The first time I went to Beijing in 2000, I honestly didn’t know what smog was. I asked our guide what was that hot fog that limited visibility to half a block? He didn’t answer me, I think he thought I was shaming him. I wasn’t, I literally thought it was a weather phenomenon, a fog that would burn off as the day warmed. It never went away.
Later, when I was living in Shanghai, I remember looking up at the sky and seeing the moon in the middle of the afternoon; a full moon that was a dull orange. I thought, how strange to see the moon at 2 pm. Then I realized it wasn’t the moon at all; it was the sun barely shining through the thick layer of smog.
I remember living in Shanghai for six months before seeing blue sky.
This was just a regular day in China for us. This was before the catastrophic air pollution that was so bad, the authorities ordered people to shelter in place. It was before the US Consulate in Shanghai started tweeting the daily AQI, causing a diplomatic incident.
None of the images in this post are from Shanghai, they are both from Seattle, where over the last few days the air has been the most polluted of all major cities on the planet, due to wildfires burning on the West Coast. At first, it was smoke blowing west over the mountains from Eastern Washington; now it’s smoke from Oregon and California that drifted west over the Pacific and has now turned the corner to hit us from the west.
To be fair, the moon is also an eery pale orange. From my house I cannot see across the lake to Mercer Island. Driving northbound I-5, I could not start making out the downtown buildings until I got to the Brewery.
I had intended to teach from my classroom at school, but it’s not worth leaving the house at this point, so I’ve set up my battle station in my bedroom until the rains come to clear the air and squelch the fires. Hopefully today’s AQI of 251 is the worst of it. It’s not the “crazy bad” level, and to tell you the truth, it smells like campfire, which is not that bad. Still, I wish it would go away.