This week has special significance for Georgians as we gird our lungs in preparation for smog season, which begins May 1 and runs all the way until September 30. This five-month stretch can be very taxing for asthmatic children, the elderly and anyone with sensitivities to ground-level ozone and particle pollution.
But before we sigh in exasperation over the next public health issue we must tackle after pollen and swine flu, let's celebrate: Governor Perdue has officially proclaimed this week to be Air Quality Awareness Week. This proclamation draws attention to the significant challenges we face in beating back ambient air pollution ... and it puts the ball in our court to act. Is there anything positive to note on the air quality front? You bet. Here are a few things to get excited about before smog season kicks off:
1. The efforts of thousands of commuters who pledged to use commute alternatives like carpooling, vanpooling, transit, telework, bicycling and walking once a week over the course of a year have really paid off. The Clean Air Campaign is celebrating the first anniversary of the One Ton Challenge, a simple way for commuters to go green. More than 3,600 commuters took the pledge, resulting in at least 3,600 tons of pollution kept out of the air we breathe. If you're not on board yet, signing up is a snap.
2. There are quite a few long-time users of commute alternatives who are approaching big milestones in clean commuting. To commemorate the sustained efforts of these champions -- each of whom has accounted for eliminating at least 25,000 pounds of air pollution -- The Clean Air Campaign just launched a special recognition program.
3. After another dry year in 2008, things appear to be looking up in 2009 for breaking out of one of the worst droughts ever to grip the state. But we need lots of precipitation this summer to help mitigate the conditions that cause smog to form. How much rain we'll get is anyone's guess, but the Farmer's Almanac says "rainfall will be well above normal in the south." Of course, it also says we should expect a hurricane in late-August or September ... and we all remember what that did to gas prices and commuting.
This is all great news, but it's important to keep our progress toward cleaner air in perspective. Consider:
1. The American Lung Association today released its annual State of the Air report, which finds Atlanta ranked among the 25 worst metro areas for both ground-level ozone and particle pollution. We're doing marginally better when compared to previous years, but we've got more work to do.
2. Last smog season, metro Atlanta experienced nearly 30 days in which ground-level ozone and/or particle pollution reached unhealthy levels -- that's almost a month's worth of dirty air. It's important to note that the 2008 smog season brought with it the introduction of tighter standards for air quality, which were put in place to protect public health. What's encouraging is that roughly half of last year's smog days resulted from this change in standards, meaning we would only have experienced about 15 days of bad air if the old standards had remained in effect.
So, how do you see things shaping up for Georgia this year? Weigh in with a response ... and be sure to sign up for Smog Alerts from The Clean Air Campaign -- messages sent straight to your e-mail inbox or to your Twitter account (follow @CleanAirGA) to help you plan ahead when the next day's air quality is forecasted to be poor. Here's hoping we don't have to send too many messages out.
I never meant to develop the relationship I have today with public transportation; daily rider, avid fan, committed advocate. I owned (and still do) a gas guzzling SUV that I dutifuly drove every day up and down the downtown connector and Georgia 400 from my house in North Ormewood in the heart of Atlanta to my office in Alpharetta. It all started because I had to go to the bathroom.
Let me explain - it was just a Friday like any other. I was planning to go to the Hawks game and had left my office at somewhere around 3:40. I knew Friday traffic would be bad; really bad, and I wanted to get home, change, eat something and get to the game. That afternoon traffic was worse than I could have imagined. I waited in the usual places, but then I got to the tollbooth at GA 400 and it stopped. And the line crawled. The worst part was I had to go to the bathroom. I had to go and I saw no relief. We were crawling toward the Sidney Marcus exit and it looked like we would never, ever get there. As I sat there, about to freak out, I watched the MARTA trains roll over head and thought, "there has to be a better way."
It took me more than 2 hours to get home that night, and by the time the weekend ended, I had mapped out my route. Drive to Inman Park, take the train to North Springs, get on the #140 bus and get to the office.
That morning was crazy. I got up super early and nervously began my trek. I was going to ride a BUS. I had never considered this before, the fact that I had to ride a bus was always the deal-breaker for me. But I did it that morning. I made it and I made it so much more relaxed. And then going home. Wow. What a difference.
I never looked back. By the end of the week I bought a monthly pass. I have only driven to my office rarely since that day, more that 18 months ago. I added the bus in front of my house to my repetoire a few weeks later and now my commute almost never involves a car (I'll admit, some days I drive to the train station when I need my car right after work.) I have taken MARTA all over Fulton and Dekalb, ridden buses to Stone Mountain, Buckhead, Downtown, everywhere. I chuckle to think there was a time when I wouldn't consider a bus. I am chuckling even more when I realize I am writing this on a 3G card from the front seat of the #140 as I ride home.
I love my MARTA. The only regret I have is that I didn't realize it for years. I wish I could have all those wasted hours sitting on the connector back.
I can't, but maybe I can convince you to give it a try and save those hours for yourself ;-)
James Hervey is the author of a blog on his MARTA ridership experiences and a regular contributor to http://atlanta.metblogs.com/. Each year, his sustained efforts at clean commuting have helped keep nearly four tons of pollution out of the air we breathe.
Living an eco-friendly lifestyle has always been an important priority in my life. At the earliest age I was taught the values of respecting our resources, taking care of our environment, and giving back whenever possible. These lessons formed the foundation to the environmentally responsible life I choose to lead, which today is fueled by the undeniable connection between the health of our planet and our own welfare.
For each of us our motivations for going green differ. For some of us we are motivated to live an eco-friendly lifestyle to improve our health and the health of our loved ones and for others it might be the financial savings that makes going green a wise business decision. But no matter if you're going green to protect an imperiled species, to preserve your favorite wilderness spot you loved as a child, or to secure a healthy future for your children, I believe first actions are inspired by acquired knowledge. In my experience learning about environmental issues based on fact can open hearts and minds and can lead to a greater understanding of the natural world we live in and depend upon. By understanding the connection between the intricate, fragile, interdependent web of life comes a sense of responsibility to make things better.
Through education we learn that our planet is in peril and in desperate need of our help. It is more important than ever that we do everything in our power to help restore, preserve, and protect our life support systems and fight for clean air, clean water, and healthy biological systems on land and in our oceans. No matter what our faiths we are called to action be mindful of the less fortunate, future generations, and all of God's creation. I believe many hands make light work, so if we all work together we can minimize our impact on the Earth and make a difference!
Laura Turner Seydel chairs the Captain Planet Foundation, a partner program to the environmentally focused Saturday morning cartoon, Captain Planet and the Planeteers. The Captain Planet Foundation acts as a national educational conduit to provide funds for environmental projects that have impacted over 625,000 youth around the world.
Happy Earth Day. Are you thinking"green?" ... are you acting "green?" ... or does the thought of tackling some of the abstract environmental problems out there make your brain hurt? Most people say they aspire to live "green" and certainly the Earth Day theme has proven that it can extend beyond just one day.
But many of us admit that we don't see how our individual efforts can help move the needle on reducing pollution or beating back global warming. The obvious issue is that phrases like "the environment" and "greenhouse gases" and "pollution" are amorphous. Each of these problems has different context for each of us. Likewise, the solution to these problems -- "going green" -- means different things to different people. So it's up to each of us as individuals to define the word "green" and decide how we fit it into our respective values and lifestyles. For some, it's pledging to take part in the One Ton Challenge to tackle air quality problems that result from too many cars on the road. For others, it's remembering to shut off idling engines on school grounds.
What does "going green" mean to you? The Clean Air Campaign asked that question of some commuters, employers, schools and community figures. Over the course of the next few weeks, we'll examine in this space what the phrase means and how we translate our individual definition of "green" into action.
What are our most basic needs to ensure survival in the modern world?
Food. Clothing. Shelter. And ... transportation?
Average household expenditures in metro Atlanta paint a picture that few of us may have considered until the sour economy caused us to reexamine our spending. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, Atlanta households spend:
- 38% of income on housing
- 17% of income on transportation
- 12% of income on food
- 4% of income on clothing
Shocking to think that, on average, Atlantans spend more of our income on transportation than we do on food. So, how did transportation muscle its way into what we consider our bare essentials for survival?
It's got plenty to do with explosive population growth in the Sun Belt, combined with an unyielding appetite for suburban living and economic expansion that favors automobile travel. Over the past decade, the region has brought in a wave of new residents equal to the entire population of Denver. And the average household has 1.7 vehicles. Most commuters drive alone to and from work at a cost of 54¢ a mile.
In several ways, this snapshot of household spending hints at our willingness to pay in order to keep distance between work life and home life. But the current recession has created more pressure on household budgets everywhere. Can we afford to keep transportation -- specifically driving alone an average of 39.4 miles a day roundtrip to the jobs that are the source of our household income, as 84% of us do -- as high up on the list of bare essentials as it is?
When times are lean, a typical household's first move is to cut vacations, dining out and big-ticket purchases in order to keep a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food on the table. But, at a hefty 17% of household expenditures, it should be the cost of transportation that warrants a closer look.
Georgia has just about all the amenities an outdoor enthusiast could want. Rivers and creeks to navigate by kayak. Hiking trails and varied terrain to negotiate on foot. For the adventurous, hang gliding near Lookout Mountain. But when it comes to commuting, there's one mode of travel that has effectively merged our appreciation for being outdoors with our need to get to work: riding a bicycle.
Bicycling is no longer just for weekend warriors. In fact, more than 80,000 commute trips were logged in 2008 by bicycle commuters participating in The Clean Air Campaign's incentive programs. Looking back over a three-year period in Georgia, that number has doubled, which tells us there's a sizable group of bicycle commuters with a passion for pedaling their way to their jobs. In fact, The Clean Air Campaign's executive director has been known to bike to the office every now and then. What he and others have figured out is that they can trade a little sweat equity for the freedom of being able to ride unabated through gridlock and not have to scavenge for parking. Everyone benefits from having one less car on the road, which means less air pollution. And if it wasn't fun, commuters wouldn't do it.
Other groups are starting to take note of the rising bicycle commuter trend:
- More office buildings are weighing options for bike racks and shower facilities.
- The federal government, through 2009 stimulus legislation, is even offering a $20 per month tax credit for bicycle commuters (though it is still unclear at this early stage how the commuter or the employer can file this deduction).
- RideSmart launched a program in 2008 called Bike Buddy to help pair together groups of bicycle commuters who ride similar routes for safety.
Coming up in mid-May, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is teaming up with several area partners, including local Transportation Management Associations (TMAs) and The Clean Air Campaign, to promote a week's worth of events leading up to Bike to Work Day on Thursday, May 14. Bicycle commuters will be able to refuel with refreshments in areas throughout town, get information on bike routes and confident city cycling classes at a tabling event set to take place in Woodruff Park and celebrate all things bicycle with a party at a yet-to-be-determined location. Keep an eye out for more information on this fun series of events.
It's incredible to think that in other countries like Denmark, more than one-third of commuters get to school or work via bicycle. And they look good doing it. This photo appears on an intriguing blog devoted to the high style of well-dressed gentlemen traveling by bicycle.
If you had favorable weather conditions, good equipment and a commute of less than 10 miles, would you try it?