Air quality at my Google disclosed location in the San Francisco Bay Area is safe today. That’s one of the new not normal modes of the climate emergency. We had braced ourselves for our trip north knowing we’d be driving into bad air.
Near Red Bluff we entered wildfire smoke and traveled another 275 miles north beyond Roseburg in the thick of it. After just an hour into the experience smoke grew thicker, the veil of smoke impenetrable. The sky never was clear enough to see Mt. Shasta. Below the highway bridge we could just make out a drought ravaged Lake Shasta. If we’d not traveled the unsettling sights could have been kept out of mind. That’s the illusion of modern plumbing, we are detached from what makes our faucets flow. Who has time to think about reservoir levels?
This summer’s triple digit temperatures have been too frequent. Unwelcomed blazing days and nights hit while traveling in Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Adjusting to heatwaves, coming to regard wildfires as commonplace, clinging to the hope the drought will break come early autumn, none of this is usual, none of this is how any of us grew up, nobody expected climate change to get this bad this soon. Too many tipping points have been breeched.
Smoke was so intense this last week, the further north our eyes began to burn, and our throats became scratchy. Windows were kept rolled up, we turned on the recirculating air function in our van.
Actors working in Ashland were scheduled to resume performing on July 31st. Forced to close because of the pandemic and now reopening in midst of such intense smoke must be one more unwelcome obstacle on a global scaled worrying mother of all obstacle courses. Actors trying to breathe the polluted air and speak for two hours on stage is futility fueled by air pollution. The circumstances are anything but business as usual.
Medford, Rogue River, Grants Pass were all covered in thick smoke. There was this bizarre-Apocalypse Now- sense of going upriver hunting for a Brando gone wildfire mad.
We pumped fuel just north of Roseburg. Gas station attendant said the smoke was even worse last summer— that floored us— here was awful, last year was even worse. Checking the temperature, it was 107˚F late in the day. Our trip would take us west to the coast where it was forecast to be in the high 60’s. Air quality was good because there was a breeze pushing the smoke back from the ocean.
Our stay at Winchester Bay overnight was a relief. The following day we stayed in Newport, Oregon. Conditions were much the same.
We arrived in Seattle to more smoke and hotter near triple digit weather. Where we were staying, because until now hot weather is so infrequent, there has never been need for air conditioning. We tried but couldn’t sleep with the windows closed. Lucky for us air quality improved through the night so that when we woke in the morning monitoring stations indicated we had been breathing only moderately unhealthful air.
Saturday’s weather was improved from the day before. Smoke was present but in relative terms was tolerable for most of us. At risk populations with respiratory health issues were advised to remain indoors.
Every kind of emergency has been whipped together this summer. News broke arsonists appear to have had a hand in setting off the fires in Northern California. The Dixie Fire is now the largest wildfire ever in California state history.
We are still living behind the mask, racing to get more people vaccinated, trying to keep the economy open while setting up protocols so that customers may have the means of reliably proving they are vaccinated.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but I might be telling you something you don’t want to think about. Our democracy is under assault from within our own borders by a political party that has lost faith in our government and is now obsessed with an autocratic fetish.
The Afghanistan withdrawal has revealed that our attempt to standup a military force in another country much as we tried in Iraq and Vietnam isn’t working and has never worked. This isn’t a rant about the Pentagon this is to point out that there are problems in the world that are unfixable.
Nothing is simple. Urging the hesitant to get vaccinated will help. Following strict guidelines to get our schools open is our best chance but remains risky. Large businesses demanding mandatory vaccinations for workers is a step in the right direction, but there are still too many millions that will remain unprotected.
Last week’s most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was unequivocal about the cause of the problem and what actions need to be taken to solve this crisis. All the world can see with their own eyes how conflicted and uncooperative various factions and interests can be. Action plans to solve the climate emergency requires consensus, this is the kind of international cooperation that has historically eluded humankind.
Returning south yesterday the smoke was gone in Roseburg but still set on Redding. Air quality has been hazardous in this region of Northern California since the still burning Dixie Fire started on July 14th.
It has come as no surprise on August 16th the Bureau of Reclamation has rung the alarm bell over the emergency drought conditions on the Colorado River. Tier 1 rationing will go into effect on January 1, 2022, and if it still hasn’t rained by next spring they expect Tier 2 rationing to go into effect soon after.
Central Arizona’s farmers will take the hardest hit first. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are desperate to help their rural constituents. But, rushing into the crisis trying to protect electoral prospects and not addressing the structural problems is no longer viable, the water shortages in the American West are here to stay.
Instead of thinking of this moment as a crisis we need to think of this as an opportunity to restructure our water system and that is a job that powerful special interests have had little reason to wish solved. Until now we have engineered our way around scarcity, moving water with pumps and aqueducts, building new reservoirs, diverting water from region to another, until there is no more water to use to put off the inevitability of the reality nature demands.
There is no more putting things off, crunch time is here, arriving with the pandemic, wildfires, biblically scaled downpours, melting polar caps and rising sea levels. The good news is that the warning lights on the dashboard have turned red and it is time to roll up our sleeves open that hood and get to work repairing the one world we’ve got to use for going on a civilization sized joy ride across a cosmos scaled by the eons.
You make the popcorn; I’ll bring the beer. Can’t wait to see how this thrill ride ends.