Salmon in Schools program. The program lost state funding late last year but Seattle Public Utilities came up with the money to keep it afloat in 2012.

The eggs in this tank were donated by the Suquamish Tribe. Now, Mahala and Gabby test the water temperature every day to make sure it’s a salmon-friendly 45 degrees. It’s a big responsibility, but in the process they’re learning.

MROZEK: Well, they’re kind of interesting, the way that they go through their lifecycle.

LARSEN: And the salmon, they can go through sea and stuff like that, and then they come back and they lay their eggs exactly where they were born. I think it’s because, maybe because they want their child to grow up to be like them.

Salmon Steward Bill Hagan tends to the salmon tanks at Carkeek Park in Seattle. (Photo: Katie Campbell, EarthFix)

AHEARN: Mahala explains that she and Gabby will watch over the hatchlings until they’re about two inches long.

MROZEK: Because that’s when they’re big enough to start heading down for the ocean for the first time. So we’ll release them when all the other salmon children are also going; that way they’ll be with other salmon and they’ll go into the ocean and then they’ll come back.


HAGAN: Water comes down…


AHEARN: Bill Hagan is a salmon steward at Carkeek Park, right around the corner from Viewlands Elementary. He’s standing next to the large tank where Gabby and Mahala’s juvenile salmon will be held before he releases them into the nearby creek.

Salmon survival rates in urban streams in Puget Sound are low. In some places 80 percent of them die before spawning. Hagan says the salmon that are hatched in schools like Viewlands are not a solution to that problem.

These salmon eggs are cared for by students at Viewlands Elementary School in Seattle. (Photo: Katie Campbell, EarthFix)

HAGAN: I see this program as an educational program. Some say it’s a stock supplement but really, you know, the amount of fish we get back isn’t going to build a big stock here.

AHEARN: Only a handful of those eggs from Viewlands will survive to adulthood once they’re released.


AHEARN: Most weekends you’ll find Hagan walking along Piper’s Creek, here in Carkeek Park. As a salmon steward, his job is to educate visitors about these fish.

HAGAN: I was talking to this group of people at the viewpoint here and I got into my spiel a little bit and all of a sudden this eight/nine year old girl standing alongside me with her mother, she just stepped right in and finished the whole process. And I looked at her and her mother looked at her and her mother said, ‘where did you get that?’ So remember that in school, we had all those fish at school? But she learned that, and she remembered it coming back. And her mother was just as surprised as I was. (LAUGHS)

AHEARN: Next year, Gabby and Mahala will leave elementary school and head into the open waters of middle school. Gabby says ‘who knows? Maybe they’ll see these salmon again someday.’

LARSEN: Maybe when we’re in like, seventh grade we’re going to go, ‘hey that’s that salmon that we raised in fifth grade.’

MROZEK: You wouldn’t really know how to tell though, so you could be pointing at some random salmon and then say ‘I raised that salmon!’


AHEARN: I’m Ashley Ahearn in Seattle.

GELLERMAN: Our story on Salmon in Schools comes to us from the public media collaborative EarthFix.

Related links:
- See Ashley’s story, including a video on the Salmon in Schools project, on the EarthFix website
- Read more about the Salmon in Schools Program

Back to top

[MUSIC: Lou Reed/John Cale “Nobody But You” from Songs For Drella (Warner Bros/Sire Records 1990). Happy Birthday Lou (3/2/1942).]

Music to Help the Forests of Madagascar

Ten percent of the profits from Razia Said's CD go to Reforestation efforts near Masoala National Park. (Photo: Razia Said)

GELLERMAN: Three hundred miles off the southeast coast of Africa is Madagascar. It’s the fourth largest island in the world; smaller than Texas but larger than California. Seventy percent of the plants on Madagascar and 80 percent of the animals are found no place else on Earth. It's biologically rich because it’s remote and has a wide diversity of forest habitats.

But the island nation is economically impoverished and the forest resources are rapidly being removed. In just 20 years, Malagasy forests, equal to the size of Connecticut, have been cut down.

Musician Razia Said is from Madagascar. She’s recorded a CD about the destruction of forests in her homeland. It’s called: Zebu Nation.

Malagasy musician Razia Said (Photo: Razia Said)

SAID: The zebu is a cattle that is very common in Madagascar and means a lot of things for the Malagasy people. The zebu represents the connection between the world of the living and the world of the dead. We eat the zebu, as well. It’s the daily meat of Madagascar, so it has a lot of different layers of meanings.

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Slash and Burn from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011 http://www.raziasaid.com/main.html).]

GELLERMAN: Well, your album is basically an impassioned plea for preserving the forest of Madagascar.

SAID: I realized that there was not much that was done about that. I decided to do something about it, so I decided to write about this environmental, you know, disaster that we’re going through in Madagascar.

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Slash and Burn” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011 http://www.raziasaid.com/main.html).]

SAID: One thing that is going on is slash and burn agriculture. You know, people are burning the forests in order to fertilize the soil, but after three crops, the soil is totally impoverished from its nutrients. At the end it becomes just some soil that is eroded. It’s a huge, huge problem in Madagascar because this is something that people have been doing for generations.

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Slash and Burn” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011 http://www.raziasaid.com/main.html).]

SAID: There’s also the big problem of poverty. We are one of the poorest countries in the world, so it’s very difficult to make people understand something when they have to figure a way to give on a daily basis and how they’re going to feed their children the next day.

Lowland Rainforest in Masoala National Park, Madagascar. (Photo: Frank Vassen)

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Slash and Burn” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011 http://www.raziasaid.com/main.html).]

GELLERMAN: Some of your trees are worth huge amounts of money – you’ve got ebony and rosewood. These are very exotic and very expensive trees.

SAID: Yes, very expensive once it comes out of Madagascar, but actually people are getting it for pretty cheap from Madagascar. So this is, this is the other layer of the big problem in Madagascar which is illegal logging. They’ve cut everything that was outside of national parks and they’re going into national parks.

You know, can you imagine if people go to Yellowstone, and get into the park and just start cutting the trees? People would be totally like outraged here in the States, I’m sure. In Madagascar, I’m trying to make people realize that these trees are worth much more than whatever they’re getting. But then again, you’re facing the same problem, which is they think about what’s happening today and tomorrow but they’re not thinking about much more than that.

GELLERMAN: Is that the reason that you wrote and sang the song on your album ‘Mifohasa’? Did I pronounce and say that correctly?

SAID: Yeah, Mifohasa. Mifohasa, which means wake up!

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Mifohasa” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011 http://www.raziasaid.com/main.html).]

SAID: This is what this song is about: let’s stop cutting this wood because these forests could bring so much more to Madagascar because Madagascar is known for its biodiversity and for its beautiful endemic species, and if we cut these trees, we’ll have no more animals living in them. We’ll have no trees, we’ll just become a desert.

Madagascar is home to 33 different species of Lemur. They are all unique and live nowhere else on earth. (Photo: Frank Vassen)

GELLERMAN: All of your songs have been translated to English in the liner notes and it says ‘Don’t let anyone pretend to have the right to use them to fulfill their own greed.’

SAID: Yes, absolutely.

GELLERMAN: Who are you talking about?

SAID: Specifically now, this case of Gibson, you know about the illegal wood. But it’s not just Gibson, you know…

GELLERMAN: Gibson Guitar?

SAID: Yes, Gibson Guitar.

We have a lot of wood that’d been exported to China and turned into furniture and a lot of people are making a lot of money from this wood. The people in Madagascar are not seeing really much money from this wood. They are getting paid two dollars fifty a day to go get some wood in the middle of national parks that they’re dragging through miles and miles to get them to some port where they leave Madagascar illegally. It’s horrible.

GELLERMAN: We should say, though, that Gibson Guitar Company has said they deny the allegations, that they have anything to do with illegal logging.


GELLERMAN: We have a video of a concert of some Malagasy musicians who held a concert there in support of the rainforest.

SAID: Yes, this is what I did in October, I organized this concert. It was next to the national park of Masoala. People have been going into the park and cutting some trees. The concert attracted about ten thousand people.


SAID: It felt like it was not right to cut that forest. They showed us some wells and they started saying, ‘can you believe there was no more water in these wells; there were cobwebs.’ We tried to explain to them, you know, when you don't have any more forest, this is what happens, you know, it just dries up.

This is on the northeast corner where I come from, of Madagascar. When I grew up I used to walk along that park because my grandfather was doing some agriculture, some coffee, some cloves, in that area. So it’s something that is really, really close to me. And, when I went there… now, I’m getting emotional talking about all of this. When I went there a year ago and I started speaking to people, introducing myself and they remembered my grandfather because, you know, he’s gone since. And they say ‘Oh, my God, you’re the granddaughter of this person,’ and they say, ‘please do something to help us- do something to help us.’

Razia Said in concert (Photo: Razia Said)

GELLERMAN: I want to ask you about this song ‘My Alantsika.’ Did I say that right?

SAID: My Alantsika, My Alantsika.

GELLERMAN: What does that mean?

SAID: It’s nature’s lament, you know, what’s happening to our nature, and if we’re not careful, we’re not going to have anything left for future generations. Nature is begging for help.

GELLERMAN: Can you sing it there? I know that we’re not set up to do this but I just want to hear you sing.

SAID: (LAUGHS) Well, I don’t have any instrument around here but, okay…


[MUSIC: Said: Razia “My Alantsika” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011 http://www.raziasaid.com/main.html).]

SAID: I think that there is something to be done, and we need to do it fast. You know, Malagasy people cannot do it on their own and I will not say it enough: we really need your help.

GELLERMAN: Boy, Razia, thank you so very much.

SAID: Thank you.

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “My Alantsika” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011 http://www.raziasaid.com/main.html).]

GELLERMAN: Razia Said’s CD is Zebu Nation. Some of the profits from sales go to reforesting Madagascar. Our website has more information, LOE dot org.


Related links:
- Razia Said’s Home Page
- Click here for a petition against illegal logging in Madagascar

Back to top


GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Jessica Ilyse Kurn, Ingrid Lobet, and Helen Palmer, 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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