China’s fabled pollution comes in various levels. A couple of weeks ago, when I was in Wuhan, we had a day of silver-grey overcast skies that doesn’t seem to affect the human function too much.
However, visiting the Beijing motor show in 2012, we had a day of proper smog: grey-brown skies, eerie flat light and a sense (to me at least) that there wasn’t enough free oxygen around.
Beijing pollution made headline news in the English language newspaper during the trip to Wuhan. The city government is introducing a ‘Heavy Pollution Contingency Plan’ with ‘Blue, Yellow, Orange and Red’ warning levels.
According to media reports, if the city declares a ‘Red’ alert, schools will close, 80 per cent of government cars have to stop travelling and private cars can only enter the city on alternate days. Factories may also be ordered to shut down.
Interestingly, the Chinese media said that more “watering carts and sprinkler trucks” would be deployed. Indeed, I saw one of these for the first time in Wuhan. Its job was to wet the roads in order to keep the atmospheric dust down.
Much of Beijing's particulate pollution comes from building works as well as from coal-fired power stations and factories. Cars, although there are a hell of a lot of them around, are not the biggest issue. However, there is a longer-term pollution fix on the horizon and China looks like it is about to quietly grab it with both hands.