China’s problems with air quality arises from its status as a developing nation, eager to make use of industrial might to fuel its economy. However, in the attached infographic, you can see that the side effects of rapid industrialization, particularly air pollution, is a serious threat both to the quality of life for humans in or near China and the environment as a whole. The Chinese modernization has deadly consequences due to its lack of pollution control and other regulation.
China Behind in Measuring Air Pollution
Air particulates that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers are one of the most insidious types of air pollution, because they are small enough to pass through barriers in the body that other pollutants cannot. When inhaled, they can enter the bloodstream and affect the entire body. China only began measuring its level of 2.5 micrometer particulates in January 2012, so there is no official Chinese government data about 2.5 micrometer pollution prior to that month.
How Extreme is the Air Pollution in China?
What is evident is that Chinese cities exhibit extremely unhealthy levels of pollution, including 2.5 micrometer particles. The air pollution poses a significant risk to the health of anyone with a predisposition to respiratory illness, such as the elderly and those who have asthma.
Even the healthy public will experience health problems as a result of exposure to the toxic air in Chinese cities. Part of the problem is government policy. The Chinese government hands out free coal to citizens in the north. This keeps them warm, but has also increased air pollution by 55 percent and has reduced the local life expectancy by an estimated 5.5 years.
Furthermore, the country as a whole relies heavily on coal as a fuel source, a main contender in China’s air pollution. China supplies about 70 percent of its electricity through coal power. Coal usage releases a large amount of pollutants.
This goes beyond the kind of air pollution that threatens health; coal burning also releases large amounts of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to human-caused global warming.
China uses more coal than any other nation in the world, and also leads in carbon dioxide emissions with a shocking amount of 5.77 metric tons, according to a 2009 study. This makes China’s air problem a global problem. The pollution from Chinese consumption and industry affects much of the world, directly or indirectly.
What Are the Serious Side Effects?
The effects of pollution in China fall heaviest in Chinese citizens where cases of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses are on the rise, but air pollution knows no borders.
In Chinese cities, over ninety nine percent of the population breathes air that would be considered unsafe by the standards of the European Union. The polluted air can drift to neighboring countries and even across the Pacific to the West Coast of the United States. Chinese air quality has become a global threat to the environment as well as to human health.