State of the Environment

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Jeanethe Falvey

To date, most of the photos submitted to State of the Environment have been stunningly beautiful; artistic landscapes and captivating creatures. If that’s what the cumulative picture of our planet is right now, incredible! However, I know there is work to be done and that beauty is one side of the story. You know this too and we’re OK with that. We’re OK with photos that show the environmental challenges and problems that exist. That’s part of the picture and that’s what made Documerica great.

This photographic documentary is an unprecedented opportunity for every one of us to make a statement about our environmental quality right now. What is our drinking water like? Can we fish without overfishing? Swim and enjoy our lakes and beaches without getting sick? Is our air healthy to breathe? Where is our food coming from and what does it take to get it there? Are we protecting wildlife and conserving open space?

These photos show our priorities and our struggles. This documentary is coming together on a scale that can’t be genuinely replicated by a small group of people no matter how well traveled you are. It’s thousands of unfiltered opinions coming right to EPA’s doorstep, resulting in a picture that just may lead to greater awareness and perhaps a better way forward that we can all take ownership in.

Not only is State of the Environment showing what our world looks like now, the result of how we’ve cared for it in the past, but it will show our actions for the future. Based on today, what might our environment look like decades from now?

Not every country is as lucky as we are. We’re an involved public. We’re involved in our government and we’re passionate about what happens inside and outside of our national boundaries. We can expect a lot for our quality of life and we CAN air our discontent. There were times and places in history where doing that would have put you into a moat of lions.

So grab your camera, even your smartphone, sign up on Flickr and show us what you see. The good, the bad, even the ugly.

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.

CommUnity

By Jeanethe Falvey

I live just outside of Boston, but never saw myself as a city mouse. Someday the country will be my happy place again, but for now, I love where I live.

I love supporting small, local shops to buy groceries, coffee, repair clothing; I can easily find recycling and trash bins; environmentally friendly products are available, so I know I’m not harming Boston Harbor at the other end of my apartment’s pipes; I can walk to get just about everything I need and take public transportation to get to work. Best of all, I can breathe a little deeper because others before me were kind enough to build sidewalks that allowed the big trees to get bigger.

Sometimes I like to imagine a map of my day, just like the Family Circus illustrations: little red footsteps of the kids going around the yard, up into the tree house, down the street, in and out of the house. Only I think of mine as green footsteps wherever I’ve been with bright green “poofs!” when I’ve come across someone else doing something for the environment and their little green footsteps trail off in another direction.

Even the smallest efforts for the environment have always felt good and happily I can report there are others like me! In fact, one girl beat me to a plastic bag blowing across the street in downtown Boston a few weeks ago – kept me a whole notch cheerier for the rest of the day (…still actually).

A second ago, someone was a total stranger in a big city; the next, you feel like you’re a part of a community.

I’ve never seen a community service project that wasn’t filled with people smiling; happy to be helping others where they live and making their community a brighter, healthier place to be.

This weekend, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, we hope you’re able to give back and take pride in your community. Find a project where you live. If you join a cleanup event, please share your photos or tweet using #GreenMLK ! I can’t wait to see what you help to accomplish and look forward to featuring your work in a future post.

Watch the world go green with you, tally up the steps you can take to leave your path a little greener.

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.

Boogiemen and Radon

By Jeanethe Falvey

Both are colorless and odorless. Both, I believe are also in the gaseous phase, but to tell you the truth when I was little I didn’t stick around in any darkened room or hallway long enough to find out for sure. I booked it to my room well before any chance of that.

Radon and boogiemen each have the potential to come up into your house from your basement, this I know. The biggest difference however, is that radon is unquestionably real, despite the fact that you can’t see, smell, hear or taste it. As a result, there are quite a few more facts available about radon too.

About 1 in every 15 homes has elevated levels of this naturally occurring, radioactive gas. Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium which is just about everywhere in the rocks, soil and water on Earth. It can become a problem for your health if your home traps elevated levels of it. Radon can move up through the soil from bedrock, soil or groundwater underneath your home and can come inside through cracks or holes in your foundation.

Luckily for you and your families, it’s easy to test for and the remedies often cost the same as other minor home repairs. Put bluntly, testing for radon and fixing the problem can save your life. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

This month, we’re asking you to take action and test for radon as part of your Pick 5, for the health of you and your loved ones.

Learn more from Dr. Oz about radon and check out our map of radon zones too. Even if you live in a ‘low potential area’, be safe and test anyway as every home is different. Have questions? Use our map of EPA contacts by state for local information nearest to you.

It’s an easy Do-It-Yourself project: test, fix, save a life. Now if only getting rid of boogiemen were so simple.

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.

Too Much Cookie Dough

By Jeanethe Falvey

It’s not the holidays until you feel sick from intercepting dough before it hits the oven. There are only so many times a year where this is justifiable and I make the most of it.

It’s a morsel of pleasure for yourself, during a month long frenzy to think of everyone else in your life. Between cards, gifts, baking, in the effort to be thoughtful, you can lose yourself in the holiday stress. You owe it to yourself before we ring in 2012 to take a deep breath. Let us all hope for it to be a year of greater health, peace and happiness.

Hope is where change begins.

Right now is the single greatest time when most of us are doing a bit of self-reflection. Whether it’s to eat healthier, go to the gym regularly, send real cards instead of e-mails, laugh at least once a day, recycle more, drive less and car pool more often. There are endless possibilities to make yourself feel better and do a bit of greater good at the same time.

It’s also a season to be concerned about what’s contagious, as the cold and flu make their annual rounds. Here’s the funny thing though, not all things contagious require extra vitamin C – in fact – some turn out to be real gifts that keep on giving. Ever noticed that happiness bounces from person to person? It’s spread through laughter, small gestures of thoughtfulness, it can even jump across a room with a smile.

They sum it up in the beginning of the movie Love Actually when they talk of standing in the arrivals gate at an airport. You’re quickly reminded that the world is a place full of smiles. It’s all what you choose to focus on, it’s all a choice. Throughout each day there are zillions of opportunities to take a brighter outlook on life, those choices add up to either make a day that was horrible, just ok, pretty good actually, or one you’ll never forget.

I’m choosing more happiness this year. I hope it spreads to others in my life. I’m also choosing to use and toss less ‘stuff’ and continue communicating about our environment, I hope it helps us collectively live in a world of greater health and peace.

What are your choices for 2012?

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Pick 5 for the Environment and State of the Environment project lead based in sunny and crisp 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.

Buried Treasure

By Jeanethe Falvey

I remember my mom telling me about a jar of pennies she buried as a child. Every visit to that house in Long Island I would consider excavating beneath my grandparents’ porch, but grabbed my pail and shovel to find other intriguing things on the beach instead. It was tempting though. Very tempting.

As a little kid even old pennies are exciting. OK, some of us don’t outgrow this, but there’s some allure from the fact that they were put there long ago.

I always wanted to bury a time capsule. The boxes under my bed do not count. Nor do the Playschool people that I lost in my sandbox and never recovered.

Years ago I thought it would be fun to do and then dig up later with my children, if I was lucky enough for all of those details to work out.

Then I thought, just as well to let someone else find it. Considering I missed the opportunity to have hidden anything of substance as a kid (newspaper clippings, CD – er cassette – of popular music, maybe a photograph) plan B seems more likely. The expressions on my housemates’ faces when they find me digging in the backyard would certainly be worth it.

A little over a year ago, through the help of social media and a few colleagues at the National Archives, I came upon a huge, unexpected time capsule. Documerica stirred my childhood aspirations and more recent memories of studying the social, political and economic issues surrounding some of the largest environmental challenges of the past 50 years.

It was all right there. Photos of new catalytic converters, polluted drinking water, thick black smoke, people going about their everyday business, tires on beaches; brings to mind that Billie Joel song.

I was speechless. It was like going from black and white TV to color. Facial expressions brought those debates to life. No longer were images of the environment back then, left up to the imagination.

What will our Documerica look like? What are the challenges we face today, after 40 years of better environmental protection? What do our faces look like as we go about our lives; enjoying, struggling, or remaining unaware of the State of our Environment?

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, US. EPA Office of External Affairs. Pick 5 and State of the Environment project lead, based in rainy 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.

From Botswana to Brazil

by Jeanethe Falvey

Last Friday, I wrote to you all to say we would be reporting out and helping to share your ideas about the simple ways we can all help our environment. With 8,028 sign ups now around the world, I’ll first share a little international tidbit. One of the comments left last week was a kind note from ‘Lauro’ in Brazil saying that they were also doing their part.

BrazilPick5

I typed Brazil in our Map of Action and sure enough a few green spots appeared!

I encourage you to type in a country, a city, maybe your own zip code in that search bar and see where the green shows up. It’s fun to see where the action is, probably in some places you might not expect! Comment below with your most unexpected find, I’m curious to hear what surprises you. It certainly made me think about who I knew overseas that I could share Pick 5 with.

