Scientists Hob-Knob in Chicago

  • Former US Vice President Al Gore will deliver a special address to the thousands of scientists gathered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's meeting this week. (Photo courtesy of the US Department of State)

Thousands of scientists from around the world will be hob-knobbing in Chicago, starting today. They’re going to be celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and how he changed science forever. But they won’t be just celebrating – they’ll be thinking through one of the biggest environmental problems we all face:

Transcript

Thousands of scientists from around the world will be hob-knobbing in Chicago starting today. They’re going to be celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and how he changed science forever. But they won’t be just celebrating –- they’ll be thinking through one of the biggest environmental problems we all face:

The group’s called the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and they’re putting on their annual meeting – one of the biggest science meet-ups in the world.
This time around there’s plenty of attention on the science of climate change.

The group doesn’t mince words on the issue.

Here’s CEO – Dr. Alan Leschner.

“The last five or more years has been a period of, frankly, denial by the US government about the need to address the problem of global change and its consequences for the world. Now , we think there’s a big opportunity, particularly with the new science appointments made by President Obama to be able to address these kinds of issues in a focused and coherent way.
Scientists there will present work on whether biofuels really help cut carbon emissions, what kind of food crops are best for the climate, and whether we’re losing fish species because global warming.”

And to headline the whole thing – former Vice President Al Gore’s dropping in later this week.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Ford Motor Shifts Gears?

The head of the Ford Motor Company is petitioning President Bush to convene a summit on U.S. energy policy and the role automakers should play. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Quinn Klinefelter has more:

Transcript

The head of the Ford Motor Company is petitioning President Bush to convene a summit on U.S. energy policy and the role automakers should play. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Quinn Klinefelter has more:


For much of the past decade, the auto industry has successfully lobbied Congress and the Administration against raising fuel economy standards which, automakers say, would force them ro raise prices.


Now, however, Ford Motor Company Chairman Bill Ford Jr. is requesting that the President hold a summit to discuss improving fuel mileage and limiting America’s dependence on oil.


Ford recently announced that roughly half of the models it offers would be available in hybrid form or other more economical versions by 2010. Ford supported the Bush Administration’s Energy Policy Act, but company officials say the country is in the midst of an energy crisis and the President must do more to help consumers.


White House officials say the President is considering the proposal.


For the GLRC, I’m Quinn Kleinfelter.

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Bottling Restrictions Lifted for Katrina Victims

Officials are suspending a fight with water bottlers over diversions from
the Great Lakes basin – as long as the water is used for hurricane relief.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rick Pluta has more:

Transcript

Officials are suspending a fight with water bottlers over diversions from the Great Lakes basin – as long as the water is used for hurricaine relief. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rick Pluta has more:


Michigan’s in a legal fight with Nestle Waters over the company’s right to tap into springs, bottle the water, and then sell it outside the Great Lakes basin.


Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm says that amounts to a diversion of water from the Great Lakes, and it should be regulated, but she’s signed a directive saying that limits on water bottlers will be lifted to support hurricane relief.


“It’s going to allow for the relaxation of rules during the time of a national emergency to allow water to be pumped and distributed to areas of great need.”


The governor says her directive will expire once the immediate crisis is past, but the court fight is still pending over the right of Michigan – and other states in the Great Lakes region – to place limits on how water can be withdrawn from the basin and sold somewhere else.


For the GLRC, I’m Rick Pluta.

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Not Quite Ready for Bioterrorist Attack

  • Mock evidence of radiological material to make a dirty bomb gives trainees an idea of the kind of materials they might find in a terrorist operation. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Since 9/11, emergency responders have been practicing for new kinds of emergencies. In addition to fires and hazardous materials spills, emergency personnel have been training to deal with terrorist attacks. Recently, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham was allowed behind the scenes in a terrorism attack training exercise:

Transcript

Since 9/11, emergency responders have been practicing for new kinds of emergencies. In
addition to fires and hazardous materials spills, emergency personnel have been training
to deal with terrorist attacks. Recently, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Graham was allowed behind the scenes in a terrorism attack training exercise:


(coughing)


These two men are the victims of some kind of biological toxin. They were investigating
an abandoned rental truck and now they’re writhing on the ground after a package
spewed some kind of liquid.


(chatter between mock victims) “You alright, man?” “What was that?” “I don’t know
what that was. It hurts.”


These guys are acting. They’re part of a huge training exercise put on by the
Environmental Protection Agency. Dozens of firefighters, emergency medical personnel,
EPA investigators, the FBI and people in t-shirts identifying themselves with acronyms
for agencies most of us have never heard of. They’re all working through a couple of
scenarios. So far today, they’ve discovered radioactive material to make dirty bombs and
some kind of lab set up to make a chemical like sarin nerve gas… and then there’s the
rental truck which is loaded with nasty chemicals.


