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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
How to Live More Greenly
Aired November 23, 2008 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Is there a better way? You bet. We spent a year looking for new, cleaner ways to power our economy and found them in some unlikely places. From pond scum to cow pie. We looked for some fresh ideas to improve the environment and found them in some windy city alleys. And in another really windy city where oil is king for now. We saw people walking away from old habits, and getting hyper about scratching the miles per gallon or saving trees by saying no to paper. We witnessed some amazing alchemy, plastic bottles turned into carpet, old tires into useful powder.
We were there on the front lines in the battle to save the planet from environmental ruin. And we met some amazing green warriors leading the plight for solutions.
(on camera): Hello and welcome, I'm Miles O'Brien. We live in a world with a lot of big problems, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. But spend the next hour with us, and I suspect you will feel a little better. Let's begin with one of the most challenging issues of all, powering our world without depleting its resources or ruining the environment. There's so much more to it than drill, baby drill. In fact, the answers are all around us in some unlikely places. On dairy farm, on microscope slides, on roof tops and, in of all things, pond scum.
GLEN KERTZ, VERTIGRO: This is where the magic happens.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Glen Kertz believes this is the magic bullet alternative to oil. It's pond scum, but without the pond. And that's what sets his idea apart. Kertz's flowing and growing algae through a long, winding journey in clear plastic bags suspended in a green house. He calls the system Vertigro.
KERTZ: Keeps the algae hanging in the sunlight just long enough to pick up the solar air energy they need to produce the lipids to go through photo synthesis.
O'BRIEN: The algae grows fast and is siphoned off continuously. The algae oil is extracted, ready to be refined into fuels like biodiesel. Kertz says he can produce 100,000 gallons of algae oil per acre per year. Compare that to corn, which yields about 20 to 30 gallons per acre. And the Vertigro facility is a long way from the corn belt. In the desert near El Paso, the perfect place.
KERTZ: If we took about a tenth of the state of New Mexico and converted it into algae production alone, OK, we could use all the transportation needs for the United States. O'BRIEN: Kertz and his team are working full throttle, looking for and patenting the ideal algaes to make fuels. And who knows, maybe even an energy drink.
KERTZ: Kind of refreshing?
O'BRIEN: That's not bad.
If Vertigro pans out as Kertz predicts, we may all be raising our glasses to once lowly pond scum.
Solar power sales may be on the rise but the technology has been pretty flat in recent years. In fact, these power-generating panels haven't changed much at all.
JARED HAINES, MERCURY SOLAR SYSTEMS: They have improved a little bit in their efficiency, but in the last 15 years, this is what people have been installing. So you're looking at common glass tubing.
O'BRIEN: But this may be the shape of things to come for solar power. Totally tubular, lined with power generating photobotaic (ph) film.
HAINES: And when we are done with it, we will be able to make electricity with this tube.
O'BRIEN: They come from a California company called Solyndra and they are designed to be much more efficient and much simpler to install.
CHRIS GRONET, CEO, SOLYNDRA: With the cylindrical approach because you can collect light from all angles, you are able to maximize the energy that you extract from the roof top.
O'BRIEN: Here's how. The tubes can capture solar energy no matter where the sun is in the sky, even from below if the roof is painted white. And they can be more densely packed together since there is no worry about shadows and because they don't catch the wind like a sail, they don't need to be weighted down, reducing installation costs.
GRONET: We think it's a breakthrough for tapping the large underutilized space, commercial roof top space in the U.S. and in the world.
O'BRIEN: Solyndra estimates there is about 30 billion square feet of flat roof in the United States like this. If you covered all of it with solar rays like this one, it would generate 150 gigawatts of electricity or enough to power 15 percent of American homes.
But ironically, this Silicon Valley start up has booked most of its orders from Germany, the world's leader in solar energy usage, even though they get about as much sunlight as Alaska. The company is hoping it can level the playing field on flat roofs all across the U.S.
It's like an oil field on a microscope slide. These tiny bacteria are making diesel fuel, no drilling required.
What do we see now? This is fuel here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the e. Coli cells that have converted to sugar and secreted out the oil.
O'BRIEN: Stephen Del Cardayre is the lead researcher with a company called LS9, that is harnessing a harmless strain of e. Coli to make fuel. All you have to do is feed the bacteria.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't have to be like corn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can use corn. You can use sugar cane, wood chips will work, wheat straw will work.
O'BRIEN: In short, they aren't picky eaters. They eat sugar, digest, and then expel petroleum waste. Stephen Del Cardayre and his team have genetically engineered these tiny oil makers to create diesel because it's the easiest fuel to make. But e. Coli could make other fuels as well.
What is the catch?
STEPHEN DEL CARDAYRE, LS9: No catch. We have genetically engineered e. Coli to make fuel that can be used in existing infrastructure.
O'BRIEN: And that is a key point. LS9's e. Coli diesel can be mixed in with traditional fossil fuels. Ethanol is so corrosive, it cannot be sent through existing pipelines. But can an army of microbes really make a difference? Bob McCormick is a government expert on biofuels.
ROBERT MCCORMICK, NATL RENEWABLE ENERGY LAB: If you have got something that you can make work in a test tube, that's good. But you've got to be able to make it work on a very large scale to have an impact on our petroleum imports.
O'BRIEN: At LS9, they are ramping up as fast as they can, separating oil and water. They hope to be making millions of gallons a week in the next few years.
Is it possible to say we can grow our way out of dependence on oil?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I doubt we are going to completely eliminate our dependence on oil, but we will certainly be able to wean ourselves of complete dependence.
O'BRIEN: That is, once they get the bugs out. It isn't easy to skim a profit on a dairy farm. The revenues are slim and the hours are utterly daunting.
AMANDA ST. PIERRE, PLEASANT VALLEY FARM: They get milked three times a day. We operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
O'BRIEN: But here at the Pleasant Valley Farm, Vermont's largest, they are finding a new way to make ends meet by capturing what comes out the ends of their 2,000 cows. They stay flush by pushing the poop into a big digester. The manure sits for about three weeks, generating a lot of methane, which in turn generates enough electricity to power 500 homes.
MARK ST. PIERRE, PLEASANT VALLEY FARM: We used to spend $200 a day on electricity to run our dairy. Now we are selling $1,200 bucks of electricity a day.
O'BRIEN: About 4,000 customers of Central Vermont Public Service have volunteered to pay up to one-third more for cow power.
LOUIS DUPONT, FURNITURE MAKER: We just love the idea of that money staying in Vermont as opposed to going to, you know, Saudi Arabia or even Canada.
A. ST. PIERRE: We are hoping that we can pay this project off between five to seven years.
O'BRIEN: The price tag for the system is about $2 million. Not a solution for smaller farms just yet. But one other thing, the digester makes a dairy farm odorless. In the end, that would be priceless.
Central Vermont Public Service has just added a fifth farm to its cow power program. That makes a total of about 5,000 cows whose pies are producing power.
Coming up next, we will go to Canada's oil and cowboy town where they are stampeding into the wind mill boon. And later, tires are a landfill nightmare. Or they were, at least. You'll meet a green warrior with a steel belted solution.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back and welcome home. You know, it's not just where the heart is. It's the place where all of us can begin our search for solutions. Here's some cool ideas in action.
In Chicago, even the darkest alleys are turning green, resurfaced with some concrete and asphalt that leaks like a sieve, on purpose.
BRIAN LUTEY, OZINGA GREEN BUILDING: It's made with the same materials as regular concrete but it's got 20 percent voids.
O'BRIEN: The voids are there avoid a big problem. Chicago is the ultimate alley town, 1,900 miles of them, the largest network in the world. And the older ones were not designed to allow storm water to naturally percolate into the ground. The new concrete does.
LUTEY: It filters through the material and microbes and fungus grow in here and it becomes a biosystem that actually eats the oil and grease that drip off the cars or comes from the asphalt.
O'BRIEN: Older alleys send polluted rain water to storm drains. They get overwhelmed and the dirty water goes straight back into Lake Michigan. Not so with green alleys.
LUTEY: It gets the water back in the ground. Gets it there clean so it gets the water into the ground where our wells get recharged. Lake Michigan gets recharged and we are not overpowering the sewer system with all this storm water run on.
O'BRIEN: So far, they have greened 34 Chicago alleys -- 36 more are on the way. And one more thing, these lighter colored alleys reflect a lot more light, making the city a little cooler and the alleys not so dark after all.
Calgary is Canada's Houston, all about cowboys and oil. But as people here get more worried about global warming, the wind is shifting.
DAVE BRONCONNIER, MAYOR, CALGARY: It's important that we address climate change. How do we reduce our environmental and ecological footprint?
O'BRIEN: That's Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier, touting his city's effort to tap into another plentiful natural resource in this part of Alberta, the strong winds.
The city's new $140 million wind farm is now online and it means three-quarters of the municipal buildings here are running on renewable electricity. And every day people here are urged to ride the wind on the world's first wind powered commuter train line.
All those wind mills are equivalent to taking 30,000 cars off the roads. Even here in oil country, renewable energy is now frequently cheaper than fossil fuels for generating electricity. So Bronconnier isn't stopping now.
BRONCONNIER: Our objective is that by the year 2012 to have 90 percent of the corporation the city's use for energy will be from renewable and sustainable power.
O'BRIEN: Now the question is will private businesses and plain old folks follow the city's example? Turning this turban success into a green stampede in Calgary.
Hubie Van Meurs is taking a lot of pressure off the folks in Levittown, New York.
HUBIE VAN MEURS, ALURE ENERGY: If all the other windows and doors close, we can find out how to reheat the houses.
O'BRIEN: He's plugging leaks and insulating attics all over this Long Island town where the sprawling of America began more than 50 years ago. Levittown is the country's first planned suburb.
TOM SUOZZI, NASSAU COUNTY EXECUTIVE: We thought it made history back in the 1940s and we could make history again to be the first suburban community to go green.
O'BRIEN: Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi launched the campaign to encourage everyone in Levittown, 17,000 homes, 52,000 people to do something green, from changing light bulbs to installing a new furnace.
Several local companies have ponied up special deals and financing. Just about every household is taking part. Levittown homeowner Tom Lasusa found the program easy to love.
TOM LASUSA, LEVITTOWN RESIDENT: Whatever little bit will help us and whatever little bit can help the economy.
SUOZZI: We think if you can do it in Levittown, you can do it anywhere.
O'BRIEN: Could be this place is still a trend setter after all these years.
The economic downturn is hurting the green Levittown campaign. Many owners have postponed big jobs like purchasing new furnaces, replacing old doors and windows and installing insulation.
Coming up, you will meet a green warrior who is doing battle by taking his foot off the gas and killing the engine, hypermiling 101. And we will learn a little something about our national bird through the eyes of one man who helped bring them back from the brink of extinction.
O'BRIEN: These days, it seems everyone is thinking about what we can do to save the planet. In these tough times, our worries about the environment and our pocketbooks are in sync. For many of us, it is high time to rethink our wasteful ways.
Wayne Gerdes may look like he's out of gas, but actually he's just kind of hyper about saving every drop he can. And I mean hyper.
WAYNE GERDES, HYPERMILER: We are in neutral, so I'm ready to pop, starts, we are going.
O'BRIEN: You just went. That was like immediately into drive.
GERDES: Right. There's no point in wasting any fuel.
O'BRIEN: Wayne is the reigning king of the gas mileage misers known as hypermilers. A ride with him is a real eye opener. Not to mention a filling loosener.
GERDES: Hold on to your camera.
O'BRIEN: I'm going to hold on. I'm going to hold on.
That's what happens when you take a turn without touching the brake pedal. Wayne avoids it like, well, gas stations. He routinely gets 50 miles per gallon in his plain old Accord, twice what Honda promises.
GERDES: And I'm already going to shut it down.
O'BRIEN: He kills the engine whenever he can, never tail gates, but does draft behind big trucks. He always drives the speed limit and plans trips as if they were the D-Day invasion. So it forces you to think entirely different about how you drive.
GERDES: Yeah. I'm already thinking like three lights ahead in suburban traffic area.
O'BRIEN: In Wayne's world, angry tailgaters are proctologists.
GERDES: Guys that ride your butt.
O'BRIEN: And when they pass him in a huff?
GERDES: They're the mad rabbits.
O'BRIEN: And big SUVs are FSPs as in.
GERDES: Fuel sucking pigs.
O'BRIEN: I almost didn't have the heart to tell him about my Yukon XL. But when he came to New York the other day, he held his nose, plugged in a gadget that displays fuel economy and we were off like a herd of turtles for hypermiling 101.
GERDES: Gentle, easy, back off a little bit, no sense in reading. Shift to first. OK, we're going to slow enough to first. I want your foot on the brake and I want you to shut off the car at 1,100 RPM and you're working your butt off right now.
O'BRIEN: It's hard work, it is.
Using his techniques, I instantly curtailed by FSP's thirst for unleaded by 30 percent. But still a long way from 50 miles per gallon.
GERDES: This vehicle just isn't meant for downtown.
O'BRIEN: You this?
GERDES: So I'll have to watch my own speed on this.
O'BRIEN: Wayne started doing this after 9/11, made him reconsider our dependency on foreign oil. He runs a Web site with tips and with gas where it is now, he has a growing, albeit slow moving following. He sure made me a believer. In fact, you might say I'm pushing the concept.
GERDES: OK, tat should do it.
O'BRIEN: Christmas trees are filling your mailbox in the form of catalogs. It's enough to turn Melissa Grossman into a Grinch. This time of year, she gets about 50 catalogs a week.
MELISSA GROSSMAN, CATALOG CHOICE USER: It's just a horrible waste of paper. And most of the paper, most of the catalogs I don't want.
O'BRIEN: But Melissa has found a new way to slow the flow, a Web site called catalogchoice.org. The free service let's you stop the catalogs you'd rather not receive. So far she's dropped 80. The idea comes from environmentalists with the support of the catalog companies who reportedly spend about 70 to 80 cents on each catalog, wanted or not. DAVID MIZJEWSKI, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION: Helping the catalog industry keep their mailing lists a little more leaner and efficient, we're actually helping them save money.
O'BRIEN: As it is, merchants mail out about 19 billion catalogs a year, 53 million trees are felled to make all that paper. And the energy required to produce the paper would power 1.2 million homes for a year.
MIZJEWSKI: So the amount of carbon dioxide going into the air just from the paper production for catalogs is the equivalent of the annual emissions of 2 million cars.
O'BRIEN: So far about 300,000 have used the site to opt out of catalogs.
GROSSMAN: It starts with one person at a time. I feel like, you know, the company, the party keeps getting bigger and bigger.
O'BRIEN: And hopefully her pile of catalogs will get smaller and smaller.
Remember all those futuristic visions about paperless office? Well, the computer age hasn't exactly delivered on that promise. In fact, the average U.S. employee churns out 10,000 pages a year.
But architect Leigh Stringer has found the blue print for a solution.
LEIGH STRINGER, V.P., HOK: Just analyzing my total paper save.
O'BRIEN: She is saving paper by using new software called Green Print. The $35 program looks for pages you really don't need like blanks or those with just a few random lines of gobbley gook. And you can remove any other page you want as well as those ink hungry ads.
STRINGER: You can create a setting that tells you how many pages you saved and based on six and a half cents per page. I paid off mine in a day. It does make you feel good.
O'BRIEN: Green Print is the brain child of Hayden Hamilton.
HAYDEN HAMILTON, CEO, GREENPRINT: It saves the average family about $100 a year in ink and toner and paper, and it has a really positive impact on the environment.
O'BRIEN: He got the idea when he worked at Ford and saw all those stacks of wasted paper gathering dust near printers. He started selling Green Print a year ago, planting the seeds with this viral video.
Right now, there are about 30,000 people using the Green Print software. Hayden figures they are saving about 7,000 trees. Imagine if we all started printing as lean and green. Green Print now has a version that won't cost you any green, a free ad supported version. There's also one out for Macs now. By the way, you can see the environmental solutions of more Green Warriors at our special Web site. There it is. CNN.com/solutions.
Coming up, we will take you to a big auto plant that doesn't need a landfill. They recycle everything. And later, some rare breeds down on the farm. You won't likely roast a royal palm turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, but saving that species may one day help save our skin.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CHIEF TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back. To solve some really big problems, sometimes you have to think outside the dumpster. And forget your assumptions like factories and plastic bottles are landfillers. Turns out there are other ways to look at these problems and they truly can be win-win solutions.
O'BRIEN (voice over): It's getting harder and harder to sweep our environmental problems under the rug. So why not weave them into the fabric?
Here at Mohawk Carpets, they're turning plastic drink bottles into carpet.
TOM LAPE, PRES., MOHAWK RESIDENTIAL: This product by using recycled polyester gives us the opportunity to really use an alternative to an oil-based product.
O'BRIEN: Mohawk uses 14,000 plastic drink bottles every minute. About a third of all the recycled bottles in the U.S. to make ever strand carpet. Mohawk buys the old bottles by the barrel. They are broken up, sorted by color, then chipped, cleaned, melted, molded into threads and spun into yarn.
JENNY CROSS, MOHAWK: And this becomes the basis of your carpet. This is what you walk on. So it doesn't look or feel anything like a plastic bottle now.
O'BRIEN: Plastic bottles are a huge environmental problem. The bottles used for water alone consume 47 gallons of oil and generate 1.5 million tons of waste. But the bottles are high quality plastic that make great carpet at the same cost.
LAPE: We think we're getting the best of both worlds, which is environmental solutions and an economic solution to the issue -- of the waste issue.
