Air pollution in China is one of the greatest environmental catastrophes in the world today, no doubt about it. We’ve been covering the issue for years, yet considering the scale of the damage that is being done to hundreds of millions of people as well as to large ecosystems, the issue is probably still under-reported (despite now being the #1 cause of social unrest in the country). A new study by Berkeley Earth shows just how bad things have gotten there, despite some positive steps in the right direction lately: The new study shows that air pollution kills an average of 4000 people every day in China, 17% of all China’s deaths. For 38% of the population, the average air they breathe is “unhealthy” by U.S. standards.
“Air pollution is the greatest environmental disaster in the world today,” says Richard Muller, Scientific Director of Berkeley Earth, coauthor of the paper. “When I was last in Beijing, pollution was at the hazardous level; every hour of exposure reduced my life expectancy by 20 minutes. It’s as if every man, women, and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour,” he said.
Berkeley Earth/Screen capture
Elizabeth Muller, Executive Director of Berkeley Earth, said “It’s troubling that air pollution is killing so many and yet isn’t on the radar for major environmental organizations in the US or Europe.” She says that solutions include greater use of scrubbers, increased energy efficiency, and switching from coal to natural gas, nuclear power, and renewables. “Many of the same solutions that mitigate air pollution will simultaneously reduce China’s contribution to global warming. We can save lives today and tomorrow.”
The pollution isn’t always local either: “Beijing is only a moderate source PM2.5 ; it receives much of its pollution from distant industrial areas, particularly Shijiazhuang, 200 miles to the southwest,” says Robert Rohde, coauthor of the paper.
Here’s a map showing pollution from coal power plants on the coast:
“Under the Dome” by Chai Jing/Video screen capture