Adam Minter


Breathe In. Breathe Out.

China's most important green activist, Ma Jun, just wants some transparency.

In winter, the Beijing haze is often so thick that cars will turn on their head lights to navigate at midday. Meanwhile, the sidewalks exhibit a post-apocalyptic vision: bundled Beijingers, heads down as they walk or cycle through the streets, their faces covered by surgical masks. Those who can afford better protection choose respirators that don’t look much different from what World War I troops used to ward off mustard gas. The precautions are understandable: One recent study estimated that air pollution was responsible for 1.2 million premature Chinese deaths in 2010.

Ma Jun, China’s most important and influential environmental activist of the past three decades, thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. “The conclusion I’ve come to is that the problem isn’t technology,” he says, “but lack of motivation.”

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