Monthly Archives: May 2009

Biking to Work and Reducing Climate Change

About the author: Henry Ferland is Co-Director of the Methane to Markets Partnership Secretariat (methanetomarkets.org)

I work in EPA’s Climate Change Division on an international methane reduction program that seeks to reduce climate change by encouraging developing countries to capture and use methane.  While there are costs associated with developing methane projects, there are multiple local co-benefits including revenue from the gas,  increased air and water quality, improved worker safety (in coal mines) and reduced dependence on fossil fuels.

How does this relate to biking to work?  I bike commute down to EPA’s office at 1310 L Street –from Tenleytown, DC – about 20 to 25 minutes to work and about 25 to 30 minutes home depending on lights, traffic, how hard I push it.  This bike commute provides a small personal contribution to reducing climate change but, like methane reduction, has significant co-benefits:

Here’s my personal co-benefit list:

  1. May be fastest way to get to work (especially if you live in the city or in nearby suburbs).
  2. Reverses the traffic stress paradigm — instead of getting stressed at the sight of traffic — I get happy   as I zip past gridlocked cars on my bike lane.
  3. Excellent work-out.  Get a free hour of exercise each day without taking other time out of my schedule.
  4. Stress release — grinding up the hill on Massachusetts Avenue is a great way to unwind and decompress after a long day at the office.
  5. No fossil fuels equal zero emissions!
  6. Great way to wake up and greet the day!

All this said – there are some important barriers to consider:

  1. Occasional run-ins with bad or angry drivers.
  2. Lack of clear bike lanes on most streets in DC — one must learn to be an assertive bike rider and also learn to pick good routes.
  3. Proper gear — expensive outfits not needed — but a good wind layer is important for cold days in the winter and nice raincoat is good for rainy days.
  4. Showers and Office Clothes.  If your office is not set up for biking you may need to figure out a system (nearby gym?) for showering and dressing appropriately.  I’ve found it helpful to carry my clothes in a square plastic box in panniers.   It’s also worth investigating using a locker or extra filing cabinet as in-office storage for office clothes.

The bottom-line on bike commuting:  give it a try, and you may find that you arrive home happier and less stressed then before and that’s before considering all the other co-benefits!

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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Bike to Work Day

About the Author: Pat Childers is a Senior Advisor in the Office of Air and Radiation who has spent over 1/2 his life promoting Clean Transportation choices for the American public. Pat currently coordinates the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee and the Clean Air Excellence Awards and is the proud father of two budding cyclists.

Image of author, wife and two young sons on tandem bike

Bike to Work Day is Friday May 15, unlike many folks my decision isn’t to bike or not, its deciding which bike to ride. Some people think biking is my life. I seldom go a day with out some sort of spinning, be it mountain biking, commuting, or riding with my kids. I was named the Agency Bike Coordinator by Carol Browner fifteen years ago. I volunteer for an organization that teaches kids about the environment from the seat of a mountain bike. I met my wife through a biking buddy, and the first purchase we ever made together was a red tandem bike. I even teach a diversity class using bikes. While biking is a passion, it is not my life. However I do find that biking is a great tool, it is the swiss army knife that I use to get through my day providing me a way to solve many problems with one simple tool.

Biking is a great tool for exercise as you burn calories riding through the city or local parks. I look back at the 240 lbs that used to be me, and say it’s good to be on the other side of 200 now and I can thank biking for that.

It’s also a great tool for teaching almost anything. Need a math lesson, a bike has 3 front gears and 9 back gears…how many total gears does that provide? Please don’t say 12. How about history, sports and diversity lessons, the first African American World Champion in any sport was Major Taylor who was a cyclist at the turn of the century a hundred years ago, and Susan B Anthony said that the bike “has done more to emancipate woman than any one thing in the world”. That’s some pretty lofty importance to place on two wheels.

On top of that, the scientific importance of bicycling from pneumatic tires to the Wright brothers developing their ideas for the airplane from their previous job building bikes, make the bike one of the most important inventions ever.

But what biking really can do best is act as a tool for low cost environmentally sound transportation. For years I rode a bike recycled from the trash and the only fuel I needed for the trip was one peanut butter banana and cheese sandwich. If you look around the community you will see cyclists of every age, sex, race and socioeconomic background all riding for different reasons-fun, health, finances, coolness factor. Whatever their reason, they are all riding and they are all helping the environment, reducing their daily footprint by increasing their daily cycling mileage so to speak. I doubt that most think about the environment, the science of biking, or as they happily spin from place to place, seeing the world from a different view than commuters stuck in traffic.

Biking isn’t my life, but it certainly has made my life better so I will join the crowd on bike to work day….if I can just figure out which bike to ride.

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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Pacific Institute Water Policy Catalysts Flooded with Environmental Award Praise

About the author: Timonie Hood has worked on EPA Region 9’s Resource Conservation Team in for 10 years and is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup.

Water supplies and management have long been a hot topic out west, and the Pacific Institute, an EPA Pacific Southwest Region Environmental Award winner has done incredible work to develop sustainable water policy.

Agriculture accounts for 80% of California Delta water consumption, and in 2008, drought and legally mandated water pumping restrictions resulted in farm losses that were estimated as high as $245 million by mid-summer.

image of report cover
Click on the Report cover above to read the report.

In 2008, a Pacific Institute report, “More with Less: Agricultural Water Conservation and Efficiency in California – A Special Focus on the Delta,” altered the approach to California’s water crisis. The researchers found potential water savings in the agricultural sector can reach 0.6-3.4 million acre feet of water—the equivalent of 3 to 20 new dams–without harming agricultural production or the economy.

This work has been catalytic—creating discussion around non-infrastructure oriented solutions that have long been absent from water policy discussions in California.

The Pacific Institute project team – Heather Cooley, Juliet Christian-Smith, and Peter Gleick -did much more than stimulate discussion, they influenced decision making processes with sound science, met with the California Board of Food and Agriculture and the Governor’s Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, and briefed more than 60 State legislators and staff.

The Pacific Institute’s leadership has changed the search for water solutions from physical answers—more dams, more reservoirs, and more conveyance—to the better management of the vital resources we do have to ensure a safe, reliable water supply in the face of a growing population, increasing threats of climate change, and environmental degradation.

Read the Report – it’s as refreshing as a cool glass of water!

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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Don’t Hate The Rain!

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.

If you live along the Eastern seaboard, you probably were overwhelmed by the incessant rain we had experienced for the two previous weeks. I guess many people suffered from cabin fever due to the dreary weather. Nonetheless, there are some benefits from the rain that we are now enjoying. What benefits, you may ask? Well, prior to these storms, there were areas in Maryland and other Eastern states that had deficits in precipitation for 2009. Groundwater levels had been approaching potential drought levels which seem to have been erased with the recent rains. Furthermore, just prior to these storms tones of brown and chartreuse dominated the landscape of lawns and gardens due to the various pollens in the air. Now, everywhere you look, the gardens have been painted with lush greens and bright spring blooms. Another added bonus, at least during the rain, the pollen is at its minimum—a temporary reprieve for allergy sufferers.

In spite of the benefits of spring showers, we should also be mindful to reduce runoff and non-point source pollution after the rain. Here are some tips:

·    Consider greenscaping to protect the environment.

·    Consider planting native shrubs and trees in your back yard to reduce erosion.

·    Wait for the storm to pass before fertilizing.

And lastly, one final benefit after the storm? We can always look forward to the sunshine. Have a great day!

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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No hay motivo para odiar la lluvia

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.

Si reside en algún estado a lo largo de la costa este de los Estados Unidos, probablemente ha estado apesadumbrado por la incesante lluvia que experimentamos por las últimas dos semanas. Creo que muchas personas se sentían algo claustrofóbicas debido al tiempo sombrío. No obstante, la lluvia trae muchos beneficios que tan sólo ahora estamos disfrutando. Usted se preguntará ¿cuáles beneficios? Bueno, antes de que comenzaran las lluvias, algunas áreas de Maryland y otros estados del este tenían un déficit de precipitación en los primeros meses del 2009. Los niveles de agua subterránea estaban registrando niveles de sequía potencial que fueron borrados por las recientes lluvias. Además, antes de estas tormentas, una variedad de tonos marrón y verde nilo dominaban los paisajes de céspedes y jardines. En la actualidad, por dondequiera que miramos, los jardines están pintados de unos verdes brillantes, frondosos arbustos rebosantes de la florecida primaveral. Y, ¿otro beneficio adicional? Pues, al menos durante las lluvias, los niveles de polen habían disminuido—un alivio temporal para aquellas personas que padecen de alergias.

A pesar de los beneficios de las lluvias de primavera, tenemos que ser conscientes de reducir las escorrentías y la contaminación de fuentes difusas después de la lluvia.

He aquí algunos consejos útiles:

·    Considere la jardinería ecológica para proteger el medio ambiente.

·    Siembre arbustos y árboles nativos en su jardín para reducir la erosión.

·    Deje que pase la tormenta antes de fertilizar.

Y finalmente, el mejor beneficio después de la tormenta? Siempre podemos esperar que salga el sol. ¡Que tenga un buen día!

