"Where there's smoke, there's fire" is a handy guide for recognizing when fires are happening, but turns out to be much less useful for pegging where they are happening. Because sometimes the smoke can be very, very far away from the fire.
It's just one example of how the effects of rising temperatures will be felt all over the planet.
On Tuesday, for example, the entire Northeastern U.S. was awash in smoke from wildfires happening hundreds of miles to the north in Quebec. The Air Quality Index for New York City, 370 miles south of Montreal, was 164 on a scale of 0-500 as of this writing, well into "unhealthy" territory, according to the U.S. government's AirNow service.
Smoke from what will probably be the busiest Canadian wildfire season ever, with hundreds of blazes from Alberta in the west to Nova Scotia in the east, has been harming air quality across the U.S. for weeks. More than 8.2 million acres have already burned, or 13 times more than usual for this time of year, according to Bloomberg News. And the season still has months to run.
Not long ago, Canada was seen by some as a potential winner from global warming, with vast stretches of frozen tundra thawing into fertile farmland. Now it's on fire, a consequence of a multiyear drought. Climate change is making Canada hotter and drier, raising the risk of such blazes. Cranking up the heat in a system as complex as a planetary climate has complex effects, it turns out.
And the notion that some people can be sheltered indefinitely from those effects is just as silly. If the smoky conditions persist, Canadians could face of the sort of long-term health impacts that followed the 2019-2020 Australian wildfires, which left small children struggling to breathe years later. Droughts not only make wildfires more likely, they also make trees weaker and less able to absorb carbon, according to a French study published Monday, potentially intensifying future warming of the whole planet.
Wealthier people and nations might be able to build fireproof houses and walls to fend off rising oceans. They can even wear Bane-mask-like Dyson Zones to filter air and noise. But ignoring the universal effects of a hotter planet, from shrinking biodiversity to resource wars to refugee crises and more, is much more difficult.
Polls suggest most Americans no longer need convincing of the reality of climate change or the urgency of doing something to get it under control. But for the vocal minority that still does, the evidence is now in the very air we breathe. If the Biden administration wanted to remind voters of the importance of the climate measures in the Inflation Reduction Act, or if activists wanted to make a case for more aggressive action at the U.N. climate conference this fall, they may have a hazy, miserable summer to help make their case.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. Mark Gongloff is a Bloomberg Opinion editor and columnist covering climate change. A former managing editor of Fortune.com, he ran the HuffPost's business and technology coverage and was a reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal.