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Smog & Selfies

credit: AP

credit: AP

You might have seen the alarming images of Shanghai last week. Air pollution reached more than 30 times the normal level, covering the city in what looks like a dense fog. It was so bad that vehicles were ordered off the roads.

What struck me about this first picture was how the people seem to be going about their regular business, as though nothing is amiss. Some of them aren’t even wearing masks. This is what we are doing as a species: pretending everything is normal, in the face of our own self-destruction.

It made me wonder what it’s going to take for us to finally admit we have a problem?

My husband reminded me of the story about the frog in the pot on the stove. The temperature slowly rises and the frog becomes accustomed to the incremental heating, never jumping out of the pot. Ultimately the frog boils.

Perhaps that’s true. We become accustomed to the gradual erosion of the natural world. The acceptable baseline deteriorates ever further and we don’t even notice.

That may be so. But there’s also a profound disempowerment in these photos. A sense of resignation. Even if the people in the photos were frightened enough to want to do something about the situation, do they have any effective course of action? Instead, they head off to their cubicles like good little robots.

But this final image with the quintessential gesture of the day disturbed me the most. It seems we are so trapped in our human bubble of separation and narcissism that we can no longer manage an appropriate response to self-destruction.

credit: AP

credit: AP



  1. I Love this article you write and very much resonate, especially with the frog in the pot metaphor and people going on with business as usual as if nothing is amiss– all very poignant. It’s funny that people seemed numbed out to or ignorant of that we are destroying eco-systems and thereby, slowly ourselves. There was so much I was unaware of that now seems so simple and painfully obvious. Would you mind if I reblogged your article?

    • Thanks for the kind words, Erin. Please feel free to reblog this. I agree that it is sad how we live in a sort of trance. Our culture conspires to keep us numb and asleep. It’s the only way to keep the industrial growth machine going.

  2. I can’t actually reblog this wonderful. blog of yours– the option isn’t on your page.

  3. It feels this way whenever I hear of someone shooting up a school, office, or church. I’ve been boiling in the pot so long, it’s hard to continue to hurt for every loss. And yet, I do. And when I hear of an environmental accident (fish kill, oil spill, chemical spill, etc.) I suffer all over again. There’s something wrong here, that we live this way while public attention is focused on something safe and entertaining.

    • Yes. It’s like our culture conspires to keep us focused on the trivial because we can’t bear the pain of dealing with our reality.

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