State of the Environment

The Best and the Brightest, #NewEnglandFall

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Jeanethe Falvey

Everything is starting to taste like pumpkin, the fancy squash are out on the streets, and the cool air is bringing on thoughts of apple crisp and pie. Summer wasn’t even over on the calendar before I overdid it on the maple sugar candy. Fall is simply glorious in New England, thank goodness. Summer’s end would be downright depressing if it weren’t for the vivid tones that will soon overtake our landscape and the scent of cinnamon and spice everywhere.

Photo of fall leaves by Jeanethe Falvey, Cannon Mountain, NH

Photo by Jeanethe Falvey, Cannon Mountain, NH

The summer bunches are already replaced with early “leaf peepers.” Contrary to popular thought, these are not tiny toads, but larger, two-legged beings. You can spot them donning elongated bifocals and the latest flannel fashions from our finest outdoors outfitters. Peak season for sightings is between September and November.

We’re proud of our leaves, it’s true. So, from the Boston office, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating and embracing this beautiful time of year by sharing your photos with State of the Environment. This has been an ongoing EPA documentary of our environment today, created by your photos. While the project is not just about what’s beautiful, rather about what’s real, they’re often the same thing.

We’ll share our favorite submissions here over the coming weeks, and we have a sneaking suspicion they’ll also be shared at www.epa.gov/stateoftheenvironment as well. We do, after all, have a homegrown advantage …

Join us to document the best and brightest of our #NewEnglandFall. Here’s how: _________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Take your camera or camera-phone next time you go apple-picking, pumpkin-patching, scenic-carpooling.
  2. Sign up for Flickr (it’s free) and go to www.flickr.com/groups/ourenvironment
  3. Click “Join Group.”
  4. Upload your photos and follow the guide below to share your favorites with us.
  5. Please put #NewEnglandFall in the title, description, or as a tag. This will help us locate it among the many other photos flying in from around the world. You can also tell us where the photo was taken.

Note: if you’re new to Flickr, it may take a few days for your friends to see the photo in the group. This is a normal, Flickr thing and it’s simply to verify that your account is sharing appropriate photos. _________________________________________________________________________________
In Flickr, your uploaded photos will look like this (below). The three-dot option to the right opens up the option to share further into the Flickr-sphere.

Photo of how to use Flickr.

We look forward to seeing your splendid shots. Please let us know here if you have questions or comments. In the meantime, enjoy the slideshow below: scenes from our world today, thanks to you.

State of the Environment is open to pictures of our lives and planet as you see it. Individual scenes, taken together, build the larger picture of our environment today. Photos taken from 2011 until the end of 2013 may be submitted on Flickr. All levels of photography experience and skill are welcome.

State of the Environment is open to pictures of our lives and planet as you see it. Individual scenes, taken together, build the larger picture of our environment today. Photos taken from 2011 until the end of 2013 may be submitted on Flickr. All levels of photography experience and skill are welcome.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment project lead, writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, and is having her fill of pumpkin lattes in 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.

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Our Environment, Then and Now

By Christina Catanese

Have you ever wondered what the places around you looked like 40 years ago?  Like, how long has that building been there?  Has there always been this much trash in this river?  Did there used to be more open space in this area?  We’ve asked these questions, too.

From the Documerica Archives: “The Polluted Schuykill River and Center City In Background, September 1973.”

From the Documerica Archives: “The Polluted Schuykill River and Center City In Background, September 1973.”

That’s why EPA is reviving Documerica, a photo documentary that captured American life and environmental conditions shortly after EPA’s creation in 1970.  We’re not only bringing back the old photos, we’re giving you a chance to give it a modern twist.

In Documerica, photojournalists throughout the country photographed subjects of environmental concern, resulting in a collection of over 15,000 images that gave a snapshot of our environment in the 1970s.

Now, through a photo project called State of the Environment, you have an opportunity to get behind the lens and submit photos that document our lives and our planet today.  You can try to match pictures taken 40 years ago with a current shot to mark the changes in your environment, or submit new photos that capture our current decade.  Find out here how to participate in this challenge and submit your images through our Flickr page!

You can also check out a selection of the Documerica photos as well as some of the State of the Environment photos submitted so far in a traveling exhibit called Documerica Returns.  There are a few places you can catch the exhibit in the southeastern Pennsylvania area in the next few weeks:

  • Franklin & Marshall College, atrium of Steinman College Center, now through November 20th
  • EPA Philadelphia Regional Office Public Information Center, 1650 Arch Street, November 26th-30th
  • Amtrak’s 30th Street Station, December 3rd-14th
From the Documerica Archives: “Oil Spill On Schuykill River, July 5, 1972, Following Hurricane Agnes, Covered Greenery On River Bank, July 1972)”

From the Documerica Archives: “Oil Spill On Schuykill River, July 5, 1972, Following Hurricane Agnes, Covered Greenery On River Bank, July 1972)”

I’m most curious to see photos of our waterways, then and now.  In the Philly area, I’d love to see a match of the pictures of the Schuylkill River in this post.

