China’s economic growth “at any cost” has indeed some with a cost, air pollution on a grand scale and, in her biggest cities, the premature deaths of hundreds.
The increased number of vehicles and coal-fired industry and power plants, combined with weather conditions and geological features, has led to astonishing levels of air pollution in the Chinese capital, Beijing, and other Chinese cities. Emissions controls haven’t advanced nearly as fast as necessary, and the city simply can’t cope with the emissions from and hundreds of thousands of cars, buses, trucks, and planes, as well as industry and power production. In January, for example, the US Embassy’s air-quality monitoring equipment couldn’t even measure the amount of air pollution, because it was worse than the 755mcg [micrograms per cubic meter]. The World Health Organization [WHO] considers a maximum safe daily level of PM2.5 to be 25mcg.
China has been trying to curb air pollution by various measures, but they haven’t been effective. Authorities have imposed air-pollution taxes, restricted automobile traffic by evens and odds by license plate number, limiting new automobile registrations, even electric vehicle incentives, all to no avail. As a last resort, Beijing authorities shut down traffic on six major expressways linking Beijing with surrounding cities of Shanghai, Tianjin, and Harbin. Beijing Capital International Airport was limited, as well, canceling 47 flights. After a week of shutdowns, everything was opened back up on October 7.
The shutdown was effective in reducing air pollution levels in Beijing, from an Air Quality Index [AQI] reading of 257 on October 8 [there is some lag time between the actual shutdown and its effect on the atmosphere], the day after the roads were reopened, to AQI 70 on October 10, two days and a light rain later. These results are encouraging, but the AQI will rise again unless China does something about reducing or eliminating emissions on a permanent basis. Given that this will require significant investment, China faces an uphill battle, on the same hill she created with the economic boom.
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