Hey Uprooters, this is Adam Mahoney, the new environment reporter at Capital B News, coming to you from gloomy Los Angeles. (Yes, it gets gloomy in LA.)
While I appreciate gray skies and experiencing the fullness of the weather spectrum – especially as tens of millions of Americans are under extreme heat warnings – in the small corner of the city I call home, the dullness dramatizes the area's landscapes. I live about one mile away from a 400-acre oil refinery. Its smoke plumes have been the backdrop to many of my life's most memorable events.
I spent the last five or so years trying to distance myself from that reality, rooting myself 2,000 miles away in Chicago, but in March, I decided to move back home. This spring, when I touched down in Wilmington, my neighborhood in LA, I was awakened to a reality that I had never noticed before. When it's gloomy here, the smoke plumes seem astronomically more visible and vigorous. I'm not quite sure why it's the case, and honestly, maybe it's a figment of my imagination, but I've witnessed it gloomy day after gloomy day.
I don't have anything profound to add to my new observation, but it has left me thinking deeply about the inseparable relationship between weather and fossil fuel infrastructure and how that impacts frontline communities.
How is extreme heat impacting refining operations, especially workers? With President Joe Biden calling for an increase in U.S. oil production, how are frontline communities in the Gulf preparing for the reality of excess pollution because of this year's tropical storms? Will the next multi-state winter storm lead to the permanent capping of some oil infrastructure through the Southwest and Gulf?
And most importantly in my life, my recent observations have reiterated the importance of oral history and how we remember the world around us. How have other community members and I normalized fossil fuel's stronghold on our lives? How do our environmental and social traumas impact our ability to remember?
Environmental journalists must wrestle with these kinds of questions within our work. As we investigate this crisis from a climate science-focused lens, we need to balance the realities of today, centering the minute questions that people are thinking through every day. As shown to me repeatedly on this beat, the answers and solutions we're searching for are held by those most impacted.
In the meantime, I hope it heats up here soon, and the grayness burns off. And hopefully, that heat isn't accompanied by an extreme heat warning, too.