back to article NASA snaps pics of China's 'Airpocalypse' pollution disaster

China's capital city, Beijing, is suffering from some of the worst air pollution imaginable – and NASA has the images to prove it. The lung-clogging cloud enveloping Beijing was measured by the US embassy on January 14 and found to contain fine, airborne particulate matter at a volume of 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air. …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    False dichotomy. The EPA was envisioned as a way to keep the air clean. It has done that admirably. Little new regulation is actually needed, merely enforcement of the existing law. What the EPA is doing now is attempting to enforce standards of air quality that are more "pure" than natural air itself - mercury emission limits set to such a low level that natural sources would be classified as polluting, for instance, and other gases and particulates set at levels that fall below the threshold of natural variation.

    Claiming that the US return to a calamitous situation akin to unregulated China if the EPA is prevented from expanding its role in this way is, simply put, bullshit.

    1. 404


      While the original intent was respectable, like all government agencies, they exceed their mandate and grow exponentially over the years.

      1. Curly4
        Big Brother

        Re: Concur

        So true! The EPA like any other bureaucratic governmental agency has to make itself more indispensable by pushing the original purpose beyond its intent. It is one thing to regulate to a reasonable degree and totally another when the regulations become draconian which EPA has become.

      2. Chris007

        Re: Concur

        I am at a loss as to why you're being down voted - perhaps one of the (at the time of this reply) 7 people who did could reply and let me know their reasoning.

        1. Rampant Spaniel

          Re: Concur

          I didn't downvote him but given I have mixed feelings on the matter I might be able to take a stab at an explanation.

          Personally I hate but understand some limited need for overreach. Yes the EPA has gone a little too far and left unchecked would probably do even more. The problem as I see it is that companies will do the same. As witnessed recently in the UK and Ireland with horse burgers, western companies are not beyond 'pulling a China' and doing something ridiculous in the hopes of not being caught. Businesses compete, capitalism demands it, there are huge pressures on companies to not just sustain an exceptional level of efficency but to improve that year on year. Naturally some people have a few wonky moral genes and push this further and you end up with companies quietly dumping pollution, taking shortcuts on oil rigs, stuffing pork and horse into beef burgers etc. I'm not suggesing allowing the EPA to go all Stasi on companies is right and government agencies are subject to the same concepts of competition that companies are. The new EPA boss has to 'make his mark' and improve on the last boss, under him or her are thousands of minions all trying to get noticed by coming up with ever increasily mental policies which tend to grab headlines and swamp the good work that the EPA has done. One set of people don't like the EPA because it pushes too far, another don't like companies because they will usually sell their granny to the tesco burger factory to meet their q2 targets and another group of people wish they would all drown in a vat of snot and be replaced by one of the 6 or 7 sane, morally sound people left.

          A balanced approach from all would be awesome, and call me a jaded old cynic but I don't see it happening.

    2. LarsG

      So much for the Kyoto Agreement on reducing pollution. In the UK we bend over backwards, increasing our costs, being taxed for so called green energy that has absolutely no effect worldwide.

      The rest of the world sticks two fingers up at us.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Like the smog scene in "The Difference Engine"

        > Kyoto Agreement on reducing pollution.

        Wasn't that about reducing greenhouse gases?

        Air pollution is actually GOOD in that sense, reflects more sunlight

        1. An0n C0w4rd

          Re: Like the smog scene in "The Difference Engine"

          "Air pollution is actually GOOD in that sense, reflects more sunlight"

          Not all pollution reflects sunlight. Soot emissions from burning wood and diesel engines is alleged to be nearly as bad as carbon dioxide for global warming, or so sayeth the BBC.

    3. Don Jefe

      Re: False Dichotomy?

      Congratulations! You've won the douchey-troll award of the week.

      Keeping air quality and water quality relatively high involves many factors, all of which you just flew right over. Even though things may not seem connected to a mind as vast as yours, it doesn't mean they aren't. You've committed the same logical fallacy as the author.

      You're obviously too young to know what air pollution really does. You've grown up with the EPA protecting you and cleaning up after your ancestors.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Little new regulation is actually needed, merely enforcement of the existing law."

      Maybe - but most of the Republican candidates for president and a great many Republican legislators favor - explicitly - abolishing the EPA entirely. And believe me - if the regulation authority disappeared, adherence to regulations, even the ones which are clearly a good idea, would also disappear. Capitalism has many wonderful aspects, but it does require regulation: A business segment can have 10 competitors, only one of whom is evil enough to pour choking smoke into the atmosphere - but as soon as its costs drop due to doing so, the other 9 have no choice but to follow suit or face inevitable (if, perhaps, gradual) demise. The job of regulation is not just to keep Evil Corporate Badness at bay, but to *allow* the majority of corporations run by good people in business.

      Without some level of regulation, an ethical race to the bottom occurs; rational behavior for consumers individually is to seek low prices; rational behavior for businesses is to cut costs. Together those two rational positives add up to an irrational negative - of the type seen in Beijing, for example. The only way to prevent that is to apply an external force 'larger' than the two original ones. That's government's role. The right wing - or, what is now the right wing - in the US appears to believe, however, that at least in the case of environmental regulation, the government has no role whatsoever.

      Yours is the false dichotomy - we are not in a situation where Democrats advise wild expansion of regulation and Republicans advise steady-state or slight tightening.

      The alternative proposed by Republicans is in no way 'preventing the EPA from expanding'; characterizing it thus is like categorizing a single gunshot to the head as a diet plan.

      1. Rampant Spaniel

        I think you are failing to understand the republicans argument, unregulated capitalism and the rampant polluting that would follow would not result in any deaths. The deaths would be gods damnation of us for allowing gay marriage and attempting to subvert their god given (as he wrote the bill of rights) right to carry fully automatic rifles down the high street. The polution would simply be gods chosen tool.

        The plan is simple, ban the EPA, abolish the department of education and have all the schools become little christian 'madrasa' style schools. Once everyone has forgotten all that pesky, heretical science stuff the world will be a much better place!

        1. Bronek Kozicki

          @Rampant Spaniel

          you broke both my irony detector and bullshit detector, all at once.

        2. Psyx

          "all the schools become little christian 'madrasa' style schools."

          No need: Home-schooling is what's needed. It allows you to brainwash your child into becoming an ethical clone of yourself without any pesky standards for education or other viewpoints. AND you can beat the crap out of the child if they don't memorise the Bible quickly enough.

        3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Black Helicopters

          @Rampant Spaniel

          "he plan is simple, ban the EPA, abolish the department of education and have all the schools become little christian 'madrasa' style schools. Once everyone has forgotten all that pesky, heretical science stuff the world will be a much better place!"

          I see you've got your hands on the secret barking mad Republican party agenda.

          You'd better starting running.

          1. Rampant Spaniel

            Re: @Rampant Spaniel

            No kidding! I'm just waiting for the bible belt to wake up and cludge the downvote buttons. I should have added something about making humor punishable by death.

            The sad thing is the abolishing the EPA and dept of ed are actually something they planned to do. What we need is actually better education (or simply to give up and save the money for private schools) which usually won't happen with less oversight and less funding.

        4. Chris 239
          Thumb Up

          At last

          At last some sarcasm obvious enough to not get down voted on the Reg - unless of course all the people stupid enough to miss the sarcasm simply agree with it.

    5. LB45
      Thumb Up

      True, but you'll just need an OSHA approved "EPA Opinion" Flamesuit

      Up voted for truth but you'll just be hammered for daring to suggest that a regulatory agency has overstepped it's bounds by a large margin.

  2. Danvighar


    if they would just stick to their original intended purpose.

  3. Tom 35

    natural sources would be classified as polluting

    What's wrong with that, you want to sit down wind of a volcano?

    Just because some hot spring stinks worse then a pulp and paper plant is no excuse.

    The worst natural source is not what you want as the average for city air.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: natural sources would be classified as polluting

      Surprisingly there is a certain amount of terminological-inexactitude on both sides.

      The EPA has gone over the top in some areas of natural sources. any quarrying removing overburden (the natural rock on top of the minerals they want) have to treat that as contaminated waste if it naturally contains above limits of certain elements. So it would have to be buried in a special waste site, which would mean digging up the overburden there, which would then be contaminated waste which would have to buried in a waste site ......

      But the farmers want an exemption from the EPA for any "natural" waste. So an intensive feedlot could dump a 1000 tons of cow slurry in a stream killing everything downstream and that would be "natural"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: natural sources would be classified as polluting

      What is it with you people and your strawmen?

      I wasn't talking about "the worst natural source", I was talking about typical natural sources. Mercury occurs naturally all over the planet and is emitted all the time as a gas. The amount of mercury emitted by the oceans would easily breach the new regulations the EPA is proposing on atmospheric mercury content.

      The amount of mercury emitted by the US is akin to a gnat's fart in a hurricane and it was declining year on year for several decades before the EPA even thought of these particular regulations. So why would they set a threshold so low that typical natural sources breach it? It's not rational behaviour.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: natural sources would be classified as polluting

        So? Just reingeneer the outer room as a clean air room! How hard can it be! Think of all the Eloi who need to live on a pure surface!

      2. Steven Roper

        @ AC 23:02

        I see the accusation of "strawman" is starting to be overused in these forums. In your case, it is an erroneous accusation: invoking worst case scenario is NOT a strawman argument since that scenario can occur and should be addressed. A strawman is where you describe a specific case in which the argumentative condition is so ludicrous as to destroy the credibility of the argument, which relates back to reductio ad absurdum.

        In this case, defining the worst case scenario as being downwind of a volcano or containing toxic emissions from a hot spring is a valid comparison, since both of these conditions do regularly occur on this planet and represent grave hazards to living organisms exposed to them. That's not the bottom line you want defined as the limits imposed on pollution.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: natural sources would be classified as polluting

        Mercury pollution is clearly a global problem. According to the just-published UNEP report "Mercury: Time to Act", levels are continuing to rise in the oceans. This is despite reductions over the past 30 years in emissions from human activities in some parts of the world. Overall, the total global emissions to the air were 1,960 tonnes for 2010, and these have been basically constant since 1990.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: natural sources would be classified as polluting

          1/4 of this is apparently from the cremation of bodies with Mercury amalgam fillings.


    3. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: natural sources would be classified as polluting

      Living downwind of a volcano is not pretty, when the winds blowing the wrong way it's downright nasty and seriously screws up people with breathing issues like asthma. Luckily I'm not that close and it's only maybe 1 day in 3 we get it, but using 'natural sources' as a benchmark is not smart.

  4. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

    Beijing pollution is much worse than the article says

    Take a longer look at the shot on the 14th: you can see that the muck cloud extends all the way to the coast, roughly following the river to Binhai, and totally obscures all but the northern 10-15% of Tianjin and all of the bay from just north of Binhai to and beyond the southern headland. I make the muck cloud roughly 240km x 100km or about 4 times the area of the infamous SF Bay brown cloud (the Bay is roughly 100km long x 40km (from seaward of the Golden Gate to the other side of Stockton).

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Side benefit

    Not being able to see Oakland is generally considered a good thing.

  6. Quxy

    "Airpocalypse" in Chinese?

    空气末日, naturally...

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      > The waste from nuclear fission.

      Your troll-fu needs improvement.

      1. Psyx

        "Your troll-fu needs improvement."

        To be fair, the US did really did quite a number in create a shit-ton of fall-out and radioactive by-products. There's quite a few square miles of this earth that you wouldn't want to wander around unprotected.

        But it was/is more of a result from weapon development, testing and stock-piling than from power generation.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          I especially liked the part where they sold off a load of irradiated concrete for road hard core.

