China’s Smog Problem and its Causes

by Jason Xu

Smog in Beijing made headlines last December when the Chinese government had to shut down schools to protect children from “hazardous level” air. People all over the world saw pictures of Beijing and could not believe their eyes. It looked like a sand storm, except it was not sand in the air, but tiny particles that entered and stayed in people’s lungs. Some particles, referred to as PM 2.5, were even more dangerous because they could enter the bloodstream from the lungs. As scary as it looked in pictures, it was scarier to be there in person. I am from Beijing and I had personally experienced the smog on a daily basis.

I was there when the smog was not this bad, and I was one of the first people to wear face masks every day. People stared at me on the streets, and when I asked my parents to wear the masks too, they would laugh. Now, almost everyone in China is wearing face masks, including my parents. So everyone is asking, what brought the smog and what can we do? The short answer is coal and cars. Two-thirds of China’s total energy consumption is coal, which is the least clean type of fossil fuel. Moreover, Chinese industries often use the least clean type of coal to reduce cost. There are also over 10 million cars in Beijing, constantly polluting the streets millions of people walk by each day. On the bright side, the Chinese government announced that it planned to cut emission by more than half by 2020. It has also limited the licenses given to new cars to lower the number of cars on the street. We will see what happens. Ferris, Robert. “Beijing Smog Problem Is Even Worse than You Think.” CNBC. CNBC, 08 Dec. 2015. Web. 01 Feb. 2016. (


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