The transformation in my immediate surroundings over the past week has been simply unbelievable. No matter what I had been told by both Chinese and American Cornellians, none of it succeeded in preparing me for the conditions of Beijing’s environment. One week ago I was in Ithaca, NY and the sunny Western world, surrounded by recycling bins, fresh air, and swimmable gorges. Since my plane landed, however, I literally haven’t seen the sun once – except for just a few seconds on Saturday when a faint outline was barely visible through the thick haze. Welcome to Beijing, the most polluted city on Earth, with an atmosphere that is responsible for 400,000 premature deaths a year.
Despite this situation, there are many promising things happening to the environment in this country, and I’ll discuss those as well over the course of blogging this summer, but the short story is that arriving in Beijing was like being Keanu Reeves in the scene of The Matrix when Morpheus first takes Neo to see what the real world looks like. And I have only begun to tumble down the rabbit hole.