Rethinking Healthcare

China needs air solutions more than we do

Posting in Cities

You take your life in your hands in Chengdu walking across the street. In Taiwan you take it in your hands walking alongside it, because the air is truly vile.

Having just spent a week in China, and a day in Taiwan, one fact is clear.

Both Chinas are committing suicide. (Shown is the view today from the observation deck at Taipei 101, soon to be the world's second-tallest skyscraper.)

This is not about armies. It's about the air.

Pollution is strangling here. In Chengdu, I was smoking a pack of cigarettes per day without lighting up. The city is in a bowl, and suffers from pollution the same way LA does.

Taipei is not much better. If anything it's worse.  

This saddens me given that Chengdu's civilization is much older than our own. Ruins have been excavated in Sichuan province with bronze vessels and legible writing thousands of years old. The system of dykes serving Chengdu's water was first built in the third century A.D., scaled to still work now.

Yet just as the majesty of this civilization is starting to be appreciated, its inheritors are all going to die from air pollution and lung disease. Men here would rather smoke and own an Audi than live. Even though what we would call the middle class is a fraction of the total population, the city is already drowning in cars, which park higgledy-piggledy on sidewalks wherever they can.

If anything it's worse in Taiwan. Most here have gotten over car madness. But where those who make less in Chengdu ride bikes, here it's all motorcycles. They roar out first from every light. While Chengdu is filled with electric scooters and bikes with tiny electric motors, Taiwan's motorcycles are all gas-powered.

You take your life in your hands in Chengdu walking across the street. In Taiwan you take it in your hands walking alongside it, because the air is truly vile. Most motorbike riders have masks as well as helmets as they ride so they will breathe less soot.

When we talk about air pollution westerners talk in terms of global warming, of rising seas and polar bears. Chinese people are dieing right now. They need solar and wind solutions, and hydrogen energy solutions, right now. Not for the sake of the polar bears. For the sake of themselves and their children.

Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure