Mixed Feelings About Drilling for Natural Gas

  • Natural gas drilling rig in Wyoming (Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management).

By now, you may have heard that Northern Michigan is poised for a boom in natural gas production. Developers have paid a record amount of bonuses for drilling rights on state and private land. At first, property owners focused on what is fair payment, but, as Bob Allen reports, they’re now questioning how drilling will affect their land and water.


It’s mostly large landowners, especially farmers, who’ve been approached to lease their mineral rights. Ed Krupka grew up on this 80 acre farm in Leelanau County, and he’s weighing the pros and cons of the leasing offers he’s received.

“I have four contracts sitting on my office desk right now. All look very similar.”

If a gas well were to be drilled on his land, he says, it would mean scraping away the topsoil and removing fruit trees from about seven acres, but aside from loss of productive land he’s also worried about his water.

Drillers will use a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to get at natural gas trapped in tight rock formations as much as two miles down.

Fracking pumps millions of gallons of fluid into a well under high pressure to force open the rock and capture more of the gas.

Drillers say they take numerous precautions to protect drinking water, but for the last couple of years, stories have emerged about erupting gas wells, contaminated water and people and animals getting sick.

Ed Krupka says an article in Vanity Fair magazine about a family in Pennsylvania got his attention.

“Their drinking water turned brown. Their daughter started feeling nauseous after showers. And it just makes you wonder, you want some guarantees or you want to know as much information about what they’re going to do on your land as you possibly can.”

People in the oil and gas industry say none of those things are likely to happen in Michigan. Darel Willison is with Superior Well Services in Gaylord. He was in charge of the frack job for the first well in Michigan drilled to what’s called the Collingwood Shale formation, and he told a meeting of landowners these gas wells are so deep that the fracking fluid cannot make its way back up through layers of rock to contaminate drinking water.

“It’s an impossibility people. Too many rocks in there. The frack job down here in the Collingswood will never reach the fresh water zones. Cannot happen.”

That reassures some landowners who prefer to stress the positives of a potential new gas play.

Glen La Cross says it will create more jobs and economic activity at a time when that’s sorely needed. He owns Leelanau Fruit, a company that processes cherries and apples near Suttons Bay.

“I am 100% supportive of it. The hydraulic fracturing I think is being blown up quite a bit. I think that until it’s proven this is doing some damage I think we have to be positive and move forward and explore these resources.”

If this new gas play takes off and pays big, the extra revenue could help some older farmers keep their land instead of selling it off to pay for their retirement.

Ed Krupka likes that possibility, but he still worries about the impacts not just from drilling new wells but from the pipelines and processing plants and waste disposal that also goes with it, and he recognizes that the region’s economy, and not just the farm economy, depends on clean fresh water.

“We live here in the middle of water, and you can’t do too much without affecting the water here.”
Bob Allen, The Environment Report.
Rebecca Williams: By the way, leases for drilling on state land will be going up on the auction block at the end of October. The spring auction brought in a record amount of money.

A Gold Rush for Natural Gas

  • If land leases are any indication, Michigan will be seeing a lot of these things dotting the landscape. A horizontal drilling rig in Appalachia. (Creative Commons photo by user Meridithw)

Michigan is getting ready for a potential new boom in drilling for natural gas, and some people say: what’s not to love? It’s home grown fuel. It can mean new jobs. It’s much cleaner burning and emits less carbon dioxide than coal or oil.

Listen to a Michigan Watch series on natural gas drilling

An investigative series by ProPublica

The EPA’s fracking page


Doug Houck is a spokesman for EnCana Corporation. That’s a Canadian company that’s been exploring for gas in Michigan.

“You know, natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel we have, it’s very plentiful. Natural gas is going to be a key part of our energy portfolio for many, many years to come.”

Okay, so he’s a gas guy… so you’d expect him to be talking it up. But a lot of scientists and even some environmentalists agree with him.

Hugh McDiarmid is with the Michigan Environmental Council.

“There are lots of benefits to this in terms of using homegrown energy that we extract and you know, natural gas is a less polluting fuel than some of the traditional fossil fuels.”

But he’s watching this latest buzz around natural gas with some caution. We’ve been drilling for gas at shallow levels in Michigan for 80 years… but there’s a new game in town.

It’s because of gas reserves that have been discovered much farther down. The gas is trapped in tight shale rock formations. To get to the gas, drillers use something called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short.

Horizontal fracking pumps millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure to force open the rock and extract the gas.

Hugh McDiarmid says he’s worried about that.

“It’s going to use a lot more water, it’s going to require the transport of a lot more dangerous chemicals. And a lot of these endeavors are exempt from a lot of the pollution laws other industries have to follow.”

Gas companies don’t have to tell us the exact chemicals they’re pumping into the wells. The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to get that information. Officials are asking the companies to just tell them, voluntarily.

And even the EPA doesn’t know what the risks are to drinking water. It’s just now starting to study that.

Even with any risks, some experts say natural gas is the best way to go for energy security and jobs.

Terry Engelder is a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University. He thinks drilling for these new gas reserves deep underground is worth it. But he says the industry needs to do more to reassure the public.

“What we need is a situation where industry understands the public has zero tolerance for pollution, particularly water pollution. This is a heavy industry that will have an effect.”

So he says if you decide to lease your land for gas drilling… you’re going to notice it. Some trees will be cleared from your land and there will be a lot of noise and truck traffic.

And some people say although natural gas IS cleaner than coal or oil… it’s still a fossil fuel. So we’re still burning a fuel that’s releasing carbon dioxide… and adding to the global warming problem.

Cyndi Roper is the Michigan Director of the group Clean Water Action. She says she’d like the U-S to get off fossil fuels. But she’s not completely against using natural gas as a bridge away from coal and oil… moving toward more wind and solar power.

“So we’re willing to look at this as a part of a plan for moving away from the dependence. In order to do that we want to make sure it’s safe and we are not putting these communities and the people in jeopardy.”

State officials say we’re ready for this new kind of drilling… and it can be done safely.

But Cyndi Roper says before a drilling boom happens… she wants to make sure the regulations that are in place will be strong enough.

On Thursday, we’ll hear from landowners in Northern Michigan who have mixed feelings about gas drilling.

Biggest Land Protection Deal in Michigan

  • The mouth of the Two Hearted River in the Upper Peninsula. Because of the new land protection deal, much of the Two Hearted watershed is now protected. (Photo by Heidi Raatz)

The Nature Conservancy calls it “The Big U.P. deal.” And they’re not kidding. It’s 271,000 acres of land in the Upper Peninsula. It protects 660 lakes and 52,000 acres of wetlands. The deal limits development on the land.

“It’s permanent public access for fishing and berry picking and hiking, and you could forever. That’s the wonderful thing about it,” says the state director of the Nature Conservancy in Michigan, Helen Taylor.
More about the Big UP Deal A related story about Hemingway’s Michigan More about Keith Taylor


She says private timber companies will still be allowed to cut down trees.

“These are working lands and there’s a long history there and it’s an important part of our economic base in the U.P. So to protect them it’s not necessary to set it aside. It’s how we manage those lands.”

This deal requires the timber companies to harvest the trees in a sustainable way.

The Nature Conservancy says one of the main reasons they could pull this whole thing off is because a lot of people have an emotional connection to the Two Hearted River. A big reason why is Ernest Hemingway. Most of his Nick Adams stories take place in Northern Michigan.

Keith Taylor is a poet and a professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan. He says he was inspired by Hemingway, and he felt a connection to northern Michigan before he even moved here.

“When I came to Michigan I knew northern Michigan because it’s so well recreated in those early stories of Hemingway. Perhaps the best stories he ever wrote were those early Nick Adams, the best of which take place in northern Michigan.”

Taylor says he loves to canoe the Two Hearted, and he’s constantly inspired by Michigan’s great outdoors – both the cities and the forests.

(Interview still being transcribed, please check back)

This Little Piggy Went Wild

  • The Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) is the wild ancestor of the domestic pig. (Photo by Richard Bartz)

State wildlife officials say there’s a new invasive species in Michigan – Wild hogs. They are hunted on game ranches all over the state, but they can sometimes escape and officials say they can permanently alter any landscape they make their home. Peter Payette visited a man who raises pigs for his hunting ranch.

More on wild hogs, or feral swine, from MDNRE

USDA on wild hogs

How to spot pig tracks in the wild


Wild is not the first word that comes to mind when you see Harvey Haney’s pigs.

Haney: Which one would you like me to pet?
Hunting ranches refer to these animals as Russian boars. They’re brown and hairy and the males have small tusks.

“We even find women don’t really care to shoot a pretty looking deer but they will shoot a hog because they’re so ugly lookin’”

We’re actually not at a hunting ranch right now. Haney raises boars at his home north of Bay City for his hunting ranch an hour north. This winter he’ll release them into 200 acres of woods surrounded by a ten-foot fence. He says once on the loose in the woods the pigs will become more wild and aggressive.

You can shoot one for $550. That’s about the cheapest hunt available from Heritage Trophy Hunts. Deer and elk cost $1,000. Haney expects to turn away pig hunters this winter.

“It seems like there’s a lot of hunters out there with 500 dollars to have a good time with all their friends. It’s generally a group activity. You can have groups as big as ten guys at one time doing a pig hunt.”

Russian boars are not native to North America. They were brought from Europe and are common in the southern United States, but state wildlife officials say there are now a few thousand on the loose in Michigan, mainly because they’ve been escaping from hunting ranches. A report from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment says nearly 50 were shot last year.

“Pigs are essentially four-footed Asian carp.”

Russ Mason heads the wildlife division at the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. His staff recommends declaring wild pigs an invasive species. They tear up forests and farmland and destroy habitat for other animals. Once established, pigs are all but impossible to get rid of because they’re smart and multiply quickly.

Mason says it’s possible to keep pigs fenced in, but you need something more than the standard 10-foot high game fence most ranches use.

“Maybe double fencing. Ten foot high fence goes two feet into the ground, bevels in six feet to prevent digging, maybe anchored in concrete and a hotwire on top that will make bacon if you try to cross it. Plus clearing vegetation for twenty yards on either side so nothing can knock it down. That’s an expensive fence.

At least 40 hunting ranches in Michigan sell boar hunts, and they have some support in Lansing. Michigan Farm Bureau came out in favor of allowing the existing ranches to operate as long there are some rules. At the moment there are no regulations for wild pigs.
Earlier this month singer and gun rights advocate Ted Nugent was more outspoken about hogs. Nugent owns a ranch near Jackson. He told the Natural Resources Commission hunting is an important part of the state’s heritage and economy. He says boars seldom escape and when it happens they’re quickly rounded up.

“The hog hunting and high fence operations in this state are a win win win. And I challenge those who claim there are 5,000 to 7,000 pigs out there to show me one. I’ve got the boots let’s go find it. They’re not there.”

The director of the DNRE could declare wild pigs an invasive species at anytime. Then it would be illegal to have one anywhere even on a private ranch. Michigan lawmakers wouldn’t have to approve that decision, but for now the department will meet with the industry to discuss other solutions.

State officials say there are compromises, like requiring hunted pigs to be sterilized, but if wild pigs are regulated the next question is who pays for inspections and enforcement.

There is a precedent in this region – the state of Wisconsin has declared feral pigs an exotic species. There, it’s open season on the pigs year round.

Peter Payette, The Environment Report.

VIDEO: Pig Problem in Texas

Monarchs Flying South

  • The shorter days are a signal to Monarch butterflies to migrate south. Some travel more than 2,000 miles to winter in Mexico. (Photo by Marty Davis courtesy of Monarch Watch)

Right now, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies are making an incredible journey south to Mexico for the winter. They’re flying through Michigan for the next couple of weeks so you have a really good chance of seeing one if you’re outside. Steve Malcolm is a professor of ecology at Western Michigan University and an expert on monarch butterflies.

More about Monarchs

Monarch migration map


Professor Malcolm, how on earth do monarch butterflies find their all the way to Mexico?

Steve Malcolm, PhD: Um, that’s a good question, we’re not absolutely certain how they do it. It may be that the very fast rates of decreasing day length change trigger physiological changes that cause them to move to the south. But quite how they orientate to Mexico we’re not absolutely certain.

RW: And these butterflies are famous for covering thousands of miles as they’re going on this migration. Is it just one insect making this journey?

Steve Malcolm: In the autumn, the adults that have bred in the Great Lakes region, southern Canada, as they’re flying south will be exploiting nectar resources so they can really build up their fat so by the time they get to the Gulf Coast they’re these huge, obese butterflies. They continue their migration to Mexico and spend five, even six months in Mexico and then they fly north in the spring, and maybe get as far north as central states like Kansas or even Iowa. Then they’ll basically die and it’ll be their offspring that continue the migration back to the Great Lakes region.

RW: There are some butterflies that look like monarch butterflies. How can you tell them apart?

Steve Malcolm: In the Great Lakes region, the viceroy is the only butterfly that looks very like a monarch. But the monarch has this typically lazy flight. It’s sort of a bold butterfly, you know, it just flies around and does its own thing. The viceroy it’s got the same basic coloration of being orange with black wing veins, but it has a more flick-y flight, it looks like a more nervous butterfly. It’s a little bit smaller than a monarch. If you look at it end on, it looks very flat somehow. Monarchs tend to look more like a flapping V if you like when they’re flying around in the environment.

RW: Where are the best places in Michigan to go if you want to see monarchs heading south?

Steve Malcolm: I personally like going to the Wickham music festival which was on this last weekend in the middle of Michigan, and lying on my back listening to the music watching the monarchs flying overhead. Typically you can lie there and watch a monarch flying over every minute. But also going to the shores of Lake Michigan is very good. Anywhere on the west side of Michigan, along Lake Michigan, if you walk on any of the beaches there you can usually see monarchs. They’ll arrive at the water’s edge and then they’ll pretty much fly south down the lakeshore.

RW: What can we do to help the butterflies out?

Steve Malcolm: I think it’s really good to do some butterfly gardening, particularly this time of year, to have nectar plants. It’s really helpful for the butterflies to have lots of food resources so they can build up their fat. Having a patch of milkweed, like common milkweed, or butterfly weed or the swamp milkweed. But I think it’s important to make sure they’re native milkweeds that belong in Michigan rather than some of the exotic milkweeds that are easy to grow.

RW: Well, thank you so much for your time.

Steve Malcolm: You’re very welcome.

RW: Steve Malcolm is a monarch butterfly expert at Western Michigan University.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Greenovation: Solar Panels Hit Some Red Tape

  • An artists rendering of the solar panels to be installed on Matt Grocoff's historic home. Matt is working to make his home the oldest net-zero-energy house in America, but he had to get by the historic district first. (Image courtesy of Matt Grocoff)

We’ve been following Greenovation TV’s Matt Grocoff recently in his attempt to make his home the oldest net-zero-energy house in America. That means the house would use no more energy that it produces. Reporter Lester Graham found out that Matt recently faced a big hurdle.

National Trust for Historic Preservation’s position statement on solar

American Solar Energy Society

More from the Greenovation Series


Matt Grocoff already has done a lot to make his home energy efficient. He’s insulated, tightened, and installed really efficient heating and cooling in his 110 year old house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having reduced his energy use, he was ready to start installing a way to produce energy: solar panels.

But Matt faced an obstacle. His home is in a historic district. Before he could install solar panels, he had to get permission from the historic district commission.

Historic district commissions across the country have really balked at solar panels on the roof. Generally, they frown on modern elements that can be seen from the street. Matt wated to cover almost all of his south-facing roof with solar panels, and yes, they would be visible from the street.

He did his homework and sent detailed drawings and illustrations to the commission. Got the least obtrusive (and more expensive) kind of solar panels, and got the historic district’s attention. Lisa Rozmarek was the first commissioner to speak:

“It’s good for the environment. It’s good for our city. And I think we should promote sustainable building practices within our historic districts. It’s the only way we can move forward into the future instead of being accused of staying in the past.”

When Matt go up to testify, it was looking pretty good. He knew the commissioners were concerned about how it would look, but they seemed open to the idea of allowing renewable energy installations:

“And I’m really excited because not every historic commission has been this progressive. There have been some cases where historic commissions have demanded that someone remove a $60,000 system from the roof.”

The commissioners had some pretty good questions about different types of solar panels and their appearances and Matt had brought along the solar panel sales guy to handle some of those questions.

After the vote, the solar panels were approved. I caught Darren Griffith with Mechanical Energy Systems in the hall and asked are all historic district commissions were that receptive:

“I think as more commissions around the country realize that the energy savings really add money to preserve more structures, I think you’ll begin to see change loosening a little bit from some of the commissions.”

That might be a little optimistic, but the homeowner, Matt Grocoff, was pretty happy boy.

He thinks one of the things that worked in his favor was this: some homeowners want to put up the solar panels first, before they do what they can to make the home energy efficient, like fixing windows, adding insulation. The want what Matt calls “green bling.” Putting up those solar panels as a statement, letting everyone see they’re green. Matt says you have to reduce your energy consumption first:

“Reduce, reduce, and then produce.”

Lester Graham: “I think one of the key elements for them wasn’t so much the aesthetics or the appearance, but the fact that you weren’t going to be doing any permanent damage to the structure.”

Matt Grocoff:“And yet there’s a lot of historic districts throughout the country now who are actually denying people permits to put solar on the roof when you can see it from the street even though it’s not a permanent part of the structure and I think it’s a really bad way to go. And it’s a great thing here in Ann Arbor that we’ve got this very, very progressive commission that’s moving forward. And frankly, I think they’re going to be setting an example for the rest of the country on this.

