Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pink skies and solid air in China

Who can explain what has happened to the sky, people in China are wondering.
Photographs appearing to show one of China’s most famous cities shrouded in a spectacular violet mist went viral on Wednesday, as millions of citizens choked on the country’s latest bout of toxic smog.
The fluorescent purple haze that engulfed Nanjing – reportedly the result of a pollution-tinged sunset – was at one point the second most talked-about topic on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter.
 “Who can explain what has happened to the sky?” wrote one concerned Weibo user, as tens of thousands of people posted comments on the phenomenon.
Well, it's smog, including dangerously high, even lethal,  levels of particulate matter, the result of emissions from coal fired power plants, exponential increases in automobiles, and furious construction activities, raising dust.
 Even Xinhua, China’s official news agency, weighed in, posting photographs of the unusual lilac vista on its Twitter account alongside the headline: “Pink smog?”
Some reacted angrily, claiming the Chinese media was viewing the country’s pollution crisis through rose-tinted glasses and failing to challenge Beijing over its failure to stop the smog.
“The government has not taken effective action to control the smog, and we have to pay for it with our health,” one Weibo user fumed.
“You see hazardous pollution across the whole country,” the commenter added. “I do not know what percentage of us will suffer respiratory disease, but why doesn’t the media criticise [the government over this] … rather than using it as entertainment?”
Nanjing’s Modern Express newspaper tried to calm its alarmed readers. It said the lavender-coloured skies had been caused by the combination of a sunset’s glow and a spike in pollution rather than a specific pollutant.
Today (Dec. 23.) Beijing's PM 2.5(a measure of small particles in the air which can choke the mammalian respiratory system), is 321. Yesterday it measured in the 400's, as it continues to do in some spots around the megalopolis. Nanjing is measuring at a more breatheable 233---tagged as 'very unealthy' as opposed to Beijing's 'hazardous'. These are levels that are lethal to some people who continue to choose to breathe.
 Pollution levels in Nanjing on Tuesday and Wednesday were more than 10 times higher than those deemed safe by the World Health Organisation, with many schools cancelling outdoor activities.
Further north the situation was even more dramatic, if less pink.
In Beijing, which declared its first ever smog red alert earlier this month, environmental monitoring stations reported “hazardous” levels of airborne particulates such as PM2.5.
The entire province of Hebei declared its own pollution red alert on Tuesday, forcing 11 heavily industrialised cities into virtual shutdown. Factories were told to suspend activities while schools and nurseries were closed.
It would be helpful if the Chinese government un-banned Chai Jing's"Under the Dome". Transparency, even under opaque pink skies, skies as thick as a brick, builds the trust needed to curb emissions.

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