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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

February 9, 2001

Air Date: February 9, 2001


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Health Update

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Outhouse Races

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The Living on Earth Almanac

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Fire Ants

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Business Update

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Listener Letters

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NYC Building Green

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Energy Kids

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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

For years, Disney World in Florida was just a tourist destination. Then the Disney Corporation built a town called Celebration, planned right down to the crosswalks. Now, its residents are striving to build a community.

MORTON: Celebration's divided into several groups. There's the Rah-rahs, which are Disney all the way, don't question it. And another group, which we haven't named yet, possibly the Rebels. And then there's another group, a third group, the Escapees. So, there are factions. It's become a factionalized community.

CURWOOD: And in a small town in Washington State, winter goes by faster, thanks to their annual outhouse race.

ZIPPERER: Each device must have a seat no more than 36 inches above the ground, with an appropriate hole. Toilet paper must be on board. Reading material is optional.

CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, but first this.

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Every year millions of people travel to Florida to visit Disney World, and then go home. But there is a select group of people who now live the Disney experience all the time. Thirty-five hundred people already reside in the planned town called Celebration, and 20,000 more are expected to move in during the next decade. The late Walt Disney wanted to capture Main Street America and design a town where folks can walk most everywhere and chat with their neighbors from their front porches. So far, Celebration is a financial success for the Disney Corporation. But some residents say there have been some hard lessons in finding the true meaning of community. Pippin Ross reports.

(Ambient voices)

ROSS: At Celebration's fourth annual Founder's Day, a few townies huddle around a TV and watch videos made to showcase the town and its residents.

(Laughter; background music)

ROSS: There are plenty of tears, smiles, and sighs, as images of neighbors at past events appear on the screen. Maryanne Woodcock and Helen Cardenuto are typical Celebration advocates, bursting with enthusiasm about their town.

WOODCOCK: It's a walking town.


WOODCOCK: Which we really like.

CARDENUTO: Which we walk from home.

WOODCOCK: Yeah. We don't have to get in our car. Every whip stitch we can just walk -- out of bread, out of milk, or to the library, or, well, post office.

CARDENUTO: Yeah. And we have a wonderful post office. I think everybody enjoys that. It's a post office store, and the clerks are part of the community even though they don't live here.

ROSS: Several years ago, Disney head Michael Eisner gathered together some of the nation's best urban planners, architects, and educators, and asked them to design the ideal community.

STERN: Those were our marching orders.

ROSS: Architect Robert Stern.

STERN: And it had to be a real town, not a Disney experiment. And it had to also be a real town in the sense that it was supposed to make, and it is making, money.

ROSS: The key, says Stern, was to foster community spirit by encouraging interaction. So, Celebration was designed to bring homes, shops, and public spaces close together.

STERN: You've got to have the life of the town played out on the stage of the town. We created the stage, but by putting the school there, by mixing the uses: park, apartments, shops, bicycling, pedestrians, cars, all of those things, and the school of course, right in within a two-block radius.

ROSS: The result is a development that looks and feels like a small town.

BUONCHERVELLO: As you might notice, there's a lot of porch. That's a screened-in porch there...

ROSS: That's Sonny Buonchervello, Celebration's self-appointed unofficial mayor. He's giving me a driving tour of his neighborhood, where manicured streets have old-fashioned names like Mulberry Avenue and Wisteria Lane, and where nearly every house has a front porch.

BUONCHERVELLO: Because when you're sitting out on your porch and somebody drives by and they're your neighbor and they see you out there, they'll stop and they'll visit with you. And then, someone else will drive by and see the two of you sitting there, and then you know they stop. And, before you know it, you've got ten or twelve friends sitting on the porch.

ROSS: Buonchervello is on his way to welcome a parade of tourists who've come to check out the town Disney built.

(Plates clatter)

ROSS: Inside Max's Cafe, a recreation of a classic diner, he plays the gracious host.

BUONCHERVELLO: Nice to see you today. Are you just visiting or are you living here now?

MAN: No, I'm visiting.

ROSS: The visitor is from Pinehurst, North Carolina, where a Celebration clone is being built.

MAN: The people from Celebration, they're going to build a Celebration village there as well.

BUONCHERVELLO: Really. That's interesting information...

ROSS: Celebration's panache and its financial success has inspired imitators. Nearly all of Celebration's original planners are now overseeing construction of other planned communities. Kathy Johnson heads the Celebration Foundation, which organizes community activities and events here. She's leaving Celebration to start a similar development in Monterey, California. And she's taking a few lessons with her. Johnson says despite the cheery demeanor, there's plenty of conflict and confusion among Celebration residents, especially over the community's purpose.

JOHNSON: People were buying homes and buying into a lifestyle that was all on paper. And so, they interpret, each of them interpreted that a little bit differently. And so, people had different expectations of what was going to unfold here.

ROSS: A lot of people came to Celebration believing it was a real town. It's not. Celebration is a planned community, run by the Disney-owned Celebration Company. As in any private development, residents must abide by rules governing everything from the color they can paint their houses to what types of plants they can landscape with. And even though people go to a building called Town Hall to voice problems and concerns, there's no democratic process. No select board, no town meeting. Complaints and conflicts go before Town Manager Pat Wasson, who brings them to a Board of Directors: four Disney employees and a representative from Celebration's bank. Although Celebration has its share of crime, including muggings, burglaries, and domestic violence, Wasson says most problems are relatively minor.

WASSON: Pets not on leashes. Speeding. If their trash didn't get picked up on time. Recycling.

(Several voices; typing on a keyboard)

ROSS: Alex Morton and his ex-wife Marlina started a newspaper called the Celebration Independent two years ago. They felt the community needed an alternative to a Disney-published weekly.

A. MORTON: They were taking the recycling and putting it in the garbage, which was going on, it was a scam. We were paying for that. We were paying for recycling and trash.

ROSS: Marlina Morton points to the recycling incident as a good example of what happened when Disney put money ahead of its mission to create an ideal community. The community, she says, became polarized.

M. MORTON: Celebration's divided into several groups. There's the Rah-rahs, which are Disney all the way, don't question it. And another group, which we haven't named yet, possibly the Rebels. And then there's another group, a third group, the Escapees. So there are factions. It's become a factionalized community.

(Keyboard typing continues)

ROSS: Since Celebration began, dozens of families have moved out, most of them disappointed by the school's curriculum.

(Children, voices)

WOMAN: Have a great day. Have fun. I'll see you later tonight, okay?

ROSS: The centerpiece of Celebration, and without question the biggest draw for hundreds of families, is the K through 12 public school. Its curriculum merges traditional and cutting-edge concepts, and that's been a source of friction in the community. But it hasn't hurt the school's popularity. Disney's original $17 million investment hasn't been enough to keep up with the school's growth. And a massive expansion is underway.

(Heavy vehicle beeping)

MUMEY: This space here there will be a tree put in, very large tree. It's just kind of a nice, shaded spot where kids can sit out or teachers can sit out...

ROSS: Jackson Mumey teaches history at Celebration High School. And history, he says, teaches us that from Jamestown to Levittown, conflict is typical at any new settlement. But Celebration's case, he says, is complicated by people who truly believe Disney's magic.

MUMEY: The expectations were that you sprinkle pixie dust, you put it together nicely, and everything will be perfect, and my child who was, you know, failing somewhere else will suddenly be going to Harvard. And, you know, our marriage that was falling apart will suddenly go back to being wonderful, and everything will be great. I mean, you know, there's no community that can do that.

ROSS: For its part, Disney denies it ever portrayed itself as anything other than a developer. Still, Celebration has raised the bar on the traditional role of the developer, according to company President Perry Reader.

READER: It's a social responsibility that America is putting back on the developer. Don't give me a subdivision any more. You need to really step up and give me a place. I'll make it what it needs to be as the people when I start to arrive there. But I need the resources that the developer can bring and help.

L. BOYER: Here, we laid up the pictures and the statue, and this tract will lay up the pictures here .

CONTRACTOR: Well, you would need a tract to go this way, a tract to go this way, and a tract to return...

ROSS: Lance Boyer and his wife Karen are talking to their contractor about making changes to the Savannah-style home they bought for $235,000. Celebration homes, available in six styles and six colors, range in price from $130,000 to several million dollars.

CONTRACTOR: You know, you can put spots, like three this way and maybe two this way.

L. BOYER: Okay, perfect.

ROSS: The Boyers are lucky. Most people who used Disney's designated builder have been forced to make thousands of dollars of repairs. Boyer admits he's been disappointed by several of the Celebration Company's decisions. But he chastises residents who complain about the lack of democratic process. After all, Celebration, he says, is a company town.

L. BOYER: Certainly people didn't say, "Oh, great, you know, Town and Country's building homes there, I'm going to buy there. Oh, great, Osceola County's running the school there, I'm going to buy there." People came here because Disney was involved with it. And with that comes the understanding that Disney's going to have a certain level of control.

ROSS: And because it's Disney, there is exhaustive scrutiny from the outside. The Boyers' house is filled with articles and books about Celebration.

(Music up and under)

ROSS: The Boyers' son, Brandon cues up a song about Celebration by the group, Chumbawumba on the CD player. The Boyers are offended by the song, particularly a line that says, "Social engineering gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling."

(Music up and under)

K. BOYER: The fact that Disney designed a town where there were front porches and there is little land between homes, yes, I think that engineered a certain atmosphere that the people have responded to in a positive way. There is no community we've ever lived in where I felt closer to my neighbors.

WOMAN 1: And how are we today, young lady?

WOMAN 2: Fine, thank you. You?

WOMAN 1: Good, thanks.

ROSS: Beneath the neighborliness, Celebration's residents are divided. Some worry that once Disney makes a return on its investment it will sell to another developer. Others want Disney out now. As long as Disney has ultimate control, they say, the community will never truly belong to its residents. And then there's His Honor, self-appointed Celebration mayor Sonny Buonchervello who says life is easier without the passion and polarization of democracy.

BUONCHERVELLO: If we were incorporated, we would actually have a mayor and there would be elections. We're not incorporated, and therefore no one ever runs against me. So it's nice to be the self-proclaimed mayor.

ROSS: Eventually, Celebration may get an honest-to-goodness mayor. Under Florida law, once a development reaches its planned capacity, in Celebration's case, that should happen in about ten years, residents assume control and can vote to become a real town. For Living on Earth, I'm Pippin Ross in Orlando, Florida.

CURWOOD: Coming up: Hard sell or sell out? Marketing the message of environmental protection. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

CURWOOD: Coming up: Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

(Music up and under)

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Health Update

TOOMEY: Malaria kills an estimated 3,000 people every day. But because of drug resistance, only a handful of medications are still effective against the disease, and new treatments are urgently needed. One of the most promising may be a common household antiseptic. Scientists in India experimented with triclosan, an ingredient used in everything from mouthwash to toothpaste. They injected lab mice with triclosan and found the antibacterial completely eliminated the malaria parasite in the rodents. Researchers think triclosan works by blocking an enzyme the parasite needs to feed and reproduce. The researchers also found that triclosan caused no apparent side effects. And since this is a completely new way to attack the parasite, they hope it might be effective even on the most drug-resistant strains of malaria. And that's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

(Music up and under)

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CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under: Dave Brubeck, "If You Wish Upon A Star")

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Actor Paul Newman is on TV again, but he's not starring in a movie or selling salad dressing and tomato sauce. He's pitching the environment.

(Guitar music. Newman: "Close your eyes, and imagine you're beside a pure mountain stream, the water cascading over the stones. A paradise like this isn't easy to come by, but it does still exist. Because the Nature Conservancy works locally with people like you to save precious places around the world, forever. That way, closing your eyes will never be the only way to get there. I'm Paul Newman. Help save the last great places...")

CURWOOD: That ad, produced for the Nature Conservancy, is part of the ongoing marketing push by national environmental groups to increase name recognition. Even Greenpeace has been conducting polls on its image. And some groups are taking the drive to be known into the commercial arena. At times, you've been able to find the National Wildlife Federation's logo on McDonald's Happy Meals and MBNA credit card statements. And recently, the Federation promoted the sale of stuffed animals through the oil company BP-Amoco. Philip Kavitz, Vice President of Communications for the National Wildlife Federation, says these promotions help them reach a wider audience.

Kavitz: If we merely reach out to the people who read one of our magazines, we're missing a big part of the audience out there. So, by working with a number of different businesses, we're really opening up a new audience for conservation, and new opportunities to achieve the mission.

CURWOOD: Tell me a bit more about how this deal with British Petroleum works. I pull up to the gas tank and what happens next?

Kavitz: Well, I believe what people could see was a sign indicating to them that they could purchase one of, what they were calling, the Endangered Wildlife Friends for a relatively low charge. They, if they chose to do so, would receive this particular plush toy, and hopefully, would bond with the species that it represents. Would take a look at the tag and would discover that that species has some habitat needs that are affected by conservation issues. It gave them the opportunity to learn that their purchase of fossil fuel can make a contribution to global climate change, which really imperils not only wildlife but people, too.

CURWOOD: I understand that part of the reason you're doing this is to get your name out there. But what about money? What sort of compensation does the National Wildlife Federation get from working with companies like BP?

Kavitz: In terms of cash, the relationship with BP will probably bring the National Wildlife Federation in the range of $100,000, that we will then be able to invest in other areas of our conservation education and advocacy efforts.

CURWOOD: How does this work for British Petroleum? In essence, if the message is, by using petroleum it's harmful to the planet, that would reduce demand for their product.

Kavitz: Well, I think what it does for the company is it shows that they care. It shows that they are realistic in recognizing that the product that they're selling at the same time has a negative impact on our environment. And that by sharing that information with people, they empower people (a) to make a choice, and (b) to take some action that can really have a positive impact.

CURWOOD: Now, how do you reconcile a partnership with a company that, however much it sees itself as a green company -- I think they're calling themselves BP stands for Beyond Petroleum these days -- still, they make a tremendous amount of profit from oil consumption, which many would agree is generally harmful to the environment?

Kavitz: The National Wildlife Federation sees itself as a common-sense conservation organization. And part of that means operating in the realm of reality. People in the United States consume a tremendous amount of petroleum products, and we are not going to make that go away by ignoring it. And unless we ultimately change the consumption patterns of American fossil fuel buyers, of American gasoline users, we're not going to be successful in combating problems such as global climate change. What we may be able to do is influence them to look toward other means or influence them to look toward conservation. But first, we have to reach them.

CURWOOD: Now, getting your name out there is part of what marketing people call "branding," if I have this right. And I'm just wondering, to what extent are nonprofit environmental groups like yours putting their branding effort before the message?

Kavitz: Well, in this case, the branding effort, if you will, getting the name of the National Wildlife Federation out there, is just a natural evolution of the mission. And the mission is to make people aware of wildlife and wild places. To make people understand the challenges to keeping them healthy. And to helping people understand how they can get involved to make a difference.

