The Choking Reality of Climate Crisis: A Wake-Up Call from the Eastern US

In a striking display of the ongoing climate emergency, the eastern United States finds itself shrouded in a dense cloud of smoke, fuelled by devastating Canadian wildfires. This urgent crisis, a direct fallout of climate change, has led to alarming air quality in multiple states, demanding an immediate response from the nation’s leaders.

Tuesday saw New York City grappling with ‘hazardous’ air quality levels, the most severe on the Air Quality Index (AQI). This critical state of affairs led to the phrase, “New York City looks like it’s on fire,” from Varshini Prakash, the executive director of the Sunrise Movement. In a pointed address to President Biden, she urged, “Declare a climate emergency… How can you look at what’s going on and not take action?”

This smoke emergency coincides with the Sunrise Movement and 63 other climate-focused groups gearing up for a week of action. Their demand? For President Biden to acknowledge the climate crisis, halt the approval of fossil fuel projects, and reverse the tide of environmental degradation.

In an ironic twist, a protest planned outside the White House was set to go ahead against a backdrop of wildfire smoke, underscoring the immediate and real consequences of inaction.

A chilling tweet from the Climate Defiance group pointed out, “In the capital city of the United States of America it is medically unsafe to inhale air.” This statement makes the reality of climate change impossible to ignore, as our majestic forests become ash and the air we breathe turns hazardous.

Public health advisories abound, and with over 75 million people across the Eastern U.S. and Ottawa, Canada under air quality alerts, the severity of the situation is undeniable. Various preventive measures were taken: outdoor activities at public schools were canceled in both New York and Washington, D.C., and New Jersey’s state offices closed early due to the smoke-induced poor visibility.

New York City’s Mayor, Eric Adams, made it clear that people should remain indoors until conditions improve, citing the air quality in the city as the worst since the 1960s. The health risks associated with wildfire smoke, such as heart and lung diseases and cognitive decline, are all too real and the environmental impacts of these climate-fueled wildfires are now evident in the East.

The Canadian wildfires, which are being stoked by record spring heat and an alarming rate of warming at higher latitudes, have turned into an ominous spectacle for both the U.S. and Canada. As the wildfires burn on, the air continues to darken, and the future seems uncertain.

Climate activists are using this crisis as a poignant reminder that political action is desperately needed to mitigate such extreme weather events. Echoing this sentiment, Jim Walsh, Food and Water Watch policy director tweeted a picture of the smoke-filled D.C. streetscape, stating, “The hazy sky over D.C. this morning, from climate change-charged wildfires in Canada, is just one more way the fossil fuel industry is killing us in their blind pursuit of profit.”

The need for change extends beyond the United States. Allie Rosenbluth, Oil Change International U.S. program co-manager, called out the Canadian government for its contribution to the climate crisis. She urged world leaders attending the Bonn Climate Change Conference in Germany to commit to phasing out fossil fuels. “The response must be to slash carbon pollution by phasing out fossil fuels. And fast.”

As we find ourselves in the thick of the climate crisis, one thing is clear: immediate action is needed to address this global emergency. The choking reality of the Eastern US should be the wake-up call we need to prioritize our planet’s health. Now, more than ever, the world needs its leaders to step up, take responsibility, and declare a climate emergency.