On October 19th, 2014, China’s capital, Beijing, hosted its annual international marathon. Sports channels and reporters displayed videos and images from the much-anticipated race all around the globe. But the eager audience received an unexpected shock. When the footage began rolling, it took several moments to see that the video, in fact, was not of a solid beige sheet, but a layer of air so congested with dust that it coated the camera lenses with brown. Almost all the Chinese marathon runners, having been prepared, had arrived at the 42-kilometer race wearing face masks and sponges.
Merely two weeks later, the sky twinkled into a bright, clear blue.
It seemed like magic; that day was the opening of APEC, the day many influential country leaders were visiting Beijing, and it was like heaven personally ordered the beautiful weather for the special occasion. But in reality, those few breaths of healthy air came at a costly sacrifice. In order to leave a positive impression on the visiting presidents, China’s government instantly took routes of action to alleviate air pollution for the time being. Prohibition of 11.7 million cars from entering the roads was one; moreover, the production of 10,000 factories was intermitted, and 39,000 were forced to run on a reduced schedule. The result was appalling. The smog-filled sky brightened to a neon cerulean within hours of the shut-down. Believing they’d never see this color again, Chinese civilians fondly dubbed the rare weather ‘APEC blue’, which soon became a universal term. The stark contrast opened eyes to the egregious air pollution surrounding China.
Several different factors contributed to China’s extremely poor air quality. One of such was a problem that many countries faced: cars. According to a 2011 consensus, Beijing’s citizens alone owned over 5 million motor vehicles. The smoke and excess engine heat from the masses of automobiles filtered into the air by pounds. Combined with the cars were the 1.9 million factories producing harmful chemicals and clouds of dense smog into the surrounding landscapes. During the APEC clean-air movement by the government, over 183,100 industrial plants, petrol stations, construction sites, and other ventures in Beijing were scrupulously monitored.
Another major issue Chinese civilians faced was the coal being burnt on a daily basis. In 2011, carbon emission rates spiked drastically by over six thousand metric tons through the consumption of coal in China. This substance’s combustion conceived ‘particulate matter’, a hazardous mixture of suspended liquid including dust, pollen, smoke, and soot, which—when embedded deeply in lungs—could cause lung cancer, bronchitis, asthma, other painful limits on the respiratory system, and in some cases, can be fatal. A recent study from Berkeley Earth showed that 1.6 million deaths a year were linked to air contamination diseases.
This air quality predicament doesn’t burden China alone, though it is most concentrated and blatantly obvious there. Air, being an intangible and moving gas, flows around the world, intertwining each landscape’s geographic conditions. Every country’s excess air gunk is conducive to the contamination hovering over the planet. As of now, Earth’s environmental stability teeters uncertainly in critical condition, its skies overflowing with junk; humans inflicted damage so severe that Earth’s natural processes couldn’t repair the wounds. Plummeting into the abyss of pollution was easy, but clambering out and sealing the cavernous rift shut will require decades of toil.
From the evidence presented, it’s clear our planet’s reconstruction is a long-term endeavor—globally maintaining it for generations on end may seem a daunting mission for many. The centermost crux to success lies in continuous global collaboration, an optimistic mentality, and most importantly, education of the younger generations, because they will dictate the future of Earth’s development.
To achieve this, we must amplify China’s public awareness of the environment’s condition. As an American-born-Chinese girl, I was raised learning both cultures simultaneously, giving me precious insight on both countries and granting me the potential to bridge the gap between America and China. Specifically, I would like to start an environmental exchange program targeting high schoolers from both sides. For example, I noticed that many of my Chinese relatives and friends visit America during the summer for numerous camps and programs. We can leverage this opportunity to organize environment-oriented seminars and field trips, initiate discussions with field specialists, and introduce the students to energy-efficient technology, such as solar power, windmills, petroleum-free cars, and compact fluorescent lightbulbs. This way, we can integrate their diverse perspectives from two sides of the planet and stimulate their inner Earth passion.
Early-on cultivation of environmental awareness will train them into soldiers. The next generation will become our global army against pollution, and through their efforts, a real blue will emerge from the artificial APEC blue.