Will we heed the smoke signals or let it burn?

“The choices we make today will determine how much temperatures increase this century, how long and damaging wildfire seasons become, and how prepared communities are for the growing risks of wildfires.”

That was the warning the Union of Concerned Scientists gave in 2013, when they reported temperatures in the Western United States were “increasing much faster” — about twice as fast — as the planet as a whole, said “climate change is driving up temperatures and increasing wildfire risk,” and predicted wildfires would continue to burn more land in Western U.S. states as warmer temperatures and less rainfall turned once majestic trees into tinder.

That same year, then-President Barack Obama said combating climate change was a top priority for his second term. Stymied by a Republican-controlled Congress unwilling to pass necessary changes, Obama started using his executive powers to help reduce our country’s contributions to climate change, putting strict restrictions on polluting power plants in an attempt to severely reduce climate change-causing emissions. The following year, he brokered a deal to cut emissions with Brazil, China, India and Mexico. In 2015, Obama signed a historic agreement known as the Paris Climate Agreement, which included the buy-in of nearly 200 countries around the world.

“Today, the American people can be proud — because this historic agreement is a tribute to American leadership,” Obama said the day he signed the Paris agreement. “Over the past seven years, we’ve transformed the United States into the global leader in fighting climate change. … Now, skeptics said these actions would kill jobs. Instead, we’ve seen the longest streak of private-sector job creation in our history. We’ve driven our economic output to all-time highs while driving our carbon pollution down to its lowest level in nearly two decades.”

Hope was high in 2015 that we could lick this thing. That perhaps our grandchildren wouldn’t have to live in a world where wildfires ravaged the world’s most beautiful wild places seven out of 12 months each year and where we wouldn’t have to question if we’d let a critical moment pass us by without even blinking.

Less than three years later, that hope is just a distant memory, as faded as this morning’s Portland skyline, which disappeared in a thick haze of sickening wildfire smoke for the sixth time in just two weeks.

Our current president and his administration, along with a Republican-controlled Congress and Senate, are working hard to undo those climate change gains in a bid to reward wealthy and powerful polluters.

In 2017, President Donald Trump, a man who tweeted in 2012 that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and has long been known as a climate science denier, withdrew the U.S. from that historic Paris Climate Agreement.

The U.S. — the world’s second-largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions — was the only country in the world not involved with the Paris agreement until this week, when Australia’s prime minister also gave in to conservative demands to ditch the climate accord.

We are living the effects of climate change right now. Yesterday, school districts in Camas-Washougal cancelled outdoor sports practices because district leaders felt it was too unsafe for the children to breathe the air. Let it sink in for a second. Our children can’t breathe outside. The air pollution levels were hovering just under the “very unhealthy” 200 threshold on Tuesday.

Do we accept this as our new, awful, normal? Or do we vote out the people who seem bent on destroying the world’s attempt to fight this global threat and start to get back to that 2015 era of hope?

It is up to all of us to come together and stop letting bullies like Trump and his band of science deniers let us — and the rest of the world — lose critical ground in the fight against this global threat. We can’t complain about smoke-filled air and wildfires and droughts unless we are willing to make changes in our personal lives and insist our leaders enact immediate, large-scale changes to drastically reduce emissions.

Want to learn more about climate change? Here are a few good resources to get you started: