Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 28th 2014 Contents A32
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, October 28, 2014
After all the trouble to get there, it was ironic that
I was counting down the hours and minutes to leave.
It was my fourth visit to Beijing, and this time more
than ever before, it was miserable. I feel like I have
just had a glimpse at a terrifying foreshadowing of our
future on this planet if we continue the way we are
Beijing is a city with no skyline. There are many
acclaimed modern skyscrapers, but you can t see them.
While I was there, the visibility was barely over 100
metres. Everything disappeared into a stifling grey-
brown, toxic shroud of air pollution. The outdoors no
longer felt expansive in this bubble of limited visibility.
I literally couldn t see the buildings around me. Even
across the street things began to be obscured. Every-
where life seemed difficult and depressing. The trees
seemed stunted and withered. I remember gazing up
into the sky at noon to
see a red patch in the
sky above me where the
sun should be. In fact
they had just cancelled
a marathon a few days
earlier due to the air pol-
"Two years ago things
started to get bad."
Eileen, one of the meet
organisers answered. She
also admitted that that
was her English name.
nothing happens, it s
from the factories and
power plants around,"
she remarked as she defeatedly dropped her small
shoulders and lowered her chin.
There was to be no reprieve from the smothering
pollution indoors either. Large open indoor spaces like
the atrium in the Holiday Inn where I was staying and
the giant expanse of the Aquatic Center were hazy,
with the lights illuminating the misty air in halos
around them. At night I longed for just one deep, cool
inhalation of fresh air as I lay in a hot hotel room that
bore the stench of stale cigarette smoke. I guess I am
spoilt. I come from a place where it is still possible to
breathe the air and drink the water but for the 21
million people who live in Beijing, this is their daily
This apocalyptic urban environment is more than
just an image problem for Beijing. By the second day
this insidious haze manifested itself as a very sandy,
heartburn-like sensation deep within my virgin lungs.
In the pool I couldn t hold my breath as well as I
was accustomed to. It crossed my mind that perhaps
strenuous exercise in the form of all-out racing was
not the best thing for me to be doing in that envi-
ronment. But I figured if the Chinese were doing it
then so could I.
Beijing s pollution particle readings are more than
20 times above the safety limit set by the World Health
Organization. According to a study from the British
Medical Journal (BMJ), this cuts the life expectancy by
15 years. Would 15 more years of very hard life be worth
living in such an environment? Is this to be our future?
Face masks were prevalent everywhere. They even
seemed to have been accessorised into local fashion
as an element of mystique. I remember seeing well-
dressed women with long hair strut by in tall boots,
scarves and black face masks, leaving only their seduc-
tively made-up eyes exposed to interact with the world.
My arrival 36 hours before the competition provided
me little time to prepare, but by the second day of
competition I had gone to great lengths to procure a
face mask too. I no longer felt awkward wearing it,
but instead was comforted by the notion of protec-
In Trinidad, when the western peninsula is not inun-
dated with smoke from the burning Beetham landfill,
we can go outside and the sky is blue, the trees are
green, and there are white clouds floating by gracefully
above. Enjoy it while you still have it! All the
talk about our negative effects on the envi-
ronment and climate change falls on deaf
ears. According to the United States Statistics
Division, we in T&T have the second highest
greenhouse emissions per capita in the world,
way above China. We are rushing towards a
Beijing like existence. Is our notion of progress
worth this price?
The wind really picked up last night. This
morning, as I dragged my suitcase down the
crowded windswept street to the bus, a group
of teenagers captured my attention. They
were huddled under an outstretched phone,
pointing and peering up at the sky. I looked
up and to my surprise there was a gap in the
smog and a sunbeam shone down on a little
white cloud drifting across the patch of blue.
"What are they doing?" I asked one of the
Chinese organising officials.
"They are photographing of the cloud, it s
very rare and special here," he responded in
As long as I live that memory will haunt
me. Do you want your children to be mes-
merised by the rare sighting of a cloud? As
Gandhi says, be the change you want to see
in the world.
According to the
we in T&T have the
emissions per capita
in the world, way
above China. We are
rushing towards a
existence. Is our
notion of progress
worth this price?
Follow George on Twitter: @georgebovell
For just one breath of fresh air
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