“The air over Alaska’s largest city was looking all too much like Los Angeles on Saturday thanks to the Chinese,” Craig Medred pointed out to Alaska Dispatch readers over the weekend.
For those of us who spend a lot of time outdoors this situation raises a number of questions. Let’s think about this for a moment. We’re here in Alaska. Most of us have come here to get away from the problems we find elsewhere, such as rotten air and deadly water. We came to Alaska for its pristine wilderness.
And there is a lot of that here. A lot of areas where the marks of man’s intrusion are not easily seen. I don’t buy the myth that there is land in Alaska that man has never seen or touched. That’s just silly. But, there are certainly places where almost all traces of man are non-existent.
But now this. I am looking out my window right now in the Valley. Looking over the Talkeetna mountains and their snowcapped outlines are obscured by haze in the air. On Friday my wife asked me why it was so hazy and I ventured that it may have something to do with temperature differentiation and the humidity in the air by the mountains. Clearly I was wrong.
No, the pristine mountains are obscured by a foul Chinese cloud of filth.
Of course, this cloud of particulate that can’t be good for a body comes our way over an otherwise beautiful May weekend. The type of weekend that is ripe for getting outside for a bike ride or a run or even a late season ski up at Hatcher Pass. Normally, those of us who do this wouldn’t think twice about air quality. Well, in the Valley we do, but only when it’s windy and the dust is blowing.
So we’re out there running or biking or skiing, gulping in great lungfuls of air to keep the machine burning hot. And with each breath we are taking in pollution from 5,000 miles away. Pollution we had nothing to do with creating. Well, that is an arguable point from a macro level view, and a discussion for another time and place, but none of us Alaskans lit the coal fires whose emanations now cloud our skies. I guess we’d better start stocking up on particulate masks so we can all walk around, looking like Michael Jackson, trying to keep our lungs a bit clean.
What this really drives home for me is how we are, the whole world, connected and the choices I make in my life, though seemingly small, have a real effect on people I have never and will never meet. So when I choose to crank up the gas fireplace on a cold winter’s night and let it run until my room is a toasty 87 degrees, I am making a choice to degrade someone else’s quality of life by putting combustion by-products into the air, by requiring more and more tracks of pristine land be cleared for holes to be punched in the ground, and more and more tracks to be run through the heart of the woods to run pipelines to transport that gas.
I know that with progress comes a cost and I’m not saying that we should forego a nice warm house or a car drive to do our grocery shopping. What I am saying is that if everyone took just a moment to think about the impacts that their actions have half a world away and made the slightest effort to reduce that impact the effects would be staggering. Like that movie, Pay It Forward. One person, doing one thing that affects and influences someone else has an exponential positive result on the world.
Just once this week, try walking to run a quick errand. Try taking the bus to work. Try riding your bike instead of driving. Turn down your thermostat and shut off a light when you leave a room. The fight is a billion to one right now. But the Chinese aren’t anything if not hungry for the latest craze from the capitalistic west. Let’s work together to give them a craze that’ll give us back our clean air and beautiful views.
Read more from Phil B. on his blog, Multimodal Alaska Adventures.