Top 8 Causes of Air Pollution in China

There has been some spotlight as a result of the causes of air pollution in China. China has put this in their budget as they strive to provide clean goods and services to their western market.

One of the complex problems affecting various parts of the world today is air pollution. There are various hotspots for air pollution as the emissions are not evenly distributed.

Though all nations have their levels of emission, only a few countries are known as heavy polluters of which China is a Chief, influencing the global environmental situation and fuelling climate change.

In 2008, China hosted its first-ever Olympics Games. Over 10,000 athletes, from 200 countries, completed 300 summer events. But for China, it was about much more than athletics, in many ways, this was Beijing grand entrance to the world.

As the most-watched televised event in history, at the time, it was the perfect opportunity to show off a healthy, happy, prosperous China to an international audience, one that has long been confused about and often deeply suspicious, of the Middle Kingdom.

So, its government spared no expense. The city was given an extreme makeover. The kind you can afford when your economy relies on pouring concrete on any surface you can find and then pouring again because why not? more labour means more economic growth.

9 billion dollars was spent improving public transit, doubling the size of the subway.

Ugly power lines were buried underground, flowers planted, and twenty new buildings constructed, like the iconic Bird’s Nest, which held the opening ceremony on August 8th, 2008, at exactly 8:08 PM, a lucky number in China.

The 4-hour event cost 100 million dollars, $7,000 per second. And flying overhead, the sky above the open-roofed stadium was clear. Only minutes after the ceremony ended, the clouds magically reappeared.

The event was so important, and China so determined, that it changed the weather, literally shooting chemicals at the skyrocket launchers. And yet, even when its image mattered the most, China still couldn’t control its pollution.

The city was covered in its signature, dangerously thick, grey smog. Air quality was so bad that some athletes charged events. Others decided not to complete it at all.

But what looks like a hopeless environmental disaster, China sees as an amazing economic opportunity. It is now on a quest to clear its air, clean its energy, and grow its economy, not despite these things, but because of them.

There are two ways to look at environmental impact, depending on whose payroll you’re per capita, China’s CO2 emissions, for example, are nothing special, About the same as Poland or Mongolia.

Nowhere near a rich country like the US, the United Arab Emirates, or especially, Qatar. But in total, China makes up a quarter of the world’s emissions. With a population of 1.3 billion, its problem is that it’s just so.

As the world’s largest car market, China has as many motor vehicles as the US has people, three hundred twenty-two million. So, it has the kind of pollution that stops planes from landing.

The kinds of pollution where you can’t see your fingers, the kind of pollution where you can see your fingers, the kind you can vacuum up, condenser, and make a brick out of.

The air quality index, which measures pollution, is usually in the range of 50-100 in cities for most of southern China. In the north, it is often three, four, even five times that much.

Now it’s easy to see these numbers, think that China focuses only on economic growth and conclude that its government doesn’t care that much about pollution. But that’s not entirely true.

Pollution kills an estimated 1.6 million people in the country a year. It also has a significant impact on tourism. What makes this issue so unique is that it can’t be hidden-smog is there for everyone to see, and not in some far, Western province, but in the capital, where politicians live and work.

So, even Chinese-owned state media reports on the problem. China also burns an insane amount of coal, one of the worst environmental offenders. Even India pales in comparison.

Air pollution in China could be taking years of residents lives. A study published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says people living in Northern China will die at least three years earlier than their southern counterparts. In some cities, that’s closer to seven years.

Air pollution concentration in China’s North is close to 50% higher than in the south, that’s partly due to the policy that gives Northerns free coal during the winter.

China has been trying to the problem. It’s switching its primary heating source from coal to gas and electric. The country is also pushing for more regulations.

China’s Premier declared a war on pollution in 2014, the following year, heavily polluted Beijing saw the number of harmful particles in the airdrop by 15%. China remains below air quality standards but it’s hardly alone.

More than 4 billion people worldwide are exposed to air pollution levels at double what the World Health Organisation considers safe.

Researchers use their findings to build an air pollution index that lets people around the world see how much longer they would live if they breathe cleaner air.

Recent images from Harbin, Shanghai, Beijing, and other cities proves the extent to which air pollution has gone to affect the Chinese. One may begin to wonder, do human beings live under this condition?

The status of the weather is like a brownish, soupy concoction that renders buildings, streets, and people all but invisible. Day becomes night. The few people who make shadowy appearances in these images sport face masks.

But if we are sceptical about the images that show the seriousness of the air pollution in China having numbers to back it up would suffice.

In late October 2013, the PM2.5 level registered an astonishing 1,000 in the city of Harbin. This is 40 times the World Health Organization (WHO) benchmark for the air that is safe for humans to breathe.

In January 2013, Beijing recorded majorly 500 and 900in air pollution scores. Places like Shanghai hit a record of 600 on December 7.

According to the Air Quality Index (AQI) scale, 500 is the upper limit of the Air Quality Index (AQI) scale and so any number above 500 on the scale is disastrous.

Air pollution consists of chemicals that pose serious health and environmental threats. But, what does air pollution mean to our planet?

According to the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning (CAEP) in 2015, emissions of PM2.5, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) substantially is more than the cities’ environmental absorptive capacity by 80 per cent, 50 per cent, and 70 per cent respectively.

Some air pollution comes from natural sources like volcanic eruptions, wildfires, allergens. But, most air pollution results from human activities such as energy used in agriculture. There are different types of human-made air pollution.

When we burn fossil fuels to produce energy, they release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases trap heat from the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere.

This consequently leads to a rise in global temperatures creating a circle where air pollution contributes to climate change. And climate change creates higher temperatures. In turn, higher temperatures intensify some type of air pollution.

For example, climate change increases smog, because it forms in the presence of high heat and increased levels of ultraviolet radiation.

More frequent extreme weather such as flooding contributes to damp conditions and therefore a rise in mould. Warmer weather also leads to longer pollen seasons, and therefore more pollen production.

Smog is a type of air pollution that reduces visibility and has serious health effects. Smog can be divided into two categories; sulphurous and photochemical smog.

Sulphurous smog is made up of chemical compounds called sulphur oxides. It occurs when burning sulphur fossil fuels such as coal.

Photochemical smog, also called ground-level ozone, is a result of the reaction between sunlight, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Nitrogen oxides come from car exhaust, coal power plants and factory emissions.

Volatile organic compounds are released from gasoline, paints, and many cleaning solvents.

The smog not only creates a brown haze that reduces visibility but also harms plants, irritates the eyes and causes respiratory distress.

Another category of air pollution is toxic pollutants. These are chemicals such as mercury, lead, dioxins, and benzene that are released during gas or coal combustion, waste incineration, or burning of gasoline.

In addition to adverse environmental effects, toxic air pollution can cause serious health problems such as cancer, reproductive complications, and birth defects.

While air pollution has many consequences for our planet, there are solutions. we can limit toxic pollutants such as smog and greenhouse gases by decreasing the use of fossil fuels such as in transportation, manufacturing, and electricity generation.

Reducing air pollution, not only contribute to a cleaner environment, and better human health, but can also slow the rate of global warming.

For more than a decade, China has been the top polluter, emitting dangerous greenhouse gases. Vehicle Exhaust, Industrial production, coal burning and construction site dust are the key polluters contributing to 85% to 90% of the pollution.

Though China has been making major advancements towards the use of alternative and sustainable energy, the emissions of the country keep increasing, contrary to the emissions of other countries.

The urban areas are the most affected. For many years, China’s capital-Beijing was the most polluted city in the country, but there has been a tilt in that regard.

There is usually a change in the air quality depending on the weather conditions and other factors. Nevertheless, some Chinese cities have with time become heavy polluters topping the air pollution charts.

They include Wuhan, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Guangzhou, among others. What is similar about them is that they are all densely populated metropolises that struggle with smog every day.

