Talking Points

America's shared smoke blanket

The Bootleg Fire in Oregon isn't just an Oregon problem. Canadian wildfire smoke doesn't just stay in Canada. And Siberian blazes are visible on other continents.

In New York City, residents woke up Tuesday morning to find the sky hazy and the skyline obscured because of smoke generated from blazes as far as 3,000 miles away. When they can be seen, the sun and moon appear to be blood red in locations far removed from the fire. These effects might seem cool or pretty, but all that fire pollution has prompted health alerts in distant cities like Toronto and Philadelphia. A map published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association shows haze from the fire reaching to all but a few states, located in the far southeast United States.

"By the time that smoke gets to the eastern portion of the country where it's usually thinned out, there's just so much smoke in the atmosphere from all these fires that it's still pretty thick," a meteorologist with the National Weather Service told The Guardian

"We're all in this together" can be an annoying cliché, one that has taken a real beating during the events of the last 18 months, seemingly disproved by our wildly varying notions about how to respond to and live with the coronavirus pandemic. But when it comes to climate change — which has fueled the droughts and high temperatures that created these fires — the cliché is absolutely true. Right now, there are very few places in the United States you can hide from wildfire smoke and the potential health effects that go along with it. It's not just smoke: As time passes, there will be increasing spillover effects as refugees from fires, drought, and coastal flooding have to find new places to live, even if temporarily.

My colleague Samuel Goldman argues today that the notion of "the common good" is all but dead, killed off by different notions of what that good is and how to achieve it. That doesn't negate the existence of common threats, however. The climate doesn't care about our political and philosophical differences, just like the coronavirus didn't. Sooner or later, the smoke will find us all.