April 12, 1996
Air Date: April 12, 1996
Antarctic Check-Up/ Terry FitzPatrick
Untouched by humans for millions of years, the frozen south is now an important outpost for studying human impact on the planet. In the first of a four part series, Terry FitzPatrick reports how greenhouse gases, ozone depletion, and surging tourism are affecting the fragile continent. (18:30)
Steve reviews comments from listeners on recent stories: Chernobyl, Bronx noise pollution, snow fleas, and animal sightings. (02:30)
The Living on Earth Almanac
Facts about nuclear power in the US, ten years after the Chernobyl accident. (01:05)
The Secretary of State
Warren Christopher tells Steve Curwood how environmental issues have influenced US foreign policy, and describes the State Department's role in conservation. (06:21)
Welcome PCBs!/ Jim Hightower
Political commentator Jim Hightower satirizes the hottest business opportunity in the global economy — toxic waste incineration. (02:45)
Farm Tours, Inc./ Tatiana Schreiber
Vermont's farmers can't live on milk and maple sugar anymore, so they're turning to tourists. City dwellers nostalgic for rural yesteryear could help keep today's growers afloat. But some farmers are unconvinced. (08:10)
Early Land/ Jane Brox
Writer Jane Brox begins another growing season on her family's Massachusetts farm — but this year without her Dad. (05:28)
Copyright c 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: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Julie Edelson-Halpert, Susanna Capaluto, John Rudolph, Terry FitzPatrick, Lisa Labuz
GUESTS: Bill Wolverton, Dan Shaw
COMMENTATOR: Bill McKibben
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. The Antarctic is the final frontier on the surface of the planet, home to some of the biggest mysteries of life.
MANAHAN: You put your hand in that water and you wonder how anything can live in it. It is so painful to a human hand to put it into Antarctic sea water. And yet when you look under the ice here, it is one of the most abundant environments on earth.
CURWOOD: There's no hunting or commercial fishing in the land and waters of the Southern Polar region, and a tap on the ice might summon a friendly whale.
ROBINSON: They're curious animals, they'll come over and check it out. (Tapping on ice.) Just about everything down here has no fear of man at all.
CURWOOD: Exploring Anarctica's delicate web of life, this week on Living On Earth, coming up right after this news.
MULLINS: For Living On Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. Ponds of radioactive waste at a Russian nuclear weapons plant are in danger of overflowing. According to members of Russia's security council, tens of thousands of people are at risk from waste stored behind earthen dams at the Mayak nuclear weapons facility in the Ural Mountains. The Mayak plant was created in the late 1940s to make plutonium for the Soviet Union's atomic bombs. The plant dumped raw radioactive waste into the Techa river in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1957, a nuclear waste storage container exploded, contaminating a large area of the Urals.
Twenty-one states are slaughtering British cattle because of fears over "mad cow" disease. All 113 British cattle known to be in the United States will be examined for the sponge-like holes caused by bovine spongiaform encephalitis. State and industry officials say the measure is purely precautionary. No symptoms of the disease have ever been reported in twice-yearly inspections of the cattle, which were imported before a 1989 ban. Meanwhile, the centers for disease control is stepping up its investigation into Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, thought to be the human equivalent of mad cow disease. From Minneapolis, Monika Baurlein reports.
BAURLEIN: The CDC asked public health officials to actively look for Creutzfeld-Jacob cases in four states: Connecticut, California, Oregon and Minnesota. They were picked because they're already part of a larger program to monitor emerging infectious diseases. Dr. Philip Peterson co-chairs Minnesota's Infectious Disease Task Force. He says so far, Creutzfeld-Jacob cases in this country show the classic pattern of the disease, which usually appears in old-age. By contrast, the Brtish patients whose condition has been linked to mad cow disease were all under 42 years old.
PETERSON: To my knowledge, so far, nobody's reported, in the United States, anything unusual in terms of seeing a number of younger people with this variant of Creutzfeld-Jacob disease. So, but that's obviously one of the reasons for surveillance. Until you look for something, you may not be aware that it's there.
BAURLEIN: Right now, Creutzfeld-Jacob is estimated to strike about 250 people in the United States annually. Results from the CDC's study are not expected for many years. For Living On Earth, this is Monika Baurlein in Minneapolis.
MULLINS: "Election year politics" is the label Republican leaders are pinning on Clinton administration plans for Earth Day. An Environmental Protection Agency memo released by the National Republican Congressional Committee outlines plans for administration officials to attend rallies in 36 television markets - 26 of which happen to cover the congressional districts of freshman Republicans. According to a Republican analysis of the targeted markets, many also cover districts of democrats the GOP considers vulnerable this year. An EPA official denies that the Earth Day plan is rooted in politics.
The Weyerhauser timber company and the Sierra Club say a landmark agreement to exchange public and private land could lead to a new era of cooperation in managing the northwest's forests. From Seattle, Jennifer Schmidt of KPLU reports.
SCHMIDT: Weyerhauser and Sierra Club officials worked together for more than four years on the land swap. Their proposal calls for the US Forest Service to turn over to Weyerhauser 7200 acres of mature national forest in the Cascade Mountains. In exchange, Weyerhauser would hand over to the Forest Service, approximately 33,000 acres of recently harvested company land. The exchange would benefit both the government and Weyerhauser by allowing each to consolidate their lands. Currently, most of the area considered for the swap is divided up like a checkerboard, with public and private ownership alternating in square mile parcels. Weyerhauser says that the land swap will allow the company to operate more effectively, and the Sierra Club supports the exchange because it will allow the Forest Service to better manage the public's land as an ecosystem. The government is expected to decide whether to approve the transfer later this year. For Living On Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt in Seattle.
MULLINS: Residents of Thailand have gone ape over the wedding of two orangutans. More than 100,000 people jammed into the Thai city of Lop Buri to witness the nuptials of two orangutans, Mike and Zuzu. Mike is one of the Lop Buri Zoo's most popular attractions and after his previous mate died, he became moody and withdrawn. Due to the scarcity of orangutans in Thailand, an international search was conducted for a suitable mate. Zuzu was donated by a wildlife protection group in Taiwan. Zoo officials say Mike and Zuzu fell in love at first sight but weren't allowed to go beyond holding hands and cuddling until after the wedding.
MULLINS: That's this week's Living On Earth news. I'm Lisa Mullins.
(Music up and under.)
CURWOOD: This is Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It is hard to imagine life thriving on the world's coldest continent. Antarctica is covered with ice and holds the world record for the lowest temperature ever recorded: 129 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.
But untouched by humans for millions of years, parts of Antarctica are home to a fragile ecosystem. And in the past few years, it's become one of the world's most important outposts to study the far-reaching effects of human civilization. And the ozone hole, climate change--even tourism--are all taking a toll on Antarctica's web of life.
This week we begin a four-part series of special reports by Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick, who visited Antarctica early this year.
(Walking on snow, ice axes probe snow)
FITZPATRICK: Traveling to the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf is like traveling to the ends of the earth. This is the southernmost stretch of ocean in the world, so close to the frigid South Pole that much of the sea is draped by a floating blanket of ice.
ROBINSON: As far as the ice edge, don't go too close because the water comes and it wears it out underneath so it's like a ledge and it looks solid but it's only a couple inches thick.
FITZPATRICK: Navy pilot Greg Robinson probes for weak spots with a mountaineering ice ax...and I carefully follow his footsteps.
FITZPATRICK: We're headed to see one of Antarctica's most magnificent residents: the killer whale.
(Waves lapping against the ice edge)
ROBINSON: You just kind of make some noise. (Tape ice ax) They're curious animals, they'll come over and check it out.
FITZPATRICK: The scenery here is breathtaking. Huge icebergs floating in the open water. A snow-covered volcano on the horizon--with steam rising from its summit. In a matter of minutes, our noise-making works.
FITZPATRICK: Four killer whales. So close we can hear them breathe. One whale pokes its head above water just ten feet away.
ROBINSON: They're just out here cruising around these different slots here looking for something to eat and they hear noise. They want to see what it is.
FITZPATRICK: They're not afraid of people though?
ROBINSON: No not at all. Just about everything down here has no fear of man at all.
FITZPATRICK: Whales and seals were once close to extinction here, hunted throughout the oceans that encircle the Antarctic mainland. But international treaties have transformed the entire continent into the world's largest wildlife sanctuary. It's a unique laboratory to study how life survives in such hostile conditions.
(scuba gear equipment rustling)
FITZPATRICK: Most of Antarctica's wildlife lives at sea, not on land. So marine biologists must sometimes dive beneath the ice.
FITZPATRICK: Rikk Kvitek, from the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory in California, is preparing to videotape giant sponges and worms that thrive on the sea floor.
Ice divers from California'sMoss Landing Marine Lab and the Canadian Museum of Nature prepare to study the wealth of underwater creatures that thrive in the Ross Sea, the southernmost ocean on earth
FITZPATRICK: Is it dark down there?
KVITEK: The light is muted because you've got--what--ten feet of ice with snow over the top of it and so not a lot of light is getting down through the ice, but your eyes adjust to it. It's sort of like--if you could imagine floating over a desert with a full moon--(edit) the sponges are sticking up kind of like cactus. And the ice overhead is sort of like clouds. And the hole is sort of like the moon. The hole is sort of a spotlight shining down on you.
(zipping suit, squeaky gloves)
FITZPATRICK: Gearing-up for an Antarctic dive is a bit like preparing for a spacewalk. A heavy rubber suit will keep Dr. Kvitek warm. It's just 28 degrees down below--the freezing point for salt water. Ropes will tether him to the surface. A special mask will allow him to speak throughout the dive.
(Testing the mask "okay.")
FITZPATRICK: These researchers are investigating what happens when six months of winter darkness give way to round-the-clock sunshine during summer. Kathy Conlan is with the Canadian Museum of Nature.
CONLAN: That period when it comes on to 24-hour sunlight is a huge boom time and it lasts for a couple of months and then it goes down to a bust for the rest of the year. And that's when the animals out there are reproducing like mad. They're eating like mad, and their offspring are getting as big as possible before it goes down to bust conditions again.
(Dive-in splash, breathing in regulators)
FITZPATRICK: Two divers will spend half an hour at a depth of 100 feet.
FITZPATRICK: Through his underwater mask, Dr. Kvitek reports his progress.
KVITEK (on mask): We can see the under-ice now. Big pockets of air, some of them are big enough you can stick your head up into and breathe. When the divers reach bottom they'll encounter a vibrant jungle of shapes and colors.
CONLAN: There's quite an elevation difference because the large sponges can be several feet tall. And then the tunicates are bright orange and they look rather like big pumpkins with two vase openings which they will close in when you get close to them. And then there's soft corals. The large soft corals look like trees, they're orange. And then there's smaller ones that look like little snowflakes that dot the bottom.
FITZPATRICK: As Dr. Kvitek begins his underwater photography, he's joined by creatures who're attracted to the lights.
KVITEK (on mask): Bright yellow, bright white. Pink stars, purple worms. The color is really amazing down here when you put a little bit of light on it.
FITZPATRICK: The videotapes will allow Dr. Kvitek to analyze the sea-floor even after his dive is over. He'll also collect specimens to examine in the lab.
(Lab door opens, lab background noise, crowd in lab)
FITZPATRICK: This is McMurdo Station--America's research headquarters. With more than a hundred buildings and a thousand personnel, it's the largest outpost on the continent.
(lab door slams, burgling aquarium)
FITZPATRICK: Inside the lab, pumps bring sea water into the McMurdo aquarium.
MANAHAN: Have you put your hand in there yet? Try it out.
(Water splash sweetening)
FITZPATRICK: That's pretty cold.
MANAHAN: You betcha.
FITZPATRICK: Donal Manahan, from the University of Southern California, is studying ingenious adaptations life develops to survive and reproduce in water this cold. Fish, for example, have organic anti-freeze in their blood. Bacteria have found ways to sustain biochemical reactions at lower temperatures than normal.
MANAHAN: You put your hand in that water and you wonder how anything can live in it. It is so painful to a human hand to put it into Antarctic sea water. And yet when you look under the ice here, it is one of the most abundant environments on earth.
FITZPATRICK: However, fish and wildlife now encounter conditions that nature never intended. Global warming is causing ice sheets to crumble and lake levels to rise--which alters habitat for a wide range of species. As well, the entire continent is subjected each spring to the ozone hole.
(Lab ambience shift)
KARENZ: Okay, there they are. They're swimming around. And they look very happy. (laughs)
FITZPATRICK: Deneb Karenz from the University of San Francisco is measuring how baby sea urchins are coping with the effects of ozone depletion. The earth's ozone layer normally blocks the sun's deadly ultraviolet rays. But industrial pollution now creates a huge ozone hole each year above Antarctica. As a result, U-V exposure jumps by 50 to 100 percent. Millions of microscopic plants and animals are exposed to a potentially lethal sunburn.
(buzz of microscope, crinkling plastic bag with urchins inside)
FITZPATRICK: Beneath the microscope, you can see why baby sea urchins are vulnerable. They're nearly transparent, like jellyfish.
FITZPATRICK (In the lab): They're incredible. It's really interesting to watch life this new.
FITZPATRICK: The DNA in organisms like these is poorly protected and can easily be damaged by ultraviolet radiation. Baby sea urchins aren't the only victims. Worst hit are phytoplankton, the tiny plants that comprise the base of the food chain. Scientists have detected a 15-percent drop in photosynthesis when plankton cells are hit by increased UV light. Researchers like Dr. Karenz don't know exactly what the consequences of this may be. The ozone hole is a relatively new phenomenon, first discovered in 1985.
KARENZ: We have no baseline data. There's no UV work done here prior to the ozone hole. We come down after the ozone hole has already been around for a decade, and so what we're looking at now is already an altered system. And so it's very difficult to make any kind of assessment.
FITZPATRICK: However, a decrease in plankton could create a food shortage that might ripple up the food chain to larger species--like penguins.
FITZPATRICK: The rocky beach of Cape Byrd is home to more than 50-thousand Adelie penguins. There's never a dull moment here. Chicks relentlessly chirp for a meal of regurgitated seafood.
FITZPATRICK: Adelie penguins are characters. Kerry Barton of New Zealand's Antarctic Research Program never knows how they'll react.
(wide ambience of colony)
BARTON: Some of them are quite aggressive and they rush up and flip and bash you around the legs. Other ones just ignore you or come up and gently wave their arms backwards and forwards at you trying to identify what you are. And other ones take off, terrified, and rush around in circles for a while and then decide you're all right and give up.
FITZPATRICK: In the past two years, penguins have been the subject of disturbing news. Australian researchers discovered the mass starvation of Adelie chicks in three separate regions of Antarctica last year. Their parents were unable to find any food within 100 miles of shore. Now--says New Zealand researcher Brian Karl--some chicks are struggling to survive here at Cape Byrd.
KARL: This year they're not doing too well at all, seemingly. They're late, the chicks are not at the same stage as what they have been at previous years.
(netting bird sound, rookery background sounds)
FITZPATRICK: To find out why, New Zealand researchers are netting 80 penguins for an unusual scientific procedure.
FITZPATRICK: They're draining the food from penguin stomachs to see exactly what the birds are eating. A plastic tube is slipped down the penguin's throat and researchers massage its belly as they turn the bird upside down.
KARL: And we wait for the bird to sick up into the bucket.
FITZPATRICK: The ordeal is disorienting for the penguin...but it's certainly better than killing the bird, which is what researchers used to do to examine stomach contents. Now the penguin is back to normal within an hour.
(Penguin released, jostling the jars with the stomach samples, rookery background sounds)
FITZPATRICK: The stomach samples suggest this colony may be suffering from inadequate nutrition.
FITZPATRICK: Instead of feasting on krill--a shrimp-like organism that's the mainstay of the penguin diet--the birds are relying mostly on fish.
KERRY: Would you like to try some?
FITZPATRICK: I'd like to smell it. (Smells) Whoof! The contents are heavily digested which indicates the penguins are swimming a long way to find dinner and are burning it up before getting home to regurgitate a meal for their chicks.
(More jostling of jars)
FITZPATRICK: Most alarming--says Kerry Barton--are specimens showing some penguins with nearly nothing inside their stomachs after a week at sea.
BARTON: And this is the entire sample the bird had in its stomach. It's probably only about two tablespoons of food. And this bird's been out doing serious fishing and that's all it's managed to come back with.
FITZPATRICK: The decline in penguin food supply raises serious questions. Is the ozone hole to blame? Is ultraviolet light damaging the marine food web? Or is global warming sweeping the food supply away by disrupting ocean currents? Or have commercial fishing fleets been too greedy in the southern oceans? Scientists just don't know. Die-offs might well be part of a natural cycle. It may be decades before they're sure.
(People milling sounds)
FITZPATRICK: Researchers have identified a different threat to Antarctic wildlife, however, that people definitely can control.
KENNEDY: Okay, well welcome everyone to McMurdo station...(speech under)
FITZPATRICK: It's opening day of tourist season. 100 passengers from a cruise ship have arrived at the U.S. base.
KENNEDY: Today as your guides, you will have some civilian station personnel and some military personnel that will give you a tour of our station. (speech under)
(People milling sounds)
FITZPATRICK:Tourism has exploded here in the past 15 years. Eight-thousand people now visit Antarctica's scientific bases and wildlife colonies every summer. For adventure travelers like Keri Gouge of Australia, it's a thrill they'll never forget.
GOUGE: We have seen penguins--more than you'd ever want to see in a lifetime, and seals, and some whales and obviously lots of birds as well. It's just been an amazing trip.
(People milling sounds)
KENNEDY: Group A, Group A, Nadine...
FITZPATRICK: Tourist groups have gotten so large that keeping them moving is like marshaling a parade.
KENNEDY: Let Group A know that we need them back down here by 10:30. Roger. It's like herding sheep (laughs).
FITZPATRICK: Nadine Kennedy is with the National Science Foundation--which runs the U.S. Antarctic program. She's happy to show tourists how American tax dollars are spent.
KENNEDY: We think of these people as Antarctic ambassadors. If we can just share a little bit of what we do down here, then they go back and they tell their friends about it.
(People milling sounds)
FITZPATRICK: Experts are concerned, though, that waves of tourists might overwhelm Antarctica's fragile environment. Even small groups of people can cause penguins to panic and abandon their young. And even the most careful tourist can trample delicate lichens and moss. That's why scientists fear the growing popularity of Antarctic expeditions. Colin Harris is with the International Committee for Antarctic Information and Research. He's investigating the cumulative impact of tourist visits.
HARRIS: Because there's a limited number of very suitable sites where landings can be made and there's good wildlife to be seen, the tourist ships often visit the same site as the previous one and the previous one to that. So some sites are actually getting two or three tourist ships a week.
(More milling tourist sound)
FITZPATRICK: Tourism is responsible for the two worst disasters in Antarctic history. In 1979 a sight-seeing jet crashed, killing 257 passengers. Then, in 1989, a ship spilled 150,000 gallons of fuel when it ran aground and sank while carrying tourists in a scenic bay. Since then, tour companies have taken steps to improve safety and minimize environmental damage. Dick Walker of Adventure Network International, says tourists don't mind the restrictions.
WALKER: I think most of the clients are very environmentally aware and probably wouldn't come if they thought there was going to be a huge negative impact.
(Tourist milling sound and ocean ambience)
FITZPATRICK: Tourists are now prohibited from visiting some sites in Antarctica--and rules are being developed to make tour companies liable for the costs of cleaning up any damage they cause. It's part of an international treaty that also bans mining and oil production here for the next 50 years. Despite the threats to Antarctica's penguins and whales--and even its microscopic plankton--this is still the least-spoiled place on the planet. There are fewer people on this vast continent than you'd find on a single block in Manhattan. It'll remain that way for the foreseeable future--because it's incredibly expensive to get here and even more costly to stay alive once you've arrived. Environmentalists point to the progress in regulating tourists and banning oil production as proof that the world recognizes the value of preserving this striking landscape. That makes Antarctica one of the world's great environmental success stories. The earth's most isolated continent will remain a place of natural wonder.
