This month’s climate talks in Paris marked a potential turning point for the world, and that may entail particularly significant changes for China. The coal-burning behemoth is widely viewed as a key player in any hope for global climate progress, but it clearly has a long way to go. According to Business Insider, scientists from the University of California at Berkeley believe that China’s dense pollution is related to as many as 1.6 millions deaths per year. And things may continue to grow worse before they get better.
Beijing issued an air pollution “red alert” for the first time ever earlier this month, signaling a wide gap between emissions objectives and the current reality. The alert lasted for three days. The situation is so dire that some citizens are actually purchasing bottled clean air from a company called Vitality Air in Canada, according to the Daily Mail. The vendor’s representative to China, Harrison Wang, indicated that it’s been difficult to keep up with demand.
“It’s been a pretty wild ride for us as we only started to market the product a month and a half ago,” he told MailOnline. “We got the website up and running, then put Vitality Air on Taobao—a Chinese website similar to eBay for online shopping—and we sold out almost instantly.”
The Chinese are desperate for solutions that allow them to go outdoors without breathing in the air and all its hazardous particulates.
“We have sold everything, and we now have a bunch of customers and a people wanting to be our distributors,” Wang added.
In a nation where there’s an increasing premium on clean air, the mountains of Alberta have become an intriguing solution. Vitality Air fills canisters via a clean compression process, using western Canada’s bountiful supply. Though China may not have been the only target market, it’s quickly become a major buyer.
“Consumer spending power is like something we have never seen before and we are pleasantly surprised,” Wang explained. “We know the demand is big so we are being reactive instead of proactive, and doing our best to accommodate for the market needs and demands.”
This month’s red alert also prompted a significant increase in the sales of pollution masks. The crisis also prompted plans to temporarily close schools and factories. Chinese citizens are finding ways to adjust, but it certainly isn’t easy.
China’s pollution is a product of its rapid and widespread industrialization. In addition to the very visible air pollution, the massive country also struggles with soil contamination, waste generation and water pollution.
The government has become the target of increasing criticism due to its lagging response. That made China’s involvement in Paris all the more crucial. Without the participation of large manufacturing bases like China and India, it might be virtually impossible to gain some control over climate change.
For those living in China, however, this is more than just a long-term risk of rising seas and prolonged droughts. The crisis is now, and it’s increasingly visible.
An American nonprofit organization known as Berkeley Earth released a report this summer that concluded 80 percent of Chinese citizens often battle air pollution that surpasses levels acceptable to the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency. The study suggested that air pollution in Beijing can be as hazardous to one’s lungs as smoking 40 cigarettes per day. Put simply, this is as much of a health disaster as it is an environmental one.
China has set of sensors across the nation in a bid to better monitor its air quality. But much broader policies will soon to needed before any real environmental reversal occurs.
Check out additional photographic evidence of China’s environmental problems below.