Thursday, June 29, 2023

The air hurts

  

     Chicago had the worst air quality in the world on Tuesday. The sky was smokey grey. Wednesday didn't seem much better. I was downtown both days, attending to business at Navy Pier.
     "If you go outside, wear a mask," my wife texted. Considerate as always. I didn't mention that I had tucked a cigar in my briefcase to smoke if I had any downtime downtown. I sorta liked the image of sitting the middle of some global air quality emergency, puffing on a stogie. It smacked of defiance, if not common sense. When the sun blows up, the last human being on earth will be standing tall, giving the supernova the finger.
    Nah, will have vanished billions of years earlier. We're on that path.
    More people were wearing masks downtown. I didn't, because the air didn't affect me much — maybe a little extra watering around the eyes at the end of the day. My wife suffered more. I defrosted some matzo ball soup to combat the ill effects of toxic air, a folk remedy so inadequate it seemed almost poignant, like treating an infection by singing to it.
    Blame wildfires in Canada. The numbers were staggering. This sentence leapt out of one report: "The amount of land burned so far is 4,000 percent of the average amount." Forty times times the usual. But that story was from a few weeks ago. Now it's 50 times. Tommy Skilling, trying to put the situation into graspable terms, observed that an area as large as West Virginia has burned.
    In case it isn't staggeringly obvious, the cause should be pointed out:
    “Climate change, including increased heat, extended drought, and a thirsty atmosphere, has been a key driver in increasing the risk and extent of wildfires in the western United States during the last two decades," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observed. "Wildfires require the alignment of a number of factors, including temperature, humidity, and the lack of moisture in fuels, such as trees, shrubs, grasses, and forest debris. All these factors have strong direct or indirect ties to climate variability and climate change.”
     Is there hope? Probably not. But we can grasp at anything. I went to RL Restaurant for lunch Wednesday, hopped on a bus at Navy Pier, and was surprised to see it was an electric — the CTA has run them, experimentally, for two and half years now. It pulled up under a large square box and an orange connector dropped down so the bus could charge while it sat there, waiting for passengers. Very high tech.
     I chatted with the driver — he said that unlike electric cars, the electric buses are slower. "Even the doors open slower," he said. Still, given the air quality, it was comforting, if you didn't think about it much, to see this wan attempt to combat the global emissions problem though, as is typical of human response to gradual ruin, too little, too late.



12 comments:

  1. This is a bad fire, very bad, maybe even historically bad, but scientists in Canada that study tree rings recovered a log from the bottom of a glacial lake and saw evidence that this 400 year old tree which had sat on the bottom nearly 100 years had been through at least 3 fires during its lifetime.

    Forests burn and have burned for millions of years, for many reasons, to which we can include human activity. Climate change is a thing for sure boreal forests burning might be affected by the change. but the media has taken to blaming every negative event on climate change and its just not true. Nature is a bitch. The earth is a dangerous place. I saw a reporter suggest an earth quake was due to the effects of climate change. ets get real folks

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    1. This is a master class in mushy thinking. Your argument is ... there were forest fires in the past, so climate change isn't real, tossing in a possible TV news exaggeration as your final proof. Thanks for sharing your outlook, Franco, which I post as illustration of the disingenuousness of the willfully blind.

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    2. Not so fast, it is possible franco is on to something. There was the 1825 Miramichi fire which burned 3.95 million acres, that's a land area 1/5th of New Brunswick's forests. As a result of ultra extreme drought conditions, there was the Port Huron Fire of October 8, 1871 (1.2 million acres), and the Great Michigan Fires of October 8, 1871 (1.5 million acres), and the Peshtigo Fire of October 8, 1871 (1.2 million acres), and the Great Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871 {2,112 acres}. All occurring before there was such a thing as climate change.

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    3. It is the increasing frequency and size of the fires that concerns us, franco. You remind me of a car ride listening to Neal Boortz in Feb '09. A news story about record heat, drought and fires in Australia didn't illicit a response, but a massive snowfall in Buffalo was proof that global warming was a hoax. Imagine that, snow in Buffalo! Selective logic by the willingly ignorant. Look up Australian climate news today and that year doesn't stand out as many more have followed. Pointing out one stupid reporter doesn't change the inertia of time. Dennis Miller would regularly cite winter storms as dispositive of climate change even after he promised to stop, admitting to the fallacy of his logic. 8 billion humans is UNPRECEDENTED, not accepting that before clinging to your hubris endangers us all.

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    4. You're just repeating his nonsense. These fires are worse because of climate change. The existence of bad fires previously isn't evidence of anything. Franco left in a huff and will never be back.

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    5. Do the math, Bernie. An area the size of West Virginia has already burned, and it's only the end of June. These fires will probably burn all summer and well into the fall.We;re going to be coughing and choking for months to come. Tom Skilling said that 29,000 square miles have already burned...that's roughly 18 MILLION ACRES, which puts the 19th century Michigan and Wisconsin fires to shame.

      Thanks to abnormal weather patterns that have resulted in more northerly winds than usual, about a third of the entire U.S, is being affected by the resulting smoke, from the Eastern Seaboard to Minnesota and Iowa, and from Canada to the Deep South.This event is unprecedented...off the charts...like nothing that has ever happened before.

      Not so long ago, people were laughing at predictions that man-made climate change would lead to uncontrollable fires, extreme droughts, and record heat waves. A lot fewer people are laughing now. Harder to laugh when you're either roasting in the heat, or you're sneezing and wheezing.

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  2. I’m thinking of developing an electric wearable device that will kiss my ass goodbye….

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  3. Yesterday was Cleveland's turn to choke. The worst air in the world was at Chippewa Lake, about 40 miles south of downtown. So far, 2023 is the Year Without a Summer. Chilly N winds off Lake Erie for weeks, and days of smoke. This has been happening for nearly six weeks now, but Wednesday was the worst, by far. Maybe the worst air in Cleveland's history, which is saying a lot, given its infamous and polluted past.

    The smoke is highly visible, though not all that sniffable. Makes me sneeze. My nose is stuffed and running. Even if I just stick my head out the window. Hiding indoors, as though it were either 100 degrees and humid or ten below zero. The title for "Summer and Smoke"--a 1940s Tennessee Williams play-- probably came from a poem by Hart Crane. He was from Cleveland.

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  4. My child, the philosopher, consults on ethics and climate change, and knows quite a bit about the science thereof. They would agree there is a lot of catastrophizing. Developed nations will mostly be ok and adjust, but poorer countries are already close to disaster, but that doesn't seem to register. Who cares if Vanuatu is underwater, or Kenya's groundwater is turning salty? We've got high particulates for a few days!

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  5. Didn't the street cars in Chicago back in the day run on electricity? I believe they were connected to wired above the route. Why can't we bring back technology that worked, was reliable and didn't pollute (except whatever pollution is caused by generating the electricity)?

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    1. Yes, and the south Metra line is electric, and has been for as long as I’ve lived.

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    2. Electric-powered public transportation never left, the El trains being the most obvious example of that, but streetcars were limited to only wherever the rails were laid and overhead power lines were present (or could be installed). Rerouting or detours for any reason or any length of time would be out of the question.

      Buses became a complement to trains, going where trains or streetcars could not, and at much less expense. We still need the buses, just not their internal combustion engines, so making them more like the El in that respect just makes sense.

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