Oxford Dictionaries proclaimed the word of 2016 to be “post-truth,” a scary concept that was popularized by the repulsive presidential campaign waged by Donald Trump. It refers to his chronic dissembling, invention of facts and intermittent grasp of reality heralding a new era where fabulists, revivalists and snake-oil salesmen are finding redemption.
The collateral damage to the media is accumulating as serious journalism vies with fake news and the principle of balance is slyly manipulated to lend credibility to the incorrigible. The post-truth era depends on collective acquiescence and the averting of eyes from the devious deceptions and disingenuous half-truths that muffle the voices of reason. In this polarized climate the media must be resolutely truthful, not misleadingly neutral.
Climate change is real, global warming is happening and humans are causing this existential crisis. President-elect Trump is a climate change skeptic who famously quipped that the concept was invented by China. Why the Chinese would invent such a concept was left unsaid — the statement was just another “brain fart” from a man who promises to “Make America great again” by harnessing the power of coal. Yes, he asserts that lifting environmental restrictions on the most toxic source of carbon dioxide emissions will generate millions of high-paying jobs in America. Good luck with that.
He wants to revive and expand coal mining despite the environmental hazards and dangerous consequences. Realizing his climate change denial has become the butt of late-night comedy acts and a bullseye for critical pundits, Trump now concedes there might be something to the crisis. But his half-hearted nod to truth is unconvincing.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shares Trump’s views on coal. So much so that his government is subsidizing the export of coal-fired plants to developing countries. As host of the 2016 G-7 Summit, Abe found himself isolated from other leading industrial nations in his advocacy of coal energy. Environmental groups have been pressuring Japan to reduce financing of coal-energy infrastructure projects, and E3G — a group of independent experts on climate diplomacy and energy policy — issued Japan a red card for its coal policies, ranking it last among G-7 nations. Member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have agreed to reduce public financing for coal-fired plants with the exception of those featuring “ultrasupercritical technology,” but even those pollute more than plants fired with liquefied natural gas.
The Japanese government asserts that environmental concerns should not be the sole factor in determining the energy policies of developing nations. True, there are health concerns to worry about and lower productivity due to sick days and transport disruptions from smog, but Abe’s government seeks to promote energy-related infrastructure exports and make money from exporting polluting plants.
Doesn’t it make more sense for Japan to export green energy technology, given its pioneering role in that field?
Coal is abundant and cheap, but so is clean LNG. New discoveries in Asia and Africa, along with burgeoning U.S. production — by 2020 America will be the world’s third-largest producer — make it more sensible to promote LNG-fired plants. This paradigm shift is good news for Japan, so why is it planning more coal-fired plants?
There are 48 planned projects in Japan that could potentially generate 23 gigawatts of electricity — and burden the national health care system with more lung ailments, not to mention accelerate climate change.
On the coal front, Abe and Trump are leading their nations in the wrong direction, acting irresponsibly in the face of climate change.
Asia’s cities are choked with toxic air, searing lungs and stinging eyes, reducing the quality — and length — of life. The word “airpocalypse” has become part of the lexicon to describe days when air quality is exceptionally dangerous and visibility reduced.
Last month during the annual Diwali celebrations in New Delhi, fireworks displays combined with holiday traffic and post-harvest burning of crop residue in surrounding farmlands to produce some of the worst air in New Delhi’s sooty history. This provided a timely backdrop for the launch of Pallavi Aiyar’s recently published ebook, “Choked.” Having grown up in New Delhi and lived several years in Beijing and Jakarta, this acclaimed writer, now residing in Tokyo, speaks with authority on the subject. She says that nasty air is a fact of life for Asians, constituting a public health emergency requiring drastic action. She asserts that the region’s middle classes are having an “airwakening” as they become fed up with noxious air and begin to pressure their governments to act.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics, she argues, spurred resolute government action, unlike the 2010 Commonwealth Games hosted by New Delhi. Aiyar argues that though China responded with sensible abatement and monitoring policies, and appears to have turned the corner on dirty air, India isn’t remotely close to doing so.
Experts tell her it would be madness to raise her sons in the world’s most polluted capital, a place where she is confounded by apathetic residents who think she is just an overwrought mom infected with a neurotic expat’s hypersensitivity. However, as of 2016, India has 22 of the world’s 50 most polluted cities. And the level of one of the nastiest forms of air pollution — particles 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, which can cause serious health problems — is three times higher in New Delhi than Beijing. It’s wheeze-worthy news that from 2013 to 2015, Delhi’s air quality met “healthy” standards for particulate matter on only seven days.
In Aiyar’s view, one widely shared in the scientific and environmentalist community, India has not adopted adequate pollution reduction policies and will remain one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases for the foreseeable future. Relief from noxious fumes will prove elusive because the Narendra Modi government has not made this policy a priority. Recent restrictions on vehicle use represent a belated and inadequate step in the right direction. The government and public remain touchy about such criticisms, and Aiyar powerfully conveys the denial and self-delusion that prevail in India’s discourse on the environment.
So what to do? Aiyar suggests India follow China’s lead by adopting comprehensive anti-pollution policies, strict regulations on vehicles and fuel, and investing in upgrading the environment, including rapid expansion of renewable energy sources. She laments that India remains in denial, and its citizens less public-minded than Chinese about the required sacrifices. She doesn’t buy the argument that developing countries deserve some slack because they came late to the industrialization party. She argues that learning lessons from other nations and embracing new green technologies offers a healthier way forward. Aiyar speaks truth to power in this inspiring call to arms.
Alas, in the post-truth era its easier for leaders everywhere to get away with such negligence.
Jeff Kingston is the director of Asian Studies at Temple University, Japan Campus.