By Gaelle Gourmelon
Some things in my childhood memories look different when I revisit them as an adult. That tall slide in the playground? It’s really only four feet high. The endless summer bike rides to the beach? They now take ten minutes. Sometimes, however, things seem different because they’ve actually changed. I recently went to a favorite childhood beach and saw that the dock was now stranded in the water, no longer reachable from the beach. Undeniable evidence of the changing coast.
But what evidence do we have to observe real changes over time when it comes to our national environment? What data can we use to determine if our environment has meaningfully changed?
To help answer these questions, EPA released the draft Report on the Environment 2014 (ROE 2014) for public comment in March, and it will undergo external peer review on July 30-31, 2014.
The ROE 2014 is not an intimidating, technical tome; it is an interactive website, full of national-level environmental and health indicators and is designed to make it easier to find information on national environmental trends. It’s not a giant, unwieldy database. Rather, it’s a summary of important indicators that paints a picture of how our environment is changing.
Why use indicators?
Just like having a high temperature indicates you are sick, environmental indicators help us understand the health of the environment. ROE indicators are simple measures that track the state of the environment and human health over time.
For example, if we want to understand the nation’s air quality, we can measure indicators such as lead emissions, acid deposition, and particulate matter concentrations to give us clues about overall changes. These indicators can help us make informed decisions about conditions that may otherwise be difficult to measure.
What’s included in the Report on the Environment?
Data for the ROE indicators come from many sources, including federal and state agencies as well as non-governmental organizations. EPA brought together scientists and other experts to determine what data are accurate, representative, and reliable enough to be included. With feedback from the public and our partners, we selected 86 indicators that help to answer questions about air, water, land, human health and exposure, and ecological condition. The ROE 2014 also includes new indicators on aspects of sustainability.
Why do we need the Report on the Environment?
EPA designed the ROE to help answer mission-relevant questions and help us track how we’re doing in meeting environmental goals. But because the ROE 2014 is an easy-to-use, interactive website, scientists, decision-makers, educators, and anyone who is curious about the environment and health can view the most up-to-date national (and sometimes regional) data, too. The ROE shows trends and sets up baselines where trend data do not yet exist. It also highlights gaps where we don’t have reliable indicators.
How can I participate in the external peer review meeting?
EPA is committed to proactively engaging stakeholders, increasing transparency, and using the best available science. By releasing the draft ROE 2014 for public comment and peer review, we benefit from stakeholder and scientific engagement to support the best conclusions possible. The draft ROE 2014 website will be reviewed by EPA’s Science Advisory Board in a public meeting on July 30-31, 2014. For additional meeting details, visit the July 11, 2014 Federal Register Notice and the SAB meeting website.
How can I stay connected with the ROE?
Everyone can use the ROE to inform their discussions of environmental conditions and related policies in the U.S. The information it provides helps you understand your environment, and encourages you to ask more questions about your environment and health. Now, it’s time to investigate. Things might have changed more than you think.
Sign up to be notified about the upcoming release of the final Report on the Environment 2014; you can also receive periodic updates and highlights.
About the author: Gaelle Gourmelon was an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Fellow working on EPA’s Report on the Environment project from September 2012 through May 2014. Her background in biology and environmental health has fueled her passion for reconnecting people with their natural and built environment.