Issue 76 • Week of July 2, 2023

For the second time in a month, smoke originating from Canada recently caused widespread health concerns that left several cities across North America with the worst air quality in the world. Check out Surmountable issue #16 for more about what you can do to prevent future wildfires.

The worst conditions have subsided for now. Their effects are still lingering, however, and will likely resurface this summer as wildfires are still raging. More of Canada has already burned than ever before and an area about the size of Maryland is engulfed in flames every year in the US. The extent of damage and pollution seen thus far in 2023 was not expected by experts until the 2030s or 2040s, meaning the problem will now get even worse than previous predictions. Some scientists refer to this new reality as the Pyrocene era and others are considering removing "wild" from wildfires because 84% are man-made.

Regardless of the name, wildfires eventually extinguish and therefore only contribute to about a quarter of air pollution nationwide. The rest can be just as deadly and mostly comes from energy generation, resource extraction, heavy industry, industrial agriculture, cooking and heating, or vehicle exhaust.

Burning fossil fuels leads to nearly 9 million annual deaths around the world and over 100,000 people die in the US from air pollution every year. More than 1 in 3 Americans live in places where the air still regularly has unhealthy levels of either ground-level ozone and/or fine particle pollution – otherwise known as smog and soot. And that is despite substantial progress since 1970 thanks to the Clear Air Act.

How can we further improve air quality?

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