Reuters “Beijing grinds to halt as second ever 'red alert' issued over severe smog” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/18/beijing-pollution-second-ever-red-alert-smog-china
Agence France-Presse “Beijing's smog 'red alert' enters third day as toxic haze shrouds city” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/21/beijings-smog-red-alert-enters-third-day-as-toxic-haze-shrouds-city
Counts of PM2.5 – harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs – were 172 micrograms per cubic metre earlier on Monday, according to the US embassy, which issues independent readings.
The reading is nearly seven times the World Health Organisation’s recommended maximum exposure of 25 over a 24-hour period.
PM2.5 was expected to peak at above 300 micrograms per cubic metre on Tuesday, the state-run Beijing Daily reported, citing environment authorities.
“The Guardian view on Beijing’s smog alert: dealing with the symptom not the cause” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/20/the-guardian-view-on-beijing-smog-alert-dealing-with-the-symptom-not-the-cause
But the fundamental changes needed to seriously reduce pollution are a very tall order indeed for a society and a political system which is so heavily invested in an obsolete and literally dirty economic model. The government is trying to reduce coal use, but so far the practical emphasis has been on moving things rather than changing them, and on capping industrial growth rather than transforming its nature. The long-term plan is for new “megacities” which will ease the strain on the existing major urban and industrial centres, but there must be a question over such a strategy, which could end by spreading the problem rather than solving it*2. New industry has been capped in Beijing’s neighbouring and also heavily polluted province of Hebei, yet Beijing factories and wholesale markets are still being advised to relocate there. Villages on the capital’s outskirts have been demolished so that the mayoral offices can be transferred there*3, a move equivalent to setting down Boris Johnson somewhere out beyond the M25.
The attempt to reduce pollution has been helped by the Chinese economic slowdown, which has cut the consumption of coal, the principal factor in the toxic mix. But there lies the dilemma for the government. Maintaining economic growth is vital, but so is containing pollution. Pollution cuts life expectancy, with some studies suggesting it is five years shorter in northern China than in the south, and that 1.6 million people die prematurely every year because of it*4. The Chinese economy is literally killing the people it is supposed to be benefiting. That is not a contradiction that can for much longer be glossed over by such nostrums as telling people to drink more tea, as the Chinese state broadcasting company did during the first red alert earlier this month*5.
*2:See Mandy Zuo “China needs to build 10 more megacities to ease pollution and traffic pressure on Beijing, top planner says” http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/1890976/china-needs-build-10-more-megacities-ease-pollution-and
*3:See Zhou Xin “After nearly nine centuries, Beijing’s mayoral office to move outside the heart of the capital in bid to cut pollution” http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/1889268/after-nearly-nine-centuries-beijings-mayoral-office
*4:See Cary Huang “Winds of change: after years of denial, China’s politicians have finally woken up to nation’s concerns over hazardous air pollution” http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/1890198/winds-change-after-years-denial-chinas-politicians-have
*5:See Tom Phillips “Smog-hit Beijing residents told to stay positive and drink more tea” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/beijing-residents-told-to-be-positive-as-smog-crisis-continues
*6:See “The Great Smog of 1952” http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/learn-about-the-weather/weather-phenomena/case-studies/great-smog