It’s an interesting day at Third Act—because we’re scattered across the country, we’ve got staff and volunteers waking up on the east coast to some of the dirtiest air recorded in decades as smoke pours down the jet stream from Canada’s record wildfires. And we’ve got lots of people on the west coast too, who can sympathize only too well because they’ve spent many of the past summers dealing with this kind of eerie haze.

Photo Credit: Mike Lewelling, National Park Service

Here in Vermont the sun is dull orange viewed through the shroud of smoke, and it smells like a campfire; I’ve heard from friends in New York and DC describing emergency rooms filling up with asthmatic kids who can’t breathe. It’s truly terrible, but in one limited way it’s also a gift:  there’s more economic and political power concentrated in the northeast U.S. than perhaps any place on earth.

And today those power centers are experiencing what a huge percentage of the world experiences every day.  We know that one death in five on this earth comes from people breathing the combustion byproducts of fossil fuel; that tightness in your lungs is daily life in Delhi and Lahore and a thousand Chinese cities whose names we barely recognize.

So—a few things for today

1)    Take care of yourself, and your grandkids. Old lungs and young lungs have the very hardest time with this kind of smoke; the same mask that guards against covid may be a help scrubbing out some of the particulates in the air.

2)    Remember what it feels like, so that you’ll have even more empathy for the people in the rest of the world going forward

3)    Double down in the fight against the burning of fossil fuels. It’s a good day to stay inside and write once again to, say, the CEO of Citibank (, her chief of staff (, and maybe the Chief Sustainability Officer ( for good measure. They are breathing this air too, and it might be a moment for connection. Just say “it’s time to stop funding the expansion of fossil fuel. So that we can all breathe a sigh of relief.”

Oh, and while you’re writing, here’s a little something from the Platters to keep you company

Written by Bill McKibben


About the Author:

Bill McKibben is a founder of Third Act, which organizes people over the age of 60 to work on climate and racial justice. He founded the first global grassroots climate campaign,, and serves as the Schumann Distinguished Professor in Residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. In 2014 he was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel,’ in the Swedish Parliament. He’s also won the Gandhi Peace Award, and honorary degrees from 19 colleges and universities. He has written over a dozen books about the environment, including his first, The End of Nature, published in 1989, and the forthcoming The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at his Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened.