NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, June 7th, 2023

East Coasters, national media discover the poisonous, gloomy affliction of wildfire smoke

As pret­ty much any res­i­dent of the west­ern Unit­ed States and Cana­da can attest, one of the worst things about wild­fires is the smoke. It’s gloomy, poi­so­nous, and down­right icky. It jeop­ar­dizes a lot of sim­ple joys, from open­ing a win­dow to let in fresh air, going for a long walk, play­ing in the foun­tain at the park, or attend­ing an event such as a out­doors con­cert or base­ball game.

For much of the past decade, cities in the Pacif­ic and Moun­tain time­zones have put up with an increas­ing amount of tox­ic, night­mar­ish, smoky weather.

We’ve watched as some of our best weath­er weeks, espe­cial­ly in late sum­mer or ear­ly fall, have been effec­tive­ly lost to smoke ema­nat­ing from mas­sive wild­fires burn­ing through the forests and grass­lands of the West.

We’ve cur­tailed our out­door activ­i­ties and filled our homes with air puri­fiers. We’ve learned how to mea­sure air qual­i­ty and inter­pret smoke fore­casts. We’ve begged our elect­ed offi­cials to raise more resources in to address cli­mate cri­sis and com­bat wild­fires that get dead­lier and more destruc­tive every year.

East Coast­ers have in the past large­ly been spared from these mis­er­able expe­ri­ences. Nation­al media have occa­sion­al­ly report­ed on what’s hap­pen­ing out West, but it has­n’t per­vad­ed the pub­lic con­scious­ness of soci­ety on the oth­er coast in the way that it has here. At least, not until this week, when nasty, tox­ic smoke from wild­fires burn­ing in Cana­da arrived in the Mid-Atlantic region, send­ing air qual­i­ty in cities like Philadel­phia and New York to dan­ger­ous­ly low levels.

“The smoke from wild­fires hun­dreds of miles north that turned New York into a scene of unset­tling gloom on Wednes­day arrived as if from a burn­ing build­ing blocks away, drap­ing the city in a thick and oth­er­world­ly orange-gray hue,” wrote The New York Times’ Michael Wil­son, assess­ing the apoc­a­lyp­tic scene.

“In the air hung the acrid smell of a camp­fire. Not fog, not mist, not real­ly weath­er at all — this was some­thing new to even vet­er­an New Yorkers.”

“Auto­mo­bile head­lights flipped on mid­day, as dri­vers strug­gled to see. Street­lights lit auto­mat­i­cal­ly. Busy sum­mer­time side­walks, their noon­time shad­ows blurred out, grad­u­al­ly emp­tied. A woman leav­ing a gro­cery store stopped and point­ed her phone’s cam­era toward the blot­ted-out sky.”

“May­or Eric Adams, at a news con­fer­ence, gave voice to the way many New York­ers like­ly felt when they stepped out­side: ‘What the hell is this?’ ”

Wel­come to our world, East Coast­ers. Wel­come to our world.

This is what we’ve been suf­fer­ing with on about a semi­an­nu­al basis for sev­er­al years now. We empathize with your predica­ment. We’ve been there, way too many times. It sucks. The smoke is not only bad for your phys­i­cal health, it also takes a neg­a­tive toll on your men­tal and emo­tion­al health as well.

Know that it will pass, even­tu­al­ly. You’ll see clear­er skies again and breathe clean­er air. But you’re going to have to get through an unpleas­ant stretch first.

“Zero shade for the New York­ers deal­ing with this — it’s awful — but it’s wild to see the way East Coast media is sud­den­ly doing wall-to-wall cov­er­age of some­thing that’s been real­i­ty on the West Coast for a decade,” not­ed Rachel Alexan­der.

“Get­ting texts and DMs from friends and reporters like: so sor­ry we did­n’t real­ize how bad the fires were for you guys these past 5 years,” tweet­ed Clara Jef­frey.

“My fam­i­ly out west is com­pas­sion­ate but absolute­ly notices how dif­fer­ent the wild­fire smoke is being cov­ered today now that it has hit NY/DC than it is every eff­ing year back home,” tweet­ed Sarah Mimms, a deputy edi­tor for NBC.

Yep. That’s East Coast media bias for you.

Here’s some advice from west­ern­ers on man­ag­ing the smoke:

More advice here.

“Cana­da could exceed the largest total amount of burned area record­ed in this coun­try in a sin­gle year,” The Cana­di­an Press report­ed.

“Nat­ur­al Resources Cana­da released updat­ed data and fore­casts Mon­day show­ing that, as of June 4, there had been 2,214 wild­fires across Cana­da this year, and about 3.3 mil­lion hectares burned. The ten-year aver­age over the same time­frame is 1,624 fires and 254,429 hectares burned.”

“The depart­ment said it is unusu­al to have blazes across most of the coun­try this ear­ly in the wild­fire sea­son, and that Cana­da could pass the annu­al record for burned area if the cur­rent rate of fire activ­i­ty continues.”

In Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Pres­i­dent Biden spoke by tele­phone with Cana­di­an Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau about the fires. The U.S. is send­ing more fire­fight­ers north of the bor­der to help Cana­da attack the out of con­trol blazes.

“Pres­i­dent Biden spoke with Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau of Cana­da today to offer addi­tion­al sup­port to respond to the dev­ast­ing and his­toric wild­fires burn­ing in Cana­da,” said the White House in a read­out of the conversation.

“The Pres­i­dent has direct­ed his team to deploy all avail­able Fed­er­al fire­fight­ing assets that can rapid­ly assist in sup­press­ing fires impact­ing Cana­di­an and Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties. To date, the Unit­ed States has deployed more than 600 U.S. fire­fight­ers and sup­port per­son­nel, and oth­er fire­fight­ing assets to respond to the fires. The two lead­ers also dis­cussed con­tin­ued coop­er­a­tion to pre­vent wild­fires and address the health impacts that such fires have on our com­mu­ni­ties. They agreed to stay in close touch on emerg­ing needs.”

“Hun­dreds of Amer­i­can fire­fight­ers have recent­ly arrived in Cana­da, and more are on the way,” said Trudeau. “On the phone today, I spoke with President
Biden about this crit­i­cal sup­port – and I thanked him for all the help Amer­i­cans are pro­vid­ing as we con­tin­ue to fight these dev­as­tat­ing wildfires.”

“We’re see­ing more and more of these fires because of cli­mate change. These fires are affect­ing every­day rou­tines, lives and liveli­hoods, and our air qual­i­ty. We’ll keep work­ing – here at home and with part­ners around the world – to tack­le cli­mate change and address its impacts,” the Prime Min­is­ter added.

Mean­while, in Par­lia­ment, right wing forces act­ed as if the fires did not exist.

“Wide swaths of the U.S. are feel­ing impacts from Cana­di­an wild­fires. As Ore­go­ni­ans know all too well, large wild­fires are huge threats to air qual­i­ty — and I hope this final­ly shines a nation­al spot­light on an issue folks in my state have faced for years,” tweet­ed Sen­a­tor Jeff Merkley.

We agree. Let’s hope this expe­ri­ence prompts mem­bers of Con­gress from east­ern states to care more about address­ing the threat of wild­fires in the future.

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