Ever beneath the high-heel’d spike of fashion, Aunt Ruth has an iPhone 4, upgraded from an iPhone 3GS, which—ever the recycler—she gave to a friend.
Anyway, Auntie Ruth just downloaded the free Pollution app—required software for the environmental geekocracy. Turn on your GPS or give it a ZIP code, and it will give you the local air quality plus a swell list of major polluters nearby. With addresses! Why, look: 2.89 kilometers from SN&R’s ZIP lies Cultured Marble Products Limited, putting out 3 kilograms per year of styrene into the air. Good to know! Head out another 5 kilometers or so, and there is Chevron, kicking out more pollutants than Ruth has column space for. Good to know!
While the current high heel’d spike of ecofashion is focused on climate change, as well it should be, air pollution once was more tangible, immediate, icky. Aunt Ruth is no Dr. Ruth—finer points evade—but air pollution is recalled as a dramatic phenomena that seemingly just showed up one day and sank the stomach: an outflow of chemicals and particulate matter that made blue sky obsolete.
Yes, Virginia, once the sky was actually blue, from each horizon to that point straight above your head. If now we can assess air pollution with our phones, the forever transformation of ubiquitous blue sky—that stuff of songs and idle whistling—wasn’t that long ago.
It seemed more an individual problem, one for those living in the wrong place at the wrong time: London, 1952, a freakish December forced more coal fires under an inversion of cold air; 4,000 people died in four days.
Wrong place, wrong time? Where, when? A study last year in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health linked high concentrations of traffic pollution with slow fetal development. A study in Spain found women living in areas with high levels of smog giving birth to smaller babies with smaller head sizes. In 2007, Harvard’s School of Public Health found a link between falling IQ scores and air pollution.
Wrong place, wrong time? Where, when? Sacramento, 2010, with its terrible air basin, and inversions that trap grungy air like Tupperware traps leftovers? Get out your iPhone and let’s get on it.