It’s that time of the year again. No, we’re not speaking of the holiday season, but rather the cyclical resurgence of deadly air pollution in China’s massive cities. In recent years, Chinese air quality has had a tendency to get downright toxic during the colder months of the year as coal-fired power plants work overtime to provide urban denizens the power they need to stay warm. Winter hasn’t officially started yet, but we’re already seeing reports of this annual smog-ification. Reuters reports:
[Air Quality Index (AQI)] readings at some monitoring stations in seven cities in Hebei peaked above 400 on Monday, with Shijiazhuang and two other cities breaking above the 500 limit, Xinhua said. Anything above 300 is considered hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. […]
On Saturday, 22 cities issued red alerts, including top steelmaking city Tangshan city in Hebei and Jinan in coal-rich Shandong province. A red alert is the highest possible air pollution warning.
Amid all these “red alerts,” Beijing is moving to crack down on industrial sources of this air pollution. Reuters has more:
Beijing’s city government ordered 1,200 factories near the Chinese capital, including a major oil refinery run by state oil giant Sinopec, to shut or cut output on Saturday after authorities issued the highest possible air pollution alert.
This isn’t just a public health disaster—though it certainly is that—it’s an enormous drain on the Chinese economy. When you add up all the material damages, premature deaths, associated health care costs, and lost work associated with all of this smog, some analysts estimate China loses 6 percent of its GDP to air pollution.
Beijing has tried to position itself as a green leader of late, signing on and ratifying the (toothless) Paris climate deal while tut-tutting Donald Trump’s dismissal of climate change as a “Chinese hoax,” but its environmental problems at home aren’t going anywhere, despite this global posturing.