Pollution in Beijing means no clear skies, and the government has actually been showing morning commuters a digital sunrise on electronic boards outside of Tiananmen Square. It has been named “airpocalypse'” and is getting worse every year. Beijing’s municipal government reported a yellow warning and Chinese officials have closed four highways, due to lack of visibility.
The United States Embassy warned that the levels of pollution had risen to a hazardous level. Hazardous means an air quality index above 300, at which point the concentration of fine particulate matter in the air is many times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization, (WHO).
A decrease in tourism is affecting the economy, and the reason is the terrible pollution. The number of people visiting as tourists is down 10.3 percent from 2012. Even if you are in Beijing to sight-see, you would not be able to see the city’s skyline. A person can see about 500 meters ahead, which does not bode well for getting safely around the city when you are not familiar with its buildings and roads.
Pollution levels in Beijing mean that clear skies are at a premium.
Benjamin Golze, an American graduate student in architecture, was just leaving the city after designing a new embassy building that would be attractive, but keep the smog out of the offices. Golze says that rather than creating buildings that do not allow polluted air inside, the focus should be on proper ventilation of office pollution to the outside. His research is to be included in his master’s thesis for the University of California, Berkeley.
Since approximately 80 percent of a worker’s time is spent indoors, it is crucial that something be done to improve air quality in office buildings. Golze stated that mechanical engineers need to look at how they are ventilating the bad air from the inside to the outside, as much as focusing on the outdoor pollution coming inside.
On Thursday, the smog was measured at 350-500 micrograms of particulates, and was so thick it was a hazy grey color. WHO recommends less than 20 micrograms to be safe for those venturing out-of-doors. Commuters wore heavy-duty masks as they made their way through soupy air.
In the past, it was coal-mining and processing areas of China that were pollution harbors. Now, it has spread to major cities, such as Harbin. It is the tenth most populous city and is in the northeast part of the country. Harbin saw record levels of pollution last year.
Stuart Leavenworth wrote a letter from Beijing, saying, “The official position is that the problem is caused primarily by weather inversions, auto emissions and coal-burning. Yet as a country where there is little rule of law, China has no comprehensive system of monitoring, permitting and regulating sources of air pollution.”
Instead, Chinese officials want to recognize the good things that the smog has brought. China Central Television’s website listed five positive outcomes of pollution. One was that it united the people of China over their physical challenges with the toxic atmosphere. Another reason was that it makes China more equal. It also raises awareness of the cost of China’s economic development. The smog makes people funnier. In addition, more pollution means people have more knowledge of weather and pollution’s consequences.
For those who have experienced smog, it means there are no clear days in Beijing.
Editorial by Lisa M Pickering