The Sun Won’t Come Out Tomorrow

The Alameda County Air Quality Management District just sent me a text. “Air quality for much of the County is projected to be unhealthy to very unhealthy. Whenever possible stay indoors.”

What took them so long?

I went walking with a friend two mornings ago. Here is what 9:30 a.m. looked like.

Nearly three hours after sunrise.

The photo doesn’t show the sky as orange as it actually was because cell phone cameras auto-correct to gray. But the light level is accurate. We felt like we were walking at perpetual dawn; the sun never seemed to break over the horizon. When I returned home, I needed to turn on the lights to see my way around the house.

And the air quality that day was good.

(Aside: just one sunless day was so disturbing that all my fantasies of flying to Scandinavia in winter to see the northern lights went out the window. I’d go insane.)

Yesterday and today the air quality reached health alert levels, as Alameda County tardily acknowledged. The Fabulous Wife and I have confined ourselves indoors, but like any home, ours isn’t impermeable. She’s been coughing and just now took half an antihistamine in hopes of slowing her perpetually runny nose. I wake up at least once a night to go on epic sneezing fits, and last evening I coughed so hard from an irritated throat that The Fabulous Wife thought I was having an asthma attack.

The nearest air quality sensor is currently measuring 265 pieces of particulate matter of 2.5 microns or higher per whatever quantity of air it usually measures. (The number is revised every ten minutes.) Healthy air contains 50 bits or less of particulate matter that size. A score over 100 means that if you have respiratory problems you shouldn’t go outside very long. (At that level you can smell smoke.) A score over 150 means even perfectly healthy people shouldn’t go outside for long.

For the last two days we’ve been averaging a hundred particulates above that — and the sensor in our neighborhood has one of the lowest scores. A sensor half a mile east of us is coming in at over 300.

I apologize if this comes off as whiny. Our problems are nothing compared to those in danger of losing their homes and possibly lives to wildfire. And if this is the highest price we have to pay for climate change, we need to count our blessings.

But if you had any illusions about humankind adapting to the consequences of climate change, or about you somehow being insulated from those consequences, it’s best to dispel them now — because this is just the beginning.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.