Saturday, May 28, 2011

You read it here first (or, overcoming climate change avoidance)

I was glad to see that both Climate Progress and Grist are finally drawing attention to the fact that cancer is now the leading cause of death in China.  Perhaps now people will start paying attention to the health consequences of pollution.

I've been pretty flummoxed lately by the abundant attention being given by the press to asthma and respiratory disorders as sequelae of air pollution. Yes, asthma is a problem—it kills eleven people each day in the U.S.—but at least it is treatable and usually controllable, unlike the cancer, birth defects, and neurological diseases arising from toxic pollutants in China (and undoubtedly elsewhere). With all the talk about saving the planet "for our children/grandchildren" and the perils (such as mass migrations and wars over water) that “may” face us “this century” “if we don’t act soon,” I've begun to think that even those of us concerned about the environment have protective mechanisms we're unaware of: without being climate change deniers, we can be climate change
avoiders, preferring to think about the distant impacts of our (in)action rather than the very clear and present dangers we face now, and, indeed, have been facing for decades.

In any case, the Grist article provides more background than my post on the topic
. Though it does hint that the West bears some culpability for the problem (wanting to buy cheap goods made in China), it doesn't go as far as I did (namely, suggesting that our manufacturing plants in Asia are likely polluting the rivers just as much as any other plants there).


  1. I feel guilty now, driving 4 hours today, and adding to the world's pollution...

  2. One of the sickest I've ever been in my life was when I was living in Changsha, in the Hunan province. I'd just finished traveling around the tourist spots: Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, and developed a severe respiratory infection. It was one of those "I'll never be able to breathe deeply again" kind of illnesses that was even scarier because I could barely communicate with anyone, much less a doctor.

    Eventually, I took some combination of horse pills that cured me in a couple days, but the cause never went away. Day looked like night most of the time because of all the coal pollution. Everything was grey, in a Soviet, Armaggedon kind of way, and I didn't understand why people hung their clothes outside to dry - they'd just need to be washed again from the airdry.

    Truly, it was horrendous, the air quality.

  3. Anonymous, yes, it's rather ironic that none of us in the US could ever even _see_ some great parks or historic sites without driving (or even flying, which is much worse from an emissions perspective). Since I, too, happened to take a day-trip that weekend, I share the qualms, but then, I take great pains in my everyday life to have a positive impact on my environment. I can only hope the balance tips in the right direction.

    Kellie, your anecdote is apropos of a recent flurry of reports (after this post went up) that decrements in air quality here in the US are already being paralleled by a sharp rise in respiratory illnesses. Your description reminds me of those I've read of early 20th century Pittsburgh, when the gas lamps had to be kept lit during the day so that people could see their way along the sidewalks. That's horrific to me, and I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to prevent that from happening again.