An environmental group is calling for a change in how we pay for car insurance. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on the group’s strategy to lower rates for people who drive their cars less:
An environmental group is calling for a change in how we pay for car insurance. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on the group’s strategy to lower rates for
people who drive their cars less:
The group, Environmental Defense, wants it to work this way: if you don’t drive your car that
much because you’re taking the bike, or walking, or using mass transit, then you should be
allowed to pay for insurance based on the miles you drive. Michael Replogle is the
Transportation Director for Environmental Defense:
“Those of us who drive less are helping to protect the environment, but we’re paying a
disproportionate share for car insurance. We pay a much higher rate per mile than those who
The flip side of it is, to work, everyone would have to be charged on a per mile basis.
Environmental Defense thinks that would be a step toward cutting down how much all of us
drive, burn up gasoline, and pollute. The group says it’s talking with a couple of insurance
companies that are studying the idea.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Beaches throughout the Great Lakes have long been plagued by bacteria that can make people sick. For the first time in the region, researchers will test a filter designed to guard a swimming beach from hazardous bacteria. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Annie MacDowell reports:
Beaches throughout the Great Lakes have long been plagued by bacteria that can make people
sick. For the first time in the region, researchers will test a filter designed to guard a swimming
beach from hazardous bacteria. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Annie MacDowell reports:
Next April, the Chicago Park District plans to install and test an eighteen-hundred foot-long
floating filter system. A similar technology was used to protect fish hatcheries during the 1989
Exxon Valdez oil spill. And studies show the system has been successful in decreasing bacteria
levels at New York beaches.
Jim Miner is the Executive Vice-President of Gunderboom Incorperated, the company that makes
the filter. He says the filter will surround the beach like an underwater curtain:
“What is underwater, the fabric curtain, will not be seen by the swimmer and it is a non-intrusive,
fabric-filtered barrier that goes from the surface to the bottom and it’s anchored there and
protected so that only filtered water can get into the swimming area.”
The technology could reduce swimming bans at city beaches.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Annie MacDowell.
Cell phones were a popular holiday gift this year. That means old phones will wind up in the garbage. A cell phone company from the Midwest is one of several firms that are pledging to reduce the number of old wireless phones that wind up in landfills. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Cell phones will be a popular holiday gift this year. A cell phone company from the Midwest is
one of several firms that are pledging to reduce the number of old wireless phones that wind up in
landfills. Chuck Quirmbach reports:
By some estimates, U.S. consumers discard more than 100-million cell phones a year. The
phones are small, but usually contain toxic chemicals like lead and cadmium that can leak in
landfills. Illinois-based Motorola and nine other cell phone manufacturers have pledged to the
United Nations to address the environmental issues linked to cell phone disposal. Motorola
official Craig Liska says the companies wanted to keep some control over the process:
“We wanted to make sure there wasn’t a global regulation that came out that kind of limited the
solutions because we wanted to have the flexibility to have the proper solutions in place in the
proper place of the world.”
If you want to get rid of an old cell phone now, you may be able to take it to a dealer for
reprogramming or perhaps have the toxic metals removed before dumping. The cell phone
makers are pledging to work on more options. They say they’ll also try to design phones that are
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach reporting.
The Lake Erie water snake is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing a recovery plan for the snake – and people who live near the snake are also giving it a hand in recovery. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Many people are afraid of snakes. But along the shores of Lake Erie, residents are working to keep a threatened water snake in the neighborhood. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams has more:
Many people are afraid of snakes. But along the shores of Lake Erie, residents are working to
keep a threatened water snake in the neighborhood. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Rebecca Williams has more:
The Lake Erie water snake was listed as threatened three years ago. The snakes are found only
on rocky limestone islands in the western basin. And they can grow up to five feet long.
Their numbers have dropped recently because people are building houses on their shoreline
habitat. And in the past, people have killed the snakes out of fear.
Megan Seymour is a wildlife biologist. She works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
She says, over time, most people have stopped harassing the snakes. Some
landowners have even posted signs saying, “Water snakes welcome here.”
“I think the best tactic for me has been to kind of explain the biology of the snakes, explain how
they have their own personalities, sort of… The more people learn about the snakes, the more
interested they become, and the more they start seeing it as some kind of interesting animal
versus a gross snake.”
