I write this morning from within my apartment in Santa Clara, where the windows are closed and the air conditioning is on despite cool temperatures outside. Although we are 94 miles south of Sonoma, the air quality index here is 154, which is considered “unhealthy.” All outdoor athletics have been suspended by the university, including team sports, club sports and intramurals.
We didn’t go up to our sailboat this weekend because it should be even more smoky up there. The air quality index in Sausalito right now is 161, which I’m assuming is even more unhealthy. Sailing regattas have been cancelled on the bay, and the National Park Service has closed down Golden Gate Raptor Observatory’s hawk watch because they are unwilling to risk the health of official NPS volunteers such as myself.
What bothers me about this is how routine it’s getting to be smokebound. In July, up in our cabin in the San Juan Islands, we inhaled the smoke from a forest fire in British Columbia for more than a week. Then, in August, we lived for another week in the smoke of forest fires in Idaho and Montana. Those fires were 400 miles away! Neighbors who have lived on the island for decades assured us that it’s never been this bad in the past.
I realize that I’ve got relatively little to whine about. My sister, who works for the Sonoma Land Trust, has evacuated to Sacramento and doesn’t even know whether her home is still standing. She reports that visibility was no more than thirty feet when they left their house.
This morning I can make out the hazy outline of mountains out my window. It’s the first time I’ve been able to see them this week. We were breathing in their smoke in September of 2016, and the glow of their flames lit up our bedroom one night.
I’m no climatologist, but I am a nemophilist, which the ancient, 2,000-page dictionary in my office defines as “one who loves the woods.” And the woods are telling me about profound changes that are going on in terms of climate. For thousands of years the forests of this planet have controlled the climate, keeping just the right amount of carbon sequestered, emitting just the right amount of oxygen. But now the climate is controlling the forests, and much of the carbon sequestered there is literally going up in smoke.
The forests need our help, and they need it now. A good place to start is to resist EPA administrator Pruitt’s recent proposal to unravel this country’s Clean Power Plan. A good way to join that resistance can be found in the Environmental Defense Fund’s blog here: https://www.edf.org/blog/2017/10/09/trumps-epa-making-reckless-and-damaging-decision-heres-what-you-need-know?utm_source=google&utm_campaign=ggad_clean-power-plan_pd_dmt&utm_medium=cpc&utm_id=1507655789&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIwIqAl8Pw1gIVD5BpCh1-OwRXEAAYAiAAEgKdofD_BwE.
Let’s all campaign for the trees.
Journal of Natural Hist. Ed.
Natural History Institute
Center for Humans & Nature