Scientists are talking about a new way to address global warming. Their idea is to take carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants and inject it deep into the earth. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Annie MacDowell explains:
Scientists are talking about a new way to address global warming. Their idea is to take carbon
dioxide from coal-burning power plants and inject it deep into the earth. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Annie Macdowell explains:
It’s called carbon sequestration. The idea is to use a chemical process to remove carbon dioxide
from power plant emissions and pressurize it into a liquid form. The liquid would then be injected
into saline aquifers up to ten thousand feet below the ground.
The government wants to create 4 to 10 regional partnerships to study the possibility of carbon
sequestration. One of the potential sites is in the Illinois Basin. The basin extends throughout three
quarters of Illinois, into Western Indiana and Western Kentucky.
Robert Finley is the director of the Center for Energy and Earth Resources at the Illinois State
Geological Survey. He says carbon sequestration could be a good transition for the country as it
moves away from using fossil fuels.
“It would allow us to use coal in a more environmentally responsible way while we look toward the
future with additional use of renewables and ultimately, perhaps, going to a hydrogen economy.”
Finley says at this point, sequestration doesn’t work with other pollutants found in power plant
emissions, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Annie MacDowell.
The world’s largest automaker says it will offer hybrid engines on pickup trucks beginning this fall. The new type of engine is a combination of gasoline and electric motors. General Motors says it will expand its hybrid offerings to several types of vehicles during the next four years. Other automakers are also adding hybrids to their product lines. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Michael Leland reports, GM says it will need help making the hybrid program a success:
The world’s largest automaker says it will offer hybrid engines on pickup trucks beginning this
fall. The new type of engine is a combination of gasoline and electric motors. General Motors
says it will expand its hybrid offerings to several types of vehicles during the next four years. Other
automakers are also adding hybrids to their product lines. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Michael Leland reports, GM says it will need help making the hybrid program a success:
(ambient sound up)
General Motors says it believes there is a strong market for hybrid vehicles, if those vehicles are
the larger models popular with most consumers. At the North American International Auto Show
in Detroit, GM C.E.O., Rick Wagoner said that’s why his company is putting the engines in
pickup trucks, SUVs and midsize cars.
“We play in the whole market. We sell the biggest trucks, we sell the smallest cars, we are going
to offer the full range of technologies, and you know what? The customer is going to buy what
they want to buy. What we are trying to do is, very importantly, offer products that people want
(fade ambient sound)
There are several types of hybrid engines, but most are a combination of a traditional gasoline,
internal combustion engine, and a small electric motor. The result is higher gas mileage and
lower emissions. Existing hybrid cars get as much as 68 miles to the gallon.
Later this year, GM will offer hybrid engines in its Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup
trucks. During the next few years, the company will offer them in other SUVs and midsize cars.
GM is not alone in planning larger hybrid vehicles. In a few months, Ford begins selling a hybrid
version of its Escape SUV, and within a couple of years, Toyota will offer a hybrid Lexus SUV.
David Friedman is with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group that promotes a
cleaner environment. He says this is a good trend.
“This allows consumers to own their SUV, own their minivan, own their pickup truck and able to
afford paying gas every month.”
But while hybrids can save their owners money at the gas pump, they also cost more than
traditional gasoline-powered vehicles – as much as four-thousand dollars more. GM’s Rick
Wagoner says that’s why the federal government needs to help promote the new technology.
“Whether that is in the mandatory use of hybrid vehicles in government fleets or extensive
consumer tax credits to encourage retail sales. In our view, both of these will be required and
People who buy hybrid-engine cars now can qualify for a two-thousand dollar tax deduction. The
Union of Concerned Scientists and automakers say a tax credit would be better. They say a credit
would save car owners more money in the long run.
Analyst David Cole at the Center for Automotive Research says incentives could help persuade
more people to give hybrid technology a try.
“I think today that the consumer is extremely confused by all of the technology that’s out there.
Ultimately what really counts is whether it is going to deliver value at an affordable price, and that
question has not been answered yet.”
GM says it considers hybrid engine vehicles a way to help reduce emissions. The vehicles can
also help reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil now, while carmakers develop hydrogen-based
fuel cell engines. That technology is still considered a long way off for most drivers. David
Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists looks forward to a day when several types of
engines are available.
“When a consumer walks into a showroom, they should be able to choose conventional vehicles,
hybrid vehicles, fuel cell vehicles, and then the market will really shake out a lot of good options
for consumers who want to save money on fuel.”
Only about 40-thousand hybrid vehicles were sold last year. But, General Motors says it hopes to
sell as many as a million by 2007 if the demand is there. The automaker believes the way to
create that demand is through tax incentives.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Michael Leland.
Keeping track of polluters in a country as large as Canada poses a serious challenge. Truckloads of hazardous waste cross the border with the U.S. every day, logging companies work near protected wildlife, and smoke from factories fills the air; but the Canadian government has a new weapon in the fight against polluters. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on Canada’s growing team of environmental spies:
Keeping track of polluters in a country as large as Canada poses a serious challenge. Truckloads
of hazardous waste cross the border with the U.S. every day. Logging companies work near
protected wildlife. And smoke from factories fills the air. But the Canadian government has a
new weapon in the fight against polluters. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly
reports on Canada’s growing team of environmental spies:
“We’re just coming up to this facility on the right-hand side here now.”
Brad May slows down and scans the area surrounding a squat concrete building. It’s owned by a
company that was once under suspicion for illegal dumping. We’ve come here so that May can give
a sense of what happens when he places a company under
“As you can see, its a fairly old factory in a fairly industrial area in the north of Toronto
involved in the recycling and reconditioning of containers used for paints and coatings and
lubricants and that sort of thing.”
May pulls into a nearby driveway obscured by weeds. As he sips a cup of coffee, he looks like a
typical investigator – right down to the khaki uniform. The guy in the back seat, however,
probably wouldn’t get a second look. He’s wearing jeans and
a plaid shirt. And he lets May do most of the talking. His name is Mark Pomeroy. And, not
surprisingly, he’s the spy. Out on surveillance, he doesn’t have much to say. But he does point
out an 18-wheeler that’s
parked a shipping container in front of the building.
“You’ll notice here you have a container and the container has various bunch of
numbers on it. That’s very good information. What shipping line did it arrive from, who’s hauling
it as far as the carrier is concerned and you can find out if the items they’re receiving would
indeed be something we’d be interested in looking at as far as a potential violation is
Pomeroy searches for trends in industries where there’s an incentive to pollute.
For instance, if the price of pork drops, he’ll watch for hog farmers looking for a cheap way to
dump their manure, or mechanics might be offering great deals on freon, a highly regulated
chemical that’s used in
old air conditioners. That could prompt a visit to some local garages in search of illegal
imports. A lot of times, Pomeroy teams up with customs officers, the police and
Environment Canada investigators.
He says his job is different than that of a typical officer. He tries to anticipate the next
wave of environmental crime.
“Whereas they might focus on one specific case, intelligence would look at that and say, you’re
dealing with this type of a problem, is that prevalent with these types of companies…which in turn would say, okay inspections, don’t just
focus on this particular company. Look at A,B,C,D companies also.”
Here in his office, Pomeroy locks the door before he settles into a comfortable chair.
There’s a bit of a James Bond feeling here.
Secrecy is highly valued.
There’s even white noise piped throughout the building, to reduce the chance of being overheard.
As he talks about whistleblowers and anonymous tips, it’s clear that Pomeroy loves his job.
“I like law enforcement. I find it kind of a stimulating challenge to see somebody who thinks
they’re so smart that they’re doing this and they’re getting away with it, and it’s very gratifying to
actually go after that type of a person, exposing them and if it’s a violation, prosecuting
Pomeroy is one of six environmental spies in Canada and part of the only environmental
intelligence unit in the world.
The unit was created in 1998 to improve enforcement of the new laws enacted under the
Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
It’s a big job, but for Pomeroy, the best part is when he’s working in the field.
He cultivates informants – looking for internal whistle blowers and unhappy competitors. And
he’ll trail suspicious cars and conduct drive-bys on companies to gather information. Pomeroy
says his main goal is to find the big fish operating in the shadows of an industry.
“The big thing for an intelligence officer is to look at the unknown community. Are there people out there
who have never come forward and gone through the process of registering with us or gone
through the licensing or noticing permits? It’s up to me to see if they are actually out there
are they circumventing our regulations.”
But Pomeroy has been hampered by the fact that he’s the only environmental spy in the province
That’s soon to change. He’ll be joined by a second spy as Environment Canada doubles the size
of its intelligence unit.
That’s welcome news for environmentalists like Jerry DeMarco. He’s the managing lawyer with
the Sierra Legal Defense Fund. And his group argues that the Canadian government is not
enforcing its own environmental laws.
The group filed a complaint under the North American Free Trade Agreement. And an internal
government report backed up their claims.
DeMarco says the new officers are arriving at a crucial time.
“They need more resources for two distinct reasons. One is they haven’t had enough to enforce
the laws that do exist and also there’s been the passage of several new laws and regulations in
past few years that also require enforcement staff.”
For instance, Canada is adding new chemicals to its list of toxic substances. That’ll mean more
work for the investigators who track them.
Mark Pomeroy acknowledges it’s still a fledgling operation. And he’s spending much of his time
building trust – with industry sources, law enforcement, and even environmental groups,
but he’s confident that trust will translate into valuable information – which will make it
for companies that continue to break the law.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.
Government, industry, and activists work to inform people about individual threats of non-native invasive species. However, there is no comprehensive approach to reducing biological contamination of the Great Lakes region.
One of the biggest environmental problems facing the Great Lakes is the introduction of foreign plants and animals. Invasive species such as the zebra mussel are causing havoc to the lakes. Local, state, and federal governments know about the problems. But there’s not been much public pressure on the governments to do much about them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
One of the biggest environmental problems facing the Great Lakes is the introduction of
foreign plants and animals. Invasive species such as the zebra mussel are causing havoc
to the lakes. Local, state, and federal governments know about the problems. But there’s
not been much public pressure on the governments to do much about them. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Here’s a factoid for you. In the United States alone in the 1980’s and ’90’s, it’s estimated
that it cost more than two-billion dollars to keep zebra mussels from clogging up water
intake pipes. Two-billion! Guess who paid for that? You did – in higher bills.
Zebra mussels are an invasive species. That is, they are native to a foreign place and they
were transported here – like many invasives – by a ship. Zebra mussels were sucked up in
ballast water in a foreign port and then pumped out in a Great Lakes port. The zebra
mussels have spread all over the Great Lakes, in huge numbers. They attach to
everything, including intake pipes. They’ve crowded out native mussels. And zebra
mussels eat the microscopic plant life at the bottom of the food chain, making fish more
scarce and causing fish prices to go up.
And that’s just the beginning. There’s been something like 160 invasive species such as
foreign fish, aquatic nuisances, plants, and insects brought into the Great Lakes region
one way or another and each one has caused problems. Dutch elm disease kills trees. A
fish called round goby eats the eggs of native sport fish. Invasive mites are killing off
“People aren’t outraged about it. And they’re not outraged about it because, I think, we in
the public interest community and the government side haven’t done what it takes to
clearly communicate why this is a problem to people.”
Cameron Davis is with the Lake Michigan Federation, an environmental group that
works to get policies changed in the Great Lakes basin. Davis says most of the time
people just don’t understand that because the government is not doing enough to stop
invasive species from entering the country, it ends up costing them and takes a toll on the
“When zebra mussels, for example, get into drinking water intakes, municipalities have to
pay to keep those things out of there. That means higher rates for you and me. For other
people, fishing is impacted. Invasive species getting into the lakes can mean competition
for those native species like yellow perch because of round gobies, because of zebra
mussels and other invasive species getting into the Great Lakes.”
The government agencies which work on these kinds of problems know about them and
some things have been done to try to prevent new invasive species from being introduced
or control them once they’re here.
Tom Skinner is a regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
and also heads up the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office. Skinner says there
are several obstacles to stopping the invasions.
“One is identifying all the possibilities out there. Two is identifying how they get into the
lakes. Three is coming up with a technical solution to deal with the invasive nature of the
species. And four is getting the resources to make sure that you put the technical
solutions into place.”
And there’s another problem – government agencies, much like people, tend to deal with
one problem at a time. For example, sea lampreys entered the Great Lakes after a canal
was opened. They decimated lake trout populations. Government agencies attacked that
problem. Asian carp are threatening to spread from the Mississippi River system into the
Great Lakes through a canal. Government agencies are putting up barriers. One problem
equals one fix.
Tom Skinner’s counterpart in Canada, John Mills with Environment Canada, says
governments are beginning to realize that stopping the spread of invasive species cannot
just be fixed one problem at a time.
“It isn’t a simple problem of just focusing in on ballast water. It’s a much broader
problem. You can get organisms coming in on wood or other commodities that will take
up residence in the basin and create havoc.”
So, there are lots of ways for invasive species to enter the Great Lakes region. But the
Lake Michigan Federation’s Cameron Davis says no one seems to be looking at the
“We’ve got a number of different gateways to get into the Great Lakes, but we have all
kinds of different departments looking at A) individual gateways, or B) looking at
individual species. Nobody’s really there to pull it all together. We have a big
institutional problem that way.”
And there’s no one movement among environmental groups or consumer groups to
pressure the governments to step back and look at the policies that allow shipping and
trade to continue to easily transport invasive species into the Great Lakes region.
The EPA’s Tom Skinner says government agencies are working on it.
“We’re going to continue to work with the Coast Guard, with the Corps of Engineers,
with our friends to the north in Canada and try and come up with a comprehensive
solution to these various invasive problems. But, it’s easy to say; it takes a great deal of
work and effort to do that.”
And government agencies are not getting any real kind of public pressure to do it because
the public doesn’t realize the price it’s paying for invasive species.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
The courts have ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot keep the whereabouts of endangered species secret. The ruling comes in a case where a builder tried to find out whether there was an endangered species on land he wanted to buy for development. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The courts have ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot keep the
whereabouts of endangered species secret. The ruling comes in a case where a builder
tried to find out whether there was an endangered species on land he wanted to buy for
development. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The Fish and Wildlife Service says it didn’t want to reveal whether it found endangered
species on private property, afraid it would lose the trust of private landowners if it made
the information public. So, when the National Association of Home Builders filed a
request for the locations of an endangered species, the Fish and Wildlife Service omitted
all the sitings on private land. Jerry Howard is the CEO of the home builders group. He
says builders need that information.
“Our members who are looking at buying land in areas affected will be able to make
informed decisions and comply with the regulations because they’ll know what they’re
walking into. And we’ll be able to protect the species ’cause we’ll know that they’re
there and we’ll be able not to do things that harm their habitat.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service could appeal the ruling because it sets a precedent that
could be used by any group to determine where endangered species are located.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
States have been removing old dams from rivers for safety and environmental reasons. But researchers say water managers should be sure to take a close look when considering dam removal as an option because, in some cases, it might be bad for the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:
States have been removing old dams from rivers for safety and
environmental reasons. But researchers say water managers should be
sure to take a close look when considering dam removal as an option
because, in some cases, it might be bad for the environment. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:
This year, 45 dams are slated for removal across the country. Half of
those dams are in this region.
Emily Stanley is a river ecologist at the University of Wisconsin.
She’s been studying rivers after a dam has been removed and recently
published her findings in the journal “BioScience.” She
says in farm country, dams can help trap fertilizers that have been
over-applied on nearby fields.
“Small reservoirs can act like wetlands, and can be effective filters
for removing the nitrogen that has come in off of farm fields through
groundwater into the system, and can be actually some valuable points
of improving water quality.”
Stanley says, in many cases, sediments have been collecting behind the
dams for decades. When the dam is removed, the sediments are suddenly
released downstream and can lead to harmful algae blooms. In some
cases, the sediments can contain more dangerous substances, such heavy
metals and PCB’s. Stanley says communities should be sure to weigh the
environmental consequences before removing a dam.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
Beaches along Lake Michigan were closed more often this year as a result of high bacteria levels, according to a new report. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:
Beaches along Lake Michigan were closed more often this year as a result of high
bacteria levels, according to a new report. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah
The report from the Chicago-based Lake Michigan Federation says beach closings and
advisories were at an all-time high in 2002 – at nearly 900 in Wisconsin, Illinois,
Michigan, and Indiana.
Part of the spike can be attributed to more frequent testing in coastal counties. But
Federation director Cameron Davis says an uptick in sewage spills and wastewater
overflows are also to blame. Davis says tracking and cleaning up pollution sources should
be the next step for communities along the Lake Michigan coast.
“That is absolutely key, because right now, so much of the debate has been on monitoring
technology and whether counties are even testing in the first place. We need to start to
move beyond that to identify sources and eliminate them once and for all.”
Davis says Indiana lawmakers recently passed legislation aimed at reducing sewer
overflows. And voters in Michigan are considering whether to approve a billion dollar
bond proposal to repair aging sewers.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.
Lorraine Kellerman operates the mercury separator in one dental office. Kellerman says it's easy and satisfying to recycle the mercury.
Tim Tuominen has been working with Duluth area dentists to reduce the mercury going into the city's wastewater.
Health officials warn pregnant women and children to avoid eating certain kinds of fish. Mercury built up in the fish can damage the nervous system and impair children’s mental development. The National Academy of Sciences says at least 60,000 American children are born at risk for impaired development every year because their mothers were exposed to mercury. Mercury has been eliminated from paint, batteries, and other products. Now, some dentists are doing their part to reduce the mercury going into the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Health officials warn pregnant women and children to avoid eating certain kinds of fish.
Mercury built up in the fish can damage the nervous system and impair children’s mental
development. The National Academy of Sciences says at least 60,000 American children
are born at risk for impaired development every year because their mothers were exposed
to mercury. Mercury has been eliminated from paint, batteries, and other products. Now,
some dentists are doing their part to reduce the mercury going into the environment. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Mercury is an essential part of dental amalgam, the silver stuff used to fill cavities. The
mercury keeps the amalgam soft until it’s pressed into the cavity, then it bonds to form a
very stable, durable filling. The problem is the small bits of amalgam that are left over
after the cavity is filled. The suction hose that cleans them out of your mouth generally
dumps them down the drain. So they can easily end up in a lake or river, where they can
be eaten by fish.
The average dental office creates about a half pound of waste mercury every year. Just a
tiny portion of that would be enough to warrant fish advisories.
“The amount that’s sewered from dental offices is probably the largest input to the sewer
Tim Tuominen is a pollution prevention specialist with the Western Lake Superior
Sanitary District in Duluth. He’s been working with dentists in the city for nearly ten
years to reduce the mercury they wash down the drain.
He started with the vacuum systems nearly all dentists already have. When the suction
hose whisks amalgam out of your mouth, the pieces are held in a container to keep them
from damaging the vacuum pump. Tuominen showed the dentists how to empty the
container and bring the contents to the district’s recycling program.
In the first two years, the amount of mercury coming into Duluth’s wastewater treatment
plant was cut in half, and it’s been reduced even further since then.
To cut down on mercury even more, Tuominen got a grant to buy more expensive
equipment that captures up to 99% of the amalgam. He offered the equipment free to any
dentist who would agree to use it.
“I’ll go in and install them, train the assistants and the dentists how they operate, that only
takes about half an hour, then after six months I show them how to manage the solids
particles that collect in them over that time period. So it’s really pretty simple.”
Most of the dental offices in Duluth have installed the systems, and Tuominen expects the
rest to follow suit.
Lorraine Kellerman operates the system in one dental office. Once a week she empties
the chair-side traps and puts the chunks of amalgam into a container for recycling. Then
she goes down to the basement where a tank, like an aquarium, collects the finer particles.
The heavy amalgam settles to the bottom of the tank.
“We just put the hose in the drain, turn the lever, and you just wait ’til the fluid runs out
and then you can come back down, it doesn’t take long, it only takes a few minutes
Once a year the amalgam that collects at the bottom is cleaned out and recycled.
Kellerman’s boss is dentist Jim Westman.
“The beauty of this technology is in its simplicity. Gravity works, it’s simple, it’s very
Westman says the dentists in Duluth are happy to use the equipment. It costs about
$500, and the recycling charge is about $50 a year.
Westman is chair of the Minnesota Dental Association’s environmental committee. It’s
been working on a plan to help dentists around the state of Minnesota reduce their output
of mercury. Westman says they want to make it easy for dentists.
“No matter where someone has question in regards to what’s going to work in my
equipment, there’s so many variations from one office to the next, who are my resources
to call or handling, transport, process materials, it’s that who you going to call side of the
question that’s going to make a difference as we build a bigger program. ”
If the voluntary program catches on in Minnesota, it could spread to other states. Michael
Bender is director of the Mercury Policy Project, a national organization working to
reduce mercury in the environment. He says dentists around the country are beginning to
feel they should do their part.
“It’s part of the cost of doing business. It’s not going to break any dentist’s back
financially to cover the cost of doing whatever it takes to be a good business, responsible
to the community, responsible to the environment.”
In December, the Environmental Protection Agency is convening a meeting on dental
mercury. The agency will publish information on ways state and local governments can
keep dental mercury out of the environment.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.
In the wake of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, there’s been a lot of talk about how to balance human needs with the health of the planet. Ecologists have been trying to measure the impact of humans on the environment for a number of years, with some sobering results. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Daniel Grossman went to the New York Botanical Garden recently to gauge mankind’s ecological footprint:
In the wake of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South
Africa, there’s been a lot of talk about how to balance human needs with the health of the
planet. Ecologists have been trying to measure the impact of humans on the environment
for a number of years, with some sobering results. The Great Lake Radio Consortium’s Daniel Grossman went to the New
York Botanical Garden recently to gauge mankind’s ecological footprint.
[Rain forest sounds, misters, tinkling of water, rain falling on leaves]
To get a good sense of the impact humans are having on earth, you could travel for weeks
on intercontinental plane flights, river boats and desert jeeps. Or, as Columbia University
biologist, Stuart Pimm suggested, visit a botanical garden. There, under the glass and
ironwork of a conservatory, Pimm says you can see a resource that humans are
over-using – Earth’s most important resource, its plant-life.
“We’re sitting in the rain forest here at the New York Botanical Society. And it’s a riot of
Professor Pimm says here beneath the misters in the Tropical Rain Forest Gallery is a
good place to start a whirlwind tour of Earth’s greenery. The air is heavy with moisture
“Rain forests are some of the most productive parts of the planet. They grow extremely
quickly and they are therefore generating a lot of biological production.”
What Pimm calls biological production most of us know as plant growth. Biologists say
all this green growth in tropical forests and elsewhere on Earth is the foundation upon
which all life rests.
“Everything in our lives is dependent upon biological productivity – everything that we
eat, everything that our domestic animals eat.”
And everything that every other animal eats as well. In a recent book, Pimm painstakingly
tallies up how much biological productivity we use. He starts with the rain forest. In the
last 50 years, loggers and settlers have cut down 3 million square miles of lush tropical
forests. Much was cut down for subsistence agriculture, a purpose Pimm says it serves
“Although the tropical forest looks rich and productive, it is a very special place. And
when you chop that forest down the areas that replace it often become very, very much
[Sound of walking around conservatory]
Pimm speaks of the toll on greenery of cities and roads and of land converted to farming
in temperate regions such as the U.S. Midwest. Then, trekking along the botanical
garden’s gravel paths, he leaves behind the tropical mists and steps into the dry heat of a
Southwestern desert. Deserts and other dry lands are not very productive, but they
account for a substantial fraction of Earth’s land surface. Most of it is grazed by flocks of
sheep, goats, camels and cattle, often causing severe damage to vegetation. When these
uses are added to the other impacts of humanity on earth’s bounty, the results are
“What silence has shown is that we are taking 2/5ths of the biological production on land,
a third from the oceans. And that of the world’s fresh water supply, we’re taking half.”
[Fade out sound of conservatory. Fade up sound of Texas frogs.]
[Sound of plane engines]
Frogs and toads croak out a spring mating ritual in a concrete drainage ditch. Nearby, a
pilot practices maneuvers in a small plane occasionally drowning out the amphibian
serenade. Living in culverts, sharing the night with droning engines, these wild animals
are never completely free of human influences. From his Stanford University office,
Professor Peter Vitousek says wherever you look, the din of human activities is
interrupting and crowding out other species. Vitousek made one of the first attempts to
tally the impact of people on plant productivity in 1985.
[Frogs fade out in time for Vitousek’s act]
“The message to me was that we are already having a huge impact on all the other species
because of our use of the production of Earth and the land surface of Earth. That’s not
something that our models predict for some time in the future or something that we’re
guessing at on the basis of fairly weak information. It’s something that we’re clearly
doing now. That’s already happening.”
Many ecologists say this conclusion is beyond doubt. What they can’t say is whether
human domination of so much of nature’s output is good or bad. University of Minnesota
Professor David Tilman says as a member of the human race himself, he appreciates the
comforts in clothing, shelter and food our lifestyles buy us. And he acknowledges that the
survival of our own species is probably not imperiled – at least for the moment – by the
destruction of others. Still, he wonders if someday we’ll regret today’s resource intensive
“I think the more relevant question to me is, ‘Are we doing this wisely?’ ‘Are we wisely
appropriating the resources of the world?’ So, my concern is that we live in a balanced
way – a way that is sustainable through generations – that we leave our children and
grandchildren the same kind of world that we have.”
An expert on the impacts of agriculture, Tilman says we’re using up more resources than
can be replaced. He says if we don’t grapple with these important issues now, by the time
the human population reaches eight to ten billion or so people later this century, it might
be too difficult for us to do enough to save the planet’s life as we know it today.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Daniel Grossman.
The Asian carp is threatening to invade the Great Lakes. Right now there’s an electric barrier in the Chicago canal to stop the fish from getting into Lake Michigan, but a new study shows it’s not 100-percent effective. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Annie Macdowell reports, scientists are working on a second line of defense…bubbles:
The Asian carp is threatening to invade the Great Lakes. Right now there’s an
electric barrier in the Chicago canal to stop the fish from getting into Lake
Michigan, but a new study shows it’s not 100% effective. As the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Annie Macdowell reports, scientists are working on a second
line of defense – bubbles.
In a recent experiment by the Illinois Natural History Survey, a startled Asian
carp swam straight through an electric field like the one in the Chicago Canal.
The International Joint Commission is bringing specialists from Britain to build
an experimental acoustic bubble barrier and test it on the Asian carp. It works
like this: a pump filled with air and sound expels bubbles with sound trapped
Bill Moy of the Wisconsin Sea Grant says the process creates a nearly seamless
“If you just project sound into the water, it’s not like a wall of sound. But by
entraining the sound in this bubble, you can actually create a wall of sound in
the water that’s much more uniform.”
Moy says the infrasound inside the bubbles is like an idling truck – you can feel it
more than you hear it.
The fish can’t find a break in the sound, so they turn around.
The International Joint Commission says if they decide to install the bubble
barrier, it won’t be until the spring.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Annie MacDowell.