Beijing Smog Could Be Making Its Way Over To California

Beijing SmogInstagram user Ron Cross took this photo of Beijing outside his window two days ago.

Photo: Instagram/Ron Cross, aka @rcgator

No, I’m not talking about myself, although I am a Californian and I am suffering through the Biblically nasty Beijing Airpocalypse. Rather, I’m talking about actual residents of the U.S. West Coast, which is apparently enjoying all kinds of icky goop that floats across the Pacific Ocean from the PRC and into U.S. airspace. They might not be barfing up bodily organs yet, but who knows what the future will bring?Typical westerly wind flows across the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere mean air pollution from China is often carried over the Pacific Ocean. If the weather conditions are right, contaminants including mercury, ozone, sulphur and nitrogen oxides, black carbon and desert dust, can reach the west coast of the US within days. (China Dialogue)

Bleah. To be sure, cross-border pollution issues are nothing new, even for the U.S. West Coast. I remember the acid rain problem we experienced many years ago, which involved the U.S.-Canada border. Then again, the U.S. and China don’t exactly share a border, so I suppose this latest example of Globalization 2.0 has taken the problem to a new level.

Borders don’t matter anymore, just air and sea flows. Just ask the Japanese; they’ve been dealing with Chinese pollution for quite a while now.

What I find most interesting about this issue is how interconnected we all are and how complex this is. One cannot, for example, simply complain about China and demand that they stop polluting. Those polluting factories over here are making products that are sold all over the world, including of course in the U.S.

On the other side of the issue, China cannot simply tell foreigners to mind their own business with respect to domestic environmental law and enforcement. In many areas now, the concept of “domestic” environmental policy is really a blurry issue. If your pollutants are being blown into someone else’s backyard, is that still a purely domestic issue?

And what about global trade, particularly when it comes to energy? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read this factoid:

Ironically, the US could also be contributing to its own mercury pollution too if it pushes through plans to scale up the export of coal to China.

US coal is already being exported to China through Canada. Just south of the west coast port city of Vancouver, the Westshore Coal Terminal ships 22 million tonnes of coal a year, of which 59% goes to China.

No wonder that both New World Order conspiracy theorists and some science fiction authors see cross-border environmental issues/climate change as one reason the future might include a global government. I, for one, welcome our blue-helmeted overlords, but I suppose that’s a topic for another day.

Whatever the future will bring, I suspect regional and/or multilateral environmental cooperation will be a big part of it. The alternative is scary, not to mention carcinogenic.

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Post tags: environment, pollution

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