December 8th: Beijing issued a red alert (the highest level warning) for the first time ever. The photograph shows students arriving home having left their work midway. (photo courtesy of aflo)
I recently met some acquaintances, a Japanese father and mother of a 3-year-old girl, in Beijing. They told me, with grave looks on their faces:
Beijing has serious air pollution issues, so when we decided to immigrate, we did so on the condition that our child’s preschool would be located inside the same apartment building as our home. Because children who are diagnosed with asthma will have to suffer their whole lives.
The Polluted Surface Area In China, 1.4 Times the Surface Area Of Japan
Their fears are well founded. From late November through to late December, it has been revealed that over 37 cities in the provinces of Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, and Henan have dangerous levels of air pollution spread on huge scales.
The polluted areas amount to 53km2 (1.4 times the surface area of Japan), and the pollution density of ‘particle matter 2.5′ (PM2.5) means there are 1,000 micrograms of polluted matter per 1 cubic meter. The test results overshot China’s environmental criterion of 35 milligrams per 1m3 by 28 times.
The China Daily reported that a Beijing children’s hospital was flooded with patients, and in Beijing recently, there has also been an exponential rise in people being diagnosed with respiratory-related diseases. The Beijing Provincial Government reported that in late November of this year, around 80 thousand bodies were cremated, and around half of them were deaths due to malignant tumors. Most of these were respiratory-related, that is, throat or lung cancers.
A research team at the University of California, Berkeley, published that according to a certain Chinese broadcasting station’s survey, every year over 1.6 million people die of heart or lung diseases, or strokes, meaning over 4,300 people die of those causes every day.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), since around 7 million people die due to air pollution around the world annually, one quarter of those deaths occur in China. The Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China attributes the main causes of this air pollution issue to coal burnt for electricity and heating, which emits harmful substances into the atmosphere, and also vehicle exhaust gas.
Air Pollution to Nuclear Winter
The root of the problem, however, is a lack of effort on the part of the Chinese government in resolving this issue. Research by an American environmental issues think tank revealed that China published its 2012 coal emissions as ‘around 32 billion 3 thousand tons’, but in reality it was 6 billion tons higher, amounting to around 38 billion tons. Similarly, China’s published CO2 emissions were ’91 billion 3 thousand tons’, but in reality, research revealed that it was over 11 billion tons higher, amounting to around 102 billion tons.
This sort of carelessness brings about fears of a ‘nuclear winter’ caused by pollutions levels such as PM2.5. Nuclear winter is when volumes of ash greater than those produced by a nuclear war spread around the atmosphere shutting out the sun, creating a man-made ice age. Currently in China, this PM2.5 is acting much like ash spread due to a nuclear explosion, gradually cooling the country.
In Beijing, the large areas affected by the late November PM2.5 caused a drop in temperature to around -12°C to -13°C.
China: A Country that Doesn’t Reflect the Will of Its People
The American Embassy in China was the first to warn of the Chinese PM2.5 threat to the environment. Since 2009, it has publicized China’s PM2.5 air pollution level on Twitter, but the Chinese government denied it saying that a particular foreign embassy publicized China’s air pollution levels without permission, and doing so over the internet goes against the agreements of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. China had continued to declare it as an act of ‘interference in the domestic affairs of other countries’, but not a while ago, the Chinese government proposed countermeasures to this pollution problem.
Detailed countermeasures first emerged in September 2013 as the “Action Plan on Prevention and Control of Air Pollution”. Beijing only began to move in October 2013 with its “Air Pollution Prevention Plan”, highlighting how slow it was with its countermeasure strategies.
According to the Japanese couple first mentioned, the number of Beijing Japanese school children dropped from 600 students in 2013 to 500 students in 2014, and by September of this year, it had dropped by 200 to 398 students. Compared to its zenith in 2007-8 when there where 688 students, it has now decreased by 40%.
The couple said that this was probably due not only to the anti-Japan movements in 2012, and the subsequent anti-Japan advertising, but more due to families moving away with parents thinking about their children’s health. They also said that, seeing the lack of effort in the Chinese government, Beijing’s air pollution is not a ‘natural disaster’, but a ‘man-made disaster’.
There are many examples of anti-pollution measures in other countries around the world. In England 1952, over 10 thousand people died due to the Great Smog. The overuse of coal caused the deaths, and since 1954, many air pollution control laws have been enforced. In Japan during its high economic growth periods, many people were diagnosed with diseases caused by air pollution such as Yokkaichi asthma, itai-itai disease, and Minamata disease, and the government responded through issuing related bills, consequently reducing damages.
In the case of China, it did not respond to the 2009 warning issued by the American Embassy on PM2.5. Unlike Western bloc nations, China’s leaders do not need elections, and thus they have no need to consider the will of the people. The air pollution issue is a reflection of the evils inherent in the absolute autocracy that the Communist Party of China has established.
If the Communist Party of China continues to disregard its people, Xi Jinping’s administration will indubitably see its downfall sooner or later.
Points in Focus:
- 4,300 people die each day due to the air pollution in China
- Air pollution has been affecting the weather in Beijing, causing an abnormal cold wave resulting in snow.
- China has no elections, and therefore the government does not reflect the will of its people. Consequently, urgent matters remain unresolved.