Interview: President of the National Wildlife Federation

  • Larry Schweiger says that we as a society are losing connection with nature, but those who are in nature every day are seeing the changes of global warming take place. (Photo courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, David Parsons)

The head of a hunting, fishing and bird-watching group has written a book that indicates to save nature as we know it, we have to come to grips with climate change. Larry Schweiger is the President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and author of the book “Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth.” Lester Graham recently talked with him:


Graham: You write in your book, “like it or not, global warming is the defining issue of the twenty-first century,” but you also note that there’s a significant amount of what you call “cynical obfuscation” of the science on global warming. If the overwhelming amount of science supports the fact that climate change is happening, and burning fossil fuels is contributing to that change, why is skepticism among the American public growing?

Schweiger: Well I think you need to look at how much money’s being spent by the fossil fuel industry, the oil and coal industry, to confuse the American public on this issue, and they have done a masterful job, as we’ve seen, in creating doubt, sending signals of confusion…

Graham: Most scientists tell me the effects of global warming are happening faster than first predicted, but those effects are often lost on the general public. Your group, the NWF represents hunters, fishers, bird-watchers, people who are out in nature. Are they noticing changes?

Schweiger: They are, and they are helping us to communicate to congress, and helping us to get the word out about what’s taking place. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans today spend 7 hours or more in front of a computer screen or a TV screen, or in some other way disconnected from nature. The average child, for example, spends some 7 minutes a day in nature, so we as a society are losing connection with nature, but those who are in nature each and every day are seeing the changes take place ‘cause they’ve watched it over their lifetime.

Graham: Your book not only makes the case that the world of nature as we know it is worth saving, but you note some things that everyday folks can do—you can protect natural areas near you, talk back to news media, push the politicians, get your hands dirty, literally, by organic gardening at home, but I get the impression most of us are looking to someone else to solve this global problem, I mean after all, the earth is just too darn big for any one of us to make much of a difference.

Schweiger: Well that’s a very important question because in America we assume that our government is gonna just solve our problems, but really what we need to do as Americans is we need to give voice to these problems, and demand that we see action. I think we need to step up and tell our lawmakers what we believe, what we want to see done.

Graham: Now you’ve spent some time in the halls of congress. We saw the house pass climate change legislation last year. The senate has kind of scrapped that whole thing and now senators, Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham, are working on a new plan. When do you think we might actually have some policy put into law that will help us deal with this climate change situation?

Schweiger: Well let me first say that the three senators working on this legislation are doing the type of legislating that we need because they’re working together, it’s a tripartisan bill—

Graham:–Alright, Kerry’s a Democrat, Lieberman an independent, and Graham is a republican—

Schweiger: –Right. So we have all three working together. And I particularly want to acknowledge Lindsey Graham—he has bucked his own party saying we need a new energy policy in America, we need to wean ourselves from dependency on foreign oils, very powerful things, and I think it’s very influential in the way it’s playing out here.

Graham: Larry Schweiger is the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, and the author of the book ‘Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth.’ Thanks very much.

Schweiger: Thank you.

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Interview: The White House’s Science Guy

  • Holdren was previously the Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. (Photo courtesy of the National Academy of Sciences)

President Obama’s Science and Technology advisor is John P. Holdren. He is the “science guy” in the White House. Lester Graham talked to him about science and climate change. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation:


Graham: Different polls have shown the general public is becoming increasingly skeptical about whether climate change is real and whether burning fossil fuels is contributing to it, ignoring that the bulk of science says climate change is solid and if anything indicates that climate change is happening faster than first predicted. What can be done about that?

Holdren: Well I think scientists have to get better at telling the story about what we know about climate change and what that knowledge is based on. In other words, what we know and how we know it. Willingness to get out there and slug it out in the arena of public debate and dispute is not universal in the scientific community, and we have to live with that, but scientists who’ve been willing to do that have done a service. It’s unfortunate that they occasionally get castigated for speaking their minds freely and candidly in public, but that’s part of being, in a sense, a public scientist—of working on scientific issues that have major ramifications for public policy and being willing to talk about it.

Graham: President Barack Obama promised to protect scientific research from politics. He wanted guidelines in four months from taking office. We recently reported it’s been more than a year now, and still, no guidelines. The Union of Concerned Scientists says the president should finish explicit written policies on things like protecting scientists who become whistle-blowers. When we did the story, we contacted your office, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and we didn’t get any comment. Would you care to comment about that now?

Holdren: Sure, when the president issued his memorandum on scientific integrity on march 9th of last year, he actually enunciated at that time a set of principles, and those principles are already a solid basis for ensuring scientific integrity. What has not been forthcoming yet from my office, and for that I take responsibility, is a set of more detailed recommendations about how to proceed in some of the difficult questions that come up. Like the need of an agency to be sure that it is relying on the best peer-reviewed science, and the desire of every scientist in the agency to be able to express his or her own opinion. There are real tensions there. That has proven to be a more difficult task than I or the president realized at the time he issued the deadline for completing those, and the result is we missed a deadline, but we will be coming out soon with those additional guidelines.

Graham: How soon?

Holdren: I would guess in the next couple of months.

Graham: On energy policy, environmentalists are disappointed the Obama administration is encouraging the idea of clean coal technology, and a new generation of nuclear power. I’m not saying you’re not spending more on solar and wind, but I’m asking why not take all those dollars from clean coal technology and nuclear, and put it all into these green renewable that the environmentalists like.

Holdren: I think we need a diversity of options for addressing the energy challenges we face. You never want to put all of your eggs in one, or only a few, baskets. Today in this country we get 50% of our electricity by burning coal, we’re going to continue to do that for some time to come. It is, therefore, appropriate and necessary that we improve the technologies with which we burn coal in order to substantially reduce the environmental harm that comes from that. We get 20% of our electricity in this country from nuclear energy, and it’s one of the ways that we can get electricity without emitting greenhouse gases. There is no free lunch; that doesn’t mean we should do nothing, we should be working to improve all of these technologies, and then use the mix that makes the best sense in terms of all of the relevant characteristics—the economic ones, the environmental ones, the social ones.

Graham: John P Holdren is President Obama’s science and technology adviser, and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Thanks for the time.

Holdren: Thanks very much.

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Canadian Boaters Run Into Permit Problems

Pleasure boaters from Canada will find getting permits to enter Great Lakes ports across the border a little more demanding since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Pleasure boaters from Canada will find getting permits to enter Great Lakes
ports across the border a little more demanding since the terrorist attacks
on the U.S. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

It used to be… a Canadian boater simply had to send in an application for
what’s known as an I-68 permit to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service and once it was received, they could freely travel back and forth.
Kimberly Weissman is with the INS office. She explains, since September
11th, the new rules first require Canadians to go to a port of entry.

“Going in for an inspection… it’s no longer done by mail. You
have an interview and you take a photograph and have fingerprints. Once all
of this is complete, you know, you’ll be given your one year permit and then
you will no longer be required to go to a port of entry for any other
further inspections.”

Weissman says the U.S. government didn’t want to hurt the marina and
tourist-based businesses in the Great Lakes, but felt the new stricter
program was necessary for the security of the country.

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

Interview With Mark Plotkin

  • Plotkin is the president of the Amazon Conservation Team, a group working to preserve the cultures and species in the rainforests of Central and South America.

Last year Time magazine named researcher Mark Plotkin an
environmental "Hero for the Planet." Plotkin has spent nearly 20 years
the rain forests of Central and South America, and is working to save
only the forests, but also the tribes who live there. He’s just
finished a
new book entitled "Medicine Quest: In Search of Nature’s Healing
Secrets." In it he argues that many ancient tribes of the forests
plants better than botanists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Graham recently talked with Plotkin and asked about his work:

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Peter Raven-Are We Facing a Mass Extinction?

  • Peter Raven is the director of the Missouri Botanical Garden. More than that, Raven is a world-leader in the effort to classify, understand, and use plants in a sustainable fashion.

Recently Time Magazine labeled Peter Raven one of the "Heroes of the Planet"
for his work in understanding plants and the environment. Raven is the
director of the Missouri Botanical Garden. In the first installment of a
three-part interview at the botanical garden, the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham talked with Peter Raven about his conclusion that
we’re facing a mass extinction of species:

Peter Raven-The Role of Science in Stewardship

Time Magazine recently published profiles of people it considers "Heroes of
the Planet." Among them was Peter Raven. He’s the director of the Missouri
Botanical Garden. Raven has used his position as a platform to preach
better stewardship of the Earth. In the second of a series of interviews…
the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham sat down with Raven in his
botanical garden to talk about advances in the laboratory that could affect
all life on Earth:

Peter Raven-Accounting for Bio-Diversity

Time Magazine recently profiled people it considered to be "Heroes of the
Planet" for their environmental work. Among them was the Director of the
Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter Raven. Raven works with groups in
developing nations to help them preserve the biological diversity of their
countries. In the final of a series of interviews… the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham talked to Raven about his work… and how it
balances with domestic efforts to preserve natural areas:

Exotics Invading Your Garden

Non-native plants like the wood rose, Japanese barberry and English ivy
are found in many gardens around the country. Gardeners love them
because they’re beautiful. But author and certified master gardener
Janet Marinelli says people don’t realize how harmful these plants can
be. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly spoke with Marinelli
about her findings: