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Washington’s smoky past isn’t reassuring

(Matt Pitman, KIRO Radio)

All last week I heard in the newsroom, “Cliff Mass said there were fires like this 100 years ago,” apparently in their effort to disprove climate change. Is this supposed to make us feel better? It shouldn’t.

“There used to be a large number of fires in the early part of the 20th Century and before that,” University of Washington Atmospheric Science professor Cliff Mass told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show on Tuesday. “People don’t realize that this used to be a very smoky place because we have forests all around us. There used to be fires all the time. So smoke is not unknown around here.”

I won’t go down the climate change rabbit hole because I’ve made up my mind and if I’m wrong, there’s really no downside for me, personally. Also, I’m 100 percent in favor of improved forest management and controlled burns, although do it when it’s cooler and rainy. Operative word being, “controlled.”

What bothers me is the implication that it’s somehow okay to suffer because this also happened 100 years ago. Do you know what life was like 100 years ago, besides smoky? Why would I want to trust anything that anyone did 100 years ago?

Here’s a brief snapshot:

Most men over the age of 14 were already working, according to the Atlantic, which used the 1920s census for its data. So kiss your high school glory days goodbye.

The good news was you were almost middle aged anyway. The life expectancy was about 36.

Or you were dead. The influenza epidemic killed roughly 50 million people, according to government archives. That was in the midst of World War I, which resulted in the death of another 16 million people.

It all seems so otherworldly and wretched, so here’s a dose of something you can comprehend. Sunscreen was still at least two decades away. Indoor plumbing was a luxury, especially if you lived in the rugged Northwest.

We shouldn’t let the fact that it was smoky like this 100 years ago be a reason for us to not do something now. We can – and should – act to make it so that this doesn’t become the “new normal.”

I’m sure some things were great 100 years go, to people reflecting what it was like 100 years before them, but mostly life was pretty tough compared to present day. And I’m okay sitting up here on my high horse and expecting clean air. We all should.

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