National Geographic : 2011 Jun
still online in the U.S. Presumably China will get steadily cleaner as it gets richer---that's been the story elsewhere. But---and it's a crucial but---you can clean the air without really cleaning the air. e most e cient coal- red power plants may not pour as much particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, but they still produce enormous quantities of carbon di- oxide. Invisible, odorless, generally harmless to humans---and the very thing that's warming the planet. e richer China gets, the more it pro- duces, because most of the things that go with wealth come with a gas tank or a plug. Any Chi- nese city is ringed with appliance stores; where once they o ered electric fans, they now carry vibrating massage chairs. "People are moving into newly renovated apartments, so they want a pretty, new fridge," a clerk told me. "People had a two-door one, and now they want a three-door." e average Shanghainese household already has 1.9 air conditioners, not to mention 1.2 computers. Beijing registers 20,000 new cars a month. As Gong Huiming, a transportation program o cer at the nonpro t Energy Foundation in Beijing, put it: "Everyone wants to get the freedom and the faster speed and the comfort of a car." at Chinese consumer revolution has barely begun. As of 2007, China had 22 cars for every 1,000 people, compared with 451 in the U.S. China's hurry-up approach to weaning itself from fossil fuels finds a sleek symbol in a bullet train at Shanghai's Hongqiao Railway Station, its 220-mile- an-hour speeds awing travelers. Within a few years the country will have as much high-speed track---some 8,000 miles---as the rest of the world combined. Environmental journalist Bill McKibben is a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College. Based in Shanghai, photographer Greg Girard has been documenting China since 1983.