My mother still lives in Toronto; she lives right in the city's heart. She loves the big city. The art galleries, the symphony, the opera, the museums - they are her world. However, I was talking to her on the phone this past summer, and she was having misgivings about living there. She said that walking down the street a block could almost make her sick to her stomach because the exhaust fumes were so bad.
Southern Ontario had one of its worst summers for smog warnings this past year. Our first air-quality warning came as early as April, and this was followed by, during the worst of the heat waves, 23 days in a row of air-quality alerts. In my small city of 116,000, 60 air-quality-related deaths were anticipated. We have no heavy industry, but we are downwind of Toronto and are one of the most humid cities in Canada. It's a sure-fire combination for bad air.
So when I see a picture of a massive city like Beijing, where the majority of people pedal their way to work, I don't get quite the massive worry about how much greenhouse gas China contributes to our atmosphere. I'm sure that will change in the future. Economic prosperity leads to the desire for symbols of status, and nothing says status like a car.
India is already experiencing that with Mumabi already reporting more than 300 new car-license requests each month. Given the state of India's infrastructure, which has old roads not designed for the automobile, it may soon start experiencing the same sort of gridlock that we do in Ontario.
That's what we need to be planning for, for that day in the not-so-distant future when the world's largest nations begin to reap material rewards for their economic prowess. This is where we need to start looking at the world from their point of view, which has been shaped by years of being treated as an inferior.
For far too many years, both China and India were subservient to other masters. Both gained their independence in the first half of the 20th century. China became a closed country, retreating behind the veil of communism and pretty much relegating its people to a feudal status. India, on the other hand, received plenty of foreign investment from companies who wanted cheap labor. India's wake-up call came in 1984, when a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal leaked toxic gases into the environment. As is typical, the company fought tooth and nail against giving any significant compensation to the people who lived in the surrounding area.