For Earth Day: Make Television a Tool of Progress Today

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Cross-posted at DailyKos and was at Progressive Blue.

PBS will be celebrating Earth Day with a special edition of American Experience called “Earth Days” that tracks the American ecological movement and also by showing “Food Inc” on April 21th.

On most PBS stations at 8 PM tonight “Nature” will show “The Thin Green Line” for a second time. It is an indictment of the human race, the fact that we are wiping out the frogs and amphibians and the we will also be sure to follow, has to be the most motivating hour of television I’ve ever seen.

I’ll update my original review below the fold but it would be wonderful if we can get others to watch the devastation so more people will take action. Perhaps you’ve already seen this “greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs.” and you know that discussing the nature photography alone will get friends to watch. Whatever it takes, people need to get involved and tonight’s PBS line up can make a difference.

This one hour episode of Nature is devastating and there is almost too much to comprehend about the “perfect storm against our amphibians.” Many people do not understand the severity of the threat that amphibians face worldwide from fungus, habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, and pollution. Just one fungus, that has been spread by humans Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis alone is capable of wiping out 50% of species and 80% of individuals in the wild. And when they get to the chemical warfare campaign we have been waging against our frogs, the human race seems to be on a suicide mission.

The director and narrator Allison Argo’s introduction to The Thin Green Line is accompanied with breathtaking photography of these mysterious creatures in action;

They’re ancient creatures in a changing world. These evolutionary gems have been around since before the dinosaurs. But suddenly they’re slipping away.  As scientist race to find answers amphibians are vanishing. “We’re going to lose perhaps half of the amphibian species and they are going away for good. They don’t come back.” The implications are enormous. “Some of these habitats will fall apart without their amphibians. It’s an indication to us that there is something wrong. At what point are we going to turn around and say ‘Hang on we needed those frogs?'” Across the globe amphibians are walking a thin line. If we act quickly, we might pull them back from the edge “This is the only chance we have.”

Ms. Argo who also pointed out how important every living creature is in Crash: A Tale of Two Species and produced another documentary to save our amphibians fifteen years prior, began the second segment of The Thin Green Line with;

Frogs have managed to navigate life on earth for more than 250 million years. They were the first of our ancestors to venture from the water to the world  beyond. But their fish like beginnings haven’t hindered their progress on earth. They’ve evolved into an explosion of species, each one unique. These diminutive time travelers survived the dinosaurs, asteroids and ice ages adapting in ways that boggle the mind. Some are masters of camouflage while others avoid predators by carrying poisons in their skin. Their survival tactics have splintered them into thousands of species scattered on almost every corner of the earth. Whether salamander, frog or toad amphibian are some of the most diverse and far flung animals on the planet but they’re disappearing and experts are worried. Frogs are considered bell weathers for the environment. Their double life makes them unique. It’s through their skin that they breathe and drink. Because their skin is so permeable they’re epically sensitive to changes in the environment. Today more than a third of amphibians are in decline. From Australia to South America frogs are disappearing. Why are species that have survived suddenly collapsing? Scientist are searching for clues before the next species slips away.

The Thin Green Line takes a look at some of the many remarkable adaptations of amphibians, the many amazing survival techniques that are no match for people overrunning the planet.

It starts with how we’ve carved up their habitat and the amount of frogs that are run over by automobiles on rainy nights. Millions of amphibians are lost each year when they collide with humans.

“If a female is full of eggs, the next generation is lost as well.” A little bit of good news in the beginning as it is pointed out that Cape Cod National Seashore has taken some precautions by closing some roads on rainy nights.

The central focus of The Thin Green Line are the many scientist working to turn around this tragic story of pending extinction. Watch the entire episode and it seems like these few scientist are losing a war declared by everyone else on earth.

There is a fungus called chytrid playing a major role in this environmental crisis and the deadly disease that has been spread by man makes the situation for these super adapters very grim. It is a natural fungus originally discovered in the 1930’s in Africa and later, because of many man made reasons including the pet trade, chryid has been exported elsewhere.

In the 1970’s chytrid showed up in California. In Yosemite National Park scientist who have been removing predatory exotic fish that were introduced by sports fishermen were hopeful that they had given the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog a chance at a comeback. But twelve years ago chytrid began wiping out the species.

It goes way beyond Yosemite.

The disease is sweeping through the Sierras. It is well established in Mexico and Central and South America devastating amphibians. “Central and South America harbored fifty percent of the world’s amphibian species. This was the place with the worlds greatest amount and now we’ve potentially lost a huge portion of that.”

Since frogs breathe through their skin this disease kills through asphyxiation.

Now this fungus that eventually kills the host when chytrid becomes chytridiomycosis is spreading everywhere. This represents a global epidemic for frogs and nobody understands how to contain it when it arrives. One scientist in the program compares a new strain called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis with a yellow fever for frogs or the superflu of 1918. When chytrid enters the moist cool habitats that frogs depend on, 50% of amphibian species and 80% of individuals can be expected to disappear within 1 year.

If there is anything uplifting about this gut wrenching story it is the scientist working to save frogs. The only option left to the Yosemite scientist are repeated washing in a Clorox solution and keeping some Mountain Yellow Legged Frog in captivity. They breed frogs and put them back out in spite of chytrid hoping that some will prove resistant. Raising amphibians from little tiny black dots and just hoping. The captive bred Mountain Yellow Legged Frogs are air lifted from laboratory to the place where they once thrived in Yosemite even if 95% of then just die.

In areas with less scientist, frogs don’t even get that chance. Just like the lake shore in Yosemite where someone can now walk without seeing a single frog, the forest of Costa Rica and the uplands of Panama no longer have the sights and sounds of frogs. No amphibian music in a once living forest that is just dying.

The Panamanian golden frog, a once common symbol of good luck to Panamanians that has no ears and communicates through arm gestures, seems to only exist in captivity now.

Before the big crash this was a great place. I think out total list here was something like sixty-four species of amphibians. I didn’t matter where you went in the forest, you would find them on the ground, on the leaves, you’d hear them up in the canopy, you could walk any trail any stream and you would hear frogs calling day and night. And now…

Silence, just silence in a Costa Rican rain forest. It’s all just seems so Koyaanisqatsi as this epidemic spreads up from south America and down from North America. There is a walk in one little section of Panama, a submerged tropical rain forest area called Burbayar that still seems unaffected. It seems like a little sanctuary where life still continues the way it did for millions of years.

But for how much longer will it remain intact? We’re running out of places where frogs are healthy. We estimate that within ten years all of Panama will be gone. We’re talking upland areas but as fast as you move it’s continuing its passage.

And it is not just on this continent. A similar story is playing out in Australia. There is some evidence that global warming is effecting frog populations and adding Australian drought to chytrid seven species of frog have already been lost there.

There is a beautiful species called the Corroboree frogs. Amazingly social black and yellow frogs that once gathered in huge crowds hugging each other and are named after a ceremonial gathering of Australian Aborigines where the elders often wear black and yellow paint. That celebration is called a Corroboree. These amazing frogs may no longer be found outdoors and live in shipping containers where Australian scientist fight for this frog’s survival.

Gerry & Erika Marentelli (from the Amphibian Conservation Centre) are the scientist who built the shipping container and evacuates frogs when drought drys up their habitat.

Gerry Marentelli has reintroduced the Booroolong Frog to Boorooree Creek. One species, the Spotted Tree Frog has been reintroduced with every frog having the same father. Mr. Marentelli found only one male and with the help of captive females bred a new population from that lone male frog. Pretty amazing kind of guy, that Marentelli is. Now the husband and wife team are pushing captive bred Corroborees back out into the wild even though almost all of them just die.

All of these good people are doing whatever they can. Scientist around the world  get children involved so the next generation will care about the sounds that should be heard at willow and swail or creeks and bogs. There is one little story about the Atlanta Botanical Gardens transforming into an amphibian preserve because the Gopher Frog, a species not effected by chytrid but by a housing boom that is removing the frog’s habitat. Science has no answer for that. A conservatory in a botanical gardens is not an ecosystem.

That’s the key here, ecosystem. Chytrid is not even the worst threat to these frogs, habitat destruction and division is. There is a small segment in The Thin Green Line where a scientist is being interviewed beside a pond.  For years he had been attempting to restore a devastated amphibian population in a laboratory and when he returned to the pond in the forest it had become a pond in the middle of a housing complex. Across the world runoff from developments are making nature unsafe for frogs who have shown a resistance to everything before humans.

With the world developing so quickly that even if scientist find a way to reintroduce these amphibians there may be no habitat to put them back in because so much scientific  research is business based. In suburban ponds about 21% of frogs have weird science deformities. The suspected cause is drugs in the septic systems. Only suspected because very little research has been done on how toxic our own drug culture urine and feces has become for the environment.

