This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Air Pollution in China--Not the Way Forward

China's communist government has organized a capitalist revolution over the past two or three decades, aided by the country's demographic dividend, and by a general neglect of the environmental consequences of industrialization. There was, of course, the widely publicized fact that the US Embassy in Beijing keeps an air pollution monitor on its roof and it periodically goes off the chart with high levels, but everyday life is still bad, even if the pollution level is low enough to be read by the monitor. I thought of that this week when when my older son, John was visiting Beijing and reported that this was the first hotel room he had ever been in (and he travels extensively) that had a gas mask along with the usual hotel room accroutements such as shoe horn, slippers and robe. And, indeed, today we learned that the northern Chinese city of Harbin has incredibly high levels of air pollution. Here's a comment from a reporter for Time magazine:
The intensification of the smog has to do with weather—as temperatures dip in more northern cities like Harbin, the coal plants that provide most of China’s energy and heat kick into overdrive. (It doesn’t help that in 1950, the Chinese government declared that everyone who lived north of China’s Huai River and Qinling Mountains—which includes major cities like Harbin, Shenyang and Beijing—could receive coal-powered heating for free.) The pollution was so bad that the police had to close off highways and the provincial airport because of accidents, while admissions into Harbin’s hospital spiked because of patients with breathing problems.
The New York Times noted that:
The Harbin government reported an air quality index (AQI) score of 500, the highest possible reading, with some neighborhoods posting concentrations of PM2.5 — fine particulate matter that are 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller and especially harmful to health — as high as 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, according to the China News Service.
(By comparison, the air quality index in New York was 41 on Monday morning.)
Avoiding the cleanup costs of these environmental catastrophes cannot be a long-term policy of the Chinese government. At some point, the economic playing field will have to be leveled with the western nations that are at least a bit more attentive to air pollution than this. It is regularly repeated that China will grow old before it grows rich. It may also grow sick before it grows old.

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