We have followed the environmental meltdown in China which only recently moved to deal with a myriad of pollutants that have created cancer spikes and suffocating health conditions. Air pollution is the most obvious area of neglect and average Chinese are beginning to complain about pollution that continues to set records for unhealthy levels. I have previously discussed how my trips to China through the years have found horrendous levels of pollution where one is unable to see beyond half a block on some days in cities like Beijing. For decades, the authoritarian government posted false readings that became increasing comical, but sites like the one at the U.S. embassy has forced officials to admit to the alarming levels — as if the lack of line of sight vision did not already confirm the prior misrepresentations. This week, one regional capital, Harbin, has effectively shutdown due to levels of particulate pollution that would be considered unimaginable in many areas. Parts of Harbin are reporting levels of more than 1,000 PM2.5 — the level considered hazardous is 300. Thus, the city is over 300 percent higher than the hazardous level for human health.
Schools have been closed and people have been told to hunker down in their homes. What is interesting is that the level of pollution is taking on a political dimension. While China continues to censor news and control social media sites, there remains criticism on sites like Weibo. Citizens are discussing how the elite in government use public money to install expensive air cleaning systems in their offices and homes while the rest of China suck in the hazardous levels of pollutants. The Chinese government is clearly worried about the political dimension. You can only scare citizens so much when you are forcing them to breathe in poisons. At some point, they are going to refuse to go along with conditions that are clearly killing them.
Last week, the World Health Organization agency issued a report showing global deaths associated with air pollution. Not only did it link pollution to lung cancer but also bladder cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, based in Lyon, France, also cited a link to heart disease. Governments often try to bury reports on the levels of actual deaths associated with air pollution. In this report, air pollution is linked to 223,000 deaths from lung cancer alone around the world in 2010. Particulate matter like that in China plays an equally hazardous role in deaths from cancer.
The level of pollution in Harbin — with 11 million people — has now exceeded the record set by Beijing last year.
With political power held in the hands of one party and a government that has long placed production ahead of every value, China is now a nightmare of a modern industrial wasteland. It would be interesting to see how the food and pollution scandals are affecting tourism. Cities like Harbin now look like some movie set of a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland — not exactly an appealing prospect for most families.