1.16.2018

Mr. Blue Sky 空气质量

Runnin' down the avenue
See how the sun shines brightly in the city
On the streets where once was pity
Mister blue sky is living here today hey, hey

-Electric Light Orchestra

January 9: Mr Blue Sky came out to play

Last week, I looked out my window and the sky shone blue. I thought, It's a good run day.

Dumpling and I had been exiled to our 80 square meter apartment since we got home from Thailand five days ago. Poor baby was sick on the plane with a fever. Her vomiting on me, diarrhea-ing on me, feeding on me, and breathing on me, led, of course, to me contracting her heinous malaise. So I'll save you the details and summarize it this way: sick mama+sick baby+dad away at work=SO NOT FUN.

We seriously needed to get out. To waste a blue sky day is a sin in Smog Capital. Beijing Blue is a rarity. Or is it?

I dare say, not this year. This time last year, I was imprisoned in my home not only because I was on full-time fatten-up-preemie-baby mommy duty, but also because the air quality was just plain nasty. In contrast, this year, I have looked outside and thought, It's a good run day, much more often than, Ehhh, it's a bad smog day. We're staying in.

I'm not the only only feeling the blissful blues. After several years in China, one of my friends finally invested in an air filter. Come December, she was a bit disappointed she had scarcely used it. While her air filter and everyone else's collect dust, people are leaving their apartments to soak up--not the smucky gray-- but the wintry blue. Every morning, the parking lot below my window teems with grandmas and their grandchildren. Toddlers puffed in oversized down coats and bulbous pants run back and forth enjoying clean air, sunshine, and empyrean blue. I imagine that the public parks likewise abound with sun loving tai chi enthusiasts and waltzing senior citizens. When the winds become too frigid or lunchtime rolls around, they go home to natural gas powered warmth.

That's right, gas powered warmth. No coal burning in or around Beijing.

China is sick and tired of being known around the world for its embarrassing and deadly smog problem. With an estimated 1.1 million people dying each year from air pollution (1), and public outcry reaching a crescendo, in 2013 China implemented an ambitious action plan to clear the air in and around its most polluted cities. Iron and steel plants and industrial factories have been shut down or forced to adhere to stricter emission standards (2). This year, households in and around Beijing have swapped out coal for gas or electric heating (3). Government officials are patting each other on the back stating, "the capital has become China's first city with all its power plants fueled by clean energy" (4). Thanks to China's mighty efforts and cooperation across several provinces, perhaps Beijing Gray will now be known as Beijing Blue.

Air quality monitoring from both the Chinese government and outside sources back the hype. December saw the best air quality in five years with 25 consecutive days rated as "excellent" or "good" (5). The US Embassy air quality readings indicate that PM2.5 readings were 50 percent lower from October to December compared to the previous year (6). My very unscientific observations--that is, looking out my window--resonate with the news reports.

No doubt the coal ban and other clean air measures reduced air pollution. But not to be forgotten is smog's great foe: the wind. Rumor has it that China leveled a mountain to generate more wind thus making Beijing Blue the norm, but I can't find any (not one thing) that substantiates that claim. What is true that this year, several cold fronts from Siberia gusted through Beijing dispersing pollutants (6). No matter what, strong winds mean no pollution. My very unscientific observations likewise back the weather reports. It's been frigidly windy. Good thing Dumpling's fancy stroller's rain cover doubles as a wind guard.

Besides the environment and public health, China still has to juggle other aspects such as the economy. Shutting down factories means unemployment or reduced production and profit (7). In some areas, the electrical or gas heating infrastructure lags behind implementation deadlines leaving residents freezing in their own homes (8). Time will tell whether China's massive efforts are sustainable and result in a consistently blazing Beijing Blue.

Meanwhile, Dumpling and I will enjoy these Beijing Blue days. We're not holding our breath though. The next windless day means I'll look out the window and think, Ehhh, it's a bad smog day. We're staying in.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 空气质量 kōngqì zhìliàng
English translation: Air quality

1. China's Surprising Solutions to Clear Killer Air
2. Beijing's air quality sharply improved
3. China's putting the brakes on coal for heating millions of homes this winter
4. Beicology: Beijing's Last Large Coal-Fired Power Plant Suspends Operations, No One Notices
5. Beijing enjoys best winter air quality in five years
6. Reality Check: Is Beijing's air quality better this winter?
7. As China's Coal Mines Close, Miners Are Becoming Bolder In Voicing Demands
8. Poor bear brunt of Beijing coal cleanup with no heating at -6C


November 10: Just chillin' in the chill
December 5: Never been so happy for the blues
December 19: Dumpling is overwhelmed with the blues
January 14: Mr Blue Sky where did you go?