The dead future

Life in Sydney right now:

I can’t breathe. They say something like 100 bush and grass fires are raging across the state. The city I live in feels like a scene from Blade Runner 2049 come to life in 2019. There is no other way to see it: our dead future is here.

The mornings are smoky and grey. The afternoons distinctly eerie with the sun a shrunken disc that is by turns eggishly sick, bright pink, or burning orange in the seemingly permanent haze.

Seattle was like that for a couple of weeks in August 2018. We had, literally, the worst air in the world for a few days. It was forest fires rather than bush fires, but the result was much the same. It was nightmarish even without asthma.

My eyes water. My breathing is shallow. My throat trickles with foreign matter. On my back verandah, the washing machine and wooden shelves are covered in a gritty film of ash. I see what I am breathing in. Like tea leaves left in a cup predicting bad things.

Last week, I struggled so badly for air I had to leave work early and drive back home 10 minutes away. Yes, I am mildly asthmatic. Yes, I am vulnerable to air pollution. But this was different to anything I’ve experienced before.

Same here back then. It always gets grubby here in July and August, because there is little to no rain and often no wind, but smelling smoke outside for days on end was new.

This week temperatures are soaring again. Friends say the fires will burn for weeks, maybe months. It’s likely there will be no rain till the end of January. On social media, everybody keeps taking pictures of the sky and the sun. Someone writes a note: “How long before the birds start dropping from the sky?”

Pollution levels are rising to 22 times the accepted safety levels. Driving over the Bridge, the great cloud that occupies my city reminds me of past visits to Tehran and Beijing. I associate the pollution with something totalitarian I can’t put my finger on, a form of oppression manifest in nature.

Climate change is a very totalitarian thing.

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