          Perfect if you have a Geiger counter and want to build a car autopilot.

          But insane otherwise.

  8. asdf


    >Oakland has reappeared, and the entire nation is better for it.

    WTF are you talking about? Oakland makes every seasoned travelers list of 5 biggest shit holes in the US. Oakland exists as an airport white people fly into and then drive out of the city as quickly as they can. Oh its also a dumping ground due to BART of every thug gangster in the area on days when the Raiders play.

  9. JaitcH

    BeiJing is not alone

    The only reason BeiJing is in the new is because it is the capital.

    There are so many cities that have excessive pollution it is easier to list those with the least pollution like NanNing, GuangXi Province; Lhasa, Tibet each with 50 PM10 mcg or the winner, HaiKou, HaiNan Island where the sea breezes blow free at 38 PM10 mcg but, in reality, should be way lower..

    Mind you this is only the air, the rivers ar even worse even in healthy NanNing.

    But by measuring the pollution, at least China is showing it cares (or has concerns).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: BeiJing is not alone

      I could be wrong, but I believe the measurements quoted were taken from the US embassy in the city. The Chinese authorities, while they quite possibly do take measurements, do not publish them.

      1. MondoMan
        Big Brother

        Re: BeiJing is not alone

        The Chinese do publish their readings, but for a long time they lowered reported high readings to minimize the issue of pollution. Once the US Embassy started publishing its readings, the Chinese government was shamed into reducing and sometimes eliminating its "adjustments", so the two values are much closer these days.

  10. GloriousVictoryForThePeople

    Natural Mercury levels

    When I was gold prospecting, mercury was an indicator for the systems we wanted. One farmers paddocks were around 1% mercury by weight in the topsoil samples.

    He offered us a couple of sheep for the freezer. We politely declined.

    I know quite a number of clean, natural streams with undrinkable arsenic levels.

    Naturally occurring levels in pristine evvironments can well beyond what you want to be exposed to.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    So communist China's 50 Shades of Gray...

    Is masochistic towards the whole population?

  12. Winkypop Silver badge

    Because, in the West, we like cheap shit

    Not now Jianguo, we've gotta get on with this...

  13. Herby

    Ah, the haze...

    You can usually tell which kind of day it is in sillycon valley by looking across the bay to Monument peak and attempting to discern how many of the three towers you can see the top of. If you could only see the tallest (old channel 36), it was a yucko day. If you could see all three (old channel 36, old channel 48, and old channel 54), it could be counted to be a nice clear day. If you REALLY wanted to see smog, go to Southern California in the 60's. I had a friend who used to fly from the bay area down to the LA area in his private plane. At Tejon pass one could see the ooze bleeding north through the gap from the air.

    As for Oakland, best to skip it (and most of the 510 area code for that matter). As for the Raiders, best watched on TV (just win baby!). Me (present day)? I'm a 49ers fan as they are in the playoffs.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Ah, the haze...

      To say nothing of the inversion layer trapping the smog ... probably best viewed from Skyline Blvd. at the lookout just north of Page Mill Road, above the Stanford campus. You might be able to see Oakland from SF again, but the South Bay is just as smoggy as it was when I were a nipper. Concur on LA smog spilling through the gap ... it still does ... I've seen it myself in the last year or so.

      If the entire East Bay, from American Canyon to Union City, and out to West Pittsburgh were to disappear tomorrow, I'd party after shedding a tear at the loss of the Berkeley Campus. As for the Raiders, nice to see them continuing their tradition of flatulence, even after the passing of the dinosaur.

      (Do I know you, Herby? I'm in the book, in Sonoma. Give me a call, I'll buy you a beer.)

  14. James Finnie
    Black Helicopters

    Finally Beijing has found a way to keep those pesky spy satellites at bay!

    1. Psyx

      They're a bit behind the times if they think that's going to work.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Indeed, it isn't smog they just turned their Gap Generators on.

