My part-time job is a bit of a drive, but I’ve never minded because nothing beats coming off a long shift and breathing in the clean air on the way to my car. Each breath feels like I’m getting triple the oxygen that I get in the city, and it feels so good.
After my last shift, the air felt stale. Noticeably wrong. It was too dark to know why. The next afternoon, the sun was deep orange high in the sky. I don’t live very close to the west coast fires, but somehow the smoke had found its way past the mountains and into our air. Now as I sit here writing this, the air has a sickly yellow quality to it, tainting the sunlight. This isn’t the clear golden yellow of the sun through my bedroom window on summer evenings. This yellow is subtle and ugly. An obtrusion. There’s a chill in the air from lack of sun, but it’s not just a cloudy day—it’s a smoky one.
I remember learning about climate change in seventh grade. I came home from school and was told it wasn’t real. Well, over ten years later it’s hard to ignore, much less deny (though I’m fully aware people still manage). A few years ago I was introduced to the strange industry of putting air from Canada into cans to be sold to rich families in China who give it to their children to breathe every day, some clean air in a polluted place. In university I met someone who split her time between Canada and the UK. She had asthma in the UK, but not in Canada. On my first trip to Europe, I remember so clearly being at the back of the plane when they first opened the doors, and immediately hearing the people up front start coughing, and then the people in the middle, and finally a wall of putrid air seemed to hit me in the face and I had to cough alongside all the other passengers. Out my window, Germany had looked quite clean and orderly, but there was no hiding that air quality. I’ve come to understand that living in Canada, I had a kind of environmental privilege. A kind of clean air privilege. I was lucky.
The Amazon Rainforest was on fire last year, followed by Australia, and now the west coast. These aren’t just annual summer fires, these are huge and uncontrollable and deadly and world-altering. Hurricanes, typhoons, and tornados grow stronger every year. In this city where I was born and raised, I’d never heard of a tornado coming through. Much older friends of mine swore the same. This summer we had two tornado warnings in our city. Two in one summer, when there had never been any heard of before.
It is entirely possible I will see the end of the world in my lifetime. I’ll probably be old and dying at that point anyway, but it’s something I and everyone my age and younger will have to contend with. It’s undeniable now. The future is deadly.