Imagine a place where the word “sky” doesn’t conjure the color blue but an ashy grey. No, such a place isn’t in another planet or the set of a dystopian sci-fi film. That place is present-day China, a country now living and breathing the harsh effects of dogged industrialization. In northern China, the heavy use of coal coupled with the ever-increasing population has led to an alarmingly extreme case of air pollution. It’s so extreme, in fact, that a person’s life expectancy in northern China is a full five years shorter than someone residing in southern China. As the size of the middle class continues to balloon, there is an insatiable need for cheap and easy energy. Quickly turning to oil and gasoline for fuel and coal for heat, the Chinese love affair with fossil fuels has plunged an astounding amount of people into an atmosphere ripe with danger.
Browsing ATI By environment
Lots of times, when we think about environmental activists, we envision sneakered twenty-somethings waving spiteful, corporate greed-decrying posters high into the skies. But once you meet these incensed, anti-fracking nuns and their vision, prepare for your conceptions to be debunked.
While China’s 20-million and counting metropolis of Beijing is still in the midst of an economic and industrial boom, it’s certainly seen brighter days. This spring, a toxic cocktail consisting of car exhaust fumes, factory and coal-heating smoke engulfed much of the city in a thick smog, causing many residents much grief in going about their daily affairs. Says one mining company executive, “I think people in China have forgotten what the sky looks like. They’ve forgotten what normal is.”
It doesn’t look like “normal” will include the color blue for a while, either. As industrialization surges ahead and many newly-rich Chinese increase demand for their own automobiles, the only thing certain about Beijing’s future is that it will be hazy.
These days, environmentalists aren’t only interested in saving the earth. They’re also consumed with finding ways to make green living affordable, stylish, and fun. From moss bathmats to re-imagined architecture, eco-friendly designs now rival traditional design schools of thought in appearance and functionality. Below, we explore some of today’s best green design trends:
Green Design Trends: Incredible Roofs
Green roofing has been around in some communities for decades, but only recently has it caught on as a worldwide trend. These eco-friendly roofs are visually pleasing, but also incredibly kind to the earth. They can reduce a phenomenon known as the urban heat island, a troubling trend where urban areas measure higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas, and the roofs can also reduce the building’s energy consumption.
Global concerns have grown steadily over China’s increasingly perilous environmental problems. A country with as many people as every Western power combined, China has muscled itself into international relevance by becoming the world’s biggest exporter. But its meteoric economic rise has sunk China chin-deep into an environmental crisis that is not only the result of its recent prosperity, but appears built into it. Little evidence suggests that it will get better before it gets worse.
The Environmental Crisis In China: Unbreathable Air
Like America, China’s primary source of power comes from coal and both countries’ dependence on the hard stuff is politically and economically entrenched. China’s coal use is far and away its biggest problem when it comes to the environment, and moving on to cleaner resources will be about as difficult as switching methadone for Motrin. Government energy experts estimate that China’s primary energy source will be coal for at least the next three decades. At the same time, a million cars are added to Chinese roads every year, adding to the greenhouses gases warming the planet.
Just last month, the American Embassy in Beijing made headlines when the city’s evening Air Quality Index (AQI) measured a suffocating 775. The international scale stops at 500. To put that into perspective, at the same time Beijing reached an AQI of 775, New York City’s AQI was 19. Most American cities never top 100, with the worst offenders never breaking 200.
The Aral Sea’s human-induced disappearing act has often been called one of the worst environmental disasters in the world, and rightly so. In one myopic swoop, 1960s Soviet leadership began to funnel out the region’s water supply for irrigation projects, and what came from it was only despair.
Previously one of the world’s four largest lakes, the body of water soon shriveled up and took with it the economic and physical well-being of its nearby fishing-based communities. Not all is lost, though; in efforts to combat the problem, Kazakhstan established a dam project in 2005, the results of which have proved initially successful: by 2008 water levels had risen a significant amount, salinity had dropped, and fish were found in large enough amounts for the fishing industry to make a slow return.