Monthly Archives: June 2010

Leyendo….de una forma más verde

Amo la lectura. La compra o el intercambio de libros con mis amistades ha sido la norma a la hora de buscar nuevos títulos. Sin embargo con el pasar de los años he tratado de buscar opciones más verdes para sostener mi pasatiempo favorito. De acuerdo a la Green Press Initiative, en Estados Unidos se utilizan apróximadamente 30 millones de árboles en la producción de libros vendidos en territorio norteamericano. El uso de materia prima para producir libros tiene un efecto devastador en el medioambiente. Aunque la industria editorial ha implementado medidas como el uso de papel reciclado para minimizar el impacto en nuestros recursos naturales vale preguntarse ¿cómo un hábito tan enriquecedor como la lectura puede hacerse más verde? Hoy día los libros pueden ser descargados en la computadora e inclusive en nuestros teléfonos móviles al igual que existen aparatos electrónicos que nos permiten tener un buen libro en nuestras manos en cuestión de segundos.

Debo confesar que aunque he sopesado estas opciones electrónicas, soy una lectora tradicional. Me gusta tener un libro en mis manos al igual que disfruto del olor que traen sus páginas. Por tal razón he buscando opciones verdes que me permitan hacerlo de forma tradicional. Aparte de tomar libros prestados de la biblioteca, también intercambio con mis amistades, familiares y vecinas. Otra forma de reducir mi huella de carbono mientras disfruto de mi pasatiempo favorito es visitar la tienda del Ejército de Salvación. Allí encuentro títulos recientes en edición blanda y cubierta dura, así como clásicos de la literatura por menos de $3.00. Otra forma es la sección de intercambio en la biblioteca. Allí puedo tomar un libro por cada libro que llevo. En nuestra oficina de la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe tenemos un contenedor en el área de la recepción donde los lectores de la oficina llevamos nuestros libros para intercambio. Cuando los libros han sido leídos por la mayoría de los participantes, estos son llevados al intercambio de la biblioteca para mantener un flujo constante de nuevos títulos. Los lugares en Internet de intercambio de libros son otra excelente opción. En estos se obtienen puntos por cada título ofrecido. Estos puntos se pueden canjear para obtener nuevos títulos. Una pequeña desventaja es que el intercambio de libros necesita ser a través del correo.

Si usted es un lector tradicional como yo que ama las tiendas de libros y las bibliotecas, considere estas opciones a la hora de adquirir su próximo libro.

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.

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: The Importance of Sharing Our Science

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

“Is America flunking science?”

When Joe Levine, an environmental educator, posed this question in a presentation to EPA employees in Research Triangle Park, NC, my immediate answer was “no way.” After several examples of scientific misunderstandings, Levine started to change my mind.

Then, Levine gave an example that really hit home. He referenced how students are often taught about the skeletal system by having to memorize the names of human bones. I started to rack my brain for any bones I could remember and all I came up with was a verse from the song “Dry Bones.”

“The leg bone connected to the knee bone, and the knee bone connected to the thigh bone, and the thigh bone connected to the hip bone.”

Levine explained how in many classrooms students memorize series of seemingly unrelated scientific facts (like the names of human bones), without getting a true understanding of how science works.

As his presentation continued, Levine focused on the difficulty of communicating science in today’s society. The topics presented resonated with me not only as someone working as a new member of the science communications team for EPA’s National Research Programs, but also as a communication student.

My education has engrained in me the belief that effective communication is necessary in every industry and field. As the country faces complex environmental issues, the importance of science outreach, education and communication only grows.

But, science communication doesn’t come without its challenges. Levine highlighted the need to:

  • Increase scientific literacy so more people understand how science works
  • Present scientific information in short, digestible forms
  • Provide a strong scientific presence in the media, especially online

I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a communications campaign at EPA that’s meeting these needs. The Office of Research and Development’s Clean Air Research Program’s campaign, Air Science 40, is sharing research accomplishments and scientific contributions through things like a short documentary film, Science to Protect the Air We Breathe and events.

