Air pollution and smog

13 Feb

Smog in Lianyungang

Air pollution levels in China and in particular its largest cities have become a major environmental and health concern in the last decade. 400,000 people are reported to die each year from causes related to air pollution (Watts, 2005). Beijing and Shanghai in particular are often choked by smog. In China’s bid for the 2008 Olympic Games the promise for a “green games” was made in which new standards for environmental management would be set (Watts, 2005). Despite these promises, Beijing was awarded the title of air pollution capital of the world only three years before it was due to host the major sporting event (Watts, 2005). When the games began however the pollution levels had been reduced significantly. During the games the daily average concentrations of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide were reduced by 46·7%, 42·9% and 57·4% respectively compared to 2007 levels (Zhang et al, 2010). Whilst this seems to be a major improvement, the long-term impacts may be less so. The measures used to achieve such reductions were mostly temporary. Closures of high-pollution industries and construction projects during the games along with strong traffic controls temporarily reduced the air pollution of Beijing (Zhang et al, 2010). The most notable measure taken was the removal of almost 1.5 million cars off the roads during the period by alternating driving days with odd or even license plate numbers (Zhang et al, 2010). Despite the temporary nature of these reductions Zhang et al (2010) still argues that they will have some health benefits for the city’s inhabitants but more importantly this case demonstrates what can be achieved in the fight against air pollution if the political will is strong enough.

Whilst acknowledging the health hazards of the smog, the Chinese official media has recently broadcast a list of five unexpected benefits. It was reported that the smog has unified the people as rich and poor are both vulnerable. The smog has also educated people and increased knowledge of meteorology, geography and chemistry and also aids the country’s military defence and camouflage. Lastly the media reported that the smog has made people funnier too as it is often a hot topic online. Possibly the biggest but unreported benefit of the smog to the Chinese government is that it attracts attention away from other, more controversial social issues.

Kaiman, J. (2013) Chinese media find silver linings in smog clouds, [Available online at:] Accessed: 13/02/2014.

Watts, J. (2005), China: the air pollution capital of the world, The Lancet, 366 (9499), pp. 1761-1762.

Zhang, J. Mauzerall, D. Zhu, T. Liang, S. Ezzati, M. and Remais, J. (2010), Environmental health in China: progress towards clean air and safe water, The Lancet, 375 (9720), pp. 1110-1119.


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