For the first time (which in and of itself is shocking), Beijing has issued a pollution red alert, forcing schools and factories to close and vehicles off the road. In some areas, air pollution was elevated to more than 40 times the WHO safety level this week. According to Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, "[The red alert] is history-- this is a precedent set.
This is extremely important to stop children from being exposed to such a high level of pollution." For China's leaders, it was a challenging step to essentially shut down many of the moving pieces of a city of 23 million such as Beijing, but it's not about industry, financial cost, or political agenda. It's about the health of the human beings who live in Beijing.
The latest bout of extreme, yet ever-present air pollution in Beijing this week is predicted to be somewhat helped by rains later in the week, but the deeper issues must be addressed. The air pollution in China is reaching record levels and Beijing isn't even among the 10 most polluting cities in the country. Scientists are going as far as to blame 40,000 deaths a day in China on air pollution. Coal-fired power plants are the crux of the problem, as is rapid industrialization in general.
China's overwhelming pollution problem is not going to be solved overnight, but everywhere in the world we can all try to make better choices that help our natural environment. As always, reduce, reuse, recycle, and conserve. Small, everyday changes can make a big difference.