‘Just Breathe’

‘Just Breathe’

It’s beginning to feel like the 2020s is the decade of plagues.

Not two full months into 2020 the world was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Disruptive and destructive, the pandemic impacted our lives in ways that are still being discovered. Now, it’s foul air from Canadian wildfires that has twice in the last month for days at a time made outside activity dangerous for many.

What’s next? Swarms of locusts?

As our page 1 story, “Poor air quality returns,” alarmingly shows, during roughly a fourth of June the D.C. metropolitan area had an air quality index of 100 or more – meaning it was dangerous for people with lung or heart issues, children and the elderly. Three of those days the air was smoky enough to be dangerous for everyone, regardless of age or health condition.

Worse news is that, both for 2023 and the future, these wildfires may be here to stay. The season for wildfires in Can- ada is May to October, with the peak normally occurring in July and August, according to CNN.com. The 2023 fires started and intensified earlier than normal and as of last week more than 500 separate Canadian fires were burning.

Extreme heat and excessive drying, and many of the world’s largest undeveloped forests, created conditions rife for the catastrophic fires. The condition is exacerbated, ABC news reported, because of Canada’s decentralized system of government, meaning there’s not a coordinated national response like there would be in the U.S.

On Saturday, a wildland fire ecologist based in British Columbia told ABC news that the fires are so widespread that only major rainfall, and in some areas snowfall, will completely douse the flames. Meaning it’s likely to be a long, hot, smoky summer.

The key is vigilance, both short and long-term. Accord- ing to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “wild- fire smoke is a mix of gasses and fine particles from burning trees and plants, buildings, and other material.” The CDC web- site says people with asthma, COPD, who have heart disease, children, pregnant women and those fighting the fires are at greatest risk.

If you fall in one of those categories, be careful. If you know someone who meets any of those criteria, please keep a watchful eye on them, particularly elderly neighbors or anyone with- out air conditioning.

The long-term element has several factors.

At a macro level, it means continuing to take steps to fight global warming, from lowering carbon levels to cutting the amount of plastic used and dumped in the Earth’s oceans. At a regional level, it means stepping up cooperation between the U.S. and Canada to take as many preventative measures as possible and to more effectively combat wildfires when they occur.

And locally, it means saving every healthy mature tree in Alexandria possible. It means making sure the wetlands “re- build” – that’s one of many items on WMATA’s punch list for the new Potomac Yards Metro station – actually happens effectively and soon.

And it means prioritizing the environment over development when there’s a conflict every single time. Let’s be an Eco City in reality and not just for show or grant money.