You’re familiar with the idiom “fish out of water” right? I sometimes wonder if that’s what we’re becoming like. The World Health Organization tells us that 92 percent of the world’s people are breathing polluted air. That’s profound! It’d be so much better if only eight percent did, but even that’s not good. No one should be subjected to the filth in the air that, mostly, it is we who have put there that most of us breathe in.
The question of whether or not we can clean our air – what I have been reading, tells me we can – isn’t the issue. Rather, it’s a question of whether or not we want to or whether pollution in our air is a serious-enough matter to warrant us doing so. Is it?
A natural and unavoidable part of life is waste. When you think about it, a substantial percentage of what winds up in air that doesn’t belong there, is waste – and it has gotten there through the process of burning, ignition.
To heat our living spaces and of the way we cook food or boil water, well, this can involve the burning of one type of fuel or another. The higher the carbon content of fuel that is burned, the more negative the impact is on air and our health, by extension. Not only does the World Health Organization (WHO) tell us what percentage of the population is exposed, WHO gives us year-to-year estimates of the number of people who die early breathing this health-damaging miasma in: The latest figure, an estimated 6.5 million worldwide – 3.5 million from air pollution sourced from indoors and another 3 million from the impacts from that which is sourced from outside. If those numbers grow, what this tells me is our air pollution problem is worsening, not becoming less.
I know the numbers related to the place where I reside. Like the air that I breathe, the picture isn’t pretty. There are somewhere around 800 people annually who lose their fight to hold on to life in California’s San Joaquin Valley. I am told that the reason for this is alone attributable to fine particulate matter lung and bloodstream infiltration. These tiny specks of dirt and debris penetrate lung tissue and pass into blood and can cause a host of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions – everything from heart disease and stroke to cancer of the lung and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease): studies done have confirmed this. Other studies have found a link between polluted air and impaired brain activity and function.
So far, discussion has focused on toxic air emissions; I’ve said nothing of the potential impacts of fossil fuel and other burning, combustion on warming. It is no secret the concentration of carbon dioxide in air is increasing. It has gone from less than 350 parts per million (ppm) CO2 during pre-industrial times (far less, I understand) to 400 ppm today. One thing about CO2 gas is its ability to trap and retain heat. And CO2 isn’t alone. It is joined by at least five more so-called “heat-trapping” elements: Methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), perfluorocarbons (PFC), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), these six more commonly known as greenhouse gases or GHGs. They vary in their longevity and ability to retain heat.
I have in front of me the American Lung Association’s “Breathtaking Views: 2016-2017 Clean Air Calendar.”
Besides the inclusion of some really pristine-looking “views” (photographs), for each calendar entry, there are messages relating to some related aspect – health conditions, air, quality of life, and legislative efforts aimed at improving the air we breathe.
When the lung association releases its “State of the Air” reports (April, since 2000), the entry for April fittingly is “Air Quality and Quality of Life.” I am not going to rewrite the message written. But, there is one thing that struck me: Air quality and quality of life grouped together. The two go hand in hand – the latter isn’t possible without the former. To wit: Good quality of life is impossible without good air quality. Being breathing is one of life’s most basic functions, the lungs can’t completely function as intended as long as the air breathed in is anything less than clean. We as humans should not want to settle for anything less.
Make 2017 a time to put air in a better state by doing your part to do just that. What have we got to lose? Just the harmful stuff mucking up air is all. Something everyone could do without – definitely!
Image above: NASA