by Erica Schemper
Thinking about climate change, and praying that what we've got going here will not be the new normal.
Without minimizing one bit the loss of life and homes and infrastructure at the actual site of the fires, I don't know if those of you in the rest of the country are hearing how the smoke from the fires is affecting big swaths of the state of California.
In the Bay Area, we are up to a week plus of days when the air quality levels are unsafe for vulnerable populations. I read somewhere that we're now at a point where the particulate is even smaller, and thus better able to get deep down in our lungs.
We live outside in CA: leave our doors and windows open; our kids eat lunch and have gym class outside (we often don't have indoor cafeterias and gymnasiums at our schools); my kids swim at an outdoor facility. Classes there have been cancelled for a week, which I think means the teachers and life guards aren't getting paid. My kids have missed gym classes, and are eating in their classrooms. Their teachers are exhausted. After school activities have been cancelled, and playgrounds are empty.
I know those of you in places with actual winter might not be sympathetic to our being shut indoors, but I've lived in climates with winter, and I am really winter person at heart, and I have been known to go for a run when it's well below freezing. This is different: it's not just about comfort, it's about safety. I haven't gone running for over a week because it's just not safe to breath in that much of this air. Many races and outdoor athletic activities and community events have been cancelled, likely cutting into the economy of those communities (the half marathon I was training for was cancelled: I was going to go to brunch afterward. That's not happening...)
I noticed over the weekend that traffic at local restaurants was down.
I sing in a choir in San Francisco. We had our concerts over the weekend, and so many of us had voices that were seriously compromised by this air.
In some areas not far from here, schools are closed. Colleges and Universities, too.
Meanwhile, we are not taking good care of the people who work outdoor jobs for low pay. I've seen families hurrying their masked kids to the car to avoid the air, while next door, a team of gardeners is hard at work on a yard, no face masks.
I know there are people laboring in the farm fields nearby in this air. The food they're harvesting, while breathing this air, is coming to a super market near you soon, because California is truly America's salad bowl.
People who have to bike to work or take public transit, are likely sitting outside breathing this in.
I've also read about food programs for folks living on the streets opening up not just for meals, but for emergency overnight lodging. While we with the means cower in our homes, there are people breathing this air all night long.
These fires are big, and they are life ending have a big reach, and they may well be the new normal for the American west.
And this week? I'm thinking really hard about climate change and my part in it. I hope you will, too.
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