Red Alert: China’s Suffocating Smog Problem
Beijing, as well as a vast area from Xian in central to China to Harbin in the frigid north-east are in the midst of a hazardous “red-alert” smog. This is the second alert to be issued in Chin, the first warning was given only a little more than a week ago. Residents in Beijing especially are being advised to omit from going outdoors and are even undergoing restrictions on the use of vehicles, factories and construction work.
The health effects are alarming. Long-term exposure to PM2.5—particulate matter in smog—can lead to lung damage and respiratory illnesses. A staggering 1.4 million premature deaths is attributed to the hazardous smog in China. “The World Health Organization considers PM2.5 readings of 25 micrograms per cubic meter as the maximum safe level. The smog which hit Beijing on 8 December peaked just below 300.” The pollution index will most likely exceed 500—more than twenty times the level deemed safe by the WHO— in Beijing and parts of the Hebei province. Meteorological authorities suggest that the smog will cover a whopping 1,200 miles of the country, including at least twelve major cities.
The smog is a result of the excessive use of coal-burning power plants as well as pollution from industries as well as the staggering amount of cars present in China. After three decades of expansion and booming economic growth, China is finally starting to acknowledge its climate change responsibilities. In the past, China has “regularly come under fire for its lack of transparency about air quality index figures…” (CNN) Even worse, China is currently the largest carbon emitter in the world. However, it has vowed to reduce these emissions by at least 50% over the next five years. In terms of making palpable changes, China was a part of the COP21 Paris agreement in which 195 countries collectively ratified legally-binding agreements, signaling their much-needed weaning off of fossil fuels.
“I think (the government) is doing a better job than before,” Beijing resident Ma Yunan said. “In previous times, the government would not issue red alerts even when the haze was very serious. Now they are publishing alerts beforehand for us to get ourselves prepared and the alerts are accompanied with some measures.”