I woke to a city swaddled in thick fog. There’s nothing unusual about that, we’ve had lots of fog for four months now. But this morning I deliberately took big deep breaths—our fog is as harmless as water. It is water. So I drank it in, as it were.
Yesterday I was reading this Guardian item on the smog in Beijing, China. Thicker than Vancouver fog. So thick it’s actually slowing down plant photosynthesis! So thick scientists have compared it to a nuclear winter—that’s one hypothetical consequence of detonating multitudes of atomic bombs, so much dust and crap suspended in the atmosphere that it blocks sunlight for years.
In science fiction, the scenario has long been synonymous with the fall of human civilization. These days it’s just business as usual in large parts of China, where they have civilization to burn—apparently.
That’s what happens when a bazillion people trade in their eight-speed bicycles for BMWs, huh?
The smog of war
Fortunately, the ecosystem seems a lot tougher to screw up than scientist used to think.
During the first Gulf War in 1991, scientists predicted the nearly 700 burning oil wells set alight by retreating Iraqi military could cause global environmental damage comparable to nuclear winter.
At its worst, the smoke absorbed an estimated 75 percent of sunlight, meaning it was pitch black at noon and the temperatures did drop 4 to 6 °C over the Persian Gulf. But the effects were local and short-lived. The smoke never rose high enough into the upper atmosphere to provoke the long-term damage to weather patterns and agriculture which scientists had warned of.