CURWOOD: Philip Kavitz is Vice President of Communications for the National Wildlife Federation. Thank you, sir.

KAVITZ: Okay, thank you, Steve.

(Music up and under: The Cardigans, "First Band on the Moon")

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Outhouse Races

CURWOOD: If you live in one of those places where winter seems to stretch on endlessly, you can probably sympathize with the folks of Republic, Washington. Each winter, the town of 1,040 people puts on a festival to break up the monotony of gray, frozen skies and long, cold nights. There are some events you might expect, including a chili cook-off and a snow sculpture contest. And then, there's the annual outhouse race. Producer Bill George is our man on the scene.

(A flame pulses on and off)

GEORGE: In this one-stoplight town today, outhouses are a serious business. Some shops have closed for the event, where contestants will push their homemade outhouses down a one-and-a-half block course. The team from Northern Construction is heating up wax and applying it to their skis, which actually are four-inch plastic electrical conduit tubes.

MAN: (on loudspeaker) Five minutes to the first heat.

GEORGE: Race official Bob Zipperer explains the rules.

ZIPPERER: Each device must slide over ice and snow on skis, runners, sleds, or skids. No wheels. Two, must have a seat no more than 36 inches above the ground, with an appropriate hole. Toilet paper must be on board. Reading material is optional.

GEORGE: All drivers must wear a helmet and remain seated throughout the race. At least two people must push. Besides limiting cabin fever, the race has great social benefits.

ZIPPERER: We've got loggers, miners, environmentalists, businesses, kids, all of them come together and it puts a more human face on people, you know? And it maybe eases some of the tensions of politics and those kinds of things.

GEORGE: Some outhouses look more like dogsleds with toilet seats. Grandma's Mercantile, a secondhand store in Republic, boasted the classic crescent moon design with a few extra added features.

WEBER: Rather than just a toilet seat, I had the toilet seat bolted to a toilet so we just brought the whole thing.

GEORGE: You've got momentum going for you here.

WEBER: A lot of mass rolling down that hill. (Laughter)

GEORGE: And what will happen to the toilet after the race?

WEBER: We have the toilet for sale in the store. I figured we would just use it for the weekend and put it back in the store.

GEORGE: And you can resell it.

WEBER: Yeah, all this stuff's for resale, including the antennas for the TV and the lizard out in front.

GEORGE: That's a stuffed toy lizard dangling from a wire, along with ice skates and a set of bicycle handlebars for the driver. The driver, Steve Weber, is wearing a teal bathrobe, a helmet covered with a wig, and bright curlers. A cigarette hangs from his mouth. (To Weber) And did you do any training for this?

WEBER: Yeah, I drank a lot of beer before I came. (Laughs)

MAN 1: Keeps the guy from getting too stiff or he crashes.

WOMAN: Yee-hah!

MAN 1: Are you ready?


MAN 2: (on loudspeaker) On your mark. Get set.

(A pistol shoots; adults and children yell, "Go! Go! Go! Go!")

GEORGE: A few yards from the finish line, it looks like Northern Construction used too much wax.

MAN 1: Go, man, go!

MAN 2: They had it and they crashed!

GEORGE: After many eliminating rounds, there are only two teams left: defending champion Ferry County Food Co-op is up against C.S. Construction.

MAN: (on loudspeaker) You're on your marks.

(A pistol shoots; the crowd yells)

GEORGE: Sprinting down the icy street it was outhouse to outhouse as fans were on the edge of their hay bales. And then, just as they got to the end of the racecourse, C.S. Construction plunged ahead for the victory.


MAN: (on loudspeaker) We have a new winner this year!

GEORGE: The winning team received a check of $75 and a trophy crowned with a roll of toilet paper. The toilet seat from their outhouse was taken back to Republic's only Mexican restaurant, where it had been sorely missed during the chili cook-off. For Living on Earth, this is Bill George in Republic, Washington.

(Music up and under: R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Band, "Little Rascals")

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

(Music up and under: R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Band, "Little Rascals")

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

(Music up and under: Harmonica Gold, "The Sidewalks of New York")

CURWOOD: One hundred and forty-five winters ago, a bridge of ice linked Brooklyn and Manhattan, not far from where the present-day Brooklyn Bridge now reaches. The East River ice bridge put a halt to ferry runs on the cold, cold night of February 10th, 1856. One icebound boat was stranded for six hours. It hasn't gotten cold enough to form an ice bridge in New York City lately, but the frozen structures remain a part of the winter commute and custom in other parts of the country.

(Music up and under: Budgie, "Melt The Ice Away")

CURWOOD: On Mackinaw Island in Michigan's Lake Huron, the formation of the ice bridge to the mainland is a nearly annual event. As soon as the ice over the strait is deemed thick enough, residents mark out a highway across the ice using Christmas trees as borders. And snowmobiles become the fast track to and from the mainland. Travelers can also cross the four-mile bridge on foot. The Mackinaw ice bridge may last for only a few days or endure for up to two months. And unlike usual ferry or plane service, crossing the ice bridge is toll-free. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

(Music up and under: Budgie, "Melt The Ice Away")

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Fire Ants

CURWOOD: Red fire ants have made the southeastern United States a dangerous place to walk barefoot since the 1940s. These aggressive, pesky ants will bite anything that stands still long enough, including people, livestock, crops, even outdoor air conditioners. In a turf war with their U.S. cousins, red fire ants are winning, as the South American imports have no natural enemies here. In an attempt to stop the spread of the ants, scientists are looking to the ants' old nemeses from their native continent. I'm joined now by Sanford Porter, a research entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture. Welcome, Mr. Porter.

PORTER: Thank you.

CURWOOD: For our listeners who don't live in the southeast, how big of a problem are these little guys? I mean, I take it they aren't just your sort of typical show up at a picnic uninvited type of ants, huh?

PORTER: Well, the problem is that they're absolutely everywhere. If you walk around in your back yard with your bare feet it's easy to get stung. So, for the average person it's an aggravation. But for little kids, for example, it's a fairly serious problem. A little two-year-old will climb onto a fire ant mound and the fire ants just swarm up by the hundreds and thousands and the poor little kid can get bitten hundreds of times before he can get off.

CURWOOD: What's it like to get stung by the ants? I mean, I live in New Hampshire. I've been bitten by the ants that are in an anthill here. It's no fun.

PORTER: It's about like a mosquito bite or a pinprick. They hurt for about a minute or two, and then about 24 hours later they form a little sterile pustule that looks like a pimple. And the problem is not one bite, but it's easy to get stung by the fire ants dozens or even hundreds of times.

CURWOOD: Now, why are these fire ants so pesky? Is this how they hunt? I mean, they go out and they eat huge creatures?

PORTER: Absolutely. They are premiere mass recruiting social insects, and that's how they do it. They find some food, they go back to their nest-mates, and they say "There's lots of food over here." And pretty soon you have hundreds and thousands of ants out there trying to carry the food back.

CURWOOD: These fire ants have no natural enemies here, but in their native South America there are things that keep these ants in check. And I understand that you've got a laboratory there, in Gainesville, Florida, that has enlisted a certain fly in the fight against fire ants. How exactly do they wage this battle?

PORTER: Well, the flies are something that we're very excited about. The flies are little, itty bitty flies, about the size of a head of a fire ant. And there is a reason for that, and what the flies do is come in, hover a couple of millimeters above the ants, and as soon as they get in just the right position they inject an egg into the ant. And the egg hatches in a couple of days, moves into the ant's head, where the little maggot swims around for a few weeks. And when it gets mature, then it will release an enzyme that causes the fire ant's head to fall off.

CURWOOD: Oh, my.

PORTER: And when the head falls off, then the little fly maggot eats everything in the fire ant's head and pupates like a butterfly. So, it's using a fire ant head like a cocoon. A few weeks later, the adult fly pops out and starts looking for more ants.

CURWOOD: What kind of defenses do these fire ants have against this decapitating fly?

PORTER: Well, the fire ants will first run and hide as quick as they can, if they can. If they can't hide fast enough, then they'll freeze. And they'll, of course, stop foraging while the flies are attacking.

CURWOOD: So, let me see if I've got this right. Fire ants are out having a good time. And it's like one of the gang looks up and sees a cop car, like these flies, and everybody scatters, huh?

PORTER: (Laughs) Oh, exactly. Exactly. There's some kind of an air raid alarm that the ants put out that says we're under an air raid, everybody scatter.

CURWOOD: These flies actually don't kill that many of these fire ants.

PORTER: Right. They probably only kill a few percent of the colony. But the biggest impact is on the ability of the ants to collect food. So while the ants are hiding from the flies, that means that our native ants can be out there eating the food that the fire ants would have normally eaten. And then when that happens, the native ants can compete with fire ants at other times, as well. Basically, what we're trying to do is shift the ecological balance in favor of our native ants.

CURWOOD: There is the obvious concern that if you bring in a non-native species to fight these fire ants, which are already a non-native species, you could have more problems down the road.

PORTER: Yes, and that's something that we are always very concerned about. So we looked at how the flies affected other kinds of ants and what kinds of things they were attracted to. They're not attracted to people, they're not attracted to animals, they're not attracted to plants or our food or our refuse or carrion. They don't vector diseases. The flies are extremely specific. They're like little guided missiles, that when they run out of fire ants to eat they basically just die.

CURWOOD: Now, when do you think you're going to be able to release some of these red fire ant avengers on a larger scale?

PORTER: Well, we've already begun that here in Gainesville. About three years ago, we began the releases. We were thrilled to find them out a few hundred yards and that they survived the winter. And then the second year, we found them out three or four miles. And then, we went out just last November and we found them out another eight to sixteen miles. So they are now occupying almost 1,000 square miles around Gainesville, Florida.

CURWOOD: And what's happened to the fire ant population around Gainesville, Florida?

PORTER: Ah, excellent question. That is something that we're just beginning to look at. Last spring, we set out a bunch of test sites just outside the wavefront of the advancing flies, and this fall, they've moved into the test sites and it will probably be a couple of years before we can assess the impacts.

CURWOOD: Sanford Porter is a research entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture in Gainesville, Florida. Thank you, sir.

PORTER: You're welcome, Steve.

CURWOOD: Just ahead: The greening of Manhattan high-rises. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this environmental business update with Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

(Music up and under)

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Business Update

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Next time you're about to split a pair of chopsticks and dig into that moo goo gai pan, consider where the wooden splints come from. The Chinese are starting to do just that, and they're moving to cut down on the 45 billion pairs of chopsticks they use each year at a cost of 25 million trees. More than 100 state-owned restaurants in Beijing have promised to wash and reuse their chopsticks. Other cities may ban the throw-away utensils. And there are reports the government may tax the so-called "one-time chopsticks." Chopsticks have been China's favorite eating tool for millennia, but in the last 20 years, with more people dining out, the disposable variety has flourished. With growing trash heaps and damaging floods blamed on deforestation, the Chinese are now trying to find a way to stop eating their way through their forests. That's this week's business update. I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

You can hear our program any time on our Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

(Music up and under: His Name Is Alive, "Across Every Fjord")

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And coming up: some energy-saving inventions from kids. But first...

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CURWOOD: Time for comments from you, our listeners.

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CURWOOD: We begin with a correction. William Jensen heard our almanac about Project Moby Dick, the weather balloons that were sent over Soviet territory during the Cold War to capture climate data. Or so the U.S. government claimed. Mr. Jensen listens to KUER in Salt Lake City, and says he was smack dab in the middle of a chapter in a book that deals with that project. "It was good for quite a laugh, both at the coincidence and at how completely you got your facts wrong. Moby Dick was absolutely, indisputably, a spy project. That it had anything to do with weather research was the CIA's cover story. Maybe your fact checkers should buy the donuts for your next staff meeting." Thanks, Mr. Jensen , and we'll save one of the donuts for you.

Many of you got in touch about last week's interview with former British Petroleum executive Steve Taylor about drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR. Daniel Kiefer , a listener to Michigan Public Radio, writes, "Dear LOE: It is laudable that someone of Mr. Taylor's stature in the oil industry so openly acknowledges the legitimate role for wilderness values in the formation of national energy policy. If that role cannot be claimed for ANWR, then where in heaven's name will it be claimed?"

And KSTX San Antonio, Texas, listener Peter Loxsom says he's seen tar on the beaches in his state, and he doesn't think opening up ANWR oil is the right way to go. "It's not enough," he writes, "to really help our energy situation. And it's not really the direction we as a nation need to be going in. When I was a child I saw my father, a physicist, do a lot of work in the solar energy field. With the coming of Reagan I saw that all disappear. Now, my father does research into atmospheric pollution. To me, that says volumes."

Susan Easter heard our audio postcard about backyard skating rinks. She listens to WKSU out of Kent, Ohio, and she writes, "My father was in the Navy and was stationed in New England during the earliest years of my childhood. I am transported to the times in Vermont that my dad would lovingly shovel out a shallow and flat rink, running the hose nightly to put a couple of inches of water in till, layer after layer, we had a heck of a solid rink of ice. Thanks for the memories. Now I've got to go write my parents."

Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write to 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

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NYC Building Green

CURWOOD: Buildings consume a third of all the energy used in the U.S. And debris from construction and demolition is clogging landfills. With the squeeze on energy and disposal these days, architects and developers are paying more attention to the environmental impact of what they design and build. Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports on two high-profile projects in New York City.

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GRABER: Times Square. Cars and trucks honk their way past pedestrians speaking in a cacophony of languages and accents. Immense billboards stretch across building facades. Even the subway sign is lit up like a marquee. "Environmental" is quite possibly the last adjective to come to mind. And yet, Times Square is home to a prominent new example of green building, the first environmentally-sustainable skyscraper in the world.

FOX: I would define a green building as one that doesn't add any harmful effect to the environment and doesn't take anything from the environment. That puts it in a pretty impossible situation. But that's the goal that we're trying to get to.

GRABER: Robert Fox is one of the architects who designed Four Times Square, also known as the Conde Nast Building, which opened more than a year ago. It reaches up into New York's skyline with huge glass windows. Glaring signs flash over ground-level storefronts. In the lobby, Fox points up to the rippled panels of recycled aluminum overhead that wave out from the windowed entrance.

FOX: So this aluminum leaf allows the light to reflect down, and it comes out of these wave-like surfaces. And it comes down, and it lights the lobby. So we're using a fraction of the energy of what you'd see in a typical lobby.

GRABER: This is just one of the features the architectural and engineering team used to make this building as environmentally sensitive as money and the available technologies would allow. They used recycled steel and cut the amount of concrete and steel needed by designing more efficiently. About five percent of the energy used in the building is generated by fuel cells and by photovoltaics, which convert sunlight into energy. The cooling system uses no CFCs, known to destroy the ozone layer, or HCFCs, which contribute to global warming. The team even considered how to light the stairwells.

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FOX: Normally, in office buildings, the lights are on all the time. In this building, they are on only when you're in the stairwell. The amount of energy that saves is staggering, because these stairs are 50 stories high and there's two of them.

GRABER: Fox exits on the forty-first floor, which belongs to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom. The law firm shares the building with the Conde Nast publishing conglomerate. Neither has said publicly that environmental considerations influenced their renting. They simply needed the space. But according to Nancy Lieberman, one of the law firm's senior partners, they now love their offices. Even the window panes, which are coated to reduce glare and heat from the sun, make a difference.

LIEBERMAN: I can't begin to tell you how exciting it is every day to walk in and have a spectacular view of New York City, that I could sit here at my desk and look out and not, you know, have the heat or the sun or the whatever bother me. And it's a very nice environment to work in. Therefore, I think I'm more productive.

GRABER: Tenants save on energy costs from such high-performance technologies. The Durst Corporation, which built and manages the building, saved money from practices like cutting down on steel and concrete. Features like fuel cells added to the costs, bringing this building in at about five percent higher than similar buildings. Over the long term, some money will be made back from energy savings. The building consumes about 30 percent less energy than a conventional building. But money wasn't the primary motivator for the Dursts. Architect Robert Fox says the Dursts were committed to the idea of proving it was possible to build a green skyscraper in the heart of New York City. But Fox also says that the cost difference today would be negligible.

FOX: If you asked me what we would do the next time, we believe now that we would be able to make that difference go away. We were pioneers.

(Children's voices)

GRABER: Further downtown, Tim Carey stands in front of a crowded playground. He's Executive Director of the Battery Park City Authority. This March, he'll break ground on the world's first environmentally sustainable high-rise apartment building, one of three the Authority plans to build.

CAREY: The biggest cutting edge that everybody is looking at is our gray water system. You know, to be able to utilize the water from showers and dishwashers and washing machines and treat them in the building, and then use that water for air conditioning and for irrigation, and for flushing of toilets. I mean, you know, that has been done before but no one's ever done it in this type of a building before.

GRABER: They'll use recycled materials, non-toxic paint and carpeting, and incorporate technologies like fuel cells and photovoltaics. Landscaped roof gardens will cut down on heat gain and loss. Carey believes this building will have a huge impact.

CAREY: We hope to establish sustainable markets for high-rise residential buildings. We want to do nothing less than change the way high-rise residential buildings are built, not just in New York City, not just in New York State, not just in America, but the world. It's a very simple goal.

GRABER: There are challenges in achieving Carey's goal. Until there's more of a demand for green buildings, they're not always profitable. To give developers an incentive, New York State has created the country's first tax break for developers whose buildings meet certain environmental standards. Both Battery City Park's future apartment buildings and Four Times Square are high-income rentals. The government of the City of New York is implementing environmental features in a number of public buildings, including libraries, museums, and daycare centers. New York City, though, is not alone in its growing interest in green building. Christine Ervin is the CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council.

ERVIN: About ten years ago, or about when the U.S. Green Building Council came together in 1993, there were no standards on green buildings, no definition of green buildings, no central place where green building enthusiasts and experts could come together. And you could point to, oh, maybe a dozen green buildings across the country. Today, we can point to hundreds of green buildings around the country.

GRABER: That's a small percentage of all construction in the U.S., but it's growing. Last year, the U.S. Green Building Council introduced a new voluntary rating system. It's called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. The system offers platinum, gold, or silver awards, or a certificate for buildings, based on points from five categories: site allocation and development, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and energy and materials use. Consultant Bill Browning with the Rocky Mountain Institute says LEED provides a crucial tool for measuring a building's environmental features.

BROWNING: Finally, there's a way of having a measurement of how green a property is. Previously, it was sort of a superlative. It was very green or forest green or dark green or some shade of green. But that was qualitative. With the LEED rating system, there is now a quantifiable system of measuring the environmental performance of a property.


GRABER: Four Times Square was built before LEED certification existed. But the high-profile building has already attracted interest from around the country and around the world. And because of its success, architect Robert Fox is working on another Times Square skyscraper that will incorporate similar environmental features.


GRABER: New York City may or may not be the center of the universe, contrary to what New Yorkers tend to believe. But standing here in Times Square at night, the whole area a-glitter, you can't help but feel that there may be something to that old refrain: If you can build it here, you'll build it anywhere. For Living on Earth, I'm Cynthia Graber.

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Energy Kids

CURWOOD: Energy efficiency is kid's play. At least it is for Michael Torrey, Annie Austin, Kate Flor-Stagnato, and Jonathan Ioviero. These fourth, fifth, and sixth graders are all winners of the Energy Inventors Contest, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and Owens-Corning. The winners of the contest had prototypes of their inventions built at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California, and they were invited to see their ideas at work. We caught up with the kids in New York City in the middle of a media tour to show off their inventions. Let's start now with you, Michael. Describe your invention for me, if you could, please.

TORREY: My invention is a miniature hydraulic power plant. It uses the power of running water from your faucet to turn the turbine, which turns a magnet, creating electricity in the motor. And then you can use it as energy for your light bulbs, fence, and stuff.

CURWOOD: Now, I'm a little confused as to where the turbine is. Is it in the supply pipe? Is this in the faucet as it comes out? Or is it in the drain?

TORREY: No, you replaced -- where the water comes out?


TORREY: You replace that with -- you put a tube there, and you connect it to the turbine. It's like a box. And then, so, the turbine is in there, and you hook it up to the box, and then it starts turning. The box is connected to the motor, and the motor is connected to the circuit board.

CURWOOD: How did you come up with this idea?

TORREY: Well, I know about our electricity and water crisis, so I tried to help that, both of them.

CURWOOD: What's this experience been like for you?

TORREY: Biggest experience of my life. It's never happened to me before. I didn't know anybody was going to pick me, because, I mean, you never know that you're going to win. You always think that it's a contest, you never win.

CURWOOD: All right, Annie, you're on.


CURWOOD: Now, could you describe your invention for us?

AUSTIN: Mm hm. It's a device that monitors energy, the usage of it. And it's when you -- it's got two lights, one red one and one green one. And the green light tells you when you're using just the right amount of energy. And the red light says -- tells you when you're using over the amount that you're supposed to. And you are supposed to turn off things like lights and the TV or radio or something like that. Anything electrical.

CURWOOD: How did you come up with this idea? Were you looking at lights or thinking about how to save energy, or -- where did this notion come from?

AUSTIN: I'd just been recently, like, running around turning off lights and stuff. Because I realized that energy is an important thing that we need. Because if we don't we're going to be in the dark like California, which we were where I live, actually, just a few days ago. So, we need energy and if we don't have it, we're stuck. And there's no nice way to say it, we are stuck. So, I just basically sat there and realized hey, we need to do something about this, you know?

CURWOOD: Now, what was it like, then, to come to a laboratory where scientists were working on your invention, in fact putting it together?

AUSTIN: It was really fun. I had a really nice time with Rick Diamond and Tony Hanson and all the team and everything. It was really nice.

CURWOOD: Now, what do you think you might do when you're older, a little bit older?

AUSTIN: I don't know. Maybe this, but some other things as well. I have so many things, I haven't really decided yet.

CURWOOD: Thank you, Annie, for taking this time with us.

AUSTIN: You're welcome.

CURWOOD: Jonathan, can you describe your invention for me, please?

IOVIERO : It's a little box that you put next to your door. And when you leave your house you press the search button and it will search the house for lights that are left on. And then it will tell you which lights are on, and you can choose to leave them on or turn them off.

CURWOOD: Wow. How did you come up with this idea?

IOVIERO : I'm always leaving lights on in my house.

CURWOOD: What's been the best part of this whole invention contest?

IOVIERO : Getting to see my invention built and using it.

CURWOOD: How would you feel if your invention were installed in your house?

IOVIERO : I'd be happy.


IOVIERO : Because then I wouldn't have to run downstairs to turn lights off.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us today, Jonathan. Hi there, Kate.


CURWOOD: How are you?


CURWOOD: Kate, you have an invention. I'd love it if you could describe your invention for us.

FLOR-STAGNATO : Okay. It's a beeping air conditioner. When you turn it on, like, the air comes out, and if the window's open it will beep. And then if you close that window, and then there's another window open, it will beep, too. And then if you close all the windows, then it stops beeping. And you won't want to hear the beep because it's annoying, so you'll keep your windows closed.

CURWOOD: Uh huh. Now how did you come up with this idea?

FLOR-STAGNATO : I leave my windows open when the air conditioning is on, a lot.

CURWOOD: You do?


CURWOOD: Now, is this the first time that you've been around a bunch of scientists and technicians and a laboratory?


CURWOOD: What was that like?

FLOR-STAGNATO : It was fun. And cool.

CURWOOD: Well, congratulations.

FLOR-STAGNATO : Thank you.

CURWOOD: Thank you so much for taking this time with us, Kate.

FLOR-STAGNATO : You're welcome.

CURWOOD: Kate Flor-Stagnato , Jonathan Ioviero, Annie Austin, and Michael Torrey are winners of the Energy Smart Schools Contest, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and Owens-Corning. They joined us from the NPR studios in New York City.

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: In the South Bronx, some tough choices are being made about the city's taking of long-standing community gardens to build much-needed housing.

MAN: I don't think anybody would suggest that we ought to solve the city's housing problem by building in Prospect Park or Central Park. And while these gardens may not have the legal status that a park does, in many communities they're the only viable open space.

CURWOOD: Between a green and a hard place, next week on Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, and Milisa Muniz. We had help this week from Stephen Belter. Our interns are Merav Bushlin, Dawn Robinson, and Evie Stone. Alison Dean composed our themes. Our Technical Director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our Western Editor. Diane Toomey is our Science Editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our Senior Editor. And Chris Ballman is the Senior Producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, Executive Producer. Thanks for listening.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

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