Causes of Air Pollution in China

The causes of air pollution in China are widespread and can be attributed to some factors, they include:

  • The burning of fossil Fuels
  • An Enormous Economic Boom
  • A Surge in the Number of Motorized Vehicles
  • Population Growth
  • Output from Manufacturing
  • Natural Reasons which include the City’s Surrounding Topography and Seasonal Weather
  • Construction Site
  • Bush Burning during the Winter

1. The Burning of Fossil Fuels

The burning of fossil fuels is one of the causes of air pollution in China. Though China still invests in alternative and sustainable energy sources like solar, they still heavily exploit fossils fuel resources.

This consequently results in astronomical amounts of greenhouse gases with particulate matter being released into the atmosphere. China relies on coal for 70 to 75 % of its energy.

These emissions pollute the air and are associated with various health problems including lung cancer and some other respiratory illnesses and lastly, death. And the most vulnerable part of the population to be affected by this pollution is the small children.

2. An Enormous Economic Boom

The economic boom that been for more than thirty years is one of the causes of air pollution in China. In the past three decades, China has been experiencing accelerated economic growth coupled with a drastic rise in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

This increase in wealth can be related to an increase in pollution. As we see in the environment, China’s rapid economic growth has not come without a cost.

3. A Surge in the Number of Motorised Vehicles

The surge in the number of motorised vehicles is one of the causes of air pollution in China.

With this amplified wealth, individuals are more capable of affording automobiles. In cities like Beijing, the number of automobiles on the roads has doubled to 3.3 million with nearly 1200 added every day.

Emissions from automobiles contribute to just about 70% of the city’s air pollution. The four most dangerous pollutants that are emitted include sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and particulate matter (e.g. PM10). 

Newly introduced vehicles have lower emission standards, and so they emit more of these pollutants into the atmosphere than their older counterparts. Motorized vehicles are just one contributor to air pollution.

Vehicle Exhaust is majorly noticed in Beijing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

4. Population Growth

Population growth is one of the causes of air pollution in China. Population growth in China and Beijing contributes to extensive pollution. Beijing’s population has swelled from 11 million to 16 million in only 7 years and has doubled over the past century.

There are a few reasons why China’s contributions to air pollutions are so high. First – the country’s population.

Even though the birth rate is falling and the one-child policy is long gone, China remains the foremost country worldwide, with over 1,4 billion inhabitants. That means its energy demands are high.

5. Output from Manufacturing

Output from manufacturing is one of the causes of air pollution in China. Coal-burning factories also contribute to the smog present in Beijing.

These factories still use outdated and inefficient technologies. The factories are located on the outskirts of Beijing and close to the cities of Harbin and Hebei.

Though this pollution is produced and released by manufacturing exports of products in China, the demand for these goods in the United States is what fuels production. Another reason is China’s role in global trade.

China is a major exporter of refined petroleum and petroleum gas. It provides all the world with the components irreplaceable in various industries, from technology to solar energy.

All these industries consume a lot of energy, and at the same time, they stand behind the industrial emissions of polluting gases. Industrial production and manufacturing occur majorly in Shijiazhuang, Tianjin, Shanghai, Ningbo and Nanjing.

6. Natural Reasons which include the City’s Surrounding Topography and Seasonal Weather

Natural Reasons which include the City’s Surrounding Topography and Seasonal Weather is one of the causes of air pollution in China.

Places like Beijing is a victim of their topography because it is surrounded by mountains, ensuring that pollution remains trapped within the city limits.

Air quality worsens in spring and summer when temperature and humidity levels rise, and winds contribute to the smog by carrying pollutants from industrialized southern regions.

7. Construction Sites

The dust from construction sites is one of the causes of air pollution in China. Construction sites in many parts of China especially in the urban areas usually have construction activities going on in those areas. Places like Tianjin, Shanghai and Ningbo have construction activities going on in those areas.

The dust and particulates that are released into the atmosphere during these construction processes add to the pollution and smog in China.

8. Bush Burning during the Winter

Bush burning during the winter is one of the causes of air pollution in China. When farmers burn their large fields during the winter, particulate matter and greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere causing pollution through smog and particles in the air.

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