It’s been a hazy couple of days here on the eastern edge of France, dry and cloudless but when I look out the window, the air above (the currently invisible) Lake Geneva is whitish-yellow.And indeed, checking the news, I find that three-quarters of France is under a high pollution alert. City bikes are free today in Paris, leave the car at home, etc., due to “anticyclonic conditions and cold nights followed by more hot days.” Which means we have a high pressure system settled firmly above the country, and the air pollution isn’t being dispersed.
This week, the Chinese government announced a massive new program to fight pollution and restructure its economy to be more environmentally sustainable. This isn’t due to some newfound altruistic leaning into the green. China is choking on the fruits of its growing economy, and not just because of the almost tangible blankets of smog filling some of its cities. The water is either drying up or polluted and the growing areas of soil are so damaged that they can no longer be farmed.
One solution is to import water in the form of food grown elsewhere, to outsource major polluting industries off Chinese soil.
Another is to change course. As of this week, China has said it will “resolutely declare war against pollution as (it) declared war against poverty”. Premier Li Keqiang described smog as “nature’s red-light warning against inefficient and blind development”.
A high pressure weather system makes for warm, sunny days, until it doesn’t anymore and it causes haze and lack of rain instead. Considering China’s long spell of high pressure economic success, if we are measuring success in terms of GDP, it will be interesting to see what the country can do if it truly throws its weight behind wrapping its economy around sustainable development, and what the costs, both financial and human, of this course change will be.