Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Red Alert Days.

I was fortunate enough to recently spend two weeks in China as part of a study tour through the Asia Education Foundation and the Department of Education. An Assistant Principal, a colleague (and friend) and I represented our school as we journeyed with 15 others, our guides and leaders and a film crew. We went to China last year in order to set up a partnership with a Chinese school, and this return visit was meant to consolidate and develop that relationship. 

I want to write about the pollution and smog in Beijing though.

It was stunning on the day we arrived. The sky was perfect and blue. Our  tour guides told us it was unusually clear.

The next morning was a different matter.  It turns out it had rained for a couple of days prior to our arrival and that had pushed all the pollutants down. But now it was back. I'd heard about the terrible pollution in China. I used to live in Tokyo, and I remember the hazy days there.  But I had no idea how much worse it was in Beijing.

It was smoggy. Thick, yellowish smoke/fog filled the air. The sun was orange/brown. I’ve talked about it with my colleagues and friends, trying to describe exactly what it was like and find it very difficult to put into words. Even the photos can’t capture the reality.

That day was a yellow alert day. Beyond that a red alert day kicks in at an air pollution index of 250. On that particular morning the index was over 450. Apparently three weeks before we arrived it hit 900.

The visibility was down to around 600 metres in the city that morning, making everything seem ghostly and eerie. Buildings were shadows in the yellow smog and cars disappeared in front of us.

The Chinese congress recently elected a new leader and environment is very high on the party’s agenda. Certainly the new Premier is actively targeting waste. Everyday I was there the newspapers wrote about what is being done to improve the environment. It's awful, and I fear not enough is being done.  Or too little, too late.

We need to become more active. Not just in China, but wherever we are. We can take Beijing as a warning. What affects the Chinese affects the world, and we all need to make an effort to recycle and conserve.

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