By Ruilin Zhang

If you’ve lived in Durham for a long time, you are unlikely to worry about outdoor or indoor air quality, because air pollution seems so far away from daily life. However, when lived in Beijing for 5 years, I never stopped my complaint about the terrible haze. But who should be blamed for this undesirable outcome? The governments? The industries? The commuters? Or the rapid development of economy?

Yes, all these are all reasonably options responsible for the poor environment in China. But let’s take a step back, think about the possible cause for air pollution in a global scope, What do you come up with? From the uncommon angle of energy business, if we track the energy trade history between China and America, you will find the truth is that tons of US coal has been exported to China in the past several years. For example, in 2013, “just south of the west coast port city of Vancouver, the Westshore Coal Terminal ships 22 million tonnes of coal a year, of which 59% goes to China. There are now plans to build dozens of new terminals in the states of Washington and Oregon, on the west coast of the US, and export 150 million tonnes of coal a year to Asia”1, Unfortunately, meanwhile, other countries are suffering the impact of downwind Chinese air pollution. And what’s more, the polluted air from coal industry is also contributing to worsening environmental quality in some cities of the US. If so, should we also blame the coal in trade for Chinese haze and even American bad weather?

I’m not saying it is American’s obligation to protect the Chinese air quality. But truly, we should put an emphasize on it and think in depth about how to address these tough issues globally, as the future workers and leaders in the global health discipline. As all of us are humans involved in an integrated world, everyone has the right and the duty to think big for the environmental justice.

Air pollution is not actually so far away as you imagined. It is killing more people than HIV and malaria combined today. As Dr. Zhang mentioned, low and middle income countries are disproportionately affected by indoor and outdoor air pollution. While China is suffering the unprecedented outdoor air pollution, people in Africa like Sudan are under the exposure of indoor air pollutants. According to WHO, in 2012, “3 billion people cook and heat their homes using solid fuels on open fires or traditional stoves”3. Thinking and acting in a global perspective collaboratively is urgently needed. In class, we were provided a formula for the solution in developing countries: “Legislation + Technology + Enforcement = Clean Air”. I’d like to add a “global” before each word, so it would be Global Legislation + Global Technology + Global Enforcement = Clean Air in the planet.


  1. Tom Levitt (2013). US cities suffer impact of downwind Chinese air pollution –
  2. Environmental Justice and Air Pollution: Right to Safe, Healthy Environment. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2016, from
  3. Shaw, D., Pang, A., Lin, C.-C., & Hung, M.-F. (2010). Economic growth and air quality in China. Environmental Economics and Policy Studies, 12(3), 79–96.
  4. Health and Social Impacts of Household Energy.