Five years ago, I returned from a visit to my kids and grandkids, who live in a mountain town in northern California, and in this space I wrote, “I have come back from the future, and if you plan on going, better wear your fire-retardant underwear.”
The tone of my comment is discordant now with news of the apocalyptic fires engulfing so much of California and Oregon. My California kids go to bed at night with their smartphones on; they and their children have “go bags” packed so they can evacuate if the alarm comes from their fire district. Their car is packed with nonperishable food and water and flame-retardant blankets. They don’t live far from towns that have burnt up in half an hour when winds pushed flames into their homes.
The ashes from those fires are drifting our way. As a writer for a local newspaper, I have come to realize over the years that our connectedness as Americans and as human beings supersedes our particular neighborhood interests. Everything is local. And everything local is global.
In these chaotic times, we find ourselves on the same ship, heading for the rocks. Smoke from fires travels, viruses go airborne and political indiscretion is infectious; none of us is safe or immune.
I live on the South Shore of Long Island, where we’ve been getting plenty of rain, with little chance of wildfires, but the California story is mine because I go to sleep at night worrying about my kids’ safety. The fire story is all of ours because we can imagine the fear of an alarm at night that sends children out into the unknown.
If you’re reading this, chances are you live in New York state, where our infection rate from the coronavirus is below 1 percent. We’re in good shape at the moment, but Covid-19 is surging in other parts of the country.
My Florida kids are in the thick of it, and their unfolding story is mine, too.
Here we are sending, or are about to send, our children back to elementary and high school and universities across the country. The college kids getting sick across the country are coming home to our towns and villages.
What we also share as Americans is the discovery that our president could have kept us safer. A president who put people before politics, who elevated science and medicine, who could evince a modicum of empathy, could have saved tens of thousands of lives during this pandemic. Last week we heard tapes of journalist Bob Woodward’s interviews with President Trump. We heard the president say he knew how devastating the pandemic would be, but in his own words, he “played it down.”
Five years ago, when I first wrote about the fires near my family out West, it was a big deal, because the schools had to close for two days due to smoke and unhealthy air quality. Fast-forward, and the kids have been out of school for five months because of Covid-19.
There is an awful confluence of circumstances: People are battling a vicious pandemic in the midst of raging wildfires. None of it had to be this way. For three years before he decided to cover up the threat of Covid-19 in America, Trump was scorching the earth in other ways, expanding mining and drilling, halting regulations on industries that pollute and refusing to accept the findings of scientists who have warned us that drought, fire and even pandemics are related to global warming and climate change.
Professor Noah Diffenbaugh, the Kara J Foundation professor of Earth System Science and the Kimmelman Family Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, states that global warming, caused by air pollution created by human activity, is a major contributor to the baking heat searing so much of California.
According to The Washington Post, “An international panel of leading climate scientists said in 2013 that the planet is warming at an accelerated pace, and found with 95 percent certainty that human activity is the cause. The past three decades have been the hottest on the planet since 1850.”
In 2018, speaking with the BBC, President Trump said of climate change, “I don’t believe it.”
Left or right, red or blue, we are in the same sinking boat. Can’t we at least agree to plug the holes?
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.