Breathing, Part Two

Every morning when I check the bird feeders, I see a plume from the factories on the river. What’s going into the air we breathe? Will our President’s willful rejection of the Paris Climate Accord make our environment worse?

I’ve contemplated this for years, like most people I’m fond of the elements, particularly air. I didn’t have asthma or allergies before I moved to southwestern Indiana. Even six years in humid Florida, with nature in bloom year-round, didn’t bother my breathing.

On the same day that our President announced the United States would leave the Paris Accord, I started on oxygen. I’m 59 years old. When I woke up and fed my birds, I didn’t imagine my day would end with an oxygen technician explaining tanks and regulators to me. This was something elderly people with congestive heart failure deal with, not me.

And by elderly, I don’t mean 59.

As a child growing up 300 miles from here, high heat and humidity were rarer than a rainy day in June. We didn’t have air conditioning and slept with metal fans in the hallway chugging a breeze into our bedrooms. Every window and door had a screen, and the windows stayed open unless we were on vacation.

My mom rarely used the clothes dryer in the summer. She hung sheets and towels and her children’s clothes on a clothesline, a metal pole stuck into the ground with four increasingly smaller squares of cord. A wooden bucket held wooden clothespins used to keep the items on the line. If she could lure my brother or me away from play, we folded the pieces and put into a wicker basket.

Line-dried objects smelled fresh and wonderful, a scent no miracle product has yet to capture.

Lady Bird Johnson, our First Lady, reminded us all to “Keep America Beautiful.” In elementary school, we talked conservation and natural resources. Parents warned children “Don’t be a litterbug,” a term from a 1961 Disney short featuring Donald Duck.

President Richard Nixon started the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970; the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.

In 1971, the Keep America Beautiful campaign featured a television commercial with a native American man crying over a landscape filled with trash.

Environmental issues came to the forefront, in lockstep with banning the bomb and the Vietnam War.

Somehow, we didn’t really get the message, and we bought large homes and more than one car, often gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs.

By the time our son was born, smog was no longer something that happened only in Los Angeles.

We owned an above-ground pool we enjoyed with our son and his cousins and friends. In the pool’s later years, the morning brought a skiff of a brown substance on the surface of the water. Once that was removed, the water below was as clean as we had left it the day before.

When we no longer had a child at home, we took the pool down and put up a lilac bed.

I’m not a researcher. I don’t claim to know what comes out in the skies and earth near where I live. But I know that when I was a child or when I was raising my child, we didn’t have 25 or 30 “ozone days” a year. An “ozone day” is proclaimed by our local weather prognosticators when some magical mixture of temperature, humidity, and particulates makes the air harder to breathe. Heads up for young children, people with compromised immune systems, and those with breathing problems.

Every spring, the air is worsened by the farmers across the river who burn their fields and the smoke heads to my town, often warranting alerts by the weather folk.

For me, summer comes with dread knowing I’m hostage in my air-conditioned house and car, and now to a 24 lb. tether I’ve named Mr. Tanko. Not that climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan was on my summer bucket list, but I would enjoy sitting on my deck. That doesn’t happen anymore.

I looked up most polluted rivers and felt sick after learning the waterway two miles from my home is among the most polluted in the United States. I don’t want to live in a cave without power or the wonders of modern life, but I also don’t want us to destroy our planet. Nor do I want to be the personal consequence of our own destruction.

I’m likely preaching to the saved as my grandmother used to say, but our President flipped a giant middle finger to our planet last week. The Paris Accord is not a “deal,” it’s an accord. The dictionary definition of accord means “to be in harmony with.”

Trump’s disregard of the Paris Accord screws over the United States; he’s making a statement that we are less responsible for our planet than the other 194 countries. As for me, I’m a person of privilege who still gets clean water and has the option to stay in an air-conditioned home or car. I’ll be okay.

Our President, with his hasty and likely vengeful decision, took America out of the leadership position for clean energy and sentenced our children and grandchildren to far greater worries.