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Photo Essays

The Big Smoke

‘A regular thing?’ Scenes from Vancouver, where air quality has been declared among the world’s worst.

Joshua Berson 14 Sep

Joshua Berson is a Vancouver-based photographer who partners with a range of clients who share values of social justice, equality and diversity. These include progressive political parties, unions, women’s groups, environmental organizations, and international and community-based non-profits.

“Is this going to be a regular thing?” a woman asked me Sunday while I was taking photos of False Creek from the edge of the Cambie Street Bridge. She is originally from Manila and told me that the pollution was sometimes so bad in that city that they wouldn’t see the sun for weeks.

In Vancouver, we have been spoiled and have managed to fortunately avoid some of the worst ravages of climate change. We are learning (slowly and repeatedly) that human-caused environmental damage impacts all of us, irrespective of country of origin.

The brown shroud cloaking the city, like the invisible coronavirus also in some of our air, has forced us to rethink our day-to-day lives. Again, events are being cancelled and streets are eerily empty. Some people are wearing masks more for the smoke than COVID-19.

This morning when I was out taking photos, I realized that I needed more than a basic mask to defend against the smoke. After an hour or two, my eyes were burning and irritated, my throat was sore and raspy and I could taste the fire in my mouth.

It felt I had just smoked a pack of Camels — or what I imagine that feels like.

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Vancouver city hall (top) and Granville Street (bottom), taken Sept. 13, 2020. Smoke from wildfires in Washington and Oregon have blanketed much of southern BC. Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley have been under an air quality alert for nearly a week. Photographs by Joshua Berson.
False Creek looking northwest from the Cambie Bridge. Wildfire smoke can harm the health of unborn children, as well as anyone with an existing respiratory illness or other chronic medical conditions, says a page on the Metro Vancouver website. ‘Young children and the elderly are also more vulnerable.’ Photograph by Joshua Berson.
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Science World (top), smoke-screened by too-real evidence that human-caused emissions are changing the planet’s climate. A couple crosses the Cambie Bridge (bottom). ‘I could taste the fire in my mouth,’ says the photographer. Photographs by Joshua Berson.
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