How Air Pollution in China Has Hit Unimaginable Levels

By Quartz  JAN 14, 2013 10:25 AM

An unauthorized air monitor and its Twitter account show a truly shocking situation.


Through the year before the Olympics, while we were living in Beijing, I used to do daily views-out-the-window as a guide to the challenge the air-cleanup-people faced. For instance, here was a downtown area a few weeks before the opening ceremony:

Therefore I am sobered by news reports, official warnings, and messages from friends in Beijing, Xi’an, and elsewhere saying that the air pollution there is worse than it has ever been before. Here’s a gauge: the picture above was taken back when the level of dangerous “PM 2.5″ small-particulate pollution, as reported by the rogue @BeijingAir monitoring site on the roof of the US Embassy in Beijing, was in the low-300s “hazardous” range. The readings in the past few days have been in the previously unimaginable 700s-and-above range, reported as “beyond index” by @BeijingAir. The worst I have personally seen in Beijing was in the high 400s, and that day I did not understand how life could proceed any further in such circumstances. The conditions this weekend have been much worse:

As a place-holder and set of reading tips, here are a few points for now:
“The public should understand the importance of development as well as the critical need to safeguard the bottom line of the environmental pollution. The choice between development and environment protection should be made by genuinely democratic methods…“The government cannot always think about how to intervene to ‘guide public opinion.’ It should publish the facts and interests involved, and let the public itself produce a balance based on the foundation of diversification. ”The government is not the only responsible party for environmental pollution. As long as the government changes its previous method of covering up the problems and instead publishes the facts, society will know who should be blamed.”
I could spend all day adding items to the list, but that is surely enough for now. Each will lead you to dozens of other sources. Americans have had football and Golden Globes this weekend, but this week’s Chinese news really matters in a different way.

This story by James Fallows originally appeared on Quartz.

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