Now it’s your turn to share. This time of year is filled with holiday markets, festivities, and gatherings of friends, families, and communities. Pick 5 choice number 1 under ‘Advocacy’ encourages you to participate in an environmental festival or event. In that ribbon of thought, let’s see what you have for ideas about how to make a community festival to a small holiday party, a greener event.

While the celebrations aren’t necessarily focused on the environment, there may be elements of it that are, or could be if you speak up. Share your ideas below, whether they are original or observed! Maybe you noticed more green than ever during a recent holiday fair, or craft market. If that’s so, tell us! For those of you planning events, what are some helpful tips our readers can share about running a more successful and sustainable gathering?

Events and ideas large or small, share your stories with us. We’ll help you spread the word and the green!

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, US. EPA Office of External Affairs. Pick 5 and State of the Environment project lead, based in rainy 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.

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.

Documerica Returns!

By Jeanethe Falvey

This week, National Archives and EPA launched a contest that I wish I could enter myself. I could, if I change my name, age, birth date and occupation, but since that would be frowned upon I’ll stick to what I’m doing behind the scenes.

Unlike those of us excitedly working on this project, students ages 13 to 18 plus college or graduate school students CAN participate. If you know any, I encourage you to get their attention and pass along that now is the time for them to get inspired about their environment! Stand on a tree trunk if that’s what it takes (See Lorax).

Ordinarily and this is speaking from experience, when the younger generation becomes more in touch with their surroundings and the state of the planet, that heightened state of eco-awareness comes with a sense of “green-powerment.” You may find they come home from school rolling their eyes at you even more than usual if you toss away recyclable goods, or forget those re-usable shopping bags or leave the water running (they may have a point sometimes). They mean well. Regardless of the manner in which they communicate this newfound knowledge, in many cases they feel good doing so, especially when their friends are doing the same.

Right now, there is an opportunity for that energy and their creativity to be part of an international project, recognized by renowned judges and exhibited around the United States. On top of that, the grand prize for this contest will be $500, courtesy of the Foundation for the National Archives.

From now until January 6, 2011 “Document Your Environment” invites students to create any type of graphic art, a short video, or a poem using a Documerica photo as a prompt. Finalists and the grand prize winner will be announced in February 2012.

Contest judges include: former Documerica photographer and graphic artist Michael Philip Manheim; Cokie Roberts, author and news analyst for National Public Radio and ABC News; Sandra Alcosser, the first Poet Laureate of Montana and professor of poetry at San Diego State University. Of the nine finalists, one grand prize winner will be chosen by the Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment project-lead at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 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.

Science to Decisions from the OSV Bold

By Jeanethe Falvey

This week, scientists from EPA, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, University of New England, and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve completed a water sampling effort along the southern coast of New England. Why?

Many asked when we were in Ipswich Bay off Essex, Massachusetts. We were thrilled that boaters took interest to the big blue ship; cautiously, but curiously approaching when we stopped to send down equipment. During boat to boat conversations from the back deck, they said they had never seen anything like the Bold before. It was a great opportunity to explain firsthand what we were doing, and why we have this research ship. When I said we were sampling water quality along the coastline they asked, “Is it ok for swimming?”

sampler

"OSV Bold uses a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) to measure water samples at different depths."

I explained for swimming yes. We were looking for something less obvious, sampling the bottom, middle, and surface depths further offshore compared to estuaries, or bays, more geographically enclosed areas where rivers and streams meet the sea. In this confluence of environments where fresh water sources and land meet the ocean, are there specific indications showing that our land-based activities are having too much of a negative impact in the coastal environment? Too much would mean that the natural environment can’t cope with the influx of pollutants and runoff from land. Examples of this can be algal blooms, or “fish kills.” More obvious to many would be closed beach days due to bacterial pollution in the water, that’s always from our sewage and runoff too.

This is why for the third year, we sampled for nutrients, specifically, phosphorus and nitrogen, and also for chlorophyll (plant matter in the ocean). Nutrients (commonly found in fertilizers, as an example) help plants grow. Excess amounts can cause algal overgrowth and deteriorate natural conditions, sometimes to the point where fish and other sea life cannot survive.

If we see trends from something specific like nutrients, then we hope to better inform decisions made on land: encouraging SmartGrowth and sustainable development, better sewage treatment, or generally raising awareness about more environmentally conscious day to day activities.

The Bold isn’t just an ocean going research vessel, it’s one of our best tools to study our natural world and use that science to inform how we protect our environment.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, based 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.