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

April 27, 2012

Air Date: April 27, 2012



Citrus Disease Threatens California Fruit Growers / Ingrid Lobet

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In parts of China, citrus fruit can no long be grown, due to a disease spread by plant lice that kills the trees. That disease has been creeping across the warmer regions of the United States and recently reached California, where it is now striking widespread fear. Ingrid Lobet reports. (06:40)

New FDA Guidelines for Nano Particles

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The Food and Drug Administration has announced new voluntary guidelines for the use of nano technology in food packaging and cosmetics. Dennis Keefe, director of FDA's office of food additive safety, tells host Bruce Gellerman that the guidelines reflect the FDA's best understanding of the emerging technology. (06:05)

Food Deserts: A Mirage or Reality?

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A recent article questions whether food deserts - areas with minimal access to fresh fruits and vegetables - are as pervasive as some policymakers claimed. We recap a 2009 story about an area of Brooklyn where locals grow their own vegetables due to a lack of supermarkets, then host Bruce Gellerman updates talks with food writer and activist Mark Winne to update that story. (09:25)

Scotland's Wind Farms Have Environmental Drawbacks / Peter Shevlin

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Clean energy isn't always green energy. That's the case in Scotland where some wind farms are built on peat bogs. Peat stores a lot of carbon, which is released into the atmosphere when turbines are built. From Radio Deutsche Welle, Peter Shevlin reports how scientists are assessing the environmental benefits and trade-offs of building windfarms on peat. (09:00)

BirdNote® Limpkin, Bird of the Swamp

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Big Cypress Swamp in Florida is home to a wide variety of birds, including the loud and lanky Limpkin. Michael Stein has more. (02:10)

The Art of American Cartography

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A prize-winning map tells the story of the United States as never before. Map-maker Dave Imus spent 6000 hours creating a depiction of America that is much art as it is cartography. He explains to host Bruce Gellerman why it takes a big sheet of paper to understand the beauty and vastness of this country. Then we celebrate National Poetry Month with a poem from Walt Whitman that celebrates America and its varied voices. (13:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Dennis Keefe, Dave Imus, Mark Winne
REPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet, Jessica Ilyse Kurn, Peter Shevlin, Michael Stein, Ike Sriskandarajah


GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International - it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. In just a few years yellow dragon disease has infected millions of citrus trees in Florida and done billions of dollars in damage. Now, the incurable disease has spread to southern California.


VOICEOVER: When you transport a citrus tree, you’re playing a very risky game with all of America’s citrus crop. Imagine lemons trees, orange groves, tangerines, gone forever.

GELLERMAN: Also, an ill wind blows for renewable power in Scotland. Opponents, including the Donald, say plans for wind farms should be fired.

TRUMP: They are so unattractive, so ugly, so noisy and so dangerous that if Scotland does this I think Scotland will be in serious trouble, I think you'll lose your tourism industry to Ireland and lots of other places that are laughing at what Scotland's doing.

GELLERMAN: Those 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.

Citrus Disease Threatens California Fruit Growers

Nymphs of the citrus psyllid, which spreads HLB or yellow dragon disease (American Phytopathological Society)

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville Massachusetts, it’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. An incurable disease that attacks citrus trees has devastated orchards in Florida. Since it was first detected in 1998, more than 70 million orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit trees have been infected, resulting in nearly four billion dollars in damage and the loss of 66 hundred jobs.

The disease, carried by a tiny insect, has since spread to other southern states and now to southern California, where officials are scrambling to protect the state’s precious groves and backyard trees. Living On Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.


LOBET: I’m standing in a tidy, middle class neighborhood in Hacienda Heights, a city in Los Angeles. I’m witnessing something you don’t see every day. Hector Verduzco is sucking insects into a glass vial.


Hector Verduzco of the California Department of Food and Agriculture removes citrus psyllids from a Hacienda Heights lemon tree for DNA analysis
(photo: Ingrid Lobet)

LOBET: Verduzco, who works for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, fixes his gaze on the newest growth on a bushy front yard lemon tree. He sucks a small tube, which pulls a small insect off the branch and into a jar.

GALINDO: Right there happens to be an adult.

LOBET: Tina Galindo spearheads the attack on this insect, the citrus psyllid, in southern California.

GALINDO: So yeah, that is an adult; you can see how small, it's about the size of an aphid. They really like to feed on the new tender growth that is coming out.

LOBET: These insects are all over Los Angeles now. Experts estimate there may be a million of them. The insects are one thing but the real problem is when they spread huanglongbing, also known as HLB or yellow dragon disease, which kills trees slowly. A few weeks ago, for the first time in California, the disease was found. Right near this house in Hacienda Heights, one of Galindo’s crews gathered an insect sample, sent it to the lab, and it came back positive.

GALINDO: It was a lemon. But it had a lot of grafts on it.

LOBET: Did you hear that? She said the infected lemon tree had a lot of grafts on it.

GALINDO: We call it a cocktail tree.

LOBET: It’s not uncommon for people to graft budding branches of tangerine or lime onto say, a lemon tree here. Sometimes neighbors trade branches. The state estimates more than half of residential properties in southern California have citrus trees. But now Galindo says she wants to get the word out that people should keep their buds and shoots to themselves.

GALINDO: For sure you don’t want to be sharing your grafts with other people in the area.

LOBET: What’s at stake is California’s two billion dollar citrus industry. Authorities say people in a quarantine zone where the disease was found should not share fruit and shouldn’t give young trees to each other, either, a message sent in this USDA public service announcement.


VOICEOVER: When you transport a citrus tree, you’re playing a very risky game with the future of all of America’s citrus. Imagine orange groves, tangerines, lemons, gone forever…

LOBET: But that message is tame compared to this one.

[Menacing music]

[VIDEO: The tree eventually dies and there is no cure for the disease…]

LOBET: This video was produced in 2009, when the citrus psyllid and HLB disease had entered Florida. Growers there warned the rest of the country to learn from their misfortune and be more vigilant.

[VIDEO: The Asian citrus psyllid has already spread HLB around Asia, India, parts of the Middle East, Belize, Mexico and south and central America…]

In California, more than half of residential lots have citrus trees. A single case of Citrus Greening disease was found here, in the city of Hacienda Heights. (Ingrid Lobet)

LOBET: To slow the spread of HLB, infected trees are destroyed. Trees that merely have the insect are sprayed with two insecticides, a pyrethrin to kill adults and the neonicotinoid imidacloprid. That gets into the plant’s system and poisons young insects as they feed.

BATKIN: Unfortunately for the organic growers, we do not have an organic certified treatment that works very well.

LOBET: Ted Batkin is president of the Citrus Research Board in Visalia, California. He also happens to be an organic grower.

BATKIN: We have to really kind of step back and say – maybe lose our organic certification for a year or so, in order to get this disease and population in control so we can survive in an organic environment.

LOBET: The alternative, Batkin says, could be much worse.

BATKIN: There are just parts of China and Asia where you just cannot grow citrus.

LOBET: Americans, Batkin says, aren’t yet feeling the full impact of the damage that’s already been done in Florida. But they will, as the supply of fruit and juice dries up.

BATKIN: We are seeing approximately a ten to 15 percent decline per year in tree health. If you kind of look at the statistics of how many oranges have been put into juice production in Florida, there is this kind of continuous decline.

LOBET: The citrus psyllid and the disease have hit Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana, as you can hear in this LSU ag center news report.

[REPORTER: The Asian citrus psyllid has been found in 5 parishes in Louisiana, it can devastate the state’s citrus crop through transmission of a disease.]

LOBET: But so far Arizona, Mississippi and Alabama have only the bugs. They’ve remained disease free.


LOBET: Back in Hacienda Heights with the state inspectors, Dolores Escalante, comes out of her home to talk about her beautiful lemon tree.


VOICEOVER: This tree is from my native land. I’m from Yucatan, in Mexico. Some friends from there brought the seeds for this variety, so we can cook with the right ingredients. All year round it gives us lemons.


LOBET: Watching the state agents whisk away the insects they collected to send to the lab, she seems worried.


VOICEOVER: Just imagine if we have to take out this tree, after all the effort to care for it.

LOBET: And she probably speaks for growers and residents across the warmer parts of the United States where citrus grows. For Living On Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet.

Related links:
- More about HLB or Citrus Greening
- California Citrus Research Board
- California Department of Food and Agriculture Psyllid page

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[MUSIC: Batidos “Just A Dream” from Olajope (Six Degrees 2001)]

New FDA Guidelines for Nano Particles

Cosmetic companies do not need pre-approval from the FDA to use nano particles in their products. (Photo: Retrograde Works)

GELLERMAN: Now, let’s get small, very small - nano size. Nano means billionth. It’s hard to picture but consider this: there are a billion seconds in 32 years. That’s small. But when it comes to making products using nano materials, companies are thinking big. It’s estimated the nano-market could soon be worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year -maybe even a trillion or two.

And while you can’t see nano particles, unless you had an electron microscope, you can already find products that use them: they’re in everything from non-schmear sunscreens and lip-gloss to hi-tech textiles and mobile phones. Recently, the U.S. FDA announced the first voluntary guidelines for companies that want to use nano-particles in their foods, drugs and packaging materials.

Dennis Keefe is Director of the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety. Welcome to the show, Mr. Keefe.

KEEFE: Hello, thanks for having me today

GELLERMAN: So, why voluntary guidelines?

KEEFE: Well, guidance by definition under our system are voluntary. They’re designed to represent the agency’s best thinking on particular issues.

GELLERMAN: What about regulations? Why not make real rules?

KEEFE: Well, if in a specific situation, with a particular nano material, we could indeed develop specific regulations to establish safe conditions of use for nano materials.

GELLERMAN: So, in terms of guidelines, does that have the force of law?

KEEFE: It does not have the force of law, no.

GELLERMAN: So, you’re basically saying to companies is kind of “let us know how these things turn out for you.”

KEEFE: What it’s doing is, under the law, the companies have an obligation to market foods that are safe and including the ingredients that they put into those foods are safe. Now, what this guidance is doing or the intent of it, is to provide manufactures with guidance on what we think they should be considering as they make manufacturing changes.

GELLERMAN: So, let's say I’m a company that produces a food that has a nano particle or incorporates a nano particle in the wrapper, what do I have to do?

KEEFE: Okay, if it’s a brand new ingredient that hasn’t been used in the food supply before, we would encourage them to look at the guidance and consider the points we’ve made in the guidance that they should be looking at, and if they do indeed have questions, they should come in and talk to us, and we can give them guidance and perhaps if they do have concerns about the safety of the ingredient, we would require additional testing.

GELLERMAN: So, what if a company didn’t come and meet with you?

KEEFE: If they didn’t come in and meet with us and we had a safety issue, we would take an enforcement action. This might be a warning letter, depending on the severity of the public health risk, we might seize the product to get it off the market, we might ask for a recall of the product, depending on what our authorities are in terms of the regulated industry.

GELLERMAN: What if you didn’t know if you had a safety issue and this stuff was being sold and used?

KEEFE: What if we didn't know we had a safety issue?

GELLERMAN: Yeah, I mean, it was being used for five, six or seven years and then, you know, all of a sudden, people start developing, you know, nano disease, or...

KEEFE: Well, then we would have an identified safety concern and we would take action.

GELLERMAN: I’m reminded, back many years ago when there were so many chemicals being developed, and the U.S. Government’s attitude towards the explosion of chemicals was, you know, they’re innocent until proven guilty, that the companies could basically produce these things until someone said that they weren’t safe. Is that what’s going on here?

KEEFE: No, actually, under the way the statute is organized, if an ingredient falls under the definition of a food additive or a color additive, they must undergo a pre-market approval and review by the FDA. They can’t just go to market.

GELLERMAN: What about food supplements?

KEEFE: Food supplements, there are new dietary ingredients they are exempt from the legal definition of a food additive. And so, they’re not subject to the pre-market approval authority for food additives.

GELLERMAN: So, how well understood are the health effects of nano-particles.

KEEFE: Well, you know, this is an emerging technology. In addition to this guidance, we have research that the FDA and others are funding to examine the safety of these nano materials. You know, we understand it’s an emerging technology and we have to move slowly on this.

GELLERMAN: If you applied a nano material to your skin, which is your largest organ- I would assume it would go right through, right?

KEEFE: There are tests that have been done to measure, you know, transmission through the skin for cosmetic application and also for drug applications. So there is an assay that has been developed to measure that and that is something that would be looked at under a pre-market approval process.

GELLERMAN: So a manufacture might say: Well, I know what the assay of this test is - but they don’t have the submit the data to you…

KEEFE: Well, if, you know, it is a drug application, they would.

GELLERMAN: But not a food?

KEEFE: Because of the legal authority under for cosmetics we don’t have pre-market approval authority for cosmetics.

GELLERMAN: So, if somebody put a nano particle in a cosmetic they can do that, and they don’t need your seal of approval.

KEEFE: They don’t have to come and get an approval before they go to market, yes. And this is one of the importances of the cosmetic guidance in indicating to industry what we think they should be doing in terms of due diligence to ensure that their products are indeed safe.

GELLERMAN: This nano-biz can get really big, what’s industry’s response been to these two guidelines?

KEEFE: Well, the guidelines are just becoming available on the web.We have a 90-day comment period, and we’ll just have to see what the response will be from the industry.

GELLERMAN: Well, Mr. Keefe, thanks very much!

KEEFE: My pleasure, thank you!

GELERMAN: Dennis Keefe is Director of the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety.

Related links:
- FDA Guidelines for Nano Technology
- Environmental Working Group on Nano Technology in Sunscreens

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MUSIC: Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orch: “Darling Nikki” from MTO Volume 1 (Sunnyside records 2006)]

GELLERMAN: Just ahead: wind power gets bogged down in Scotland. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Duke Ellington: “Who Knows” from Piano Reflections (Blue Note Records reissue 1989).]

Food Deserts: A Mirage or Reality?

Most corner convenience stores sell few fresh fruits and vegetables. (Photo: Flickr CC/bitchcakesny)

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. The term food desert is a popular, convenient way to describe a place that lacks access to fresh fruits and vegetables. But some say the term is too convenient and inaccurate and therein lies a controversy. We’ll have more on that in a bit, but first…

Three years ago we reported on a food desert in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Living on Earth’s Jessica Ilyse Kurn went there to find residents were taking matters and pitchforks into their own hands on a community farm.


KURN: The farm run by the non-profit group Added Value, was literally built from the ground up. Soil was brought in to cover an old abandoned ball field. If you look closely on the outskirts of the rows of onions, lettuce and beets you can still see home plate and the faint white lines that mark the field’s boundaries.

This farm has not only increased the community’s access to fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables, but also has helped change the neighborhood. Before the farm started, residents went through a lot to get fresh food.

KATE: I took two buses or a car service to get food back to Red Hook. Like - you couldn’t even get a quart of milk, or vegetables.

Early growing season at Red Hook Community Farm. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

KURN: Kate and many other Red Hook residents who buy their produce from the farm understand that fresh fruit and vegetables are important for their health. William Lewis is a longtime resident who didn’t like what he found in the neighborhood before the farm.

LEWIS: Well, it was dull, there was nothing you could buy. Not fresh anyway - just regular stores, you know. When the farm came, I just started coming here because I know it’s fresh food, and I like fresh, it’s better for me, it’s better for everyone as a matter of fact, you know?


GELLERMAN: Well, that was the situation in Red Hook Brooklyn, NY in 2009. But a recent front-page article in the New York Times questions whether food deserts are as pervasive a problem as some claim, citing two studies as evidence. But food activist and writer, Mark Winne, is among those who say that food deserts are a very real problem that began in the 1960’s. In our story three years ago he told us that’s when supermarkets and upwardly mobile families left cities for the suburbs.

WINNE: They simply began to walk away from urban America, and these were communities that needed those stores more than others. They were communities that were being challenged by poverty. If you look at the landscape, we see almost no supermarkets, and you’ll also see another characteristic of a food desert, which is a tremendous number of fast food joints.

GELLERMAN: That was food activist Mark Winne in 2009. Now, with the New York Times questioning the extent of food deserts, we called him up for a response. Good to talk to you again, Mr. Winne.

WINNE: Thank you Bruce.

GELLERMAN: So, back in our 2009 story, you say that supermarkets basically walked away from urban America. But in the New York Times article, they cite two studies that say - well no, there are plenty of stores and supermarkets in urban America.

WINNE: Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it, for now! And they did walk away from urban America. However, the good news story is that they are walking back. Some of the places that we would easily have categorized as food deserts ten years ago look like they have been restored, in the sense that there are a number of very good, viable retail food outlets.

GELLERMAN: So, in Dr. Helen Lee’s study, which is cited in the New York Times, Dr. Lee found that they had nearly twice as many fast food restaurants and convenience stories as wealthy ones and they had twice as many corner stores per square mile. But they also found that they had nearly twice as many supermarkets and large-scale grocers per square mile. So you don’t disagree with that?

WINNE: No, I don’t. A lot of my work 25 years ago was in the city of Hartford, Connecticut. And during that time I saw every single supermarket leave the city, and at the same time, we saw this incredible influx of fast food places and convenience stores. So what was a food desert was now becoming a food swamp that I know was one of the terms used in that study.

A food swamp is this environment where it’s very easy to get every manner of fast food - high in fat, high in salt, high in sugar; convenience stores that offer mostly unhealthy foods and, you know, that I think is what the obesity story is at least in part about. It’s not so much about the loss of supermarkets, but the opposite, which is that we have very easy access to so much unhealthy food.

Compare an urban area to a higher end, affluent, suburban area; you will not find the same quantity and the same density of unhealthy food outlets, such as fast food places.

GELLERMAN: Another study cited in the New York Times story was done by Dr. Ronald Sturm for Rand, and he found no relationship between what type of food students said they ate and what they weighed and the type of food within about a mile and a half of their homes.

WINNE: I think that we have, perhaps, overemphasized the availability of good grocery stores, again, places where you can buy lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Just because I can, say, relatively easily get to a good grocery store and buy lots of bananas and apples and broccoli and so forth, it doesn’t mean I’m going to shop there, buy those foods and, perhaps most importantly, know what to do with those foods once I buy them.

A well-stocked grocery store. (Photo: Flickr CC/steve loya)

GELLERMAN: So, the notion of food deserts, for reporters, it’s an easy handle - it telegraphs information very quickly, but it may be oversimplifying what’s going on?

WINNE: Yes, it is. I mean we do oversimplify, however, let's keep one other point in mind here. Hold aside the health issues and let's look at what we might call fairness and justice issues. Again, going back not too many years, you would go into a low income, predominantly minority neighborhood and it would be very hard to find any kind of supermarket or decent grocery store.

And to me, that is a fairness issue. I mean, if I live in an affluent suburb or if I live in most kind of outer-ring suburbs, it’s not that difficult to get to a decent grocery store. I also own a car, it’s easy to do that. If I don’t own a car, which is more prevalent in low, income areas, then I’m relying on public transportation. Public transportation still is not necessarily designed to get me to a decent supermarket.

So, put all these things together, put this sort of typical demographic profile in place, and you see that what we have is not just a health issue, we also have a justice and fairness issue.

GELLERMAN: So, is this a matter, and maybe it's not either or, but of social justice and personal responsibility?

WINNE: It is both. Depending on your political persuasion, you tend to lean more toward the social or more toward the personal or individual. I think society has a responsibility to make sure that people do have similar access, more or less, to healthy food.

But at the same time, we have gone so far in the other direction of eating poorly that we now have to correct that with more individual action: including learning how to cook better, learning how to grow some of our own food, and in fact hold city hall, and state legislatures and our Congress accountable for our food system.

GELLERMAN: And yet the scales, literally and figuratively, are tipping in the opposite direction, that is, we’re getting heavier.

WINNE: We are. What is the leading reason for young people to be excluded from military service? It’s now obesity. Now, I’m a big fan of world peace, but I don't believe becoming too fat to fight is the way to achieve world peace. You know, clearly as a nation we are in deep, deep trouble when it comes to obesity.

Between 20 and 25 percent of our children are now obese, the predictions by the Center for Disease Control are that this will be the first generation in the history of this country to not live as long as its parent’s generation because of obesity and diabetes and other related illnesses. So this could be our biggest public health challenge, and we have to face it, four square, in order to really save this generation of young people.

GELELRMAN: You know, in these economic hard times, they’ve been cutting out athletic programs in schools, long ago they were cutting, you know, home ec.- cooking classes where you could really learn to do something with ingredients!

WINNE: You know, I’m of that age where I went to Shop in eighth grade.


WINNE: And my sisters went to home ec. And then we became a little bit more liberalized and then boys and girls both went to shop and boys and girls both went to home ec. Now we’ve gotten rid of all of them, we can’t hold a hammer, but we also can’t hold a whisk.

We’ve gotten to the point of just losing this basic education around life skills, I would call it, and what is more important than teaching a child how to prepare healthy meals. I believe in the idea of food competency.

I think every child graduating from a public high school in America, should be able to demonstrate a degree of food competency, that they could prepare a number of meals from healthy, unprocessed ingredients. And they should understand the relationship between healthy foods and diet and their long-term quality of life.

GELLERMAN: Mark Winne, thank you so much.

WINNE: Thank you Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Mark Winne is a food activist, and writer. His latest book is, "Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart Cookin' Mamas."

Related links:
- Listen to Jessica Ilyse Kurn’s piece on Food Deserts from 2009.
- Read the New York Times article that spurred the debate.
- Read Helen Lee’s research, one of the studies that spurred the New York Times article, though Lee’s paper does not say that food deserts do not exist.
- Read researcher Mari Gallagher's response to the NYTimes article.
- Visit Mark Winne’s website.
- Listen to a 2010 food desert piece produced by our sister show Planet Harmony.

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[MUSIC: Floratone “Do You Have It” from Floratone II (Savoy Jazz 2012).]

Scotland's Wind Farms Have Environmental Drawbacks

The Hagshaw Hill windfarm in North Lanarkshire. (© Scottish Power)

GELLERMAN: Scotland is the windiest country in Europe and a proposed network of wind farms plays a pivotal role in the country’s energy future. Scotland wants to go all-renewable by 2020. But the plan faces stiff opposition in part from ‘The Donald’.
Billionaire Donald Trump recently testified before Scotland’s parliament, saying proposals to erect wind turbines, on shore and off, would interfere with his new showcase golf resort and play havoc with Scotland’s future.

TRUMP: They are so unattractive, so ugly, so noisy and so dangerous that if Scotland does this I think Scotland will be in serious trouble, I think you'll lose your tourism industry to Ireland and lots of other places that are laughing at what Scotland's doing.

GELLERMAN: And then there are some Scots who oppose building wind turbines - for peat’s sake. Seems putting the turbines on peat bogs which store huge amounts of CO2 could dry the bogs, releasing more climate changing gas into the air than the wind turbines would save.

Reporter Peter Shevlin visited Europe’s largest wind farm in Scotland where they’re testing a new tool to measure peat’s carbon footprint. And he prepared this story for Radio Deutsche Welle.

SHELVIN: With 140 turbines generating up to 322 megawatts of electricity, powering up to 180,000 homes, this, you might think, is clean, green energy at its best. But because this wind farm and many others are built on peatlands, they are not completely free of carbon emissions. Peatland is nature’s way of storing CO2 and disturbing it releases this locked up carbon and kicks off the decomposition of the organic matter.

We are only beginning to understand the development of wind farms on these carbon-rich habitats. Biologist Dr. Simon Drew from Stirling University has been studying how carbon is lost during wind farm construction. And to do this, you have to analyze the water running off the wind farm into surrounding streams.


DREW: So, we’re in a catchment, just outside the Whitelee Wind Farm, that drains it, about 14 miles south of Glasgow. We’ve got a device in the stream here, which is measuring dissolved organic carbon in the water. And it takes those measurements and stores it on the machine.

SHELVIN: So, you’re looking at dissolved organic carbon. For the layman, what does that mean?

DREW: That’s the fraction of carbon, which is produced when peat rots and it is washed out into the stream. In a lot of these upland areas, you’ll see that the water is quite highly colored, it’s dark brown or blackish and it’s that material which gives the water its color.

SHELVIN: Peatland covers roughly 15 percent of the UK and holds about 2,300 megatons of carbon. Losing just five percent of this peatland would be the equivalent of about a year's worth of UK’s CO2 production escaping into the atmosphere. University of Stirling’s River Science expert, Professor Dave Gilvear, was one of the first to discover the carbon impacts of wind farm development, so I drove north of Glasgow to find out more.

GILVEAR: Four or five years ago, at a wind farm site, close to Stirling here, we monitored dissolved organic carbon lost from it and found that the loadings and the concentrations were much higher than controlled catchments and controlled streams on either side, suggesting that the presence of the wind farm was resulting in loss of carbon from the peatlands.

SHELVIN: This early study of four or five years ago, has it helped to plan windfarms now?

GILVEAR: I think it has. We’ve also been monitoring another wind farm down in Ayrshire - we’re not finding the same results there, in that best practice methods of construction are being adhered to. The Brazer Dune site is now seen as sort of poor practice. And hopefully those sorts of construction won’t be happening again.

SHELVIN: This research into the environmental impact of renewable energy means that there needs to be an alternative way to analyze the wider effects of developing these resources. Professor Dave Gilvear:

GILVEAR: I think most people understand what renewable energy is: it’s getting power from the sun, it’s getting power from water, it’s getting power from the wind. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s green in that the construction of a wind farm, the construction of a hydropower station is going to have an environmental impact, so, if you put a dam across a river, for example, and you don’t have a fish pass built into it, it’s going to stop the migration of fish and that’s an environmental impact.

And in that case you would argue that hydropower is not green but it is renewable and so I think that distinction is an important thing to realize when you’re looking at whatever type of energy production it is whether it’s hydro, wind or solar.

SHELVIN: To help quantify the carbon footprint of wind farms a new tool seems to be making a huge different to wind farm developers. The carbon payback calculator gives companies a way to estimate how long it would take for a wind farm to pay back the carbon it released from building it. Dr. Drew gave me the low-down.


DREW: The carbon payback calculator for wind farms on peatland was produced in 2008, and it was a project commissioned by the Scottish government and carried out by a research group at Aberdeen University. In planning and iniating a wind farm, you have all sorts of carbon costs.

You need to produce the turbines and get them in place, and if they’re on peat, you destroy quite a lot of that peat and the carbon that’s in it by creating the roads and digging it all out for the turbine bases and so on. The idea was to get all of those costs and weigh them against the carbon saving produced by the wind farm over the course of its lifetime.

The initial estimates that this group came up with, I think were kind of between three and 30 years. Now the operational lifetime of a wind farm is about 25 years, so potentially, although you have a sort of non-fossil fuel energy source, it’s not carbon neutral if it’s going to be for that long.

They just completed an update for that calculator and refined some of the parameters for it and it’s now believed that most wind farms will be, their payback time will be towards the bottom end of that estimate, so three to five years, probably even a lot less in some cases, depending on how well the site is managed.


SHELVIN: So the calculator has basically said it’s worth having a wind farm.

DREW: In terms of carbon, yeah although you still get people objecting on visual grounds.

SHELVIN: Back on Whitelee wind farm with the turbines piercing 100 meters, you have to make up your own mind about the visual impacts. But the impact on the peatlands is clear, as is the lost carbon.


DREW: There’s different ways that carbon is lost. It’s lost directly when they dig out the peat to put the bases for the turbines in, usually these are concrete bases and they have to remove a large amount of peat to do that.

And that peat gets put in, generally, is put in these features call borrow pits. So the road that we’re walking on is made from rock that’s ground up hardcore and it’d be quarried locally, somewhere. And the quarry that they create to make this road will be backfilled with all the peat from the turbine bases, so a lot of it is just lost directly as peat.

Also, the pads for the cranes that put these huge, these huge turbines in, and there also might be bits of drainage that are put in locally. So there is peat and carbon that’s lost through all these different ways.

SHELVIN: But these different ways in which carbon is lost, what is more important? The preservation of peatland habitat or the ongoing supply of renewable energy through wind power? Professor Dave Gilvear, again:

GILVEAR: I think that wind energy in Scotland is a short-term solution to our renewables obligations and that somewhere down the line, you know, we’ll be moving to offshore energy, for example.

And then we’ll have this sort of environmental legacy of the impact of these wind farms on what was, prior to that, sort of relatively wilderness pristine kind of landscape. So if you take a long-term perspective on it, it’s perhaps not the best idea, but in the short-term, it is meeting our need for renewables.

It’s very difficult if you destroy a peatland to bring it back. There are restoration methods, but they’re never going to bring back a purely, naturally functioning peatland system.

SHELVIN: It seems that there is an environmental tradeoff happening in Scotland. While the impact of development on peatlands is leading to carbon loss, the green energy generated from wind farms means that the country will be less reliant on fossil fuels in the future. Peter Shevlin, Glasgow.


GELLERMAN: Our story on Scotland’s wind farms comes to us by way of Radio Deutsche Welle show: Living Planet.

Related links:
- Calculating carbon savings from wind farms on Scottish peat lands with the Carbon Payback Calculator
- Whitelee Windfarm in Scotland is the UK’s largest windfarm
- Radio Deutsche Welle’s Living Planet

Back to top

[MUSIC: Robert Randolph “Soul Refreshing” from Unclassified (Warner Bros 2003.]

GELLERMAN: Coming up - looking for America and finding it in a new map. 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: Duke Ellington: “Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies” from the New Orleans Suite (Atlantic Records Reissue 2005 ).]

BirdNote® Limpkin, Bird of the Swamp

A Limpkin in flight. (Photo: Tom Grey ©)

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


GELLERMAN: Florida’s Big Cypress Swamp is a vast wetland teeming with life; 'gators, bears, 'coons , rattlers and a lanky bird with a loud call. Here’s Michael Stein of BirdNote®.


STEIN: It’s before dawn on a spring day in the Big Cypress Swamp of Florida. Mist is rising from quiet water into Spanish moss, hanging from the Cypress branches. Suddenly, a startling sound breaks the silence.


STEIN: A male limpkin has awakened! This relatively tall bird, whose dark brown feathers are streaked with white, stretches and calls again.


STEIN: In the distance, a red-shouldered hawk responds.

(Photo: Tom Grey ©)


STEIN: The limpkin hops down from its perch and begins probing the dark water with its long bill. It’s foraging for apple snails, each the size of a golf ball. When it touches a big, round shell, it grabs it quickly and pulls it from the water.

Then, moving to solid ground, the limpkin positions the shell, and using the curved tip of its lower mandible, it scissors loose the operculum, the door that closes the shell, and pulls out the snail. One quick swallow, and it’s on to find the rest of breakfast.


STEIN: By this time, other birds have awakened, and Carolina wrens and white-eyed vireos are declaring their territories.


STEIN: A pig frog adds to the amphibian and avian chorus of the Big Cypress Swamp.


STEIN: I’m Michael Stein.


GELLERMAN: To see some photos of limpkins, flock over to our website L-O- E dot org.

Related links:
- BirdNote® Limpkin, Bird of the Swamp was written by Dennis Paulson.
- Bird sounds and Pig Frog provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Call of Limpkin 2789 recorded by D. McChesney; Red-shouldered Hawk 105335 by G.A. Keller; Carolina Wren by T.A. Parker III; White-eyed Vireo song 73896 by G.A. Keller; Pig Frog 42082 by O. Hewitt.

Back to top


The Art of American Cartography

Imus's award winning map. (Imus Geographics)

[MUSIC: Johnny Cash “I’ve Been Everywhere” from The Legend Of Johnny Cash (Sony Music 2005).]

[CASH: I’ve traveled every road in this here land--I’ve been everywhere man, I’ve been everywhere man…]

GELLERMAN: America stretches from sea to shining sea and then some. By one count a nation of 25,000 villages, towns and cities storied places, all.

[MUSIC CONTINUES: I’ve been to – Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo….]

GELLERMAN: Whoa! America is almost too big for a mere map. There’s a lot of territory and history to chart but cartographer Dave Imus tried his hand and succeeded fabulously. His map: The Essential Geography of the United States of America won best in show from the Cartography and Geographic Information Society.

In a conversation that was literally all over the map, Dave Imus mentioned that it took him two years and 6000 hours to design his award winner.

IMUS: Before I started making this map I surveyed all the other U.S. maps that have been on our walls forever. And my conclusion was it was no wonder that Americans are really very geographically disinterested, because on these maps, there was really very little geography. And so I thought I could do a better job.

GELLERMAN: I love maps. You obviously love maps.

IMUS: (Laughs). Oh, I do!

GELLERMAN: You know, every map basically tells a story or stories, what was the story behind your map?

Dave Imus, and his map. (Imus Geographics)

IMUS: Just trying to capture the basic character of the United States. A map that reflected what a fascinating land this is that we all share, you know, from the Florida Keys to Point Barrow and Honolulu to Portland, Maine (laughs) - there is so much going on in this country that had never been expressed cartographically. And, you know, with maps being the basic tool of geographic understanding, we needed a map like this so that we could understand all this stuff that was going on.


GELLERMAN: I’m going to unfurl your map right here…. It’s big!

IMUS: We have a big country, you know, and if you don't see it large, you don’t get an appreciation for a sweep of it all.


GELLERMAN: I’m going to take my finger and I’m going to just go like that, okay?

IMUS: (Laughs) Okay.

What put Smackover, AR on the map? It could be because it’s home to the oldest traffic light in the south. (Photo: Wikimedia/ Chris Litherland)

GELLERMAN: I landed on Smackover Arkansas, it’s near a place called Hope.

IMUS: Now, you’re expecting me to know a whole bunch about it…I know where Hope is….

GELLERMAN: Now you know where Smackover is, it’s right near it.

IMUS: You know, Bruce, I don’t recall exactly why I put Smackover on the map. I wish I could tell you specifically, but you know there are 10,000 places identified on this map, so I don’t remember everything.

GELLERMAN: Well, a lot about a map is relationships and also serendipity, if you just move over your map, just like a half inch from Smackover, is the Jerome Internment Camp, and right above that is the Rower Internment Camp.

This map from 1681 shows the results of the expeditions of Father Marquette and L. Jolliet (1673) and the Cavelier de la Salle expedition in the Mississipi valley. (Photo: Wikimedia)

IMUS: Right. You know, I wanted to have cultural representations for everybody in this incredibly diverse country that we have. So I have ten or 11 internment camps that were, unfortunately, occupied by thousands of Japanese Americans in World War II, and to a lot of people these are very important landmarks and so I researched them and put them on my map.

GELLERMAN: Yeah, you’ve got Rosa Parks Library in Montgomery, in Birmingham, you’ve got the 16th Street Baptist Church!

IMUS: And in Selma, I have the Edmund Pattis Bridge, and this really forms a Civil Rights Triangle in Alabama, and you can see how this triangle relates to Atlanta, where Martin Luther King came from, and he came down to Montgomery and talks to Rosa Parks about what are we going to do, and they decide that she’s not going to give up her seat on the bus.

And so you can just see where all this stuff happened and then you’re not going to forget that it did happen. You know, I really gained a greater appreciation for civil rights when I made this map, just by seeing the spatial relationships of all this stuff.

GELLERMAN: Yeah, it’s like connecting the dots.

Sidney E. Morse drew this map of the United states in 1823. (Photo: Wikimedia)

IMUS: Exactly! I mean, geography is this tapestry of elements of rivers and roads, and landmarks, cities, forest, mountains, valleys, lakes, on and on and on. And, you know, just taken individually, well so what, it’s just data. But you combine all these things and you’ve created information, you know, information is not information until it is in formation.

GELLERMAN: Yours is the first map, actually, that I’ve seen that has the Deepwater Horizon wreckage.

IMUS: Well, by virtue of the fact that this the only map of the United States that has been made since the Deepwater Horizon sank in the Gulf of Mexico. But I thought that that was apropos, that was one of the worst oil rig disasters ever, and so it’s going to become an iconic place, I think.

GELLERMAN: Now, your map is old school. It’s paper, and it’s artwork. Why didn’t you do something online, then you could put Everywheresville, right?

IMUS: Well, that’s not the point. The point is to flesh out the broad strokes of our country and show how it all works together, which our country sorely needs. Daniel Edleson, the fellow who is the Vice President of Education at National Geographic said that Americans know next to nothing about geography, and he’s right!

And that’s very unfortunate for a lot of reasons, because a geographically illiterate society makes, you know, uniformed political, economic and environmental decisions, and that’s reason enough to want to foster geographic literacy. But to me, as an artist, my main motivation is that noticing and appreciating our surroundings enriches our lives. Just like noticing and appreciating music and other types of visual art.

Samuel Augustus Mitchell’s 1867 map depicts the country in considerable detail with two notable exceptions. Wyoming retains its western panhandle and "Dacotah" is one large state. (photo: Wikimedia)

GELLERMAN: I do notice that you can actually see the Mississippi River bisecting the country, and you know, that’s the border for all these states! Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. And you can actually see the boundary being the geography, the political boundary.

IMUS: It’s actually the first U.S. map that’s had widespread distribution, that you can actually see the Ohio River, which is a gigantic river, where at its confluence with the Mississippi is actually bigger than the Mississippi, that’s my understanding. But you just can’t even hardly find it on most U.S. maps, let alone just see it, see that it forms the boundary for all these states.

GELLERMAN: I’m looking at Alaska, and Dave, I’ve gotta tell you, I found a typo.

IMUS: No way! And you’re telling the whole world about it! Thanks man, okay where is it?

GELLERMAN: Bering Land Bridge. It says NP capital R National Preserve, NPR. If I look at your key it’s NP small r.

IMUS: Oh. Well, I guess you caught me!

IMUS: Well, you know, tens of thousands of eyes have seen this map now, so people have pointed out a few typos and I’m going to correct those in the near future, but most people that have the map will never find them.

GELLERMAN: We should tell listeners that you’re in Eugene, Oregon, at a studio and you’ve got your map there, right?

IMUS: Yeah, yeah I’ve just put it on the floor.

GELLERMAN: Yeah, it’s big! Well, I’ve got mine here. I want to turn your map over, you know, I didn’t realize this until I was unrolling it just now, that you’ve got even more information on the other side!

IMUS: Everything on the map is indexed on the backside. And it’s a great big sheet of paper, and it’s sort of fun to read to. Reading the list of landmarks of the United States…

GELLERMAN: I was just going to say!

IMUS: You know, it’s fun because you’ve heard of all these places all your life, most of these places you sort of know where they are but few of them you know exactly where they are. It’s fun just to read down this list of American landmarks and realize what a rich, cultural country we live in.

GELLERMAN: Well, I’ve never heard of Poverty Point National Monument, or…

IMUS: (Laughs).

GELLERMAN: Or, you know, the Smith River National Recreation Area.


IMUS: Oh you haven’t?

GELLERMAN: No. Or Voyageurs National Park!

IMUS: Well, Voyageurs is in Minnesota, I guarantee everybody in Minnesota has heard of it. And Smith River National Recreation Area is in Northern California, you know, people in that part of California certainly have heard of it. So, you know, that’s part of the criteria.

Dave Imus with one of the many landmarks on the map. (Imus Geographics)

You know, I had never really heard of the Rogueling Bridge in Cincinnati, either, but it’s an incredibly important landmark there, so it’s on the map. This map has the places that haven’t been put on a map before like the Alamo, the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Andreas Fault, the Trans Alaska Pipeline, Iditarod Trail and I’m just pulling these off the top of my head. If you just read down this list and you see all these things, you’ll go: ‘Wow! What a country!’

GELLERMAN: What’s your next adventure? Are you going to make another map? First America, now the World?

IMUS: Well, you know, I’m going the other direction with my interest. I get requests all the time: ‘Hey, when are you going to do a World map?’ And that would be pretty fascinating, but, you know, there’s already a lot of really decent world maps made by American cartographers and European cartographers.

My interest is to form a non-profit organization staffed by the leading cartographers in the United States, for the purpose of making an essential geography map of each state to be distributed free of charge to every social studies teacher, in the United Sates. Honestly, I think if that happened, if we had these geographically expressive maps out there, that might be the catalyst to create interest in geography that would eventually lead to it being taught officially in our schools again. I think that would eventually happen some day.

Dave Imus hopes to make his next Essential Geography map of Wyoming. (photo: Wikimedia)

Right now I have all of the information I would need to make geography maps of Oregon and Alaska because I’ve already made maps of those places, I just have to redesign them. But I’ve really got a strong hankering for some reason to make the essential geography of Wyoming. It’s a place that most Americans know is there, and they know Yellowstone is there, but we don’t really know that much about it. It’s an incredibly beautiful state, a mountainous state, that I would like that one to be first.

[MUSIC: Blossom Dearie: “Rhode Island Is Famous For You” from The Verve Masters Vol 51 (Verve Records 1996).]

[MUSIC: Copper, comes from Arizona. Peaches comes from Georgia and Lobsters come from Maine…]

BRUCE: Well Dave, thank you so very much, I really appreciate it.

IMUS: Yeah Bruce I love talking to you.

[MUSIC CONTINUES: Old Whiskey, comes from Old Kentucky, ain’t the country lucky New Jersey gives us glue?]

GELLERMAN: Who knew? Cartographer Dave Imus - his map is The Essential Geography of the United States of America. Well, minnows come from Minnesota, pencils from Pennsylvania, and poems from Pomaha? As America commemorates National Poetry month, we leave you with this.

MANY VOICES: Ready, read this, I'll direct this - I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman.

The audio collage of Walt Whitman’s I Hear America Singing was recorded in New York City’s Washington Square Park. (Photo: FlickrCC/ Ed Yourdon)

I hear America sing, the very carols I hear,
I hear those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-
hand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to no one else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

[MUSIC: Guitar strumming]

GELLERMAN: “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman, an audio collage produced by Ike Sriskandarajah for the Poetry Foundation’s “Poetry Off the Shelf” series.


Related links:
- Imus Geographics: The Art of Cartography
- The audio collage of I Hear America Singing first appeared on “Poetry Off the Shelf” from the Poetry Foundation

Back to top


GELLERMAN: On the next Living on Earth, a special investigation: the safety of spraying herbicides on Oregon forest.

MAN: We believe that if it's done responsibly and legally, that it does not represent an unreasonable harm.

GELLERMAN: Spraying herbicides and the public’s health in rural Oregon. That's next time on Living on Earth.

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, and Helen Palmer, 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 - @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.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.com. Pax World for Tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER TWO: PRI, Public Radio International.


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