Big Apples and Oranges

For folks in NYC and other regions blanketed by smoke and living against an unfamiliar backdrop, welcome to the club. I’m a member. So are my kids. It’s hard to remember everything that happened in 2020, the year that wouldn’t end, but climate events are like presidential politics. You can’t unsee the orange. Nine months into the pandemic year, we had learned to expect the unexpected. But no one in the Bay Area expected what we saw in the middle of the day on September 9. Orange skies. After another dry summer of record heat, California was burning. For me, the ravaging fires and rolling blackouts seemed as novel as the coronavirus and provided a bleak reminder that the pandemic was merely a preview of what would be a much longer and infinitely more daunting challenge presented by the slow but consistent roll of climate change. For my kids, who had missed school for fires, floods, power outages, and a pandemic, this was all too normal. To them, warnings to stay indoors, soot in the air, a thickening layer of ash on the hoods of our cars parked fifty miles from the nearest flames, days without electricity, and the stench of smoke so thick it could wake you up in the middle of the night just meant fall was in the air.

But even for my climate-jaded kids, it was a bit unnerving to take a lunch break from Zoom school, look out the window at the dark, blood-orange skies that wrapped the Bay Area, and listen to the familiar sound of foghorns blowing for the unfamiliar reason that it was nearly pitch black in the middle of the day. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the foghorns started playing This is the End by the Doors.

When it comes to shocking climate related events, this, however, is not the end. It’s just the beginning. So to my friends on the East Coast, I say, welcome to the club you never wanted to join. Or, perhaps more accurately, welcome to the world. Smog is choking New York. But for these cities, it’s just another day. At least you’ll have to deal with fewer climate change deniers going forward. Their arguments hold much less sway when they’re sucking wind against a blood red sky.

+ AP: Poor air quality from Canadian wildfires affects people as far as away as North Carolina.

+ “East Coasters finally understand what it’s like to live in California.” Vox: Why is eastern Canada on fire — and when will the smoke clear?

+ Scenes from the city from Buzzfeed and NY Mag.

+ As for the forecast, El Niño has begun in the Pacific Ocean. Experts say it will likely make 2024 the world’s hottest year.

(Today’s lede was adapted from my book Please Scream Inside Your Heart, a time capsule of 2020, available in print, on Kindle, or as an audiobook, featuring the remarkable narration of Peter Coyote.)

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