Recent terrorist attacks in Paris and L.A have sparked widespread fears in the Western world. On Nov. 13, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris killed hundreds of people as they headed into weekend. A few weeks later, terrorists armed with rifles wearing body armor opened fire at an LA social services facility, killing innocent people who were at a holiday party.
But as Western people face the growing threat of terrorism, a different type of fear has gripped people in China: smog. As China enjoys a remarkable economic growth, air pollution silently grips the country. Recently, the Chinese government issued its first ever red alert for air pollution in Beijing as heavy smog shrouded the capital.
Pollution and smog can do lasting damages to people’s health. It is one of the major causes for stroke, heart diseases and lung cancer, which account for roughly 55 percent of all Chinese deaths. If terrorism kills one thousand people this year, smog kills at a much more alarming rate: it kills 1-2 million Chinese people each year; that’s about 2700 to 4400 deaths each day.
In many places in China, smog is so thick that people can only see 200 meters in front of them. According to media reports, the air in Beijing, in the worst days, had more than 500 micrograms per cubic meter of poisonous particles. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anything over 25 micrograms is considered unsafe.
China’s current rules call for red alerts whenever air quality surpasses 200 micrograms for three consecutive days on the country’s air-quality index. Had that policy been in place from the beginning of 2013, it would have created red alerts eight times since then, lasting a total of 36 days, according to media reports.
The source of smog is well-known. More than three decades of industrialization and rapid economic growth have led to deteriorating air, water and soil quality in the world's second-largest economy. The poisonous smog in Beijing is caused by the burning of coal for industry and heating, and huge amounts of dust from the city’s many construction sites. Traditional paper fans have long since been replaced by air conditioning as the preferred means of keeping cool in summer. At the turn of the century Beijing had one million vehicles; now, it has more than five times as many, bringing exhaust fumes and gridlocked streets.
China faces great challenges to clean up pollution. Analysts say that despite governmental efforts, there are few signs of progress. The pollution sparks high levels of fear amongst Chinese residents, as online posts discussing the source and solutions of smog, as well as providing tips to minimize the damage and reduce risks have flooded social media platforms.
While we can track down terrorists and hold them responsible for the loss of innocent lives, it is almost impossible to identify the culprits for the pollution to claim for the damages.
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