July 31, 2008

How very easy it is for quality of life to slip. How very easy it is to settle for a new, lower "good enough", to take a new, worse, standard as the accepted norm.

In Beijing it is a visible thing. After a week of air stagnation, today the remnants of a tropical storm flushed out air pollution to an "acceptable" 44. Most places I have lived would be issuing air quality alerts at that level, but China's measuring stick considers below 100 to be moderate air quality, with anything below 50 to be good. In the past week, four days have exceeded 100, with Olympic villages vanishing into a gray-brown haze.

Within fifty years, this has become the new level of normal for China.

(On Friday, just at sunset, a total eclipse will finish sweeping across half the world in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, the home of the terracotta army, ironically on exactly the same day as Mummy III: The Dragon Emperor opens. In Beijing, the eclipse will reach 92% totality. Will anyone be able to see it?)

But China should not be considered an aberration. How many social and environmental standards have we allowed to slip, invisibly, in the pursuit of our individual convenience: and now accept the results as our new measuring bar?

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