The Air We Breathe

On our trips to downtown Beijing, I’ve been taken aback by the amount of congestion and development, and the resulting environmental damage. Beijing has overcrowded highways and a plethora of high-rise buildings. The sky is a constant shade of gray. We haven’t seen blue skies since we’ve been here; the sun is just a gray ball.  “What have we, humans, done to this planet” keeps echoing in my head. 

The imbalance and unsustainable structure of our life on this planet is most evident in this country on the other side of the world from my home. These thoughts are not meant to be judgmental of the Chinese; they are only striving to obtain the same comforts and conveniences (air conditioning, automobiles, etc.) we have in the western world. To obtain this lifestyle, China produces 17% of the world’s greenhouse gases, while the United States produces 16% and the European Union produces 11%. Yet, per-capita gas house emissions are United States 24%, European Union 10%, and China 6%. It is frightening to consider the condition of the world’s air if China ever reaches United States’ per-capita energy use.

The United States, as the highest per-capita greenhouse gas producer in the world, has a responsibility to take strong leadership on the issue. Yet, of the 192 countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol, the United States is the only country that has not ratified the agreement.

Much of the air pollution in China belongs to those of us in the west who demand cheap consumer goods.  Yet, we don’t have to breathe the air.