Beijing Smog by Flickr user michaelhenleyEnlarge Photo
Recent pollution figures in Chinese capital Beijing have made 1970s Los Angeles look like a crisp day in the Rocky Mountains.
The city, like Hong Kong last month, has finally decided to take action, and the city's acting mayor is set to scrap 180,000 old vehicles from the roads.
Additionally, reports Bloomberg, Beijing will replace 44,000 coal-burning heaters in homes to try and cut air pollutants by 2 percent this year.
Earlier this month, smog in the city was so thick it was barely possible to see the building next door, and citizens were alerted to stay indoors to avoid pollution levels so bad they were literally off the scale.
On the U.S. Embassy's particulate matter scale, which runs to 500 and on which anything over 150 is considered unhealthy, one day two weeks ago produced estimated figures in the mid-700s.
The scale registers the level of PM2.5s, particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, believed to pose the largest health risks.
Beijing's ever-increasing number of cars, coupled with the tens of thousands of coal-burning stoves and heaters used around the city (used more frequently in winter months), means pollution frequently rises to hazardous levels--into the 400s.
The World Health Organization recommends 24-hour exposure to PM2.5 levels of no higher than 25.
Despite subways, trolley buses, railways and bicycles, the city's near-20 million inhabitants rely heavily on cars to get about. There were an estimated 5 million cars on Beijing's roads in 2011, expected to grow by another million by 2016.
Many of these vehicles don't meet the same emissions standards as those in the U.S. or Europe, and the city's near-constant gridlock has a huge effect on local pollution levels.
In addition to the removal of 180,000 cars, Beijing also intends to cut coal use by 1.4 million tonnes, close as many as 450 heavily polluting plants, and reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds by 8,000 tonnes.
180,000 cars might be a drop in the ocean on Beijing's roads. But when a brief walk down the street is too hazardous to contemplate, it's a problem that needs tackling by any means possible.