November 3, 2008

Barely Breathing

Barely Breathing (Ch. 48)

Air. 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, 1% Argon. Anything else (like CO2) amounts to less than 1% of its total composition. At sea level, the whole combination amounts to only 1.2 kg/m³. That would be the same as your 1 liter jug of chocolate milk in the fridge only weighing 1.2 grams. How come that sometimes then, this very substance which is responsible for so much of life, so much of the volume of our planet above the surface of the earth and the oceans, feels like it is just crushing us?

Before any industrialization the air must have been something like "a little breath of Heaven" as Philadelphia Cream Cheese is like "a little taste of Heaven". I wonder if its density was lower before it got just so packed with particulate and stench? But without going into too much depth about air pollution, heavy industry, and all that wonderful stuff, let me just ask you: I am the only one that feels like this air you and I breathe is just incredibly stifling?

It doesn't matter if I am in a cool, temperature controlled room with the fan humming steadily next to the open window or in a large auditorium at the U of A (with heated door handles) with 150 keen students breathing a deathly stagnant air -- exhaling excessively in their excited chatter with eachother. It doesn't matter if I am walking across Northland's pavement while at Capital Ex in July breathing 30°C dry, greasy, sweaty air or walking through the same parking lot in February through miles and miles of cars emitting upwards of 20 mL of exhaust every minute* on my way home from an Oiler's game. It's just so hard to breath sometimes.


In my hockey days there were signs everywhere in the rinks that read "Athlete's need clean air" to deter parents from smoking in the rinks. Yet now, on that same walk back to the car (whether it be after an Oiler's game or a KC Knights game), the second that the door of the building is breached, the lungs are breached too. I can feel it killing me with every breath. Just as it has killed at least one person you have loved as well. Now with smoking gone from restaurants, bars, and bingo halls, kids aren't exposed to any smoke hardly ever at all unless by choice/parents, and I can breathe at least a little bit easier now that I know that this kind of poison is being at least somewhat mitigated.

When I am in the lumber yard at 1 of my 2 jobs, I think a lot about the role I am playing in pulp mills destroying forests faster than they would be if I wasn't there. I spend too much time thinking about how wonderful Banff and Jasper are, with its fresh mountan pine air and the (moderately/minimally) controlled development and expanse of these towns. I am baffled by the amount of trucks that idle in the waiting line and continue to idle while loading. Why not just flick the wrist and turn the effing engine off?? Ignorant Rednecks. I look at the young uneducated, unmotivated labour force with me there in the yard that don't seem to have a hard time breathing at all, as they head out for their smoke break. I think about the gas I am burning to get me to this second job, as well as how stupid and pathetic the Edmonton Transit System is if a more motivated/ money savvy person wanted to breathe easier while relaxing on the bus to at least 1 of their 2 jobs instead of having the stress and expense of driving Edmonton's dangerous roads.

So I attribute my inability to enjoy breathing anymore to my having a conscience. I have this stupid sense of caring about what the world is going to be like in 20 years and in 50 years. I spend too much time following stupid policies that affect Big Industry and Foreign Exploitation and have resigned myself to the fact that immediate and drastic action needs to be taken, for the sake of my ability to breathe, if not for the sake of our world. A sense of hopelessness cannot help but be felt when a person considers the net effects of urbanization & population growth, the industrialization of China, oil depletion, and the water crisis. If you think that global warming, oil depletion, and species' dying is just a bunch of hype made for the sake of fear mongering by a bunch of hippies, then I suppose we have bigger issues to deal with first. Otherwise, I personally don't know how you could have such an easy time breathing and I wish for you to show me how.

But aside from the stresses of the world - even if the difficulty you have breathing is a result of tension at home, school, or the office - I hope that you can find in your heart a way to acknowledge some of the biggest problems that we face as human beings. It really will be like Mordor again one day, especially if we get that next big drought, where we won't even have the freshness of spring showers to look forward to anymore.

Will you be my Frodo Baggins?

*for example: it takes a person 10 minutes to travel 2 km out of a parking lot (=12km/hr) and a fuel efficiency of 9L/100km (=18mL/min) and most cars on the roads won't get that kind of fuel efficiency.

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