Kalamazoo River Spill Yields Record Fine
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Ten days after the Macondo oil well was capped on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico in July 2010, a pipeline in Michigan cracked open, leading to the biggest pipeline spill since records have been kept. Lisa Song, a reporter for Inside Climate News, tells host Bruce Gellerman that the pipeline carried Canadian tar sands crude and that has seriously hampered the cleanup. (6:00)
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London is getting ready to host the summer Olympics. City officials want Londoners to find alternative work spaces to reduce traffic in the congested city. Linda Chandler is co-author of the White Paper, which outlines the “Anywhere Working City” concept. She tells host Bruce Gellerman this new workplace strategy will continue after the Olympics are over. (5:50)
Weatherization Projects/ Jeff Young
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Home weatherization and energy efficiency are supposed to be the “low hanging fruit” in the effort to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But at the ground level in Boston, Massachusetts, insulating homes and installing efficient lighting and appliances wasn’t always so easy. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports on how one of the country’s greenest cities is working to overcome language barriers, layers of bureaucracy and other complications that get in the way of efficiency efforts. (8:50)
Eco-Home Models Energy Efficient Design
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EcoManor, Laura Turner Seydel’s super efficient house in Atlanta, Georgia, showcases green technologies and design. Turner Seydel tells Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood that others, too, can take steps to save energy, water and, ultimately, money, by making small and big changes to their homes. (8:30)
BirdNote® Kipukas and Akis/ Michael Stein
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Hawaii is made up of chain of volcanic islands. The islands are geologically unique, and also home to many unusual birds, as Michael Stein reports. (2:00)
Look Don’t Touch
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Research shows that adults who are strong environmental stewards were allowed to explore nature unfettered as kids. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with author David Sobel about environmental education today. Sobel says educators are too focused on rules and making sure that students learn correct scientific terms instead letting kids be kids. (7:00)
Home Grown/ Bill McKibben
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It’s summer and that means it’s the season for farmers’ markets. In city parking lots and along back roads, green thumb growers are showing off the fruits of their labors, local produce grown with care and pride. It’s a season New Englanders cherish, especially writer Bill McKibben. (8:00)
HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Lisa Song, Linda Chandler, Laura Turner Seydel, David Sobel
REPORTERS: Steve Curwood, Jeff Young, Bill McKibben, Michael Stein
GELLERMAN: From Public Radio International, it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Oil and water don’t mix—worse is water and bitumen. Two years ago a pipeline ruptured, sending the thick goo from Canadian tar sands into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.
SONG: What spilled was not conventional crude oil - it was not the kind of oil that the EPA or the Coast Guard or any clean-up crews had experience with.
GELLERMAN: What a mess! What really happened in the Kalamazoo disaster. Also, financially weathering a weatherization makeover.
MORIN: I went in to save money and in the end I actually probably spent more than if I’d done nothing. [laughs] But for me it was a green, environmental thing.
GELLERMAN: Green fruit—low hanging, but sometimes very expensive. And [BIRDS CHIRPING] – the song may be cheerful but it’s a sad story. This is one of Hawaii’s rarest birds. Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around!
PRI ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville Massachusetts, it’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.
Two years ago this month, a large oil pipeline carrying thick oil from the tar sands of Canada to Michigan ruptured, sending nearly a million gallons of the gooey crude into the Kalamazoo River, resulting in the most costly pipeline disaster in US history. And only now are we starting to learn what really happened that day, July 25th, 2010. Lisa Song was one of the reporters from Inside Climate News who investigated the Kalamazoo disaster.
SONG: The spill occurred near the community of Marshall, Michigan, in southwestern area of the state, and in this part of the state there’s a major river called the Kalamazoo River that flows by the community. And there’s also a pipeline, an oil pipeline called 6B, that’s buried underground in a wetland area near the river.
So, at about 6 p.m. on the 25th of July, the company, which is called Enbridge, they had a control room in Alberta that was monitoring everything going on with the pipeline. And they had started to take the pipeline offline for some routine work when an alarm went off in the control room.
When the first alarm went off, there was basically confusion, you know, they were discussing the situation and more alarms went off and the operators basically thought there was a large bubble somewhere in the pipeline, and they thought that’s what was causing the alarms and the different pressure drops. It wasn’t until after 11 a.m. the next morning that a local Michigan utilities employee saw crude oil in a creek and he called the Enbridge emergency line. So that’s how the company found out.
GELLERMAN: So Lisa, how can it be that you’ve got alarm bells going off in Edmonton headquarters, and it turns out it’s a random utility worker in Michigan who’s gotta say, "hey you’ve got a rupture in the pipeline"?
SONG: That’s just what happened. The Federal Department of Transportation actually just fined Enbridge $3.7 million dollars and as part of that fine they listed 22 probable violations that happened relating to the spill. And several of those are about what happened in the control room.
GELLERMAN: So this thing gushed out for 18 hours before somebody accidentally found out that there was a hole in the pipeline.
SONG: Well, it was offline, so for many of those hours the pipeline wasn’t under pressure, but oil was leaking out. And then at two different times that morning, the control room operators restarted the pipeline. So for a few of those hours, oil was gushing out at much higher rates because it was under pressure.
GELLERMAN: So they restarted the pipeline when the alarms were going off?
SONG: Yeah, they thought it was basically a bubble in the pipeline. And they thought they could overcome it by increasing the pressure.
GELLERMAN: Now Lisa, your news organization, “Inside Climate News,” has uncovered some disturbing information about the EPA’s response to the spill during the first crucial hours and days after the spill. There was information that Enbridge didn’t provide to the EPA. How is that?
SONG: What spilled was not conventional crude oil. It was not the kind of oil that the EPA or the Coast Guard or any cleanup crews had experience with. It was diluted bitumen, which is different.
GELLERMAN: Different how?
SONG: It’s different because it’s a mix of really thick crude oil called bitumen and these light hydrocarbons.
GELLERMAN: This stuff is more like tar than oil that we think of when we think of oil.
SONG: It’s thick, it’s like peanut butter, which is why they have to dilute it. And what happened was the EPA went into the spill thinking it was a conventional crude oil spill. They thought everything was normal, and when this diluted bitumen spilled, it at first floated on the water. So that just reinforced the concept that it was regular crude oil. But over a period of days, the light hydrocarbons started evaporating. And after they evaporated, all you have left is the heavy bitumen, and that’s what sank into the river.
The EPA started to realize the severity of the problem in mid-August, when some clean up workers, walking through the river in their hip waders, noticed that whenever they stepped into the river, these flakes of oil would float up from the bottom and create this oil sheen. And so they put poles into the river to stir up the sediment, and found all of this oil gushing up.
GELLERMAN: So the EPA didn't know what they were dealing with, and the company didn’t bother to tell them?
SONG: As far as we know, no. Many of the EPA officials in interviews later told reporters that this spill was unlike anything they’d ever faced. And in numerous interactions with Enbridge, the company never pointed out that it was diluted bitumen.
GELLERMAN: So what was the consequence for the EPA? They thought they were dealing with crude, and they were dealing with this bitumen, this tar.
SONG: It basically made the cleanup much more difficult and expensive. So the EPA went in thinking, “we’ll have this cleaned up in two months.” Now it’s two year later and they’re still cleaning it up. So the EPA and other cleanup crews had to basically invent methods of cleaning up the submerged oil. The normal way to clean up submerged oil, or one way to do it, is to dredge the bottom of the river, is to dredge the sediment. But if you do that, you pretty much destroy the ecosystem. So they had to improvise more gentle ways of cleaning up the submerged oil without destroying the river they were trying to save.
GELLERMAN: You know, I think for many people, they’ve never heard of this. This is the biggest environmental disaster they’ve never heard of.
SONG: Yeah, and I think one of the reasons why they don’t know about it is it happened about three months after the BP oil spill occurred, the Macondo well.
GELLERMAN: This oil, this crude, is coming from the same tar sands that they want to export oil down through the new XL Pipeline that they want to build.
SONG: Yeah, yeah, and that’s something that drove our reporting is we’ve been reporting a lot on the Keystone XL pipeline and in talking to the residents along that route in Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana and all the other states, they’re all worried about how the pipeline, how a spill from the Keystone XL, could contaminate their groundwater. And so we looked into this Michigan spill, and now we know what happens when diluted bitumen spills into surface water, but we still don’t know what would happen if it spilled into an aquifer.
GELLERMAN: And they’re calling it the most expensive oil spill in U.S. history. How much has it cost so far?
SONG: 765 million.
GELLERMAN: Three quarters of a billion dollars.
GELLERMAN: And how close is the Kalamazoo River from being cleaned up?
SONG: Most of the river is now open; there’s still a section where there’s still submerged oil, and EPA says it might take as long as months or years to clean it all up.
GELLERMAN: And meanwhile the bitumen continues to flow.
SONG: Yeah, we’re importing a lot of diluted bitumen from Canada, and those imports are only going to increase.
GELLERMAN: Well, Lisa Song, thanks so very much for coming in. Really appreciate it.
SONG: Thank you.
GELLERMAN: That’s reporter Lisa Song from “Inside Climate News.”
[MUSIC: Marc Ribot “Fuego” from Ceramic Dog (Pi Records 2006)]
GELLERMAN: Soon the fastest athletes in the world will be speeding in and around London for the 30th Summer Olympics.
GELLERMAN: On your mark, get set… go….but not so fast! Even during the best of times London traffic moves at a snail’s pace---so during the Olympics, city commuters are being warned to adjust their schedules, and they may be wise to heed the advice in a White Paper report called “Anywhere Working Cities”. It’s designed to lighten the load in London during and after the Olympics. Linda Chandler, a Microsoft Enterprise Architect is one of the co-authors of “Anywhere Working Cities.” Welcome to Living on Earth Linda!
CHANDLER: Thank you very much, Bruce.
GELLERMAN: So this third space, describe it for me, am I going to meet people from my company there or I’ll meet people from your company there or what?
CHANDLER: The way I imagine the third space is that it has to be really accessible. So it has to be as accessible as a coffee shop. So, you know, maybe it is on the High Street and maybe it’s somewhere you can just walk into quite freely. And I’d like to imagine that I didn’t have to pre-book, I could be a member of this particular establishment by walking through the door.
And perhaps, we have the idea, that you might kind of touch in and touch out. I can sit down at a desk and I can use a desk for forty minutes, and I can have a great broadband connection, I can perhaps make a few calls. And when I need to go to my next appointment, I touch out, and I’ve only been charged for that amount of time.
GELLERMAN: Well, the idea of a virtual office, a remote office, an office online, is not new. I mean, there’s a lot of people running their world headquarters out of a Starbucks.
