China’s Air Pollution reaches record levels

Published on Author jones

This past week in Beijing, China air pollution levels reached levels of “hazardous and beyond index.” This is not only a problem in Beijing. Across the country there are several cities with dangerously high air pollution levels. Experts credit this to the colder winter that has led to more coal being burned. Even before the spikes this winter China has regularly had air quality well below the World Health Organization’s standards. This has had serious health implications for China’s citizens. Experts believe this will lead to millions of deaths.

Much of China’s air pollution is due to industrialization, which in China is rapidly growing. This industrialization has had serious positive effects for China’s economy which is growing faster than most other comparable countries, but at what cost? This model is not sustainable as the years of ignoring health codes for the sake of the economy will catch up with China’s citizens in the years to come. Source: The Economist

6 Responses to China’s Air Pollution reaches record levels

  1. I wonder if the levels of pollution in many of the cities is deterring any young rural Chinese from moving from rural to urban areas. Or maybe even reach a level where the trend is reversed and people decide the danger of city life is not worth it. It seems that today the general consensus is that life in the city is of a higher quality than the hard peasant life we witnessed in the documentary we watched, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way. I plan on looking deeper into this issue and writing a post on it later in the week.

  2. Rural air pollution may not have the photochemical smog component, but with population concentrated in the east, just because you’re not in a city doesn’t mean you aren’t downwind from one.

    BUT…please note this is the 4th post on pollution, with at least 3 of them motivated by the same underlying news story (albeit from different sources). Before posting, check that someone hasn’t beaten you to the punch!!

    Note too the chapter in Brandt & Rawski on pollution. While it’s old, the underlying issues haven’t changed, indeed the severity may be similar (merely better date).

  3. Pollution is a negative externality of certain types of production. Many times the models we use in our classes, or at least the models I have used to this point, do not consider negative externalities. For example a typical supply and demand graph with price on the vertical axis and quantity on the horizontal axis where, in a way, supply can be thought of as marginal cost and demand can be thought of marginal benefit. The market described is said to be in equilibrium when supply and demand are equal. Marginal cost can be broken in to two different types of costs- social costs and private costs. In a market where the product produced generates a large amount of pollution there will be negative externalities causing marginal social cost to be higher than marginal private costs. The fact that the two costs are not equal means that in the particular market, there is a market failure and we are not longer in equilibrium. Recently the UN held climate talks in Qatar. During the talks the idea that polluting nations will be held accountable for damages to the climate of other, generally less developed, nations was entertained. In practice, this “justice” may be quite difficult to carry out as tracing pollution and then quantifying the monetary value of climate damages seems difficult. Regardless, the potential to be held by law to compensate another nation for the damages caused by your nation’s pollution is a risk that in the wake of the Qatar talks China needs to take in consideration.

    • Yes, we need the (negative) externality concept. Note that the UN policy only applies to pollution that crosses national boundaries. That’s the case for CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, but most SOx and particulates don’t travel that far, given that China is continental in size and water separates it from Japan and Taiwan and the Philippines (less true for North Korea and South Korea). Beijing’s photochemical smog is a problem primarily for Beijing. Ditto heavy metals and organics in water, and so on.

  4. The comment above on pollution being a negative externality is an interesting one and I look forward to seeing whether future UN decisions actually impact this issue or if China’s great desire to continue to be at the forefront of production renders any further regulations useless. China’s population is still growing rapidly (compared to most) and they will continue to need more energy (one main source of pollution is coal burned for energy production). One question I might pose is if China does recognize this pollution as a problem, how will they go about solving it? What role will renewable energy (wind energy, solar energy, nuclear energy) play for China in the future? Will there be even be a substantial push in the near future to diverge from the coal dominated industry we see today? These are some questions I look forward to further exploring this semester.

    • Isn’t all politics local? — I’m not sure why the UN should matter. Note though that China’s population is NOT growing rapidly, see Emily Shu’s post here. There are 4 posts on pollution (with lots of duplication): what short-term policies do they highlight?