Fear the Airpocalypse
Toxic Smog Keeps Chinese Children Indoors

It’s winter again, and that means dangerous air pollution is once more choking China’s megacities as spiking demand for heating necessitates brings sooty coal-fired power plants back online. Beijing has already issued two “red alerts” this month—for the first and second time ever—that have kept cars off the road and warned people to stay indoors and wear protective masks. This week, the smog in Beijing might not be quite that bad, so healthy adults have their run of the Chinese capital. But the city is warning children and the elderly to avoid going outside and breathing in the toxic pollutants. Bloomberg reports:

Beijing advised children and the elderly to stay indoors today after pollution levels in the Chinese capital reached “heavy” levels.

The concentration of PM2.5 particles — considered the most hazardous to people’s health — was 320 micrograms per cubic meter as of 8 a.m. near Tiananmen Square, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center’s website. The World Health Organization recommends PM2.5 exposure of no more than 25 over 24 hours.

Concerned parents have banded together to raise money to install air filters in their children’s classrooms. China Daily reports:

The lasting air pollution in Beijing has driven increasing numbers of parents to collect money and install filters in classrooms, but many were rejected by schools. The reasons given included disapproval from the Beijing Commission of Education. […]

The commission said student health is among its top concerns, and it has been working with experts, research institutes and environmental protection authorities to seek the best way to control air pollution at schools.

The efforts made include reducing outdoor activities on smoggy days and suspending classes after a red alert for pollution has been issued.

Polluted air is an insidious beast, and for Beijing’s residents at this time of year it is an ever-present one. It was “linked to 1.2 million premature deaths in China” in 2010, not to mention the material damages, health care costs, and hits to the tourism industry the smog entails. Parents now consider the quality of a building’s air filtration system when choosing schools for their children, while giant bubbles have popped up over sports fields to allow children to play outside.

Smog is a deadly serious problem for China, and it’s certainly a large driver behind Beijing’s recent rapprochement with the global green order. China’s promise to curtail emissions late last year and its willingness to play ball at the Paris negotiations earlier this month weren’t driven by a sudden appreciation for the beauty of nature unspoiled, but rather by a bit of dispassionate analysis that shows that China’s pollution problems—whether we’re talking about its water, air, or soil—foment dissent in a population that now, thanks to social media platforms like Weibo, can make its voice heard. And that’s not to mention the economic damage those problems wreak, with or without citizen pushback. And if you’re a parent, what could be more frightening than being told not to let your children outside for the day, for fear of causing lasting lung damage?

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