Open Water in the Arctic

  • Scientists are reporting vast expanses of open water in polar bear habitat due to thinning and melting ice (Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Polar bear researchers off Alaska’s
northern coast found striking differences in
sea ice conditions recently. Lori Townsend
reports:

Transcript

Polar bear researchers off Alaska’s
northern coast found striking differences in
sea ice conditions recently. Lori Townsend
reports:

Dr. Steven Amstrup is a polar bear expert and USGS wildlife biologist.

“This is the first time in my 28 years working up here this time of year that we’ve seen anything like
this.”

Amstrup is conducting yearly research on polar bears in Alaska’s Arctic. He says getting out to pack ice usually means
flying over a narrow expanse of open water called a lead.

“But this year that lead is wide open, we have no idea really how wide it is, but its way too far for us to
fly across. So we’ve been limited to hunting in a fairly narrow band of ice that’s fairly near shore.”

Amstrup says the open water is consistent with warming conditions that result in
thinner ice. Polar bears rely on pack ice for hunting seals and other marine
mammals.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lori Townsend.

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Auto Show Shows More Green

This week, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit opens to the public. Every year, the event is a showcase for the newest trends for tomorrow’s cars and trucks, and this year, the big trend is fuel-efficient vehicles. Cleaner cars have been promised before, but Dustin Dwyer reports that this year’s green car concepts could be more than just an attempt to polish up a dirty image for the auto industry:

Transcript

This week, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit opens to the public.
Every year, the event is a showcase for the newest trends for tomorrow’s cars and trucks,
and this year, the big trend is fuel-efficient vehicles. Cleaner cars have been promised
before, but Dustin Dwyer reports that this year’s green car concepts could be more than
just an attempt to polish up a dirty image for the auto industry:


The press previews for this year’s Detroit auto show were made up of three straight days
of back-to-back new product launches. Dozens of new vehicles were unveiled. Hundreds
of glossy brochures were offered to reporters, and nothing generated as much interest as
the new Chevrolet Volt concept vehicle:


(Sound of buzzing)


A packed crowd gathered for the flashy and noisy unveiling. GM executives announced
that the concept car could run up to 40 miles without using a single drop of fuel. It runs
instead on electricity cranked out by its next-generation lithium-ion batteries. When the
liquid fuel system eventually does kick in, it recharges the battery for better fuel
economy, getting up to 150 miles per gallon.


And as GM CEO Rick Wagoner told the audience, the Chevy Volt represents a new way
of thinking for the world’s largest automaker. It comes from a realization that oil alone is
highly unlikely to supply enough energy for all of tomorrow’s vehicles:


“For the global auto industry, this means that we must as a business necessity, develop
alternative sources of propulsion based on alternative sources of energy in order to meet the
world’s growing demand for our products.”


GM wasn’t the only automaker to unveil a fuel conscious vehicle at this year’s auto show.
Ford’s Airstream concept, and Toyota’s FT-HS sports car concept both featured hybrid
style powertrain systems, backed by a lithium-ion battery.


It might not be all that surprising for automakers to release such vehicles after a year in
which gas prices surged beyond three dollars a gallon, but analyst Jim Hall of Auto
Pacific says gas prices aren’t the reason for automakers to get into low or no emission
vehicles.


“You do it for two reasons, one, the potential of getting out of the business of making a
mechanical engine that has to be machined and made of multiple pieces and assembled,
and the other part of it is, you never have to spend another penny on emissions controls,
and emissions research, and emissions development and emissions engineering, which, at
every major car company is billions of dollars.”


So, basically, greener technology will eventually be cheaper technology. That means that
for perhaps the first time in the history of the auto industry, the interests of
environmentalists and the interest of business-minded bean counters are finally in line.


The big question now is how to get to that greener future. The concepts at this year’s
Detroit auto show all point to lithium-ion batteries as the next frontier. These batteries
are more powerful, and potentially cheaper than the batteries in today’s hybrids, but
they’re also less stable, and don’t last as long.


GM executives say they think they can resolve those issues and have a lithium-ion
powered vehicle by the end of the decade, but Jim Hall says no way:


“I worked on an electric vehicle program when I was employed in the auto industry
directly, and I learned that there are three kinds of liars in the world. There are liars,
damn liars and battery engineers.”


Of course, not everyone agrees with Hall’s assessment. Some lithium-ion proponents
even argue that the technology could be ready to go right now. Ford, General Motors and
the Chrysler Group have asked the federal government for more funding to speed-
development of lithium-ion batteries.


They say the Japanese government is giving its car companies several hundred million
dollars for battery development, and they want a comparable effort from the US
government. But even if Detroit automakers don’t get the money, almost everyone agrees
that big changes are coming for the auto industry, and that decades-long battle between
the good of the environment and the good of carmakers could be coming to a close.


For the Environment Report, I’m Dustin Dwyer.

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Report: Forest Service Should Change Mission

A new report by a forest protection group says the increase
in logging in National Forests shows no signs of slowing. The uptick in logging is also happening in the Great Lakes region. The National Forest Protection Alliance says the U.S. Forest Service needs to re-evaluate its mission. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton has this
report:

Transcript

A new report by a forest protection group says the increase in logging
in National Forests shows no signs of slowing. The uptick in logging
is also happening in the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region. The
National Forest Protection Alliance says the U.S. Forest Service needs
to re-evaluate its mission. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy
Samilton has this report:


Logging companies are going after more acres in National Forests
because trees have regenerated after the large-scale clear-cutting of a
hundred years ago. But Jake Kreilick of the National Forest Protection
Alliance says the logging is a net loss for taxpayers, because the U.S.
Forest Service is heavily subsidizing it by building roads to get the
trees out. And Kreilick says it’s unnecessary – because lumber
companies have more domestic and global sources for wood than ever
before.


“The federal government does not need to be in the logging business any
more.”


But logging companies say with half the nation’s softwood in National
Forests, they do need the wood. They say the Forest Service is doing a
good job in managing the multiple users who rely on National Forests
for recreation, hunting and logging.


For the GLRC, I’m Tracy Samilton.

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RECONNECTING FARMERS TO LOCAL MARKETS (Part 2)

  • Many of the crops being grown in the U.S. don't end up in the produce aisle. In fact, they usually aren't even sold to people in neighboring areas. (Photo by Rene Cerney)

Some experts think farmers could do a lot better for themselves if they changed what they’re growing. They say growing corn and soybeans subsidized by the government doesn’t do much for the farmer and almost nothing for the local economy. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports on efforts to change that:

Transcript

Some experts think farmers could do a lot better for themselves if they changed what they’re growing. They say growing corn and soybeans that are subsidized by the government doesn’t do much for the farmer and almost nothing for the local economy. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports on efforts to change that:


It can be hard to find locally-grown broccoli, milk, or beef in most grocery stores, even in the middle of farm country. In some states, ninety percent of the land is farmed, but ninety-eight percent of food people eat is shipped in from other parts of the nation or other countries.


The local farmers are growing commodities: corn and soybeans harvested for cattle-feed or processed foods, not stuff that winds up in the produce aisle. But ag economist Ken Meter wants to see that change.


“Farmers have doubled their productivity since 1969, and yet, they’re not making more money, they’re actually losing more money after doubling productivity.”


Meter has studied the economics of farm communities. In one area, he found that nearly all of the farm fields there were used to grow corn and soybeans for the commodities market, but farmers were losing money. At the same time, nearly all of the food people bought there was shipped in from other places.


“The economy we’re in right now is extremely efficient at taking any money that you or I earn in our neighborhood or in our daily lives and basically pulling it into a big global network that very efficiently takes that money and helps other people elsewhere make some value from it.”


It hasn’t always been this way. Richard Pirog is food systems researcher at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Iowa. Eighty years ago, he says, most farms grew a lot of different
products and processed them to be sold locally or within the region.


“Iowa back in the 1920’s had fifty-four canneries. We were the canned sweet corn capital of the world in the mid-1920’s. Fast forward to today, there isn’t a single cannery in Iowa. So that infrastructure is gone.”


Pirog says you could tell similar stories in farm areas across the U.S. Back during World War Two, the federal government encouraged farmers to grow commodities, such as corn and soybeans. The government starting paying them subsidies to grow those crops.


These days, Pirog says a lot of farmers wouldn’t even think about risking those subsidies to grow something besides corn and soybeans. Economist Ken Meter says that might be a mistake. He says many farmers don’t realize there’s a growing market for local ag products.


