Updated: Jun 30
Every day, give or take some clouds, the sky is blue. It is one of the only aspects of nature seemingly predictable to humans. That once-true statement has turned to ash in recent years. On June 8th, New York and other regions of the East Coast were cast in an orange haze. The peculiar hue captivated attention around the globe and sparked a blaze of conversation that spread faster than wildfire.
The cause of wildfires is quite simple and their occurrence is actually a completely natural and vital component in the longevity of an ecosystem. Natural wildfire occurs during the summer months, sparked by thunderstorms’ lightning strikes. Although the orange skies appear as if the world is ablaze, experts have expressed less fear towards the orange atmosphere and more bewilderment towards the changing skies.
While wildfires may be a common aspect of nature, the current Canadian fires are quite unusual compared to trends in recent decades. The orange sky that New York City awoke to on June 7th was the product of over one-hundred fires in Canada, whose plumes of smoke and ashes drifted South. It is not unusual for Canada to experience wildfires but it is considered out of character for the country to face them—and to this extreme—so early into the year. Like many regions of the United States, Canada encounters wildfires in late summer to early fall. However, in the past decade, Canada has seen a startling increase in fires and drought—circumstances that in part can be attributed to rising temperatures and heatwaves.
Although there may not be a direct relationship between the ignition of the fires and rising temperatures, wildfires contribute to global warming, casting excessive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Inundated with stories of climate disaster, it feels as if there is an endless cycle: fires pollute the air, which warms the earth, which makes a more suitable climate for further fires, leaving us doomed. However, the conditions for this cycle to occur would have to be exceptionally more extreme than the current state of the climate. Nevertheless, scientists still express concern about an increase in fires as the planet warms, meaning we must adapt to restore relationships of stewardship and reciprocity with the land.
During the five days New York City was engulfed in smoke the world was offered a glimpse into an uncomfortable future, one virtually uninhabitable due to such respiratory concerns. New York City’s Statue of Liberty—a universal symbol of dreams and freedom—was shrouded in an unbroken veil of smog, capturing the eyes of the world, signaling to us that the climate crisis transcends borders, easily capable of crushing liberty. New York City also faced an economic stall due to the conditions. Summer tourism helps maintain the city’s economic stability, but many businesses struggled to operate in such conditions, exuding the message that there is no stable economy with no stable climate.
Many Californians expressed frustration with the disproportionate amount of media coverage the state faced under harsher conditions as opposed to the incredible attention New York received. Just three years ago, in the Fall of 2020, the Bay Area awoke to an orange sky as well. The difference, New York’s sky appeared the shade of a dusty peach while the Bay Area’s presented a saturated orange, comparable to the skies of planet Mars, yet all cameras were honed in on New York. This disparity led East and West Coasters to break out into heated online arguments, with West Coasters claiming that they hardly receive enough attention or concern for their frequent wildfires, feeling the East Coast was treated with more urgency.
Activists know that this kind of debate is beside the point; climate emergencies should not be treated as competition. The focus must be shifted from creating divisive climate discourse to working together to collectivize ourselves in the fight to battle the crisis. Such polarization between two coasts facing the same issue stalls vital progress, eats up invaluable time, and frankly reflects immaturity. Positive change is easier made as a collective body, standing together in unity; wildfires pose a menacing threat to everyone, regardless of how bright the sky is or how apocalyptic the outside world looks.
Whether the sky is a deep orange or slightly gray, it is best to check the air quality index. The color of the sky is not always the best indicator of how hazardous outside conditions are. It may be terrifying to glimpse out a window and see orange but it is best not to panic. Even if the fires are bearable now, the orange skies the world has faced over the past few years are enough reason to prevent further damage to the climate. To prevent wildfires, one should avoid using fireworks in hot and dry areas, be careful of chemicals in the heat, check wildfire threat levels, and overall remain mindful of habits and how they affect your surrounding environment. Around 85% of wildfires are byproducts of human activity, whether intentional or not, leaving much room for improvement. With efforts on individual and global scales, the world can avoid a burning fate and aim for different golden skies.
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Livingston, Ian. “Analysis | Why Canada’s Wildfires Are Extreme and Getting Worse, in 4 Charts.” The Washington Post, 16 June 2023, www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2023/06/12/canada-record-wildfire-season-statistics/.
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Wilson, Michael. “Orange Skies and Burning Eyes as Smoke Shrouds New York City.” The New York Times, 7 June 2023, www.nytimes.com/2023/06/07/nyregion/nyc-wildfire-smoke-scenes.html.