Levine summed up the potential and value of science communication with one of his final thoughts, “scientific knowledge empowers people.” With the right approach, science communication can be as innovative, interesting and important as the science itself. I’m happy to be a part of that effort here at EPA.

About the author: Rachel Canfield is a student services contractor in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is a graduate student in communication at North Carolina State University.

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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Looking for Environmental Justice at USC

EJvidHi! My name is Charlene and this past semester, I found myself in a six-person upper-division Communication class called Environmental Communication. All of us entered the class with an interest in environmental issues, but no clear idea of what the class would actually cover. Gradually, we came to develop a sense of how communication, both interpersonally and through the media or advocacy campaigns, really changes how people think about and behave towards the “environment.” When it came time for us to decide on a class term project, we weren’t really sure what to do, until one of us happened upon the EPA’s Environmental Justice video contest online. We decided that it was the perfect opportunity to look at an important issue from a communication perspective. In filming our video submission, we started by walking around campus and just asking people what they thought the words “environmental justice” meant. We found that while a few people had a vague idea, nobody really knew the actual answer. Furthermore, many people have never considered the fact that it is the world’s poorest people who in fact bear the largest environmental burden and are often left without an audience willing to hear and help them. We realized that one of the most important things everybody can do is take the time to give opinions about pending environmental issues. We cannot achieve environmental justice if people do not know it is a goal. Therefore, we focused our video on an explanation of what “environmental justice” is, in the hope that we would inspire other people to get involved. Making the film was definitely a great experience, and being chosen as a finalist was so exciting. Although I cannot say for sure what is to come, for our class or for the Earth, I have so much hope that people will believe they can make a difference in terms of climate change and environmental justice. I know that the hardest times are yet to come, but I truly believe that people can overcome these challenges.

About the author: Charlene Fowler is a junior at the University of Southern California.

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 would you like us to ask as question of the week?

We’ve been running Question of the Week for more than two years now. We’ve asked more than 100 questions and you’ve written thousands of responses on everything from why you bike to work (or don’t) to what environmental protection means to you. And recently, you’ve shared how actions you’ve taken have improved your life.

After this week, we’re going to take a short break to assess where we’ve been and where we want to go with this feature. We’re going to plan out a few months’ worth of questions and look for ways to report back to you the collective responses. We’re also going to sort through the questions that generated the most response to see what patterns emerge.

We’ll be back in a month or two. Meanwhile, help us plan by suggesting questions.  The goal is to start conversations, not solicit specific facts.

What would you like us to ask as question of the week?

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.

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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Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Qué quisiera que preguntáramos en la pregunta de la semana?

Hemos estado planteando la Pregunta de la Semana ya hace más de dos años. Hemos presentado más de 100 preguntas y hemos recibido miles de respuestas sobre una amplia variedd de temas desde por qué va al trabajo en bicicleta (o no) o lo que la protección ambiental significa para usted Y recientemente, usted compartió con nosotros cómo acciones tomadas han mejorado su vida.

Después de esta semana, tomaremos un breve receso para evaluar dónde estábamos y hacia dónde nos encaminaremos con esta sección. Vamos a planificar varios meses de preguntas e identificar maneras para regresar con respuestas colectivas. Vamos a repasar las preguntas y ver cuáles generan el mayor número de respuestas para ver qué modelos surgen.

Regresaremos de aquí a un par de meses. Mientras tanto ayúdenos a planificar indicándonos:

¿Qué quisiera que preguntáramos en la pregunta de la semana?

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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Tomorrow’s Environmentalists Today

PEYA-logoRecently, EPA was honored to present the President’s Environmental Youth Award to some of the futures brightest environmental stars. Several years ago, I coordinated this program, and was just as amazed this year as I was back then at the innovation and creativity school-aged kids have to address environmental issues in their communities.

The projects are carried out by either an individual or a group, but all of them no doubt make a huge difference in their community. For example, this year a group of middle school students created a sustainable project to collect the town’s waste cooking oil, refine it into biofuel and then distribute it. To date these students have donated 4,000 gallons of Bioheat to local charities and helped 40 families with emergency heating assistance, not to mention the reduction in the release of carbon dioxide into the air. Wow, if they can do something like this in middle school, I can only imagine the environmental impacts these students will make when they are older.

