The small city of Paradise has been consumed by one of those California forest fires that are becoming only too frequent. Dozens of people have died. Meanwhile, we have been choking in the polluted air 200 miles away. Last year, close friends almost lost their house in the fires that raged around Santa Rosa.
Who can we blame but ourselves? Our freeways are clogged by millions of cars; we fly across continents for business or pleasure; we maintain polluting industries in order to keep the economy going. When our politicians prove unable or unwilling to take action they only reflect our own attitudes. Living in Berkeley, I find myself surrounded by “environmentalists,” but they still burn their woodfires in their chimneys even on the worst bad-air days. Official “Spare the air” alerts are a joke. They are backed up by nothing and largely ignored.
We are changing the air all around us; not only its quality but also its currents. And so the clouds that used to bring rain do not come any more. One year of drought is followed by another and only occasionally do we have a genuine rainy season. No wonder that forests dry out, that trees are attacked by diseases and insects, and that firestorms consume houses, neighborhoods, and entire cities.