In October, the Earth Observatory project posted a photo of the smog over China. The haze was thick enough to hide the land and water surface below. And it extended far to the south and east. The air is so bad in Beijing that the US Embassy measures and shares the air quality on a Twitter feed.
I wanted to share this image to give you an idea of how bad the situation is. The problem with pollution in China is not just Beijing. It stretches for hundreds of miles. China’s pollution problem is so bad it is changing our climate. When you hear about a product recall, such as pet food contaminated with steroids, or tea poisoned by diesel truck fumes, that is a side effect of China’s poor environmental regulations as well.
China is killing itself, for profit, for pride, for reasons that we may not understand today, but wrestled with in the past. The US created agencies like the EPA, and it has worked. A City like Los Angeles, our Beijing of the 1970s, is livable today. The irony is that in the 1970s the citizens of Beijing were riding Bicycles instead of driving cars, but as wealth came to China they started driving cars, and created a slow nightmare ever since.
China is killing itself, and its death will be the greatest disaster our globe has ever seen. The rich countries of my generation have created a western myth about civilization. One that starts in the Mesopotamia, extends to Italy and Europe, and culminates in American nuclear supremacy.
We have always known about the long tail of Chinese dynasty, but choose to ignore it. We cannot know how China’s civilization influenced the rest of the world, because we were not alive during those times. Think how bizarre things like a rotary phone, or a television without a remote seem to today. Now try to imagine what life was like a thousand years ago. You can’t. You have no reference to place your understanding. Everything, every artifact we find in the ground, is judged by how we live, eat, think, and even breathe today. We cannot know what the world smelled like then, how the absence of light affected the way people lived. We put that old world in a box defined by today. Someday, in the future, civilization will look and consider us uncivilized, ignorant fossil fuel burners. With luck, we will be that civilization.