State of the Environment Photo Project

Curious Footprints

By Jeanethe Falvey

Just for fun, pause for a second and ask yourself: what was the single greatest thing you could have found when you were a kid?

Of course, this is a personal thing and there is no one correct answer. But if you thought “dinosaur footprints” then you would be right with me. Maybe for some it was a treasure chest – overflowing with pirate loot, but more practically (as kids tend to be) the chance of discovering an Alamosaurus footprint was much more likely.

I thought about it a lot, hopeful that I would stumble upon what no one else had stumbled upon before, something right nearby that others had overlooked. I thought about how much bigger their feet would be than mine (something my friends might now poke fun at!). I thought about how many layers of sand and rock would have covered a footprint and why it would have stuck there in the first place, so many millions of years ago.

Finding dinosaur footprints doesn’t happen often, but it happens. On Friday, August 17 it happened for NASA, right in their earthen backyard.

In case there wasn’t enough excitement going on, twelve days after Curiosity landed on Mars, Cretaceous footprints belonging to a mother and possibly her baby nodosaur were discovered at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Back then, these large, plant-eating dinosaurs were likely hustling to avoid becoming prey to something with much bigger teeth. More than a hundred million years later, scientists walking the same path are realizing just how small we really are.

We live in a fast-paced world. If NASA hadn’t shared that photo with State of the Environment, I very likely would have missed the story myself. I couldn’t help but marvel at the luck of it all.

When discoveries are made, whether they’re out of this world or right under our feet, they never cease to amaze and remind me of just how incredible our planet really is and that there is so much yet to learn.

One thing I know for sure though: in between taking more time to gaze at the stars, I’m on the lookout again for footprints larger than mine.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our 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.

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 Nature Walk Through Bear Country

By Jeanethe Falvey

Having my father read the tales of the Berenstain Bears, night after night, left a few impressions on my developing mind. What really stuck were the examples he provided, much like the illustrated situations Papa Bear would end up in.

Life is an adventure and quite rarely does it go to plan.

One summer day when I was about seven, my dad and I were returning from one such adventure, soaking up nature, riding our bikes down a dirt road in Maine. As we were nearing home, he decided to show his little girl just how cool of a dad he was.

“Now let me show you something…”

With one swift maneuver he borrowed my blue banana seat bike and proceeded to announce that he could ride it backwards down a hill.
One of those moments where life rarely goes to plan.

I can still see his expression change as the bike veered to the left, into the ditch among the branches and bramble, feet in the air, finally coming to a stop against a mossy log. It was, to this day, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. In between fits of giggles I managed to ask him,

“Is that Papa Bear lesson number 432?”

During a visit home a couple weeks ago, my mom pulled out a well worn book I hadn’t seen in years: A Nature Walk Through Bear Country by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Memories came flooding back when I opened it. On page seven, I could barely contain my excitement finding the words:

“What IS Nature?

It’s everybody and everything –
a peacock’s tail, a butterfly wing.
It’s snails and stones and dinosaur bones.
Volcanoes! Earthquakes…Cousin Liz!
That’s just a part of what nature is.
…It’s the Earth itself –
The rocks and soil.
And from under the Earth come coal and oil.”

I’m convinced that, two decades ago, that book shaped why I speak the way I do about EPA’s State of the Environment project. Why I keep challenging the notion that “environmental photos” are not just landscapes. Why Documerica, its early inspiration, was right on.
I hope as the weather warms you can enjoy a nature walk where you live. Have kids? Ask them what the environment is and have an adventure, even laughs, discovering it. It’s an opportunity to open their eyes for the rest of their lives.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our 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.

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.

Make your mark for Earth Day

Jeanethe Falvey

Earth Day is April 22, so help make history with Environment in a Day!

Where will your Earth Day defining moment be? In Iowa? American Samoa or Rhode Island? Idaho? Wherever it is, we want to see it! Tell your friends, your family, shout it out through Facebook. This is your chance to share what Earth Day 2012 looks like where you are. One photo from each U.S. state and territory will be featured on a map and image of the moment.

map

Starting the day before and for the following week, EPA’s State of the Environment Flickr project will be taking only one submission from each Flickr member that participates. That means, give it your best shot! To be featured your photo has to be taken on 4.22.12. We’ll be checking the date, so no being sneaky. Besides, where’s the fun in that? You’ll already be out enjoying the glorious day where you and your fellow humans celebrate and take steps to better protect our environment. Take just a moment to share in a picture what the day means to you.

I should also mention a little secret. To be featured, you’ll have a limb up if your photo is cool and creative and that happens by simply having fun!

Will someone on the Maine coast capture the first U.S. sunrise of the day? Who could get the final sunset? Will you be leaping for joy, cleaning up litter by the masses, or hugging (gently) that newly planted tree?

Celebrating outside the U.S.? Fear not! It’s a happy globe day for all Earthlings of course and we haven’t forgotten about you. We invite you to still take part in the project. State of the Environment started out and always will be about the global picture of our single, shared, collective environment. Submit your view of the day too as we’ll continue to feature photos throughout the year and there just might be some kudos in store for you.

Now go on, be sure to spread the word. The last thing we would all want is an empty zone on the map.

EPA’s State of the Environment Group on Flickr

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our 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.

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.

Riftia Pachyptila, Not Your Average Earthworm

By Jeanethe Falvey

Two weeks ago, NOAA made my day. Their photo submission from their 2011 Okeanos Expedition to the Galapagos Islands took the prize for the deepest photo submitted to State of the Environment in one fell swoop.

In 1977, as Documerica was heading into the National Archives not to be found again for decades, something else was discovered in a deep sea abyss that changed our thinking about life on Earth altogether.

A group of geologists embarked on a journey to the Galapagos to see what more there was to the deep sea floor in an area where two of our planet’s tectonic plates meet. Back then, it was understood that sea floor volcanoes existed, but they wanted a closer look to see if they could find active hydrothermal vents (think deep sea hot springs).

Geologists by trade do not study life forms. That is reserved for biologists and people-watchers and there were no biologists onboard. There was no intention to study life down there. Life, it was presumed, could not exist in such an environment.

A mile and a half down, it’s rather dark. The pressure is also immense. Just see what a fraction of that depth does to a Styrofoam cup. Two years later in ‘79, another expedition recorded vents gushing out minerals at a balmy 660°F. It was enough to char poor Alvin’s temperature probe.

That inhospitable, downright frightening place is prime real estate for riftia pachyptila, also known as tubeworms that can grow as large as eight ft tall! They must love it down there.

In 2011, humans are still studying these curious creatures. NOAA’s most recent expedition may have found the largest colony of these giant worms ever observed, with other species living among them too. The image was courtesy of the NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Galapagos Rift Expedition, taken on September 1, 2011. It was not the same tubeworm colony originally found; that group appears to have been buried in underwater volcanic activity. Just another reminder that our environment is a dynamic and ever changing place.

I hope you take moment to wonder about these overlooked survivors of the deep and share photos of the environment you’re discovering near you.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the project-lead for State of the Environment, a photo documentary geared towards inspiring a greater connection to our 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.

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.

Sea Mammal Therapy

By Jeanethe Falvey

Traveling down the coast of California this week, I’ve been thinking about the state of the environment the entire way. It’s hard not to. There seems to be a greater connection to nature here. Perhaps it comes with the territory of dealing with forest fires and mud slides on a regular basis. Yet you don’t see anyone walking around constantly worrying about those things. Instead, they’re on the beach watching the sunset, surfing, and taking photographs.

Recycling bins are everywhere. Compost bins are everywhere (I’ve leapt for joy over that a few times). In Monterey, every single garbage bin had a recycling section on top. You couldn’t possibly throw something away without first seeing the option to recycle it. Brilliant. Why this isn’t universal befuddles me.

Maybe if the rest of the United States coastline was covered in sea lions barking, elephant seals oompfing their way down the beach and sea otters rolling about in kelp forests, things would be different. You would want to prevent pollution and litter from ever harming that seal right there that’s making eye contact with you.

In San Francisco, I watched the sea lions push each other around the piers, sadly seeing one with a cut around his neck from fishing line. In Big Sur, I saw seals and sea otters looking content along the dramatic coastline. In Cambria, I went numb taking pictures of elephant seals enjoying the ‘warm beach’ in 30 mph winds.

Since federal protections began in 1977, the small family of sea otters that were left after the species was brought to near extinction have grown to a few thousand. Plump seal pups can rest at ease by their mothers and sea lions can bark away at each other without living in fear of us.

When nature can take a deep breath, it’s a mind-blowing thing.

It’s worth it to experience the results of the federal laws designed to protect these animals, California’s additional conservation and protection efforts, and the individuals who had the drive and passion to start it all.

If you haven’t picked the 5 actions you can do for our environment where you live, get on it! Join the the 8,000 others around the world who have made the official pledge. Share your story and inspire others to do the same!

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our 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.

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.

Friday! A Moment to Reflect

By Jeanethe Falvey

It’s time to catch my breath and begin an archaeological dig to find my desk again. Utterly astounding what happens to it, even protected from the natural events that douse, drench and sock Boston this time of year.

As I recycle used post-its and make a fresh to-do list, I find myself excited about the past week. Two of our biggest green programs; Pick 5 and State of the Environment continue to grow in interest as we head into 2012. Nothing excites me more than when you join in and help us spread environmental awareness and action!

Together, we surpassed a milestone this week: over 40,000 acts of green have been pledged through our voluntary Pick 5 program. Over 8,000 of you have signed up to do at least 5 things for our shared environment. Take a look for yourself! 8,000 may not sound like many, but it’s remarkable to see the reach of the program worldwide.

What if every participant had a friend or family member do the same? What if more connections were made across oceans and continents, to share ideas? Say, how someone in Botswana protects their environment, compared to what we do here in Boston? Pick 5 has always been about learning and sharing the small, different things we can do to leave our place on Earth a little greener.

In that spirit, each week I’ll be talking about a particular Pick 5 action and asking for your ideas! Share what you’re doing either as a comment here below or on our Facebook page, and I’ll also share what you told me in a following post.

So check back each Friday for Pick 5 or State of the Environment updates, if for no other reason than a little good news at the end of your work week. I’d also like to hear from you on how we can expand either program – I may just feature your idea!

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a little game: who can be the first to find the Documerica photographer who joined in with State of the Environment? He last shared photos with EPA in 1973 to help document our way of life and environment then, what a perfect time to reflect on that.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs Pick 5 and State of the Environment project lead, based in damp and chilly 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.

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.

What Glaciers Teach Us

For as long as I can remember, my family has vacationed somewhere new every summer. We went on the typical Disney World trip, of course, as well as trips to many cities and beaches. The most memorable trips, however, were the “wild” places. We’ve visited Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and Canada, the Grand Tetons, and the Adirondacks. In each of these places, I’ve marveled at the wonder and beauty of nature, yet also feared for its survival during the continuous push for modernization.

One of the most beautiful yet sobering experiences was seeing the Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies. While driving from Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, we stopped to tour the Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield. Riding a snow coach onto the glacier was an amazing, albeit slightly terrifying experience, as we were educated about the huge, unseen crevasses that have killed unwitting tourists.

That ride out onto the glacier didn’t leave the biggest mark on me, though. Rather, it was walking up a winding, steep trail to the base of the glacier, seeing the markers of the glacier’s recession at a frighteningly fast pace over the last 125 years.

The glacier’s recession plainly illustrates what is happening to our natural wonders around the world. These natural wonders are coming under siege and slowly disappearing. I want to be able to take my own family to the places I’ve been, so they can see what I saw and experience the same breathless awe. However, I am afraid that when I return, these places will be a shadow of what they once were.

As much as I want to go back to the Athabasca Glacier, I am almost dreading it. How much smaller will it be?  I’ve documented all of my nature trips so far, and will continue to do so. I just hope that the before and after photos aren’t too different; if the location has changed at all, I hope it’s for the better.

With the State of the Environment project, we are hoping to document our surroundings today for two reasons: one, to look back at Documerica and see how far we’ve come, and two, to look to our future and see what we need to do.

About the author: Katherine Stodola, Office of Web Communications Intern in Washington, D.C.

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.

All Things Great and Small

By Jeanethe Falvey

So I have a question.

When was the last time you felt tree bark? Really, actually, felt it.

On my way home last night, as the subway screeched its way through the underworld, I was thinking about this and wondering if we highly evolved humans can even see the forest for the trees anymore.

Now that it’s summertime, I’m trying to soak in all the green I can find. Everywhere I go I find myself looking at the trees, taking in their shapes and sizes, or the silhouettes made by their branches and leaves against a sunset.

Not a day goes by where I don’t miss the sheer number of trees that I grew up around. Now living in an urban area, I’ve wondered how many of my fellow commuters do too.

Our lives are consumed by a constant hustle to the next thing, the next task. Is the environment a part of us each and every day? Do we WANT it to be?

One of the harshest realities I’ve seen working in communities is that not every kid has the chance to be near, or even become familiar with and curious about nature. Nothing has ever depressed me more.

How on this beautiful planet Earth, could we EVER do what is right to protect our environment, and our health, if we don’t feel a connection to it? Will we protect what we don’t know?

Few are lucky enough to see many of the world’s natural wonders in person, but pictures can bring the rest of us there. While 12.1 megapixels can make you feel like you’re standing there yourself, our environment isn’t just the faraway or protected places. It’s the roadside litter, and the raindrops glistening on a spider web too.

The first step you take out your door IS the environment. The collective state of it depends on all of our steps thereafter. Today, I’m going outside for 10 minutes not just because it’s beautiful, but because seeing others enjoy the nearby park is witnessing that connection that I so badly hope we all want. When I do, I’m submitting a picture to our Flickr group because, after all, it’s the state of my environment. What’s yours?

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment project lead in EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, Boston, Massachusetts

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.

Before and After – Our Environment

By Jeanethe Falvey

Until you find yourself rummaging through half stuck drawers of old photos at your parents’ house, you never notice how much the world around you has changed. You find that the grand old tree you once spent hours swinging from is no longer there, or the once small saplings around the house have finally grown into their majestic canopies. The cars in the driveway are probably different, and maybe the newer four legged family members are looking up, rather than protectively over you.

But thank goodness for photographs. For most of us, our past isn’t constantly before our eyes, but when it is, what a moment. How else could we laugh at the fluorescent mistakes of the ‘80s burned forever into photo paper nationwide? Whether it’s a revelation of time past or a walk down memory lane, holding a photograph is the most powerful way to see how much is different.

Step outside, beyond your usual world, and look around. How has time touched the landscape near you? I’ll never forget an area of forest near my hometown that was replaced by an outlet mall. While I have that memory, how great would it be to have a picture to compare to now? Could it influence the course of development, stopping people in their tracks as they realize, “I’d rather have a park for my kids to play in than yet another place to buy a shirt.”

The increasing pace of life has brought so much “stuff” everywhere we go that it’s hard to push it aside and imagine what once was, let alone what the natural world underneath it all looked like at an even earlier time.

Every Monday the State of the Environment team is choosing a place in our environment that was documented four decades ago, challenging you to photograph it today. The best “after” entries will be displayed alongside the originals in our 2012 exhibit.

This week tell us where YOU want to go. Search locations and weigh in; yours could be next! Perhaps Documerica didn’t capture a place near you, but join in anyway. Take a photo of the environment today as you see it. Find that cherished place of yours. Take a picture today for all of us.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, a New Englander through and through and State of the Environment Project Lead U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs 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.