Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Clean Air

Susan Thurn,
CNHM Director of Education

Breath Deep

Take a deep breath. And again. I just spent a week’s honeymoon in New York City, and I learned one incredibly important thing this past week. I love New York, but I love clean air even better. I learned how much I take our northern Wisconsin’s clean air for granted. The cultural and architectural sights, the Broadway shows, the food, and the 10 million working people of New York City were all amazing, but I missed the air of the north woods. I missed waking up and knowing the weather outside, sunny or cloudy, without having to try and figure it out through the smog. It was a fresh breath of air coming home again!

Air – we breathe and expose our lungs to about 35 pounds of it every day and 2 gallons every minute. This air is made up of gases – nitrogen, oxygen, argon and other natural ingredients. Smaller amounts other naturally occurring gases are found on earth such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Tiny particles, bits of earth, sea salts, pollen, and microscopic microbes, are blown into the air. These substances play an important role in regulating and sustaining life on our planet.

According to a New York City Community Air Survey, wintertime air quality across the city, found results that Manhattan and the more developed, high-traffic locations in five of the studied boroughs have the city's highest particulate levels. The beautiful Manhattan skyline has certainly been changed by the smog and air particulates. This is just one part of our planet, however. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA,) 50 million Americans live with ozone levels above the current national standard. Worldwide, 1.4 billion people breathe polluted air every day.

None of this information about our air is a surprise to us, and there is good news. According to EPA estimates, the Clean Air Act has helped significantly through a savings of $22 billion in health costs, material damage, and more. Here at home in northwestern Wisconsin, we have an air quality index that is marked as “Good.” In comparison to other places, perhaps it should be marked excellent.

In spite of this good news, my recent city experience was a strong reminder of what daily life could be like in other places. Wisconsin, like all other states and countries fights their battles with growing carbon dioxide emissions, ozone, mercury, and a host of other air quality issues. This past week brought about a renewed sense of commitment to decreasing my personal global footprint. Let us all be reminded of the air that we breathe daily and all take for granted. Let us stop what we are all doing for a moment, breathe, and appreciate what we take in every day, every moment of our north woods lives, and enjoy it!

Nature Watch is brought to you by the Cable Natural History Museum. For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and new exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M or on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about exhibits and programs.

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