Friday, April 01, 2005

April No Fooling Day


March 30th The Air

I want to punch a hole through the sky in China so the people can breath. The air is thick with muck. We visit the safety supervisor of one of the many new power plants. He says it’s cheaper to pay fines for excessive sulfur release than invest in technology to reduce it.

China cannot keep up with the demands for power as industry surges and the west rushes to expand manufacturing there. But the people are living in darkness and without heat. Drive through residential areas at night, you’ll see. In the cities too, the apartments are black, save for the cool flicker of the occasional TV.

Singapore, by contrast, has a sizable middle class housed in neat, well-appointed candy-colored apartments. Designed to promote a clean, wholesome society, strict prohibitions enforced by significant fines govern all aspects of life. But Singapore cannot evade the fires raging around it. The smoky air burns the lungs and scalds the eyes. “There’s an air quality alert,” warns my taxi driver as we drive along the tiny city-state’s beautifully landscaped roads. Westerners walk and jog, chests high, arms pumping. Locals know better. The pit fires burn in neighboring Malaysia, snaking underground, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and impervious to fines.