(*if you can see them)
We have had to endure the terrible air quality conditions this week in the Seattle area. Smoke from fires north and east and down south in Oregon and California have totally obscured the mountains, the Sound and Seattle itself from here in West Seattle. No one is physically immune from the effects of the smoke. It’s also disconcerting to not see the mountains because they are such an emotional anchor for so many here. I’ve had many times when I might be in a grumpy mood, but I’ll look up at Mt. Rainier or the Olympic Mountains and they inspire me with awe. I can’t help but cheer up.
Yesterday I was at lunch with a seminary student and we talked about the weather conditions. I remarked that the bad smoke conditions reminded me of the endless summer smog back East in the summers before the EPA came into existence in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. Those smog-filled summers in the cities were awful. Not only would we have brown air like the smoke now but the other pollution in the air would make it smell terrible. The rivers were open sewers. The effluent from textile mills upriver from where we lived in Maine made them hazardous sources of odor and no swimming if you wanted to stay healthy.
Imagine if we were to return to those ‘good-old-days’ of few regulations and capitalism run amok to manufacture and sell goods? Well, the result would probably be skies like this week except even dirtier. The rivers and Sound would be filthy. Peoples’ lives would be shortened because of respiratory ailments. The list goes on and on.
I know I am preaching to the choir in this column. Those of us who have travelled to other regions of the world or who are of an age to remember the pollution of the 50’s can testify how much better air and water quality are now…unless you live in Flint, Michigan or live in the West with the fierce fires of summertime.
We now experience weather phenomena more extreme and violent than I recall in my lifetime. Someone on Facebook asked me yesterday about what was different about this summer of 2018 and weather. I thought about it and replied that I think it’s the summer when the reality of rapid climate change became – well – ‘real’.
Westside has folks like Anne Miller and John Fawcett-Long who have worked tirelessly to educate and advocate for climate justice. More recently, the Deppe family and others have stepped up to continue and add to that work.
It can be profoundly discouraging to face the future: more wildfires, more heat in the summer and downpours of snow, rain and hail in all seasons.
Yet, amazingly enough I see communities like Westside adapt to changes that are largely out of our control. Westside is an example of a community that can improvise, revise and adapt to change. It’s not easy. Adapting to climate change, wildfires, storms, and lack of good water will be hard. It would be tempting to build walls to keep the future at bay.
The smoky air doesn’t care about walls. Neither does the future.
This isn’t a cheerful column but what does cheer me is the dedication and determination of this congregation and many others in the world who are not crying wolf but picking up, cleaning up, advocating, and voting.
That’s more than a start. It’s a reminder that hope can be more powerful than despair.