WorldWideFuture Weblog

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Can China lift the Olympic sized smog?

I was blown away by the dark cityscape imagery in Bladerunner, the 1982 movie by Ridley Scott (and one of my favorite movies of all time). It’s one vision of the future world, notably the constant rain and fog and sea of humanity bumping into each other as floating advertisements blare out to the city below. The imagery was brought back home to me when I saw a picture in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper of a couple of people standing a few meters away from the Birds Nest and the Water Cube. The problem was, you could barely see the two normally stunning buildings through the smog. (See a similar picture at Australia’s ABC or at the BBC, also see most recent article on BBC).

Cajoling merchants on my trip to China 2003

Cajoling merchants on my trip to China 2003

Now, smog and air pollution is not just a Beijing phenomenon of course, I remember coming home to my hometown of Windsor Ontario one year and noting the unique electric purple haze at sunset over the cities of Detroit/Windsor. Many city dwellers can relate I am sure. Of course, with the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, a city notorious for its traffic jams of over a million cars a day, we will be deluged with endless reports on air quaility. (I think we will also be amazed at the herculean efforts to curb air pollution the Chinese will be demonstrating). The important lesson for us is: what will the world wide future bring if we can’t breathe the air (or have potable water for that matter), in our spreading urban centers? And, why does the media rarely comment on the real reason for our burgeoning problems of pollution and climate change: an ever increasing and rising population of humans stressing the ecosystem beyond sustainability? How can we adapt to the rising population/shrinking biodiversity systems?

I know the issue is being brought up that “why should the rest of the world have to reduce their footprint when the West has brazenly used up theirs?” Interesting problem. How can we in the West call for others to forgo the trappings of wealth when we have done little to reduce our own? How can we also teach our students to forgo the collecting of material possessions when the previous generation thought little or none about that concept? What do we teach students beyond the usual ‘recycle garbage and turn out the lights’ gig? Can we turn things around and act locally/think globally?

I don’t think it will happen overnight, and I don’t see the hard choices even discussed within the curriculum. Our outdated Industrial Age education system is slow to respond to the acceleration of change so ably described by Alvin Toffler as the future crashing into the present. I haven’t really seen the hard lessons taught yet, though they are trying to tell students to forgo the fries and consider the healthy choices (yet they still offer the fries).

Pretty soon all the talk of climate change and doing piddly little things like recycling and turning out the lights and turning down the thermostat will irritate rather than resonate and just like in the 1970s we will go back to our material consumption ways. Maybe. Maybe disruptive change will force the issue. Who knows? I will be watching the summer Olympics in Beijing with my big screen TV in my air conditioned house while sipping on Mexican beer and cherries from Malaysia.

In the world wide future, we need to talk and teach in every curriculum area about consumption and footprint. Now.

July 28, 2008 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment