Climate change is choking New York out. Albertan wildfires have created a continent-spanning raft of toxic smoke, and the gross and dangerous haze has made its way from Canada down the eastern seaboard of the United States. So now New Yorkers are getting advice from Californians on how to protect our health and sanity as the skies fill with smoke.
It’s not like any of us are strangers to climate emergencies in the last two decades. Every region of the country has had escalations in dangerous weather phenomena, whether that’s an abundance of tornadoes through the South, the creeping extension of hurricane season in the Gulf, uncontrollable wildfires in the west, or the battering ram of storms in the mid-Atlantic. But it doesn’t feel quite the same as getting a taste of other regions’ crises, and it’s definitively different than living with another country’s climate crisis, reminding us that the effects of global warming aren’t just a branding exercise.
As I write this, the world outside my (closed) window is a grimy yellow, like the inside of an infrequently cleaned range hood. It is something unfamiliar and disquieting, not only for what it represents but for the lack of guidance on how to get through it.
Having spent decades diminishing and denying the harms of climate change, governments are now wholly unequipped to react, let alone support and protect their citizens. New York has said little to nothing about the potentially deadly particulate matter that has saturated the skies. Texas, home to oil barons, had no advice for people living through a historic cold snap. As Los Angeles flooded, local and state governments could offer little more than platitudes. We might have imagined that we could successfully ignore climate change, but as it turns out, the impending death of the biosphere is not something that can be denied!
The wildfire haze over New York City is a harsh reminder that climate policy is a systemic response to a systemic problem, and that the issues of a still-warming global ecosystem can’t be downplayed out of existence. The climate crisis will not respect borders, our cost, or comfort. We can tell ourselves that it’s not that bad, or that we can keep burning fossil fuels, or that it’s just a minor inconvenience. We must adapt to our changing biosphere, or succumb to it.
So fellow New Yorkers: wear masks (N95 or similar) outside; run air purifiers inside; keep windows closed, and limit outside travel as much as possible — especially if you have any respiratory issues.
And to everyone else, while it may seem like people are only paying attention now because of where this is happening, this isn’t about New York. This is about structural neglect of an issue that we have had decades of forewarning about. This is the result of our lack of engagement and care on whether our soil is toxic, our water is drinkable, and our air is breathable. We’ve been feeling the effects across the country and across the world for a long while. Maybe the dangers hitting the largest city in the world’s wealthiest nation will be enough finally for us to change in response to our climate.