We’ve shown you the dramatic images of smog-filled Beijing before, but it’s only now becoming apparent just how deadly China’s air pollution actually is.
A new study has revealed that air pollution in northern China has reduced the life expectancy of locals by about five and a half years. The findings are the result of a major study by a team of international researchers who are analyzing the health effects of China’s air pollution based on data collected locally – the first time such an investigation has been conducted.Northern China is home to some of the most smog-choked cities in the world and the northern region of the populous country is significantly worse off than its southern counterpart. Why? For decades, the region north of the Huai River was provided with free heat during the country’s icy winters. This extra coal consumption resulted in a dramatic spike in air pollution across the north. According to researchers, dangerous particles in the air are 55 percent higher in the northern region of China than they are in the south.
The air pollution isn’t just an issue for locals. Thick smog in cities like Beijing – which is popular with both leisure and business travelers – can reduce visibility and lead to flights being canceled. The suffocating air also keeps many health-conscious tourists away, leading to fears that the pollution may impact the economy.
After a protracted, freezing and rainy spring, summer finally hit Shanghai a few weeks ago. Prior to the sun breaching the clouds (if not always the smog), the streets were full of the poncho-wearing cyclists like the two in this shot by Flickr user jrodmanjr. Yes, two – the yellow blur is also a biker who whipped past at just the right moment. Ponchos are inevitably brightly colored because it’s hard enough surviving as a cyclist in Shanghai traffic without being invisible during frequent winter and spring rains.
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By now I’m sure you’ve all read the reports of just how horrible the air quality in China has become. The smog has gotten so bad in Beijing, for example, that it has delayed flights, shrouded skyscrapers like fog and prompted health warnings for those venturing outside. But one Chinese entrepreneur thinks he may have the solution to this problem – fresh air in a can.
Last September, millionaire Chen Guangbiao introduced his product to the market for the first time, offering up three flavors of air in cans that resembles a soft drink. Those flavors include “Post-industrial Taiwan,” “Revolutionary Yan’an,” and the always popular “Pristine Tibet.” The cans of air sell for 5 yuan or roughly 80 cents a piece.
It would be easy to dismiss this move as a publicity stunt – something that Guangbiao has a reputation for in the past – but the businessman seems genuinely concerned about the growing environmental problem that his country now faces. He told ABC News that selling the cans of fresh air was an attempt to raise awareness of the issue and to show how committed he is to the cause. He went one step further by also giving away 5000 bicycles in an effort to encourage people to use non-motorized transportation.
For now though, improving the air quality seems like a low priority for the Chinese government, which is focused on continuing to ramp up industrial production for the 21st century. Considering that all but a handful of days in January were classified as “hazardous” air conditions in Beijing, however, perhaps they ought to reconsider their approach. Or at least start stocking more vending machines with these cans of fresh air.
[Photo Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP Photo]