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China Earth News

NASA Releases Orbital Photos of Beijing's Air Pollution 143

skade88 writes "This story should remind us all that air pollution controls are not just about addressing global warming. They also help us have cleaner air and fewer health problems resulting from smog and haze. Starting earlier this month, Beijing, China started having worse than normal air pollution issues. On January 14, 2013 the U.S. embassy's air pollution sensors in Beijing found the density of the most dangerous small air particles, PM 2.5, at 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The World Health Organization's guidelines for air pollution state that PM 2.5 above 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air is dangerous to a person's health. To put the problem into perspective, NASA has released two orbital photos of Beijing showing before-and-during images of the air pollution. The photo from January 4 shows parts of Beijing still visible from space. The photo from January 14 shows nothing but a huge, thick cloud of haze with no buildings visible."
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NASA Releases Orbital Photos of Beijing's Air Pollution

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  • that's what the job killing lines get you stuff like this when you cheap out and just dump stuff out with not paying the costs to clean it up.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Don't worry, soon they will be able to buy a bankrupt North American and use it for a garbage & pollutants dump.

    • penny wise and pound foolish.

      give me 'teh shiney!' right now and I want it cheap. the rest be damned.

      sadly, I don't think we'll learn our lesson or see the trend. half of the US is global-warming doubters or deniers and there is little sign of any of those people really wising up. most of them are older guys who DON'T CARE since they'll be dead in a decade or two, tops; and they think that they can stick it out this far on our destroyed earth.

      the pessimist in me says that we will only realize what we've

      • Landfill is a management issue, not a volume issue.

        We could dig a hole a mile to a side, put all are garbage into it and it would be half full in about 700 years at our current rate of growth.

        frankly I would have separate holes, for different material so we will have easy access when we figure out how to effectively recycle them.

        • Who is "we"?

          If it's the US, each person creates about 3.5 pounds of trash per day. Let's make the generous assumption that it compresses to 1kg/l, and feed it into GNU units:

          You have: 3e8 * 3.5lb * 365 * l/kg
          You want: mile^3
          * 0.04170626

          So the total annual US volume is 0.04 cubic miles, and your cubic mile hole (which would be impossible to actually dig, BTW, and pointless too because where would you put the dirt?) would fill up in only 24 years, not 1400 years.

          • The US has 3.8E6 square miles of land surface. About 18% of that is arable leaving 3.11E6 square miles of potential landfill. Suppose we close the landfill once the depth is 200 ft. That leaves with a mere 124640 cu miles of capacity. At the current rate of consumption we have over 3 million years left.

            The GP is right. Landfills are a political problem.

            • The GP was not right. Being off by orders of magnitude is not something to brush off.

              The problem may be largely political, but that doesn't mean it's not real. Each potential landfill site is surrounded by about a hundred of square miles of NIMBY, and rightfully so. Landfills stink, and looking at a mountain of garbage topped by swarming seagulls is downright creepy. Nobody wants to live anywhere near that, and they don't want their property values ruined. That's why they find it hard to open any new landfi

            • Land not being arable != land for a potential landfill.

              For an example just off the top of my head, how would you turn a mountainside into a landfill?

              I'm sure that there are more examples like this...

              And let's say, for argument's sake, you turn all non-arable land into landfill. Where do all of the people build their houses? On a landfill? What about the eco-system?

          • Perhaps fill grand canyon? :-D

      • I'm not a climate denier or anything like that.

        The problem is though that it really doesn't matter what the US does. Developing nations are so inefficient and growing so fast that pretty much anything the US does ins't really going to matter much.

        So we are going to run a planetary scale experiment and guess what it may not have that great a result.

        After all - biologists know that no organism can live in it's own waste products.

        • So because it doesnt matter, the US might as well not bother trying at all, is what you're saying, hm?
        • by saihung ( 19097 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:22AM (#42601207)

          That is exceedingly sloppy thinking. Pollution is a problem of combined effects from multiple sources. Your claim that the USA, or Europe, or Japan reducing their respective pollution outputs "won't make a difference" isn't just an overstatement, it is false. EVERY bit makes a difference. The same logic you just used justifies every kind of petty offense in the world.

          Collective problems require incremental solutions. Just because you cannot personally observe the effects of every increment doesn't mean it's irrelevant.

          • That is exceedingly sloppy thinking. Pollution is a problem of combined effects from multiple sources. Your claim that the USA, or Europe, or Japan reducing their respective pollution outputs "won't make a difference" isn't just an overstatement, it is false. EVERY bit makes a difference. The same logic you just used justifies every kind of petty offense in the world.

            Collective problems require incremental solutions. Just because you cannot personally observe the effects of every increment doesn't mean it's irrelevant.

            No, he is saying that you should spend your money where you get the greatest affect. Asking for a 5% increase in US output for 5 trillion dollars is a waste if we can get a 80% increase in china for 50 billion. And with developing nations that do not even use basic scrubbers that 80% will account several times the clean up that we can eak out of our own country. So, create the equipment here export and maybe even help fund the process, but if we really care about pollution the US has to stop thinking its

        • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

          So we are going to run a planetary scale experiment and guess what it may not have that great a result.

          Disclaimer - I'm not an atmospheric scientist.

          However, I suspect that this sort of pollution isn't really a global problem. This is soot - horrible for your lungs if you breathe it in, but it falls out in rain and such and won't just circulate all over the globe (at least not down in the troposphere). The acid rain might make it to California, but will be relatively mild and not nearly as bad as the soot, which will likely destroy lungs all over China.

          CO2 is the bigger problem globally. The only fix for

    • Nice try, but no. Beijing isn't that big of a manufacturing center (relatively speaking) - most of the pollution comes from IC engines and (especially important this time of year) the decentralized system of coal powered hot water plants that provides most of the cities heating.

      • by ihatewinXP ( 638000 ) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @10:01PM (#42599179)

        Relatively speaking?

        Have you been outside the 5th ring road? Ive seen factories the likes id never seen in my life. Sprawls of smokestacks just chugging away. Not to mention the fact that DAMN NEAR EVERY RESTAURANT AND MANY HOMES STILL USE COAL.

        During the Olympics in 08 they had all the factories shut down for a month prior and seeded the clouds for a week to wash the city and air. Worked wonderfully.

        Cars are a problem - and a growing one to say the least - but dont be too quick to discount the manufacturing and a city of 16 million still using coal.

        • They were also having factories inside the fourth or fifth ring road move outside of it according to the people I spoke to when I was there in 2005. This was to prepare for the Olympics.
        • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

          Frontline did a show on this years ago. They attributed the biggest sources to the use of coal for home heating, and outdated car emission standards. The coal stoves that are ubiqutous are indeed pretty nasty - belching all kinds of soot into the air and EVERYBODY uses them. It is even dirty by coal standards - but REALLY cheap.

          Imagine getting a hopper full of coal dumped at your house for $100 and just shoveling a little into stoves in each room from time to time and having it last all winter. The stac

      • by waveclaw ( 43274 )

        At what point do the particulates start to cause problems with Internal Combustion?

        I can find plenty of information on what it does when humans breath that stuff in (hint: a coal miner is you!) but little on when the engines start to choke on their own output.

        Diesel engines can operate on some pretty ridiculous fuel mixtures as long as there is enough oxygen. Considering how nasty oxides can be once mixed into water I'd expect something else in the power train (beyond the operator's lungs) would break

        • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

          As long as there is oxygen the soot is just more fuel. Air is 20% oxygen - that's 200,000 ppm. The soot is 800ppm and if they keep that up for any period of time the whole city will die from black lung. If they could actually put up enough soot to displace oxygen half the country would look like Pompeii after about 15 minutes.

          Clogged air filters are a different matter. Soot doesn't inhibit combustion so much as gum up the works, which is basically what it does to your lungs.

  • by hedley ( 8715 ) <hedley@pacbell.net> on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @08:11PM (#42598275) Homepage Journal

    In a rather Bender-esque way, the literal translation from Mandarin for its populi (the PM2.5 breathers) is "Meat vacuums", and not in a good way I might add.


  • by bobstreo ( 1320787 ) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @08:12PM (#42598291)

    Go go gadget smokescreen!

    • That was my first thought too - it would be quite beneficial for the Chinese government to block satellite imagery through geo-engineering.
    • Aside from the obvious correlation, there's smog in our Street View and Haze in our spysat, is there any way to tell if the "smokescreen" is natural or man-made? How can one tell a dust storm from smog, cloud formations, or the plumes of a gigantic volcanic eruption? I know from elementary science that clouds are pollution.

  • by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @08:14PM (#42598301)
    Those Romans had a phrase for everything. This may be true, but I'm sure we're jumping to a conclusion.
  • multi-sensory (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lazyFatCyclist ( 2779453 ) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @08:23PM (#42598383)
    on days like these, you can see it, smell it and... taste it.
  • That is all.
  • by cvnautilus ( 1793340 ) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @08:34PM (#42598465)

    PM 2.5 stands for particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers.

    According to the Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] particles of this size cause a broad array of terrible consequences in the body.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Also at the time of the image, the air quality index (AQI) in Beijing was 341. An AQI above 300 is considered hazardous to all humans, not just those with heart or lung ailments. AQI below 50 is considered good. On January 12, the peak of the current air crisis, AQI was 775 the U.S Embassy Beijing Air Quality Monitor—off the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scale—and PM2.5 was 886 micrograms per cubic meter."

    • Additionally, if you read the article (I know, I know), you'll see that the numbers reported by the U.S. embassy climbed up to 886 micrograms per cubic meter, rather than the 291 micrograms per cubic meter stated in the summary (291 was how bad it was when the pictures were taken by NASA, but that wasn't even when it was at its worst), though both the summary and the article agree that 25 micrograms per cubic meter is the cut-off for where things start to get dangerous. That really puts in perspective just

  • Also on NPR (Score:3, Informative)

    by GiganticLyingMouth ( 1691940 ) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @08:37PM (#42598499)
    NPR has an article [npr.org] about this as well, apparently it's affecting more than 30 cities in China
  • Here's a handy chart of Air Quality Index and a description of some of the more noxious substances:


  • by conspirator23 ( 207097 ) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @09:17PM (#42598809)
    China has replaced their "One Child" program of population control with a new "One Lung" policy.If you can't get rid of the babies, at least you can weed out the weak, the old, and the heavy breathers.
  • iSmog (Score:4, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @09:24PM (#42598851) Journal

    nuf sed

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Someone just turned off the "Disable fog of war" cheat.

  • Lets just thank god they're burning all that coal rather than risking the remote chance of an accident in some super evil Nuclear power plant.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      Straw man. Coal power plants are not the cause of this. Even if 100% of energy was nuclear it would not make an appreciable difference.

      Nice false dichotomy too. China is in fact the worlds biggest investor in renewable energy, and of course has a fair few gas power stations, and in fact IS building many new nuclear plants as well.

  • This is a Chinese attempt to obfuscate their landscape from American spy satellites.
  • ironic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by csumpi ( 2258986 ) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @11:56PM (#42599837)
    We send manufacturing over there because it's cheaper. A major reason why it's cheaper is the lack of regulations. No need for smoke filters, no worries about dumping waste in waters. Then we take pictures and post it on the internet. And we feel good about our yard and complain about theirs.
    • Bam. Nail hit right on head.
    • by necro81 ( 917438 )
      I'm not sure I would complain about their yard. But what I would hope is that events like these gradually bring about the change in mindset in China that occurred in the United States over the last half century. I hope they come to realize that they can't treat their own country as a toxic waste dump forever and not face dire consequences. The legacy of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and EPA are just that: clean water, clean air, and environmental protection. There have been costs associated with a
    • We're not causing them to dump pollution all over themselves. You can't run an industry and keep manufacturing here if your competitors aren't. The hands have been forced - we're not exactly willingly sending all manufacturing over there.

      I want good working conditions at the Foxconn plants, and less pollution in China. But I can't vote with my wallet if there's literally nothing left on our shores to vote with. I don't mind living in a global economy, but I don't want the Chinese to be exploited by thei

  • You people in California are breathing some of that Beijing pollution.
  • I traveled to China (Beijing, Wuhan, and Guangzhou) in 2001 and I remember when we landed in Beijing how smoggy it was there. Pretty much the entire country (the parts we saw) were all like this. Of course, this is much worse, but I thought it was kinda bad even back then.
  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @02:30AM (#42600571)

    * It's communist
    * Rampant pollution
    * The kleptocracy that festers when communism fuses with capitalism
    * One-child policy plus a society that devalues women means women are shrinking as a percentage of the population; translation, China is a sausage fest.

    But, it's a capitalist's eutopia!

  • I know this might sound absurd, but if we care about the environment and want to make a statement to the world, how about we offer some sort of assistance (not necessarily financial) to Beijing to put them on the right track? All of our complaining and pointing fingers and we don't even care about the lives at stake. They have a problem, we should help them make it better however we can. It's lives as stake here!
  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:00AM (#42602533)

    A 10 minute walk outside is all it takes for a thin film of talc-like dust to settle all over your clothes/hair/skin. For someone exposed to it for a long time, I would imagine it's akin to working in an autobody shop spray painting cars without a respirator.

    The stench of sulfur from burning coal is prevalent since many large housing complexes (and even individual homes) use coal fired boilers to create steam heat in the winter. The government hacks that are profiting handsomely from this situation don't care. Their children and their cash are safely stowed overseas.

    I don't see any sign of improvement over the past 7 years other than the temporary cleanup for the Olympics in 2008.

  • Progress and "prosperity" mean a lot more to China than people's health. I have a feeling an entire city could drop dead and they still wouldn't do anything about their environmental problems. In fact, they'd probably just say that's how the problem solved itself.
  • I stayed in Beijing for eight days in September 2012, and the air quality didn't seem significantly different from any Canadian or American cities that I've visited. I also don't recall seeing anyone wearing face masks.


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