Seymour is writing the recovery plan for the snakes. She says most wildlife recoveries take many
years, but because the locals are showing concern, she thinks the snakes will recover more
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.
After surviving another frantic holiday season, Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Mike VanBuren yearns for a bit of simplicity and a cheap way to watch TV:
After surviving another frantic holiday season, Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Mike
VanBuren yearns for a bit of simplicity and a cheap way to watch TV:
I went to a local electronics store to make a simple purchase. A friend had given me an old
outdoor television antenna. I needed a hundred feet of wire and a rotor kit to hook it up. I’d
never owned an outdoor television antenna.
For years, I’d been content with fuzzy-looking broadcast channels. I’d grown used to unfocused
double images of network news anchors. But now I had a chance to bring a little clarity to my
life. And I was determined to do so.
At the electronics store, the twenty-something clerk looked at me like, “You can’t be serious.”
He couldn’t grasp the fact that I didn’t have cable TV. He offered to fill this void by selling me a
satellite dish system. For a few dollars a month, I could get hundreds of channels.
But I didn’t want hundreds of channels. I was quite satisfied knowing that I’d be getting better
TV reception than ever before – and almost for free. But the clerk didn’t see it that way. In his
eyes, my lack of passion for personal improvement was a serious problem.
That’s the trouble with “consumer” cultures. Most of us have more than we need and don’t even
realize it. We’re constantly foraging for the latest gadgets, newest cars and biggest homes.
Never mind that such desires usually bring more headaches than they’re worth.
Even after 9-11 – when we probably should have been called to sacrifice and to conserve
resources for a larger war effort – the President of the United States told us to go shopping.
What’s that all about?
I think Thoreau had it right when he called upon us to “simplify, simplify.” After all, the essence
of our lives is not found in material things and technology – no matter how revolutionary they
are. True spiritual growth and contentment rise from uncluttered lives.
I’ve been reading lately about a movement known as “voluntary simplicity.” This involves living
– and having more – with less. More joy, peace, time, satisfaction and meaning with less money,
stress, possessions, competition and isolation.
It has nothing to do with depriving ourselves, or living in poverty. It has everything to do with
being content with what we have, finding joy in less and reconnecting with other people and the
natural world that sustains us.
Now, I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to ignoring this advice. I struggle each day
against the impulse to buy things that I think will add joy and value to my life. They seldom do.
It’s usually the simple things that can’t be purchased in any store which mean the most. Things
like more time for family and community. Less worry about possessions. And greater freedom –
to live and grow and love without constraint.
It has been said that there are two ways to get enough – accumulate more, or desire less. Less, it
seems, is truly more.
And that’s probably the clearest signal I’ll ever get from that battered old antenna.
Mike VanBuren is an award-winning environmental writer living near Richland, Michigan.
Low prices for corn and soybeans have led many Midwest farmers to look for a new crop to mix with their usual rotation. Some are turning to plants grown specifically for what’s called “biomass.” Biomass crops can be used as fuel. While research on biomass is in its infancy… one particular crop has caught the eye of researchers who say it would be perfect for Midwest power plants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Johnson reports:
Low prices for corn and soybeans have led many Midwest farmers to look for a new crop to mix
with their usual rotation. Some are turning to plants grown specifically for what’s called
“biomass.” Biomass crops can be used as fuel. While research on biomass is in its infancy… one
particular crop has caught the eye of researchers who say it would be perfect for Midwest power
plants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium Shawn Johnson reports:
In a farm field not too far from the University of Illinois stands a small plot of miscanthus. The
wavy, 12-foot tall grass topped with fluffy, seedless flowers is native to some places in Europe,
where it’s catching on as a crop to burn. Researcher john clifton-brown of Trinity College in
Dublin, Ireland has grown miscanthus on his father’s farm for 12 years now. He says it’s a
natural fit for Illinois.
“You seem to have in Illinois superb soil. You seem to have very low corn prices. You have
rainfall. And these factors combined look like a golden opportunity for the development of
renewable energy from biomass crops like miscanthus.”
Miscanthus is giant grass that can be planted in the same fields that normally grow corn and
soybeans. The similarities pretty well stop there. Where most Midwest farmers are used to
growing crops that produce food, miscanthus is grown specifically to be chopped off, bailed, and
burned, usually with coal in coal-fired power plants.
John Caveny owns the land where this miscanthus plot is growing. He stops short of calling this
a new way of farming:
“Well, in way it is, in a way it isn’t. What all farmers do, when you get right down to it, is
advance the value of sunlight energy. That’s what you do, whether you grow tomatoes, whether
you grow flowers, whether you grow grass, whether you grow corn.”
In the case of growing miscanthus, the process is much different than that of most Midwest crops.
Farmers use multi-row planters pulled behind tractors to plant corn and soybeans. To grow
miscanthus, a producer needs to dig holes and plant sprigs of the grass one at a time to be
successful. The crop will grow back on its own year after year for up to 30 years, but it’s not big
enough to be harvested the first few years its in the ground. Even with all these complications,
University of Illinois researcher Steve Long says a farmer who’s willing to make an investment in
miscanthus can reap great rewards in the long run.
“You do need labor to put this into the ground, but then after that, this is considerably less labor
than corn or soybeans, and on current figures, it is more profitable.”
Those figures are more theory than reality at this point, because a market for miscanthus has yet
to emerge. Dynegy is the only power company that buys miscanthus in this part of Illinois. And
even dynegy won’t be ready to harvest biomass crops on a large scale for another five years. But
the energy company projects it could eventually pay 40 dollars per ton of dried… harvested
miscanthus. That’s pretty good money for the farmers. The reason dynegy will pay that much?
While it doesn’t burn as efficiently as coal… miscanthus emits far fewer pollutants. And while it
emits greenhouse gases such as CO-2 while it’s burning, it will recapture those gases when it
grows. As energy companies are forced to meet more and more environmental requirements,
Dynegy’s Chris Williams says miscanthus becomes appealing:
“It’s getting closer and closer to the cost of coal generation. And you look at that with the
environmental benefits of the biomass, it really makes sense to do the research now to get it into
production as soon as we can.”
Dynegy is looking for farmers to grow miscanthus within a 50-mile radius of one of its central
Illinois power plants. But the company doesn’t know how many farmers it will be able to find.
Even if enough farmers are interested, dynegy is still working out the specifics of harvesting,
shipping, and burning grass effectively.
Miscanthus and biomass crops such as corn for ethanol and soybeans for soy diesel are just part
of a growing renewable energy market. And they face plenty of competition. Hans Detweiller is
with the environmental law and policy center, which advocates renewable energy in the Midwest.
Detweiller says wind and solar power generation are simply more established than biomass right
“Biomass energy has more questions I think in the minds of the public than some of the other
energy sources, but we would like to see more of it. Especially where you can get parallel
benefits such as increased water quality, increased wildlife habitat, things like that.”
Detweiller says miscanthus could fit that billing, but other biomass crops might be more suitable.
Depending upon who you talk to, fields of young aspen or willow trees could even be the biomass
crops of the future. And Detweiller says a native plant like switchgrass is an attractive option
because it does not grow nearly as thick as miscanthus allowing wildlife to forage more freely.
But it’s that thickness that researcher John Clifton brown says makes miscanthus so appealing
and potentially so profitable to a farmer. As he stands next to a wall of miscanthus, Clifton-
Brown says the crop he’s grown in Ireland for a dozen years will only perform better in America.
“So try it. Suck it and see as we say in Europe.”
Clifton-Brown’s miscanthus is harvested only once a year. Others biomass crops are chopped off
a few times. They each have slightly different growing seasons, but all have at least one thing in
common. They represent a future where the energy we mine today could eventually be mowed.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Shawn Johnson.
Many families attempted to escape the Peshtigo firestorm of 1871 by hiding under wet blankets. Most people did not survive. Painting by Mel Kishner, courtesy of Deana C. Hipke (used with permission).
