The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


What Pollution Looks Like …
May 19, 2015, 6:25 am
Filed under: Comment, Pollution

The words China and pollution are often unintentional bedfellows.

Especially in Western media.

That said, without doubt the level of pollution here is much, much higher than many other countries, however I would also say that the level of pollution is more limited to cities rather than the country as a whole.

To be honest, I found the situation far worse when I lived in Hong Kong than I do living in Shanghai – though I appreciate that was driven by industry in Guangzhou, which was re-affirmed by the fact that when there was a national holiday in China, the weather in HK was amazing – but the fact is, now I’m the proud father of an awesome little boy, my awareness of air quality is even higher than it was before.

[If you’re in China and are interested in the air quality, you should download Airpocalypse … an app designed by my old planning colleague, Tom]

Anyway, the reason I say this is because a photo came out that showed the differing weather conditions over a period of a year.

Some caveats.

1. Not all of the ‘dark skies’ are pollution, some of it is just shitty, rainy skies.

2. This was done in Beijing, which has much, much, much worse pollution than Shanghai.

3. There is no additional caveat, I just like writing things in groups of 3.

I’m not trying to defend China/Beijing’s pollution … it’s bad and needs dealing with.

Even the government realise this. In the old days, pollution was just viewed as a negative byproduct of economic growth but now, they’re seeing the implications of this attitude and are responding by spending enormous amounts of money [they’re already the biggest investor in green tech] to try and change it. Not – I should add – just because they recognise the negative effects it’s having on their people’s health and their countries reputation … but because they still need to keep the engine of their economy burning and they have to find a new way to do it that won’t ultimately undermine their progress and development.

So yes, it’s because of self interest, but then, what isn’t where governments are concerned.

But there’s a bigger reason for writing this.

The fact is much of what the West write about China is skewed with prejudice and ignorance and so this picture – while bad – is to serve as a reminder that rather than blindly believe what is written in the newspapers or the internet, look into the facts and the context because then you’ll end up with a much clearer picture of what’s really happening.

Even clearer than a Beijing skyline.


29 Comments so far
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However shit the pollution is, it’s not as bad as planner pollution. That kills slowly through mindless boredom.

Comment by Billy Whizz

I hate agreeing with you but I agree with you.

Comment by DH

who the fuck do you think you are? jon stewart.

Comment by andy@cynic

1) Nearly 90 percent of China’s big cities failed to meet air quality standards in 2014, but that was still an improvement on 2013 as the country’s “war on pollution” began to take effect, the environment ministry said on Monday.

2) The Ministry of Environmental Protection said on its website that only eight of the 74 cities it monitors managed to meet national standards in 2014 on a series of pollution measures such as PM2.5, which is a reading of particles found in the air, carbon monoxide and ozone.

3) Beijing is not among the 10 Chinese cities with the worst air quality nor among the 10 Chinese cities with the best air quality.

Comment by John

Aren’t all Chinese cities big?
Did you really copy and paste all that?
Do you really have that much free time?

Comment by DH

He wanted facts, so I spent 5 seconds getting some.

Comment by John

Do you know how many big cities there are in China John? What about what the government defines as a big city? I don’t. Isn’t this exactly the point Robert is making about the Western media using data without context? I am not challenging what you have said, it makes for scary reading especially when the Government are stating the information, but it suggests Robert has a death wish for living in China and from what I know of him, he gets scared at Michelle Pffiefer movies.

Comment by George

You’re always trying to start a fight George. Pull your head in.

Comment by DH

I don’t think Robert has said anything that your facts challenge John. If anything, they reaffirm his point. Good news they are cracking down, if one thing China understands, it’s economic value.

Comment by George

Hmm. Maybe I misunderstood, but I thought his basic point was to question the idea that China is synonomous with pollution. Now I accept that it’s not as bad as India, but it’s pretty bad.

Comment by John

It’s not how I read it. I read it as saying the pollution is terrible but it is based around cities rather than the whole country, which is different to the way certain media outlets like to promote it.
I’ve written more comments in this post than I do in a year so I will now depart to spend time with my family who only have to worry about a delay with the pizza delivery.

Comment by George

Enjoy your pizza.

Comment by John

Interestingly, or more likely not, I spent an hour today listening to a former under secretary of commerce talking about China and he didn’t mention pollution once.

Comment by John

big fucking question is why?

Comment by andy@cynic

After that I attended a talk from the Head of People Operations of a Cupertino business, but that’s anbother story.

Comment by John

Because he doesn’t want to be killed?

Comment by DH

where the fuck does this come from? since when did the commies admit their fucking mistakes? have they gone all fucking zen or something?

