China has been experiencing a rapid economic growth during recent couple of decades. It has become a major production site for many international companies and global brands which has influenced the lives of local population a great deal, providing them with opportunity to earn better financial standing than earlier generations of their families have had. With increased economic strength, however, massive industrialization and urbanization of China have lead to massive environmental problems associated with tremendous rates of pollution. China’s capital, Beijing, as all the other major cities within the country, has become a dangerous place for living due to the increased levels of air, water, and soil pollution. At the same time, as local government and residents become more and more concerned about the rising risk for people’s health, new solutions are being developed.
As in any other major city, Beijing’s environment has always been far from perfect but the hazards of bad ecology had remained unnoticed by the majority of local population and unacknowledged by government officials until recently. The problem was not evident until the fall of 2013 when a dense wave of smog began to influence daily lives of city residents (Zhang et al., 2014). During that fall, population of Beijing has started to get used to heavy fog consisting of pollutant particles that interfere with normal breathing, cover everything with dust, and significantly reduce visibility. With air quality being classified as unhealthy or worse more than 51% of all days in Beijing (Zhang et al., 2014), air pollution makes up a serious threat to people’s health.
The effects of pollution on people’s health have been examined within various studies. One recent study reports that 31.8% of all recorded deaths may be linked to pollution in one way or another (Berlinger et al., 2017). Another study estimates that life expectancy for people living in ares with high levels of air pollution was 5.5 years shorter than for those leaving in cleaner areas (Zhang et al., 2014). Air pollution was also linked to genetic changes in babies leading to significantly lower level of a protein that is crucial for brain development, mastering learning and memory skills (Zhang et al., 2014). These risks reported by Chinese scholars just add up to the well-known negative impact poor air quality my have on respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Apart from the devastating effect on people’s health mentioned above, smog also introduces significant inconveniences to daily life, making it difficult to breathe and see.
Trying to protect themselves from the dense smog that constantly covers the city, locals have become accustomed to various safety measures. For one, everyone wears a respirator mask designed to reduce the amount of pollutant particles getting into the body whenever they go outside. Secondly, on days when air quality is especially bad as determined by governmental agency, public schools and other institutions may be shut down to encourage people to stay inside. Some schools in Beijing have even invested into constructing domes that enclose the entire school outdoor areas in order to protect students from the bad air (Zhang et al., 2014). In addition to that, affluent residents are investing significant funds into buying apartments in cleaner areas of Beijing as well as equipping their homes with fresh air filtering systems, air purifiers, tank water filters, and buying clean, organic foods (Berlinger et al., 2017). Being quite expensive, these measures, however, cannot be afforded by middle class residents which leaves the vast majority of city’s population to suffer from the pollution.
Beijing is located in northern part of China where coal burning has been a major source of electric and heating powers. Burning of this natural resource produces a dense smoke with tiny particles in it that are responsible for a large share of air pollution in this area. High density of population in cities along with intensified industrialization of China have contributed to even higher levels coal-associated pollution during recent decades. Apart from this, establishing various production plants have also added to the water, soil, and air pollution. Furthermore, numerous vehicles driving around the city every day also have their share on responsibility for the heightened levels of pollution (Zhang et al., 2014). Solving this issue requires one to consider the above-mentioned causes.
Reacting to the beginning of smog waves in 2013, Chinese government admitted that air pollution constitutes serious threat to the nation. Thus, reducing the pollution and its consequences has become on of the country’s priorities. Among possible solutions to this issue, adopting alternative sources of energy seems to be the most effective one as it would help to eliminate the major cause of pollution, coal burning. Various sustainable alternatives, like wind and solar energy are available today and China should focus on implementing them. Even turning to producing atomic energy would reduce the amount of hazardous emissions a great deal. On individual level, each resident can make an effort to consume less fossil fuels in their daily life. Lastly, helping vulnerable groups of population to safeguard themselves from the negative impact of poor environment could be accomplished through establishing governmental programs aimed at providing people with affordable air purifiers and water filters to use at home.
Drawing conclusions, pollution is a serious problem for the city of Beijing. Caused by intensive burning of coal and rapid industrialization, dense smog waves threats the population’s health. Research links the pollution to higher risk of death, shortened life expectancy, brain underdevelopment, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. While locals are taking minor steps to protect themselves from the negative impact of pollution, these measures are not available to the majority of population and do not tackle the causes. Resolving this issue requires China to adopt more sustainable means of producing energy accompanied by programs aiming at reducing the negative impact of pollution on population.
- Berlinger, J., George, S., Wang, S. (2017, January 16). Beijing’s smog: A tale of two cities. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/15/health/china-beijing-smog-tale-of-two-cities/
- Zhang, D., Liu, J., Li, B. (2014). Tackling Air Pollution in China – What do We Learn from the Great Smog of 1950s in London. Sustainability, 6, 5322-5338.