Archive for March, 2015

China’s air pollution

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

I’ve been working on air pollution issues in China for more than a quarter-century now, and it’s been very difficult to watch the country’s environment deteriorate over that same period. That has led many of my American friends to tease me: “So, what exactly is it that you’ve been telling them all this time?” Air quality here in Nanjing is worrisome – we open the curtains in the morning to gauge particulate levels as much as the weather, and frequently check our API apps to see the latest PM-2.5 reading – and that’s really a major reason why I am now here in China full-time.

So it was really wonderful when our HNC ERE students arranged a showing of ‘Under the Dome,’ a powerful 104 minute documentary by the former CCTV news reporter Chai Jing that received literally hundreds of millions of hits here in China – before the government pulled the plug. (It’s available on YouTube below, however, with English subtitles). The film is a relatively frank look at the numerous problems that China faces in dealing with its troublesome air quality…. especially given that solving such problems depends crucially upon the country’s very governance, its economic development approach, and the enforcement of its environmental laws.

My friend & colleague (& Chinese mentor!) Professor Tang Xiaoyan of Peking University was interviewed in the documentary, noting the long period of time that these pollution problems have existed (even if they weren’t monitored), and the complex atmospheric reactions which cause the high levels of PM-2.5. [You might remember seeing Prof. Tang in my July 2011 posting]. The film also discusses how both London and Los Angeles overcame their own severe pollution problems (two case studies similarly included in my HNC air pollution course).

It is interesting that the authors who wrote the book Smogtown about LA’s air quality problem (noted in an earlier March 2013 posting) have now turned their attention to China. I enjoyed their LA book, but found The People’s Republic of Chemicals, which came out last October, a bit too snarky and annoying in its writing style…. a presentation designed to capture & retain our attention, I suppose. It addresses the same significant concerns as the documentary, but the affectedness is probably unnecessary…. the environmental conditions it documents unfortunately offer more than enough misfortune and tribulation for such purposes.