Thursday, October 24, 2013

China's ongoing problems with air pollution

    I decided to look at China’s air pollution issue and how it comes with a heavy price tag for the Chinese. While China has one of the biggest economies as far as growth, they’re paying for it; Vicki Ekstrom says, “Although China has made substantial progress in cleaning up its air pollution, a new MIT study shows that the economic impact from ozone and particulates in its air has increased dramatically. Quantifying costs from lost labor and the increased need for health care, the study finds that this air pollution cost the Chinese economy $112 billion in 2005. That’s compared to $22 billion in such damages in 1975.” Researchers looked at both short term and long term effects on health, and in doing so they found that two main causes for the increase in pollution’s costs are rapid urbanization in addition to the increased number of people exposed to the pollution. Also, higher incomes raised the costs associated with lost productivity. Nam, a researcher, says that pollution led to a $64 billion loss in gross domestic product in 1995.
    China has become the world’s largest emitter of mercury, carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Even after significant improvements over the past 25-30 years, the concentrations were still five times higher than what is considered safe. These high levels of pollution have led to 656,000 premature deaths in China each year from ailments caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution, according to World Health Organization estimates from 2007. China is taking steps to respond to these health and economic concerns. In January, the nation set a target to limit its carbon intensity by 17% by 2015, compared with 2010 levels.
    That article is from February of last year and still today, almost 2 years later China still is dealing with intense air pollution. Today this article was released discussing the continuous air pollution issue in China. Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China's largest cities on Monday, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country's first major air pollution crisis of the winter.  An air pollution level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organization recommends a daily level of no more than 20. Some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people today, saw a reading of 1,000.
     Visibility was reportedly reduced to 10 meters; the smog is expected to continue for the next 24 hours. Air quality in Chinese cities is of increasing concern to China's stability-obsessed leadership because it plays into popular resentment politically and to the rising inequality in the world's second-largest economy. Domestic media have run stories describing the expensive air purifiers government officials enjoy in their homes and offices, alongside reports of special organic farms so cadres need not risk suffering from recurring food safety scandals. The government has announced plans over the years to tackle the pollution problem but has made little progress.
    The information revealed in both of these articles seems like enough to cause for major concern in China and should inspire the Chinese government and citizens to address this air pollution problem immediately. People are expressing their anger over social media and in another article I read it says some citizens are even starting to protest. This caught my attention because the Chinese people are some of the last people I would expect to publicly show frustration with their government.  China has been dealing with this issues for decades and it isn’t going to be fixed overnight but, one suggestion I have for China’s government is creating incentives or subsidies for companies and/or regions of the country that keep air pollution at a safe level.
--Joseph Fleming

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