“On the afternoon the boys and I arrived the town and the Rogue Valley where it sits were surrounded by nine separate wildfires. The next day, Ashland registered the worst air quality in the United States: 321 on the Air Quality Index. The AQI scale is colour-coded – green-yellow-orange-red-purple-maroon – to denote health risk, and we were well into maroon, or ‘hazardous’. Outside, the air was totally still and the temperature had hit 100°F. It looked like dusk in the middle of the day. Inside, the boys’ upstairs room was like a furnace, but we couldn’t open the skylights for fear of letting the smoke in. We rushed out to buy an air-conditioning unit. At the hardware store down the road, we got the last child-size smoke masks on the shelves, the ones rated N95 for the particulate matter the internet said we really needed to keep out of their lungs. Prepping for the unknown, we ordered a dozen more masks from China on Amazon.”
Writer McKenzie Funk, who grew up in Eugene, weaves his personal experience of the wildfire smoke in Ashland this past summer together with his review of four books on climate change in a piece published in the London Review of Books Feb. 7. “Smoked Out” tells the story of Funk and his family’s move to Ashland last year and the health effects the smoke had on his child, forcing him to take his children away until the air quality improved.
“We were climate refugees, I joked, escaping to higher elevations and latitudes in search of a more hospitable environment. The six-year-old asked me what ‘refugee’ meant, and I had to explain, but told him I didn’t really mean it. All we could honestly claim was a new-found feeling of dislocation, of being stuck between lives.”
Funk intertwines his own lived experience with the tales and science the books delve into, making the review as much an article on climate change as it is a review of pieces on the topic. He points out that rather than engage the fallacy that climate change is somehow debatable, all the books “… simply take for granted that temperatures will rise and that the world as we know it will soon be fundamentally altered.”
Funk reviews: Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future by Edward Struzik, Island Press; Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change by Ashley Dawson, Verso; Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault by Cary Fowler, Prospecta; and Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security by Todd Miller, City Lights.
Read the full review here.