Crazy Bad: Air Pollution in China

4 Nov

Q: Why did the laowai start smoking in China?

A: Because at least then he was breathing through a filter.

This sort of dark humor is really the only practical way of dealing with China’s truly impressive air quality problems, other than buying a gas mask or face cover. The number of cars in China has exploded in the past five years and industry has picked up again after the global economic slowdown of the past few years. This leads to pictures like this.

Photo taken from The Atlantic.


I was talking to Rachel about the weather here in China and she said, “I hear that people are almost nostalgic about the pollution in Beijing.”

I immediately agreed. “Yeah, I guess I kind of am. I mean, Beijing is up front about its pollution. They’re honest about the fact that you will hack out your lungs. But you still get blue-sky days often enough, you know?”

A pause, wherein all of us look up and glare at Chengdu’s omnipresent gray sky.

Here in Chengdu, they don’t even admit they have a problem! It’s gray all the damn time.”

Rachel’s boyfriend chimed in. “It’s true. They just say it’s ‘cloudy’ out. Uh, newsflash China, this ain’t just clouds and fog.”

When it gets cloudy in Florida, you can still see buildings in the distance. Not so much here.”

 – – – – – – – – – –

Beijing has been in the news recently for its truly ridiculously bad pollution this week. The way we know this? Twitter.

The US Embassy has a pollution counting machine that takes hourly measurements and broadcasts it to the world via @BeijingAir. They decided to make it public on the grounds that the weather in Beijing was enough of a health hazard that American citizens should be aware of it or some such. Thanks, guys! The big thing is that they publish data on PM2.5, the tiny bits of particulate that do the worst damage because it can go deeper into your lungs and really fuck you up. Case example: probably my lungs, given my unshakable consumption-like cough.

Anyways, they’ve had some pretty blatantly poisonous days of late.

I was in Beijing for about six months back in 2009 – I experienced more than my fair share of 500+ days. For reference, the scale goes from 0 to 500. Anything above that has literally broken the scale and is extremely hazardous. Or, in the words of BeijingAir, “crazy bad”. In the US, if the pollution reached anything over 100, people would be freaking out. In Beijing, if it was only 100, we thought it was a nice day.

It’s funny how your sense of scale can go so wrong.

For more information, James Fallows is indispensable, as usual.

Air Emergency: Beijing

Paradise Beijing

More on Beijing Air

The Air Quality Index


One Response to “Crazy Bad: Air Pollution in China”

  1. weather vanes November 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your post seem to be running off the screen in Firefox. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know. The design look great though! Hope you get the problem fixed soon. Cheers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: