The Quality of Air

The air quality in our area has improved and is mostly back to normal. But it feels like a foreshadowing of things to come.

Watercolor illustration of a swirling, dusty wind
Image created via Midjourney

Earlier this week, I noticed that the sky was kind of gray. I thought it was just overcast, perhaps heavy clouds with much-needed rain.

I also noticed an acrid smell. But our entire street is torn up right down with road resurfacing, so I thought it was from that.

Turns out, the sky and the smell were neither of those things. Instead, it was the downstream effects from wildfires in Canada. An air quality alert was issued for our area. My kids' summer camp kept them inside for two days, to be safe. I also unearthed some of our KN95 masks, leftover from the Covid pandemic.

The air quality has improved and is mostly back to normal. But it feels like a foreshadowing of things to come.

Will we reach a point where we can't go outside without masks (or even breathing devices)? Will our air become toxic? Will climate change completely upend life as we know it? Scientists are sounding the alarm that we are reaching the point of no return, and no one seems to care enough.

I was listening to a podcast recently about the potential ramifications of AI. The guest suggested that democratizing access to AI could unleash pathogens into the world and we live through one lockdown after another.

Between that and the climate, I worry that the world — as we know it today — is falling apart. That my kids will look back on their childhoods of freely roaming outside as something they cherished, but can no longer do. And maybe their children won't be able to do.

When my kids hear about climate change on the radio, they've asked, "What might happen?" I try to say that humans are, ultimately, about self-preservation. We'll figure something out.

I hope that's true.

And yet I also have friends who have chosen not to have children because they have no hope for the planet.

To some extent, having children is to have faith that the future will exist for them. But also, things have gotten cataclysmically worse since my oldest child was born 13 years ago. I couldn't have imagined a pandemic back then. I've watched the increasingly violent weather patterns. AI is expanding at a dizzying pace, without safeguards in place.

To another extent, I know that the impacts will fall more on my children than on me.

And that idea is devastating.

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