June 2010

Monthly Archive

Ecotopia #92 Green Restorations

Posted by on 28 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

June 29, 2010

Tonight on Ecotopia we’ll be talking about ways in which buildings can be made more green, and we’ll have as our guest, a designer and builder, Aaron Lubeck, from Durham, North Carolina, who has done a number of restorations of older buildings. He argues that we can not only preserve our heritage, but  also bring it more in line with a 21st century philosophy of sustainability. Conducting the interview with us will be Chicoan Jef Inslee.  Jef was on the show a few weeks ago when we interviewed him about how he has converted his yard on Sheridan Street into a functional garden that produces high quality food. He’s also done some green restoration.

Listen to the program.

Background on Green Building

Our guest tonight, Aaron Lubeck, helped to create North Carolina’s first state  historic building to be LEED-certified, which achieved a Platinum rating. Although one hears about LEED certification, it may not be altogether clear what it is, much less what the acronym, L-E-E-D stands for.  Here from greenwikia.com:

“LEED Certification stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. Certification assures that a building project is environmentally responsible, profitable, and a healthy place to work.
“LEED is a third party certification system by the US Green Building Council, or USGBC. The USGBC also provides professional accreditation to professionals who demonstrate knowledge of green building practices and principles and who are familiar with LEED requirements and processes.
“Ratings exist [in such categories as new construction, existing buildings, schools, homes, healthcare facilities, and others].”
The US Green Building Council has done some research into these practices and concludes that:
“[LEED certified buildings generally] have lower operating costs,[…] conserve water and energy,  are healthier and safer for occupants, [and] reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  […]”
greenwikia.com also reports that:
“[O]ne of the downsides to LEED certification is the cost that can be involved for smaller building owners/builders to become certified. Sometimes builders must decide between implementing more green design strategies, versus participating in the certification process to achieve official LEED certification.”

We want to observe that this is a problem we’ve also seen in some other certification areas, including both USDA Organic and TransFair USA’s “Fair Trade” Certification, where the processes become so complex and expensive that some of the smaller operations are costed out of the process.  For example, we know of a number of farmers who have chosen not to become certified, and simply list their organic practices.
These reservations, and others, are raised in an article appearing in the online journal, Grist, which offers this “in the spirit of constructive criticism”:
“LEED-certified buildings are still about as rare as major wind farms in the U.S. So far, fewer than 300 projects have been certified, and about 2,200 have been registered, according to USGBC officials. Registration involves a fairly simple project description and a summary of the LEED credits the developer expects to earn, but actual certification requires thorough documentation, review, and commissioning, a process that can take many months and, some green-building practitioners argue, considerably drive up costs.”
The Grist article continues:
“Many developers point to the expense of certification, rather than of green building
itself, as a disincentive. The USGBC’s fees for registration range from $750 to $3,750, and certification runs from $1,500 to $7,500, depending on the size of the building. But the big costs come in the form of energy modeling, commissioning, and other requirements of certification; these can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, according to architects and developers.”
Grist also argues:
“Some critics also argue that basic [LEED] certification is too low a hurdle to merit the
green stamp of approval. They say developers can rack up the minimum number of
needed points without going much beyond the requirements of local building codes and the efficiency standards of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and  Air-Conditioning Engineers.”
We also want to share with you a related story coming from the U. S. Mayor’s Conference held earlier this month, this in a press release from the US Green Building Association, which:
“… applauds the U.S. Conference of Mayors […] and its membership for embracing a green building policy agenda, including the adoption of five resolutions that benefit our built environment [and can help transform] the design, construction and operations of our buildings and communities.

“The resolutions that passed […]include:
•  Financing Mechanisms to Pay for Energy Retrofits of Existing Buildings
•  Greening of School Districts
•  Sustainable Development in Cities
• Green Affordable Housing and Financing
•  Calling on U.S. Cities to Adopt Green Building Codes and the International Green Construction Code”
The USGBA press release continues:
“Mayors have long been leading the effort to address climate change and the need to promote sustainability in our nation’s cities. These resolutions, passed unanimously in Oklahoma City during the USCM annual meeting, represent a powerful endorsement of support for implementing a green building agenda that will advance our greatest opportunities to revitalize the economy through green jobs and save money through operational cost savings while turning the tide of climate change, preserving water and natural resources, and promoting health for all people.”
The mayor’s conference had a number of environmental workshops and resolutions, and you can check them out at http://www.usmayors.org/
At the end of the program tonight we will also look briefly at a US Green Building Council report projecting the number of jobs that can reasonably be expected to be created in the next several decades as the result of green building–it’s a big number and suggests that construction, the environment, and the economy can be allies in Ecotopia.
Our Conversation with Aaron Lubeck

Aaron Lubeck is a President of Trinity Design/Build, a restoration and preservation consultancy in North Carolina.  His new book is Green Restorations: Sustainable Building and Historic Homes.  Welcome Aaron.
Please tell us a little of your background.  How did you get into green historic restorations?
In the conclusion to your book you write, “Old houses are green. Old home operations are not”.  How can an old house be green?
You also talk about  ‘the triple bottom line’. Your book takes what sounds potentially complex and confusing and makes this concept easy to grasp. Please explain it.
Your example of repairing old wood framed windows versus replacing them with, for example, aluminum framed windows is illuminating, if you would spare the pun. The concept is easily grasped and can be applied to many of the choices that we encounter when renovating an older or historic home. Will you talk to us about that?
Jef:  I have renovated several Victorians, many of which had been had layers of paint, drywall, or vinyl siding that previous owners applied, either to cover up what was no longer fashionable or to simplify a rental property. Aaron, how do you safely and effectively reveal the beautiful craftsmanship and materials that are often hidden underneath?
Something that we don’t commonly include in assessments of what is sustainable is what you call ‘embodied energy’. Your book does a great job of explaining that. Will you explain embodied energy and how to include that when we think about sustainability?
Do low flow toilets really save water? Not to be indelicate, but we don’t think that we’re the only  people who might occasionally flush them twice. And why aren’t dual-flush toilets more common?
You write that, ‘ A tight house is more important than a well insulated house’ and frequently refer to a house’s ‘envelope’. What does that mean? We loved your helpful hint about how to make a ‘poor folks blower door’ so we can start to fix our leaky houses. 

We noted that your firm did one of the first LEED certified projects on a state building in North Carolina–LEED, as we explained earlier, standing for  Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  Please tell us about that project.  How difficult was it to obtain LEED certification?  How much did it cost?
With or without certification, what’s the role for the do-it-yourselfer in green building and home design.  Can your reasonably handy person make a house green?
Earlier in the program, we read an announcement that the U.S. Conference of Mayors has endorsed green building practices.  Do you think green practices are gaining enough momentum to become sustainable?
What sorts of cost and tax breaks are available to the  green builder/homeowner?
A question we ask almost every guest on this show:  Do you think green/sustainable building can/will:
–take off on its own?
–require government subsidies and incentives to become truly mainstream?
–be a natural byproduct of market forces?
–happen only with government mandates?
 What are your next/current projects?
Thank you, Aaron Lubeck.  The book is Green Restorations: Sustainable Building and Historic Restoration, and it’s published by New Society Publishers.  Thanks very much for being with us.

Additional Note:

At the opening of the program, we quoted the US Green Building Association, sponsors of LEED certification. Their website includes a wealth of material on green building, though with an obvious bias toward promoting their own certification.  
 With a mild caution concerning the source, then, we want to excerpt a recent report from USGBA released in conjunction with the U.S. Mayors Conference concerning the future of green jobs.  They conducted a survey of projected energy needs and savings and translated that into jobs they think may be required in the new green economy.
They argue that:
“ The greening of the U.S. economy, of the global economy, is not a dismantling of the past, but a new step forward – the next step in a continuous process of economic growth and transformation that began with industrialization and led us through the high-tech revolution.
“The economic advantages of the Green Economy include the macroeconomic benefits of investment in new technologies, greater productivity, improvements in the US balance of trade, and increased real disposable income across the nation. They also include the microeconomic benefits of lower costs of doing business and reduced household energy expenditures. These advantages are manifested in job growth, income growth, […]
The report estimates:
“…that as of 2006 there were just more than 750,000 Green Jobs in the U.S. economy.[…]
“Overall, we estimate there is the potential for 4.2 million new Green Jobs to be added to the U.S. economy by 2038, [including renewable power generation, residential and commercial retrofitting, renewable transportation, and supporting jobs in engineering, law, and consulting.]”
 The US Green Building Association report concludes with unabashed optimism:
“The United States is clearly heading toward a new era in terms of its energy policy, energy infrastructure, and energy-based economy. Elected officials at all levels of government and private markets are both gearing up for massive investments in new alternative fuel technologies and in increased energy efficiency. There are many Green Jobs in our economy already, but that figure stands to grow tremendously over the coming years due to market forces, legislation, and local initiatives, or some combination thereof.
“The vast majority of Green Jobs are not location dependent, so future Green Jobs will be located in cities and metropolitan areas that are currently the most attractive for investment, or in areas that actively increase their attractiveness relative to competing areas.
We hope that proves true.  We would urge listeners to read the full report at usgbc.org.

Playlist for Ecotopia #92: Green Renovations

1. House Of Cards        5:28        Radiohead       
        In Rainbows        From Pennie
2. House You’re Living In        4:18        Voices On The Verge       
        Live In Philadelphia       
3, Time 2 Build        3:24        The Herbaliser       
        Something Wicked This Way Comes       
4. A Place Called Home        3:43        PJ Harvey       
        Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea       
5. Home        4:06        Mike Wofchuck       
6. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary       
        The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

Ecotopia #91 Kids and the Environment

Posted by on 21 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

June 22, 2010

 Tonight we’ll be talking about kids and the environment with some interesting information about what kids have done to help the environment, some new ideas about what kids can do, and some fun games and activities for kids.We have two special guests in the studio with us tonight—Paul and Jeremy Novak—who’ve helped write the show and have some of their own insights and experiences to share. They hail from Reno, Nevada and are spending a week with us on TurkeyTail Farm in Yankee Hill. Paul and Jeremy will be going in to 7th grade next fall, and they have thought a good deal about environmental issues.  Tonight they will be bringing you some ideas about how kids can learn more about environmental issues and help with environmental problems.

Listen to the program.

Susan: We’ll talk about some of the sources we’ve found for teaching kids about the environment, but first some news stories on kids and the environment.

Steve: One of the organizations we learned more about for this program is the Alliance for Climate Education.

ACE is a national nonprofit dedicated to educating America’s high school students about the science behind climate change and inspiring them to do something about it—while having fun along the way.

[Their ] . . . educators visit high schools around the country to give students the scientific skinny on climate change through . . .  multimedia assembly which ampifies climate science with dynamic multimedia, texting, music and social media for climate science that sticks. After the assembly, [they] help students take on climate projects in their community and schools–anything from starting a recycling club to solarizing their schools district. . . . [They] also work with an array of partners to provide expert assistance to students, post lots of fun videos, and ask for feedback and give away prizes through [their] . . . Facebook page.


Jeremy has had some experience with this program. Jeremy, tell us about what you learned through ACE.

Jeremy: When ACE came to my school I learned a lot about climate change. I learned the causes, the effects, and the solutions altogether of climate change in one 45-minute period. ACE also presented these points in a kid-friendly cartoon and when the cartoon was done said, “but this is just a cartoon kids. What can you do in the real world?”

Then they went on to explain ways that even kid who didn’t have much time could do a little bit to help the earth. For example, turn off lights when you’re not in the room, or take shorter showers, or don’t leave the water running while you’re brushing your teeth.

This assembly was worth the three-quarters of an hour that it took up because it got me thinking about ways I can help the earth in big and small ways.

A few months later, my school was one of the first in the city I live in to get solar panels.

Susan:   Another interesting group we found for kids and the environment was Children of the Earth United. Here’s what they say about their mission:

At this time of global imbalance, we believe it is imperative that the children of the earth join together to create a healthier planet. . . .
Specifically, Children of the Earth United aims to help people to:

    * develop a greater understanding and respect for animals, plants, water, soil, air and energy systems;
    * comprehend the positive and negative environmental effects of our actions;
    * acquire a knowledge of practical, sustainable living strategies which consciously and carefully utilize our natural resources;
    * obtain information on nature programs, centers and organizations; and
    * share and learn from each other’s creative ideas and knowledge.

Children of the Earth United aims to accomplish these objectives through a free . . .  interactive educational information system accessible through the internet. . . . [and other educational programs].

Their webpage includes creative writing and articles written by kids, animated presentations and interactive videos, facts, and games by and for kids on recycling, native wisdom, green homes, nature programs, books, and other topics.

Their website is:

Paul, tell us about one of the things you found of interest on this website.

Paul:  From acid rain to zooplankton, the eco-glossary of Children of the Earth United website is a learning tool, which teaches important terms and words about ecosystems, animals, natural disasters, and so forth. For example, I was interested by the definition of ultraviolet radiation

Here’s what they say:

The energy range just beyond the violet end of the visible spectrum. Although ultraviolet radiation constitutes only about 5 percent of the total energy emitted from the sun, it is the major energy source for the stratosphere and mesosphere, playing a dominant role in both energy balance and chemical composition.

Most ultraviolet radiation is blocked by Earth’s atmosphere, but some solar ultraviolet penetrates and aids in plant photosynthesis and helps produce vitamin D in humans. Too much ultraviolet radiation can burn the skin, cause skin cancer and cataracts, and damage vegetation.

Steve:  Jeremy, what did you find in this website of interest to you?

Jeremy:   I found a very interesting page under the title of Green Homes. It contained eight videos created by Building Green TV, each one talking a about different ways to build houses in a green way. Titles include    Building with Straw Bales, Using Water Wisely: Catching Rainwater & Using Gray Water for Landscaping, Radiant Floor Heating & Blue Jean Insulation, and  Framing & Roofing, which I watched. This video describes which material is best for building a frame and why. It also describes a useful technique of using rainwater collected from the roof for “domestic needs.”

Paul:  The website features a series of writing and drawings by children under “Creative Kids.” All of the pieces are about nature. Kids can also submit their own artwork and writing to the website.

The artwork and poems reminded me of “River of Words.”

Susan:  What’s River of Words?

Paul: River of Words is an organization which is devoted to teaching people about nature. The group runs a variety of workshops and activities like creek clean-ups. I entered a contest which they ran for children’s nature art and poetry. I was one of less than 100 finalists out of almost twenty thousand entries.

Susan:  Wow, that’s great. What did you write?

Paul:  I wrote a poem called “Simplicity,” which described a local lake in Reno where I live.

Susan:  Can you recite it?

Paul:  No.

Susan:  Darn. Are you sure?

Paul:  Yep.

Steve: OK, well, this is Ecotopia on KZFR and tonight we are talking with Paul and Jeremy Novak about their interests in the environment.  By the way, The River of Words website  is:  http://www.riverofwords.org/

Another site we liked is from Canada.  Started in 1994, EcoKids is a free, environmental education program that offers curriculum-linked materials and activities for . . . elementary schools to engage in environmental action.

[The] . . . EcoKids web site . . . is an interactive environmental web site for children, their families, and educators in Canada and around the world. It offers topical information about the environment through interactive, fun, educational games and activities that utilize participants’ willingness to learn.

Children are encouraged to form their own opinions, make decisions, get involved and understand the impact their own actions have on the environment.

You can find them at:

Jeremy, what did you find interesting on this site?

Jeremy:  Since I’m a kid, I enjoyed the part of the website that was games and activities. When you click on games a window opened up with eight categories—wildlife, climate change, energy, the North, water, waste, land use, and First Nations and Inuit. I decided to click on the North, because of the picture of the aurora borealis which interests me greatly.

Steve: So what did you do in that section?

Jeremy:   I did an Artic climate quiz. On this I got five of six correct. The one I missed, I learned a very interesting fact. Did you know that the top three producers of greenhouse gases in the world are the United States, Australia, and Canada? Who knew?

Susan:  I didn’t.

Steve:   Me neither. I thought maybe India or China would be up there by now.

Jeremy:  There are three other quizzes—Canada’s North People Quiz, Canada’s North Climate Quiz, and Artic Animals Quiz.

My twin Paul did another part of the site. Paul, what did you do?

Paul:  Under Homework Help, there are ten options: Wildlife, Climate Change, Energy, The North, Water, Waste, Land Use, Earth Day, First Nations & Inuit, and Renewable Energy. I chose Wildlife, and then chose Frogs and Roads from 18 options. It provided information about how many frogs are squashed by cars during migration and described how to prevent those dangers.

The Homework Help section includes interviews, field guildes, quizzes, information presented with interesting graphics, and games.

Susan:  I found a game on this page that I found very addicting; it’s called “Sing Along at Ribbit Pond.” You have to try to identify frog calls, after a brief introduction to different kinds of frogs. You might want to try it.

Susan:  This is Ecotopia on KZFR, and tonight we are sharing the mikes with Jeremy and Paul Novak, two young friends of ours, who are interested in what kids can do about the environment.

While we were browsing the web with Jeremy and Paul, we spend a lot of time at the  Eco-Kids website. I really liked a  section called EcoReporter. Here there are both articles and videos by and about kids who have done something to help the environment. There are articles about kids instituting recycling programs, educating others about water conservation, and one idea I particularly liked was a litterless lunch program presented in a video by elementary school children.

Steve:  The Kids Ecology Corps, based in Fort Lauderdale, FL, has as its mission to inspire young people to  . . .

 make environmental action part of their everyday life and generate a critical mass of people to create Environmental Harmony throughout the world. . . .

Environmental Harmony is the healthy balance between man and earth’s universal ecosystems. This balance insures the earth’s ability to naturally renewal its resources and offers us an abundant economy and a healthy, sustainable future.
. . . .
Once young people learn accurate information about their environment and how they influence it; and once they realize that they are the most important people on the planet, they take positive action to shape their own healthy and abundant futures. . . .

Paul:  In a few seconds, we’re going to give you some ideas for things you can try at home, so you might want to get a pencil and some paper.

The site provides these eight ideas and activities:
 · #1: How and What Does Nature Recycle Naturally?
 · #2: When You Use Water, You Use Everything In It.
 · #3: Is the Air In Your Community Clean?
 · #4: Create Acid Rain in Your Own Kitchen!
 · #5: Be Your Own Paper Recycling Company!
 · #6: Do You Know What Soil Is Made Of? ·
   # 7: How Tall is Your Favorite Tree?
 · #8: Build Your Own Rainforest
Jeremy:  To begin, I’ll tell you how to create acid rain in your own kitchen. First of all, the site tells you that:

Acid rain is caused by air pollution. When clean rain water falls down through air that is polluted, the rainwater becomes polluted. It becomes very acid. This experiment will show you what that means.

Acid rain has killed many trees in the northeast United States, especially in the past 20 years.

To experiment in creating acid rain, you will need:

    * Six short strips of masking tape to use as labels
    * A pen or marker
    * Three 1-quart jars with lids
    * Measuring cups
    * A bottle of vinegar or lemon juice
    * Tap water
    * Three small potted plants that you’re willing to sacrifice in the name of science

Here’s What You Do

   1. Arrange the jars and the plants so that each jar has a plant next to it.
   2. Make two labels that say “a little acid.”
   3. Measure 1/4 cup of vinegar or lemon juice. Pour it into the first jar. Fill the jar the rest of the way with tap water.
   4. Label the jar with one of the labels that says, “a little acid.”
   5. Label the plant next to it with the other label that says, “a little acid.”
   6. Make two labels that say “a lot of acid.”
   7. Measure one full cup of vinegar or lemon juice.
   8. Pour it into the second jar. Fill the jar the rest of the way with tap water.
   9. Label the jar with one of the labels that says, “a lot of acid.”
  10. Label the plant next to it with the other label that says, “a lot of acid.”
  11. Make two labels that say, “tap water.”
  12. Fill the last jar with tap water.
  13. Label the jar with one of the labels that says, “tap water.”
  14. Label the last plant with the other labels that says, “tap water.”
  15. Set the plants next to each other, so they get the same amount of sunlight.
  16. Every 2 to 4 days, water the plants with the water from the jar that has the label that matches the plant’s label.
  17. Write down what you see and when you see it.

Paul:  I want to tell you about how to measure the height of your favorite tree. To do this you’ll need:

    * A strip of paper that is white or a very bright color
    * A straight pin
    * A ruler that measures in inches (at least 12 inches, and longer if you are going to measure a very tall tree
    * A pencil and a piece of paper

Here’s What You Do

   1. Find out how tall you are.
   2. Pin a piece of paper on the tree trunk at your height (at the top of your head).
   3. Being very careful not to stumble, walk away from the tree while you hold the ruler at arms’ length away from you.
   4. Walk away until the 1 inch mark on the ruler is even with the strip of white paper AND the 0 mark on the ruler is even with the bottom of the tree trunk.
   5. Write down the inch mark where the very top of the tree touches.
   6. Now, multiply the inch mark the top of the tree touches by your height. The answer will be how many inches tall the tree is. To get find out the number of feet tall the tree is, divide your answer by 12 inches. Example: 11 inches x 50 inches = 550 inches. 550 divided by 12 = 45 feet, 10 inches.
This is Ecotopia on KZFR, and tonight we are talking about what kids can do about the environment.

The EPA Environmental Kids Club is the Environmental Protection Agency’s web site for kids. [They have ideas for kids to] help you explore [their] environment and learn how to protect it. [They’ve] got games, pictures, and stories.


This site includes links to information on
# Air
# Water
# Garbage & Recycling
# Plants & Animals
# You & Your Environment

The links provide facts, games, activity books, and stories about children’s work in these areas. There is also an art room, a game room, a science room, and a trophy case, which describes the winners of the President’s Environmental Youth Awards (PEYA).

