January 12, 1996
Air Date: January 12, 1996
1996 Presidential Candidates Profile Series: Lamar Alexander/ John Gregory
The Republican former Tennessee Governor's environmental outlook is profiled. Alexander believes states and municipalities, not the Federal Government, should be responsible for environmental planning and regulations. John Gregory of member station WFPL in Lousiville, Kentucky reports. (06:27)
Electric Cars: What's Watt?
Is electric car technology ready for a mass market? Steve Curwood speaks with John Dunlop, the chairman of the California Air Resources Board about California's recent flip-flop on electric auto target dates. (04:37)
Pedi-Cabs: Human Power in New York/ Beth Fertig
Beth Fertig reports on the latest Manhattan fad: bicycle taxicab carriages called Pedicabs, which are now competing for New Yorkers' mass transit dollars. (04:43)
Nature Healing Itself/ Ruth Page
Commentator Ruth Page has words on the wisdom of plants to restore themselves from damage. (03:05)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, tobacco. (01:00)
The Gulf War: Five Years After
Using satellite images, scientists continue to track oil pollution damage to the Persian Gulf region resulting from the war there five years ago. Professor Farouk El-Baz of Boston University speaks with Steve Curwood on recent research findings. (07:16)
Holistic Resource Management: Working on Common Ground/ Sandy Tolan
After years of fighting it out, a small number of ranchers and environmentalists are getting together and talking to work on a mutually agreeable solution to land use. Going back to the way buffalo grazed the land, both sides in this dialogue are working to bring overgrazed earth back to health. Producer Sandy Tolan reports from Arizona. (12:19)
Green in Winter
In this consumer tips segment, Steve Curwood queries writer Hannah Holmes on green ways to deal with cold weather winter concerns from using moth balls to firewoods and snow removal. (05:48)
Copyright 1996 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Ley Garnett, Craig DeSilva, John Gregory, Beth FERTIG, Sandy Tolan GUESTS: John Dunlop, Farouk El Baz, Hannah Holmes
COMMENTATOR: Ruth Page
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. As the New Hampshire primary heats up, candidate Lamar Alexander, the former governor of Tennessee, is warning fellow Republicans that they are ignoring environmental concerns at their peril.
ALEXANDER: I think we'd better be careful as Republicans, in sending off a message that we don't care about these issues. Because I do and I think most Republicans do.
CURWOOD: Also, California has pushed its mandate for the production of electric cars back 5 years to 2003. But the state's top clean air regulator says the overall timetable for zero emission vehicles and cleaner air is still on schedule.
DUNLOP: I liken this to a football analogy, we're first down and goal to go, it's important that we score, but not necessarily on first down.
CURWOOD: We'll have that and more this week on Living on Earth. First the news.
NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. Two apparently conflicting court rulings are having a big impact on logging in the Pacific Northwest. From Oregon Public Radio, Ley Garnett reports.
GARNETT: The Supreme Court rejected a suit from a timber-dependent county in Oregon that wanted to challenge the Federal Government's designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. Nearly 7 million acres in Oregon and Washington fall under protected habitat for the owl, which is on the threatened species list. But the Supreme Court decision may have already been superseded by President Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan, and a US District Judge's ruling may upset that plan because it at least temporarily opens up some of the area to logging. Judge Michael Hogan's opinion says under the new salvage logging law, Congress intended to release all Federal timber sales issued since 1990, even if they were later canceled to protect the spotted owl or endangered salmon. An attorney for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund says the ruling will be appealed, but the Northwest Forest Industry Association says the district court ruling goes a long way towards overcoming cutbacks in logging imposed by President Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan. For Living on Earth, I'm Ley Garnett in Portland.
NUNLEY: In other action the Supreme Court has refused to order the Federal Government to resume a study on the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The court, without comment, turned down arguments by Vietnam veterans and the American Legion that the Congressional study was wrongly canceled in 1988. The court also ordered American Cyanamid to pay more than $300,000 in attorney's fees to Wisconsin farmers whose crops were damaged by one of its herbicides. Gordon Farms sued the chemical company in 1990, saying the herbicide scepter had damaged its 1988 and 1989 corn crops.
Children who eat less fat may absorb less lead. In a study of nearly 300 inner city children up to 3 years old, researchers found children with high levels of fat in their diets were more likely to have dangerous levels of lead in their blood. Some nutrients are known to affect the rate at which the body absorbs lead, which can retard youngsters' development, lower their IQs and damage their hearing. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, also found that higher levels of calories, not just fat, were associated with higher lead absorption. Federal health officials recommend no restriction on fats for children under 2 because it might harm their growth.
The shutdown of the Federal Government has had far-reaching environmental impacts. In addition to halting all Superfund cleanups and compliance inspections, the shutdown has also been blamed for the deaths of 9 extremely rare Hawaiian geese. Craig DeSilva of Hawaii Public Radio reports.
DeSILVA: Because of the Federal Government shutdown, Volcano National Park on the big island of Hawaii was closed during December 18th to January 6th. While it was disappointing to visitors, it was a serious danger for the 100 or so Nene, or Hawaiian geese, that live in the park. That's about one third of the world's total wild population of the state bird. The park was closed during the geese's peak breeding season. During that time, park officials and volunteers usually trap feral cats and other predators near the nesting areas. But the shutdown halted the trapping, and when rangers reopened the park last week there was no sign of 9 goslings hatched by several breeding pairs of Nene. A park biologist said that even though the workers were considered non-essential by the government, they were essential for the geese. If another government shutdown occur, she says she will make sure her staff is considered essential workers so more geese are not lost. For Living on Earth, this is Craig DeSilva in Honolulu, Hawaii.
NUNLEY: A program to reintroduce the gray wolf back to the US will continue for a second year. The Fish and Wildlife Service says it will bring 30 more wolves from British Columbia later this month. Last year wolves were reintroduced to the wilds of Idaho and Yellowstone National Park after a 60-year absence. Biologists say the wolves are doing well and pups have been born. Ranchers have challenged the program in court, arguing that the presence of wolves is a danger to livestock. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say they have briefed a Federal Judge in Wyoming about this year's plans and don't expect any problems.
A quantity of deadly nerve gas has leaked from 5 aging chemical weapons in a Utah storage facility. An Army news release says the nerve agent G-B, also known as Sarin, leaked from rockets at the Tooele Army Depot in Utah. The leaks were discovered during routine monitoring inspections. A spokesman says the missiles will be sealed in special containers and moved to separate filtered storage bunkers. The statement says there's no danger to the public, employees, or the environment. Sarin is extremely lethal; it is the same type of gas that killed 12 people and sickened more than 3,000 in Tokyo subways last year.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As the New Hampshire presidential primary approaches, the budget battles in Washington have kept the limelight on Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. Pundits say the senator is virtually unstoppable in his drive for the Republican nomination. But the other contenders still hope to convince voters otherwise. Former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander has been leading the pack of second-tier candidates since November, when he finished right behind Senators Dole and Phil Gramm in Florida's straw poll. Governor Alexander was also Secretary of Education under President Bush. On many issues, including the environment, the governor favors taking powers and responsibilities, traditionally held by the Federal Government, and returning them to state and local authorities. In our continuing series on the 1996 presidential hopefuls, producer John Gregory has this profile of Lamar Alexander.
GREGORY: Even though environmental concerns still get high ratings in national opinion polls, it's difficult to find Republican or Democratic candidates who will talk about the environment. Lamar Alexander is somewhat different. He recently chided his fellow Republicans for missing an opportunity to take the high ground on these issues.
ALEXANDER: I think we'd better be careful as Republicans in sending off a message that we don't care about these issues. Because I do and I think most Republicans do.
GREGORY: Alexander was born into a strongly Republican family in Maryville, Tennessee, a small town at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains. By the time he was 30, he had already served as a Congressional and White House aide. He returned to this roots, though, to win his first term as Governor of Tennessee in 1978. Alexander donned his trademark red and black checked flannel shirt and campaigned as the common man.
TIDWELL: Lamar was an excellent governor, and he was very, very good for the environment in Tennessee for his 8 years.
GREGORY: Ann Tidwell, a Republican and long-time environmentalist in Nashville, served on the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board during Alexander's administration. She says he strongly supported the board's efforts to address pollution problems and wetlands protection.
TIDWELL: He appointed people who were dedicated to the environment and then he let them make decisions in their field.
GREGORY: Alexander says his goal during those years was to balance economic development and environmental preservation. He opposed a Department of Energy plan to build a nuclear fuel storage facility in the state, and he fought the Tennessee Valley Authority on a proposal to restrict the flow of one of the state's scenic rivers. Former State Commissioner of Conservation Charles Howell says Alexander tackled surface mining problems in Tennessee's eastern coal fields and soil erosion in the western farmlands. Howell now works as a fundraiser for Alexander's presidential campaign.
HOWELL: One of the early things he did was develop what we called the Safe Growth Team, the Safe Growth Plan.
GREGORY: The team was Tennessee's first formal effort to coordinate economic and environmental concerns. A committee of citizens and state officials developed a plan to address existing issues and anticipate problems that industrial growth might create.
HOWELL: We developed this natural and cultural areas acquisition program. We developed the Natural Resources Trust Fund, developed a wetlands inventory...
GREGORY: Some local environmentalists criticize the Safe Growth Team for generating more visibility for Alexander on environmental issues than it did actual solutions. But overall, his administration gets above average marks from many Tennessee environmentalists, including Bill Terry, Legislative Chairman for the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club.
TERRY: I think he would deserve a B or a B-plus. I think his positive record was more on the side of land conservation and probably a little bit less on the side of the regulatory environment.
GREGORY: Which is only natural, says Republican environmental activist Ann Tidwell.
TIDWELL: Many of his backers are business people. And he certainly doesn't want the kind of regulation that is unreasonable and strangles people.
GREGORY: This kind of flexible approach to environmental protection is exemplified in Alexander's opinion of the Endangered Species Act, which as he puts it has gotten silly in the hands of liberal extremist groups. He cites an example from his home state in which a $110-million dam was delayed in the 1970s because of an endangered fish, the snail darter.
ALEXANDER: Turns out the snail darter is a minnow, of which we have about 3 million in Tennessee. So it was the wrong use of a good law.
GREGORY: In 1985, near the end of his second term as Governor, Alexander was appointed chairman of President Reagan's Special Commission on Americans Outdoors. This bipartisan group produced a report calling for strong environmental laws, supportive biological diversity and endangered species, and the establishment of a trust fund for recreational land acquisition and development. The recommendations were largely ignored by the Reagan Administration. Alexander's next presidential appointment was as Secretary of Education in the Bush Administration. Alexander now says he would abolish the Department of Education. He says the lesson he's learned in Washington and as governor of Tennessee is that individuals know what to do better than the Federal Government does. This philosophy of new Federalism is the core of Alexander's campaign platform, including his approach to the environment. He says there should be strong Federal controls for clean air and water and toxic wastes, but that Washington is too strict in some of its regulatory policies.