What places inspire you to grab your camera and capture the state of our world today?  What did you find when you browsed the Documerica archives of photos near you 40 years ago – were there any surprises?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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Of Many, We Are One

By Jeanethe Falvey

My head was buzzing. I felt enlivened with the energy of possibility, bursting to share what I saw.

I recently had the opportunity to meet renowned artist Chris Jordan and we began a conversation that I’m eager to continue. In his artwork, our individual choices are exposed in their collective enormity. Look closer into this ocean vista and you’ll see that it is only the plastic bottles we use in the United States every five minutes. By facing the simplicity and the magnitude of his images, deflecting our own part is not so easy.

I sat there thinking, this is what it takes isn’t it? “Out of sight, out of mind” stops here.

He spoke of the human ability to comprehend numbers. How easily we are overwhelmed, deflect feeling, and turn away. His words resonated strongly: “instead of hope, let yourself feel and comprehend. Act passionately as individuals and we can shift the collective enormity of our choices toward a different outcome.”

Over one million organizations are working for a better world, just look closer into e pluribus unum. Of many, we are one indeed.

His latest work documents Midway Island’s stunning albatrosses as they face a new and lifeless predator: plastic food. The images bring incredible sadness, but someone else did not create this tragedy. Will we turn away?

Ever since I first heard of the garbage in our oceans, it has been on fire in my heart. Our things – created, used, tossed – are collecting by wind and current into places far out of mind, but not out of sight.

The Pacific garbage ‘patch’ is estimated to be twice the size of Texas. Imagine, walking across just one length of Texas seeing nothing but plastic, fishing nets, your trash multiplied by millions?

This is an opportunity waiting. Thankfully, if we choose to see, we have the technology. If we choose to feel, we have the science to understand the gravity. If we choose to act, we are individually equipped with choices, and collectively equipped to make a difference.

As Chris spoke, he said that if there were a single place on earth where all of our garbage went, we could stare and be stunned that it was a mountain larger than Everest, and maybe then we would collectively change. Maybe, this is that mountain.

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.

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 Quiet Sunrise

By Jeanethe Falvey

It doesn’t matter how often I see the sunrise, I can never get enough. An indescribable sense of calm washes over me when I catch one, and I have yet to find something as warm and comforting to start the day.

This past Tuesday morning, I woke to the sound of cars hustling on the highway below my hotel room. As I awoke, I could see the hint of a warm glow beginning on the horizon. As if I’d miss it, I jumped up and walked to the window to take in the scene.

There were quiet houses tucked in between the highway and the beginning of larger government buildings. Looking over the Arlington rooftops and across the Potomac to D.C., a skyline silhouette took shape. Some office lights were already on and it was apparent that those on the road felt that they were already late to work.

Above all the rooftops stood the Washington Monument; much closer, the United States Air Force Memorial was gliding into the sky.

As the sun rose a little higher, it began to reach the walls of the Pentagon. Ever so gently, sunlight made its way into Arlington Cemetery.

It was peaceful. When cannons were fired and the smoke drifted across the trees it came as no surprise. I was not alone in my silence or in my reflection of what had taken place on this day, 11 years ago.

I remembered where I was then, and I was sobered by where circumstances had brought me now. I thought about that morning’s sunrise and all that had changed by that day’s sunset.

For whatever reason, I found some level of peace at the thought that every day since, the sun has risen again. I felt a level of comfort in remembering that, overnight, people changed. We slowed down, helped out, and collectively felt that first new day together.

So this morning came like any other, with the sun reliably cresting the edge of where we can see: waking us up, fueling us to make the world as we wish.

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.

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.

Some Things Never Change

By Jeanethe Falvey

Documerica has me reflecting on time and change all over the place. Revitalizing and conversing about the project to others, we’re mostly hoping things have improved. With forty years of increased government attention to environmental issues it certainly has, but new challenges have also risen.

Yet, there are a few strands within what Documerica captured in its web of moments that leaves plenty of room for nostalgia. Glancing at some of the photographs you might find yourself wistful about what might have been or simply what was.

For me, as someone who didn’t live through it, I’m simply not over nor will I ever be, the incredulity that the project happened at all and was protected so that we can reflect on it forever.

Life was slower back then for one thing. What would happen now if we pulled into the station only to find another sign that said “Sorry, No Gas Today.” There are world crises, and there are individual events in our lives that force us into the slow lane, and it’s not so bad there for a little while.

Recently, I let up on my breakneck pace to go “fishing” with my father.

That morning we set out with two different ideas of where we were going. I thought we would explore my favorite lake in western, Maine. He thought, to my second favorite. It’s my second favorite for a few secrets, but one fact in particular: something always goes wrong.

Laughing, I brought this up as we took a right instead of a left, reminiscing about the last time my mom camped with us. She’s tough, but I’m not sure if it was the severe lightning or the monsoon washing away our tent that nailed that coffin.

Another time, the engine gave up in the middle of the lake. Somehow, my father pulled off the herculean effort of SWIMMING the boat back.

But it was a new day, and we had a full tank of gas.

The day was pleasant, I with a book and dad with two poles to catch that unlucky trout. Moving to a calmer cove, the familiar sound of a four-stroke struggling came back to present day.

We eventually made it back, but it wasn’t without a few photographs of the engine cover off so I can prove to our family that some things never change.

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.

Check In to Check Out our Tips on Foursquare

By Jessica Orquina

Do you check in everywhere you go? Are you the mayor of your favorite coffee shop, café, or park? Then you’ll want to check this out. I’m excited to announce that EPA has joined Foursquare! Here is the link to our page:

http://foursquare.com/epagov

On Foursquare, we’re leaving tips about the environment across the country and around the world. Check in at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) here in Washington, DC and learn about the history of our agency. Travel to Mount Hood National Forest and get our tip about how you can participate in the State of the Environment Photo Project.

So far, we’ve left tips at about 100 locations. We’ll continue to add tips and share environmental information with you at places on throughout the country. Let us know which tips you find useful!

We’re also going to create lists of places you may want to visit. To start, we created a list of locations where Documerica photographs were taken. Documerica was a project EPA embarked on from 1972 to 1977 to document environmental conditions and concerns in the United States. Soon, we’ll be adding lists of estuaries, urban waters projects, and more.

Where would you like us to leave tips? Share your ideas in the comments below. And like us on Foursquare today!

Like us on foursquare


About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a public affairs specialist at another federal agency and is a former military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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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Behind the Scenes

By Jeanethe Falvey

Nature and what we build in it has a way of redefining our notion of worst-case scenario. What more can we do, but forge ahead hoping it doesn’t happen to us?

‘Deepwater Horizon,’ ‘Katrina’, ‘Yellowstone River’… The list goes on. We live on a dynamic planet and while we have masterfully become creatures of comfort, we still live in an environment. The same environment that provides rain, earthquakes, oil, also brings sunshine.

When something devastating happens to our known space and our livelihoods it’s hard to comprehend much beyond each unfolding moment.

When it does, suddenly many things so often in the background of our lives are at the forefront needing to fix everything, yesterday.

The confusion that sets in at a disaster response is something that individuals working in all levels of government, from local enforcement officials to many of us within state and federal agencies having been trying to improve together since September 11.

Each time is emotional, each time is different, each time it can’t be fixed fast enough, if ever.

The time to get better is in between. The best we can do is learn, improve and communicate. From the day I started at EPA, communication has been at the forefront of my expectations, a responsibility I do not take lightly.

This week, I was joined by a roomful of my colleagues at EPA as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, to learn from one another as we discussed how communication can be improved during an incident – whether drums have been found in a field, or oil is gushing freely.

From public meetings, on door steps, behind EPA’s social media, I find myself constantly wanting to improve my, and EPA’s connection with the public. What we practice and strive to improve behind the scenes could become a direct part of any of our lives at any time. If it were me, I would desperately want help and expect information that I could easily see and understand.

EPA deals with complex science about our lives on a daily basis that is never easy to explain, especially when emotions are high.

Awareness of our surroundings, connection to our environment, thinking a little ahead is all a part of getting through something together. In the in between, take a moment to not only revel in our incredible environment, but consider how you too could be more prepared.

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.

Pictures Can Save a Thousand Worlds

by Jeanethe Falvey

Not many can say they’ve been to the Serengeti countless times, much less been there to save it. One of the first photographers chosen for Documerica, Boyd Norton, has dedicated his life to protecting some of our planet’s most incredible places.

If you’ve opened up an outdoors magazine over the last few decades and been taken away by images of Lake Baikal, Siberia (home to the only freshwater seal species), or been inspired to climb the Tetons in Wyoming, his work has reached you. If you ever wondered what it would be like to come across a Komodo dragon in Indonesia, a gorilla in Rwanda, he’s touched you.  If you’ve ever paused, for just a moment, to imagine life as one of the islanders that couldn’t see their fate in time as they ravaged their natural resources on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile, then you have been a part of it.

What if those places had never been photographed?

What if their struggles to survive had never been shown to a broader public?

What if the beginnings had never been documented, letting the devastating changes occur in silence?

That’s the power of a photograph.

Boyd participated with Documerica from 1972 to 1975, covering the original and forgotten solar energy boom, strip mining in Wyoming, and ranching families in Montana .  Like many whom the project touched, he never let it go. For years, he has tried to bring it back to life to no official avail. I spoke to him recently, and I’ve been working to contain my excitement ever since. There is everything to be gained by once again having his enthusiasm and insight involved. If we pull off a fraction of what we brainstormed, it will help see through the original intent of Documerica, which will be a lasting achievement for all of us.

As Boyd put it, “you get personally involved with these things.  I would love to go back and see 40 years later today.”

I’m so grateful I had a chance to speak with Boyd, although I’m not sure that grateful does it justice. Just like meeting Michael and Chuck, and speaking to David, Gary, Tom, Bill and more to come, I will always carry deeper gratitude that these incredible places, animals, and ecosystems still exist, in part because of their dedication and talent.

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.