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Morning Spew

Now NYC’s Air Is Unbearable Too

Concrete jungle where lungs are made yuck.

9:42 AM EDT on June 7, 2023

Midtown Manhattan covered in wildfire smog, the MetLife building

(Tod Seelie / Hell Gate)

Crack a window or step outside your door today (I mean, don't, if you can avoid it), and you'll be taking in lungfuls of the some of the most polluted air in any major city in the world, the byproduct of 400 active wildfires in Canada. The sickly yellow-pink haze that rolled into the city this week has turned the sun a harsh neon red, when you can see it at all, and tinted everything else it touches in the colors of a late-2010s-dystopian-sci-fi movie. If you're too hubristic to cancel your outdoor plans or unlucky enough to have to spend too much time outside, the smoke settles in your chest cavity and clogs it up like so much gauze. 

(Tod Seelie / Hell Gate)
(Tod Seelie / Hell Gate)

The last time smoke from distant wildfires forced New Yorkers inside was July 2021. Then, like now, health officials advised that children, seniors, and anyone with pre-existing respiratory or heart conditions stay indoors as much as possible. But July 2021 was a time when we were all much more used to being cooped up and wearing masks, like the KN95s and N95s we should probably be wearing right now. There was just less to reschedule. 

This time around, Eric Adams has canceled outdoor activities at New York City public schools today and is urging New Yorkers to "limit outdoor activity to the greatest extent possible"; the WGAE canceled the day's NYC-area pickets scheduled for the ongoing writers strike; the nonprofit behind the New York City Marathon urged the city's jogging acolytes not to observe whatever "Global Running Day" is; things aren't looking good for the bar backyard event we planned to have tonight. Obviously, these are mostly just annoying schedule interruptions, not monumental sacrifices. But they add to the eerie, unreal quality that a day tinged with smoke from fires hundreds of miles away already has.

(Tod Seelie / Hell Gate)
(Tod Seelie / Hell Gate)

Eerier still is the likelihood that days like this are going to become a routine part of life in NYC (and beyond). An air pollution advisor to the U.S. State Department told Curbed that there's "solid evidence that wildfires are becoming more frequent, partially due to climate change causing these drought conditions that allow for more fuel to burn." 

Bad news for the Earth, and absolutely horrible news for our ongoing cultural combat with LA. At least we still have better public transit; more hot people; less virulent, toxic wellness culture; and more expansive late-night food options to hold over Angelenos' heads—climate change can't take those away from New York, no matter how many cigarettes' worth of air pollution it throws at us.

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