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Sustainability: Myths about the Environment

Posted: 10:27AM October 22nd, 2014 | Comments

Sustainability of the Environment: the Lowdown


I hope to clarify a couple of the many urban myths regarding air pollution, our ozone, global warming, and the factors that are actually important when considering environmental sustainability.


Myth #1: Air Pollution is 100% man-made


It’s true that humans contribute to noxious chemicals in our atmosphere via car engines, the burning of coal, nuclear testing, industry, etc.. But our environment has ways of creating the same pollutants. For instance, nitrogen mono/dioxide (NOx) is also formed through forest fires, lightning, and volcanoes. NOx is a pollutant that can lead to lung irritation in humans, tropospheric ozone formation, acid rain, and nitrification (pollution) of lakes. Even radioactive substances like argon are produced simply through uranium decay in the soil.

The fact that the environment has natural ways of creating pollutants is even more of a call to action when it comes to sustainability. Heavy smog is a proven killer. If you don’t believe me, Google the Great Smog of 1952 in London and check out some of the air quality reports in Northeastern China from 2013. We shouldn’t be assisting the natural creation of noxious chemicals and we need to be more aware of the impacts of such substances.


Myth #2: the Ozone Hole is an immediate danger


The ozone hole is actually a natural phenomenon that occurs for only about 6 weeks over the south pole of Antarctica during October. Human impact has indeed increased the damage to the ozone hole but this impact is slowly reversing.  Of course, we wouldn’t want the ozone hole to expand, but immediate effects of this breach in ozone are not especially pertinent.

The fact of the matter is that the ozone layer exists around the entire globe and is protecting us at this very moment. Studies regarding the ozone hole are still significant in that they educate us in the ways we can prevent the hole from expanding, but the ozone hole is definitely NOT the most important matter facing environmental sustainability. I would argue that a carbon footprint is a much more serious dilemma in regards to environmental awareness.


Myth #3: Urban development is more vital than biodiversity


I would assume the inverse, and argue that biodiversity is actually essential to future urbanization. Here’s why. Through a process called “bio-mimesis,” researchers are able to replicate natural abilities of organisms for the use of humans. To use an example: how do you think humans had the idea to fly? Aerial transport is essential to modern day globalization, trade, and social cohesion – and we borrowed many aspects of aircraft wing design and flight techniques from studies involving birds and bats. It may seem obvious, but on a basic level, the impacts of mimicking abilities of organisms can go much further.    

Spiral patterns (Fibonacci sequences) on the external layer of (photosynthetic) plants have led to increased absorption on solar panels, resulting in higher levels of renewable energy from the sun.  Spider webs are currently under research for their resilient properties similar to Kevlar (bulletproof vest material) that could eventually be used in artificial ligament construction and even naturally-made suspension bridge cables. Seashells have been studied for their durability and used to improve ceramic tiles.

This is why biodiversity, the maintenance of all organic species and habitat is crucial to our own development as a human species.

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