Skip to main content

A Spin-Off Not a Rip-Off.

TV critic David Bianculli reviews last night's premiere of "60 Minutes II".

02:56

Other segments from the episode on January 14, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 14, 1999: Interview with David Attenborough; Review of Elizabeth Strout's novel "Amy and Isabelle"; Interview with Mark Hertsgaard; Review of the television show …

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 14, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 011401np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Sir David Attenborough
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

For the past 40 years, David Attenborough has had a great job. He's traveled to remote and exotic places around the world making television programs that explain the wonders of nature. His BBC series and companion book, "Life on Earth" trace the three and a half billion year history of evolution. "The Living Planet" examined different eco-systems. And "The Private Life of Plants" revealed just that.

Throughout his broadcasting career, which included an illustrious tenure as head of the BBC, Attenborough has tracked down creatures and images never before seen by Westerners, let alone captured on film. In one memorable scene from "Life on Earth," he descends into a cave in Borneo, climbs a 90 foot mound of bat guano, only to find the top is covered with, as he calmly describes, "a glistening carpet of cockroaches."

Sir David Attenborough, he was knighted back in the '70s, has a new series and companion book called, "The Life of Birds." It includes footage from 42 countries and covers such topics as ancient bird evolution, flight, bird song and mating habits. The series is airing now in England and coming to public television here in America this fall.

I asked David Attenborough why its taken him so long to get around to such an obvious and popular topic for a nature documentary.

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH, AUTHOR, "THE LIFE OF BIRDS," FILMMAKER: Well, the real truth of the matter is that I'm not a kind of "birdy" man. That is to say I have a lot of friends who are real "birders" -- the sort of people who see a flash of a wing or hear about three notes of a whistle and can immediately say what bird that is. Now, I just can't do that. I wish I could. I admire those that do it, and I can't.

But what interests me about birds is what birds do and why they do it. I have been expecting for the last 20 years that some of my birdy friends would do a series on birds, but they haven't. So, I've taken the opportunity. And the great joy is that I've learned to -- I think I can even identify some birds now.

BOGAEV: So you're "birdier" now.

ATTENBOROUGH: I'm "birdier" than I was. But seriously, I think that identifying birds are one thing, and of course it's essential really, I'm being serious. You've got to know what it is you're looking at. But as far as I'm concerned, that's just the beginning.

The exciting thing about studying birds, as indeed with any other animal, is looking at its behavior. Finding out why they do these extraordinary things, why they lay -- one kind of bird will lay their eggs in another kind of birds nest. That's what fascinates me.

BOGAEV: Now, you track down some of -- some rather bizarre modern day flightless birds who illustrate some of the characteristics of the ancient birds -- you tracked them down in New Zealand. And one of them that was surprising to me was the kiwi. It's an odd looking thing -- it really doesn't look like a bird at all. It looks like it has fur, as if its wings had fallen off.

ATTENBOROUGH: Yeah, the interesting thing is, of course, one has to examine as to why it was that birds took to the air in the first place. And I personally think that there is no doubt at all that the reason they flew, initially, as the reptiles became more and more powerful, was to escape.

It was very important to get in the air. Now, if there are no ground predators -- no ferocious animals that will eat a bird -- birds give up flying. Because flying demands a very great deal of energy. If you don't need to fly, you don't fly. And you can find lots of examples on islands around the world -- small islands where there have never been any ground predators.

Like, for example, the Galapagos cormets (ph) stopped flying. And there was one huge section of the earth's crust that became separated from the rest of the continents just at that crucial time before the mammals developed -- just at the end of the dinosaurian period. And that was New Zealand.

And mammals never got there. Neither did the dinosaurs, in point of fact, or if they did they died out. And so suddenly the birds on those two little fragments of land which are New Zealand have no need to fly. And so great numbers of them -- I mean, really, dozens of different species abandoned flight and took up all the roles within the landscape that a mammal would take elsewhere. That's to say they became the equivalent of squirrels or the equivalent of badgers.

And the animal you mentioned, the kiwi -- the bird you mentioned -- is indeed the kind of avian equivalent of a badger. That is to say its feathers have turned into a very good equivalent of fur. It's nocturnal, it lives in boroughs, it -- and it feeds on worms, which it gets by probing into the ground, very like a badger.

BOGAEV: Now, many of the rare birds, at least on New Zealand, that you feature in the show don't seem to be afraid of you at all. Are they tame, since they are so unused to people -- to mammals?

ATTENBOROUGH: That is the remarkable thing. It takes quite a long time for a species that has not an inbuilt fear of humanity to develop that. And you would think it would take longer, really. But in fact it doesn't. I mean, even on the Galapagos and many of those places where there are animals that have evolved in isolation. They are almost suicidally tame.

And the New Zealand native birds are touchingly tame. I mean, you can go into parts of the New Zealand forest and, well, do no more than bang on the surface of a tree, and within minutes one or two of a particular species are prone to this or are particularly interested in getting stuff out of bark -- will suddenly appear. And they'll sit down and come within a few feet of you. It's very touching and endearing.

BOGAEV: Are their ethical considerations, then, in making the decision to invade these creature's world? I mean, I imagine it's a physical stress for the birds, at the very least, to be near a human. Is that right?

ATTENBOROUGH: I would be very sorry to think that we physically stressed any bird. I don't think we have. No, I really don't, because in point of fact if a bird is stressed it flies off and that's the end of your sequence. So, it's the last thing you want, quite apart from any fellow feeding your humanity -- humanitarian feeling you might have about a bird.

It's bad broadcasting, or it's bad filming if you stress the bird because it will simply fly away. So, no, I mean I think part of our craft as making natural history films is to make sure that the animals, whether they're birds or mammals or reptiles or whatever they are unstressed in your presence. If they're going to be stressed then you shouldn't be there.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with documentary maker David Attenborough. He is also a writer. He has a new book, "The Life of Birds." And it's based on his new television series about birds which is slated to air here in the States on PBS sometime in the fall.

Let's talk, if we can, about bird songs. I think the first thing you learn about bird songs is that they're mating calls. But that's obviously not all they're doing when they chirp or they trill or whatever. What's going on when you walk through the woods and you hear the birds calling?

ATTENBOROUGH: Well, there are a number of different kinds of calls, of course, that birds make. And one of the kinds of calls that they make are communications among themselves. One of which is, look out there's danger. But there are two different kinds of danger -- at least two different kinds of danger calls. Because the trouble about making a danger call is that you call attention to yourself.

And so there's a category of calls and which are called "seek calls" (ph) because it's a very very high-pitched and unobtrusive call. But which is understood by different species -- thrushes and black birds -- I'm speaking about European birds, but the same applies to American birds. They all understand a seek call as being, watch out don't fly out of here. Keep yourself hidden, there is danger around.

There's another kind of an odd call which is one when perhaps -- a seek call is often a response to a hawk or something. If there is a cat, for example, or indeed a human being, the birds know that the cat, once they've spotted the cat, that the cat is unlikely to be able to catch them. It's only chance is to catch a bird unaware.

So they then make a very loud and continuous call which, as it were, yells through the forest and says there's danger. But also it says to the cat, in effect, I can see you. There's no point in you wasting your time coming out because you're spotted, mate. I can fly away and you needn't bother wasting your time stalking.

Then, of course, there is the call which you just described, which is not so much a call as, indeed, what bird watchers will call not just a call but a song, which is rather more complicated. And the song carries not only the message, as you say, which is to say why don't come and join me and be my mate. But also says to other birds of the same species don't pitch your tent here, mate because this is my patch. And this is my girl, so keep off.

BOGAEV: You write about an interesting kind of communication between bird eggs. That bird eggs talk to each other.

ATTENBOROUGH: Yes, indeed. Some -- it is very important if you nest on the ground, as some birds do -- game birds, for example, or ducks. If you nest on the ground -- predators can see, after a bit, if you're not very careful where your nest is because you have to approach in certain ways and that gets a track, and maybe there are droppings, maybe there's a smell.

The nest is being used, and the longer you use it the more dangerous -- the more chances that a predator will find it. So, what you want to do, if you're a mother bird, is to lead your brood -- your ducklings -- your nestlings -- lead them away from the nest to somewhere else which is safer and new and where they might find some food as soon as you can.

Now, if you're going to do that then it is very advantageous that all the eggs should hatch at the same time. But of course all the eggs aren't laid at the same time. The duck can't lay 12 eggs simultaneously. So they're laid at a days distance or maybe even more.

So, therefore, if they're all going to hatch at the same time they have to develop at different rates. And eggs make little clicking noises as the birds develop and exercise their lungs. And these eggs -- these noises are heard -- you can demonstrate by using recordings -- are heard by other eggs which will, according to the frequency of the clicks, will either speed up or slow down. So that eventually all the eggs hatch at the same time.

BOGAEV: You have some amazing footage of bird's nests. I like the tailor bird of India. They sew their nests using their beak as a needle. How does that work?