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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Science Wednesday: Burning Environmentally Friendly Energy

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

About the author: Barbara Klieforth is the Acting Associate Center Director for Drinking Water in the National Center for Environmental Research at EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is also a life-long committed cycling commuter.

image of author standing next to her mountain bicycleWhile ‘being green’ is not the only reason I bike to work (it’s also fun and faster!), it is something I think about – especially since I do some of my best thinking on my commute into the office. As a scientist I was trained to be a critical thinker, but as an EPA scientist I have be more thorough than ever because we have to substantiate doing new research and our science directly impacts people’s lives. So, especially now during national ‘bike to work’ week, I find myself wondering how to quantify the environmental benefits of my 6.5 mile ride to the office. Economically, bike commuting is a no-brainer: I easily save thousands of dollars a year biking versus driving. But, in strictly environmental terms, is commuting by bike worth the risks it poses (including forgetting such things as dress shoes!)? There are lots of cool online tools that calculate the environmental benefits of biking (e.g., Go by Bike Challenge, EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator), but one of my favorite sites simply compares the energy costs per kilometer of different forms of transportation.

In other words, the bicycle is an extremely efficient mode of transportation, and I am definitely saving plenty of energy per mile (good thing I have lots of personal calories to spare!). Less fossil energy burned = less polluting emissions. I know from some of my current focus at work on the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide that technological solutions to environmental problems we could be helping prevent in the first place are incredibly daunting. So I’d say no further research is needed to confirm that there are substantial environmental benefits to bicycling as a means of transportation. I can do something today to decrease pollution, reduce usage of fossil fuels, and have some fun on the way!

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: Add Some Green to Your Community and Plant Some Trees

About the Author: Michelle Gugger graduated from Rutgers University in 2008. She is currently spending a year of service at EPA’s Region 3 Office in Philadelphia, PA as an AmeriCorps VISTA.

image of tree with red leavesOne of the best things you can do for the environment is plant trees. Trees have so many environmental benefits. Trees produce oxygen, reduce air pollution, save energy, reduce storm water runoff, prevent soil erosion, provide wildlife habitat and reduce carbon from entering into the environment. Trees also add beauty to the environment! Many people plant trees because it makes their lawns look nicer. People also travel from all over the world to see trees located in our national parks, preserves and old growth forests.

If you’re interested in planting trees in your city or neighborhood to add to its beauty or help protect the environment – here’s how you can start:

  • Call your local horticultural society or local nursery. They can tell you what trees are best suited for the area. Your local horticultural society may also be able to tell you if there are any free tree programs in your area.
  • Talk to your friends and neighbors about becoming involved in the planting process. It’s an easy process and can be a lot of fun too! But, be sure you contact a governing official if you are not planting the trees on your own property.
  • Don’t forget to take care of the trees once you plant them. Trees need some care during their first couple of years which includes watering, mulching and supporting the tree to stand up vertically.

Now that it is spring, it is the perfect time to get out and plant a few trees. Planting trees is always a good time and it would also be a great way for you to become a climate ambassador in your community. Planting just one tree will reduce 13 pounds of carbon from entering into the atmosphere in a year. And, the more you can plant, the bigger impact you can make in reducing carbon!! Do you want to plant more trees in your community? Be sure to tell us why and what plans you will want to make.

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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Suddenly the Doorbell Ring Sounds Different

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, most as a reservist, give him a different look at government service.

My doorbell rarely rings. Invited guests, whom we called “company” as kids—we knew company was coming when Mom wouldn’t let us touch any treats for a couple of days, lest there not be enough left—usually knock, or I see them coming up the steps and beat them to the door. But a number of those rare rings each year are by people, typically college students, who ask me to sign a petition for worthy causes such as improved right-to-know laws, broader access to wind power, restricted pesticide use, and setting aside undeveloped land for wildlife habitat. I’m usually a sucker for these ringers and, please don’t tell anyone, shell out a double sawbuck when money is requested.

I always enjoy the short discussions that precede the requests. What’s changed since January, very noticeably, is the petitioners’ reaction when, if the conversation goes that way, I reveal my EPA affiliation. Although it makes no sense to bad-mouth or bad-look someone’s employer when you’re trying to get a donation from him, many of the doorway students in recent years showed their distaste for EPA, either with a proud derogatory comment or a telling smirk. It’s as if they couldn’t help themselves, despite the donation- or signature-seeking purpose of their visit.

Any of us who have worked for EPA for many years have seen the public’s view of how we’re doing turn from admiration to doubt to distaste to gratitude and to everywhere in between. And there have been times when, despite my insider’s (lifer’s?) belief that what we do is good—“Tikkun olam,” repairing the earth—we’ve all at times been, let’s say, less-than-inspired by what’s said, or not, from the top. (But don’t get me started.)

Twice in recent weeks, including yesterday, my EPA doorway confession yielded something novel for this decade: earnest inquiries about job opportunities. I know times are tough for job seekers (my older daughter is graduating from college next month and is ISO a job with health coverage), but I wonder with a slight grin if there’s another explanation for the different reaction to the mention of my favorite government agency.

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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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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Qué rama de las ciencias le parece más interesante?

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.

La ciencia tiene muchas ramas como biología, física, geología, química y otras. Díganos que tipo de ciencia le parece más interesante y por qué.

¿Qué rama de las ciencias le parece más interesante?

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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