testosteronepit.com / By Wolf Richter / January 29, 2013, 5:09PM
China has tried over the years to come to grips with its pandemic pollution, yet in Beijing, through a combination of factors, it reached catastrophic levels in mid-January and set another record. The result of the white-hot pace of economic growth. And of coal consumption: this year, China is set to burn more coal than the rest of the world combined!
The “Blackest Day,” is how The Economist called January 12 when the Air Quality Index (AQI) reached 755. It was “Beyond index” on a scale where the worst level, “Hazardous,” ranges from 301-500 and carries this warning: “Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low.”
On that day, airborne particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5) reached 886 micrograms per cubic meter, about 35 times the guideline set by the World Health Organization. These particulates contain “sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, carbon, mineral dust, and water” that form a “complex mixture of solid and liquid particles of organic and inorganic substances.” They contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and lung cancer. Mortality in polluted cities exceeds that “in relatively cleaner cities by 15–20%.” The WHO estimated in 2007 that 656,000 Chinese died of air pollution every year, and another 95,600 from water pollution. Surely, this hasn’t gotten any better since.
Among the culprits: coal consumption. It has been on an uninterrupted tear since 2000 as China built a phenomenal number of coal-fired power plants (users of steam coal) and as it expanded its steel and iron industries (users of metallurgical coal). Bubble projects, overcapacity, construction of ghost cities, motor vehicles that turn the exploding net of roads and highways into clogged parking lots…. The excesses are everywhere. And power generating capacity from 2005-2011 doubled, of which 80%—despite efforts to diversify—still comes from coal.