Stanford has a few warnings posted in some of their garages:
Nice of them to advertise that the parking garage isn’t a healthy place to hang out, at least not according to your lungs and your junk. But really, a few things.
- If a parking garage deserves an air quality warning, how about a congested freeway on a hot, still day?
- The garage is not the source of that bad health stuff. Specifically, it’s the incomplete combustion of gasoline in the 100’s of internal combustion machines sitting around in the garage. Maybe we should put the warnings directly on the source of the problem?
- If we should be concerned about the health effects on our lungs from our cars, what about the bigger effects – like cars being the leading cause of death for Americans 35 years old and younger? Or being a vital component of our awesome 73% overweight/obese rate? Or pushing our communities and ourselves farther and farther apart – to distance scales that work well for a two-ton block of steel, but not so great for a 150 lb chunk of human?
It’s easy to see and point at air quality numbers. They can be measured empirically, their effects can be studied in laboratories, and it’s easy to say “this is bad. See proof by X.” But more often than not cause-and-effect relationships don’t end with a nice, clean number at the end. As such, it’s harder to talk about these relationships, it’s harder to reason about them. The unfortunate wrench is that sometimes, these ‘unclean’ relationships are actually the most important ones of all. Which probably explains why you never hear of a mathematician being elected to public office.