Chip Jacobs Photo: uschinapress.com
The pollution problem in China was born out of economics while the pollution in Los Angeles was born out of ignorance and naivety, an American journalist and author told the Sino-US.com when comparing the two cities that have faced the smog problem.
Chip Jacobs, one of the authors of Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, thought that the US played a negative role in China’s smog. The book delves into southern California’s 65-year battle with “the beast,” a term which the authors lovingly refer to smog.
Beijing issued its second red alert of the month for heavy smog on Friday, keeping half of the vehicles off the roads and closing the schools. The intensity of the tiny particles of PM 2.5 is due to top 500 next week, 20 times higher than what World Health Organization considers safe.
Though China has done a lot of right things, things that took years for LA authorities to do, including limiting driving, shutting down factories and requiring tougher standards, Jacobs still doubts how much progress will be made because one of the key factors are the people, the citizen groups and the angry mothers.
“I don’t see citizen participation at a very high level in China. Who is going to give the Chinese leadership the motivation to do better?” he quipped, added that the only way for Chinese to vent their anger is posting sarcastic pictures of buildings shrouded by smog on Weibo.
He said angry mothers, activists and church groups contributed a lot to tackling the air pollution in LA. One of the Chinese angry mothers is Chai Jing, the former CCTV host who published her investigative report on air pollution named "Under the Dome" earlier this year and the video amassed hundreds of millions of views on YouTube.
He said that he is longing to meet Chai. “I admire her so much that I would like to write a book with her.”
In LA, the battle was between people and government against the car companies who refused to admit that they are the cause of air pollution. It is a different battle in China because America was more industrialized than China when the smog problem began. China prioritized industrialization and urbanization over other issues to lift 300 million people out of poverty. You have to make choices, he said.
US adds to smog problem in China
“I don’t think the average consumer who buys a made-in China product could understand that the product creates pollution in China,” Jacobs said. “We had blood on our hands.”
China has become a powerhouse of a globalized economy. But it allowed US companies like Apple, Nike, Wal-Mart and every clothing designer you can imagine to build factories on its soil. Given the lack of tough environmental rules or rules against sweatshops, the US greatly added to the smog problem. The smoggy days are just a beginning because China is a new industrialized power, said the author.
“China is the world’s No.1 market for carmakers. People have a car fever. China may replace the coal-driven smog with a car-driven smog. But the Americans live more like Europeans with less dependence on car. It is upsetting that we were not able to educate Chinese about our mistakes,” he said.
“For Americans, we need to be more conscientious environmentally. When we buy a product made in China or other countries, we need to be aware of the toll it takes on the manufacturing country.
For Chinese, the leadership needs to be more open to criticism and spend a lot more on the environment,” he said.
There are 17,000 people working for the EPA (Environment Protection Agency) in the US, but its Chinese counterpart, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, only has a fraction of that number. They don’t have enough environment regulators, he said.