Ever wonder what life in the United States would be like without a
That the air in Beijing is badly polluted is not exactly a new development, but this is: Now, it's gotten so bad that the complaints are showing up in state-run media where the crisis is not only recognized but the need to be open and honest about it is, too.
Photographs coming out of the Chinese capital tell the story — air pollution so thick and toxic that it looks like a bad science fiction movie with some kind of zombies or monsters the only missing element. Last Saturday,
Going outside has required wearing a surgical mask. The number of people going into the Peking University People's Hospital emergency room suffering a
What accounts for this deadly smog? The same sorts of sources of pollution that can plague areas of the U.S.: coal-burning power plants, vehicle emissions and manufacturing. The problem for Beijing is made worse by its geographic circumstances and weather that trapped the pollution around the city for days.
Not so this time around. In recent days, several state-run newspapers and websites have been reporting much more candidly on the pollution and the health problems associated with it. In an editorial, the Global Times warned that the development trends can't continue and that the government should publish "truthful environmental data to the public."
That call for transparency is a welcome development with significant ramifications. The Chinese policies aren't just harming the country's own citizens. The rise of Chinese coal-powered plants has been a prime source of additional greenhouse gases and has contributed mightily to global warming that poses a threat to all.
Yet even in the U.S., the EPA has faced considerable opposition over the regulatory agency's efforts to curb the pollution spewing out of coal-fired power plants. Last summer, a federal appeals court tossed out the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that protected downwind states from such pollution when it blows in from elsewhere. That was particularly bad news for Maryland where a significant portion of pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide come from coal-fired Midwestern power plants.
Perhaps the GOP ought to make a pilgrimage to Beijing and see if the economic boon experienced in China is worth the price its citizens are paying — and will continue to pay for years to come. Such "job creation" hardly seems a bargain when it's offset by sickness, disease and death. And make no mistake, that's what China's perennial state of "orange alerts" represents.
Whether Beijing has truly learned its lesson because of one particularly bad weekend of smog remains to be seen, of course. But when pollution gets bad enough, even the most totalitarian states are forced to acknowledge that something is wrong. Here or there, public opinion matters — as does the opportunity to breathe.