ATTENBOROUGH: Well, you've just got to see it to believe it. Because if I describe in words you'd say, come on, do me a favor that can't possibly work. How could -- how could a bird snip a fiber from a leaf then fly across, bore a whole in the edge of a leaf, thread the fiber through then put it through another hole. Tie a knot at the end of it and pull it tight, and then bring the fiber around and do that yet again until all the way down so that it ties the leaf together. You'd say, do me a favor. That is not possible. All I can say is the bird -- the tailor bird does it. And it's breathtaking to watch.

BOGAEV: My guest is longtime BBC television producer and writer David Attenborough. He's known for his documentary's on natural history, including "Life on Earth," "The Trials of Life," and "The Private Life of Plants." His new series, "The Life of Birds," is coming to PBS stations this fall. The companion book to "The Life of Birds" has just been published. I'm going to take a break now, David, and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

BOGAEV: Back with broadcaster and writer David Attenborough. He has a new book, "The Life of Birds." It's based on his new television series about birds slated to air this fall on PBS.

You go to some of the remotest places on earth to film your documentaries. Have you run up against situations in which your kind of high-tech, bureaucratic BBC world clashed with the surroundings you found yourself in? How, for instance, do people get in touch with you in the deepest darkest jungle?

ATTENBOROUGH: Well, it's a mixed blessing of course, isn't it? I mean, I've been doing this kind of business for, well, 40 odd years. And in the old days, one used to get a cameraman friend and you and he would get in a canoe in Borneo and you would wave to somebody or other and then paddle off up the river, and you'd be gone for four months.

And one would be living with -- in long houses with didactic families, and you get up in the morning and think well, there must be something that's going to happen. I mean, we'll just wonder about and point our camera at whatever we happen to find.

And you would live there for three months and come back with a certain quantity of film and hope you'll be able to construct something out of it. The world is not like that any more. Now, thanks to American technology above any other -- of course, you have a thing which is the size of a briefcase and you just open it and put it on your lap and you open the lid and you take a compass bearing and you point it at the nearest -- where you know the nearest satellite is likely to be. And then you just dial your wife or your boss or the film editor to ask how things were.

So you can be in daily contact if you want to be. And the awful thing is that they can be in contact with you, which is not nearly so much fun.

BOGAEV: Now, the early days of the BBC must have been quite a low-budget affair. Did you run into some seedy situations then in those weeks on the road? Bed bugs?

ATTENBOROUGH: Oh, low-budget. You're dead right with low-budget. No, when I said getting into a canoe and paddling off and just living in whatever happens -- the tribal people you happen to meet. That's what it was. And that is, between you and me, that is still about the nicest way you can do it.

And you eat what they eat. And they are very hospitable and generous. And providing you sleep in the way that they sleep. And eat what they eat. And you go out with their hunters and you go out to look for those birds which they know where they are. You have just a great time.

There's no idea that you're living on caviar or down beds or fancy toiletries or these curious pressure baths. That doesn't happen.

BOGAEV: Now, you're programs don't get heavy-handed about environmental issues. Of course, you mention, whenever it's relevant, how humans have negatively effected the birds or whatever animals you're looking at. But you don't end each program with a true green message. What line do you try to walk in terms of affecting social change with these natural history shows?

ATTENBOROUGH: Well, my job, I believe, is to tell people about the reality of animals. To tell people that we are blessed by living in an extraordinarily rich and fascinating world with a marvelous variety of extraordinary and beautiful things -- and fascinating things.

Now, unless people are convinced that that is the case, unless they're convinced that the world is fascinating, rich and beautiful -- and unless they understand that we are a part of it and dependent upon it -- when someone comes along and says, don't fell that forest to make paper or whatever, because there are important things in it -- unless they are convinced of the first thing I described they will say, well, why shouldn't we fell it.

The conservation begins in understanding the value and importance and significance of the natural world. That, I regard, as my primary job as a broadcaster. In private, I spend as much time working for conservation organizations as I do in my professional life. And I don't think I've ever done a series in which I haven't, at some stage, ended the whole series maybe by talking about that particular issue.

But the first job and the most important job, as far as I'm concerned, is convincing a population of the world which is becoming increasingly urbanized, increasingly town dwellers, increasingly cut off from the natural world. The natural world is crucial to our survival.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with David Attenborough. He's a longtime television producer and writer about the natural world. He's known for his documentary's, "Life on Earth," "The Trials of Life," "The Private Life of Plants." His new series is "The Life of Birds." And the companion book to "The Life of Birds" is out now. The series will air on PBS in the fall.

