It’s getting harder and harder to breathe. Yep, it’s a line from the Maroon 5 song (you’re welcome for now placing it in your head all day long), but I actually mean it literally. I’ve thought about breathing more in the last few days since I visited Colorado for the first time and slept in the thin air you find at 9,000 feet. I live near the wildfires burning in the state, and for those of you blissfully unaware of their impact, let me tell you, it’s bad.
The outside air smells like a remnants of a campfire that won’t burn itself out. I can at times smell it in my hair. The runners I know can’t go outside to run. My kids have had indoor recess all week long because of poor air quality. I know of a woman who had an asthma attack as she drove and had to stop in a fire department for a breathing treatment. I have friends who have burning and watering eyes even when they’re in the confines of their home, and others who may be evacuated as this fire continues to spread.
If you don’t smell smoke, consider yourself lucky, but there are reasons we should all care.
- It’s spreading. There are now reports of a thick haze hanging over Interstate 77 in Charlotte. The Federal Aviation Administration even had to hold planes at Charlotte International Airport on Tuesday because of low visibility.
- To date, the wildfires have burned at least 46,000 acres. Many of which are the home of tourist destinations like Chimney Rock and Lake Lure.
- Your fellow citizens are being evacuated from their homes. I spoke with a fellow church member on Sunday who had just left her home with the clothes on her back and a few precious items, unsure of when or if she’d ever see it again. Mandatory evacuations have been issued in Henderson, Graham, Swain, Clay and Macon counties.
- We need rain and there’s barely a sprinkle in the forecast.
- Some predictions indicate the fires won’t be extinguished until well into December.
Many, including Governor McCrory have likened the fires to those often seen in the western half of the country. Beyond the health concerns, damage to property and inconveniences they’ve caused for many of us, these fires are part of a global problem. Wildfires are on the rise, increasing in the United States in frequency and duration since the mid-1980’s. Why? Climate change. As temperatures rise, moisture and precipitation levels are changing, with wet areas becoming wetter and dry areas drier.
So half of our state is living the real illustration of what climate change is capable of. Half of us are learning what it’s like to have poor quality, unhealthy air. My hope is that we all take a lesson from this to understand that climate change is real, and we must continue to push our elected leaders at the federal and state level to continue to reduce carbon emissions and other human activities that add to the problem.
Many (not all) scientists believe reducing greenhouse gas emissions and planting trees could help slow and eventually reverse global warming trends. Seems like the planet and our children deserve a shot, don’t you think?