Flooded corn in southern Illinois (Photo by Robert Kaufmann, courtesy of FEMA)
The flooding in the Midwest has destroyed
people’s homes and businesses. It’s also caused
some environmental problems. But reporter Alex
Heuer finds flooding can also benefit the
The flooding in the Midwest has destroyed
people’s homes and businesses. It’s also caused
some environmental problems. But reporter Alex
Heuer finds flooding can also benefit the
When rivers flood, they can wash pesticides and fertilizers from farm fields
into backyards, homes, and even into drinking water supplies. Floods also
destroy crops on the low-lying farm fields.
But, those lowlands are fertile soil because of flooding.
Sean Jenkins is the Director of the Western Illinois University Kibbe Life Sciences
Station. He says flood waters carry soil and nutrients that benefit crops and wild plants.
“A lot of areas you get sediment build-up, which gives more
nutrients for the plants, so you can actually have more vigorous growth in certain areas the next year after
Some of the trees in the river bottomlands along the Mississippi have
adapted to frequent flooding. Jenkins says silver maples and Eastern
cottonwoods can survive in flood waters for months and then do even better
the following years.
That’s good, because trees can help slow the rush of
the flood waters when they come again.
Peter H. Gleick, President and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, is concerned that without reducing greenhouse gas emissions, global warming will have dire impact on water resources. (Courtesy of the Pacific Institute)
With concern about climate change growing, some scientists are trying to determine how global warming will affect sources of water. Lester Graham spoke with the President of the Pacific Institute, Peter Gleick about what climate change might mean to weather patterns:
With concern about climate change growing, some scientists are trying to determine how global warming will affect sources of water.
Lester Graham spoke with the President of the Pacific Institute, Peter Gleick about what climate change might mean to weather
PG: Overall, the planet is gonna get wetter because as it gets hotter, we’ll see more
evaporation. The problem is, we aren’t always gonna get rain where we want it.
Sometimes we’re gonna get rain where we don’t want it. And at the moment it looks like
the biggest increases in rainfall will be in the northern regions where typically water is
less of a problem. Or at least water quantity is less of a problem. And we may actually get
less rainfall in the Southwest where we need it more.
LG: Let’s talk about some of the precious areas to North America. For instance, a lot of
people are worried about snow pack in the Rockies.
PG: Yes, well, one of the most certain impacts of global climate change is going to be
significant changes in snowfall and snowmelt patterns in the western United States as a
whole, actually in the United States as a whole because as it warms up, what falls out of
the atmosphere is going to be rain and not snow. Now that really matters in the Western
United States, in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada where our snow pack really
forms the basis of our water supply system. Unfortunately, as the climate is changing,
we’re seeing rising temperatures and decreasing snow pack. More of what falls in the
mountains is falling as rain, less of it’s going to be snow. That’s going to wreck havoc on
our management system, the reservoirs that we’ve built to deal with these variations in
climate. Incidentally, it’s also going to ruin the ski season eventually.
LG: You mentioned that the farther north you go, according to some models, we’ll see
more rain or more precipitation. At the same time, with warmer temperatures, we’ll see
less ice covering some of the inland lakes, such as the Great Lakes, which means more
evaporation. So, what are we going to see as far as those surface waters sources across
PG: Without a doubt, global climate is changing. And it’s going to get worse and worse
as humans put more and more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And as it gets
warmer, we’re going to see more evaporation off of the surface of all kinds of lakes,
including especially the Great Lakes. And interestingly, even though we don’t have a
great degree of confidence of what’s going to happen precisely with precipitation in the
Great Lakes, all of the models seem to agree that over time, the Great Lakes levels are
going to drop. And it looks like we’re going to lose more water out of the surface of the
Great Lakes from increased evaporation off the lakes than we’re likely to get from
precipitation, even if precipitation goes up somewhat. And I think that’s a great worry for
homeowners and industry around the margin of the lake. Ultimately for navigation,
ultimately for water supply.
LG: There’s a lot of talk about the gloom and doom scenarios of global warming, but
they’ll be longer growing seasons and we’re also going to be seeing, as the zones change,
more of this fertile ground in as northern US and Canada get longer growing seasons.
That’s not a bad thing.
PG: There are going to be winners and loser from global climate change. And
interestingly, there are going to be winners and losers at different times. Certainly, a
longer growing season is a possibility as it warms up. And I think that, in the short term,
could prove to be beneficial for certain agriculture in certain regions. Interestingly
though, and perhaps a little depressingly, over time, if the globe continues to warm up, if
the globe continues to warm up, evidence suggest that the short term improvements in
agriculture that we might see might ultimately be wiped out. As it gets hotter and hotter,
some crop yields will go down after they go up. We’re going to see an increase in pests
that we didn’t used to see because of warmer weather. Unfortunately, pests like warmer
weather. Furthermore, if we don’t really get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions, if we
don’t really start to cut the severity of the climate changes that we’re going to see, the
doom and gloom scenarios unfortunately get more likely. Over time, the temperatures go
up not just one or two or three degrees Celsius but four or five or eight degree Celsius.
And that truly is a catastrophe for the kind of systems we’ve set up around the planet.
HOST TAG: Peter Gleick is a water expert and President of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, based in California.
Milking Devon cattle are rare domestic breeds from an earlier day, some dating back to the 18th century. The animals hold genetic information that some people think is too valuable to lose. (Photo by Lester Graham)
The Garfield Farm Museum is preserving antiquated domestic breeds of farm animals, such as these Black Java chickens. (Photo by Lester Graham)
The Garfield Farm Museum, between Geneva and Elburn, Illinois, brings together farming experiences of the past 150 years with an appreciation of the natural environment, according to its website. (Photo by Lester Graham)
When you think of endangered species, farm animals might not top the list. But some types of farm animals are in danger of going extinct.
Certain breeds of common barnyard creatures are no longer considered commercially viable, and are being allowed to die off. But as the GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports, there’s an effort to preserve some rare varieties of
When you think of endangered species, farm animals might not top the list. But some
types of farm animals are in danger of going extinct. Certain breeds of common barnyard
creatures are no longer considered commercially viable, and are being allowed to die off.
But as the GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports, there’s an effort to preserve some rare varieties
When you buy a pound of ground beef or a pack of chicken legs, you probably don’t
think about what kind of cow or chicken the meat came from. And in most stores,
you don’t have a choice. Beef is beef and chicken is chicken.
Of course, there’s many different kinds of cows and chickens, but most farmers stick with
just a handful of types. They prefer animals that are specially bred to produce more meat
in less time.
That’s all well and good if your motive is profit.
But some people think the move towards designer farm animals is risky.
Jerome Johnson is executive director of Garfield Farm Museum.
(Sound of turkeys gobbling)
Johnson says breeds like these Narragansett turkeys carry genetic traits that could be
desirable in the future. They don’t require as much food, for instance. That could be an
attractive feature as costs continue to rise:
“Some of the high-producing, high-yielding animals today, they may require a lot of
input. In other words, a lot of feed, more expense since so many things are derived from
petroleum, from the diesel fuel that powers the tractors to the production of fertilizer
and the like, and chemicals for herbicides and all… that as the cost of that goes up, it may
actually be cheaper to raise a different type of animal, that doesn’t require that much.”
Johnson also says some common poultry breeds get sick more easily. That’s part of the
risk farmers take when they choose meatier birds. Normally that might not be a problem,
but if Avian flu spreads to the US, some of the older breeds might carry genes that could
resist the disease. If those breeds disappear, that genetic information would be lost.
But some farmers choose rare livestock breeds for completely different reasons.
(Sound of baby chicks)
Scott Lehr and his family raise several varieties of pure-bred poultry, sheep, and goats on
their northern Illinois farm. These chicks are just a few weeks old…
(Sound of baby chicks)
“These are all pure-bred birds. These are birds that have been around a long time. Some
of the breeds that are in there, there’s Bantam Brown Leghorns, Bantam White Leghorns.”
Some of the poultry breeds are so rare and exotic they’re practically collector’s items.