I'm curious if you have the experience of people in unlikely places or professions talking to you about scientific topics that they saw you exploring on TV. I mean, do bus drivers just recognize you and ask about archeotrics (ph).

ATTENBOROUGH: Yeah. They say, well, what about altruism, Dave, they say. What do you mean? I mean, what about these animals? Doesn't that destroy Darwinism? They say to me. They do.

BOGAEV: I think I read somewhere that your local Bobby's -- your local police -- would come to you and interrupt your dinner and drag you out somewhere to identify an adder.

ATTENBOROUGH: Well, worse than adders -- I have on occasion been summoned -- I mean, I've been seen on television picking up a snake or something so that -- I mean, you'll get a call from the police saying, excuse me sir, but we've got a bit of a problem. One of our public has noticed a snake sunning itself on the top of a wall. I wonder if you could give us a hand. So you go over.

And the last time it happened, I found a snake, I think it was about five feet long -- wonderful, handsome, black -- ebony black, but with golden rings around it. Now there are two kinds of snakes like that. One is the banded cripe which is one bite and it's a certain death job. And the other is a mango snake which is back-fanged. That's to say, although it has got slightly poisonous fangs it doesn't really bite and it's perfectly all right. And it's a very common pet.

I said, well, officer that's what we call a mango snake. So, hang on I'll get a small twig and I'll place it on the back of its neck. And then if you've got a bag I'll drop it in the bag. Which is what duly happened. And a fortnight later I discovered -- they rang me up again and said we discovered where your snake came from, sir. There's a man who is illegally importing banded cripes, he said.

So that was so much for my herpetological expertise. I nearly had heart failure.

BOGAEV: It could have been the end.

ATTENBOROUGH: Yes, it could.

BOGAEV: Is there an animal that you just dream of encountering in the wild that you haven't yet?

ATTENBOROUGH: Yes, I am besotted with birds of paradise. There are 42 different species of birds of paradise. They're all extraordinarily different from one another. They are mind-blowingly beautiful and interesting. I think I've only seen 27.

BOGAEV: So, you have become a "birder" afterall?

ATTENBOROUGH: Birds of paradise are different. You don't have to be a "birder" to be intoxicated by birds of paradise. I've been intoxicated with birds of paradise since I was eight.

BOGAEV: Well, we'll let you off then.

LAUGHTER

ATTENBOROUGH: Thank you very much.

BOGAEV: Thanks very much, David Attenborough. I really enjoyed talking to you today.

ATTENBOROUGH: Thank you.

BOGAEV: David Attenborough's new TV series, "The Life of Birds," is coming to public television stations around the country this fall.

I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Washington, DC
Guest: Sir David Attenborough
High: Renowned naturalist and filmmaker Sir David Attenborough. His new book and upcoming PBS special is "The Life of Birds." He examines birds from rainforests to deserts to cities and isolated wildernesses -- the flying and the flightless, the seed eaters and the meat eaters. The series was broadcast on the BBC last fall and will be presented on PBS sometime this year. The book is currently available.
Spec: Entertainment; Culture; Lifestyle; Television and Radio; Sir David Attenborough; Environment

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Sir David Attenborough

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 14, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 011402NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Maureen Corrigan
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

First time novelist Elizabeth Strout says she took up running in order to learn the pacing and endurance necessary to write a novel. Book critic Maureen Corrigan says that Strout's sweaty approach to writing paid off in her book, "Amy and Isabelle."

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: The temptation with a quietly lovely first novel, like Elizabeth Strout's "Amy and Isabelle," is to over praise it. To slather on the exaggerated language and primary colored emotions that the novel itself steadfastly resists.

But one of the best things about "Amy and Isabelle" is its restraint, its precise wording, its circumscribed but deep story. So, I want to be true to the tenor of "Amy and Isabelle" in recommending it. This is a novel that beautifully captures vague feelings and disposable experiences. The discomfort of a poorly educated woman walking into a local bookstore. The excruciating embarrassment and fury of an adolescent girl when she hears her mother farting in the adjacent bedroom.

I told you, these are disposable experiences. But the ordinary world that "Amy and Isabelle" creates is as durable as kitchen linoleum. I'm sure scenes from this novel will linger in my mind long after episodes from flashier fiction wear out.

The setting here is a Massachusetts mill named Shirley Falls. The year is 1969. The novel opens on an oppressively hot summers day in an unair-conditioned factory office room where a group of women are filing, typing, and chatting.

"The heat was relentless," Strout writes. "And the fans rattling in the windows seemed to be doing nothing at all. And eventually the women ran out of steam sitting at their big wooden desks with their legs slightly apart, lifting the hair from the back of their necks. `Can you believe this?' Was, after awhile, about all that got said."

One of the women, Isabelle, holds herself a little bit apart from the rest. She's the boss' secretary, and her 16-year-old daughter Amy is also working in the office for the summer, languidly toting up invoices on an adding machine. At lunchtime, the women begin talking about a co-worker's hysterectomy and speculating on the impact it will have on her sex life.

At first, the reader assumes that the uneasy look that passes between Amy and Isabelle is just one of those looks that gets exchanged between a shy teenager and her prissy mother when sex is mentioned. But through artfully scattered flashbacks, we learn that Amy has been caught making out in a car with her high school math teacher, Mr. Robertson.

He's one of those hip, "Room 222" type teachers who sprouted up in the late 1960s. And dreamy Amy, who lives in isolation with her widowed mother, was a natural for his predatory attentions. The summer's day the novel opens on turns out to be the very day Mr. Robertson has been run out of town by a horrified Isabelle.

Amy is devastated, but for the rest of that suffocating summer she and her mother are stuck with each other at home and at work. We are told that, "when they spoke to one another their words seemed pushed through the air like blocks of wood."

In the small house they move past each other carefully, as though being near one another was a dangerous thing. But this only made them more aware of each other, joining them in a perverse intimacy of watchfulness.

There are a lot of subplots in this novel. We watch as Isabelle tries to ingratiate herself with her snooty neighbors and painfully learns her place. We hear about Amy's pregnant girlfriend and fat Bev, a woman with bowels of iron and a heart of gold who works in the office. There's even a sketchy plot line about a UFO sighting and a child abduction.

But Strout wisely knows where her true story lies. It's riveting to see how Amy and Isabelle's relationship disintegrates and rights itself and changes day after stifling day during that long hot summer. And when the weather breaks, it's not a doozy of a fictional storm, but a steady, intense and delightfully plausible cooling rain.

BOGAEV: Maureen Corrigan teaches Literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "Amy and Isabelle" by Elizabeth Strout.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Washington, DC
Guest: Maureen Corrigan
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "Amy and Isabelle" by Elizabeth Strout.
Spec: Entertainment; Culture; Lifestyle; Elizabeth Strout; Maureen Corrigan

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Maureen Corrigan

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 14, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 011403NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Mark Hertsgaard
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:40

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: Nearly 10 years ago, journalist Mark Hertsgaard started traveling the world to investigate an urgent story. As he writes in his new book, "Earth Odyssey," the question driving him was whether the human species will survive the many environmental pressures crowding in on it at the end of the 20th century.

Hertsgaard has covered the environment and other topics for such publications as "The New Yorker," "The New York Times," and "The Atlantic Monthly." He is also the author of three previous books including -- including "On Bended Knee," about the Reagan presidency, and "Nuclear Inc: The Men and Money Behind Nuclear Energy."

He says that, often, reporting on the environment is so abstract and scientific it leaves him cold. In "Earth Odyssey," he takes the issue down to a personal level by writing about the experiences he had traveling to many of the world's most polluted and environmentally devastated places, including China, the Sudan, the former Soviet Union and Brazil.

He says that seeing first-hand how severely people suffer in the developing world reminded him how we all were at the mercy of the elements before technology. I asked him how this long view of environmental history changed his ideas about global environmental challenges facing us today.

MARK HERTSGAARD, AUTHOR, "EARTH ODYSSEY: AROUND THE WORLD IN SEARCH OF OUR ENVIRONMENTAL FUTURE": Well, to me, it made me realize that the biggest environmental problem in the world today is not global warming, it's not ozone depletion, it's not species loss -- as serious as all of those are -- the biggest environmental problem today is poverty.

Because about four to five out of every six people on this planet live, by American standards, very impoverished lives. And when you travel in places like the Sudan, in places like China -- where I also spent a lot of time -- you realize that those people, quite understandably, are determined to improve their lot in life.

And that is going to cause environmental consequences even if you use green technology. So the big challenge, I think, facing humans in the next century is to find a way to accommodate that understandable desire for a better life that so many of us have with the caring capacity of the planet.

BOGAEV: You found that the Chinese have a saying -- they say, "is your stomach to full?" Is that what they say when Americans talk about saving animals, saving birds.

HERTSGAARD: Yeah, not just Americans. That is a very strong perception inside of China that, hey, we have been poor for a very long time. You know, it's really only in the last 20 years that the majority of the Chinese people have been more or less warm in the winter time. One of the great joys of this trip was to meet the individuals that I traveled with. And my interpreter and China was a great guy -- very funny guy -- named Zhenbing.

And he had grown up very very poor in a village north of Beijing. And up until the age of about 12 -- and this is a climate that's probably about as cold as Boston -- the only thing his family had to stay warm with in the winter were -- was to burn leaves and to burn corn stalks.

As a result, the inside of their hut was often white with frost. Now, if you multiply that reality by about 1.2 billion people in China you understand why, today, when there's a little bit of money and the economy is beginning to grow -- people are not only burning coal, but they will also tell you in addition to "is your stomach full," they'll say, look, I am used to it and I will put up with this bad air pollution and this bad water pollution. Not that they like it, but it is a lot better than freezing through every winter.

BOGAEV: Is there also the idea that you can, as you say, you can get used to anything. And you can also adapt to anything. That bad air that might harm you as a stranger -- as a Westerner in China -- that their bodies have adapted to that and they can live with it?

HERTSGAARD: Yes, although -- well, I'll tell you a funny story about Zhenbing. When we were in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, which Americans who have been to China will know as the place where you take the boat rides to go down the Yangtze River.

We were there, and we'd been traveling together for quite a while by then, and we uncovered this factory. In fact, it's the opening scene in the book. This factory that the local officials had said, oh, we closed it. This shows what good environmentalists we are.

We went there ourselves and sort of snuck our way in, and saw that out the back of the factory it was pouring, literally, a huge waterfall of chlorine into this river that was going to be people's drinking water. That night Zhenbing and I were out at a restaurant having dinner, and he would -- because I couldn't read Chinese -- he would always suggest, OK, well, here's the menu let's try this this and this.

And he suggested fish. And I said, Zhenbing, are you crazy? You know, that fish has to have come out of the Yangtze and didn't you see what I saw today? And he said, well, if you don't want it we don't have to have it, but I think it's pretty similar to what I eat in Beijing. And I'm used to it.

And we went back and forth. I said, just because you think you're used to it doesn't mean it's good for you. And as we went back and forth I finally realized that he -- he was really still speaking as a peasant that he had been brought up with being, and did not understand the biology of cancer. He was thinking back to when you're a kid. He says, you know, I never take cold pills in the winter. I just build up my body's tolerance.

Well, that works fine with influenza. It does not work with cancer. And, you know, finally I was able to get the point across to him. I said, look, Zhenbing by that reckoning, smoking cigarettes would be fine as long as he started the age of eight. And that finally broke through to him.

Now, I hasten to add, he is an extremely well-educated person by Chinese standards. He went to graduate school in London, and yet he had never learned this very basic fact. And that's part of the real big problem in China. People think they can make themselves, as they say, "used to it." And they just don't know better.

BOGAEV: Let's talk about some of the other countries you visited with some bad air problems. Greece came up. I think somebody said, soon you won't be able to see the Acropolis until you stumble over it, it's so bad. Did the people that you talked to in Greece have a different take on their air pollution problems than, say, the Chinese? Did you see real cultural divides or differences among people and how they justify or relate to the daily effects of pollution in their environment?

HERTSGAARD: There were differences. The Greeks, of course, aren't as impoverished as the Chinese and so their take on it is a little bit different. Everybody will complain about how dirty the air is in Athens or in Paris, for that matter, or in London. The air pollution of major cities is now an absolutely international phenomenon.

What is interesting, and what is common in my experience throughout the world, is that it is always the other guy's fault. Nobody wants to stop driving their own car into Athens, as illustrated by the fact that when it got to be really bad -- and we're talking 800 hundred people dying in one terrible two-week period in Athens because of this air inversion and the pollution.

The government said, OK, we've got to do something. We're going to set up a system where the only people who can drive their cars into the city on Monday are people with odd number license plates. On Tuesday it will be even numbers. So, the idea was to cut the traffic down by 50 percent.

Well, what did people do? They started stopping in -- they set up a ring all the way around the city -- these mechanics would set up right outside the city limits. And for $20 you could come in -- if you had the wrong numbered license plate you could get them to put new plates on. You could drive into the city and come out at night, and they'd take them back off. And for 20 bucks, you were able to enter.

That, I think, in a nutshell, shows you how difficult it is to change human behavior. Everybody always wants to say it's the other guy's problem. I've got to get downtown.

BOGAEV: So what works? What have we found -- just talking about the car -- about policies that work? You point out that technical fixes aren't keeping up with the sheer increase in numbers of automobiles. Things like electric cars or fuel efficient cars or catalytic converters.

HERTSGAARD: Yeah, that is actually -- I'm glad you mention that because that's a good example of the limits of technology. We've had, actually, some pretty impressive improvements on, if you will, the tail pipe technology -- reducing the amount of pollution that comes out of the tail pipe -- air pollution.

So our skies here in the United States, in particular, are cleaner. But we are putting up, still, a lot of carbon dioxide to cause global warming. And even if you move to the fuel cell cars which produce -- basically, the only exhaust is water. You still are going to have the big problem of congestion.

And to my mind, both in the United States and around the world, that is what is really going to be the problem of the car over the next 10 years. People are getting more and more infuriated that this car, which is supposed to be a source of mobility, is essentially a magic carpet.

Very suddenly, you're stuck in traffic and you can't get where you want to go. Now, we've got to change policies at a very fundamental level to improve that. We've got to begin to really make public transport, mass transit something that gets, instead of one dollar out of every seven federal dollars, it should be reversed.

Right now we put six out of seven dollars into highways. And we've got to make a much more equal distribution, and we've got to change our land-use policies. But these are very long-term kinds of social changes. So, I think it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with journalist Mark Hertsgaard. He rights for many national publications, including "The New York Times," "The New Yorker," "The Atlantic Monthly." He's written a new book about environmental change, our attitudes towards the environment and environmental degradation. It's called "Earth Odyssey."

Let's talk a little bit about population growth. You went to Brazil -- and of course one of the big environmental challenges in that country is deforestation. And population growth is often blamed for that. But there's a lot of complex political factors at work too. How did you go about unraveling how much population matters?

HERTSGAARD: In Brazil, I was there to cover the Earth Summit, and then after that I went up to the Amazon. And I was lucky enough to be running around with some priests who worked up in the Amazon, and I go to know their parishes and the people with them. And I remember one day we were -- in fact, I tell this story in the book about traveling down river with them, and the family who ran their boat had nine kids -- nine kids.

And you look at that, and in fact I got a call from a magazine editor that day saying, hey, why don't you do a story on population? And I said, well, I just got off a boat with a family with nine people. And it seems easy from that point to say, ah, well, that's why all that rainforest is being cut down in Brazil.

And I think many Americans take this sort of knee-jerk assumption that it's their problem down there. If they'd just stop having so many kids we wouldn't have an environmental crisis. Well, when you look a little more carefully, what you realize in the case of Brazil is that Brazil actually does not have a terribly dense population out in its rural areas. There's density in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, but in fact outside of that it's a very sparsely populated country.

And the reason that the rainforest is being cut down is not that there's too many people, but that there's too little social equality. There's not enough land in Brazil open to peasants. About 50 percent of the land is owned by one percent of the population.

And I met a lot of land squatters who would say, look, we got kicked off of the farm where we were working for the rancher, and what could we do? The only option we had was to go into the rainforest and to cut down some rainforest to create cropland for ourselves.

Unfortunately, the soil is so weak there in the tropical areas that after about two or three years it doesn't produced anymore, they have to go further into the rainforest to cut down more trees. And it becomes a vicious circle. And the solution to this, again, is quite straightforward -- land reform. You've got to more equally distribute the land. There's plenty of land there it's just being used improperly.

BOGAEV: What do you think the consequences are for that kind of attitude among people? You went back to the United States and you had someone say exactly that to you. Hey, look, it's not our fault these people are so badly off in Brazil. Why don't they stop having so many kids? What do you say back to people like that?

HERTSGAARD: That was a friend of mine who said that. I was passing through San Francisco on the way to Brazil, and when he said that I had to bite my tongue because it's part of the reason that people outside of America sometimes get infuriated with Americans.

Because Americans tend to not know very much about the rest of the world and to be especially blind to our own environmental burdens. The fact is that the average American baby, because we live in such a much more material excessive life, the average American baby over the course of his or her lifetime will produce 13 times as much pollution -- will use 13 times as many natural resources as a Brazilian baby.

So, my friend who said that, who had two kids -- if you multiply two by 13 he essentially had 26 kids. Compared to Jual (ph) and Margarita who had the nine children, you know, he had three times as much environmental burden as they did. So, population is important, but it is by no means the most important aspect of the environmental crises. And I would just say that Americans have to be careful about throwing stones when you live in a glass house.

BOGAEV: Mark Hertsgaard, thanks very much for talking with me on FRESH AIR.

