Air Date: September 25, 1998
New Mexico Greens: Political Spoilers?/ Vicki Monks
In the U.S. today, The Green Party holds more than two dozen locally elected offices around the nation. This fall, Greens are seeking offices from county commissioner to Congress. Perhaps the most closely watched races are in New Mexico, where Green candidates are vying for two of the three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and hope a strong showing will give them more clout in state politics. But as Vicki Monks reports, the two party system has many calling the Greens electoral spoilers. (09:00)
What if you live in New Mexico and want to vote for the Green Party candidate, but on election day decide to vote for one of the two major parties, because you feel you would "waste" your vote on a third party candidate who doesn't have real a chance of winning? That dilemma is just one of the drawbacks of plurality voting rules that govern most U.S. elections. But, there is an alternative called "instant voter runoff." The Green Party in New Mexico is advocating this electoral reform . Steve Curwood asked Rob Ritchie of the Center for Voting and Democracy in Washington, D.C. to explain how it would work. (04:00)
Jet Skis: Aquatic Motorbikes/ Rosy Weiser
The racket of a loud motorcycle out on the water: the jet ski controversy is here. Under a new proposal by the National Park Service jet skis would be banned or restricted in all but 12 of the nation's national parks. The move is the latest twist in the heated debate about jet skis. Sales are booming, to the dismay of those who say the vehicles are noisy, dirty and dangerous. Rosy Weiser reports from San Francisco, one city that's recently moved to muffle the jet ski. (07:15)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about... Henry Ford built a lot of cars for America, but he didn’t build the first. That honor goes to Charles and Frank Duryea. 105 years ago this month , brothers put the country’s first gasoline-powered automobile on the road, in Springfield, Massachusetts. (01:30)
Paris' Day Without Cars/ Sarah Chayes
On September 22nd, the "City of Light" became the "city without cars". At least for the day. Paris was one of thirty-five French cities that tried to persuade residents that their personal mobility doesn't depend on the automobile. In a program dubbed "in town without my car" officials halted traffic on certain streets, bolstered public transport, and even loaned out bicycles. The government hopes the initiative will become a yearly event. But it may not, as the French, like us, have a romance with their cars. Sarah Chayes reports from Paris. (04:30)
Noisy Cloister For Rent
- Last December, we brought you the story of the Nova Nada Carmelite Hermitage, near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The Hermitage is cloistered in a forest near the lands of the giant timber holdings of the J.D. Irving Company , and the chainsaws disrupt the silence that is central to their contemplative way of life. So the Hermitage residents asked for a two-mile no-logging zone around their retreat. J.D. Irving agreed to the first mile, but not the second. Further talks have failed, and this week, Nova Nada’s ten brothers and sisters are packing their bags and abandoning their home for what they say will be at least a year-long sabbatical. Mother Tessa Bielecki, co- founder of the Monastery, tells Steve Curwood that the Hermitage residents don't object to logging per se. (04:00)
Stealing Grapes/ Susan Carol Hauser
As the temperatures start to dip, many of us try stealing away, to capture any remaining warmth the season may yield. We cherish a sunny, Indian summer afternoon as winters' cold prepares to tighten its icy grip. But for commentator Susan Carol Hauser, the arrival of autumn prompts her to start thinking about thievery of a different nature. Susan Carol Hauser's latest book is called "Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup". She comes to us from K-N-B-J in Bemidji, Minnesota. (02:30)
Environmentalism, Indonesian Style/ Cindy Shiner
The Asian archipelago of Indonesia hosts some of the most abundant and diverse natural resources in the world. Indonesia's vast rain forest is second in size only to the Amazon's. No other country has a longer coastline; and its waters are filled with spectacular coral reefs and marine life. But decades of abuse, neglect and official corruption have taken a hefty toll on Indonesia's environment. A new reform-minded administration took over in May, kindling hope among ecologists and activists. But with the region's economy now in free-fall, so far there has been little cash available to enhance environmental protection. Cindy Shiner begins our report from the capital, Jakarta. (12:00)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Vicki Monks, Rosy Weiser, Sarah Chayes, Cindy Shiner
GUESTS: Rob Ritchie, Mother Tessa Bielecki
COMMENTATOR: Susan Carol Hauser
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
In New Mexico, liberal Democrats are facing increase competition from the newly-active Green Party, and so far that's helping the Republicans.
RODGERS: In every single election in which it has been a player, it has served to elect anti-environmental, Newt Gingrich-type Republicans.
CURWOOD: Also, moves to restrict jet skis in national parks. Some say these water-borne dirt bikes are annoying and dangerous, but others say their use is a matter of personal freedom.
DENNY: Maybe they'll try and get personal water craft off the water, and next they'll try and get fishing boats off the water, and next they'll try and get some other type of motor boat off the water, so the canoers and the kayakers can have the water to themselves.
CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more, coming up this week on NPR's Living on Earth. First the news.
(NPR News follows)
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Green Party, long active in western Europe, has recently and slowly been gaining adherence in the United States. Today Greens hold more than 2 dozen local elective offices around the nation, and this fall Greens are seeking offices from county commissioner to Congress. Perhaps the most closely-watched races are in New Mexico, where Green candidates are vying for 2 of the 3 seats in the US House of Representatives. Green Party leaders hope a strong showing will give them more clout in New Mexico politics. But as Vicki Monks reports, the 2-party system has many calling the Greens electoral spoilers.
(A milling crowd)
REDMOND: Thanks so much for being here today. Appreciate it. Appreciate your support; thank you!
MONKS: At Santa Fe's Fiesta Parade, Republican Congressman Bill Redmond works the crowd, trailed by an eclectic contingent of supporters. A group of young women dancers, one skinhead, several bikers on Harleys, and some of the more conventional supporters of a Western Republican.
(An engine revs up)
MAN: Vote for Redmond! All right! Vote for Redmond, good hombre!
(Vehicle drives off amidst band music)
MAN 2: We are Americans proud to be here today representing loggers, miners, ranchers, sportsmen, private property owners...
MAN 3: And God hates abortion!
MAN 2: And God hates abortion.
(More engines; someone cheers; more band music)
MONKS: But for people familiar with New Mexico politics, one of Mr. Redmond's followers here really stands out: the white-haired, bushy-bearded Roberto Mondragon, who ran for governor in 1994 as a member of the Green Party. It was Mr. Mondragon's 10% showing in that race that catapulted the Greens to major party status. That means the state pays for Green Party primaries, and Green candidates are automatically added to ballots. Since then, Mr. Mondragon has left the Greens. He's backing Mr. Redmond because of their common position on a single issue: a fight to return all Spanish land grant areas from Federal ownership to a group of Hispanic families. It seems an unlikely alliance, but to many observers it's part of a bigger picture. When Mr. Mondragon ran for Governor, the Republican candidate won. And Albuquerque Journal columnist Larry Calloway says many Democrats still blame the Greens.
CALLOWAY: There's been no evidence brought to light that the Republicans are really actively using the Greens. They're certainly profiting from them. And certainly the Republicans love the Green party and wish it well.
MONKS: The presence of Green Party candidates in 2 recent Congressional races also helped send 2 conservative Republicans to Washington. In Albuquerque, the Green candidate took 16% of the vote in a special election last spring. And last year here in northern New Mexico, Green Carol Miller won 17% of the vote in the race to replace Bill Richardson, who left Congress to become Ambassador to the United Nations. Richardson is a liberal Democrat, and Democrats outnumber Republicans in this district nearly 2 to 1. But with Carol Miller taking much of the liberal vote, Republican Bill Redmond won. Both Green candidates are running for Congress again this fall, and that's making many of the state's environmentalists angry.
RODGERS: The Green Party has been one of the greatest electoral boons to the Republican Party in the history of the state of New Mexico.
MONKS: Sally Rodgers heads the non-partisan New Mexico Conservation Voters Alliance.
RODGERS: In every single election in which it has been a player, it has served to elect anti-environmental, anti-socially-progressive, Newt Gingrich-type Republicans. That's a very, very serious concern.
MONKS: Representative Redmond has voted to approve road-building in wilderness areas, to limit protection of endangered species, to freeze fuel efficiency standards for cars, and to delay enforcement of stricter clean air standards. Even some Greens say it's not worth the risk of re-electing someone with a record like that.
GUTMAN: I don't believe in good conscience that we can contribute to his return to Congress under these circumstances.
MONKS: Abraham Gutman is one of the founders of the New Mexico Green Party. He's run for City Council, state legislature, and US Senate as a Green. He wants to see the party become a strong electoral force, but he says it doesn't do the Greens any good to help defeat a candidate who shares most of their values and elect one who does not.
GUTMAN: I believe we can only effectively build this party by being very selective in choosing our battles. Carol Miller is not going to get elected to Congress in 1998, and I hope to see her in Congress some day. But right now, my priority is to get Tom Udall elected and to make sure that Bill Redmond is not in Congress any more.
MONKS: Tom Udall is the Democrat in the race with Mr. Redmond and Ms. Miller. Mr. Gutman has organized a Greens For Udall campaign. In his 2 terms of New Mexico's Attorney General, Mr. Udall has developed close ties with environmentalist. He's also the son of Stewart Udall, the former Congressman, Interior Secretary, and legendary environmental crusader. Green candidate Carol Miller is not deterred by the threat of being called a spoiler who could keep Mr. Udall from winning. If the Democrats can't win a 3-party race, she says, it's their own fault, not hers.
MILLER: Sixty percent of the registered voters in this district are Democrats. If they can come up with candidates that the Democratic voters want and will actually go to the polls and vote for, they've got it made. I mean, the Greens are only 1% of the registered voters.
MONKS: In Ms. Miller's view, New Mexico's Democratic party is politically bankrupt, practicing traditional insider politics with a timid conservative agenda.
(Milling and cheering crowd)
MAN: Bill. Bill Redmond!
MAN 2: Yay, Bill!
(More cheering; the band strikes up)
MAN 3: Viva New Mexico!
MONKS: From his point, Congressman Redmond joins Carol Miller in dismissing charges that Green candidates are responsible for Democratic losses.
REDMOND: If the Democrats of New Mexico think that they're only bleeding to the left, toward the Green Party, they really need to wake up and realize that they're bleeding to the right as well. There are more people moving out of the Democrat party into the Republican party than moving from Democrat to Green.
(The band and cheering continue)
MONKS: Still, Mr. Redmond has tried at least once to sway voters from Democrat to Green. In the last election, his campaign mailed copies of a pro- Green Party newspaper article to Democrats.
GIRL 1: I say dump!
GIRL 2: You say Udall!
GIRLS: Dump! Udall! Dump! Udall!
GIRL 1: I say dump!
GIRL 2: You say Udall!
GIRLS: Dump! Udall! Dump! Udall!
MONKS: Democrat Tom Udall believes that, at least in this district, it is the voters on the left who will decide the election. And he's making a pitch straight to potential Green voters.
UDALL: This Green Party here in New Mexico has a large number of issues that they're concerned about, and these are the issues that I have been working on as Attorney General the last 7-1/2 years. So our real challenge is to bring them back into the fold and we're going to do that.
MAN 1: We're gonna get this done, aren't we?
MAN 2: We certainly are.
MAN 1: Hey, Joe!
WOMAN: How are you? Good to see, hi!
MONKS: Polls suggest that Mr. Udall may win back many of the Democrats who defected to the Greens in the last election. A recent Albuquerque Journal survey found Mr. Udall with 42% of the vote, Representative Redmond with 35%, and Carol Miller with just 8%. Meanwhile, the Green Party has decided to stay out of some key races, including this year's contest for Governor. Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Martin Chavez says the Greens decided not to run partly because he pledged to work for electoral reforms. Reforms that would make it easier for third parties to run for office. Even though his party has recently been hurt by the Greens, Mr. Chavez says more parties make for better democracy.
CHAVEZ: The days when 2 parties alone served all the interests seem to be passing us by as we approach the new century. And so, this allows other interests, all the interests to participate, and no one essentially to be excluded in the process.
MONKS: The rise of New Mexico's Greens has opened up the political process. But voters here can be forgiven if it's left their heads spinning just a bit. They have a Democrat who avoids a challenge from the Greens in part by promising to make it easier to Greens to challenge Democrats. Another Democrat tries to win back Green votes while running against a Republican who prodded Democrats to vote Green. A prominent Green endorses a Democrat. A prominent ex-Green marches with a Republican. And as the Greens have bitten off big chunks of the electorate, Republicans captured 3 big races with less than half the vote. Got all that? The Greens have yet to win a major office in New Mexico, but they're certainly shaking up the state's politics. For Living on Earth, I'm Vicki Monks in Santa Fe.
CURWOOD: So, what if you live in New Mexico and want to vote for the Green Party candidate, but on election day you feel compelled to pull the level of 1 of the 2 major parties, because you feel you would, quote, "waste your vote" on a third party candidate who doesn't have a real chance of winning. That dilemma is just one of the drawbacks of plurality voting rules that govern most US elections. But there is an alternative, called instant voter runoff. The Green Party in New Mexico is advocating this electoral reform. I asked Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy in Washington, DC, to explain how it would work.
RICHIE: It's really as easy as one-two-three. You rank your favorite candidate first, and then you say, "But my second-favorite candidate is so- and-so." So let's say that a supporter for Carol Miller in this year's race supports Tom Udall as her second choice. Then that voter would say Carol Miller first and then second choice Udall. And you would add up the first choices, and if no one has a majority, then you would say, "Let's look at the people who voted for Carol Miller as their first choice. Let's see who their second choices are," and then just move those ballots to whoever's listed second. And then once those ballots are transferred, that will push one or the other over 50% and then we have a real majority winner.
CURWOOD: Who really wins in instant runoff voting, do you think?
RICHIE: Well, in some ways you would say the voters do. They make sure that the winner is really the one that most people prefer, rather than someone sneaking in simply because the majority split its vote. But then I think they also do well to have another voice in the process, and another voice participating and talking about some issues that the major party candidates might ignore.
CURWOOD: It's very difficult to run on a third party in this country. At the Presidential level we've seen them come and go. Would this instant runoff voter change that dynamic? Would it be more possible to have third parties?
RICHIE: It would be a strong step for third parties. They would be able to participate without that spoiler tag, and therefore voters could look at them on their merits and drop all calculations about whether this candidate's really just hurting that major party candidate or the other major party candidate.
CURWOOD: Doesn't this ranking system have a tendency to confuse voters, though? I mean, ranking's kind of complicated. People might say, "Oh, I don't know what to do when I go to the polls." You might have less of a turnout.
RICHIE: Every time that we start something new, a lot of people don't understand it at the very first blink. But then they, you know, blink a couple more times and they think about it. And it really is a very simple system, and the instant runoff voting and other kind of preferential ballot systems are used in other countries, some of whom have the highest voter turnout in the world.
CURWOOD: And there's a real Presidential election in which instant runoff voting was used. This is, what, 1990 in Ireland, as I understand it?
RICHIE: That's right. They used the system in Ireland. They used it in '97 and they used it in 1990 in a Presidential election that -- people generally don't follow Irish politics, but this was one that caught more people's eye. Because Mary Robinson was elected, the first woman president of Ireland. And what's interesting is the vote almost mirrored exactly what happened in New Mexico in 97. There was a candidate that had about 44% in first choices and then Mary Robinson had about 38 or 39%, you know, several percentage points behind. And then another candidate who had about 15%. And if it had been a plurality election, then that male candidate would have won and that would have been the end of it. But because it was an instant runoff vote, they therefore transferred the ballots cast for that candidate who had only 15% and most of those people turned out to have supported Mary Robinson over the male candidate. And she won with something like 52%. And you can sort of think about the different parts of that: the candidate that got 15% was not punished for participating. The voters who supported that candidate were not punished for supporting that candidate. And ultimately the candidate with the true majority support won.
CURWOOD: Rob Richie is Executive Director of the Center for Voting and Democracy in Washington, DC. Thanks for joining us.
RITCHIE: Sure. Thank you.
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CURWOOD: When we return, the thrill and the racket of a loud motorbike out on the water. The jet ski controversy is next here on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Under a new proposal by the National Park Service, jet skis would be banned or restricted in all but 12 of the nation's national parks. The move is the latest twist in the heated debate about jet skis. Sales are booming, to the dismay of those who say the vehicles are noisy, dirty, and dangerous. Rosy Weiser reports from San Francisco, one city that's recently moved to muffle the jet ski.
(A boat engine revs up)
WEISER: At the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, 5 men slide their boats into the water and start their engines. The weather out here is often windy and the water is usually choppy, perfect conditions for a daredevil like Ramone Alvarez.
ALVAREZ: I personally enjoy faces of waves that are a minimum of 6 feet high to 10 feet high. That's perfect for me. I personally like to jump them.
WEISER: Mr. Alvarez rides what manufacturers call a personal watercraft, but what's commonly called a jet ski: a brand name that gives a better idea of what these maneuverable little machines are like.
ALVAREZ: Hanno and I do what we call nose stabs. You jump into the air, you turn your ski in midair, upside down, and then you stab directly into the water. And when you do it right, you submerge. I mean, you can't even see us. And it's a thrill that you can't get riding on flat water.
WEISER: And it's a thrill Mr. Alvarez won't be able to enjoy in San Francisco waters much longer. The city moved this month to ban jet skiers within a quarter mile of its shoreline. Supervisor Gavin Newsom says the tiny, high- powered boats, which reach speeds upwards of 60 miles an hour, are a threat to people and wildlife.
NEWSOM: We have a lot of swimmers in the Bay. And when you look at the surfers and you look at the wind-surfers and the kayakers that are being threatened by these very loud, very quick and wave-hopping machines, we've had a lot of complaints. We have sea lion pups in the bay that are lost because these jet skis fly right through.
WEISER: One group that pushed hard for the ban was the Earth Island Institute. Conservation director Sean Smith says what's happening in San Francisco reflects a growing national irritation with jet skis. Or what he calls "floating chainsaws."
SMITH: No matter where you are, if you're on the shore, if you're on top of a mountain or down on a dock, you hear that jet ski. Whereas the jet skier may be totally oblivious to the person that's fishing, the person that's hiking along the shore, or the person that's mountain climbing.
WEISER: Now other California counties are considering jet ski restrictions modeled on San Francisco's. Bans or restrictions have already been imposed on several California lakes, as well as along the Florida keys and around the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Also, the National Park Service has just announced limits in some areas. But the concerns go beyond noise and nuisance.
(A jet ski engine)
WEISER: This Earth Island Institute video shows a test where a jet ski was put in a tank of water and run continuously for an hour and a half.
SMITH: After 95 minutes we scraped the side, and the entire side of the tank is covered with gas and oil.
WEISER: Sean Smith says these vessels are big polluters. According to the state of California, jet skis and other boats with similar engines dump up to a third of their fuel directly into the water. Meanwhile, the state says the half million boats of this type here produce as much smog as 4 million cars. These environmental problems have led the California Air Resources Board and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to issue new pollution standards for these boats. But jet ski manufacturers say the pollution statistics have been exaggerated. John Donaldson, the executive director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, says history shows these vehicles aren't a big problem.
DONALDSON: CARB and EPA have been regulating automotive engines for over 30 years. This year, they decided to regulate marine engines. This year. One of the things that tells me is that the level of pollution produced by recreational marine engine use is 30 years down the priority list for the people whose responsibility it is to oversee the clean-up of the air and water in our country.
WEISER: Mr. Donaldson won't say why, but he thinks jet skis are being unfairly singled out. Regulators offer a simple reason. They're paying more attention these days because pollution laws are getting tighter, and jet skis are the fastest-growing part of the boating industry, with over a million now in use and about 200,000 new sales a year. But jet ski enthusiasts worry that restrictions like the ones in San Francisco don't merely target pollution. They target a particular kind of recreation. That worries Mark Denny, a lobbyist with the International Jet Sports Boating Association. He says public waterways should be available for all kinds of boaters, and he fears environmentalists won't stop with jet skis.
DENNY: Hey, maybe they'll try and get personal water craft off the water, and next they'll try and get fishing boats off the water, and next they'll try and get some other type of motor boat off the water, so the canoers and the kayakers can have the water to themselves.
WEISER: For now, bending to pressure, the industry is shaping up. They're building cleaner engines, and some are also working on quieter models. And John Donaldson of the manufacturer's group says any remaining problems, like reckless driving and harassment of wildlife, can easily be remedied.
DONALDSON: If you say, well only personal watercraft do this, well the boat doesn't do it, the operator does. That's why you need education. That's why you need enforcement. That's why you need awareness.
WEISER: The need for boating education programs and better enforcement of maritime law is one area, at least, where both sides see eye to eye. But Sean Smith of the Earth Island Institute says manufacturers can't plead innocent to the impact of their product.
SMITH: Jet skis are advertised as and marketed as high-speed, adrenaline-pumping thrill craft. They use words like "aggressive handling," "hard- charging," and "speed so fast it'll pin your ears to your head." Then what happens is industry will come back and say well, it's a few bad apples that are spoiling this for everyone. And we point to their ads saying, "Look, these bad apples are using the product exactly the way you are marketing them to be used."
(A jet ski engine revs up; water splashes)
WEISER: Back in San Francisco, the group of jet skiers docks and packs up their gear, knowing their days of riding here and many other places are numbered. But they're not ready to beach their boats for good.
MAN: There's going to be nowhere left for us to do it other than in Mexico (laughs), I mean, pretty soon we'll be doing our monthly trips to Mexico.
WEISER: For Living on Earth, I'm Rosy Weiser in San Francisco.
MAN 2: Ah, I gotta do that after a ride. Oh man, I did this nose stab, and I didn't get it all the way turned. I hit a nice big wave but I didn't get it rotated. And I went in like this. And my finish was sticking up, I slapped it so hard it ripped my helmet off.
MAN 3: It ripped your helmet off?
MAN 2: (laughs) It ripped my helmet off.
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CURWOOD: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: Coming up: a day without cars in Paris, sort of. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
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SECOND HALF HOUR
ANNOUNCER: Stonyfield Farm and Living on Earth are partners in the 1998 Planet Protector Contest, and we want to hear from kids 8 to 14 about what they're doing to protect the planet. To enter, kids can send a 1-page essay about their efforts to build a healthy planet. Look for contest details on our Web site. That's www.livingonearth.org. Or, on Stonyfield Farm Planet Protector quart containers.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
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CURWOOD: Henry Ford built a lot of cars for America, but he didn't build the first. That honor goes to Charles and Frank Duryea. A hundred and five years ago this month, the brothers put the country's first gasoline-powered automobile on the road in Springfield, Massachusetts. Their horseless carriage weighed 700 pounds. Its 6-horsepower engine had a top speed of 20 miles an hour. That was fast enough to win the country's first automobile race held 2 years later on the shores of Lake Michigan. By 1896, the brothers had started the Duryea Motor Wagon Company and sold 13 of their automobiles at around $1,500 apiece. An ad for the vehicle touted its practicality, quote, "on all roads over which common traffic passes." Today, though, that claim might be misleading. A hundred years after the Duryeas first got auto wheels rolling, commuters fed up with traffic gridlock in Lisbon, Portugal, decided to highlight the shortcomings of the car. So, they held a race between a Ferrari and a burro on a 1-1/2 mile stretch of heavily-traveled highway. The burro won with 4 minutes to spare. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: On September 22nd, the City of Light became the city without cars, at least for the day. Paris was one of 35 French cities that tried to persuade residents that their personal mobility doesn't depend upon the automobile. In a program dubbed, "In town without my car," officials halted traffic on certain streets, bolstered public transport, and even loaned out bicycles. The government hopes the initiative will become a yearly event. But it may not, as the French, like us, have a romance with their cars. Sarah Chayes reports from Paris.
CHAYES: A normal day in the labyrinth of downtown Paris streets can be jarring.
(More honking, yelling)
CHAYES: Congestion, noise, and air pollution are on the rise in France. And some city dwellers have gotten so concerned they left their cars at home for a day, making Tuesday sound like this in places.
(A bell dings)
CHAYES: Out of 35 towns participating in this week's operation, 4 closed their city centers to traffic completely. Some held street fairs with music and theater. The conservative Paris City Council grudgingly blocked off 35 out of 1,000 total miles of streets.
(Many milling voices)
CHAYES: At City Hall Plaza, people waited under a circus tent to borrow one of the shiny yellow bikes lined up in rows. Handsome white men in white coveralls adjusted seats and handlebars. It was the French telephone company's contribution to the initiative. Marie-Catherine Jusseran explains.
JUSSERAN: First Telephone Company's a partner of this operation because we think that it's a great thing to discover a town with bike. Biking in Paris is very different with bikes.
CHAYES: Also, with a swarm of TV cameras and a trademark plaque on each bike, it was an excellent source of advertising. But even that calculation, the realization that environmentalism can be profitable, shows attitudes are changing in France. Erman Schneider of the environmental group Green Network says the mere awareness of the dangers of air pollution is quite recent.
SCHNEIDER: We had some very heavy air pollution 2 years ago in Paris, and there was really a concern because most of the French cities had no equipment to measure the air pollution. And so nobody was informed.
CHAYES: Since then, air quality monitoring and public information have improved. There's now a national 3-tier alert system. Last month, Paris and several other cities hit level 2 for ozone for days on end, triggering automatic traffic reduction measures. Despite excellent public transport systems, roughly two thirds of trips to work in France are made by car. Carpooling is almost nonexistent, and almost half the auto rides cover distances of less than 2 miles. For Patrick Fragman, in charge of air pollution issues at the Environment Ministry, it's a cultural problem.
FRAGMAN: People want to have a car. People want to use a car, even though they could use public transportation systems.
CHAYES: Fragman admits this week's initiative won't do much to change that.
FRAGMAN: The main objective is just to try to arouse the awareness of Parisians and people from the other cities about those problems.
CHAYES: And though most complain Paris didn't close off enough streets, bike borrowers at City Hall like Herald Clairegirard were thrilled.
CLAIREGIRALD: It's the first time they ever organized something like this in Paris. We have great weather and Paris is a beautiful city, so I think we'll enjoy it, the holiday. Shall be great.
CHAYES: In the nearby Marais neighborhood, you could make out an uncanny sound.
CHAYES: Footsteps. Pedestrian Pascal Benoit describes what this street is usually like.
BENOIT: Normally, there are many cars, and you cannot walk on the street. Even if you come with a car, you have to wait a long time.
CHAYES: So do you think it's a good idea?
BENOIT: Of course, of course! (Laughs) Yes.
CHAYES: Others are less convinced. Shopkeepers fumed. The mayor of the southern town of Pau refused to participate, calling the initiative "a useless gimmick." Paris district mayor Francois Lebel dismisses efforts to reduce traffic.
LABELLE: (Speaks in French)
CHAYES: He says, to think you could go to work on a bike in a 21st century in Paris, New York, or Los Angeles, is of course totally absurd. Absurd or not, police estimate Paris traffic fell by almost 20% on Downtown Without My Car Day. Just enough to get rid of the bottlenecks. For Living on Earth, I'm Sarah Chayes in Paris.
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CURWOOD: Last December we brought you the story of the Nova Nada Carmelite Hermitage near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The hermitage is cloistered in a forest near the lands of the giant timber holdings of the J.D. Irving Company, and the chainsaws disrupt the silence that is central to the contemplative way of life. So the Hermitage residents asked for a 2-mile no-logging zone around their retreat. J.D. Irving agreed to the first mile, but not the second. Further talks have failed, and this week Nova Nada's 10 brothers and sisters are packing their bags and abandoning their home for what they say will be at least a year-long sabbatical. Mother Tessa Bielecki, co-founder of the Monastery, tells me the Hermitage residents don't object to logging per se.
BIELECKI: We work the woods ourselves in sustainable ways that are consistent with our way of life. It's the high-tech, heavily industrialized type of logging that's going on that is completely antithetical to our being here.
CURWOOD: Why are you leaving now?
BIELECKI: It is just so painful here, not only because of the noise which we hear outside in our woods, but the very struggle itself has become destructive of our way of life. And we just need a very serious break.
CURWOOD: Now let me ask you this. I understand that in May, J.D. Irving said look, we'll leave a 2-mile buffer zone alone for 5 years, and every sixth year we'll come in and log for about 3 months. Now, as I understand it, you decided that that wasn't enough. Why not?
BIELECKI: It is unacceptable to us because all it does is postpone a final solution. I mean, how would you feel if you were required to move away at your own expense, shut down your whole business and it's also important to realize that we earn our livelihood here. What if this were a resort or a school or a hospital? And would anybody else be required to shut down and go away so that this monstrously wealthy company could do what it wants to do? There's a lot of dark aspects to this.
CURWOOD: What's dark?
BIELECKI: Well, it's just much more than meets the eye. It's not about the logging. It's about not giving in. We have really learned a lot about how what's happening here at Nova Nada at our Monastery is a microcosm for what's happening around the province of Nova Scotia, all of Canada, which is now known as the Brazil of the North, and then of course throughout the world.
CURWOOD: Is it consistent with your beliefs to engage in political struggle?
BIELECKI: Yes, it is. I think there's a very false impression of monks and certainly of hermits. You know, even if you look up the word "hermit," I did this once and it was a dictionary from the mid-50s. And the definition of a hermit was someone who hates people and is antisocial, withdraws from society completely, and lets his hair grow and his fingernails grow long and never washes. Well, you know, we just roared over this description. The genuine hermit is nothing like this. The hermit moves into solitude, first of all, to pray for the world, to be a witness to the world, and then to provide the world with a silent and solitary place for other people to come. And we certainly live in a very noisy, frantic, increasingly insane society. And part of what our life does is model balance and sanity to a very neurotic world.
CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today. Mother Tessa Bielecki is the abbess mother of the Nova Nada Carmelite Hermitage near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Thank you very much.
(A bell tolls)
BIELECKI: Thank you, Steve. It was a good pleasure talking to you.
(Bell tolling continues, with heartbeat drum and music up and under)
CURWOOD: As the temperatures start to dip, many of us try stealing away to capture any remaining warmth the season may yield. We cherish a sunny Indian Summer afternoon as winter's cold prepares to tighten its icy grip. But for commentator Susan Carol Hauser, the arrival of autumn prompts her to start thinking about thievery of a different nature.
