Monthly Archives: November 2008

Science Wednesday: Mapping Forest “Fuels”

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Todd Erdody is a MS student at the University of Washington College of Forest Resources. His work is funded by an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship.

image of man in haard hat feeding a large fireBefore starting my graduate education in the fall of 2007, I was working as a fire monitor and firefighter in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California. I was headed for a graduate program in remote sensing and forestry with a college-funded fellowship and no set thesis topic. I spent a good part of that summer thinking about potential research topics as I ignited prescribed fires and fought, monitored, and mapped wildfires.

I realized that I wanted to build on existing research at the University of Washington to find better ways to estimate canopy “fuels”— small-diameter branches and foliage (leaves) that will burn in a wildfire.

Existing fuels maps are made from coarse-resolution vegetation maps and satellite imagery. By using high-resolution, remote sensing data such as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and digital imagery, perhaps canopy fuels could be mapped more accurately and efficiently. Through improved fuels mapping, smoke and harmful particulate matter production from wildfires could be more accurately assessed.image of man on mountain viewing smoke from a distant fire

Since I was only funded for my first year of graduate school, I was looking for assistance. I was very grateful to receive the EPA STAR fellowship for the 2008/2009 academic year. Aside from helping me in my second year of graduate education and enabling me to focus on my work, it gives me the resources needed to attend a variety of conferences to present my research.

I wanted to focus my research on a fire-prone ecosystem, so I chose to work in the forests dominated by Ponderosa pines in eastern Washington State. I am currently building regression models for canopy fuel metrics and will eventually produce maps of canopy fuel loading. My goal is to be able to use these models in similar forest types throughout the Northwest.

Others have done similar work in the forests of western Washington and, although I am using existing methods, the real difference is that I am creating models in ecosystems that will frequently burn. The applications for this research are far-reaching in terms of both geography and planning. I envision forest managers using high-resolution remote sensing technologies to map fuels more effectively and create maps for use in wildfire and smoke modeling programs.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrate the environment: Your holiday shopping list can be eco-friendly

About the author: Andrea Drinkard is Web Content Coordinator in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

If you’re like me, when you go shopping the environment isn’t always the first thing on your mind. I’m always worried whether they’ll have my size or if it’s going to be on sale, but not necessarily what the environmental impact of my purchases will be.

On my last shopping trip, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye-a sticker that asked me to shop smart. Smart shopping doesn’t just mean finding the best deals, taking the most efficient route, or finding what you’re looking for as soon as you walk in the store. But it also means keeping the environment in mind while you shop.

With the holidays coming up and lots of shopping in my near future, I started to think how easy it would be to put Mother Earth on my gift list. I mean, a lot of the things I’m already doing to be eco-friendly at home, at the office or on the road could be done while shopping for holiday gifts. I take public transit to work; why not take it to the mall? I use the energy-save mode on my computer; why not buy one that has earned the new ENERGY STAR? I reuse and recycle at home; why not make a gift out of reused or recycled materials instead of buying a new one?

These small, but important, choices also have a positive impact on your wallet. Planning ahead to reduce the number of trips you take saves gas and saves you money. Buying ENERGY STAR products reduces your energy bill year-round. And that all adds up to a gift that keeps on giving.

So, this holiday season, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the environment by traveling, shopping, decorating and cleaning up in an environmentally friendly way. Check back with us at www.epa.gov this week and throughout the season to find out how you can turn your holiday green.

To see how others are being green this holiday season and to let us know what you’re doing, check out EPA’s question of the week about greening your holiday.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Climate for Action: Energy Efficiency

About the author: Ashley Sims, a senior at Indiana University, is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education through the Washington Leadership Program.

My weekly blog is part of EPA’s campaign to engage middle and high school students in a discussion on global climate change and its effects on children’s health. As mentioned before, it’s my privilege to give students the opportunity to express their own thoughts on this issue. I look forward to hearing your comments. Now let’s get started on this week’s topic – energy efficiency.

Some of you may have heard of the ENERGY STAR label – you can find it on qualified light bulbs, cordless phones, and other electronics. If I may say so myself, ENERGY STAR qualified products are great to have because they use less energy, save money, and help protect the environment and health. The ENERGY STAR label means a product has met the energy-efficient standards set by EPA and the Department of Energy.

We use electricity for lighting, operating appliances, and producing hot and cold water. When coal and other fossil fuels are burned to create electricity, greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. In fact, according to the greenhouse gas calculator on the EPA website, the average household of two produces about 16,290 pounds a year of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Did you know that different power plants use different types of fuel, and a power plant that runs on coal gives off more greenhouse gases per unit of electricity than a power plant that uses natural gas? The build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is causing the climate to change.

It’s really important for us to be energy conscious and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what you can do –

  • Get involved today and encourage your parents to replace their light bulbs with ones that have the ENERGY STAR label. According to the ENERGY STAR website, if every American home replaced one light with an ENERGY STAR qualified light bulb, the reduction in greenhouse gases would be the same as taking 800,000 cars off the road.
  • Get your parents to take the ENERGY STAR pledge.
  • Check out how you can save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emission in your own room.
  • Join the campaign to create a new climate for action.

And make sure to let me know what you’re doing to save energy.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Nature Lesson in my Own Backyard

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

“You don’t care about what you don’t know.” That phrase stuck with me long after watching the wonderful video, Wetlands & Wonder: Reconnecting Children with Nearby Nature. I was fortunate enough, as well as most of my co-workers, to grow up surrounded by beautiful open spaces. There was no satellite TV, no Ipod, no PlayStation nor the Web. If I wanted to play, I had to go outside to our backyard or go bike riding with my brother or cousins around the neighborhood. Every time we left the house. a whole new world of exploration and curiosity unraveled before our eyes. Many of the activities we did as young children were nature oriented. Our maternal grandparents had a farm and from our paternal grandmother’s backyard the nearby El Yunque rainforest was on full display. We got our feet wet in the Río Blanco River and plenty of times came home carrying treasures from the beach. Nowadays, I work as public affairs specialist at EPA in San Juan and my brother works as a marine scientist at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, Washington.

photo of author with her sonAs a modern day parent, getting my kids out into nature can be a challenge. Even though I take them frequently to the country or on the occasional road trip, finding time to experience nature every day is very hard. Four children, a busy schedule, and living in the suburbs are not the right mix to provide for nature oriented experiences. Still,I carve out the occasional moment to give my kids outdoor experiences, like when I tend to my garden or let them play when I air-dry our clothes, Recently, I accidentally ran a cart over a small snake. Upon finding it, I took my three year-old son to the backyard to show him the dead snake. I ran my fingers over its slimy body and my son felt instant curiosity to know how it felt, and did the same. I told him about what snakes eat and how they hide in the base of the ginger and heliconia plants.

Kids don’t have to travel far or visit a museum to learn about nature; the easiest access is often found in our own backyards, in our parks, in the empty lot nearby our houses. If they get to know and experience, nature they will become adults concerned with safeguarding their surroundings and, thus, the environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Una lección sobre naturaleza en mi patio

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

“No se le da importancia a lo que no se conoce” La frase se me quedó grabada luego de ver la maravillosa película Wetlands & Wonder: Reconnecting Children with Nearby Nature. Me considero afortunada de haber podido crecer, al igual que muchos de mis compañeros de trabajo, rodeada de espacios verdes. No tenía televisión satélite , I-pod, ni un PlayStation. Si quería jugar, tenía que ir al patio o a correr bicicleta por el vecindario con mi hermano y mis primas. Cada vez que salíamos de la casa a recorrer nuestros alrededores, un nuevo mundo de exploración se revelaba ante nuestros ojos. Muchas de las actividades que realizábamos mi hermano y yo eran relacionadas a la naturaleza. Además de las visitas mensuales, pasábamos las vacaciones en la finca de nuestros abuelos maternos o en casa de nuestra abuela paterna desde cuyo patio se podía apreciar el Bosque El Yunque. Fueron muchas las veces que mojamos nuestros pies en el agua del Río Blanco y otro tanto que llegamos cargando “tesoros” de la playa. El resultado es que ambos tenemos una carrera relacionada al medioambiente, yo trabajo en la EPA en San Juan como oficial de asuntos públicos y mi hermano es doctor en ciencias marinas para NOAA en Seattle, Washington.

photo of author and her sonHoy día como madre exponer a mis hijos a este tipo de actividad, que para mi era tan común, es un gran reto. Aunque suelo llevarlos al campo y a la playa ocasionalmente, hacer tiempo en nuestra rutina diaria para convivir con la naturaleza es difícil. Mi agitado estilo de vida, vivir en los suburbios unido a la crianza de 4 niños no son una receta fácil para obtener experiencias relacionadas a la naturaleza diariamente. Sin embargo trato de buscar esos momentos como cuando vamos a sembrar plantas en el jardín o secamos la ropa al aire libre, ocasión en que los niños exploran abiertamente sus alrededores o como cuando recientemente aplasté una pequeña culebra en nuestro patio. Cuando la encontré llevé a mi hijo de 3 años al patio para que pudiera verla. Al deslizar mis dedos sobre el cuerpo de esta, mi hijo sintió la curiosidad innata de hacer exactamente lo mismo. Aproveché el momento y le hablé sobre ellas y cuanto les encanta esconderse en la base de los jengibres y heliconias del patio.

Estoy convencida que los niños no necesitan viajar lejos o visitar un museo para aprender sobre la naturaleza. El acceso más fácil está en nuestro patio, en los parques de nuestra comunidad o en el terreno vacío a lado de la casa. Si conocen y experimentan la naturaleza crecerán convertidos en adultos conscientes de ella y por ende protectores del medioambiente que les rodea.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sustainability: Market Lessons

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Alan D. Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He has also served as the Associate Director for Sustainable Development, White House Council on Environmental Quality (2002-2003), and the Director of International Environmental Affairs for the National Security Council (2001-2002).

On October 9, 2007—the same day the stock market soared above 14,000 points—New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum declared that Federal Reserve officials saw a cloudy economic forecast for months ahead. We all know what happened next. Financial warning signs were everywhere, but appropriate actions were not taken.

What does the financial crisis have to do with environmental sustainability? The clearest link is a critical lesson about the consequences of not paying attention to warning signs. Today nearly all ecosystems in the world are under serious stress:

  • Approximately 60 percent (15 of 24) of the ecosystem services examined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment are being degraded or used unsustainably.
  • The quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is continuing to rise.
  • Signs of water scarcity—rivers running dry, wells going dry, and lakes disappearing—have become commonplace over the last half-century. Reports from WHO, the UN and other sources suggest water scarcity may be the least recognized resource issue facing the world today.

Like the financial world, the environmental world is threatened by collapse. It is time to examine basic principles and take corrective actions, such as making our industrial and energy systems as sustainable as possible. Three things are needed to make sustainability operational: advances in science and technology, implementation of appropriate government regulations and policies, and green business practices.

Regulatory and science agencies like EPA need to follow a broader mandate to undertake core research leading to a better understanding of the interactions among the economy, society, and the environment. EPA core research must expand basic knowledge of the environment, provide practical solutions to problems, and motivate actions. EPA’s Sustainability Research Strategy is a starting point. Its measure of success must be to develop tools, models, and approaches that inform public debate and help businesses make better decisions.

As in all previous financial crises, the stock market will recover. Unfortunately it may be far more difficult to respond as quickly to current and pending environmental crises. The time is clearly at hand to launch corrective actions.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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An Historic Transition

About the Author: Marcus Peacock is EPA’s Deputy Administrator and Transition Leader.

EPA’s main headquarters building is located at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. At this same intersection in the mid-morning of April 15, 1865, Andrew Johnson slipped into what was then called the Kirkland House hotel. About two hours later he re-emerged. He went in as Vice President. He came out as President.

Old newspaper photo of Andrew Johnson taking presidential oath of officeAndrew Johnson ‘transitioning’ at Kirkland House, 1865.

It is miraculous that during one of the most emotive and disturbing events in our history, Lincoln’s assassination, we handed off Presidential power so peacefully. We have been through 42 Presidential transitions under both banal and extraordinary circumstances and have never encountered angry mobs swarming the Capitol or soldiers marching on the White House. We take this consistently placid process for granted. Just ask anyone living in Zimbabwe, Burma or Thailand.

That said, some transitions are better than others. I believe the current transition may turn out to be the smoothest on record. The current Administration started working with the campaign staffs weeks ago to prepare for this changeover and that advanced planning is already paying dividends.

One reason is technology. We can now communicate more information more quickly to more people than ever before. For instance, if you are at EPA and have any questions regarding the Agency’s transition you can go to an intranet site and get answers. If you don’t see an answer to your question there, you can ask your question and get an answer later. In addition, on October 20, 2008 we broadcast a briefing regarding EPA’s transition throughout the agency on internet protocol television. If you missed it, you can replay it at your leisure.

When the President-elect designates an EPA transition team – and we have a clear process in place for the President-elect to notify the Agency of who is on this team — we are already prepared to give them the infrastructure and information they will need to seamlessly take the reins in January. 12th and Pennsylvania was the location of one of the most chaotic transitions in history. It will now be the site of one of its smoothest.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: What do you do to reduce or avoid “overpackaging” in products you buy?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Product packaging is crucial for protecting food or other items that we buy from contamination or damage. But packaging uses materials and resources that can affect the environment. When is enough enough? November 15 is America Recycles Day.

What do you do to reduce or avoid “overpackaging” in products you buy?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

El embalaje de productos es crucial para proteger los alimentos y otros artículos que compramos de contaminación o daño. Sin embargo, envases, envolturas y embalajes utilizan materiales y recursos que afectan el medio ambiente. ¿Cuándo estos embalajes se convierten en algo excesivo?

¿Qué hace para reducir o evitar el exceso de envolturas y embalaje en los productos que compra?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Twitterers, Speak Up!

About the author: Jeffrey Levy joined EPA in 1993 to help protect the ozone layer. He is now the National Web Content Manager.

Ever notice that link on the right of our blog pages that says “Follow us on Twitter?” Twitter.com lets people get short, real-time updates from other people who are also on Twitter (it’s called “microblogging,” and there are other sites besides Twitter). Most of it is friends chatting or colleagues sharing tips. And that seems to be the best possible use for microblogging.

But another way to use it is to post your headlines. It’s like RSS plus: no feed reader needed and you get everyone’s feeds in one window.

Our friends at usa.gov put post titles from their blog, GovGab. on Twitter a few months ago using their RSS feed. It took them only a few minutes to set up, and then it ran by itself. That seemed like an easy way to check out this system, and it’s free, so Greenversations has been on Twitter ever since. And boy, were we surprised at what happened.

With no advertising, 25 people started following us, making us wonder what would happen if we made it easier. So we added the link on the right. On Wed., the 300th Twitterer started following us: @thegreenscene. And a few more pile on each day. With that success, we decided to try our news release headlines on Twitter, too.

This is a great example of using a Web 2.0 tool to put information where the people are, instead of making them come to us (speaking of which, have you seen our Question of the Week widget?). As of today, most of our blog’s traffic is people reading on this site. But between Twitter and our RSS feed, I think that will change.

Changing gears a bit, I’d like your help if you’re a Twitterer. You all have people following you, and some of you have hundreds or even thousands. Let’s try an experiment, to see whether people who already follow us influence people following them. If you’d like to help:

  1. Please tweet us (post on Twitter). It could be as simple as “Check out EPA’s blog on Twitter: @greenversations” or “EPA’s tweeting its news releases: @usepanews”
  2. Leave a comment here introducing yourself.

And whether you’re on Twitter or not, tell us how you use Web 2.0 to stay in touch with what’s going on with EPA, this blog, and environmental protection in general.

I’ll be checking our numbers and will report back with what happens.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Pets can be green, too!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.
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We’re in the process of getting a dog for my little one who’s turning seven. It was a promise we made two years ago. We can’t postpone it any longer. The dog search has become a family affair. Although we all had different preferences, we agreed that we were looking for a dog that is good with kids and low maintenance. The days of taking poodles for grooming are long gone in my house. Therefore, we settled on a puggle-half pug, half beagle. Both breads are kid friendly. It has short hair so I’ll be able to check the low maintenance box in my book.

We were searching adoption sites and shelters around our home, but didn’t find a dog or puppy that met our needs. After some heavy duty searching, my daughter Leila finally found a female puggle puppy two hours away and she’ll bring it home this weekend. That should be a beautiful fall drive.

In preparing for the dogs arrival, I decided to do some Web surfing to find out how we could still observe some environmentally friendly pet care practices with the new addition to the family. Found some good info on EPA’s Web site about protecting pets from common problems such as fleas and ticks. Also found a how to go green pet guide, which I would like to share. The guide has a lot of green pet tips which I look forward to implementing at home. So can you. Good luck.

¡Las mascotas también pueden ser verdes!

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Estamos en el proceso de encontrar una perrita para nuestra pequeña que cumple 7 añitos. Es una promesa que le habíamos hecho hace dos años y ya no la podemos seguir posponiendo. La búsqueda de la nueva mascota se ha convertido en una empresa familiar. A pesar de que todos optaríamos por razas diferentes, creo que hemos acordado que quisiéramos un perro que fuera bueno con los niños y requiriera poco mantenimiento. Ya yo no estoy para esas jornadas de llevar mis perras poodle al salón de belleza para animales. Demasiado trabajo. Por ende, hemos optado por una puggle-un cruce entre los perros pug y los beagle. Ambas razas se conocen por ser buenas para las familias que tienen niños pequeños. También tienen el pelo corto por lo tanto cumplen con mi requisito de poco mantenimiento.

Buscamos varios refugios y centros de adopción de mascotas cerca de la casa, pero no conseguimos ningún perro o cachorro que cumpliera con nuestros requisitos. Después de una intensa búsqueda, mi hija Leila finalmente consiguió una perrita puggle a sólo dos horas de distancia de la casa. La traerá este fin de semana. Me imagino que podría disfrutar de un buen paseo otoñal durante el viaje.

En preparación para la llegada de la perrita, visité varias páginas Web para aprender información sobre el cuidado de cachorros que fuera beneficiosa para el medio ambiente. Encontré buena información en el sitio Web de EPA sobre cómo proteger las mascotas de problemas comunes como las pulgas y garrapatas. También encontré una guía sobre cómo lograr que su mascota sea verde la cual quisiera compartir con ustedes. La guía tiene algunos consejos útiles que me interesa implementar en el hogar. Usted también podría hacerlo. Mucha suerte.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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