State of the Environment

When Will I Learn?

By Jeanethe Falvey

Years ago, my best friend called me while leaving the movie theater specifically to say, “my mom says you’re exactly like Dory!”

I replied, “I really want to take that as a compliment, but I’m not so sure that I can.”

You see, I had already seen this movie. Images of the permanently optimistic, exuberantly playful, but ever-forgetful blue fish bouncing on the jellyfish in Finding Nemo came to mind and I was pondering at the time how to feel about this conclusion.

As if I had a choice.

Though I haven’t mastered my whale communication skills as much as I yearn to, I have long since accepted that it’s a fairly accurate representation. There are worse cartoon characters to resemble.

This past weekend is a prime example. For the 20-somethingth time (this seems to happen once a year ever since I’ve been in control of it) I managed to completely forget that I was in fact, soaking up rays of sunshine while out enjoying myself soaking up rays of sunshine. I roasted my exposed body parts in the process.

I EVEN went to the dermatologists for the first time in my adulthood to get a checkup two weeks prior. I EVEN remarked that fact to a friend I was sitting with at the time, and we began to compare sun spots.

Sometimes I wonder about myself. Both of us in this case.

So now, a few days later with shoulders that are STILL hot to the touch, I’ve applied my fill of pure, all natural aloe – none of that diluted fake stuff – and I’m once again vowing to never step out of doors without anything less than SPF 30 on. SPF 5,000 where I’m already fried.

As EPA spreads the word about safely enjoying the rays for Don’t Fry Day today (but really every day, HEY just like Earth Day!) I thought I might add my lack of cents to the mix. We all forget. Especially if you live somewhere that’s gray, rainy and you deal with snowfall (usually) at some point during the year. If you’re anything like me you migrate like a sunflower to the brightly lit side of the street and if you could physically hug the rays you would, just because you’re so grateful they exist.

Just do so safely. It’s not worth the burn (again).

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.

Eyes can change the world.

Manta-Ray-Palau-2011

Ever looked a manta ray in the eye? I never thought I’d get to either.

Their eyeballs are bigger than you might expect. If you’ve had a pet, you’ll most likely understand where I’m going with this and if not, well call me crazy.

We had a moment.

Through my scuba mask, between about a foot of sea water, our eyes met and our mutual curiosity in one another collided. The only difference was, he snuck up on me. That means he had a motive.

When it’s not a matter of who is lower on the food chain, I love it when roles reverse like that. He was bigger than I was by quite a margin. Even if I had the time to be frightened or see a teensy bit of my life flash before me, I wouldn’t have been. His eyes said it all. He was just plain curious about me. Humans are a bit out of their element underwater, so I guess it’s not all that strange that he wanted a closer look.

And I mean close! I’m less sure what our exchange meant to him, but it changed my life. I’m also fairly certain my guide hasn’t forgotten either. He was the one to motion for me to turn around, his expression read, “somebody wants to say hi.” Bubbles of laughter followed and he later said that my expression, particularly my eyes, grew so much in my mask that I more closely resembled a cartoon.

These are the things I think about on a regular basis. Just like dogs that have looked up at me for a belly rub, hand out, or just a return look of adoration. A lot is communicated through eyes. It can stop you in your tracks. That experience and others have shaped who I am and what I do for work. I can’t ignore those few seconds where an entirely different species met my glance and held it.

That’s their only chance to speak up. It makes you want to do something.

That something might be as simple as being tuned in to what’s happening in our oceans. Being tuned in might lead to conversations. When people talk, that’s when the action happens. EPA’s two year photo project, State of the Environment, isn’t just about photos. It’s about experiencing our incredible planet and finding the inspiration to take more action every day thereafter.

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.

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.

Documerica in Focus: Charles “Chuck” O’Rear

By Jeanethe Falvey

He set an older camera on the table so I would recognize him. In a quaint coffee shop in St. Helena, California, I finally had a chance to sit down with Chuck and meet him in person.

While he is the likely front-runner with the most photographs in the final Documerica collection, his images are not yet in Flickr. Only about 4,000 have been scanned into the National Archives Flickr account, but over 15,000 images actually exist and are available in NARA’s online Archival Research Catalog. It requires patience, but searching by Documerica photographer, state, or environmental topic is worth the digging.

I asked him how he took this photo, a favorite that I found:

Crop dusting near Calipatria in the Imperial Valley, 5/1972 by Charles O'Rear.

Crop dusting near Calipatria in the Imperial Valley, 5/1972 by Charles O'Rear.

How quickly did he have to duck and cover? No tripod, he confirmed. His memory of that exact photo was a little foggy, fair enough, but he said he was highly doubtful that the pilot pulled up in time. With a chuckle he said he was glad he’s still around, but that dosage of pesticides was just one of those moments that comes with the territory of being a photojournalist. Taking risks is living, he says.

His Documerica assignments took him throughout California, down along the Colorado River on the Mexican side of the border, Hawaii and more. He kept coming up with ideas and Gifford Hampshire kept sending him out.

I could have sat with him for hours and just about did. It was easy to zing from topic to topic, place to place around the world. Since Documerica, he photographed for National Geographic magazine for 25 years. It was going to be a challenge to name a place he hadn’t traveled to. So I tried.

“Been to Palau?”

Colorado River on the Mexican side of the border, 5/1972 by Charles O'Rear

Colorado River on the Mexican side of the border, 5/1972 by Charles O'Rear

Shockingly, my first attempt got him, but he has been to Yap! Yap is an island stopover on route to Palau. I saw it in the dark. During a story about currencies around the world, he photographed the Yapese Rai: large stone disks that were brought back by rafts and determination from Papua New Guinea and Palau. Today, islanders and visitors use the American dollar, but Rai are still ceremoniously exchanged.