Perhaps the expansion of the human race and the toxic chemicals cannot be prevented but when a deadly pesticide comes up that is banned in the nation where it is made and also banned throughout Europe, that is the place where the masses should demand change. As scientist try to save these frogs in laboratory fish tanks, what is going on in the real world where scientific illiteracy is praised in the name of business?

Atrazine at levels one third of what is allowed in American drinking water has been found to reverse the sex of frogs. The chemical that is billed as “our most common drinking water contaminant” is not only causing male frogs to develop into female frogs, thus causing a sexual imbalance in the shrinking amphibian world.

Since the original airing of The Thin Green Line serious concerns for humans have also gotten into the news. Nicholas Kristof’s It’s Time to Learn From Frogs and the harmful effects of Atrazine are reaching beyond frogs.

The toxins in our waters are reaching well beyond frogs. Reproductive abnormalities have been reported in everything from alligators, to polar bears, to humans. “It’s not just a problem with frogs that we should be concerned about. The water that’s causing their problems is the same water that we’re drinking and using to water our crops.” Frog or human, we all breath the same air and drink the same water. For their sake and ours, experts agree-we have to take action and there’s no time to lose.

It was not new information. When I originally posted my diary Magnifico posted a video From Silent Spring to Silent Night. In that video Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a University of California- Berkeley scientist,  studied atrazine for the manufacturer of the weed killer but left after a dispute over some of his findings. He found that that male frogs raised in water with lower levels of atrazine than the EPA claimed was safe often showed signs of “feminization,” with lower testosterone levels and decreased fertility. Some were chemically castrated; others grew female sex organs.

Those deformed frogs and intersex fish – not to mention the growing number of deformities in newborn boys – should jolt us once again.

According to Syngenta, the manufacturers of atrazine where they have celebrated 50 years of placing corn on our tables the EPA claims that Prof. Tyrone Hayes is confused and atrazine’s 50 years as a herbicide continues. Even though France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Austria and Italy have all banned atrazine, the U.S.A. continued to study the “inconclusive research” but still manages to conclude a safe “level per billionth” for atrazine and thousands of other toxins in our drinking water.

While the U.S. government chooses the method of research that is most convenient to chemical manufacturers there is evidence of long term effects.

“We are concerned that most studies used to make pesticide registration decisions and to derive safe concentrations last for about four days,” said Jason R. Rohr, a research associate at the Penn State University Institutes of Energy and the Environment. “They often do not consider recovery processes, persistent effects of chemical exposure, or interactions among individuals within and between species that can affect our estimates of safe chemical concentrations.”

Analyzing the effects of various concentrations of atrazine on salamanders, the researchers found that even low levels of atrazine exposure significantly increased salamander mortality.

It doesn’t seem like the jolt Nicholas Kristof was hoping for is developing but there is some good news. A class action suit against United Agri-Products and Syngenta Crop is being dragged through the courts. An even more important development is that the Obama administration is conducting a broad review of toxic weed killer atrazine that could lead to tighter restrictions.

Despite growing health concerns about atrazine, an agricultural weedkiller sprayed on farm fields across the Midwest, most drinking water is tested for the chemical only four times a year — so rarely that worrisome spikes of the chemical likely go undetected.

High levels of the herbicide can linger in tap water during the growing season, according to more frequent tests in some agricultural communities.

Spread heaviest on cornfields, atrazine is one of the most commonly detected contaminants in drinking water. Studies have found that exposure to small amounts of the chemical can turn male frogs into females and might be more harmful to humans than once thought.

Manufacturers say their own research proves the chemical is safe. But alarmed by other studies, the Obama administration is conducting a broad review that could lead to tighter restrictions. It is also mulling changes in laws that require water utilities to test for atrazine just once a quarter or, in some cases, once a year.

After another spring spraying of atrazine check out how Syngenta gets to celebrate a fifty-first year of poisoned our groundwater.

Atrazine can’t be sprayed in Europe because it contaminates groundwater, but it remains widely used in the U.S., where the EPA endorsed its continued use as recently as 2006, based on a scientific review from 2003. Federal records show the review was heavily influenced by industry and relied on studies financed by Syngenta, a Swiss-based company that manufactures most of the atrazine sprayed in the U.S.

Before clearing the way for continued use of the chemical, Bush administration officials met privately with Syngenta executives at least 50 times and convened two industry-dominated panels that shaped the agency’s decision, according to records obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that advocates a ban on the chemical.

There is some 2007 research that has also been considered junk science by our government to consider about many pesticides.

“Frogs are like the canary in the coal mine. They serve as early alarms for the environment,” Sparling said. “They also provide a large and important link between the aquatic and terrestrial environments. If amphibians go, a huge link will be gone.”

The link between pesticides and declining amphibian populations in mountainous areas has been suggested elsewhere. In January 2007 a study led by Frank Wania of the University of Toronto found that pesticides used in lowland areas in Central America are carried by air currents to higher elevations where they are they precipitated out as rain when the air cools. The chemicals — especially the insecticide endosulfan and fungicide chlorothalonil — then accumulate in the montane ecosystems, which have experienced particularly severe declines in amphibian populations over the past thirty years. Meanwhile other research has linked Atrazine, one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States, to dying salamanders.

Atrazine and the run off of second hand pharmaceuticals are far from the only chemicals that are wiping out our amphibians. Agriculture is adding a chemical similar to nerve gas called Chloropicrin that ends up in streams. Many of these chemicals, they’re not even sure of the effects but the frogs are dying and what is being done to us? There is methyl bromide used in both farms and sprayed all over golf courses, which is not only eating ozone but polluting our drinking water. Five legged frogs and toxic nitrogen levels in the Gulf of Mexico make a good argument for organic farming or at least seeking to restore some balance.

Even if amphibians served no ecological purpose and the world could continue on without them, these are still our frogs and as stewards of the earth they deserve far more than being ignored.

But when you consider how many amphibians sustain themselves on insects and how many insects live off plant life, then without our frogs and salamanders the wetlands could be eaten alive and the insects that were once eaten by frogs exploding into uncontrollable swarms is not the only problem. Predators who depended on amphibians for food can also become extinct. Without tadpoles stirring up the brooks and with all of the nutrient rich chemicals we are adding to the water algae blooms can threaten the fish. Do you think maybe waging chemical warfare against our frogs proves that we are doing something very wrong?

After watching The Thin Green Line and seeing these scientist working for change I think that many more Americans should recognize Allison Argo’s effort to wake up the world about what we are doing. In this short video Ms. Argo discusses her effort, that may represent “The most important environmental story of out time.”


Fifteen years has passed between Allison Argo’s two frog documentaries and the words in that clip are seriously a sign of our times. Sitting through the entire hour of The Thin Green Line you can only conclude that courageous scientist are fighting and losing an uphill battle against many corporate governments. Here in America those heroes need all the help a political action community offer.

At the homepage of The Thin Green Line you can find What You Can Do to Help the Frogs but please spread the word. Call that friend, neighbor or relative who never found the time to get involved and discuss tonight’s episode of “The Thin Green Line.”


Skip to comment form

    • Eddie C on April 18, 2010 at 20:46

    I do too and I guess that is sort of what I’m preaching here. Send this to ten others and there will be a pot of gold at the end of your rainbow. I called for the same sort of action in Will you be watching “The People Speak” tonight? but the feeling of accomplishment, one more involved American is amazing.

    I told this story in a sunset diary that I posted after the death of Ted Kennedy. It is the story of a friend and coworker who was leaning toward the Tea Party.

    This is a bit personal but it is so not about me. I’m not very vocal about politics amongst friends and coworkers but I’m often called upon when information beyond tabloid and television journalism is required. I’m sure many here find themselves in a similar position. The phone rings and there’s a question like “Who is my Congressman?” or “Is the entire recession really Barney Frank’s fault?”

    My phone rang many times this week. Each and every caller wanted the details about Chappaquiddick. In varying levels of diplomacy, through reminders of the many accomplishment of Senator Edward Kennedy and mentioning the fact that everyone makes mistakes I managed to end each call with the caller questioning their own moral standards.

    On Tuesday almost immediately after learning of the passing of Ted Kennedy the first of these calls came in. It was that call where I felt I may have made a minor accomplishment. I picked up the phone and heard “Eddie, it’s Rob and I was thinking about you. You must be pissed off about your man dying.” After I explained that “pissed off” was not how I felt, that I was “mourning the loss of a great American” that same question came.  

    I explained the incident from forty years ago and then reminded him of how much Ted Kennedy had accomplished both before and after. When I got to the legislative accomplishments, the fact that he had passed so many great laws for the working people, he came back with “Yea but liberal laws, right?” I had just about given up. Decided this was a phone call from someone who wanted to walk around saying “I can’t honor a man who drove a woman off a bridge” and there was nothing I could say.

    Then he switched the conversation to the failings of Barack Obama. It was when he got to all the right wing talking points about Cash for Clunkers that I saw an opportunity to say something convincing. With both of us being Union men I put up a very convincing argument about how many Americans went back to work over that incentive.  It seemed even more hopeless when he came back at me with my own environmental stance and I was more than a little annoyed that right wing pundits had finally acknowledged the environment so as to knock Barack Obama’s brains out.

    Then it came to me. I know full well where my coworkers viewpoints come from but I asked “Where do you get your news from?” He came back with “Mostly AM radio.” Then I said “Rob you seem to respect my opinion but you always go back to what you hear on FOX News. With the Democrats in power they are just going to deny any accomplishments until the Republicans return to power. It places you in a state of denial and leaves you thinking that everything is bad.”

    After he said “Yea but.”  I said “Listen I know that you have a curious mind and you deserve better that that denial. You should hear both sides. You know what they tell a drunk when he stumbles into AA to break that denial, right? They tell him ‘Don’t drink and go to a meeting a day for 90 days.’ I want you to do yourself a favor and break that denial of this nation’s potential. Why don’t you commit to listening to NPR for 90 days instead of that AM radio? It’s not as exciting as the AM blowhards and will take a while to get used to but if you think NPR is crap after 90 days, then you can go right back to what you’ve been listening to.”

    I was shocked as he asked me where to find NPR and he tuned to WNYC with both of us listening together, Rob in his car and myself at home. It was the first time in his life that he listened to public radio. I promised him no stupid commercials and better traffic reports for 90 days. As he recorded the station into his car’s tuner I reminded him that 90 days means listening until Thanksgiving. He groused a bit but promised to listen until then.

    It didn’t take right away. I harped on him and used many persuasions but eventually he became a regular listener and later I got him to start watching the PBS NewsHour instead of Fox News. Eventually I even got Rob to check out some of the final season of Bill Moyers Journal.

    I worked with Rob on Friday evening and after a brief conversation I got the greatest feeling of accomplishment. All I said was “Damn I forgot to record the NewsHour. Oh well, I’ll watch Shields and Brooks online when I get home.” Then someone who was a potential Tea Party member turned to me and said “You know you always talk about how balanced the program is but why do they have a discussion panel every Friday with two conservatives? Shouldn’t they have one liberal and one conservative?”

    I guess I know how an oldtimer in AA feels after getting a newcomer to sober up. It’s a bit different, transforming someone from Fox News talking points to a member of that elusive “informed constituency” but the feeling of accomplishment is amazing.

    It doesn’t always work. Just about everyone I talked into watching “The People Speak” had a negative response on my follow up. Most said “I watched a few minutes but that show was too dull.” It doesn’t always work but it is so worth the effort.

    So why don’t you see if you can get someone to watch “The Thin Green Line” tonight? Maybe they will even stay tuned for EARTH DAYS.  

    And if the PBS promos for Food Inc. get them to tune in on Wednesday night, then look out lobbyist.

    • Eddie C on April 18, 2010 at 21:36

    I’d like to mention patrickz’s effort. Disappearing Frogs and Biodiversity (w/amphibian photos) did not get many viewers but the story was presented by someone who has a wife involved in the survival of amphibians.

    Humans are destroying the great abundance of animal and plant diversity that aided the development of our civilization. Loss of biodiversity from all factors may be the greatest threat our species has faced in the modern age. This isn’t just a problem for environmentalists and biologists; this is a problem for all of us. Homo sapiens will likely not survive to see any recovery at the end of this, the Anthropocene extinction event. An inhospitable planet means that everything you care about, everything you advocate and work for, all of your hopes and dreams for your children and grandchildren are for naught. If we continue on our current trajectory, the just and egalitarian world for which you are tirelessly working will have no future.

    It seems like there are few answers in the present political climate.

    Patrickz replied with a comment about a new BBC media project over at GOS that seems great.  

    • Eddie C on April 18, 2010 at 22:29

    I was mixed up about the date of “Earth Days.” That will be seen on Monday on most PBS Stations.  

  1. full of huge bullfrogs going Gronk Gronk Gronk all night long, all summer long. They had beautiful eyes with gold irises. We’d catch ’em, have a blast getting them to hop around and then let them go. Now I live on a North Carolina farm. We have little green frogs, but there’s no leopard frogs here and none of those really big croakers either. Maybe I’m crazy, but I still miss catching and playing with those old-timey monster bullfrogs.

  2. to do the right things enviornmentally by promoting a scam based on CO2 to establish a global Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme.  I am only 54 and have the entire rest of my life to oppose such crap.  Instantly trying to villify the very utterance of green anything because I happen to associate that term with billionaire world rulers who endorse eugenics as the ultimate green solution.

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