America Must Reclaim the Global Lead on Climate Change

America Must Reclaim the Global Lead on Climate Change

Five places to start undoing the Trump administration’s damage and rebuilding U.S. leadership.

Sometimes seismic change has an unlikely beginning. Back in 2007, American diplomats stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing were worried about the air they were breathing. It was no secret that Beijing had truly abysmal air quality, but few trusted the Chinese government’s publicly available pollution reports. So the embassy staff did something that seemed innocuous at the time: They installed a pollution monitor on the roof of the embassy to measure the local air quality and started tweeting the results. All the Twitter account was meant to do was help U.S. citizens based in Beijing figure out when it was safe for their children to be outdoors. It ended up pushing a superpower to the table to collaborate with the United States on climate policy.

Chinese citizens quickly noticed that the measurements tweeted by the U.S. Embassy didn’t match the rosier figures published by the Chinese government. Pollution was off the charts in Beijing, caused mainly by the power plants and heavy industry driving the Chinese economy. At first, Chinese officials complained about the account and blocked access to Twitter throughout China, but the embassy continued to publish the air-quality measurements. Many Chinese now had public proof that the air they were breathing was deeply unsafe.