Opinion: Canadian wildfires aren't actual cause of Michigan hazy skies


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Dec 15, 2023

Opinion: Canadian wildfires aren't actual cause of Michigan hazy skies

I woke up today to a beautiful late spring day in southeast Michigan. Clear

I woke up today to a beautiful late spring day in southeast Michigan. Clear skies, cool temps, the trees and flowers at their perfect summer growth.

But I would be crazy to walk out into this day without a good mask.

The Air Quality index (AQI) is in the 160s out there, with enough fine particles to gunk up my lungs. Even inside, even with an air purifier going full speed, we’re in the 40s (AQI). And my eyes hurt.

What's going on? Canadian wildfires are the proximal cause, spewing smoke into the atmosphere and covering a region from Wisconsin to my son's home in Boston.

But that isn't the actual cause: The actual cause is global warming, the increase in temperatures that has brought average temperatures up by more than 2 degrees in Michigan, and much more to the north where the fires are.

More:Hazardous air quality across Michigan as wildfire smoke from Canada continues to spread

More:Smoke from Canadian wildfires creates respiratory hazards for southeast Michigan residents

Those temperatures are rarely average. They peak and roast those northern forests, and bring home to Canada and the U.S. our indolent failure to deal with global warming. With rising temperatures, we see more drought, drying land and forests that are tender, dry and ready for the kind of outburst that we are seeing now in Canada — and Michigan.

And what is the actual cause of global warming? Oh, that's on us. It's our carbon footprint, from our breathing, eating, warming our homes, driving to work. It's down to the public to change, we’re told.

No. What we need is strong, deliberate, consistent collective action by our public officials. Not action to fund charging stations for electric cars one day, and building new oil and gas pipelines the next day — the approach favored by President Joe Biden and the U.S. Congress. As my lungs would attest, this is absurd. It is the dodge of political compromise, when a monster is staring you down.

Can we not see that this climate crisis is rapidly becoming as bad or worse for our health and our children's health and our grandchildren's health than COVID-19? We need concerted national, worldwide action. Experts like Paul Hawken, founder of Project Drawdown, have proposed concrete plans.

Sending a contingent of firefighters to Canada is less than a Band-Aid, but it's exactly what we can expect from the current crop of public officials.

So, don't go outside today. Stay inside and call your public officials. Note: Writing them won't help much. They’ll just tally another number on some sheet of paper. Call and talk to them, rage at them. Ask them what they’re going to do so you can go outside safely. Ask what they're going to do so your granddaughter doesn't have to stay inside her whole life.

More:Canadian wildfires brings dense smoke to Michigan, but forecasted rain could wash it away

More:Graphics show how smoke from Canadian wildfires is turning US skies hazy – and hazardous

Also take personal action. Buy solar panels, or an electric car. If that is too much, buy an electric lawn mower —mowing a lawn with a gasoline mower is equivalent to driving 300 miles in a gasoline car.

Or you can wait, live through the fire season and carry on stoically, as our public officials expect you to do, so they can continue to ignore your health and sacrifice your future to the companies producing coal, oil and gas.

Lyke Thompson is the director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University.

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