Back in April of this year, the National Geographic magazine for Earth Day was a double-sided issue. One cover bore the title, “How We Lost the Planet”; the flip-side offered “How We Saved the World.” The issue pretty much embodies how I exist these days: in a constant state of flipping between despair and hope.
Today, here in Colorado, the smoke from our own fires mixed with that from California. Early in the afternoon, the air reminded me of growing up in L.A. in the ‘sixties and early ‘seventies. We had “smog days” when we couldn’t go outside, when recess was held indoors and we played “Thumbs Up, Seven Up,” sitting at our desks with our heads down and a thumb up while a classmate would go around and tap a set of kids on the thumb. Once these children were chosen, we would be allowed to pick up our heads while the selected seven tried to guess who had tapped them. It was every bit as exciting as it sounds.
But even on the days when we allowed to play outside, our chests would hurt and sometimes we couldn’t get a full breath. We didn’t think too much about it; that was all we knew. But our parents did and for a while there were effective efforts to mitigate air pollution. The air in L.A.got better, as it did in other cities in America.
Today, my lungs thought they were right back in the L.A. of my youth. Breathing ached; my throat felt scoured; my head ached; my stomach turned sour. And however poor the conditions are here, they are fractionally as awful as California’s.
My husband and I had planned a drive today, just to get out of the house. We made it up high enough to be away from the smoke briefly, but most of the time the cab of the truck was smoke-imbued.
It was difficult to come back down where the smoke blanketed everything like fog, and nothing like fog.
By early afternoon, I was no longer thinking of Los Angeles; I was thinking of Pompeii.
Ash on the hood of the truck
I write this late in the day and ash is still falling. A plume from the Cameron Peak fire spiraled up thirty-five thousand feet (that’s a 35 with three zeroes after it. Think airplane-cruising altitude).
And these fires are not caused by a lack of raking. They’re caused by the climate changes brought on by humans. We must acknowledge that we have caused and are causing this damage and then work to undo it. Remember how quickly the air cleared when we were all on lock-down?
Wildfires are far from the only disasters caused by global warming. Plastic is raining down across the country, including in our delicate, protected preserves; hurricane season is far more dangerous now. The disdain for science so proudly promulgated by politicians and voters will cost us our lovely planet and guess what? There’s not room for all of us on the International Space Station.
In addition, a lot of us are going to be denied the opportunity to be grandparents because of climate change. The next generations are reluctant to bring children into a world that might not be around long enough for their children to live to old age or that will mean they have to live in a wasteland. I don’t have an effective counter-argument for them.
The setting sun and the moon have been orange and lurid for weeks now.
But this evening was the sun was new kind of eerie.
And tonight — tonight the moon is red, a mourning red, an angry crimson.
So vote for our lives, for our home, for our environment, for the continuation of our species, for leaders who will push us to evolve into stewards of the Earth. Vote. Please vote.
- Union of Concerned Scientists. “The Connection Between Climate Change and Wildfires.” Updated March 11, 2020.
- Gavin Newsom on climate change and California’s wildfires. August 20, 2020.
- WBUR. “Meet Allie, One of the Growing Number of People Not Having Kids Because of Climate Change.” September 16, 2019.