Beijing, is known for many things; Peking duck, the 2008 Olympics, the Great Wall and unfortunately, the toxic smog which often enshrouds the city. Having lived in a small seaside town for the majority of my life, pollution is a word which I rarely paid attention to. However, after spending the past few months breathing in hazardous fumes, I am realising the severity of air pollution in China.
There is something so very disconcerting when you wake up and look outside to see a completely monotonous backdrop. With towering skyscrapers and six lane highways running through the city, Beijing is a concrete jungle, and when coupled with the thick, dusty atmosphere, the result is almost dystopian. Now that we have entered March, the weather in Beijing is improving rapidly, the city is no longer bitterly cold and I truly believe that the minus temperatures and suffocating pollution is the main reason why I was so unsettled here last semester. Seasonal Affective Disorder has been scientifically proven, could Pollution Affective Disorder be the next thing to face us?
Aside from the superficial effect of pollution upon the appearance of the metropolis, the health risks of air pollution are worrying. It is well known that air pollution causes respiratory diseases, and is particularly dangerous for high risk groups, such as children and the elderly. Walking around the city, it is common to see people walking around wearing pollution masks. However, the most dangerous airborne pollutant is PM2.5, a particle small enough to pass through our blood vessels, yet alone a mass produced piece of fabric. The image below shows a comparison of the pollution level in Edinburgh today, versus the pollution in Beijing on the 1st January 2017. What a lovely start to the year!
Locals are not blind to this issue and prominent Chinese notables have spoken out against the stifling air. Released in February 2015, Under the Dome was the product of a year long self-funded investigation by prominent Chinese journalist, Chai Jing. In the documentary, Chai places the blame for her unborn child’s tumour diagnosis upon China’s pollution epidemic. Receiving outstanding reviews from the world over, the documentary disappeared from Chinese internet servers a week after its release. In the weeks leading up to the G20 Summit, held in Hangzhou in 2016, nearby factories were forcibly closed to ensure clear blue skies when the world’s most influential were welcomed to China. The Chinese government is well aware that pollution is dangerous towards the population, and yet, continues to hide crucial information from the Chinese people.
However, it would be unfair to write about China’s air pollution and ignore the country’s recent efforts to control C02 emissions. Just last September, China promised to ratify the Paris climate change agreement and draw 20% of energy from non-fossil fuels by 2030. It was noted in China’s Renewable Energy Revolution that China’s renewable energy system is ‘larger than the renewable systems built by the United States, Germany, India and Spain combined’ and if this trend continues, China is likely to meet its 2030 target. Construction has also begun on the Nanjing Green Towers, two vertical forest skyscrapers designed by Italian architect, Stefano Boeri, which will absorb 25kg of C02 each year, and produce 60kg of oxygen daily. Of course, it is argued that two green towers in a city of 8.23 million is a mere drop in the ocean. However, this is clearly a step in the right direction, and could spark similar architecture trends throughout the nation.
Today, as I sit here writing this, Beijing is beautiful. It is a balmy 17 degrees and the sky is completely blue. However, I have learnt not to get too excited when we are graced with days such as this, because, sooner or later, the smog will always return. My experience in this city has taught me that blue skies and clean air back in the UK should never be taken for granted. Pollution is serious and if steps are not taken to rectify this issue, stifling smog could soon become the norm the world over.