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

April 20, 2012

Air Date: April 20, 2012



Greening The Internet Cloud

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Internet use and the demand for storage in the cloud are soaring. A new report from Greenpeace looks at data storage companies and their energy use. Gary Cook, an IT analyst at Greenpeace, tells host Bruce Gellerman that companies like Apple should be transparent about their energy use and invest more in renewable energy. One company, Akamai, ranks high on energy transparency in Greenpeace’s report. Nicole Peill-Moelter is Akamai’s Director of Sustainability. She says Akamai wants to help other businesses be more efficient but the company knows firsthand that affordable renewable energy is not always available on a large scale. (09:00)

Rooftop Solar Goes Massive

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Plunging solar panel prices and cheap natural gas are putting financial pressure on some players in the solar industry. But the solar installation sector keeps growing and, as Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports, the latest rooftop systems are bigger than ever. (03:30)

Cuts to Environmental Education

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President Obama’s proposed budget would eliminate almost all federal funding for environmental education. Sean Miller, of the Earth Day Network, says this isn’t how he wants to celebrate Earth Day. (01:00)

Revisiting the Gulf Deepwater Disaster

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The well is capped but the Gulf oil disaster is not over. Oil remains in the water and is taking a toll on the ecosystem. Senior National Wildlife Federation biologist Doug Inkley tells host Bruce Gellerman that oily plankton is making dolphins and other marine life sick. Also, the two co-chairs of the National Oil Spill Commission, Florida Senator Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly, grade the progress industry and government have made on making the oil drilling safer. The resulting report card isn’t good. (12:00)

Goldman Prize Winner Caroline Cannon

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Each year, the Goldman Prize honors grassroots environmental activists from around the world. Host Bruce Gellerman talks to the 2012 North American recipient, Caroline Cannon, from the Inupiat community of Point Hope, Alaska. Cannon is fighting to keep Arctic waters safe from offshore oil and gas drilling. (05:15)

Seal Sitters

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Alki Beach is a popular destination for Seattle natives, and it’s also home to some of the region’s seal population. Seal pups are left alone on shore while their mothers search the sea for food, and curious people and dogs endanger the young seals. But a group of concerned neighbors called Seal Sitters have banded together to protect the pups and educate people. Seal Sitter founder Brenda Peterson, author of the children’s book “Leopard and Silkie” and 11 year old volunteer Etienne, spoke with host Bruce Gellerman about their quest to save seal pups. (06:40)

Ugandan Butterflies Indicate Change

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Pepertra Akite is a scientist who studies butterflies at a university in the capital city of Uganda. Since she began studying butterflies as a girl, the landscape of her homeland has changed radically, for butterflies as well as people. Ari Daniel Shapiro reports from Uganda. (05:10)

Celebrating Poetry Month

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This week’s featured poet is Afaa Michael Weaver. His poem “Leaves” was inspired by the garden of a Zen monastery in Taiwan. (03:45)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Gary Cook, Nicole Peill-Moelter, Sean Miller, Doug Inkley, William Reilly, Bob Graham, Caroline Cannon, Brenda Peterson, Afaa Michael Weaver
REPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet


GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Storing digital data in the cloud sucks up energy and casts a giant carbon footprint. But there just might be a green lining to cloud computing.

PEILL-MOELTER: I think it's inevitable that we're marching towards carbon-free energy and it would be nice for the U.S. to take a leadership role in that. I think that might solve our economic woes and certainly our jobs problems.

GELLERMAN: Also, a former U.S. Senator grades the response to the BP oil disaster.

GRAHAM: The Congress has done virtually nothing to implement the recommendations that we made so we gave Congress a D.

GELLERMAN: Meanwhile in the Gulf of Mexico:

INKLEY: Oil is still there, as a matter of fact, oil is oozing out of the marshes as we stepped in it, but most of the information that we need to have about the impacts is being held undercover. It’s not being released.

GELLERMAN: Those stories this week on Living on Earth, stick around!

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

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Greening The Internet Cloud

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, it’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. The exponential growth in digital data: photos, email, videos, corporate, governmental, and personal records have been soaring like a rocket. To keep up with the demand to store, manipulate and manage all those gajillion gigabytes, we’ve increasingly turned to the cloud: vast, often remote sites made up of millions of computer servers that use prodigious amounts of energy.

Now, Greenpeace wants cloud companies to come clean on their energy use and has issued a new report rating how well they do. Greenpeace Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook is author of the study: How Green is your Cloud?

COOK: At a global level our estimates show that the electricity demand of the cloud would rank among countries, it would make it the fifth largest electricity consumer in the world, equivalent to the amount of emissions from airline travel. And what we did our report for was to really try to shine a light on which companies are doing well in terms of powering their platforms with renewable energy and those who maybe aren’t doing quite so well. Because there are lots of claims about how green the cloud is, but we think it’s really important to look at companies and how they’re performing.

GELLERMAN: Well the cloud is also growing very rapidly.

COOK: That’s very true. If these companies, who are some of the most innovative in the world, embrace the challenge to power their platforms with renewable energy, they would be leading the charge for all of us to have clean energy. If they go in the other direction, they can actually be holding us back and making investments that could be extending the life of coal plants and making investments that are going to slow down the transition to renewable energy.

GELLERMAN: Well I’m looking at your scorecard here. So you rate them in terms of their amount of coal and nuclear power they get. Of course, four variables: energy transparency, infrastructure citing, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas mitigation and renewables and advocacies, and none of them do really well. You gave no straight A’s, you didn’t give any straight B’s either, a lot of D’s and F’s.

COOK: That’s true. On the plus side, we have seen significant improvement since we put out a similar report last year. On the downside, we see many companies growing very quickly and building in locations that are going to be largely powered by coal and other sources of dirty energy, so quite a bit of room for improvement.

GELLERMAN: You really take Apple to task, you say that their cloud storage facilities, their new ones in North Carolina, are, you know, really not very clean at all.

COOK: Apple is one of the most innovative and popular companies in the world. They challenge us all to think different. In the past, and what we’ll see in the future is, accept that challenge with regard to its energy use for its cloud. And so, what they need to be doing is demanding better from Duke Energy who has a number of coal plants very close by, that use mountain-top removal coal from Appalachia. And they’re a big customer, they have the ability to demand better, to demand that Duke think different and provide them clean energy.

GELLERMAN: There are of course companies, say, like Amazon, which does all its business, basically, on the cloud, and they say: Hey, we save a lot of trips to the store, you know, digital books – we save trees.

COOK: We view the INC sector as a critical partner in driving a clean energy economy, you know, using video conferencing instead of transportation or do-it-online rather than having to do it in the real world. But it’s important that we get this investment right, because we are going to continue to rely upon it more and more and it’s a significant power demand.

GELLERMAN: So, how green is the Greenpeace cloud?

COOK: So Greenpeace has adopted a global commitment to move its IT services to be powered by green energy as fast as we can, and have been contacting our providers, many of whom are included in the evaluation, we released this week to understand the amount of renewable energy they are using and make sure that we can power, fully power, our cloud services from clean energy.

GELLERMAN: One of the companies that you rate is Akamai. It’s one of the largest cloud service and data delivery companies in the world, and Gary I’m going to speak to Akamai after our conversation, have you got a question for them, because you rank them on this report.

COOK: We gave them one of our few A’s in this evaluation because of their transparency. They have really the only company who is reporting the amount of carbon across their network. Ask them: Are they going to get other companies to do the same?

GELLERMAN: Gary Cook is author of Greenpeace International’s new study: How Green is your Cloud?

GELLERMAN: Well, as mentioned, Akamai is one of the cloud companies ranked in the study. At any given time, up to 30 percent of all internet traffic is carried on Akamai’s cloud computing network.

In Hawaiian, Akamai means clever or smart, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s the only company Greenpeace gave an A for ‘energy transparency.’ It’s the only company that measures the energy used at its cloud data centers, in terms of carbon emissions. Nicole Peill-Moelter is director of environmental sustainability at Akamai. I put Gary Cook’s question to her: What was Akamai doing to get other cloud companies to do the same thing?

PEILL-MOELTER: It's a great question and I think it has to be answered by each company on their own. They have to make their own decisions about how transparent they want to be with their data. Akamai felt that it was important for us to be transparent because we could help other companies understand that metric-ing their energy and carbon emissions is actually a way to make their operations more efficient.

GELLERMAN: But you did get a D in renewables and advocacy.

PEILL-MOELTER: Yes. We own and operate our own servers. We currently have one hundred thousand of them and they reside in seventy-five countries and third-party data centers. We don’t control the operations of those data centers and we don’t have anywhere to cite our own renewable energy. We want to start working with our data center partners to better understand how their operations can become more efficient, because we feel like energy efficiency is probably where we’re going to get the biggest impact. It reduces cost so it’s a natural for businesses to adopt.

GELLERMAN: Well, can’t you choose your data center partners? You’re a big company.

PEILL-MOELTER: We certainly can. But to be honest there aren’t a lot of data center providers out there who use, who actually do on-site renewables, because data centers tend to use megawatts of power and you can’t really put solar panels on a data center to provide even a tiny fraction of that power consumption. So usually what we see is where it’s available, our data partners can purchase the renewable energies off of the grid.

GELLERMAN: Well, I don’t know about the renewables, though, Microsoft is going to get one hundred percent of its energy from renewables in the UK and Ireland. They’ve got new data farms there and Facebook says they’re building one in Sweden. So I guess it is possible.

PEILL-MOELTER: It certainly is possible. Akamai doesn’t have the scale that these other companies that you mentioned do, so we have to sort of work within the business parameters, what’s right for Akamai, and we certainly have to proactively look for those opportunities where they make sense for the business.

GELLERMAN: I was looking at some statistics and one that really caught my eye was this one. It says that by 2020, there’s going to be a fifty-fold increase in data that will be stored in the cloud. That’s mind boggling, you know, talk about clouds, these are storm clouds. How can you handle all of that data and do it in an environmentally conscious, sustainable way? Can it be done?

PEILL-MOELTER: Yes, and I think that that is the question that Greenpeace is asking. You can’t get to carbon neutrality with energy efficiency. What needs to happen is we need to go to less carbon-intensive electricity. What we’re seeing is the states are going to a higher level up of, through the renewable portfolio standards, meaning they have to each want to have a different mix of renewables in its electricity portfolio. In California it’s thirty percent by 2020. Texas and, I believe, Massachusetts have aggressive targets as well. What we’re hoping is that as there’s a bigger patchwork of these targets and standards among the states, at some point the federal government will say ‘We need to standardize on a, at least, a baseline level for renewable energy.’

GELLERMAN: Do I hear you asking for federal regulation?

PEILL-MOELTER: (Laughs). I think I would like to see the federal government take some leadership in this insofar as overall energy policy. What I hear a lot is that businesses are asking for some certainty around what is the price of carbon, what will be my future price of electricity? Then they can adapt their strategies. I think it’s inevitable that we’re marching towards carbon-free energy. I heard recently that it’s a seven trillion dollar industry globally and it’d be nice for the U.S. to take a leadership role in that and get a decent size chunk of that. I think that might solve our economic woes and certainly our jobs problems.

GELLERMAN: So, kind of every cloud has a green lining.

PEILL-MOELTER: Every cloud has a green lining, yes. Green both in dollars and environmental (laughs).

GELLERMAN: Well, Nicole, thank you so very much.

PEILL-MOELTER: Thank you, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Nicole Peill- Moelter is director of environmental sustainability at Akamai. Now, we should note Apple, which scored low in the Greenpeace cloud study, disputes many of the findings about its reliance on coal and nuclear power. Apple plans to build America’s largest privately owned solar facility to power its new cloud computing center in North Carolina. It will be built on-site, on land around the massive building.

Related links:
- Greenpeace Report: How Green is Your Cloud?
- Greenpeace Website
- Akamai Website

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Rooftop Solar Goes Massive

Twenty-five acres and 9 MW of solar panels atop the Gloucester Marine chilling facility at the Port of Philadelphia. Much of the nation’s east coast produce arrives here. (Independence Solar)

GELLERMAN: But solar power has been hit hard by the economic downturn and supply of cheap natural gas. And recently, three of the biggest solar manufacturers have announced large layoffs and cutback production. Still, things are bright, and looking up for one sector of the solar industry: corporate rooftop solar. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.

LOBET: The largest rooftop solar system in North America takes up 25 acres on a warehouse in New Jersey. About 23-football-fields. The size is just really hard to take in.

PELTZMAN: Yeah you would have to be in a helicopter.

LOBET: That’s Keith Peltzman, president of Independence Solar. He was an advisor on the project, which provides electricity for a giant chilling warehouse on the Delaware River.

PELTZMAN: A good deal of the produce that is shipped through the eastern portion of the United States comes in through this facility. There are probably only a handful of buildings in the country that could do a solar installation this large.

LOBET: The panels on the roof are sending their nine megawatts into the building. But if they weren’t, they’d power about fifteen hundred homes. For a while, for the handful of people who own buildings this large, the phones were ringing.

The 4.8 MW system on the Jersey Gardens Mall was the largest business solar array in the country earlier this year until the Gloucester Marine array opened. (Photo: Gerding Edlen )

PELTZMAN: They were being approached by all these Wall Street hedge funds, private equity investors, who said, “Hey let us lease your rooftop from you. We want to put a solar energy system that we pay for on there.” And after the third or fourth meeting the management of the Gloucester Marine Terminal said, “Hey, why is everyone so interested in our roof for this solar energy? If it’s such a great idea, maybe we should consider doing it on our own without these hedge funds.”

LOBET: For the past couple of years, large building owners have been offered fifty to seventy-five thousand dollars a year to lease their roofs. Here’s why: The last Bush administration began a generous tax credit, thirty percent of everything a business spends on solar is subtracted from its taxes. But for this to be attractive, the company must owe taxes. During the recession, businesses weren’t making any money, and weren’t installing solar. To spur the industry, the Obama administration switched the tax credit into cash. The rooftop gold rush was on.

SKELLENGER: And, what happened is that all these new investors came out of the woodwork.

LOBET: Solar developer Christina Skellenger is with the firm Gerding Edlen. She used the government cash incentive for a rooftop project on the Jersey Garden Mall. The mall was the biggest solar project in the country, for about eight weeks in February and March of this year. Why all these records set in New Jersey? The state also has strong paybacks for solar systems.

SKELLENGER: You’re not capped out on a certain system size. You can make it as large as you want. And for Jersey Gardens, we installed as much as we possibly could on the roof. So we maxed out the roof space.

LOBET: But now the government is no longer offering cash for solar, it’s gone back to giving tax credits. So Christina Skellenger says we may not see as many huge commercial systems.

SKELLENGER: It is significantly harder.

LOBET: Investors too aren’t spending as freely on solar projects right now. But the solar energy trend is likely to continue, even if it’s not as hot. About half the states have clean energy policies that encourage it and the price of panels is at an all-time low. For Living on Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet.

Related links:
- Independence Solar put solar on Gloucester Marine
- Gerding Edlen put solar on Jersey Gardens Mall
- Solar production monitoring

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[MUSIC: Cold Blood “Funky On My back” from Sisyphus (Warner Bros. 1970).]

Cuts to Environmental Education

Environmental education programs across the country could be eliminated if the Obama budget passes. (Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory)

GELLERMAN: Recently, the White House held an historic summit on environmental education. But the Administration plans deep cuts in federal enviro ed programs, which takes some of the enthusiasm out of this year’s Earth Day for Sean Miller. He’s executive director of the Earth Day Network and he attended the White House meeting.

Funding for environmental education at the Fox Island Nature Center is threatened under the latest Obama budget proposal. (Photo: Maryland Department of Natural Resources )

MILLER: We were hoping to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day here with many accomplishments. But we got an early Earth Day present, if you will, from the Administration, of proposed budget cuts in a total of close to forty million dollars for environmental education programs at EPA, NOAA, as well as NSF – the National Science Foundation.

GELLERMAN: Earth Day at 42… the years add up but the money for environmental education doesn’t. To hear our interview with Sean Miller, check out our website LOE dot ORG.

[MUSIC: The SoulJazz Orch “The Creator Has A Master Plan” from Freedom No Go Die (Funk Manchu Records 2006).]

GELLERMAN: Just ahead: revisiting the BP oil disaster two years later. A former U.S. senator and ex-head of the EPA issues a report card. Your parents wouldn’t be proud. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

Related links:
- Earthday Network
- Click here to hear the full interview

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[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Zack Brock And The Coffee Achievers: “Resisting The Beast” from Live At The Jazz Factory (Secret Fort Records 2007).]

Revisiting the Gulf Deepwater Disaster

Oil in the Gulf of Mexico. (Jeff Young)

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

[TAPE: NEWSCASTER ONE: Oil from a sunken rig in the Gulf of Mexico has now reached the Louisiana coastline

NEWSCASTER TWO: Well BP says its containment cap system is making some real progress.

NEWSCASTER THREE: The concern is if all the oil in the Gulf isn’t stopped, it could push all the way over to Florida.

GELLERMAN: The BP debacle dumped two hundred million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. Today, two years on, we look back on the disaster and try to assess the environmental impacts so far.

In July 2010, we sent Living on Earth reporter Jeff Young to survey the mess. Oil was still gushing into the Gulf when Jeff set out on a boat about ten miles from the mouth of the Mississippi with National Wildlife Federation biologist Doug Inkley. Jeff spotted an oil slick on the sea.

Doug Inkley of the National Wildlife Federation with oil in the background. (Photo: Jeff Young )

YOUNG: Okay, but nasty as this is, this has got to be better than it was?

INKLEY: Well certainly the situation I’m looking at on the surface appears to be better than it was from what I saw two months ago. It is more degraded. I’m not seeing as much of it. But I’m also not looking underwater. I’m very anxious to see the reports and the science and the reports that come back from NOAA and other government agencies looking at this underwater. I wish you could come back to talk to me in five years and I could say, I was wrong. I hope I’m wrong about the impacts. But I don’t think I am.

YOUNG: Inkley thinks the impact will be big and broad. And he says it’s time to start thinking the same way about recovery: large-scale and long-term.

INKLEY: The ultimate solution to this BP oil spill is to do long-term restoration. You really can’t clean the oil up, as we’ve seen, because it’s floating out here in the Gulf. You really can’t clean up once it’s spilled. If you go into the wetlands you do more harm than good by tromping around in there or using other means to try to get it out of there. Recognizing we can’t go in and clean the oil out of the wetlands, let’s put in place a large program to begin to restore some of these wetland areas.

GELLERMAN: That was Doug Inkley with the National Wildlife Federation in 2010. Well, we decided to check back with Doug earlier than he suggested, to see how the Gulf and wildlife are doing now two years after the disaster.

INKLEY: Oil is still there, as a matter of fact oil was oozing out of the marshes as we stepped in it. So, there’s no question that the oil is still there. The big concern I have right now is that we are seeing evidence from independent scientific studies and a little bit of information released from the federal government’s natural resources damage assessment, but most of the information that we need to have about the impacts is being held undercover. It’s not being released; it’s being considered confidential because of the litigation that’s in process.

GELLERMAN: Well, we do know that certain species have been dramatically affected, I’m thinking of the dolphins in the Gulf. Since the disaster there have been over six hundred stranded dolphins along the coast, and usually there’s just about seventy-five a year.

INKLEY: That’s right, the dolphin strandings are way, way above historic levels. As a matter of fact, the number of months that we have had above-average dolphin strandings is now twenty-six, that’s two and half times as long as ever before, with four times as many dolphins killed. Dolphins are an indicator species because they are at the top of the food chain. In the studies that were released from dolphins in the most heavily oiled areas in Barataria Bay, they’re finding that these dolphins are sick. They have anemia. They have signs of liver disease, they have low blood sugar, their immune systems appear to be compromised. This is not a good sign.

GELLERMAN: What about things like zooplankton? The stuff that’s at the bottom of the food chain, is it hazardous to ingest?

Doug Inkley scooped up oil from Gulf waters. (Photo: Jeff Young )

INKLEY: Well, it may well be. Because what they did find was traces of hazardous materials in these zooplankton and phytoplankton – zooplankton being small animals, phytoplankton being small plants – both of them plankton. And they are at the very base of the food chain. If you go further up the food chain into the killifish, which is a small fish that lives in the marshes along the coast, they have found very strong evidence of physiological changes in these killifish, and then look at the dolphins that eat the fish, we have a problem with them as well.

So there is evidence, what little’s available at the present time, that unfortunately our predictions of just a year or two ago when the oil spill occurred are coming true. I’m not really surprised, because if you look at the Exxon Valdez spill twenty-three years ago, Pacific herring population still has not recovered. So, the Gulf oil spill is not over. We are going to be living with it for quite some time.

GELLERMAN: Well, when our reporter Jeff Young spoke with you in July 2010, the gusher still had not been capped and you were worried about the wetlands back then. What about the long-term restoration of the wetlands, and what’s the condition of the wetlands right now?

INKLEY: Well we are still seeing oil in the wetlands. We know we have additional loss of the wetlands because they are toxic to these wetlands. Some of these areas simply cannot be cleaned up. What we really need to do here, to recover from this Gulf coast oil spill, from this disaster, is to do long-term restoration of the Gulf.

Unfortunately the oil spill is the latest of many assaults that man has inflicted on the Gulf of Mexico’s wetlands and we have lost a tremendous amount of them including some two thousand square miles of wetlands already. Imagine, that’s an area two hundred miles long by ten miles wide of Gulf coast wetlands that have already been lost. And this accelerated it.

GELLERMAN: Well, is there any bright side from this grim news? Is there any species or plant that is doing well?

INKLEY: A bright side on this, that’s a tough one that’s really a hard to come up with an answer for you, Bruce. Because there are so many things that need to be done as a result of this oil spill that have not yet been done. We haven’t dedicated the funds to restoration of the Gulf. We haven’t strengthened the regulations to regulate the oil and gas development in the Gulf. In fact, it continues now with no improvement in them since the accident occurred.

And the wildlife has been affected and we do not yet have a comprehensive Gulf coast restoration program in place. So it’s hard for me to be very pleased with the progress that has been made since the spill began just two years ago. We still have a lot of work to do. We need to get these things done.

GELLERMAN: Doug Inkley is senior wildlife biologist with the National Wildlife Federation. To prevent oil-drilling disasters in the future, President Obama created the National Oil Spill Commission. Heading up the independent commission were William Reilly, chief of the EPA under President George H. W. Bush and Bob Graham, former U.S. senator and ex-governor of Florida.

Their first assessment a year after the spill was a searing evaluation of BP, the oil industry, and the government’s response. Now they’ve issued a new report card and the co-chairmen are feeling a bit more charitable, but only a bit. We start with former EPA Administrator William Reilly

EPA Administrator William K. Reilly served under President George H. W. Bush. (Photo: Wikimedia )

REILLY: We gave industry a C+ and frankly would have given them a higher grade but for the fact that there have been three spills: one in China, one in Brazil, one in the North Sea, within the past year with major companies involved. Other than that, they’ve done a great deal to respond to the recommendations we’ve made.

GELLERMAN: So, Senator, if there were a Macondo BP Oil disaster that happened today, would they be able to respond, industry?

GRAHAM: The grade is incomplete. The industry has set up two entities which are responsible for containing and cleaning up a future event like Macondo. It appears as if those are very solid and will be effective but they’ve never been tested.

Bob Graham (D) served as both a senator and governor of Florida. (Photo: Wikimedia )

GELLERMAN: Mr. Reilly, you were the administrator of the EPA, how would you grade the EPA?

REILLY: Well, the EPA was responsible for a task force that convened with respect to the ecological circumstances of the Gulf and the fines and penalties, which are likely to be very considerable, levied against BP, are dedicated, as we recommended in the commission, eighty percent to ecological restoration. Until we actually see those resources and see them dedicated in the way we proposed, then it’s a little hard to say how that will come out.

But EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson led that group and shares with us the conviction that that’s where that money ought to go, rather than into the federal Treasury, which ordinarily it would go. The government, also particularly the Interior Department, has just reformed itself. A lot of new hires, much better leadership, better quality of engineers, more formation in training and so forth and a lot of new regulations that we think make sense and look like they do respond to the recommendations we’ve made and the findings we’ve concluded.

GELLERMAN: So, the Administration gets what grade?

REILLY: We gave the Administration a B.

GELLERMAN: Well, it’s Congress that doles out the money and it makes the regulations, how have you rated Congress?

GRAHAM: This is Senator Bob Graham. Congress has done some good things. One is the passage in the Senate of the legislation that would allocate eighty percent of the fines to the restoration of the Gulf, the House has not yet taken that legislation up, and second, the Congress has appropriated significantly more resources to the Department of the Interior to carry out its safety responsibilities. But, beyond that, the Congress has done virtually nothing to implement the recommendations that we made. So, to answer your question, we gave Congress a D.

GELLERMAN: A “D.” So in terms of the new drilling in the Gulf, do you feel comfortable that there won’t be an accident on the scale of the BP disaster?

GRAHAM: No, I don’t believe anybody can give you an insurance policy that there won’t be a spill. What we can say is that the chances of such an event are lower and there’s been no drilling within state waters of Florida, nor in the federal waters which are adjacent, and this goes back many years. Now, where there is drilling is off the coast of Cuba. For the first time, Cuba is drilling in its offshore waters. The drill sites are very close to the Gulf Stream, which means that if there were to be an accident, the oil would go into the Gulf Stream and be swept north along the eastern seaboard of the United States. That’s a legitimate concern.

A hearing on the final report from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. (Photo: FlickrCC/Natural Resources Democrats)

GELLERMAN: Is there anything technological, managerial, legislative, social, cultural, that would prevent the continuation of deep drilling in the Gulf of Mexico?

GRAHAM: Yes, and it’s the loss of public confidence that it can be done safely and without endangering the environment and the costal areas. So I think that there is a merger of interests of those who are anxious to increase or maintain U.S. offshore oil and gas production and those who are interested in safety and ability to respond to an accident. Both elements are going to be necessary in order to maintain public confidence in this very important activity, which today is providing an excess of thirty percent of the oil and gas raised throughout the United States.

REILLY: This is William Reilly. I think that’s important, but it’s got to be done with greater rigor, greater care than it has been historically. There was a, I think, a transition that occurred, from shallow water to deep water, which significantly raised the risk and the complexity. In our view, the industry and government together did not adequately adapt to these higher risks with better systems of safety, and it somewhat transformed culture. We believe that now there is evidence, over the last couple of years at least, that is changing. That is a change much to be desired. One hopes that it will be more effective as a result.

GELLERMAN: Mr. Reilly, thank you very much.

REILLY: You’re very welcome.

GELLERMAN: And, Senator Graham, thank you.

GRAHAM: Thank you, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Former Florida Senator Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator William Reilly co-chaired the National Oil Spill Commission.

Related links:
- Deep Water: Recommendations from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (January 2011)
- Oil Spill Commission Action now tracks progress on commission advice
- National Wildlife Federation interactive map of affected areas
- 2010 report “Gulf Oil and Gulf Restoration” by Jeff Young

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[MUSIC: The Band “Up On Cripple Creek (Drum intro)” from The Band (Capitol records Remastered 2000).]

Goldman Prize Winner Caroline Cannon

2012 North America Goldman Prize winner Caroline Cannon.

GELLERMAN: Plans are underway to begin drilling for oil two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. Deep, under the frigid waters, is one of the largest untapped oil reserves in the U.S. Several companies sought drilling rights, but only Shell Oil has federal permission to begin drilling exploratory wells in the Arctic.

That’s because Caroline Cannon made a federal case of it. She sued oil companies that had hoped to drill in the arctic waters and she and her co-plaintiffs won all the lawsuits except the one against Shell. For her efforts, Caroline Cannon is one of this year’s winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize. She lives in the remote village of Point Hope, Alaska, population seven hundred. It’s an Inupiat community trying to balance development and traditional ways.

CANNON: My traditional name is Aqugaq. A-Q-U-G-A-Q, Aqugaq.

GELLERMAN: What’s it mean, Aqugaq?

CANNON: You know most of our names, there’s no meaning. It’s just a name that was given…

GELLERMAN: I’m going to call you Caroline.

CANNON: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Well, tell me about your home, Point Hope.

CANNON: Point Hope has always been a historical site, our old village, but we have the proof that we have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. We have the ice cellars that our ancestors built to store away the whale meat. We have the sod houses that were built before even plywood came by, there were built with whalebones.

We land a whale and it’s a celebration for a whole calendar year. There’s a preparation that starts in March: We get the equipment, the boats, the skin sewing. The whaling starts as we speak; they are probably already out there. I know in Bear, I heard on the Facebook that they are out there whaling.

We have endangered species, the polar bears, the seals, the walrus, the beluga, the fish – bountiful! It’s a blessed place to be and I’m proud to be Tikigaq. That’s the Eskimo name for Point Hope.

GELLERMAN: Well, besides whales in this area, you’ve got a lot of oil and gas, at least that’s what oil and gas companies say, and they want to drill there, and Shell’s planning to do it this summer. Start at least exploring and drilling test wells. What’s your concern about the oil and gas drilling?

Point Hope, Alaska. Population: 700.

CANNON: For one thing, the infrastructure is not there. Look, we’re a unique, small village, and yet sometimes a Medevac can’t even come in. If it’s a life and death situation, we’re not ready for it. But could you image if there was an oil spill? You’re not going to be able to take care of it right then and there.

It took three months to stop the flow from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. When the ice decides to stack up with the power that it has, there’s no stopping it. We cannot, no man can stop it. When mother nature does her thing and the winds are gusting forty to fifty miles an hour, there’s no way, no how.

GELLERMAN: Well, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said that Shell will be operating under, and I’m quoting here: “The strongest of oversight safety requirements and emergency response plans ever established.” He says it’s okay, it’s going to be safe!

CANNON: On a piece of paper it looks good, but are we ready for it? And, I sure hope that they’re not gong to be able to test what ifs in our ocean, because that’s too much at stake, because the Arctic is so precious. We don’t want to be the first to test that out.

GELLERMAN: When you speak to Shell, what do they say? Do they talk to you?

CANNON: Well, I’ve sat with them and they’re saying: ‘Look, this is what’s going to happen, we have the equipment. We’ll have the manpower.’ And you know they’re trying to convince. They’ll say ‘we’ve done the sampling,’ or it’s one thing that they try to demonstrate and say that they’re capable of doing it, but for the actual thing. If they’re going to mess in our backyard, or in our garden as we refer it, they have to have the top of the notch. They have not convinced me yet.

GELLERMAN: Because there are people in the community who don’t agree with you. They want the jobs that the oil and gas drilling will bring.

CANNON: I thought about it, you know, there are two sides of the coin, there are the pros and the cons, and that’s the reality. I think I speak on behalf of my family, my tribe as I refer them, my many grandchildren, and my great grandchildren to come.

GELLERMAN: You know, as I’m imagining, here comes an oil company, they move in a big way, it will transform Point Hope.

CANNON: You know, we’re not ready. When you think about the social impact, we’re not prepared. It’s a scary thought. You know it’s going to be a culture shock, social impact (sighs). I don’t think my people have a clue what this can mean and how it’s going to affect our community in the long run. I’ll tell you one thing, I know that we can move mountains and remove mountains, and I just want to say: One voice can make a big difference. And I just say: I will do what I have to do, and if it’s just educating the world, and if that’s what our creator called me to be, I will be the voice. I’ll continue to, and if I have the prayer and the blessings of my people, I will do what I can.

GELLERMAN: Tell me your native name again, please?

CANNON: Aqugaq.

GELLERMAN: Aqugaq, did I do that right?

CANNON: Aqugaq. Exactly.

GELLERMAN: Well, Aqugaq, thank you so very much.

CANNON: You said it so sweet. Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Caroline Cannon is one of this year’s recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Related link:
Caroline Cannon bio on Goldman Prize website

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[MUSIC: Bert Jansch “Blues For A Green Earth” from the Wildlife Album (Market Square Music 2005).]

GELLERMAN: Coming up, butterflies in Uganda. Not just elusive, but endangered. 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.

[CUT AWAY MUSIC: Lee Ritenour: “Lay It Down” from 6 String Theory (Concord Music 2010) ]

Seal Sitters

Silkie. (Photo: Robin Lindsey)

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


GELLERMAN: A small crowd gathers on Seattle’s Alki Beach. Nearby, a seal pup lies in the sand.

[LITTLE GIRL: Can we go say hi to him Daddy?]

GELLERMAN: Like other mammals, seal pups depend on their moms for food. But while she takes to the sea in search of fish, the pup is left to survive the perils of the shore alone.

That is where Brenda Peterson comes in. She finds and saves seal pups by Seattle’s Salish Seashore. Brenda Peterson is the founder of Seal Sitters and the author of the new children’s book “Leopard and Silkie.” It’s about rescuing seal pups. Brenda Peterson, welcome to Living on Earth.

PETERSON: Thank you, Bruce. Good to be here.

GELLERMAN: So, these marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal [Protection] Act. The federal government protects them, but you say that they’re being threatened.

PETERSON: I think they are needing more protection and it’s because our beaches are really urban at this point. And, though these are urban seals, the pups are not prepared for such activity.

The moms leave the pups after just a few hours sometimes. But when you’re on Alki beach in Seattle, there is so much activity that the mother who leaves the pup at say, 4:00 am when it’s very peaceful, will try to come back to pick up the pup after fishing to nurse the pup, and there are five hundred people on the beach. And if it’s so full of people, their survival goes down.

GELLERMAN: So, basically leave the pups alone!

PETERSON: Yes. The shoreline is a very important place. They spend fifty percent of their time onshore. So we’ve been trained for the past several years by NOAA for marine mammal strandings to look to see if there’s human caused injury, to see if there is a pup on the beach who is injured or starving or not surviving the weaning period. And when we go out on our daily walks, instead of tuning out, we’ve trained people to keep their eyes out for pups.

GELLERMAN: So, this organization that you’ve founded Seal Sitters, basically trains people to help keep pups separated from people.

Etienne and her sister Noemi at Alki Beach. (Photo: Robin Lindsey)

PETERSON: Exactly. The number one predator on the beach is dogs off leash. There are diseases that go back and forth between all of the pups. So we try to protect our own domesticated pups as well as the seal pups. So we saw a need to actually do a kind of daycare on the beach for newborn pups.

GELLERMAN: In your new book “Leopard and Silkie,” about two seal pups, you use a word which I had never come across, it’s ‘allomothering.’ Do I have that correct?

PETERSON: I was hoping you would ask about that.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs.) Well, what’s allomothering?

PETERSON: I came upon this idea that scientists call allomothering, which means nurturing a species that is not your own.

GELLERMAN: So, the people, the volunteers that you train in seal stitting, are allomothers!

PETERSON: They are allomothers and allofathers. We have guys on the beach, we have teenagers, we have grandmothers we have retired people. I call it neighborhood naturalists.

GELLERMAN: I understand that you have one of your young volunteers there: Etienne, are you there?


GELLERMAN: Hi, so you are how old are you, Etienne?

ETIENNE: I just turned eleven.

GELLERMAN: How long have you been doing seal sitting?

ETIENNE: Well, I really started when I was in second grade. The first time I saw a seal pup it was Forté, we named him Forté because he was strong and he had been injured. My family came down to see this pup and when we did we saw Robin Lindsay, a photographer and she told us all about the seal and seal sitters.

Leopard. (Photo: Robin Lindsey)


ETIENNE: A bit later, in second grade, we were doing a project of people who stick their necks out and volunteer to help to make our world better. I decided to do Robin. Ever since then I was part of the Seal Sitters.

GELLERMAN: So you gave a name to one pup, any others?

ETIENNE: I haven’t named one. But there have been some named Pa and Queen Latifah. There’s one named E.T…

GELLERMAN: Have you ever saved a seal pup?

ETIENNE: I haven’t personally. But I have helped to save one by telling people about them and not to hurt them or go near them, don’t disturb them.

GELLERMAN: So, if I was walking down the beach and I had my dog off leash, what would you say to me?

ETIENNE: I would ask you to please put your dog on a leash, so your dog can’t get injured by the seal. Also, his scent could rub off onto the seal, as a human’s could, and then the mother would not have her scent on her pup and then she wouldn’t come back to get him.

GELLERMAN: Oh, really? Has that happened? Have you ever sent that happen?

ETIENNE: I have never seen that happen. But it has happened before. People have poked them with sticks, even gone as far to take them into their bathtubs. Sometimes, they die.

GELLERMAN: You know, Etienne, I’m looking at this book by Brenda, and I’m looking at the pictures and seals are really cute.

ETIENNE: Yes they are!

GELLERMAN: But, would you spend so much of your time and emotional energy saving an animal if it were ugly?

ETIENNE: Well, I would because they’re still an animal. And they’re still a life and they’re still part of our planet.

GELLERMAN: At your age, many kids are thinking about doing babysitting, not seal sitting. Do you think you’re going to get busier with your life and you’re going to stop doing this?

ETIENNE: Well, I am busy right now, but I still try my hardest to be able to do this, too. I want to try to be a seal sitter for as long as I can.

GELLERMAN: What do you think of Brenda’s book, “Leopard and Silkie?”

ETIENNE: I love the book. It’s a great book. It shows how you can help a seal.

GELLERMAN: Well, Brenda, that’s high praise from Etienne!

PETERSON: Out of the mouth of babes. I am so moved whenever I hear the children because they are the future.

GELLERMAN: Well, Brenda, what’s the future of federal funding to save marine mammals? I know the funding is scheduled to be zeroed out.

PETERSON: We’re really alarmed about that, Bruce, because stranding networks such as ours, they are the first responders to anything on the beach that washes up or is stranded. So the stranding networks are the kind of vital resource that shows us the health of our marine systems. And why should we cut funding to the only thing where humans and animals interact successfully and compassionately?

GELLERMAN: Well, Brenda, thank you very much.

PETERSON: Thank you, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: And, Etienne, thank you.

ETIENNE: Thank you for having me.
GELLERMAN: Etienne is a volunteer seal sitter. The organization, based in Seattle, was founded by Brenda Peterson, who’s also author of the new childrens book about saving seal pups “Leopard and Silkie.”

Related links:
- Seal Sitters website
- Brenda Peterson’s website
- Photographer Robin Lindsey’s website
- Leopard and Silkie website

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[MUSIC: Andrew Bird “Masterswarm” from Noble Beast (Wegawam Music 2009).]

Ugandan Butterflies Indicate Change

Perpetra Akite loves butterflies. She’s studying what butterflies reveal about development and climate change in Uganda. (Ari Daniel Shapiro)

GELLERMAN: The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore once wrote “The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has enough time.” But in Uganda, butterflies may be running out of time. The east African country has over twelve hundred species. And as Ari Daniel Shapiro reports, the fate of the butterfly, and ours, are inextricably linked.

AKITE: This is a moths…

SHAPIRO: In her laboratory in Kampala, Uganda, Perpetra Akite pulls open one drawer after another in a tiny cabinet.

AKITE: Female is this yellow.

SHAPIRO: Each drawer contains a burst of butterflies or moths, pinned and preserved. Akite is a PhD student, and we’re at Makerere University. She’s a lepidopterist.


AKITE: Very nice group.

SHAPIRO: And she’s curious about what live butterflies and moths can tell her about the changing environment of Uganda.

AKITE: Oh, do you see uh…

SHAPIRO: Here’s one, a white one. Akite takes me outside. A couple of white Pieridae butterflies dip through the air.

AKITE: So many beautiful butterflies.

SHAPIRO: Akite’s love of butterflies emerged early. She was seven, and growing up in a rural area in northern Uganda.

AKITE: My parents were, you know, farmers. We used to go out in the bushes. And I was good at collecting caterpillars. I kept them something like pets, you know.

SHAPIRO: Even as a child, she wasn’t just appreciating. She was studying. Akite would carry the caterpillars home, along with branches from the tree where she found them. The leaves were a guaranteed food supply. And then she’d watch as they made their cocoons, eventually emerging as butterflies.

AKITE: And my dad, much as he wasn’t a biologist, he encouraged me into having these around.

SHAPIRO: It’s a passion that’s stayed with her.

SHAPIRO: She looks for them on campus on days like today. But she also travels to more remote areas in Uganda to find them.

Abisara neavei is a forest butterfly. (Photo: Perpetra Akite)

AKITE: Yes, I do have one little butterfly, which most times I think is my favorite. It’s a forest butterfly, not so common, called Abisara neavei. It’s white and black, with a tail. It’s this one gentle butterfly and it has this agile flight. I have a picture of it in my Bible. Stays with me all the time.

SHAPIRO: But Akite’s butterfly Abisara neavei, she’s not finding as many of them anymore. In fact, she’s not finding as many butterflies period.

AKITE: The things I saw as a child are no more. Lot of them are not there. I put out my traps, and I used to get probably forty, fifty butterflies in a trap in a night. And now you put it almost same time, and you’re getting ten, you’re getting five. You know, it’s almost not there.

SHAPIRO: Butterfly numbers are down throughout Uganda. But there’s more to it than that. The insects have become a lens through which Akite can see the problems of her whole country. They’re indicator species, indicators of a changing landscape and a changing climate. First of all, there’s the issue of deforestation.

AKITE: When you’re looking at forest, you’re trying to see what proportion of the forest-dependent species are there, because if there’s a good forest, you don’t expect open-country species there. But the fact that they’re there, means it can tell you how much of the forest is getting open.

SHAPIRO: Throughout Uganda, butterflies that live in the forests are really suffering. They’re losing out to those that thrive in the open countryside. Akite has found fewer numbers of butterflies nearly everywhere she looks, and newly cut forests encourage different types of butterflies to replace those that were there before. In the last twenty, twenty-five years, entire swaths of wild space in Uganda have disappeared: savannah, woodlands, swamp.

AKITE: There’s too much housing, building which has come up.

SHAPIRO: Not to mention the growth of agriculture and farming. Climate change has also complicated matters. But not in terms of warmer temperatures.

AKITE: It’s always warm and hot and stuff in tropical area. But rainfall is actually how best to measure climatic change. When you talk to the people, they will tell you how much the rainfall patterns have changed. So it’s almost unpredictable.

SHAPIRO: Butterfly life cycles in the tropics are tied to a particular timing and sequence of wet and dry periods. Unseasonal droughts or heavy rainfalls can hit butterflies hard.

AKITE: It’s a sad thing in a way that there’s conflict between human need and conservation. And that conflict is one that is going to take a long time to resolve. (Sighs.) A very long time to resolve.

SHAPIRO: Akite continues to fight for the butterflies. For instance, she informs developers how they can plan, build, and landscape to protect butterflies and their habitats. She’s taking care of her butterflies just like she did when she was seven. Only now, the stakes are a lot higher.
GELLERMAN: Our story about Ugandan butterflies was reported by Ari Daniel Shapiro for the series “One Species at a Time.” It’s produced by Atlantic Public Media, with support from The Encyclopedia of Life.

Related link:
Check out the Encyclopedia of Life’s One Species at a Time podcast

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[MUSIC: Herbie Hancock “Butterfly” from Flood (Sony Music 1975).]

Celebrating Poetry Month

Poet Afaa Weaver’s poem “Leaves” was inspired by his visit to a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. A plaque with a He Nan inscription hangs from a tree in the garden.

GELLERMAN: In April, we nurture nature with poetry. Today to commemorate National Poetry month, we hear from Afaa Michael Weaver.
WEAVER: Afaa was given to me by a friend from Nigeria. It means oracle, and in the Ebo culture an oracle is someone who, well it translates most correctly as a therapist – someone who can clarify the present for you, but not their future. The Ebo people believe that the future belongs only to divine knowledge, not human.

(Photo: Simmons College)

GELLERMAN: Poetry is often a distillation of a writer’s observations, emotions and experiences. It was a trip to the Far East that inspired Afaa Michael Weaver to pen his poem “Leaves.”

WEAVER: I was in Taiwan on the eastern coast of Taiwan in a Zen monastery and the gates to the monastery are about one hundred fifty yards from the ocean, from the Pacific. And, I was there in the spring of 2005 living there for about five weeks and teaching Tai Chi to the monks, or to the nuns, I should say. It’s a very beautiful place, on the side of the mountain, foliage everywhere, and, a giant statue of Guanina, Goddess of Compassion on the Hill. So I’d take walks through the garden everyday, walking through the flowers and the hedge bushes and under the trees and next to the bamboo and that’s where this poem came from.

[MUSIC: Various Artists “High Mountain And Flowing Water” from Chinese Music (China Recording Company 1999). MUX: excerpt from “Peony Pavillion”]

WEAVER: The music that comes to me for this poem is the music of a traditional Chinese opera.

Lynda Koolish

Leaves: The lines that make you are infinite, but I count them
every day to hear the stories you carry. These are not secrets
but records, things we should know but ignore. If I commit
the sin of tearing you from the tree, I find another world
inside the torn vein, another lifetime of counting the records
of who walked here before, of what lovers lay here
holding each other through wars and starvation.
Some days I stand here until I lose focus and travel,
drifting off out of the moment, too full of it, and my legs
are now like trees, mindless but vigilant, held
into the earth by the rules of debt, what we owe
to nature for trying to tear ourselves away. I drift
and the pleasure of touch comes again, layers of green
in the mountainside a tickling in my palms.
The pleasure is that of being lost here in the crowd
of trunks and pulp, the ground thick with the death of you,
sinking under my feet as I go, touching one and another,
linking myself through until the place where I entered
is gone. When I am afraid, my breath is caught in my throat.
When I am not afraid, I lift both hands up under a bunch
of you to find the way the world felt on the first day.

[MUSIC: Various Artists “High Mountain And Flowing Water” from Chinese Music (China Recording Company 1999)]

GELLERMAN: Poet, playwright and professor Afaa Michael Weaver holds the Alumnae Endowed Chair in English at Simmons College. His poem “Leaves” will be published next year in his book “The Government of Nature.”

Related link:
Afaa Michael Weaver’s website

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[MUSIC: Various Artists “High Mountain And Flowing Water” from Chinese Music (China Recording Company 1999)]

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Jessica Ilyse Kurn, Helen Palmer, and Ike Sriskandarajah, with help from 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 don’t forget our Facebook page – It’s PRI’s Living on Earth. And you can follow us on Twitter – at living on earth… that’s just one word. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening!

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