While Seattle’s Covered in Smoke, U.S. Ignores Climate Change on Global Stage

American representatives at Expo 2017 were silent on effects of carbon.

By Knute Berger


September 6, 2017

Summer in Seattle is ending with sky the color of Trump’s hair.

While we contemplate the effects powerful hurricanes like Harvey have had on Houston, we’re experiencing our own Pompeii days with smoke-filled skies and ash floating down like snowflakes. Fires throughout the Northwest, from British Columbia and Montana to Oregon and Central Washington have been fuming for weeks. We’ve been breathing in our forests.

It’s not like we haven’t been warned. We’re seeing weather that is very much like that predicted by climate change models. More moisture in the atmosphere means more rain and more powerful hurricanes. It also means drier fire conditions in the West.

I missed the total eclipse as I was across the world in Kazakhstan. But coming home, I have seen red suns, blood orange moons and eerie yellow-brown dawn light with a hint of tangerine.

I’m struck that we in Seattle are seeing more gloom, and perhaps more ash, than we did from Mt. St. Helens in 1980. Then, most of the volcanic ash blew over to Eastern Washington, though some flew around the globe. I remember after one of the smaller eruptions in the days following the main blast finding a light dusting of volcanic soil on the hood of my car one morning in Ballard. It was not unlike the light ash that’s settled there this week.

Another thought. In Kazakhstan, I attended Expo 2017, an environmental world fair, in Astana. Many of the nations represented focused their exhibits on the fair’s theme—“Future Energy”—and what they were doing to combat climate change. Others, such as Venezuela and Russia, emphasized their rich fossil fuel resources and how they would exploit them even more.

Still, the overall Expo message was that we needed to imagine and build a post-fossil fuel future, whether that includes solar, wind, biofuels, nuclear power or, as the Europeans are doing, building what they hope is the first functional fusion reactor in France.

But America’s exhibit dodged the whole subject, promoting the idea that the future of energy is the pluck of the American people without acknowledging climate change or the dangers of carbon.

They say that world’s fairs are fantasylands where countries share their propaganda, their hopes and hype. The U.S. seems locked into global warming denial. So, this Expo felt more real when it comes to the consequences of climate change than our country does. I came home with a stronger sense that we are the ones who are living in a fantasyland.

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