Posts Tagged ‘PM2.5’
In the last couple of weeks I haven’t had time to take a meditative breath let alone gather any kind of thoughts together to get a Note down here, which, I must say, is rare for this particular brand of laid-back Xi’anite. I have been keeping busy with existing work commitments, my new study routine of 3 Chinese classes a week, the checking out of a new voluntary role, my continued dedication to a ‘new’ running regime, as well as the ongoing work that goes into being a modern husband with Chinese characteristics.
I have also made two flying visits to Wuhan over the last two weeks. And, as the pollution on display during those visits was so bad, I thought I would dig around the web for a few representative images that could then kick-start another Note here. There was even one moment on the Chang Jiang 2nd Bridge, while we were traversing the great Yangtze River, where we became incomprehensibly aware that we were unable to see the river at all for the sickly, grey smog that engulfed it. Further, as I have only managed recently to keep abreast of developments in China by briefly dipping into The Guardian’s China pages, I thought I would give a bit of context to these pictures and pay a small homage to the UK paper’s environmental journalists, and in particular Jonathan Watts (of When A Billion Chinese Jump fame).
Watts noted in his December 7th piece in The Guardian, with reference to Beijing, that: “The smog persists because factories in neighboring provinces release pollutants, construction sites fail to manage dust, traffic grows on the roads and power stations burn ever greater mountains of coal.” These are the same factors that explain our own environmental worries here in Xi’an. However, until recently a very strange situation has existed in China – noted by Zhong Nanshan, President of the China Medical Association – a situation where: “Air pollution is getting worse and worse, but the government data showed it was getting better and better.” Zhong, in his March 16th interview with The Guardian, went on to say that of course people do not actually believe that the air pollution is getting better, but that this disparity between official facts and reality exists because the government hasn’t been monitoring particularly important pollutants. Zhong added, somewhat dispiritingly, that: “If the government neglects this matter, it will be the biggest health problem facing China.”
The main problem – the pollution itself aside – has been that authorities nationwide have not been measuring ozone or small particulate matter known as PM2.5 in the air quality index, when in reality these two pollutants are major contributors to breathing-related health issues. PM2.5 particles are able to directly penetrate lung tissue, causing damage that can lead to serious respiratory problems. PM2.5 refers to pollutants that are 2.5 micrometers in diameter, about 1/30 the width of human hair. Recently, however, the Chinese government has initiated changes to the way in which these pollutants are measured. The situation as it stands at the moment is that major Chinese cities are required to include this particulate matter in their air quality index results.
The government has at the same time been trying to lower expectations ahead of the publication of these new readings, by publically acknowledging that it will take decades for the pollution levels to fall within more widely recognized standards. Wu Dui, a haze expert from the Guangdong Meteorological Agency, observed that: “It took the US and Europe 50 years to deal with their problem. Even if we cut that in half, it will still take 20 to 30 years.” At present, 70% of Chinese cities fall within the existing national standards. However, as Jonathan Watts highlighted in his Guardian piece in January this year: “[D]eputy environment minister Zhang Lijun has warned that 70% will fall below acceptable levels if PM2.5 is added to the index.”
So, even though I am donning my shorts and regularly getting out for run, cutting back on cheese and bacon burgers and the Village Café’s damn good apple pie, Zhong Nanshan’s concluding words highlight a sad reality: “We all have to breathe. It’s no longer enough just to have a good lifestyle. A green environment is one of the most important elements in deciding people’s health.” I, for one, will still stick to my own new health regime as I am certainly gaining short-term benefits, but sadly the longer-term consequences could be rather serious. Let us just hope that we will wake up one day able to halt the forces that are pushing our world’s countries and economies down this particular path of development. Then, maybe, our kids might get half a chance of being responsible for their own health. I can only hope that I will, a few years from now, still have the respiratory capacity to be able to share in a bit of banter with them. Time will tell.