Urban pollution today, Beijing style

We’ve talked in class about how the urban problems that afflicted Britain 200 years ago are now afflicting cities in the developing world.  The latest example is Beijing, which is currently suffering through an amazingly bad spate of air pollution.  Here’s one recent picture:

Beijing in the smog

The full article that this comes from is here at The Atlantic.  You can also see the US embassy’s Twitter feed of Beijing air quality readings.

UPDATE: A few more disturbing pictures, from this article at The Atlantic Cities:

And, more pictures here.

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3 Responses to Urban pollution today, Beijing style

  1. Joe says:

    This post really made me think about how fast China, and much of Asia, is industrializing, and the extent to which this rapid economic growth effects the average person living in these countries. Currently, China is without many of the environmental regulations that the U.S has, and as a result is the largest contributor of carbon dioxide pollution, which effects the United States through jet streams. This air pollution shows how terrible conditions are in China today, and some cite that the EPA gives the United States a competitive edge over China, because American children will most likely grow up to be healthier, and American factories have already adjusted to regulations, while China’s high-polluting factories may have to shut their doors in years to come. China’s growth has been particularly heavy in the past few decades, and even though China is the world’s second largest economy, the average urban worker only makes 200 dollars a month. Additionally, China seems to be very similar to where Britain was around 200 years ago, because farming is still a key industry, as is mining. The largest industry in China today is agriculture, at 36.7 percent of the workforce, with services behind at 34.6 percent. I find it interesting that China is so “wealthy” yet so poor, because the people generally live humble lives while their nation’s economy is booming. Pictures of working conditions in Chinese mines appear to be no different than that of British mines in the 1800s. It appears that for a country to industrialize, it first has to go through a pretty tough period of grim social conditions.

    • Will says:

      The period of industrialization in China does reflect the industrialization that occurred in Britain during the 19th century. To me, this shows the process of industrialization is timeless, and its negative side-effects, as undesirable as they are, are unavoidable. The fact that the harmful side-effects of industrialization cannot be bypassed is a much more pressing concern today than it was during the industrialization of Britain. Obviously, the below-standard conditions of the working poor in China (as Joe pointed out the average urban worker only makes 200 dollars a month) is an important issue, just as it was for the factory workers in 19th century Britain. But today, more than ever, the filth and pollution of industrialization should not only be avoided, but MUST be significantly reduced. Simply put, we are destroying the world that gave us the opportunity to live and become industrialized. It is a bit paradoxical. Adding to the irony is that further industrialization actually holds the potential and prospect for new discoveries that can reduce the pollution from industrialization. I, for one, believe that the industrialization in China and around the world should continue as it is, despite the pervasive pollution, because I believe that as new issues arise, and as older problems become more pressing, they will become addressed and ameliorated. Present day Britain is a testament to this theory: many of the problems that existed in 19th century Britain have long been ridden. The unfortunate truth of industrialization is that it is necessary, yet it leaves many negative impacts in its immediate wake. Those negative factors, however, are eventually mitigated to a very small scale. It’s just scary to think, though, of what would happen to the world if the problematic side-effects of industrialization were never resolved.

  2. Zach says:

    first off, this was a very interesting article. Using the pictures as well as the article that was attached was a good idea. China and Britain definitely share some commonalities regarding industrialization. When Britain began to industrialize in the 18th century, one problem that they went through was an abundance of pollution. This also was a problem for the United States when they began industrializing. The problem with China is that they are so much more populated, as well as a much larger civilization. They need to figure something out before it gets even worse than it is now.

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