I have heard and read repeatedly air pollution, and crisis – the terms, in the same clause or sentence. There have been occasions even when I’ve constructed the same in my writing.
Pollution, I understand. But, a crisis, meanwhile, well, I thought I knew!
So, I went searching for the meaning, of crisis, that is.
“Crisis: 1. a turning point, as in a sequence of events, for better or for worse. 2. a condition of instability, as in international relations, that leads to a decisive change. 3. a personal tragedy, emotional upheaval, or the like. …”1
Okay, so now I’ve come to the conclusion that regarding the association or connection with air pollution, the word crisis just doesn’t fit. The two terms are just at odds and causes me to scratch my head in bewilderment and leaves me to wonder if there is a more appropriate substitute. Coming to mind is “situation.” Being that this is what I have arrived at, a definition is in order.
“Situation: 1. manner of being situated; location or position with reference to environment. 2. a place or locality. 3. condition; case; plight: in a desperate situation. 4. the state of affairs; combination of circumstances: the international situation. …”2
Back to crisis, considering language usage, I now want to know what makes a crisis a crisis. I thought maybe a few examples would help clarify.
Crises – examples of:
- The Ebola outbreak
- The Gulf (of Mexico) oil spill
- The Stock Market Crash of 1929; The Great Depression
I’m convinced most, if not all would agree these are each and all crises or going out on a limb, crisis situations, and, if you examine closely, they each and every one share a common trait: they have captured and held our collective attention plus demanded immediate and a swift and sweeping response.
Other crises examples, meanwhile, are:
- The climate crisis
- The air pollution crisis
Comparing the two subsets, the latter, in my opinion, don’t carry the same weight as the former.
In the case of the first, clearly, these were serious matters all (the Ebola outbreak; the oil spill and the late 1920s, mid-’30s financial collapse). However, with respect to the second, what appears to be lacking and unlike with the first, is the sense of urgency in bringing about resolution. That seems really odd considering, according to World Health Organization estimates, 7 million plus people prematurely die from air pollution’s effects, annually. This is more than 19,178 deaths per day, which is just about one-half of the number killed in automobile crashes on U.S. roads each year. Only it’s in a day; not over 365 of them.
Think about that for a moment (hopefully, for more than a moment). I have and do and death (and this doesn’t include morbidity figures) on this grand a scale, I would think should prompt immediate, corrective action as a response. In my mind’s eye, it’s – plainly and simply – absent. This is not to say people are not tuning in and taking note and work is not being undertaken to try to make the air – which we all share – cleaner. They are, they do and it is. However, this, what I would call a disastrous, sorry situation at hand, should be a wake-up call. For scores of people to engage in a worldwide campaign to launch a thorough and effective mitigating plan to return global air to a state of healthy repair.
Until such time that this actually happens, if it happens, I don’t believe for one minute and I don’t see how, the air pollution situation can be anything but that alone – a situation. What I’m suggesting here, in reference to determining what the sum of, yes, this situation is, crisis, is just not it.
Oh, and today’s Air Quality Index for Fresno, lest I forget, is an “Unhealthy” (for everyone) 154. That’s neither a crisis nor a situation. It’s a downright shame!
“Shame: 1. the painful feeling of having done or experienced something dishonorable, improper, foolish, etc. 2. capacity to experience this feeling: to be without shame. 3. disgrace; ignominy. 4. a cause for regret, disappointment, etc.: It was a shame you weren’t there. …”3
- Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 1991, p. 322
- Ibid. p. 1252
- Ibid. p. 1231
Image above: AndrewHorne