  15. Qu Dawei

    I'm there in Beijing

    The problem is that sometimes I have read time-and-date-stamped reports about the bad air quality in Beijing, and not being able to see from one side of the (rather wide) roads to another, when I recall on those days that the air was very clear and you could see further than normal. The BBC had a few rather biased reporters in the past in that way, as far as I could see. However, the air quality is often as bad and sometimes worse than other major cities around the world. This latest event was by far the worst I have ever experienced in a number of years of living in Beijing. It felt as if I was smoking 100 cigarettes a day all the time, and my lungs and breathing generally was terrible, with me feeling faint and having a raw cough that doubled me up. That was with staying indoors all the time. Outside, you could not see far, and everything had a slightly yellowish-brown tinge to it. Apparently, there were not many people outdoors, and most of them who were wore face-masks that I doubt would filter out the particles of the size that people are concerned with. The Chinese government did issue warnings, but I imagine this has only come about after being embarrassed into doing it. Today (Wednesday) the air quality has improved greatly and the sun is shining. I think much more effort is required to reduce the pollution here. There are too many cars so many of the roads face almost constant delays: removing them would help, but that cannot be done easily. Many buses (with flat fare of 0.04UKP or 0.08UKP) are almost always full to bursting at the moment, and the new metro lines that opened about 3 weeks ago are already stuffed full of passengers. I think a more radical solution may be required, but that may take time, of which there may not be so much if greater disaster (like London's 1952 smogs) are to be avoided.

    1. Qu Dawei

      Re: I'm there in Beijing

      Just to add: flat fare for all metro journeys is 0.20UKP

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Currency code

        The proper ISO code for Pounds Sterling is GBP.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Currency code

          Downvote all you like, you're still wrong.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Currency code

            LOL, today's Daily WTF: "ISO must be for losers, too". How apt.


  16. Why Not?

    Outsourcing is wonderful

    We outsourced our manufacturing & pollution, in the UK we fine companies if they don't dispose of their paper cups properly but buy tat from China so they can pollute their cities.

    Someone should tell the do gooders the world is spherical and we all share the same atmosphere!

    1. Psyx

      Re: Outsourcing is wonderful

      "Someone should tell the do gooders the world is spherical and we all share the same atmosphere!"

      That's over-simplifying. You try to solve the problems that you can solve, locally. If the neighbourhood is a mess, you start by mowing your own lawn, and hope the example (and some nagging) will influence others.

      Rather than saying "well, if we can't make the rest of the world do what we want, so we're going to do FA!"

      1. jabuzz

        Re: Outsourcing is wonderful

        You can go along way to solve the pollution problem in China by introducing pollution duty on imported goods. So goods imported into the EU say that originate in a country that pollutes more than the E.U. are taxed appropriately. This has two positive effects, it limits the race to the bottom as companies outsource manufacturing to places that don't look after the environment as well as we do in the E.U. because the cost advantage is largely eroded by the pollution tax. Secondly it encourages the countries with lax controls to tighten them up to qualify for better pollution duty rates and make exporting manufactured goods to the E.U. easier.

        1. DanceMan

          Re: Outsourcing is wonderful

          "introducing pollution duty on imported goods"

          Pretty sure that would be grounds for suing under many free trade deals, as for example the outrageous one Canada's Harper just signed with China.

  17. Great Bu

    a twisted tail.....

    ......a thousand eyes, trapped forever and "Eeeepa"

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If the UK bent over backwards

    Don't feel too hard done've had cleaner air.

  19. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    So the take away for America is "Don't worry about China"

    They'll take care of themselves.

  20. Sceptic Tank Bronze badge

    Maybe they should start using bicycles in Beijing. How many bicycles are there in Beijing? Does anybody know?

    << No smoke without a fire.

  21. kend1

    Why did China get picked?

    Why does China get all the love? ..."found that levels of air pollution in large Indian cities increased at some of the fastest rates in the world between 2002 and 2010—faster even than rapidly-growing Chinese cities."

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