“All of us get focused on whatever we’re paying attention to, and as a farmer you get focused on producing quite well. I’ve spoken with farmers who’ve told me that they really didn’t have any clue that that their neighbors would be looking for different foods, because they just haven’t heard of the tremendous increase in demand we’ve had for things like organic milk or higher quality meats or fresher produce.”


There has been an organic explosion of local farm markets in recent years, because customers want to buy fruit, vegetables, milk, and meat directly from the farmers who produce them. But government policy and farm subsidies mainly still support the commodity production of corn and soybeans.


Richard Pirog hopes that changes, but it’s unclear if growing produce for the new local markets is always economically viable. No one has studied the phenomenon.


“It has to make economic sense for a community and a region. We believe it will, which is why it’s spread so rapidly. But it’s sort of like, the real numbers, the quantification hasn’t caught up with all the growth and explosion and the interest.”


Pirog says he’d like to push the process along. He says it would make more sense for the government to shift subsidies from corn and soybean production to the farms that produce food for their local communities.


For the GLRC, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Midwest Explorers Attempt to Cross Arctic

  • Eric Larsen and Lonnie Dupre tried to be the first to cross the Arctic Ocean during the summer. (Photo by Michael Slonecker)

Two Midwestern explorers are back in the U.S. after an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Arctic Ocean. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:

Transcript

Two Midwestern explorers are back in the states after an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Arctic Ocean. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:


Eric Larsen and Lonnie Dupre used skis, snowshoes, and modified canoes to attempt the first-ever summer crossing of the Arctic Ocean. Larsen says they dealt with polar bears, dangerous ice, and white out conditions.


“I suppose it was a bit like, you know, if you fill you bathtub up with ice water and then stare at a blank sheet of paper for three weeks.”


Larsen says they were hoping to raise awareness of global climate change, and they felt an arctic expedition was a perfect way to do that. They wanted to travel from Siberia to Canada, but the arctic ice broke up earlier than they expected.


“One of the reasons that we weren’t able to make it this year was because the arctic sea ice actually has broken up nearly a month earlier, and that’s most likely because of global warming.”


The two explorers are considering a trip from the North Pole to Greenland next year.


For the GLRC, I’m Christina Shockley.

Related Links

Administration Stays Course on Global Warming

  • Many scientists are finding that much of the Arctic's ice cover could melt by the end of this summer. However, the Bush Administration cites a few reasons why compliance with the Kyoto treaty is still not a favored option. (Photo by Michael Slonecker)

Despite warnings that global warming is causing the
Arctic to warm up at twice the rate of the rest of the world, the Bush administration is not changing its policies on emissions in the U.S. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Despite warnings that global warming is causing the Arctic to warm up at twice the
rate of the rest of the world, the Bush administration is not changing its policies
on emissions in the U.S. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Earlier this month 300 scientists presented a four-year study that concluded the
Arctic was warming up right now. The report indicated the northern ice cap was already
diminished by 15 to 20 percent, and by the end of this century half of the Arctic’s summer
ice cover would be melted and polar bears could be nearly extinct. The study predicted that
the wildlife in the Arctic and the people who depended on it for food would be in dire straits.


But even with the new evidence that the Arctic is facing worse warming than first predicted,
the Bush adminsitration is not changing its course. The White House has indicated the U.S.
would lose too many jobs and have to restrict its economy more than other nations such as
China and India if it were to adhere to the Kyoto global warming treaty. So far, the Bush
administration has agreed only to fund further research on the issue.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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Ijc Report: Mixed Prognosis for Great Lakes

The latest report on the overall health of the Great Lakes shows mixed progress in cleaning up the lakes. The International Joint Commission says there have been some improvements, but there are still many areas that need to be worked on. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:

Transcript

The latest report on the overall health of the Great Lakes shows
mixed progress in cleaning up the lakes. The International Joint
Commission says there have been some improvements, but there are
still many areas that need to be worked on. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:


The IJC is an agency made up of Canadian and U.S. officials who
monitor the overall health of the Great Lakes. Every two years, the
agency issues a report.


This year’s report says the two governments have made progress in
cutting releases of many toxic chemicals. And scientists are closer to
understanding how global climate change is likely to affect the Great
Lakes.


But the report says other issues require urgent attention. It calls for
government action to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired
power plants. Mercury can cause nerve and developmental damage
when it’s eaten in fish.


And U.S. Co-Chair Dennis Schornack says the governments should
do more to stop invasive alien species from getting into the Great
Lakes.


“We still don’t have measures in place that would stop ballast water
mediated transfers of species from abroad; we’ve still got a threat
with the Asian carp coming up the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal
and incomplete funding for the barrier to stop that invasion there.”


The report also urges scientists to figure out why Lake Erie’s water
quality is degrading again, after years of improvement.


And there are always new challenges, according to Canadian Co-Chair Herb Gray.


“There are new families of chemicals getting into the water. The fire
retardants, which are great for your furniture, but not great in drinking
water.”


This was the 12th biennial report on Great Lakes water quality. The
report says it’s now time for a comprehensive review of the
agreement between the U.S. and Canada to clean up and protect the
Great Lakes.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

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Earth Day in Time of Turmoil

Earth Day is upon us once again, but in this time of war we may not grasp its relevance. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Bob Hamma suggests that this year’s theme – “Protect Our Home” – can lead us to reconsider what kind of future we want, not just for ourselves, but for the world we live in:

Transcript

Earth Day is upon us once again. But in this time of war, we may not grasp its relevance. Great Lakes Radio commentator Bob Hamma suggests that this year’s theme. “Protect Our Home” can lead us to reconsider what kind of future we want, not just for ourselves, but for the world we live in:

Upon his return to Earth after the Apollo 11 mission, the astronaut Michael Collins chose the word fragility to describe how the Earth looked from the moon: “The Earth appears fragile above all else,” he said.

This image of fragility seems an appropriate one for Earth Day 2002. We have learned so much about the fragility of life since September 11. People kissed their loved ones good-bye, went to work, boarded airplanes, all expecting to be home soon. Even now, more than six months later, we are keenly aware of how fragile life is. This tear in the fabric of ordinary life is not easily mended; it has forced us to look more deeply at what we value most, and how to preserve and care for that.

The theme for Earth Day this year is “Protect Our Home.” It is a call to remember that the Earth on which we live is indeed a fragile jewel of life. And in a time of ever-increasing hostility, the earth and those who dwell on it are endangered. How can we protect our home?

Our first instinct is to defend what we treasure, by force if need be. While there is a necessary place for homeland security and military action, these strategies are not the whole solution. Violence can be suppressed by force, hatred cannot. Perhaps Earth Day can be a time to take a look at our situation from another perspective.

If we could view our planet home from a distance today, with all we now know about the Earth and all we have experienced recently, I think we might recognize that the fragility of life on Earth is not only an ecological reality, but a human responsibility. We hold the future of the Earth in our hands. Life on our planet depends on us, on how we use and distribute its resources, and on how we resolve the differences that fuel the destructive power of hatred.

We live in a biosphere where all life is mutually dependent. If we ignore this interdependence on the level of relations among nations, races, and religions, we set in motion a process that imperils life on all levels. The fragile axis of life turns with delicate balance.

This Earth Day invites us to reconsider the idea that we are separate and independent, and that our needs and rights take precedence over those of the global community and of the Earth itself. If we can begin to see the Earth as our shared home, perhaps then we can hope for a better future. Only then can we truly protect our home.

Host Tag: “Bob Hamma is the author of “Earth’s Echo – Sacred Encounters with Nature,” published by Sorin Books. He comes to us by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.”

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Group Criticizes Medical Waste Company

An environmental group is criticizing the nation’s largest medical waste disposal company for not living up to its mission of being environmentally responsible, but the company says its record speaks for itself. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:

Transcript

An environmental group is criticizing the nation’s largest medical waste disposal company for not living up to its mission of being environmentally responsible. But the company says its record speaks for itself. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:

In a new report, the group Health Care Without Harm accuses the medical waste company, Stericycle, of not doing enough to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste. It also criticizes one method of disposal. Charlotte Brody is the director of the group.

“We need Stericycle to stop incinerating, but when we’ve asked them to actually pledge to do that, they’ve backed away.”

Stericycle says it is reducing incineration. Tony Tomasello is the company’s chief technical officer. He says, as the company expanded it acquired other companies’ incinerators.

“We have shut down over half of those. So, I feel we’ve made substantial reduction in the amount of incineration used in the industry.”

Tomasello notes certain waste, such as human tissue and medical records, is required to be incinerated. He adds that Stericycle educates health care providers on how to reduce waste, but the reduction methods aren’t always enforced.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.