Some parents might be glad their children are not marrying and having offspring of their own, given the dreadful rate of pollution in China. For example, what is known as the Airpocalypse Beijing, a period in 2013, saw air quality above 700 on the Air Quality Index (AQI), which measures especially PM 2.5 particles, that are so small they get past nostril filters and penetrate the lungs. This rating is over 30 times worse than WHO recommended levels. To compare, Singapore in the same year declared an emergency at 300 AQI reading. Los Angeles, America’s most polluted city, usually tops off around a 100, and Paris declared a state of emergency in March 2014 when the AQI hit 150, banning half the city’s cars from the road.
Concerns over pollution are one of the top-five fears of consumers in China. People with resources relocate overseas, wanting to raise their children in a healthy environment. On the other end of the scale, foreign companies cannot get executives to live in country; if they have to work there, they commute while their families stay home. Ordinary people wear masks and order as much as they can online, and with increasing frequency voice protests, being more aware of just how bad it is since cell phones and internet connection offer AQI ratings in real time.
Already a quarter million people die every year prematurely due to pollution, and 40 percent of all deaths can be linked to it—in addition to increasingly fatty diets (China is now the second most obese nation after America).
The two major driving forces behind pollution are car ownership, up from 6.5 million drivers in 2003 to 85 million in 2013, and coal, the source of 70 percent of all Chinese energy supply. While the government, well aware of the situation and worried about growing unrest, is shutting down many smaller and older plants, it yet plans to build more newer, bigger ones. Unless they find a way to reduce car ownership or car emissions—like making electric cars mandatory as they are just starting to do—and restructure the country’s power system toward clean energy, the pollution level will increase even more and not abate for at least another decade.
In addition, water ways are polluted, lakes full of algae, fish dying in rivers, and ponds vanishing. What used to be scenic spots by rivers or lakes are now algae-infested and garbage-strewn wastelands. Plus, the overall water level of the country is down, and one prediction has China running out of water by 2030.
Read: Rein, Shaun. 2014. The End of Copycat China: The Rise of Creativity, Innovation, and Individualism in Asia. New York: Wiley.
Martin, Richard. 2015. Coal Wars: The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Minter, Adam. 2013. Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade. New York: Bloomsbury.