ALEXANDER: I'm not proposing that we make the national standards different. I'm just saying that we give states and local communities the opportunity to come up with their own ways of meeting those standards.
GREGORY: But Bill Terry of the Tennessee Sierra Club says that states historically have been lax on environmental protection. He says the Alexander approach is good --
TERRY: As long as the standards are observed and as long as the Federal Government would have the necessary authority to step in and correct the problem when the state doesn't do it.
GREGORY: Terry and other environmentalists in Tennessee say that given his record on conservation issues, they hope Alexander will provide a moderating influence on the anti-environment sentiment in Congress. It's a role that Alexander himself seems eager to play.
ALEXANDER: As president, what I would do is work with Senator Dole and Speaker Gingrich and develop a Republican approach toward conservation that emphasizes our support for clean air, clean water, and the great American outdoors.
GREGORY: Former Tennessee Governor, and Republican presidential candidate Lamar Alexander. For Living on Earth, I'm John Gregory.
CURWOOD: As Living on Earth continues its coverage of the presidential elections, we need your help. Please tell us what environmental question you would ask one or more of the candidates. Again, what one environmental question would you ask the candidates? And please tell us why. Call us right now at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try our e-mail address. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Please include a daytime telephone number so we can contact you if we want to put your question and comments on the air. Transcripts and tapes of the program are $12.
A new California road map for electric cars is just ahead on Living on Earth. Stick around.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's been stop and go on the road to bringing electric cars to US consumers recently. General Motors announced this month that it'll start selling an electric vehicle in smoggy Los Angeles and 3 other southwestern cities later this year. GM says its EV-1 will travel 90 miles on a full charge, have a top speed of 80 miles an hour, and price tag in the mid-30s. Chrysler and Ford have also unveiled electric vehicles of their own. So it may seem curious that at the same time California has declared it is dropping its regulation that major carmakers produce some 20,000 electric vehicles starting in 1998. It was that mandate that had prodded Detroit and Tokyo to put their electric car R&D operations into high gear in the first place, but now California says that the technology hasn't come far enough, fast enough, or become cheap enough to attract more than a few avid buyers. The state does plan to keep a mandate to sell 10% electric vehicles by the year 2003. The decision came despite the finding of a state technical review panel that some commercially viable battery technologies should be available by the year 2000, and critics have accused the state of selling out to automakers and the oil industry. But John Dunlop, who chairs the California Air Resources Board, says the board made a practical decision in the face of tremendous lobbying pressure.
DUNLOP: Well I can tell you that I've been chairman of this board for a year and there hasn't been an issue that has gotten as much attention as the zero emission vehicle.
CURWOOD: I bet not.
DUNLOP: On both sides you have the environmental community who has been very supportive of this program. You've had obviously the automotive industry have had a lot to say about technology and production capacity and we've done a technology evaluation and a market assessment, and that is what's driven the action of the board. Not politics, not lobbying, not campaigns.
CURWOOD: Now, your board's decision has been criticized as a step back in terms of implementing antipollution and safety standards. Is that a fair description?
DUNLOP: I believe it's an unfair characterization. We -- see, the point we've been trying to make in California is this. We cannot achieve the Federal and state clean air standards without zero emission vehicles. We need them to be wildly successful in California, make no mistake about that. So for anybody to suggest that we don't want these vehicles as soon as we can get them is just misstating the issue. We need them and want them to work.
CURWOOD: So tell me why the wait until 2003 to set the sales quotas?
DUNLOP: Well, first of all, the battery technology, we're talking about a mid-term battery that would be available in the year 2000 and 2001 time frame. That is not the battery, for example, that will allow a ZEV, a zero-emission vehicle, to compete, range-wise, with the internal combustion engine. We won't realize that battery technology until after the year 2002. So, what we have now is a target of 2% in the year 1998 that we would ask auto makers to meet. That ramps up, in the year 2001, to 5% and 2003, 10%.
CURWOOD: That target hasn't changed.
DUNLOP: No, it hasn't.
CURWOOD: The original rules that you had, you were going to have 10% in the year 2003, and you're sticking with the 2003.
DUNLOP: That's correct.
CURWOOD: But you're just not requiring the implementation of that 2% in 1998.
DUNLOP: Well actually what we're doing, right now, is we're putting together agreements, binding contracts, with the 7 automakers that would be subject to this program. And we're going to have a technology development partnership element as part of that. We're going to have an early introduction of these lead acid battery powered vehicles. You'll see some. Our numbers tell us you'll have something like 5,000 vehicles offered for sale in 1996 and '97, in advance of any mandate. The auto makers would agree to bring forward what they call a 49-state car, a low emission vehicle standard nationwide, which would benefit California and the rest of the nation some 3 years earlier. So these changes that we're talking about would do nothing but ensure a more successful launch of zero emission vehicles in California and ensure that we get emissions reductions on schedule or earlier.
CURWOOD: John Dunlop is Chairman of the California Air Resources Board. He spoke with us from his office in Sacramento.
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CURWOOD: Electric cars will certainly help clean up city air but they still use electricity that comes from a power plant, and odds are that plant is causing some kind of environmental problem. Muscle power, on the other hand, couldn't be more natural for the ecosystem. But what about those of us who can't walk or bike or prefer not to? Just wait. New York City is leading the way in this country for sinew-powered transportation. No, it's not a return of the horse. It's the pedi-cab. Beth Fertig of member station WNYC reports on this latest human-powered vehicle, set to hit the streets of Manhattan this spring.
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FERTIG: It's evening rush hour in New York. Buses and cabs are whizzing by and the streets are filled with people. But while everyone seems to be in a hurry, they can't help but stare at the bright green vehicle parked at an intersection in Greenwich Village. It's called a pedi-cab, a tiny carriage attached to the frame of a bicycle.
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FERTIG: Its driver, Steve Hopkins, rings his bell to attract a passenger. He says a lot of people don't know what to make of the strange little cab, which resembles a rickshaw.
HOPKINS: It's very serendipitous; out of a crowd you can see somebody looking at you and you just kind of ignore them but ding your bell and look back, and they're smiling and it takes them a few minutes to make up their mind./blockquote>
FERTIG: Within a few minutes an adventurous couple approaches to ask about the fare. Fifty cents a minute, they're told, about the same price as a taxi. Enid Hunter and Maurice Soca think it over, and then Enid says all right. She's seen the pedi-cabs before.
HUNTER: I think it's funny, I don't know. I've seen them a lot in the city my first time, and we're going to see. It should be interesting.
(A bell dings.)
FERTIG: Entrepreneur George Bliss is hoping a lot more New Yorkers will find his pedi-cabs interesting. The founder of Pedi-Cabs of New York bought a fleet of 20 vehicles. Six are now on a trial run. These bike-drawn covered carriages seat 2 people. They've appeared on the West Coast and in Hawaii, but Bliss says they've never been used in New York.
BLISS: This is a mystery to me. We've got the flat terrain, we've got all of this tourism year round. Really needed transportation options for people. We've got terrible air pollution and congestion problems. And this seems to address a lot of those potentials, you know, that tourists would use this, commuters might use this.
FERTIG: Bliss, who designs tricycles and cargo bikes, invested $50,000 in his new business. He plans to build more pedi-cabs and sell them in other East Coast cities. It took him a year and a half to get insurance; the 5-speed bikes and carriages are equipped with hydraulic disc brakes, shock absorbers, and lights powered by a battery. In a fast-paced city like New York, pedi-cabs might not seem like the quickest or most modern way to get around, but Bliss notes that the average automobile speed in midtown traffic is only 7 miles per hour, about the same as his pedi-cabs.
BLISS: Some people have said this is like a throwback to a bygone age, you know, sort of Victorian elegance and so forth. And we're aware of that. But our emphasis is really the future. You know, we think that with 90% of taxi fares being 1 or 2 passenger fares, and taxis cruising empty half the time, is an enormous amount of inefficiency.
FERTIG: Which is part of the reason why environmentalists are cheering the new pedi-cabs. Jesse Kalb, who runs the bicycle program at Transportation Alternatives, says they'll be a great addition to the city's mass transit scheme.
KALB: The more human-powered transportation, the better. I think we need less cars, we need fewer cars, on the streets. And if this induces someone to take a bike rather than take a cab somewhere or drive their car somewhere then yeah, it is needed.
(A bell dings in heavy traffic.)
FERTIG: Back in Greenwich Village, Maurice and Enid are enjoying their ride, though the cab jostles a little over some potholes and the air is cold.
(A bell dings.)
FERTIG: As the pedi-cab winds its way through narrow streets lined with brownstones, Enid says the ride is kind of romantic.
HUNTER: I love it.
FERTIG: What's it feel like riding in it?
HUNTER: Very, it feels like going to Central Park in the horse and buggy, same thing. Romantic. It's cold winter, though, never had this in the winter before.
(A bell dings.)
FERTIG: So Enid and Maurice bundle up and ride into the night. It may not be the best time of year for an outdoor trip, but come the spring a fleet of pedi-cabs will be ready and waiting for other adventurous New Yorkers. For Living on Earth, I'm Beth Fertig in New York City.
(A bell dings in traffic; horns blare.)
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CURWOOD: As we all learned in science class, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Nowhere is that more evident than in what we like to think of as technological progress. New technology often leads to unanticipated ecological damage, which leads to a seemingly endless effort to repair that damage. But as Living on Earth commentator Ruth Page notes, in their search for solutions scientists are learning that nature may already have the answers.
PAGE: Ever thought of saying to a batch of plants, okay you guys, get the lead out? Me either, but in fact many plants can absorb heavy metals from soil, slurping them up into their stems and leaves which can be harvested and destroyed. Fitotech Company of New Jersey is using plants, especially Indian mustard, to pull chromium out of the state's soil. Around Chernobyl, mustard plants are cleaning up radioactive strontium and cesium left over from the nuclear plant's near-meltdown.
Various plants, even corn and tobacco, can absorb heavy metals. But Indian mustard will ingest lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, zinc, and copper. So it's widely usable in contaminated areas. Where 3 plantings in 1 year are possible, mustard can soak up 6 metric tons of lead from a 2-and-a-half acre area. To dig up and haul away 1 acre of contaminated soil costs about $400,000, and you still have the dirty soil. Indian mustard treatment costs only a fourth as much.
Sunflowers can absorb heavy metals into their roots but can't raise them up into their stems, so they're used to leach metals out of contaminated water. In Ashtabula, Ohio, sunflowers are drinking the uranium out of water at an atomic bomb plant. Some of the filthiest soil on earth lies in Kuwait, where the 1991 Gulf War left pools of oil, which is toxic to plants, hither and yon in the desert. To scientists' surprise, plants are reappearing in oil-soaked areas. How come? These particular plants, because they lie in oily soil, attract bacteria that love oil. When researchers pull up a plant, its roots are clean, though there may be an oily color on it above ground. Tests show that a family of bacteria called arthrobacter provides the best clean-up crew.
Corn, barley, wheat, tomatoes, and at least one legume thrive in the oily soil, though they are shorter than normal. With their bacterial partners they work rapidly and cheaply. Once they've slurped at the oily goo up into their stems and leaves, the plants can be gathered and disposed of. While it's the oil alone that attracts petroleum-eating microbes, sugars, vitamins, and oxygen from the plants make them much more efficient. And because they grow in desert, we know this system can work in extreme conditions. There may be only one thing cheaper in the long run than using bacteria and plants to clean up the filth we spew into the earth. That is to dump a lot less in the first place.
CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Ruth Page lives and writes in Burlington, Vermont. She comes to us from Vermont Public Radio.
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CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University.
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CURWOOD: A special thanks this week to member station WFPL in Louisville. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
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ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major support from the Ford Foundation for reporting on environmental and development issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; and the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment.
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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CURWOOD: Coming up in the second half of Living on Earth, some earth-friendly tips for surviving winter.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
Five years ago this month the skies over Kuwait were black with the smoke of artillery fire and burning oil. A prime casualty of the Gulf War was the environment, and we give it a checkup 5 years later in this half hour of NPR's Living on Earth. But first, this week's almanac.
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CURWOOD: Thirty-two years ago this week, US Surgeon General Luther Terry issued the first government report saying smoking may be hazardous to your health. In the US there are now restrictions on where you could advertise, buy, or use cigars, cigarettes and pipes. Even so, Americans consume more than 480 billion cigarettes in 1994. That's down from the all-time high of 640 billion consumed in 1981, but young American women are increasing their use of tobacco. And last year saw a 1% jump in the number of cigarettes produced worldwide, up to 5 trillion, 340 billion. The cost of tobacco use can be measured in different ways. For example, according to the American Lung Association, second-hand smoke is responsible for more than 50,000 deaths each year. It's also responsible for more than 7,000 hospitalizations every year in children under 18 months. But a smokeless society would not come without costs, either. According to the Tobacco Institute, tobacco farming alone provides more than 150,000 jobs in the US.
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CURWOOD: Pillars of thick black smoke, oil fires shooting flames thousands of feet into the night air. Shore birds of the Persian Gulf mired in gobs of oil. Nightmare images of environmental disaster come true. The Gulf War began 5 years ago this month when coalition forces launched their assault to drive Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army back across the line drawn in the sand. And according to Professor Farouk El Baz, director of Boston University's Center for Remote Sensing, the sand hasn't been the same since. Since the end of the war, Professor El Baz has been studying the region for the Kuwaiti government. He reminds us that much of the environmental damage was done not only during the 100 days of fighting, but in the 8 months of preparation for the war.
EL BAZ: The desert surface is naturally protected by a layer of pebbles It is one grain thick, and took many thousands of years, perhaps 5,000 years to form. Then that layer is an armor that protects everything underneath it from dust and wind. So when the soldiers are there, and they run over this layer with their tanks and big machines, and when they build berms and dig ditches for their armament and dig ditches for themselves to sleep in and so on, that layer is completely destroyed and the whole desert soil becomes exposed to the action of wind again.
CURWOOD: Many of us remember the pictures of the oil wells on fire there. Just how extensive was that kind of damage?
EL BAZ: Many people said that this was the view from hell, and it really was like that. I was in Kuwait with the first civilian flight from Cairo to Kuwait, and we actually descended through the smoke, because that is the approach to the runway and airport. We found out that that massive black cloud was formed of mostly oil droplets, and so this mass of oil slide into the atmosphere and parts of it get deposited on the surface of the desert because it's heavy. And they mix with the sand and the gravel on the ground and they make a very hard layer of rock.
CURWOOD: So this is quite a mess. On the one hand you had the surface of the desert torn up, its protective layer of gravel that takes thousands of years to accumulate gone so the sand could start blowing. On the other hand you have all this oil coming out of the wells, a bit of it burning but most of it just spraying and then landing on the ground and the water. Five years after all of this, how much of this mess remains?
EL BAZ: We have measured over a thousand new sand dunes that have actually formed since the war, and they are dried now, on the move, will approach roads in the desert and will approach airfields in the desert. So these dunes are going to be with us for a very long period of time. And the other effect that will be long lasting is the fact that the layer of solid materials, we had to find a name for it so we called it tarcrete, because it is like concrete but made of tar --
CURWOOD: This is from the oil that was sprayed in the air in the fires.
EL BAZ: That's correct. And that layer is now being covered by the moving sand, and it will be a whole new layer in this surface of Kuwait; naturally it killed all of the vegetation beneath it so one of the long-term effects will be that on the natural vegetation in the desert of Kuwait.
CURWOOD: What about along the coast in the Persian Gulf itself? How has the coastal environment fared in the aftermath of the war?
EL BAZ: As you know, oil is lighter than water so it stays on top. And the water in the Gulf is rather warm, so the oil tends to evaporate fast. And all of the lighter components of the oil, like the benzene and kerosene and so on, immediately evaporate. What is left behind are the heavier components, like the tar. And some of these things, the tar left over, would descend back toward the bottom of the ocean, of the Gulf. If they land on coral reefs, they just suffocate the coral and the coral die. If they land on the bottom of the sea, they gently move around until they are covered by a layer of sand, and that will remain there maybe again forever.
CURWOOD: You paint such a bleak picture. Is the environment in the Persian Gulf ever really going to heal itself again?
EL BAZ: In may ways a great deal of healing has occurred. In one way, the movement of sand on top of the layer of tarcrete that resulted from the fires is healing of sort. Because you don't really want tar to be exposed on the surface of any desert, because it has poisonous components, and if animals eat parts of it the vanadium or the nickel might poison them and so on. So you need that to be covered. In addition, the material that is underwater, the fact that it is being covered by a layer of sand right now, is part of the healing. Because if the tar itself had killed the shrimping grounds and the pearling grounds and so on where it landed, the layer of sand would be a whole new layer that new life could form on top of it. And we've actually seen new life. So there is a great deal of natural healing. But just to bring it to home, we found out that nearly 30% of the desert surface of Kuwait was affected drastically in one way or another. That is like saying all of the land east of the Mississippi would have been affected by something or other in the United States.
CURWOOD: And so, to Kuwait how much is all this worth, do you think?
EL BAZ: It would be in the billions.
CURWOOD: Professor Farouk El Baz is the director of Boston University's Remote Sensing Center. He joined us by telephone on his way to Kuwait, where he is studying the lasting environmental damage caused by the Gulf War.
CURWOOD: Just ahead on Living on Earth, ecologists and cowboys at home on the range. Stick around.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The show-down between ranchers and environmentalists is perhaps the leading drama on America's western range these days. On one side stand the ranchers, bent on preserving a way of life against the onslaught of environmental regulations. On the other, activists and ecologists determined to restore cattle ravaged range lands. The standoff has produced a lot of tough talk, political gunfights, and even some real violence. But now across the West, small groups of ranchers and environmentalists are growing tired of all that fighting. They're beginning to talk to each other. And to act together. Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan traveled across Arizona to bring us this report.
(A railroad crossing)
TOLAN: It's not a very pretty piece of land, this hard-crusted patch of dirt and juniper bush along the railroad tracks near Flagstaff. There's hardly anything for the elk, the deer, or the jackrabbits to eat. It looks badly over-grazed by cattle. But to Dan Daggett's eyes, it's not.
DAGGETT: Politically speaking, this land is as healthy as it can be. This is healthy land not being grazed. It's being left alone. And it sure doesn't look healthy to me.
TOLAN: A long-time Sierra Club activist, Daggett used to register ungrazed land like this in his win column, a victory over ranchers in the ongoing battles between environmentalists and cowboys.
DAGGETT: Polarization is fun because you get to yell and scream and call someone names. And I had a great time doing that for a number of years.
TOLAN: But a few years ago, Daggett began to tire of hollow political victories that didn't result in much to celebrate out on the land. So he began to reconsider his approach.
DAGGETT: When you achieve a victory on some of these political controversies, political issues, what you have done is you have so angered the other side that they're going to make the pendulum swing back. They're going to swing it back the other way.
TOLAN: And so Daggett started to talk to the other side. Gingerly at first and then with a handful of other activists, he began meeting with ranchers. At the first encounter, they eyed each other warily. But the facilitator kept them focused on what each side wanted.
DAGGETT: What we wanted the land to be like, what our goals were for the environment that we lived in. We ended up talking about the fact that we didn't want to see areas like this that were eroding and dead. We wanted to see life out there. And we wanted to see native life out there, that we wanted to see wildlife. And we talked about having the water flowing again and clear. We found out that we had a lot of things in common, and by being kept on task to talk about goals, we soon found ourselves talking about what we could do together to achieve those goals.
TOLAN: Suddenly, Dan Daggett had a new calling: moving beyond the rangeland conflict toward a West that works. That's the name of his new book.
DAGGETT: It suddenly occurred to me that I'd been approaching this all wrong. Because I'd just been working to defeat somebody. And even if you defeated them, now what? You ended up with places like this. This is extremely barren. This land is being left alone. How much does it look like it's being restored to you?
(Man: "Well, we'll put them out this other gate. I think we'll put them out this one..." A horse snorts.)
TOLAN: A hundred miles south in the rough country Cross-U Ranch near Prescott, Dennis Maroney was getting sick of all the fighting, too.
MARONEY: We have what I call the football mentality in America, that everything can be tabulated in victories and scores and little sets of statistics that demonstrate our win-loss record. And I think there are people in this debate. The last thing that they want to see is to see a workable solution; they want to win. They want victory. They want, you know, 17 western states that are cattle-free and that represent the nature without humans and a big backyard playground for urban America.
TOLAN: And so, like Dan Daggett, Dennis Maroney began to think of dialogue. Of a land-focused discussion in which boundaries are not drawn hard and fast.
MARONEY: Polarization thrives in a climate of ignorance. It is rare for someone to know directly a farmer or rancher. And there is a certain chord in American life which looks down on folks that do physical work, the stereotype of the rancher is that uneducated, crude, rough, backward, unsophisticated, uncaring. I don't see that. And the only way that I know to destroy that stereotype is invite these folks out and say, Let's talk. This is my neighbor the rancher. This is my neighbor the librarian, the psychologist, the software engineer. Let's talk about our concerns for the land. Let's talk about what we want from the land. Let's talk about what kind of responsibility you think I need to exercise on the land. And wow, I mean it's an incredibly different perspective then.
TOLAN: Maroney, Daggett, and a few dozen others in the West are not working in isolation. They're linked by a new concept on the range called holistic resource management, or HRM. Biologist Alan Savory developed HRM from his observation of wild grazing animals in the African Serenghetti. Instead of letting cows roam the range, eating the same plants over and over until they die, HRM advocates intense grazing of small pieces of land, with frequent rotations. It's turning conventional thinking from both environmentalists and ranchers inside-out.
(A whistle blows. Cows low.)
TOLAN: In the rolling grasslands just north of the Mexican border, Ruken Jelks opens a gate, blows his whistle (a whistle blows) and 400 cows move through quickly, from a chewed-up pasture to 100 acres of tasty green grass. (Cows low.) No cowboys roping and hollering. No problem. It's a cattle herd responding like a pack of Pavlov's dogs.
JELKS: They're moving to a reward which is fresh pasture, and so the whistle tells them that their reward is ready and so they all move accordingly. (Cows low.)
TOLAN: In the old pasture, Jelks' cows have eaten everything in sight. Meantime, they've churned up the earth with their hooves, fertilizing it with dung and urine.
JELKS: It's basically like using a roto-tiller in your garden.
TOLAN: And after a couple of days, Jelks will blow the whistle again, and the cows will move on to the next patch of land.
JELKS: It is really exciting to me to see the landscape change to have less runoff. I'm not exporting soil like we used to. I'm actually building soil. I've got good animal performance, I'm making more money. Yes, I am pleased with what's going on.
TOLAN: A few months after the cows turn Rukin Jelks' pastures into virtual muddy feed lots, the grass recovers. Jelks shares a fence line with a nature preserve with hasn't been grazed in years. It's often hard to tell whose grass is in better condition.
JELKS: This will be thick as hair on a dog.
TOLAN: The results are astonishing even to some grassland ecologists. Some believe the grass is responding to intense, short-term grazing in an interdependent relationship. Dan Daggett says it's the same way that plants responded to roaming herds of buffalo, or even prehistoric mammoths.
DAGGETT: One of the things we're doing with some of our studies is going back and asking the plants: do you remember these interactions? What we're seeing is the plants are saying yes. They remember the herds.
TOLAN: But skeptics of all this new technique and cooperation remain on both sides. Dan Daggett's friends in the Sierra Club are quick to point out he no longer speaks for the club when it comes to range land policy. Dave Lamkin of the Grand Canyon chapter says he likes what he sees so far. But it's an exception to the devastation ranchers have brought to the western range.
LAMKIN: We are still afflicted with a great many ranchers who think that more of the same is just fine, and that what we've been doing for 100 years is perfectly acceptable and the public lands should be at their disposal to graze upon as they see fit. There is still a place for some environmentalists to insist that there be very little if any compromise. And if we all move to the center, then the center moves.
TOLAN: And for many ranchers, opposition to HRM is also stiff. Even for sympathetic ranchers, some of the changes HRM outlines may not be realistic. Intense grazing calls for a lot of fence. On big ranches that's not feasible. One alternative could be cowboys riding with the herds day in and day out. But even on Dennis Maroney's Cross-U ranch, 50,000 acres of chaparral and steep-bouldered slopes, cowhand Rafael Routsen says that's too much to ask.
ROUTSEN: Well, first of all I think it would be pretty boring, cause I mean, it's, you'd have to have a little wagon that you'd sleep in and eat, and have all your meals, and then the wagon would have to be with you. And there's not really any road, so then maybe you pack it on mules. It's a lot bigger deal than it sounds like. I guess you could do it, but I don't think it's really practical to do that.
TOLAN: This is something that you would want to do?
ROUTSEN: No. No. (Laughs)
(Man: "Here you have a few more animals..." Footfalls.)
TOLAN: In the late afternoon the grasses shine silver on the Babbitt ranch, a family homestead and cattle operation near Flagstaff. Once home to interior secretary Bruce Babbitt. Black gramma, globe mallow, galleta, New Mexico feather grass, stretch and shimmer up toward the San Francisco peaks. Dan Daggett and the Babbitts are trying a little HRM on a tiny speck of this half million acre ranch. Daggett says the early results are amazing. Bruce's younger brother Jim Babbitt is more cautious.
BABBITT: It is way too early to draw any conclusions. Weather cycles, grazing patterns, all kinds of variables influence what that test plot is going to look like. And it seems to me that it will have to be observed over a very long period of time before we can really begin to drawn any conclusions about it.
TOLAN: Like the cowhands, the Babbitts are not yet willing to change a whole culture of ranching that goes back 110 years. But Daggett says new ideas out there will slowly change ranch culture, working with cheap portable fencing, or training animals to herd together without fencing. The specifics, he insists, will be worked out over time. But the dialogue, based on common ground, has begun.
DAGGETT: One of the most exciting aspects of this whole effort, this whole discovery for me, is that I'm finding that there are ways that people can be at home on the land. That people can be embraced by the land. That people can work with the land. And that way we have another way of making these lands healthy, without just removing ourselves from them.
TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan reporting.
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CURWOOD: Ah, winter. A good book in front of an open fire, a warm sweater, and this year in the east, at least, lots of snow to move. And as you can imagine, there are ways to survive winter that are more friendly to the environment than others. To find out how to make our winter green, we turn to Hannah Holmes, a former editor of the late Garbage magazine, who writes frequently on environmental issues. One of the best places to start, she says, is by taking your woolens out of mothballs. For good.
HOLMES: It's a great idea to take them out of the mothballs because it's a horrible idea to put them in the mothballs. Anything that says avoid prolonged breathing of vapor is low on my list of things I want sitting around the house all year.
CURWOOD: So what do I do then with my woolens? I mean, because you know, those moths, they like that stuff.
HOLMES: It's not actually the moths that do the damage. They lay eggs and it's the little larvae that hatch while your woolens are supposedly safe in a box somewhere, and the larvae eat holes in your clothes. All you need to do to kill larvae is really bake them a little bit, and you can do that with an iron. You can put them in the oven at about 140 degrees for an hour. You can tumble them dry or even just take them to the dry cleaner.
CURWOOD: Okay, Hannah. Now, once I get my sweaters on, you know, it's wonderful in the winter time to stay warm near an open fire or a wood stove, and burn that nice replenishable wood supply, right?
HOLMES: Oh yeah, if you can manage to find a way to hold your breath through the entire duration of that experience.
CURWOOD: (Laughs) No, really?
HOLMES: Wood is really pretty horrifically polluting. It emits carbon monoxide, which slows your thinking; particulate matter, which causes respiratory distress. In fact there are studies that show that kids from wood burning homes have higher rates of respiratory problems. Wood also releases hydrocarbons and stuff like formaldehyde, polycyclic organic matter, and those are sort of fancy name for gross toxic stuff.
CURWOOD: I'm not supposed to keep my clothes in mothballs and I'm not supposed to use my wood stove?
HOLMES: Well, there are new stoves now that are called catalytic stoves. And much like the car you drive, they've got a catalyst in the stove pipe that allows those nasty gases and stuff that don't burn at the normal temperature to burn at a lower temperature than they would require.
CURWOOD: One thing that happens when winter comes, Hannah, is it seems like every field mouse from miles around finds its way right into my house. What's the best way for me to deal with these little critters?
HOLMES: Well, I'm not sure that we have got a better mousetrap yet. Poisons obviously are poisonous and so they're not great things to have around the house. And they cause the mouse generally to go into the walls and expire, and do some off gassing of its own. The live trap, sort of the humane solution, you trap the mouse and you tenderly relocate him, is not a great solution, either, because they'll generally beat you back to the house. And while most people would say get a cat, someone has actually gone to the trouble of studying the mouse killing efficiency of cats and discovered that they perhaps only get 20% of the population.
CURWOOD: Only 20% efficient? My cat! I mean I should get my cat on the show to defend herself.
HOLMES: Well, the cats were not available for comment. That really leaves us with the good old-fashioned snap trap. Which is quick, it's reusable, it's relly pretty humane, and you know, the bottom line is the mouse is not an endangered species.
CURWOOD: Of course the essential part of winter for some of us, certainly for those of us in the Northeast right now, is snow -- I mean we've had more of the stuff in the last 6 weeks than I think we've had in the last 6 years. What's the best ecologically sound way to get rid of that stuff?
HOLMES: It's the same method you use to get rid of grandma's fruit cake; it's getting out there and shoveling it.
CURWOOD: But what about the snow blower? I mean, for example, one of the people who works for Living on Earth has got a huge, long driveway. I mean you get out there and shovel, you're going to have a backache.
HOLMES: I suppose for those who have tender backs, you may want to rely on a snow blower. There are electric snow blowers which are better than the gas models. But the gas models, small engines in general, are pretty polluting little things compared to your automobile. They just don't burn fuel very efficiently. That's changing, fortunately; in the 1997 model year we'll see snow blowers that are significantly improved in their emissions.
CURWOOD: Now what about my walk? You know, the stuff melts and re-freezes and you start to get a layer of very dangerous ice out there. Now I suppose salt is a no-no.
HOLMES: Salt is not great. In fact, when it runs off into your lawn or garden it's going to densify the soil and that prevents the roots of the plants from taking up water. And this accounts for the death of street trees, which get an awful lot of salt from the roads, too. And it also, when salt runs into streams or ponds or lakes, can cause significant imbalance in that ecosystem.
CURWOOD: So what should I do?
HOLMES: Well, you can work off a few cookies, in this case, with an ice chip or a pick something that you really physically remove the ice. And then it's gone for good. If that's beyond your back's ability, then sand is an excellent solution. If you can find sand at your hardware store and keep it inside when it's warm, when you sprinkle it on the ice it's going to eat into the ice a little bit and it's also going to provide traction. And perhaps my favorite thing about the sand solution is, in the spring time when all the snow's gone you can sweep it up and use it again next year.
CURWOOD: Well Hannah, thank you for taking so much time with us.
HOLMES: Thank you, Steve.
CURWOOD: Enviro-friendly winter tips from writer Hannah Holmes. She joined us from member station WMEA in Portland, Maine.
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CURWOOD: Senior producer for Living on Earth is Chris Ballman. Our editor is Peter Thomson, and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. We also had help from Marny Kimmel, Michael Argue, Christopher Knorr, Kathryn Bennett, Mark Borrelli, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, and Eric Losick. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Karen Given and Laurie Forest. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthelliere and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
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ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics; the Joyce Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the Ford Foundation.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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