For the past two weeks, the smog alert in Beijing, China has been off the charts. Visibility dropped as pollution blocked out the sun. Tops of buildings disappeared in the murky haze that settled over the city. The air smelled of coal dust and car fumes. Most stayed indoors and ran air purifiers to escape the toxic conditions. Those who ventured out greeted one another behind white masks.
Pollution is measured in PM2.5 particles. These particles, when breathed, penetrate deep inside the lungs causing respiratory problems and increased susceptibility to illness. Safe levels should not exceed 25 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter. At 100 micrograms, children and the elderly are urged to remain indoors. The index in Beijing, according to some reports, exceeded 800 micrograms per cubic meter.
Twenty years ago we took our children on one of those vacations-of-a-lifetime to Disneyland in Los Angeles. We bought a van for the summer and coaxed it across the desert to the west coast. When we took the kids to the beach we were unable to see the surf on the horizon because of the greenish-yellow haze trapped against the coast.
At some point TV weather forecasters in Dallas added reports on the day’s pollution index to the routine reports on temperature, rain and humidity. For years I often commuted to work listening to reporters who issued orange and red alerts for air quality.
The first photos of earth sent back by the Apollo crews in the 1970s dramatically impressed us that our tiny blue planet rotating in space is precious and fragile. The thin layer of air that surrounds us not only contains the oxygen essential to life, but protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and regulates earth’s temperature. Three-fourths of the atmosphere lies within 6.5 miles of the earth’s surface. Outer space is considered to exist 62 miles up. We are dependent on an amazingly thin film of atmospheric gases to sustain life on our planet.
I guess I should not be surprised. The Bible clearly predicts that the earth will “wax old like a garment.” Our finite earth will wear out. Of course, I also know that one day I will wear out. We are all mortal. None of us lives forever. But my own mortality doesn’t mean I should start smoking, drinking, indulging in high fat foods and refusing to exercise. Instead, I am motivated to discipline my body so that I can experience greater health and longevity. In the same way, we must learn to discipline ourselves regarding the creation that God has entrusted to our care. In the very first chapter of the Bible, with His very first words to mankind, God instructs us to “be fruitful and multiple and replenish the earth.” (Genesis 1:22).
I doubt that pollution will become intolerable in my life time, though it seems to already be so in Beijing (at least until the wind kicks up and blows it our way). But I wonder about the world we are bequeathing to our children and grandchildren. Will they continue to enjoy a pristine world with all its life-giving beauty and majesty?