Labor day is an all-American holiday, trailing in right after 4th of July. It has it all – flags, fireworks, barbeque and beer. This year, in 2020, the celebrations in my home state of Oregon had been muted not only because of the worldwide pandemic, but also because of a state-wide ban on fireworks. The ban was in place because it was fire season and Oregon had been uncharacteristically dry. It seems to me that the entire world has heard about the wildfires raging in California. You may have even seen a picture of the iconic Golden Gate bridge against a blood red sky pop up on your social media with a hashtag prayforcalifornia. It seems to me, the media, news or otherwise, have chosen to highlight the part of tragedy that would get the most clicks, create the most buzz on social media.
The truth is that the entire western half of United States is burning. The fires are scorching hot and have already consumed acres adding up to an area whose size is often being compared to the size of the state of New Jersey. The day after Labor day my reality shifted. Within a span of three days, I became an armchair wildfire expert. You see, I live in an area that is only a few miles away from the fire evacuation zones. That Tuesday, a lot of people in Oregon woke up to an eerie orange sky. Within hours, my town was placed on a level 2 evacuation alert. Ash and leaves, burnt black, but still, startlingly, holding onto their whole shape started falling from the sky.
Only a few months ago, the hashtag prayforaustralia was trending. The world watched in horror and empathy. I don’t think anyone in Oregon, including myself, thought, “this is going to by my reality next.” The pattern is repeating, and we have learned nothing. These incidents are happening all across the world. The thing is, these fires are the worst in remote areas, like the Arctic circle. In places like Siberia and Alaska, where a few people reside.
To make matters worse, there have been incidences like oil spills and massive beetle attacks this year. Specific species of beetles that damage healthy forests, creating tinder boxes the likes of which humanity has never-before seen, have thrived in the warming climate. We do not yet know pulling which particular string in the tapestry of our ecosystem is going to cause the entire thing to unravel. Maybe it’s the carbon emissions, warming the climate by one more degree, or it’s the toxic oil spills contaminating our oceans, or perhaps it’s beetles adapting to the warming climate. We are now all engaged in playing an absurd and high-stakes game of whack-a-mole, to push the break on what is beginning to feel like an unavoidable climate disaster that the world is hurtling toward.