Air

I’m not quite sure when it first began, but somewhere around the time when my daughter Claire was in pre-K we began a ritual of saying good morning to the sky as we drove to school. There’s this overpass we come to that presents a wonderful, wide-open view of the sky. From this viewpoint we can see big white billowy clouds, dark rolling storm clouds, or pure blue. It always speaks to me, this feeling of expanse before the busy day begins. And it seems to speak to Claire, too.

Four years later, though not every morning, we still greet the sky out loud in unison when we arrive at the overpass. This morning’s sky was sunny and blue with no clouds. Yet there seemed to be a brownish haze near the horizon that I found unsettling. Was I imagining that it was brown? Was my environmental-contamination-oriented mind making this up? It seemed too present to be a figment of my imagination. Of course, I kept this observation to myself, allowing Claire to solely indulge in the wonder she so deserves.

Driving home, I continued to think about air. I’ve been very involved in the anti-fracking movement of late, and my focus has been primarily on water contamination. I’m horrified by the idea that our water can be filled with toxic chemicals that go undetected. We bathe in water, we brush our teeth with it, we cook with it, we swim in it, we drink it. So many basic life activities are connected to water. But air? Well, it’s air. We breathe it. Period. It’s easy to take air for granted because we are involved with it every second of our lives.

When I saw the brown haze on the horizon, I realized that chemicals that I worry are in our water – and soil, too – are also in the air. This may be an obvious statement to many people who are environmentally conscious, but it’s something I hadn’t given as much thought to. In one sense I’ve been aware of industrial pollutants in the air for quite some time, but today it came to me in a different way. More like an epiphany.

When I got home, the Talking Heads song “Air” was rolling around in my head, and I went and looked up the lyrics.

Where is that protection that I needed?
Air can hurt you too
Air can hurt you too
Some people say not to worry about the air
Some people don’t know shit about the…
Air…

I was 19 years old when I first heard this song.  Though I loved the song, grooved to it and sang it as it spun on my record player, air wasn’t something I cared much about at 19. But now, oh so many years later, I do, because now there are these extraordinary beings known as children in my life who innocently breathe in toxicity they would not choose to breathe if given the opportunity to decide on whether air should be poisoned or not. Sadly, they don’t have much say in the matter when it comes to poisoning the air.

Also, unlike water, when you’re outside, you can’t replace the air you breathe. With water, you can filter it, ionize it, buy it from other sources. But with air, you don’t have a choice. No wonder so many children are suffering from asthma these days. It has got to be so frightening as a parent when your child is suddenly unable to breathe. Breath is inseparable from life. You can’t have one without the other.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” I would agree with Kennedy on all of these statements except for the one about cherishing our children’s future. There are too many people on this planet who don’t, who put profit above poison. I just don’t get that.

So what’s the good news? Well, the EPA has just announced significant new standards to limit mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollution from power plants. What’s the less than good news? Industries that pollute are lobbying their asses off to reverse this. The say they don’t have the bucks to invest in clean air solutions, but they sure do have enough money to lobby away.

I wish children could lobby Congress at the same level industry does. No doubt the world would be a cleaner, safer one. While they are busy growing up, I can only hope that those who do cherish our children’s future will do more to stop the polluting of our life-sustaining elements. Air should never hurt anyone. That much I know.

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Click here for basic information on how you can reduce air pollution. In addition to lists like this, it is also essential to elect public officials that support clean energy.

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