Beijing’s air quality ranged from “Hazardous” to “Very Unhealthy” during our time in the city (according to the real-time Air Quality Report). I’d come to the conclusion in my mind, “This has to be the most polluted city in the world.” But I’m sad to say, it’s not. In fact, it’s not even the most polluted city in China – not even among the top 10 most polluted Chinese cities! I asked two young people (just out of college) if people were angry about the air pollution and demanding change. They said, “There is nothing that we can do. The government is in control.”
Why is Beijing’s air so bad? They’ve got:
- Factories. Coal burning power plants that become much worse in the winter. Beijing’s central heating is powered by coal. Industrial production of materials like steel, cement, and bricks
- Cars. Exhaust from millions of trucks & cars. On any given day, license plates ending in 2 distinct numbers (like 1 or 5, for example) are banned from driving on the road. These numbers rotate every day. When it gets really bad, they may ban evens or odds.
- Geographical circumstances. Dust/sand blows in from neighboring desert lands. There is limited air movement because the city is bordered on 3 sides by mountains.
When China wants to make its skies look blue, it can. The government will shut down thousands of factories and reduce the number of cars that are allowed to drive. They did this when they hosted a meeting for the Asia Pacific Environmental Commission (APEC). The sky turned a beautiful blue for a week, which our tour guide said people referred to as “APEC blue.” As soon as the meeting was over though, the factories were told to start up again.
Here is a poem from Dr. Seuss that reminded us far too much of what’s going on in Beijing.
…I meant no harm.
I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger.
So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory.
I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons.
I biggered the loads of the Thneeds I shipped out.
I was shipping them forth
to the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering... selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.
Then again he came back! I was fixing some pipes
when that old-nuisance Lorax came back with more gripes.
"I am the Lorax," he coughed and he whiffed.
He sneezed and he snuffled. He snarggled. He sniffed.
"Once-ler!" he cried with a cruffulous croak.
"Once-ler! You're making such smogulous smoke!
My poor Swomee-Swans... why, they can't sing a note!
No one can sing who has smog in his throat. "
And so," said the Lorax,
"please pardon my cough
they cannot live here. So I'm sending them off.
"Where will they go?... I don't hopefully know.
They may have to fly for a month... or a year...
To escape from the smog you've smogged up around here…