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Perspectives

March 29, 2010
Air pollution worsens from world’s biggest emitter nation

A 2002 dust storm in Beijing. Photo: Flickr user NotLiz

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer at Worldfocus, is a news editor at the “China Times” in Taipei.

For a long while, I’ve known what it can cause — the retreat of glaciers, the extinction of animals, and the spread of diseases. But it was not until recently that I became fully aware how close the consequences of climate change are to my life.

This past winter I suffered from eye irritation. The situation got so bad that sometimes I had to ask for a day off. The doctors said because of abnormal weather patterns and increasing air pollution, my eyes became sensitive to the environment.

“I am afraid you’ll have to live with it — a disease of civilization,” they told me, adding that there is no cure.

However, the number of people with my symptoms surged by 20-30 percent since mid-March, since we had the worst-ever dust storms from mainland China. According to the Environment Protection Administration in Taiwan, concentrations of particulates have hit their highest level in 25 years, which made the air pollution index rise to 500 — the maximum possible.

Reports say that China’s desertification, overgrazing, population growth and poor resource management have exacerbated the problem of annual dust storms. As the storms pass over China’s industrial zones and pick up toxins, they become even more deadly each year.

This time, more than 270 million people in 16 provinces have been affected, according to Chinese state media.

Since the dust storms can blow across east Asia, China’s neighbors bear the brunt of the problem. In fact, South Korea and Japan have already blamed several deaths on the storms. The victims were mostly elderly people and those with respiratory problems.

Wondering whether I should postpone my trip to Japan for hanami, I was stunned to learn more upsetting news: there is no official forecast of when the cherry blossoms will open this year.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency decided to end its 55-year-old forecast, or “sakura frontline,” because they are no longer able to predict the timing of the blossoms due to climate change.

Many Japanese have lost faith in the sakura frontline. In recent years, people have complained that even though the flowers followed the schedule, their hanami trip often ended up with either unopened buds or fading flowers.

This series of incidents has made me rethink how much our planet has changed in such a short time. I used to think that the consequences of environmental damage were far from my life — and that as long as I hid myself in the developed world, the effects of climate change would never find me.

But I was wrong. I have now learned that our collective destiny is linked — and if we still want fresh air to breathe and beautiful flowers to watch, then it will be everyone’s responsibility to preserve our environment.

– Hsin-Yin Lee

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Comments

1 comment

#1

China will have to decide which is more important profits or health. In 20 years the rapid decline in population in China, the result of the one-child-police, will most likely correct the problem. For now, better break out the gas masks.

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