So what’s to be done?... Behaviour must change. It would help if we thought of wood smoke as we now do cigarette smoke, for instance, but ultimately politicians have to listen to scientists and act. This fascinating book is far from a jeremiad, but, as Fuller says, humans can live for three weeks without food and three days without water, but only three minutes without air so we’d better stop treating it as a waste disposal system.
Alarm and outrage (all evidence-based, of course) are typical of books on environmental science. You expect it, even as you feel shocked by it. More unusual is for a book about mass death and environmental crimes to be highly entertaining. But Fuller delivers a surprisingly good time... He conjures atmospheres that writers of historic novels would envy... No, Fuller says, cleaning the air is like “trying to take the milk out of your coffee: once it’s in, it’s in”... an admirably clear conclusion from what is, amid all the murk of its subject, an admirably clear book and an appropriately urgent one.
Fuller, though, has an accessible style. “You will not need a degree in chemistry or physics to understand this book”, he writes, and he’s right, but it is still hard to swallow. It’s the size, not the number, of tiny particles in the air that causes problems. The Clean Air Act 1956 largely solved the smog problem, but left a less obvious one unchecked. Particles in modern air pollution are smaller even than pollen and are breathed more deeply into our lungs. Fuller compares this to dropping a kilo bag each of apples and rice on to the kitchen floor.