Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sustainable Earth Rising

           Many people can claim to know the problems with industrial air pollution; however, pollution in our water can also be caused by everyday practices and can be just as harmful. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls polluted runoff non-point source pollution. According to the EPA, non-point source pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt that moves over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters. This kind of pollution is a very complex issue to consider because it is extremely hard to find the source.
Underwater video frame of the sea floor in the western Baltic 
covered with dead or dying crabs, fish and clams killed by oxygen depletion.

            When high concentrations of nutrients are found in the watershed due to human activities, hypoxic (low-oxygen) areas are formed that cause dead zones. These dead zones are caused by algae blooms that take large amounts of oxygen out of the water upon decomposition. One famous spot for low oxygen is located in the Gulf of Mexico dead zone because of its sheer size and geographical qualities. The dead zone in question is the drainage area for 41% of the continental United States and reaches sizes up to 21,756 square kilometers or 8,400 square miles (NOAA). Marine life is at risk to survive within such areas, hence the name “dead zone”. From large examples in the Mississippi Delta to the smaller ones in local lakes and ponds, water pollution caused by humans is running rampant in a society that does not know of its very existence.

            Polluted runoff can be created through many means. Excess fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, sediment, salts, bacteria, and nutrients are all sources of pollution. Oil, grease, and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production are also included as pollutants in runoff. There are more sources that cause nonpoint source pollution, adding to the complexity of the issue.

            Cities in the United States and around the world are creating initiatives to control rainwater runoff. Green areas – including ‘pocket parks,’ green roofs, and green walls – are being created to slow rainfall runoff. Green roofs capture 60% of rainfall and also improve air quality, vegetation and wildlife habitat.
Bureau of Environmental Services, Portland, Oregon
Rainwater flows into a sidewalk planter from a street in Portland, Oregon.

Sidewalk planters are just one method that is being used in an effort to allow rain water, normally unable to pass through concrete, to be absorbed into the ground below. The expansion of initiatives to reclaim water, such as in the South Cross Bayou Reclamation facility in St. Petersburg, FL, is an example of a practice for other cities to follow. Sustainable farming practices, like the use of hydroponics in growing produce, are able to drastically cut water usage and reduce runoff. Regardless, hydroponics does not require pesticides, since the whole process can be conducted in a controlled environment. The raising of livestock does not have to result in polluted runoff, because the waste is manageable. Eliminating the mismanagement of wastes in general can be an effective solution to polluted runoff.

            A basic tenet of business management for any company is the mastery of the art of doing more for less – efficiency. Far from ignoring the necessity of eliminating harmful pollutants from the environment, the incentives for businesses and communities to act benefit the environmental stewardship initiatives that are very crucial to expediting the necessary implementation of sustainable water management. The ability to control a problem that keeps running off is within the grasp of all humanity. The creation of economic incentives to do so will only bolster smarter and more efficient water management.

            Besides the sustainability projects mentioned above, there are a variety of others that are not related to water pollution. For example, Pavegen Systems, a London company, is developing unique tiles. These tiles acquire kinetic energy from a person’s footsteps and convert that energy into electricity. One challenge in the advancement of the tiles is ensuring that they are durable enough to withstand numerous footsteps and damage from weather. If the tiles become practical for long-term use, they can be utilized at a sports event so that athletes can generate some of the electricity needed to power the electronic used at the event. Similar to the tiles of Pavegen Systems is a wearable knee brace, made by the Canadian company Bionic Power, that takes kinetic energy as the wearer walks or runs. This technology is especially valuable to members of the military who work in places where electricity is not easily accessible. Another example of sustainability is a cooling panel designed by a team of Stanford scientists. The cooling panel can mostly reflect sunlight through the Earth’s atmosphere and back into space. Potentially, a cooling panel of this kind could be used to cool buildings, vehicles, and other structures. In developing countries, cooling panels could be used as a replacement or supplement to air conditioners while reducing the need for electricity. 

            All that has been stated is just an inkling of the possibilities open to all of humanity. If the human collective can unite and put its efforts together within the scope of a common goal, then the betterment of our planet can be made certain. “So powerful is the light of unity, that it can illuminate the whole earth. We have the power to bring life to our planet, just as we have the power to destroy it. The advancing desertification on this planet can be halted and reversed. The droughts we have created in the Amazon can be reversed. The pollution and destruction wreaked on our planet can be undone and reversed through the unification of humanity's forces. The redirection of humanity’s efforts can be for the betterment of this planet.


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