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Editor’s Corner: Air pollution a largely local problem

Watching a television news show the other evening, I happened to catch a real-time photo of Beijing, China’s capital. You hardly could see it. The city, I mean. The air, on the other hand, was highly visible, because it was so full of smog.

You wouldn’t think people could stand to be out in it, but there they were; most of them were wearing little face masks, walking, riding bicycles, buzzing around on motor scooters. People did not appear to be bent over coughing. There were no dead bodies lying in the streets that one could readily see.

Not all of China is like Beijing. Another picture of China popped up on the TV screen, a photo of some rice fields, and lo and behold no smog was evident. There was plenty of visibility.

It was apparent that Beijing’s considerable air pollution was not spreading very far outside that city. In fact, if you take the Heishanhu Road north out of Beijing, before long you are traveling in country that is not nearly as polluted as Beijing is; in fact, the air seems less polluted than our own. Once you reach Datong, you will find yourself in an ancient yet modern city that sits beneath largely clear skies.

Now, here is something interesting from The Wall Street Journal: It appears that the most polluted air in America is ... inside office buildings.

It turns out that the carbon-dioxide level in one crowded office of a company that measures these things is “like 1,000 parts per million,” according to Benjamin Kott, a Britt whose company measures such things. That is more than 2.5 times the amount of carbon dioxide that exists in the atmosphere, he says.

The biggest offenders are meeting rooms, he says, which can climb to 3,000 parts per million of carbon dioxide once participants are seated around a table and start talking. If folks start yawning, all that carbon dioxide may be the reason Kott says.

One can see why architects should design office buildings to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in them, and one certainly can see why it would benefit the residents of Beijing to lower the pollution levels in and around their city. But would that benefit us? Would it benefit Kansas City? Would it benefit Paris?

It has been said that pollution from Beijing has a long reach, even to the United States. But that hasn’t been proven, only surmised.

To some extent, our air pollution is a gift from San Francisco and other cities in the Bay Area — a gift that keeps on taking. Are they rushing to cut down on their own pollution to benefit us? Nah.

Air pollution is a local problem for most, one that isn’t easily solved by outside influence or activities.

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