News reports in February 2014 featured ‘smog’ in Beijing, a problem that used to plague London. Londoners first knew it as the ‘pea-souper’ fog, then mainly a result of emissions from coal fires. Nowadays, it’s also vehicle and industrial emissions that cause it in many of the world’s cities. A timely reminder that, while the air holds the oxygen that lets us live, it has lots of other invisible components, too – some beneficial, others decidedly not.
There is something in the air
Which turns up everywhere
And gets inside your body, uninvited,
Like pollen in the breeze –
The stuff that makes you sneeze.
It has many things with which our lives are blighted:
There’s dust and smoke and fog,
Particulates and smog,
Bacteria and viruses and prions,
UVA and UVB
In the daylight that we see,
Cosmic rays and all their highest-energy ions.
The air itself, or course,
Is usefully the source
Of oxygen, the stuff that makes blood red;
But most of it’s N2,
With argon, CO2
And hints of other gases, too, it’s said.
There is something in the air –
Lots of it, everywhere;
And most of it, it seems, is out to get us.
We just have to do our best
With the air that’s in our chest,
Doing battle with the problems that beset us.