Smoke season | Guest column

Submitted by Kimberly Mayer

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

—Bob Dylan

There were fires in BC Canada, and smoke in the Gulf Islands. At the marina in Brentwood Bay Harbor, not far from Victoria, we woke to a world gone gray, unfocused and flat. Without color, there is an apocalyptic spin to everything. Boats in the bay looked deserted, though we knew they were not. We headed home. Boating with an eye on the wind is not unlike sailing.

Navigating both air and water, consulting smoke maps as well as tides and current: this was us returning from the Gulf Islands this summer, smoke on our clothes. Wildfires weren’t really in our lexicon when we moved to San Juan Island ten years ago. Now it’s a season, as in California. Today it is lightly raining, the ground dampened, and for the moment we feel safe. But the fact is we are entering an extreme climate regime, never before experienced and we know it.

Hurricanes, floods, hailstorms, wildfires throughout the west and Maui, deadly heatwaves in the southwest, drought, torrential rains at the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, and continuously rising sea levels.

“We may be leaving behind a climatically stable period, the 10,000-year-old Holocene, for the Anthropocene, a proposed geological epoch in which human activity has transformed the climate and ecosystems. Rapid changes beyond anyone’s personal experience are likely,” explains Michael J. Coren in “Why We All Need to Think Like Floridians Now,” Washington Post article dated Sept. 5, 2023)

So that’s where we are, in a new age, an epoch of our own making. We can expect to see unaffordable insurance rates or insurance companies going out of business, stranded real estate, and climate migrations.

“We have to seriously question not just rebuilding after a disaster, but building our infrastructure with the acceptance that the next 50 years will not look like the last 50 years,” states Rachel Silverstein, Marine biologist and head of Miami Waterkeeper.

“Living in Florida is already living on the brink of where humans can survive,” Silverstein adds.

The fact that the Biden Administration recently unveiled the American Climate Corps, putting “young people on career pathways in the growing fields of clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience” comes at great, if not late, relief.

Climate change has intensified all our lives, and while our island has not yet experienced devastating wildfire, our eyes have smarted and we have tasted the smoke. We’re not out of the woods until Canada is out of the woods, and I think we can say that the world over.