His adventures continue; he just returned from Australia and can’t wait to get back. This weekend, take a look at Chuck’s recent work. You’ll want a glass of chardonnay and a ticket to Napa.

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.

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.

The Three R’s

Every so often I wake up with the “The Three R’s” by Jack Johnson stuck in my head. Given where I work it’s an appropriate mantra to be bopping around to. I guess that part of my brain that runs on kids tunes doesn’t need coffee.

“Reduce, reuse, recycle…”

There are worse tunes to have on repeat in your brain, way worse! I’m grateful the catchy number exists on the less than glamorous subject of waste disposal. Perhaps it’s the warm-up to my workday. Fitting.

The concept of the three R’s has been around for a long time and the three arrows are a recognizable icon, but there’s a new kid in town and they need to make some room.

How about accomplishing all three, while making something really cool? Two weeks ago I posed a challenge to encourage readers to submit photos and accounts of an upcycled product they created. As promised, it’s time to show off your goods! Congratulations to Dennis Mijares who submitted this photo on January 31, 2012 on Flickr of purses made from plastic bags.

nescafe

Upcycling is like a landfill diet, why toss what we can use? Who knew that waste could look so good? I hope these photos inspire you to give it a try, do share photos of what you create! Professionally constructed to kids crafts alike are welcome. I must admit, I’m a little disappointed I didn’t see any cardboard mantelpieces…

Talk to a friend about it and ask them if they’ve heard of the concept. Be sure to share that it’s good for us by cutting down on waste, helps spread environmental awareness and action and can even support local artisans and communities.

It’s a great idea for a community or school fundraiser, start an upcycling project and let us know how it goes!

If you haven’t Picked the 5 actions you can do for our environment where you live, get on it! Join the 4,000 likes on Facebook and the 8,222 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 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.

Documerica in Focus: Gary Truman

“You’re capturing a slice of history, every time that shutter closes,” says Gary as our phone call comes to an end.

Documerica is full of stories; after all that was its intent. In my incredible opportunity to speak with some who were involved, I’m finding out a few stories behind the stories and that’s where the fun is.

Gary Truman was one of several graduate students who accompanied Flip Schulke to the quaint, German town of New Ulm, Minnesota in 1975. Flip knew Gifford Hampshire who was the life, energy, and vision behind Documerica. One of Flip’s contributions for the project was to head back and cover the life and environment; as Gary puts it, “in a town that adopted him.”

Documerica photo by Gary TrumanTaking his advanced students, some like Gary who were already working professionally, Flip asked for their ideas to cover this community. What resulted was a week of moments in a small American town; its births, its deaths, its churches and schools, its streets and its faces. Hundreds of photographs forever captured a slice of New Ulm’s history.

I mentioned to Gary that we’ve gotten questions about State of the Environment, “Can it really match up to Documerica?” Given that Documerica was often times so up close and personal. State of the Environment by name more easily evokes the idea that we’re looking for photos of landscapes, but it’s about everyday life too. That is the reality of how we’re interacting and living within our environment. So I asked, “Did you consider the environment during your work there?”

“The life there was absolutely about the environment. New Ulm could not have been the same town surrounded by mountains, or coal mines. The older couple I photographed, with their hybrid stove, you wouldn’t see that today. That’s a picture of history, the reality of their environment at the time.”

Growing up in West Virginia, he watched a nearby river go from “a place I wouldn’t enter unless it was to pull a friend out, with mutated and dead fish, to a clean place where you can now catch small mouth bass.”

Sometimes the connection isn’t obvious, the story of change isn’t as easy to see without a ‘then’ and ‘now.’ We took a moment to reflect on the potential power that State of the Environment holds.

“Yeah, there’s work to be done,” he says, “but boy we’ve come a long way.”

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.

Upcycle!

It’s doubtful that clothing, jewelry, furniture, or even building materials comes to mind, right? Perhaps you were picturing bicycling uphill instead?

In fourth grade, my best friend was way ahead of the curve. She took a cracker box, paper towel roll, pieces of an empty cereal box, purple paint, sparkles, and glue to give another friend of ours a moving away gift they’d never forget.

Many would have overlooked and discarded that stuff to disintegrate in a landfill somewhere. Instead, she scooped them up and created a masterful “mantelpiece.”

Nowadays upcycled goods and ideas are everywhere. Granted, most of them are a bit more professionally constructed, but the idea is very much the same.

Our first Pick 5 stories featured upcycling. The lusakaU.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia, shared with us that they were donating their rubbish to local upcyclers who made more useful and artistic goods such as reusable bags and paper.

In another story, a group of widows and single moms in Chikumbuso, Zambia, were crocheting strips of plastic grocery bags into more durable reusable bags and making beads from glass. The sales were supporting a school for their children and the community’s orphans.

LusakaUpcycling is good for us. It cuts down on our waste that ends up in the environment, helps spread awareness and inspiration for environmental action and can support local artisans and communities. Personally, I’d rather give and receive handmade gifts any day, especially if the purchase was supporting a good cause.

Could this work for a school or community fundraiser event near you? Spread the word and get others to join you, or try a family upcycling challenge. Join 8,183 others and make upcycling part of your Pick 5, share your story and inspire others to do the same.

In two weeks, I’ll feature a new upcycling story from you in a blog post and at www.epa.gov/Pick5.

Share your story Flickr, here as a comment, or on Facebook. I can’t wait to see what you create!

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.