On top of air pollution hazards, the accelerating Covid-19 pandemic is threatening Americans' ability to breathe. Meanwhile, cries of "I can't breathe" draw our attention to escalating police brutality and our federal government militarizing Brownshirt-resembling forces against its own citizens who are protesting peacefully and within their rights according to the law of the land.
Okay, okay, deep breath. What can we do to clear the air?
The first step is to secure the literal, physical air quality in the space you inhabit most, so that your brain can work. Everything else hinges upon that. As they say, put on your own oxygen mask first. Don't forget to breathe during political debates, home yoga sessions, or virtual slam poetry readings. Sorry, laughter really is the best medicine sometimes. And laughter requires a lot of air! Here are some ways we can create breathing space in our lives:
IndoorsThere are many scientifically supported ways to improve indoor air quality for an immediate boost in productivity, mood, cognition, and overall wellness, and each one makes a difference.
You already know you need to quit smoking if you're still doing that. You know very well that the cost of a pack is the least of the long-term prices you'll pay. But you don't have to wait until you've kicked the habit completely to make other changes, so do whatever you can, starting today.
Use proper ventilation and less-polluting cooking methods--or just lean into the lazy, no-cook joys of PB&J, hummus and pita, chips and salsa, salads, fresh fruit, cereal, ice cream, etc. on hot summer days. Do a little grilling outside--just don't throw a barbecue and invite the whole neighborhood over, for goodness' sake.
Buy and run air purifiers in the rooms where you work and sleep. Additionally, or instead, fill your spaces with air-cleaning potted plants. Additionally, or instead, open all of your windows and use fans to bring in fresh air. The strategies you choose depend upon whether and which allergies you may have and whether the air outside of your window is less hazardous than the air inside. Usually it is, but in heavily polluted cities or neighborhoods blighted with coal ash, that may not be the case.
Do not fall for marketing campaigns for any stink-covering sprays or other chemical odor "solutions." They only mask the evidence of problems by adding more pollution that tricks your nose. Address the cause of the problem instead of compounding it with a smelly distraction. This also applies to "fancy" scented candles, incense, smudge sticks, and even essential oil lamps. All of those things may have a ritual or aromatherapeutic purpose, but they should not be used on an everyday basis. No magic salt lamp or other crystal will save you from having to address real indoor air pollution. Many American industries depend upon gullibility, which is exacerbated by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Break the cycle!
Outside Your Windows
It doesn't do much good to open your windows if there is heavy pollution outside. If you can, relocate to a safer, cleaner location and do everything you can to stay there.
Wherever you live, be a good neighbor and avoid using air-polluting vehicles and yard tools. If you need to use a powered personal vehicle and/or tools for yard work, go electric. My family swapped one of our vehicles for an electric car, and it was one of the best financial decisions we've ever made, saving us thousands a year in gas, oil, and engine maintenance. It also keeps our family and neighbors safer from exhaust fumes. We also purchased an electric log splitter to relieve our need to use a gas-powered chainsaw. There are now many affordable options for electric lawnmowers, leaf blowers, etc. The single most important tool to avoid is a gas-powered leaf blower, which is absolutely foul in terms of public health hazard and making life unpleasant for everyone in the whole neighborhood. Save money and years of your life by not poisoning your neighborhood, and it is possible that you could drive a trend that will increase quality of life and happiness on your street, thereby improving community stability and property values.
I wish this didn't have to be said, but it's 2020, so: Maybe consider not setting your entire state / coast on fire to let your Instagram followers know which kind of pee-pee is growing on your unborn child. Your own baby does not care. Nobody cares. Don't kill everyone's baby with a vain, pointless, gender-binary-worshiping suicide party. Dumbass.
Sign up to vote by mail! Half of young adults may not know how to do it yet, but it's easy--find everything you need to know right here. Protect yourself and your neighbors from the spread of coronavirus while using your right to vote (use it or lose it!) to choose leaders who will take responsibility for public health.
Stay home unless you truly need to go out. The pandemic is accelerating, not fading away, and it's causing widespread, permanent lung damage and other lifelong health consequences. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away, it will just cause more death and harm to your community. Don't be a ding-dong, please, just because Florida Man is doing it. Be the neighbor you want to have.
When you do have to leave your residence, wear a mask properly, over your nose and mouth--a mask that you wash or change every day, just like you hopefully do with your underpants--and be generally considerate and hygienic. Face masks do not restrict your oxygen supply, Covid-19 does. Ask any real doctor anywhere, who has to wear a face mask for hours at a time, every work day. Please be a person who is worth the air you breathe. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by being gross in public during a pandemic.
Also don't assault people who won't wear a mask properly. That won't help, and you'll only get their cooties on you. Instead, if you must react, try filming and internet-shaming them from a safe distance. Maybe they'll get fired from their job and lose their budget for going out on the town and spreading their booger juice everywhere. That, in turn, will reduce outbreaks and businesses getting shut down, which will help your local economy.
Across the Nation
Support the Breathe Act! Getting choked or tear-gassed by riot police is not conducive to breathing.
Support candidates for elected government positions who support environmental justice. This should not be a partisan issue, and climate change is not a hoax. End of story. We don't actually have to let everyone on the West Coast burn to death.
Accept that the zombie apocalypse is here. Don't waste your precious breath arguing with those who have succumbed to conspiracy theories. It's not so much about a lack of knowledge or intelligence as it is about emotional or moral weakness. Some people just can't handle the truth anymore, so they use all their brain power to support beliefs that make them feel comforted, superior, or more in control. You can't argue them out of that state with facts.
Some of the conspiracy theories and woo magic belief systems are invented by nefarious evil-doers who are using this opportunity to gain fame and influence as edgelords of the interwebs, armed with takes so hot that no one else has tooken them yet. These attention-hangry, self-appointed tweet-Jesuses are known by threatening to call their non-followers... sheeple. Zut alors! Others are just plain catfishin' bots, foreign disinformation campaigners, or neo-Nazi strategists. They truly do not care about what is right, and their viral zombie mind diseases can hook people that you know and love in real life--thereby baiting you. You can only defeat them by ignoring, blocking, reporting.
It's sad, but the real people who succumb to these lies are often bored and lonely, so giving their "theory" any attention whatsoever, positive or negative or neutral, will only feed it. Disengage! Anonymously report disinformation whenever possible. If you see someone who hasn't gone full zombie accidentally sharing fake news, nip it in the bud with a quick fact-check, but otherwise don't take the bait.
Stay physically away from any acquaintances who have gone full zombie, as they are probably not practicing good pandemic hygiene. If you love them, let them know that you will enjoy getting together when it is safe, and don't allow any further discussion about it.
The truth is boring and sad, and not everyone is strong enough to handle it. Loneliness kills, but so does falling in with the wrong (mask-shunning, personal-space-invading) crowd. Promote good ventilation. Practice responsible air hygiene at home and in your community. Avoid unhygienic activities, pointless debates, fascist violence, and any person fighting for their right to spew literal ick. Exercise your civil rights to protest, advocate, and vote in the safest ways possible.
When the dust settles, the world will need those of us who stayed strong and protected ourselves and our families from permanent brain damage. We are not alone, even though it feels that way sometimes when our social media feeds are stacked with people reveling in blissful ignorance like total filth pigs--partying, traveling, packing into college dorms, and eating in restaurants.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than breathing. Not even that family reunion. Not even that one birthday party to end all birthday parties (maybe literally).
Now is the time to prioritize and advocate for clean air for all to breathe. Now is the time to respect your own and others' personal space. Inhale, exhale, and focus on a future in which we don't have to think about breathing this much.