MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, NPR's Mike Pesca goes for a joy ride with the guys who test fast cars for Consumer Reports magazine.
BRAND: First though, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in California this week. He met with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday, where the two announced an agreement to fight global warming. Global warming has been a politically controversial subject, but the governor did not question that it's really happening.
Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): Of course, there's always people that doubt it. There's people still that think that the world is flat. But I mean I think that it's very clear to the scientists that I read, that their reports - I trust them.
BRAND: This week, the Los Angeles Times is running a five-part, front-page series called Altered Oceans. It's about the impact human activity has on marine life. Joining me is the lead reporter for the series, Ken Weiss. Welcome to the program.
Mr. KEN WEISS (Reporter, Los Angeles Times): Thanks for inviting me, Madeleine.
BRAND: Ken, the basis for this series is that human activity has caused an incredible alteration to the world's oceans, an incredible amount of change has happened that has destroyed a lot of marine life. And the basis of your series is that you don't question the fact that it is a result of human activity.
Mr. WEISS: That's right. There is certainly lots of scientific controversies in this area. And newspapers, as a rule - a good fight is our bread and butter. But in this case, we wanted to look at the overall trend. And so in trying to examine what's going on in the oceans, what we tried to do is look at this as a big puzzle. So imagine spreading a jigsaw puzzle across your dining room table. And scientists - for the most part - fight over a few pieces, and they fight furiously over these. And when you pull scientist back and say what's really going on here, there's a surprising, clear consensus.
BRAND: And the consensus is what?
Mr. WEISS: The consensus is that toxic algae pose a big problem, that they're spreading around the globe, that they are showing up in new places and intensifying - and that they're spread seems to be related globally to various human activities.
BRAND: And those activities are?
Mr. WEISS: Well, the series looks at accumulation of assaults on the ocean and distress signals that we're starting to see. And Jeremy Jackson - a scientist that Scripps in La Jolla - says we fail to follow the basic homeowner's rule of thumb: be careful what you dumb in the swimming pool, and make sure the filter is working.
And in the case of the oceans, we're using them as a communal toilet for sewage and runoff from farms, and animal feed lots and a slurry of waste from city streets. And at the same time, we're clearing out all the salt marshes and mangrove forest for development which normally filter these nutrients.
And we've also - through over fishing - removed millions and millions of miles of small fish and shellfish that used to eat algae and filter the water. And the result is an explosion of algae and bacteria around the world, and some of it is incredibly toxic.
BRAND: And that's killing off marine life?
Mr. WEISS: It's killing of marine life, as well as causing real problems for fishermen and coastal residents. And we went out to ground troop this and went all over the globe. And we met with fisherman who've been plagued with rashes and boils in Australia, and they've suffered so much they have to stay off the water.
We spent time in Florida with people who thought they moved to an island paradise, but can't go outside during red tides because they get sick from the toxins carried to shore by the sea breeze. We went clam digging with native Americans in the Pacific Northwest who rely on clams as part of their subsistence diet, but now the shellfish fisheries are shut down because of a new toxic algae.
BRAND: I want to go back to the beginning of this interview where we quoted governor Schwarzenegger basically not doubting the fact that global warming is a fact. And I'm wondering - as an environmental reporter - do you feel freed up to no longer focus on the debate about global warming and human activity causing harmful effects on the environment, but do you feel free to just report on the effects and not worry so much about the political debate?
Mr. WEISS: No, I think it's important to report on the debate, but I spend a lot of time with scientists, and they express their frustration to me at how the media portray differences of opinions. And in our attempt to be fair and balanced, we often look for contrarians and quote them prominently - and as scientists point out, rightly so - that not all opinions are equal. And when you dig deeper into a subject, you realize which scientist had broad credibility and which ones our outliers are paid contrarians or clinging to outdated ideas that have proven wrong. I think it's important for us in the news media to distill and translate science and treat these various viewpoints appropriately.
BRAND: Ken Weiss is a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times. His series on the oceans is running this week. Ken Weiss, thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. WEISS: Thank you, Madeleine.