By Kermit Hovey

My son in Brooklyn (the New York City borough, not the Wisconsin village) reports campfire smells seeping into his closed-up apartment under a threatening, hazy orange sky. A librarian here in Middleton comments that difficulty breathing after a normally uneventful walk moved her to seek relief with an inhaler puff. This local climate advocate and regular bicyclist now often masks up before riding to prevent hoarseness and wheeziness.

Such personal experiences get confirmed and reinforced indirectly. Newspaper articles, air quality alerts displayed by our weather apps any number of times this year already, or TV and radio news reports all add to the evidence of adverse impacts from climate change. These incidents of wildfires and the far-ranging dangerously poor air quality they cause reveal one way climate hazards have become widespread and inescapable.

No longer can we deceive ourselves that the global threat of the climate crisis only impacts remote corners of the globe far enough away that we remain safe. Urban bastions of power and civilization, like New York City and Washington, DC, experience incongruous campfire smells, otherworldly orange haze, higher cases of respiratory distress, and increased hospitalizations.

Even in the Midwest, considered a safe refuge from some of the more direct impacts of climate change, we witness a degeneration of air quality to health-threatening levels. It is a stark reminder that, while we may be secure from “typical” climate crisis dangers such as rising sea levels, the wind-driven pollution from climate change–aggravated forest fires still finds us.

Of course, as with nearly every climate change impact, multiple factors contribute. For our increasing wildfire challenge, one can acknowledge decades of excessive fire-suppression policies, fire-careless humans, expanding wildland-urban interface, and more. Regardless, climate change aggravates and multiplies the magnitude of these factors: global warming–caused climate change contributes forest-drying extreme weather with droughts, elevated temperatures, and high winds.

The repercussions of these forest-fueled infernos stretch hundreds, even thousands, of miles away, releasing billowing tons of toxic particulates into the sky and ultimately into our lungs. Of course, this is only the noxious icing on the poison cake of pollution emissions from the leading cause of climate change — burning dirty fossil fuels.

The very air we breathe carries the climate crisis into our bodies, eyes, and view. We become viscerally aware of its increasing reality. We receive the seeds of future illness as inhaled microparticulates burrow into our bodies and organs. We don’t just see the smoggy-looking sky or eerily colorful sunsets. We see, smell, cough, and wheeze evidence of both consequences and causes of climate change.

The urgency of addressing climate change cannot be overstated. It is not a distant or abstract problem — it is real, and it is happening now. We have a responsibility to acknowledge the overwhelming role of fossil fuels in causing it and take action to mitigate its impacts. We can’t let fossil industry–funded denialist propaganda deceive us. We cannot hide from this problem, nor can we ignore it, hoping it will simply disappear on its own. It won’t.

However, amidst the seriousness of the situation, there is hope. As more and more people experience the harms of climate change firsthand, its undeniability becomes apparent. This firsthand experience should serve as a powerful motivator for action. The more we act, the more we can prevent even worse consequences from unfolding.

But action requires collective effort. It is essential to write or call our elected representatives, petitioning for serious action on the climate crisis. We must also engage in conversations with friends and family, particularly in districts represented by elected officials who have historically denied the problem.

We must invite and encourage friends and family to join us in calling and writing their officials as we contact our own. Together, we need to urge our government to take meaningful climate action. It is through these grassroots conversations and collective advocacy that we can foster change at a larger scale.

Furthermore, we should not limit ourselves to individual actions. We must support and engage with organizations and movements dedicated to climate justice. By amplifying their voices and contributing our time and resources, we can create a united front against the climate crisis.

Education and awareness also play a crucial role. We must educate ourselves and others about the science of climate change, its consequences, and the potential solutions. We can share accurate information about promising solutions to help dispel misunderstandings and misrepresentation. This can counter disinformation and ensure that climate action remains a top priority for society .

Climate consequences corner us, wherever we are. The mounting evidence of adverse impacts from climate change — whether increasing incidents of wildfires, poor air quality, or sea level rise — come from not just communities around the globe, but our own backyard. Fortunately, we still have the opportunity to make a difference.

We can face the climate crisis head-on, engage in conversations, take collective action, and support organizations dedicated to climate justice. Together, we can create a more sustainable and resilient future for ourselves and future generations.

If you want help, ideas, or resources for any of these directions, please explore organizations such as 350 Wisconsin, Citizens Climate Lobby, and Wisconsin Creation Care Ambassadors.

Kermit Hovey is a Climate StewardCitizens’ Climate LobbyistWisconsin Creation Care Climate Advocate, and Middleton Sustainability Committee Member.

An earlier version of this post appeared in the Middleton Times Tribune.