The Great Chinese Airpocalypse of Jan. 2013

(I insist you play this song while viewing this post.)

Our super-fast train back to Qingdao slithers out of the white muck
at the Tianjin South Station on Monday around 2pm.

One of the reasons we left Tianjin for Qingdao was the air pollution. It’s not that Qingdao’s air is good — it’s just not as apocalyptic (though labeling 175 “lightly polluted” is borderline Orwellian).

But in a curious and unhealthy twist of fate, we were visiting friends in Tianjin (30min fast train ride from Beijing) on the weekend of China’s recent Airpocalypse, when the API clocked in at 755 in the Capitol. Previously the API always just maxed out at 500: “Beyond Index”.

On a bad pollution day in Qingdao (API in the 300s) the mountains in the distance are gone. On a bad day in Tianjin, the building across the street looks hazy and the ones down the road gone. API 300 is horrid by North American standards; they’d be canceling outdoor events. But it doesn’t necessarily elicit comments in China, even though you can see it out your window, smell it immediately when you open your door, and, if you spend any time outside, feel it in your throat. The worst we’ve seen so far in Qingdao is mid-400s.

Over 500, however, is just… dystopic. Here’s a shot I took from a Tianjin parking lot during the airpocalypse, around noon:

And here’s a regional API screenshot from the China Air Pollution app:

We’ve done plenty of crying on the blog about the air pollution in China, and the result is a handy collection of links, organized by topic below. My favourites in bold.

Extracting honest numbers from the Chinese government:

Photos & Visuals:

Chinese Air Pollution & Your Health:


Pronounced: yǐ mǎ nèi lì
Means: Immanuel, “God with us” (我们同在).

It’s common for this to be displayed in big letters on the walls of Chinese churches. It’s a transliteration of the ancient Hebrew, so like the English transliteration it means nothing to people who don’t already have some background understanding. Example: 马太福音 1.23.

How the U.S. embassy in Beijing stuck it to the Chinese government over air pollution

Every year Beijing’s brutal air quality (and even brutal-er public reporting on it) makes international news. But this year Beijing finds itself with a domestic P.R. problem in which its own citizens are no longer willing to accept the gov’s Orwellian “blue sky days”, “fog” and “light” pollution levels. And a large amount of the credit goes to… the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

From Beijing Air Pollution Brouhaha:
“Since flights at Beijing’s airport have been canceled on any number of occasions over the past two decades because of pollution, why all the attention now?

“Several reasons… But the real catalyst for the current contretemps is the U.S. Embassy. If Beijing citizens were once resigned to living in this alternative state of reality, then that’s no longer the case. The U.S. Embassy has changed the way the game is played. On a daily basis, the embassy tweets data reflecting the real air quality for the area in which the embassy resides. Last Sunday, for example, as NPR reported, the pollution recorded by the embassy hit a level described as “beyond index.” The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection, in contrast, reported the air pollution as “light.””

We’ve got lots of our own stuff on pollution in the Beijing area, including comparison photos. See our Pollution category for everything.