Multiple U.S. Regions Issued Air Quality Alerts Due To Canadian Wildfires

In the last week of June, after wildfires raging in Canada left New York and other cities in the American Northeast covered in a dense orange haze, the smoke covered much of the Midwest. Alerts were issued even as far south as Alabama, and on June 25th, Chicago, Illinois had the worst air quality in the world. Detroit and Minneapolis also registered in the top four cities with the worst air quality, and standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) also rated air quality in many other cities, such as Indianapolis and Madison, as unhealthy. Because the smoke moves with the wind, it is impossible to control or predict the spread, making the problem difficult to deal with – and unfortunately, Canada’s wildfires are far from being under control.

Because the air quality alerts refer to the E.P.A.’s scale, they can be hard to understand; even though an alert may say the air is “hazardous” or “unhealthy,” that does not illustrate how unhealthy the air is. One doctor from Chicago’s Northwestern Medicine hospital group told N.B.C. that this level of air quality is “like smoking a half-a-pack of cigarettes a day,” with similar possible “long-term risks” relating to lung and heart disease. Studies from the World Health Organization backed up Dr. Ravi Kalhan’s statements, showing that 7 million people die yearly from air pollution.

It’s been said many times before, but this still needs to be repeated: environmental disasters of this magnitude would not be happening without anthropogenic climate change. Biden and the Democratic Party need to work with nonpartisan environmental organizations to make the links between these sorts of disasters and human climate impacts known to American citizens and to create tangible change. Even though Biden’s infrastructure bill was signed over a year and a half ago, many decisions about where the money is going are yet to be made. Some of that money must be put towards addressing the hazards of a warming environment.

Many politicians have pushed the idea that eliminating fossil fuels and other harmful practices will be too expensive to be worth it, but how do you quantify how many human lives need to be ended by climate-affected disasters before we should take action? Even if human impact isn’t considered enough of a concern, doing nothing will be just as, if not more, costly than doing something now. Leading British financial advisement firm Deloitte reported last year that unchecked climate change could cost the world $178 trillion over the next 50 years. In that same report, the company highlighted the financial gain that could come from making climate protection a priority now – which it put at $43 trillion over the same time period.

News organizations have been reporting on the debate around climate change for decades, but to call the existence of climate change a debate is to severely misrepresent the situation. This misinformation surrounding the existence and causes of climate change has run rampant, despite over a century of scientific studies and enough scientists for N.A.S.A. to call it a consensus agreeing that human activities contribute to climate change. Instead of putting out headlines telling people to get used to hot and smoky summers, or simply reporting that millions are affected, our media need to actually make the connections between these increasingly deadly disasters and anthropogenic climate change explicit. Even more importantly, they need to also talk about the plans politicians, economists, and scientists are putting forward to address climate change and prevent these types of disasters.

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Once anthropogenic climate change is acknowledged, it becomes clear that immediate action is necessary. It is on media companies and the Democratic Party to make everyone aware of the danger of climate change and to inspire action based on acknowledged research, not misinformation. Hopefully, when the smoke and haze finally dissipate over the U.S., it will be apparent to all the deniers that we must do more to combat the dangers we are posing to ourselves through our pollution of the environment.