Another of this year’s winners, a high school student from Lubbock, Texas, set out to help educate children about living green. The result: Lorax Lodge, a new environmental education center, curriculum guides for the center with hands-on activities, and a nature trail. So far, 1,300 people have visited Lorax Lodge from 14 different states. Oh, and did I mention that Texas Tech University has adopted the Lodge to use as their pilot program for an energy audit and have arranged to use the Lodge as a model for sustainable construction…absolutely incredible.

I encourage you to read about all of the winning projects from this year and past years and be amazed at how today’s youth are tackling some of our most important environmental problems. Perhaps you know of some future environmentalists making a difference in your community. I encourage you to share this program with them.

During their trip to Washington, DC, we invited this year’s winners to blog about their experiences. During the next few weeks, Greenversations will be featuring their blogs on Friday’s. I invite you to read their stories about their experiences, share in and congratulate them on their successes, and take inspiration from these young folks about how we all can make a difference in tomorrow today!

About the author: Kelly Chick has worked for the federal government for over 26 years at various agencies. She currently works in the Office of Web Communications within the Office of Public Affairs at EPA Headquarters.

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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Gurgle, Gurgle

Annapolis, Maryland after sea-level rise

Annapolis, Maryland after sea-level rise

What would it be like to see the Mid Atlantic coastline as a town like Venice, Italy? If you live by the shore, there are scenes that may be even more spectacular.

Check out this series of slides by the Maryland Sea Grant College that visualizes the impact of sea level rise along the Maryland coast. The Maryland Climate Change Commission estimates that sinking land and rising seas driven by climate change could cause shoreline waters there to rise 1.3 feet by the middle of the century.

Several EPA regions, including the Mid-Atlantic, and our Office of Research and Development are planning a conference this spring to address the water-related impacts of climate change.

EPA Press conference on Green House Gases

EPA Press conference on Green House Gases

If you’re interested in their findings, let us know and we’ll report back to you. In the meantime, is your carbon footprint lighter these days? Tell us about it.

And take a look at the EPA Press Conference on Green House Gases

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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Hurricane Season: Better Get Ready

Have you ever listened to the weather report and wished that the weatherman missed the mark? Well, after learning that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s forecast projects a “busy Atlantic hurricane season” this year, we all hope these predictions don’t materialize. Given the situation of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the environmental repercussions of a major hurricane in that area could even be more devastating. Since we don’t have ways to control weather conditions, the best thing we can do with this forecast is to get ready before tropical storms approach our shores.

We are all aware of the madness at local supermarkets and hardware stores on the eve of a storm. Since we can anticipate the possibility of power outages during or right after a hurricane, why not make sure we have flashlights and batteries on hand well in advance of a hurricane? A battery-operated radio is another useful item to monitor storm developments. I remember that during one of the snowstorms this year, my small battery-operated radio was my lifeline to the outside world when my family and I were stuck home without electricity for 15 hours!

Speaking about electrical outages, never use a generator inside your home or an enclosed space like a basement or garage. The engine exhaust generates carbon monoxide, a toxic deadly toxic gas. Make sure these portable generators are used safely.

As a result of a hurricane or natural emergency, drinking water supplies may be contaminated. You can prepare by having bottled water at hand. Listen to local media reports during and after the storm for information on water safety.

While you are planning how to protect your family and home during a hurricane, don’t forget about your pets. If you live along the coastline or in an area prone to floods, there is the potential you might have to evacuate with short notice. Plan ahead where you can take your pet in such an emergency. And lastly, don’t forget about important papers like passports and insurance documents. It’s always best to prepare for the worse case scenario to be safe before the hurricane winds and rain come your way.

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.

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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OnAir: Genes May Affect Body’s Response to Air Pollution

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

A little while ago I visited Dr. Joel Schwartz in his office at the Harvard School of Public Health to find out about his research findings as part of the EPA-funded Harvard Particulate Matter Research Center.

He described enough research topics to fill a dozen blog posts, so I’ll cover one that I found particularly interesting—his research on the role of genes in determining how people respond to air pollution.

Every cell in a person’s body contains all the 25,000-odd genes that make up DNA, Schwartz said. So why then, he asked, don’t your skin cells make liver enzymes?

The answer, I learned, is that we have mechanisms in our bodies that either turn off or turn on our genes.

I couldn’t help but ask: what does this have to do with air pollution?

To answer my question, Schwartz posed an example that seemed to come out of left field—identical twins.

“If you look at identical twins when they are two years old and when they are 60, the 60 year olds don’t look as much alike. But, they have all the same genes! The difference is that some genes got turned on more and some got turned on less and as a result, they didn’t age the same way,” he said, excitedly.

Dr. Joel Schwartz

Dr. Joel Schwartz

Schwartz explained that the external environment must have some sort of impact on how their genes were activated.

Studies have shown that methyl groups (a carbon and three hydrogen atoms) stuck onto the beginning of a gene can prevent that gene from being turned on, a process called methylation. The number of methyl groups stuck to a gene has been shown to change over time and seems to be related, somehow, to aging and disease.

“We asked the question, does air pollution act, in part, by doing some of that? Clearly environmental things are changing these methylation patterns…maybe that’s part of what’s going on with air pollution,” he explained.

Schwartz and his colleagues analyzed methylation patterns in a large group of people and looked for associations with air pollution. Their results, recently published in The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, show that particles from traffic DO indeed change a methylation pattern at certain places in the genome.

“We’re starting to see signals that particles in the air can change the methylation of DNA,” Schwartz said.

This finding is a major preliminary step toward understanding whether air pollution makes people sick by acting on their genes.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development.

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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Prepárese para la temporada de huracanes

¿Alguna vez ha escuchado el informe del tiempo y deseado que se equivocaran? Bueno, después de escuchar el pronóstico de la Administración Nacional Oceánica y Atmosférica anticipando una “temporada activa de huracanes en el Atlántico”  este año, todos esperamos que sus predicciones no se materialicen. Dada la situación del derrame de petróleo en el golfo de México, las repercusiones ambientales de un fuerte huracán en esa área podrían ser aún más devastadoras. Como no podemos controlar las condiciones climatológicas, lo mejor que podemos hacer con este pronóstico es prepararnos antes de que los vientos huracanados se acerquen a nuestras costas.

Todos sabemos la locura que se genera en los supermercados y ferreterías en vísperas de una tormenta. Como podemos anticipar la posibilidad de apagones durante o después de un huracán, ¿por qué no nos aseguramos de tener linternas y baterías con antelación de un huracán? También es aconsejable tener un radio que funcione a base de baterías para monitorear la tormenta. Me acuerdo durante una de las tormentas de nieve este año, mi pequeño radio de baterías me permitió recibir noticias cuando mi familia y yo estábamos encerrados en la casa sin electricidad por un plazo de 15 horas!

Hablando de apagones, nunca use un generador dentro de su hogar o en un espacio encerrado como sótano o garaje. El escape del motor genera monóxido de carbono, un gas tóxico y mortal. Asegúrese de usar los generadores portátiles de manera segura.

Como resultado de un huracán o emergencia natural, se puede contaminar el suministro de agua. Usted se puede preparar al tener agua embotellada a mano. Escuche los informes noticiosos locales durante y después de la tormenta para información sobre la condición de su agua potable.

Mientras se prepara para proteger a su familia y hogar del huracán, no se olvide de sus mascotas. Si vive cerca de la costa o una zona propensa a inundaciones, existe la posibilidad de que tenga que ser evacuado con corto aviso. Planifique con antelación dónde va a llevar sus mascotas durante una emergencia. Sobre todo, no se olvide de sus documentos importantes como pasaportes y polizas de seguro. Siempre es mejor prepararse para lo peor para estar seguro antes de que los vientos huracanados y lluvias torrenciales azoten.

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.

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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