Beijing smog makes it “almost uninhabitable for human beings”

Economic growth

SHARE THIS STORY

Beijing pollution Feb14Chapter 6 of Boom, Gloom and the New Normal in October 2011 was one of the first detailed analyses to highlight the way in which pollution was rapidly moving up the political agenda in China.  Controversial at the time, it warned:

“Recent growth in China and India has come at a price: Poor air quality, chronic water shortages and deforestation.”

Since then the problems have worsened, to the point where almost everyone now agrees that they are creating a major political problem.  The new leadership simply has to solve this, if it wants to remain in office.  Beijing and the 6 northern provinces have now been shrouded in smog for 6 days, and on Wednesday the US embassy reported that the levels of PM2.5, the small particles that pose the greatest risk to human health, were “beyond index” at 512.

The World Health Organisation recommends day-long exposure levels of no more than 25.  Yet Bloomberg reports that the level has been above 150 since 19 February.  And next week, of course, sees the start of the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, where the problems are certain to receive major attention.

Of course, these problems are not unique to China at its stage of development.  As the blog noted a year ago, pictures of the its smog today mirror those seen in the West until the 1960s, when governments finally began to recognise that economic growth was unsustainable if it meant millions of people died as a result.

This highlights how policies have to change.  Shanghai’s Academy of Social Sciences yesterday reported that Beijing is”almost uninhabitable for human beings“.  Whilst Beijing has established an official body to co-ordinate the emergency response to severe air pollution as China Daily reports: 

“The agency advised children and the elderly to stay indoors and to wear masks when going out. It also urged residents to take public transport and reduce driving. The agency urged middle schools, primary schools and kindergartens to reduce outdoor activities.”

The good news is that the smog is expected to finally lift over the next few days as a cold front comes in to clear the air.  But Beijing residents know it will not be long before the problems re-emerge.  And as the blog noted in its recent Research Note, the problems will get worse, not better, until the polluting factories are closed down and vehicle pollution reduced.

Even more worrying is new research from China Agricultural University‘s College of Water Resources and Civil Engineering, which suggests that if the outbreaks of smog are allowed to continue, Chinese agriculture will suffer conditions “somewhat similar to a nuclear winter”.  They suggest this is a further threat to China’s food production, and claim to have:

“Demonstrated that air pollutants adhere to greenhouse surfaces, cutting the amount of light inside by about 50% and severely impeding photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light into life-sustaining chemical energy”.

Thus it is no surprise to find that President Xi has now decided to take up the subject personally.  Speaking after a well-publicised tour through the smog yesterday evening, he called for strengthened efforts to control it saying:

“The priority is to limit PM2.5 by reducing dependence on coal, strictly controlling vehicles, adjusting industry structures, and other measures.”

China is clearly now preparing to shift away from its current ‘growth at any cost’ model of economic growth.  This must result in a major slowdown, as it will take time to build the new, less-polluting, factories and power stations.  Car ownership must also move down the priority list.

PREVIOUS POST

US housing recovery stalls as Boomers head for retirement

26/02/2014

“Recent economic reports suggest a bleaker picture for housing…. So...

Learn more
NEXT POST

2013 a bad year for force majeures

28/02/2014

2013 wasn’t a good year for plant reliability.  The blog’s 6-monthly survey...

Learn more
More posts
‘Watch out below!’ as supply chain chaos comes to an end
14/11/2021

“What goes up, comes down” is usually a good motto when prices start to reach for the sk...

Read
Industry now needs to step up, if Net Zero is to be achieved
31/10/2021

Net Zero is clearly the key issue of our time. With COP26 about to start, 3 key elements need to com...

Read
The Fed’s stock market bubble is at risk as China bursts its real estate bubble
24/10/2021

The US stock market bubble just keeps rising. And every investor “knows” that the US Fed...

Read
EU patience starts to run out as UK threatens to break the N Ireland Protocol
17/10/2021

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Brexit still isn’t “oven-ready”, despite the UK ...

Read
An end to the China bubble would risk a Minsky moment
05/10/2021

My letter in today’s Financial Times warning of the risk to Western financial markets from the bur...

Read
Xi aims to “bring order out of chaos” by bursting China’s property bubble
03/10/2021

China is at the start of its biggest economic shake-up since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping launched his p...

Read
Housing markets face long-term downturn as central banks abandon stimulus
05/09/2021

Last month saw the beginning of the end for the central banks’ 20-year experiment with stimulu...

Read
Businesses set for transformation as supply chain chaos combines with Net Zero targets
15/08/2021

‘Business as usual’ seems a most unlikely outcome as we look forward over the next 6 months....

Read

Market Intelligence

ICIS provides market intelligence that help businesses in the energy, petrochemical and fertilizer industries.

Learn more

Analytics

Across the globe, ICIS consultants provide detailed analysis and forecasting for the petrochemical, energy and fertilizer markets.

Learn more

Specialist Services

Find out more about how our specialist consulting services, events, conferences and training courses can help your teams.

Learn more

ICIS Insight

From our news service to our thought-leadership content, ICIS experts bring you the latest news and insight, when you need it.

Learn more