Mark Durno is the U.S. EPA’s On-Scene Coordinator…


“We have some very distinct objectives with this exercise. One is to practice responding
to unusual situations that might involve weapons of mass destruction. In this particular
exercise, we’re practicing chemical agent and radiological agent response.”


There are lots of new things to learn. Coordination between agencies… and new
techniques. In this exercise, Detroit city departments are learning to work with federal
agencies. Melvin Green is with the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services. He
says this exercise is good. He’d rather see his medical technicians make mistakes here
than during a real emergency… where his worst fears might be realized.


“I would have to say that, you know, them become casualties, that’s probably my biggest
fear. This is why we want to educate them on—and this is why the exercise is so
important. We want to educate them on the possibilities. Keeping our people safe
reduces casualties.”


That’s because if the emergency medical personnel are hurt… fewer people will be
treated.


The idea of a terrorist attack with radiological or biological agents is the kind of
nightmarish scenario that no one really wants to think about… but it’s something
emergency responders HAVE to think about.


During this day-long exercise… these trainees are upbeat, they’re confident in their
response. They feel they’ve come a long way in the nearly three years since 9/11.


But other emergency service experts are not quite as upbeat. Just 40 miles from this
training exercise… at the University of Michigan Hospital’s Department of Emergency
Medicine, Administrator Peter Forster says there are weaknesses in preparedness for
terrorist attacks.


“We’ve made a lot of progress from where we were, but we’ve got a long ways to go.”


Forster says when victims start showing up at the hospital emergency rooms…. there will
be bottle-necks…


“Most emergency preparedness activities have been geared toward local events with
relatively small numbers of victims. When we start talking about hundreds of people or
thousands of people injured or hurt, or exposed to some toxic or contagious substance,
then I think the health system would have a significantly difficult time expanding to meet
that requirement, regardless of how much, uh, how well we’re trained or how prepared
we are. We don’t really have the capacity on the health care side to manage a significant
influx of patients.”


Forster says plans to set up emergency medical facilities in auditoriums, school gyms,
and maybe even hotel rooms need to be completed… arrangements made… and supplies
stockpiled.


(sound up of training exercise, generators, etc.)


Meanwhile, back in Detroit… investigators are putting on bulky chemical protection
suits—the ones that look like big space suits…blue, yellow, olive, with teal-colored
gloves and orange boots… you’d think of circus colors if the subject matter weren’t so
serious. After examining the mock lab, spending about an hour in the sweltering suits,
they come out for decontamination before their air tanks run out. The local agencies help
with decontamination… spraying and scrubbing the suits down.


(sound: beeping, scrubbing)


The training site has all the sights and sounds of a real emergency. Lots of emergency
vehicles… the noise of generators and the smell of diesel. But it’s fairly relaxed. There’s
none of the tension, none of the urgency of a real emergency.


The U.S. EPA’s On-Scene Coordinator, Mark Durno, says there are some things you
can’t bring to a drill…


“You can never simulate the adrenaline and the potential panic that’s associated with a
real event, especially when you hear the words ‘chemical’ and ‘radiological’ agent.
However, we can practice those little tools that we’re going to need to be absolutely
proficient at to ensure that when the panic hits, we’re ready to roll without any
hesitation.”


The days’ training has turned up a few glitches. Communication between agencies is
still a problem. Emergency radio frequencies need to be sorted out and coordinated. And
there are still some major gaps in preparedness that are not part of this training… such as
the emergency room capacity problem. But one of the bigger issues is money. Federal
money has been promised to local governments… but it’s been very slow in coming.


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

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Canada’s Plans to Battle Farm Pollution

Seven people died and more than two thousand were made ill when E. coli bacteria contaminated Walkerton, Ontario’s water supply more than two years ago. The contamination came from cattle manure that had leeched into the ground. Now, the government of Ontario has come out with its plans in an attempt to prevent another tragedy like Walkerton. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:

Transcript

Seven people died and more than two thousand were made ill when E. coli bacteria
contaminated Walkerton, Ontario’s water supply more than two years ago. The contamination came from cattle manure that had leeched into the ground. Now, the government of Ontario has come out with its plans in an attempt to prevent another tragedy like Walkerton. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:


Ontario is considering two new laws to make its drinking water safer. The new regulations would affect everything from manure-spreading to barn construction.


The first, the Nutrient Management Act, would bind all farmers by the same curbs
on agricultural waste that contributed to the contamination of Walkerton’s water
supply.


The second, the Safe Drinking Water Act, would enshrine in law the right of people
in Ontario to clean and safe drinking water. It would also establish a water council to
conduct research, advise the government and set up a registry so consumers could
check the water quality in their area.