Lester Graham, The Environment Report.

Wild Rice Harvest Restores a Native Tradition

  • Chloe Aldred is one of many kids learning the tradition of harvesting wild rice. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

For thousands of years, Native American tribes in the Great Lakes region have been harvesting wild rice. They call it manoomin.

But over the past few centuries, this tradition has been dying out. The rice beds have been shrinking, and the cultural knowledge has been disappearing. Many tribes were forced to relocate away from the wild rice beds. Starting in the 1870s, some children were taken from their families, into boarding schools. They were given English names and cut off from their culture and from the knowledge of how to harvest rice.

In Michigan, some people are trying to bring the tradition back.

Native Wild Rice Coalition

More about “The Good Berry”

The Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Video of the Manoomin Project for at risk teens


Roger LaBine is a member of the Lac Vieux Desert band of Lake Superior Chippewa. He says manoomin is central to his ancestors’ migration story.

“And they were presented in visions with seven prophecies and we would know where our homeland would be when we found this food that grows on the water, which is the manoomin.”

(paddling sound)

Here, on Tubbs Lake near Mecosta, you can still find wild rice. The rice beds look like a bright green meadow growing on the water. It’s the perfect spot for Wild Rice Camp. About 50 people are here, young and old, tribal and non-tribal. They’re here to learn how to harvest and process the rice.

Barb Barton is one of the camp’s instructors.

“So to harvest rice you use cedar ricing sticks, they look like shortened pool cues. You pull rice over the boat and knock the rice into the boat.”

(snd of knocking rice)

After a couple hours on the lake, everyone heads back to camp to process the rice.

Charley Fox has been ricing since he was nine years old. He’s showing us how to soften the rice in a copper kettle.

(snd under)

“It takes the moisture out of the rice kernel, gets the outer shaft brittle to where you can roll it in your fingers. it’s a golden color, it’s ready to go, ready for the next stage where they dance on it!”

Saige Mackay is 11 years old. She’s in a little pit, wearing moccasins.

“I’m dancing on the rice. It shells the rice so you don’t have the husks on it, like husking corn.”

(dancing sound under)

Then it’s on to the winnowing stage. That’s where they use birch baskets to separate the husks from the rice. Then they clean the rice, and it’s finally ready to eat.

Zhawan Sprague is the daughter of a tribal chairman.

“My dad really wanted me to learn more about how to like, harvest rice, so I’m really excited how it’s going to end out.”

A lot of people here are first timers.

Roger LaBine says he loves having all the kids around.

He says to the Anishinaabe people, everything has a spirit. He says the spirit of the manoomin is glad to have them back.

“It’s been waiting for us. By us coming out here and harvesting this rice, it’s helping us to enhance it. Not only the rice bed but it’s a healing process for us, it gives us that incentive to carry it on. We need that. It’s our identity. It’s almost like a language, we lose our identity if we lose our language, if we lose our dance, if we lose our drum.”

LaBine says on the last day of camp, they’ll return one day’s harvest back to the water, to re-seed the rice beds for next year.

“And say thank you, Miigwetch, give us all that we need and no more than we need so that we can carry this on.”

Rebecca Williams, The Environment Report

Cleaning Up the Enbridge Oil Spill

  • A Great Blue heron covered in oil. (Photo courtesy of EPA Region 5)

It’s been more than a month since an estimated 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge Energy Partners, the company responsible for the pipeline leak, says it has cleaned up about 700,000 gallons of that oil.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done. The Environmental Protection Agency is just now starting to find out how much oil is at the bottom of the river

Peter Adriaens is an expert on oil spill cleanup, and he has consulted on the cleanups of the Exxon Valdez and first Gulf War oil spills. He’s a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Michigan.

More on clean-up efforts from the EPA

More on the response from Enbridge Energy Partners

More on Peter Adriaens


Dr. Adriaens, how long do you think it’ll take to clean up this spill?

Adriaens: “So assuming that the 700,000 gallons that they’ve taken out, that that is a correct estimate because clearly what they had was a water oil mixture, so there were some uncertainties in the estimate. Now the cleanup of all the visible oil is probably pretty much completed. So now we get to the point of finding the oil in the sediments and finding where the oil constituents are in the water before that it’s cleaned up. So I mean this could take years.”

RW: Years?

Adriaens: “Yes, months to years.”

The EPA has issued an order to Enbridge. They have until September 27th to clean up all the oil. Is there any way they can possibly meet that deadline?

Adriaens: “I would say that is not feasible. Anything that is visible can probably be cleaned up by the 27th but that is not all the oil.”

