China’s dust — Korea’s Yellow Peril

Flying into Seoul yesterday evoked the worst images of Los Angeles in the 1960s. Our 777 descended into a bilous yellow haze that smothered Incheon like a sullen blanket. Stepping outside at the arrivals level, the haze was so think that I could barely make out the outline of the huge silver traffic center only a few hundred years away.

Welcome to Korea’s yellow dust season, a period when all the dust and pollution from China and Mongolia wafts across the Yellow Sea, blanketing Korea, and Japan in an eye-watering noxious cloud. Yesterday, temperatures soared and the Korean Meteorological Agency posted an ozone warning, encouraging Koreans to stay indoors.

The dust is a reminder of the borderless consequences of deforestation, uncontrolled industrialization and environmental irresponsibility. At it’s peak, China’s dust crosses the Pacific and contributes measurably to pollution in the Los Angeles basin. When the dust is at its worst, Koreans don gauze masks and do their best cope. It is anyone’s guess what the cost of this pollution is in terms of premature death and pulmonary disability, but of course China has more important things to worry about. Like so many of China’s exports, the moment the pollution crosses the border, it is no longer China’s problem.