Monthly Archives: November 2011

Insights From A Peace Corps Volunteer

By Sandra O’Neill

It’s March 16, 2006. I’m in the back of a pick-up truck riding down a slick mixture of mud and clay. The truck’s wheels search for traction in places where the road has split into child-sized crevasses. It’s the rainy season in Madagascar, and water has transformed a savannah into a veritable rainforest in the span of one week. This is the road to the village where I will live for two years and it is in very poor condition. But for me, this is the first day of life in a village that promises work in environmental education. I’ve never seen the village before and my Malagasy language competence is equivalent to that of a 3 year old child. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.

When I reach the center of my village, I am overwhelmed. The house I will live in is comprised of a styrofoam-like material that neither block views of my neighbors from me or views of me from my neighbors. Nailed tin sheets serve as a roof for my hut and I learn that my water supply for washing dishes, cooking, and cleaning are in a neighbor’s salt-water well. And yet, I am better positioned in this village than the majority of its population.

Over 200,000 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have served in countries like Madagascar since 1961. PCVs spend 27 months working with host country nationals on a wide array of issues relating to health, income generation, and the environment. Peace Corps provides an engaging atmosphere where volunteers are challenged to address serious issues in non-conventional contexts. During their two years abroad, PCVs learn to value American government agencies that take their mission’s seriously; they especially learn to value the environmental benefits the EPA provides in a very personal and direct way (appreciation for limits on vehicle emissions goes through the roof!)

This year, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) at EPA are organizing to celebrate the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary with a special celebration on November 29, 2011. We welcome you to join our celebration! RPCVs will share unique insights on global issues based on their Peace Corps experience and be available to discuss how their on-the-ground experiences have informed their careers at the EPA. For me, coordinating environmental projects in Madagascar helped me to realize that I wanted to work to protect human health and the environment. Five years later, I’m working at the EPA.

About the author: Sandra O’Neill joined the EPA in 2009 and works in the Office of Environmental Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia and and enjoys promoting the combined mission statements of both the Peace Corps and the EPA: world peace, friendship, and protection of human health and the environment.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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What Do Baby Sea Turtles, Mt Rainier, and Your Backyard Have In Common?

There are of course some clear differences. After watching “Touching the Void” last night, I have zero inclination to find my way to the top of anything that steep, or that cold. While I thoroughly enjoy the outdoors, clinging to survival while climbing further UP doesn’t do it for me. A great deal of my respect goes to those that do though.
Watching from the couch, peeping through my hands that have long since covered my face in shock and fear is a much cozier place to be. Documentaries like that, and Planet Earth, remind us of the power and force that our environment has – when we more often experience milder elements such as rain, fog, sunshine or partly cloudy skies going to and from our homes and work.
Fragile, is probably the last word that comes to mind when you see snow capped mountains. I struggle to think what looks more sturdy and imposing. It is hard to imagine that our environment as it exists today is a fragile balance of elements. It’s vast, it’s big, it’s far away (right?). So then, where does it all begin and end? Where are those boundaries where it stops being our backyard and becomes the wild, and the untouched?
It is modern human nature to work with such concepts as lines and boundaries. It helps us manage things by separating and compartmentalizing. Unless we’re reminded by commercials for car insurance it’s rather impossible, and comedic, to envision ourselves as anything but the highly intelligent and evolved human beings we’ve become since we lived in caves and took down mammoths. We gained an improved posture, the ability to harness fire for energy, the wheel and sliced bread, but I think somewhere along the line something else seems to have gone quite far off course.
Back then, there was no separation between life, survival and our environment. It was a part of everything our ancient ancestors did and no choice they made could be without consideration of their surroundings. Somewhere our perception of that connection changed. Our environment is everything around us. There hasn’t been a single photo submitted to State of the Environment that isn’t part of that picture.
Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment project lead for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston, Massachusetts.

By Jeanethe Falvey

There are of course some clear differences. After watching “Touching the Void” last night, I have zero inclination to find my way to the top of anything that steep, or that cold. While I thoroughly enjoy the outdoors, clinging to survival while climbing further UP doesn’t do it for me. A great deal of my respect goes to those that do though.

Watching from the couch, peeping through my hands that have long since covered my face in shock and fear is a much cozier place to be. Documentaries like that, and Planet Earth, remind us of the power and force that our environment has – when we more often experience milder elements such as rain, fog, sunshine or partly cloudy skies going to and from our homes and work.

Mount Rainier just before sunrise, from 18,000 feet by Scott Butner

Fragile, is probably the last word that comes to mind when you see snow capped mountains. I struggle to think what looks more sturdy and imposing. It is hard to imagine that our environment as it exists today is a fragile balance of elements. It’s vast, it’s big, it’s far away (right?). So then, where does it all begin and end? Where are those boundaries where it stops being our backyard and becomes the wild, and the untouched?

It is modern human nature to work with such concepts as lines and boundaries. It helps us manage things by separating and compartmentalizing. Unless we’re reminded by commercials for car insurance it’s rather impossible, and comedic, to envision ourselves as anything but the highly intelligent and evolved human beings we’ve become since we lived in caves and took down mammoths. We gained an improved posture, the ability to harness fire for energy, the wheel and sliced bread, but I think somewhere along the line something else seems to have gone quite far off course.

Back then, there was no separation between life, survival and our environment. It was a part of everything our ancient ancestors did and no choice they made could be without consideration of their surroundings. Somewhere our perception of that connection changed. Our environment is everything around us. There hasn’t been a single photo submitted to State of the Environment that isn’t part of that picture.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment project lead for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston, Massachusetts.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

Upcoming Weekend Activities

Good news, New York: the weather forecast calls for sunshine this weekend! You know what that means—perfect conditions to explore our great metropolis. Below are some suggestions for ways to do just that, all while reducing your carbon footprint.

Community Warm Yoga Class: Free Yoga class open to all. All fitness levels, sizes, shapes, and experiences welcome. More information and pre-registration available online. Every Saturday, 12-1 p.m. Free Meditation Following from 1-1:30 p.m. (Optional)

Compost Your Fall Leaves at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve:  Staten Island residents are invited to bring bagged leaves to the NYC Compost Project Demonstration Site at Clay Pit Ponds, where the leaves will be turned into rich compost. Please use clear plastic or brown paper bags only.

Donation-Based Dance Classes in NYC: Liberated Movement is a grassroots initiative that provides donation-based dance classes in New York City. Suggested donation is $5, but feel free to give what you can. Check the schedule for classes and times.

Introduction to Bird watching: Take a tour and learn about the magnificent array of birds that call Prospect Park home. Saturday, November 19, 12- 1:30 p.m. 

Intro to Fitness for Teens: Young New Yorkers can help get in shape by learning about Thomas Jefferson Recreation Center’s fitness equipment. Instructors will be on hand to give teens tips on the best ways to reach their individual fitness goals. Saturday, November 19, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

NYC Compost Project Information Table:  Stop by the NYC Compost Project table for free tip sheets, pamphlets, and workshop schedules designed to help gardeners increase their composting know-how. Experts will be on hand to answer composting questions. Sunday, November 20, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.

Science Power Hour at Prospect Park: Join a naturalist for cool and fun science activities. Saturday, November 19 and Sunday, November 20, 1 p.m.

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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Let Kids Be Active Outside

By Lina Younes

Recently my daughter’s elementary school started a program to encourage students to increase their physical activities outdoors. The program entitled “Fun, Fit and Grow” is largely modeled after the First Lady’s Initiative, Let’s Move. The main objective is to promote healthy bodies and a lifetime full of fun and fitness. To be successful, the school is asking students to keep a log of their daily activities outside of the school in order to earn points for their class. Students are encouraged to elicit the participation of their family members in the program to earn additional points. Parents have to sign the log weekly to attest that the recorded hours of activities for children and family members are accurate.

It was interesting to see that the guidelines clearly state that virtual games are not allowed as a substitute for physical activities and sports. While technology is helping many to get up and move through numerous interactive games, there is no doubt that electronic gadgets are not the ideal replacement for a brisk walk outdoors.

So, what did we identify as our family outdoor activity?  Well, first, we took a family walk around the neighborhood. As our second activity, we decided to rake leaves. It was listed as one of the recommended activities and we definitely had a good supply of leaves all over the yard. So, through our joint effort, we got some exercise, clean up around the yard, and had fun.  Furthermore, eliminating the dead leaves from the lawn also has an environmental benefit.  It allows the lawn to “breathe” plus it enables sunlight, nutrients and water to revitalize the grass and their root systems.  What did we do with the raked leaves?  Well, we made a leaf pile for composting.  I say it was a win-win for all.  I guess we have our work cut out for us for next weekend.  There is still a good supply still on the trees that will need to be raked soon.

What do you do to enjoy a beautiful fall day? We would like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. 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 in Greenversations 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.

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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Ayudemos a los niños a hacer ejercicios al aire libre

Por Lina Younes

Recientemente la escuela elemental de mi hija inició un programa para alentar a los estudiantes a practicar deportes y actividades al aire libre.  El programa se asemeja a la iniciativa de la Primera Dama de Estados Unidos, “Movámonos”.  El motivo principal consiste en fomentar el desarrollo saludable y un compromiso de por vida a favor de la diversión y ejercicio físico saludable.  Para ser exitoso, la escuela está pidiendo que los niños mantengan una lista de sus actividades físicas fuera de la escuela a fin de adquirir puntos para su clase.  Además, instan a los niños a obtener la participación de sus familiares en el programa para conseguir puntos adicionales. Los padres deben firmar semanalmente la lista para asegurar la veracidad de las actividades registradas de los niños y sus familiares.

Es interesante ver que las normas del programa estipulan que los juegos virtuales no están permitidos como sustitutos al ejercicio físico o deportes al aire libre. Mientras la tecnología está ayudando a muchos a emprender actividades físicas mediante juegos interactivos en el hogar, no hay duda de que los aparatos electrónicos no son las mejores alternativas deportivas en lugar de un paseo rápido al aire libre.

¿Cuál fue nuestra actividad familiar? Bueno, primero caminamos por el vecindario por unos treinta minutos. La segunda actividad consistió en barrer las hojas alrededor de nuestra casa. El barrer las hojas estaba identificado como una de las actividades recomendadas y definitivamente teníamos un buen suministro de hojas secas en el jardín. En este esfuerzo conjunto, logramos hacer ejercicio, limpiar el jardín y divertirnos.  Además, el eliminar las hojas muertas del césped también tiene un beneficio medioambiental. Permite que el césped “respire.” También da paso a que la luz solar, los nutrientes y el agua revitalicen el césped y sus raíces.  ¿Qué hicimos con las hojas secas? Las amontonamos para hacer composta. Fue una actividad beneficiosa para todos. Supongo que tendremos otra oportunidad el fin de semana próximo ya que todavía hay muchas hojas en los árboles.

¿Cuál es su actividad predilecta para disfrutar de un día otoñal? Nos encantaría escuchar su opinión.

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como directora asociada interina para educación ambiental. 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.

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.

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.

A Room with a View

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City had approximately 50 million visitors in 2010. What is your favorite place to visit in the Big Apple? There is a spot that I’d like to recommend. Growing up in Manhattan had its perks, though when you are a child it is often difficult to fully appreciate the ephemeral joys of prosaic pleasures. One cultural gem that one never outgrows is the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Located at 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, the museum is world renowned and has been featured in an endless parade of books and movies. A new visitor could easily get lost in the gargantuan gateway to the past. Unlike the newer exhibits and refurbished spaces which dot the iconic institution, one space people never tire of entering is the panoramic view of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles. It is a circular oil painting situated within a huge round room within the American wing of the museum. The carefully lit room can hardly contain the outdoor scene that features an early New Yorker’s perspective, John Vanderlyn (1775–1852), of a palace in France.  The four seasons, no matter how out of whack the climate seems these days, are not a factor when you immerse yourself in the colors and opaque observations of this master draftsman. Walk on thorough, sit for a while or stare in silence. 

I don’t usually visit this room immediately upon visiting the museum preferring instead to build up the suspense! Around the time my feet and vision are weary, I head for my favorite artwork. The painting conveys you to another time and place. The expansive sky, majestic palace, manicured lawn and curious pedestrians appear as indescribable delights. Although the world visits New York, I find it very comforting to know that I can vicariously voyage to Versailles anytime I visit. What’s your favorite NYC space?

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: Durham’s Journey to Sustainability

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

By Jing Zhang

Each time I visit downtown Durham, North Carolina, I am pleasantly surprised and impressed by the improvements and renovations. Areas such as the American Tobacco Campus have successfully incorporated historic buildings and commercial space with modern architecture and design, winning it industry awards including Best Mixed Use Development, Best Renovated Commercial Property, and Best Redevelopment Project.

Durham isn’t stopping there. Through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the city is working with EPA, the US Department of Transportation (DOT), and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create a more sustainable community.

The partnership has adopted six “livability principles” that they wish to achieve:

  1. providing more transportation options,
  2. promoting affordable housing,
  3. improving economic competitiveness,
  4. supporting existing communities,
  5. coordinating federal policies and investment
  6. enhancing the value of neighborhoods and communities

Guided by these principles, EPA scientists are working with community leaders to support the city’s needs and goals. As outlined in their strategic plan, Durham’s goals include reducing neighborhood energy use through conservation and efficiency, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing the percentage of solid waste diverted to recycling.

EPA is developing tools and strategies to support community leaders in evaluating the current state of the community, making decisions to address areas of concern, and measuring progress made over time.

The EnviroAtlas is a web-based tool that maps natural resources. Using the Urban Atlas, a finer-resolution component of the National Atlas, community leaders can evaluate the distribution and function of resources such as trees, which provide numerous benefits like filtering air, providing shade, and storing rainwater. Decision makers can also evaluate the trade-offs and benefits associated with alternative management decisions by mapping different “layers” of data to assess the environment under future conditions such as population growth, resource depletion, and climate change.

Durham will be the first community to implement and use EPA’s new tools and strategies. According to project leaders Rochelle Araujo and Melissa McCullough, “The Durham pilot project presents an exciting opportunity for EPA to demonstrate that, with the right information and forethought, environmental decisions can cascade across the community in the form of health and economic benefits. Using state of the art science, EPA can provide communities with support tools and strategies so that diverse community groups can work effectively in concert for sustainability.”

About the author: Jing Zhang is a student services contractor with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Adapting to Water

By Nandy Grundahl

Flood

Maybe it is the calming sound of water moving, whether down a waterfall or crashing onto a beach.  Any real estate agent knows that property near water, whether an ocean, lake, river, or stream, commands a higher price. But, with rising sea levels and stronger, more frequent storms, those prime water side properties may now be in danger of flooding, not just once every 100 years, but once every few years.

What is a homeowner to do after a flood? Sell (if they can) or stay? Many choose to stay put, figuring the benefits outweigh the costs of shoveling mucky mud out of their basement and maybe even the first floor, as well as other personal and financial tolls..

Did you know there are even contractors now who deal with renovating flood- susceptible buildings? Their floodproofing techniques include:

  • Replacing gypsum and plasterboard walls with concrete
  • Covering floors with stone, concrete or ceramics, not carpeting
  • Rearranging rooms — putting the kitchen, laundry room, and electric box on the second floor (known as an “upside down house”)
  • Running electrical lines not near the floor, but higher up on the wall

Homeowners are advised to use only lightweight, easy-to-move furniture in the basement and on the first floor. It’s a case of adaptation — minimizing the damage that might occur during the next flood.

These techniques are being applied in many areas of the Northeast where this fall we had the double whammy of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. In Pennsylvania, an emergency declaration was issued for more than half of its counties and parts of Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg and other areas close to rivers were evacuated. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and its federal counterpart, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provided assistance.

FEMA has developed a Homeowner’s Guide to Retrofitting if you would like to learn more about floodproofing techniques.  And EPA has a variety of information and links on what to do before, during and after a flood.  http://www.epa.gov/naturalevents/flooding.html

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

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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November 15th is America Recycles Day…

Reduce Recycle ReuseWe all know the 3r’s, reduce, reuse and recycle. While recycling is important it’s the last step, not the first. Nearly everything we do leaves behind some kind of waste.  So what can you do about it?

• Reduce food waste by using up the food you already bought and have in the house instead of buying more. You already paid for it – so use it!
• Donate non-perishable and unspoiled food to local food banks, soup kitchens, pantries, and shelters.
• Reuse items around the house such as rags and wipes, empty jars and mugs, party decorations, and gift wrap.
• Buy products in concentrate, bulk, and in refillable containers. They reduce packaging waste and can save money!
• When buying products, check the labels to determine an item’s recyclability and whether it is made from recycled materials. Buying recycled encourages manufacturers to make more recycled-content products available.

Find out more about what you can do at the student’s America Recycles Day webpage:  http://www.epa.gov/students/amrecycles.html

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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