Sunny with a chance of dust: are we indifferent observers or instrumental participants in today’s weather systems

Photo: James Boardman

I don’t know much about the pollution that has engulfed the South-East of England recently, & I’d kind of like to proceed whilst habouring that ignorance. I know that it was on page 2 of the Saturday’s Guardian, & I’m thinking that it must be fairly serious, but what I’ve picked up on is the nonchalance & indifference that most of us seem to have towards it. I imagine the editorial team at the Guardian doing a bit of head scratching over what kind of exposure it warrants, and perhaps the esteemed role as a slightly more environmental newspaper pushed the story to the dizzy heights of page 2, taking an obvious backseat to election build-up news.

Having spent much of the weekend pondering if a mysterious and invisible smog was upon us, I felt the full force of the pollution on Monday evening, leaving the sunny, tranquil and slightly elevated meadows of Sussex campus on my bike down to the cold, fog deluged Brighton seafront. It had a different feel to it than ordinary sea mist (or ‘mizzle’), which, coming from Cornwall, I’m very familiar with. It was thicker but in a peculiarly less visible way – not imminently sight impairing but more like anything 30 metres away just wasn’t there, and it wasn’t moist but definitely chilling.

Now I’m sitting in the currently immense warmth of the hottest day of the year, just two days after. It’s only April, but I’ve got a light sweat on & should probably go back inside soon. Easter time in the UK seems to be increasingly stealing the summer’s splendour. Our seasons have basically shifted, the daffodils came up sooner than usual this year, mistaking late winter for mid-spring, and wilting sooner for it. Maybe it’s because we’re always ready to welcome in the good weather, but we don’t seem to be treating these changes with the kind of gravitas that they imply. Discussion of their peculiarity is in the realm of small talk, never poking at the larger questions. “My sinuses are playing hell”, “Probably some of that pollution going on”, “Yeah I heard about it, pretty weird” or “Weather like this is April!,” “I’m not complaining!“.

We’re aware that these changes are abnormal, but we seem to be irresolute observers in their interplay rather than instrumental participants. We know these phenomena are odd, but we don’t know enough about them considering their significance in our lives. I’m using my ignorance as testament to this, I don’t even know whether the pollution is man-induced – as far as I know it might be a very normal and natural event that I haven’t witnessed before.

I’m not trying to unearth some unknown truth, I think about everyone now is ready to admit that our climate is changing and humans are the cause of much extreme weather in recent memory, I’ve just been struck recently by the somewhat indifferent response we have to these assumedly momentous environmental shifts, myself included. My friend texted me about how disinterested we seem to be in the pollution, asking me if they thought it was a warning sign. My reply was that I’m not sure it’s a warning sign but whether this is just life now.


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