Beijing’s Air Quality Continues to Show Significant Improvement
Official figures from the Chinese government show that Beijing's ongoing seven-year "war on pollution" has netted significantly improved air quality in the capital city, as the South China Morning Post reported.
Data released by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Ecology and Environment showed that concentrations of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 fell 14.3 percent in the first 11 months of 2019, according to Xinhua. That is the lowest level since an integrated air quality-monitoring network was launched in 2013.
When the air quality-monitoring network started in 2013, the average concentration of PM2.5 was 89.5 micrograms per cubic meter. In 2019, that number plummeted to an average concentration of 42 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter, a 53 per cent reduction in air pollution, according to the municipal ecology and environment bureau, as the South China Morning Post reported. The trend held for concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and concentrations of the larger PM10 pollution as well.
Those numbers back up earlier findings from the Swiss firm IQAir AirVisual, which installed sensors on the U.S. embassy in Beijing. That report said Beijing's concentrations of fine particulate matter had fallen to its lowest levels since record keeping began in 2008, as The Washington Post reported. Those improvements mean the Chinese capital may soon be removed from the list of the 200 most polluted cities in the world.
The pollution levels are still far higher than what is considered healthy. The 2019 average concentration of PM2.5 in Beijing of 42 micrograms per cubic meter was still above the China's national air quality standard of 35, and far beyond the World Health Organization's recommended upper limit of 10, according to the South China Morning Post.
And yet, the rapid and drastic improvement is being touted for what is possible when government policies push for a cleaner environment.
"No other city or region on the planet has achieved such a feat," said Joyce Msuya, the deputy executive director of the UN's environment program, as the South China Morning Post reported. She added that the accomplishment was the result of "an enormous investment of time, resources and political will."
A March report from Msuya's department at the UN looked at 20 years of pollution data from 1998 to 2017. It found that controls on coal-fired boilers, the use of cleaner fuels in residential sectors, and tighter regulations on industry were the three most important measures to improving Beijing's air quality, according to the South China Morning Post.
While Beijing's air has shown significant and rapid improvement, other areas of China are heading in the opposite direction as other provinces have sought to spur growth during an economic slowdown, according to Lauri Myllyvirta of Greenpeace, as The Washington Post reported.
Myllyvirta told The Washington Post that nitrogen oxide emissions went up in northern China's industrial belt, which accompanied a growth in cement and steel production to meet the demand of government-funded construction.
"Old-fashioned smokestack industries are increasing in share and importance" in regions such as Hebei province, said Myllyvirta, as The Washington Post reported. "The pressure to hit GDP targets in the short term is a big part of it."
In Beijing, the war on pollution has meant authorities shuttered all coal-fired plants, encouraged residents to replace coal-fired boilers with natural gas and electricity, and invested in electric vehicles, as the South China Morning Post reported.
That action has also led to a drop in sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere. It fell 85 percent from 28 micrograms per cubic meter in 2013 to 4 in 2019, according the South China Morning Post.
However, while Beijing's air quality is improving, some worry that the Chinese government will invest in environmentally deleterious industries abroad in poorer, developing markets to supply its worldwide infrastructure projects, as the The Washington Post reported.
For example, China has struck deals to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants across developing markets from Pakistan to the Philippines.
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At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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