Beijing’s dirty air is easily the worst thing about living there. You might think what to do about it is obvious. Many people do, including this man who wants to sell the expensive air filter he bought:
I remember the day IQair Sales Rep Justin Shuttleworth came to my place [in Beijing] to give me a demo. This guy has the easiest job in the world. All he does is come with his little air quality measuring device, show you how bad the air you are breathing is in your apartment (indoor air is sometimes worse than outdoor air for those who don`t know), and as the minutes go by, you literally see the amount of particles in the air go down, until it’s basically nil. This was the first time that I could actually smell the difference.
This is from an email list I’m on.
I got the same demo.Â But it had the opposite effect: It made me not want to buy the IQair filter.
The air coming out of the IQair filter was very clean, yes. But there was only so much it could do. More dirty air was always coming into my apartment and no matter how high (= noisy) they ran the machine the overall level of dirt was no more than cut by 2/3rds. I already had an air filter. The air it produced wasn’t quite as clean as air from the IQair filter but it was still much much cleaner than the intake air. The IQair machine cost about 11,000 RMB. My filter had cost about 1,000 RMB. For 1,500 RMB I could buy a bigger version of what I already had, an air filter that cleaned twice as much air per minute as the IQair machine while producing roughly the same amount of noise. Its output was slightly dirtier than the output of the IQair machine but the overall cleaning effect — the reduction in dirt — was much greater. I ended up getting two of the 1,500 RMB filters.
I think of this demo when I hear someone talk about how this or that traditional diets is better than our modern diet. They make a simple point: People who eat the traditional diet are healthy, people who eat the modern diet are unhealthy. Just as the IQair demo guy has “the easiest job in the world.” They inevitably conclude: Eat the traditional diet or at least closer to it. Just as the conclusion of the demo is supposed to be: Buy an IQair filter. It seems so simple.
But it isn’t so simple. Eating the traditional diet isn’t easy, just as the IQair filter isn’t cheap. Maybe their abstraction — their description — of the traditional diet leaves out something important. Just as the IQair people do not measure cleaning power per decibel, which turns out to be what matters. (I traded air pollution for noise pollution. I wanted the best deal possible.)
If you read Good Calories Bad Calories you may remember the Canadian anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson who spent many months with Eskimos eating what they ate. He came back and told the world “you can eat only meat.” In his conclusions and subsequent field experiment, he ignored the fact that the Eskimos ate a lot of fermented meat.