As the Smoke Clears

Old Town Warrenton on 6/7/23. Photo by Hugh Kenny, PEC

Toxic smoke from the Canadian wildfires engulfed much of the east coast over the past few days. We’ve become accustomed to seeing images like those on this web page of San Francisco and Los Angeles over the past few years, but it was shocking to experience it for ourselves here in Virginia. Unfortunately, the changing climate is drastically increasing the likelihood that this will happen again. While it’s difficult to directly attribute any one event to climate change, we know that warming temperatures are increasing the frequency and severity of droughts around the world which in turn lead to more wildfires in more places.

As the air begins to clear, it’s crucial to remember that we can and must act for a better future. Flooding, intense heat, and increased vulnerability to drought, in addition to wildfires and smoke, are among the top impacts that government at every level must actively prepare for and address. Consider urging your locality to integrate nature-based solutions and smart growth strategies within their comprehensive plans, which build resilience in our communities and provide multiple ecosystem benefits. You can also vote for candidates during the upcoming primary (June 20) and general (November 11) elections that prioritize policies for our health, environment and climate.

Wildfires are not the only threat to clean air in Virginia. The pollutants of concern from wildfire smoke, particularly PM2.5 and ozone, are also caused by local and regional sources. We need to redouble our efforts to challenge the siting and permitting of data centers that rely on polluting diesel generators for backup power, push for tighter regulation of emissions from natural gas power plants, support programs to reduce the use of cars by improving transportation options, improve the efficiency of buildings, and support the clean generation of electricity from distributed solar. 

Photos by Hugh Kenny and Marco Sanchez, PEC