Killing Me Silently: Beijing's Smog

Working in an office in and of itself usually wouldn't expose one to hazardous conditions. The city in which one lives could have its fair share of dangers though. Crime is a given; all big cities have their fair share of crime, but it's usually isolated in certain neighborhoods. The truly awful smog in Beijing the past few days has made me to give a little more thought to the silent killer that is pollution.

If you haven't seen the pictures yet, check out this link from Bloomberg Businessweek. Also swing on over to the U.S. Embassy's Twitter feed that gives hourly air quality updates. On the air quality index 50 is considered "Moderate", 200 is considered "Very Unhealthy", and the scale maxes out at 500 ("Hazardous"). On January 12 at 8pm local time, the air quality measurement was 755.

Most of the time when people talk about lifestyle in a particular city, it's something along the lines of "how many hours do I have to work?" or "if/when I do have free time, where can I go to relax and have fun?" Clean air, drinkable tap water, and relatively garbage-free streets are generally taken for granted in the developed world.

When choosing to move over here, I knew the pollution was just something that came with the territory. Every once in a blue moon there is a day, or if we're really lucky, a series of days where there are blue skies. At first it was kind of depressing not being able to see the sun, but after a while I got used to it. It's exciting now to wake up in the morning and see blue skies; I've definitely developed a deeper appreciation for them.

This isn't meant to be a rag on China; there are plenty of other cities in other countries with their own pollution problems. For various reasons, Beijing just usually has it worse than most.

My question is this: when thinking about whether or not you would live in a particular city, does the environment play a factor? Would you ever choose live in a city knowing that doing so might take years off your life because of the pollution? Do you think you could cope long-term with living in a cloud of haze?

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Comments (14)

Jan 15, 2013 - 6:41pm
AndyLouis, what's your opinion? Comment below:

9 months in china (Suzhou, near Shanghai) and I don't think I saw the sun clearly one. You can literally stare right at. Then there's the lung problems.... they equate living in china to smoking x # of cigarettes per day, i forget the exact #. And then a lot of the guys there smoke cigs on top of that

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Jan 15, 2013 - 7:00pm
streetwannabe, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I think the surroundings definitely dictate where I'd prefer to live and work. Luckily, being in finance, and prospective job you get is usually pretty transferrable to other regions and/or countries. I'm in NYC right now and am looking at a few jobs in the Midwest because they are available. Will suck if I have to move out there (to me, I like mountains and oceans) but it may be worth it in the long run.

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  • 1
Jan 15, 2013 - 7:29pm
G.M.Trevelyan, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I was in Beijing before the olympics. The amount of work that had gone into the city to become smog free was enormous. The issue, as many of you know, is the smoke from the coal mines and factories in Shanxi and slightly north of the city near Dalian. The smog in these places are non-existent, but due to Beijing's geographical position the wind always blows it toward the capital and there crosswinds create a slow, silent, depleting murder of your lifespan.

Jan 16, 2013 - 6:34am
humble_dude, what's your opinion? Comment below:
G.M.Trevelyan:
I was in Beijing before the olympics. The amount of work that had gone into the city to become smog free was enormous. The issue, as many of you know, is the smoke from the coal mines and factories in Shanxi and slightly north of the city near Dalian. The smog in these places are non-existent, but due to Beijing's geographical position the wind always blows it toward the capital and there crosswinds create a slow, silent, depleting murder of your lifespan.

The real issue is all those pre-Olympics work are just for show, otherwise it won't pass the committee's check box.

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Best Response
Jan 16, 2013 - 9:56am
chungus_1999, what's your opinion? Comment below:
humble_dude:
G.M.Trevelyan:
I was in Beijing before the olympics. The amount of work that had gone into the city to become smog free was enormous. The issue, as many of you know, is the smoke from the coal mines and factories in Shanxi and slightly north of the city near Dalian. The smog in these places are non-existent, but due to Beijing's geographical position the wind always blows it toward the capital and there crosswinds create a slow, silent, depleting murder of your lifespan.

The real issue is all those pre-Olympics work are just for show, otherwise it won't pass the committee's check box.

A few of the things they did before the Olympics are still in place: M-F there is still one day when you can't drive your car (easy to get around though by just buying two cars), and limitations on trucks coming in from outside provinces. But other than a few things like this, you're exactly right; it was all just for show.
Jan 15, 2013 - 8:05pm
marcrich, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Then try Tokyo. One of the biggest cities worldwide, with clean air, perfectly clean streets and an insignificantly low crime rate. The only crime you will ever face is the high price level.

Jan 15, 2013 - 11:26pm
Tommy Too-toned, what's your opinion? Comment below:
marcrich:
Then try Tokyo. One of the biggest cities worldwide, with clean air, perfectly clean streets and an insignificantly low crime rate. The only crime you will ever face is the high price level.

Second this. Everyone talks about China's economic miracle but it's still behind Japan in so many ways. Tokyo is a marvel of a place if you consider the density

Jan 15, 2013 - 8:46pm
brandon st randy, what's your opinion? Comment below:

"...relatively garbage-free streets are generally taken for granted in the developed world."

I guess NYC does not qualify aas a city in the developed world then.

Too late for second-guessing Too late to go back to sleep.
Jan 15, 2013 - 10:42pm
H34D SH01, what's your opinion? Comment below:

i was in china twice, once the summer after the olympics when i spent a month in beijing and the air wasnt really that bad. two summers ago i spent a month in kunming and the air was worse.

Jan 15, 2013 - 11:06pm
FedToy, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I spent most of 2010 in Beijing - was initially there for a semester of study abroad and loved it so much that I stayed for the rest of the year. The smog is on and off - during January, the city literally smelled like burning rubber for 2-3 weeks. If you went for a 3-mile run, you'd build up some sort of black "stuff" inside your nose. Much like being in a burning building and inhaling smoke.

Regulations do attempt to control the pollution in the city but often times, efficiency and cost effectiveness trumps the cleaning efforts. Coal is just a much cheaper alternative. I love the place and wish I wore a mask when riding my scooter. After coming home, I had what my friends and I refer to as the "Beijing cough," which was similar to a smoker's cough, along with lots of phlegm.

Jan 16, 2013 - 12:27am
Gump, what's your opinion? Comment below:

A story told by a friend: An American moved to Beijing to teach. He was in great shape, and kept a habit of running a couple of miles daily. ... 2 years later, dude died of lung cancer.

Jan 16, 2013 - 11:54am
dolph, what's your opinion? Comment below:

When I was at university there were lots of Chinese tourists wearing face masks. I guess they have to wear them back home because of the smog so it's kind of a habit.

Jan 21, 2013 - 7:52pm
Angus Macgyver, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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