Life without the EPA
As I read about plans to reduce the US Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by two-thirds, I am reminded of my travel to Beijing in 2014.
As a first-time visitor, I was overwhelmed by the noticeably high level of pollution and poor air quality. At that time the level of ultrafine particles was recorded as 400 μg per cubic meter of air, and this year it exceeds 500 μg. Unchecked and unregulated Chinese manufacturing industries and energy plants have continued to discharge carbon black from incomplete combustion, as well as sulfates and nitrates, into the atmosphere. In addition, coal burning for heat, cooking and electricity generation, vehicle emissions, and airborne dust contribute to the smog. These levels are twice the daily concentration of 250 μg per cubic meter of air that is considered hazardous to human health. Beijing health consequences are evident when 6 year olds are being diagnosed with lung cancer.
Despite the poor air quality I ventured out, curious to see the works of various starchitects. I was surprised to see celebrated buildings such as the Olympic Natatorium, the “Birdcage” stadium, covered in a patina of thick grime. Koolhaus’ CCTV “pant legs” building was barely visible from across the street. My photographs of these buildings have an eerie quality, as if they were artfully shot through a layer of fine cloth.
This level of daily pollution and lack of visibility regularly forces airlines to cancel flights out of Beijing, especially towards the latter half of the day when emissions from morning commuter traffic have saturated the air. Government-controlled news outlets report these flight delays as being caused by fog and poor weather, never mentioning pollution as the primary cause.
We only have to look across the Pacific to China to understand what life would be like without the watchdog eyes of the US EPA and an independent free press.