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Monday, December 1, 2014

A Christmas Carol: The Ghost of our Planet's Future

We all remember the part in A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is taken by The Ghost of Christmas Future.  Scrooge is taken into the future and catches a glimpse of the grim life that will come to be if he does not change his attitude and behavior today.

I’ve just taken a trip with the Ghost of the Future and I am ready to shout from the rooftops that we must, without question, take action to avoid that fate.
Beautiful afternoon for a picnic!  The future of air quality
Lovely afternoon for a picnic...




The United States, on a whole, is a very clean place to live. Our air pollution levels are classified as clean, and our local emissions are carefully monitored.  Some places, like California, take additional measures aimed not just at slowing pollution’s growth but actually reducing it.  And those actions are working on a local level, which is great!  An article from from the LA Times shows that pollution-related cancer risk in SoCal has dropped by 65% since 2005. We, for the moment, have the luxury of breathing clean, fresh air and enjoying our time outside.

That rosy scene is not the case everywhere, and I’ve just spent time in one of the more notorious regions:  The Ghost of our Future.  

The thing about pollution is that it affects everyone.  


Air pollution may be concentrated over cities, but wind carries it to the countryside, over our fields, and across borders.  Polluted water flows through rivers and oceans, and waters our food.  Just like everyone in the neighborhood can smell a neighbor’s bonfire, on a bigger scale we’re all inhaling our global neighbor’s smoke as it drifts.

Today in Shanghai, China, the air pollution level (AQI) is rated at 280 - just on the line between Very Unhealthy and Hazardous.  To give some perspective, Los Angeles - one of the US's most notoriously polluted cities - is a 30 today.  At 280, your throat swells up and feels scratchy, your nose starts sniffling, a headache sets in, and a burning sensation is in your eyes.  It is recommended that you stay indoors, limit sports and workouts, and wear a mask outside.  The air is thick and musty, and there is nothing you can do to escape breathing it. As your throat closes in and eyes start to swell, it is an absolutely helpless feeling!


 OK, but that’s China – right? They should just stop polluting so much, right?  


If only it were that easy.  The thing about China’s pollution, is that an awful lot of it comes as a result of making our American lives easy.  The great deal you got on a Blue-Ray player on Black Friday, the ribbons on our Christmas packages, the new shoes you got for this year’s holiday party, your new iPhone, even last night’s chicken nuggets…Chances are they were all made there.  And that’s fine.  But we also need to accept responsibility for our purchases and the ripples they create in the environment.

The solution is clearly bigger than any of us.  Let’s be honest - one less Blue-Ray in the world is not going to tip the scales.  Big action needs to happen on the highest level.  But we are all part of the solution, and each and every one of us can and should make an effort.

What can you do to help reduce pollution and your impact on the environment?   


  •           Recycle, and purchase products made of recycled materials
  •           Pick products with less packaging
  •           Stop using “disposable” or single-use products
  •           Buy with quality in mind – choose products that will last, not necessarily the cheapie model
  •           Support Emissions Regulations
  •           Spread the word, and while you’re at it write your Senator or Representative



Whatever our stance on Global Warming or Global Climate Change, I think we’re all in agreement that pollution makes life uncomfortable.  


Do we want to see our kids wear face masks on their way to school?  Do we want to hide inside, accepting grim grey skies as normal and celebrating the palest tinge of blue?  Do we want to stop seeing our clouds because they are camouflaged with smog?  That is reality in today’s China.  And unless we take action, that will be our future as well.

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