The winter air in Tehran is often foul but for six days last week it was hardly breathable. A dense and poisonous chemical smog made up of traffic and factory fumes, mixed with construction dust, burning vegetation and waste has shrouded buildings, choked pedestrians, forced schools and universities to close, and filled the hospitals.
Anyone who could flee the Iranian mega-city of 15 million people has done so, but, say the authorities, in the past two weeks more than 400 people have died as a direct result of the pollution, known as the Asian “brown cloud”.
Tehran is far from alone. A combination of atmospheric conditions, geography and the start of the winter heating season regularly traps urban air pollution from October to February across a great swath of Asia. But this year has seen some of the worst smog episodes in nearly 20 years despite cities trying to reduce traffic and factory emissions.
Poor places are clean because no one has any shit (other than literal shit) to make the place dirty. Places getting rich are filthy. For people spend that getting richer on basics like food, clothing etc. Then rich places get clean as people spend some of that new richness on having a clean place not enveloped in shit.
All well known, it’s the environmental Kuznets Curve.
The only interesting question is when do people think they’re rich enough to start cleaning all that shit up? One estimate I’ve seen is about $8,000 GDP per capita. It’s only one estimate – but it means that China will be cleaner going into the future, Iran, Indonesia still have some way to go.