Pollution of the environment is the introduction of any living or inanimate components as well as physical or structural changes that interrupt or disrupt the processes of circulation, metabolism, and energy and information flow into one or another ecological system. Its inevitable consequences may provoke a decrease in the productivity of this ecosystem or its destruction. The growth of the population on the planet and the intensification of human activity in connection with the scientific and technological revolution sharply strengthen the anthropogenic impact on nature. As a result, the Earth redistributes water resources, changes the local climate, and transforms certain features of the terrain. The rapid economic development of China causes enormous and irreparable damage to the country ecology. The level of air, river, and city pollution in the country is one of the highest in the world (Northern China air quality worsens in January-July: ministry 2017). What is more, in 2016-2017, the reports on air pollution getting even worse and causing deaths appeared (India and China Have Most Deaths from Pollution 2016). Air pollution reaches catastrophic indicators especially in large cities. China is suffering from the terrible air pollution, and this circumstance impacts even the rest of the world via atmospheric circulation. Thus, it is crucial to study the reasons for anthropogenic air pollution in China and ways of resolving the issue.
Air Pollution in China
Atmospheric air, which is a mixture of gases and aerosols of the surface layer of the atmosphere, is the most important life-supporting medium for all organisms on Earth. However, it affects not only humans and other living organisms but also the soil and vegetation, hydrosphere, geological environment, and various man-made objects – buildings, architectural structures, and monuments. Therefore, the pollution of the atmosphere, which is understood as the entry of physical and chemical compounds that violate the gas balance into it, can adversely affect the natural and man-made environment. All sources of atmosphere pollution are divided into natural and anthropogenic ones. Natural pollution of the atmosphere occurs as a result of volcanic eruptions, wind erosion, dust storms, and cosmic dust penetration. However, there are much more different sources of anthropogenic pollution. In addition, it causes damage that is more perceptible as well. The humanity and especially China have far exceeded the amount of pollution that would allow the air to purify itself.
There is no doubt that most people have already heard about the strongest air pollution in China. After the past 25 years of immense economic growth, the words “pollution” and “China” have practically become synonymous (Rohde & Muller 2015, p. 2). The development of Chinese production has recently opened incredible investment opportunities but made the country reach the critical point where the pollution of the atmosphere in the state creates various serious risks. Beijing and many other big cities are often covered with thick smog, which limits the view to only a few meters. The physiological effects of smog on the human body are extremely dangerous. They are especially unsafe for the respiratory and circulatory system and often cause premature death of urban residents with poor health. The greatest danger of the pollution in China at the moment lies in suspended solids in the air. The particles form fog, penetrate into the lungs of a person, and cause a variety of problems with health. Today, the toxic air pollution in the country has reached a level that gives effects similar to those of the nuclear winter (China tops WHO list for deadly outdoor air pollution 2017). It slows the process of photosynthesis in plants and can destroy the food production system in China. The deterioration of situation with air quality already seriously affects the economy. It often limits the operation of airports and airplanes, the motorways can be closed, and the tourists become repelled from China since they worry about their comfort and health.
Every year, more than a half million Chinese people die from various diseases that the air pollution mainly causes (China tops WHO list for deadly outdoor air pollution 2017). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the smallest dust particles, the size of which does not exceed 2.5 microns in diameter, make the greatest harm (China tops WHO list for deadly outdoor air pollution 2017). They penetrate the lungs and enter the blood vessels from there. In the air in China, there is an immense amount of harmful particles that include nitrates, ammonia, table salt, soot, mineral dust, and other chemicals that get into the body and lead to such diseases as pneumonia or cancer.
In the capital of the PRC, the Air Quality Index equals 400 units, which is ten times higher than the safe level that the World Health Organization recommends to keep (China tops WHO list for deadly outdoor air pollution 2017). If the quality of air reaches the mark of 200 units, it is already considered extremely unhealthy (China tops WHO list for deadly outdoor air pollution 2017). Due to the increased number of patients with complaints of difficulties with breathing and heart, hospitals in problem areas work in intense mode. In sum, China has a continuous problem and the highest level of air pollution in the world. The issue is local but there is a high possibility that the closest countries will be negatively affected as well.
China Air Pollution Sources
Human activity leads to the fact that the pollutants enter the atmosphere mainly in two forms – suspended particles (aerosols) and various gaseous substances. Aerosol contamination is the pollution of the atmosphere by coarse and fine dispersed solid (dust) and liquid (droplets) particles that do not belong to the constant composition of the atmosphere or are sharply exceeding their background concentration. Another major source of aerosols of predominantly anthropogenic origin is forest fires that generate smoky clouds and sometimes stretch for thousands kilometers. Thus, the situations when the air pollution is cities is so critical that it intervenes basic daily operations, for example, provokes flights cancellation, appear. Certain parts of China face high risk of fires, and the government has started to pay attention to the citizens who want to implement fines for introducing fire in inappropriate places and time (Rohde & Muller 2015, p. 10). The issue of so-called “acid rain” is directly connected with the entry of sulfur compounds as well as nitrogen into the atmosphere. The problem becomes increasingly urgent in China. The mechanism of acid rain formation is very simple: sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in air join with water vapor that primarily concentrates at the base of the clouds. Then, together with the rain or fog, they fall on the ground in the form of dilute sulfuric and nitric acids. Such precipitation sharply violates the soil acidity norms, worsens the water exchange of plants, and contributes to the dying of forests, especially conifers. When the acid rain gets into rivers and lakes, it negatively affects their fauna and flora.
Most of the truly harmful substances penetrate into the Chinese air from the exhaust pipes of millions trucks and other diesel transport as well as countless generators that support not very reliable electric grid, especially in remote regions. Road transport provides 60% of gaseous air pollutants (Rohde & Muller 2015, p. 8). The composition of carburettor and diesel engine exhaust gases includes up to 200 chemical compounds, the most toxic of which are Pb, COx, NOx, CxHy, and benzapyrene (Rohde & Muller 2015, p. 8). The exhaust gas contains a large number of hydrocarbons, and their share sharply increases when an engine is running at low speed or the speed rises at start. The release of dust and various gases into the atmosphere also accompanies the processes of iron smelting and its processing on steel. The composition of emissions from various industries that are the most developed in PRC is very diverse; crucial part of these chemical compounds, for example, CO, NOX, SO2, NH3, dust of inorganic substances, H2S, halogen compounds, organic substances, and cyanide compounds is very toxic to the human body (Rohde & Muller 2015, p. 9). In conclusion, the factories and a large number of cars and motorcycles contribute to the air pollution the most.
In China, the fight against pollution is reduced to the sum of decisions of individuals especially when corruption flourishes. Investing in “clean technology” – the renewable energy sources development, manufacturing with low emissions, and using electric cars – is still too expensive for the Chinese officials. However, the problem is that the consequences will be felt throughout the country and in the whole world. Nevertheless, recently, China has started to pay more attention to the clean environment issue since it became a global trend and one of the conditions of remaining an international leader.
It is necessary to reduce the consumption of coal as a heating source as well as decrease the amount of exhaust gases emitted from engine engines to make the air in China cleaner. About 80% of Chinese thermal power plants operate on coal, which has the most harmful effect on environment in terms of CO2 emission (Northern China air quality worsens in January-July: ministry 2017). It is the main source of air pollution in the country and the primary cause of China being among the main culprits of global warming on the planet or greenhouse effect. In addition to carbon dioxide emission, the PRC occupies a leading position in the provision of emission of biogenic methane from the coal mines, which increases the greenhouse effect (Rohde & Muller 2015, p. 5). Modernization of the economy for China means an increase in the number of plants and factories as well as construction sites. This process requires constant growth of the production of electricity. Along with the concept of saving the environment, which indicates the need for the consumption of energy from clean sources and multiple landscaping of urban scaffolds, the necessity of imposing a policy of fines for irresponsible use of polluting equipment exists. What is more, China can overtake green energy ideas and provide subsidies to the companies that change a typical energy source (coal) to a “clean” one. Alternative energy sources allow making the air cleaner. There is another argument in favor of using the energy of tides, wind, and sun – the limited reserves of gas and oil.
Other ways include constant and massive planting of trees every year. It is necessary to resolve traffic issue as well. Being a necessary condition of the functioning of modern society, transport remains the main threat to human health. All cars that use different types of fuel for work pollute the atmosphere to the certain extent. One can offer both the reduction of the number of cars or changing them to the energy efficient ones. In the fight against traffic jams and the deterioration of environmental situation, the question of the number of cars can be already solved. The owners cannot use personal automobiles every day: on certain days, only the cars with certain license plates can be used (even/odd number, color or the label) (Rohde & Muller 2015, p. 12). The quality of cars can be changed through proposing people the electric cars that become more popular and affordable in the world. What is more, the authorities should encourage people to use the metro and “green transport,” for example, bicycles. One of the steps has already been made, and Beijing subway became one of the cheapest in the world.
The specific example of solution is the new approach to architecture. Green urban architecture is gaining popularity all over the world. The architects can think of vertical gardens that would help to increase the biodiversity of industrialized cities and provide a place for birds and insects. Various plants will also assist in absorbing carbon dioxide and dust and release oxygen in the process. Therefore, there are numerous ways to reduce the burden of air pollution in China.
The environment in China was subjected to a comprehensive blow of urban and industrial development. The pollution of air, water, and soil has reached critical level. The main sources of air pollution in China are thermal power, the production of which needs coal, chemicals and petrochemicals – the byproducts of chemical synthesis and purification of oil, and road transport. The consequences of air pollution bring health risks, pose danger to crops, increase greenhouse effect, reduce the general quality of life, and affect other countries. The officials as the highest power in China must take an active role in providing solutions. However, the corruption is a big obstacle for the implementation of air recovery plan. The last would include introducing electric cars, promoting green architecture, encouraging the use of subway and bicycles, and developing renewable energy sources. The issue of air pollution requires immediate attention for the sake of the citizens of China and the rest of the world. Hopefully, other countries that follow sustainable path will encourage China in its actions and provide the examples of rethinking the developmental strategy.
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