News Story

Air Pollution in China: Who Shall We Blame and What Shall We Do?

Air is usually defined as the substance that has no color nor smell, and it is one of the most important sources of life. However, what would happen if the air becomes something completely different? It is not just an assumption, and the air pollution today is about to become the number one environmental problem in many countries. The particle pollution, which means there are unseen tiny particles in floating in the air that can be breathed in and cause harm, is bringing serious problems to countries that are rapidly developing, and China is one of them.

Since the economic reform in the 1970s in China, the pace of development in China has been increased to an extreme speed and is going off limits. According to O’Hara-Devereaux in her article “China’s 5 Generations: Diverging Lifestyles,” “The Sandwich Generation (1968-1979)” is the generation that experienced the development and witnessed the heavy pollution as the result. Along with the the Sandwich Generation, the “Me” Generation was also born under the influence of the pollution. Also, in the article, “Detailed Introduction to Generational Theory” by Graeme Codrington, the Sandwich Generation can be categorized as the rebuilding period when people were gathered under certain big visions and dreams of everything looks bright in the future, while the “Me” Generation is the inner-directed era as the society is blooming in an amazing speed, but the crisis is going to happen soon. The air pollution in China has been addressed these years and it changed people’s lives in different ways. People are wearing masks on their way to work and school, and they are having more breathing problems because of the harmful particles. If the generational theory is accurate, the air pollution can possibly be the crisis that ruins our generation right now.

In order to know what specific effects the air pollution has, I interviewed my mother, Yijun He. She was born in Taiyuan, which is a city that is famous for its coal production and is heavily polluted today. Then she moved to Beijing for work, and she also had lived in the San Francisco bay area for a few years when I was in high school there. According to her, when she was a child, even though her city is famous for its coal production in which is one of the major source of the pollution, she has absolutely no memory about the air pollution, and she described, “The sky was blue every day.” Nor she or her friends had ever seen or experienced air pollution while growing up. She told me that in her time, no one would care or talk about the environment since it was perfect, and they would not even think about something can take the blue skies away from them. As an older person that was born more than 40 years ago, my mother apparently did not experience any kind of air pollution in her youth.

If there was no air pollution at all 20 years ago, then when did the pollution start to happen? “About five years ago,” she first answered, but later she changed her idea, “No, the air pollution actually has been a problem for already more than ten years.” Then she continued, and explained that it was the last five years that the pollution has become more serious, but the particle pollution has been addressed for a long time already on the weather broadcasts. As I searched on the Internet, the major pollution substance is called PM 2.5 or particulates. According to AirNow, a governmental website about air pollution, it is a mixture of dry or liquid tiny particles floating in the air that has its diameter of 1/20 of human hair. It is harmful for people’s breathing systems in that it can cause serious diseases in lungs and tracheas. While I looked up the air quality in different cities on a website called Real-time Air Quality Index, it shows that the amount of PM 2.5 at Davis was 61 µg/m³, and about ten years ago as I remember, the amount for Beijing varied from 70-90 µg/m³, and sometimes it can even get to 120 µg/m³. In the last five years, the number has been 500-600 µg/m³ for its worst times in most cities in China.

“The breathing departments in hospitals are always full of patients, and a lot of children got sick because of the pollution,” she also mentioned, “and there are a lot more children having allergic rhinitis and asthma than before.” Clearly, the pollution has became more serious especially for the last five years in China.

Except bringing breathing problems, the air pollution has a lot more negative influences on people’s lives. When I ask my mother to give a number from 1 as least influence to 10 as most influence regarding how the air pollution is influencing her life, she answered 6, and said that when there is haze, she cannot even go out and can only stay at home. Also, the car use is limited since the pollution. During the last winter break, I asked her to drive me to the subway station  near our house in Beijing. On the road, the haze and mist was so heavy that we could barely see a thing; then we got lost and had to use the navigator to get me to the station. Also, she mentioned she has been coughing continuously since the haze appeared, which shows that the particles in the air is harming her breathing system.

The pollution is not always the same. My mother told me that she can remember how the car and factory limitation during special times (international conferences like APEC) was really effective. She thought the government did made some successful regulations during the times when those conference occur and make the sky blue again. In other words, she believes the air pollution is all caused by humans and can possibly be solved using similar strategies like reducing coal burning and using public transportations instead of driving.

In conclusion, the air pollution in China is clearly an urgent problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible. It is and has been influencing people’s lives in a very negative way causing them to panic about the haze and to be afraid of going out. The breathing diseases are becoming more and more common in China. As in the generational theory, the crisis may come very soon in my generation, but I sincerely hope that it is not related to the air pollution. I believe it is time to give up some development speed in order to restore the environment to the state it was, and make life far from suffering from these horrible air problems.

Works Cited

Codrington, Graeme. “Detailed Introduction to Generational Theory.” Tommrowtoday. Web.

EPA. “Particulate Matter.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

He, Yijun. “Air Pollution in China.” Telephone interview. 17 Jan. 2016.

O’Hara-Devereaux, Mary. “China’s 5 Generations: Diverging Lifestyles.” Global Foresight (2013).

“Particle Pollution (PM).” Particle Pollution (PM). AirNow. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.