Who would have thought that ultra-rapid industrialization, building entire empty cities to goalseek a supply-driven GDP number that has no reflection on demand reality, and ramming an entire country's industrial output into overdrive without any concern for the environmental impact would have a disastrous effect on smog levels. Certainly not China. Which is why earlier today people across much of northern China were warned to stay indoors as the entire region was put on health alert to avoid air pollution that, in the Beijing area, was among the worst for a decade and possibly ever, is literally off the charts and has in many areas reduced visibility to under 50 metres.
As SCMP reports, "in Beijing, pollution readings by the local environmental watchdog, as well as the US embassy, blew past the upper limit of "hazardous" early yesterday afternoon and stayed there for the rest of the day. US embassy pollution data published hourly on Twitter showed the level of health-threatening PM2.5 - or particles smaller than 2.5 microns - had reached 886 micrograms per cubic metre at 8pm. Its Air Quality Index, which includes PM2.5 and ozone, had surged past the maximum rating of 500 to 755, or "beyond index". With no wind forecast to bring more favourable conditions in the next three days, experts said the worst may be yet to come. "It's so awful that I find it really difficult to breathe," said Zhou Rong , a Greenpeace campaigner in Beijing. "It's the most polluted day I can remember."" Then again, who needs to breathe as long as the brand new Politburo can pretend the economy is growing at the needed 7%+ level, so critical to preserve stability. In fact, to paraphrase Stalin, if China has a few less people, it would also have a few less problems. So maybe the record smog levels are not all that unwelcome after all.
More from SCMP:
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said its own figures showed PM2.5 levels had exceeded 700 micrograms per cubic metre since early afternoon. That pushed the Air Quality Index to its maximum of 500 for the first time since real-time air pollution updates began on New Year's Day.
Under the mainland's newly revised standards, a level above 200 is considered heavy pollution and unhealthy to those with lung or heart diseases. Readings above 300 are deemed "hazardous for the entire population".
State television and local media warned people to avoid going outdoors as much as possible, quoting forecasts that suggest winds will not arrive to clear the choking smog until Tuesday.
Beijing Children's Hospital said heavy pollution was largely to blame for the number of children being treated for respiratory ailments hitting a five-year high in the past week, with more than 7,000 patients a day.
Exacerbated by heavy fog, pollution in Chengdu , Jinan , Wuhan , Xian , Zhengzhou and many other cities has worsened significantly in recent days. Visibility fell to less than 50 metres in many areas, forcing the closure of dozens of highways and the cancellation of dozens of flights.
AFP chimes in:
Those who did venture out wore facemasks for protection, with visibility low, the skyline shrouded, and the sun hidden in the smog.
Air quality in Beijing showed airborne particles with a diameter small enough to deeply penetrate the lungs at a reading of 456 micrograms per cubic metre, the warning centre said.
The quality is considered good when the figure stands at less than 100.
Fog also covered vast swathes of east and central China also closed numerous highways and delayed flights in several provinces, it added.
China's air quality is among the worst in the world, international organisations say, citing massive coal consumption and car-choked city streets in the world's biggest auto market.
And some pictures: