Blue Sky Tomorrow
I have been living in Beijing this past several months. A city of some 22 million inhabitants plus a few more millions if you consider the transient population. You probably have heard from the news and reports of the recent terrible air pollution that plague this city. Just before the Lunar New Year, the PSI hit a horrifying 750!! Yes, it is a little disturbing when the air pollution reaches such hazardous levels. Causes are fairly simple, growing car usage, coal burning factories and Beijing is a city is surrounded by mountain ridges. When the wind stops blowing, the pollution sit and smolder the city. China’s rapid economic progress does have its negative side effects. A new and commonly used description for pollution is “Wu Mei”; a mixture of fog, pollution and stale air.
With modern communication and the internet, news and images of such environment damages quickly spread around the world. Calls and requests have been pouring in, from both Chinese citizens and overseas health organizations to ask the Chinese government to take concrete actions and improve the environment. Its easier said than done 😉
That being said, all major cities while going through economic progress have had their fair share of shame and challenges.
Britain’s industrial revolution had been fuelled by coal, not very different from China, but even before that time London had earned the nickname “The Smoke”, which is still in use today.One of the most infamous smog incidents was in London in 1952. The Great Smog as it came to be called was recognized as bad immediately when it happened in December 1952, but it was several weeks before it was realized that it had killed 4,000 people! Experts have since revised the death toll upwards to 12,000. How did London, with its present day position as a world class city, get into that position and what did it do to tackle it?
Travellers to the city from the surrounding countryside could see a haze of smoke above the city from miles away, telling them they were getting closer to their destination. The same if you are landing into Beijing international airport today.
London became famous in the Victorian era for its fogs, and most of these were heavily polluted. The Sherlock Holmes novels of Arthur Conan Doyle popularized the fogs, known as London Particular or pea soupers, and the murders of Jack the Ripper in London’s East End are imagined in popular folklore to have taken place under cover of the fog and of darkness. There are no sign of Jack the Ripper in Beijing yet.
But the London fogs were a far bigger killer than ever the Ripper was. In 1873, 200 people died in a single week of fog, and in one week in 1880 the total was 2,000. By the end of the 19th century London had 90 days of fog each year. Sounds like Beijing weather forecast these days, fortunately, without the high fatality. Government reaction to the Great Smog was slow, (sounds familiar) but public concern and action by legislators eventually led to new laws in the UK. It’s citizen led the change. The Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968 were introduced to deal with the smogs. And 60 years later, we have the pristine and beautiful London of today.
So, there is hope for Beijing and China.
If we all want clean air and clear blue skies for ourselves and our children, and if band together to make the change, it can be done.
I recently heard of an India hill station city, Ooty, in the Nilgiris district, state of Tamil Nadu, has completely ban the use of all plastics bags. If we focus our efforts and make changes to our living habits, the world can be a better place. Here’s to many more blue skies tomorrow……….