Back in April 1995 on a glorious deep sky blue day in early spring, I looked out my apartment window in the Capitol Hill District of downtown Seattle at the iconic Space Needle and the ivory cast snow caps of the Olympics. Tendril-ling around the twin peaks known as The Brothers was a talcum powder index and thumb-like whiff of cloud clutching the rocks and glaciers. Its grasp emanated out of the horizon west of the Olympics from a flattened stratus of diatomaceous white smoke coming in from the Pacific. The alien cloud caught the attention of many and that night the weather anchor on King 5 News reported it as industrial pollution, blown in all the way from China. Every April for 13 in a row, when winds kick up from the Gobi Desert across the industrial smog belt of Manchuria, there was something man made and foul tinting the precious delicate sunshine we Seattleites yearn for after long overcast and gloomy winters and the “Made-in-China” import got worse each year.
The mid-1990s were significant also for the return of something familiar to a Los Angeles native like me. Ten years after moving to the Seattle area I noticed the telltale copper stains of industrial pollution marking the water vapor haze and pastel clouds like tar on a smoker’s bee bee dees.
Yep, you Angelinos know what I am talking about: smoggy brush strokes floating on inversion layers in the atmosphere. The mid-1990s was the time Seattle skies started to look like LA and the days when I could suck in a deep breath of air even in downtown Emerald City land were numbered. I since moved to the islands north of Seattle in 2001 where ocean breezes keep the US pollution away, but not the other.
Last April I was up in the air with ladders on Sunlight Beach, painting a 5,000 square foot mansion. With Herons and Osprey Sea Hawks all a hover — and part time patootie critics of my house painting. Guano dodging or not, there is nothing like beautifying a lovely house, surrounded by wide beaches and Puget Sound bird life. Cascade crags to your back, Olympics pinnacles and glaciers to your front with the happy ceeerruup ceerruup-ing of Osprey fledges catching a thermal to circle with mom and dad over the tidal shallows of Useless Bay, dive bombing fish for dinner.
Late afternoon turned bronze but not with a natural haze. I pointed out to my painting partner, James, the neat rows of thin waffling lines of haze, fanning out of the northwest. The blue smoke exhaust with silver sheen upon orange clouds better suited a late afternoon on the planet Mars.
“See those clouds, James?”
He looked out from under the third story eave, taking a moment’s break from paint strokes disparaged by an air fandango of pissed off wasps. “Yeah! Must be a forest fire.”
“No. That’s industrial pollution coming all the way from Manchuria.”
When the Seattle Monsoon bruise plumb purples the dour cloudy skies no more and April heavens of blue steal a few hours through cloud holes, they do so without a whiff of Manchurian taint this April 2009. When May sunlight ceased being liquid and blue skies at last wrenched hold of their preciously short time to shine from gray Northwestern rains, the puffy jockey short clouds hung out to fly in a burning blue did not betray the stain of homegrown smog. The inversion layer along the Cascade foothills looked un-Los Angelean. The haze has angel wings of water vapor, like it did before the mid-1990s. Since April, I have been living in a climate time warp up here. The colder winter and clear blue spring remind me of what Western Washington State looked like when I first moved up here 23 years ago.
I started to think that carbon emitted climate change perhaps is slowing down, because the crap we are putting in the atmosphere has tapered down because of the economic downturn. Those smokestacks in Manchuria are not pumping as much CO2 fog on Gobi Desert blown offshore winds my way. The facts bear this out, albeit temporarily, unless we get more green responsible with pollutants once this Super-Recession ends.
I recall a report in April saying that Recession has cut Chinese heavy industry production of smoke stack emissions by 17 percent. Energy researchers concur that China’s drop in coal fired power generation has dropped their carbon emissions in 2008 into 09 to levels not seen since the Chinese economic boom began in the 1990s.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports Carbon dioxide from U.S. power plants fell 3% from 2007 to 2008 in the biggest drop since 1995-1996. What I am seeing in Pacific Northwestern skies may be parallel to what you in 27 European nations may have noticed, a 6% decrease in of industrial emissions in 2008, just reported by the Point Carbon’s analysis of data published by the European Commission. It is not surprising that we had cooler weather in the northern hemisphere this winter into spring. It is where most of the industrial pollution comes from on the planet. Less heat trapping gases belched have cooled the climate slightly. The climate scientists will not conclude this until they have the hard data, but a rogue prophecy scholar can predict they will concur by this time next year.
Nature rebounds faster than even ecologists imagine. I have seen this first hand in Eastern Oregon in the mid-1980s when the commune city called Rajneeshpuram took ecological theory into practice and within a few years transformed and overgrazed acreage and devastated watershed into a luscious oasis. I am witness to how the community’s riparian work to restore and replant the rivers helped the local ecology make a remarkably speedy recovery. From 1982 to 1985, the plants, animal and water life around Rajneeshpuram dramatically rebounded.
The current Recession is giving Mother Nature a chance at restoration. We too have a chance to help her. There are as many prophecies that mark a different destiny trail than that of ecological disaster. We need only employ wiser gardening of the earth when the Recession ends.
(25 May 2009)
PS–One caveat though. It has been my contention that snowy winters can be a sign of global warming. In Predictions for 2009 I wrote a chapter entitled Earth Changes We Can Believe In that explains how the 2008-09 colder winter in the northern hemisphere is a sign of a global warming spike coming in 2010 through 2012.