The biggest environmental issue in China is smog, there’s no two ways about it. Worldwide, air pollution, it is estimated, contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 alone. Taking the figure literally, this means China’s “real” growth rate would fall below 4 percent per annum. Smog in 中国 is a direct product of years of uncontrolled, exponential development, fuelled mainly by coal. And its effects are now being shown not to be solely limited to big cities like Beijing, where mothers keep their children indoors for fear of air-induced disease – rural plants are suffering. Damaging the pores on leaves (known as stomata) that take up water, smog has the potential to affect the entire water cycle itself. Scientists have called the blankets of grey the equivalent of a ‘nuclear winter’.
During a school trip to rural China (Qufu city, to be exact), we witnessed the smog first hand. When climbing Mount Tai (泰山, for those who can read Mandarin), slowly we emerged out of the grey – which wasn’t that bad that day – and looked back. An ancient temple overlooked the city of Tai’an, but all anyone sitting there would be able to see was grey.