The US cops a lot of flack for the sorry state of the world’s climate, but the Chinese ain’t far behind in terms of responsibility. One of them is embracing a cleaner future, and it may not be the one you think.
Before coming to the UAE I did four years teaching in the Taiwanese incarnation of the Gulag, after-school torture-chambers known as Anchinbans. In these sorry excuses for educational institutions, rows of little kids churn out reams of homework like prisoners breaking rocks and suffer, like inmates, a debilitating drain upon their spirits.
It was quit or suicide, so I chose to move on. The kids don’t have that option, and the statistics reflect that.
If the learning environment was toxic, the living environment wasn’t much better. Often, I commented on the beauty of the tobacco sunsets, the nightly fire-orange and pink extravaganzas which played a decisive part in a number of successful romantic encounters.
‘It’s the smog,’ I was told.
That made sense. On the way in from the airport I’d noticed the wilting freeway-side vegetation, which I’d put down to the abominable heat. But two years later I realised that ever since I’d been suffering a sore throat. Once, I turned side-on in the mirror to find my shoulders hunched and wondered if, perhaps, I was wilting too . . ..
Taiwanese people die from air poisoning. Taipei has the highest population density of any city but Dakha, and the industrial miracle of the last fifty years hasn’t happened simply by churning out dumplings and bubble tea in the Great Mall of Dubai. No, heavy industry and the people live cheek-to-jowl, lips-to-smokestack.
Leave a bowl of cereal out long enough and poisonous particles will settle on it like sugar crystals.
But the poisons ain’t all native. Each year, in a certain season, winds pick up Mongolian dust and distribute it across China. As the winds push south and east, they gather industrial sputum billowing up from the flammable-clothing and plastic-toy factories below and dump it up the Taiwanese nose.
The Taiwanese can’t take it anymore and, not surprisingly, neither can the Chinese.
Beijing experienced its first ever red alert for air quality last December. A red alert doesn’t just mean the air is hazardous. It’s far worse than that. Nor does the issuance of the first red alert mean the air had been that bad for the first time. Rather, it was merely the first time the government had been prepared to admit it.
Implicit with the red alert was the recognition that the time had come to do something.
They’re already at it. The Chinese lead the world in installation of wind energy, adding 29 GW of wind capacity in 2015 after installing 21 GW the year before. The figure accounts for forty-six percent of all wind power installed globally.
The next best country is the US, which installed 8.6 GW—a long way behind and, sadly, receding. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the twenty-seven states opposed to the Clean Power Plan are celebrating their freedom to poison their air as successfully as Beijing has its, just as that economic rival is heading full tilt in the opposite direction.
Of course, for the Chinese it ain’t necessarily about doing right. It used to be said that wherever you find an opportunity to make money, you’ll find an American. But nowadays that Yank will be queuing up behind a couple of Chinese.
It’s about moolah. Lots of it. Enormous, hierarchy-altering piles of it.
The winds of change are blowing in more directions than one.