CHANDLER: Yeah, absolutely. I think what we offer in some of the white paper, they’re ideas that aren’t really new, but we decided we’d bring them together. You know, we’ve got coffee shops and people are starting to use those as their offices, but we’re just not finding that they’re really conducive to the working environment. And so we kind of wanted to reverse that idea with something around the Third Space. You know, you might have a small coffee stand in the corner, but primarily, this was a place where it was really accessible, but you could actually come and actually have a fruitful hour or so in the office.
But a particular problem for us at this moment in time, of course, is the fact that we are hosting the Olympics. So of course, our congestion problems are just magnified during that period. And what we’re trying to do is to see—now we’re putting in an awful lot of effort around how people are diverted across the city and encouraging them to work in different ways. And actually, how do we keep that momentum going to take that behavior through to beyond the Olympics.
GELLERMAN: I know in your white paper, you have an expression here, and I’m quoting, it says, “You want to learn the dog is for life, not just for Christmas.” I guess that must be a British-ism because here we would say something about Easter Bunnies.
CHANDLER: That’s the analogy here, that you know, this isn’t just for a few weeks in the summer, this is for life. This is a behavioral change, really.
GELLERMAN: So the idea is that you don’t have to go into this congested city, or this incredibly chaotic city, in the case of London during the Olympics, and you’ll have someplace else to go to do your work.
CHANDLER: That’s right. I think there are two new concepts, I think that there’s one around if you’re out and about in the city, it’s great to have a third space to touch down in. And we’ve got great examples of that in terms of the British Library. An awful lot of people come to the British Library and they sit in vicinity and they use their wifi. But also it’s about trying to encouraging people to stay in their local vicinity. London’s got many centers and we talk about this idea of a polycentric city. And it seems that, you know, between the hours of nine and five, people are emptying out of those centers and coming into the city. And what we want to do is encourage people to stay local to where they are.
GELLERMAN: But technologically, I could have done this interview from my house. But you know, I like coming to my office. It’s got my coffee cup, it’s got my blackboard, it’s got my stuff. It’s kind of like my home away from home. And I like, well, I like most of my colleagues. (LAUGHS) I like seeing them.
CHANDLER: [LAUGHS] And I think that’s great. And I think it’s all about balance and it’s all about choice as well. I mean, certainly one of the concepts in anywhere organizations today is this idea of, you know, what am I going to do today? Where am I going to work best? What do I need to do? Am I in a collaborating mood? Do I need to be surrounded by people? Do I need to talk to lots of people? Do I need to make those serendipitous connections? Or actually, do I really just need to get these thoughts down on paper? And do I not want to meet anybody by the water cooler and do I not want to be distracted? So I think it’s all about, you know, thinking about the style of working that you want to do that day and choosing the most appropriate place that’s going to enable you to do your best work.
GELLERMAN: Well Linda Chandler, thanks a lot, I really appreciate it. I enjoyed talking to you.
CHANDLER: And you. Thanks very much, Bruce.
GELLERMAN: Linda Chandler is a co-author of the report “Anywhere Working Cities.”
The Anywhere Working City White Paper
[MUSIC: The Clash “London Calling” from London Calling (Sony Music 1979)]
GELLERMAN: Just ahead: Whither weatherization? Can it weather a drought of federal subsidies? Keep listening to Living on Earth!
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. Weatherizing homes and businesses to boost energy efficiency is a no-brainer. Especially when Congress pumped five billion dollars of stimulus money into weatherization programs just three years ago. Insulation, efficient appliances and new lighting not only save energy, they also reduce the emission of climate changing gases. But despite the big federal bucks, weatherizing a building is easier said than done; there’s bureaucracy and cultural barriers to contend with. A case study is Boston, which is where Living on Earth’s Jeff Young takes us in this report.
[AIR COMPRESSOR AND INSULATION BLOWER]
YOUNG: It took three tries, but Ray Morin is finally seeing insulation pumped into the walls of his home in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury. Morin helps out with a sustainable living awareness day at his local farmer’s market. That’s where he heard about the Renew Boston program to weatherize houses. He thought he’d do his part to cut energy use in his 1935 vintage home.
[INSULATION BLOWER CONTINUES THROUGH CONVERSATION]
MORIN: For me it was a green, environmental thing. But if you can do that and save money at the same time, (laughs) you take advantage of it.
YOUNG: The city program would cover most of the cost to insulate his attic and some spaces between walls. A home energy assessment showed he’d recover his costs in just over two years by saving money on utilities. But the inspection also revealed a problem.
MORIN: They have to do these big tests because once they seal the house all up they worry about higher levels of carbon monoxide.
YOUNG: Morin’s stove wasn’t venting properly, so he had some work to do. The energy assessment team came back and found another problem. This time it was the flue on Morin’s furnace.
MORIN: The flue was collapsing so I had replaced the whole, entire chimney. That was 1,700 dollars and then we moved forward.
YOUNG: Sounds like a lot more than you bargained for when you said, ‘hey, I’ll get the house weatherized’?
MORIN: Yeah, yeah. So I went in to save money and in the end I actually probably spent more than if I’d just done nothing. (Laughs)
(INSULATION BLOWER FADES OUT)
YOUNG: Morin says he needed to repair the stove and chimney anyway, so he still considers it a good deal. But he imagines most people would probably not take on such additional costs.
Morin’s experience offers a glimpse into the unexpected problems that crop up with weatherization projects. Even though energy experts rank Boston among the nation’s greenest cities, efficiency improvements remain a struggle.
One reason is that Boston is a city of renters—about 65 percent of the population rents living space. And the renter-landlord relationship is a tough one for efficiency efforts. Just ask landlady Lily Smith.
SMITH: The biggest piece is, you have no idea how I had to chase the tenants.
YOUNG: Smith’s home in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood is a triple-decker—the three level, wooden apartment houses that dominate much of the city’s housing stock. Smith has lived on the second floor of her house for 33 years, renting the other floors. She heard about the Boston weatherization project from a friend at a church service.
SMITH: I run into all my friends at wakes and funerals, it’s about the only place I go! As a matter of fact that’s where I heard about this, I was at a wake and this friend of mine was there and said, ‘Did you hear about such and such?’
(SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS)
YOUNG: Smith got new insulation, weather-sealed basement doors, and a high-efficiency heating unit for the first floor apartment—much of it at reduced or no cost to her.
SMITH: Here’s the heating room. This is the new one that has been put in. And they did a wonderful job.
YOUNG: But it wasn’t easy. Each occupant qualified for weatherization assistance under different programs, because of their different income levels. That meant dealing with different layers of bureaucracy and a lot of paperwork her tenants had little interest in filling out.
SMITH: A lot of people are reluctant to divulge that information. So it’s going back and saying, ‘Hey, here’s the paperwork. I printed it out for you, I put in all of the information that I can put in, I’ve taken it as far as I can. And, did you sign it?’ ‘Oh I’m going to get around to it.’ So that is more the hang-up than the homeowner themselves, trust me.
YOUNG: Smith is satisfied with the work done on her house. But she doubts that many of her neighbors would jump through the bureaucratic hoops she did. And Smith’s situation is fairly simple compared to what Betsy Cowan faces in her neighborhood in Roxbury’s Egleston Square.
(STREET SOUNDS OF ELGESTON SQUARE)
YOUNG: Cowan is the cheerful, energetic director of Egleston Square’s Main Street program.
COWAN: Egleston Square is a diverse neighborhood both economically and also ethnically. The majority of the merchants, over 75 percent of them, are merchants of color and 66 percent of them are immigrants from a variety of different countries. Fifty percent of them are from the Dominican Republic, and the rest are from Africa, Asia and Europe.
(ENTERING SHOP, VOICES, DOOR CLOSING)
YOUNG: Cowan leads me on a tour of businesses that took part in an energy efficiency retrofit program. Most, like Manuel Feliz’s shop, Boston Express, got new lighting.
FELIZ (IN SPANISH) with COWAN (TRANSLATING): So they reviewed the whole lighting system and they changed all of the lights so they’d be more efficient.”
(HAIR CLIPPERS, BARBERSHOP CHATTER)
YOUNG: It’s a similar story at Samuel Moreno’s Barber Shop.
MORENO (IN SPANISH) with COWAN (TRANSLATING): So they changed the base for the lights and they also changed the lightbulbs.
YOUNG And are you noticing a difference in your electric bill?
MORENO (IN SPANISH) with COWAN (TRANSLATING): Yes every month.
YOUNG: Cowan’s thorough knowledge of the neighborhood—its culture, quirks and language—meant she was able to let business owners know about the program and guide them through the process.
YOUNG: So do you know everybody here?
COWAN: It’s my job. (LAUGHS) And it’s a great neighborhood.
YOUNG: An analysis of the Renew Boston program found that having a trusted community group like Cowan’s act as an intermediary is crucial when dealing with immigrant populations or those for whom English is a second language.
YOUNG: Egleston Liquors owner Solomon Lemma got new lighting and a new thermostat system for his store. Lemma says small business owners are busy and wary.
LEMMA: There are so many things, there are so many gimmicks going on saying, ‘we’ll save you money, we’ll do this.’ So, ‘just stay away from me,’ there’s a feeling like that. You have to talk to them deep, you know. They don’t understand it.
YOUNG: Despite Cowan’s tireless efforts, only 15 of Egleston Square’s 85 shop owners have signed up for the efficiency program. Language barriers, cultural differences, renter-landlord relations—all these take time to work through. But time is running out on many of the efficiency programs that depended on federal stimulus money.
COWAN: That’s one of the things that we’re recommending is please give us another opportunity to do this, because, when you think about what are the programs that would generate additional jobs and revenue this is, I think, this is one of them. So that’s my humble recommendation!
(AMBI FADES UNDER)
YOUNG: Renew Boston got six and a half million dollars in a federal block grant through the stimulus. The city used it to sweeten the incentives already offered by utility company partners, who subsidize efficiency programs.
Boston’s Chief of Environmental and Energy Services, Jim Hunt, says preliminary figures show about eight thousand homes received energy audits and 17 hundred completed weatherization—about double the rate before the stimulus money.
HUNT: The results I think are very strong, particularly if you factor in that we’re going after the harder to reach, harder to serve populations.
YOUNG: The stimulus spending on weatherization and efficiency has come under fire in Washington. In Congress, the House committee on government oversight issued a blistering report alleging fraud and abuse. And the Department of Energy’s
inspector general found examples of waste and shoddy work in some states. Hunt acknowledges there were some problems but says the programs are wise investments.
HUNT: When you look at some of the work that’s happening in our cities, when you look at the issues of energy cost, greenhouse gas emissions, and just helping create jobs through the green economy, I think this is money well spent.