Steve:  The website has extensive information on climate change, describing what it is, what the greenhouse effect is, how climate has changed over time, how we humans change the climate, what the consequences of that are, and what we can do to make a difference. Jeremy, what are some of your thoughts on this.

Jeremy: I’d like to use this time to talk about the optimistic side of climate change. People today are dealing with the issues the earth faces by creating inventions like solar power or wind power. I believe that photo-voltaic cells, or solar power is important because, wherever it’s sunny, extreme power can be generated. It’s the same with wind turbine – ,but where ever it’s windy. A geothermal plant, or a plant which turns warmth in rock like lava, only requires a way to dig beneath the ground. Tidal power only requires a place near the ocean.

Susan:   That completes our program on kids and the environment.  We want to thank Paul and Jeremy Novak for being with us and having such positive and interesting ideas.


1. Big Yellow Taxi (LP Version) 2:15 Joni Mitchell Ladies Of The Canyon 
2. Teach Your Children 3:02 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Four Way Street 
3. Solar Power Princess 2:45 Nooshi the Balloon Dude Ready, Set, Go Green 
4. Cool, Cool River 3:56 Paul Simon Rhythm Of The Saints 
5. Frog Went a-Courtin’ – We All Stand Together 5:20 The King’s Singers Kids’ Stuff
6. Fake Plastic Trees 4:51 Radiohead The Bends  
7. Wind Power 3:03 David Suzuki Space Child 
8. Weave Me the Sunshine 4:28 Peter, Paul And Mary  The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary 
9. Feathers Fur Or Fins 2:25 Helen Goodwin 24 Kiddies Favourites Children’s Music  3…


#90 Adventures with Ants

Posted by on 16 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

This seems to be insect month on Ecotopia.  Last week we talked with Rocky Pisto and Lee Edwards who told us something about bees and their nature.  Tonight our topic is ants, and our opening theme was “Ants Marching” by the Dave Matthews Band, from Under the Table and Dreaming.  Our guest will be Dr. Mark Moffett, globetrotting ant specialist, who has been described as “the Indiana Jones of entymology,” and he’ll talk to us about his new book, Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions.

Some Factoids About Ant

To give you a little background before we talk to our guest, Mark Moffett, we want to share a few Facts About Ants with you, these compiled by Rachna Gupta on the buzzle dot com website.


  • Ants are social insects and they are unable to live on their own and need to live in an organized community or colony. […]
  • Ants belong to the order “Hymenoptera,” and are […] closely related to species wasps. It is believed that ants first appeared during the Cretaceous period and that they had evolved from the wasps that had come out during the Jurassic period. Scientists have also estimated that ants have been living on the earth for more than a 100 million years.
  • Over 10000 known species of ants exist in the world
  • The average life span of an ant is 45 to 60 days.
  • The ant has very strong legs which help it to run very quickly.
  • Ants appear in shades of green, red, brown, yellow, blue or purple.
  • An ant is able to lift about 20 times its own body weight.
  • Adult ants are unable to swallow solid food. They depend on the juice they are able to squeeze out from pieces of food.
  • An ant uses its antenna for touch as well as smell.
  • Ants normally range from 2 to 7 mm in length. The carpenter ant is an exception to the rule, as it can stretch to 2 cm, or even an inch.
  • There is at least one queen in each ant colony.
  • An ant has two stomachs: in one stomach it stores food for itself and in the other it stores food that is to be shared with other ants.
  • Some ants are able to sleep seven hours a day.
  • Ants are mostly omnivorous, that is, they eat other insects, seeds, oils and bread.
  • Queen ants are provided with wings at birth, they lose these wings after they fly off to start new colonies.
  • Black ants and Wood ants do not have a sting, instead they are able to squirt a spray of formic acid. 
  • Worker ants are given the responsibility of taking the rubbish from the nest and putting it into the rubbish dump.
  • Around 700,000 members can be found in the colony of the Army ants
  • Some queen ants can live for many years and have millions of babies!
  • Ants don’t have ears. Ants “hear” by feeling vibrations in the ground through their feet.
  • Ants don’t have lungs. Oxygen enters through tiny holes all over the body and carbon dioxide leaves through the same holes.
  • When the queen of the colony dies, the colony can only survive a few months. Queens are rarely replaced and the workers are not able to reproduce

Our Conversation with Mark Moffett

Our guest is Dr. Mark Moffett author of a new book from the University of California Press, Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions.  The book is about his trips around the globe studying ant behavior. He is a Research Associate at the Smithsonian, and is a photographer as well as a naturalist. 

  • You’ve been interested in ants you were a kid. Please tell us how you first became fascinated by critters in general and ants in particular.
  • In your undergraduate days, you also encountered Professor E. O. Wilson, the evolutionary biologist, who began his career by learning everything he could about ants.  How did your work with E. O. Wilson launch you on your safari?
  • We’d love to have you tell some of your stories about ant encounters and, more important, what you learned from them.

[We’re especially interested in the Leafcutter ant, which we encountered recently in a trip to Costa Rica. Perhaps we could focus on some of traits of the Leafcutter:
as farmers
as vegetarians
as fungus growers
as an organized society]

  • How does ant science work? How much observing do you have to do before you come up with a theory or hypothesis?  Please describe a few of your “experiments,” like painting ants pink and green, which seem far removed from the laboratory.
  • We have just a bunch of questions about ants:
    How do they know to show up at a picnic?
    How fast can they move?
    How strong are they?
    Can they swim?
    Can they kill a baby or an antelope?
    How smart are they?  Is their behavior “intelligent”? How do they learn their assigned roles and basic skills in the colony?  [Tell us why you disagree with Lewis Thomas, who says that ants cannot be said to have a “mind,” much less a “thought”.]  Do ants have recognizable “personalities” or individual behavior traits?
  • In your book, you warn against anthropomorphizing ants, attributing human traits to them, but you also talk about analogies and similarities between ant and human behavior, especially in colonies or societies.
  •  Please tell us a little about any similarities that you see as significant or interesting, such as:
    –the “altruism” of ants
    –“Among animals, all-out war against their fellows occurs only among the largest societies of humans and ants.” (123)
    –ant slavery

[Could we talk about the Amazon ants of Sagehen Creek—since that is geographically close to our listening area?
You have some doubts about the applicability of the term “slave”–interesting that Darwin used it, too.
Karl Marx: “a whole population whose efforts are misdirected to benefit an oppressor” (154)
Theories about how ant slavery evolved.]

  • In closing your book you talk about ways of viewing ants: as individuals, as colonies, as an organism, as mind.  Please explain, especially the last one.
  • What’s your current/next project?

We’ve been talking with Mark Moffett, author of Adventures Among Ants, published by the University of California Press.   You can learn more about the book at adventuresamongants.com, and you can see images from Mark’s Smithsonian exhibit of photographs of ants at www.mnh.si.edu/ants/photogallery/index.htm


Steve: I just can’t let the program end without telling you about one of my all time favorite science fiction movies.  It’s called “Them!” and it was  released in 1954.  The film opens with a police sergeant, played by  James Whitmore, finding a traumatized little girl wandering through the desert. Her family has been mysteriously killed and their home destroyed.  A somewhat dotty British scientist, played by by Edmund Gwinn (and accompanied by his knockout biologist daughter, Joan Weldon), sifts through clues and thinks he has figured out what is going on.  He has the traumatized little girl sniff a vial of formic acid, at which point, her eyes widen and she screams “Them!.” 

Formic acid is what makes ant bites sting and the biological family name of ants is “formicidiae.”  So the scientist figures out that the destruction has been caused by ants that were irradiated by atomic testing and have grown to the size of bulldozers.

The chase is on and ends up in the sewers of Los Angeles with James Whitmore and and FBI agent played by Gunsmoke’s James Arness find the ant next and kills off the queen ant, thus saving humankind.  A dandy film, and it teaches a little bit about ants.  It also received an Academy Award nomination for best special effects for the giant ants.

Playlist for Ecotopia #90–Adventures with Ants

1.  Ants Marching        4:31        Dave Matthews Band       
        Under the Table and Dreaming                       
2.  Royal Garden Blues        1:54        Don Byron       
        Bug Music       
3.  There Ain’t No Bugs On Me        4:50        David Grisman & Jerry Garcia       
        Not For Kids Only                       
4.  The Ants Go Marching One By One        3:23        Wonder Kids       
        Clifford’s the Big Red Dog’s Sing ‘n’ Learn Songs               
5.  Charles Prelude        2:49        Don Byron       
        Bug Music                               
6.  Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary       
        The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

#89 The Buzzing of Bees

Posted by on 16 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

We’ll be talking with two beekeepers tonight, first with Rocky Pisto, who is a commercial beehive manager, based in Oregon, who has been working in the northstate in recent months having his busy bees polinate local orchards.

Then we’ll talk with Lee Edwards of Cherokee, who is what we’d call a very serious hobbyist, maintaining a number of hives and doing demonstrations of bee culture in area schools.This is Ecotopia on KZFR, and tonight we are featuring an album by local/global musician and beekeeper, Mike Wofchuck. 

Our Interview with Rocky was prerecorded

Our conversation with Lee Edwards

On the phone with us now is Lee Edwards of Cherokee, who is widely known among the beekeeper crowd in the northstate for his astonishing knowledge of bees and their culture. Welcome, Lee.

1.  How did you get involved in keeping bees?

1B. Please tell us  a little about the size of your operation? How many beehives do you have? And approximately how many  bees do they accommodate?

2. What are the seasons like for beekeeping? Is the activity different  in the summer and winter?

3. Tell us a little about the life of a bee? What do they eat? How far  do they range? Do you feed them anything? What do you provide for  them? How long do they live?

4. How is honey produced?

5. Describe the process of collecting and processing the honey? When do you do that? What kind of equipment do you need? How long does the 
process take? How much honey do you get from your x number of bees? Is  your honey raw honey or pasteurized honey? What’s the difference?

6. Say someone would like to have just one hive and a small collection of bees? How would one get started?

7. What does one have to do to keep 
one happy, healthy beehive. And how much honey might they get from that?


Tonight our music has been provided by Mike Wofchuk from the album, “Flight.”  As we’ve said, Mike is a local musician who has worked the national scene, and among other things, provides percussion for Ma Muse. 

On the Flight album, Mike does ALL the instrumental music, layering track on track to create the amazing sounds we’ve heard.  The Flight cd is available at the  Chico Co-Op  or at  cdbaby.com.

In addition, beekeeper Mike produces honey that’s also available at the co-op.

#88 Chico Bicycle Music Festival

Posted by on 16 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Tonight we are talking about Bicycles and Music.  This coming Saturday is the Chico Bicycle Music Festival. This unique event takes place all day at four different venues. The unique part is that the festival moves from site by site by bicycle, and the electrical musical equipment powered by bicycle generators pedaled by volunteers.  We’ll be talking with festival organizer Sammey Zangrilli about plans for the day.  Also in the studio will be Cheetah Tchudi, our son, who will be working on bike mechanics and logistics.  We’ll also chat with them about their joy of bicycles and the role of bikes in Ecotopia.

Our Questions for Sammey and Cheetah

1. First of all, when and where will the Bicycle Music Festival be  held? (the specifics of the day’s schedule)

2. What makes this music festival unique? (Let’s talk just a bit about  the technology here, but we’ll talk in more detail about that in the  second half of the show.)

3. Tell us a little about the bands that will be playing at the  various venues. (Here we can talk a little more about each venue as  well as the bands that will be playing.)

Let’s listen to:  (What do you suggest? We can do more than one song  in this segment; also, we’ll start the show with a song at the top of  the show and one between the opening info and your interview; we’ll do 
another at 6:30, and one more at the end of the show.)

4. Tell us a little about the history of the Bicycle Music Festival.  How long have you been doing this? Where did you get the idea? Tell us  a little about the process of putting this together.

5. Is there anything special people should do or bring who want to  participate in the festival on Saturday?

This is Ecotopia on KZFR, and tonight we are talking about the Chico Bicycle Music Festival coming up this weekend.  In this unique event, all the electricity for the musicians is generated by bicycle generators, and the whole entourage pedals from one venue to the next, hauling all the equipment.  We’ve been talking with Sammey Zangrilli, the festival director, and joining us in the studio now is Cheetah Tchudi, our son, who has been working with Sammey on some of the logistics. So in this part of the show we’ll talk some about bike mechanics.  Welcome Cheetah. 

6. Describe the technology that is used to create electricity.

7. Where did you get the bikes?  How many people do you need to  provide power?  Where do your volunteers come from?

8. We know you’re a big bicycle fans. Where did that interest come  from? What are some other bicycle technologies you use or admire?

9.  What do you see as the role of bicycles in a greener era—or, at least, an era when oil is scarce?

10.  Cheetah, tell us about his bicycle you’ve been welding together in recent weeks.  What other bike designs do you have in mind?

Playlist (featuring groups to appear at the festival)

1. Just Fine            4:21            MaMuse         Strange And 
2. Wonderful
3. Get It Right            2:19            Dick and Jane                
Falls            4:15            People On The Moon
4. Thursday Morning            2:09            Dick and Jane
5. Hallelujah            2:57            MaMuse         All The Way