For Living on Earth, this is Terry FitzPatrick reporting.
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: There's been a lot of talk about the 10th anniversary of the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant this month. But what about the worst nuclear power plant accident in US history? On March 28, 1979, at Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a minor mechanical malfunction compounded by human error damaged the nuclear reactor core, threatening a massive release of radioactive materials. While technicians were able to avert a major disaster, some radiation did leak, and was detected up to 20 miles from the site. The cost of shutting down and cleaning up Unit 2: nearly a billion dollars. Unit 1 is still up and running. In the 17 years since Three Mile Island, 55 nuclear power plants have received operating licenses in the US. Seven reactors have been shut down in that time. Nearly 3 million Americans live within 10 miles of an operating nuclear power plant. And that's the Living on Earth Almanac this third week of April, 1996.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: When we think of foreign policy, generally what comes to mind are peace treaties and trade agreements. But Secretary of State Warren Christopher is now pushing environmental issues to the diplomatic forefront. In a February memo he told State Department officials to identify environmental issues that affect US interests and develop specific plans to deal with them. He also focused on the environment during a trip to Latin America, where he called for greater protection of the Amazon rainforest, and during what was billed as a major foreign policy address delivered recently at Stanford University. But all this attention comes at an interesting time. President Clinton has made it clear that environmental protection is going to be one of his core campaign issues. I asked Secretary Christopher if his embrace of ecology is linked to politics.
CHRISTOPHER: Absolutely not. I don't do politics; this is really a natural follow-on, on things that I've started at the beginning of my administration with the President's strong encouragements, setting up the under-Secretaryship for global affairs. I think it's important, it's come home to me during the three years that I have been Secretary of State and especially in some of my recent travels, I was struck by the tremendous importance of preserving the rainforests, the need to find new uses for rainforest products. The governor of that area said to me, he thought that there was no longer a sense of competition between the economy and the environment, but actually they needed to be made compatible. But in addition to that, being in Ukraine at the time of the 10th anniversary of Chernobyl and going through a hospital, a children's hospital, where they're still treating children as a legacy of that terrible event, those are only two of the things that brought this home very graphically to me.
CURWOOD: You're responsible for our national security and our international security. How does the environment relate to that?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, it relates in 2 ways. First it relates very directly, in the sense that environmental forces, environmental threats, transcend boundaries, and so the effects of environmental degradation frequently is felt by American citizens. You can see that very clearly in the ozone depletion situation, in the climate change. Equally important, though not so well understood, is the effect of the environment on instability abroad. Environmental problems can aggravate existing problems and sometimes give rise to tensions between countries that play themselves out in conflicts.
CURWOOD: Can you give me a case in point?
CHRISTOPHER: I can give you a case in point in the sense that in some countries that we might have an adversarial relationship with, one of the areas in which we have much common ground is the environment. Take the situation with China. When I meet with the Chinese, one of the subjects they're very interested in talking about is the importance of cooperating on the environment. And within a month they'll be sending a team to meet with us on environmental issues. That's the kind of an issue on which the cooperation is so obviously important, it gives us a way to have a dialogue and find common interests.
CURWOOD: Why should China listen to our concerns about this? I mean, this is the way we industrialized.
CHRISTOPHER: I think China recognizes that with their tremendous population and their relative shortage of resources in relation to the population, they've got a problem that must be dealt with. You know, simply because we may have made mistakes in an earlier period of our history, other nations with much vaster populations and fewer resources simply won't be able to afford the kind of extravagances that we did in earlier years. There's a very strong desire on the part of the Chinese to cooperate and consult on this issue, I think in large part, because they recognize the tremendous problems created by their enormous population.
CURWOOD: What is in the best interests of the United States in terms of helping the Soviet, the former Soviet Union deal with its environmental problems?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, we're working at it from a number of different aspects. As you know, President Clinton will be going to Moscow for a nuclear safety summit later this month, and there will have an opportunity to promote nuclear safety, to promote dealing with nuclear plants in a safe way that leads of course into the Chernobyl situation where we urgently have to help ensure that, so far as possible, that there are no more Chernobyls.
CURWOOD: Does that mean money from us, do you think?
CHRISTOPHER: Certainly that would mean money from the international community to close down Chernobyl and to help Ukraine afford more modern emphasis on these safer nuclear plants.
CURWOOD: The climate change convention is coming up in what? Nineteen-ninety-seven?
CURWOOD: Again. What do you think we should do at those negotiations, and how well do you think we're doing here at home in terms of meeting the obligations that we had expressed -- I know they're voluntary -- back when the agreement was signed in Rio?
CHRISTOPHER: Steve, I think that's one of the major issues for 1996. To do the preparation so that can be a successful conference in 1997. There's really been a change in the scientific judgment about it, whereas there used to be some doubt. There now seems to be a strong consensus of scientific opinion that climate change is affected by the actions of human beings. So we've got an opportunity here to begin to convince others and to take actions ourselves to deal with climate change. Otherwise we're likely to find ourselves costing just billions of dollars to our industry, to our insurance companies, as the effect of climate change begin to sweep over us. There's no more important environmental issues, I think, facing us right now than that.
CURWOOD: One of the treaties it cited as a success is the Montreal Protocol and the ozone layer, that called for phasing out CFC production worldwide. But the Customs Service tells us now that CFC smuggling from developing nations is the number 2 problem it faces after drugs, and the price of freon is as low as ever. Are we having a problem trying to enforce this?
CHRISTOPHER: Yes. I think there's unquestionably an enforcement problem. But we've made great progress on this front. There are some chemicals that remain where enforcement is necessary, but we've got a structure -- I think the world has recognized the importance of this -- indeed we plan, in 1997, to have a conference on the implementation of existing agreements. One of the problems in international life is too often agreements are entered into but they're not carried out, they're not implemented, they're not complied with. So we're going to have a conference devoted to that particular issue and certainly the ozone agreements will be focused on there.
CURWOOD: Does that mean the US will wind up as the world's environmental cop?
CHRISTOPHER: No, I think it means that the United States leadership will be vital in order to get the job done.
CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us.
CHRISTOPHER: Thank you very much.
CURWOOD: Warren Christopher is Secretary of State of the United States.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Twenty years ago Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act, banning the manufacture and nearly all the uses of PCBs. According to commentator Jim Hightower, yesterday's pollution nightmare is today's business opportunity, at least in the eyes of the Clinton Administration.
HIGHTOWER: Who says America's business and political leaders won't cooperate to meet the challenges of the new global economy? Who says our corporate bosses have become so fat they've lost their competitive edge? Who says our nation's industrial ingenuity is flagging behind the Japanese? If you think that, buster, you clearly have not heard about the exciting new breakthrough just announced in a joint statement by Washington and Wall Street. At long last the land of the brave and the home of the free is going to be the world's leader in -- burning toxic waste.
Eat your heart out, Japan! The disposal industry has been begging for this opportunity for a long time and the Clinton Administration has just relented, reversing a 16-year ban on bring highly toxic PCB compounds to our golden shores for incineration. That's right, America. Stand proud today because tons of chemical wastes from Canada, Mexico, and God knows where can now cross our borders and come to any of five toxic disposal sites in Texas, Utah, and Kansas. And be burned. Spewing such notorious cancer-causing substances as dioxin into our spacious skies and across our amber waves of grain.
Now we can rewrite the eloquence of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty: Give us your tired, your poor, your PCBs. We banned PCBs for industrial use in our country several years ago because even in small amounts they were found to cause cancer, nerve damage and reproductive disorders. So why are we now opening our doors to these foreign toxics? Because the US disposal industry, which makes big campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans alike, says that since America has banned the manufacture of PCBs, they don't have enough of the Made in the USA stuff to keep their incinerators puffing. Bottom line: these toxic waste traffickers want to import foreign-made PCBs just to keep their incinerators burning and their profits rising. Confronted with such self-serving reasoning, our so-called environmental protectors in Washington said: Duh, sure, okay. And they're waving in thousands of tons of this stuff.
This is not a decision based on need, as the EPA claims, but on unadulterated corporate greed. Like they say, God bless America. And please hurry.
CURWOOD: Former Texas Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower is a political commentator based in Austin, Texas.
CURWOOD: What do you think? Do you agree with the US decision to import PCBs? Give us a call. Our listener comment number is 1-800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. And our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238.
Coming up next: how to keep those dollars down on the farm. Agro-tourism in rural Vermont on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: With no disrespect to the rest of New England, probably the quintessential image of bucolic beauty in the region is the farmland of Vermont. Cows grazing in green valleys. Hay fields just below the rugged mountains. The homage to winter paid by the covered bridge. These postcard portraits help put Vermont among the top 4 tourist destinations in the US. The Vermont Tourism Office thinks that's because baby boomers are getting nostalgic for the rural ambiance of their childhoods, or are searching to find, on vacation at least, a simpler, less hurried way of life. And while Vermont's farms and orchards provide the setting, farmers themselves don't see much of the tourist dollar. But that may change as the state begins to promote what it calls agro-tourism. From Deerfield Valley, Vermont, Tatiana Schreiber has our report.
SCHREIBER: Springtime in Vermont means maple sugaring. The air is pungent with the smell of wood smoke as sap is boiled down to sweet, rich syrup.
(A door creaks; liquids boil)
SCHREIBER: It's also the time of year when Henry and Carrie Wheeler open their sugar house to tourists.
H. WHEELER: I'm just stirring it up a little bit to make it burn a little hotter, and we're going to be drawing off some syrup right away here.
C. WHEELER: There's a new flavor to it when it's first made. And a lot of people are crazy to get it when it's first made. We had a lady here yesterday...
SCHREIBER: The Wheelers run one of the few remaining dairy farms in Vermont's Deerfield Valley, an area that now caters mostly to tourists: skiers in winters, hikers in the summer, leaf peepers in the fall. Henry Wheeler grew up here, Carrie on a nearby farm. Now in their 60s, they married as teenagers and raised 7 children on their 400 acres.
C. WHEELER: I don't think my husband will ever retire. I think as long as he can draw a breath, just like his father before him, that he'll be involved in some aspect of the farm. And I'm hoping that the farm can continue for several generations. But you also have to be realistic.
SCHREIBER: Being realistic, for the Wheelers, means recognizing that nowadays they can't make ends meet on agricultural income alone.
C. WHEELER: And they told us that what we needed was to be -- what's the word I'm looking for? -- diversified. We decided we would get bigger and produce more maple syrup. [A phone rings] Let me just get that phone. Wheeler Farm. All right; we have a half hour or an hour guided tour, and if you ride single for the half hour it's $25. If you ride 2 people on the machine for the half hour it's $40. If you ride for an hour single it's $50 and a double is $80. Our trails...
SCHREIBER: Along with the sugaring and a summer farm stand, the Wheelers now offer guided snowmobile tours of their land. Henry Wheeler jokes that the tours support their farming hobby. Actually, they provide about a quarter of the farm's income. The Wheelers run the tours between milking chores and family members act as guides.
H. WHEELER: I'll start the machine, I'll put out ahead...
SCHREIBER: As bright sun gleams off snow-covered fields, Henry shows a pharmacist from New York how to operate his snowmobile.
H. WHEELER: We won't be going fast. We start in the field, go around the field, you kind of see how the machine's going to act. Now, when we get up in the woods a little bit here you will see some plastic lying where the boys are starting with their sugaring. Okay, any questions? No?
(A snowmobile revs up)
SCHREIBER: The Wheelers and some 30 other southern Vermont agri-tourism ventures are featured in a new brochure, part of a joint project by the state's agriculture and tourism departments, to promote what Bob Townsend calls "the working landscape."
TOWNSEND: Tourists across the country feel that Vermont is the way America used to be 50 years ago. And that's largely, I think, what the tourists expect to see in farming.
SCHREIBER: Bob Townsend is an extension agent with the University of Vermont working to get farmers a share of the millions of dollars tourists bring to the state each year. In addition to snowmobiling, he's encouraging farmers to open their land to cross-country skiing, horseback riding, llama trekking, and eco-tours of wildlife habitats. The kinds of activities he says today's tourists demand.
TOWNSEND: So there's some nostalgic interest. They are stressed out, the whole 2-income earner and very little time, and they want to have quality time with the family in a rural, real setting. Also, they've seen a lot of the high-tech modern theme parks and so forth; they've done that. And now they want to get back on the land. Again, they don't want to necessarily get in the barn cleaning the gutters out, but they want to be able to talk with people who are working the land, know what the issues are, know how their food is being produced. It's a cross-cultural experience they're looking for, too.
(A cow moos.)
WEINSTEIN: [Laughs] It's the one on the other side there that seems to be the most vocal. He's voicing his opinion.
(Several cows moo.)
SCHREIBER: Kathy Weinstein from upstate New York is touring the Wheeler Farm with her husband Jeff and Joshua, their son.
WEINSTEIN: We try to make every day as educational as possible for him, and if he could see up on the hills where they're sugaring and have that idea of where the maple syrup comes from, the trees, and then comes here to the barn and sees the cows and learns a little bit about that, he'll retain it. I mean he's already two and a half, but we've already had that experience with him.
(A cow moos)
SCHREIBER: Farmers involved with tourism say it's a great way to educate children and adults about agricultural life and build advocacy for farm issues. But not every Vermont farme is eager to jump into agro-tourism.
(A bell rings)
MAJOR: We have 3 different groups of ewes and they're all going to lamb. And this is group number one.
SCHREIBER: Cindy Major runs a sheep dairy farm with her husband David. They're happy to give free tours to school groups or other farmers, but Cindy says they're not ready to open to the general public.
MAJOR: When we have people on the farm we want to make sure that the farm is safe, that the farm is clean, that they're not going to interfere with work. We've had people visit us when we're making cheese, and whole batches of cheese had to be thrown away because we've been distracted.
SCHREIBER: The Major Farm is nestled into rolling hills in a peaceful rural neighborhood. Some Vermonters worry that increased tourism in such places will bring the traffic and noise they moved here to escape. Barbara Coleman is a member of the planning commission in Wilmington, where tourism is already firmly established.
COLEMAN: The numbers of snowmobiles that are traveling throughout the area, you can't go out and stand on a hillside, now, without hearing snowmobiles. And we're just taking over every aspect of the Earth, it seems.
SCHREIBER: Coleman says she'd like to help farmers stay in business by changing the tax structure or allowing higher prices for dairy products, rather than pushing farmers to jump on the tourism bandwagon. But she says farm-based tourism does have some advantages over other tourist ventures.
COLEMAN: We're going to be having local farms charging money for things, and therefore those moneys are going to stay in the community. And that's a very important aspect of sustainability in a community. Some of the larger corporations that are here are taking the money elsewhere, and they're looking at the bottom line for their stockholders. Where the farmer is looking at the bottom line for what's going to be put on the table.
SCHREIBER: Only half a million people live in Vermont and only a few thousand farmers, but they maintain the agricultural landscape that draws eight and a half million tourists to the state yearly. The state's Bob Townsend says agro-tourism is an ideal way to support farmers' efforts. The Vermont Department of Agriculture put it another way in a recent article. It said conditions for farmers are unlikely to improve unless farmers diversify their businesses, even if that means giving the occasional reporter a taste of country life on a snowmobile.
H. WHEELER: Now I'm going to get it started, then we'll get on here. [A snowmobile revs up] Okay! All set?
SCHREIBER: Yeah. Uh huh.
(The motor revs up more)
SCHREIBER: For Living on Earth, I'm Tatiana Schreiber on the Wheeler Farm in Wilmington, Vermont.
H. WHEELER: One thing I didn't mention before we started, all of our machines have heated handlebars. Those electric heaters in them, they're controlled by...
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CURWOOD: On Jane Brox's farm in Dracut, Massachusetts, Spring has come and her family is preparing the soil and picking up the branches that fell during an especially harsh winter. As she tells us, along with rebirth and renewal, spring brings uncertainty over what the future holds.
BROX: We call the small rocky field across from the farm house "the early land." It usually dries out by the first ord week in April, and for as long as I can remember it had been the first field my father worked every year. Always the same.
(A motor struggles to start)
BROX: One morning I'd hear the tractor engine, even and deep, as he made his way across the winter rye leaving a wake of polished, turned over soil.
(The motor runs)
BROX: The spring air steepened with the smell of mineral earth, and the work year all of a sudden felt open to me. All we looked forward to, all we were responsible for, our clear and narrow way.
(The motor runs. Fade to the sound of branches breaking)
BROX: Not that the work hadn't started months before. By this far into the year, we've pruned the apple and peach trees. The cuttings are laid down in soldierly windrows waiting to be gathered into brush piles. And in the greenhouse, fragrant with damp peaty growing mix, tomato and pepper seedlings are warming in the trays.
But the pruning and greenhouse work begins while the world is still spare and cold. The footprints we make in soft noonday mud are frozen in place the next morning. To me, it doesn't seem as if the spring really starts until I hear the tractor turning over that first field.
(The tractor motor runs. Fade to bird call)
BROX: How different the same sound can feel at different times. The morning dove's first solitary call of the year one bright spring morning isn't the same as her call extinguishing the August dusk.
(The dove calls)
BROX: And the cut of a relic scythe used rarely and self-consciously.
(The scythe cuts)
BROX: How can it sound the same as the scythe used as an everyday tool?
(The scythe cuts)
BROX: My father died in late December. Now, my brother alone works the tractor across the rye and I'm apprehensive when I hear the reliable sound of its engine. I can't help but wonder about what's to come, and how all of us will get along. I wonder if we've learned what we need to keep things going. My father knew so much about the land, the crops, the weather. A knowledge grown into over the long years of his life. A knowledge we've come to depend on.
All winter, with the snow, the quiet, the fire I'd looked into for months, I was afraid of how the spring would make me feel. I was afraid I'd miss my father most when the season opened up again.
(The sound of branches being moved)
BROX: But now that I'm out picking up the prunings in the orchard and gathering them into piles of brush, walking back and forth among the rows of spare, turned trees, I'm starting to feel more sure of my responsibilities. He'd say work was good for that. For getting out of a doubting winter mind.
BROX: I can hear the call of the finches and chickadees, and the brook and flood rushing over its tumbled granite bed.
BROX: As I traced the way my father worked for countless seasons, I can't help but think about the course of his life. As he carried the farm through this dark accelerating century, it couldn't have been easy. He had to make his own lone decisions as he faced the passings of the ones he loved and relied on. The very sound of his work changed relentlessly. At first he knew only the patient breathing of oxen and work horses. That was before the entrenched noise of an engine in the fields.
(The tractor motor runs)
BROX: I always think of my father on the tractor. That's what I remember. But he liked to remember how he plowed the early land with a matched pair of horses. Back then he must have felt some of the apprehension I feel now, as he stepped into the soft, turned earth. Certain of nothing other than the love he had for this place.
(The dove calls. Footfalls)
CURWOOD: Jane Brox lives and writes in Dracut, Massachusetts. Her latest book is Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family. Her commentaries are produced by Sandy Tolan.
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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Special thanks to the National Science Foundation for transportation for our series on Antarctica, and to members station KPLU, Seattle. Senior producer for Living on Earth is Chris Ballman. Our editor is Peter Thomson and our director is Deborah Stavro. The production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Liz Lempert, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. We had help from Mark Borrelli, Susan Shepherd, Michael Argue, and Emily Atkinson. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Frank DeAngelis and Mark Navin. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthellier and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
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