A conscious look at a map showing China’s pollution status in real time reveals that the situation is critical
Pollution is the trademark of our modern world. It is consubstantial to the biosphere we know, but it does not mean that it is an acceptable part of life and governments strive to reduce pollution in their countries and, hence, improve the health of their citizens and to diminish the environmental impact. China is no exception and its situation is serious. Is pollution reduction functioning? Is the situation improving?
A conscious look at a map showing China’s pollution status in real time, fed by publicly available government data, reveals that the situation is critical, particularly toward the eastern coast of the country. According to Greenpeace, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi’an show dangerously high concentration of PM2.5 (combustion particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 μm that penetrate into the body), exceeding the World Health Organization guidelines. That means an increased risk to the cerebrovascular system, cardiovascular system, and an increasement of the probability of cancer and premature death. Air pollution causes around 1.1 million deaths per year, but the trend is starting to change.
In 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared war on air pollution and, in March of this year, he renewed his promise “to make our skies blue again”. His weapons are many and very different: reduction of the production of steel and of coal-fired electricity, requesting resident of the cities to give up coal stoves and furnaces, requiring higher-quality gasoline and diesel for vehicles, and setting of car emission standards (to take effect in 2020), similar to American and European.
But coal is the main focus of Chinese government. In March, it announced the closure of 103 plants fueled by coal and promised to cut steel production by 50 million tons; instead of the mineral, China is investing in wind and solar power. Moreover, it is watching the emissions: with its characteristic speed, it built a network of monitors of PM2.5 levels, from where the publicly available data come from. However, cutting the production of coal-generated electricity and intending to cut the production of steel can deeply affect the economy, since these activities provide a large amount of jobs and state-owned companies control it, making the application of those measures sensibly difficult. Those are all enormous efforts and challenges which China has to face; it remains yet to be determined if the measures will work.
Latin American Post | Andrés Felipe Ropero Santiago
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto