What Would You Trade?

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San Francisco in the great smoke of 2020 (Image: Christopher Michel on Flickr)

I live a few hundred yards from Puget Sound, so of course I experienced the sweltering three-day “heat dome” last June, and more recently, two days of smoke.  Not to mention the two straight weeks of horrible smoke last year, which was generated by forest fires north and east of us. 

These weather events stopped my little life in its tracks.  I have had to sort of go on pause and wait it out as best I could.  When smoke is in the air, I have near-constant headaches, and my lungs hurt. In the heat dome,  headachy and sapped of all energy, I spent much of the three days sitting motionless in a chair in the shade or in a corner.  I have no air conditioning. 

It was too hot to sit in the room with the TV, even at ten at night. Two days in a row, at mid-day, I wandered vaguely down through the wooded ravine of Carkeek Park near my house to find an extra-low tide at Sound’s edge and I slouched lazily southward with my feet in the unusually warm water.  It might have been pleasant had the air not been so oppressive.  I felt weighted down, moving my slow body in the pitiless sun. 

Most of us who worry about these things are now aware of the U.N.’s latest climate report and its disconcerting conclusion that if we were to give up emitting all greenhouse gasses immediately we would still not begin to see any improvement in our climate for thirty years. In other words, the smoke and the heat domes will be back for the rest of my life.

Henry Fountain, a New York Times climate reporter, laid it out in a useful metaphor: we are on a great ship headed toward a catastrophic crash. If we start changing course NOW, the ship will be out of danger from that crash in 30 years.  The ship is big, you see, and even with the rudder pushed all the way to starboard, it will take that long to complete the change in direction.  Anything less, any deviation, and the catastrophe will occur.

And so I began to ask myself, just as an individual “thought experiment,”  what would I be willing to give up in order NOT to experience another heat dome?  Let’s forget that pesky problem of having to put up with them for 30 more years for a moment.  I want just to think about what  I personally might be  willing trade away in a one-for-one exchange, if such a thing could be had. 

Would I trade airplane travel –never again flying to Boston to see my beloved brother (which I did at the end of July)? If I want to see him, I’ll have to find an all-electric vehicle of some kind to take me across the country.  No more quick trips.  And no more vacations flying to South America with either of my daughters. None.

Would I trade No More Visits To My Brother & No More Vacations in Far Off Lands for No More Heat Domes?

It’s actually a tough call.  After all, I’ve almost forgotten what that heat dome felt like, and my lungs (almost) don’t hurt any more from the recent smoke.  These odd bits of weather were uncomfortable, yes, but never fly to visit my brother?  Would I make that trade?  Or to put it in the reverse, would I accept the heat dome and its paralyzing, suffocating three days as the price of the visit?

Maybe. But maybe not.  

Okay, I’ll throw in eradicating all the smoke along with the heat domes. Here it is then: would I trade all my air travel for no more heat domes in the Northwest and no more forest fire smoke? 

Unfortunately, the UN’s report is shimmering through my thought experiment, shattering it.  The reality is that I must trade away all my air travel and everyone else’s –- at least as long as we use carbon-based jet fuel —  but I, as a 64-year-old, will personally never see any benefit. Whatever we do, I’m stuck with the heat domes and the smoke for the rest of my life. Like the terminator:  they’ll be back. 

But yes. Okay. Yes. I’m in. My thought-experiment is over. I’ll do it. I’ll take the deal. I’ll trade flying about the world for no more Heat Domes and no more Forest Fire Smoke in thirty years.  I will take no more trips by airplane. 

That is, I won’t if you won’t.  Are you in?

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Wendy Ellison is a free-lance writer and a semi-retired writing teacher. In her latter capacity, she has specialized in expository prose, particularly the personal essay and the memoir. She is the author of Ronnie Wood’s Smile (and where it led) in which she chronicles her own descent into near madness as a fan of the Rolling Stones.

4 COMMENTS

  1. “Is damning the coming generations to short lives of misery and torment hitherto unheard of for the sake my personal everyday comforts worth it?” Americans: “fuck yes!”

    Personally, I’m hoping for a humane and peaceful mass extinction event. If we could all agree to stop reproducing, our species will end without as much suffering. But what fun would that be?

    Best of luck to the sentient form of intelligent life on Earth that may happen to evolve next. I’m rooting for you, raccoons & octopus!

  2. Oh, poor thing. No more jet-setting is such a major sacrifice. And that’s it? You think that’s enough? You are definitely part of the problem.

  3. Thanks for this article. Small things to do in my life is practical to preserve the environment. I will try to protect common house for all human.

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