Lehr’s son enters them in competitions. But the animals on their farm aren’t just for
showing off. Scott says they use the wool from their herd of Border Cheviot sheep for a
craft studio they opened in a nearby town:
“There’s quite a bit of demand growing for handspun wool and the rising interest in the
hand arts, if you will… knitting and spinning and weaving and those kinds of things… are
really beginning to come into, I guess, the consciousness of the American public in many
ways. It’s evolving beyond a cottage industry.”
And the wool of rare breeds like the Border Cheviot sheep is popular among people who want handspun wool.
(Sound of Johnson calling to giant pig, “Hey, buddy, how ya doin’?”)
Back at the Garfield Farm Museum, Jerome Johnson offers a handful of grass to a 700
pound Berkshire hog. This Berkshire is different from the variety of pig with the same
name that’s relatively common today. Johnson says these old-style Berkshires have a
different nose and more white hair than the modern Berkshire. They also tend to be fatter,
which used to be a more desirable trait.
The museum’s pair of old-style Berkshires are literally a dying breed. Johnson says the
boar isn’t fertile anymore:
“They were the last breeding pair that we knew of. These were once quite common but
now are quite rare. And we maybe have found a boar that is fertile that is up in
Wisconsin that was brought in from England here a couple years ago that we could try
crossing with our sow to see if we can preserve some of these genetics.”
(Sound of pigs)
Advocates of rare livestock breeds say the animals can be healthier and sometimes tastier
than the kinds raised on large commercial farms. And although you won’t find many
farm animals on the endangered species list, they could have important benefits for future
A baby whooping crane walks toward the camera. (Photo courtesy of the USGS)
Wildlife experts hope an experimental flock of whooping
cranes will lay more eggs this spring. The first egg produced during the experiment was recently found damaged. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Wildlife experts hope an experimental flock of whooping cranes
will lay more eggs this spring. The first egg produced during the
experiment was recently found damaged. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Scientists working on the project to develop 25 nesting pairs of
migrating whooping cranes in the eastern U.S. hope this is the year the
young cranes start to produce offspring.
But Michael Putnam of the
International Crane Foundation says one obstacle to the hatching of
crane eggs may be inexperienced parents.
“Once they do produce a fertile egg, then the birds have to exhibit the
right behaviors to tend the nest, incubate… and we’ve found some of
our birds- The females might be very good incubators at the
beginning, but it may take the male a year or two to catch on that’s
supposed to take a turn sittin’ on the egg.”
Putnam says other difficulties may include predators eating the eggs.
if the birds are successful, it’ll be the first whooping crane egg to
hatch in this part of North America in more than a century.
Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127
Books can be powerful. Sometimes they can even change your life. As part of our ongoing series on individual choices that impact the environment— “Your Choice; Your Planet”—the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Curtis Gilbert brings us the story of one book that changed his mother’s life… a book that so profoundly affected her that she felt compelled to share its teachings with strangers. It wasn’t the Bible or the Koran… or “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” And the part of his mother’s life that it changed is one so exceedingly private that most people don’t even like to talk about it. He’ll explain:
Books can be powerful. Sometimes they can even change your life. As part of our ongoing
series on individual choices that impact the environment — “Your Choice; Your Planet” —
the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Curtis Gilbert brings us the story of one book that
changed his mother’s life…a book that so profoundly affected her that she felt compelled
to share its teachings with strangers. It wasn’t the Bible or the Koran… or “Chicken Soup
for the Soul.” And the part of his mother’s life that it changed is one so exceedingly private
that most people don’t even like to talk about it. He’ll explain:
There’s a sound — something familiar to everyone who lives in a Western, industrialized
country — but it’s a sound you’ll almost never hear at my mother’s house.
(sound of toilet flushing)
Five years ago, my mom turned off the to water to her toilet. She put a house plant on top
of the seat and opposite it built a five-gallon bucket in a box that took over all the duties
of its porcelain counterpart.
“Well I had seen ‘The Humanure Handbook’ in the FEDCO Seed catalog — and it just sort of
intrigued me. And I decided one year that I would read it since I was curious about it year after
year. And I read it and then I began to feel really bad every time I flushed the toilet.”
That’s because every time my mom flushed the toilet she was rendering undrinkable several
gallons of otherwise perfectly good water. And what’s more, she was whisking away valuable
nutrients that she could have just as easily returned to the earth.
That’s right… Humanure is a contraction consisting of two words: human and manure.
Here’s how it works: You use the humanure bucket in pretty much the same way you’d use a flush
toilet. Everything’s the same, except that instead of flushing when you’re done, there’s another
bucket right beside the humanure bucket and it’s filled with sawdust. You use a little cup to
scoop up some sawdust and then you just dump the sawdust in the humanure bucket when you’re
finished using it. That’s it. And the crazy thing, the thing that always surprises people when
I tell them about my mother’s humanure project is that it doesn’t smell bad.
“Anytime anything’s stinky in the humanure, you just cover it with sawdust and it doesn’t stink
anymore, except of course what is already in the air, which is like any toilet.”
Once a day my mom takes the bucket brimming with sawdust and humanure and dumps it into her
massive compost pile. There, it mingles with her kitchen scraps, weeds from the garden, and
just about every other bit of organic matter she can find… and in two years time the humanure
cooks down into dark, rich, fertile soil.
For the first couple of years, my mom was content just to operate her own humanure compost
heap and let her garden reap the benefits — but the more she did it the more of a true believer
she became. Strict adherence to the faith wasn’t enough for her anymore. She had to become a
missionary. She bought a case of Humanure Handbooks and set up a booth at an organic gardening
festival called Wild Gathering.
“And I think I sold one at that Wild Gathering. And then after that I was giving them away right
and left to my sisters and nieces and friends and whoever! And I used them all up and then this
last year I decided that not only was I going to get another box of Humanure Handbooks, I was
going to collect humanure at Wild Gathering!”
My mom knew she’d a lot of buckets for the project, so went door to door at the businesses
in town. She didn’t say what she needed them for, and luckily they didn’t ask. She collected eight
buckets full in all — not quite the payload she was hoping for. Attendance at Wild Gathering was
pretty low that year, due to rain, but relatively speaking, sales of the Humanure Handbook were
“I sold more at this last Wild Gathering. I think I sold five or six. And I gave one away for
Christmas this year to Natasha, who had been having plumbing problems. And I started my spiel and
she was really quite interested. And, I think we may have a convert there before long.”
Conversion. The ultimate goal of any evangelist. My mom admits that she doesn’t know of anyone
she’s actually brought into the fold — but she likes to think she’s planting seeds. Just
introducing people to the idea that there’s a alternative to flush toilets, she says, is a huge
“This is really a shocking idea to a lot of people and a lot of people who come to the house will
not use it. I have to make the water toilet available to them.”
My grandmother won’t use it. Neither will my mom’s friend, Rochelle. And then there’s my
girlfriend, Kelsey. Last summer the two of us spent several days at my mom’s house in Maine
before taking a road trip back to where we live in Minnesota. After quietly weighing the
ramifications of sawdust versus water toilets, Kelsey finally decided to brave the humanure…
well, sort of.
Curtis: “So you used it for some things, but you’ve told me before that there were some things
that you couldn’t bring yourself to do.”
Kelsey: “No, I couldn’t. I did not have a bowel movement during our entire visit to your
house, over the course of four days.”
I’d like to think that Kelsey’s physical inability to make full use of the sawdust toilet
was an anomaly, that most people would have no problem going to the bathroom at my mom’s house
in Maine… But I doubt that’s the case. And that’s not the only reason I’m a little skeptical about
my mom’s vision of a world humanure revolution.
Curtis: “It occurs to me, and I’m about 100 pages into the book at this point, that this is
all well and good for people living in rural areas, but I live in a city. Where am I going to
put a compost heap?”
Mom: “You know, there could be chutes in buildings. There would have to be temporary storage.
Trucks would come in and take it out. Great huge compost piles would be built and it would work
down very… I think that where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
I’ll admit it; I’m still skeptical. I mean I believe in humanure, sure. But I also haven’t
put a house plant on top of the toilet in my big city apartment…and I probably never will.
Call me a summer soldier in the humanure revolution if you will, but when I go home to my
Mom’s next Christmas, I’ll be flushing with sawdust and I’ll be proud.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Curtis Gilbert.