Paul Muldoon is with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. He says it’s too
early yet to say if the new rules go far enough..


“Our view is that we’re hopeful it’s going to do the right thing and we’re going to do anything in our power to point it in the right direction, once we see the details.”


There will likely be some opposition from farmers to the new rules. But they and the
municipalities will be given a chance to voice their concerns during public meetings
across Ontario this fall.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Karpenchuk.

Stocking Up in the Face of Danger

  • Prices spiked at some gas stations around the region after September 11th, and many drivers felt compelled to wait in long lines to fill their tanks.

Despite the patriotic fervor that has marched across the country, the first test of the war against terrorism found many Americans taking a “me first” attitude. When rumors were flying that gasoline shipments might be disrupted, people lined up to fill up their tanks before supplies dried up. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has more:

Transcript

Despite the patriotic fervor that has marched across the country, the first test of the war against terrorism found many Americans taking a “me first” attitude. When rumors were flying that gasoline shipments might be disrupted, people lined up to fill their tanks before supplies dried up. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.


On September tenth, the Energy Department reported that gasoline prices fell almost two cents per gallon. It was the first drop since early August and nearly three-and-a-half cents a gallon cheaper than the same time last year. Supplies of gasoline were plentiful and cheaper, but no one seemed to be in a particular hurry to filler up.


That all changed on September eleventh.


“… breaking news from New York City where planes, two planes have hit both towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan” (voice fades under)


As the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D-C unfolded rumors of refineries shutting down started circulating. Some suppliers told service station retailers that they weren’t sure when or even if they could deliver the next shipment. Word quickly spread that the price at the pumps was going up.


(Natural sound of service station)


Sharon Cameron lives and works in a small town in Illinois. She heard from a co-worker that the price might go up to five dollars a gallon. When she got near the convenience store. She found a long line of cars and trucks.


“I had about a 35 minute wait to get gas.”


And some in line weren’t happy about what they saw in front of them.


“There was a gentleman that was pretty upset because another guy had pulled his truck in there and had filled up both tanks on his truck and then proceeded to fill up about five or six gas tanks in the back of his truck.”


People appeared to be hoarding gasoline because of rumors that speculated supplies would be cut off because of the terrorist attacks.


Some retailers took advantage of the situation. Scott Mulford is a spokesperson for the Illinois Attorney General’s office. He says about 1500 people from around the state called in complaints that stations were price gouging.


“Prices at the stations increased in some cases as high as five dollars a gallon.”


The Illinois Attorney General is filing suit against one convenience store chain, charging that the price spikes violated the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.


Other states in the Midwest had similar incidents. Ohio is filing suit against at least four station owners. There were reports of price gouging in Wisconsin. The Michigan Attorney General has plans to file suit against 13 retailers. Some retailers say in their defense that it wasn’t greed that motivated them. But concern about gas supplies. Some of those gas station owners who hiked prices on September eleventh say they were simply trying to discourage a mad rush for gasoline by raising the price. Stanley Pruss is with the Michigan AG’s office.


“There was something of a panic. There were gas lines. The gasoline station retailer can close down, limit hours, ration gasoline, or spike the price or raise the price to control demand. I mean, those are all options within their purview. Price increases to control demand that double the price of gas are just unconscionable.”


Pruss says it’s somewhat understandable that people wanted to rush to fill their tanks when they heard that gas prices were going up to five-dollars-a-gallon or that supplies might be disrupted.


A marketing professor at the University of Illinois says it’s to be expected. Brian Wansink says instead of conserving in times of crisis. Americans have a tendency to stock up. “Just in case.”


“Any time there’s a crisis or any time that uncertainty is magnified in one direction or another, this basic tendency that we have gets expanded, you know, two, three, or even four-fold.”


Wansink says part of this tendency is a leftover from another national crisis, the depression. He says our parents and grandparents who lived through the Great Depression in the 1930’s have instilled in us the stories of their terrible struggles.


“About how, you know, they only had bread to eat, and how things were really, really tight, and how dire things were. And so, there’s essentially this trace in our mind that ‘My god, things could be really, really bad and I don’t know.’ And I think it’s this threat that drives some of this hoarding also.”


So, storing up or hoarding is part of our culture. At least this time the impulse to hoard gasoline was short-lived. The lines dwindled in just a few hours. Hiked prices were lowered to more reasonable levels by the next day. Hoarding quickly gave way to an outpouring of generosity toward relief efforts for the victims of the terrorist attacks. It’s evident that Americans have another tendency: that is, to pull together in times of tragedy. After they’ve had a little time to reflect on the bigger picture.


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