Orange Skies Ahead: A Call To Action

The cloud of smoke that surrounded New York City on June 7 disrupted daily life and provided us with a strong warning.

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On Wednesday afternoon, June 7, 2023, Stuyvesant students crowded around windows and watched as the New York City skyline transformed into an apocalyptic orange. Smoke and haze from wildfires in Canada that had been drifting down the East Coast and displacing thousands near the destruction surrounded the entire city. The air quality in New York climbed to 484 out of 500 on the international air quality index, the worst in the world by far. Stuyvesant students leaving the building had to cover their faces with leftover pandemic face masks because breathing the Manhattan air for 24 hours was equivalent to smoking six cigarettes. Many events and extracurricular activities were canceled in response to the air quality, including Thursday’s Camp Stuy. The Department of Education soon released a statement announcing that Friday, June 9, would be a remote instruction day as air quality levels remained a major risk. 

The wildfires that caused this massive amount of smoke are the start to the worst Canadian wildfire season ever recorded. Already having burned 10.6 million acres, 15 times more than the annual average last decade, these far-reaching fires are stretching firefighting resources very thin. Many countries, like the United States, New Zealand, and Portugal, have already begun to send more support to Canada as the fires persist. These extreme fires are being fueled by the worsening climate crisis. As extreme heat, droughts, and global temperatures worsen, Canada’s forests are more susceptible to burning. The dead trees and plant life that have lost moisture serve as kindling for forest fires and make them uncontrollable. 

Though the aftermath of this disaster came directly to our doorstep, it is not the first climate change-related environmental crisis the world has seen. Just a few years ago, Australia was in the same position with their wildfires. Bangladesh and Pakistan have also faced deadly flood seasons due to increased rainfall, another consequence of climate change. The entire world has been facing worsening heat waves and droughts each summer, the most extreme in the Middle East, especially in Afghanistan; the Horn of Africa; and Central America. As the climate crisis increases the likelihood of extreme weather events and natural disasters, there has been story after story of hurricanes devastating land and economies. Many of the most affected countries emit the least amount of greenhouse gasses, yet they are still dealing with the economic impacts of colonialism, making the climate crisis intersectional with preexisting global inequalities. 

The future is bleak. The greenhouse gas emissions of the past century have caused irreversible damage to habitats and climate patterns. Rising temperatures have already melted a large amount of Arctic permafrost, which will continue to release carbon dioxide previously stored in the soil for many years ahead. Ice caps have been irreversibly diminished, and a great deal of land is now inhospitable due to desertification and wildfire damage. As we look to a future of more disasters, displacement and climate refugees will become commonplace. It is sadly becoming clearer that the poorest people will be, and already are, facing the worst effects of this crisis. Despite this, change can still be made. The climate crisis is a scalar issue. The more we put this crisis off, the worse our future looks. Though the United States and other countries are currently failing to meet many climate goals, like staying under 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, they are not impossible to achieve if we act now, and thankfully, there are many activists, leaders, and scientists pioneering the way forward.

In New York City, the climate activist community is incredibly vibrant. As the home to the United Nations’s headquarters, it is part of the massive international community fighting climate change through international cooperation. Moreover, the NYRenews coalition,which includes organizations like Sunrise and 350, just finished the state’s legislative session with many climate wins, including the Build Public Renewables Act and other parts of their amazing Climate Jobs and Justice Package. The Thursday following NYC’s orange sky, the coalition rallied for the HEAT Act outside Assemblymember Carl Heastie’s office right next to Stuyvesant. They’ve spent the past few years building a massive intergenerational and diverse group of New Yorkers and increasing their capacity for phone banking, lobbying, and holding rallies. On the less political side, activist groups like Third Act, Extinction Rebellion NYC, Climate Families, and Food and Water Watch have been holding protests of all kinds targeting what is known as “fossil finance” to call out Wall Street’s biggest funders of the climate crisis for their investment in oil and gas. 

Young people are the driving force behind so much of this momentum. Many NYC high schoolers, like myself, are a part of the climate movement through youth organizations like Fridays for Future NYC and Treeage. As the generation inheriting this planet, we know how crucial it is to hold our governments and society accountable for the climate crisis, and we are taking action by organizing massive climate strikes and lobby days. I implore everyone reading this to get involved. On platforms like Action Network and Instagram, all of the organizations I mentioned are posting about events happening every week. Even if activism is not your thing, political, scientific, and creative brains are needed in all parts of the climate movement. Wednesday’s orange sky is our wake-up call. We cannot give up or let nihilism and indifference dampen our voices—let’s fight this crisis together.