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Noise Pollution Is Pouring Into Protected Natural Areas

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All right, folks. We’ve had our warnings, and now it really is time to keep it down. Experts say anthropogenic (human-made) noise is drowning out natural silence and sounds in the majority of protected areas in the United States. They published their research in the journal Science.

A babbling brook or a forest full of birdsong may soothe a stressed-out human, but for the plants and animals that live there, every single sound serves a function. Studies have shown that noise pollution can mess up animals’ migration paths, stop them from mating, and lead them to make fatally bad decisions.

Parks, wilderness, and other protected areas currently make up 14 percent of our country’s landmass. But as urbanization continues, spillover from human settlement draws nearer to every open space; 80 percent of the country is within .6 miles of a road and its accompanying traffic.

To find out how far our racket has reached, researchers captured audio recordings at 492 spots across the U.S.—some protected, some not—and used computer modeling to estimate natural sound levels at each location.

The results were not encouraging. The researchers say our noise pollution doubled noise levels in more than half of protected areas. In about one-fifth of those areas, noise was increased tenfold—an increase that shrinks the audible range of a bird’s call to 10 percent of its natural reach.


Median noise exceedance—the amount that anthropogenic noise increases sound levels above the natural level—in protected area units across the contiguous United States. 

R.T. Buxton et al., Science (2017)

“We were surprised we found such high levels of noise pollution in such high amounts of protected areas,” lead author Rachel Buxton of Colorado State University (CSU) told Science.

This is bad for people, too. Counterintuitive though it may sound, tourism plays an integral role in the success of national parks and other protected spaces. But an escape to nature loses some of its appeal if all you can hear are trucks and machinery.

Senior author George Wittemyer, also of CSU, said that while these findings are troubling, it’s important to remember that the worst is not inevitable.

“Numerous noise mitigation strategies have been successfully developed and implemented,” he said in a statement. “Our work provides information to facilitate such efforts in respect to protected areas where natural sounds are integral.”

"Next time you go for a walk in the woods, pay attention to the sounds you hear—the flow of a river, wind through the trees, singing birds, bugling elk,” Buxton added. “These acoustic resources are just as magnificent as visual ones, and deserve our protection.”

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environment
To Encourage Responsible Trash Disposal, a Startup in Nigeria Pays People for their Waste
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Nigeria is home to more than 180 million people, who produce more than 32 million tons of waste per year and just 20 to 30 percent of this garbage is collected, according to one estimate. To provide Nigerians with incentive to dispose of their trash responsibly, Junks, a Nigerian waste management startup, provides people with the chance to exchange their trash for cash, according to Konbini.

The company offers to pay for items and materials like discarded electronics, glass, plastic, aluminum, books, and clothes. Once purchased, these materials are re-sold to wholesalers and recycling companies, according to Techpoint. Potential users who want to sell their trash are required to register on the startup's website, Junks.ng, and fill out a form with a description of the trash they're selling, along with their asking price and contact information. Once this information is received, representatives from Junks are sent to pick up and pay for the waste.

Computer programmer Bradley Yarrow founded Junks.ng in August 2017. Based in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, Nigeria, the company currently has just three employees, in addition to Yarrow. That said, the tiny startup appears to be doing big business, judging from a growing list of sold junk—which includes laminating machines, old laptops, and scrap car parts—already listed on Junks.ng.

[h/t Konbini]

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High-Tech Skyscrapers Could be Built with Low-Tech Wood
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When we think of wood construction, we often think of log cabins, tree houses, or the framework of residential properties. But if a new start-up has its way, we might soon be gazing up at 12-story buildings made almost entirely out of Douglas firs.

In a report for CityLab, journalist Amanda Kolson Hurley profiled Portland, Oregon's Lever Architecture, a firm attempting to revitalize wood-based towers that reduce the carbon footprints of conventional buildings. Their offices are located in a four-story property made from wood; their next major project, titled Framework, is expected to be 12 stories and slated to debut in Portland in 2019.

Part of Lever’s goal is to reduce concerns over wooden structures—namely, that they’re prone to fire hazards or might not be structurally sound in an earthquake. Developers use a building material called mass timber, a special type of strengthened wood in which timber panels are glued together to make beams and cross-set layers for walls and floors. Fire tests have shown the mass timber doesn’t ignite easily: It chars, which can insulate the rest of the panel from the heat. Strength testing has shown the layers aren’t easily jostled by outside forces.

Lever’s architects hope that wooden buildings will lessen the environmental impact of commercial towers that use concrete and steel, which are responsible for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions during their manufacturing.

Other firms have designs on taller buildings, including one 35-story tower in Paris and a 24-story building in Vienna.

[h/t CityLab]

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