O'BRIEN: But Americans only recycle about one in four of the plastic bottles they use. Sadly, our landfills are carpeted with a solution that is going to waste.
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice over): I'm Rob Marciano. This General Motors engine plant in Flint, Michigan is a landfill-free facility. It, along with 43 other GM plants worldwide, recycles or reuses every bit of waste. Nothing is thrown away.
JOHN BRADBURN, GM ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRAMS: Any waste is really a resource out of place. The key is to be innovative, apply science and technology and find the best possible outcome for that product.
MARCIANO: For years GM and other car companies have recycled scrap iron and aluminum chips. They're melted to make new parts. But other waste streams pose bigger challenges like this stuff, called swarf, a mixture of metal shavings and liquids.
BRADBURN: This swarf was getting landfilled up until a few years ago. This will go to market on the outside and it will be turned into materials that require iron.
MARCIANO: And this polymer material which separates metal shavings from coolant also used to be discarded after use. But now it's sent to an outside company for recycling into new products.
John Bradburn, GM's landfill-free expert, says he hasn't found anything yet that couldn't be reused.
BRADBURN: When there's enough of something, you can usually find an interest in that material.
MARCIANO: GM says, by the end of 2010, half of its 160 manufacturing plants will also be landfill free.
At Shafer Vineyards, one of Napa's premier wineries, grape growing just isn't what it used to be.
DOUG SHAFER, SHAFER VINEYARD: Because back then the idea of a beautiful vineyard was nothing but dirt and just flat as a pool table.
MARCIANO: Doug Schafer enjoyed showing off the overgrown vine roast, the dead and dry remnants of the winter's covered crops. You see, instead of herbicides, Schafer plants clover, oats, peas and mustard as a natural way to control weeds. These plants also become a natural fertilizer, helping add a central nutrients to the soil.
SHAFER: We're making a natural product here and we're making better wines.
MARCIANO: And to control the population of rodents attracted to the cover crops, well, Schafer has a chemical-free solution. He enlists the help from hawks and barn owls.
SHAFER: It was a matter of just putting up perches in the vineyards and they would eat these golfers and molds.
MARCIANO: But one of the most striking features of the vineyard is the vast array of solar panels covering the many roofs and hills that help Schafer reduce its energy consumption.
SHAFER: We used to pay maybe $40 to $50,000 a year on power. And basically we pay $1500 now.
MARCIANO: And on very sunny days, the meter even runs backwards.
SHAFER: This arrow here means it's -- we are producing more than we are using, so anything extra is going out to the grid.
MARCIANO: Reducing the vineyard's carbon footprint by farming sustainably has its benefit. Shafer says his wines have improved and his customers appreciate it, and that is good for business.
O'BRIEN: Would you believe this used to be this? At this plant near Atlanta, they're performing steel-belted alchemy. It's a solution to one of the most stubborn landfill eyesores of all. The idea is the brainchild of Tony Cialone, founder of a company called Lehigh Technologies.
TONY CIALONE, LEHIGH TECHNOLOGIES: We look at the rubber feed stock which is once an old tire as the nation's newest raw early.
O'BRIEN: First, they shred the tires, then freeze the pieces with liquid nitrogen, making them extremely brittle. Then this machine pulverizes the rubber to powder. And it turns out that powder is pretty useful. It's used to improve paints, coatings and sealants.
CIALONE: The product that goes into stocks will take on the qualities of rubber. Elasticity, impact resistance. It (INAUDIBLE) UV protection, ozone protection.
O'BRIEN: Oh, and the powder is also used to make new tires, taking this novel process full circle, so to speak.
O'BRIEN: Demand for that tire powder is apparently high. Lehigh is adding 60,000 square feet to its plant which already consumes more than 6 million scrap tires every year.
Coming up, the man who invented the segue takes on a more serious mission bringing safe drinking water to the third world.
And you'll meet some GREEN WARRIORS that are down and dirty eating heavy metals in some once polluted soil.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back. We live in the days of miracles and wonders, to be sure. But unfortunately much of the world is looking in from the outside.
Some of our GREEN WARRIORS are trying to change that by bringing some solutions to places where the problems are fundamental.
O'BRIEN (voice over): Inventor Dean Kamen took me to the river, dropped a bucket down and let the green facts flow. More than a billion people do not have access to decent water.
DEAN KAMEN, INVENTOR: Their choice is to drink bad water or die of thirst.
O'BRIEN: The segue inventor has spent the past decade trying to make the awful choice a thing of the past.
KAMEN: Let's take this water back.
O'BRIEN: Carrying a bucket of Merrimac River water, he segued his way to his lab where he has built an amazing water purifying device he calls sling shot.
KAMEN: We call it a sling shot because, as you might recall from the old story, there was this little guy David.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Yes, I heard of him.
KAMEN: He had a really big problem, a Goliath of a problem.
O'BRIEN (voice over): Sling shot distills the dirty water, which is the best way to purify it, but distillation normally requires a lot of power. Sling shot recaptures nearly all the heat used in the first place and reuses it. And it needs less juice than a blow-dryer.
KAMEN: And we have a very realistic solution here.
O'BRIEN: It was delicious and it can produce enough water for 100 people a day. But getting these $2,000 devices to places where they are needed will take a whole new level of inventiveness.
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is Andrew Stevens.
Every farmer knows that earth worms are good for the soil. They aerate it and fertilize it. In India, Dr. Suneet Dabke has big plans for the humble earth worms he's been studying for the past dozen years. He says they can do a lot more for the earth than just fertilize it.
SUNEET DABKE, BIOCHEMIST: This is going to do some magic for us. They are going to take the soil of the (INAUDIBLE) into their body and going to extract out the good nutrients to the soil.
STEVENS: Dr. Dabke says worms can remove toxic wastes from contaminated soil just by doing what comes naturally. Bad stuff in, good stuff out. And there's a lot of badly polluted land in the western Indian state of Gujarat, which is one of India's fastest growing economies.
(INAUDIBLE) of the outskirts of one of Gujarat's industrial capital Ahmedabad used to be a farmer's village, but when textile and pharmaceutical plants spring up outside of town and dump toxic waste onto the land, most farmers lost their crops.
He says the plants were getting burned by the pollution before they could even grow and the soil wasn't good either. He says they often saw colors from the textile dyes on the plant. In 2006 Dabke received a $15,000 grant from an international NGO, the Blacksmith Group, to cover the cost of removing four acres of waste using earthworms. Initially about 300,000 worms were released. A year later soil tests showed a 60 percent reduction of heavy metals.
An additional 100,000 worms were added later along with natural soil conditioners to help absorb the remaining waste.
DABKE: We are condensing -- we are reducing the volume of toxic waste from such a huge amount to such a small amount.
STEVENS: Good news for the farmers, but bad news for the worms. They are sifted out of the earth and burned after their work is done. The heavy metals they've absorbed are released into the air where Dr. Dabke says they do less harm than in the soil.
But for the next two years, these worms will live a worm's version of the good life, happily munching their way through the soil, helping India digest its toxic waste.
EVAN THOMAS, ENGINEERS WITHOUT BORDERS: I'm an aerospace engineer at NASA where I work on specifically water management and water recovery systems for moon and Mars spacecrafts.
The goal with treating water is to separate the clean water from the contaminants that are making it dirty. There's 1.2 billion people in the world are drinking contaminated water that can be relatively easily treated. And the people in Rwanda fall squarely into that statistic.
Treating water for astronauts in space might seem a whole lot different than treating water for people in Rwanda. But, in fact, a lot of the requirements are similar. You're in a pretty harsh environment where you don't have a lot of resources and you have to install a system to take really badly contaminated water and turn it into drinking water.
We saw that contaminated surface water was one of the biggest public health challenges in Rwanda.
And Engineers Without Borders is an all-volunteer organization. The Johnson Space Center chapter is made up of engineers and astronauts and educators and scientists who are all working in their spare time on the evenings and weekends and taking vacation time to do these projects around the world.
DAN GARGUILO, ENGINEER/EWB VOLUNTEER: The problem is that they're collecting water that's been running off the hills through pasture and farmland and agricultural land so it collects all sorts of bacteria and it just gets dirty in the process.
RON GARAN, ASTRONAUT/EWB VOLUNTEER: We tested the water before our systems were put in and it was nearly the equivalent of drinking raw sewage.
GARGUILO: (INAUDIBLE) Their lives are lived in sickness. DEAN MUIRHEAD, ENGINEER.EWB VOLUNTEER: And even in Mexico families have lost children to water-related diarrhea. I focus on monitoring the system and teaching the kids how to monitor the system and we have little bacterial plates that we put the water on a mill on them and after two days they can actually see there's bacteria that can cause them illness.
GARGUILO: And I went to (INAUDIBLE) last summer, the kids refused to drink water that doesn't come through this system that we installed, which is great. And part of the reason may just be because of the novelty of it because we were there installing it and they just (INAUDIBLE), excited about it, but now it's embedded and so they're going to be drinking clean water for the rest of their lives.