HAUSER: The treeline south of us, the one I can see from my kitchen window, has begun to blush yellow. And on the highway to town, that red maple on the west side of the road has ignited. It is always the first to turn and the most brilliant. A match in flame, it sparks the other trees, and in a week the forest will be on fire.
Now we know it is time to go steal wild grapes. We found a cache a few years ago on the little road that leads to the peninsula across the bay from our land. We had been there in the winter, on skis. There is an old pioneer house. It kneels under a yard full of great oaks, spared the lumberjack's saw because of the homestead, and leans against a row of lilacs planted as a hedge against the prevailing Westerlies.
That frigid day, the great boards of the house glistened in hard sun and the last hank of a curtain, caught outside a broken window, moved as though by spirit in the chill breeze. This time the air is warm and sweet as we bump along the road that no one uses. Car windows open. We each trail an arm in the air, the way a child leans out of a boat and draws a line in the water.
We drive past the house, stop the car right in the road, take out our buckets, and approach the vineyard. Many things like to grow in that open patch of sun, and our feet grapple with brush and the tough weeds that keep the shoulder of every path. Balancing thus between field and forest, we pick. We get 6 pails full, enough for a winter's worth of jelly.
Finished with our task, we still do not want to go home. We want to stay a while in this hiatus, free of human boundaries, of divisions, of lines. We drive to the end of the peninsula, sit in the car, and surround it by pails of stolen grapes, a brief hedge against the passing of time. We listen to the breeze rattling in the bright and dying leaves.
CURWOOD: Susan Carol Hauser's latest book is called Sugartime: the Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup. She comes to us from KNBJ in Bemidji, Minnesota.
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CURWOOD: We welcome your comments on our program. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or send us an e-mail at LOE@NPR.ORG. Once again, LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can find our Web page at www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org. Just ahead: Indonesia's environment under fire. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Asian archipelago of Indonesia hosts some of the most abundant and diverse natural resources in the world. Indonesia's vast rainforest is second in size only to the Amazon's. No other country has a longer coastline, and its waters are filled with spectacular coral reefs and marine life. But decades of abuse, neglect, and official corruption have taken a hefty toll on Indonesia's environment. A new reform-minded administration took over in May, kindling hope among ecologists and activists. But with the region's economy now in free-fall, so far there's been little cash available to enhance environmental protection. Cindy Shiner begins our report from the capital, Jakarta.
(Milling, shouting people. A riot in process, glass breaking)
SHINER: Anger in response to 3 decades of corrupt and authoritarian rule erupted into rioting on the streets of Indonesia's major cities last May. The violence came on the heels of daily student protests. Among demonstrators' demands was an end to plundering of the nation's wealth, including its natural resources. The violence heralded a new era in Indonesia. President Suharto stepped down after 32 years in power, and a new government, promising an end to corruption and the beginning of democracy, took over. Most Indonesians breathed a sigh of relief, including the country's environmentalists. While the urban dwellers witnessed destruction on a brief but violent scale, environmentalists had been watching the systematic deterioration of the countryside for decades.
(A man shouts amidst flames)
SHINER: The devastation peaked last year when fires raged across Indonesian land on the islands of Borneo and parts of Sumatra. Here, a farmer relies on a few barrels of water and a green garden hose to save his chicken farm from encroaching flames. The scene was repeated over and over again across the island.
(Fire truck engines)
SHINER: Fire trucks sped to the edge of forests and emptied their small water tanks.
SHINER: Helicopters unleashed water over burning trees, but the fires proved to be too much to handle They cost Southeast Asia at least $4 billion in 1997 alone in medical care and lost timber and tourism revenues. Drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon exacerbated the fires. Environmentalists say many of the blazes were intentionally set, some by companies with links to the former First Family seeking to clear land for lucrative agricultural concessions. Emy Hafild, the executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, says Suharto's corrupt government had allowed businesses to run roughshod over Indonesia's environment.
HAFILD: Before the last fire, the government has ruled that the company should not use fire in the clearing of land. Of course, the field officers who were supposed to control it did not, you know, control it. They got bribe money, you know, things like that. And then also, the higher official here in Jakarta, usually they are under payment by, you know, the logging companies, you know, that may be a monthly allowance or ticket for trips abroad or playing golf, whatever, or cars, even, you know.
SHINER: The corruption was so entrenched that at one point reforestation funds were diverted to a close friend of Suharto's to build a paper mill. Environmentalists say before the new government took power, there was little fear of prosecution for environmental violations. Part of the problem was that the former authoritarian government was centralized, meaning officials in remote areas were often left to implement their own laws in collusion with the very people who were violating them.
(A machete cuts through brush)
SHINER: The farmers of the village of Malungun on the island of Sumatra use machetes to clear weeds from their fields. For centuries Indonesian farmers have used slash-and-burn techniques to clear land. During the recent drought some of these small fires and others set on corporate plantations raged out of control and destroyed vast areas of woodland on Sumatra and the island of Borneo. But burned acreage hasn't been a problem for the villagers of Malungun. Their main environmental concern is their water. They say a local tapioca factory has been polluting the river they use for bathing and fishing. They no longer drink from it.
(Metal clanking as a crank turns)
SHINER: Now, says a villager named Baharum, they use a well.
