Climate change has been described as “a classic collective action problem in response to overexploitation of a global commons” — the commons, in this case, being the atmosphere’s capacity to buffer the huge amounts of carbon dioxide that human beings are sending into the sky. The world’s nations have struggled to agree on how to fairly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, coming up with agreements that don’t match the scale of the problem.
At the same time, climate change has often been framed as a global problem, one that can only be solved by global action. The charismatic mascot of climate change is the polar bear, an animal that the vast majority of residents of earth will never encounter. Individual people experience the effects of climate change within their local communities. “Climate and its changes might not only be observed in relation to landscape but also felt, sensed, apprehended emotionally, passing noticed and unnoticed as part of the fabric of everyday life in which acceptance, denial, resignation and action co-exist,” wrote geographers Catherine Brace and Hilary Geoghegan of the University of Exeter.
Anthropologists have begun to study how climate change weaves into the “fabric of everyday life” in different places. In Jinja, Uganda, a town experiencing environmental and economic decline, shifting weather patterns were seen as another sign that “everything is becoming worse.” A multinational set of students in Melbourne adopted a variety of strategies for staying cool in the city’s extreme heat. People living in smaller islands in Micronesia can draw on centuries-old links with larger islands to escape rising seas. In Guyana, local and expert knowledge clashed and hybridized in the creation of a protective mangrove forest, a climate variation on a international development pattern.
Here in California, in the wealthy tech-heavy region of the Bay, the fires offer a glimpse of an emerging form of disaster capitalism. Climate adaptation could look like a million individual products, each precisely targeted on social media to the intersection of a consumer culture and a catastrophe. As the environment weirds, people can reinterpret the problem as a personal, consumer one: “What do I need to survive the biosphere today?”
For the wildfire smoke, there’s the panoply of masks, from the Training Mask tapering down to simple paper masks, which don’t work, but make you feel like you’re doing something. There are air purifiers for clearing the particulate matter that leaks into the house. There is already a private network of air sensors run by the company Purple: “A proven air quality monitoring solution for home enthusiasts and air quality professionals alike.” Home enthusiasts.
There is evidence that CO2-enriched air reduces human cognitive functioning. So we have personal CO2 scrubbers that could be marketed to the entrepreneur looking to get an edge, or that student trying to ace the ACT.