On Sunday, I kept myself awake on a long flight from Paris by watching four movies with disturbing themes, from rogue FBI agents and crooked arms dealers to cynical campaign gurus and a freaky 1940s carnival. The most disturbing sight, though, came into view when I shut off the last film and raised the window shade.

Peering from 20,000 feet, I could make out the turns of the Columbia River as it meandered down from Canada. Then the long sprawl of Lake Chelan came into sight. A layer of haze shrouded the entire landscape. And, when the big jet traversed the Cascades, every mountain valley was choked with thick clouds of smoke. Mount Rainier barely rose above the wildfire residue, the peak’s highest thousand feet glowing in the unsettling red of the setting sun.

Fire season came late to Washington this year, which makes folks here luckier than people in much of the West, where dry forests have been burning like kindling for much of the summer. But September has brought a smokey reminder that our failure to face up to human-caused climate change is having startling consequences, even in this blessed corner of the country.

August and September used to be the glorious months around here, with dependably blue skies above a gorgeously alluring landscape. Sadly, the perfect months will be stolen from us more and more often. Instead of spending days outdoors, we will frequently be forced inside to avoid air that is dangerous to our health. Even Smokey Bear cannot save us. 

This year, I unintentionally avoided the smoke by flying to France, but Europe had already endured an August of sweltering, record-breaking heat. There really is no escape from what is coming our way on this planet; there is only the looming challenge of doing all that we can to mitigate a global crisis that too many of us refused to recognize until it became as obvious as smoke in our eyes. 

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