"I heard that foreign media declared Linfen the most polluted city," he said. "That was embarrassing… During the Olympics they shut down a lot of coal mines and polluting industries, so it's better now." They were no longer the number-one polluted city, he said.

We asked him who had taken the lead spot.

"I don't know," he said. "It doesn't matter. At least it's not us."


No globe-trotting environmental potboiler is complete without a visit to China, and Visit Sunny Chernobyl is no exception. In fact, you could write an entire book about China's environmental problems and what they mean for the planet. (Actually, somebody already did.)

After starting out in the electronics-recycling wonderland of Guiyu ("wonderland" loosely defined) and participating in a little child labor in a circuit-board reclamation shop, I headed north, to Linfen.

Legendary as the most polluted city in the world, Linfen has become a poster child for what China is doing to the environment lately (the same things the West has been doing for a hundred years). But in the thick smog of charming downtown Linfen, I found myself wondering just how horrible a place has to be to live up to its reputation—and I discovered that environmental horror stories often have problems of their own.


next: The Most Polluted River in India and/or the World