We all inhale the same precious public resource to fuel that magical exchange of gases in our lungs. But governments have allowed our air to be poisoned by the clouded thinking of corporations and personal obliviousness. We've gasped long enough watching timid pols feeble their way to paltry clean-air reforms. Now it's time to catch the wind and set a more direct course. Let's take back our atmosphere.
There's something that's always bothered me about the U.S.'s terrorism risk index. Since the prevailing "logic" is that terrorists "hate our freedom," doesn't it follow that a high risk of terrorism also indicates a high level of freedom?
"Oh, they're saying we'll be especially free today, honey. Wear your flak jacket."
I can't help getting equally confused when presented with Ontario's new Air Quality Health Index (AQHI).
It's a scale of 1 to 10. As I write this, the index is at 3, leading me to wonder if it's air, quality or health we're low on today. But a 3, according to the project website, represents "ideal conditions' for outdoor activities.
See? As smog decreases, so does the Air Quality Health rating. Strange. One wonders if the rather more obvious name, the Pollution Index, was avoided because of its effects on tourism.
I'm sure most people will be able to wrap their heads around the new system, though it comes at the cost of making language just that little bit more meaningless (the ghastliest casualty in this case being the word "ideal'). Permit me a raspy sigh.
Those who designed the new index are to be commended for basing it on the mixture of pollutants in the air ground-level ozone, nitrous oxide, particulate matter and others and their interactions.
That's a vast improvement over the old system's first-past-the-post rating, under which toxicity trackers based air quality warnings on whichever chemical was at highest concentration.
According to press releases, the AQHI enables "individuals to assess their own health risk based on symptoms they experience. Once individuals learn what AQHI value triggers symptoms in them, they can use the AQHI forecasts to plan their outdoor activities."
Like protests outside polluters? Digging up asphalt to plant community gardens? Making piñatas out of free-market myths like carbon credits? I'm reaching, aren't I?
Given that different people have different reactions to chemicals and combinations, it seems like it would be even more useful to publish the levels of the various pollutants measured.
Those could then be linked to the local places where the toxins are produced. Pollution Watch keeps that (currently voluntary) info on hand, at a level particulate enough that you can search by postal code.
And imagine if Toronto Public Health gets its way with the proposed bylaw requiring businesses to register the pollutants they produce. Oh, I'm in cross-referencing heaven just thinking about it.
That lack of specificity is a flaw the AQHI and White House's warnings share: neither of them really shows you what's going on under the hood. A true warning system wouldn't be warning us that we're going outside into smog, it would warn us that we're creating it.
The new index's web page (www.weatheroffice.gc.ca) has a nifty little space suggesting ways to reduce pollution: take transit, turn down AC, the usual all good stuff.
But I have a few other suggestions for that little box. Turn off your television. Turn away from eBay. Reduce strenuous activities in pursuit of the dream of self-contained happiness. Put a cap on industries hemorrhaging toxics in their production of goods supporting a cultural addiction to distraction.
Reduce the amount of psychic energy spent on fear of self and others, and that will reduce the amount of energy spent on video games and electric fences. Cultivate fields of self-knowledge as carbon sinks. If you want to breathe easy, first you have to breathe deeply.
All right, a bit idealistic and perhaps a bit much to expect, since the new index is managed by the federal government's weather office.
Smog isn't weather. "Rainy" is weather. "Colder than a witch's teat" is weather. Smog is the steel wool remainder of industrialism. It's the radiation produced by hyper-capitalism's defining element, enriched mundanium. Oh maybe they could list that one in the chemical index!
Or maybe that's just the ozone talking.