Edging West

Adventure + Culture + Environment

Month: May, 2013

A More Invisible Security Risk: Air

Statistics can often present a cold and detached understanding of conflict and chaos. At the same time, it offers needed perspective in times of fear. We have experienced a busy year of shattering violence, and the country continues entrenched and emotional debate over gun control and terrorism. Not to downplay the gravity of these layered issues, but an arguably greater danger remains.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an estimated 50,000 premature deaths are linked to air pollution in the Unites States each year. More specifically, the World Health Organization recorded 56,618 air pollution related deaths in 2008. In comparison, just over 11,000 gun-related homicides occurred in 2011, and terrorism, our collective greatest fear, accounted for nearly 40 deaths in the U.S. between 2002 and 2010, according to the Global Terrorism Database.

Gun violence and terrorism are crucial issues to manage, but do they necessitate such a large portion of attention, worry, political capitalization, and dialogue? Let’s take a collected step back and find some perspective, for the battles of our time also include an entrenched campaign to organized our society in a clean, sustainable, and healthy way. It would be great if this too was a patriotic cause, a unified effort, something we applaud when victorious.

One of the most cities in the U.S. for air pollution Image Credit: David Jordan at en.wikipedia

Fresno, CA – One of the worst cities in the U.S. for air pollution.
Image Credit: David Jordan at en.wikipedia

This past December the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a new standard to regulated and reduce levels of soot. The American Lung Association celebrated this new standard, claiming it will prevent 15,000 early deaths a year. This development is significant and just may do more for public safety than so many other security measures that have been designated in the name of.

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A Modified World: Sad Realities of Smog

I have never been to China, so it is hard to fully grasp just how drastically commonplace air pollution has become. The darken images and stories of struggle and illness and environmental catastrophe seem beyond reality, almost post-apocalyptic, and depict a grayish, mechanical world. The road to process is a bumpy one, or a choking, smog laden dirge in this case, but with even the most aggressive intentions to shift course it seems depressingly too late at times.

In the meantime, as unregulated economic expansion presses on and attempts to manage the problem now surface, we adapt the only way we can-we innovate an escape into artificial places. In some schools in Beijing the escape is to large domes with air-filtration systems. These children are young astronauts in a sterile, white world of limited sky, without green, color, life, or healthy, real dirt. It is a voyage for survival from a condition, which has already been linked to 1.2 million deaths.

When we do venture outside of this newly manufactured atmosphere, gas masks protect further as a shield to explore and navigate as foreigners, as aliens of earth. A confused world emerges through a lens of soft plastic.

We see little and hear less. Languages change. Words are muffled through ventilators, mumbled and void of intonation or expression. Masked away is humanity.

Of course this is during the worst of days. Winds change and the blanket moves, dissipating into a greater cumulative mess. Yet, the sky returns and the sun emerges long enough as a glimpsing reminder of past life and future possibilities and aspirations. We can still return to earth.

800px-Beijing_smog_comparison_August_2005

Image credit: Bobak Ha’Eri