The World Health Organization just reported that 92% of people are breathing air that falls below the organization’s quality standards. This standard is basically whether or not the air has enough terrible stuff in it (like nitrates, sulfates, and black carbon) to kill you. A bit of that toxic material won’t set off their alarm bells, but once it gets to “will cause severe bodily injury” levels, they take note. If you agree with their non-death-inducing standards, that means nearly every human alive today is filling his or her lungs with harmful, dangerous air.
As a result, in 2012, six and a half million people died just by breathing. Breathing. I’m doing it right now. So are you, I’d bet. Don’t go holding your breath just to prove me wrong. But maybe do hold your breath to limit the amount of toxic air you’re gulping. I’m not a doctor, but it might work. Could we delay the air’s impact on our lungs by forcing our bodies to more efficiently use oxygen? Should we swim more regularly to up our breathing game? Should we breath into paper bags like we’re all suffering through a global panic attack? I feel like that last thing is going to happen either way, so let’s just embrace it as an attempted solution.
To be honest, I’m not sure working on our lung capacity will save us from this disaster. Scientists say we need to develop more efficient transportation systems, stop burning fuel and garbage in our homes, lay off the power plants filled with coal, and refrain from using so much energy to create a bunch of things we don’t need. That means those of us who are privileged enough to have options regarding those four causes should make better choices and those of us who are even more privileged—who have a few extra dollars to spend and give wisely—should do that. I know big problems are hard to solve, but we are literally poisoning one another and we can do better. I have a few ideas.
Buy less stuff. Give some money to scientists and inventors developing better energy sources for global communities. Ride a bike. Vote for representatives who believe in science. Plant a tree. Hug a tree. Support organizations whose purpose is to grow sustainable infrastructure around the world. Pay attention to the labels on your food. Watch a video of an orangutan in Borneo and remember why we make these choices. Eat a vegetable grown near you. Get on the bus (literally and figuratively). Read about how families in other places cook their food and heat their homes. Feel lucky. Take a walk with a friend and discuss how even though you think you’re supposed to like Leonardo DiCaprio because of his dedication to the environment, he’s getting pretty creepy.
Some of these are probably more effective than others, but I think we should all just jump in wherever feels right. I’m going to start with the videos of precocious infant primates.