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Fear the Airpocalypse
Smog Choking Some of Asia’s Biggest Cities

Beijing’s air pollution problem has been well documented, and its persistence in recent years earned itself the ominous moniker of the “airpocalypse.” Though we hadn’t heard much in the media about this problem in 2015, alarm bells were rung once again last week when the Chinese capital issued its first-ever “red alert” over air quality concerns, effectively shutting the city down.

But the capital isn’t the only Chinese megacity enshrouded by dangerous pollutants. As Reuters reports, Shanghai is now dealing with its own smog crisis:

On Tuesday, a curtain of grey smog fell over Shanghai, China’s business capital with a population of over 20 million. It limited visibility and drove the city’s air quality index (AQI) above 300, a level deemed “hazardous” on most scales and which can have a long-term impact on health. […]

The smog prompted Shanghai authorities to issue a “yellow alert,” the third-highest level warning, and to advise elderly, young and sick residents to remain at home, avoid outdoor activity and keep the windows closed.

A red alert in Beijing and a yellow alert in Shanghai—two foreboding color-coded alarms in as many weeks. But air quality concerns aren’t exclusive to China. As Reuters reports, India is cracking down on large diesel vehicles in its own capital city of New Delhi in an attempt to get a handle on endemic smog:

A Supreme Court decision on Wednesday to alleviate the smog-choked capital has unsettled India’s car industry, which says an uneven, haphazard policy makes it hard to plan investments and allows damaging regulatory arbitrage across states. […]

According to the World Health Organization, 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India. To combat this, the government is debating policies including reducing cars in Delhi or offering cash to drivers who scrap old vehicles. […]

On Thursday, according to measurements taken by the U.S. Consulate, Delhi registered an air quality index of 393 – well over the 301 level that marks “hazardous” levels. But Kolkata was “very unhealthy” at 212 and Mumbai “unhealthy” at 172 – all higher than Beijing, which was at 151.

These air pollution problems are going to get worse before they get better. As the Northern hemisphere heads into winter, colder months will spur demand for heating and increase coal consumption. China has tried to hide the depth of this issue with phony numbers, but this December denizens of some of Asia’s biggest cities are being reminded again of the dangers posed by toxic smog.

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  • Jim__L

    OK, what are the pollutants in Beijing?

    Los Angeles’s air quality is still not great, but it has improved recently for two reasons. One, when the lead was removed from gasoline. Two, when the orange groves were plowed under to make room for subdivisions.

    Farmers used to use smudgepots to helped keep the orange trees warm at night in the winter. Orange trees that suffer from frost won’t produce oranges for at least a season. Smudgepots deliberately introduce a localized greenhouse effect, producing large amounts of relatively warm smoke that prevented the groves from radiating their warmth directly to the 4-Kelvin cold of deep space.

    As for Beijing, occasionally they get dust from storms in the Gobi desert (those can reach all the way to California sometimes) which can do awful things to air quality. (At at least one point in Chinese history, these yellow skies were a sign that the blue-favoring emperor had lost the mandate of heaven and the people should put on yellow headbands and revolt. No, I’m not kidding.)

    A quick check on Google came up with some performance artists making a point, but nothing on the actual constituents of the smog. Is that information available anywhere?

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