SHINER: Until recently the water had been an almost perpetual source of irritation. But with the change of government in May, things have begun to improve.
MAHAROUM (Speaks in native language)
SHINER: Baharum says now villagers find that the river is less polluted than before, because they have stepped up their protests, feeling more protected in the era of political reform. Recent small demonstrations have been enough to force corrupt corporate managers and local government officials to resign in some parts of the country. Companies are afraid of being attacked, as so many were during anti-government riots in May.
MAD DAUD: (Speaks in native language)
SHINER: The situation is more difficult for people like farmer Mad Daud, who lives a few hours away. Instead of protesting, he's quietly picking up the pieces of his farm in eastern Sumatra, after a tragedy that he blames on degradation of the natural forest.
(A chicken clucks)
SHINER: A lone chicken is all that remains of his farm after a herd of about 20 elephants descended from the hills and trampled his home and garden. Environmentalists say the elephants were deprived of food in a damaged area of the natural forest and were attracted to tender leaves on a plantation of palm oil plants. Clearing land for palm oil concessions is a growing concern as Indonesia tries to climb out of an economic crisis. The government recently lifted a ban on palm oil exports, allowing plantation owners to earn foreign exchange. With the drop in the value of the local currency, companies can now make huge profits in dollars by exporting the commodity. More companies will likely see to establish or expand existing concessions, in some cases on valuable forest land. Tom Walton of the World Bank says promoting palm oil exports can be good for the economy. But, he says, it must be coupled with monitoring and management of how concession sites are selected, cleared, and managed.
WALTON: Let's suppose it is cleared with fire and that erosion is allowed to occur after the site is cleared. You're going to have an impact on air quality, global warming in the broadest sense. But also you have an impact on water quality in the watershed.
SHINER: And that's not all.
WALTON: Then you've got pollution from the processing of the palm oil itself, which is a highly-polluting industry. There are quite good guidelines for how to prevent that pollution, but monitoring and enforcement are very weak in Indonesia.
SHINER: The government has also lifted a ban on the export of timber. Indonesia already has some of the highest deforestation and erosion rates in the world. With the abundance of natural resources and the decline in manufacturing because of the economic crisis, temptation is growing for the country to export its way out of its troubles. This has environmentalists like Emy Hofild worried about the future.
HOFILD: Even some economists have said that we should mortgage our natural resources, our gold and our timber (laughs) to get, you know, fresh money to come in from abroad. So that's crazy.
SHINER: One of the problems in protecting Indonesia's natural resources is that local communities virtually have no rights to the land they use and live on. They often have strict traditional rules about the use of their resources. But the government or large companies can evict people from their property to set up timber or palm oil plantations. Some environmentalists call this eco-terrorism. Virza Sas-mita-wijaya is a reform-minded researcher with the Ministry of Environment.
WAJAYA: Anything could be bought by the power and money.
(Clanking sounds, running water)
SHINER: Irma Yusmi knows this technique well. While cooking rice over an open fire recently for her family, she described how the government brought in troops and elephants to take over the property she used to live on. More than 100 homes were trampled.
USME: (Speaks in native language)
TRANSLATOR: I'm really hurt because everything came from those gardens, those lands. The land is our future.
SHINER: Now Yusmi and her family own a small shop by the highway, having moved a few miles down the road. The children go to a school further away, and the loss of their land coupled with the economic crisis has made making a living tougher. But there are examples of change. On the western coast of Sumatra, the outlook has gotten brighter. In fact, it's better than it has been in years. People are earning more money because they're earning dollars instead of their own weak local currency, and because people have rights to the land they work on in line with the government decree issued earlier this year. It was one of the first of its kind and a landmark victory for environmentalists.
(Flowing water, air sounds, tapping)
SHINER: Through an agro-forestry project, people in the small communities near the town of Krui here are making sustainable use of their forest and turning a profit in the meantime. Farmers here tap damar, a clear resin used for making plastics and other synthetics, and export it abroad, where they earn the dollar equivalent in local currency.
JOHAN: (Speaks in native language)
SHINER: Helsam Johan is a damar tapper who is now able to send 6 of his children to school on his earnings from the forest.
JOHAN: (Speaks in native language)
SHINER: Using a hip harness, Johan shimmies up towering trees to chip away the valuable damar, which is now valued at more than 7 times it was before the economic crisis hit last year.
SHINER: Giving people land-ownership rights is the kind of reform environmentalists would like to see more of under the new government. They hope at least some changes can be made before the onset of the next dry season in October, when fires are expected again.
SHINER: Environmentalists say the recent fires in Indonesia were only one sign of a larger ecological crisis. The fall of Suharto has provided some hope for change. But the economic problems make long-term planning difficult. Budgets have been slashed for urban clean air and clear water campaigns. Indonesian environmentalists warn that unless corruption is taken seriously and people are given a stake in caring for the resources they use, even more of the country's abundant natural riches may go up in smoke. For Living on Earth, I'm Cindy Shiner reporting.
(Flames continue; fade to music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our staff includes Jesse Wegman, George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman, and Miriam Landman, along with Roberta de Avila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson. Michael Aharon composed the theme. We had help from David Winickoff and Ann Perry. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. Joyce Hackel is our senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture.
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