Winds have finally blown in to northern China to relieve residents of the brutal smog that has been choking the area over the past several days.
While northern China has suffered through airpocalypses before, it appears to be the first time (at least in this Beijing resident’s 7-year-stint) that an area this large was hit by smog of this intensity for a sustained period of multiple days. In the past, they were either more localized bouts of intense smog, or less intense smog spread widely.
The thing is, focusing on just the smog itself risks missing the forest for the trees. Understandable, perhaps, because the trees in this case are surrounded by a thick, smelly haze. But the smog had many, many knock-on effects which trickled through media.
With such a wide area held in its grip, a lot of weird things started happening.
Web users say: this was the worst ever
A weibo hashtag, #TheMostSeriousSmog really took off, with people pointing out that this is as bad as it has ever been. Even state media outlets were reporting extensively on how badly the smog was affecting people’s lives.
Beijing didn’t even have the worst of it
The smog covered a truly huge area, some reports putting it at the area of the continental US (probably much of that area over the ocean though). Loads of areas were heavily hit—take the poor schmucks in the industrial town of Handan, for instance. Smog reached 999 there.
Principal fails test
The inland province of Henan was also subject to the smoggy pall. In Anyang prefecture, schools were closed, but apparently one principal in Linzhou City remained unaware and went ahead with tests—outdoors. Students were photographed at desks in an open field, surrounded by a thick black haze.
The principal was reportedly suspended amid an avalanche of outrage online.
Savvier teachers rigged up live-stream lessons for kids who were stuck at home due to the apocalyptic conditions outside.
According to a report in the Guardian which cited the Global Times, tens of thousands of “smog refugees” fled the smog for better areas. The Global Times cited mother Jiang Aoshuang, who escaped Beijing for a northern town nestled among the mountains.
“”In the past, whenever smog struck, we would go away to Chongli,” she said. “It’s geographically closer to Inner Mongolia and is protected by mountains, smog hardly ever reaches it.”
She found that the road was clogged with people who had similar ideas.
“The parking lots were full. I saw people everywhere and had to wait in line for half an hour this morning before I could ‘fight’ for my breakfast,” Jiang said. “It really felt like a refugee camp.”
The Shangri-La hotel in Chongli experienced an unusually large number of bookings.
What exactly is in the smog?
This was naturally a key question during the crisis, and the answer is “coal”. Smog gets worse in winter each year, partly because more coal has to be burned to keep up with heating needs. Professor Chai Fahe, a researcher with the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, said at a press conference that emissions from burning coal in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei—the areas right in the middle of the smog maelstrom—were responsible for five times the national average.
Suing the government
A bunch of lawyers decided to sue the Beijing, Hebei, and Tianjin governments (why these three? See above) for failing to institute proper environmental laws. Bold move, fellas. Many of their posts have been deleted from Weibo.
Flights were delayed
Hundreds of them. Of course they were.
Cars, factories shuttered
When things get this bad, at least the traffic generally improves because cars are banned from roads. Factories are also shuttered, and lots of people stay home from work. A silver (maybe more of a sooty gray) lining, I guess?
Thoughts turned to the deadly London smog
In 1952 a nasty bout of smog killed thousands in London, and it was always a bit of a mystery. Amid China’s recent smog, scientists figured out what caused the deadliness, a certain concoction of sulfurous chemicals. There was also the occasional rumor flying around town that China’s current smog conditions had the same nasty ingredients, but there was nothing to substantiate this fear. The smog was pretty gross though, and it certainly has health effects and China’s lung cancer rates have been skyrocketing in recent years, with many scientists directly attributing this to the smog.
Cover image from cjn.cn