For two days the consistently smoggy skies over Beijing were blue, sort of.
Then APEC ended and the heads of state, including President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, returned home. On cue, the skies returned to a murky, smoky pall, ending the brief respite from pollution and the rarified exposure to breathable air.
In the previous week, China had shut down its factories, sent workers on forced vacations, moved cars off the road, and stopped residents from firing up their coal powered heat despite the frigid temperatures. Foreign dignitaries arrived under a naturally blue canopy.
Clean air is that natural resource we sometimes take for granted in America. And frankly, something I worry about given how little environmental work gets done in Congress, and now, given the midterm elections, how much may actually get done, and not for the better.
I’m bothered by this on a couple of fronts. First, I hate how cavalierly some of us regard our environment. We ignore the recent reports from scientists, of no particular partisanship, advising that things are bad, really bad, and getting worse. I’m bothered that the students in my college classes are smart and hardworking but they’ve grown up hearing the terms “climate change” and “global warming” so often the phrases no longer carry any weight. Not unlike when we said Xerox to mean copying, and Kleenex to mean tissues.
I know it’s impressive that Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping last week reached an historic agreement to cut emissions by 2025, but according to an editorial in the New York Times, the amount of damage that will be caused in the next 11 years will pretty much make that a wash.
Still, I suppose it’s something.
I walked early this morning with a neighbor. A few clouds cluttered the blue sky. Many trees still held selfishly to their last clusters of brilliant red and orange leaves, their discards scattered at their bases like exquisite quilts. I thought: It’s gorgeous here. And there is no reason on earth why it shouldn’t be.
What occurs in China and the U.S. and elsewhere in the world matters to everyone. Climate change is not a local problem. No matter where we are, we share this space. Like the song from the movie “An American Tail,” And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby. It helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky.
I can’t seem to get that song out of my head.
Hopefully, neither can you.