How is it decided that the cleanup is done?

Adriaens: “It is a negotiated condition. Cleanup does not mean that everything will be removed from the environment. It means that all the exposure to toxic constituents of the oil has been stopped. And because we will not be able to find necessarily all of that oil I mean people will and kids might at some point in the future find some of these hot spots. We are finding hotspots from spills from a long time ago.”

RW: Kids might be digging in the sand and turn up oil even five, ten years from now?

“That is correct, yes.”

So what does that mean for the safety of recreation on the river?

Adriaens: “After all the visible oil has been cleaned up and after they’ve done the analysis in the water that most of the concentrations of oil, if they can find them in water, are sufficiently low for our exposure, we can probably resume our activities on the river, the boating on the river, the swimming in the river and whatnot. But, anybody who is on the river has to bear in mind that not all the oil is gone, that there will still be some residue even after EPA and the Department of Environmental Quality and everybody else has agreed that the site is cleaned up or contained. There is still residue.”

EPA is still and probably for a few months at least will be assessing the damage to the ecosystem. What’s your sense on what damage has been done?

Adriaens: “Clearly there was impact on wildlife. There was impact on birds. Once the oil sits in the sediments, in the sand of the river, now you start looking at something called bioaccumulation. Every time you go from organism to organism in the whole food chain, there is an accumulation of oil so we don’t know yet what the long term accumulation of that residual oil in the sediment and how that will build up in the local food chain what that will be. We don’t know that yet.”

Peter Adriaens is an expert on oil spill cleanup and a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Michigan.

Thank you so much.

Adriaens: “My pleasure. Thank you.”

That’s The Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Little Action After Lots of Green Talk

  • 72% of us say it's important to use public transportation or carpool, but only 12% of us do it. (Photo by Mike Hicks)

What are you doing to help the environment? Have you ditched the plastic water bottles and carry a reusable one instead. Maybe you bike to work a couple days a week. According to a recent study, there’s sometimes a big gap between what we say we should do and what we actually do. Reporter Tanya Ott knows all about it.

Check out the survey results

A related Environment Report story


So I’ve got a morning routine in my house. The first thing I do is I brush my teeth.
I always turn off the water while brushing my teeth. I take a quick shower, get dressed and head downstairs. I might take out the recycling. Unless, the outside bin is full and we’re still a couple days away from pickup. In which case, I sometimes throw recyclables away. I grab my Diet Coke, in the plastic bottle, and get into my car, by myself, to drive to work.

I feel guilty about a lot of this stuff. And it turns out I’m not alone.

Out on the Diag at the University of Michigan, Michelle Kim says it’s important to save water and electricity and to recycle. She says it’s easy in Korea, where she’s from, because almost everything is recyclable, but it’s not so easy here in the states.

“In America you just need a little more effort, you know, to do it because you have to find your own place to recycle and I don’t think our apartment does it as much.”

Anthony Leiserowitz is the director of Yale University’s Project on Climate Change.

“Americans have very good intentions, but aren’t necessarily always following through on those good intentions.”

Along with colleagues from George Mason University, he surveys people on what they say is important to protect the environment and what they actually do.

72% of respondents say using public transportation or carpooling is important, but only 12% actually do it.

“Many people say, look, I would love to do this, but my community hasn’t provided me with public transportation options that affordable or clean or safe of even easily used. In other words the routes don’t go near where I live.”

Leiserowitz says that’s a societal constraint. Communities have invested much more money in roads and building up a car-based culture, but, he says, other conservation choices are more personal.

(Teddy Pendergrass song – “Turn off the lights”)

Teddy Pendergrass told us to do it, and so did our mamas. Still, 9% of survey respondents who say they should turn off the lights, don’t. Anthony Leiserowitz says they’re lazy, but technology like motion detector lights can help.

“Which makes it easy, the light comes on when somebody comes into a room and if there’s no motion in a room for ten minutes, the light automatically goes out. Problem solved!”

What about unplugging electronics? Even when a machine is off it still draws electricity, but more than half of people who say it’s important to unplug electronics don’t do it.

It’s not surprising that we tend to do the things that are easier. Any behavior change takes time. At first it’s hard to remember, but once you make it a habit it becomes second nature.

Anthony Leiserowitz says don’t overlook the bigger changes that will save you more energy and money. He says swapping traditional light bulbs for compact fluorescents is a great conservation move. So is upgrading the insulation in your attic. It’s not sexy, but it is smart.

Tanya Ott, The Environment Report