When I was little I asked my mother what happened to all the stinky fumes from cars. She said they just spread out into the air and that there is so much air that the fumes soon are so spread out that they don’t matter. She is a scientist, and she also said that the bin was tipped into an incinerator or a landfill and that was the end of our chat. Because she thought it was OK I reluctantly said no more but I never felt it was OK. If we did that, then everywhere there were people they would do it, so eventually the world would be full of buried rubbish and the air full of smoke because air went around the planet but there was no filter, it just went around.
In my mind I didn’t grasp how big the planet was at the time. Nor did she, I think, grasp how small it is. Its smallness matters so much more now there are so many of us. Which brings me to the air again.
A decade or two ago I went up a big mountain, so high that the air was really thin, so high I couldn’t go any higher because I started to turn crazy paranoid with lack of oxygen and a deep, biological terror my body kept throwing at me that I was soon going to die up there. I reached a height of around 4.8 thousand metres (with acclimation days if you are interested in how so high) above sea level. We passed over a place where the last life of anything above a microbe lingered. Because the world is round it can seem huge and that it goes on forever, but if you change direction and go straight up you’ve got 5 thousand metres tops before you’re finished. One good walk. And that’s it. We live in a thin film of air. I think anyone who feels confident about the industrial destruction of the planet’s climate should go up there for a little sit on top of a mountain.
The rain does clear the air. It brings the particles down out of it and puts them on the ground where they are much more easily stirred up and inhaled. But nothing, no system, when constantly buffeted with pollution, takes things away. Recycling plastic, at least in my area, has turned out lately to be code for ‘we shipped it to a faraway shore’. (I clean out plastic and carefully adjust cans so that, if somewhere some poor person or animal picks over my rubbish on a mountain of broken promises they won’t be hurt.) But there is no faraway shore, or ‘away’ on this spherical world. The wind, the water, the soil, brings it all around again. If not to me personally, then to someone, some being, some creature, some earth.
When I write and compose stories I feel very conscious that so much of the time I am merely a collection of idea-pollutants and a weather system for bringing it all around again, unless I concentrate very hard and question every choice. Unconsciously I will replicate. Only consciously can I adapt and move on. No doubt I’ve circulated my share of toxicity, without meaning to, but nonetheless I continue to pick over my huge spoil heap. If I have a goal in fiction it is to try to clear the air. I’ve failed to do much about the actual air; I let myself be persuaded into thinking it was someone else’s business and that it could be put aside. I will do what I can to correct things.
I don’t know if many people read my fiction, but if they do it would be nice if it felt like a breath of fresh air. That’s what I try for.