You may remember the Great Smog that kicked off 2013, an entire month of days that looked like the above picture. It was dubbed the airpocalypse after a giant cloud of smog blanketed much of northeast China and sent Beijing’s air quality index soaring to almost 800 (just a few years ago, the air monitor couldn’t even read past 500).
More recently, it has been applied more to air problems in the northeast and further south around Shanghai.
In Beijing, this winter has so far been less apocalyptic. Last month, officials were even touting improvements in air quality. This was based on the fact that in the month after the city’s winter heating was turned on, the number of seriously polluted days fell by more than half over the same period last year (from seven to three). Also, the four major sources of pollutants, including PM2.5, fell by 25%. The Beijing News article credits this air quality improvement to various measures city and district officials have taken over the past year, such as converting houses from coal to electric heat, installing clean technology at coal-fired boilers, and taking high-emissions vehicles off the road. But in my opinion, it has helped that it hasn’t been so cold this winter — we haven’t even turned on the heat yet (though most apartments in Beijing have centrally controlled heating) — and there has been a fair bit of wind from the north.
And yet, here we are, with an AQI of 578 this morning (when I snapped the picture above, a little before 9 a.m., it was down to 521). In all fairness, the AQI has been on a roller coaster these past few months, with some days going as low as 30 to other days reaching 350 and beyond. 578 is the worst I’ve seen in a while, but after last winter (and spring), I just really hope today isn’t a sign of what’s to come.