On a trip to Latin America last year, I saw people in Recife, in the poorest part of Brazil, who ate crabs which lived off the garbage that the people themselves threw in the shallow water near their shabby homes. And whenever I tell this story to Americans, the reaction is: How sad, how terrible, that such poverty, such underdevelopment, should exist in the world.

But we New Yorkers are in a poor position from which to extend pity. For every year, the average New Yorker—old and young, rich and poor, athlete or infirm recluse—breathes in 750 pounds of his own wastes…And because there are so many of us, crowding into this tiny fraction of the United States, a great pall of filthy air blankets the entire metropolitan area, and we all must breathe the same air into which we carelessly spill our refuse…

But we should not—we cannot—wait for technology to make clean air entirely painless, to be achieved without effort, like a genie waving a magic wand. We will never get anywhere unless we begin now to apply what we do know…

We should, I believe, beware of the pitfalls described by Taine, “Imagine a man who sets out on a voyage equipped with a pair of spectacles that magnify things to an extraordinary degree. A hair on his hand, a spot on the tablecloth, the shifting fold of a coat, all will attract his attention; at this rate, he will ot go far, he will spend his day taking six steps and will never get out of this room.”

We have to get out of the room.