China is the international bad boy of pollution, the T-Rex of toxins. Beijing is so choked with noxious haze, goes the story, that it hasn’t been visible from the sky since Mao. Now a report shows that this pollution is taking wing–and reaching North America in larger amounts than previously understood. Research soon to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says China contributes up to 24 percent of the sulfate found in the air in the Western US. And those smoggy LA sunsets already looked surreal.
Yet China’s voracious manufacturing and unfettered economic ambition aren’t alone to blame. And here’s where it gets hard for all those West Coast iPhone users to wax indignant about the lax international emissions controls on the former Sleeping Giant: the percentage of sulfates that arrive here nearly matches the percentage of American-bound goods China produces. In other words, China is wrecking its (and the globe’s) air in large part to supply Americans with consumer electronics, cheap toys and apparel. So is it China’s insufficient self-regulation, or American consumerism, that drives up pollution levels and endangers lives? It’s never so simple. But the US should be as eager to find a solution as China because, in related news, 2013 marked the first year since 1999 that US demand for oil increased faster than China‘s. Meaning we’re going to be sending more of our own, homegrown, pollution into the air.
A factory on the Yangtze river