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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.”

Smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketed New York City on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Photo by Serena Jost

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.

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We should remind the Liberals that this is the entirely predictable consequence of their inaction on climate.

We'll be doing that. Absolutely. Here and elsewhere. But here is our problem. Of course they know it already, though.

I know what you mean when you talk about air as "elixir." It's why we moved to the island although we're back on the prairies now and thinking we dodged a bullet. And the year we moved back the NDP got in power but now the UCP has gained power AGAIN, against ALL reason, the climate science deniers-in-chief WHILE the province was on fire, unprecedentedly, so clearly EVERYTHING is POLITICAL now.
So thank goodness your publication is so wide-rangingly focused.

Yes, everything is political, even life and death. Even the air we all breathe.

This smoke and the extreme heat coming our way have the silver lining of inciting fear-- the most powerful and gut-level emotion, so the one most likely to crack human complacency, AND also the most effective one for fund-raising.
So it's the conservatives' stock-in-trade and something it has in common with religion, (the political right does have a disproportionate number of believers in its ranks) but is of course primarily employed in service of their obsession to take down the hated Liberals. (WHY so hated btw? Truly the heart of the matter, and a question not explored enough.) But we really do have to get it through our heads that despite conservatives generally being understood as more fear-based than usual, fear of climate change is somehow just NOT on their radar. It's like they're truly living in an alternate reality or something, one so embedded in their heads that they're literally at TWO with nature and what science has taught us, are OUTSIDE of it. Because their god idea supersedes all that is man-made, despite being that itself. Profoundly irrational in other words, and also the basis for the widespread observation that the right wing has indeed lost its mind.
But they can read the room well enough to know they have to give climate change (and reality) lip service at least, but EVERY single, decent, normal thing that sneering Kenney did during the pandemic was under duress, and yet he's been forced out BECAUSE he gave in. To a PANDEMIC. So his comment about the lunatics taking charge may be the only honest, insightful thing he ever said. Half the UCP board is now made up of "Take Back Alberta" adherents.
Max hit the nail on the head in his article when he talked about those who CAN'T compared to those who WON'T, both being the current iteration of conservatives (Jon Stewart rightly referred to them as "the party of NO") and also hints at our main hope currently in progressive Alberta, those inherent, lurking divisions because "Take Back Alberta" is relatively and unabashedly religious, i.e. it's actually the "lake of fire" Wild Rose. The lunatics, i.e. the "true believers." Surprisingly, Danielle Smith does not identify as religious, but is the current tool for their avidity. They've become remarkably utilitarian, these believers; have you noticed Trump? It's almost like the power to force their righteous beliefs on everyone (for their own good of course) is in fact the main point, just hiding there in plain sight because EVERYONE'S okay with religion as long as it's not "forced" on us, right?
Somehow, all these years since the uber-religious Reform party took over the Progressive Conservative party by using the anger of western alienation, strongest in Alberta (and with the added cachet and influence of having a rich oil economy) as a trojan horse for Preston Manning's true love-- religion, somehow they've been able to hold onto their legions of fellow believers while muzzling them. Patience being one of their virtues, up until now they've been content with the promise of a real political home, i.e. a path to eventual power with its attendant public recognition and affirmation for their emotionally precious world view. This is sorely needed when the fact is that it's also wholly myth-centred, which naturally makes it wholly precarious as well. A house of cards as it were. But they all live in it together....
So conservative private member bills have emerged regularly all these years trying to control women's right to choose, the principle pillar of the religious right that just screams misogyny, i.e. it is obviously of men, by men and for men. And no Canadian PM ever said "God bless Canada" until Stephen Harper, regardless of their personal "beliefs," the ONLY acceptable place for religion. He inserted it covertly at the end of some announcement, his trademark public style. I've written this before but his visage has been aptly described as resembling that of a "satiated badger."

You're succumbing to the conservative narrative, the Poilievre narrative, that EVERYTHING is the fault of the Liberals, when the lion's share is in fact THEIRS.
This is how easy we are to manipulate and control, and the reason that social media has wreaked such havoc.

You're succumbing to the conservative narrative, the Poilievre narrative, that EVERYTHING is the fault of the Liberals, when the lion's share is in fact THEIRS.
This is how easy we are to manipulate and control, and the reason that social media has wreaked such havoc.

...how to somehow break through the glass Trudeau is hiding behind when he smarms out those nauseating press releases about smoky air, and push the financing of TMX into his face...!!