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“Mom, are you OK?”
My mother, who lives across the street from New York University in New York City, wrote back this morning: “It’s bad.”
What to do about the wildfire smoke, she asked. A fan? An air filter? She knows I’ve been through it already. She knows I know.
I’m worried about my mother in all that smoke.
She’s 93, a revered artist and photographer, still takes the subway, has an exciting social life and is working on a book. She has survived the pandemic to this point very well without getting COVID. She has respiratory issues. At her age, who doesn’t? But now she has to survive Canada's wildfire smoke. What a strange world this is.
I left New York City after 9/11 to get away from the air pollution in the terrible aftermath. I moved to B.C. a month later and revelled in the clean air.
B.C.’s air was like the sweetest elixir, I wrote in my journal back then. Thirteen years later came the out-of-control wildfires, and that sweet, clean air was gone. Now we’ve been through year after year of smoke-out summers, where the air smelled like campfires and our eyes burned as we gazed at dimmed-out views with a mix of dread and depression. In the city or the wilderness, by the ocean or on the lakes, summer was upon us, but there was no escape. Smoke obscured the treasured, snow-capped mountains and turned the sun above them a sickly orange.
The first time I saw ash on my counters in Vancouver, I had some PTSD from my 9/11 experiences. The air smelled like a campfire. The mountains were obscured by a thick fog.
The summer day turned cool in the smoke. I’ve had to learn to live with it. We all have out here in the West.
What to do about the wildfire smoke, my mother asks. A fan? An air filter? She knows I’ve been through it already. She knows I know. @Linda_Solomon writes about the wildfire smoke blanketing the east. #WildfireSmoke
But I always thought New York City would be safe. No forests. No smoke. Of course, that calculation was wrong. “Oh, my God, you can’t see. It’s black outside. And it’s getting inside, too,” a dear friend in Manhattan told me Wednesday. “It’s like the end of the world. It’s like the apocalypse. Yesterday NYC had the worst air quality in the world. Worse than Delhi, worse than China. It feels like the wrath of God.”
When you think of how much the U.S.A. depends on Canada’s tarsands oil for its energy needs, there’s a heartbreaking, poetic justice about it. Really heartbreaking.
Turn on the AC and close all the windows, I tell my mom. That’s what we’ve learned to do. Of course, my condo, like so many other homes in B.C., doesn’t have AC.
As I said, I’ve learned to live with the smoke. Adjust to it. Work out indoors, if I have to. Keep life normal, if possible. Don’t scare the kids. Don’t doomscroll. Close the windows. Close my eyes. Broil if I have to, but try not to breathe the smoke. What else can you do?
If there’s one thing we know about climate change, it’s not a localized problem; we all breathe the same air. And now, our forest fires are making front-page news in New York City.
My mom’s a powerhouse. She’ll be OK. If anyone can be in these times we live in. She has her work. She has me. She has family and friends. She has love.
To be honest, love is the only remedy I feel I can count on to get me through the climate crisis, which may very well accelerate for the rest of my life.
But love won’t stop forests from burning at an alarming rate around the world.
If hope is being able to see beyond where we are today to a possible better future, I remain hopeful. Fully signed on. I believe we can smarten up. Change policy. Get off fossil oil and gas fast. Wind, solar, electric, that’s how we must power our lives. ASAP. Stop accelerating.
Let’s hope those in public policy-making positions see it that way, too. Otherwise, friends out East, take it from us in the West, you’ll lower your expectations of summer, hunker down behind closed windows and mask up with those N-95s when you go outside. Sadly, you’ll get used to it.