Comment by andy@cynic

This is interesting John, but can I ask where you got it?The reason I say this is because it is very rare to have the government be so open – especially when it is negative news – and when I checked the governments site, the latest data I could find that they published was 2011 … but maybe I’ve looked in the wrong place.

I’m not saying that China is a land of fresh air and health – of course not – I am simply saying that the way the Western media present it, the whole country is a toxic wasteland which is just plainly not true. That doesn’t diminish the terrible pollution that exists in many cities and provinces, but as you state, this is a key focus of the governments action because they know their future depends on finding some sort of balance to air/life quality and economic prosperity … and the money they’re investing in this is absolutely astronomical.

Sadly, I think the way they want to handle it is to buy up Africa and move stuff there, but that’s pure conjecture.

Comment by Rob

Is any government ever this open?

Comment by Pete

So I found the article and it did indeed come from The Ministry of Environmental Protection. However the facts John has highlighted have been ‘cherry picked’ from the report because when you find the governments overall document, it puts some texture into the information such as “the percentage of air quality attainment days averaged out at 71.1% among the 74 cities and of the remainder, 21.1% of the days had minor pollution, 5.5% with moderate pollution, 1.8% with heavy pollution, and 0.5% with severe pollution.

Of course that is still bad, but it gives some broader context to the figures the Western Media picked up on.

I’m not defending it, just highlighting it.

Comment by Rob

This explains the facts John posted as well as the tiger mom phenomenon.

Comment by George

Pollution or rain, there’s still a lot of dark skies in that photograph Robert. How is Shanghai generally? I know you wouldn’t put Otis or Jill (or the cat) in danger but how bad does it get? I’ve been there twice and the main thing that struck me was how hot it was. That scared me as much as the pollution.

Comment by George

It is generally OK. There are some terrible days where you stay in but its no where near as bad as many other cities. That said, I have never lived in a country where you need to have copious amounts of air purifiers in your house or a pollution app on your phone – so Shanghai is not terrible, but it’s not brilliant either.

For us, there is a definite deadline for being in this environment – but to be honest, that’s as much driven by the energy needed to do your job to the standards you believe in as it is to do with a desire to have my son grow up in a land where he can run and play outside.

Watch this space. Ha.

Comment by Rob

you mean the fuckers wear masks because of the pollution? i always thought it was because of campbells breath.

Comment by andy@cynic

A lively and on-topic debate. How very refreshing.

I have had many interesting dalliances with the Chinese authorities over the years and I must admit to be being surprised at how open they are being with the pollution issue that John reprints. I wonder what the bigger story is. There is always a bigger story.

Comment by Lee Hill

Yes, it’s weird isn’t it Lee. Maybe someone in the department did an Edward Snowden.

Comment by Rob

What gets rarely said is that Paris – one of the worst cities in Europe in terms of pollution – has levels that are comparables to those of Shanghai. And even Turin, my city.
But China makes the spotlight, always.
Great post.

Comment by Luca

I first went to Beijing in late 1997, and was struck by the pollution the minute I arrived at the airport. When they opened the door of the plane, there was a really strong smell of coal smoke. Instant memories of Euston station in the days of steam …

It’s the same now, only worse. I spent six months there last year, and there were many days in the winter when you literally couldn’t see across the road. Took me another six months to stop coughing up lumps of Beijing air after I left, and I’ve been a lifelong smoker!

Shanghai never used to be as bad – often hazy, but not the thick smog of the North – but I was back in Shanghai in January 2014 and there was a period of a week or so when it was as thick as in BJ. Air you could chew on …

Yes, China is trying to do something about it, but coal-fired power stations are not easily replaced. And heavy industry – the other big source of pollution, especially of heavy metals and chemical waste being dumped into water sources – won’t spend the money to clean up its act until it’s forced to by local Government, which has a vested (financial) interest in keeping local business happy regardless of the side effects on the environment.

Everyone marvels at the growth of the Chinese economy, but economic progress isn’t much use if there’s no safe food to eat, no safe water to drink and no safe air for your kid to breathe … that’s the real problem the Government has to come to terms with.

Chinese people do see it in those terms. Did some group research around China earlier this year and the subject constantly came up – most people seemed to see it was a big problem, but also acknowledged that the Government (central, more so than local) was actually trying to do something, and most were fairly sure they would eventually fix it so things are more liveable given time. I only wish I shared their optimism.

Comment by Ian Gee

Ironically Ian, I do share their optimism though I question how they can do it on mass, while ensuring their economy doesn’t stutter or dry up … hence my slightly tongue-in-cheek comment about why they are buying up mass regions of Africa.

That said, I met someone who has potentially developed something that will have a huge positive affect on the coal power stations and if he is proved to be right, he will not only be seen as a saviour, he might become the richest man in the World.

Comment by Rob




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