BEIJING — “No country in history has emerged as a major industrial power without creating a legacy of environmental damage,” authors Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley wrote in a New York Times article. China’s sudden rise to economic power has brought with it a costly pollution problem. Every day, air pollution in China results in 4,400 deaths. However, new developments are addressing this issue in innovative ways.
Jim Shang, a global environment and health professor at Duke University, explained the effects of smog particles in a BBC interview. He said the particles, which are significantly smaller than human hair, can infect lungs and cause common respiratory problems like asthma.
Recent studies also show the possibility of smog particles entering the bloodstream and infecting the brain. Researchers in Israel, Beijing and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded in a study that long-term exposure to smog particles weakens the immune, neurological, reproductive and respiratory systems. These effects reduce life expectancy at birth by three years.
According to a 2015 U.N. climate change report, the “socially, economically, culturally, politically, or otherwise marginalized are those who are most vulnerable” to the effects of pollution.
Currently, more than 82 million Chinese people are living in poverty with less than $1 a day. Additionally, an estimated 500 million lack access to clean drinking water. Health care costs have risen sharply in China, leaving few options for those who cannot afford to care for pollution-induced ailments.
According to Wang Jinnan, an envorinonmental researcher, “Our greatest achievement [of industrialization]is also our biggest burden.” China’s increasing reliance on oil and coal will continue to add to the environmental and financial costs.
Government officials have declared “wars” on air pollution in China multiple times and have issued red alerts twice. As a result, schools, factories and construction sites were temporarily closed. Privately owned vehicles were also kept off the road in order to reduce carbon emissions.
In an interview with We Forum, Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde, discussed a memorable trip to Beijing. “On Saturday, I could see the world around me, the cars, the trees, the people,” Roosegaarde said. “But on Wednesday, it was completely covered in smog, with pollution.” This experience inspired Roosegaarde to develop the Smog Free Project, an initiative to fight air pollution in China, starting with Beijing.
The Smog Free Project team built a 7-meter-tall tower designed to vacuum in pollution and release smog-free air back into the atmosphere. Using green wind energy, no more than the amount of energy a water boiler consumes, the Smog Free Tower purifies 30,000 cubic meters of air every hour.
The tower then turns carbon, which makes up 32 percent of Beijing’s smog, into diamonds after 30 minutes of pressure. Proceeds from Smog Free Jewelry sales will fund the construction of more towers across China. At the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions, Roosegarde predicted the Smog Free towers will result in 70 to75 percent less air pollution in the surrounding areas.
– Ashley Leon