‘Airpocalypse’ hits Beijing


In just 12 days, smog enveloped Beijing, completely obscuring the city and its surrounding areas from space. courtesy of Nasa Earth Observatory. courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory

In just 12 days, smog enveloped Beijing, completely obscuring the city and its surrounding areas from space. Photos courtesy of Nasa Earth Observatory.

The levels of smog in Beijing, China are literally off the charts. On January 12, Beijing’s air quality level was hovering around 800.  The Embassy of the United States’ Air Quality Index only records up to 500, according to npr.org. 
Any air pollution level between 301 and 500 is reported as hazardous, a level at which the US Embassy advises, “everyone  avoid all physical activity outdoors.” To put it into perspective, most cities in the United States have air quality at a healthy level that falls below 100.
According to npr.org, long-term exposure to the pollution can decrease a person’s life span by five years. Air pollution is the cause of over 3.2 million premature deaths each year, according to a study published in The Lancet. The majority of these deaths have taken place in China. Parents in China have been keeping their children indoors and investing in air purifiers. People can also be seen wearing masks over their noses and mouths to protect their lungs.
“So how can air pollution be so damaging? It is the very finest soot — so small that it lodges deep within the lungs and from there enters the bloodstream — that contributes to most of the public-health toll of air pollution including mortality,” David Pettit of the Natural Resources Defense Council said on the NRDC’s staff blog, Switchboard.
GPB.org reports that the source of this record-breaking smog has been pinned on recent stagnant weather patterns. The smog accumulates close to the ground around the city and remains settled in Beijing, because of its geography. Beijing is surrounded by mountains that cause cold air to layer warm air and form a trap for pollution. There are many coal-burning factories in Beijing and its surrounding areas that also attribute to the high levels of air pollution, as well as millions of cars that commute in and out of the city every day.
“I believe that it will improve with time. It’s been shown that as western countries became industrialized, there was a time lag between their economies improving and their people demanding that they were not willing to tolerate pollution as a cost of industrialization,” Upper School Science teacher, Dr. Kristina Gremski,  said regarding the pollution. “China began industrialization more recently than us and they seem to be getting to the point where the Chinese people are putting more pressure on their government that they will not put up with pollution. Hopefully, the government will take more action very soon.”
Beijing has been holding off on measures to help curb pollution for years. Heavier rules regarding vehicle-emission standards have been delayed twice since 2005. Factories continue to resist upgrading in order to meet higher fuel-quality levels because of the high expense of upgrading, according to The Wall Street Journal. Beijing’s fast-growing population demands quick growth in jobs that often rely on pollutive methods, which the government is reluctant to change, according to Businessweek.com. However, the government has announced that beginning in July, tighter regulations on fuel-emissions will begin to be enforced.
“Beijing’s government has tried ways to resolve the problem; nevertheless, it should act urgently to find effective solutions,” Upper School Chinese teacher Ms. Joanne Havemeyer said.
– Chloe Kimberlin, Features Co-Editor