Greetings from Beijing! I moved to Beijing 2 weeks ago and will be living here for a year, so many of my future posts will probably be related to my impressions of China and my work here.
My initial thought is that, in terms of environmental issues, China is in many ways similar to the United States, but on a larger scale. Here there are so many people that the problems really can’t be overlooked. The United States may emit 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but global warming is not a high priority for a large majority of people. Here in Beijing we have daily reminders of the energy problem just from the terrible air pollution. For example, Beijing is surrounded to the north and west by mountains, but yesterday was the first day that the air was clean enough that I was able to see any of them! But they are actually quite close (about 25 km, I think). Today they were again concealed by smog.
In the United States, many of our environmental problems have been made invisible to the middle and upper classes, because so many of our most blatant environmental problems have either been shipped overseas (many manufacturing jobs), located in poor neighborhoods (coal plants, etc), or are in remote areas (oil drilling). Here in Beijing, even living the life of a middle-upper class university student, environmental issues stare me in the face. Certain courtyards smell like sewage. It’s a noteworthy event if the sky is blue instead of yellow/brown. A recent issue of an English-language newspaper has cover stories about severe water shortages in Beijing and a town where children have serious lead poisoning problems as a result of industrial contamination. And it is virtually impossible to go anywhere at any time of day without getting stuck in a traffic jam. Nevertheless, as in the United States, people seem to display the universal capability to get used to things. I am hoping to find out more about the nascent environmental movement in China and see if it faces the same apathy and skepticism often found in the United States.