As I’m sure you all know by now, Beijing was in the news on Sunday for all the wrong reasons; the pollution was off the scale as published on the US Embassy Twitter account.
The World Health Organization recommends that a safe level of pollutive emmissions (measured by PM2.5 particles per cubic meter) should be no higher than 25 PM2.5 particles per cubic meter. Over this weekend just gone, the PM2.5 measure went as high as 955, sparking health concerns and international outcry. If I’m honest I did actually feel like I was having more trouble than usual breathing throughout Sunday, and even as I write this I look out of the window and see a thick fog-like haze that reduces visibility to about 200m. As much as I love this city, air quality sure isn’t one of its strong points. It’s not unusual to be able to stare at the sun for a solid minute without any adverse effects to your eyes. Nor is it unusual to hear a Beijing old timer sound like they’re coughing their internal organs up on the side of the street.
The government are (despite their bogusly low official pollution measure) acutely aware of the pollution here. You can tell this because any time anything big happens they will cloud seed, making it artificially rain to “wash away” the pollution (out of sight, out of mind, right?). Trust me, just think Beijing Olympics or National Day (1.10).
Now since this issue has become international news, there has been a response from Premier-to-be Li Ke Qiang, stating that the economy cannot be put before the safety of Chinese citizens, but that improving air quality will be a slow process. My assumption is that his words are just that; words, and that once this topic is safely out of the public eye, these words will go up in smoke just like the millions of tons of toxic emissions that caused this problem in the first place.
I hope to stand corrected.
The sad truth of the matter is that China has, in recent years, cared more about its growing economy than its people. When you’re 1.3 billion strong life is cheap, and the economy cannot afford to be held back. Maybe one day priorities will change, but from where I’m sat, it’s certainly a few smoggy decades and a revolution from becoming a reality.