“The sky is so blue here; you can see for miles!” marveled Resha’s guest, Ms. Hua, from atop the Blue Mounds State Park observation tower. “It’s not like this at home,” she lamented. Her sentiments reinforce a notion many of us have. “Even if we in the U.S. work to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions it won’t matter because of China’s pollution.” It’s a legitimate concern. Why should we act if they don’t?
China’s effort to pull its citizenry out of poverty toward a middle class standard of living requires energy. Coal, a major source of greenhouse gasses, provides about 70% of that energy. And as their economic fortunes rise, Chinese citizens’ use of cars and other energy-consuming conveniences increases. Without the environmental protections we enjoy, air pollution in some Chinese cities is 40 times the limit set by the World Health Org.
However, the financial costs of pollution haven’t gone unnoticed by the Chinese bean counters. According to a study by Peking’s school of Public Health, smog-related economic losses in four major cities totaled $1.08 billion in 2012. Poor air quality also negatively impacts China’s ability to attract foreign talent, tourists, and business investments. And the rising middle class is beginning to demand clean air. Economic wealth loses its luster if it can’t be enjoyed in a livable environment.
Consequently, China’s State Council has developed a ten-point plan to address air quality. Their country is now building more new wind generation than new coal and expects to reduce coal imports to zero by 2015. The Chinese are already building solar panels at ten times the U.S. rate.
So… what about China? Especially in this season of goodwill toward men (and women) perhaps we can imagine that Ms. Hua wishes to gaze up in her own country and say, “The sky is so blue here; you can see for miles!” Here in Iowa County you and I have little influence over Chinese policy decisions, but we can work to reduce our own carbon emissions. (U.S. per capita carbon emissions is still 3 times that of China.) And since when did Americans wait for other countries to act before doing what we know is right?
The atmosphere we share with Ms. Hua and all living things on Earth is the only one available. We have no choice but to keep it clean because we aren’t going anywhere. We are after all forever…Earthbound.