Headed To China? Be Sure To Pack A Gas Mask

Grossed out by the smog in Los Angeles or old enough to remember Denver’s “brown cloud”? These visible reminders of what fossil fuels are doing to the planet pale in comparison (literally) to what’s going on in China. NASA recently released some shocking bird’s eye view images of just how bad air pollution has become in Beijing.

According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, “residents of Beijing and many other cities in China were warned to stay inside in mid-January 2013 as the nation faced one of the worst periods of air quality in recent history.”

At the time that the January 14th image was taken by satellite, ground-based sensors at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing reported PM2.5 measurements of 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Fine, airborne particulate matter is considered dangerous because it is small enough to enter the passages of the human lungs. At the same time,  the air quality index in Beijing was 341. Any rating above 300 is considered hazardous to all humans, not just those with heart or lung ailments. Most PM2.5 aerosol particles come from the burning of fossil fuels and biomass.

It’s no secret that China’s industrial development has been on the fast track for a few years now. With countries like the U.S. outsourcing nearly all of their manufacturing to the Asian powerhouse, it’s no wonder that consumption of fossil fuels in China has skyrocketed. While some might call these emissions the cost of “progress” it seems that no amount of economic growth can make up for the fact that pollution is literally making people prisoners in their own homes.

And days like the 14th of January aren’t just isolated incidents. As of Monday, the air in Beijing had been classified as hazardous to human health for a fifth consecutive day. It was so bad that a fire at a furniture factory burned for three straight hours before anyone noticed, according to Care2.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog