Pollution in China

Pollution in China has been a long-standing problem which is finally catching more attention due to the deteriorating circumstances in light of the fast pace of modernization undertaken in the country. Visitors not used to this high degree of contamination and unclean air are often affected.

Hazy smog in Shanghai

We noticed the heavy smoggy air as soon as we got off the plane. You will see people wearing masks when levels of pollution reach extreme levels.

In urban areas, heavy traffic and increased number of cars contribute to the permanent hazy layer covering the cities.

As we traveled inland the problem did not go away. The fast pace of industrialization and migration to urban areas is well beyond the heavily populated areas of the coast. Most of the energy supply comes from coal, not the cleanest of sources but the most readily available.

You might experience the effects of the poor air quality in different ways:

  • Dry eyes: bring eye drops to relieve irritated eyes. If you wear contact lenses, make sure you bring your glasses as it might be uncomfortable to wear contacts with that constant gritty-grimy feeling. And always carry the rewetting drops.

  • Nasal congestion: bring a nasal solution to "rinse" the nostrils at the end of the day. Just this little bit helped a lot.

  • Tiredness and an occasional minor headache: drink lots of water (bottled) to avoid dehydration, and don't pack the day full of activities, keep a slower pace if you feel the troops are getting tired.

Take special precautions if you or anyone in your group suffers from asthma, other respiratory diseases or heart concerns. It is always best to consult your doctor before you go.

Learning More About Pollution in China

The following extract is from a research paper written by Zuzana Kollarova, a high school student at QSI International School of Bratislava, Slovakia for her Geography class.

As part of her research, she conducted several interviews with experts in the field and posed questions regarding the effect of pollution on Chinese everyday life and the main causes of pollution in China.

Here are some extracts from her paper and research notes, including the questions posed and a summary of the answers received:

1. In your opinion, what is the biggest problem pollution is causing in China?

  • Pollution reduces dramatically the ability of humans to live in adequate conditions. Non breathable air, non drinkable water, non arable land are just some of the results of pollution.

  • Less of those basic resources means significant social tensions as people have to fight to have a suitable environment to live in.

  • Due to the unclean air and inadequate water, cancer has become the most hazardous disease in the country. Cancer is most common in villages close to factories, which contaminate water.

  • In China, 500 million people do not have access to fresh, clean water. This is why the majority of people have to drink bottled water or buy water purifiers.

  • Several rivers are so infected that they can not be used for irrigation, and if they are, it is questionable whether the food grown is harmless.

2. What kind of effect is this having on every day life? Do people have to change the way they live because of pollution?

There are two different types of pollution: general pollution and local pollution.

General pollution affects almost everyone in many ways:

  • Due to the non-breathable air, many citizens have to adjust by wearing breathing masks and buying air purifiers. About 400,000 Chinese people die each year due to various respiratory diseases.

  • Water cleaning systems are also necessary, since drinking water is also polluted and is dangerous to drink.

  • People also have to be cautious when they choose what food they eat, since it can also be polluted.

  • People choose to limit their time spent outside to reduce their risks.
Local pollution affects people in a specific area. One of the most common types of local pollution is contaminated water from a local factory. The only solution for this problem is moving to a safer area, if possible.

3. How has the state of pollution changed over the years? What was it like when you parents were your age? Were their lives different?

The situation is getting worse: The Chinese government is aware of the pollution problem; however growth is too fast for the government to make any significant changes. New factories are accelerating the pollution process and degrading air, water and land.

Before China started industrializing itself, people had clean water and didn’t have to worry if their food was contaminated or not.

Also, many people living in cities have to wear masks to protect themselves because the pollution is so severe.

4. How well informed are Chinese citizens about the consequences of pollution? Do they teach students about it in school?

Chinese seem to be aware and there are public advertisements warning people about environmental degradation. At schools, there is no evidence that teachers are educating students about the problem, but they reduce outdoor activities during air pollution peaks.

So it is unclear if the citizens are well-informed about all the issues that come with polluting.

5. What are the biggest contributors to pollution in China?

The pollution in China comes from various different sources:
  • The main and probably most important one is emissions from coal-powered factories. The majority of Chinese energy comes from coal (about 70%), and most production in China requires coal.

  • The other causes of pollution are deforestation. Many Chinese forests are being burned down.

  • Over-population also contributes to the polluted atmosphere. Most people use cars for transportation, especially in the large cities, and this contributes to CO2 emissions and pollution

6. Are there any new diseases in China that are related to unclean air?

Cancers, pollution makes cancer the top killer in China.

7. What is the government's response?

China’s priority has been economic development, even to the expense of the environment. As per public government announcements in the past, China believes that they have the right to industrialize themselves just like every other country did prior to them.

Even though economic development is on the top of China’s priority list, it is slowly working on becoming more environmentally friendly. The problem is that new factories, which are powered by coal, are being built everyday, so eliminating CO2 emissions and meeting environmental demands is going to be a hard task for China.

To compound this problem, city/government officials' performance and promotions are based on economic growth only, leaving no incentive to enforce any environmental rules that address pollution, much less to take initiatives towards improving the situation.

What YOU Can Do About Pollution in China

Something to think about: a big part of the manufactured products in our countries come from China. Try to reduce your personal impact on the environment by making efforts to reduce waste, this will also help improve the situation in China! Tell that to your friends and teachers:

We all have an impact!

To learn more about the China pollution situation, visit www.pollution-china.com a website/blog ran by a young French entrepreneur living in Beijing. The scope of the website is to talk about pollution in a proactive way and to bring about solutions.

Click here to learn more about Green Travel in China and tips to reduce our carbon footprint while traveling, to China or anywhere else in the world.

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