The Day the Sky Turned Orange

Oct 29, 2020
Sejal Choksi-Chugh
by Sejal Choksi-Chugh

We hold certain truths about nature to be self-evident: the sun rises in the east, gravity grounds us, tides ebb and flow, and the sky is blue. But leave it to 2020 to show us that even some of these truths can’t be relied on anymore. September's orange skies creeped me out—not in a scary Halloween way, but more like an anxious danger-is-coming way. My sense of impending doom was only partly calmed when our staff scientist explained how the marine layer was interacting with air pollution from the wildfires. 

This year’s air quality has been terrible around the Bay Area and across the western United States. The unbearably smoky air made pandemic isolation worse, removing outdoor gatherings as an option. Even more awful, the fires devastated homes and communities. And they polluted creeks and rivers with toxic sediment, poisoning our waters and harming wildlife.

We know what's behind these fires. It's not just forest mismanagement—or a lack of raking, like some have suggested. The planet is being pushed to its limits. The record fires, the hot, dry days, and the pollution were made worse by the destabilization of our climate. And what truly frightened me about that orange sky is that the planet’s breaking point is no longer a distant threat. It’s here now.

In addition to catastrophic fires, climate chaos is making the Bay warmer, creating ideal breeding conditions for harmful algal blooms. This marine growth is already taking over the Delta, posing a toxic threat to fish, pets, and even people.

And then there's sea level rise. Even cautious projections have the Bay rising at least three feet within our lifetime. That means that over 1,100 contaminated industrial sites along the shoreline could flood during a storm. Again, thanks to climate breakdown, storms are becoming more frequent and severe. When these sites flood, hazardous pollutants will spread into the Bay and adjoining communities where people live, work, and play.

(Have I depressed you? Please keep reading. There’s still hope!)

Take a clear example: EPA recently claimed that the South Bay’s salt ponds are land and do not deserve Clean Water Act protections. The EPA was doing the bidding of the multinational corporation Cargill, which wanted to build luxury condos there. The ponds are beneath flood levels, so future inundation caused by sea level rise would have been tragic for nearby communities.

But don't worry, Baykeeper fought back and won! So now, the ponds are protected. If government officials put policies in place to return the ponds to their historic wetlands state, the Bay and local communities will be better protected from sea level rise, and wildlife will have a new place to call home.

That’s why it matters very much who in our government makes these kinds of decisions, at the local, state, and federal levels. Common sense matters. Science matters. Facts matter. And our votes matter. 

The choices we make now will shape the future of our planet. If we want to correct the course we're on, the time is now—but we have to participate in the democratic process. There is so much at stake in next week's election. Early voting has already started, and plans are in place so we can safely vote in person on November 3. And when you vote, it makes a big difference for the Bay.  

Baykeeper is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so we don't endorse specific candidates. However, we can urge to you consider leaders who put science first, who are willing to invest in sensible Bay-wide planning efforts, and who recognize that orange skies aren’t normal—and are in fact indicative of a very real threat.  

If you’ve already voted—thank you!  And if you want to do even more, I encourage you to check out non-partisan groups like Climate Changemakers and Give Green, which offer other ways to take direct action to support candidates who are committed to protecting the planet, up and down the ballot and across the country.

Together, we can act to keep our skies blue.

Sejal Choksi-Chugh

Executive Director 

Join us to hold polluters accountable and defend the Bay DONATE NOW >