A Look Inside Beijing’s Epic Pollution Problem

Photo: Jenner Images (Getty)

A smogpocalypse is wreaking havoc in China. It seems after hosting the Olympics back in 2008, Beijing has let loose. With more than 20 million residents and an exploding economy, who couldn’t have predicted an environmental catastrophe?

On December 7, 2015, China issued its first-ever red alert concerning air pollution. After a spike in respiratory illnesses in hospitals, officials finally cracked down. Beijing closed its schools for three days, ordered certain vehicles to only drive every other day and issued a ban on fireworks and outdoor barbecues. Even government agencies were told to lay off the driving.

The culprit: a confluence of aggressive coal-burning, vehicle emissions and stagnant winter weather.

China emits the most greenhouse gases in the world.
beijing pollution problem, china pollution

They’ve promised to cut their peak emissions in half by 2030.
beijing pollution problem, china pollution
But I wouldn’t hold my breath — pun intended.

Air pollution caused 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010.
beijing pollution problem, china pollution
… And the Chinese are pissed. A cook by the name of Jia Xiaojiang put it this way: “The smog is like toxic gas. I never had a sore throat before, but since last year my throat’s been hurting when I speak more.” Quartz reported that Northern China was under a menacing cloud of pollution the size of California, which is roughly 205,000 square miles. “I’m used to the smog,” said Beijing local Wolf Hu. “I’d find a day when the sky is blue unusual.” When you’re surprised to see blue in the sky, maybe it’s time to buy a hybrid.

In 2014, toxic small chemicals were 24 times the levels deemed safe.
beijing pollution problem, china pollution

The city of Beijing experienced 200 days of “unhealthy or worse” air conditions in 2014, with 21 days being called “hazardous.”
beijing pollution problem, china pollution

The smog strikes swiftly and randomly.
beijing pollution problem, china pollution
Only a week after the first ever red alert, the government issued a second one last Thursday. China’s national meteorological centre warned this would happen, saying another bout of smog would be “worse than the spell between Dec. 6 and 9. The photos below feature the same location, with one day’s difference.

China has about as many cars as the U.S. has people.
beijing pollution problem, china pollution

The country burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world.
beijing pollution problem, china pollution
3.8 billion tons versus 4.2 billion tons annually, to be exact.

76 percent of citizens think air pollution is a “big problem.”
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53 percent still think the problem will only get worse in the next five years, even with new regulations.
beijing pollution problem, china pollution
Does China need a savior like Al Gore? No, nobody does. But disgruntled citizens en masse seem to be making the point that times need to change. At one point, it may have been thought that breathing a small amount of fumes was worth a rapidly expanding economy and potential global trade domination, but as Maroon 5 put it, “It’s getting harder and harder to breathe.”

Enterprising Canadians who jokingly came up with the idea of selling air are making a killing.
beijing pollution problem, china pollution

According to China’s Environmental Ministry, only eight cities (in the whole country) meet air quality standards.
beijing pollution problem, china pollution

Still, people are attempting to cope.
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Reporting from the Mandatory News Desk, this is Noah Henry wishing the entire country of China a fond zhù nǐ hǎo yùn.

beijing pollution problem, china pollution