Indianapolis is urging children, the elderly and people with heart and lung problems to limit outdoor activities today because of a likely mix of dirty air and temperatures expected to reach 88 degrees. The Knozone Air Quality Action Day is more stringent than the city’s ground-level ozone alerts, which urge residents to mow lawns and pump gasoline early or late in the day.

“It’s literally dirt in the air,” said Steven Hardiman, spokesman for the city’s Department of Public Works, speaking of floating particles the diameter of a human hair. The particles — created by fuels such as coal, natural gas, gasoline, diesel, oil and wood — can leave a dangerous haze.

Granted, Knozones typically don’t affect how I work: once it gets hot enough to be declared a Knozone, count on me not leaving the confines of my air-conditioned house. During my actual working hours, I’m an environmental toxicologist at Commonwealth Biomonitoring. I spend my hours running aquatic toxicity tests: in other words, I’m a water guy, not an air guy. It’s bad enough that I know what gets dumped into our water (non-toxic is a long way from “I want to swim in it” or “I want to pull fish that have been saturated in it out and eat them”). Don’t get me wrong, in the nearly twenty years that I’ve been in this field, there have been great improvement in the Indiana waterways. When we had a fish kill not too long ago, everyone was shocked to wakefulness about our water issues, little realizing that twenty years or so ago, there weren’t any fish to be killed in those rivers.

[Can I make this a spiritual issue? One of the lessons from the Genesis account of creation, right after God created all things and declared them “good” (even “very good”), is that we were created to be stewards of creation. Yet, we’ve lost our connection with creation, continuing to develop new ways to either insulate ourselves from it or encroach our brand of civilization into it. Our souls are starved for God’s creation; being an environmentalist could be considered spiritual work and a pro-environment agenda should sit alongside any sort of “family values” some folks seem so keen to promote.]

My point is that while water has its particular issues, I imagine it is fairly analogous with air. Now, coal-burning power plants are the main reason why Indiana is the nation’s seventh-largest producer of carbon dioxide. However, let’s face facts, we aren’t going to change our ways unless it is in our interests to do so. We love cheap power and the lifestyle convenience it brings. We love our fossil fuels and the independence they bring (thus why more people don’t carpool). Companies will keep providing them, gouging us in the process, until either we reach our squeal point or the government steps in and says “enough’s enough: find a new technology and clean up your act until you do.”

In other words, Commerce and Necessity are the Father and Mother of invention.

Note I said interests and not best interests. Breathing clean air is in our best interest.