A letter to the editor of the Eau Claire Leader Telegram:

I was alarmed this month when the National Weather Service issued air quality alerts several times for the Chippewa Valley. These are supposed to happen in big cities, not here.

I have flown hot air balloons in this area for more than 10 years, and the visibility used to be good for more than 30 miles. I haven’t had visibility that good for more than five years. Initially, it was more evident at 1,000 feet, where we usually fly, but now it seems to be hazy all the time.

According to a National Weather Service publication, “Certainly natural forms of haze do exist. But … the type of haze commonly seen over the eastern half of the United States during summer is not predominantly natural. It is in fact primarily a vast blanket of man-made pollution.” The problem is that it’s been such a gradual change that we don’t notice it.

I look forward to taking my grandchildren on a balloon flight someday, but I doubt they will ever witness the incredible views I once did. While this makes me sad, what concerns me more is what we are leaving for future generations. Our quality of life is already being affected by the constant haze in the air.

The Web site www.airnow.gov provides a map of the Air Quality Index for the U.S. An air quality alert is issued when a dome of high pressure sits over an area for an extended time and traps the pollutants we emit. It’s like having the ventilation fan quit working in your bathroom. As the number of alerts increases, so do respiratory problems.

How bad will it have to get before we do more to fix this? I don’t care whether you call it global warming or climate change, whether you’re worried about polar bears or peak oil, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat: We need to get going.
The phrase used in the 1970s was, “The solution to pollution is dilution.” That seemed logical then because the oceans and atmosphere seemed so vast, but we learned that you can’t just dump everything in the water. We’ve done a pretty good job of cleaning up our waters, but now we have managed to reach the turning point of how much pollution our atmosphere can hold.

The climate change issue is primarily concerned with CO2 emissions and global warming, but the haze and pollution we experience has the same cause and solution. The solution is to reduce our emissions and to use more clean energy.

We are smart people in the Chippewa Valley, and I think we know what needs to be done, but we say it’s either “inconvenient” or “the payback isn’t fast enough” or “I’m not going to do anything until everyone else does too.” The time for excuses is done; we need to step up.

I don’t think things will ever be the same as they were unless we start making some big changes. I don’t believe anything until I see it with my own eyes, but now I can’t deny that things are getting worse, even in our backyard. This has been “An Inconvenient Proof” for me.

Idso lives in Eau Claire.