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

Backyard Marvels

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Alan Durning takes us on a tour of the “seven sustainable wonders” of the world.


CURWOOD: Sustainability is the buzzword for those who want to integrate an environmental ethic with economic development. But the word has become such a catch-all that it's left many people wondering what it really means. Well, commentator Alan Durning has been doing some sustainable wondering of his own.

(Bicycle on gravel; bell rings.)

DURNING: I've been thinking about simple implements that solve everyday problems without Mother Nature's being any worse for the wear. And so, I've come up with my nominees for the 7 sustainable wonders of the world.

(Bicycle bell rings.)

DURNING: Item one: the bicycle. It's the most efficient transportation device ever created, and the most widely-used vehicle on Earth. A bike will get you 3 times farther on a plate full of calories than walking, and it's 53 times more efficient than the typical car. Bikes top my list because they don't pollute the air or lead to oil spills or oil wars or change the climate or block up half our urban space with roads and parking lots. Plus, it keeps me from having to join a fitness club.

(Door shuts; fan turns on.)

DURNING: Item two: a ceiling fan. They're great after a spin on the bike. During episodes of digestive turmoil in tropical hotels, I've learned that a fan over your bed spells relief even in sweltering climates. Ceiling fans cool tens of millions of people in Asia and Africa. They're much more efficient than air conditioners, those juice hogs found in two thirds of US homes.

(Dial tone.)

DURNING: Sustainable wonder number three: the telephone. (Dials. His voice continues on a recorded message.) Telephones are the greatest invention in human communication since the printing press, and they take a small amount of resources to manufacture and operate. The Earth can afford for everyone in the world to have a telephone. (Dial tone.) But there is one drawback: I'm not sure the Earth can afford for everyone to have a global phone book. (Recorded voice: "If you know the extension of the person that you would like to reach, enter that now. For directory assistance....") Well, maybe there are 2 drawbacks to telephones. (Hangs up.)

(Echoing steps climbing stairs.)

DURNING: Not all of the 7 sustainable wonders are inside the home. (Voice: "Shh!") Sorry. (Whispering:) Public libraries are a sustainable wonder because they're waste reduction at its best. I mean, do we really need a personal copy of everything we want to read? I hear that some towns have tool libraries where you can check out a lawn mower or a sledgehammer. The concept could be used with cameras and cleaning equipment. Even extra dining chairs. (Chair scrapes on the floor.)

(Paper shuffling.)

DURNING: Here's another sustainable wonder that's disappearing as quickly as the manual typewriter: the old-fashioned manila envelope with the string on the back that we used to use for interdepartmental mail. People reused these things dozens of times before they wore out. They put modern recycling to shame.

(Sound of airplane overhead.)

DURNING: Item six: the clothesline. Solar-powered technology at its best. It takes no fuel to operate, few materials to make, it's generally safe for kids and it even gets people outdoors - where they might just talk to their neighbors.

(Ravel's "Bolero.")

DURNING: And last on my list: the condom. That's right, the condom. Simple, low-tech birth control. Of course, they are disposable, and they come with all of this excess packaging. But these are trivial objections, when you consider that condoms can stabilize the human population at a level the Earth can support.

That's my list of the 7 sustainable wonders of the world. Used in combination, they might just change the world. And, if they don't, at least they'll save you money.

CURWOOD: Alan Durning is Director of Northwest Environment Watch in Seattle. His commentaries are produced for Living on Earth by Terry FitzPatrick.



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