YOUNG: Hunt says Boston will build on what’s been learned about how to get the city’s diverse neighborhoods weatherized and efficient. And the city will still be able to cover some costs for home and business owners. But with the flow of federal dollars slowing, weatherization programs around the country will face a harsh fiscal climate. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Boston.
Boston Weatherization Evaluation
[MUSIC: Andrew Bird “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself (Mom + Pop Records 2012)]
GELLERMAN: Much of the southern United States is sweltering under a code purple. That’s the EPA’s most severe air quality category. Even healthy people are advised to stay indoors, but there are problems with that. Weatherizing your homes can help keep you cool, but as we just heard in Jeff Young’s story, there are pitfalls to that.
Another way to go is to build a super efficient home from the ground up. Sure, it’s expensive and many of us can’t afford it, but the payback can be quick, as Laura Turner Seydel learned when she built Eco Manor in Atlanta. It was the first Gold LEED residence in the American southeast. The design won a gold seal of approval from the U.S. Green Building Council. Laura Turner Seydel chairs the Captain Planet Foundation, which supports environmental programs in schools, and she recently spoke with Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood.
CURWOOD: Laura, your house, which you call Eco Manor, has all sorts of green building and energy efficiency features. Why did you decide to build a LEED certified home?
SEYDEL: Well, it was an evolution of our ethic. We started out learning about the environment and its challenges in a hands-on kind of way. When we were young we picked up bottles and cans and turned it in for a bottle deposit. If we got cold we would put on a sweater, we just didn’t run to the thermostat and turn it up. We didn’t waste anything, you know, my parents and grandparents were raised during the Great Depression and it was really an issue of morality, I mean, you didn’t waste food, you didn’t waste money, you didn’t waste resources.
So my husband and I really were very committed, both of us, to lightening our pollution footprint and limiting our use of resources, and building an eco-friendly house was just part of that evolution. And we wanted to take the house and make it a model for others.
CURWOOD: And you and your family not only live in Eco Manor but your home is actually kind of a blueprint, an educational tool for builders, architects, landscapers, homeowners to promote green building practices I gather.
SEYDEL: When we started, there wasn’t a blueprint, so we wanted to share as much of what we did with the community and beyond as possible. We just opened our home, basically, to get as much information out to the public.
CURWOOD: You’re in Atlanta. It’s hot there in the summer! What efficiencies does your Eco Manor have that helps you deal with all that southern summer heat?
SEYDEL: Well, let me tell you, it’s hot and it’s getting hotter. We’ve had the warmest spring on record. 48 states in the U.S. are in the same boat as Georgia with the hottest spring on record. But needless to say, we have programmable thermostats, which is something that anybody can do for an investment of 25 dollars. You can actually save about ten to 25 percent on your electric bill. Just make sure that you turn up the thermostat a couple of degrees, don’t keep it in the sixties and low seventies—that is a big energy suck. Make sure you close your curtains during the day to keep the heat out, plant trees close to your house that will help shade your house. We use geothermal which is a lot more efficient than kind of conventional ways to heat and cool your house.
CURWOOD: And geothermal’s kind of guilt-free, right, because you gotta run the system all the time for it to really be efficient, right?
SEYDEL: That’s right, and geothermal is just really a looped-in system, a series of wells where water runs through and it cools to the temperature of the earth, which is a constant temperature of about 58 degrees. So it’s much more efficient to heat and cool your air coming off that temperature than, you know, the extremes of a cold winter or a very hot summer. So it is much more energy efficient. Also, you know, a great thing for people to do, and a lot of local utilities will come out to your house and do an energy audit, which to me is like low-hanging fruit, because then you know where you’re losing your energy efficiency, and you can choose to spend your money to have the biggest impact.
CURWOOD: Now what did you do to save on your water bill?
SEYDEL: Some of the things that we did, other people can do too. And I know that there are incentives pretty much nation-wide and rebates given to upgrade your toilet, to make sure that you’re using a low-flow toilet. And if you change out your toilets from the seven gallon old-fashioned toilets, and get upgraded to the one-to-two gallon per flush toilets, you can save between 25 and 40 thousand gallons a year.
Also, low-flow showerheads have a very fast payback, and you can get them as cheap as like ten bucks and pay yourself back in less than a week, really. So you know there are simple and easy things you can do. Washing machines, which is the second largest use of fresh water, obviously, in your house, you can save up to seven thousand gallons a year, by going to an EnergyStar model, so that’s something that is advisable.
CURWOOD: And what are some other ways to save water? They might cost a little more than changing out a toilet or a showerhead, but you can get pretty big results.
SEYDEL: If you’re doing some major landscaping or you’re building a house, you may want to consider putting a cistern underground that can store rainwater, that you can use for irrigation, you know, in the hot months of summer. You can also, very inexpensively, get rain barrels, and store the rainwater and water your potted plants or your garden with that.
CURWOOD: Laura, you built this house, what, five years ago? I’m wondering if there are any lessons that you have learned, anything that you wished you had done differently based on what you now know today or your experience?
SEYDEL: Well, I went and invested in all these lightbulbs that are the compact fluorescent, and if I could do it again I would have wanted to spend a little bit more, or it’s not even probably a little bit more when the technology was first introduced, it was probably a lot more, but the LED bulbs, you know they don’t have any mercury in them so you don’t have to be as careful about breakage or disposal. So that would have been one thing.
And then I wish that they had had the No-VOC paints. We ended up using Low-VOC paints, which were really the only paints on the market, but they were considerably better, much better, than the conventional paints that you know, were full of toxins.
CURWOOD: And what about outside your home? Anything you do different about your yard now?
SEYDEL: You know, we started a river keeper program about 20 years ago, and one of the biggest contributors to pollution in our precious Chattahoochee River happens to be runoff from chemicals that people use on their lawns. And we decided to be 100 percent chemical-free. Of course not everybody’s gonna want to do that, but we’ve got amazing organic raised beds where we raise our vegetables and fruits and we just got a beehive, I’m so excited about it. We have lots of clover intermingled with our grass, so the bees--I just have all these bees that love the clover and they’re making great honey for us. And we have chickens, too, and we feed them organic feed and they give us eggs in return. We really enjoy our landscape, we’re going for a sustainable sites initiative certification and hope to be the first residence in the country to achieve this certification and it’s the precursor of LEED for landscapes.
CURWOOD: Laura Turner Seydel owns Eco Manor in Atlanta. She’s the chairperson of the Captain Planet Foundation, which brings environmental programs to schools. Thank you so much, Laura, for joining us today.
SEYDEL: Thank you, Steve!
CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood.
[MUSIC: Ce’u “Espanconave” from Vagarosa (Six Degrees Records 2006)]
GELLERMAN: Coming up—is environmental education failing our kids? Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
PRI Announcer: Support for Living on Earth comes from Breckenridge Capital Advisors, applying a sustainable approach to fixed income investing. www.breckenridge.com. The Grantham Foundation: for the protection of the environment, supporting strategic communications and collaboration in solving the world’s most pressing environmental problems. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Gilman Ordway, for coverage of conservation and environmental change. This is Living on Earth, on PRI, Public Radio International.
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.
[BIRD NOTE® THEME]
GELLERMAN: The Hawaiian Islands lie above a unique geologic structure called a hot-spot - a plume of magma pushes through the mantle creating volcanoes. The volcanic islands are also home to a unique assembly of birds, found nowhere else in the world. Here’s BirdNote®’s Michael Stein.
You’re hearing the song of one of Hawaii’s rarest forest birds, the ‘Akiapola’au.
This male ‘Akiapola’au – or Aki’ for short – is singing in an isolated grove of trees on the slopes of an active volcano. In Hawaii, such groves are known as kipukas. A kipuka is an island of native forest surrounded not by water but by recent lava flows. Kipukas are green oases in a sea of black lava. They’re critical areas of native habitat -- home to species found nowhere else on the planet. The Aki’ possesses what one observer has called a “Swiss Army knife” bill. Its short, straight lower beak is paired with a long, slender, curved, and flexible upper beak. As it forages up and down tree trunks and across the branches, the short half hammers like a woodpecker’s bill, and the upper probes for insects under the bark and lichen.
The species is found only on the Big Island of Hawaii. Some of the roughly 1,000 Akis left on earth live and breed in kipukas on the lower slopes of Mauna Loa, Hawaii’s largest active volcano.
In living with a rumbling volcano, Aki’ and kipuka perform one of nature’s most remarkable balancing acts.
[RUMBLING VOLCANO AND AKI]
I’m Michael Stein. [VOLCANO AND BIRD SOUNDS]
GELLERMAN: To see some photos of the rare Aki’, set your sights on our website LOE dot org.
- Song of Akiapola’au provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, recorded by T.K. Pratt.
- BirdNote® Kipukas and Akis was written by Bob Sundstrom
[MUSIC: Ledward Kaapana “Kaulana Na Pua” from Grandmaster Slack Key Guitar (Rhythm And Roots Records 2006)]
GELLERMAN: Environmental education is failing our kids - that according to David Sobel. He teaches teachers how to teach environmental studies at Antioch University. His article “Look Don’t Touch” is in the latest edition of Orion Magazine. Professor- Welcome to Living on Earth!
SOBEL: Nice to be here.
GELLERMAN: So the thesis in your article, “Look, Don’t Touch”, is basically that environmental education is one of the causes of children’s alienation from nature. How is that?
SOBEL: It seems odd, I think, that this is happening. And it’s important to understand that it’s not all environmental education - it’s just some environmental education that tends to separate kids from the natural world, rather than engage them with it.
GELLERMAN: Well how is it? How does that happen?
SOBEL: It happens through a lot of quiet and kind of underground messaging so that when you take kids to a nature center it becomes really important to stay on the trail and you can’t pick things up because the oils from your hands might harm the amphibians. There’s a lot of that kind of, “look at stuff, but don’t touch it.” And that becomes kind of counter-productive. There’s too much narration and telling in environmental education and not enough collecting and exploring.
GELLERMAN: Is part of that from helicopter parents hovering over their kids - over-protective, afraid? You know, it’s a jungle out there: there are ticks and mosquitoes.
SOBEL: Yeah, it’s partially that’s a function of helicopter parents. But it’s also a function of the fact that nature center staffs have taken on that same level of anxiety. And so, they know that parents are concerned about this stuff so they are going to make sure that they don’t do anything that’s going to make parents be concerned about their kids getting ticks or getting poison ivy or that kind of stuff.
GELLERMAN: So no playing in trees, no building tree houses, no digging in the dirt - basically kind of sterilizing nature.
SOBEL: Sterilizing nature, right, exactly. And it’s problematic because that’s exactly contrary to what kids need in order to engage with the natural world.
GELLERMAN: You write that, “Environmental educators need to allow children to be ‘un-tutored savages.’”
SOBEL: Yeah, those words are from E.O. Wilson, who’s a noted entomologist at Harvard. And it comes from his autobiography, in which he said that he was, essentially, an ‘un-tutored savage’ in his own childhood. And then he says that kids need the time to be ‘un-tutored savages’ when they just kind of engage and, you know, search for stuff and collect stuff in natural world, rather than just looking.
GELLERMAN: And when I read that I was thinking Lord of the Flies, you know, kind of allowing kids just to go out there and do their thing.
SOBEL: [LAUGHS] Yeah. The ‘un-tutored savages' can evoke the Lord of the Flies image. And the research about what makes for good environmentalists is that yes, you can get the ‘un-tutored savages', Lord of the Flies, experience. But you also need to have, therefore, adults that model that it’s okay to collect and pick up and return things to their natural habitat.
GELLERMAN: But I’m wondering if even that is over-teaching. That is, you know, when I was a kid, I was building a tree house, I was doing stuff alone, nobody was teaching me anything. I was learning by myself.
SOBEL: Yeah, those are all things kids should do. You probably had some adult saying what made good sense and what didn’t make good sense somewhere in the background. But it’s true that kids should have alone time in the woods. If it gets crazy, then there should be some adult intervention.
GELLERMAN: So, should I be taking my kids to IMAX movies, should I be leaving National Geographics around so they pick them up?
SOBEL: Everything in moderation. So, those things aren’t bad - but they’re bad if that’s the sum total of kids contact with the natural world. So there needs to be a large quotient of being outdoors, in the meadows and in the woods, as well as the more didactic, pictorial experience of IMAX and National Geographic.
GELLERMAN: So basically, take the kid kayaking.
SOBEL: Take the kid kayaking. Take the kid berry-picking.
GELLERMAN: Well, because a lot of parents - you say ‘berry-picking’ and they’ll say ‘oh my gosh, they’ll pick something poisonous!' I know I take my kid mushrooming and I tell other parents and they look at me like ‘Oh my God, should we call the police on this guy?’
SOBEL: Exactly. It’s fascinating how shocked and disapproving other parents are about, you know, that kind of behavior. And in fact, there is interesting research that’s emerged that, you know, where you look at the relationship between childhood experiences and adult environmental values. And one of the things in childhood that seems to shape environmental behaviors in adulthood is parents taking their kids mushroom picking and berry picking: selecting a natural resource for consumption seems to be something that leads to environmental behavior in adulthood.
GELLERMAN: You know, Professor, if I were asked I could trace my environmentalism to when I was just, maybe four years old. And my mother gave me a spoon, put me in the garden, and I started digging to China. Do you have a memory like that?
SOBEL: The analogous memory that I recount is a snow day when I was about eight years old. And my friend and I decided we would play this game where they were gonna go off and I was gonna to follow them fifteen minutes later. And in the midst of tromping through waist-deep snow all by myself, my glasses were fogging up, I had one of those little epiphany moments: that I was out here, all by myself, in the snowy wilderness, and wasn’t this great! It’s a recurrent phenomenon that kids have these great moments, somewhere in early to middle childhood, that often connect them to the natural world. You know, it creates some deep, lifelong connection.
GELLERMAN: It’s magic.
SOBEL: Yeah, exactly. And that’s the magic that we’re missing out on when we do kind of rule bound environmental education.
GELLERMAN: Well, Professor Sobel, thanks a lot.
SOBEL: You bet! It’s been fun.
GELLERMAN: David Sobel’s article, “Look, Don't Touch!" appears in the latest edition of Orion Magazine - there's a link at our website, LOE dot ORG.
[MUSIC: Fareed Haque “Teach Your Children” from Déjà Vu (Blue Note Records 2009)]
GELLERMAN: Recently, we’ve been going through the Living on Earth Archives and came across this from environmental writer Bill McKibben. It aired back in 2005 but it’s still ripe for today. We call it: Think globally - eat locally.
McKIBBEN: The apples in my market annoy me. They’re from China and New Zealand and Washington state, and I live in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, one of the world’s great apple-growing regions. So, what an annoying waste of energy to fly these Red Delicious in from halfway around the planet! And what a waste of taste—these things have been bred for just one purpose--endurance. Mostly, though, they’re annoying because they don’t come with connections, with stories. They’ve been grown on ten thousand-acre plantations with the latest industrial methods and the highest possible efficiency. They’re cheap, I give you that. But they’re so dull!
[HUMMING SOUND OF CIDER PRESS]
McKIBBEN: The roar you hear is a cider press. It belongs to my neighbor, Bill Suhr. His fifty-acre orchard produced a million pounds of apples last year, so he’s not a backyard hobbyist.
SUHR: This time of year we’re putting six varieties in: the Macintosh, Empire, Cortland, Macoun, Northern Spy, and Jonagold.
McKIBBEN: I drank a lot of Bill Suhr’s cider this past winter because I’d asked the editors at Gourmet magazine if I could perform an experiment: could I make it through the winter feeding myself entirely on the food of this northern New England valley where I live. Up until 75 years ago or so, everyone who lived here obviously ate close to home—an orange or a banana was a Christmas-time treat.
And that’s still how most people on the planet eat. But I knew that most of the infrastructure that once made that possible was now missing here. Our food system operates on the principle that it’s always summer somewhere, so it’s forgotten how to get through winter. How many houses have a root cellar? Not mine. If I was going to make it, I would need to make connections with my neighbors. Ben Gleason, for instance.
GLEASON: Well, let’s see, last year I went through I believe, 32 tons of wheat. Spring and summer were just wonderful and I thought, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to have a normal year in Vermont,” but then it started raining and it just go so wet that I had problems in harvesting. Almost everybody did.
McKIBBEN: Ben Gleason grows wheat on his farm in the nearby town of Bridport, Vermont. I’d always imagined wheat just came from the Midwest, and indeed, that’s where it can be grown most cheaply. But Ben’s been growing it for a quarter century here, hard red winter wheat which he grinds himself in a little shed next to his barn and then sells at the local co-op for 59 cents a pound, not much more than the stuff from the giant mills.
[SCOOP DIGGING IN THE WHEAT BIN]
GLEASON: This is the bread flour.
McKIBBEN: Ecologically it makes a lot of sense: instead of traveling 1,500 miles like the average bite of American food, it only needed to cover about ten miles before it reached my kitchen. And since it’s easily available, it’s starting to help other local businesses turn more local. The local pizzeria makes its dough with it, and the local bagel shop. And some of it—some of it goes to our local brewery, Otter Creek, owned by Morgan Wolaver
WOLAVER: I would love nothing more than to be able to survive financially in producing beer for the state of Vermont. I think my pitch here would be that local beers are more fresh.
McKIBBEN: By Christmas-time, I’d settled into my routine. Local oats for breakfast, or pancakes. Maple syrup is the quintessential Vermont crop. Cheese sandwich for lunch—the local cheese factory is right next to the brewery. And for dinner, some potatoes, some carrots, some squash, some beets, and some creature—something that had been baa-ing or moo-ing or snorting a few weeks before, busy converting the grass of this valley into protein.
McKIBBEN: Some of my favorite protein came from Essex Farm, on the New York side of Lake Champlain. Mark Gunther and his wife, Kristin Kimball, opened this enterprise two years ago. You sign up to be a member and then you appear every Friday afternoon and Mark loads up your car with food.
GUNTHER: We have carrots, cabbage, beets, celery root, turnips, leeks, onions, pumpkins, butternut and buttercup squash, parsley, and kale all harvested fresh today. I think that’s about the vegetable department.
McKIBBEN: But the vegetable department is only the beginning. They’ve got a small beef herd, so there are always steaks and hamburger in the freezer. The pigs produce bacon and ham. The chickens and the turkeys taste good, too.
[SOUND OF CHICKENS]
McKIBBEN: They raise bees; they grow their own wheat. Except for dental floss, you’d never need to set foot in a store again.
McKIBBEN: Today, Mark is making cheeseburgers for lunch.
GUNTHER: This is beef from the bull that we ate for our wedding, and this is hamburger from him. We called him Charlie. So it’s Charlie, with a little bit of Rea and Delia and Melissa in the cheese.
McKIBBEN: Mark Gunther is even more interested in local than I am. And yet there’s nothing particularly grim or Luddite about his life. Just the opposite.
GUNTHER: There’s nothing inherent about modern ways that I don’t support. I’m trying to find out ways to increase the quality of my life, and I think, by extension, the lives of those around me.
McKIBBEN: In fact, Mark is at least as much an innovator as a throwback. When his wife, Kristin, got tired of churning butter by hand every week, he came up with a solution:
GUNTHER: I realized that someone had given us a fold-out bed, and that, probably, if I opened that up and put the milk can on it and bounced it, that I could be able to make butter quickly. And so now my weekly ritual has been every Tuesday or Wednesday night to turn on some Latino rhythms that I feel like listening to and I kind of do a kind of modified jumping dance with my fifty pounds of stainless steel and cream. Usually within about 600-700 vigorous bounces I open it up and find 10-12 pounds of butter ready to be rinsed and worked.
McKIBBEN: And his butter tastes great, too—maybe even better because I know its story. I’m not going to claim that every day of this experiment was pure gustatory bliss. There were moments when I sympathized with my daughter, Sophie.
McKIBBEN: Can you tell the difference between a parsnip and a turnip?
SOPHIE: No, I don’t want to. They’re disgusting.
McKIBBEN: When spring came, I was happy to eat the odd banana and drink the occasional pint of Guinness Stout. But I don’t think I’m ever going back to eating the way I used to. I could give you a lot of good reasons—there’s a British study, for instance, that just came out proving that eating local helped the environment twice as much even as eating organic. But all that’s just an excuse. I’m hooked on the connections to the place I live. I spent the winter eating with my mind as well as my tongue, consuming connections along with my calories. It was the best dining I've ever done. I'm not going back to orange juice. I'm sticking with cider.
GELLERMAN: Our recycled commentary from environmental writer Bill McKibben originally aired on Living on Earth in 2005. It was produced by Jay Allison, Chelsea Merz, and Viki Merrick. Special thanks to the public radio website Transom.org.
[MUSIC: Jenny Scheinman “A Ride With Polly Jean” from Mischief And Mayehm (Jenny Scheinman Music 2012)]
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Jessican Ilyse Kurn, Ingrid Lobet, Ike Sriskandarajah and Jeff Young, with help from Meghan Miner, Gabriela Romanow, and Sammy Sousa. Our interns are Annabelle Ford, Christy Perera and Annie Sneed. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us anytime at LOE dot org – and don’t forget our Facebook page! It’s PRI’s Living on Earth - and you can follow us on Twitter - at living on earth - that’s just one word. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening!
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