Travel

Rivers, Coves, and Harbors by Rail

By Jennie Saxe

I love traveling by train. I commute to work by train and occasionally my family substitutes a train trip for a long car ride to avoid traffic and the confined space of our car (which somehow seems to shrink with each passing hour). Traveling by train also give you a unique perspective on the landscape – when you’re less concerned about the brake lights in front of you, you get a chance to really take in what’s around you.

View of the Connecticut coast from my train seat

View of the Connecticut coast from my train seat

One of the things that I was able to enjoy on a recent train trip to Boston was the amazing waterfront scenery along our route. However, on this journey – which began on the Christina River, continued across the Delaware River, glided all along the coves and harbors on Long Island Sound, and ultimately ended near Boston Harbor – I not only saw the beauty in nature, but also the many, varied connections we have with our waterways:

Recreation. Industry. Infrastructure. Homes. History.

These are just some of our links to the water. Waterways in the mid-Atlantic and in New England are rich in history and have been valued for their contributions to society for hundreds of years. Industry and agriculture depend on clean, reliable water supplies. Recreation on the water is an important element of our life and of livelihoods in the northeast. Much of our infrastructure and many communities are located near the water, a pattern established early in our nation’s history. The flip side: all of these activities also put stress on water quality and quantity. For a big-picture look at the strains on our water resources, as well as the importance of water to our economy, check out this interesting report from EPA.

Clearly, our coastal areas are vitally important to our economy and our way of life, but they are also some of the areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels associated with climate change. EPA’s climate change website chronicles some of the specific changes anticipated for the northeastern U.S. as well as some of the planning that communities in the northeast are doing to help them adapt to a changing climate. EPA also has drafted climate change adaptation implementation plans to ensure that we continue to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment as we continue to adjust to a “new normal” in terms of our climate.

I’m not sure what changes I’ll see in our coastal areas on my next rail adventure, or on a train trip to New England 20 years from now. My kids will probably be the ones to notice changes during their lifetimes. I believe that when you feel connected to something, it instills in you a sense of stewardship and preservation. Every time we take this journey up the east coast, we’ll take some time to take off our earphones, put away the tablet, and just gaze out the window to appreciate our connections to the water resources in our region.

About the Author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children, cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, and – obviously – traveling by train.

 

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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To Drive Or Not To Drive. How Will I Get To My Family?

By Amy Miller

During the holidays we drive. I personally drive to see my mother at Thanksgiving and my in-laws at Christmas. I drive to find presents for my loved ones and I tend to be on the road for movies, sibling visits and snow fun during school breaks.

Most of the time I don’t even consider the options. Like staying home, for instance. Or taking a bus or a train as a family. My loved ones await. And the convenience of door to door service is too much to give up.

But what if I were to add up the cost. In dollars, yes, but not JUST in dollars. As the new lingo goes, it would be interesting to know the embedded costs as well.

To visit my mother is 270 miles, times two. That’s 44 gallons of gas and one quart of oil. That’s $5 in tolls and, in my case, $100 in parking fees (yup, those old NYC roots popping up again.) So, let’s call it $260.

And then the environmental costs. Taking my car just that once will create the amount of carbon that 10 tree seedlings can sequester in ten years. Or a tenth of an acre of pine forest in a year.

And besides the air pollution, there is the traffic congestion to which I contribute and the use of a car that will need to be repaired and replaced a little bit sooner with each journey it makes.

The bus might have cost $250 round trip; the train $400. The environmental costs? I’d like to say nothing, since these vehicles were going anyway, but of course the more of us who travel by public transportation, the more trains and buses will be on the road. Still, with the costs divided, we will call it negligible.

So what is the numerical value of protecting the environment? What is the worth of relaxing instead of fighting traffic? How many angels fit on a pin? These numbers are elusive, but real. We are already paying to fix pollution problems we created. And we are already suffering health costs born of our ailing environment. Someday, we will be able to see those numbers in black and white, and perhaps then we can make driving decisions more responsive to reality. In the meantime, I realize I am running up the bill.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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.

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Celebrate the Environment: Check in to an ENERGY STAR Hotel to Check Out with Energy Savings

About the author: Maura Cantor Beard joined EPA in 1992 and currently works with the ENERGY STAR program.

Like so many of us, I love the holiday season. Perhaps my greatest joy is the time spent with family and friends. But with relatives spread from coast to coast, it can feel like a logistical circus act trying to get everyone from here to there with a good place to stay. And I can’t help but think about how all this travel impacts the environment. But there is good news – with help from ENERGY STAR, I’ve found a new way for my family to help protect the environment while on the road this holiday season by staying in ENERGY STAR qualified hotels.

Just like the ENERGY STAR qualified TV on your holiday shopping list, you can find hotels that have earned the ENERGY STAR. These hotels use 40 percent less energy and emit 35 percent fewer greenhouse gases; all without you lifting a finger.

But once my family is checked in and our bags are unpacked, our job’s not finished. Many of the things I do to save energy at home and in my office can also be done when I’m staying at a hotel. For example, I always turn off the lights when I leave my room. When I’m in the room, I open the curtains to take advantage of natural light. I also unplug my cell phone and iPod once they are charged, since they still draw energy even if they are not charging. If I know I’m going to be gone for a while, I’ll set the thermostat to an energy-saving setting so it doesn’t heat or cool the room while I’m gone. And when my son “unpacks” by throwing his clothes on top of the air vents, I remind him that it will take as much as 25% more energy to condition the room when the vents are blocked. Remember, it’s the little actions that, when combined, can have a big impact in our fight against global climate change.

Find hotels that have earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR. If you can’t find one in your area, keep checking back with us as ENERGY STAR hotels are added every day. You could even check out internet travel search engines and search for ENERGY STAR qualified hotels along with other green travel options.

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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Question of the Week: How did you minimize environmental impacts while making holiday travel plans?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Thanksgiving is usually the busiest travel time in the U.S. Millions of us will be driving, flying, taking trains, or even walking to enjoy the holiday with family and friends.

How did you minimize environmental impacts while making holiday travel plans?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

La Fiesta de Acción de Gracias suele ser la época de más viajes en EE.UU. Millones de nosotros viajaremos por automóvil, avión o trenes, o hasta caminaremos para disfrutar de las fiestas con amistades y amigos.

¿Cómo minimizaría los impactos medioambientales al trazar sus planes de viajes para las fiestas?

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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Traveling on an Environmental Budget

About the author: Viccy Salazar joined EPA in 1995. She works in our Seattle office on waste reduction, resource conservation and stewardship issues.

It is summer. I want to take my family on vacation but given all the focus on climate change, I am very concerned about how my travel plans might impact the environment. So, I sit down with my family and ask them – what do you want to do on vacation and how can me make it “green”? Of course, the first question was – what is a green vacation? Here is the list we came up with:

  • It is fun and we can all be together
  • Minimizes traveling
    • Car is better than airplane
    • Biking or Walking is better than car
  • Can cook for ourselves using fresh ingredients
  • Doesn’t damage existing natural resources
  • Can stay in either a tent, a friends house or one room together
  • Measure our carbon emissions and offset them

My kids wanted to know if this ruled out Disneyland. Not completely but it did make it harder to go. We would have to make choices about how we would get there, where we would stay, what we would buy while we were there and how we could offset our emissions.

Other trips we considered were camping at a lake, a train trip across Canada, the beach and a staycation – staying home and touring our own city, Seattle. Eventually, we decided to do a combination of camping, the beach and a staycation. When the kids looked at both the environmental and financial costs of all of the choices, they realized that they were getting more vacation for their resources if they stayed closer to home and chose less high profile activities. We decided to use some of the resources on EPA’s website to figure out exactly how much impact our vacations did have – tracking mileage, evaluating hotel stays, and figuring out how much we can recycle.

When I look back on the conversation, I realize that I learned lessons too. 1) being green means making substantially different choices – not just figuring out how to do the same thing using less, 2) my kids care about the environment and see it directly affecting their future and 3) it can be done but it isn’t easy. We are off on our vacations and staycations next week. I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are all having both a fun and green summer too. I’d love to hear how you are making your vacation green.

The Sierra Club has a more detailed comparison of cars vs. planes.

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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