Lingering smog over Beijing

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By Joshua Ostrer

Climate change has been a topic of discussion for a while, but China is dealing with drastic climate problems—not only in the future, but today.

China, especially its capital, Beijing, is experiencing the most extreme smog ever witnessed in recent memory.

How bad is it? Well, environmental air pollution is measured in Particulate Matter (PM 2.5).

PM 2.5 are tiny objects in the air, much smaller than a human hair, that can travel into the human lung, and potentially cause serious health problems like lung cancer and death.

The World Health Organization has said that a safe daily level of PM 2.5 is 25 micrograms per meters cubed.

Beijing has a PM 2.5 level of as high as 866 micrograms per cubic meter. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) index only goes up to 500, classifying anything above 300 as “emergency conditions.”

Chinese citizens of Beijing have been instructed to limit outdoor activity as much as they can, while children and the elderly have been advised not to go outside at all.

This is not the first time air has been considered unsafe. Back in 2007, the New York Times noted that only 1 percent of the country’s city-inhabitants were breathing air considered to be safe by the European Union.

Even as far back as 2005, Chinese environmental experts estimated that there would be 380,000 premature deaths due to air pollution annually by 2010, and as many as 550,000 annually by 2020.

How did it get so bad? Many speculate that such severe smog is a result of a cold winter, resulting in higher heating requirements, combined with China’s intensive industrialization and reliance on coal power.

China is actually burning almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined.

On Jan. 29, the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a graph showing that “China’s coal use grew by 325 million tons in 2011, accounting for 87 percent of the 374 million ton global increase in goal use.”

Not only that, but China now accounts for 47 percent of global coal consumption at 3.8 billion tons.

Since 2013 began, China has been in such an intense smog that NASA has noted many of China’s major cities are no longer visible from space.

Inhabitants of Beijing have been forced to wear face masks in an effort to minimize inhalation. The smog has forced some to take more desperate measures.

Chen Gaungbiao, a Chinese multi-millionaire, has begun selling cans of clean air for five yuan (80 cents) a piece.

The seriousness of the situation is very much on the minds of the Chinese government, which  has threatened to take all cars off the streets. And this problem is not only China’s any longer.

As recently as Feb. 4, Japanese officials are warning Japanese children and adults with respiratory illnesses to stay indoors as the smog drifts over Japan. Japan is experiencing record highs in air pollution as a result.

China’s dire situtation has prompted citizen involvement. Chinese citizens are calling for increased environmental standards to be implemented immediately.

What the Chinese government will do to bring an end to this environmental crisis remains to be seen, but it has become obvious that radical policy changes will need to take place if China wants to lift the smog over its capital city.

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