Smog & Selfies
You might have seen the alarming images of Shanghai last week. Air pollution reached more than 30 times the normal level, covering the city in what looks like a dense fog. It was so bad that vehicles were ordered off the roads.
What struck me about this first picture was how the people seem to be going about their regular business, as though nothing is amiss. Some of them aren’t even wearing masks. This is what we are doing as a species: pretending everything is normal, in the face of our own self-destruction.
It made me wonder what it’s going to take for us to finally admit we have a problem?
My husband reminded me of the story about the frog in the pot on the stove. The temperature slowly rises and the frog becomes accustomed to the incremental heating, never jumping out of the pot. Ultimately the frog boils.
Perhaps that’s true. We become accustomed to the gradual erosion of the natural world. The acceptable baseline deteriorates ever further and we don’t even notice.
That may be so. But there’s also a profound disempowerment in these photos. A sense of resignation. Even if the people in the photos were frightened enough to want to do something about the situation, do they have any effective course of action? Instead, they head off to their cubicles like good little robots.
But this final image with the quintessential gesture of the day disturbed me the most. It seems we are so trapped in our human bubble of separation and narcissism that we can no longer manage an appropriate response to self-destruction.