Everyone’s heard of the Chicago Fire, back in the 1800’s. According to folklore, it was started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. It incinerated the city in a single night, killing three hundred people. But another fire – on the same night – was much worse. It wiped out the booming mill town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. About two thousand people died. The Peshtigo Fire was the worst in American history. It happened because people were utterly careless in the way they treated the environment. And even afterward, they didn’t learn their lesson. Two books about the Peshtigo Fire have recently come out. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Everyone’s heard of the Chicago Fire, back in the 1800s. According to folklore, it was started by
Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. It incinerated the city in a single night, killing three hundred people. But
another fire – on the same night – was much worse. It wiped out the booming mill town of
Peshtigo, Wisconsin. And about two thousand people died. The Peshtigo Fire was the worst in
American history. It happened because people were utterly careless in the way they treated the
environment. And even afterward, they didn’t learn their lesson. Two books about the Peshtigo
Fire have recently come out. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Peshtigo in 1871 was a small town on the Peshtigo River, that flows into Green Bay. It was just
like other mill towns in the upper Midwest.
Lumberjacks cut the trees and left the branches in huge tangles in the woods. Mill workers sawed
the logs and made great piles of slabs and sawdust. Settlers burned the stumps to clear land for
farming. And the men clearing a route for the new railroad burned whatever was in their way.
1871 was a very dry year.
“There were fires burning all summer and into the fall,” says Peter Leschak, author of Ghosts of
the Fireground, a reflection on the Peshtigo Fire and his own experiences of firefighting.
“Slash and burn agriculture, land clearing, the railroad guys clearing line. And nobody put out
fires in those days,” Leschak adds.
The branches left in huge piles everywhere turned to tinder, ready to burn hot and long. Small
fires were burning all around, but people saw fire as a good thing.
Denise Gess, author of Firestorm at Peshtigo, a detailed history of the disaster, says the farmers
were used to fire.
“Even the immigrants who came from Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Germany – they knew this is
how you clear land. They saw fire as an ally.”
People were used to fires, even when they got out of control. But no one was prepared for what
happened at Peshtigo that day.
“The big trees they were cutting were red pine and white pine,” Peter Leschak says. “And when
that stuff gets to be red slash as it’s called, when it dries out, it’s incredibly volatile.”
On October 8th, a huge cold front swept in from the west.
Furious winds fanned prairie fires all over the region. In the cut-over timberlands, the big brush
piles and the dry conditions combined to create a conflagration.
“Basically at one point or another,” Leschak says, “several small fires join into one huge fire, and
it becomes more or less stationary over Peshtigo.”
The blazes developed into a fire storm. The heat generated by the burning trees and buildings
caused a column of hot air to rise over the town. Cold air rushing in to take its place fanned the
flames. That caused more hot air to rise.
The town was at the center of a tornado of flame. The fire was coming from all directions at
once, and the winds were roaring at a hundred miles an hour.
Some people struggled to the river. They stood in the water for hours while the flames whirled
in a fury over their heads. Some of them survived.
“They are witnessing something that very few people have ever witnessed and lived to tell the
tale,” says Leschak. “They’re at the center of this hurricane of flame. And small wonder their
hair was bursting into flame if they didn’t keep ducking their heads into the water. To have
survived that is just amazing, just amazing.”
Most people weren’t so lucky. Karl Lamp and his wife were German immigrants. Denise Gess
says as she was doing the research for her book, this couple came to represent the fortitude of
immigrant settlers, and the tragedy they faced
“She was pregnant with their fourth child when the fire struck,” Gess explains. They all piled
into their wagon.
“They thought they could run for it, but you can’t run from a fire that’s moving that quickly. The
wagon wheel fell off, Lamp saw the family was still safe, the horse went up in flames, and he
turned around for a second and turned back and there was his whole family, in flames.”
Leschak estimates the ambient air temperature at 500-700 degrees.
“Which means that they weren’t going to live very long anyway,” he says. “If your clothes are
bursting into flame, you are also doing extreme damage to your respiratory tract. I think there
was a lot of intense pain that went on. And I think that’s why for example there’s the account of
the one man who slit the throats of all his children to spare them this death by fire.”
The fire went out when it had burned up everything in Peshtigo. No one knows exactly how
many people died, but it was close to two thousand. More people than in any other fire in
American history. The survivors rebuilt the town, but it wasn’t a booming mill town anymore.
The trees were gone.
But that wasn’t the end of the monstrous fires.
As the lumber camps and railroads and settlers moved west, the fires moved with them. Peter
Leschak says the timber companies were making too much money to quit.
‘It wasn’t worth it to them to treat the slash, to log in a way that would not create such fuel. And
essentially that era ended when all the big timber was gone.”
Forests in the Great Lakes region wouldn’t burn so disastrously today, because the trees aren’t as
big and the forests don’t hold so much fuel. But the real lesson of the Peshtigo Fire might be that
it’s a mistake to ignore signs of disaster just because, at the moment, we’re getting what we want
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.
Canada now has a national law to protect endangered species. It comes after nine years of study and debate. The new law takes effect early next year. It’s designed to protect more than four hundred species and their critical habitat. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
Canada now has a national law to protect endangered species. It comes after nine years of study
and debate. The new law takes effect early next year (2003). It’s designed to protect more than
four hundred species and their critical habitat. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan
Among the species to be protected are the grizzly bear, sage grouse, swift fox, whooping crane,
the humpback whale and the American pine marten, just to name a few.
Canada’s environment minister says the country’s first ever national endangered species law
fulfils the international commitments Canada made under the Biodiversity Convention.
The law provides for assessing which species are at risk and calls for an action plan to save those
species which are found to be most at risk.
Some environmental groups have welcomed the law as a positive first step, and a signal that
Ottawa has finally accepted some of the responsibility for protecting species and their habitats.
But others are critical. Peter Tabuns is with Greenpeace Canada:
“It’s in the end just a public relations gesture. It will not have any substantial effect on species at
risk in Canada. It won’t fulfill Canada’s obligations under the convention on biodiversity. It is
really a lost opportunity.”
Tabuns says he’s also upset that it will be the federal cabinet ministers, not scientists, that decide
whether an animal will be placed on a protected list.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Karpenchuk
Biologists are trying to prevent invasive species such as the Asian carp, from traveling between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin. The latest plan proposed by some scientists is to remove all the oxygen from a section of the Chicago River. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Annie MacDowell has more:
Biologists are trying to prevent invasive species such as the Asian carp from traveling between
the Great Lakes and the Mississippi river basin. The latest plan proposed by some scientists is to
remove all the oxygen from a section of the Chicago river. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Annie Macdowell has more:
Scientists say killing part of the river would create a barrier no fish could swim through and live.
Removing the oxygen is against the Clean Water Act, but biologists think it might be worth it.
Jerry Rasmussen is a river biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says the
potential economic and ecological disaster from the invasive species justifies creating this dead
“The real problem has been reluctance of everyone, including myself, to take a measure like this
because of the implications of it and the precedents it sets, but the concern is significant enough
with these Asian Carp that a significant problem may require significant measures to stop it.”
Rasmussen says killing a section of the river buys engineers time to work on a long-term solution
to the invasives problem, such as building a second electric barrier. He says the river would be
shut down for a minimum of two years and then re-oxygenated so that living things could return.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Annie MacDowell.
In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, established an agency to monitor the environmental effects of trade between the U-S, Canada, and Mexico. In a new report, the agency gives NAFTA mixed reviews. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein explains:
In 1994 the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, established an agency to
monitor the environmental effects of trade between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. In a
new report, the agency gives NAFTA mixed reviews. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s David Sommerstein explains:
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation found little evidence overall of what
environmentalists’ most feared from NAFTA – more pollution and lower environmental
standards. The study finds trade-related advances in technology have, in some cases,
helped the environment. But it attributes to NAFTA more air pollution from trucks at
border crossings. And businesses seeking out lax regulations can create pollution
hotspots. The report points to a 400% rise in hazardous waste shipments to Canada as an
Chantal Line Carpentier is a spokesperson for the CEC. She says all three countries need
strong laws to make NAFTA environment-friendly.
“It’s not only an agreement on trade and goods, it’s also on investment, so that you need
to have the policy in place and also the flexibility to put policy in place as soon as there’s
some sort of hotspot that develops.”
Still, environmental groups remain concerned that competition for investment will trump
environmental policy when it comes free trade.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.