Jen Sorensen picks up on an oddity of the burgeoning Chinese economy.
What's odd about it is that it's kind of a flashback to our own industrial revolution. In the 19th century, there were two levels of getting away from it all:
One was simply the country retreat, and a lot of upper middleclass people spent time away from the city: The Roosevelts had their country places up the Hudson, but even professionals of presumably more modest means commonly sent their families off for the summer while Father stayed behind to work.
Before the invention of air conditioning, Washington DC shut down in summer and business was conducted from more bearable climes. When I was living in Plattsburgh, NY, and monitoring newspapers from the 1890s for the weekly history feature, one of the recurring elements was McKinley's "Summer White House" at the Hotel Champlain in '97 and '99.
Various people came and went, but Congress was not in session and it was understood that not a lot was going to happen, at least, not in a hurry.
Of course, in those days life was not only lived at a slower pace generally, but the president was only charged with running one country and not the entire globe.
Minding your own business tends to cut down the workload.
And the urge for cleaner and more pleasant surroundings led to the middleclass practice of taking the train into work each day from Westchester or Long Island.
But there was a grimmer reason to head off to the Adirondacks or the Rockies: The pollution of the cities sent "lungers" off to seek a cure for tuberculosis, and Saranac Lake became the center of a burgeoning industry, led by the Trudeau Sanitorium.
(The town no longer offers holistic TB treatment, at least on that scale, but it does have a nice Winter Carnival each year and one of the local kids -- now all grown up and living in the big city -- designs a button for the festival each year.)
But a major difference between what was happening then and the sort of eco-tourism Sorensen notes is just what she points out: The pervasive effects of modern pollution.
Not that it's all coming from wealthy Chinese flying off on vacation, of course. Cartoons are cartoons, after all.
But if the actual impact of getting away from it all is exaggerated for effect, the actual impact of "it all" has changed since the days when Doc Holliday sought the clean, dry air of the Rockies to help his tubercular lungs.
19th century cities kind of kept their pollution local. This was devastating for them, of course, particularly when homes were heated and stoves fired with coal, and factory chimneys were only as tall as they wanted to be. The layers of soot on everything were also being deposited in lungs and drinking water while up into the late-middle of the 20th century driving through industrial cities like Pittsburgh or Gary sometimes necessitated headlights in mid-day if no wind was blowing.
When the Clean Air Act first came along, my grandfather was retired from the steel industry but still had friends and contacts in the executive tower, and he observed that they spent more money lobbying against the act than it would have cost to meet the proposed standards and perform the remediation.
However, they lost the battle (those were the Good Old Days and, yes, thank you, Richard Nixon, but also thanks to popular pressure), and today places like Pittsburgh are at least lovely if not totally pristine.
Granted, some of that specific to Gary and Pittsburgh may be due to the collapse of the steel industry, but the ongoing industrial enterprises like generating electricity with all that lovely clean coal you've been seeing ads for are no longer dumping soot and toxic gases on the local populace.
Instead, thanks to taller chimneys, the toxins are wafting higher into the atmosphere, where they descend upon far distant places like the Adirondacks in the form of acid rain.
In the words of the old spiritual, "There's no hiding place down here."
I note, this morning, that the death toll of that factory collapse in Bangladesh is now up over 900, which is the equivalent of two or three of those Third-World ferry sinkings that get two paragraphs on page 37.
But people are paying attention: It is trending on Google News, currently second only to the kidnapped women in Cleveland and leading the guilty verdict in the Jody Arias trial.
The question is, so what?
That is, people shake their heads and say, "Isn't that a shame?" and they might even decide not to buy clothes made in Bangladesh. Instead, they'll buy clothes made in China or Malaysia or wherever.
The point being that, if people see it simply as a story about those particular little dead brown people in that particular factory in that particular country, rather than a story about a more systemic problem of global sweatshops and one of many issues involving the emerging industrial powers of the world, that's like cleaning away the visible soot and smoke from Pittsburgh without actually solving the issues of CO2 and sulphur dioxide.
Or, as Abbie Hoffman said of the first Earth Day: "Pick up the Dixie cup, sure. I'll pick up the Dixie cup. Who the fuck is going to pick up Con Edison?"
Well, not the Chinese, my friend.
Here is a link to "No Hiding Place," which might well have been my little video treat at the end, but I think, instead, I'll show you where Garry Trudeau and Corey Pandolph and a few more of us are from, while it's still around as a reminder of what we long since have traded away for a bowl of pottage and a pair of Nikes: