By Paolo von Schirach
November 23, 2013
WASHINGTON – In Europe and in the US we see a trend of young professionals moving to small villages, leaving behind them high cost and super congested cities where life is more complicated, especially when it comes to raising children. In China, according to a The New York Times interesting story, (Urbanites Flee China’s Smog for Blue Skies, November 22, 2013), there is a similar trend unfolding.
Seeking a healthier environment
But the huge difference is that for many Chinese professionals moving into the relatively unspoiled countryside is not just a matter of improved quality of life. For many it is a matter of sheer survival. They are escaping extremely high levels of pollution that make life in big cities truly dangerous. These are called “environmental refugees”.
Dreadful air pollution
This is no hyperbole. Many large metropolitan areas in China have levels of hazardous particulates in the air that are routinely 40 times higher than the maximum level considered to be safe by the World Health Organization, (WHO). Yes, you got it right: that is 40 times higher. Not 4 or 5 times. This level of air pollution, (the cumulative effect of 30 years of unchecked and mostly unregulated economic growth), means an extremely high incidence of respiratory diseases and down right hazardous conditions for children and older people. According to the same NYT story, an 8-year-old girl died of lung cancer in Shanghai, the youngest victim ever diagnosed with a fatal disease most likely caused by the highly polluted air the child was forced to breathe. Yes, many large Chinese cities have turned into sinister “gas chambers”. This is no joke.
Avoiding an early death
There is no doubt that many young Chinese urban professionals who move to unspoiled villages are seeking a more relaxed, less expensive life style, just like their Western counterparts. But many are driven out of big cities by a most elementary desire to escape pollution, diseases and an early death.