It doesn't take NASA engineers, we just happened to be NASA engineers and wanted to do something about it.
GARAN: I wouldn't do what I do as an astronaut if I didn't truly believe that what we're doing in the space program is benefiting the whole world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One hour, 22 minutes into the excursion by Ron Garan.
GARAN: I have the same feeling in the volunteer work. I think it's equally fulfilling because we have that same feeling that what we are doing is making a difference and making the world a better place.
GARGUILO: Even these kids that live in such a state of poverty are so happy and they are so happy to see us. And they are running around in rags and with, you know, barely enough to eat. The look on the kids' faces when they drink clean water for the first time, it makes all -- all the work worth it.
O'BRIEN: If you want to get involved in Engineers Without Borders -- you don't have to be an engineer, by the way -- check out the group's Web site at ewb-usa.org.
Coming up, meet a GREEN WARRIOR who is doing what he can to save our feathered friends from smacking into buildings. The bird man of Toronto, next.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back. The long battle to protect our environment often moves in fits and starts. One step forward, two steps back. And so it goes as we turn our attention to some of our GREEN WARRIORS fighting to save the animals.
PETE NYE, N.Y. STATE WILDLIFE OFFICER: We don't know where this nest is. But it's somewhere right around this ridge. Not very far.
O'BRIEN (voice over): It's another day out of the office for Pete Nye.
NYE: Should be an adult eagle or two...
O'BRIEN: The eagle guy. A man who should be celebrating but instead is very nervous.
The other day I tagged along as he made his rounds on the Hudson River 60 miles north of New York City.
NYE: Usually it's a pretty, pretty good sized tree, pretty commanding tree structure and height. Good visibility and access in and out for the eagles.
O'BRIEN: These eagles weren't home. But Pete still had work to do.
NYE: We have Bushwhacker way up to the tree.
O'BRIEN: Pete is planning to retire in just a few years, and yet, he gave me a run for my money in the woods. The main mission here, raccoon-proofing the tree.
NYE: They go after eggs or young...
O'BRIEN (on camera): Right.
NYE: They've been known to kill eaglets in the nest. About the only predator that bald eagles have, you know, that we have to worry about.
O'BRIEN (voice over): Of course, we were the problem 40 years ago when we were trying to kill bugs with DDT insecticide. The chemical made eagle legs too thin and fragile. And the population collapsed. Banning the DDT was a good part of the fix, along with putting the eagle on the endangered species list.
But Pete was among those who believed the eagles needed a jumpstart. So he went to Alaska and he asked for some help. In the '70s and '80s, he imported 198 Alaskan eaglets -- the goal, to get 40 nesting pairs in New York.
(On camera): We're in 2007 and you have how many?
NYE: About 125 pairs this year.
O'BRIEN: Three times what you predicted.
NYE: Pretty much, yes. Very rewarding that they're actually coming into a lot of these habitats. There's obviously still a lot of good space and a lot of good food.
O'BRIEN (voice over): For now. More on that in a moment.
Pete took me further up the river to another nest. And this time...
NYE: You got it, Steve?
(CROSSTALK) NYE: I see it, I see it.
O'BRIEN: I got a glimpse. Sorry about the shots, I had a hard time steadying up in the canoe. But there's no mistaking what I captured on tape.
NYE: Beautiful sight to see them, isn't it?
O'BRIEN (on camera): Oh, yes. Do you ever get what blase about it?
NYE: Not yet, I haven't.
O'BRIEN (voice over): That's saying a lot, given all of the eagles he's banded and tracked, all the tall trees he's climbed. And that's when I realized Pete Nye is a man on a mission. And now, after all that work, he can declare victory. But he isn't celebrating.
(On camera): So you worry?
NYE: Of course we're worried.
O'BRIEN (voice over): Because the eagles may be thriving, but their habitat is steadily vanishing.
(On camera): So what's really endangered now are the habitats?
NYE: Absolutely. That's absolutely right. The chemical contamination issue is no longer with us. There are certainly some concerns in that regard, but by and large, it's the place to live, the undisturbed place to live, that we need to maintain for eagles and other species.
O'BRIEN (voice over): The good news is, the eagles are no longer considered endangered species. Hopefully that's not the bad news as well. And while Pete is nervous about his birds, he sure can retire on a high note, can he?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is Kyung Lah. The day has begun at Berlin Farms.
JENNIFER CERMAK, OWNER, BERLIN FARMS: Good morning.
LAH: Jennifer Cermak greets her animals.
CERMAK: Hi, Jane.
LAH: She's not your average farmer. And these aren't your average farm animals.
(On camera): How many of these turkeys are in the U.S. now?
CERMAK: I believe 5,000.
LAH: Only 5,000?
CERMAK: Yes. LAH (voice over): You're looking at a royal palm turkey, a breed that dates back to colonial America. In modern America, it's in danger of extinction.
CERMAK: They're mostly endangered because they didn't make the cut as far as the commercial industrial birds. They're too small to be Thanksgiving dinner. So we're raising them here in hopes of bringing their numbers up.
LAH: That's her hope for nearly all the animals here at Berlin Farms.
CERMAK: This is Gaylord. He's a giant (INAUDIBLE) goose.
LAH: They're examples of breeds that are dying off, listed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as threatened or endangered. This unusual looking bird is a Sumatra chicken. Its population is estimated at only 500 in the entire U.S.
The large commercial farms that dominate American agribusiness these days aren't interested in diversity. They prefer to concentrate on one, or at most, just a few high-quality meats for your meat, egg or dairy department.
Why should you care? Cermak, who holds a doctorate in pathology, says animals like her hearty southbound sheep are security for your food supply.
CERMAK: I think even a silly person can understand that it's not good if your agricultural animals are declining, and that you're being left with really a handful of chosen commercial breeds. That's just not a safe place to be for the sake of the food supply that you need to maintain diversity.
LAH (on camera): Do you think the day is coming?
CERMAK: Absolutely. You're seeing warmer temperatures and then illnesses that are quite unexpected.
LAH (voice over): Like the bird flu that threatens to wipe out segments of the food chain. Having a greater variety of birds could mean that some birds could develop resistance to diseases that might wipe out a commercial breed or be better able to withstand environmental changes caused by global warming.
CERMAK: So they've been very busy.
LAH (on camera): While Berlin Farms is trying to save endangered farm animals, the American farms itself is in danger. Most are not profitable anymore. But land making way for shopping malls and subdivisions.
(Voice over): So, with fewer independent farmers, there are fewer breed variations to be found on the American farm. These south town sheep once on the endangered list are listed as a recovery breed.
Most people need to learn about endangered farm animals like these baby (INAUDIBLE) ducks, says Cermak.
(On camera): How do you get people interest in the unpopular animal?
CERMAK: The minute you tell them there's an issue, they want to participate.
LAH (voice over): Cermak has another fulltime job working at a biotech lab in Boston. She's a fourth generation farmer who runs this farm, she says, because it's fun.
(On camera): So this is the -- the - the...
CERMAK: Getting mauled is part of farming.
LAH (voice over): But she also believes in keeping these old breeds of America's past alive, and in doing so, perhaps giving the world's food chain a safer tomorrow.
O'BRIEN: No doubt about it, Mike Mesure is for the birds.
MIKE MESURE, FATAL LIGHT AWARENESS PROGRAM: The migrants here hopping around. It's looking pretty weak.
O'BRIEN: Mesure and his volunteers in Toronto rescue birds that crash into buildings.
MESURE: So (INAUDIBLE) a sparrow.
O'BRIEN: At night, they become disoriented and lost amid all the lights.
MESURE: The birds will be -- they'll fly right to those buildings and fall to the ground traumatized or dead or they'll circle in that brightly lit area until they drop from exhaustion.
O'BRIEN: Mesure says millions of birds die this way every year in North America, most during migratory season.
MESURE: It's horrific to see what can occur. You know, over 500 birds over a six-hour period is it's a hell's bird.
O'BRIEN: But the problem doesn't go away when the sun rises. Birds see trees and bushes reflected in mirrored glass and fly smack into an often fatal surprise.
MESURE: So there's a bird right there. Look at that.
O'BRIEN: Mesure's group wrote a guide to a better life in the big city for the birds. Simple ideas like turning off lights or closing blinds at night and making sure windows near the ground include some visual queues that they are there.
Mesure is pushing for buildings to be designed from the outset with birds in mind. In the meantime, he is saving those he can, one stunned victim at a time.
O'BRIEN: Those guidelines have become a template for similar suggestions all throughout North America and Europe, even right here in New York City.
That's all the time we have. Don't forget to check out our webpage for more environmental solutions, CNN.com/solutions.
Thanks for joining us, I'm Miles O'Brien. We hope you, too, will become a GREEN WARRIOR.