One of my high-school friends has been living in China for about twenty years now. He has risen high in the business world over there, married, had children, and become, in many ways, Chinese. Then, earlier this year, he began telling me that he wished to return to the US. This desire grew stronger, month after month, until one day, just a few weeks back, he called me to let me know he was back in my home town. That was great news for me, though I soon learned he had accepted a much less well compensated position within his company in order to be allowed to make the move.
Why, I asked him, had he suddenly become so desperate to return to the US? The answer: pollution. The air in Beijing was killing him, his wife, and his two daughters – and not in the slow, we're-all-dying-of-something way, but in new, different, and unbearable way. When he went back to Beijing for two weeks to settle some business there, I happened to reach him on the phone and ask him where he was.
“Hell,” was his response. It was said without levity.
China has a problem. I spent ten days in Beijing nearly a decade ago, ten days in which I never saw the sun, nor breathed without difficulty. I was so sick by the time I left that they almost didn't let me board my plane. To think that things have gotten suddenly worse is terrifying. Chinese heavy industry is about to take a huge hit as the country must find a way to keep from choking itself to death.