Imagine being in the middle of a forest fire, with the thick, heavy smoke choking you and making it impossible to see anything. Now take out the fire and multiply the smoke a few times over, and you might be able to imagine what it was like to be in China's northeastern city of Harbin this morning.
The current "super smog" enveloping China's northeastern industrial region is the worst that the over-polluted country has seen yet. Air pollution is calculated on a PM2.5 scale. The World Health Organization recommends a level no higher than 20 for safe breathing, while a reading above 300 is considered immediately dangerous to health. Harbin is currently clocking in at 1000, the highest reading that most air pollution instruments can measure.
It's no surprise that Harbin, a city of over 11 million people, has virtually shut down, closing all schools, the airport, and most modes of public transportation.
Smog over Beijing, 2007:
Image Credit: Michael Henley
Winter is a particularly polluted season for China, as the usual industrial waste is buffeted by coal-burning for heating. Today's smog is being blamed on the fact that the city's heating system kicked in on Sunday.
But as season after season provides no relief from the constant pollution, the working class of China is getting restless. While they must wear air masks to exit their homes or risk their lives driving in zero visibility to get to work, the news reports stories of Chinese elites and government officials breathing freely thanks to expensive air purifiers or paying for special organic gardens to protect their food from industrial run-off.
Smog over Beijing, 2013:
Image credit: ??
After years of pushing economic development at all costs, it seems Chinese officials are finally listening to demands to limit pollution. Beijing launched a color-code system last week to determine air pollution levels on a daily basis, and a national plan to reduce coal-burning by 2017 has also been introduced. But such measures have come and gone in the past with no real change, and not much more is expected from the latest efforts to placate China's dissatisfied citizens.
Though the smog itself is expected to last just another 24 hours, the frustration of the Chinese people living in some of the dirtiest cities in the world does not seem close to ending.