Air Pollution Masks: The New Normal? Or Just a Regrettable Necessity in Today’s World?

“So you think smoke is your ally? You merely adopted the smoke. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t smell clean air until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but choking!” Okay, Bane joke quota fulfilled. Serious mode activated from this point on.

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I woke up today, after a week or so of clean air, to yet more smoke and ash. I thought we’d seen the worst of it, hopefully this is the last hurrah and there won’t be more after this. I was prepared however.

I knew of pollution masks from having info gorged on China while researching their widespread use of ebikes. In classical Chinese government fashion, they first encouraged the uptake of ebikes to combat pollution in cities…then banned them because they proved unsafe (they require no license). Make up your mind, right?

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Air pollution is such a problem in Chinese cities that filter masks aren’t just a utilitarian necessity, they’ve become a fashion statement. What does that say about life threatening air pollution becoming the status quo? I don’t know, but some of these masks are neat looking as all getout.

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This is just a band-aid, isn’t it? The real problem is pollution. Fashionable pollution masks don’t solve that problem, only distract from it and allow us to ignore it for a little while longer.

Is this the shape of things to come? I don’t think so. China is aggressively curbing air pollution and building solar panels, wind turbines and even new generation nuclear power plants at an impressive rate.

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I read a science fiction story once where a young boy travels to the future. The air stings his eyes, and makes him cough. It’s because of the exhaust from a huge factory. He asks the owner what the factory is for. The owner says “It makes pills for irritated eyes and coughing.” Problems that wouldn’t exist if not for the factory.

Of course it isn’t that simple, and there exist natural causes of illness that man-made medicine is necessary to treat. But it does illustrate the basic principle that humans cause many of the same problems which we then sell each other the remedies to. Like throwing a brick through someone’s window with an advertisement tied to it for your window replacement company.

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I’m glad this isn’t the future we’ve chosen. The movement these days seems to be away from coal and towards cleaner sources of energy. It’s a shame things have to get so bad that we can’t breathe before change happens, but better late than never.

Which do I recommend? I haven’t tried enough to say. This is the one I bought and it’s working quite nicely so far. Here’s a fancy electronic one, and I will say the motorized air pump probably does help as otherwise it’s a bit harder to breathe in through these things.

However the long term solution isn’t something you can buy on Amazon. It’s a lot more expensive and difficult than that. For those on the left it’s cap and trade. For those on the right, geoengineering.

I am not a big fan of cap and trade, in my opinion geoengineering isn’t enough by itself either though. It’ll be that, plus an aggressive shift to all electric transport, nuclear cargo ships, and a mixture of nuclear and renewable energy sources.

The left doesn’t want geoengineering or nuclear power because the redistribution of wealth inherent in cap and trade is a goal in and of itself from their perspective, so they don’t want any alternatives to exist. The right doesn’t want cap and trade because their focus is on keeping as much money in the hands of the wealthy as possible.

They’ve also mistaken the entirety of climate change for a scam when the only fraudulent part of it is the left’s claim that no alternatives to cap and trade will be effective at stopping it.

It’s a neat trick, this way you fool the opponent into attacking the scientific basis for climate change (a battle they cannot win, because it’s real) rather than the claim that only redistribution of wealth will fix it. They’re right to smell a rat, but wrong about where the rat’s hiding.

This is a real problem which isn’t going to be solved by bickering, divided political tribes. Whatever ideology you subscribe to, unless you’re reading this from the ISS, you live on Earth. Is this what you want the view outside to look like in the future?

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It’s true that no single wildfire or hurricane can be directly attributed to climate change (despite certain smug left-leaning memes) because it’s about gradual increases to the average frequency of such events over time rather than any single disaster. But something like smog is unambiguously an immediate, obvious consequence of industrial emissions. No sane person tries to claim that smog is natural.

This should be something we can all agree on: Air ought to be breathable. Kids shouldn’t need to wear respirators to play outside. It’s plain to see that this isn’t an ideal state of affairs:

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This isn’t about ideology or old grudges, it’s about a tragedy of the commons. It’s about our shared living space, the substrate for human life that is evidently more fragile than past generations believed. Something as petty as simian politics should not get in the way of basic planetary life support maintenance.

We’re on the right track, the current US administration notwithstanding. Most of the world understands what needs to be done so that future generations don’t have to wear a hazmat suit to step outside. Let’s stay the course, determined to cooperate despite our difference of opinion on other issues, and keep our eyes on the prize: Air we can breathe without a mask.

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