HERTSGAARD: Thanks for having me.

BOGAEV: Mark Hertsgaard's new book is "Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future."

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Washington, DC
Guest: Mark Hertsgaard
High: Journalist Mark Hertsgaard. He traveled around the world examining environmentally-damaged places. His new book about it is, "Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future." Hertsgaard also writes for "The New York Times," The New Yorker," "The Atlantic Monthly," and "The Nation."
Spec: Environment; Pollution; Population; Mark Hertsgaard

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Mark Hertsgaard

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 14, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 011404NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: David Bianculli
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: Last night, the longest running TV series in prime time, "60 Minutes," finally gave birth to a spinoff -- "60 Minutes II" with different correspondents but the same overall look. TV critic has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: Loyal fans of the original "60 Minutes," which has been around and thriving since 1968 can relax. The new "60 Minutes II," based on last night's premiere is indeed a spinoff not a ripoff.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- CBS TELEVISION PROGRAM "60 MINUTES II")

DAN RATHER, "60 MINUTES II" CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dan Rather.

BOB SIMON, "60 MINUTES II" CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bob Simon.

CHARLIE ROSE, "60 MINUTES II" CORRESPONDENT: I'm Charlie Rose.

VICKI MABREY, "60 MINUTES II" CORRESPONDENT: I'm Vicki Mabrey.

MIKE WALLACE, "60 MINUTES II" CORRESPONDENT: I'm Mike Wallace. Those stories tonight on the very first broadcast of "60 Minutes II."

BIANCULLI: Except for the red letter numeral "II" in the top right corner, this was our father's "60 Minutes." Same stop watch, same graphic look, same no-frills presentation, same long and unusual stories. Last night's "60 Minutes II" contained three stories with political commentator Jimmy Tingle joking at the end.

The first story, about a secret city in Siberia that has been producing nuclear material since the '50s clocked, in at just over 14 minutes. The second story, on behind the scenes political player David Shippers and his role in the presidential impeachment effort, was longer than 11 minutes. The third story, an update on a classic "60 Minutes" piece, was nearly 13 minutes.

The length was impressive. So was the depth. The best of the three was the opening piece, presented by Dan Rather and produced by Tom Anderson. Thanks to great footage and interviews from reporter George Crile, we were taken inside the secret Russian city which really did look like some lavish secret headquarters out of a James Bond movie.

Though it would have been a strong story just by showing us that city, "60 minutes II" upped the ante by explaining that the real story is that the place continues to generate plutonium. And that the real fear is that some of that nuclear material will find its way into the hands of international terrorists.

Other stories in the inaugural broadcast were provided by Carol Morin and veteran "60 Minutes" host Mike Wallace, who handled opening night hosting chores on this show as well. As for the regular "60 Minutes II" contributors, Bob Simon merely introduced Morin's piece while all we heard from Charlie Rose and Vicki Mabrey was them introducing themselves in the shows opening credits.

But that will change in coming weeks, and each contributor to "60 Minutes II" will get a chance to shine. The ratings, compared to the original, won't come close. "60 Minutes" owns Sundays, but CBS doesn't even have a lease on Wednesdays.

The content, however, is no watered down version. Even Jimmy Tingle and his hard Boston accent made a good first impression. And first impressions in the competitive world of network television count for a lot.

BOGAEV: David Bianculli is TV critic for the "New York Daily News."

For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Barabara Bogaev, Washington, DC
Guest: David Bianculli
High: TV critic David Bianculli reviews last night's premiere of "60 Minutes II"
Spec: Entertainment; Television and Radio; Lifestyle; Culture; David Bianculli

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: David Bianculli
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

43:25

Black Power Scholar Illustrates How MLK And Malcolm X Influenced Each Other

In his book, The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Peniel Joseph braids together the lives of the two civil rights leaders. He says that King and Malcolm X had "convergent visions" for Black America — but their strategies for how to reach the goal was informed by their different upbringings.

08:05

'Boys State' Helps Teens Learn How Politics Work — Perhaps A Little Too Well

Justin Chang reviews the new documentary that he says is both inspiring and dispiriting about a program that teaches boys about representative democracy.

43:11

Veteran GOP Strategist Takes On Trump — And His Party — In 'It Was All A Lie'

In his new book, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump, Stuart Stevens argues that the party's support for Trump isn't just a pragmatic choice. Instead, he says, it reflects the party's complete abandonment of principles it long claimed to embrace, such as fiscal restraint, personal responsibility and family values.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue