Pollution Kills, Just Slowly

Climate Change Community Organizing DC Politics International

      Marble Falls      As the calendar turns to mark the end of the second year of the pandemic, we went old school, and headed for the hills.  To be more exact, we went back to Arkansas, and, more specifically, the Ozarks.   Mountains, perhaps I should say more accurately, but having been born in Wyoming and raised in Colorado and around the West before ending up in New Orleans, mountains in my mind’s eye, look like the Rockies.  Walking up and down and around the rocks with Lucha, I’ll learn differently.  The moon is full, the stars bright, the air clean, and the water pure.  Talking to the internet field techs yesterday, they described the difficulty of getting signals out here.  From their current equipment, the range for an effective up load is 18,000 feet, roughly three miles.  We’re now at 17,000 feet.  Whether connecting to the wide world or the bumpy, gravel county road, where we’re parked, we’re in the last mile.

            For forty years, I’ve taken off the last two weeks.  The kids are grown now, but this was when their vacation hit, so it made sense.  No work really gets done that requires a lot of heavy lifting, so one of the weeks is now a mandatory vacation for the staff.  Given the pandemic with Delta falling and Omicron rising, jumping in the truck and pulling the trailer made more sense than any alternatives.  The virus is now the third biggest killer in the US.  The CDC announced that our life expectancy has dropped almost two-years to 77.  What can you say with over 800,000 of my fellow countrymen and women dead?

            David Wallace-Wells, writing in the London Review of Books, reminds us that as terrible as the US and world death rate from Covid, ten-million die every single year from air pollution.   There may be other maladies as well, but their lives were shortened because they couldn’t breathe or were being hurt by what they did breathe.   The question he poses at length after a long list of facts supporting his numbers, is simple:  Why do we not respond more dramatically to such a killer?  Do we simply become inured to this death count because it kills slowly, rather than quickly like the virus?

            The CDC and any number of scientists have many theories about the origin of Covid-19, but are not sure we’ll ever be certain.  When it comes to air pollution, there are general problems like those our members face in Delhi and elsewhere, but there are also very, very specific and collective perpetrators behind these deaths.  They may not be holding the gun or wielding the knife, but they are killing just the same.   Up the Mississippi River in the darkly named Cancer Alley, home of refineries and chemical plants, BASF, the German company and world’s largest chemical maker continues to maintain a large plant.   BASF produces some of America’s most ubiquitous products from detergents to soaps to cleaners.  Emissions from their US plants alone increase the cancer risks for an estimated 1.5 million people.  No small number of those men, women, and children will be part of the ten million world death count from pollution this year, next year or the years to come.

            Here in the Ozark Mountains, one of the few safe havens on any maps of the next fifty years that will be an oasis of sorts from the impacts of climate change, pollution, and so many other global crises, all of that seems far away and easy to forget.  Easy perhaps, but wrong, since there is so much that can be done about this when we come down from the mountains and back to reality of the world around us.